Founded in the 1960s by Brazilian mystic Neiva Chaves Zelaya, Valley of the Dawn, a.k.a. Vale do Amanhecer, claims that its followers are reincarnated aliens.
Just outside Brazil's capital city of Brasília lies a fortress belonging to a religious group known as the Valley of the Dawn. Followers of Vale do Amanhecer (in their native Portuguese) believe a spaceship from the planet Capela hovers above the Earth here. It acts as a vortex, sucking up all the negative energy that the group's healers banish from humanity. As such, they believe this area to be the spiritual capital of civilization.
Calling themselves Jaguars, the healers use their "cosmic energies" in spirit-healing rituals. Jaguars are the reincarnated descendants of extraterrestrials sent by God. They aren't selective; they will heal anyone that comes to them for help — whether they are a member or not.
This newer religion spans all races and places, and there are 600 temples worldwide and as many as 800,000 members. However, here at the main compound, members are mainly middle, working-class Brazilians.
Founded by a widowed truck-driver-turned-medium in the late 1950s and early '60s, the Valley of the Dawn has been called a cult, though it's evident that members can leave at any time. However, those suspicious of this religion point to its unusual beliefs, namely that God sent extra-terrestrials to Earth 32,000 years ago.
In fact, their modern beliefs (save for the aliens) have a lot in common with many mainstream religions.
The Valley Of The Dawn's Origins
It all began when Neiva Chaves Zelaya. The widower with four kids to support had taken a job as a truck driver hauling construction materials in Brasília in 1957. She began having visions, which later she clarified were visits by extraterrestrial spirits.
After two years of premonitions, Tia Neiva (as she's called today) contacted medium Maria de Oliveira. Together, they established the Spiritist Union White Arrow named after Neiva's spirit guide, an Indian chief named Father White Arrow.
However, in 1964 Neiva and Maria de Oliveira parted ways. Neiva relocated her small follower group to Taguatinga. Here, they established a new community called Social Works of the Spiritist Christian Order — which later became Valley of the Dawn.
Fast-forward to 1969. The Valley community grows to nearly 500 residents; many of whom are abandoned children taken in by Neiva's orphanage named Matilde's Children's Home. The group created a juridical entity, (Lar das Crianças de Matildes) in order to give legal status to the valley's inhabitants.
Supposedly, a spirit named Tiazinho telepathically sent Neiva a blueprint for the entire settlement. Today, the Valley of the Dawn with its doctrine based on Neiva's visions is the largest, most well-known alternative religion in Brazil.
The Mother Temple Of Vale do Amanhecer
Today, their permanent settlement is in the rural area of the city of Planaltina. The road into the Valley of the Dawn complex is flat and dusty, but when you get to the gates it looks like you've arrived at a colorful theme park.
There's a lakeside prayer complex with a pyramid, a temple that looks like a spaceship, and ellipse shaped art sculptures. While it may seem haphazard, it's actually designed to carefully reflect the religion's intricate system of beliefs.
The Estrela Candente complex is built in the image of the Star of David and is over 250 feet wide. It's composed of a man-made waterfall, grass huts, and stone staircases.
Over 200 students attend the Valley of the Dawn primary school. They have their own restaurants, bookshop, and even their own auto repair shop. When members go into other towns to shop, eyes are drawn to their lavish garb.
The Beliefs And Rituals Of The Valley Of The Dawn
Valley of the Dawn doctrine states that historically the Jaguars were partially responsible for human achievements such as the Egyptian pyramids. This was before Neiva reunited them as their current reincarnations.
Every May 1 at sunrise, the "Day of the Indoctrinator" ceremony begins. Thousands of Jaguars and members of the Valley of the Dawn gather in silence at the temple to invocate the cosmic forces.
This ceremony, which sees everyone in their most vibrant robes and dress, synchronizes spiritual energies and allows for their continued healing powers.
There's also the thrice daily "Ceremony of the Shooting Star," in which the nymphs (women members) hold their symbolic white lances. Men are not allowed to have lances, as throughout human history, they have not used them responsibly.
Jesus is represented in the doctrine, but is not the star of the show. In fact, the healing aspect seems to be the most important part of Valley of the Dawn for most. People come from all over to have the Jaguars help release them of their worldly woes and problems. The Valley of the Dawn is known as a refuge for lost souls, in a way.
Members focus on saving the world from its excesses, and structure everything on the principles of equality and justice. Valley of the Dawn members reject capitalist values; refusing to work for money. They claim that they will heal you as an offering of unconditional love.
And despite all the outlandish fanfare and extraterrestrial beliefs of Valley of the Dawn, it appears that there's a core of good will that keeps it going strong as the largest alternative religion in Brazil.
As Indiana University-Indianapolis Associate Professor of Religious Studies Kelly Hayes told National Geographic: "A lot of it is about re-narrating your life. Those narratives give lots of people a sense that they have some control over their lives ... that justice and equality are possible through your work."