Monday, August 20, 2018

Little Known Religions: Candomblé

Candomblé at a glance
Candomblé is a religion based on African beliefs which is particularly popular in Brazil. It is also practiced in other countries, and has as many as two million followers.
The religion is a mixture of traditional Yoruba, Fon and Bantu beliefs which originated from different regions in Africa. It has also incorporated some aspects of the Catholic faith over time.
A religion which combines elements of many religions is called a syncretic religion.
Enslaved Africans brought their beliefs with them when they were shipped to Brazil during the slave trade. 
The name Candomblé means 'dance in honor of the gods'.
Practitioners of Candomblé believe in one all powerful God called Oludumaré who is served by lesser deities. These deities are called orixas. (They can also be called voduns and inkices.)
Candomblé practitioners believe that every person has their own individual orixa which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector.
Music and dance are important parts of  Candomblé ceremonies. Specially choreographed dances are performed by worshippers to enable them to become possessed by the orixas.
There is no concept of good or bad, in Candomblé. Each person is only required to fulfil his or her destiny to the fullest, regardless of what that is.
Candomblé is an oral tradition and therefore has no holy scriptures.
The first official temple was founded at the beginning of the 19th century in Salvador, Bahia in Brazil.


Practitioners of Candomblé believe in one all powerful God called Oludumaré who is served by lesser deities. These deities are called orixas, voduns and inkices.
Orixas are ancestors who have been deified. These orixas can be from recent history, perhaps only one hundred years old, or they may be over a thousand years old. Orixas are a link between the spiritual world and the world of humans.
Practitioners of Candomblé believe in one all powerful God called Oludumaré who is served by lesser deities. These deities are called orixas, voduns and inkices.
Orixas are ancestors who have been deified. These orixas can be from recent history, perhaps only one hundred years old, or they may be over a thousand years old. Orixas are a link between the spiritual world and the world of humans.

Voduns and inkices are spirit gods, essentially the same as orixas. Candomblé is a synthesis of three African religions, Yoruba, Fon and Bantu, and voduns and inkices are the names preferred by the other two sects. For the purposes of clarity, the term orixa will be used throughout the article.
Candomblé practitioners believe that every person has their own individual orixa which controls his or her destiny and acts as a protector. Each orixa represents a certain force in nature and is associated with certain foods, colors, animals and days of the week. A person's character or personality is strongly linked to their orixa.
Collectively, ancestor spirits are called 'Baba Egum' in Brazil. This is also known as 'Egungun' in other parts of South America.
During important ceremonies, priests and priestesses will masquerade as Baba Egum. Specially choreographed dances will be performed in order to become possessed of each ancestor spirit. 
Concepts of Good and Bad
There is no concept of good or bad in Candomblé. Each person is only required to fulfill his or her destiny to the fullest, regardless of what that is. This is not a free ticket to do whatever you want though. Candomblé teaches that any evil you cause to people will return to you eventually.
The Baba Egum are important in regulating the moral code of Candomblécists. It is their responsibility to make sure that moral standards of the past are continued in the present. This is regulated during the worship ceremonies.
When a person becomes possessed of their ancestor spirit during the ceremony, they may act out scenes from the community to highlight both good and bad actions in a sort of public tribunal.

