Candomblé Doesn’t Begin with the Xirê
A xirê can be one of the most exciting, beautiful and breathtaking experiences you ever have in Candomblé. Many people come to religion (in general) through public events – revivals, music & concerts, social gatherings; Candomblé is no different. A xirê is a drumming in Candomblé where the female members of a terreiro dance in honor of the Orixá. During a xirê, Orixá will manifest and join the drumming by dancing as well in order to spread blessings and axé. Lots of people have their first experiences with Candomblé by being present at a xirê. It’s important to remember, though, that a xirê is not where Candomblé begins.
In the US, many people experience Orisha for the first time at a Bembe (a Lukumi feast or drumming for the Orisha). When people are curious about Orisha, many adherents advise them to attend a Bembe so they can meet people and experience the culture. The same is true in Brazil; people are introduced to terreiros and Candomblé through the ile’s public events. In the US, however, attending a xirẽ is not a likely introduction.
There are growing numbers of Iya and Babalorixas in the US – both Brazilian and American – who may host many private and public functions, but aren’t yet able to host regular xirês that follow our liturgical calendar. Xirês don’t occur because someone simply decides to throw a party. There’s a lot of work that goes into leading up to the xirê; an initiation or other obligation could have taken place, or it could be the Ajodun (Orixá anniversary) of the Pai or Mãe de Santo’s Orixá. There’s always work that has happened behind the scenes, usually lasting at least a week, that creates the conditions for a xirê.
A xirê is the culmination of a larger – private – ritual that may have been going on for up to a month prior to the day of the drumming. The xirê is the moment that Orixá manifests in feast as confirmation that the rituals leading up to the xirê were done well and accepted. Because it has been difficult, so far, to perform some of the rituals that would lead up to a drumming in the US, the frequency of a xirê that makes sense within the context of Candomblé is a rare occurrence in the US. Sacred space is also very important in Candomblé, so it’s not necessarily feasible to rent space just for the sake of having a xirê.
So how do you get involved? Sometimes it’s just a matter of patiently waiting to meet a priest who will invite you to functions that they are hosting. Until then, there’s always YouTube which is chock full of xirês.