Maria Lionza

Maria Lionza

La Reina; The Queen

ALSO KNOWN AS:

Maria Leonza

ORIGIN:

Venezuela

Maria Lionza names a goddess (maybe two) and a spiritual tradition:

Maria Lionza is a snake goddess with dominion over love, romance, sex, fertility, and abundance invoked for protection, success, and virtually anything a devotee desires. Her origins are the subject of diverse legends: common factors are her green eyes and a giant anaconda.

Maria Lionza was first venerated by Venezuela’s Indians. A prophecy foretold that the birth of a green-eyed child among them was a harbinger of disaster. Sure enough, the green-eyed baby girl was born right before the Spanish Conquest. Different tribes have different versions of what happened to her and how she became a goddess:

• She may have been closely guarded or sent to live alone on a mountain.

• An anaconda fell in love with her and she became its queen.

• Thrown into a lake as a sacrifice for an anaconda spirit, she emerged as a goddess.

• When she saw her reflection in a lake, she transformed into an anaconda.

• Some or all of the above.

Maria Lionza rules nature, all living waters, animals, and plants. In addition to sources of water, her sacred sites include mountains and caves. Maria Lionza punishes those who harm or kill wild animals as well as those who cut down forest trees. Originally a local jungle goddess, her veneration spread: she is now the primary focus of a rapidly expanding religion named after her. Devotees, known as Marialionceros, call her Venezuela’s spiritual queen.

Yara, Caribe deity of love and nature, was venerated in what is now the Venezuelan state of Yaracuy, meaning “Yara’s Place.” After the Spanish Conquest, devotees trying to integrate her into Catholicism began calling her Santa Maria de la Onza (“Saint Mary of the Jaguar or Cougar”). Eventually this evolved into Maria Lionza.

After World War II, secular authorities attempted to suppress religious aspects of Maria Lionza, celebrating her as a national myth instead. Meanwhile, attempts were made to re-envision sexy Maria Lionza to resemble the Virgin of Coromoto, an apparition of Mary who in 1651 appeared to the chief of Venezuela’s Coromoto Indians and encouraged him to abandon the forest, join the Spanish settlement, and convert to Christianity. On 7 October 1944, Pope Pius XII declared the Virgin of Coromoto Patroness of Venezuela.

The traditional image of Maria Lionza depicts her as a green-eyed Indian woman, living amongst animals in a jungle paradise. After World War II, a secondary iconic image evolved depicting a beautiful, crowned, and usually brown-eyed Creole woman wearing a blue-and-white colonial-era gown. (Blue and white are Mary’s colors.) This image may be the original goddess or her daughter, sometimes identified as Venezuela’s first mestiza (“woman of mixed European and Indian descent”).

Mother and daughter may be venerated side by side. Legend says that the original Maria bore a conquistador’s child. (She was allegedly the lover of the infamous Lope de Aguirre, the Wrath of God, who did have a mestiza daughter, Elvira.) Alternatively, the second image is a Spanish girl who escaped into the jungle where she was allegedly worshipped by Indians. Both images of Maria Lionza are ascribed similar powers. Maria Lionza is syncretized to the Virgin Mary, especially Our Lady of Coromoto and, as Santeria becomes more popular in Venezuela, increasingly identified with Yemaya.

Mara Lionza, the spiritual tradition, is a blend of indigenous Venezuelan, African, Spiritist, and Christian religions. Spirits venerated in the Maria Lionza tradition are divided into courts. For example:

• The Court of Africans includes the Seven African Powers.

• The Celestial Court includes angels and official saints.

• The Court of Indians is led by Guaicaipuro.

• The Court of Liberators is led by Simon Bolivar.

• The Court of Vikings is led by Thor under the nom de guerre Mr. Barbaro.

A devotee addresses the court that best fulfills his needs. Thus the Warrior Court is invoked to fight hexes or curses. Each court is identified with a color, although there is debate as to which court is assigned which color. Maria Lionza, the goddess, presides over these courts. Her own personal court—the inner circle—is called the Three Potencies and consists of Maria, Guaicaipuro, and Negro Felipe. The image of Maria as Spanish princess is used, thus the three spirits represent Europe, Africa, and South America, the three continents from which modern Venezuelan culture derives.

Legends of Maria Lionza inspired William Henry Hudson’s 1904 novel, Green Mansions: A Romance in the Tropical Forest.

MANIFESTATION:

Maria Lionza manifests as a beautiful naked jungle goddess or a crowned, bejeweled princess wearing Spanish clothing.

ICONOGRAPHY:

The most famous image of Maria Lionza is the twenty-foot-tall statue that loomed over the freeway bisecting Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, placed there in 1957 by dictator and devotee Marcos Pérez Jiménez. Maria is portrayed as a nude, voluptuous Indian woman riding a tapir. The statue evolved into a public shrine with devotees dashing across five lanes of heavy traffic to lay flowers at her feet. Pollution, humidity, and constant traffic vibrations damaged the statue, which broke dramatically on 6 June 2004, splitting apart at the waist, the top half toppling backwards. Many perceived this as a harbinger of disaster.

COLOUR:

Blue

Creatures: All of them, but a blue butterfly serves as her special messenger.

ELEMENT

Water

Sacred site:

Maria’s home, Mount Sorte approximately 180 miles west of Caracas, declared a national park in the 1980s.

Time:

The pilgrimage to Sorte on 12 October coincides with the day Columbus arrived in Venezuela. Holy Week is also considered sacred, but people visit all the time.

ALTAR:

Reproduce a jungle ambience on home altars.

OFFERINGS:

Flowers, fruit, incense, candles, water, champagne, black coffee, pilgrimage

SEE ALSO:

Barbaro, Mr; Guaicaipuro; Malandros; Malinche, La; Negra Francisca; Negro Felipe; Seven African Powers; Thor; Yemaya

SOURCE:

Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.

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