Quimbanda is an Afro-Brazilian cult that is growing in popularity here in the United States thanks in large part to the stellar works of Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold. Though relatively new in the United States, it has always been a significant part of Brazilian culture and its history and impact on the rest of the Afro-Brazilian religions is worthy of anthropological study.
The term “Quimbanda” comes from the Kimbundu word “ki-mbanda” which refers to a healer-diviner involved in a cult of possession. The root of this cult is with the spiritual practices of the Kongo and Angola which was colonized by the Portuguese and bought to the new world via African slaves transported to Brazil.
The kimbanda and nganga priests of the Kongo that were brought to Brazil formed Calunda cults that revolved around possession by Kongo fire spirits and working with the forces of Kalunga. These cults can be seen as the descendents of the Congo religions of Nsambi the Creator, Kalunga, the Bakulo/Tatas (ancestors), and the merging of the fiery Kadiempembe with the crossroads spirit of Aluvaia/Bombojila. Along with the Macumba practices these Calunda (also sometimes called Cabula) cults formed the basis of what is known as Quimbanda today.
Macumba, an often derogatory term, was used to refer to black magic or the sorcerous practices of Afro-Brazilians. These practices were heavily influenced by Kongo sorcery, European witchcraft, and Amerindian or Caboclo shamanism. The firey Bantu spirits that formed the core of the Calunda cults became the masters of macumba and so became spirits born of African lineage, but shaped in the unique culture of Brazil. From this was born the cult of Quimbanda which can be seen in contrast to Umbanda, a separate religion that resulted from the dividing of macumba.
In the 1920′s the medium Zelio formed the religion of Umbanda which took some of the spirits of its predecessor Macumba and Calunda and restrained them under the power of various Orixa, Caboclo, Saints, and Preto Velhos. In contrast, Quimbanda was relegated to the “left” and was viewed as a cult of darkness and fire. It would be more accurate, however, to view Quimbanda as a preservation of the older cults of Calunda and the practices of macumba and therefore a preservation and continuation of Bantu magic and religion.
Quimbanda works with two main entities, who in of themselves are legion, Exu and Pomba Gira. There are other spirits and deities that are honored, but Exu and Pomba Gira form the core of the spiritual court of Quimbanda. These two spirits are highly complex spirits whose nature is often difficult to convey into words. Ultimately however they are spirits of night and fire tied to natural sites of powers and lines of spiritual ancestry. They are called upon to carry out works of magic and divination. True to its Bantu roots, Quimbanda is a cult of posession in which Exu and Pomba Gira ride the mediums and Tata and provide prophecy, give advice and consultation to their devotees, and perform healings and magic. Without this dynamic connection between spirit and man there is no Quimbanda.
These spirits are renown for their devestating power and are often called the kings and queens of reality as a result of their ability to manifest the desires and petitions of their devotees with amazing speed. It is this speed and efficacy that has garnered their reputation as hot spirits. Exu and Pomba Gira are also reputed to be amoral, but this should not be confused with immoral or evil. These spirits do not judge those who come to them and will just as swiftly work for spells of healing and mending as they will for spells of break up and destruction. But Exu and Pomba Gira are wise just as they are powerful and they are just as ready to teach as they are to work magic, if one has the courage to listen to what they have to say.
Given their complex and often hot nature, working with Exu and Pomba Gira is one that should not be done without proper guidance and consultation from an initiate. There is a proper protocol to working with these spirits who are very big on respect, but given their deep connection to our own soul, many can benefit from learning more about the Exu and Pomba Gira that walk with them.
Just like its spirits, Quimbanda as a cult has a fierce reputation for being a cult of powerful sorcery and necromancy. While the fire of Quimbanda cannot be denied; its potential for providing wisdom and sustenance for the spirit that thirsts for primal truths also cannot be denied. Quimbanda, like its Bantu roots, does not discriminate between spiritual elevation and material happiness. A blessed person is one who is spiritually evolved *and* one who is provided for physically. This is what the cult of Quimbanda offers and promises–a religion that honors Nsambi the creator and works alongside the primordial childen he set as guardians of reality to heal one’s life and destiny to its natural state of happiness, wisdom, and success on all levels.
In the end, Quimbanda is a spiritual tree born of an ancient Kongo seed, planted in Brazilian soil, nourished with European and Native American influences that blossomed into the force it is today–a cult of spirits of night and fire giving wisdom and power to life.