I remember the excitement of celebrating Carnaval every year as a little girl in Brazil. My mother designed our costumes and sewed them on her Singer machine. She added sequins, lace, and tulle by hand. The butterfly costume with translucent violet wings was my favorite. It won first place in our community’s children’s competition.
We watched the parade competitions on our black-and-white television. The percussion rhythm of the samba vibrated throughout the country. Performers wearing elaborate costumes, others nothing but heels and a few strategically placed feathers, danced the samba steps in the avenues as crowds cheered from the sidelines. Extravagant floats rolled by in explosions of confetti and streamers.
Millions of people celebrate Carnaval in Brazil every year. Carnaval comes from the Latin Carne vale, or “farewell to the flesh.” This annual event starts on the Friday before Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent per Roman Catholic tradition.
Samba is Brazil’s most typical music and dance genre known for its rhythm and drumming style originating from Afro-Brazilian religions. Samba means “to pray.” A samba school is a marching, drumming, and dancing group associated with a particular community.
PHOTOGRAPHY: MARCO ANTONIO TEIXEIRA/RIOTUR
It’s been years since we celebrated Carnaval. As Christians, we understand that the depravity and debauchery displayed during the festivities dishonor God.
For the past two years, because of the global pandemic, Carnaval has been canceled. However, this year, from April 20th through April 30th, Carnaval returned with a vengeance.
On Ash Wednesday, the judges announced the winner for Rio de Janeiro. And the theme for the champion samba school for 2022 was the deity Exu.
Who is Exu?
PHOTOGRAPHY: FABIO MOTTA/RIOTUR
Exu, or Eschu in the Yoruba language, is considered a trickster god, a messenger, a diviner of the future, and even a “benevolent” spirit existing in mostly all African-Diaspora traditions. Although Exu is considered dangerous and unpredictable, many religions that worship him view him as “not inherently evil.”
As a teenager, I became a Umbanda medium. Umbanda is a Brazilian syncretic religion combining African Ifa Yoruba faith, Roman Catholicism, and Spiritism beliefs. This belief system spread throughout the Americas during the slave trade. At the temple where we worshipped and became possessed with our “spirit guides of light” (now I understand these spirits are demonic), I met Exu firsthand.
PHOTOGRAPHY: THIAGO LARA/RIOTUR
On one Thursday of each month, the temple was closed off to the public to worship Exu and Pomba Gira (spirits similar to Succubus and Incubus). The justification behind the need to honor the Exu line of spirits was to appease them. Exu was considered the temple’s guardian, and unless we paid him homage each month, he would become disruptive and threatening. During this session, the mediums became possessed, drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes and cigars, danced seductively, and declared obscenities while demanding offerings and sacrifices to fulfill petitions.
It never occurred to me as a fifteen-year-old to question these ceremonies. I was a willing participant, lighting black and red candles, bowing down before the altar, and inviting these demonic entities to take over my body.
Recently, I watched a YouTube video titled, “They are Mocking God!” This video by Pastor Antonio Junior in Brazil showed footage of the samba school celebrating Exu. He stated, “Christians know that the most popular celebration of Brazil has sin as its principal characteristic. Prostitution, abuse, adultery, and drug and alcohol use happen frequently. These days, a type of license to do whatever is wrong without consequences is nothing more than Satan’s lie to destroy people’s lives. This year, the samba schools clearly showed that Carnaval is a celebration of worship to Satan and his demons.”
Pastor Antonio Junior said, “The Samba School’s objective of using Exu as its theme was to combat intolerance of religions with African roots. But this is a lie from Satan to fool people. [Exu] is a demonic entity, a fallen angel, a servant of Satan who causes confusion, discord, and brings people to sin and keep them from Christ and His Truth.”
He noted that many participants and spectators likely became possessed during the parade: “Some participants danced bent backward with hands behind their backs as if in a trance. Was this only a representation? I believe not. By participating in this, the person allows Satan to possess their bodies and do with them as he desires.”
The pastor’s YouTube video is no longer available. Globo.com, a Brazilian news organization and one of the world’s largest media conglomerates, reported that Exu’s celebration by the samba school “is to deconstruct the negative stereotypes attributed to this process of religious racism toward the deity of Exu.”
BBC.com published an article titled, “Rio Carnival: Tribute to Afro-Brazilian god wins the title.” It reported that “a samba group highlighted prejudices against Afro-Brazilian religions has been crowned as the champion…Afro-Brazilian religions have come under attack from Evangelical Churches which mistakenly label Afro-Brazilian deities as demons.”
It is considered hate speech in Brazil to state that these deities are demons. A few years ago, I translated a testimony of a former Candomblé priestess on YouTube. YouTube Brazil sent me an email with attached legal documents stating that I was violating Brazilian hate speech law by posting this evangelical testimony of a former Candomblé practitioner. This video is no longer available in Brazil.
The message by Pastor Antonio Junior is considered religious intolerance. They censored and canceled him. Like here in the U.S., freedom of speech applies only to what the liberal society and media approve.
It is overwhelming to see in real-time the acceptance of wickedness spreading globally. How evil is good, good is evil. Darkness is put for light; light for darkness.
My heart breaks for those blinded by these spiritual practices as I was many years ago. May the Truth and Light of Jesus Christ reach those lost to this deception.
Pastor Antonio Junior stated, “We are living the ends of time.”
In Matthew 9:37, Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”
Ivani Greppi was introduced to the Umbanda (Yoruba) Religion in Brazil at the age of fourteen. She was considered a medium from birth due to her psychic “gifts” of seeing the spirit world from early childhood. Then she found deliverance through Jesus Christ.
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