When I moved to Brazil, I wanted to travel the world, to be care free, to be truly able to follow my every whim. But I also needed to eat.
I started working at a hostel in Salvador’s historic district to cover my living expenses. At night I hung out with whoever was staying at the hostel, with the exception of Fridays. I avoided the bar scene and instead spent Friday nights with local friends or couchsurfing groups. As I had nothing scheduled my second weekend in Salvador, I explored a new part of the city.
I enjoy seeing new cathedrals and churches, so when I saw a large chapel with a neon red sign above the door and the lights on inside I decided to visit.
I walked in quietly and sat in the back, trying not to draw attention to myself. After being there for two minutes I saw the rest of the crowd walking towards the front. A woman in the aisle motioned for me to come forward so I followed the group towards the front and we were arranged standing in a line facing the stage. Three pastors came into the crowd and picked out a disturbed looking man. They barked commands at him and then put their hands heavily on his head and started yelling and violently shaking his head. I stood and wondering what was going on around me when the pastors finished with their first target one of them walked and started towards me. The pastor stood right in front of me and asked me questions in Portuguese for 45 seconds before he put his hands on my head and started chanting. At the end of each sentence he chanted “out” and “now” and threw his hands skyward. The chanting stretched for a long two minutes and then the pastor looked at me, smiled, and walked to another person. I assumed I would be left alone afterwards so I stayed and watched the rest of the ceremony with morbid fascination.
After five minutes another man came up to me and put his hands forcefully on my head. I tried to explain to him that the first pastor had already exorcised me, but I wouldn’t be so lucky that night— my Portuguese was poor and the man wasn’t listening anyways. The second man pressed firmly on my head and chanted a rhythmic cadence. This time the chanting was shorter but his grip was considerably stronger. Exorcism #2 went slightly quicker than the first and I was happy when his chanting and yelling was done and he went to the next churchgoer. I considered leaving at this point. I wasn’t obligated to stay, was I? I would never see these people again anyways. I should leave, I told myself. But it seemed rude to interrupt their ceremony. When in Rome…
After another 10 minutes a third pastor approached me and introduced himself. This time I was assertive, probably overly so, but he backed away from me and walked up to the front of the chapel. At this point everyone in the audience had been de-demonized and the three pastors went to the front of the chapel and began chanting, yelling, and blessing a growling man. The main pastor held the growler’s head firmly and told everybody in the crowd to watch. The growler bent down and shrieked a combination of growls and grunts while shaking his body violently. The way the growler’s head was being held and how his body pulsed resembled a cobra being picked up by its tail.
I felt the corners of my mouth sneaking upwards. I looked around me. Nobody else was smiling. I tried to stop my smile from creeping across my mouth but couldn’t. This was too much to keep a completely straight face. I was fortunately able to disguise laughter as coughing. Others in the crowd glanced at me but nobody made eye contact.
As the growler grew calm, keyboard music floated in from the speakers. The music was in a minor key, slow, and haunting. It reminded me of watching Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? when I visited my grandparents as a child. The woman who had first welcomed me into the chapel now stood in front of me and told me to take my shoes off and walk to the red carpet in the middle of the room. I told her I had work. She was careful not to touch me me but stood in my way as I tried to leave, telling me to stay longer. As I got closer to the door her mood shifted and she smiled as she tried to convince me to stay. I wished her a good evening and left, watching behind me nervously until I passed the nearest intersection.
While societal norms push us to mock what we don’t understand, I haven’t had a single haunting since the night of my exorcisms. Maybe they were onto something.