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Shamans of Guatemala

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

Brilliantly colored tombs in the cemetery

In the silence of the cemetery, amidst row upon row of brightly colored tombs, we were enchanted by the pinks and blues and yellows. It was early morning and we were alone in the silence.

As we were absorbing the colors and the inscriptions, three people in traditional Mayan dress walked quietly and purposefully into the cemetery.

When we happened across them a bit later, we became fascinated and honored witnesses to a Mayan ceremony. The two men were Shamans and the young woman was seeking a favor from the spirits, in this case she wanted success in her business.

I made quiet eye contact with the young woman and politely gestured the question of “may I take photos?”, to which she bashfully smiled and nodded.

The Shamans began by creating a circle, pouring sugar on the ground. To this circle of sugar they added eggs, candles, herbs, candies, cigars, and liquor. The fire erupted and the Shamans offered soft incantations as the young woman stood to the side and observed.

Religion is a unique collage in the country of Guatemala. Although Roman Catholicism is the official religion, Mayan spirituality is still ever present, especially in the highlands where dialects of Mayan are the spoken languages. Modern Mayan spiritual practices include ceremonies such as the one we were honored to have witnessed, where requests that would not have been acceptable to Catholic religion were offered to Mayan gods or saints.

An old wooden figurine of Maximon we purchased at the local market in Chichicastenango

Another curiosity of the Western Highlands is the veneration of Maximón, a folk saint who is a liquor drinking, cigar smoking idol. Mayans who have converted to Catholicism or evangelical Christianity, often still revere, and ask favors from Maximón


This is the beauty and inspiration of stepping outside of ourselves and into another culture, where our culture would be as strange and different to them as theirs is to us. This is the opportunity for the coming together of differences to generate respect not fear. Such was our experience in this beautiful indigenous Mayan village of Chichicastenango in the mountains of Guatemala.


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