In Guatemala there exists the very strange Cult of Maximon. Maximon or San Simon is a mixture of ancient Mayan religious practices and Catholicism. Legend has it that while the men of the village were working in the fields Maximon slept with thier wives. The men were so enraged that they cut off his limbs. Detailed information on the orgins of Maximon is difficult to find and differs greatly, but somehow Maximon became a god to be appeased and also to grant favours. It is said that favors can be granted by Maximon and at the expense of someone else. It is said that you can pray for San Simon to bring about misfortune or death of your enemy.
People come a long way to pray and ask favours of Maximon, which include granting health, money, good crops, material goods etc. Maximon is usually a dressed up statue with a hat, sometimes with a mask and sun glasses. He is a very ominous looking character indeed and in some locations very sinister. He usually has a cigar in his mouth and several cigarettes in his hands. When people come to seek favour from him, they bring offers of cigars, booze and money. In some locations they pour the alcolol over him and light cigarettes and put them in his fingers. Animal sacrifices are also made.
The catholic church have tried many times to put an end to the veneration of this “evil” saint, which resulted in the Catholic priest being run out of the village of Santiago Atitlan. On another ocassion the local priest with the help of some betraying villagers, broke into the shrine and cut off the head of the statue and escaped in a boat. It is said that the people who betrayed Maximon were cursed, families broke up and one unfortunate guy fathered all handicapped children.
Some villages have a permanant location for the shrine and in other he is passed from house to house. Every year he is moved to a different house and it is great honour to receive and be the host of Maximon. Maximon has taken the place in the Holy Week enactments and he takes the place of Judice Iscariot.
While staying in a hostel in Antigua I met a very nice girl called Doris. When I told her about by desire to visit the Cult of Maximon she was not too keen to come along initially, particularly when she read that when you get a cleansing at the shrine an old lady spits rum on you. She said she didn’t particulary fancy some old lady spitting in her face. My response was something like “Wow I’d love to able to say that an old lady spit rum in my face”. In the end Doris decided to come with me, it didn’t take much convincing to be honest as she had a great sense of fun about her too and she was also very easy on the eye.
It wasn’t long before we were both “speeding” out of Antigua on El Burro on the hunt for Maximon. After a half an hour or so we made it to the village of San Andres Itzapa.
As we drove up the gates of the church-like shrine we could see several small fires were burning in the yard. We could make out a live chicken being held by the legs and being passed through the flames of the fire. It appeared to me as if the chicken was not having such a good day and also probably wouldn’t be crossing anymore roads anytime soon. Not surprisingly he did not appear to be a willing participant in this whole exercise. The joke was clearing not on him on this occasions and nobody was laughing, exept maybe Maximon.
We parked up the bike and were soon whisked off into the back of a little tienda outside the shrine for a cleansing by Mystic or witch doctor.. when I say Mystic I mean by some drunken men who were playing cards out the back.
Exactly not the type of Shamans I expected to be doing the “cleansing” but this was Maximon style and it fitted in with the image of the cigar smoking, alcohol drinking, womanising Maximon.
We paid them 25Q each for our cleansing. With that the guy drenched our heads with this unidentifed blue liquid and beat us around the head and body with a soggy bunch if flowers and herbs, and then stuffed it into our faces and instructed us to inhale… then he proceeded to beat us some more. Doris must have been particularly dirty and sinful as she got a real going over. He totally drenched her head with the liquid and beat her with some gusto about he head and gave her a couple if hard shots in the chest too. It was all very funny and just a little bit weird. Doris took it all in good faith and emerged looking very disheveled, like a wet cat but with a big smile on her face and looking decidedly less clean than when she had walked in.
We walked into the church yard and saw the previous fires were dying down and the poor chicken was now being dismantled. A large portion of the concrete yard was scorched black and black smoke hung in the air. We headed into the shrine. There were several tables with candles burning on them and people making their offerings to San Simon. At the back up on steps was the man himself the roque San Simon, people were in line waiting to go up to San Simon and make their requests.
We watched as two men went up. They were well dressed and not like most of the other regular looking Guatemalans about. They looked like the were no strangers to seeing Maximon and perhaps had called on his services before. I imagined them to be gangsters. They pulled out their liqiur and dosed the flowers in it and cleansed them selfs thoroughly whipping their entire body , then they drank some liqour and splashed it on the alter, after which they walked backwards from the shrine and stood my a table lit some candles and drank some more booze.
The walls were covered with thank you notes and plaques to Hermano San Simon. Or brother San Simon in english. And sometimes more affectionately as Hermanito San Simon. Little Brother San Simon
Some said “Thank you Brother San Simon for my car. Others said “Thanks you San Simon for my 3 cars@. And one said “Thank you San Simon for our new fridge”, and showed a picture of it full of beers. I gues San Simon would have been very proud of that.
We went outside to buy some alcohol to give to Brother Maximon. We were very confused what to do and we got chatting the a few kids ouside who told us what they thought we should do.
Armed with little more knowlede Doris and I went back to brother San simon. We cracked open the alcohol and asked that he keep us safe on our travels. I took a generous swig of the booze and splashed some on Maximon and gave him a few bob. Doris repeated the gesture and then picked up some saggy flowers and started to beat me with them, I think maybe a bit of revenge was on her mind from the saoking she had got. After we made our request and offerig we left walkng backwards.
We hung around for a bit sampling the athmosphere watching other people making their offerings. One guy lit up 5 candles and stood them upright in a line and on each end a cigarette let it burn down.
We walked outside and a group of people were sitting around smoking big cigars. Someone else had lit a fire, with a dozen eggs in a ring and radiating outwards what appeared to be cigars.
We walked very slowly out of the yard, Doris and I both lost for words and at a loss to rationalise what we had just witnessed.
The world is a very strange and wonder place.
The next day I recieved the following email
“Hey, I am the kid you talked with at the San Simon place. I think I told you the right instructions. Although, I don’t think you were supposed to splash the booze on his face… that is just not nice…good thing he had the plastic bag covering his face. Since you gave him money and walked away correctly, I think everything will be okay.. unless he has a grudge on you…” - Curly Hair Kid
Watch the Video Here
Various other San Simon’s