Abstract This article examines the devotion to souls in São Paulo—a practice that involves lighting candles for and petitioning the souls of the anonymous, suffering dead—by focusing on the particularity of place. To that end, it employs the notion of religious transit (trânsito religioso), used by Brazilian scholars to talk about religious change and movement. But whereas most literature on the subject has focused on switching affiliation, this article explores how affect shapes devotees’ religious transit through urban space. It argues that, in the context of the devotion, mutual suffering underpins a relationship of mutual aid, drawing together the living and departed at places of trauma and death. “I BEGAN on a doctor’s suggestion,” Maria said. “Dr. Efrem. I don’t know if you already heard of him.” I had not, and I wondered if I heard correctly. Why was Maria telling me about a doctor? We were standing outside the Chapel of the Our Lady of the Afflicted, a small Catholic chapel in central São Paulo, where Maria had come to pray to the souls of the dead. “I went to his office, I had some health problems, and he said to come here,” she said. Dr. Efrem recommended Maria pray a trezena, or thirteen-week prayer cycle, to the thirteen souls. “He gave me a pamphlet, and told me to follow the pamphlet, and I came here to pray.” And it worked, she said. “I got such marvelous things, things I really needed.” Her health improved, and business got better. Within a year, she managed to purchase two properties she had her eye on. Maria had been a devota das almas (devotee of the souls) ever since. Though baptized and confirmed Catholic, Maria described herself as “Kardecist Catholic.” Kardecist Spiritism, the séance religion developed by Alan Kardec in the 1850s and 60s in France, is popular in Brazil, and Maria began visiting Kardecist centers as a teenager. Now she most often goes to Perseverança, a large Kardecist center in the eastern part of the city known for its humanitarian work. She had always been curious about religion, she said, especially when she “sort of lost her footing” following her divorce. Then she went everywhere—Spiritist centers, neo-Pentecostal churches, even Kingdom Halls of Jehova’s Witnesses. “I’d go here, I’d go there, a friend would call and I’d go!” she said. Eventually she toned down. “I understood that I have to be with my own faith,” she said, “that my church is inside me.” Still, Maria remained deeply attached to the Chapel of the Afflicted. “I have faith in these prayers, and I believe that here… I don’t know, there’s something here in this place,” she said. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel it has a strong energy.”1 It was a special place, a refuge from São Paulo’s chaos, where one could pray in peace. Others I interviewed said the same, describing the chapel as “serene,” “tranquil,” and “full of good energy.” And like other venues for the devotion to souls (devoção às almas or culto das almas), the Chapel of Our Lady of the Afflicted is remembered as a place of suffering. Built in 1779, it was once part of a cemetery for slaves and paupers. Today, this relic of old São Paulo is a place of haunting and devotion, a privileged site for accessing the dead. This article examines the devotion to souls in São Paulo by focusing on the particularity of place. To this end, I employ what Brazilian scholars have called religious transit (trânsito religioso), which they have used to make sense of the country’s shifting religious demographics. But whereas most literature on the subject has focused on switching affiliation, I explore religious transit’s utility for calling attention to movement through urban space. I argue that eclectic practitioners like Maria do not just move between religions like Catholicism and Kardecist Spiritism in the abstract. Rather, they move between specific places—between this church and that Spiritist center—for particular reasons. When practitioners told me about their devotion, they spoke concretely. They talked about taking to São Paulo’s streets, crossing the city, and petitioning the dead at spaces of suffering. Suffering shapes the spatial trajectories of the living and the dead. In the second part of this article, I consider how the devotion to souls calls attention to religious transit’s affective dimensions. Practitioners pray to the dead for different reasons, but almost all start from a place of vulnerability. They seek the souls’ help with everyday problems like finding employment, legal troubles, and family strife. So on Mondays, the “day of the souls,” devotees travel to places of trauma to petition the anonymous, suffering dead, who they say are especially powerful to help the living. And according to devotees, the souls also move, traveling toward candles to “come get a bit of the flame” and ease their otherworldly anguish. Mutual suffering underpins a relationship of mutual aid, drawing together the living and departed. Death is singular in its inevitability, but the revenant dead are many. The shape they take and places they dwell depend on how people in the present confront the past. This is to say that the devotion to souls requires not just attention to space and affect, but also to memory. As a pit grave for criminals and the indigent, the Chapel of the Afflicted is home to the socially dead. It is fitting, then, that devotees go there to pray to the souls. Whether or not they know the chapel’s past, their devotion sustains the obscured memories of that place. As Paul Ricœur writes, “To remember is to have a memory or set off in search of a memory” (Ricœur 2004, 4). What I want to suggest is that the devotion to souls helps us think about how religious transit is not only about abstract movement between systems of belief, but about sentient bodies moving through space and time. ECLECTIC DEVOTEES On Mondays, the Chapel of the Afflicted is muito movimentada (“very movement-ed”), busy with visitors who seek favors of the souls. The practice comes from a tradition of devotion to souls in purgatory, who, in Brazil and Portugal, have long been seen as able to intercede on behalf of the living (Campos 2013, 39). It was integral to Catholic lay brotherhoods and was promoted by ecclesiastical authorities and the Portuguese crown. Dom João V (reigned 1706–50), in particular, was famous for his “ardent devotion to liberate the souls from purgatory,” which resulted in his funding 700,000 masses annually for the purgatorial dead in the final years of his reign (D’Araújo 1989, 152–53). According to Agaldisa Arantes Campos, “the devotion to souls was so familiar and rooted in the religious practices of the Portuguese that there was a veritable pious dialogue between the world of the living and that of the dead” (Campos 2004, 151). This “pious dialogue” extended to Brazil, where the devotion to souls remains popular today. Though sometimes idiosyncratic, the practice entails lighting candles for the dead in cemeteries or Catholic churches on Mondays.2 Some of the devotees who visit the Chapel of the Afflicted go straight to its candle room without ever entering the nave. Most, though, come inside to buy candles and chat with Dona Renata, the chapel’s administrator. When I visited over the course of 2014, I would pull up a chair and sit beside Renata and chat with her and the chapel’s visitors. “This church is bem mística [very mystical],” she would always say, telling me stories of apparitions or afflicted souls appearing to people in dreams. One day, just after I had finished interviewing a devotee who was interested in Kardecism, Renata turned to me. “See,” she said, “I told you this church is very mystical! The people who come here, they say, ‘I’m Catholic and Spiritist,’ or ‘I’m Catholic and Umbandista.’ But you already know it’s like that, right?”3 I had to agree. Like Maria, over two-thirds of those I interviewed at the Chapel of the Afflicted identified as non-Catholic or as Catholic and something else too, or said they were Catholic but frequented non-Catholic religious places.4 Dona Renata did not mind this eclecticism, but she disapproved of visitors bringing other religions into the chapel. “Did you see the oferenda [offering]?” she asked me one morning, referring to an offering someone had left in the candle room. I had—before walking inside, the chapel’s janitor showed me a shallow tray of popcorn wrapped in white cloth. He said it was probably in offering to Obaluaê, the Yoruba orixá, or deity, associated with sickness, health, and cemeteries. “I don’t have any prejudice against these religions,” Renata said, visibly annoyed. “But the church isn’t the place to leave an offering. And I don’t want to clean it up.” She said she used to scold those who left behind offerings, but the priest who delivered mass in the chapel at the time told her to stop. Just throw out the offerings after they leave, he said. Renata complied, but did not see why some people insisted on leaving things for other gods there, in a Catholic church.5 As Stephen Selka observes, “Perhaps more than any other country in the Americas, Brazil is known for its cultural eclecticism and religious syncretism” (Selka 2012, 3). The devotion to souls would appear to be a case in point. Although typically practiced in Catholic churches, the devotion “counts on the significant presence of practitioners of Umbanda, Candomblé, and spiritists more generally” (Birman 1992, 167; see also Vilenha 2013). Material traces like offerings or colored candles for Afro-Brazilian gods and spirits render these practitioners’ presence visible, as does their comportment. Practitioners of the Afro-Brazilian spirit tradition Umbanda, for instance, typically exit candle rooms facing inward so as to not turn their backs to the holy.6 Used in this sense, syncretism would seem to plainly designate religion “out of place” (Birman 1992; see also O’Neill 2013). But as scholars have long noted, syncretism is a problematic term. It “essentializes too much” (Johnson 2002a, 302; see also Stewart and Shaw 1994), implying pure and prior essences that degrade through mixture. It is also ambiguous (see Baird 1967; Palmié 1995), alternately referring to everything from ostensible religious syntheses and religion “out of place,” to social or historical processes of mixture, to individual religious eclecticism.7 At a place like the Chapel of the Afflicted, it is clear enough that Catholicism, Candomblé, and Kardecist Spiritism were not “syncretizing” on their own accord. Rather, devotees with multiple religious commitments were traveling to this particular church to pray to the dead. But why? What was special about this place? RELIGIOUS TRANSIT “I came to this church because a friend told me about it,” Carla said. “He’s from Candomblé.” Carla and I met at the Chapel of the Afflicted, where she was teaching her young nephew to pray to the dead. “I was having some problems, and one day, [my friend] took me and said ‘go there to the church of the souls and light candles for your ancestors.’” At the time, Carla said, “I was unemployed, so I was able to come every Monday. I came, I prayed to the souls, and I received a big favor—my job.” Curious about her mention of Candomblé, the “Brazilian redaction of West African” orixá religion (Johnson 2002b, 41), I asked Carla about her religious affiliation. “If it were the census, I’d say Spiritist. I’m of a more Spiritualist line,” she said, indicating her affinity for Brazil’s different mediumship traditions.8 “I can go to a Candomblé terreiro, just like I can come to a Catholic church. You don’t necessarily have to have the religion, you have to be where you feel good, where you have a connection [tem trânsito] with something that you think is more elevated.”9 Note Carla’s spatial, affective language. She first responded in terms of affiliation, as was appropriate to my question: “What is your religion? How would you answer on the census?” But she quickly spoke of traveling (“I can go to,” “I can come to”) to religious places (like Candomblé terreiros and Catholic churches) that engender feelings of well-being and connection (“you have to be where you feel good, where you have a connection with something”). In interviews, many other devotees did the same. “I feel good when I come here,” another devotee told me. She came to pray to the thirteen souls, who a friend had told her about. “I’m a very open person, very eclectic. So, for me, everything is valid,” she said. “The doors are open.”10 In the late twentieth century, Brazilian scholars began to describe the country’s religious dynamics in terms of religious transit (trânsito religioso). The timing coincides with dramatic changes in the Brazilian religious landscape. Between 1980 and 2010, evangelical Protestant affiliation grew exponentially—from 7.8 million to 42.3 million—as more Brazilians than ever declared themselves “without religion” and Catholic affiliation reached an all-time low (IGBE 2010). At the same time, scholars have questioned the utility of conversion for understanding these changes. Conversion implies a “radical break and shift from one fixed identity marker to another,” ill-suited to characterize individuals’ “often-subtle” fluctuations between religions (Gez et al. 2017, 22; see also Almeida and Montero 2001; Frigerio 2010; Bartz, Bobsin, and von Sinner 2012; Bitun 2011). Religious transit, on the other hand, is meant to be less definitive and more processual, signaling continual change rather than largely stable and exclusive religious identities. Although its proponents have cast religious transit as broadly useful for understanding religion in contemporary Brazil, most work on the subject has focused on switching affiliation.11 This is due at least in part to the success of Almeida and Montero’s “Trânsito religioso no Brasil” (Almeida and Montero 2001), which, to my knowledge, was the first study to quantify religious switching in Brazil. Using data from a nationally administered questionnaire that asked respondents their current religion and the one in which they were raised, the authors find that about twenty-six percent of the Brazilian population switched their religious affiliation. They suggest Catholicism is a kind of “universal donor” that is losing adherents most rapidly in Brazil, particularly to the Pentecostal churches. Pentecostals, on the other hand, seem to switch to “without religion” (sem religião), while