VALLEY OF THE DAWN
VALLEY OF THE DAWN TIMELINE
1921 (November 29): Mário Sassi was born in São Paulo, Brazil.
1925 (October 30): Neiva Seixas Chaves, known to her followers as Aunt Neiva, was born in Ilheus in the state of Bahia, Brazil.
1943 (October 31): At age eighteen, Aunt Neiva married Raul Alonso Zelaya.
1949: Raul Alonso Zelaya died suddenly leaving Aunt Neiva with four young children to support.
(c. 1952): After purchasing a truck, Aunt Neiva began to work as a driver in various areas in the country’s interior.
1956: Initial work began on Brasília, Brazil’s new capital city, in the sparsely populated central plateau region of the country’s interior.
1957: Aunt Neiva arrived in Brasília, then under construction, to work transporting migrant workers and construction materials in her truck.
(Late 1957): Aunt Neiva began to be bothered by visions, premonitions and other phenomena that she later understood as evidence of her mediumship abilities.
1959: Aunt Neiva and a female medium named Maria de Oliveira established the Spiritist Union White Arrow in honor of Neiva’s chief spirit guide, an Amerindian chief named Father White Arrow (Pai Seta Branca).
1960 (April 21): Brasília was officially inaugurated by President Juscelino Kubitschek.
1962: Mário Sassi moved to Brasília to work in public relations at the University of Brasília.
1964: Aunt Neiva and Maria de Oliveira parted ways; Neiva and a small group of her followers relocated to Taguatinga where they established a new community called Social Works of the Spiritist Christian Order (OSOEC).
1964 (April 1): The military officially overthrew the administration of Brazilian President João Goulart and established a military dictatorship.
1965: Aunt Neiva contracted tuberculosis and was hospitalized in Belo Horizonte from May 11 to August 2. Later in the year, Mário Sassi met Aunt Neiva for the first time when he visited OSOEC.
1966: The orphanage run by Aunt Neiva and her followers was registered with Brazil’s National Social Service agency under the name Matilde’s Children’s Home.
1968: Mário Sassi left his wife, family and his position at the University of Brasília to join forces with Aunt Neiva, becoming her companion, lover and the intellectual architect of the Valley’s theology.
1969: Aunt Neiva and Mário Sassi relocated OSOEC to a rural area near the city of Planaltina in the federal district outside of Brasília. The area later became known as Valley of the Dawn.
1971-1980: The Valley expanded its campus as numerous ritual structures were constructed by community members, including a large outdoor installation in the shape of a six-pointed star known as the Incandescent Star. The original wooden temple was rebuilt in masonry and stone.
1974 (March): Aunt Neiva and Mário Sassi were married according to the Valley’s matrimonial ritual.
1976: The Incandescent Star was inaugurated.
1978: Aunt Neiva established the Adjuncts Koatay 108 (Adjuntos Koatay 108), later known as Arcana Adjuncts (Adjunto Arcano), a position whose components are consecrated representatives of highly evolved spirits called Ministers (Ministros). Of the thirty-nine original Adjuncts, thirty-eight were male.
1978-1979: Aunt Neiva created a hierarchy of bureaucratic and ritual authority, headed by the Trinos Presidentes Triada to which she consecrated Mário Sassi and her oldest son Gilberto Zelaya as well as two other men.
1984: Aunt Neiva appointed Gilberto Zelaya as Coordinator of External Temples.
1985: (November 15): Aunt Neiva died. The Trinos Presidentes Triada took over official leadership of the community.
1991: After a series of disagreements and strained relations with the other Trinos, Mário Sassi left OSOEC and established his own community, the Universal Order of the Great Initiates (Ordem Universal dos Grandes Iniciados).
1995 (December 25): Mário Sassi died.
2004: Nestor Sabatovicz, one of the four original Trinos Presidentes Triada, died and fellow Trino Michel Hanna, took over as chief executive.
2006: After a series of controversial decisions and disagreements with Aunt Neiva’s heirs, Michel Hanna renounced his position as Trino Presidente and executive power over the Order shifted to Aunt Neiva’s youngest son Raul Zelaya.
2008-2009: Raul Zelaya began to institute changes in the organizational hierarchy and in March of 2009 issued a new statute, passed by a referendum, that consolidated power in his office. Troubled by these changes Gilberto Zelaya formally established the CGTA (Coordinação Geral dos Templos de Amanhecer) as a legal entity.
