Meeting My Patron Saint in Guatemala

Josh Clark

It was standing up in the back of a pick up truck, holding onto an A frame with the rest of the SYSK crew, that I was carried to meet my patron saint. Maxiomon, a hybrid saint of Mayan ancestry and Catholic dogma. At Lake Atitlan, in central Guatemala, we were given the choice between shopping for handicrafts and being carted off to a where an arcane precolumbian saint of vice was being ritualized. I chose the saint.

From what our guides told us, Maximon (pronounced MA-shee-mon) is the Mayan deity who gets things done. You may go to Maximon when you want to curse your neighbor for stealing a goat or pray for more money. But what got me in the back of the pick up was perhaps Maximon's best attribute: He has the decidedly rare power of taking his adherent's bad habits as his own. I have bad habits, I thought to myself. Perhaps I should go see Maximon. I'm hoping to become a dad with LOML in the foreseeable future and clear speech and being alive and generally healthy are attributes that any dad should have. I've been seeing the disuse of my bad habits as a good thing lately and figured perhaps Maximon could lend a hand.

A little background. When Pizarro and Cortez and the rest of the murderous Spaniards disembarked in the New World, they brought with them a particularly virulent form of Christianity delivered with the end of the sword. The writing was on the wall: Convert or perish. The Mayans, however, are a stubborn folk and didn't give in quite so easily. So the Catholic missionaries struck a deal. The Mayans could retain their gods and lesser deities, but they should conform with Catholic saints and members of the holy trinity. So Yum K'aax, the god of corn became Jesus Christ and Maximon became associated, for reasons I'm not fully aware, with Saint Peter and Saint Simon. He bears much more resemblance to Papa Legba than either of those two saints.

The process of melding deities, I'm told, is called synchronism. And furthermore, those who worship Maximon move him from house to house year by year. You have to know people to find him, and luckily I knew people who knew people.

So here I was, in the back of pick up truck, Chuck and Jeri alongside to lend moral support, driving through speed bumps the middles of which had been removed by the locals, Guatemalan wind blowing against my face, seeking a little extra help from a Mayan god.

We arrived outside a squalid dwelling, with a sign that said, "Saint Simon," in handpainted letters. There's volcanic dirt everywhere and small palms in Guatemala, and this compound was no different. We were led back to a series of squat buildings and stopped outside of one. The smell of incense and the sound of indigenous chanting poured out of the doorless entry to one. Inside, men kneeled before a short wooden statue carved of wood. He wore several neckties and two fedoras, he had a cigar sticking out of his mouth and money pinned to a vest he wore. Maximon.

I entered the room, and for ten quetzals (eight to the dollar) I could take a photo. I did and I offered the cigarette behind my ear to a man seated next to the statue. He took it and removed the cigar from Maximon's mouth. He inserted my cigarette and lit it. Maximon was smoking my cigarette. Things were real.

Why stop here, I asked myself. Outside, there was a small store the family hosting Maximon had set up just for desperate tourists like me to purchase representations of our vices. For about a dollar I bought a half pint of sugar cane moonshine. Chuck and I figured we should know just what I was giving up so we took a nip. Jeri declined a drink, Chuck shook; I did not. All the more evidence it was time to go dry. Drier.

When I reentered the shrine I offered the bottle to the same man who'd taken my cigarette. He took the bottle and another man held a bandana beneath Maximon's mouth and they poured the liquor into the statue's mouth. He accepted.

I loitered around to see if the men would return what remained in the bottle to me. They did not. Maximon appeared to be working already.

His reach extended only so far; I indulged in a few Gallos after we returned to our cottage. And a few cigarettes. I'm hoping Maximon's blessing kicks in gradually.

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