Brazil's Vale do Amanhecer community combines a range of religious practices, including Christian and Hindu, with symbols borrowed from the Incas and Mayans, as well as a belief in extraterrestrial life and intergalactic travel. — AFP Photo
BRASÍLIA — In the fantastical world of Sunrise Valley in Brazil, women wear dresses and veils inspired by mythical sorceresses and men don Roman-style capes as they practice a melange of beliefs inspired by past and future civilisations.
This eclectic community, called Vale do Amanhecer in Portuguese, is some 50 kilometers from the capital Brasilia. It holds its most important ritual of the year on Labour Day to honor the mediums who communicate with good and bad spirits.
As part of the ceremony followers gathered to receive a powerful burst of energy channelled though an eye-shaped monument that overlooks the Sunrise Valley temple complex.
The group combines a range of religious practices, including Christian and Hindu, with symbols borrowed from the Incas and Mayans, as well as a belief in extraterrestrial life and intergalactic travel.
Neiva Chaves Zelaya, or Aunty Neiva as she is known by followers, founded the group 50 years ago when the widowed mother of four was working as a truck driver on the construction of the Brazilian capital.
Zelaya had visions which she believed were messages from the reincarnation of Saint Francis of Assisi – Father White Arrow, an indigenous figure dressed in a celestial tunic with head feathers and a white spear in his hand.
With hundreds of temples around the world, the religious movement claims to have 800,000 members, according to Kelly Hayes, an expert on Brazilian religions at Indiana University.
"One of the things that is specially striking ... is its cosmology, how it synthesized a remarkably wide range of influences into a master narrative in which Valley members share a collective identity that expands past, present and future," Hayes said in a YouTube video of a 2014 lecture about her book on the peculiar religious community.
On the outskirts of Planaltina, a satellite city of Brasilia, is the Sunrise Valley temple complex where the group carries out rituals for the thousands of people who come seeking healing for all kinds of evils every month.
Followers dress in exotic flowing robes. Some of the women look like sorceresses, armed with silver spears and their long, colourful dresses decorated with stars and crescent moons.
Some of the men look like they stepped out of a Harry Potter film, wearing hooded capes that almost drag on the ground. Others pretend to be ancient Egyptian priests.
Passersby barely seem to notice members of the group wandering around the small city, shopping in bakeries and supermarkets.
"My spiritual life is very good, but it wasn't like that before," said Ronaldo Lopes, an English professor who has lived in the community for six years.
"Through the teachings I have found peace and I feel good." — AFP