2009: A dispute between the brothers Gilberto and Raul resulted in a formal split between the OSOEC, led by Aunt Neiva’s youngest son Raul Zelaya and headquartered at the Mother Temple, and the CGTA (Coordinação Geral dos Templos de Amanhecer) led by Aunt Neiva’s eldest son Gilberto Zelaya and responsible for the external temples. As a result, the OSOEC and the CGTA became two different, independent entities.
2010 (May 26): A preliminary injunction in a civil lawsuit brought by OSOEC prohibited the CGTA and all of its members from using the liturgies, symbols and rituals of the Valley doctrine.
2011: After the CGTA appealed, the preliminary injunction was overturned by a federal court. The court ruled that the CGTA had the right to use the rituals, symbols and liturgies of the Valley.
The largest and most well-known alternative religion in Brazil, the movement known popularly as t he Valley of the Dawn is
notable for its sense of visual spectacle, apparent in the fantastic garb worn by members during collective rituals as well as the elaborate iconography, symbols, statues and colorful regalia that fill its outdoor temple complex. Since the 1970s it has been profiled regularly by both Brazilian and international media outlets, but because most journalists have little time to delve into the Valley’s intricate cosmology or attend its numerous but lengthy rituals, they tend to focus on the Valley’s imaginative material culture. For legions of people suffering from afflictions ranging from physical to financial, however, the Valley is a “universal emergency room” where trained mediums daily perform works of spiritual healing, treating several thousand people a week at the movement’s Mother Temple.
Founded at the end of the 1960s in the federal district outlying the capital of Brasília, the Valley of the Dawn largely is the creation of two people: Neiva Chaves Zelaya, affectionately known as Aunt Neiva (Tia Neiva), a widowed former truck driver and mother of four whose visionary experiences are the foundation and raison-d’être of the movement’s existence, and Mário Sassi, an early convert who renounced his family and former life to become Neiva’s companion and the codifer of her spiritual visions. Working together, they laid the foundation for one of the fastest-growing new religious movements in Brazil with over 600 affiliated temples throughout Brazil as well as in Europe, North and South America, and the Caribbean.
Born in 1925 in the northeastern state of Bahia, Neiva Chaves Zelaya was twenty-three years old when her husband Raul Alonso Zelaya died after a brief illness, leaving her with four young children. Having formal schooling only at the primary level , Neiva was forced to find a way to support her family.At first she worked as a photographer, but the close contact with photographic chemicals left her with respiratory problems that would flare up again later in life. I n 1957 , after pursuing several other business ventures and at the invitation of one of her late husband’s associates, Neiva migrated with her children to Brasília to work as a truck driver in the capital city then under construction.
Not long after arriving in Brasília, Neiva began to suffer from visual and auditory disturbances that left her exhausted and, at times, physically ill. Initially terrified, she sought help from a medical doctor and a Catholic priest, as well as in Afro-Brazilian religions, before becoming exposed to the teachings of Kardecist Spiritism. Through contact with a Kardecist medium named Maria de Oliveira, better known as Mother Neném, Neiva became convinced that these experiences were, in fact, visitations from highly evolved spirit entities and, far from being a sign of mental illness, were evidence of a unique spiritual sensitivity.
Primary among Neiva’s spirit mentors were Father White Arrow (Pai Seta Branca), an emissary from a distant planet whom Valley members believe was commissioned by God to foster humanity’s cultural and spiritual evolution, and his feminine counterpart Mother Yara (Mãe Yara). In April of 1959, Neiva, then known as Sister Neiva, and Mother Neném together established the Spiritualist Union White Arrow (União Espiritualista Seta Branca) in honor of Neiva’s chief spiritual guide, whose last incarnation on Earth was as the chieftain of an Andean tribe during the era of Spanish colonization.
Neiva’s spiritual mentors were not all disincarnate beings, however. Among them was a contemporary Buddhist monk named Humarran whom Father White Arrow commissioned to instruct Neiva in “initiatic” doctrine so that she could carry on his original mission. Although the monk resided in a monastery in the mountains of Tibet, according to Valley lore, he and Neiva met daily in the ethereal dimension where, over the course of five years (1959-1964), he instructed her in advanced esoteric practices. The most important of these was a technique of travelling, in the form of a “conscious spirit,” to other dimensions in time and space in order to redeem karma associated with past lives. Upon completing this apprenticeship, Neiva was granted the designation Koatay 108, or “Lady of 108 Mantras,” the name by which her spirit is referred to today. Valley members believe that the stress of this intensive period of spiritual transport weakened Neiva’s physical body, triggering a case of tuberculosis for which she was hospitalized in 1965.
