Pilgrimage and Healing in Spain and Brazil

While Brazil is deep into the Zika virus, the Olympics and political scandal, Anthropology 301: The Global Performance of Healing will change venues to northern Spain.  Students will walk 211 miles on the Camino de Santiago. This year the class will focus on the healing stories of modern pilgrims along this World Heritage site.Foggy workout

But first we have to get in shape.  On April 9th, 7 of the 8 USC student pilgrims hiked with their professor, Dr. Erin Moore, the eight miles up to Henninger Flats above Eaton Canyon discovering if their new boots were comfortable, if wool socks would help cushion toes and if hiking poles make sense on the trail.  Next stop Henninger with full backpacks.Henninger Flats

Questionable Photographs

St. Ignatius, foto from Pelligrino-Estrich

St. Ignatius, foto from Pelligrino-Estrich

According to believers such as Robert Pelligrino-Estrich, photographs are a clear form of proof to skeptics that spirits exist (his lecture to our group 6/12/15). From a skeptic’s point of view, I completely disagree. The many statements from devout followers, such as Pelligrino-Estrich’s, lack technological knowledge. Photographic images can be altered in countless ways. Film images are all irregular based on how they are developed. Digital cameras have numerous settings to change the appearance of images. And, with today’s level of advanced Photoshop, digital images can change with a simple “click” of a button.

While developing film, situations can occur within the development process that makes it so no two images are identical. Some examples of this are using expired solutions, placing an image in any of the solutions for too long or too short of a time, or exposing the paper to light outside of the Dark Room. Splotches, lines, drips, and blurred sections of the image can all result while developing photographs taken with film cameras.

A specific example of altering a subject digitally is by using a 2008 Cannon Rebel XS. On this camera alone, there are over one hundred different ways to change an image. From changing the aperture to the shutter speed to the F-stop, I can make over twenty photos of the same subject look completely different. By just using the settings on the dial, without manual manipulation, I can also alter subjects drastically. Specifically, the “Night Portrait” setting does a fine job of setting the stage for “spirits” to appear in my photographs. All that is required is a light source. By simply moving my wrists, see below, I can create different shapes in my photographs similar to those in the photos where entities are present.

Light Swirl created by Author, Courtney

Light Swirl created by Author, Courtney

What seems to be spirits in photographs can also be created through Photoshop. A computer isn’t even necessary to edit the photographs in such a manner; this can be completed through simple cellular photo editing apps such as Instagram and BeFunky. Another method giving the ability to create the appearance of spirits in photos is through IPhoto on an Apple Ipad or a Mac computer. A more efficient way of photo editing would be to use advanced programs such as Adobe or Lighthouse to alter images professionally.

Spirits created by author, Makenna

Spirits created by author, Makenna

Although my intentions are not to interfere with the beliefs of Spiritists, their reasoning in this circumstance remains naïve. By using the method of “seeing is believing” Spiritists often reveal their lack of familiarity with modern photography and modern day technology

By Makenna Cortney

Maybe We Need Something Different

John of God, in the small town of Abadiania, is said to heal numerous illnesses, ranging from physical to emotional and spiritual.  We are told that there have been hundreds of cases where he has done just that.  After my visit, I am focusing on the healings that people do not understand or even know they are actually receiving.

One of the first things people do when they get to the Casa is write down 3 wishes. Yes, I know it sounds like Aladdin, but those three wishes are taken straight to the “entity,” the spirit that takes over John of God in the Casa. My three wishes were to rid my stomach from the internal bleeding, fix my herniated discs in my back, and to get rid of my migraines. Honestly, I did not think that any of this would work for I just didn’t believe in it. Being an anthropologist, I thought I might just give it a try. It wasn’t a shocker when I left feeling and experiencing those same physical pains.

However, something different and something more than amazing happened to me! I got a whole different healing than I was expecting in those 10 days. I left with the same physical problems, but was free of many emotional traumas I kept with me throughout my life. As crazy as it sounds, I was able to forgive myself and I was able to apologize to my grandmother who passed away 2 years ago. I sat in meditation in John of God’s current for 6 hours and I received numerous visions that sent me bawling and grinning constantly. I was on an emotional rollercoaster. I witnessed myself going through the moments we had with each other step by step and I was finally able to tell her exactly what I needed to. I know many people will not consider this a healing, but I definitely did. Because of this experience I am at peace and I finally have closure with her.