 Holy Scriptues
Candomblé is an oral tradition and therefore has no holy scriptures.
A New Initiate's Story
Like many people who eventually found their spiritual home in candomblé I was drawn to it by a deep respect and fascination for the orixás, an admiration of its mythology, and by the charisma of a priest who invited me to join his temple.This priest ushered me into his spiritual home by casting a set of sacred cowries and determining the role my mother's and father's ancestors played in my life, what my destiny (odu) had in store for me, and what deities  would guide me through my life. After many months of interacting with the members of the temple,and gaining their acceptance, a date was set for my initiation, whereupon I would receive the title of Odé Aperin, servant of the hunting deity Oxossi.
On the night of my initiation I arrived at the temple wearing old clothes, and was led to an ancestral grove in a candle-lit procession. For the next three days I underwent a series of rituals and libations that invited my deity to take charge of my inner, spiritual head. Due to my special relationship with another priest some rituals were performed in his presence. (Longer, more elaborate rituals are performed on initiates who become fully possessed by their deity.)
On the final day the temple was prepared for a great party, whereupon the hunting deities descended to celebrate life, dance and offer visitors a banquet featuring their favourite foods. Priests from other temples and 'nations' (Candomblé has several 'nations', reflecting the different African nations the slaves came from) arrived and I was presented to the community at large: a long line was formed and all those present embraced me and wished me well. The drummers sang in many different languages (yoruba, fon, bantu) as the night wore on and deities from these different nations arrived.
Once the African deities departed the party continued, the drummers moved outside the temple and played samba. This acted as a 'call' for the ancient spirits of the land (belonging to sailors, Indians, slaves) to 'arrive', arbitrarily possessing priests and other initiates. These fun-loving and mischievous entities made sure that even the shyest person (which was no longer me) had a beer or two before going home.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Picture of the Week, No, 2

Tim Delaney steadies his dog Midnight before tossing a ball while working on retrieving training in the Presumpscot River on August 15th, 2018, in Windham, Maine.

A man jumps into the lake near the town of Gjakova, Kosovo, as a heat-wave sweeps across Europe on August 12th, 2018.  

President Donald Trump views air-assault exercises at Fort Drum, New York, on August 13th, 2018, before a signing ceremony for H.R. 5515, the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

An Indian woman looks down the barrel of an 84mm rocket launcher during an Indian-army exhibition at Panther Stadium in Amritsar, India, on August 11th, 2018.

Copenhagen's Dame N'Doye celebrates scoring his second goal during the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League in Copenhagen, Denmark, on August 16th, 2018.

A woman is baptized at "La Luz del Mundo" (The Light of the World) Church on August 13th, 2018, in Guadalajara, Mexico.  

A religious leader, or mangku, files down a young woman's teeth during the Metatah tooth-filing ceremony in the village of Tegal Darmasaba, Badung Regency, Bali, Indonesia, on August 10th, 2018. Young people from villages in southern Bali, dressed in gold-colored outfits, attend this coming-of-age tradition, where the sharper parts of their canines and incisors are smoothed as a way to show their shift into adulthood and their dedication to fight human evils such as desire, anger, and greed.

A newborn endangered silvery gibbon hangs on its mother, Alangalang, at the Prague Zoo on August 14th, 2018.  

A girl lies in a hammock, with the Milky Way in the background, during the peak of the Perseid meteor shower in Kozjak, Macedonia, on August 13th, 2018.

People watch flames from the Holy Fire outside Glen Ivy Hot Springs in Corona, California, southeast of Los Angeles, on August 10st, 2018. 


Berthe Morisot, French Woman Painter.

Self Portrait

Berthe Morisot, was born on January 14th, 1841, in Bourges, France  and died on March 2nd, 1895,  in Paris, France. She was a French painter and printmaker who exhibited regularly with the Impressonists and, despite the protests of friends and family, continued to participate in their struggle for recognition.

The daughter of a high government official (and a granddaughter of the important Rococo painter Jean-Honore Frogonard), Morisot decided early to be an artist and pursued her goal with seriousness and dedication. From 1862 to 1868 she worked under the guidance of Camiille Corot. She first exhibited paintings at the Salon in 1864. Her work was exhibited there regularly through 1874, when she vowed never to show her paintings in the officially sanctioned forum again. In 1868 she met Edouard Manet, who was to exert a tremendous influence over her work. He did several portraits of her (e.g., Reposec. 1870). Manet had a liberating effect on her work, and she in turn aroused his interest in outdoor painting. In 1874 she married Manet’s younger brother, Eugène, also a painter.