At the same time that she was meeting daily with Humarran on the astral plane, Neiva was practicing the Spiritist version of charity on the terrestrial plane. Offering spiritual healing and other forms of material assistance to people in need, she and Mother Neném attracted a following among struggling farmers and migrants who had come to Brasília seeking a better future. They also took in orphans and children whose parents were no longer able to care for them. However, differences between the two mediums, exacerbated by the stress of their difficult living conditions, eventually took their toll; in February of 1964 Neiva and Mother Neném parted ways. Neiva along with a small group of followers, family members and the forty or so children that Neiva was caring for, moved to Taguatinga, a small city in the federal district outlying Brasília. There, on April 15, 1964, Neiva registered a new Spiritualist community under the name Social Works of the Spiritualist Christian Order (Obras Sociais da Ordem Espiritualista Cristã) or OSOEC. The community built a wooden temple and, as previously, Neiva and a small group of mediums offered works of spiritual healing to a growing clientele.
Meanwhile, Mário Sassi, who had moved to the federal district in 1962 to work in public relations at the newly established University of Brasília, was becoming more and more dissatisfied with his life. In 1965, suffering from depression and, as he later characterized it, a profound identity crisis that left him entertaining thoughts of abandoning everything to start anew in Europe. He ended up at Neiva’s doorstep. It was an encounter that changed his life. Reflecting on it some years later he wrote, “When I left the [Valley] the dawn was already breaking and I had entered a new world. My life now seemed clear with an explanation for each fact. Suddenly everything started to make sense, to have a logical correctness. I felt invaded by unknown forces and envisioned a welcoming world in which there was a place for me!” (1974:2). Three years later Sassi did, in fact, begin a new life when he abandoned his wife and children as well as his career to become Neiva’s partner, lover and the person responsible for interpreting and systematizing her visions. Known as the intellectual of the Valley, Sassi drew on his knowledge of Spiritualist and esoteric literature to elaborate an interpretive framework for Neiva’s visions that formed the foundation of the Valley’s theology.
In 1969, after losing possession of the land in Taguatinga, Neiva and Mário Sassi relocated the community for the final time to a rural area outside of the town of Planaltina. Despite difficulties of access to the new location and the absence of basic infrastructure, by the early 1970s there were long lines of people waiting to be attended by Neiva, now known as Aunt Neiva (Tia Neiva), and her fellow mediums. Some of those who felt themselves healed joined the community to develop their own mediumship abilities. Aunt Neiva distributed small plots of land to these early followers and the town that grew up around the temple, as well as the religion itself, began to be known as Valley of the Dawn.
As the decade of the 1970s wore on, the community continued to grow. Following the on-going revelations of her spiritual mentors, Aunt Neiva, assisted by Mário Sassi and a cohort of veteran members, worked to institutionalize the doctrines, authority structures and rituals of the religion while also continuing to serve a growing clientele in search of healing. Veteran members recall this as a period of both incessant work and great trial and error as they attempted to recreate on the terrestrial plane the things Aunt Neiva learned in her visions, which were described as voyages to different temporal and spatial dimensions or messages received from spirit mentors. Aunt Neiva’s eldest daughter, Carmem Lúcia, was tasked with making the prototypes of what would become one of the Valley’s most distinguishing features, the elaborate vestments worn by members during collective rituals and meant to emulate the visual appearance of spirit entities. In an interview, Carmem Lúcia described the struggle to reproduce the luminous colors and forms of her mother’s visions in the fabrics available in Brazil in the early 1970s: “At that time purple didn’t exist, strong colors couldn’t be found, no black, no purple, even red we had difficulty finding. So we painted, we started out in this way, painting. And then when it rained, everyone ran like crazy for cover [because the colors bled]” (Oliveira 2007:88).
