Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Maximon and Mayan folk saints in Guatemala

Spending a day touring Lake Atitlan with Maya Trails' guide Dolores is an incredibly enlightening, educational, and in many ways spiritual experience. She speaks nearly perfect English and having lived it, conveys the history, traditions and culture of the Maya in a very personal way. We won't give her story away here, but will offer a teaser. Dolores' path crosses with a priest from Oklahoma in an incredibly fateful way, she encounters an American on a soul-searching journey who sends her life careening in a surprising direction and eventually returns to her roots where she shares her love of her community, her craft and her dedication to her traditions with visitors as one of Guatemala's living treasures.

One special feature of a day with Dolores is visiting pagan shrines -  the most famous being Maximon - in her home village of Santiago Atitlan. The venerated, dual-purpose saints are a fascinating and functional blend of the Catholicism that tried to usurp their traditional beliefs, and the Maya gods who keep the world turning, the rain falling and the crops growing. Dolores artfully and eloquently exposes her guests to this fine balance that is the life of a contemporary Mayan.

The local Maya regularly visit this effigy saints, praying and asking blessings for everything from good health and business success, to wishes for a happy marriage and a good harvest. Maximon is looked after 24/7 by one local family for one year at a time. This is a big honor and serious business. The family is required to keep Maximon well-dressed, his rum continually refreshed, and his cigarette or cigar lit (during a ceremony, Maximon must have smoked a least 4 cigarettes in an hour in my last visit!).

While for visitors this may all seem a little nuts, it is no joke for the Mayans. It is through Maximon (and other folk saint shrines - ask about visiting some of the others in Santiago) that they connect with their ancestors. Visiting Maximon will cost around 2 quetzales (Q), 10Q ($1.50) if you want to take pictures and 25Q ($3.50) for both video and pictures. It’s well worth a visit, IF you have a good local guide like Dolores. Dolores explains Mayan & Catholic syncretism in the video below.

Dolores has been chosen to host Maximon starting this month! This means exclusive insider access for Maya Trails clients visiting Lake Atitlan and environs. Ask Adriana to include a visit for your travelers.

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