Black Magic, White Moon, and Everything In Between

photo courtesy of renedepaula under a Creative Commons license.

“O, coitado… (oh, poor bastard…)” I breathed as he wobbled out of the car.  Hot and sweaty from this 90-degree cloudless day (why did no one warn me that almost every day from December to June is like this in Brazil?), and none too steady on his feet he clearly had tired of waiting in the car for his friend who had come into our store to ask for directions.  I´ve worked at enough homeless shelters to know the look of a drunk who´s on a mission to do… Something.  The Something usually has a clear (albeit linguistically jumbled) definition, and sometimes if you´re really talented you might be able to convince him that he really intended to do Something Else (like have another piece of pie instead of arguing drunken politics with his neighbor until a fight breaks out).  Oh, I knew the look, and braced myself for impact.

Thankfully his goal was the shade of our shop’s front doorstep, and the Something was achieved before we needed to interact with him.

His friend wasn’t in much better shape–his shirt was askew, sweated through in a few places, and held together by one overworked button; his pants were hanging on for dear life and his worn, red underwear were peeking out at one hip, eager to make a break for freedom–but he seemed more or less sober.  He was trying to decipher directions that went: “‘It´s out in the countryside, there´s this place that sells ironwork and then you cross over this metal bridge and then drive some sixty kilometers on paved roads until it turns to a dirt road and then you’re there.”  Our first question: which countryside?  There´s five different countryside directions he could go in from here.  Second question: “What are you trying to do?”  Turns out he’s looking for the local curador, the local witch-healer that specializes in curing chronic illnesses and alcoholism.  He didn’t specify why they were going, but one glance at his colleague wobbling on the curb in the shade rounded out the story.

Aha.  We know where you need to go now.  There´s only one such curador in this region.  We gave directions and sent them on their way.  Coitados.  Deus lhes proteja. (Poor bastards.  May God protect them.)

Whether or not you think that curadores do God’s work is a matter of discussion around here.  Quiet discussion, where no one will hear you.  I gather that there are Brazilians that think that it’s the devil’s work, and there are others that are devotees of macumba and to them it is just a different religion, a different way of talking to God.  I have yet to hear anyone argue that it doesn’t work.  They all believe, whether they approve or not.

My brother in-law has been chopping madly at all the bushes in our garden lately.  My mother-in-law says it’s the correct phase of the moon for cutting, and so any trimming of the trees must be done now otherwise the trees won’t grow back right.  Women wait for a waxing moon to cut their hair as well.  That’s the same moon as for trimming shrubbery, if you’re curious.  Probably for the same reasons.

There’s a phase of the moon for planting too.  If you plant in the wrong month, the wrong phase, you’ve only got yourself to blame if it doesn’t grow right.  Apparently it’s different phases for different plants, so I´m screwed.  I have no idea.  I just throw seeds in the ground, hope for the best, and await the inevitable constructive criticism.

So many things here have explanations beyond the scientific.  Traditions that extend back beyond anyone’s memory.  Why do you do it that way?  Because we always have.  Because if you don’t, it won’t work. You just try shifting a belief like that.  Moreover, why bother?  Maybe they’re right.  Maybe my last bad haircut was because I didn’t pay attention to the moon, and maybe the curadores have got something better than Alcoholics Anonymous.  I’m finally old enough to realize I don’t know all the answers.  Do I believe that my garden peppers cycle with the moon?  Not yet, but they also haven’t sprouted yet so ask me again in a few weeks.

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