The Orixas

29 Oct

Dr. Erico Caninha feared for the sanity of his fascinating new patient, who continued to speak not about himself, but about his twin sister. “Olava is completely enthralled by this vile spiritualist,” the young man blurted. “He has convinced her that his phony Xango seances can make her into a new, happy person.”

“That is interesting,” said the psychotherapist with deceptive calm, sitting on a stool beside the therapy couch. He was new to Recife, having moved from San Paulo a year before upon receiving certification as a psychiatrist, one of the few in Brazil in 1921. His office was in the Old City, the center of the state capital of Pernambuco. His practice was too new to have many clients yet. “Tell me, how did your sister become involved in the strange cult?” “Olava has always been alone, except for me, since our parents died several years ago. They perished in a horrible automobile accident while they were touring out in the sertao country.Both of us were shocked and disturbed by the tragedy, of course, but their deaths have obsessed her.”

“I take it that this trauma of hers has affected you due to your close feelings for her.”

“Yes, that is correct,” nodded the patient. “Why do I have such fear for Olava, Dr. Caminha? I can hardly work in the apothecary shop where I am employed. Many of my days must be spent at home because of deep depression and apprehension. What can I do to rescue her from this evil spiritualist, this Xangist?”

“What is the man’s name?”

“Ruy Varega. He resides in the Santo Antonio district.”

“I intend to help you and your sister however I can,” said the therapist. “Can you convince Olava to come to me for treatment?”

“She will refuse, I can predict. All her hopes are in the charlatan. How can I deal with the mania possessing my sister?”

Caminha did not answer at once, thinking quickly and analyzing the situation. There was no way he could deal with his patient, Manoel Amado, without knowing the secret life of the sister. An idea suddenly came to him. “Could you set up an occasion where I can meet Olava? It is a very unorthodox step for me to take, but I am certain it will open doors now closed to me. Will you introduce me?”

The patient relented, for that seemed the only promising path for resolving his own inner turmoil.

A late evening dinner at the Amado home was soon arranged. Erico was to be the only guest invited to the family repast. Manoel did not tell his sister what area of medical practice the doctor specialized in. Dressed in a white cotton gown with rows of ruffles, she was instantly identifiable as his twin. Both of them had the same orange skin shade, the same glistening hazel eyes. The visitor was seated between the two Amados at a heavy mahogany dinner table.

As a maid served the dinner, Olava smiled pleasantly and asked Erico “How do you like our city, Doctor?”

“Oh, I love it here. Everything is so beautiful. Indeed, this is the Venice of Brazil. The rivers and islands give Recife a unique, enticing character.”

“That is only its outer side,” she countered. “It takes considerable time to learn the inner core of the life that goes on here.”

Erico laughed. “Yes, you are right. Real knowledge needs time. There are many subjects I would enjoy studying in Recife. For instance, I have read that this is a very active center for a longtime interest of mine, Brazilian spiritualism. I understand that there are historical and regional differences in the prevailing cults.” He looked directly at her with curiosity shining in his almond eyes.  “I believe those folk traditions explain much about the character of the Brazilian people in the deepest sense. Historically, we have been seekers of explanations and remedies beyond the naturalistic and materialistic. Perhaps we are really a nation of dreamers,” he said with a warm smile.

She gave a slight grin. “That may be the problem with Brazil and its culture, Doctor. Too much imagination and dreaming, not enough of the practical.”

Erico sensed that she was saying the opposite of what she truly believed, concealing her attraction to matters of the occult.

But the young woman abruptly changed the topic of their conversation. “What do you think of our version of the Portuguese language, Doctor? Do you think it is different from how people speak in the south, as in your own Sao Paulo?”

The exchange went on, Manoel taking only a minor role.

Dinner ended pleasantly and the guest prepared to depart when Olava approached him from behind and whispered something that her brother, at the opposite end of the room, could not make out from there. “If you are interested in the spiritualist scene in our city, I have a small booklet on that subject that might be of value to you. Could I fetch it from my chamber, sir?”

Erico replied with an almost invisible nod of his head.

Olava was gone only seconds, returning with the publication in question. She handed it to the man she took to be a conventional medico. As he placed it in his coat pocket, he thanked her kindly.

The reader spent time rapidly reading and digesting the thin booklet. He thought over the material for several days. Its author was Ruy Varega, who identified himself as a member of the Brazilian Federation of Spiritualists. Erico consulted a city directory and discovered that the man lived only a few streets from his own apartment, near the Mercado de Sao Jose. He decided to question the spiritualist directly about Olava Amado and her tragic condition.

