San Simon, patron of the drunks

For the population that inhabits the Guatemalan highlands, San Simon also called Maximon or Ry Laj Man (Mayan name), represents an extremely controversial figure: synonym of prosperity and happiness for some, but also of witchcraft for others. In general, the tradition identifies him as the protector of the drunks and for this reason enjoys limitless devotion. At the end of century XIX, the image of the “saint” was adored by the gamblers, who offered him money, liqueur or tobacco. In San Andres Itzapa, the coloured house where the statue of San Simon is guarded (represented as an old seated man, handling a bottle of liqueur) remains opened nightlong on October 28, receiving hundreds of devout people who come from every part of Central America to tell him their own hopes, asking favors and leaving offerings such as alcohol, money and flowers. The procession towards the nail head is a complex journey in the Latin American syncretism, in which gestures like the frenetic ignition of candles and dances, accompanied by “marimba” (xilophone) and mariachi music, are continuously repeated. In the temple, the smell of ignited candles is stirred with the scent of tobacco and the various grasses taken as offering. When finally every faithful succeeds to catch up the altar in order to speak with San Simon, he undergoes the final purification (“las limpias”), through a pure alcohol lavender executed by the shaman of the temple. This man finishes the day so drunk that he needs two persons to support him. In an exciting mix of sacred and profane, the celebrations continue until late in the night and confusion, smoke, music and drunkenness grow too. The guards of the statue begin a ritual dance in order to celebrate Maximon, many gestures are repeated until the loss of the senses and remember the symbols of the Mayan cosmovision (stars, jaguars, snakes).

Now it’s deep in the night and in the streets of San Andres starved dogs and drunk men remain alone, but this happens in every angle of the world. Perhaps they asked to San Simon a house and a life without alcohol, but for the miracles is always better to wait for the following day…

Chapel of San Simon Ry Laj Man Maximon indigenous religion syncretism Latin America Guatemala

2 thoughts on “San Simon, patron of the drunks”

  1. Dear Anonymous, thank you for your comment. We are sorry to have touched your sensibility on this theme, but unfortunately this is just a report of our experience, that is what we saw in San Andres Itzapa… We are sure that other stories are linked to San Simon and our experience does not want to be representative, it is just a travel story. We encourage you to read more posts of our blog, and you will immediately see that we have taken everytime the position of indigenous communities. Just read more stories under Guatemala or other countries categories.

  2. As an indigenous woman from Guatemala it is sad for me to see someone disrespect a sacred ancestor to our culture. Much of the history and story of our elder has been distorted and the continuation of false stories not just in Guatemala, but internationally via the internet is sad. I ask that you think before you post. He is not a patron of the “drunks.” He is the symbol of an elder who held sacred knowledge and resisted the Spanish invasion and forced colonization of our people. He was finally violently tortured and killed. Please get your facts right and stop posting falsities.

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