Into the woods…

…in Brazil, that is.

We lived in the Ipanema neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, the preference of most foreigners, but of course Americans always got it in the neck. The locals dubbed it, sarcastically, the American Slum. Wealthy enclave or not, there were these nightly offerings known as despachos on street corners.

The bowl of ground manioc with a piece of blue cloth on top together with an opened bottle of Coca Cola was a petition to Yemanjå, the Virgin Mary. Manioc paired with a piece of chicken and a bottle of beer was meant for Oxalå, or Jesus. With a bottle of cachaça, it was a call to Exü, the devil.

But street corners were not ideal for their purpose. When Renato and I went for a walk in the woods out of town we encountered despachos under trees by a creek. The trees bore colored strips of cloth. The confluence of tree, running water, and tree was best, we were told.

All of it set my imagination on fire. When we came back to live in California, I set to researching for a book, and Renato on his trips back to Brazil bought me reference works in Portuguese on various sects of magic so that The Snake Woman of Ipanema would be utterly authentic.

Each night all over Brazil thousands of spirit rituals — terreiros — burn to spirit deities. The Quimbanda sect is the scariest, and of course I had to include that in Snake Woman.


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