Vale do Amanhecer followers believe they have taken on many Earthly roles, including Spartan warriors, Maya princes, and Egyptian leaders.
At first sight, Sunrise Valley looks like a miniature theme park—where visitors can see copies of the world’s wonders without having to travel to the actual sites. Built in Planaltina, a satellite city of Brasilia, the lakeside temple complex features a pyramid, a spaceship-like temple, a six-pointed praying center, and several ellipse-shaped sculptures.
While the valley’s physical setting can feel disorienting, it is not accidental. Meticulously designed, it is reflective of the religion’s intricate, all-comprising doctrines and beliefs—drawn from a diversity of religions and civilizations, including Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, the Inca, and ancient Egypt.
According to Sunrise Valley followers, extraterrestrial beings landed on Earth 32,000 years ago to advance human civilizations. The beings then returned to Earth through successive incarnations across various cultures and eras. Valley members, known as mediums, believe themselves to be the beings’ latest incarnation, the Jaguars.
Sunrise Valley was established by Neiva Chaves Zelaya, known as Aunt Neiva, in 1959. A widow with four children, she was working as a truck driver in Brasilia, then under construction to replace Rio de Janeiro as Brazil’s capital. There, she said, she began to experience psychic episodes, which she later believed to be visits by spirits from the extraterrestrial world.
Neiva said she was primarily guided by Pai Seta Branca, or “Father White Arrow,” a spirit emissary who is depicted in statues and drawings today as a native South American leader.
Brazilian photographer Gui Christ was drawn to Sunrise Valley because of its fantastical origin story and the mediums’ colorful, lavish garbs. He documented an array of rituals, some of them involving long hours of chanting while encircling the lake.
Two mediums usually work in pairs during the rituals. An apara, or reception medium, has the job of physically incorporating a spirit, be it benign or troubled, and an indoctrinator medium takes on the task of teaching the spirit and helping repel it back to the spiritual world. Followers believe the rituals also help mediums atone the karmic debts from their past lives.
A believer of Umbanda, a spiritual Afro-Brazilian religion, Christ felt struck by an indescribable energy while photographing the rituals. “I have seen many religions in Africa, Asia, and in Brazil but this is the first time I feel I was connected to something,” he says. “I need[ed] to get out of the temple because I was feeling dizzy.”