In 1968, Jane Porter, a British Catholic, was living as an undergraduate student in Brazil but after contracting an illness, she fell victim to a “false” healing carried out by an indigenous, pagan religion in a “Catholic” setting. The effects, she says, led to “far greater suffering” that lasted for decades.
In this interview with the Register, Porter recounts her traumatic experience and expresses her concern that the Amazon Synod’s working document — and therefore the synod itself — risks introducing into Catholic life a practice similar to the one she experienced in Brazil.
The synod should be trying to evangelize these peoples “in the saving power of Christ,” Porter says, rather than, as the working document states, viewing aboriginal peoples as having “already received divine revelation” and whose spirituality should be a “source of riches for the Christian experience” that should be “formed into a catechism” (123).
What experiences did you have in Brazil that make you concerned about the upcoming synod?
In the summer of 1968 I went to Brazil as an official British student from the University of Essex to carry out a thesis for my undergraduate degree in Comparative Latin American Studies with Brazilian Portuguese.
As a practicing Roman Catholic in one of the first American-based secular universities in Britain, I found the teaching of the religious aspects on the history and politics of Latin America skeletal. I therefore had little understanding of the true nature of the culture from a theological view as it had evolved since colonization by the West in the 16th and 17th centuries.
My faith was traditional, given by my parents since my birth. At Essex University, I learned of the new liberation theology being introduced into the Latin American Church and of the social work undertaken by “worker priests” in the growing slums of the cities, particularly in Rio de Janeiro. And while in Brazil, I decided to investigate this subject as the basis of my final degree thesis.
What happened next?
I traveled to Brazil by way of America, leaving Florida on a Latin American plane to Lima in Peru, from whence I planned to travel through the Amazon to join my university group in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, I contracted an enterovirus from the water on the plane and was hospitalized in Lima on drips and strong medication for several weeks with an acute skin disease known as grand urticaria, which causes the skin to inflame, suppurate with poison and crack, the most distressing effect being disfigurement of the face and head, until the crust had fallen off.
Once well enough to travel, I flew directly to Rio de Janeiro where the British Embassy arranged for me to stay with two young sisters in the district of Ipanema, who were both teachers. They were Catholic, locally educated, very welcoming and kind. I learned later they were part of the newly formed middle-class who had originated from the poor indigenous (caboclo) peoples of the slums, favelas, where their families still resided.
For a few weeks, I proceeded with my thesis, visiting the Catholic University in Rio, the city’s slums, and later the archbishop of Brasilia, flying there with the military, as the city was only just beginning to be built.
[Some time later I had] a severe attack of grand urticaria, whereby I kept to my room on strong medication in the dark and out of the heat. The sisters [who cared for me] were kind and sympathetic, but my condition worsened so that my face became disfigured and encrusted with allergic reaction.
What action did you take?
One afternoon, alone in the flat, I opened the door to a small smiling elderly lady whom I believed was related to the sisters (their mother). Some hours later, I heard a sound of screaming from the next-door room and initially believed it to be a family row.
When it continued into the evening, I opened my door and found the younger sister outside. She told me not to be afraid but the family were gathered for healing — it later transpired for my healing. She encouraged me into the room crowded by several family members. I noticed on the shelf a lit candle, a glass of water (symbol for health), and two plaster Catholic saints, Cosmas and Damian, each covered in a plastic bag (to “hold the spirits in,” I was told).
There was a person in the center, wearing loose clothing, tearing her hair and screaming/chanting; it was a woman, but she seemed very large, manly and powerful. I was pushed toward her and she put her hands over my face and body with a chanting prayer. She then collapsed on the floor.
Everyone quietly left the room and I watched as a young man in the family gently picked up the woman, brushed her hair and swabbed her face. I then recognized the girls’ mother, whom I had let in earlier. She stayed for supper. As she only spoke her own indigenous dialect, caboclo, I was unable to converse with her but we smiled at each other. Halfway through the meal, the younger sister stared at me very strongly.
I thought some worse suppuration had happened to the crust on my face, so I excused myself and went to the bathroom. To my astonishment, the disfigurement and crust on my face had completely disappeared and my skin had become smooth and normal. I realized I had received a “healing.” The mother left and my stay in Rio proceeded with further travels around Brazil until I caught the last boat to Britain for the start of the university Michaelmas term.
When did the illness return?