With each new revelation the religion grew more complex, not only conceptually but also in terms of its material culture and organizational forms. Newly revealed rituals necessitated the creation of appropriate structures in which they could be performed as well as accompanying symbols, songs, vestments and other objects. In 1974, the community rebuilt the original wooden temple in masonry and in subsequent years undertook a range of other construction projects, all financed and completed by the members themselves. The largest of these was the construction, in 1976, of an open-air ritual space called the Incandescent Star (Estrela Candente), consisting of an artificial lake bordered by a star-shaped installation of 108 concrete platforms where the thrice-daily ritual of the Incandescent Star continues to be performed to this day. In the center of the lake rises a platform with a large ellipse said to capture and redirect cosmic energies vital to the spiritual work of the community.
According to Father José Vicente César, a Catholic priest and anthropologist who studied the movement in the mid-1970s, the Valley had approximately 500 resident mediums in 1976 and another 15,000 registered mediums living in the surrounding area who participated in the community’s on-going schedule of spiritual works. Thanks to word of mouth and largely positive coverage by the local media, thousands more visited the community for spiritual treatments, including members of Brazil’s social and political elite. César reported that between 50,000 and 70,000 people visited the Valley monthly, although this number seems exaggerated (1977:1).
By 1981, when American anthropologist James Holston first visited, the Valley “had become renowned for its cure and had attracted an enormous following. It had become a famous attraction, a place of spectacular ritual, and as such part of Brasília’s fame as itself a spectacular place.” (1999:610) Thanks to her great charisma and renowned powers of clairvoyance, Aunt Neiva was sought out by powerful statesmen and impoverished workers alike. Under the guiding impetus of her eldest son Gilberto Zelaya, numerous “external temples” in other Brazilian cities were established and over the next decade the Valley’s membership increased exponentially, while the resident population around the Mother Temple grew to about 8,000. In 1984, Aunt Neiva appointed Gilberto Zelaya as Coordinator of External Temples.
But years of hard work took their toll on Aunt Neiva’s weakened lungs and her health was declining. After a series of respiratory crises that left her dependent on an oxygen tank to breathe, she passed away in 1985 at the age of sixty. Cognizant of the need to ensure the movement’s continuity over time and aware of her own fragile health, in the late 1970s she had begun transferring spiritual and bureaucratic authority to a hierarchy of offices open to men only. At the apex were four Trinos Presidentes Triada, who jointly held executive power, and beneath them was an advisory council of male heirs. According to Aunt Neiva, these offices reflected on the physical plane the regnant hierarchy of the spiritual plane, conceived as a series of “descending forces.” Thus each Trino was guided by, and a representative of, a highly evolved entity of light known as a Minister (Ministro) and although equal in stature, Aunt Neiva specified that each Trino was responsible for distinct functions: administrative, executive, healing and coordination of external temples.
Despite her efforts, after Aunt Neiva’s death disputes arose about the future direction of the community. Among other issues was the question of authority. In the absence of the founder, what was the role of spiritual revelation in guiding the community? Was authority invested in the offices created by Aunt Neiva before her death or in the persons holding those offices? Was the basis for leadership ultimately institutional or hereditary? Over the course of the next three decades, a consanguineal relationship to Aunt Neiva would prove to be decisive in internal disputes and an important criterion for access to the highest positions of leadership.
Tensions first emerged when Mário Sassi, Aunt Neiva’s husband and one of the original Trinos, began to work with a category of spirit entities, the “Great Initiates,” whose arrival, he claimed, had been prophesied by Aunt Neiva but interrupted by her death. Among these highly evolved entities was Koatay 108, that is, the spirit who had last appeared on Earth in the form of Aunt Neiva herself. Facing resistance from the other Trinos as well as members of the Zelaya family, Sassi eventually left the community in 1991. With a small group of followers, he established the Universal Order of the Great Initiates, or Valley of the Sun, in the West Lake region of Brasília. The group never took off, however, and shortly before his death in 1995 Sassi returned to the Valley. Today, only women from Aunt Neiva’s family represent the spirit of Koatay 108 in important rituals.