Varega lived on the upper story of a three-floor white stucco building. A few raps on the heavy door summoned the tall, bony resident. His sapphire eyes looked inquiringly at the stranger, who was first to speak.

“Senor Ruy Varega?”

“Yes. How can I help you?”

“I read your booklet for the first time recently, and what you said there intrigues me. I had to come and see you at once. Can you spare some of your precious time to answer some questions for me?”

After a brief delay, Varega invited the visitor to enter the parlor and take a sofa chair. He himself sat down across from Erico, on a simple blue ottoman. “What can I do for you?” began the spiritualist with a friendly smile.

The doctor decided it was best to be as candid as possible. “I am a psychotherapist new to Recife. I have always been attracted to the area you write about, in particular that of non-physical communication. Messages from the dead have especially fascinated me. Are they possible, and by what means are they accomplished? Until now there has been no opportunity for me to explore such matters on my own.”

“What do you want or expect from me, then?” inquired Ruy Varega bluntly, his eyes scanning the other’s face carefully.

At a loss as to what to say next, the visitor stalled for time with a question. “How was it that you yourself became involved with unseen forces and influences?”

Varega drew a long breath, then proceeded to describe his life up to that time.

“I was born and raised in Recife, so it was hard for me to avoid contact with or knowledge of these things. What in the South is termed Macumba has other names here in the Northeast. Close by in the state of Bahia it is called Condomble. But in Pernambuco they call their ritual observances Xango. Do you know what I am referring to and what it consists of, sir?”

“The summoning of spirits for communication and healing purposes,” answered Erico. “That is the basis for it in folklore. Many elements are of African origin, I have read. They were combined with practices from elsewhere here in this region, over several centuries. There are many practitioners and believers, I understand.”

The spiritualist bristled as if provoked. “That is a simplified version of what happened. It leaves out much. I am a part of he Umbanda movement. Our methods are refined and advanced, without any superstition attached. We have been a national association of genuine spiritualists since back in the 1860’s. Our federation was founded in 1884. We have studied communication with spirits for a long time and have developed well-tested methods of making contact.

“In fact, I myself have accomplished major advances in establishing methods of extrasensory linkage. My group is far ahead of all others in Pernambuco state. We are the leading pioneers in all of Brazil. My practice rests on solid foundations.” He gazed intently at Caminha for a number of seconds, his curiosity stirred by the unusual medico.”Tell me, would you like to attend our weekly general meeting tonight?”

“Yes,” replied Erico with an eager grin. “I am greatly interested in witnessing it for myself.” He was sure Olava Amado would be there for him to observe and later talk to.

Less than twenty people, mostly men, were present in the rented storeroom. Erico saw Manoel’s twin sister sitting at the end of a row of folding chairs in the rear, a sort of ladies’ section. He nodded a greeting to her, then took a vacant seat in the same row.

Ruy Varega emerged from a door, went to a chair facing the audience, and occupied it. Several seconds of exploratory stares came to an end when he started to speak in a mild, pleasant tone.

“All of us know why we are here: to make contact with particular loved ones who have joined the dead. It is with their disembodied souls we wish to communicate, and that desire is only natural. Are they happy or miserable with their fate? What can they teach us about our own futures? Surely their knowledge far exceeds ours. They are our main connection to the unseen world.

“The principles of Umbanda can help establish links to the departed through the spirit messengers we know as the Orixas. Our knowledge of the latter is far beyond the old African traditions of the slave population transported to Brazil. We modern spiritualists have developed a science of supernatural communication, perfecting techniques for sending and receiving messages through the Orixas. These spirits whom we petition can warn us of dangers or advise us of prospects and opportunities.” He stopped, scanning the audience and evaluating each attendee. Finally, he addressed them again.

“I invite each of you to schedule a private session with me,” he grinned. “My goal is to link all my followers with their loved ones who have passed on.”

Erico watched as Olava went forward, the first of the audience to accept the invitation. He decided to do the same as the next step in his investigation of the twins.

One by one, individuals made arrangements with Varega. The latter wrote down their names and appointment time on his calendar. Olava had left for home by the time the doctor set himself down for a session in late afternoon the following day.

Manoel Amado made a surprise visit to the office early the next morning. His darkened face had a cast of sorrow and anger to it.

Erico ushered him into the therapeutic chamber. He would have no appointments of his own that morning. The two men sat down in chairs facing each other. “Has anything happened that needs immediate attention?” inquired the doctor.

Amado did not answer at once, taking time to formulate a revelation. “I know you attended the meeting last night. You see, I followed my sister there, at a distance and making sure no one saw me. I hovered outside in the street for the duration of the affair. When Olava came out, I ducked behind a corner. But she was waiting for Varega. Then, that monster walked with her to his apartment. I stayed there all night in the street, evading the police patrols that passed by.”