I never finished my thesis nor my degree, as I became acutely ill within six months of returning home. I remained on strong steroids and urticarial treatment under direction of St. George’s Hospital, London, while living at my parents’ home until I was strong enough to do a multilingual secretarial course and start a quiet life working in Cambridge, Brussels and Norwich. At 30 years, I undertook a second degree in London training as an archaeological conservator and worked as a museum sculpture conservator in Scotland until I was retired early with auto-immune disease in 1997.
With hindsight, I believe the physical illness throughout my life was exacerbated by the false “healing” in Brazil which I later learned was known as umbanda, the white healing aspect of the occult religion known as Macumba. The latter I experienced in Brazil when I went with friends one evening to attend a samba school event. I did not realize until too late that the beautiful and rhythmical spectacle of the samba dance would become a religious ritual of hate and revenge, Macumba, whereby the practice of killing chickens and extracting their blood is performed with the intent to raise “natural spirits” who would inspire/entrance someone to injure or kill a specific person, usually before the night was finished. The famous poesias and songs accompanying samba can be very dark, encouraging shunning light to enter darkness and suicide. Contrary to our culture, I learned in Brazil that life was cheap and at that time in Rio I remember seeing dead bodies wrapped in paper lying at the side of the road, the authorities and passersby seemingly unconcerned.
What else besides the physical sickness did you feel?
The spiritual aftermath of the false “healing,” however, was a far greater suffering.
For 10 years afterward I experienced constant attacks and visitations of evil; the most notable was in my studio flat near Avenue Louise, Brussels. There I was woken one night by the sound of my windows crashing in the hall, kitchen and bathroom. I thought it was a burglar, but no one was there except for a hostile presence. I believed it was an unhappy spirit who had formerly lived in the flat, so I got up and prayed for the spirit for about two hours with my rosary. This occurred every night for a week until on the last day, the crashing was louder than usual. I realized I could not move, speak or open my eyes but sensed an overwhelming presence of evil around and above my bed. I felt I was being strangled. In my mind, I heard the words, “I am stronger than you and you can do nothing.”
I was terrified, and envisaged the Sign of the Cross in my mind at that moment, I imagined I saw the figure of a woman standing at the foot of my bed, whom I thought was my mother, and the evil presence disappeared. I now believe the woman may have been Our Blessed Mother, Mary.
How did the illness manifest itself in later years?
I returned to England shortly afterward working as personal assistant to the director of the Norfolk Museums Service in Norwich. Although the presence of evil was less hostile, occasional visitations continued to wake me at night for the next five years. The presence was contained to one particular place in the room and I could identify where it was. Although troubling, I was not so afraid and kept up my prayers and Catholic life as best I could, but my faith had clearly been weakened and I felt very depleted and lacking in confidence.
Once I started my second degree and living a new life in London, the evil visitations stopped and I never mentioned my false “healing” or subsequent experiences in confession, as I did not think anyone would believe me. The only person I told was an Anglican friend from Oxford, who had been my tutor in medieval wall-painting conservation; she loved Our Lady.
When starting my professional life as a museum conservator in Glasgow, I was just clinging to my faith and very dependent on knowing that Jesus was close in the Eucharist. At that time, my mother had a deep conversion in Medjugorje and I visited too, reestablishing my prayers and Rosary to Mary within a devoted Marian Prayer Group in Glasgow.
When I was finally retired early from ill health, my Anglican friend from Oxford told me of a Catholic priest moving to Scotland who was experienced in deliverance prayer and loved Our Lady. In his church, he administered powerful prayers of deliverance for me with the aid of a second priest and support of his prayer team. I also received a series of counseling sessions from a Marian chaplain specially trained in spiritual guidance. In both cases, I received God’s healing.
After surgery for breast cancer in 2010, I chose to leave Glasgow and be near my family in East Anglia, returning to Walsingham, where I had spent holidays on the family farm. The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham enabled me to live under her mantle and give more time for prayer. It was, however, a time of trial and learning.
Unexpectedly in 2016, I was directly guided by Our Blessed Mother to France for the 300th anniversary of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, where I met a bishop who had completed his seminary studies in Brazil in the late ’80s. To my surprise, he understood in-depth the religious syncretic practices in Brazil, mixing the Catholic faith with indigenous pagan religions of native Indian- and Afro-descendant cultures.
He also understood the physical effects and spiritual binding from my false “healing” by the Umbanda medium. Under the seal of confession, in the Church of Our Lady, he gave me absolution and a blessing. From that moment I knew I had been completely cleansed and released from all evil binding. I felt it was a moment similar to the healing of the woman who touched the hem of Christ’s garment, “she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint. … My daughter, he said, your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint” (Mark 5:25-35).