In 2006, further disagreements about the exercise of legitimate authority resulted in the departure of Michel Hanna, one of the original four Trinos, who renounced his position in a public ritual. Aunt Neiva’s youngest son Raul Zelaya subsequently assumed executive power as President of the Order, formalizing his position in 2009 through a new statute, approved by a referendum, that restructured the leadership and centralized power in his own office. A provision in the statute subordinating all of the movement’s external temples to his own authority provoked a rift with his older brother Gilberto, to whom Aunt Neiva had given this responsibility. The dispute became acrimonious and eventually ended in the courts with the separation of the Order into two administrative bodies: OSOEC (Social Works of the Spiritualist-Christian Order), headquartered at the Mother Temple in Brasília under the leadership of Raul Zelaya and CGTA (General Council of the Temples of the Dawn), a network of external temples led by Gilberto Zelaya. At present, each of the six hundred-plus external temples is affiliated either with CGTA or OSOEC, although individual members are free to traverse these lines. Despite differences at the administrative level, there are few significant differences between the two factions in terms of beliefs and practices.
The Valley of the Dawn incorporates ideas from many religious and cultural influences present in modern Brazil and combines them into a unique form that is notable both for its eclecticism and complexity. As indicated by its official name, ideas drawn from Spiritualism and Christianity anchor the Valley’s doctrinal structure, but added to this are concepts such as karma and reincarnation, spirit entities venerated in Afro-Brazilian religions, vocabulary drawn from various esoteric traditions, as well as the belief in extraterrestrial life forms and intergalactic space travel. Like other new religions that have emerged in the modern period, the Valley frames its theological claims as confirmed by science and members consider themselves scientists of the spiritual world.
Broadly speaking, the Valley’s cosmology is a theosophically-inflected form of Spiritualism: the Valley affirms the existence of multiple planes of existence, including the spiritual, ethereal (or psychic) and material dimensions, each of which is composed of its own distinct type of matter-energy. Communication between these planes, and between spirit entities and humans, is believed to be possible through the practice of mediumship, which is available to all humans. Animated by the divine principle, which Valley members identify as the Christian God, the entire cosmos (including the Earth and humanity) follows a grand scheme of evolutionary and spiritual development that unfolds in sequential, millennial cycles. The transition between these cycles is said to be especially fraught and marked by social conflicts, environmental catastrophes and increased human suffering. According to the Valley, we are currently in the midst of the transition to the “Third Millennium.”
Driving the evolutionary process are universal laws such as karma and reincarnation. While physicality is a passing state associated with terrestrial existence, the spirit itself is “transcendental,” existing both before and after the physical body and, following the laws of karma, periodically reincarnating on Earth in order to atone for past acts and learn lessons that will facilitate continued evolution. Like many other groups influenced by Spiritualist and esoteric literature, popular in Brazil since the writing of Allen Kardec first began to circulate in the late nineteenth century, the Valley understands the Earth to be a place of expiation where one can either make amends for one’s karmic debts, evolving into a higher state, or accrue new karmic debts thus extending the cycle of reincarnation into the future. Reincarnation on Earth is more than just a punishment but rather a precious opportunity to work towards one’s own spiritual evolution as well as that of the entire planet. Once an individual has evolved to the point that incarnation on Earth is no longer necessary, they continue their journey in the spirit world until finally returning to their origin.
According to the Valley, some highly evolved spirits of light work on behalf of humanity as mentors while other lower-level spirits can provoke illness and misfortune. The Valley understands its principle mission to be the spiritual healing of people and the planet in preparation for the Third Millennium through a vast array of rituals that is described in the next section. The most highly evolved spirit of light responsible for overseeing the Valley is Father White Arrow (Pai Seta Branca) , named for this entity’s final incarnation on Earth as the leader of an Indian tribe living in the Andes. A statue depicting him adorned with a full-feathered headdress in the style of a Plains Indian chieftain is, along with a statue of Jesus, a focal point of the Mother Temple.
While Valley members consider themselves Christian, their beliefs and practices depart significantly from those of mainstream Christianity, reflecting the strong influence of Spiritualist and esoteric metaphysics on Valley cosmology. Jesus, for example, is seen as a highly evolved spirit and esoteric master sent by God to restructure both the spiritual and terrestrial worlds by establishing a system of karmic redemption. According to the Valley, Jesus’s teachings of love, humility and forgiveness offer humans a new path for spiritual evolution referred to as the “Christic System,” or “School of the Way.” By emulating the example of Jesus depicted in the Gospels through the practice of love, tolerance, humility and forgiveness, Valley members believe that they can redeem the negative karma they have accrued over the course of multiple lifetimes. They refer to Jesus as the Wayfarer, the one who shows the path to redemption. As a doctrinal tract explains, “for us, Jesus is the Wayfarer, he who is always present at our side, showing us the New Path, helping us and protecting us in our apprenticeship in the School of the Way” (“Jesus,” Dicionário do Vale). This understanding of Jesus is expressed in one of the movement’s most prominent symbols: a cross draped with a flowing white mantle, which is said to symbolize Christ’s eternal and spiritual presence.
