The Maximón Experience Essay
Maximon is a deity of the Maya people in Guatemala. He is worshiped in many urban areas and particularly in the ranges of Western Guatemala. Maximon exists in several forms depending on different area's traditions. He is known under various names: ‘San Simon, Hermano, Don Pedro, San Simon Judas and Brother Saint Simon Peter’ (Pédron-Colombani 4). The most important issue lies in the fact that he is a pre-Columbian Mayan god. His name, Maximon, is a combination of the words ‘Maam’ and ‘Simon’. Maam is an ancient name of a god which means grandfather. The trace of Simon Peter in his name is the result of an affiliation of the Maya religion with the Roman Catholic Church. However, the Catholic Church denounced any affiliation with the Maya religion. It has never approved the veneration of this Maya god. The given essay describes the nature, details, and means of worship that evolved around Maximon. It also proves that the details are vital in understanding the current religious status of Guatemala.
Maximon was an ordinary society man before he became a god. The background information about this god has legendary parts in it. According to Pieper, ‘He lived a simple and average life’. It was also mentioned there that he became a legend one day when the village men had gone to work in the fields. He took advantage of the opportunity and had intercourse with all the village men’s wives. After the village men came back, they were infuriated at him. As a result, they cut off his arms and legs. This explains why in some versions Maximon is short and has no arms. After this incident, he became a god because of enduring such a punishment. After Christianity was introduced to the Mayan people, Judas Iscariot’s carnival events replaced Maximon’s version. This background information may sound humorous but according to the Mayan people, the story stands to be legendary. They term him an achiever because he was able to stand the punishment.
Maximon has a religious foundation. He is regarded by the Mayan people to have religious power hence religious aspects are linked with him. The religious aspects of his story describe why he was entitled a god. The Mayan people believe that Maximon brings success to the people who approach him when in need. He is believed to be the source of fertility. He has power to make land benign and bring success to people's lives. This shows that he was believed to be highly productive like other males. Therefore, people approach him with much respect knowing that he is the source of goodness. Furthermore, the Mayan people highly respect him to an extent that they believe infuriating him may bring sufferings to them. The Mayan people fear that when they anger him, he would expose them to suffering since ‘he brings wealth and worldly success only to those who venerate him’ (Pieper 58). Therefore, in order to be successful, one had to show diligence to him. This describes his religious nature because he was the source of goodness and, at the same time, could cause sufferings to people.
Religious Aspect of Maximón
The religious practice around Maximon was highly respected and preserved by the Mayan people. He was believed to come to existence in the early twentieth century. Since then religious practices were initiated and have been into practice even nowadays. The practice involved frequent visits to the shrines that Maximon was placed. Apart from these visits, festivals were also part of the religious activities they had. The main festival was Maximon feast day. It was mainly held at the beginning of a strong rainy season. During the day, the devotees were under close guard of Maximon visage from the public view (Rendón and Héctor 17). They feared that public view of the visage would render his sexuality back meaning that the fertility he provided to people will come to an end. Some of the festivals had undergone different changes since the religion's initiation. “In early days, Maam’s processional festival was practiced by one being hung upon a floriated cross” (Pédron-Colombani 84). The hanging was a sign in the sky featuring linkage between the stars and equator. The activity was altered at when the Catholics were integrated to Mayan. The crucifixion practiced initially later became to be perceived as sacrificial. In Christianity, Jesus was crucified but in the Mayan religion, Maximon was crucified. Maximon was compared with Simon Peter in Christianity. Hence, Maximon as a god had sacrificed himself for being hung on behalf of Jesus.
In Guatemala, integration between the Mayan religions and the Catholics affected the religious practices. The temples of the Mayans were incorporated by the Catholic priests who changed the temple’s organization. Maximon temples were simple cylinder buildings. They were sustained by an individual who was referred to as Cofrodia San Simon (Pieper 27). This term means the brotherhood of the San Simon. The Cofrodia was an organization with both males and females members who assumed duties in the temple. The Catholic leaders were the creators of the Cofrodia. The Catholic practices in the Mayan religion did not mean that they were part of the religion. They just conceived the idea and the Mayans implemented it. Additionally, Cofrodia San Simon was outside the catholic jurisdiction.
Maintenance of Maximon portrait was an important practice for Mayans. It was the duty of Cofradias to ensure that Maximon was dressed regularly. Although Maximon was regarded to be dressed differently in several towns, he was sophisticated with valuable jewelry and clothing. He had neckties as well as scarves along with several bandannas. The congregation was later given the jewelry to wear. Another practice that ensured Maximon to maintain in proper way was keeping him at an altar. During an outdoor veneration, the altar was formed by some traces of sugar that was intertwined with two sections. The altar was temporary and denoted the linkage of Milky Way and Celestial equator along with the ecliptic band (Pédron-Colombani 99). This showed that such practice was surrounded by a belief of the natural forces' existence.
