Friday, June 5, 2015

The Scales of Saint Michael and the Whip of the Maioral


The ‘Maioral’ is a concept within Quimbanda that generates much controversy and discussion. The term itself can be translated from Portuguese as “Greatest”, or “Supreme”, and notably in some archaic translations, “Slave-Driver”, yet these are descriptions applied to many entities purported to be the ‘Vigilant Eyes’ that watch over the cult. So who is the Maioral?
To say that the Maioral is Saint Michael, Oxala, Lucifer, Èṣù or Aluvaia, all at the same time– is this conflict, or synthesis? Ultimately the Maioral is a Brazilian inheritance of all these things and perhaps more, a synthesizing and agglutinating concept that is fueled by the the many streams that inform the practitioners of Quimbanda.

My Tatá has often said “There are as many Quimbandas as there are Exus”, a nod to the complexities and individuation of the cult as the Fire of Exu and Pomba Gira seat themselves in the lives of their Tatás and Yayás. Conversely, there are many answers as to whom the Maioral is as well. I cannot speak as an authority for all Quimbanda, this would be folly and hubris; Quimbanda is a like a pyre upon which we heap ourselves to flame, and the quality of the fire depends on many things. But we can agree that the burning força, its potential, first finds possibility in the Maioral. 


At its most basic, the Maioral is the personification of the threat of Dawn that erases the terrors of Night. It is the memory of that same light carried into the darkness, and controlling force that herds the people of Quimbanda. The importance of the madrugada the period between midnight and the dawn, the time when the spirits of Quimbanda assume their greatest power– becomes evident here. In greatest darkness Power is born, and in the anticipation and realization of the finitude of that power, we find the motivation for action and perhaps fruition.


Here Saint Michael as the General who defeated the Devil becomes understood as a potential and indeed a contract– the defeat is not in the past, but constantly unfolding. Hidden under the cape of Saint Michael are legions of devils waiting to engage in battle. It would appear this Maioral-as-Michael describes a dynamic and current relationship between forces, not a historical dogma. The fire must be fed with something to keep it going- all things change to fit the needs of the people. This mercurial nature is what Exu of Quimbanda is built upon.
The Devil as St. Michael’s warlord executes the divine verdict and becomes the vehicle for salvation. A theme of alchemical and cosmological importance centres on this story, and within the dominion of Exu, is revealed. - Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, Exu & the Quimbanda of Night and Fire, p. 4 (Scarlet Imprint, 2012)
These are the scales of Saint Michael our constant choosing, each moment a consequence of past choice met with the circumstances of a new choice. The balance in Quimbanda is a hard one for the Quimbandeiro there is little separation between inner and outer demon. Exu is rooted in aggression and friction and whenever the seeds of this manifest in our lives, we see him standing there, laughing back at us. We can choose to work with this, to take the relationship with that Exu from “pagan”–that unpredictable, unstable, yet tremendous source of power, of great force– to “baptized”, where the limits are set and rules established through discipline, a harnessing and bridling– and perhaps, to “crowned”, where the depth of the relationship is permanently seated and a flow of understanding and mutual empowerment is reached.


And how is that flow realized? There are many possibilities. The aspiring macumbeiro must be strong. The balance is not just in the relationship to Exu as an external spirit, but rather a war that must be waged with oneself. One can find parallels here to the lesser or outer jihad versus the greater, or inner jihad. Quimbanda is after all a cult of warriors, and if you do not send your spirits to war, they will create it for you. If the Quimbandeiro does not set his sights upon his own life, battling his own emotions and thoughts and living, they will find war outside themselves constantly: attacking others, blaming others, finding conflict where there is none, escalating minor grievances to major conflict. At that point, the question remains– who is the master and who is the slave? Are you slave to your demons– your passions, your fire– who is in control? Who is the horse and who is the rider?


In this need for balance it is not the sword, but the whip that interests me. The sword is narrow and pointed, an instrument of offense and defense meant to kill. The whip is a herding tool, a goading tool, used to exert control over animals through pain. Here is the echo of another meaning behind the very word ‘maioral'- a term that can also be used for ‘horse-drivers’. It is a perfect metaphor for how Quimbanda teaches us– when the fire gets too hot, it burns us. 

There must be a framework and a center to pull oneself back to, a reminder of reality and destiny and to the light of day and life itself. It is the belief of my Tatá and one that I share that the balance of a ‘right hand’ to Quimbanda’s ‘left hand’ is advisable. This can take many forms, both inside the cult and outside the cult. It speaks to why the traditions that became Quimbanda fused so easily with Umbanda. But I am not here recommending a blurring universalism that can easily be born in this need for balance. It is the interplay of the Chthonic (Earthly) and Ouranic (Heavenly), the Demonic and the Angelic. A true exploration of the practices of Quimbanda reveals the stars in the depths of the earth, but until each seeker finds some hint of these potential Pole Stars (for they cannot be shown, only realized by each person in time), it is good to tether oneself to a compatible practice that encourages examination and reflection, not just of oneself, but of oneself in the context of something larger. The inward gaze can be just as much a hindrance as the outer, and an equilibrium must be found, where we can both see ourselves and the world as a flow, a constant checking of the scales, observing our options and choices through increased vantage and perspective. This could be through becoming involved with orixá and Ifa; working heavily with the Rada lwa of Vodou; esoteric Christianity, Judaism and Islam all provide possibilities of balance. And there are more. The specific is not important so much as the result of the labor there. The cooling of the flames of Quimbanda is needed; how they are cooled is up to each person. It is a chance to inform the shape of the Maioral. Outside devotion is not the aim. But what is the whip whose sting guides you back to yourself? When rage is consuming you, when you feed your demons with the fires of that anger- what brings you back to yourself? HERE is the Maioral. 

Quimbanda stands on its own– but are you able to stand on your own within Quimbanda? Through strength of upright character and virtuous will the fires of Quimbanda may forge a man or woman who is a true healer and warrior, a true priest, a true Tata or Yaya, a true ‘ganga’. The Maioral is the balance of Truth– one that must be fought ‘with’ and fought ‘for’– and the source of limitless potential. Salve o Maioral, Salve o bom povo de Quimbanda.

The Ponto Maioral

"This ponto is called Ponto Maioral and represents a synthesis of the powers of Quimbanda as reflected within Exu Rei. We have the two swords that denote the equality between the male and female powers, the seven crosses denoting the importance of this number in so many circumstances and the sun of St. Michael crowning Exu Rei, denoting that he is overseen by a wise angelic host." - Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, Exu & the Quimbanda of Night & Fire, p. 145

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Note: 
 My use of the terms Exu and Pomba Gira is rooted in my practice as a Tatá of a Quimbanda de raiz lineage. Not all lineages agree on who Exu is, nor should they. I have written about this briefly and the views of de raiz lineages in my article on Exu Ganga.