Accepted Paper:

The agency of ritual objects in Afro-Brazilian Umbanda  
Eleonora Riviello (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines materiality as part of knowledge production and learning in Afro-Brazilian Umbanda. Agency, subjectivity and the ontological status of ritual objects owned by the spirits are discussed within ethnographic material collected among three Umbanda temples in São Paulo.

Paper long abstract:

For the followers of Afro-Brazilian religion Umbanda, the ritual objects, such as costumes and amulets, have a strong personal value. Many of these objects, in fact, belong to the peoples´ non-human spiritual companions, who can use them either spontaneously or in structured religious ceremonies.

Among contemporary umbandistas the human-like spirits are considered as members of the same world as people, however, the spirits are believed to "work" at the spiritual plane (plano spiritual), leaving us humans mainly in the material side (plano material) of the twofold universe. According to umbandistas, a good life is achieved through the process of learning, in which one becomes aware of the world's wholeness through individual experience, while dreaming and through intuitive knowledge related to things, persons, places, situations and different temporalities. Furthermore, dreams and intuition function as channels, revealing the spiritual truth of the lived worlds.

In this paper I will concentrate on materiality in the processes of knowledge production, examining the ontological status, subjectivity and agency of things that belong and are used by the spirits, such as clothes, accessories, tools, beverages and aliments. I will give an ethnographic identification for some of these objects trying to perceive their relatedness to the process of individual future transformation, where according to umbandistas: "the world becomes known". The analysis is based on ethnographic material collected among members of three Umbanda temples in the metropolitan area of São Paulo in 2011.

Panel P073
Religious intimacy: collaboration, collusion and collision in ritual communication