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Maximón and candles, Santiago Atitlán
|Venerated in||Folk Catholicism|
|Attributes||sunglasses, bandana, colorful garlands|
|Patronage||health, crops, marriage, business, revenge, death|
Maximón (pronounced // or //), also called San Simón, is a folk saint venerated in various forms by Maya people of several towns in the highlands of Western Guatemala. The veneration of Maximón is not approved by the Roman Catholic Church.
The origins of his cult are not very well understood by outsiders to the different Mayan religions, but Maximón is believed to be a form of the pre-Columbian Maya god Mam, blended with influences from Spanish Catholicism. It has been suggested that the name Maximón is a combination of Simón and Max, the Mam word for tobacco.
The legend has it that one day while the village men were off working in the fields, Maximón slept with all of their wives. When they returned, they became so enraged they cut off his arms and legs (this is why most effigies of Maximón are short, often without arms). Following this, he somehow became a god, or perhaps prior to this he had been possessed by the god. Later, with the introduction of Christianity, Maximón's effigy was replaced by one of Judas Iscariot in Holy Week carnival rituals.
Where Maximón is venerated, he is represented by an effigy which resides in a different house each year, being moved in a procession during Holy Week. During the rest of the year, devotees visit Maximón in his chosen residence, where his shrine is usually attended by two people from the representing Cofradia who keep the shrine in order and pass offerings from visitors to the effigy. Worshipers offer money, spirits and cigars or cigarettes to gain his favor in exchange for good health, good crops, and marriage counseling, amongst other favors. The effigy invariably has a lit cigarette or cigar in its mouth, and in some places, it will have a hole in its mouth to allow the attendants to give it spirits to drink.
Maximón is generally dressed in 18th-century European style, although with many local variations. In Santiago Atitlán he is adorned with many colorful garlands, while in Zunil (where he is known as San Simón) he has a much more intimidating style, with his face obscured by dark sunglasses and a bandanna.
The worship of Maximón treats him not so much as a benevolent deity but rather as a bully whom one does not want to anger. He is also known to be a link between Xibalbá The Underworld and Bitol heart of heaven (Corazón del Cielo). His expensive tastes in alcohol and cigarettes indicate that he is a sinful human character, very different from the ascetic ideals of Christian sainthood. Devotees believe that prayers for revenge, or success at the expense of others, are likely to be granted by Maximón.
In the town of Santiago Atitlán, when clothing of Maximón's effigy is washed during the week before Easter, the waste water is saved and distributed as holy water to local shop keepers, who believe that when sprinkled around the threshold of the shop doorway, the water will entice customers into the shop to make a purchase.
A Maximón shrine can be visited in San Andrés Xecul, Guatemala, (which is also home to a spectacular 'yellow' church and chapel – there is an indigenous votive offerings area next to the chapel), this also moves from one house to another yearly. In February 2009 the shrine was located behind a grocery and confectionery shop with an admission charge and a further charge for taking photographs. This shrine differs from the one at Santiago Atitlan in that an EPROM chip, presumably from a novelty Christmas card, has been rigged up to speakers and plays a continuous loop of a few bars from three Christmas songs at volume.
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