(Today we have a guest column from Raphael Tsavkko Garcia, a freelance journalist and PhD candidate at the University of Deusto. His work has appeared in Vice, The Intercept, and Metrópoles, among many others.)
(Editor’s note: This post contains descriptions of violence against children.)
In September 2017, the bodies of two dismembered children were found in the city of Novo Hamburgo in southern Brazil. One body belonged to a boy aged between eight and ten, and the other to a girl aged between 10 and 12. They were deposited in a box on the edge of a local road and found on September 4. Street dogs found more parts of the children’s bodies in trash bags in a nearby stream a few days later. The children’s heads were never found.
According to the police, two businessmen had ordered a Satanic ritual to bring more prosperity to their businesses, and Silvio Fernandes Rodrigues, founder of the Temple of Lucifer, performed the ritual of sacrifice of the children for the price of 25 thousand reais.
Two witnesses who claimed they participated in the ritual passed the information to the police chief, Moacir Fermino. According to information from the local press, Fermino was conducting the investigation based on a “revelation” from the Christian god, and his press conferences were laden with Christian religious language, such as being guided by “prophets.”
These testimonies formed the basis of the investigation, which led to the Temple of Lucifer in the neighboring city of Gravataí. According to Rodrigues, when Fermino arrived at his house to arrest him, he said “I am god, and I came to arrest Satan.” (The name of this police operation was suggestive: “Revelation.”)
When information was released about the supposed participation of a Satanic priest in the brutal murder of the children, the media quickly began to describe the place of worship as a house of horrors, with skulls, blood and evil symbols everywhere. (The Temple’s website provides a series of photos of the place.) Although the information was quickly proven false, the familiar narrative of Satanic ritual murder took hold.
Imaginative details were plentiful, such as the idea that the children had been sacrificed to Moloch, a divine figure of Ammonite mythology in pre-Christian times and transformed into a devil in the Christian tradition. The information surrounding the case, and in particular the citation of Moloch, seems to have come directly from Wikipedia, or perhaps from an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The truth, however, is that Silvio Rodrigues uses elements from different religious lines to help people living marital and financial dramas, explains journalist Igor Natusch for The Intercept Brasil. On the Temple of Lucifer’s official website, the “wizard,” as Rodrigues calls himself, states that he is “considered one of the four best masters of high theurgic magic, Goetia, Quimbanda, and Catimbó de exu of Brazil and Latin America.”
It’s safe to say that Rodrigues is nothing more than the leader of a small, harmless esoteric and syncretic temple that, according to him, has followers in several parts of the world.
In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Rodrigues said that as a child he frequented a Quimbanda temple (Afro-Brazilian religion) and also sought knowledge of Umbanda (Brazilian religion of African ancestry) and Santería (religion of Yoruba origin). Later on he was initiated in Catimbó de exu, a syncretism of Afro-religions and Brazilian indigenous knowledge. Years later, he had a meeting with the deity Beelzebub and became his follower.
In relation to his philosophy, Rodrigues says that “duality is very important in our lives, and Lucifer is an energy. My job is to propagate that Lucifer is not evil, evil is not in spirituality, but in people. And through this energy, this philosophy, some things of high magic were added. In the end a philosophy was created and through it I help people, [I] solve problems of people, whatever they are.”
In early 2018, police chief Rogério Baggio Berbicz, who later took over the investigations after returning from vacation, discovered that one person, Paulo Sérgio Lehme, owner of a scrapyard where one of the said informants worked, had paid the informants to tell the story, and promised housing, food, and monthly payments for Protege, a state program that provides assistance to witnesses. The evidence had been forged. A second informant was Lehme’s son, and a third informant had also been contacted by Lehme to give false testimony.
It is still not clear if Lehme approached Chief Fermino or the other way around.
Five people were unjustly arrested during investigations guided by the police chief’s religious fanaticism. They were released after the return of the Berbicz in February. Two had fled before being arrested. The police were unable to find any link whatsoever between the seven suspects.
Chief Fermino is evangelical, a recent-convert of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. He presented himself as a “servant of God” and nourished the dream of being a pastor. He took advantage of the case to promote himself and also to attack the leader of what he saw as a Pagan cult that mixed elements of Satanism, Quimbanda, and Jewish elements (such as Kabbalah). Accused of forgery of documents and corruption of witnesses, Fermino is now being prosecuted by the prosecutor of criminal justice of Novo Hamburgo.
His reasons for forging evidence is still unknown, but religious prejudice seems the best explanation. According to Rodrigues, Fermino would have tried to use him as an example to promote himself politically, especially within his church, since he had political aspirations. (He had run for alderman twice without success.) “I was unlucky,” says Rodrigues, “because I was very well known. He set everything up and when I realised, they came here and arrested me.”
Rodrigues claims that he was mistreated and starved in the first week of his imprisonment. He was then taken to a larger prison, where he says other prisoners wanted to kill him.
Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal evangelical churches have emerged in Brazil and grown in the past decades by focusing on vulnerable populations and increasing their financial and political power. These churches control several television channels and radio stations, and have set up their own political parties and a powerful caucus in the Brazilian Congress. They are conservative religious denominations, which in general extort poor believers in exchange for promises of prosperity in what has become known as “prosperity theology“.
Many of these pastors openly preach homophobia and open prejudice against adherents of African and non-Christian faiths, including esoteric religions such as Rodrigues’s syncretic form of Satanism. Some pastors preach violence and even come to the point of destroying places of worship (terreiros) of Afro-Brazilian religions. Particularly in Rio de Janeiro, some are known to have links to drug trafficking groups and armed militias.
In Rio de Janeiro there is a group known as the Generation Jesus Christ (Geração Jesus Cristo) that openly supports the replacement of the Brazilian constitution by the Bible and is involved in cases of Islamophobia.
To this day, it is not known who killed the two children, and the sacred temple of Rodrigues was destroyed during the investigation. Rodrigues’s reputation was ruined: he was considered a dangerous criminal, and his face, name, and place of work were widely publicized. He was a victim of character assassination by the hatred and fanaticism of a believer of a religious denomination that has grown enormously powerful in Brazil. The fervor of this brand of evangelical Christianity has become a cause for concern on the part of followers of other religions and spiritual or esoteric denominations.
Rodrigues says that he spent almost all his savings on lawyers and him and his family are still being targeted and judged on the streets, but that he’s trying to get on his feet again and thinking about asking for donations to help rebuilding his temple. He says that he has never “suffered this kind of discrimination before. It destroyed my life, it ended my life. Today I’m not getting up. I’m not able to improve myself.”