To my eyes the central Brazilian plateau is an enchanting place: awesome blue skies ruling endless straight roads, heat, dust and the exhilarating abandon of remoteness. But I didn’t see the half of it.
Ever since the Italian priest Dom Bosco prophesised last century that between the 15th and 20th parallels would rise the “promised land of milk and honey”, legions of Brazilians have bestowed the area with a spiritual destiny that, they say, will only become manifest in the Third Millennium.
The plateau is one of the oldest land masses in the world and the earth is so richly endowed with crystals that, according to local lore, it is the most luminous part of the world when seen from outer space. As 2000 approaches, the plateau has become a magnet for traditional and unorthodox religions, cults that worship everything from aliens to animal spirits, and left-field tourists hoping to find the meaning of life.
Where I saw open fields, I was told there was the earth’s chakra of love. What looked to me like a hill was, in fact, an interdimensional doorway providing access for UFOs. A couple of Brazilians sitting by a waterfall were not just hanging out, they were a holistic community holding the secret of world peace.
In 1960, President Juscelino Kubitscheck imbued the region with something a little more concrete than metaphysical dreams. He imbued it with lots of concrete – the capital city Brasilia, built from scratch in three years. Brasilia’s mimimalist architecture and sectored urban planning have made it the only modern city to be declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. Yet its most visited tourist destination has no relation to this cultural patrimony. The Temple of Good Will was opened in 1989, two years after Unesco bestowed its award.
The Temple of Good Will – also known as the World HQ of the Religion of the Third Millennium – is a kind of multi-purpose, open-all-hours place of worship that nods at the major religions while headbanging at the minor ones. The temple is a seven-sided pyramid 21 metres high, 28 metres in diameter and with a 21kg crystal – possibly the world’s largest – at the summit. On the floor is a spiral pavement whose black-and-white strips loop seven times before meeting at the centre.
“People start on the dark strip anticlockwise, which represents man’s difficult journey to a point of equilibrium,” explains one of the 24-hour helpers in a neat blue trouser-suit uniform, not unlike an air hostess’s. “At the centre, you are underneath the crystal. People stop, think, pray and then come back on the white strip, which represents the journey of purification and gaining moral and spiritual values.”
She adds: “You may prefer to go barefoot, to pick up more of the energy, but this is not obligatory.”
The temple is run by the Legion of Good Will, one of the many religious and spiritual groups that have sprouted in and around Brasilia in the latter half of the century. The Legion is one of the best known, recognised by the United Nations, and with bases all over South America. On the other end of the mystical spectrum is the Valley of the Dawn cult, whose base 20 miles out of the city is half Star Trek set, half giant crazy golf.
The sacred space at the Valley of the Dawn is a multi-levelled park coloured green, yellow, purple and blue. There is a pyramid and two lakes – one star-shaped and another the shape of the all-seeing eye – next to an eight-metre-high painting of a cup with cartoon flames, to symbolise the initial flame of love.
Even more impressively baroque is the religious garb worn by members. The men – called “jaguars” – look like futuristic boy scouts and have a uniform of brown slacks and black shirts worn with a purple and yellow sash. Their pièce de résistance , however, is a white leather waistcoat, on which are pinned an assortment of badges showing how many of the seven spiritual levels they have reached.
The women – called “nymphs” – are more dramatically attired, wearing tarty wedding dresses in bright colours, or kitsch medieval robes with an embroidered iconography of images like the sun, the moon or flames.
Unlike many cults, which favour secrecy and distrust outsiders, the Valley of the Dawn welcomes visitors. They do not ask for money even though they have very little – the adjacent village of 5,000 people, mostly practising believers, is made up of simple bungalows and dirt tracks, a striking contrast to the luxury of their costumes. And they don’t evangelise, even though they believe they are the unique purveyors of the secrets of 2000.
In a nutshell, the secret is this: Capella, aka the Monster Planet, a planet much larger than anything in our galaxy and led by the spirits Seb and Justine, is about to pass close to the earth and the sun, thus making our world more tranquil and harmonious. And how do they know this? Because ever since the cult was started 30 years ago by a female trucker with big hair called Auntie Neiva (you think it can’t get any wackier but it does), spirits of men-jaguars have been spreading the word from invisible space ships.
“We are the only receptors of the force of the Jaguar,” says Valley master João Flausino. “We are helping humanity in the transition to the new millennium.”
