By Rebecca Olsen
Once in a while when office manager Nicole Thompson opens the galleries at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures she is a bit surprised, even taken aback when she sees a silhouette of a man with a hat and cane. She breathes deeply and tells herself, “It”s just Maximon.”
Although Maximon, pronounced mah-shee-mon, is dressed in pantaloons, shirt, tie and a hat and carries a cane, it is hard for Thompson to remember that he is made of wood.
Known as the God of the Underworld to the indigenous Mayan people in Guatemala, Maximon is a modern personification of the pre-Columbian Mayan god Maam. In the 16th and 17th centuries Maam evolved into Saint Simon with the emergence and dominance of Catholicism. Today, many who worship him call him Maximon, which is a combination of Simon and max, the Mayan word for tobacco.
“He is a very interesting and busy man,” said student-curator Julie MacDonald. “He plays multiple roles. He is Maam, god of the underworld, San Simon, and ,during Lent, he even takes the role of Judas Iscariot.”
Maximon sits on a throne in the corner of a case titled “Feasting with the Gods,” which is part of the “Seeking the Divine” exhibition. He was perfect for what the museum wanted to teach visitors, MacDonald said. This specific case and its artifacts explore how food is central to the very existence of humanity and how it has always been an essential element of ritual and ceremony.
Maximon is the deity of fertility, death, healing and male sexuality. His followers celebrate his reign on the Wednesday following the first Sunday after Spring Equinox or, in laymen”s terms, the Wednesday before Easter. On this feast day in Guatemala he is carried on the shoulders of his “human horse” throughout the streets and given many offerings.
“I always highlight him when I give tours,” said Tammy Messick, a collections aide at the museum. “He is a great representation of how people worship gods and how they appease them.”
Appeasing Maximon is a must.
“He [Maximon] is known to be a bit of a mischievous character and even has a dark side,” MacDonald said. “He must be appeased with offerings like tobacco, alcohol, money, silk scarves, tortillas and even Coca-Cola.”
Staff at the museum know this first hand.
The museum was having problems putting up the exhibition at the time Maximon arrived. Pieces would inexplicably move within the display case.
“We called the owners and told them about the situation,” said Glenna Nielsen, acting director of the museum. “They encouraged us to place the offerings next to [Maximon], and in no uncertain terms he was threatened and told to behave, and we haven”t had any problems since then.”
What: Maximon, in Seeking the Divine exhibit
Where: Museum of Peoples and Cultures, 700 N. 100 East, Provo (one block south of Brick Oven)
When: Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.