Clothes for spirits: Opening and closing the cosmos in Brazilian Umbanda

Diana Espírito Santo


In this article I argue for alternative models to understanding the relationship of spirit cosmologies to their social surround. In my ethnography, I show that fluidity and plasticity are central to a particular urban sector of the Brazilian spirit religion of Umbanda. Some contemporary Umbandists, particularly in the city of São Paulo, see that “culture,” read as the Brazilian historical imaginary, becomes the stuff by which the spirits self-reflexively “clothe” themselves. However, using Don Handelman’s division between cosmoses held together “from the inside” or “from the outside,” I also argue that Umbanda practitioners take varying degrees of openness and closure of their cosmology, including the urban sector I focus on, whose plastic cosmos is essentially ruptured, and thus needs to be “believed” in.


Umbanda, spirit cosmos, possession, plasticity, identities, perspectivism, rupture

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau6.3.010