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Popular Beliefs from Here and There

Belief is the action of believing in the truth or possibility of something.

Popular Beliefs from Here and There

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 14/12/2016

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - Researcher at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - Master in Psychology

From the 16th century, people of diverse religions and beliefs arrived in Brazil. The Portuguese, Hebrews and African slaves came, followed by the Dutch, French and individuals from many other nationalities. The Portuguese colonists brought the Catholic religion; the Jews – fleeing from the fires of the Inquisition in the Iberian Peninsula – the Mosaic religion; and African slaves and priests the spiritual religions (worship of orishas, saint-mothers and fathers, legends, natural remedies and others). In Brazil, they met the indigenous peoples, with totemic beliefs and cults, who invoked their ancestors and the gods in nature.

The Spiritist Doctrine was introduced in the second half of the 19th century. With the Portuguese royal family moving to Brazil, and with the opening of the ports (through the Trade and Navigation Treaty) came English merchants, the Anglican Church and Lutheranism. Subsequently, the Congregational, Presbyterian and Baptist Churches, the Christian Congregation, the Assembly of God and the neo-Pentecostal churches emerged. With the intensification of immigration – Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, in particular – new religions were added to the population’s ethnic and cultural settings.

It is important to register the religious intolerance and genocides practiced by the Portuguese settlers. They only allowed one single religion: Catholicism. In this sense, they forced converted by force, hanged or burned alive in the fires of the Inquisition and/or tortured to death people who did not convert to the Christian faith. Jews in particular were persecuted and killed for centuries.

On the other hand, in order to practice their cult under the constant vigilance of the Portuguese elite, Afro-Brazilians began to associate their deities with Catholic saints as a defence mechanism, in a process called syncretism. Thus Iansã, goddess of lightning and storms, came to correspond to Saint Barbara; Iemanjá, goddess of the sea and mother of all orishas, corresponds to Our Lady of the Conception; Logun Edé, god of the woods, to St Michael the Archangel; Loko, the protector of the poor, to St Francis; Nana, the eldest of the deities, to Our Lady of Santana; Ogum, the holy warrior who opens the ways of men, to St Anthony; Omolu, the protector of diseases, to St Lazarus; Ossain, the Candomblé doctor, to St Benedict; Oxalá, the supreme God and father of all the orishas, to Our Lord of Bonfim; Oxóssi, the god of hunting, to St George; Oxum, the queen of waters, to Our Lady of Candlemas; Oxumaré, who symbolises the rainbow and represents the bridge between heaven and earth, to St Bartholomew; and Xangô, god of thunder and justice, always invoked to mediate reconciliations in family and community, to St Jerome.

According to Getúlio César (1941?, p.89), Brazilians are “an extremely credulous people, having a childish credulity. Suffice it to say that the cry of the owl is considered a bad omen because in its sentimental song, it sounds like a shroud being torn; an upward shoe is calling its owner to the grave; scissors are waiting to cut the shroud for the one who left it that way; ...selling salt at night brings bad luck; if a funeral stops in front of a house, it is a sign that someone will die there... Euclides da Cunha says in the Sertões that the first battalion leaving for Canudos left Juazeiro on November 12 at night to avoid leaving on the 13th, an unlucky day (sic). And it was going to fight fanaticism.”

Also according to that researcher, “flagellation, despite being banned in the 14th century by Clement VI, continued to be practiced, such as there was a procession of flagellants in Lisbon in 1820... When it comes to its Saints, the history of the Roman Church presents numerous flagellants; some ill people found relief in the suffering of the cilice: St Philip Neri practiced rigorous penance. He ate only hard bread just once a day. He fasted and flogged himself daily. St Alphonsus fasted every day, flogging himself many times during the week, until bleeding. He continually carried whips, iron chains and the mortification of Jesus; he would exceed all his companions in the mortification of the body and the instruments he used for this would make you tremble. St Francis Xavier used to wrap strings of knots so tight around his body that they cut deeply into his flesh. St Therese, Carmelite used cilices to the point of being covered in wounds. St Dominic de Guzman, the great inquisitor, was happy to be martyred (sic) to the point of flogging himself three times each night... And so, almost all the canonised Saints (sic) gave in to this brutal practice of flogging, to undoubtedly attenuate the pathological ardour in the psychiatry domain.” (p.131)

Faced with a context of physical and cultural diversities, Brazil has become an ethnic broth composed of various cults, religions, rites, superstitions, beliefs, gods, saints and supernatural forces. Regardless of whether they are linked to this or that church, temple, centre or yard, a portion of the population continues to credit certain elements – such as the cure for illness, luck, peace and happiness at home, or having a loyal and dedicated lover, among others
– to the power of intermediation of orishas, masters, blessers, healers and/or prayers, together with supernatural forces.