Offerings are the most important practices in the religion. They are the returns that Maximon would get as a result of granting Maya success to the people. The main offerings that were presented to Maximon were the jewelry. People believed that the jewelry touching Maximon absorb his power. Those precious possessions would be given back to the congregation and whoever wore the jewelry, and success was believed to follow him or her. Other Maximon offerings included food and agricultural products. The examples of these are: “tobacco, copal negro incense resin, sausage-tree fruits, alcohol, coca cola, money plus a tropical plant with orange red berries” (Pédron-Colombani 56). All the offerings were symbolically presented to Maximon. Theywere also indirectly related to the Maximon's phallus. Copal Negro was an overall gift that was provided to all Mayan gods. Perfume was also an offering that could be presented to the Maximon.
The offerings were administered to Maximon in various ways. Cigars or cigarettes were lit in Maximon effigy’s mouth. Spirits presented as offerings were poured in a hole that was made on Maximon’s mouth. These activities were done by the attendants of the shrine where Maximon was placed. However, alcohol and tobacco offering's to Maximon is found to contradict with the request of the religious followers to stop drinking and smoking (Pédron-Colombani 81). In favor of the offerings, the people were given good health, good crops, good lives, wealth, and many others. Life obstacles were also removed according to the Mayan belief. The Mayans could give Maximon offerings so that he can destroy sorcery. The main benefit from the offerings was the stimulation of economy. Mayans believed that economic success was granted by Maximon. Therefore. they made offerings so as to receive that success.
Prayer and Praise
Prayer and praise were also part of religious activities that were practiced in honor of Maximon. Although the worship differs from person to person and from place to place, they were all done with an intention to satisfy Maximon (Pédron-Colombani 71). It was believed that Maximon is a bully. He demands respect and honor from people. The respect to god is usually given through the worship. San Andres Itzapa was a town deep into the religion. They performed their worship in a temple the residents had constructed. In other towns, household shrines were used as the places of worship. Mainly, the Mayans’ prayers are done through worship. Thousands of Mayans in the world converge to San Andres Itzapa temple to perform the worship.
Prayers in the temple involve worship and burning offerings. Public sacrifices are also performed as a way of offering prayers. Piles of flowers, corn and candles are put on fire to signify the sacrifices. Humility is highly required in the presence of Maximon. In the past, one could not approach Maximon with a prayer wishing bad luck to other people. ‘I entreat that you do not come to me with a fist of candles to seek evil against your brothers, because the damage that you ask for them will be given to you’ (Pieper 35).
Goodwill among the worshippers was cultivated in this way. During the worship, hymns were also performed. In most cases, a band performing hymns was commonly referred to as a mariachi band. The hymns were mostly sung with the arranged in rows on metal tables and lit candles.
Thanksgiving to the prayers responded was another aspect that is emphasized in the religion. Anyone whose prayers have been heard in the San Andres Itzapa temple would buy embossed plaques that would be hung in the temple as a sign of thanksgiving. The plaques have written names of the suppliants on them, places they live in and the purpose of their prayers. Thanksgiving is provided to any kind of prayer; be it success in business or good health. There are several phrases that are common in thanksgiving. Such phrases include: ‘Thank you for the money and thank you for the motorcycle’ (Pédron-Colombani 43) and others.
Economic Simulation within the Community
Gifts of both money along with copal Negro are also performed in Antigua town. In San Andreas Itzapa, the image of Maximon would be revised to reveal him holding the Guatemala national flag. This is done to confirm that the religion acted as Guatemala national religion. In Antigua, the respect for Maximón was carried out in a simplified way. It involves the fires and candles. Maximon statue was also fed with cigars and spirits. In Zunil, offerings formed the basis of veneration. Sunglasses were put on by Maximon. Jewelry offerings were mainly involved. Colorful scarves are placed on him. The throne was surrounded by sacrifices of alcohol and flowers. The jewelry was later taken from the statue and throne and the congregation was given to put them on. They act as strong and representative objects which are believed to bring success to the Mayans (Pieper 85).
Hope of Artistic Celebrations and Fundamental Meaning
Artistic celebrations are also involved in the Mayan religion. The celebrations had symbolic meaning. The artistic celebrations made the religion more realistic. One of them was the Feast done on Easter. The carrying of the Maximon statue was an artistic celebration that symbolized the existence of Maximon. A week before the Easter feast, a celebration was carried out. The clothing of Maximon’s effigy was washed. ‘The waste water is saved and distributed as holy water to local shopkeepers’ (Carmack 409).
The practice was commonly used in Santiago Atitlan town. The water was valued because it was believed to have powers that were manifested as blessings. Therefore, the local shopkeepers sprinkled the water on the doorways of their shops believing that more customers would be attracted to them. The washing of the Maximon’s clothing symbolized the respect that was awarded to him.
