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Capoeira Trance




Angelo A. Decânio Filho

Translation by Shayna McHugh


Under the influence of the energetic field developed by the ijexá rhythm-melody and the ritual of capoeira, the capoeirista reaches a modified state of consciousness in which the BEING behaves as an integral part of the harmonious conjunct in which he finds himself inserted in that moment. The capoeirista then ceases to perceive himself as a conscious individual, and becomes fused to the environment in which the capoeira game is developed. He comes to act as an integral part of the developing environmental picture, acting as though he knew or perceived the past, the present, and the future simultaneously… everything that occurred, occurs and will occur… becoming adjusted naturally and instantaneously to the current process.

It is a similar process to the trance of the orixás in candomblé, being differentiated by a lesser degree of unconsciousness, since in our case (the capoeira trance) the state of permanent alert and dodging against situations of actual or potential danger is conserved, and the processes of self-preservation and counter-attack are accelerated.

We should emphasize that the movements of dodge and/or attack are initiated independently of voluntary control, or in other words, independently of the control of waking consciousness, therefore, in a level of automatism (“instinctively” in the words of Mestre Bimba).





            Considering the brain as a portal of access to the mind and its function involving energetic or vibratory activity of a special type, that we will come to call waves, vibrations, or mental fields, we arrive at the conclusion that during the synchrony of the brain with the sonorous musical vibrations, a harmonious change of the vibratory mental complex with the logical consequences of modification of the state of consciousness and of feelings (mood) occurs.

            As a result of cerebral structural variations, modifications of the nature or variety of synchronous harmonics (range of sensibility) will necessarily occur, as occurs with the resonance boxes of musical instruments, especially notable in violins.

            It is thus that the ancient Africans classified behaviors in biotypes of consonance with vibratory sensibilities to the rhythms and melodies of the atabaque toques and chants of the orixás, which were associated with mythic names or names of mystified or deified ancestors.

            In the words of Pierre Fatumbi Verger in Orixás, page: 33/4 Corrupio Edições e Promoções Culturais Ltda. Salvador/BA, 1981:

            “With the passage of time, the definition and the conception of what the orixá is in Brazil tend to evolve. In dealing with Africans enslaved in the New World or their descendents who were born there, whether of African or mixed blood, or as pale-skinned as possible, there were and are no problems, because the African blood that runs in their veins, regardless of the proportion, justifies the dependence on the ancestral orixá.

            Progressively, candomblé saw the number of its followers grow, not only of paler and paler mulatos, but also of Europeans, and even Asians, people absolutely destitute of African roots.

            The possession trances of these people generally have a character of perfect authenticity, but it seems difficult to include them in the aforementioned definition: that of ancestral orixá that returns to earth to reincarnate itself, during one moment, in the body of one of its descendents.

            Although the non-African believers cannot claim blood ties with their orixás, there can be, however, among them, certain affinities of temperament.

            Africans and non-Africans have in common innate tendencies and a general comportment corresponding to that of an orixá. Like the devastating and vigorous virility of Xangô, the elegant and coquette femininity of Oxum, the wild sensuality of Oiá-Nhança, the benevolent calm of Nanã Boroku, the vivacity and independence of Oxossi, the masochism and desire for expiation of Omolu, etc.

            Giséle Cossard observes that ‘if the initiates are examined, grouping them by orixás, it is noted that they posses, generally, common traces, as much in the biotype as in psychological characteristics. Their bodies appear to carry, more or less deeply, according to the individuals, the marks of the mental and psychological forces that animate them.’

            We can call these tendencies archetypes of a hidden personality. We say hidden because, undoubtedly, certain innate tendencies cannot be developed freely inside each person in the course of their existence, so as not to enter in conflict with the rules of conduct allowed in the environments in which the people live. The education received and the experiences lived, often foreign, are the secure sources of feelings of frustration and of complexes, and their consequent obstacles and difficulties.