At times, I think that’s what it is all about. People come here for one thing, but in reality they themselves are in the process of healing another. Or maybe the entity thinks that there is something way more important to touch up on. For example, one of the most amazing and vibrant men I met on this trip was Ron. It took him three years to travel to Abadiania to try and cure his Multiple Sclerosis that left him severely depressed and immobile. Rather than being cured of the disease itself, he learned to believe he did not have a problem. He came to peace with the terms that God left him in and he realized that this was all part of his mission. Ron has dedicated his life to others and informing them what to do to follow their path and live in the present moment and to just say thank you.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 3.47.11 PMIt really is funny how some things work out in this world. We all do have a path and a mission in this lifetime. Whether that consists of dealing with illnesses we were meant to experience or even the little lessons that show up along the way. It has become clear to me through this trip, that many of the healings people receive they do not “wish” for. Maria Tereza has been coming to Abadiania for the past three years with her sister who has Alzheimer’s and her ex-husband’s son who has a retina problem. She admitted to me that she herself has been praying for her sister and ex-husband’s son, but she has been benefitting the most out of this journey. Maria learned patience and courage during her stay, two huge concepts that help her everyday with her family. Everyone needs some sort of healing in this life and maybe it’s not what we think.

By Deanne Kadkhodayan

Meditating at the Casa

Since my first day at the Casa, I have been amazed by the diversity of people in attendance—not just the diversity in demographics, but also the unique story each individual brings along with them to the Casa. Through my conversations with the people here, I became particularly interested in hearing about their reasons for coming to Abadiania as well as their perceptions of modern medicine.

The Current,  meditation room.

The Current, meditation room.

My initial interest in asking these questions came from my experience at the three-hour meditation session. Before the session began, I engaged in a brief conversation with a German couple seated next to me in the current room. After finding out where they were from, I asked what brought them to the Casa. Without hesitation, the woman replied, “Our doctor in Germany told us to come.” I was immediately taken by surprise. A physician from a modern, industrialized society willingly instructed these individuals to seek healing here? Unfortunately, the meditation session commenced soon after and I couldn’t ask any more questions. But that conversation sparked a curious thought in my mind: the Casa clearly had something to offer these people even from the perspective of biomedicine.

In conversations with other people in the days following the meditation session, I came to learn that there were a variety of reasons and perceptions of biomedicine that motivated people’s journeys to the Casa. One afternoon at the sacred soup, I spoke with an elderly Brazilian woman named Elena, who had also come to see John of God by recommendation from her physician in Sao Paolo. She told me that while her physician was supportive of Spiritist healing, he cautioned her to not rely exclusively on spiritual healing to treat her condition. Elena’s story contrasts with that of another individual with whom I spoke that same afternoon. This man, named Marco, was also a Brazilian who had come to the Casa to treat a medical condition. (Did he, in fact, define this as a medical condition or a spiritual condition?) Unlike Elena, however, Marco never sought help from a physician and placed his faith entirely on spiritual healing to treat his illness. Biomedicine, according to Marco, could only temporarily treat his farsightedness; in the long run, his vision would worsen unless treated by spiritual means. He had thus come to the Casa in search of a permanent solution.

Thus far, I have come to experience the unique relationships individuals have with modern medicine. As I learned from my conversations, these relationships often times inform the reasons patients have for coming to the Casa and inevitably help define the boundaries of Spiritism as a healing modality in our world today.

By Adwight Risbud


Self-healing at the Casa

When I reflect back on my time in Abadiania, I find that I did not undergo any sort of spiritual encounter to the extent that many of my interlocutors claimed to have experienced. Despite playing the role of a participant-observer, it was difficult for me to engage in the Casa activities with a fully open mind, being the skeptic that I am. Over the course of the week, however, I did begin to see the potential for healing that is created by the tranquil and nurturing environment of the Casa. While I did not undergo a transformative encounter, per say, I did experience many episodes of “self-healing”.

Author, Adwight, center with tabla

Author, Adwight, center with tabla

The most memorable moment was the night of kirtan. When we were informed that a local woman was hosting a kirtan (a gathering for Hindu devotional music) at her home one evening, I became very curious to know what exactly would be happening. Given my own upbringing in the Hindu tradition as well as Indian classical music, I was accustomed to participating in kirtans at my local temple and home while growing up. It was thus both surprising and fascinating that I would have the chance to attend a kirtan in a place that was so far from home. What surprised me even more when I arrived at the lady’s home was the fact that her setup closely resembled the setting I was accustomed to seeing at kirtans at home: Indian musical instruments, incense sticks, idols of deities, and chanting books for everyone to follow along. When I saw an Indian drum sitting in the corner, I became even more excited because I had been longing to play it since I arrived in Brazil. Having been playing the drums (particularly the tabla) since a young age both at home and in India, I could not have imagined ever having the opportunity to play for my class in Abadiania, let alone in South America. I seized that opportunity without hesitation and it surely paid off: for the first time that week, I was finally able to fully engage in a meditative experience.  It was so different from the current room of the Casa, where I was forced to sit (rather uncomfortably) for hours with my eyes closed. The self-healing that came from the drumming and chanting was not the result of suspending my senses or stilling my emotions—in fact, it was quite the opposite. It came from being able to do the things I love in a place so far from home. This, I believe, is what allows many of the people (including myself) to experience healing at the Casa.

