Pretos Velhos literally means “Old Blacks.” Pretos Velhos are a category of spirits central to the Umbanda spiritual tradition and also venerated by independent practitioners. Pretos Velhos are souls of deceased Brazilian slaves. They tend to be elderly, wise, gentle, patient spirits who have a reputation of being consistently kind, compassionate, helpful and benevolent.
In 1886, Brazilian law ordained that all slaves sixty years and older were to be freed. Elderly slaves were given their freedom but no livelihood or compensation for years of service. Some relied on skills as healers, fortune-tellers, or practitioners of magic. A group of elderly former slaves settled together on vacant land in Rio de Janeiro and began offering their abilities in exchange for payment. They were called the Settlement of the Old Blacks. After they died, their souls began appearing to various spirit mediums communicating and performing good works.
That’s one theory of their origins. One way of considering the Pretos Velhos is that they are the souls of those brought from Africa who suffered so much to preserve and transmit traditional African religion and spirituality. They are pleased to be contacted by the living because this affirms that their suffering was not in vain. Another theory, however, suggests that reinforcing an image of wise, old, docile, harmless slaves was intended to allay fears of the ruling classes.
The Pretos Velhos are a huge category of spirits. They may be male or female. (Females are called Pretas Velhas.) Different individuals may work with different, unique Pretos Velhos. The most famous have well-known names. Their images may be marketed commercially. (There are also generic Preto Velho and Velha statues.) They communicate via spirit mediums and directly via dreams, divination, and visions.
13 May, Abolition Day, a Brazilian public holiday, is dedicated to Pretos Velhos.
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.