When called to prescribe for a sick person, for example, healers order them to drink a potion made of roots of aiubim, croton campestris and English plantain, of vines, bullock’s heart fruit, luffa, Joana powder, mercury chloride, mineral crystals, iodide and cachaça. According to their claim, this formula serves as medication for syphilis, back pain, stomach pains, weakness, flatulence, haemorrhoids, side pains, head congestion, indigestion, leg pains, urinary infection, heart palpitations, nausea, liver problems, chest pains, vomiting blood and arrhythmia (CÉSAR, 1941?, p.145). In other words, the potion is suggested for the cure of almost all evils.

There are many other popular beliefs, such as the one that recommends the following prayer in case of dislocations, sprains and bad veins:

Carne trilhada, nervo torcido, ossos e veias e cordoveias,
tudo isso eu coso com o louvor de São Frutuoso.
[Torn ligaments, twisted nerves, broken bones and veins,
All this I can cure with the praise of Saint Fructuosus.]



Anyone who wants to stop dysphagia should repeat:

Encontrei São Brás sentado no caminho;
ao me ver em desatino perguntou: que te dói?
engasgo que não sobe nem desce,
nem para frente nem para trás,
mas quem cura é São Brás.

I found Saint Blaise sitting on the way;
When he saw me senseless, he asked, “What hurts you?”
A choke that does not rise or fall,
Neither forward nor backwards,
But the one who heals is Saint Blaise.

When somebody wants a visitor to leave, they just need to go to the kitchen, and tie a knot in a dish towel. In no time, the visitor will go away.

If a woman wishes to be loved by a man, she must, first of all, buy a red candle and have it blessed. Then, thinking of her beloved, she must light the candle at 6pm on a Friday and then pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary three times. Before the candle burns completely, she must drip three drops of wax on a plate with water and the initials of the loved one will appear the next morning. From there, she must place the letters on a blue paper, fold it four times, tie it with a blue ribbon and bury it at a crossroad, repeating: “In the name of all evolved souls, I want to ask for a true love that can make me happy. I promise that for three months I will light lavender incense in your intentions.” After that, in a place higher than her head, she must light three white candles in a dish containing water and sugar, and dedicate those candles to the archangels Gabriel, Raphael and Michael.

Certain gestures or postures should also be avoided because they can cause harm. Therefore, a person should never: 1) eat naked or shirtless as this is offensive to their Guardian Angel; 2) eat wearing a hat as it is the same as eating accompanied by negative forces; 3) eat holding their dish because attracts misery; 4) eat the extremities of animals or birds as they belong to the saint; 5) put money on the dining table because this causes misery; 6) pick up food from the floor because it belongs to the souls; and 7) throw bread away because it is the body of God.

Anyone who wants to discharge negative flows or attract customers needs to put a mixture of myrrh, incense, benzoin, star anise, pitch, rosemary and lavender in a smoker with coals, and then smoke their house (or commercial establishment) with it, starting in the rear and ending in the front.

There are several procedures called sympathies that are meant to attract positive flows and ward off negative. Anyone who wants to get a particular job, for example, needs to light a bunch of white candles before the image of St Rita, and with each candle, they must ask the Saint, with all fervour, to light their ways and help them to get that job. When the last candle is lit, the person should blow them all out one by one, wrap everything in a blue piece of paper, tie the package with a string and leave it lying beside the Saint’s image. When they get the wanted job, they need to take a candle out of the package, light it again, and pray to St Rita in appreciation for the granted wish. The next day, they should light another candle and repeat the same ritual until there are no more candles left in the package.
When you want to distance yourself after breaking up with someone (in case the feeling is not mutual), you should get a chili pepper, mash it, mix with salt, put this mixture inside a little bag and always carry it with you. When you meet the person, you need to touch that mixture and then the person’s head.

Why is St Anthony considered a matchmaker?

It is said that there was a girl who really wished to marry, but all single boys would walk away from her as soon as they became aware of her wish. Then a nun gave her some advice: she should buy an image of St Anthony because very soon she would be married. The girl promptly bought the image. But time passed and no suitors emerged. Annoyed by this, she threw the image out the window. But at that very moment, a man was passing by and the image struck his head. He went to complain to the woman in the house, but ended up falling in love and marrying her. Since then, marriages have been credited to St Anthony.

