The Cult of Maria Lionza

VENEZUELA: MARIA LIONZA- photo by Kitra Cahana

Throughout the month of October an estimated forty-thousand Maria Lionzeros, practitioners of Venezuela’s fastest-growing and most widespread alternative and syncretic religion, make their way to El Sorte Mountain, the spiritual epicenter of the Cult of Maria Lionza, where it is said that Maria Lionza’s spirit resides. They come to connect to the spirit of Maria Lionza, “La Reina”, but also to perform Velacions, theatrical-healing rituals, which can be seen around the clock on Sorte Mountain. Pilgrims, hailing from all strata of Venezuelan society, come to the Mountain seeking healing for a broad array of personal and communal issues. During a ritual the patient/patients will lie on the ground, outlined in chalk and candles with fruit, flower and wine offerings sprinkled on and around the patient’s body. A trained medium, usually a member of the patient’s family or a leader of his/her local community will go into a trance, as onlookers chant “Fuerza! Fuerza!” (“Strength, Strength”). Depending on the type of spirit the medium is possessed by, the medium will take on an array of character traits and costumes specific to the type of spirit it is.

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