It took me until the following Holy Week and Easter to realize the full implications of the spiritual freedom I had received, and to grow as the Lord wanted, after 48 years of struggle, darkness and illness. A complete renewal and release of my spirit. The bishop assured me I was now free from this suffering, which would be used for God’s purpose, for which I was so thankful.
In the advent of the Pan-Amazon synod, I have written this public testimony in gratitude to God and Our Blessed Mother for my full healing and in warning to those who might consider introducing such syncretic practice into their lives, which risks opening their bodies to illness and their souls to lifelong evil, binding and spiritual death.
What aspects of the upcoming synod make you concerned that the experiences you had could find their way into the Church?
The instrumentum laboris clearly indicates its willingness to introduce into the practice of the Catholic faith aspects of the cosmological culture of the Amazonian tribes, which is pagan and open to the occult: “Harmonizing relationships between nature, men, the supreme being and various spiritual forces (12-13) … the beliefs and rights of the elderly healers (88-89) … in dialogue with the spirits (75) … regarding the many-named divinity (87) … (to) live in harmony with Mother Earth” (85) describes characteristics of the syncretized religion of the occult healing practice of Umbanda, from which I received a false “miraculous” healing, leaving me “bound” by physical illness, evil attacks and spiritual darkness for 48 years.
This is the origin of New Age pagan practices developed in the West, including the U.K., for which samba music, chanting poesias, drums and rhythmic dance entice and raise the spirits, with Gaia Mother Earth as principal symbol. The “supreme being” mentioned in the document would suggest to me the originator of the occult,
God’s enemy, together with his legion of “various spirits.” My experience would warn anyone from becoming involved.
The document’s insistence of tailoring Catholic ministries to the ancestral customs of the aboriginal peoples would freely allow native “elderly healers” (88), including women, to perform “shamanic indigenous rituals and ceremonies integrating (their own) rites, symbols, styles of celebration into liturgical and sacramental rituals of the Church without any structural controls, i.e., no “censorship, dogmatism or ritual disciplines.” This risks introducing into Catholic liturgy a practice similar to the one I experienced in Rio de Janeiro i.e., a woman in a ministerial/priestly role possessed by a “healing” spirit. which had a “preternatural” power sufficient to abnormally reverse an extreme physical facial disfigurement within two hours, a condition that medically takes weeks on strong medication to cure.
I would be concerned that if the Catholic Church does not maintain control of its liturgy and protect its Sacred Tradition, a powerful influence of the “supreme being” of death and darkness would risk overwhelming the Church and men’s hearts and souls — at its worst, encouraging sacrilege and defilement of the Eucharist, as well as pagan sacrifice and inspiration to kill from a spirit of hatred and revenge as contained within the samba ritual, Macumba. This “being” is deceitful and, from my experience, man only knows he is “bound” once it is too late.
Although many kind priests have listened to my story, only few fully understood the nature and dangers of my experience with evil and its effects from occult practice.
In this respect, I am concerned there may be clergy and priests at the synod unaware of the dangers these proposals may hold for the faith and the Church. They may, therefore, agree with its suggestions out of a loving benevolence and inclusion toward indigenous peoples by accommodating their practices within the Church, but which are an antithesis of the Truth, neither evangelizing them nor enriching the life-giving faith of the Church.
Inculturation is meant to take what is good in a culture to enrich the Church. Do you think some of the practices and traditions of indigenous Amazonian cultures that have hitherto been pagan and harmful could be Christianized and become a force for good?
My only knowledge and experience of the Indian/Amazonian cultures is from my one experience with Umbanda and Macumba in Rio de Janeiro, as described above. I am therefore very conscious of the active evil emanating from these practices, which in some instances form their origin.
Despite this, my experience of the Brazilians I personally met of indigenous and mixed race was warm, welcoming with strong family ties, keen always to help and bring healing to someone ill or in trouble. Their efforts to bring me healing, through their religious practice of Umbanda, which syncretized Christian mystical elements with their own indigenous practice, was out of goodwill, not harm. … And it was clear they firmly believed in the healing power of the spirits, as their prayer over me with the caboclo medium was strong enough to produce an unnatural “miraculous” healing, which they expected and witnessed. They were clearly capable of strong faith in the gods/spirits to whom they prayed. I believe these well-meaning people were ignorant of the long-term evil effects I would suffer as a result, understanding only that I was instantly “healed” by their prayers and efforts.
