Religion: Homage to Iemanj

On New Year's Eve, the white-clad throngs gather on Brazil's beaches after dark, more than a million people in Rio alone. They bear worldly offerings—lipstick, combs, jewelry, perfume, mirrors, flowers—to give to a vain, beauteous sea goddess. Called lemanjá, she is one of the pantheon worshiped by the various devotees of the pagan cults known as Umbanda, Quimbanda, Candomble, or—to its detractors—as Macumba.

Near flat altars on the sand stand priests and priestesses; well-dressed Brazilians as well as poor favelados line up to receive their blessings. Drums beat, drinking and chanting start, and worshipers...

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