According to the Valley, Jesus brought with him esoteric knowledge not addressed in the New Testament to which members are exposed as they progress through successive levels of initiation. Jesus himself is said to have been initiated into esoteric mysteries when he resided in the Himalayas from age twelve to thirty, exactly the years ignored by the Gospel accounts of his life. This “initiatic” knowledge is put into practice in a set of rituals that enable participants to “manipulate” or channel specific forces associated with the Jaguars’ past incarnations, making these forces available not only for the group’s own benefit but for that of humankind.
The earliest explication of the Valley’s cosmology is found in the writings of Mário Sassi, who saw his mission as synthesizing Aunt Neiva’s visionary experiences and forging a comprehensive doctrinal system from the messages that she claimed to transmit from her numerous spirit guides. According to Sassi, the cradle of human civilization is the planet Capela, located in a far off galaxy. Approximately 32,000 years ago, a group of highly evolved Capelans were sent as missionaries to establish colonies on earth for the purpose of preparing it for human civilization. These first missionaries, known as the Equitumans, were not able to complete their mission. Although they made great progress, after several generations they “began to distance themselves from their masters and the original plans” and had to be eliminated from the Earth (1974:29).
In order to finish the civilizing process on earth, the Capelans sent another wave of missionaries (whom Sassi later explained were actually reincarnated versions of the Equitumans), the Tumuchy. Possessors of highly advanced scientific capacities, the Tumuchy possessed great skill in “manipulating planetary energies,” for which purpose they built pyramids and other ancient structures for calculating the relations between various celestial bodies. The Tumuchy were succeeded by the Jaguars, known as “great manipulators of social forces,” who left their mark on various peoples. Concentrated in seven centers around the world, they established the advanced civilizations of the Mayas, Egyptians, Incans, Romans, and so forth. Although humans don’t recall the Equitumans and Tumuchy today, the memory of them was transformed over time into the various myths of gods who brought civilization to humans.
According to Sassi, as time wore on, the spiritual descendants of these missionary agents veered away once again from their civilizing mission as their earthly incarnations became seduced by power and perverted by cruelty. Finally, God sent Jesus to the Earth where he established the Christic System of karmic redemption, based on the virtues of unconditional love, humility, forgiveness and the practice of charity or the “Law of Assistance.” Those spirits who adopted the Christic system as a way to redeem their negative karma and return to their original mission became known as Jaguars in homage to one of their incarnations as a group of indigenous Indians living in the mountainous Andes. This group was led by Father White Arrow in his final earthly incarnation. Since then the Jaguars have been working off their karmic debts in different incarnations across time and space, from colonial Brazil and Revolutionary France to the steppes of nineteenth century Russia. According to Aunt Neiva, each Jaguar has passed through at least nineteen different incarnations. The sum total of these various reincarnations constitutes a member’s “transcendental heritage” (herança transcendental).
Father White Arrow, having completed his own evolutionary journey on Earth, commissioned Aunt Neiva to continue his mission of helping humans through the difficult transition between millennial cycles. Valley members consider themselves to be present-day Jaguars, reunited by Aunt Neiva in accordance with Father White Arrow’s plan. Their presence at the Valley enables them to practice the Law of Assistance through rituals of spiritual healing offered nearly round-the-clock at the temple, but it also offers them opportunities to liquidate their own karmic debts in preparation for the Third Millennium. At that time, Valley members believe, the Earth will enter a new phase and the era of karmic redemption will close. The most evolved spirits, whether incarnate in human form or disincarnate, will be reunited then in their true spiritual birthplace, the distant star known as Capela, never to reincarnate again. Those left on Earth will be doomed to repeat another cycle as the planet reverts to a more primitive spiritual-cultural level.
