Brazil: Culture, Myths and Legends

Janey Fugate is a student at Washington and Lee University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Janey is recently completed studying abroad with ISA in Florianópolis, Brazil.

Chagdud Gonpa Ridgjed Ling Center in Floripa

Known as “A Ilha da Magia,” or the island of magic, Florianópolis does possess a certain otherworldly quality, aside from the beauty of its paradisaical beaches. This ambiance comes in part from the multifaceted spiritual side of the island. Floripa is not known for cultural richness in comparison to the Brazilian states of Bahia where African culture is predominant or Amazonas where indigenous life still thrives. But the island does reflect on aspects of Brazil’s approach to spirituality and has unique movements of its own.

Many Portuguese immigrants from the Azores islands have settled on the island. With them came stories that still permeate the island’s atmosphere, many of them involving witches. Legend says that the boulders off the beach at Praia de Itaguaçu were once witches before they were turned to stone. These legends originate mainly from the island’s European influence, but indigenous myth and religion is also present in contemporary culture.

Buddhist Temple near Foz do Iguacu (photo courtesy of Louie Loya, ISA student)

In so many ways we see how the lines between East and West are beginning to blur. For example, there are several Buddhist centers in Floripa, but the one I visited practices traditional Tibetan Buddhism. Called Chagdud Gonpa Ridgjed Ling, the interior was filled with colorful art and figures mostly imported from Tibet. The woman I spoke with there, Cristina Dierderidesen, said simply but knowingly, “O Oriente está chegando ao Oeste.” The East is moving closer to the West. So many shops or stands sold Asian art, particularly Buddhist statues, and many people I met said they meditate regularly or identify with some aspect of Buddhism. I found that Buddhism is almost trendy in Floripa, as I think it is in much of the West.

But more common than traditional Buddhist centers is a more New Age approach to Buddhism in the West. I stumbled upon a bookstore that sold all kinds of books on different religions, holistic healing, psychology and everything in between. A large section of shelf space was reserved for Eastern religions as well as mysticism, wicca, and magic. (I thought it was interesting to see O Senhor dos Aneis (Lord of the Rings) next to the “how to” books on magic). This reflects again on how Buddhism becomes mixed with other kinds of mysticism.

I heard it said that in general when Brazilians come in contact with a new religion or way of thinking, they do not grapple with how it’s different from what they know, but rather they look for ways to adapt it to their own life. Because of this mentality, Brazil, with Floripa as no exception, is a mosaic of religions, philosophies and cultures which is bringing the East ever closer to the West.

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