Kardecists tend to revert to Catholicism. This shows that religious transit is not random, but “occurs in precise directions, depending on the institutions involved” (Almeida and Montero 2001, 93; translation mine). Pastors of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, for instance, are skilled at using language and ritual familiar to practitioners of Catholicism, Kardecist Spiritism, and Afro-Brazilian traditions to attract new adherents.12 Quantitative studies of religious switching are helpful, but they have their limits. As Almeida and Montero themselves note, the questionnaire data they analyzed neither captured multiple affiliations nor successive switching (Almeida and Montero 2001, 103). The method also failed to distinguish between religion and participation (a pardonable offense, given that the survey was meant to gauge cultural influences on sexual comportment and attitudes towards HIV/AIDS).13 This approach privileges Protestants, whose religious identity tends to be consonant with participation (Almeida 2004, 19). It also reproduces the rigidity inherent to conversion, which religious transit, in its ostensible emphasis on “rapid comings and goings,” was meant to overcome. This, of course, is no coincidence: both the notion of conversion and the quantitative measures used in census and other surveys were born of a Western European and North American sociological idiom that has historically presumed stable, singular religious identities.14 Here I want to consider religious transit’s ethnographic application. I echo Miriam Rabelo’s suggestion that “a far more complex picture of religious trajectories and of their relation to religious change emerges when space is turned into an object of explicit reflection” (Rabelo 2015, 848). After all, this is the basic meaning of “transit”: moving across (from the Latin trans + īre), from one point or place to another. The concept also more closely reflects what devotees like Carla and Maria did. When they talked about their religion, they told me about the places they went. They told “spatial stories” that organized and ranked different places, making “sentences and itineraries out of them” (de Certeau 1988, 115). I like this place but not that one; I feel good here, but did not feel a connection there; I come here to remember, I go there to forget. In the devotion to souls, not all places are the same. “I had an experience with them, it’s just that I didn’t like it,” Maria said, reflecting on her visit to Cemitério São Pedro. “It worked, but it didn’t.”15 The large municipal cemetery near her house has a shrine to the thirteen souls, who devotees say are the thirteen victims of a 1974 fire at Edifício Joelma, an office building in central São Paulo. While the fire claimed nearly two hundred lives, thirteen were never identified. Buried alongside one another, they became an object of popular devotion within about a decade.16 Today, devotees from all over the country visit the shrine, where they leave flowers, light candles, and pour water over the souls’ tombs as they petition for favors or give thanks for favors received. Ex votos thanking the treze almas benditas (“thirteen blessed souls”) line the iron fence that sets the shrine apart from the rest of the cemetery. Maria, however, had no reason to thank the thirteen souls of Edifício Joelma. “I got what I wanted, but I didn’t,” she complained. “It’s like, when God gives, he doesn’t take away.” She was evasive about what she asked for and what happened, but she hinted it had something to do with her marriage. “I didn’t feel a sintonia divina,” or divine resonance, at Cemitério São Pedro, she told me. “Not everyone who burned to death has reached a level of evolution where they can help you,” she said.17 Nowadays, she only petitioned the dead at the Chapel of the Afflicted. “The little chapel has a very good energy,” she told me. She still prayed to the thirteen souls, but distinguished between the “thirteen souls of Joelma” and the “thirteen souls of the Chapel of the Afflicted.” Maria did not know who these latter souls were or how they died. The details seemed unimportant to her. She just knew that with the thirteen souls of the Chapel of the Afflicted, she “feels safe.”18 In colloquial Portuguese, to have transit (ter trânsito) with something is to have a connection or influence with it. This usage invites us to consider the affective dimension of religious transit. As Sarah Ahmed writes, “we move toward and away from objects through how we are affected by them” (Ahmed 2009, 32). Maria’s movement was not strictly between religions, but between “affective spaces” of felt difference (O’Neill 2013). Affect, Kevin Lewis O’Neill points out, is both corporeal and intersubjective (O’Neill 2013, 1103). What distinguishes São Paulo’s most popular venues for the devotion to souls is not so much that they are Catholic—Cemitério São Pedro, after all, is a municipal cemetery—but that they are places where practitioners “feel good.” And this feeling good is, somewhat paradoxically, linked to their feeling closer to and more connected with the suffering dead. Maria never doubted the existence of the thirteen souls of Joelma, rather she did not feel a “divine resonance” with them. This affectively charged perception of ritual space guided her transit and accounted for why, today, she only prayed to the dead at the Chapel of the Afflicted. PLACES OF PRESENCE “There’s a whole history in São Paulo, here,” Carla told me. “I was just telling my nephew, up by Praça Liberdade was the home of the gallows, the place where the slaves were hanged. And below, a big cemetery. There are all these bones down there, but as no one is interested in rescuing this history, no one mentions it.” Carla was right that the neighborhood’s history was obscure to Paulistanos, who typically only know Liberdade as the “Japanese neighborhood.” Today the chapel is a rare remnant of the old city. Its plain, weathered façade looks out of place in Liberdade, an area distinguished by “Japanese” lanterns and sidewalks styled with black-and-white mitsu tomoe, an abstract shape that looks like three commas in a whorl. As a black woman and human rights activist, the neighborhood’s deep history mattered to Carla. “You put another ethnic group here, the Japanese, and it’s tudo certinho, tudo resolvido [all proper, all resolved],” she said, “as if the neighborhood never had Africans and blacks, despite that they were here for almost 300 years.”19 When the Archdiocese of São Paulo built the Chapel of the Afflicted in 1779, it was part of Cemitério da Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos (also known as Cemitério da Glória), the first cemetery in São Paulo and one of the first in Brazil (see Amaral 1977, 22–7; Guimarães 1979, 127–9). Church burials were standard at the time, and the cemetery was a simple pit grave for slaves and paupers. Today, the chapel is the only reminder of those dead. Some sources suggest that when the Catholic Church parceled and sold the cemetery grounds in 1886, there were plans to disinter and relocate the remains in the new Cemitério Consolação (Santos 1978). It is not clear whether this relocation ever happened, and it probably