A Visit To Maximon: Guatemala's Folk Saint
When visiting the town of Santiago de Atitlan, we stumbled upon Maximon. He is a Mayan Diety highly venerated in the town of Santiago Atitlán. As soon as you set foot in town you will be asked by locals if you would like to pay him a visit, they will be more than happy to show you the way. It is said that Maximon came from Mayan Ancestors. At times Maximon gets visits from 100-200 people in one day, many of them are curious foreigners that want to learn more about him. Even National Geographic has payed him a visit!
When looking for Maximon, we found ourselves walking into very narrow and lonely alleys. At first we were a bit doubtful, but we went anyway.
As soon as we stepped foot into the room the smell of cigars, inscence and rum was undeniable. We were welcomed with friendly faces and offered a seat. When we visited Maximon, we were lucky enough to witness a few interesting things. One of them, a Guatemalan legistalor who offered to give us more information about Maximon. It was hard not to notice Maximon, as he dominated the room. He was made out of wood, holding a lit cigar in his mouth, wearing multiple ties and wearing the traditional pants men wear in Santiago de Atitlan. He also wears a double hat with a veil. According to the legislator, he wasn’t able to tell us why he wears 2 hats since it was a secret kept only within the Mayan community. There were also other religious saints in the same room. Ricky and I were filled with questions since we had done very little research on this popular Mayan belief.
It was hard not to notice that we had walked inside the room during a "limpia" or a ritual. An older woman in crutches was being "cleaned" by a Mayan Priest. She was sitting there as incense was being passed around her body. We noticed she was wearing one of Maximon's hats. Then suddenly the Mayan priest took a shot of rum and sprayed it all over her face and body as he prayed/chanted in the Mayan language. Another foreigner also showed up with his 100Q ($13.63USD) in offerings. The Mayan priest performed a ceremony and allowed the foreigner to speak directly to Maximon. Ricky and I sat there, taking in the entire experience.
The legislator was a loyal follower and true believer of Maximon and his powers. He stated the entire town of Santiago de Atitlan was a believer of Maximon. It is believed Maximon looks after the town of Santiago de Atitlán, the Lake, and the Mayan people. He only comes out once a year for a procession. Maximon is looked after by a Mayan priest. The priest makes sure he has a lit cigar and rum available at all times since Maximon is also given shots of the local rum "Quezalteca". Mayan priest performs ceremonies on people’s request. When we were visiting, the Mayan priest got a call from someone asking for a ceremony. The priest immediately started lighting up candles, incense and started praying in a Mayan dialect. The legislator explained that people in Santiago de Atitlan, fear Maximon, but also believe he is their protector. They call him "el Viejo" or "el Abuelo". He gives his believers strength and courage.
You don’t have to be of a certain religion to visit him. Evangelicals visit him by night and Catholics visit him at any time of day. Anyone can pay him a visit even if you don’t have money, but it is recommended you bring him offerings like cigars, rum or simply cash. They will charge you 2Q ($0.27USD) to enter and 10Q ($1.36USD) if you want to take pictures.
There is no doubt that wether it is for ceremonies, rituals, a "cleaning" or just plain curiosity, Maximon is very popular in Santiago De Atitlan. It was very interesting learning not only about Maximon, but more about the locals, the Mayan priest and the cultural beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation. We walked away in disbelief of what we had seen. Not only because we had never seen anything like that before, but more so because of how welcoming everyone was when we approached the place. It felt as if they had let us into their inner circle and given us first hand insight into their beliefs and the Mayan culture. We walked away with a reminder of why we love to travel.
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