“When did Olava come out?”

“She did not,” muttered the distressed brother. “As far as I can tell, she was still there when the sun rose over Recife. This is a horrible scandal for her. What if it should become generally known? The disgrace could trail Olava for a lifetime.”

“Please calm yourself, Manoel,” said Erico. “We cannot judge merely by outward appearances. More information is needed for any solid conclusions.” The pair stared at each other a considerable time.

“What shall I do now?” asked the twin at last.

“For now, be patient. Say nothing to her about where she was, and do not question her at all. I have an appointment to see Varega later today. It will be up to me to straighten matters out. I am certain that no irreparable damage has been done. Your sister will survive with her mind and reputation intact.” The psychiatrist rose first, signaling to the patient to do the same.

Without a word, the exhausted Manoel slipped away, leaving Erico with the troubling problem of how to deal with the spiritualist.

All night long, Varega held her hands in his. They were sitting close together in his parlor.

Olava strove to catch hold of one of the Orixa links, but failed again and again The aid of her mentor was not sufficient to overcome the impenetrable wall impeding her. “I have tried and tried, but there is no message from my parents in the Orixas’ realm. Why is this so difficult?”

“My direction has oriented you to the immortal spirit of Jemanja. That is the final home of the female dead, where they forge their bridges into our world. A woman has to seek communication with the dead through the great Orixa of the same sex, Jemanja. She is the one who rules over the ocean and the rivers. None of the difficulty that you experienced makes sense to me, my dear Olava. All I can say is that we must never give up or surrender. This mission of ours demands to be continued.” He had spoken in a resonant voice that energized her some.

“Have other of your followers frequently suffered such frustration?”

Ruy Varega smiled at her. “Yes, many others have struck similar walls. But you are so promising, my dear. It shocks me that this has happened with you.”

“What shall we do then?” she anxiously inquired.

The spiritualist bit his thin lip and whispered to her. “There is something I have often considered but never attempted. I can try to link you with Jemanja’s brother, Oxala. Many men have received messages through him, and we might try bridging with your parents again that way. We shall try that then, tomorrow evening. Can you make it home from here my dear?”

“Yes, I can,” she replied. “But I am tired, and I believe you are, too.” She rose to her feet and made a swift exit out of the apartment.

Erico Caminha, after a session with his one scheduled patient ,spent the afternoon preparing for his appointment with Ruy Varega. He found a book he had recently bought on the history of the state of Pernambuco, turning to the section on popular spirit cults. His  eyes surveyed the descriptions of deities brought to Brazil by African slaves.

The primary Orixa was the creator of the world, named Great Olarum. His twin children, born simultaneously, were Jemanja, ruler of seas and rivers, and Oxala, the spirit of harvesting and procreation in nature.

At the end of that chapter, Erico discovered a description of the demonic Exu. He was the trickster spirit, the originator of evil and death, and thus responsible for pain, illness, and suffering. It was jealous Exu who set Jemanja and Oxala against each other in hatred, making the twins into mortal enemies. Halting his perusal, the psychiatrist mused for a time over the possible implications of what he had just read.

What did it imply about Manoel and Olava? Were they re-enacting the story of Jemanja and Oxala?”

Was that the reason the two were at odds with each other?

Varega gazed with a grin at the new recruit sitting opposite him in his parlor. “I completed a bit of research on you and was surprised by your profession, Doctor,” began the spiritualist. “Everything in my career is open to scrutiny and blameless. The only possible conclusion is that you wish to find out the psychology behind my communications with the dead.”

Erico, for a moment lost, tried to control his voice and expression. “There was no subterfuge intended in my silence over my identity. It would have certainly come out naturally over the course of our conversations. But please accept my apology if I seemed to mislead you.”

Varega was no longer smiling. “My belief is that each of us has a spiritual component. When our inner self is enabled to focus its attention upon the Orixas, it then becomes possible to contact the souls of the dead. All that I teach are methods of relaxation and concentration that facilitate such a bridging over. This has been done for many ages among our native peoples and the Africans brought here. None of it is magical, unnatural, or dangerous.”

The psychiatrist leaned forward. “My interest was aroused by the possible uses of your methods with my own patients in therapy. Specifically, I wonder if many of their troubles might be helped by communicating with their dead loved ones. Do you know of any such cases?”

“I do not consider it my business to delve too far into the personal lives of my followers.”