            The archetypes of personality of people are not so rigid and uniform as those described in the following chapters, because there exist nuances originating from the diversity of ‘qualities’ attributed to each orixá. Oxum, for example, can be warlike, coquette, or maternal, depending on the name she takes. As we will see, it is said that there are twelve Xangôs, seven Oguns, seven Iemanjás, sixteen Oxalás (in Africa there would be one hundred and fifty-four), each one having their particular characteristics. They are, according to the cases, young or old, kind or ranzinas, peaceful or warlike, benevolent or not.

            In Brazil, each individual possesses two orixás. One of them is more apparent, that which can trigger fits of possession, the other is more discrete and is ‘seated,’ fixed, calm. Despite this, the second one also influences the behavior of people. The particular and distinguished character of each individual results from the combination and from the balance that is established among those elements of the personality.”


The origin of the orixás is poetically described in the words of Verger and Caribé:

A balalaô told me:

“In ancient times, the orixás were men.

Men who became orixás because of their powers.

Men who became orixás because of their wisdom.

They were respected because of their strength

They were venerated because of their virtues.

We worship their memory and the great feats that they achieved.

It was thus that these men became orixás.

Men were numerous on the earth.

In ancient times, as today,

Many of them were neither brave nor wise.

The memory of these was not perpetuated.

They were completely forgotten.

They did not become orixás.

In each village a cult was established

About the remembrance of an ancestral of prestige

And legends were transmitted from generation to generation

To render them homage.”[1]


And as it is said:

Culturally speaking,

No one dies when they are remembered.

They are perpetuated in the minds of those who remember them!

The essence of the survival of culture itself!


Cossard-Binon, cited by Verger in Orixás page 35, thus describes the archetypes:


The type Ogum is skinny, nervous, muscular; of difficult temperament, an entrepreneur, fighter and conqueror.

The type Xangô is fat, having the tendency to obesity; a partier, with the tendency, at times, towards loose living; visceral.

The type Obaluaê is awkward, serious and reserved; is generally a pessimist, losing chances as a consequence of a self-destructive mentality.

The type Oxossi is light, nervous, refined, interested in everything, but not very persistent; instable in affections.

The type Oxalá is calm, slow, stubborn, obstinate and reserved; acts in silence and never forgets an offense.

The type Iansã is lively, a conqueror, active, jealous, even cruel and angry.

The type Oxum is that of curvaceous beauty, to whom all homage is due; lazy, at times; interested; knows how to ally carelessness with flirtation.

The type Iemanjá is easily irritable, unstable, generous, but only until a certain point; also of maternal tendencies, lover of solitude.

The type Nanã has an old, taciturn, closed, muttering spirit, vindictive, but also a very hard worker.”


            In my observations, however, I did not find these gut (or zodiac) traces so well delineated, but rather, a sensibility to the toques attributed to the mythical types, that seem to me more standardizations of basic comportment (“hidden,” as Verger said with poetic exactness), linked to the cerebral architecture and to the vibrational spectrum in which this organ functions. They can, however, appear under various biotypes, depending on collateral or synchronous factors (hormones, nutrients, physical activity, etc) capable of influencing weight and bodily and psychosocial development.

            Thus, I believe that brains can be classified according to their vibrational potentials in categories of variable limits of precision (like the many biological facts) that the ancient Africans called “orixás,” fundamental types of human comportments that emerge when, under the influence of the sonorous energetic field of the atabaques and melopéia of the ogans-alabês, the level of consciousness reaches (descends or rises to?) a certain state.

            The behavioral attributes of each category of orixás are complex and variable, appearing as a nuclear element, the responsiveness to specific toques, in a similar way to the “human” characteristics that form the nucleus that permits identification of the “human” category in the midst of the infinity of personal variations. I do not consider it, therefore, indispensable to appeal to the unknown or imaginary entities to identify attributes intrinsic to the human being.

[1] Verger, P.F. and Caribé – Lendas africanas dos orixás. 2a. ed. Edit. Corrupio, S. Paulo/SP. 1987