Religion: Spirits in Brazil

Spirits were abroad on New Year's Eve along the beaches around Rio de Janeiro. The five-mile crescent of Copacabana and the other Rio beaches blazed with the ritual candles of some 600,000 devotees of Brazil's fastest-growing cult: "spiritism." Altars were set up everywhere in the sand, heaped with fetishes and food offerings, bottles of beer and the rotgut alcohol known as cachaça. Around the altars, while drums pounded faster and faster, men, women and children danced and shouted, stomped and babbled. Yemanjá, goddess of the sea, was the special object of honor; poor families from Rio's slums and evening-clad nightclub patrons...

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