This complex theology is put into practice in an exceptionally large repertoire of collective rituals, or what the Valley refers to as “spiritual works,” that occur in spaces constructed specifically for particular purposes. Each of the approximately fifty rituals performed at the Valley requires numerous participants wearing special vestments and the use of certain hymns, colors, gestures, symbols and discourses. They occur nearly round the clock, 365 days a year (some multiple times a day, others on a weekly, monthly, or yearly schedule). In order to ensure their smooth performance, the Valley has instituted a complex bureaucracy of offices and roles in which all participants have a part to play.
While each of these spiritual works is unique in its details, they can be divided into two general kinds. The first are rituals of spiritual healing aimed at alleviating human suffering. Performed as part of the “Law of Assistance,” these healing works are understood to exemplify the Christic values of unconditional love and compassion and are offered free of charge to all who seek them. The largest variety of healing works is offered on “official work days” (Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays), and on these days several thousand patients and mediums circulate at the Mother Temple. Temple leaders estimate that up to 12,000 people participate in healing services on a monthly basis.
Like other Spiritist groups, the Valley teaches that many common ailments stem from the prejudicial presence of inferior spirits who lead people towards negative behavior and thoughts. Healing involves the work of disobsession (desobsessão), defined as a process of freeing people from the influence of these low-level spirits, thus restoring a person’s spiritual equilibrium. The goal of disobsession is not to exorcize the perturbing spirit, but rather to teach it (and the person) about their true nature and assist them in returning to the path towards God. This pedagogical process is referred to as “indoctrination” (doutrinação).
The second set of rituals, performed for the benefit of initiated members, is intended to redeem the participants’ own negative karma and that generated by key episodes in the Jaguars’ collective transcendental heritage. This set of rituals is understood to “manipulate spiritual energies” in order to liquidate karmic debts accumulated in previous lives. They are structured as performative enactments of incidents situated in the past and involve choreographed gestures and bodily postures, courtly processions, invocations, mantras, implements, and other accessories related to the past event being referenced.
Many of the Valley’s rituals require gently but firmly explaining to unevolved spirits their low spiritual level and helping them along to their appropriate place in the spirit plane, a process known as “indoctrination” (doutrinação) and “elevation” (elevação). This is the job of a category of mediums called “indoctrinators” (doutrinadores). Among Valley members, this is the great innovation of Aunt Neiva and what sets the Valley apart from other religions of spirit mediumship. Indoctrinators use reason to help spirits understand the truth of their condition. They can do this because they are capable of a form of mediumship during which they “receive a projection of a spirit entity” while in a state of heightened conscious and in total control of their cognitive faculties.
Indoctrinators work in tandem with another type of medium known as apara. These are mediums who enter a semi-conscious state in order to physically incorporate spirit entities so that they can be indoctrinated and elevated by the indoctrinators using a ritual formula or “key” (chave). But aparas do not incorporate low-level spirits exclusively. They also work with “guides” or highly evolved spirit entities committed to helping humans evolve. These guides can take many different forms, manifesting as elderly black slaves ( pretos velhos), indigenous Indians (caboclos), healing doctors (médicos de cura) and other spirit entities cultivated in Candomblé, Umbanda and other Spiritist groups and familiar to most Brazilians. Working together as a pair, the apara and the doutrinador constitute the basic unit necessary for the spiritual work at the heart of the Valley’s mission.
In order to administer such a large number of rituals involving numerous participants, Aunt Neiva developed a complex administrative apparatus involving various hierarchical levels structured as a pyramid. At the upper levels, each occupant of a particular position within the hierarchy is understood to project the spiritual energies of his or her mentor spirit in the form of a “descending force” that distributes the energy of the spiritual world into the human world as a series of “rays.” Each and every Valley member occupies a particular position within this field of descending forces.
During her lifetime, Aunt Neiva herself occupied the apex of this pyramid, beneath which were the offices of Trinos Presidentes Triada, originally four in number. Since 2006 and the subsequent establishment of dual administrative divisions, Raul Zelaya has presided over OSOEC as while his brother Gilberto heads the temples affiliated with CGTA. Beneath them are other Trinos with different administrative functions and beneath these Trinos are the Arcana Adjuncts (Adjuntos Arcanos) who, like the Trinos, are further subdivided into various categories. During her lifetime, Aunt Neiva consecrated ten veteran members as Arcana Adjuncts of People (Adjuntos Arcanos de Povo), each representing a different “root” or group of mediums. After passing through the requisite level of initiation each member selects one of these Arcana Adjuncts of People and becomes part of his “continent.” Although there was one woman among the original thirty-nine Adjunct Arcana consecrated by Aunt Neiva, today positions at the level of Adjunct and Trino are open only to male indoctrinators due to the belief that their bodies are best able to manipulate the requisite spiritual energies associated with these positions.
