It’s not often I happen upon a religion I haven’t heard of before, but I did yesterday, in rural Royalston, Massachusetts, of all places.
I was on my way back from my second paddle of the Northeast season. I went out a week ago in sunny 80-degree weather, but yesterday’s paddle was bit harsher, lower 50’s and cloudy.
But with only a slight breeze and no rain it was a nice time to explore the nooks and crannies of Tully Lake, a Corps of Engineers impoundment in the north central part of the state. You can see from the photo below that we were bundled up a bit.
On to the religion. “Vale Do Amanhecher” proclaimed the sign in front of a churchy looking building along two-lane (no line in the middle) South Royalston Road. There was no one there on that Saturday afternoon, just the building, which probably started life as another, more mainstream denomination, and a parking lot.
Not the typical Baptist or Methodist establishment, I suspected, so I snapped a few photos and planned to do so some internet research later on, figuring there might be a tale to tell.
There is a tale, that’s for sure. Lots of it in Portugese. I rely heavily on a Wikipedia page, which carried this cautionary note:
Vale do Amanhecer or in English, Valley of Dawn, is indeed a religious community. It was conceived in Brazil by a female ex-truck driver and medium, Tia Neiva, born Neiva Chaves Zelaya, who died in 1985. In 1969 it was established in its present location, called The Valley, in the city of Planaltina, about 31 miles from Brazilia. Its official language is Portuguese. Tia Neiva was the first female truck driver in the country, by the way.
There are approximately 500 residents, many of whom, according to the official web site, are abandoned children taken in by Tia Neiva. Followers number in the tens of thousands.
The focal point of the community is the Temple of Dawn, built of stone. At the back of the elliptical-shaped temple there is an enormous statue of Pai Seta Branca (“Father White Arrow”), the pre-Columbian spirit who allegedly began to talk to Tia Neiva in 1957 and to guide and aid her and her followers in the creation of the doctrine, the Temple and, eventually, the Valley. He is always depicted as a nice-looking, young, strong, South American native man, wearing a blue tunic, a long, feathered headdress and leather sandals and holding a white arrow.
Here’s where it gets fun: The church doctrine appears to be a mashup of christianity, spiritism, mysticism, afro-brazilian religions, ancient egyptian beliefs and flying saucers. All bases seem covered, that’s for sure.
Two kinds of people are found in the Valley of Dawn: Mediums and Visitants (also called patients). Between three and four thousand people visit the Valley every day seeking help for their spiritual or personal problems.
The Mediums wear special robes with bright colours. Most of them are considered the reincarnation of an extraterrestrial giant people, “the Equitumans,” who supposedly landed on the Earth 32,000 years ago, and later returned in successive reincarnations in various civilizations. In establishing The Valley on Earth, Tia Neiva was following the orders of the supreme commander, none other than Pai Seta Branca, the statuary fellow in the Temple, who seems to be an amalgam of several indigenous figures, Incan and American-Indian, and is also known to be the reincarnation of Francis of Assisi.
How all of this tentacled itself into a small church building along a two-lane road in rural Royalston, Massachusetts, I have no idea. There’s another in Marietta, Georgia, for a total of two in the U.S. There are single outposts in England, Trinidad, Bolivia and Guyana, along with four in Portugal, a more understandable place to colonize, given the language.
For way more information about this than you probably want, there are numerous You Tube videos, a website, a facebook page , this scholarly treatise from 2011 and this history from the World Religions and Spirituality website. Your Portuguese will come in handy for all but the latter two.
And while I’m onto religion, check out the Church of the Double Bladed Paddle.
On Tully Lake in north central Massachusetts (Photo by David Hannam)