As Maximón (Mah-shee-MOAN), San Simón, or whatever other local name he's called, it is estimated that 15 to 20 shrines or santuarios are set up to worship this deity ... or saint ... or demon ... (depending on who you ask).
The anthropologists say all sorts of things, many of which are likely true, as far as they go. He's a throwback to a Mayan god - he's an indigenous representation of San Simón - he's a deification of Pedro de Alvarado (a conquistador who brought Guatemala into the Spanish empire and made it nominally Catholic).
The religious authorities have other ideas - to the Catholics he's an unauthorized and sometimes outlawed saint, to the fundamentalists - you can figure that out for yourselves!
To the tourist guides and local business folks, he's an opportunity to draw tourists.
To the indigenous people (and many of mixed blood as well) he's a potent miracle worker who needs to be placated with the things he likes - coincidently or not, the things many of us like too.
I'm not going to get mixed up in what he is, exactly - there's a variety of links below you can use to see what others are saying. To me, he's simply a figure that represents a window to something we don't understand - does that make him a god? Or just a portal to someplace inside us that still works even though we've forgotten its existence. I, too, think he can work miracles and giving him the things we like, or we think he likes, and expressing, if only to ourselves, what we want to have happen - what we want him to accomplish, if you will - is the vehicle to achieve those miracles.
I visited him twice in February 2000, first in Zunil, a large village in Quetzaltenango department, and later in Santiago Atitlán, Sololá, on Lago Atitlán, the best known locale to see him. While he looked and was dressed differently in the two places and was called different names, the manner in which the local people addressed him was the same and it was clear the same spirit was present.
Zunil: In Zunil, I visited after a soak in the nearby Fuentes Georginas. The old village of Zunil is a small city a short bus ride from Xela (Quetzaltenango). Here he's called San Simón and is represented by a manikin dressed in a colorful suit, wearing a hat, sunglasses, a woven bag for donations, and sitting in a chair. A tiny store next door sells candles, incense, rum, etc. The one room building he's in has a dirt floor and little light. By his feet lie smashed bottles of rum, cigars, cigarettes, money, and other offerings. In front of him were the stubs of hundreds of candles, 500 - 1000 fresh flowers (gladiolas mostly), and the smoke and ashes of tons of incense. The air, as you can imagine, was a bright palette of odors. beyond the flowers and candles, a small half circle of colorfully dressed indigenous people prayed softly in one or more local languages.
I had had intestinal distress for days and it had reached a painful point that afternoon riding in the back of a pickup back down the steep mountain from the hot springs. I came as an interested traveler, but the odd balance between the ludicrous aspects (a Lakers game flickered from an ancient TV in a corner, in view of Maximón) and the sacred ones appealed to my senses and I asked what the candles represented. I was told yellow for health and bought two nice handmade beeswax candles, lit them and melted them a bit to stick them to the floor. I asked him for health in Spanish (seemed better than English somehow, though the others were asking for help in Qui'che or Mam). After a short prayer, I tossed a handful of Quetzales into the bag around his neck and headed out.
As I rode along in the truck (we contracted a ride all the way to Xela as it was getting late and the buses are slow in Guatemala) I suddenly noticed, about 15 minutes from town, that I was intestinal-pain-free for the first time in days. I don't want to spend a lot of time here on my own musings, but suffice it to say that I became a convert to the focus of energy on Maximón - call it worship if you want. I decided to visit him in another location so the next weekend set out for Santiago Atitlán.
Santiago Atitlán: I stayed the weekend on Lago Atitlán in the village of San Pedro la Laguna, a much more easy-going and quiet place than the hellish Panajachel ("Gringotenango") or the beautiful but tourist infested Santiago Atitlán. Saturday AM I took a launch over to Santiago Atitlán, riding with a crowd of rowdy but pleasant schoolboys who disembarked at a remote beach and disappeared into the hills below Volcán San Pedro. In Santiago Atitlán I rambled around the town, enjoyed the plaza, and finally, after several children asked me if I wanted to visit Maximón, I let two ragged little girls take me to him. These two looked so alike they could have been twins, though they said they were cousins. Down a series of narrow cobblestone streets to a small courtyard they led me, and again he sat in a small room with a dirt floor. I bought some more candles, paid a Quetzal again (12 cents at the time) and entered. A semi-circle of devotees prayed to him in low voices - this time one man was speaking Spanish and he was asking for wealth (ricos). The others, all indigenous women, spoke a Mayan language, so again I was unsure what they prayed for. In the dark room I lit and stood up my candles, prayed a while, and observed the room. No Lakers or TV this time, but many flowers (of a variety of types this time, including calla lilies), the remains of thousands of candles, a plume of smoke from an incense fire, and Maximón.
He sat at the back of the room, a life-sized wooden figure in black, a huge black hat on his head, with sunglasses and a cigar. At his feet again there was a mess of smashed rum bottles, soggy cigarette packs, money, etc. I added money to the heap and made room for others in the little room.
Later in the day I found a very good small figure of Maximón in a small stand off the main street from the boats to the plaza. This is the centerpiece of the small shrine I've now set up.
The online shrine to Maximón
As I noted above, I found a small figure of Maximón in Santiago Atitlán. Before returning to the US, I also bought him some aguardiente, a Guatemalan cigar, some pine resin incense, nice handmade fabric, two bundles of handmade beeswax candles, and other things I'm sure he likes. I add things every day. I plan to make a new spot for him soon with more room as the place he now sits is getting very crowded. I speak with him daily and often burn incense (not the pine resin - it sets off the smoke detector) and candles.
If you have little miracles you need Maximón's help with, e-mail him at the address below in any language - I'll make sure he gets the message.
Here's a few links with a variety of Maximón information, tales of visiting him, etc.
Tim's Guatemala pictures
A detailed article - a bit condescending I thought (note: big graphic) from La Prensa Libre (Guatemala City) 6 June, 2004. If it seems small, blow it up.
A discussion of figures of Maximón used to bring luck
"Folk Saints on the Web" has a lot of info on various subjects but also on Maximón
A picture of a sanctuario to Maximón -- and another -- both of these portray situations much less chaotic than any place I visited Maximón
Lost tales: Visiting the Maximón
A short description of Maximón with a picture
A story about Maximón
A painting by Nicolás Reanda
Monica visits Maximón
An article about making money off pilgrims to Maximón
Visiting San Pedro La Laguna and Santiago Atitlán, including Maximón
Visiting Zunil including San Simon (Maximón)
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