‘It’s Not That Different To Therapy’ – Why Young Brazilian Women Are Turning To Fortune Tellers and Mystics

Young, old, intuitive, astrological, formal and informal. In Rio there’s an oracle for everybody

Reading Brazil’s Future: Meet The Young Brazilian Women Who Regularly Visit Fortune Tellers

by Anna Gross |
Published on

Oracles in Rio de Janeiro come in a variety of different forms – young, old, eccentric, formal, intuitive, astrological, male and female. They attend believers from all classes and religious backgrounds, who hold an ingrained, age-old faith in the special ability of a few individuals to read the future.

I’m half-Brazilian and moved to Rio two years ago. I’ve made amazing friends who are similar to me in so many ways, but it never fails to amaze me that almost all of the people I know have seen a fortune teller – it's something which blows my very English cynical mind.


Young women meet with their fortune reader when faced with dilemmas, anxieties and misfortunes in love and life. Friends share stories of the flabbergasting accuracy with which their fortune teller has spoken about recent family tragedies, difficult relationships, personality traits, or how they have perfectly predicted the day on which a certain event would take place.

I chatted to three good friends who genuinely believe in the powers of these people and asked them to dissect their experiences, and then visited an oracle to test the waters myself.

‘Divine permission’ – Bruna Cataldi, 25

Bruna goes to a priest from the Umbanda religion, as well as an astrologer and a tarot reader. She says, 'the way Brazilians relate to the world goes beyond the mental. Our understanding is much more related to the body, emotions, sensations…. This makes us particularly apt to believe in mysteries and experiences which can’t be explained.'

'It’s extremely egotistical, I know, but it is not that much different from therapy. I talk to them about things I don’t even talk to my friends about. I think what I’m looking for with these people is a kind of “divine permission” to act.'

‘Guilty pleasure’ - Gabriella Gaia Meirelles, 21

Gabriella visits a ‘pai de santo’ (a male priest of the Umbanda religion).

'For me to go, I have to be in desperate need of responses. I think people tend to make a visit when they’re facing a really big problem, which guides them towards their more mystic side. I try to avoid going as much as possible because it really affects me but at the time I was suffering with love. Knowing about the future doesn’t help me to be honest, it ends up messing me up because I think about it too much which immobilizes me.'

‘Like therapy’ - Josi Daitx, 31

Josie visits a card-reading fortune teller.

'For me, fortune telling works like therapy, like a psychologist speaking as though they knew me. Even when I arrive stressed out I leave feeling light and confident about what I have to do. When you’re immersed in your routine, sometimes it’s hard to perceive things with clarity but knowing that there are other possibilities gives you confidence.'

My visit to an oracle

I sit in a pleasantly decorated apartment in Leblon, the wealthiest neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, with Wandonca, a 60-year old fortune teller with a hoarse voice and big, piercing eyes, who’s been reading people’s futures since she was 15.

400 reals was the going rate – which would equate to about 200 British pounds – an amount which would badly bruise any Brazilian wallet.

Wandonca learnt her oracle skills from watching others and through intuition – 'there is nothing scientific or fact-based' she assured me.

We began on rough footing when Wandoca initiated the session by explaining the heavy focus of what the cards would reveal, saying, 'for men, the most important thing is work and success, for women it is love and marriage.'

She organized a bog-standard set of playing cards according to a system. Once the cards were arranged in patterns she provided an ongoing stream of commentary while keeping her eyes fixed firmly on the cards.

She started by telling me I hadn’t had sex in a while. I disagreed. She quickly corrected herself. 'What I see is that your sex life is intermittent'. I nodded. She said that was about to change. 'You’ll have sex with someone with a very nice penis'. I asked her if by that she meant he’d be good in bed, but she clarified that no, she meant that he would have a nice penis.

She asked me if I was interested in women as well and I said yes – 'men are coming up more in your cards. Men are more important for women because women are very difficult – very competitive and jealous. Men are more interesting.' Clearly, she had a penchant for making sweeping gender-based stereotypes.

'You’re going to get pregnant soon – very soon', I was informed. She told me to be careful, and to always use condoms because otherwise I would get pregnant too soon – a bit of basic sex education, then.

'You’re a talker in bed aren’t you?', she asked at one point. I said I don’t talk much. 'I mean, you’re quite wild'. This was a motif – every time she said something completely wrong, I would say no, and then she’d say she meant something much vaguer, the umbrella of the original prediction.

The topic kept churning back round to love and men in a way that was tedious – and always the same: 'there’ll be two men who’ll want to be with you'. She said that one of them was someone I know from my past who’ll be willing to change his life in order to be with me. He has something tying him down, making him feel trapped. He seems to have a very good relationship with his family – very nice parents and a sister. He is with another woman at the moment or has been with a woman and that woman wants to have his babies but he will be willing to drop her and have my babies. We both want to marry him and have his babies, of course.

'The other man will be a surprise and you will meet him through a woman', I was told a number of times. Then at one point in the two-hour trawl of vague descriptions of success in work, marriage and baby-making, the two men chasing after my heart became three. 'There will be three men – two main ones and another one ‘circling’.

She said that I would have a lot of success in work and make tonnes of money unless I decide not to continue pursuing my career and start a family instead. 'It really depends where your priorities lie', she commented. At that point, I could honestly imagine more personal and fleshed out predictions coming from my grocer.

Towards the end I tried to gather how my cards sat in relation to the women Wandonca usually speaks to. I guess a small, embarrassing part of me – the part that beyond all evidence believed that what she said was true – hoped that she would declare my cards special, that most people have only one man chasing after them. But she said with a completely blank face that two men was the norm.

My experience with Wandonca was underwhelming in a way that managed to make me feel mildly hollow and depressed for the day. Not a mean feat for a woman who was making abundant attempts to excite and delight me with her tales of romantic pursuit and attractive penises. I couldn’t think of a single thing she said that spoke to a unique characteristic or event in my life. My destiny, dribbled out in two boring hours, was essentially a zombielike walk towards marriage and kids on the factory belt of womanhood.

I wanted to come away from the experience pleasantly awed by her skill and accuracy, having seen what makes the experience so special to my friends. That wasn’t the case, and I have to be honest about that. But I am wary of GFAPing (generalizing from a particular). Lots of young women report hugely enriching experiences when they visit their fortune teller, and it is quite possible that the one that I settled upon was a bad egg in what is usually a good bunch.

It seems to me that fortune telling is a therapeutic experience for young Brazilian women, one which taps into a universal need for clarity and a shared desire to unravel the mystery of life. It relieves anxieties about present suffering and future success by tapping into the powerful stream of emotion and mysticism that pulses through Brazilian culture.

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Follow Anna on Twitter @AnnaSophieGross

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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