Valley of the Dawn churches are cropping up all through Brazil and moving into Bolivia. Flausino puts the growth down to the method of worship. “Man is looking for something that connects with God from the inside,” he says. “People don’t get this from orthodox religions.”
Following the road north for two hours, you arrive at Alto Paraiso, or High Paradise, the centre of Brazilian sects tourism. Ten years ago, 2,000 people lived there. Today, the number has doubled and every week new people arrive. Alto Paraiso is not a place you move to, per se, it is a place to which you are “called”. Its inhabitants, by and large, claim that an independent force brought them there – and, once there, the peacefulness, tolerance and spiritual energy made them stay.
The town is like a United Nations of millennial spirituality. It contains communities dedicated to Buddhism, Hinduism, Sai Baba, Osho, Afro-Brazilian religions, Christianity, Spiritism, as well as one dedicated to speaking the “universal” language of esperanto. Belief in alien life and UFO sightings is de rigueur; so much so that the town boasts possibly the world’s only “discoporto”, an airport for flying saucers.
Alto Paraiso’s mystical allure is heightened by being on the same latitude as the Inca city Machu Pichu. There seem to be limitless justifications for the town’s perfect positioning. At 1,300m above sea level, it will be not be drowned if the polar ice caps melt. It is also at the entrance of the Chapada dos Veadeiros, a national park, which has the highest springs of the major river of the southern Amazon basin.
The Chapada is one of the best remaining examples of “cerrado”, one of the world’s oldest landscapes – predating the Amazon jungle by several million years and contemporaneous to the age of the dinosaurs. It is a rugged savannah, full of canyons and waterfalls where rivers have carved through stone leaving lunar shapes. On the footpaths, you crunch on an endless trail of crystals.
Unfortunately, I did not see any UFOs. But I could somehow sense the cosmic vibe. There is a feeling that you are on a plateau at the end of the earth – with huge, perfectly blue skies, clear air and no one around – while the scenery suggests you are at the beginning of time.
Alto Paraiso lives off “eso-tourism”. There are dozens of alternative therapists, astrologists and clairvoyants covering every possible New Age doctrine. Perhaps the most famous resident is Tom of the Herbs, a green-fingered medicine man whose concoctions of Brazilian plants are nationally known for their curative powers.
Even though everyone is ploughing their own spiritual trail, there is perhaps a stronger collective consciousness. The communities, no matter how different their doctrines, thrive off each other. In one residential street, one of the houses has been rebuilt as a medieval fortress surrounded by a three-metre-high wall – the contrast with the drab bungalows at either side is as surreal as a Mordillo cartoon.
“The bloke used to live in a castle in a former life,” said a passer-by as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “He feels more at home if his house looks like that.” Stay in Alto Paraiso too long and this starts to make sense.
Twenty miles out of town, along a dirt road and then a winding track is a place where I was possibly the first Westerner to visit – although if the prophesies of Ergom Abraham come true, I won’t be the last. Here, at the Arcadia Foundation’s headquarters, Ergom and his followers are building the Mother Cell of the next millennium – a circular city of 49 circular homes from which spaceships will evacuate the world’s population.
“They will be taken up by immense platforms. Then the world will be totally cleaned,” says Ergom, a 48-year-old former publicist with a white beard and an honest face, standing by an obelisk that marks where the Mother Cell will rise. Ergom has written several books – or rather, he was telepathically dictated them by Spaceship Commander Ashtar – on how he will save humanity.
He is confident the place is the right one. “It is very common to see strange, immense blue lights that go from that mountain to that one, disappearing overhead. This means that between them is an interdimensional portal,” he says with scientific authority. How can he be so sure? “I’ve done this before. On earth and on other planets, too.”
After talking to dozens of members of different religions and belief systems, from Brasilia to Alto Paraiso, everyone more or less had the same message: that the world as we know it is approaching a significant change. They just had different names for it: the millennium, the apocalypse, or the beginning of a new age.
But they were also linked in their profound optimism. The imminent change was a positive force and would improve human happiness. If I could see anything beyond the grass and trees, it was that these people had already, in unconventional ways, found their utopias. The news from Brazil is good. The end of the world is not nigh; it’s just a little crazy.
Places are short and prices are high to Brazil for the millennium, but Journey Latin America (0181-747 8315) can get you to Rio de Janeiro for £796 inc tax. Connect to Brasilia with the local carrier Varig for a whopping £315. Alto Paraiso is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Brasilia. An Avis (005561365 2347) rental car costs around £40 a day. A room at Pousada Alfa e Omega (00556164 6225) is about £20 a night.
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