Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

San Simon: One Tough God

If I didn´t have photos to prove this, everyone would think C and I were making this up. In fact last night an employee at the lodge we´re staying in could only say: you´re drunk¨ when we reported on our encounter with San Simon.

The indigenous Mayans in many ways remain a pagan people, much to the chagrin of the evangelists who are taking over Guatemala and to the annoyance of the Catholic church which has basically learned over 500 years to just put up with it. However the church was not so forgiving in the past. There was a Mayan God in the Lago Aititlan region many years ago and a priest became so angry at the idol that he chopped off it´s arms and legs. Suddenly, so the story goes, the god now spontaneously appeared in four more regions of the country. He was eventually called San Simon "Saint Simon" but he is also thought to be Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ, Pedro Alvarado the butcher Conquistador who slaughtered the Aztecs as well as a form of an old Mayan fertility god. In any event whoever he is, is one mean hombre.

In the town of Zunil where one of the manifestations of the God has appeared, San Simon holds court and many come to pray to him and ask of him favours or relief from or the placement of curses. San Simon can help people but he can also do very bad things should a worshipper request such a favour.

Every year the Confradis or Catholic Mayan lay brotherhood decide in whose house he will reside for the year and in a large procession which is helf on October 28 he is carried to his new home. It is considered a great honour to have San Simon in your domina and the householder will benefit from some of the revenues from photo-ops charged for a picture of San Simon. However with the honour comes the many tasks involved in hosting him.

C and I were taken to visit San Simon by Josh, a guide who has lived in Xela for many years and has a very depthful knowledge and respect of the country and the Mayan people. He tried to prepare us for San Simon but I am not sure anyone could properly do this.

We walked down a small alleyway in the little town, following hand painted signs saying "San Simon this way". We came to a concrete garage space where there was the seat of San Simon. He was a mannequin, the kind from a department store, and of a male child I think, wearing what appeared to be an expensive motorcycle suit, golden hip hop bling hanging around his neck, a thin black moustache painted on the mannequin face. He sported black leather gloves, a red Bloods´ bandana on his head over which sat a large cowboy hat. He held a wooden staff and wore very tough cowboy boots. He also sported dark aviator sunglasses too large for his face and smoked a lit cigarette from a cigarette holder. He looked alot like Duke from Doonesbury frankly and the comparison doesn´t end there. San Simon, like Duke, relishes a lifestyle of danger and excess.

In front of him on the ground were some 60-70 lit candles in an array of colours representing the prayers that people had asked him to fulfill. On the floor amidst the candles were shapes set out in coloured sand representing spells.

A Shaman dressed in ordinary clothes helped a man at the altar who had come to ask San Simon for some kind of help. He snapped his fingers repeatedly above the man's head and chanted incantations; he removed the enormous cowboy hat and placed it on the supplicant's head so that he could share San Simon´s power.

After the incantations ended, the supplicant and Shaman got up and went over to San Simon, the Shaman tipped the chair back and the old man, still sporting the magical hat, poured Guatemalan fire water down San Simon´s throat, apparently a favourite liquor of his. Once San Simon had finished his drink his chair was returned to his resting postion and the Shaman lit a new cigarette put it in the holder and returned it to San Simon´s mouth.

Josh advised that San Simon´s clothes are changed daily and he is always adorned with the bling, sunglasses and tough guy outfit. At night the host or Shaman undresses San Simon and puts him to bed and wakes him the next day, dress him and places him again in his chair.

Outside the garage, a small homespun store sold candles, firewater liquor and cigarettes, all for supplicants as offerings to San Simon.

In back of the house large piles of ashes covered three homemade alters where sacrifices were made to the God. The remains of feathe roasted sacrificial chickens lay cold in the black soot. A pen of potential sacrifices sat nearby, the hens and roosters clucking and apparently oblivious to their fate as offering to this one very tough god. Hanging from the front of the concrete alter hung a severed chicken head that stared back at us; a reminder for C as to why it was not a good idea to liberate this current batch.

I duly paid my 20 Quetzales for two photos, even though the Shaman only noticed that I took one. I was relieved at my honesty as I watched as the Shaman placed my bills into the basket which sat on San Simon´s lap.

An ancient fertility God, a Conquistador and the man who betrayed Christ. Like the Mayans, I had no wish to cross him.


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