In turn, those who want a specific grace granted must go to the sea (or river), light a white candle on a white plate and put three drops of perfume and some flowers in the water for the Queen of the Sea, pray an Our Father and ask for her help to grant the desired grace. Once the grace is granted, they must return to the sea (or river) to thank the Queen of the Sea.

When an elderly woman wants to get a husband, she must light a small fire and make a salutation to St John, St Peter and the other saints who protect elderly women. On the other hand, anyone who wants to please their beloved ones should wear a new chain with a gold or silver medal of St George for twenty-four hours, and on the next day offer it to their beloved. Attention: the medal has to be bought by the person themselves. Anyone who wants to have a happy marriage should pray to Our Lady of the Conception and to St Anthony the day before the wedding, and ask them to grant them this grace.

Below is the translation of a powerful prayer to conquer great love. It should be prayed for seven days in a row.

My great friend Saint Anthony, you who are the protector of lovers, look upon me, at my life, at my desires. Defend me from danger and spare me from failure, delusion, disenchantment. Make me realistic, confident, worthy and happy. May I find a boy/girlfriend who pleases me, who is hardworking, virtuous, and responsible. Guide me on our future path, and in our life together, with the help of those who received from God a sacred vocation and a social duty. May my courtship be happy and my love without measure. Let all boy/girlfriends seek mutual understanding, communion of life and growth in faith. Amen.

An impossible cause can be with the following prayer to St Jude Thaddaeus:

Most holy Apostle St. Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the name of the traitor who delivered the beloved Master into the hands of His enemies has caused you to be forgotten by many, but the Church honours and invokes you universally as the patron of hopeless cases, of things despaired of. Pray for me who am so miserable; make use, I implore you, of this particular privilege accorded to you, to bring visible and speedy help, where help is almost despaired of. Come to my assistance in this great need, that I may receive the consolations and succour of Heaven in all my necessities, tribulations and sufferings, particularly (here make your request), and that I may bless God with you and all the elect forever. I promise you, O blessed St. Jude, to be ever mindful of this great favour, and I will never cease to honour you as my special and powerful patron and to do all in my power to encourage devotion to you. Amen.

If an unattractive woman wants to get a handsome boyfriend, even if to make beautiful women jealous, it is recommended that she boil a cut of snake plant (St George’s sword) in a pot of water for three hours. When the water is cool, she should wash her face with that water and ask St. George to “transform” her into a beautiful princess.

To increase a child’s appetite, their food scraps should be collected for three days, then put on a white plate and sprinkled with sugar. This mixture should then be placed in a garden and offered to Sts Cosmas & Damian.

Whoever wants to achieve something difficult should ask St Clare on 11 August and pray for nine days holding a lit candle. When grace is granted, they must publish the following prayer in a newspaper:

Oh, Saint Clare, who followed Christ with your life of poverty and prayer, make sure that, by entrusting ourselves to the providence of the heavenly Father, in complete abandonment, let us calmly accept your superb will.

When a person wants to find their lost documents, they must stamp their right foot on the ground seven times and ask for help from St Linus. Once the documents are found, they need to pray an Our Father and a Hail Mary. Other superstitions are as follows: 1) one cannot curse when lighting a fire or the devil comes to help; 2) when you burn your tongue, it is because someone in the family is hungry; 3) menstruating woman should not whip eggs, stir porridge, season chicken or roast pork because it will go wrong; 4) a pregnant woman in the kitchen helps cake batter to rise; 5) maidens should not sit at the head of the table because they’ll never marry; 6) whoever kills a dog owes a soul to St Lazarus; 7) a cock crowing various times during the day is a bad omen. If it sings exactly at noon, it is a sign that a girl has run away from home, and at ten o’clock, it is a sign of marriage; 8) rue (herb-of-grace) or bellyache bush (black physicnut) keep away the evil eye; 9) broken mirrors, Friday the thirteenth and black cats can be unlucky; and 10) you can cure asthma by drinking toasted vulture liver dissolved in water (the same treatment is indicated for alcoholics).

It can be observed that even in the 21st century, a portion of the Brazilian population still believed in prayers, sortileges, sympathies, scourges, novenas, promises to saints and infallible recipes. As long as this remains, people will continue to make requests to orishas, healers, blessers and prayers, since they believe in the power of their intermediation, along with supernatural forces, as the safest way for the fulfilment of their dreams and desires.





Recife, 8 May 2008.

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how to quote this text

VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Crenças populares daqui e dali. In: Pesquisa Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2008. Available at: Accessed: month day year. (Exemple.: Aug. 6, 2023.)