Baixinha was a remarkable woman. A spiritual leader to many hundreds if not thousands, she deeply touched the lives of countless people.
She was known for sacrificing her time and money to mother more than ten children who were not her own. As a young woman she worked three regular jobs just so she could support these orphans.
People say she was clairvoyant by the age of eight. As she entered adulthood, her reputation for great spiritual work grew: first around the state of Rio de Janeiro, then around Brazil, and eventually as as far as Europe and the USA. She was known for her practicing of the Afro-Brazilian traditions of Candomble and Ubanda, where spirits are harnessed and channelled, providing healing to believers. In later years, she worked closely with the Santo Daime church.
Her following was so great that a local Santo Daime church close to TerraMaya was established around her work. Santo Daime is a young religion – formed in the 1930’s – that fuses traditional Indian beliefs with those of the Catholic church. An important part of the work held in the church is the Daime itself – better known as the ancient shamanic brew ayahuasca. The Daime is drank throughout the services in an effort to get closer to the pure energy of the universe – pure Being, or God, as many would call it.
A quick ethnobotany lesson: ayahuasca has been drunk for centuries, if not more, by Amazonian tribes. It has recently seen a huge surge of interest in the West, with many celebrities advocating the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits it offers. It is made from two Amazonian plants boiled together for many hours – the Banisteriopsis caapi, or ayahuasca, vine and the leaves of the chacruna plant, which contains large amounts of the compound DMT. DMT is a fascinating chemical, thought to be produced by the pineal gland in the human brain. It is a powerful psychedelic, and is perhaps responsible for dreams, out of body experiences and for the visions seen in near death experiences.
Back to the story. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a church ceremony held in the local Santo Daime church on the year anniversary of Baixinha’s passing. It sounded daunting: 12 straight hours of dancing in formal rows, singing vigorously to the 200 or so songs in the service’s ‘hinário’, or songbook.
But it was surely an opportunity I couldn’t miss. To be part of an all night traditional Brazilian church service, with song, dance, togetherness and this magical drink known as Daime, I couldn’t refuse!
We arrived at 7pm. Around two hundred others were already in the church – a circular structure with open windows around the walls and benches at the sides. Green and white paper bunting was hung across every inch of ceiling, starting at the walls and meeting at the centre point.
The men, dressed in white suits and black tie, were on the right of the door, women, wearing white dresses with white crowns placed on their heads, were on the left. Shortest people were at the front, leading up to the tallest at the back. This fulfils two purposes: it allows everybody to see the musicians in the centre and also best allows the energy to flow around the room.
Talking about energy may sound a little esoteric. But energy channelling and flow is a major part of the Santo Daime work.
We start dancing, three steps to the left, three to the right, and singing in unison. I did my best to keep up with the Portuguese words. The constant guitars, flute and percussive rhythmic shakers were insistent. And the energy was beginning to feel tangible.
And we go for the first serving of the Daime.
And more singing, more relentless movement. And the second serving of the Daime. And strange thoughts are beginning to creep into my mind.
And yet more song, more movement, three steps to the left, three to the right. Singing loudly, dancing proudly. And yet another serving of the Daime.
And soon the room is spinning, circling like a great spaceship, faster and faster. Lights seem deeper, perspective takes on new dimensions. And we’re in unison: everybody is as one, together in step, in voice, one entity. We’re one being, marching the long way home across the challenging terrain of our inner worlds. I’m faced with my insecurities, the fears I’ve harboured, the relationships I’ve wasted, the mistakes I’ve made. My friends and relatives are so near, tangible. I can see the sum of how things became to be. Words fail. I feel myself transform into a giant serpent, a terrible reptile full of venom. I focus on the steps, the singing, and manage to push the sensation away. And still we sing, still we dance, still we stay together in a communal focus.
A friend had told me that the Latin root for the word ‘focus’ meant ‘the fire in the centre’. I focus on this fire in the centre of my soul. With the focus on my steps, the focus on my singing, the focus on my fire within, I overcome the crippling thoughts in my head.
And the focus keeps me going. 12 straight hours. Focus on the steps, focus on the singing. Focus.
I left the church a broken man at 8am the next morning. My back was agony, my legs were dead weight. But I’d made it. Home through the torment, with the congregation unified. We were together. And I knew, through the focus and the Daime, that I’d had a fresh perspective on myself and my life.
That evening I felt incredibly energised. Invigorated and clean, in complete balance. It was as though I really knew myself, and that everything was right.
I think I’m starting to understand why people go to these services. And why Baixinha was so greatly loved.
I’ll sign off with the traditional words used to open and close ceremonies in Baixinha’s church:
Vida! Saúde! Felicidade!
Life! Health! Happiness!