did not. If it did, there is no indication of it in Consolação. Some say Liberdade is built on the bones of the dead. Knock, knock, knock. Loud knocks cut through the chapel’s quiet. “Over there is the room where Chaguinhas is and where other people stayed before being hanged,” Carla told me, pointing to an area to the left of the altar. Devotees knock three times on a large wooden door to summon the soul of Chaguinhas (née Francisco José das Chagas), whose worldly life ended at the city gallows. A soldier in the light infantry and a beloved native of the city, Chaguinhas was sentenced to death in 1821 for inciting a rebellion among fellow soldiers over poor working conditions, unpaid wages, and unfair treatment by the Portuguese. His devotees say he was held in the chapel, where he received his last rites, before his execution. They also said his hanging went awry. On the first attempt, the rope broke. The sympathetic crowd cheered and declared it a miracle. They demanded his pardon, but the authorities were callous to the crowd’s cries. On the second attempt, the cord broke again. The crowd pleaded for his release, screaming, “Liberdade!” and, “He’s innocent!” He was finally hanged to death on the third attempt, when the executioner swapped the fiber rope for one of leather. The city took his life, but his story became the stuff of legend, and today Chaguinhas lives on as a popular saint.20 As a definite person, Chaguinhas is distinct from the souls, who are anonymous and collective, and devotion to him is not restricted to Mondays. But his death helped catalyze the São Paulo devotion. In the decades following Chaguinhas’s execution, two laymen, Olegário Pedro Gonçalves and Chico Gago, erected a simple wooden cross adjacent to the hill on which the gallows stood. Known as the Santa Cruz dos Enforcados, or Holy Cross of the Hanged, it was a place to remember Chaguinhas, as well as the forgotten multitudes who perished at the gallows. At its side was a “rustic table on which wax candles were burned every night, that, according to tradition, were not extinguished by wind or rain” (Piza 1900, 46). In 1891, the archdiocese of São Paulo built a small chapel to accommodate the devotion. With the humble wooden cross mounted behind the altar, the chapel was consecrated the Chapel of the Holy Cross of the Souls of the Hanged (colloquially called the “Church of the Hanged” or “Church of the Souls”). Soon “this simple temple was attracting an incalculable multitude of faithful, [who were] captive to a caring, popular veneration, burning votive candles, and celebrating annual festivals” (Menezes 1954, 168). The devotion continued, and today, the Church of the Hanged remains one of the city’s most popular places to pray to the dead. “The church is replete.” Writing in 1972 for the magazine O Cruzeiro, the journalist Terezinha Rocha remarked on the throngs of devotees at the Church of the Hanged—seven to eight thousand every Monday, by her estimates. “They are black and white, of different social classes and religions, fraternizing. They all seek the support of the souls.” Rocha spoke with Dona Cecília, a 106-year-old black woman, for whom the church evoked the memory of the stockades. “When I come to the church, it’s like I’m seeing the stockades,” she said. “A victim of his own color, tied to the pillar, flogged, and then hanged.” With tears in her eyes, she whispered, “The stockade… what a horror” (Rocha 1972, 76). Writing about the Marian shrine at Lourdes, Robert Orsi notes the peculiar “conjuncture of transcendence and temporality” at sacred sites. “The particularity of here and the no-place or beyond-all-places of transcendence,” he writes, “exemplifies the erasure of categories and boundaries otherwise kept distinct” (Orsi 2016, 51). Like Lourdes, the Church of the Hanged is a place of excess. On Mondays, devotees crowd in, hoping to get closer to the souls. The church celebrates nine masses instead of its usual three, and opens the gates to its candle rooms for easy entrance from the street. Next door, a religious supply store opens early and closes late to sell candles to devotees. Mães-de-santo, or Candomblé priestesses, set up divination tables on the sidewalk before the church, where they cast cowrie shells for devotees and other passersby. Inside, the wooden shelves that flank the church’s nave overflow with things left behind—flowers, statues of Catholic saints and Buddhas and Umbanda spirits, written petitions, piles of handwritten and Xeroxed copies of the Novena to the Afflicted Souls. All these things are left by visitors who come because the church is a place where the dead are present. And this is the “Church’s problem with real presence: controlling access to it” (Orsi 2016, 2). “Here there’s a lot of credulity, a lot of superstition,” a nun complained to O Cruzeiro. The public imagination is full of “apparition sects,” she said. “It’s moved by them that people make promessas,” or promises, in hopes of receiving favors (Rocha 1972, 76). While the nun was dismissive of such practices, she was not wrong about their prevalence. Anthropologists, historians, and folklorists have exhaustively documented the dead’s place in the Brazilian imagination. “In Brazil, the dead are spoken of much more than death,” writes Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta. They have a “very clear” social reality. “I remember hearing of souls and spirits well before having a clear understanding of death as something final and ultimate for a person’s existence, because, when death was spoken of, it was to immediately comment on the existence of ghosts (and/or almas penadas [wandering or pining souls]) that returned and demand favors from loved ones” (DaMatta 1997, 140–41). Though people die and leave the world of the living, they exist in “another world where they cannot only return, but also watch, disturb, or help the living” on earth (DaMatta 1997, 141; see also Sáez 1996, 13). Devotees and local residents say the Liberdade churches are haunted. I asked Beatriz, a white neo-Pentecostal woman from the northeast, why she prayed there, at the Church of the Hanged, specifically. “They say that this church [of the Hanged] has a very sad story, really very sad,” she said. “Once there were lots of slaves in the country. Here, when slaves were old, they were no longer useful, no longer able to work on the farms of the rich men here, the coffee plantations, they sent them to be hanged here, in this place. And so this, this hurts our hearts… because they were black, understand?” Tears came to Beatriz’s eyes and she had trouble speaking. “Very strong,” she murmured. She took a few deep breaths and regained her composure. “And they say, people say, that passing here at certain times at night, one can still hear screams and sounds of terrible suffering. Because when [the slaves] grew old, they were brought here and hanged. It’s because of this that [the church] has this name… because there was a lot of suffering in this place.”21 Suffering binds the dead to things and places. Restless souls linger at places of trauma and death, where they haunt the living. As the material anchors of the city’s somber past, the Liberdade churches are