RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Unlike her compatriots, Rita de Cassia Marciano doesn't get too stressed out during Brazil's World Cup matches. She knows Brazil is going to win its sixth title: The gods told her so.
A "mae de santa," or practitioner of the syncretic Afro-Brazilian religion Candomble, Marciano has prayed for a Brazil victory and she says the gods, known as "Orixas," have acquiesced.
"We're going to the final and we're going to win," said Marciano, who conducts around a dozen consultations daily from beneath a tarp next to the Rosario Church, in Rio's historic downtown, reading tarot cards and cowrie shells for paying clients. "The tournament is in our home ... It's as if the neighbor's chicken wandered into our kitchen. We've got to eat that chicken, throw it into the pot."
Candomble was developed by Brazil's slave populations, who associated the gods of the Yoruba people of West Africa with the pantheon of Roman Catholic saints in a bid to perpetuate their beliefs in the New World. Practitioners of Candomble tend to be black Brazilians, like 59-year-old Marciano, who was initiated into the religion by her mother, also a mae de santa, or "saint mother."
Just to make extra sure of a Brazilian victory, Marciano performs rituals ahead of each game, saying prayers and lighting candles for every player on the Brazil squad. One player in particular is the recipient of particularly fervent orations: star striker Neymar, the 22-year-old upon whom the South American giant's World Cup hopes are pinned.
"He's a kid, he's our kid," said Marciano, swathed in the practice's flowing white lace garments and wearing heavy glass beads around her neck. "If he breaks his leg, what will happen?"
But even as Marciano takes pains to portray Candomble as an upbeat practice that focuses on the positive, she acknowledges that she's not above a bit of "black magic" to help ensure Brazil's success.
"The teams we're going to face are good. We've got to do a lot of voodoo so that they all go crazy and start making own goals," she said, bursting into her trademark raucous laughter. "We've got to make their goalies go blind so our balls sail in."
Not everyone is convinced.
Enilda Aguiar, a 72-year-old retiree who has consulted with Marciano for several years now, said that though the "mae de santa's" predictions had consistently proven true, she wasn't buying a Brazil victory in the July 13 final in Rio.
"She is wonderful, but she's not infallible. She can make a mistake," said Aguiar. "Who am I to say, but I personally think Brazil will not win the World Cup. The team is just not good enough."
Follow Jenny Barchfield on Twitter: @jennybarchfield