by Diana Pastor
A visit to San Simon (or Maximón) provides a fascinating glimpse into the religious, historical and cultural realities of Guatemala. His story encapsulates many creation myths, themselves part historical record, part mythology. He’s a holy pagan whose status ranges from Chimam (Mayan sorcerer) to Catholic priest. As a Chimam, he’s said to have objected to the oppression of the indigenous during the Spanish invasion. He was punished for it, and dismembered, which is why in some places the deity is represented with short legs and no arms.
Another version says that San Simon was an ancient Mayan god linked to good sex. He’s also associated with biblical figures such as Judas Iscariot and has even been linked to Pedro de Alvarado, the conqueror of Guatemala.
The rituals of Maximón’s followers are just as fascinating as his origins. This is someone who is sought to grant favors that cannot be granted by other saints. The devout visit him to wish for success in business, the protection of crops and the curing of any number of diseases. It’s also common to ask him to help to attract a love interest or to make one’s enemies fall ill.
There are several regions in Guatemala where this intriguing figure can be found, such as in San Andrés Itzapa, Antigua Guatemala, Chichicastenango and Zunil. In Santiago Atitlan he’s known as Maximón, not San Simon.
The figure of San Simon – depending on where you are, can be represented as a wooden man with Mayan features and accessories. But there are places where he is personified as a Ladino. Anyway, in both cases, people come to offer liquor, cigarettes, cigars and money.
In the municipality of Zunil, San Simon is especially popular with visitors from Quetzaltenango, due to its proximity. Some time ago I had the opportunity to visit the shrine in a small house in the village. The place was full of candles, flowers, a container for monetary gifts, and of course, all the gifts that had been offered. The owners of the house told me that every so often, San Simon is moved to the home of a family chosen by the believing community.
Foreign visitors who want to see San Simon, must pay a small offering to the owners of the house where he is being kept. This fee, almost never exceeds Q5, although sometimes the entry may be free, and is charged only if you want to take photographs.