Page last updated at 09:54 GMT, Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Valley of the Dawn - Brazil's refuge for lost souls


The Brazilian cult that believes in spaceships

By Rajan Datar
Presenter, BBC Fast Track

Just 50km outside Brazil's capital lies the home of the Valley of the Dawn cult. Followers believe that Brasilia is the new spiritual capital of civilisation and that a spaceship from another planet is hovering above the Earth.

The road heading north out of Brasilia becomes flat, open and very dusty by the time we arrive outside the gates of the Valley of the Dawn.

I am in one of the many rundown satellite districts that encircle the city. It is very different here to the space age landscape of the capital I have just left behind.

We think religions can co-exist and many of our moral positions are not so different to those of the Catholic Church
Junior, Valley of the Dawn

Brasilia was designed as a utopian political and administrative centre for the chattering classes - they did not really foresee these outlying slums. But this is the home of the so-called "Vale do Amanhecer" or "the Valley of Dawn".

Inside, in a sheltered courtyard, I can see every shade, size and age of Brazilian. The most striking are dressed in bright robes, stiff high collars and colourful storybook dresses. These, I am told, are the psychic mediums, the followers of the original cult of the Valley of the Dawn, a movement founded in the 1950s by a woman called Tia Neiva who was Brazil's first female truck driver.

Psychic ecosystem

Now, like any hard-bitten journalist would, I have my doubts about this place, and they are not dispelled as I walk through the semi-darkness of the elliptical Temple of Dawn, where mediums, I am told, are engaged in the ritual of cleansing the world of negative psychic energy.

One person stands waving his hands around the head of another who is seated and said to be harbouring suffering spirits. They shiver, moan, rant and sigh.

Apparently all this negative energy is then sucked up into a huge vortex by a giant spaceship from the planet Capela which then recycles it into positive energy. It seems to be some kind of cosmic power plant or psychic ecosystem.

Valley of the Dawn gathering
Women are referred to as nymphs and are entitled to hold the symbolic lances

My eyes begin to adjust to the murkiness of the temple and I make out illuminated icons and images from a mishmash of cultures and religions. Catholicism, animism, African mysticism, shamanism - and a lot more ism's for good measure.

A tapestry of saints and spirits adorns the walls, they have names like Father White Arrow and Mother Yara. Jesus is represented but he is not the supreme spirit, I hear. There are others more elevated in different galaxies, on different planets. Jesus is more like the governor of the planet Earth.

I am introduced to a short, softly spoken 36-year-old called Junior who turns out to be the grandson of the founder Tia Neiva. Junior has been helping his uncle run the show since the matriarch of the movement died in 1985.

We wander over to a big open air arena where, what looks like a fancy dress party for grown ups, is going on in a brightly painted adventure playground. This is the thrice daily "Ceremony of the Shooting Star".

Junior points out that only women - or the nymphs as they are called here - are holding the symbolic lances. The men - sorry, the masters and jaguars - are not allowed to. Apparently, throughout human history, men have deployed them to ill effect.

Outer space

At the end of the ceremony the men and women join together in couples, holding hands and parade back towards the temple. They tell me they are here to save the world from its worst excesses.

The Catholic Church officially disapproves, Junior says, but only the week before a deputation of 50 friars had paid a visit. Pope John Paul II apparently sent a letter of blessing and even presidents have come to pay their respects.

Valley of the Dawn gathering
The Temple of Dawn is the focal meeting place of the community

But come on, what about the giant spaceship? What about the spiritual engineer Tiazinho who apparently runs the show from somewhere in the ether? He is said to have sent Tia Neiva the blueprint for the whole settlement which she then drew with a stick on the ground.

And what about all those weird costumes? Does not Junior accept that people will think he and the Valley are, well, a bit strange?

"Sure," Junior says, "but we don't mind. We think religions can co-exist and many of our moral positions are not so different to those of the Catholic Church - in some respects we're more liberal. We certainly don't think we're superior."

Later, as we wander through the evening throng of locals and mediums mixing side by side, dodging kids on bikes, I ask Junior what time they close the doors for the day? He tells me maybe 11 or 12 at night but he has to be available to receive outsiders who might want to come in at any time, day or night.

As I look around, I realise that many of the people here have come with psychological problems or with a history of drug taking. And that once here they are accepted, cocooned from the poverty and violence that lurks outside and taught to rechannel their energy.

Basically, it seems to me, the Valley of the Dawn operates as a refuge for lost souls and who on earth am I to mock that?

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