Brazil `Ghost' Writers: Spirit Book Sales Are Booming

Sao Paulo, Brazil - A lady in a white dress fans herself with a book as she sits in a Spiritist temple in Sao Paulo, waiting to consult a medium in a darkened upstairs room.

The volume she's holding is ``Violets in the Window,'' the purported first-person account of life after death by the spirit of 19-year-old Patricia, as told to her aunt, Vera Lucia Marinzeck, a 57-year-old medium.

In Brazil, sales of ``psychographed'' books, supposedly dictated by the dead, are booming at Spiritist temples like this one and in Brazil's biggest bookstores; they're even being sold door-to-door by Avon Products Inc. The books appeal to the followers of Spiritism, a religion that professes that the spirits can communicate with, and guide, the living.

``Spiritism is very real to me and to millions because it shows a path for life and provides answers,'' said Flavio Machado, 54, the founder of the Sao-Paulo based Spiritist publisher Petit Editora, which has sold 1.2 million copies of ``Violets'' since its publication in 1993. Avon alone has sold 69,000 copies in the past three years, according to a Sao Paulo spokeswoman for the cosmetics company.

In ``Violets,'' Patricia, who says she died of a cerebral aneurysm, describes the transition she made to the afterlife as a disembodied spirit, including what she ate and drank (mostly fruit, herb soups and bread) until physical desires faded.

More than 6 million Spiritist books were printed in Brazil in 2003, up 150 percent from 2001, according to Oswaldo Siciliano, president of Camara Brasileira do Livro, Brazil's publishing industry trade group. By contrast, printings of general fiction titles rose just 17 percent over the same period, said Siciliano, whose family controls Siciliano SA, Brazil's biggest bookseller.

Millions of `Sympathizers'

Machado said Petit started producing Spiritist books in 1990 with a publishing team he believes worked together in their past lives. His next goal is to crack the U.S. market, first by translating ``Violets'' and three other works by the spirit Patricia and then other titles such as ``I'm Dead! So Now What?'', ``Love Transplant'' and ``On the Banks of the Great River.''

Brazil has an estimated 2.3 million Spiritists, according to the government's 2000 census -- about 1.3 percent of its population. In addition, there may be as many as 30 million Spiritist ``sympathizers,'' according to the Brazilian Federation of Spiritists.

``There are millions seeking a hopeful message from the spirits, whether or not they formally say they're Spiritists,'' said Clodoaldo de Oliveira Mello, information director for the Sao Paulo State Federation of Spiritists.

Origins of Spiritism

Since 1865, Brazil's Spiritists have followed the teachings of the 19th-century French academic Hyppolyte Leon Denizard Rivail, who codified the tenets of Spiritism in such works as ``The Gospel According to Spiritism.'' Rivail, who is buried in a dolmen-shaped tomb in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, is better known by his nom de plume of Allan Kardec.

Sao Paulo state now has at least 5,000 Spiritist temples and there may be another 5,000 in the rest of Brazil that are dedicated to Kardecist teachings, according to the Brazilian Spiritist Federation.

Brazil's most popular Spiritist books are still those written by Kardec and Chico Xavier, the late medium and author of more than 400 books, including ``Brazil, Heart of the World, Homeland of the Gospel (1938).'' His 2002 funeral attracted 100,000 followers.

The Spiritist industry includes about 30 publishers. About 90 million books have been printed since the first title was published in 1866, according to the Spiritist Federation, Brazil's biggest publisher of Spiritist books with 160 authors and 460 titles in print. They range from the complete works of Kardec to children's titles like ``Our Father,'' a book of religious poems and tales dictated to Xavier by the spirit Meimei.

Political Channels

``The growth in Spiritist publishing is inevitable because greater access to spiritual truths for the human race is a process that's unstoppable,'' Luiz Bassuma, a medium and federal deputy for the state of Bahia, said in a phone interview. Bassuma said his own spirit guide took possession of him as he recited a prayer during a ``channeling'' session in Brasilia's Congress building last October to mark the bicentennial of Kardec's birth.

Siciliano said that Spiritist publishing has moved into the mainstream in the past decade. At his stores, the medium-author Zibia Gasparetto is ``treated as a true bestseller,'' he said.

Gasparetto, 78, runs her own Sao Paulo publishing company, Vida & Consciencia, and has sold more than 5.5 million copies of her 26 books. She said her spirit guides include Lucius, who told her he was a British Parliament member and a French judge in his previous earthly incarnations. Gasparetto said she does not believe in any one religion, including Kardecism.

Best-Seller List

For the past 15 weeks, her latest book, ``A True Love,'' has been among the top 10 books on the ``self-help and esoteric'' section of the best-seller list published by Veja, Brazil's biggest-circulation news magazine. ``True Love'' tells how troubled single mothers can receive solace from the spirits.

In December 2004, Gasparetto printed 190,000 copies for the initial run. That compares with an average first printing of 3,000 to 5,000 copies for new books in Brazil, said Siciliano. Gasparetto has since run off another 50,000 copies to meet demand.

Gasparetto said in an interview at her Sao Paulo headquarters that she discovered her power to communicate with spirits as a young housewife 50 years ago, when she woke up one morning speaking German, a language she didn't know. ``It's not something I can't control; it's more or less organized now with the spirits,'' said Gasparetto.

Artistic Spirit

Her offices are decorated with paintings she said were made by the spirits of famous deceased artists like Amedeo Modigliani and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec by guiding the hand of her son and fellow medium Luiz.

Gasparetto said spirit guides attend the family's management meetings and have advised them on such matters as which bank to use and whether to buy a 510,000-euro ($660,807) German printing machine to improve the quality of book flaps.

``Once a week in a room we have upstairs, we hold a session to seek spiritual guidance so the spirits manifest themselves, talk, bring clarification and direct us,'' she said.

Gasparetto used to write her spirit-guided tomes with pencil and paper, but now she types on a computer keyboard, writing as many as four books at a time.

Back at the Spiritist temple, about 40 people bow their heads as a medium leads a ``vibrations'' session, asking them to transmit positive energy to loved ones and the ghosts of some of the 111 inmates killed by police in a 1992 riot at a nearby jail. On their way out, some stop to browse at a stand holding books by Gasparetto and Petit authors such as Marinzeck.


Ceres Medina, an anthropology professor at Papal Catholic University in Sao Paulo, who wrote her doctoral thesis on Kardec, said she's skeptical about spirit guides, though her mother is a Spiritist. ``I still don't have proof that they're real,'' she said.

Even so, Medina said she'd witnessed phenomena she couldn't explain. Like the ailing, bedridden neighbor with no musical training who suddenly began to sing arias -- possibly the result of possession by the spirit of a dead opera singer?

``This was someone who couldn't sing the most simple samba, but there she was performing opera,'' Medina said. ``Something strange was going on, for sure.''