The practice of worship to Maximon has undergone various developments. Since the interaction of the Mayans and the Catholics began, the Mayan religion has been affected by this (Rendón and Héctor 69). The organization of the religion was changed by the Catholics. The ideas that the Catholics came up with were readily implemented into the Mayan religion. The temples' administrations in some areas have greatly changed due to the influence of the Catholics. The latter initiated the idea of having Cofrodia San Simon in the administration of the temple. This was different from the initial administration of the temple. Therefore, two devotees would be left at the temple as Maximon's administrators. Introduction of Cofrodias simplified the church management. It helped in the improvement of the temple before leading to the cleanliness of the temple. The Catholics worshiping Maximon in the modern times are different if compared to the past.
Comparison with Modern Times
There have also been some similarities in the worshiping Maximon. Those similarities have helped his worship to retain its initial sense (Pieper 83). There is the Supreme Being among the similarities. The worship for Maximon has been considering Maximon as the Supreme Being from his rise until nowadays. The offerings have also not changed. The permanent commodities were offerings at the ancient times, and they still remain the same now.
The recent reports by the Guatemala media are that there has been a decline in the worshiping Maximon. ‘Worship of Maximon has declined in recent decades’ (Rendón and Héctor 83). The reason behind the decline has been the stiff competition that the religion has been facing from the evangelical churches. They have rapidly been developing in Guatemala. However, Maximon is still a powerful figure in Santiago Atitlan and San Andres Itzapa. The religion still has many followers in Guatemala.
Symbolism for the People
The changes occurring to the praise of Maximon have symbols to the people. They show the religion constantly developing. The development of it is a symbol that the Mayan religion is an active one. The changes have helped in the refreshing the religion’s praise and worship for Maximon. On the other hand, ‘the changes in the religion can symbolize a collapse in the religion’ (Pieper 42). The religion initially had the original worship whereby it used its own ways of worship. Its interaction with the Catholic Church showed that the Mayans had less capacity to run their own worshiping Maximon. Making things worse, the Mayans implemented the ideas of the Catholics. The catholic ideologies have also been assimilated in the religion. Therefore, the worshipfor Maximon is placed at a risky position of being assimilated by the Roman Catholics.
As a god, Maximon can also be regarded as a symbol. He is seen as a womanizer during his rising because he slept with women of the village men. He is also a symbol of a drinking saint. The reason behind the term a drinking saint is because he used to take spirits as offerings by the Mayan people. On the other hand, he is a symbol of success among the Mayans. ‘Maximon symbolizes chthonic male sexual power’ (Pédron-Colombani 49). This is because he used to provide positive things once requested through prayer.
Different Versions of Maximón
There have been different versions of Maximon. The difference in versions was based on the areas and people. For instance, in Zunil, he was viewed to be wearing sunglasses while in San Andres Itzapa; he was believed to carry a flag. The differences in the versions showed are a consequence of the different believes the Mayan people had (Pédron-Colombani 63). This was also the reason for the differences. Mayans in Zunil believed differently compared to the Mayans in San Andreas Itzapa. During religious ceremonies, various activities were carried out. The areas near Lake Atitlan along with their neighbor near Panajachel are believed to be the places that the current respect of Maximón started. Veneration is a practice that involves giving respect to him (Carmack 408). It is commonly performed on the feast day at Easter. During the day, a procession of Maximón accompanies a procedure that depicts an introduction of Jesus in a coffin. They followed a temporary leading pathway that was made at the middle of the street particularly for the feast. The procession would march towards the temple where the main feast would be held. In the temple the offerings of cigars would be made. The respect was different in different towns due to various reasons.
Importance of Maximón
The worship for Maximon was of great significance to the Mayans. Although it was a small religion among them, it granted them their identity. This means that the Mayans were unique by their worship for Maximon (Pieper 68). In addition to this, Maximon was also important to the Mayans. He was the source of all goodness according to them. He provided the required resources. Maximon ensured also that the community did not suffer economic restraints. He was responsible for the economic stimulation in the Mayan community. However, the worship for Maximon has had its setbacks. In Guatemala, the press has reported people have been in constant suffering and misfortune. A statement holds that ‘the Guatemalan government seems powerless to bring an end to the poverty, corruption, and violence that have plagued the country’ (Rendón and Héctor 117). This has been as a result of the misinterpreted religion. Reality in religion ought to be realized without waiting for the gods to come and assist in the community’s problems.
Maximon experience in Guatemala has cultivated roots. San Simon Maximon has been viewed as a god by the Mayans. It is a result of the success he had brought to them. The story from the rise of Maximon to the present state of worship by the Mayans shows the long journey a religion passes through in its development. Personally, I think the Maximon experience is the materialistic one rather than spiritual due to many material offerings that surround it.