When the Spanish conquered Guatemala in the 1500′s they overcame a series of independent highland tribes known as the Mayans. The conquered Mayans were allowed to speak their language, but their religion was banned and,in the inquisition style of Spain, they were forced to become Catholics on pain of death. Their descendants are part of the large underclass and legal unequals of ruling Ladino classes in Guatemalan society today. The defeated Mayans were also the heirs to a complex hierarchial civilization which included architecture and observatories from which they collected advanced astronomical data, as well as systems of pictographic and phonetic writing.
Since the end of the civil war in 1996, Mayans are now allowed to practice their indigenous religion in public. For many Mayans that means turning to the cult of Maximon. Maximon is not formally recognized by the Catholic church, but for many he’s at least as powerful as Jesus. And he grants wishes that would never be blessed by a Cardinal . Maximon can bestow happiness in marriage, protection from calamity or relief from an apparently incurable ailment. He can also guarantee clients for prostitutes, success for thieves and a whole range of business opportunities in opposition to traditional Judeo-Christian morality. Part of his appeal is his role as the patron saint of vices of the bad to be good school.
Although of unknown origin, Maximon could possibly be the reincarnation of the Mayan god, Mam, who also was represented as a wooden doll dressed in human garb, and symbolically offered food. With the superimposition of Catholicism on previous beliefs during the 16th and 17th centuries, Mam evolved into Saint Simon. However, most of his followers now call him Maximón , a combination of Simon and max, the Maya word for tobacco; for this reason he is always represented with a large cigar between his lips.As an old mayan deity, he is a cross between Jesus and Baron Samedi in Haitian voudou. That is, he is an imagined figure of a syncretic religious phenomenon. Although,through his protection of the poor and disadvantaged, his calling does recall the doctrine of Jesus helping the meek bide their time until they inherit the earth.
Saint Simon is mentioned in the book ”The Worldly Philosophers’ by Robert Heilbroner as an eccentric economic thinker. Robert Klingenberg writing in Guatemala weekly in 1996 concluded that San Simon of Guatemala was actually the French count Henri de Rouvroy de Saint-Simon. The nobleman Saint-Simon renounced the concept of nobility in light of the injustice of 18th century French society.He was jailed by his father for refusing to go to communion; he fought in the American Revolutionary War, took part in the famously-failed French attempt to build a canal between the Atlantic and Pacific, and survived to fight in the French Revolution, where he made a fortune selling property confiscated from the Church. He married on a three-year contract and spent all his money in the company of the French intelligentsia. Brought to desperation by his debts, he shot himself–but lived another two years after the fact.
”When last in Guatemala, I stood in the Temple of Maximon in the village of San Andres Itzapa. There was a statue of Maximon, wearing a large hat. In one hand he carried a cane of authority; the other hand was outstretched to receive offerings of money.Guatemalans of all kinds lined up to ask him to fulfill their wishes. The wall was covered with memorial plaques thanking him for granting former supplicants’ requests….Once a supplicant had communed in front of the statue of Maximon, he was led outside to be purified by an indigenous Mayan priest who ingested alcoholic spirits and sprayed them from his mouth onto the supplicant. The priest then lit cigars, sometimes fumigating the supplicant by blowing smoke on him, and directed the supplicant to a bench to sit alongside other hopefuls. All of them had to finish smoking long cigars before they left.” ( Geoffrey Clarfield, National Post ) Many Mayans are religious reformers who have converted into the evangelical protestant churches which now account for about one third of the population, although the mythic and deep rooted belief structure they hold seems to hold the upper hand, baptism or not, in way similar to the Marranos of Spain.
The relationship between Scrooge and Maximon is somewhat baffling, but entirely coherent within the Dickens context. Whereas Christmas Carol is interpreted by some as an indictment of capitalism, Scrooge and Maximon would appear to get on quite well, with the former and latter being revered for their materialism. ”Exactly how the petition for judges collecting rightful debts to be defeated relates to the virtue of justice was unclear, much less how holding the person one likes squares with free will. How a Christian can offer a cigar, tortilla, or drink without reference to the Paschal Mystery of the Cross, without offering Christ to the Father, I don’t know. Then again, praising the inherent power of the “spirit” of a “saint” without any reference to Christ, rather than asking for a saint’s intercession, is un-Christian — and so, apparently, was San Simon of Guatemala.”
Scrooge is part of an anti-capitalist cultural phenomenon that passes through Hollywood in such current movies as ”Up In The Air” which is entertaining but a light but heavy handed piece of business bashing. Or, in media coverage of eco-centric protestors at Copenhagen looking to resurrect Marx and Engels. These are media savvy non-governmental organizations (N
8217;s ) who have seen the institutional and political potential in shaking down public corporations with psuedo-scientific studies suffering from an identical lack of credibility as their adversaries. Bob Cratchit is a touching victim; but if he wasn’t happy he could have worked elsewhere.In fact, the dysfunctionality of the Cratchit family, if there is a sequel, might prove to be most unsettling.
Even Scrooge’s change of heart is disconcerting in that he is pushed into charitability by religion’s greatest trump card: fear; a authoritarian induced fear of eternal damnation. The current economic crisis is fertile ground for Dicken’s tale, with the caveat that no other author likely profited more from the impact of capitalism on literature than Charles Dickens, and he manifested little inclination in his life to bite Adam Smith’s invisible hand that fed him.Christmas Carol was written with the intention of making a quick profit. Ultimately, gods like Maximon are more simple and less hypocritical, and ultimately more in tune to our ”Christmas Wishes” than we dare imagine.
” …we still prefer to bash Scrooge, no matter how great the success of capitalism in lifting billions out of poverty and providing them with an increasingly stunning array of options. Indeed, does nobody notice the irony that capitalism has unleashed the consumerist cornucopia and charitable sentiments that were A Christmas Carol’s ideal?…As for the modern businesses, far from embracing Scroogeian attitudes, they positively slather themselves in the humbug of “corporate social responsibility. Indeed, the financial crisis was rooted not in the spirit of Scrooge but in the reverse: in the desire by strong-arming politicians to make sure that the Bob Cratchits of the world — particularly the ethnic minority Bob Cratchits (who, as opposed to in 1843, now have the vote) — be given loans they couldn’t afford so that they might achieve the dream of home ownership.” ( Peter Foster, National Post )