About the Equivalence of Spirits

Frater Vameri



Image by Suju-foto at Pixabay.


I hear a lot of discussion about what I call in a very informal way "Equivalence of Spirits". A topic that I find quite controversial. I understand that this is an area that encompasses all the discussion about the identity and similarity / dissimilarity of spirits in different traditions. To be clearer, we are in this field when someone claims that Baron Samedi is the same as Exu Caveira or that Exu de Quimbanda does not work in Umbanda. I would dare to say that the reader agrees with me that this is a topic, in fact, that gives body to a lengthy discussion. Different views of processes and philosophies will operate on the issue, generating disparate opinions. I do not intend to give final word on the matter here. In fact, I don't even feel capable of pointing to a more harmonious direction. As a juggler, I will try to balance things and hope that the viewer (the reader) stays with me until the end. Anyone who likes to say that things are equivalent or similar generally takes into account that different cultures are masks for a universal, essential and immutable truth. Thus, if there is the phenomenon of death, this phenomenon will present itself in several ways. Anubis and Osiris in ancient Egypt would be expressions of death. In Brazil, we would have some Exus and Pombas-Giras. For the Yoruba, it would be Ikù. In this context and from this point of view all would be the same, but varying according to the observer. Thus, the particularities would be nothing more than regional and occasional flavors, which would not, in fact, change the heart of the matter. For others, the general is nonspecific. In other words, a lot of different things deal with death: medical examiners, gravediggers and funeral agents. Thus, Ikù, Anúbis and Baron Samedi would have almost nothing in common, just the fact that they are (in some way) connected to death. However, just as no one would dare to say that every firefighter is equal just because of fighting fire, it would also seem unreasonable to claim that all spirits who deal with death are the same. Here, the focus would be on individualizing characteristics that, being many, could not be discarded, as they would place each spirit in very different spheres. This all, in some way, reminds me of the old discussion between Umbanda and Quimbanda. Confusion already begins in denominations. There are those who think that Quimbanda is something from inside Umbanda, there are those who think that they are totally different things. Hence a discussion: is the Exu who works at Umbanda the same as who works in Quimbanda? Again, opinions differ. There are those who swear that something like this could never happen. Others, in turn, are sure that Exu is Exu no matter where he is. At this point, I tend to stick with the second opinion. The reason is simple, in addition to being extremely intertwined cults, we speak of the same class of spirits that can travel in different environments. Therefore, the point here is slightly different from the one previously placed. Whether everything is the same or different it will be though to conclude with absolute certainty. I would say that nothing can replace experience. However, I will try to put a little bit of my perspective. My first point is that perhaps this issue is not that fundamental. Perhaps it is just a detail that will interest only the most theoretical. After all, in practice, if you have your spirituality and it is working, why bother with it? In the most objective dimension, it makes no difference. Of course, I love a good discussion and a nice dissection of ideas, so, as much as in practice I don't think about it, when I'm thinking the system is an issue that arises. The second point revolves around the structuring relevance of culture. To think that spirits are not inserted in the cultural context and that there is no social agency seems to me as a mistake. In this sense, I would say that the reader already suspects my position. I don't believe in generality and I deposit my cards in specificity. The universe is infinite, the possibilities are incalculable and it is not possible for us to restrict ourselves to always thinking in large categories. The individuality of the spirit does not seem to me an issue that is under debate, as all practices will clearly state how one spirit or another behaves, what it likes and what it treats. In these terms, saying that things are the same does not make sense. Choosing a more specific view also has another huge advantage: it values ​​systems. So we avoid that mix that is often disharmonious (not to say without head and tail). Now, before they accuse me of being against mixtures, I am not. However, every mix calls for spontaneity. Forcing one thing into another seems extremely harmful. The direction and even the sense of things are lost. Therefore, I value a priori everything in its place. When people tell me that everything is the same, I wrinkle my nose and try to argue that if we are going to start operating in this way it would be better to cease with all activities because when anything is everything nothing really is anything.

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