Brazilian folklore is a very extensive subject. It includes stories, legends, dances, superstitions and religious rituals, either brought to the land by the Portuguese, the Africans or already present in its native cultures. This is an overview of the more common mythical creatures - those that are found all over the country. There are hundreds of local myths, and the myths quoted here are rarely the same everywhere.

Saci-Pererê Perhaps the most well-known myth. Saci (pronounced with a soft c) is a black boy with a single leg and magical powers. He wears a red gown which gives him the ability to disappear at his will, often as a small hurricane. Saci likes practical jokes, ties knots in the tails of animals, hides things, steals candies. When something is lost, it's said that Saci took it. If you can't find it by yourself, it's time to play dirty: take a small piece of wood, and tie a knot around it. It is said that Saci can't go to the bathroom, and he should quickly bring the hidden object back. As soon as you find it, untie the knot. If you are a traveler, Saci may scare the horses and other animals by whistling during windy nights. You should beware of hurricanes, as that is how Saci moves around. Throw an object blessed by a priest in the hurricane, and he will appear. Take his gown, and he will owe you one wish. Sometimes a careless traveler may not return his gown, making Saci his slave. This is not recommended, as there is not one Saci, but hundreds of them, and any given night they may come to rescue their equal.

In some parts of Brazil, Saci may be associated with the devil, but he is usually seen only as an ill-behaved boy, sometimes a victim of great disgraces when he was alive. Saci has one incredibly bad habit: he is always seen smoking a pipe. As he never carries matches, he usually has to borrow one from a traveler, much to the distress of travelers.

Curupira (in Tupi, means "body of a child") Guardian of the jungles, usually a scary, red-headed boy with his feet turned backward, though he is known to appear in many human-like forms. This myth has several forms, and appears to have originated in the south and then spread to the north, where it is more common now. In the south, he usually rides a hedgehog, and a meeting with Curupira is a sign of bad luck - that if the creature does not eat you. In the north, he is seen protecting the jungle, giving hunters a sudden sense of disorientation. His feet are turned backward so that those following him will go to the wrong side. If you happen to be lost in the Amazon, and you need to take something from nature in order to survive, you should ask his permission first, in a small prayer. He may help you find your way if you respect the environment, or he may eat you otherwise.

Also called Caiapora ("lives in the jungle"), though sometimes Curupira and Caiapora are different beings, one good, one evil.

Iara (Tupi for "ruler of the waters") A mermaid, that lives in the rivers, and sings to careless travelers, who become enchanted. She then drowns them. This myth is present in several cultures. Iara is how Brazilian indians called her. Probably Iara was originally a half-serpent half-woman creature, but the Portuguese adapted the myth.

Boto (Dolphin) A pink dolphin, that becomes a man and seduces young ladies. A version of Iara for women.

Headless Mule A mule, without a head, sometimes with fire instead of a head, which is convenient as this animal only walks around at night. This animal is a beautiful lady that becomes a violent, headless mule at night. If you meet her, well, run and hide. Sometimes the spell can be broken, if you manage to throw a needle at the mule and hurt her.

Boitatá A snake of fire that lives deep in the rivers, only occasionally appearing to attack a prey - except that Boitatá only eats the eyes. It is said that Boitatá is bright because of the fire in the eyes of its victims. Some say it is a tortured human soul, which was put in its shameful condition after trying to outsmart the devil. Sometimes Boitatá is an ox, with fire coming out of its nose.

Lobisomem (Werewolf) A man that becomes a wolf, sometimes under full moon, sometimes every night. The man is a normal person during the day, but takes its alternate form at night, usually because he was a victim of a spell. To help a Lobisomem, you must first capture him, and hurt his hands and feet. He will come back to his human form, though wounded. Use burning candle wax to keep the wound open until three Sundays are past, or until Christmas mass.

Sometimes, in the south, the Lobisomem is the son of parents that have close blood ties - like in a marriage between cousins. It is also said that the seventh son is always a Lobisomem.

Negrinho do Pastoreio The ghost of a black child, once property of a cruel slave owner. As the child lost some of its master's animals, he was punished with a whip and thrown in a pit. His spirit protects those who are good, and also helps people find lost things. Sometimes he rides the spirits of the animals he lost while he was alive.

Myths and oral tradition

The "right" way to learn about the myths is by listening to the stories told by people in rural areas - some remote place, with no electricity, around a fire would be better. These stories are called causos, which should be accounts of first-hand experience or "well-know" stories that "anyone can confirm". More often than not, the extraordinary part of the story is only hinted at, not mentioned directly. The presence of the above creatures is, most often, only a theory to explain an extraordinary event, as direct encounters are rare, though not unheard of.

Besides those well-known creatures, there are countless local creatures, and individual story-tellers often tell of their own, unique, experiences. Most events happen due to lack of respect for religion or reverence for the dead. Or plain old wickedness.

The important part is, people who tell them, take them seriously. This is not a tradition of absurd stories for absurdity's sake. While nobody should expect objectivity, a causo must always be, at its core, a real event.

Causos in print

There are many references to mythical Brazilian creatures in literature, and many books were written following the structure of causos. Perhaps the most important person in ensuring the preservation of those myths and making them known in urban areas is children's literature writer (among other things) Monteiro Lobato, who preserves the tradition of causos by having a grandmother teach those stories to younger personages. A popular TV program features his personages and many of the mythical creatures listed above.

Simões Lopes Neto wrote a book called Lendas do Sul, which recounts many of the legends commonly heard in southern Brazil. You may download this book from the Project Gutenberg, though only in Portuguese.

Brazilian modernist author Mário de Andrade wrote Macunaíma, a surreal novel deeply rooted in Brazilian folklore. It's horribly hard to read, and not very good - probably the least read, most hyped canonical book in Brazilian literature.

Guimarães Rosa took the tradition of causos to a new height - that of universal literature. His masterpiece, Grande Sertão: Veredas is a first-person account of the life of a jagunço (a kind of cowboy), as spoken to an unknown visitor. Not only does the Hamletian jagunço tell many causos, the whole of his account is one - there are many fantastical events, and the jagunço himself is trying to discover whether he really signed a pact with the devil. The author's other collections of short stories follow the same structure, if not the same story. They are stories meant to be read out loud, not only about extraordinary events, but mostly about the human condition.

In Brazilian bookstores, especially in the children's literature section, one can find hundreds of books about every facet of all major mythical creatures. The structure of a causo is often followed.