favorite destinations of ghost hunters, who visit with EMF readers and frequency scanners in hopes of gauging the dead’s presence. The Chapel of the Afflicted’s reputation for being haunted is especially strong, and it is easy to see why. Older than the Church of the Hanged, it looks haunted: anachronistic, worn, hidden, and on most days of the week, empty. It memorializes the past, but only obliquely. Nothing explicitly commemorates the dead that were buried there, and no gravestones or tombs mark their place. Silenced, the dead cry out, demanding a response from the living (Gordon 1997). The souls’ suffering shapes their movement through the world. It explains the basis of their efficacy as well as their potential to cause harm. That is why devotees avoid lighting candles to the dead at home. “At home is dangerous . . . the people say you can’t light candles for souls at home,” Maria told me.22 It is permissible to light candles for saints or one’s guardian angel at home, as these beings are safely in heaven and wholly good. But the souls are needy, imperfect, and in the world. “The souls are around. So they can enter your house. Candles for the souls, you have to light in the church,” Maria said. With two exceptions, the devotees I interviewed all agreed. “I don’t know how to put it,” Carla told me, “but sometimes lighting candles for souls in the house disturbs things,” Carla told me. “It’s that a soul is a spirit, and a spirit walks, and can come from outside.”23 As Jean-Claude Schmitt puts it, ghosts still have “one foot in the ground” (Schmitt 1998, 2). They are all too human and can linger like unwanted houseguests. This tension—between restlessness and peace, between suffering and relief—animates the devotion to souls. It might seem odd that devotees talk about haunted places as “tranquil” and “full of good energy.” But in the logic of the devotion, blessedness and affliction are intimately linked. The devotees I spoke with prayed to souls like the afflicted souls (almas aflitas), the holy souls (almas santas), and the blessed souls (almas benditas)—all phrases once used as synonyms for the purgatorial souls in Iberian Catholic devotionalism. The purgatorial dead depend on the prayers of the living to reach heaven. Their affliction is proportional to their progress along the purgatorial path. The more afflicted, the holier and wiser and sooner able to intercede on behalf of the living (Campos 2013, 39). While devotees today do not always believe in purgatory, the contemporary devotion operates on an economy of suffering. The dead suffer, and they need help. Their neediness makes them more like the living, and also explains their efficacy. As one devotee put it, the souls “suffered so much, so they need lots of prayer, and they help us a lot.”24 Suffering sustains a relationship of mutual aid between the living and the dead. SAUDADE: THE PRESENCE OF ABSENCE No word better captures the complex mix of emotions evoked by prayer for the dead—the sadness and longing for those who have gone, but also the indulgence in this sadness—than saudade. Despite the stereotype of Brazilians as “poor but happy,” as Nancy Scheper-Hughes points out, “much of the literature written by Brazilians about themselves eventually returns to the subject of ‘Brazilian sadness’ and melancholy.” Even the “reckless surrender to carnaval . . . is a necessary corrective to the sadness and melancholy of the everyday” (Scheper-Hughes 1992, 434; see also Ishi 2003, 89). It is a far-reaching sentiment: one can have saudades for people and places, but also “particular smells, foods, colors, or sensations from the past that were associated with poignant events and loved ones.” But the death of a loved one, more than anything else, provides “the most potent source of saudades” (Scheper-Hughes 1992, 437). In São Paulo’s cemeteries, those “gardens of memory,” this lapidary sentiment is ubiquitous, inscribed on countless tombstones.25 Saudade is not depression to be avoided, but a bittersweet yearning for the beauty of what was. Saudade “unites and attaches . . . To evoke saudades protects and conserves; indeed, it enshrines memory. Saudade has been described as the ultimate nourishment of love . . . it strikes and is felt inside, in the heart and chest of a person” (Scheper-Hughes 1992, 440). In both English and Portuguese, emotion has kinetic associations and etymology. “Motion” is part of the word, all the way back to the classical Latin. In colloquial usage, we speak of profoundly emotional events as “moving,” both internally (“Seeing images of starving children, I was moved to tears”) and externally (“. . . to devote my life to ending hunger”).26Saudade is no exception. It prompts action, enshrining memory through recall and repetition. It is an emotional place to which one returns. That is why it is so evident at sites of memory like cemeteries and churches. Devotees do not just have saudades when they visit the Church of the Hanged—they go there to evoke the feeling. “[I light candles for] some friends I’ve lost, and family, like my uncle. When I’m here, I feel good. Particularly. And I even feel that the other side is well,” said Bruno, one of the few younger devotees I met. A São Paulo native in his late twenties who described himself as “a kind of eclectic dude” who likes “a little of everything,” Bruno talked about his experiences reading Alan Kardec and Chico Xavier, Brazil’s most famous Spiritist medium and author, and even his visits to a Seventh Day Adventist church that his father occasioned. Unlike most others, Bruno did not make requests to the dead. “I only ask for blessing,” he said. “The fact that you’re remembering, recalling the someone that did right by you, it leaves you with even more saudade . . . and I feel in that moment it’s doing me well. So, I think that’s cool.”27 The devotion to souls can be a way of coping with loss, but it is not meant to provide decisive closure. It is an ongoing practice, a way of establishing or maintaining a relationship. It can sustain the devotion in the face of other religious commitments. Even those who have moved away from the church remain devotees out of saudades for the anonymous and suffering dead, who they consider trusted friends and partners. For example, at the tombs of the thirteen souls, I met a Candomblé priestess who told me that when being initiated into Candomblé, the priest initiating her told her to give up her prayer for the dead. But she refused. “I said, ‘If you want to initiate me, you’re going to have to accept it, because I’m not throwing anything away.’ Because this here gave me my life.” She was attached to the afflicted souls. “They sustain me, and I feel good.”28 The pull of saudade endures, like the marble and granite into which the word is so often engraved. Devotees’ affection for the souls might seem surprising. In contrast to beings like Catholic saints, orixás, and Umbanda entities, the souls lack individuality and well-defined personalities.29 They do not manifest in spirit mediumship, and material culture like scapulars, images, and home altars are not common to the practice in contemporary Brazil. But I suggest it is precisely the souls’ anonymous collectivity—their “rich indetermination” (de Certeau 1988, 105)—that makes them relatable. As no one in particular, they are potentially anyone and everyone. “Saints are saints,” one devotee explained, “but souls are like us. They’re closer.”30 Devotees spoke about the souls with intimacy and warmth. “I call the souls my friends,” Carla told me. “I have a very strong relationship with them. The thirteen souls, the afflicted souls, they’re my friends.”31 The souls are also associated with family. Orsi suggests “family dynamics are one spring of sacred presences—saints and the Mother of God draw on the intimate histories of relationships within family worlds (always as these are shaped and inflected by culture and society). The saints borrow dimensions of their identities from family members who in turn become associated with particular saints” (Orsi 2005, 13). These same dynamics pertain to contemporary Brazilian devotees, whether of the souls, saints, or orixás. But in the cult of the souls, the familial dimension is especially pronounced. That is because members are not just associated with the dead—they often are the dead. When family members die, they join the ranks and become incorporated into devotees’ Monday prayers. “I love my mother, still, a lot,” said Beatriz, the neo-Pentecostal woman I met at the Church of the Hanged. “So I do everything that she liked, for her. I bring candles for her. I go to mass for her. I pray for her. Our Father, Hail Mary, all these things for her.” For Beatriz, the practice was a way of honoring her mother. A month earlier, Beatriz returned to her home city of Recife to take care of her mother’s tomb. When she got there, it was a mess. “Everything broken, all ugly. So I went there, fixed it up, put nice ceramic [tiles down on the tomb], and made it beautiful. I put a plaque with the date she was born and disincarnated.” Beatriz said her church discouraged prayer to the dead. Many evangélicos scorn what they perceive as the ritual excess and idolatry of Catholicism and the Afro-Brazilian traditions. “The evangelicals say you don’t need to do it because [the dead] are sleeping” until the bodily resurrection. “They say it’s just throwing your money away. For me it’s not. For me it’s a matter of respect.” Having known her parents’ devotion, she worried that now that they had “died or disincarnated”—a common term in Kardecist Spiritism, which Beatriz had practiced decades earlier, to refer to the dead—“they could be missing everything they were doing before.” She was not going to forsake her parents’ memory and eternal well-being out of fidelity to her church. And while she prayed to the familial dead, she told me, she also prayed the Novena to the Afflicted Souls, who she petitioned for help.32 The familial element adds to the devotion’s affective intensity. Family tradition transforms devotional sites into familiar places. And the familial dead, too, can become objects of devotion. They have a special place in the Monday practice, distinct from the anonymous collectives of suffering souls that are the devotion’s primary object (see Oliveira 2011, 80). As Carla explained to me, “My ancestors are one thing, and the souls are another.” She, like others, addressed her ancestors individually, by name, rather than just glossing them under “the souls.”33 And for the most part, neither Carla nor the others I interviewed made petitions (pedidos) or promises (promesas) to the familial dead. Some said they asked departed loved ones for help, but more in the manner that one would seek advice from living family or friends. “Often times you pray and suddenly dream about a person important to you, and he shows you some path,” one devotee said. “I think, since they have already experienced [já passam por] many things we experience, they know what path to take.” 34 The demographics of devotees are relevant here. Like Carla, Beatriz, and Maria, most of the devotees at São Paulo’s major devotional sites are middle aged or older, and about two-thirds are women. Some learned the devotion from friends, or from seeing a novena left at a church. But a plurality of the devotees I interviewed learned the practice from parents and grandparents at a young age, even if they only came to consider themselves devotees later in life. Their age also means they are familiar with death, often of the parents or grandparents who taught them the devotion. The practice, then, activates different kinds of memories. It can be a way of recalling the history of a place, but also one’s youth. Devotees talked about standing alongside parents and grandparents as children before the burning heat of candles learning how to pray to the dead. But the devotion is not only about the past. It is a way of engaging the deceased as they are now: disembodied, immortal souls who are powerful to help the living. Memory, J. Z. Smith points out, “is a complex and deceptive experience. It appears to be preeminently a matter of the past, yet it is as much an affair of the present” (Smith 1987, 25). So it is with saudade, a “contradictory feeling linking universes which were usually viewed as disconnected—the material and spiritual, the past and the present” (Leal 2000, 274). The devotion to souls is a way of recalling the past in service of the present and future. It is an effort to realize desire through memory. Smith continues his observation by noting that although memory “appears to be preeminently a matter of time, it is as much an affair of space” (Smith 1987, 25). That is why devotional spaces matter. They are places where devotees go to remember, to get closer to the suffering dead. CONCLUSION Next door to the Church of the Holy Cross of the Souls of the Hanged, there is a loja esotérica (esoteric store), Casa de Velas Santa Rita. The store is divided in half. The half closer to the church sells rosaries, images of the saints, crucifixes, and white candles. The further half sells herbs and crystals and minerals, images of Umbanda entities and orixás, and colored candles. The owners of the store started out by selling candles to devotees, and later founded a factory that produces Catholic and Afro-Brazilian religious images, in an effort to cater to their clientele (Museu da Pessoa 2005). I asked the owner why he thought it was so common for people to burn colored candles and leave images of orixás at the Church of the Hanged. “Not everyone who died there [at the gallows] was Catholic,” he said. I initially dismissed his explanation as too simple, but he raises an important point: the Catholic Church has no monopoly on the dead. By building the church, the archdiocese of São Paulo accommodated a devotion that began much earlier. Over the course of more than half a millennium, the Catholic Church has articulated an idiom of purgatorial devotionalism that has become widespread in Brazil. But like all language, discourse about the dead is fluid and escapes easy control. Prayer for the suffering souls, and even the purgatorial souls, has never been restricted only to Catholics. Inquisition records report sorceresses who conjured the souls (“of the sea, of the land, three hanged, three dragged, three shot to death for love”) in acts of love magic (see Souza 2003, 