As novices complete a sequential series of development courses taught by trained instructors and pass through several levels ofinitiation, they too ascend through a multi-leveled hierarchy, earning the right to wear specific clothing and insignia, participate in certain rituals and take on specific duties at each level. These courses also expose initiates to the details of their shared history as Jaguars and their mission of advancing humanity’s spiritual evolution as well as the metaphysical foundations of Valley doctrine and practice.
Although the Valley’s hierarchy is quite complex, one of its most basic divisions is that between men and women. Like many religions, the Valley collapses gender and sex: women, referred to as “nymphs” (ninfas), are believed to naturally possess conventionally feminine traits such as tenderness and emotional sensitivity while men, known as “masters” (mestres), have greater physical strength and more control over their emotions, which makes them better suited for positions of leadership. Because they possess different bodily capacities and psychosomatic tendencies, men and women together form a complementary dyad and the ideal is for mestres and nymphs to work together, although this is not always realized in practice.
The Valley’s understanding of gender complementarity overlaps in significant ways with its dual system of mediumship. While in theory anyone can be an indoctrinator or apara, in practice there are more female aparas than male and more male indoctrinators than female. As Mário Sassi explained: “because of its emotional tenor, incorporation is more frequent among female mediums. And because the medium who teaches the doctrine tends toward rationalism, one finds the greatest number of indoctrinators among men.” (Rodrigues and Muel-Dreyfus 1984:126). The conjunction of male strength and the greater degree of rationality and knowledge associated with the indoctrinator means that only male indoctrinators are permitted to command rituals, teach novice mediums as instructors, and assume high-level leadership positions within administrative and ritual hierarchies.
The principle of complementarity is expressed not only in ritual but also through various paired correspondences, colors and identifying symbols. The apara, for example, is associated with the energy of the moon and the color silver and is symbolized by an open book inside of a red triangle. By contrast, the energy of the sun and the color gold are associated with the indoctrinator, whose symbol is a cross draped with a flowing mantle. This symbolism appears in different forms on members’ uniforms as well as throughout the temple complex.
Another significant way that the Valley organizes its members is in so-called “missionary phalanxes” (falanges missionárias). After passing through the requisite initiations, Valley members can join any one of the twenty-two missionary phalanxes; twenty are reserved for women and two for men. Each phalanx is distinguished by a special identifying uniform and has specific tasks to perform in one or more of the Valley’s many rituals.
Since an acrimonious dispute between Neiva’s two sons in 2009, the Valley of the Dawn has had two branches: OSOEC, centered at the Mother Temple outside Brasília and headed by Raul Zelaya and CGTA, led by Gilberto Zelaya and comprising many of the external temples. Despite this juridical and organizational division, however, there are few differences between the two groups in terms of beliefs and practices. However, the split did generate ill feelings on both sides, as well as bureaucratic problems and legal wrangling over ownership of the Valley’s tangible and intangible resources. In 2010, OSOEC won a preliminary injunction in a civil lawsuit prohibiting the CGTA and all of its members from using any of the liturgies, symbols and rituals pertaining to the Valley, but a federal court overturned this decision in 2011. Since that time all of the temples outside of the Mother Temple have aligned themselves with either OSOEC or CGTA, although individual Valley members are free to cross these lines. While many adherents fervently hope for a reconciliation between the brothers and reunification of the two branches, the last several years have not brought any thaw in relations. With both brothers now in their sixties and seventies, it may fall to the next generation of leaders to either unify the two branches or retain them as separate entities. Since heredity is now an important (although not the sole) criterion for the office of president, it is certain that those leaders will be drawn from among the male descendants of Aunt Neiva. What is not certain is whether each brother will pass on his office to his own son or grandson, potentially deepening the division in the two branches.
All of the photos, with the exception of the black and white images of Aunt Neiva and her early community (UESB), were taken by Márcia Alves and are used with her generous permission.
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Kelly E. Hayes
22 September 2015