Morisot’s work never lost its Manet-like quality - an insistence on design - nor did she become as involved in color-optical experimentation as her fellow Impressionists. Her paintings frequently included members of her family, particularly her sister, Edma (e.g., The Artist’s Sister, Mme Pontillon, Seated on the Grass, 1873; and The Artist’s Sister Edma and Their Mother, 1870). Delicate and subtle, exquisite in color - often with a subdued emerald glow - they won her the admiration of her Impressionist colleagues. Like that of the other Impressionists, her work was ridiculed by many critics. Never commercially successful during her lifetime, she nevertheless outsold Claude Monet, Pierre- August Renoir and Alfred Sislley. She was a woman of great culture and charm and counted among her close friends Stephane Mallarme. Edgar Degas, Charles Baudelaire,  Emile Zola, Emmanuel Chabrier, Renoir, and Monet.


Paintings by Berthe Morisot

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Little Known Religions: The Yezidi Religion

The Yezidi religion, with 4,000 year-old origins, seems to be a synthesis of pagan, Zoroastrian, Manichaean, Jewish, Nestorian Christian and Muslim elements. Yezidis are dualists, believing in a Creator God, now passive, and Malak Ta’us (Peacock Angel), executive organ of divine will. They believe they are descended from Adam but not Eve and are thereby different from the rest of humankind. Excommunication, therefore, has dire implications. Conversely, one cannot become a Yezidi and marriage outside of the community is forbidden. The name probably derives from the Persian ized (angel, deity). Historically, they have been subject to severe persecution owing to their beliefs and practices.
Prior to the ISIS advance, Iraq’s Yezidis numbered approximately 500,000 and were concentrated in Sinjar, 150 kilometres west of Mosul, with a smaller community in Shaikhan, the Kurdistan foothills east of Mosul, where their most holy shrine of Shaykh Adi is located. The Yezidis are by and large impoverished cultivators and herdsmen who have a strictly graded religio-political hierarchy and tend to maintain a more closed community than other ethnic or religious groups. Yezidis speak the Kormanje dialect of Kurdish and some identify ethnically as Kurds, while others view themselves as having a distinct ethnic identity as Yezidis.
Historical Context
Yezidis traditionally were tribally organized. Some tribes were willing to combine in confederation with Muslim and Christian tribes under an acknowledged paramount chief. Until the nineteenth century they were a formidable presence around Mosul, but endured devastating assaults from Sunni Kurdish tribes and Ottoman troops, partly because of the disorder created by Yezidi tribes but also because of growing religious antipathy, heightened by European interest in the Yezidis.
Following the formation of Iraq, the Yezidis proved resistant to both British and Iraqi efforts to extend direct administration to the region. Iraqi efforts to introduce conscription led to repeated uprisings, notably 1935-40, critically at a time when the Shammar bedouin were encroaching on traditional Yezidi pasturage. Conscription was closely associated with Ottoman rule, removed vital manpower, and exposed Yezidis to cohabitation in barracks with ‘sons of Eve’.
The Yezidis have always remained on the fringes of Iraqi society, but because of the strategic position of Sinjar Mountain they received unwelcome attention from Hussein’s state security. Under the Ba’ath regime, repeated efforts were made to Arabize the area and also to persuade Yezidis that they were really Arab. Reaction was mixed, but some Yezidis supported the Kurdish national movement. Yezidis reluctantly served in the army against Iran, and the community escaped the Anfal, the Kurdish genocide, in 1987-8.
In the wake of the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq, Yezidis faced increased persecution by religious extremists who incorrectly regarded them as ‘devil worshippers’ due to a misinterpretation of their religion. Community members were regularly targeted by extremists, a July 2008 report from Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights estimating that between 2003 and the end of 2007, a total of 335 Yezidis had been killed in direct or indirect attacks. The effect of these and later attacks on the community were often far reaching. During 2013, for instance, there were numerous attacks on Yezidi students attending Mosul University. By the end of the year, approximately 2,000 Yezidi students had stopped attending their classes at the university.
