The Devil Take August. In Brazil, It’s Just Too Scary. There is nothing like a Friday the 13th to unnerve people in countries all around the world. But among Brazilians, the entire month of August inspires dread – and for those who believe that superstition, the auguries this year may be especially unfavorable. Nearly every Brazilian is familiar with the rhyme ”Agosto, mês do desgosto,” or ”August, the month of sorrow and grief.” The elderly, the poor and those born in rural areas are most prone to take the proverb to heart and let it guide their behavior, sociologists say, but it is not hard to find believers among all economic, racial and age groups. ”It’s not just a myth, it’s the real thing,” swears Vanildo Mello, 37, a sporting goods salesman here. ”It’s a month not to go out or travel but to stay at home, a month when business deals tend to fall apart. If anything bad can happen, it’s more likely to happen in August than any other month.” Even in this city that prides itself on its sophistication, the routines of daily life can be subtly affected. Some writers refuse to allow their books to be published in August, certain well-known musicians will not perform in concert, sales of amulets and other good luck charms rise and numbers-game payoffs on bets placed on combinations with 8 or 13 go way down. In some parts of this nation of 175 million, it is also customary to ask for a priest’s blessing at a Roman Catholic church to ward off bad luck. To hedge their bets, some people also pay visits to temples devoted to macumba and candomble, the Brazilian equivalent of voodoo, to have their bodies ”closed” to the ”evil eye” or to make offerings to deities they think can protect them. Not surprisingly, the theme has also crept into Brazilian literature and popular music. Sambas have been written with references to the curse of August, and novels that
touch on the subject include Rubem Fonseca’s ”August” and Moacyr Scliar’s ”Month of the Rabid Dogs,” whose title is a reference to the popular belief that even animals tend to behave strangely during August. ”People need things to believe in and fear, whether God or the Devil,” Mr. Scliar said. ”That bipolarity is universal, but in Brazil it is especially accentuated because of our sense of fatalism in expressions like ‘If God wills it’ or ‘The devil is dealing the cards.” Brazil is not the only Latin American country in which superstitions have grown up around August. In his comprehensive survey of Argentine folklore, for instance, Rafael Jijena Suárez has written of the belief there that one should ”not to wash one’s hair during the entire month of August because it summons Death.” But because Brazil’s own history is littered with events, especially over the last generation, that would seem to validate the curse, the belief is especially strong here. On Aug. 24, 1954, for example, President Getúlio Vargas, known as ”The Father of the Poor,” committed suicide to avert disgrace in a political scandal. Then on Aug. 25, 1961, President Jânio Quadros resigned, beginning a cycle of political instability that ended with the armed forces’ seizing power in 1964 and plunging the country into 20 years of harsh dictatorship. In addition, Juscelino Kubitschek, a former president and leader of the opposition to military rule, died in an automobile accident on Aug. 22, 1976. ”If you talk to politicians, they will immediately mention these facts as proof” that August is cursed, Mr. Scliar said in a telephone interview.