The Cult of Maria Lonza is a genuine manifestation of syncretism binding magical and religious elements together that concur in the Caribbean Basin. In this particular cults, the three Venezuelan ethnic groups converge here: Maria Lonza (Spain), the Guaicaipuro Indian (indigenous) and the first Negro named Pedro Camejo (Africa).
The place that gave rise to this cult is in Serrania de Sorte in the state of Yaracuy, Venezuela. It's believed that this cult was born out of the devotion to the forces of nature, the spirits of the rivers, caves and jungles, so this makes a dramatic difference in the cult as observed in today in Venezuela, Colombia, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The remainders of indigenous practices, coupled with the spiritualism brought in the early 20th century by Allan Kardec, whipped this cult into shape and soon began to spread out.
The legend has it that Maria Lionza was an indigenous princess that was abducted by an anaconda snake, the master of the lagoon. God punished the crawler by making it so swollen that its burst apart at the seams. The blowup caused a great flooding that killed off the entire tribe the princess belonged to. The girl became the master of the lagoon, the rivers, the jungle and the wild animals. Her original name was lost and the moniker Maria popped up as part of the syncretism with the Virgin. Her spirit lives up in the mountain of Sorte where thousands of worshippers climb in search of miracles. There are many a legend that unites mythological characters from different parts of the region.
The number of worshippers is on the rise. They come from every walk of life and spiritual centers from both the rural and urban areas. This is a boon-seeking, syncretism-oriented and pragmatic cult that's constantly feeding on worshippers contributions.
If we make a difference between religion and cult, we'll notice that religion implies established rituals, shrines, priesthood hierarchies, catechisms and a well-defined mythology, whereas cults rely on prayers, religious sacrificed pointed in only one direction and a certain deity.
Thus, we can corroborate that in the Cult of Maria Lonza the pantheon varies, the rituals are individualized and there's no trace of those who initiated the cult, the qualification of the spiritual leaders, the names of the spirits invoked and the ritual techniques.
Some leaders have tried to join doctrines and found associations of other leaders and worshippers, but no consensus has ever been reached. They have also attempted to tidy up a considerable amount of spirits through the creation of guidelines. However, this has never caught on among practitioners. Regardless of the fact that the figure of Maria Lonza appears as the centerpiece in every shrine and altar, the number of spirits invoked has grown so dramatically that only a handful of mediums are prepared to receive a spirit so strong as the cult's centerpiece.
Magical and religious activities are conducted especially on weekends in centers led by bancos who could be either men or women. They are self-taught people who rely on realistic knowledge and their own personal charisma. Each priest establishes his own set of rules. The mediums known as materias- receive the spirits when they get in a trance triggered by inhaling cigar smoke, drinking rum and sometimes doing drugs. Some spirits show up in a violent way, so the banco must look after the medium to prevent him from getting hurt. After a period of excitement, almost all materias calm down and then consultations begin. Priests sprinkle worshippers with sugar cane rum and blow cigar smoke on the mediums faces for their purification. In turn, mediums sometimes serve their own blood during the course of some magical and healing rites.
The spiritual possession of the worshippers is key in this cult, whose indigenous influence is twice as much noticeable. There are some evident analogies with the Christian rituals and Kardecism. Practitioners are also obliged to bring all the necessary objects for the rituals and they are sometimes bound to fork over huge sums of money demanded by the spirits themselves. For the most part, this has to do with purification rites conducted with water, magic sponges, scents, cigar smoke, alcohol and candles. The latter is the most widespread practice today consisting of laying the patient on the floor and let the banco make drawings around his body with powders. Then, he lights up a few candles along the figure lines as he pours flowers or the blood of sacrificed animals. He also blows cigar smoke, sprinkle some herbal scents or rum all over the patient's body, according to the supernatural orders he receives or the instructions briefed by the banco.
On the other hand, shrines are decked out with lithographic materials depicting the major spirits and statues of the Venezuelan Trinity. Worshippers also place food, candles, garments, flowers, incense, cigars, decorations and glasses of water. Crucifixes and the so-called Hand of the Great Power.
There are no initiation rituals as such, but candle ceremonies serve to unleash a new medium and to let the spirits approach more easily. Sometimes practitioners wash the head of a would-be medium using herbal infusions. Several times a year, pilgrimages are organized before the conduction of certain major works, especially during Holy Week and on October 12, to mark the Day of Race. These observances will depend on the characteristics of their practitioners.
Maria Lonza is said to be an indigenous deity. However, there was a time when the picture of a white priestess showed up in some lithographic materials to depict the divinity. This figure stands today for the white race in the Venezuelan Trinity. Dictator Pedro Jimenez ordered the construction of a monument in Caracas back in the 1950s. The divinity was represented by a naked indigenous damsel riding on the back of tapir. Worshippers usually place request letters, flowers and wreaths at the base of the monumental statue.
The Cult of Maria Lonza, synthesis of magical and religious elements hailing from different cultures, counts on an ever-growing number of practitioners not only in Venezuela, but also in Colombia, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The boon-seeking character of this cult provide worshippers with solutions to their spiritual and material tribulations, at least apparently, a reason why this religious movement has grown roots so deep into the people.