Under persistent pressure to assimilate with Iraqi Kurds, particularly in the northern territories, abduction and forced marriage were particular risks for Yezidis. Yezidi activists reported that, after 2003, there were numerous cases of Yezidi women being abducted and forced to marry members of the Kurdish security force Asayish. Yezidi families were threatened with reprisals if women and girls refused marriage with militia members. Such marriages effectively sealed off these women from their families and communities as Yezidi beliefs prohibit marriage outside the religion, and those who undertake such vows thereby renounce their faith and must identify as Kurdish.
The advance of ISIS into Sinjar in August, 2014. led to the displacement of almost the entire Yezidi community and the capture, killing and enslavement of thousands. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces, who had been protecting the area, withdrew without warning, leaving the local population defenceless. An estimated 200,000 Yezidi civilians fled for their lives, with at least 50,000 heading to Sinjar Mountain, where they were trapped in the scorching summer heat for days without food or water. Those unable to escape or who attempted to defend their villages from ISIS fighters were subsequently murdered or abducted, with large-scale massacres of Yezidi men and boys in the villages of Qiniyeh, Kocho and Jdali. Thousands of Yezidi women and girls were abducted for the purpose of forced marriage or sexual slavery. Large numbers of women were subsequently transported to Syria to be sold or forcibly married to ISIS fighters. ISIS’ treatment of the Yezidi minority has been labeled as genocide by the United Nations and several other international organizations. According to recent estimates by international academics published in POLS Health, released by the KRG authorities, around 6,800 Yezidis were kidnapped and around 3,100 killed as a result of the ISIS advance, primarily over a few days in early August, 2014.
Current Issues
The majority of Yezidis displaced by the ISIS advance are living in camps and informal settlements in Iraqi Kurdistan, especially in Dohuk governorate. Women and girls who escaped from ISIS captivity, and who faced rape, torture, forced conversion and other serious violations, are deeply traumatized by their ordeals, and their psychological recovery is impeded by the fact that many have family members who are still missing. As of late 2016, an estimated 3,700 Yezidis remained in ISIS captivity.
The reintegration of children captured by ISIS into the Yezidi community is another challenge. Hundreds of Yezidi boys who were captured in 2014 were separated from their families and brought to ISIS training centers where they were indoctrinated in the group’s ideology, given military training and forced to fight for the group. Former child soldiers will require intensive counseling and rehabilitation to overcome the trauma they have endured by being exposed to brutal violence at a young age, and to reintegrate into the Yezidi community.
Sinjar was retaken from ISIS control in November, 2015 by a coalition of Kurdish and Yezidi forces. Nevertheless, very few Yezidi civilians have returned to live in the area. The area is under the control of local Yezidi militias as well as forces affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) authorities have restricted access to Sinjar, preventing the flow of food, water and other materials in and out of the region, ostensibly to prevent the supplying of PKK forces. However, the blockade also affects the movement of humanitarian aid and prevents Yezidi civilians from resettling in their areas.
The future political status of Sinjar remains an open-ended question. Many Yezidis are deeply distrustful of the KRG authorities, since they view the Peshmerga’s withdrawal from Sinjar in 2014 as having paved the way for their genocide at the hands of ISIS. As a result, many are opposed to any attempts to incorporate Sinjar as part of Iraqi Kurdistan. Some Yezidi leaders are advocating for an autonomous zone, possibly with some measure of international protection. However, without concrete guarantees of security and investment in reconstruction, it is unlikely that large numbers of Yezidis will begin returning to Sinjar. Many are instead choosing to emigrate, their recent experience at the hands of ISIS having convinced them that they are no longer safe in Iraq. By mid-2016, it was estimated that around 120,000 Yezidis have sought asylum in Europe since 2014.