the Mam (grandfather; pre-Columbian Old God)

A wooden mannequin, approximately 1.5m tall, in the Tzutujil Maya village of Santiago, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.

Based on ancient Mayan creation myths with elements of Christianity, the story of the Mam begins with the magical Power-Men and Power-Women, fabulous merchants able to divine the future. The wife of a Power-Man commits adultery and becomes a witch, spreading chaos through the town.

After long deliberation the Power-People make the Mam from coral wood, as a means to fight witchcraft with witchcraft and restore order. Also called the Maximón, the Mam can divine, has power over weather, and can transform into any form, but he must unquestioningly serve the Power-People. He uses cigar smoke to perform magic, he is the spirit of intoxicants, and he punishes people by causing insanity. He also acts as a matchmaker, ensuring the right people fall in love, and he's sometimes portrayed as a lawyer.

He defeats Evil Person, the subterranean force, through trickery and becomes a Rain Angel, who represent the forces of weather. As he becomes more clever and powerful the Power-People lose control of him and he does the bidding of ordinary people who make offerings to him of alcohol and tobacco. As he is just a puppet he can make no decision who to kill or cure, but must do the bidding of the offerer.

Eventually the Mam causes so much chaos he becomes a worse problem than those he was created to repair. To control him his torso, limbs and head were cut apart and are reassembled when his services are required.

For more information, read "Scandals in the House of Birds" by Nathaniel Tarn with Martin Prechtel

Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala
Photograph by Shane Solow © Lost Trails
Click here for more photographs of the Maximón
Maximon doll
image by Weasel Werkstätte
Maximón doll, handmade in the Lake Atitlán region of Guatemala, where they are kept as household charms.

Here is Shane Solow's account


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