The spirit host of the cult of Kimbanda is subject for much confusion, both in terms of origins, function and nature. It is like these spirit denizens are provoking more questions than they answer.
The most common understanding of these spirits is the one expressed by Umbandistas and Kardescists where the spirits of Kimbanda represents the powers of the left (roughly hell) and thus is a spiritual class in need for spiritual evolution. The idea is that the denizens of hell are vile and evil troublemakers that will evolve if they are used in works for the betterment of humankind. The divine light will then expand in these spirits and they will become baptized and finally obtain salvation. From a traditional perspective this idea is not replicating the whole truth of this mystery as it is lacking in foundation and reasoning. If we attempt to define the nature of Exu with the tools of sacred symbols to aid us I believe a quite different understanding surfaces.
The most salient traits are the use of the colours red and black, the trident, the preference towards alcohol, tobacco and the sexual. By assuming the form of the devil they automatically enter into the position of people at the crossroad, forces that are here to challenge us – and thus represent the power of choice. Further, as everyone who met one of these spirits can confirm is that these spirits always challenge our sense of self importance and are likely to point of areas of ourselves related to shame or weakness. In this they can become wise and demanding friends or vile enemies. The face given to you is ultimately a reflection of the choice you make in the crossroad.
The redness represents as the sexual connotations the idea of passion and force, interestingly enough it is also from a traditional perspective the colour associated with the apprentice and the student where the black is synonymous with mastery. This is also evident in the idea of raja guna, the energetic circuit represented by passions and emotions in the doctrine of Yoga. The interplay between red and black suggest a passionate road towards mastery, and it is a road that constantly challenges everything in our life we are emotional about. And herein lies a great key, how Exu and Pomba Gira constantly challenges yourself deceit and your misplaced emotional life. Since these are realizations most people deny for themselves naturally the spirit challenging exactly this, in the name of personal growth, will be sees as the devil or accuser. Further on, the colour scale does give us two planetary and two elementary associations. The planets being Saturn and Mars, the two maleficas, and the elements earth and fire.
Now, as we have defined in large strokes their nature, how is this then manifested in the so called kingdoms? The kingdoms are in a symbolic sense seven in numbers, but of course this is not a number of quantity, but carry the essence of the mystery by the number itself. This means pretty much as for instance the planet Mars in houses and signs give a particular reflection, so does Exu in the various kingdoms. The particular reflection of this power in a given location will serve as the commander of the kingdom in question. For instance, the line of mossorubi, a line consisting of the more vile and demanding spirits, often of African origin is headed by Exu Kaminaloâ, further down in the hierarchy we find Exu dos Ventos as his right hand and Exu Morcego as his left hand. This speaks of a specific order related to the preservation of a given lineal succession. If we for instance want to focus on the commander of insanity and nightflight we find here Exu Morcego to be the head of the kingdom followed by Exu Asa Negra and Exu das Sombras and a handful of others bounded together by the association to possessing wings.
Yet another element is the syncretism inherited in Kimbanda, mostly from the perspective of Umbandas holistic focus on union, which leads to Orixas and angels are all making part of Umbanda, while in reality Umbanda was given birth by a Caboclo and thus it is essentially a cult for the veneration of the dead ones of the land, the native Indians. It is here Umbanda and Kimbanda is finding its resonance, they both being cults dedicated to the dead ones of the land. I would suggest however that the great divide between Umbanda and Kimbanda is something that at first look seems similar, but is not. Namely that Umbanda is highly syncretistic, while Kimbanda is not. Rather Kimbanda has as its object synthesis. This simply consists in the recognition of a given reflection of this particular force within the natural kingdoms followed by interaction and cultivation. This means that the focus for action is different. It is about recognizing what we are dealing with and understanding it and not the creative construction of bridges within other pantheons. It is here we find the contemporary interest of finding the root of Kimbanda amongst many practitioners. Some focus on the importance of Africa others on Brazil and yet others on Europe – and all are right. Forced migration to Brazil happened as much from southern Europe (Spain and Portugal) as it happened from Africa, naturally this generated a common sympathy amongst the outcasts that in turn found themselves to be more in harmony with the equally mistreated native people of Pindorama or Brazil. The origin was as such a mutual recognition of practices and beliefs not based on differences of culture, but on the similarities.