108) using prayers that, remarkably, are still in use today (see Coral 1987, 47). Crosses or “houses” for the souls are common within some Afro-Brazilian ritual spaces (Ortiz 1978, 71), and Dr. Efrem, the homeopathic doctor who recommended that Maria pray to the thirteen souls at the Chapel of the Afflicted, told me he recommended it to thousands of others. He was a devotee himself, and also identified as Jewish and Spiritist. “I frequent a Spiritist center,” he said, “but I am also Catholic. It’s sort of, ah, a mixture. I have a crucifix, images of Christ.” The doctor was not a renegade bent on transgression. He distinguished between religions, and between religion and his medical practice. But he insisted all these things were means to a set of related ends—health, well-being, and peace.35 By employing the notion of religious transit, I do not mean to reify religious traditions and fix boundaries only to demonstrate transgression. But I think we can fairly acknowledge that religious institutions often promote styles of discourse, cultivate religious identities among followers, enforce theological boundaries, and position themselves both spatially and ideologically in relation to other religious and secular things. Like Dr. Efrem, the devotees I spoke with acknowledged these boundaries even as they crossed, collapsed, and contested them. I agree with scholars of African diasporic religion who have argued it is not the scholar’s job to verify claims about religious origin or authenticity (Scott in Palmié 2013, 230). But it is the scholar’s place to acknowledge those claims and take them seriously. The devotees who visit the Chapel of the Afflicted and the Church of the Hanged are not always Catholic. Why, then, go to a Catholic church to light candles for the dead? Devotees gave different reasons, but most were related to affect. The Liberdade churches made them feel good, because they had a special connection with the suffering souls. As one devotee put it, “People like to come [to the Chapel of the Afflicted] because they want to go where people suffered, where you have to give light.” Drawn by affection for the suffering dead—as well as the desire to relieve their own suffering—devotees cross the city to pray at spaces of trauma and death, affecting those spaces in the process. They come bringing light and prayer, hoping to ease the souls’ affliction. They also bring their hopes and anxieties, their memories and their saudades, and their religious histories and different ways of understanding the dead. And they go feeling better, leaving traces of all they brought with them in their wake. Fieldwork for this project was supported by a Fulbright IIE Fellowship, as well as a Tinker Summer Travel Fellowship and a Billy Bob Draeger Summer Research Fellowship in the Humanities through the University of Texas at Austin. The author would like to thank the members of Religion in the Americas colloquium at the University of Texas at Austin for their careful reading and thoughtful feedback on an earlier draft of this piece. Special thanks to Giovana Romano Sanchez for her input on successive drafts, and to Drs. Virginia Garrard and Thomas Tweed for their guidance on the broader project from which this piece comes. Footnotes 1 Interview, “Maria,” October 20, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 2 The Monday dedication to the souls is a legacy of twelfth-century purgatorial liturgy and theology, which established the notion that souls need prayer on Mondays because that is when they return to the purgatorial fire after a Sunday respite (Schmitt 1998, 177; Le Goff 1984, 37, 299). In Brazil, ecclesiastical legislation like the Constituições primeiras do arcebispado da Bahia (1707), which served as the principal ecclesiastical legislation in the country for nearly two hundred years, helped establish the Monday dedication as widespread custom. 3 Interview, October 13, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 4 During an initial trip in 2014 and return trip in 2015, with Institutional Review Board approval, I recorded semistructured interviews with ninety-three practitioners at different devotional sites, principally in São Paulo but also Rio de Janeiro. Thirty-six of those interviews were at the Chapel of the Afflicted. Of those thirty-six devotees, twenty-four spoke about other religions. Seventeen identified as something else in addition to or instead of Catholic or said they frequented non-Catholic religious sites. Of the larger interview pool, seventy-one interviewees were female and twenty-two were male. This sample slightly overrepresents female participation in the devotion—although most devotees are female, the proportion of female is probably closer to two-thirds. I selected devotees via purposive sampling, that is, I went to devotional sites on Mondays and asked practitioners for interviews after they finished praying to the dead. Part of the reason for my slight oversampling of women is that I found women less rushed and easier to approach. At the Church of the Holy Cross of the Souls of the Hanged in São Paulo, I had the most success waiting in an antechamber near the candle room, or near one of the room’s outside exits. Soliciting interviews at the Church of the Afflicted was even easier because of Dona Renata’s help. While some practitioners were too emotional to talk or were in a rush, I found most of them welcoming. It probably helped that I am white, male, and from the United States. I doubt I would have had the same facility in approaching people were I, for example, a black Brazilian. Despite the persistent myth that Brazil is a racial democracy, racism persists there, and this racism makes research easier for white American men like myself and harder for many others. 5 Interview, October 13, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 6 According to Diana Brown, Umbanda “refers to an extremely varied and eclectic range of beliefs and practices, and it remains a deceptively simple term in current usage as well. . . . Umbanda’s defining features are an eclectic blend of Catholic belief and practice, Kardecism, Afro-Brazilian practices, and aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other currents of mysticism” (Brown 1994, 1). 7 This ambiguity lends syncretism considerable explanatory purchase, as it permits an elision of description (i.e., “that is syncretic”) and explanation (“and it’s due to a historical process of syncretism”). In Brazil, this elision takes consistent form. In a tenacious “blood-based logic” enshrined by early twentieth-century studies of New World acculturation, scholars and laypeople alike continue to posit that Brazilians mix religions because they are essentially mixed (Apter 1991, 238; see also Machado and Mariz 1994, Palmié 2006, Stewart 2011). As one historian offhandedly claimed, “Mixing white, indigenous, and black blood, it is as if Brazilians had been ‘condemned’ to syncretism” (Souza 2003, 46). 