María Lionza

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Maria Lionza
EstatuaMaria lionza.jpg
Venerated inVenezuela, Shamanism
PatronageVenezuela, love, health, nature, peace, animals

María Lionza is the central figure in one of the most widespread indigenous religions in Venezuela. The cult of María Lionza is a blend of African, indigenous and Catholic beliefs[1]. She is revered as a goddess of nature, love, peace and harmony. She has followers throughout Venezuelan society, from small rural villages to Caracas, where a statue stands in her honor. Both the salsa singer Rubén Blades and the New Weird America musician Devendra Banhart have composed songs in her honor.


According to legend,[2] María Lionza was born in 1802 to an Indian chief from the region of Yaracuy. A statue on the Francisco Fajardo Highway in Caracas by Venezuelan sculptor Alejandro Colina portrays her as a well-endowed and strong woman, riding a large tapir and holding a female pelvis, to represent fertility. It is said that she reigned over the savage beasts. On her throne were indigenous animals, including turtles and snakes. It is said she still lives on the mountain of Sorte, where her followers go to pay homage to her, calling her their "Queen". Because of the tradition, the mountain of Sorte was declared a National Park in the 1980s.

The name María Lionza comes from Santa María de la Onza ("Saint Mary of the Jaguar"), from the full name "Santa María de la Onza Talavera del Prato de Nívar", eventually the name was contracted to "María Lionza".


Statue in the Francisco Fajardo highway

The indigenous religion of María Lionza lies in the mountain of Sorte, in Yaracuy state, Venezuela. The "Altar Mayor" or principal altar is located there. The Altar is the main destination of pilgrimage in Venezuela and a place for people from the Caribbean to pay homage. Though pilgrims travel to this site all year, the most important holiday is October 12. On this day, the principal shamans and priests of María Lionza come together to pay homage to their Queen.[3] Many do a tribal show called "Baile de las Brasas", ("The Dance of the Coals") where they perform traditional dances, including dances over coals.

The myth of Maria Lionza has also influenced popular artists such as Victor Millan ( "La Reina María Lionza", 1965);[4] and lately Honys Torres ("Caracas Ciudad Mística", 2012)[5] and Francisco Rada ("La Corte Bolivariana", 2016),[6] among several others.


María Lionza is the highest and most important deity in the pantheon. She is part of a trinity of saints known as the tres potencias or "three powers". The other two figures in this trinity are Guaicaipuro, an Indian chief murdered by Spanish colonists, and Negro Felipe, a black slave who was also murdered by colonists. These saints are the leading figures of the pantheon and lead several "courts" of lesser deities. These courts are:

  • The Indian Court, led by María Lionza and composed of many Venezuelan Indian chiefs.
  • The Medical Court, led by José Gregorio Hernández and composed of many other famous doctors.
  • The Court of the Juans made up by a number of figures belonging to Venezuelan folklore.
  • The Teachers' Court, led by Andrés Bello and some other authors.
  • The Black and African Court, led by popular black figures of Venezuelan history such as La Negra Matea (who was a slave to the Bolivars and nanny of Simón Bolívar), and El Negro Primero (Pedro Camejo) who was known as Negro Primero because he was black and also among the first to go into combat.
  • The Celestial Court, composed of a number of Catholic saints.
  • The Political Court, which includes Simón Bolívar.
  • The Court of Malandros, made up of deceased criminals.


  1. ^ "Cult to Maria Lionza | CaribeInsider:: Directorio del Caribe y las Américas". Retrieved 2019-08-02.
  2. ^ Davies, Rhodri. "The cult of Maria Lionza". Retrieved 2019-08-02.
  3. ^ "BBC World Service - World Agenda - Magic and Murder in Venezuela". Retrieved 2019-08-02.
  4. ^ "Millán, Víctor - WIKIHISTORIA DEL ARTE VENEZOLANO". (in Spanish). Retrieved 2017-09-25.
  5. ^ "El neo pop se instaló en el Museo Alejandro Otero|Con una muestra plástica Honys Torres denuncia el consumismo". Correo del Orinoco (in Spanish). 2014-10-18. Retrieved 2017-09-25.
  6. ^ "". (in Spanish). Retrieved 2017-09-25. External link in |title= (help)

External links[edit]