By Adwight Risbud

Learning through Volunteerism

   On early Tuesday morning, we walked down to the soup kitchen at the Casa of Dom Ignacio to prepare the Sacred Soup. It was a groggy, grey morning and I had woken up feeling unmotivated to do any kind of physical labor. It was not crowded at first but there was a few people scattered around different vegetable stations—potatoes, orange squash, some green vegetables, carrots, and more. After putting down our bags, I was led to a potato peeling station next to another woman.


Author, Rachel, peeling vegetables for the "sacred soup."

Author, Rachel, right, peeling vegetables for the “sacred soup.”

Honestly, when I first started I really didn’t know how to peel a potato and was awkwardly scraping the top layer of the vegetable hoping it would come off. Luckily after observing other people (and switching out my peeler for a better one) I started peeling the potatoes successfully…once I started, it turned into a very restful and even therapeutic exercise for me. My hands did physical work while my mind, while focusing on peeling potatoes, was also allowed to wander. I also enjoyed the spirit and atmosphere of it; I like participating in and the idea of volunteerism, and it seemed like many of the people in Abadiania were willing to help out and volunteer their efforts for a community event such as this, which speaks to the charity of the neighborhood and the people who go to the Casa.

            What made the experience even more interesting was that my partner in potato-peeling immediately engaged me in friendly conversation. I have always felt a little intrusive and nosy whenever I ask someone flat out “So why are you here??”, so it was refreshing to have someone feel comfortable having that conversation with me without me prompting it. Her name was Mel, and she was from Australia and was on a spiritual journey throughout South America. This had included living among shamans in the Amazon jungle in Peru and some of the experiences she described was doing ayahuasca and having encounters with aliens during that hallucinogenic experience, including going up in their spaceship. She also described being able to hear people’s thoughts and learning to understand where people are coming from. In Australia, she runs her own crystal bed and spiritual healing practice, and she hopes to gain more insights from her month long trip throughout South America.
            What I thought was the most interesting was how she was searching through other Southern American cultures for inspiration on ways of healing in order to integrate it into her own practice. I guess it makes sense that the practices and techniques that she uses can be from what she has discovered through her own spiritual journey. These things can’t be taught in a classroom or any other normal school, so you can say this is her way of learning and expanding her passion.  It feels similar to how I feel on this trip–going to the Casa here at Abadiania has been spiritually enlightening for me, and even if I have not had a spiritual awakening, there is a lot to be learned about this place through our fieldwork.
By Rachel Chang

Soul Food in the Soup Kitchen

Casa Soup Kitchen

Casa Soup Kitchen

Working at the soup kitchen at the Casa of Dom Ignacio had more meaning than I thought it would. As soon as I asked to volunteer, Griselda, a woman with a tender smile quickly opened the door for me to come in. As soon as I was given a hair net and apron, I was quickly put to work rinsing off any soup residue that was left on the dishes before going into the dish washer. Very soon I realized that the soup kitchen was run by a family and I hit it off with Natasha, who is Griselda’s niece. I was curious to see what she thought of John of God and how the Casa operated. I also expressed my skepticism of entities, spiritual surgeries, and the herbs prescribed by the entity. Surprisingly she looked at me and said that the whole point of the Casa was to heal people’s hearts. It did not matter whether you believed in entities or not. “Love is what drives the Casa, the entities are merely a symbolic force representing that love.”

Author, Luli, in the soup kitchen

Author, Luli, in the soup kitchen

As the line for the sacred soup started to get bigger and the dishes started coming in by the piles, I thought about what she said and profoundly humbled me. In fact, I found myself looking around at the other workers in the kitchen and became emotionally overwhelmed. I tried my best to fight back tears as I realized what a privilege it was to be there at that very moment. I was grateful for the camaraderie that was taking place between perfect strangers. The objective was nothing more than to serve others and to reinforce the communal bond that was prevalent amongst the people there. Natasha was right about the strange energy at the Casa. I felt something special as I saw all the pilgrims coming up for their soup. It was revitalizing, in a sense, soul food.

As the crowd of people began to subside, Natasha informed me that I didn’t have to stay any longer. I was disappointed and could have stayed for another few hours. I was not ready to come down from the high that I just experienced. As I started to take my apron off, the older gentlemen serving the soup gave me a big hug and said, “God bless you for your unconditional love, may God always be with you.” As he kissed my forehead and sent me on my way, Natasha stopped me and offered me lunch that the soup workers enjoy after all the hard work in the kitchen.  I decided to decline the gracious offer, not because I did not want to join them but because I just wanted to be alone and reflect on the three hours I spent serving this community. It was not until that day that I truly felt the “magic” that took place at the Casa. I now understood what others were saying about this little gem nestled in Abadiania. In a sense, it was a sacred moment that I will treasure for the rest of my life.