8 The term spiritism (espiritismo) can be cause for confusion, as its colloquial and academic usage can be ambiguous. It is derived from the French espiritisme, coined by Allan Kardec to differentiate “a doctrine that has its foundation in the relationship between the material world and spirits” from a more general “spiritualism,” that is, the belief “in something more than matter” (Kardec 2003, 1). However, espiritismo can also refer to any mediumship religion, and practitioners of Candomblé and Umbanda will often identify as espírita (spiritist) (Hayes 2011,18). In my fieldwork, I heard representatives of major Kardecist Spiritist institutions promote the label kardecismo as a way of distinguishing their practice from Afro-Brazilian traditions. 9 Interview, “Carla,” December 15, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 10 Interview, “Iwi,” November 10, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 11 In this sense, work on religious transit mirrors sociological studies of “religious mobility” in North America and Europe. See, for example, Sandomirsky and Wilson 1990; Hadaway, Kirk, and Marler 1993; Breen and Hayes 1996; Sherkat 2001. But when the term first emerged, around 1994, its use was broader. See Bennedetti 1994; Machado and Mariz 1994; Rolim 1994. 12 A 2004 survey by Centro de Estatísticas Religiosas e Investigações Sociais, which is linked with the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, asked similar questions and found that the majority (58.9%) of respondents who switched affiliation moved to “evangelical Protestantism.” This survey did not, unfortunately, distinguish between the mediumship religions and grouped them all into the category “other religions” (Fernandes 2006). 13 Other studies, though not specifically about religious transit, make this distinction. See, for example, Pew Research Center (Pew 2014), which found that thirty percent of Brazilians—thirty-three percent of self-identified Catholics and sixteen percent of Protestants—reported “medium” to “high” levels of engagement with Afro-Brazilian or indigenous religions. Note that there are some problems with this figure, however, in that the survey advances normative religious boundaries qualifying practices such as “offering flowers or food to spirits” and “participating in spiritual cleansing ceremonies” as “indigenous beliefs and practices.” 14 I do not mean to suggest that the notion of religious transit is only or even especially appropriate to religion in Brazil. To the contrary, I want to suggest it might also apply to a place like the contemporary United States, where religion is hardly rigid. In her textbook on US religious history, Albanese highlights religious “combination” as a major theme in American religion—a term she opted for after moving away from “syncretism” (Albanese 2013, xxii). Recent work by Emily Sigalow (2016) reframes syncretism in actor-oriented terms. And Courtney Bender, in her study of Cambridge “metaphysicals,” argues that “spirituality is produced in multiple social institutions, including many that we regularly do not consider religious” (Bender 2010, 182). A 2009 Pew study found that about one-quarter of all Americans visit religious places of different faiths. This movement is somewhat restricted, however. For example, while three in ten Protestants who regularly attend religious services said they visited places of multiple faiths, the vast majority of those visited different Protestant denominations (Pew 2009). 15 Interview, “Maria,” October 20, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 16 The devotion to the thirteen souls predates the fire, and I suggest the application of this category to Joelma’s unidentified victims is, to borrow from Ann Taves (2009), a post hoc “religious ascription.” Although the origins of the devotion to the thirteen souls are unclear—one scholar calls it a “very old popular devotion” (Pereira 2005, 55)—the earliest reference to the thirteen souls I could find was in the classifieds section of the newspaper O Fluminense on December 12, 1973, just one month before the fire. According to devotees and cemetery employees, the devotion to Joelma’s unidentified victims as the thirteen souls began in the early 1980s. This seems plausible. A 1985 newspaper report claims “the cross of Joelma in Vila Alpina [i.e., Cemitério São Pedro] became a pilgrimage site” two years earlier (Folha de São Paulo 1985, 12). Based on more limited fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro, it seems that devotees there are less likely to identify the thirteen souls with Joelma’s victims. Notably, there are also devotions to the thirteen souls elsewhere in the Americas including Peru (Radio Programas del Perú 2011; El Digital 2012), Venezuela (Pollak-Eltz 1994, 45), Guatemala (Figueroa 2003, 9), and Costa Rica (Jiménez 1984, 204), as well as in the United States, where the prayer circulates in online Catholic and Hoodoo forums—not without controversy—as helpful for those looking for work. 17 Interview, “Maria,” October 20, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 18 Personal correspondence, “Maria,” July 28, 2014. 19 Interview, “Carla,” December 15, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 20 There is substantial disagreement and little reliable source data regarding the details of Chaguinhas’s hanging. The version I recount here is largely adapted from Menezes (1954, 153–9). His account is paraphrased in Santos (1977), which is used in an informational pamphlet sometimes handed out at the church. It seems likely that Chaguinhas was a historical person and was involved in the rebellion in Santos, a port city about forty-five miles south of São Paulo, where he was stationed. However, the details of his involvement in the rebellion and subsequent execution are unclear and have been the subject of bitter debate, particularly by the historians Antonio de Toledo Piza and Estavão Rezende in the the Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico de São Paulo between 1899 and 1902. For a summary of this exchange, see Silva 2008. 21 Interview, “Beatriz,” July 7, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 22 Interview, “Maria,” October 20, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 23 Interview, “Carla,” December 15, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 24 Interview, “Cecília,” May 26, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 25 I am using “gardens of memory” more poetically than precisely. Garden-cemetery is a technical term for the type of park-like cemeteries that became common in England and the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. 26 The Oxford English Dictionary traces “emotion” back to the classical Latin ēmōt-, the past participial stem of ēmovēre, meaning “to remove, expel, banish from the mind, to shift, displace.” 27 Interview, “Bruno,” August 4, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 28 Interview, “Olinda,” October 27, 2014, São Paulo, Brazil. 29 Some devotees identify Umbanda entities—particularly the pretos velhos (“old slaves”; literally “old blacks”)—with the souls. Others deny this association altogether or say that pretos velhos are souls only insofar as any spirit of the dead is also a soul. 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Journal of the American Academy of Religion – Oxford University Press
Published: May 7, 2018
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