“Yes, I think that is wise. My special interest lies in the new area called psychoanalysis, the problems buried in the unconscious part of the mind. It is very difficult to penetrate because of the defensive reactions that keep matters repressed in the most shadowy corners of the person. A patient must feel safe and at ease in order to reveal what is hidden from himself. Would you be willing to teach me your method of contacting the spirits through the Orixas? I can pay you for lessons, as it would surely be of value in my psychoanalytic therapy.”

Varega gave a nod. He held out his hands and Dr. Caminha took hold of them to begin his first mental exercise with the spiritualist.

Manoel allowed his sister to sleep in peace all morning and afternoon. When she awoke and came out of her bedroom in the early evening, she appeared surprisingly placid and satisfied, as though her life had gone through a new beginning.

The confrontation between the twins occurred in the kitchen as Olava entered to see what the cook had left for her first meal of the day. “There is a  light merienda in the ice box for you,” said her brother indifferently. “You must be quite hungry, having slumbered away the day. Dare I ask where you were last night? I have been so worried that I asked the day off from work.”

Olava opened the ice box and searched until she found the two snack dishes prepared for her. Then she shut the door and took the plates to the small table at the center of the room and sat down. She seemed to be ignoring her twin brother completely.

Standing beside the large ceramic sink, Manoel watched with rising indignation. “I must conclude that you spent the night with the spiritualist,” he said sharply. “I wonder how your conscience can bear such brazen shamelessness.”

She returned his stare with an icy, angry look, but did not speak to justify herself.

“Why don’t you say something, Olava?” he demanded. “Are you too embarrassed by what transpired between the two of you?”

All at once a dark blush appeared on her tan face. This blow had struck her to the core. She bolted to her feet. Still without a word, she grabbed the plates of food and headed for her room.

Manoel sensed that an irreparable rift had come between them. Not long after, he heard his twin leave. For a considerable while, he did not stir, fretting that her destination that evening must be the same as before, a return to the author of her corruption. If only there was something he could do to rescue her from ruin, from the demonic seduction of her very mind and soul.

His eyes, heavy and weary, closed of their own accord. An uncanny disorientation stole over him. He rose to his feet without conscious thought and went to his bedroom. There he removed from a top dresser drawer an object that had belonged to his late father. With accelerated steps he left the red stucco apartment building. His pace was one of forceful determination.

Erico Caminha spotted him from across the street. The psychiatrist had gone out for a stroll to clear his mind. Swiftly he decided to follow his patient. Something told him Manoel was in a dangerous mood. He deduced that his patient was headed to the spiritualist’s apartment. The street was nearly deserted as the two figures moved along on opposite sides of the narrow avenue.

As the doctor had foreseen, Manoel entered Varega’s building. Once he disappeared, Erico ran across the empty street. He stopped for a moment before the door, then rushed into the first floor hallway. A lone electric lamp illuminated the silent corridor. He looked up the staircase and saw the man he had tailed entering the hallway above.

It was a delicate situation but the psychiatrist sensed that he must not hesitate. Rapidly he mounted the stairs to Varega’s flat, letting his memory of their previous session guide him to the bright, open doorway. Manoel was already inside, close to the door. Erico beheld him, Varega, and Olava standing engulfed in a ghastly silence. The latter pair stared at the first intruder as though paralyzed.

The doctor watched as Manoel reached into the inside pocket of his suit coat and pulled out a tiny black derringer revolver. As the maddened brother pointed the weapon at Varega, Erico dashed forward desperately. His hope was to knock the gun out of his hand or at least ruin his aim if a shot were fired.

All he managed to do was to divert the bullet’s path. By some perverse accident, Manoel Amado shot his twin sister through the heart. Her death was instantaneous as she fell to the floor.

In less than a decade after the tragedy, Erico Caminha became world-renowned as the leader of a Brazilian school of psychoanalysis centered on the concept of interior Orixas complexes. He theorized that every person was born with a psychic double. In men, the ruling spirit was that of Oxala. In women, it was Jemanja. But both genders were liable to suffer internal conflict between the twin figures, sparked by the evil influence of the trickster, Exu.

Erico traced his theory to the case in which one twin had finally taken his sister’s life. Unconsciously, the self-destructive Oxala within Manoel was blinded by rage and hatred against the portion of his own psyche that she symbolized. Ruy Varega, who had fled up the Amazon and disappeared there, had acted unwittingly the part of Exu. His trickery divided Oxala and Jemanja, personified by the tragic Amado twins. The polarized Orixas represented the dual tension at the human being’s struggle for harmony.

The doctor never forgot the tortured patient ,making frequent visits to Manoel at an asylum near Recife, where a court neither merciful nor cruel had sentenced him to spend the rest of his life without his twin.


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