By Lourdes Garcia

Crystal Beds

The Casa Crystal Bed

The Casa Crystal Bed

When I first heard of the crystal beds in Abadania, I automatically imagined myself lying in a pool of crystals. This is not the case though. A crystal bed is a bed, similar to ones in the doctor’s office, with flashing lights coming from crystals that hang above you. The crystals that hang line up with the chakras of the body, and they do a great deal in the process of healing.

I first became curious about the beds when Cash Peters had mentioned them when speaking in our class. It was something he had done when he went to see John of God, and seemed to rather enjoy it. I heard about the beds again when speaking with a German woman named Famiel. She highly recommended I do the beds before I leave. She said “they feel really amazing.” That same day, I decided that I needed to sign up to see what these beds were all about. When I went to my own crystal bed session, I was really excited to feel these amazing things. I lay down in the bed and a woman put a blindfold over my eyes so I would not stare at the lights, and left the room. As I lay there, all I could do was listen to the opera-like music around me for my twenty-minute session. Even though it was twenty minutes, it felt longer, but in a good way. It was some of the most relaxed I had been in a long time. My body felt so heavy from this relaxation that I was worried I would not be able to get up. I was not sure if this was how I was supposed to be feeling, but I knew I felt calm.

I decided I would ask Marcus, the crystal bed expert from Australia if these feelings were correct. For a living, he travels the world with his crystal bed healing people. Marcus himself is a healer, and the crystal bed is his tool. I asked him if my feeling of heaviness and calmness were normal in a session, and he said this is how many people feel after a session. There are many different feelings people can have depending on what is in need of a healing. He said that some even feel pain if they are going through a physical healing.  The bed itself can heal, but other times, it is a tool to get people to start healing so they are then well enough to come to John of God. He mentioned that the crystal bed is a healing tool that many people are not aware of yet, but it has the capabilities of saving many lives. My experience is that even if one does not physically feel better from a crystal bed, it can help mentally in numerous ways.

By Stacey Badger



Healing Amongst the Fulnio

Classmates with the Fulnio healer, author, Lorelei, kneeling center

Classmates with the Fulnio healer, author, Lorelei, kneeling center

As part of our exploration of the global performance of healing, we had the opportunity to meet an indigenous Brazilian shaman named Kafcho. Kafcho is a healer from the Funio tribe of northeastern Brazil. He speaks only his indigenous language and Portuguese, but with the help of a friend who spoke some Portuguese, we managed to learn the who, what, where, when, why, and how of his healing practices.

For context, it’s helpful to understand what a shaman is. Kafcho used the labels “shaman” and “medicine man” interchangeably, defining both as someone who connects with spirits and heals. Kafcho emphatically expressed that the first healer is not him or any other shaman, but rather spirit. In his words: “without spirit, I see nothing.”

Kafcho told us he was destined to become a shaman; he didn’t choose to be. He learned medicine by spending ninety days in the Mata (the Amazon). Throughout those three months, he wore no shoes, no shirt, and no shorts–only a feather headdress and paint on his face and body. Throughout the journey, spirit communicated to Kafcho which plants could be used to treat various ailment.

Kafcho typically sees about 3 to 5 people each day for healing. In contrast with John of God and his seemingly impersonal healing methods, Kafcho tailors his healing to each patient with a remarkable degree of humanizing attention. To treat a patient, Kafcho would ask what the person is experiencing, then smoke tobacco out of his sacred pipe–the method he uses to connect with spirit–in attempts to glean insights into how to heal that individual. In the interaction we witnessed, he sat cross-legged on the floor before one of my classmates, holding both of her hands, then smoked about ten hits form his pipe, said a prayer in his indigenous language, and determined her diagnosis. The tobacco pipe is key. After smoking it (without inhaling the smoke) for the patient at hand, Kafcho receives energy as the spirits communicate to him what treatment the patient needs. Based on what the patient says, what Kafcho believes the patient needs, and what spirit communicated the patient needs, Kafcho will then go out and pick the appropriate plant or plants that will become the patient’s remedy. He might instruct the patient to boil a plant in water, inhale the steam, drink the concoction, or perhaps just rub it on their face or body.

Author Lorelei with Kafcho

Author Lorelei with Kafcho

Before we parted ways, without saying a word but maintaining his subtle and welcoming smile, Kafcho gently placed a native headdress on each of our heads and blessed us one by one by smoking his pipe in front of us and blowing the smoke once toward our chests and once toward our stomachs, leaving us with a prayer as we all stood holding hands in a circle.

The difference between Kafcho and John of God was striking. Whereas Kafcho develops an obvious connection with each patient, John of God sits in a large throne-like chair and makes his way through thousands of patients each day, barely looking into the eyes of each and writing a prescription before even hearing a patient’s full complaint.

By Lorelei Christie