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Maximon (San Simon-Judas)

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A Maximon altar piece crafted to invite prosperity into a client's home and business

Maximon is the contemporary name for an ancient Mayan underworld god, Ma'am, which means "Great Grandfather". He is a destroyer of witchcraft, a guardian of agriculture and fertility, and a deity of the heavenly crossroads where the Milky Way intersects the Celestial Equator. He is the bringer of rain and the one who ensures fertility in the animal kingdom. Other names used in reference to him by the Highland Mayas are the Rilaj Ma'am, "the Doctor," "the Angel," "The Underground One," "the Extra Terrestrial," and "the Astrologist." In his most original form he is depicted as hanging on a floral or leafy cross or pole, symbolizing the intersection of the worlds. The name Maximon means "tied up with string," which refers to ceremonies in which he was hung up for view.

A community cofradia altar with offerings to Maximon (San Simon-Judas)
A community cofradia altar with offerings to Maximon (San Simon-Judas)

The Mayans live in Guatemala and adjoining Yucatan state in Southern Mexico. When the Christian Spaniards conquered the Mayan empire they had difficulty dealing with the coincidence that the native people venerated a "crucified" god who was not Jesus Christ. Under Spanish colonial rule Ma'am was conflated by hostile Roman Catholic priests with Judas Iscariot, who hung himself in a tree. In this form he was called San Judeo. Friendly Roman Catholic priests, on the other hand, conflated him with the Catholic Church saint Simon Peter, who was crucified. Today, among those who syncretize Catholic traditions with local indigenous religions, he is not accepted as a legitimate Catholic Church saint but is considered to be a Catholic folk saint. As such, some people call him San Simon-Judas and some call him San Simon -- but to most modern Mayans he is still the Mayan deity Maximon (pronounced Ma-shi-mon).

Maximon's return to Earth from the underworld is celebrated yearly with a festival in each Mayan village. During this time his statue is assembled and paraded through the streets. In most depictions of Maximon one of these statues is shown holding either a rifle (a symbol of resistance against the government), a mayor's or alcalde's baton (a symbol of belief in rule of law), or a Guatemalan flag (an emblem of national unity and pride).

In Guatemala, Maximon is revered at specific shrines, such as the "Cofradia San Simon" in the city of Antigua. Cofradia literally means "brotherhood" (it is related to the English word "confraternity"), but in Guatemala, a cofradia is a religious organization in which members of the laity, both men and women, assume certain duties. The idea was introduced by the Catholic priests, but while there are "official" cofradias for Catholic Church saints, the "Cofradia San Simon" is obviously outside the Catholic church's jurisdiction.

Maximon is called on for destroying sorcery, for removing obstacles, for granting wealth, and for good luck. He is known to like alcohol and tobacco, but he is also sometimes called on for help in stopping smoking or drinking. His traditional altar offerings are Copal Negro resin incense, agua guardiente (home-brewed alcohol), tobacco, small orange fruits, tortillas, coins, sausages, sausage-fruits, or fat cigars. The shapes of the latter three offerings relate symbolically to the large phallus of Maximon. It is customary to drape neckties, scarves, and bandannas on his statue, over his black suit of clothing, to absorb power. These are later distributed to congregants to wear in full confidence of his aid.

The veneration of Maximon entered hoodoo through the folk traditions of Guatemalan immigrants to the U.S.A., particularly in California.

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