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Light up a candle for the Master!
At times very wise and times very crazy, the figure of Maximon has confused outsiders for many years. This combination saint/devil is one of the strongest remnants of the native philosophy in Santiago Atitlan. Although encouraged at first by the Catholic Church, Maximon was eventually persecuted and at one time made to go underground. Because of his great influence he was very much feared by the Church and, in order to deal with him, they represented him as Judas of Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus. To the people of Santiago, however, he represents something else completely. The following story tells of the native's view of Maximon.( This story comes from local oral tradition and was written down by an Atiteco.) Maximon means he who is tied with string or lasso. Ri Laj Mam means "great grandfather" or, in other words, the grandfather of all the people of the village of Santiago Atitlan.
In the old days there were very many witches and evil beings around the village. If a person just looked at one of the witches or if one of the evil creatures walked to close this person would die from vomiting and diarrhea from the fear. Many people died because of these evil practices. The people of that time couldn't do anything about what was going on.
There was a time when the Nahuales (shamans) got together and talked about the bad things that were happening on the streets of the village. They were talking about everything that was going on about the witches and evil creatures. When they finished their discussion they decided that they would destroy all of these evil things.
Then they went and talked to the important people. First they talked to the Nahual Ma Pla's Sojuel (Fransisco Sojuel). Then they aligned themselves: Ma Tzruuy, Francisco Poqlaaj (Ma Xwan Poqlaaj, Ma Tek Poqlaaj, Ma ta Waan, Ma kux Rujuuch', Ma Xkop Koo', Ma Ku Ryaant and then Chi'p, (the last man) l. But there were not only male Nahuales in those times there were also women in the service of the good. The following women helped with the construction of the Rilaj Mam. These women were; Maria Servaant, Maria Skirna'y, Maria Tz'utz'u', Maria Kemo', Maria B'atz'bal, Maria Tik'ir, Maria Kastalyana, Josefa B'atzb'al and Fransisca Ch'oreeq. They were accompanied by Dolores Ya Loor Ya Loris.
When these Nahuales finished putting themselves in order they went to the center to celebrate their ceremonies and to ask for strength and protection for their work. After they got here they sought and thought a long time about what they could do to destroy all the evil that was in the village. They talked and talked for several days and each one gave their opinions about what needed to be done. Then they decided that they should put together a Great Grandfather for the whole village.
So they got together and went to the mountains to talk to some trees. They came upon a tree that's called "Ukuuy", and they told it everything and they asked if was willing to help the people of the village. The tree talked to them but only to tell them that this job wasn't for him. This tree's job is to help in the construction of houses and the job that they have asked it to do was just too great for it. This is how our grand fathers did things in those days. Then they got to a place where there were some trees that were called "Ch'oob". These trees answered that this couldn't be their job either because their job was only to build corrals for chickens.
This is what happened to these great Nahuales in that time: they couldn't find the tree with which to make the being that they had thought of. So they decided to go home.
The next day they got up very early and went to another place where they hadn't gone to the day before. This day they went to a place called Chukox Aq'oom. In this place there was a tree called Tz'ajte'l, and that moment when they talked to the tree and they told him everything that they had been thinking and they asked if it wanted to do anything to help in this problem about the Grandfather for the people of the village. When the tree was asked the ritual questions it answered instantly and told them that he was completely agreeable to been the Grandfather of the village and to do this job. In this way all the Nahuales were very happy when they heard these positive words and all of them cut the tree down. While some worked, others, who were very wise, didn't stop for even a minute in their praying and the orations that they knew. With all of these prayers and orations the work would come out clean and formal. When they were all tired a beautiful girl came and told them: " You poor things, you're so tired. Well, here I'm bringing a little bit of atol (corn drink) for you to drink and a little bread. Then each one ate the bread and drank is little cup of atol. When then all finished drinking their atol and eaten their bread the girl jumped up and laughed at them and said " I beat you today! ". Then all of the Nahuales noticed that they had horse piss in their glasses and the bread was all made of horseshit. Then the Nahuales noticed that the person that had given them the atol and the bread wasn't a girl at all: it was the Old thing that they had been building. So the good Nahuales didn't get angry, instead they got very happy. Of course, in that moment, the Old Man disappeared like a phantom. Then the great Nahuales put a lot of strength in that job until they finished carving the mask. Then they formed the body of pure rags. Those rags are sacred. For a heart they put an ancient green stone carving that was wrapped in sacred cloth. This carving was very sacred for the great Nahuales of that time.