In my opinion, these people would be loyal to any faith in which they believed, as they are devoted and serious in their prayer and tradition. Their beliefs are deep-seated, based on generations of tradition, including ancestral reverence and worship. I consider they would find it hard to adapt or give these up easily, particularly those aspects already syncretized with the Catholic faith where Mary, the Mother of God, is worshipped in their culture as a Goddess, i.e., Iphagenu, the goddess of the sea, and Catholic saints called upon, possibly incorporating them with other spirits not from God.
The term “inculturation” in the working document appears to suggest incorporating the practices of the indigenous peoples into the Catholic Church, rather than bringing them to a new understanding of salvation through the Catholic faith; this is misleading and dangerous. Rather their hearts would first need to be evangelized and encouraged, within their way of thinking, to exchange their practices for the Church’s practice, based on the sole healing power of Jesus Christ, his Eucharist, his gospel and his prayer.
The Amazon synod is a great opportunity for mission to evangelize these peoples in the saving power of Christ. I query, however, whether the writers of this document are confusing the term “inculturation” with “syncretization,” which would be damaging for the Church and fail to evangelize these peoples in the pure truth of the Christian faith.
What are your views on Cardinal Raymond Burke’s and Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s highlighting of what they see as serious theological errors and heresies in the synod’s working document?
The cardinal and the bishop have highlighted six problems with the synod’s working document, which clearly support my experience of “false healing” by an indigenous syncretized religion in Brazil. My testimony above demonstrates these peoples’ beliefs, entwined with nature, do not admit of the one true supernatural God and creator of, but beyond, the natural world and the universe. It is implicit pantheism.
With them, I would strongly disagree with the document’s statement that “the Aboriginal peoples had already received divine revelation from God and that indigenous spirituality (should be) a source of riches for the Christian experience formed into a catechism that assumes the language and meaning of the indigenous and Afro-descendant cultures” (123).In my experience, the god of indigenous and Afro-descendant cultures is the “god” in the syncretized religious practice I witnessed in Rio de Janeiro — one god of many gods and many faiths, built on sources of spirits of darkness and the ancestral underworld based on death. I would not wish to follow such a catechism but affirm my belief that there is “one unique Savior, Jesus Christ, and the Church is his unique Mystical Body and Bride,” as stated by the cardinal and the bishop.
With them, I reject the proposal of the Church’s interaction with the indigenous peoples as “merely intercultural enrichment,” which I consider ignorant of the dangers of indigenous religious practice. The Church must be very clear about the occult influences that form the basis of many of these native practices. As stated earlier, I believe writers of the synod document may have confused the term “inculturation” with “syncretization,” which mixes Christian aspects with occult practices which are long embedded in the lives and culture of the Brazilian peoples; they seem unaware of incorporating such dangers into the Church.
With them, I agree that the document is relativizing Christian anthropology, which reduces man to a mere link in nature’s ecological chain, thus obscuring or falsifying his divinely-given responsibility as the steward of creation in accord with God’s plan for it, and to use his freedom to develop as created in the image and likeness of God. Having just regained my freedom to grow as God created me to be, I would not be willing to be part of any faith that denies this.
With them, as stated earlier, I would be against tailoring Catholic ministries to the ancestral customs of the aboriginal peoples “without any structural controls,” and agree that such a move would destroy the nature of Catholic priesthood representing Christ as the Eternal High Priest, pure and celibate, passed on by sacramental apostolic blessing from Peter. I would be totally against permitting shamanic rituals and the involvement of women in the work of the priesthood, but rather want women to support the priesthood by following the example of Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church.
With them, I would be against any model such as tribal collectivism, which deprives each individual of his or her personality and freedom as given by God. After a lifetime of being spiritually ‘bound’ due to the effects of well-meaning but indigenous false healing, my recent true healing by the salvific action of Christ’s cross through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, has enabled me to see in hindsight how these occult/pagan practices not only distanced and compromised my faith by impeding my spiritual vision and relationship with God, but also reduced my personal confidence and self-esteem. This new realization makes me particularly worried that the Catholic Church may introduce, by default, influences which could reduce the faith of its members, or even destroy it.
I should like to end this interview with the following reflection. At the start and end of writing this testimony, I attended two notable masses firstly on Sept. 18 at a Healing Mass with the Relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Patroness of the Missions, in Glasgow Cathedral and lastly on Oct. 4, feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. On both occasions, the same preface for holy virgins and religious was recited in which I was struck by the relevance of the words to the synod discussion. They read:
“…For in the saints who consecrated themselves to Christ
For the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven,
It is right to celebrate the wonders of Your providence,
By which You call human nature back to its original holiness [author’s emphasis]
And bring it to experience on this earth
The gifts you promise in the new world to come….”