August 2, 2023: Cults!
After 3 days of exploring the waterfalls of Chapada dos Veiradeiros National Park in the state of Goias, I returned to the Distrito Federal to wrap up my trip in Brazil.
Before reaching the actual city of Brasilia, I decided to stop in the town of Planaltina (the federal district contains a few cities) to visit a cult.
Brasilia is the location of several New Age religious groups. This is due to the prophecy of St. John Bosco (Dom Bosco), a 19th century Italian priest who predicted the rise of a new civilization in the 3rd millennium. He predicted that the new civilization would emerge between 15-20 degrees South with a capital between 15-16 degrees South on the shores of an artificial lake. Brasilia fits the description perfectly.
The Vale do Amanhecer (Valley of the Dawn) was founded in 1959 (the same year as Brasilia´s founding) by Tia Neiva, a 32-year-old woman who became a truck driver to support her 4 children after her husband died. After receiving spiritual visions, she quit her job and became a full-time medium. Today, her community is 40,000 strong, with roughly half of those people living near the mother temple in Panaltina.
The Vale do Amanhecer occupies its own self-contained neighborhood south of the city. After passing underneath the large entry archway, I was in the compound. The main temple occupies a square towards the front of the neighborhood. Surrounding it are restaurants, a bookshop and several small hotels. The logo of the cult, which looks like an Incan warrior.
The first thing I noticed are that people are wearing literal wizard robes. Others are wearing brightly covered sashes like Latin American presidents.
The temple itself is stone and topped with a giant sun and moon. In front are two large statues: one of Jesus and another of a Star of David with a quote by someone named Sela Branca (White Saddle) that says (translated from Portuguese) “CHILDREN! A MAN WHO ATTEMPTS TO ESCAPE HIS KARMIC GOAL OR TRANSCENDENTAL OWLS WILL BE DEVOURED OR WILL BE LOST LIKE A BIRD TRYING TO FLY IN THE DARKNESS OF THE NIGHT!”
I was somehow not spooked by all of this and walked inside the temple, mainly because Lonely Planet recommended it in their guide and I figured they would not willingly lead me to my death.
The inside of the temple was much larger than I was expecting. Unlike a church which has a row of pews in front of a single altar, there were multiple seating areas here, each in front of a different artifact. It was dark, but the key artifacts were lit up in dramatic fashion.
After wandering around for a bit, I was greeted by a older man wearing a wizard robe. He spoke no English so using Google Translate, I asked for a tour. He obliged and walked me around.
In front of every idol or artifact, he faced it and stuck both his palms out at it as a sign of respect.
I generally had no idea what he was saying, but I could feel his passion explaining things to me. Some of the more interesting artifacts we passed were a bench with the name Randy written on it, an Aztec-warrior that was actively being worshipped by cultists and an orb that brings in light from heaven and spreads it to the members of the community.
Having seen all, I cared to see at the cult, I drove into Brasilia.
Vale do Amanhacer is way off the beaten path, and I was very nervous to visit. Had Lonely Planet not recommended it, there was no chance I would have gone. Even when visiting, I was creeped out and felt like the cultists could turn on me at any moment. That obviously did not happen and everybody I encountered was exceedingly friendly.
I do wonder how, with all the knowledge in the world, how these 40,000 people have decided that this cult knows the ways to happiness and eternal life. On the other hand, if everybody believed the same exact thing, then there would be no reason for cultural tourism.