On his elbows they put rings so that they could tie him up. That's why they gave him that name: Maximon that means "the tied up one". And for a face they used the mask that they carved at the place called Chukox Aq'oom, and that's when they named him " Rilaj Maam" and named him the Great Grandfather of the village. When they finished the job all of the Nahuales got together and they decided to let the Old Man loose so that he could start his work. So they released him. Before they let him go they gave him a lot of advice so that he could do his work well. They told him everything that he had to do for the people of his village. In reality the only job he really had was to finish with witchcraft and with the evil beings evident in the village at the time. So the Rilaj Mam was let loose on the streets, but when he met the witches and evil beings on the streets he acted as if he couldn't do anything.
Then when the witches found him on the street they got very happy, and they grabbed him, when they already had him tied he immediately transformed into the Rilaj Mam and the witches cringed in fear and let him go. When they arrived at their houses they died of vomit and diarrhea.
This was the work that the very last mom did in those days. All of the witches and the evil beings and lived in the village at that time died.
Then all of the people of the village at that time were very happy because all of the evil people that there had been in the village had died. The Nahuales were very happy for the good things that The Rilaj Mam had done, but they were also very worried about the evil things that he had done. The Rilaj Mam came to talk to all of the young girls of town and to do so he changed himself into a very handsome young man. He did the same too the young men: if he came across any young men he turned into a beautiful young woman but, when the young man came to talk story he would turn back into the Rilaj Mam. Then those young men and young woman would die from vomit and diarrhea. He even got so powerful that he was doing this to the Nahuales and even sometimes to the women of the main men in the town. All of the main men in town were very mad because of what was happening. They all got together again because all these things that this Old Man had done weren't correct. Then they all talked about it and decided they had to do something so that the Rilaj Mam would stop doing these bad things. They decided that they couldn't destroy him because his work was not done yet. The Nahuales came to an agreement and they twisted his head around so that his face was looking backwards. Then they also broke his legs so that he couldn't walk around so much and so that they could control him better. His job, when he was made, was not to do these evil things. After they did these changes to the Rilaj Mam he stop doing the evil things. After the wise Nahuales had done this job the people noticed that the young men and the young women of the town were not dying anymore and people were not getting sick. This is what they did to the Rilaj Mam: It took a lot of his strength away so that he could not do evil things. If they had not done this to him he would still be doing these evil things today in Santiago.
The Rilaj Mam can only do good things for the people of the village now. He can only walk the streets when the great Nahuales allow it, although he does wander once in awhile. Today the Rilaj Mam stays in the Brotherhood of Santa Cruz. This is because, when the Spanish arrived in Santiago, they said that he had sold out Jesus Christ to his enemies and they named him Judas. They also called him don Pedro and Simon. Each year on Tuesday of Holy Week they visit him at the brotherhood.
On this day they dress him in their lodge. They dress him inside a large reed mat, but only the Telinel, the Roox and the Rukaaj are allowed into the mat to do this job. This is because of the great secret of what is inside of this bundle. Nobody but the initiated can see these things.
On this date all of the members of the municipalities come see him, as is the custom, along with all of the old members of the brotherhood and all the principal people in the town.
On Wednesday of Holy Week he leaves the Brotherhood and goes to the municipal building. There they let him rest for a good while and from there they take him to his chapel, as it is the custom. When they arrive there they tie him up on a pole and decorate him with the leaves of the plant that is called "T'ney Mam". When they tie him up on this pole they say he's Judas, who wants to kill himself for having betrayed Jesus Christ. But this is not true.
While he is tied to this pole some of the brothers, young men and children don't stop making noise with "matracas" day and night without stopped. When Good Friday arrives the Telinel picks up the figure of Maximon and joins the procession behind the coffin of Jesus. It is a great test of the Telinel's spiritual strength. He carries the statue until he can't stand the weight anymore and then, after a salute to the four cardinal points, he runs off to the Cofradia.
Our grand father's tell us that a long time ago there was a priest wanted to finish with the Rilaj Mam. He threw them on the floor; he shot him with a revolver and then chopped him into little bits with a machete. This could not destroy him. Today people arrive daily with the Ajq'iij , some asking for help for others, some asking for money. The men ask for a wife and the women ask for a good husband. This is the life of the Rilaj Mam, Don Pedro, San Simon. We, the Mayan priests name him now "The Doctor, The Angel, a lightning bolt that strikes, the underground one, the Extra Terrestrial, and the Astrologist. We also call him the Great Grandfather Mam, great grandfather Pedro, Oh father, oh mother! Holy are your words, holy are your experiences, father. This is all.