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Der Marienkult

Im kolonialzeitlichen Lateinamerika tritt die Jungfrau Maria in den unterschiedlichsten Versionen auf. Auch heutzutage entsteht religiöse Verehrung der Maria, deren Benennung  europäischen bzw. biblischen Ursprungs ist, in den verschiedensten lokalen Varianten.

Die Marienverehrung ist ein zentrales Element der katholischen Glaubenspraxis. In lateinamerikanischen katholischen Kirchen steht die Statue der Jungfrau Maria zentral hinter dem Altar.

Die Benennungen (Advokationen), orientieren sich an der Bibel und am katholischen Festkalender, an der Herkunft der Missionare, Marien-Erscheinungen vor Ort oder andernorts, einheimischen Glaubensvorstellungen und den eigenen spezifischen Erfahrungen wie Heilungen oder Lebenshilfe.

Biblische Marienbezeichnungen sind beispielsweise:

  • Virgen de la Candelaria
  • Virgen del Rosario
  • Inmaculada

Weiterhin gibt es verschiedenste Marientitulaturen aus Europa, deren Verehrung auch in Lateinamerika erfolgt:

Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia, Virgen de la Fuencisla, Virgen de los Reyes, Virgen de Laidón, Virgen de Guadalupe, Virgen de las Nieves, Virgen de la Merced, Virgen de la Almueda,...

Bei den Marienverehrungen, die in der Kolonialzeit neu begründet wurden, handelt es sich um biblische Marien mit lokalen Varianten.

In bestimmten ortsgebundenen Kulten erhält die Jungfrau María nicht nur lokale Attribute sondern faktisch auch den kompletten Kult einer von jeher verehrten Gottheit oder eines Naturgeistes. Im Laufe der Zeit treten dann zu den vorspanischen und europäischen Traditionen auch Bräuche afrikanischen Ursprungs hinzu. Ein Beispiel ist der Kult am Cerro Ponce Leon in Venezuela mit der Verehrung der Maria Ponce Leon. Diese María erhält noch weitere Heilige zur Seite, die mit ihr zusammen verehrt werden.

Anhand des Scripts eines Films zur Verehrung der Maria Ponce Leon in Venezuela kann hier ein Eindruck zu den Auswirkungen dieses speziellen Marienkultes auf Körper, Geist und Seele der lokalen Bevölkerung gewonnen werden: Text zum Film "The Mountain of Spells", Buch und Regie: Laurence Doumic, Produzent: Ampersand und TV10 Angers. Copyrights Ampersand - 1999.


Miriam Lahitte                                                                         Stand: 16.08.2008 



Script Mountain of Spells ©Ampersand 1999



© Text from "The Mountain of Spells", a film written and directed by Laurence Doumic, produced by Ampersand and TV10 Angers. Copyrights Ampersand - 1999. 


When Christopher Columbus reached Venezuela, numerous AmerIndians tribes reigned in the valleys, plains and mountains of this El Dorado. The slave trade started during the 16th century. The Spanish settlers imposed their religion and authority on the country. During the next centuries, some people, while adopting the Spanish culture, also kept the beliefs of their ancestors. They transmitted them from generation to generation. 

This is how Venezuela is defined as a multiethnic society with secular religious practices. 

Here, we are 300 kilometers away from Caracas, the capital city in the state of Yaracuy. Here the mountains extend over 40.000 hectares between the huge plains of Llanos and the high Andes mountains. 


At the foot of the mountain, peasants make a living by growing sugar cane. They still harvest it with a machette, as their ancestors did. They work for one of the biggest refineries in the country, the “Central Mathilde”. 

Rum is made from sugar canes and it’s considered here to be a sacred beverage that makes one dizzy but also cures like an elixir of the gods. 


During the rainy season, clouds crown the mountain dominating the plains.

The peasants show respect for it because it carries the water that fertilizes their land.

They also believe that it’s a kingdom where a powerful queen named Maria Leonza rules. 

02:31 - ITV - Peasant

"It's happened in the past. Some people would do something bad and they would come out of the Mountain half crazy or carrying some other ailments. They are even people who died. What’s for sure is that something can happen to you if you call on the spirits. If you do it the right way, no harm is done to you, but if you play with evil, it’s to your detriment. It sounds like a fairy tale, but it isn’t.” 

03:08 - ITV - Grandmother

"When I arrived in Chivacoa, I was told a story about Cubans who asked for a piece of land to grow sugar canes and build the Centrale Mathilde. The queen asked for a Cuban in exchange.

The farmers wanted to give her a worker, but she refused because the workers weren’t the owners and had to feed their children. It was an owner she wanted." 

03:43 - ITV - Colombian

"It’s nice to live near the Mountain. There is a spiritual atmosphere. The spirits of the Mountain surround us. Every weekend, people come here by the hundreds. They play the drums, and they burn powders in coconuts. They communicate with the spirits and we can hear them from here." 

04:10 - ITV – Guard

"I heard the story of a lapa, which is a little edible rodent. Hunters had shot it several times. The animal was trying to flee, but was mortally injured. When the hunters set out to find it, it had disappeared. Some time later, the hunters became ill. Some even lost their minds upon leaving the Mountain." 

04:33 - ITV - Colombian

"I was told a strange tale. It’s about a mysterious deer that is spotted every year. Hunters have tried to follow its footsteps several times with no luck. They have never found it. However, when the workers burn the dry sprouts of the sugar canes and are unarmed, that’s when the deer appears. But they can't kill it then. It must be a trick of the queen." 


There is not only one legend about Maria Leonza, but a series of tales that intertwine, complete and sometimes contradict each other. In the city of Chivacoa, at the foot of the Mountain, the silence and uncertain stories are testimony to the eery presence of the mysterious queen. 


At the end of the week, the inhabitants of Chivacoa gather in the city center to talk and do their shopping. They also form long lines in front of mysterious shops. 


One can’t find groceries here but numerous statues of the strange inhabitants of the Mountain and Maria Leonza, their queen.   

According to legend, Maria Leonza was a shaman princess. Banished from her village because of her powers, she was repudiated by her father, a Spaniard, and took refuge in the Mountain. There she took possession of her kingdom. Some say they’ve seen her on a throne surrounded by snakes, or wandering around the Mountain on the back of an anteater. 

The clients come to spend their weekly income on the objects they need to carry out their rituals: rum, candles, talisman, talcum powder, tobacco, cards, amulets, needles, dolls, crosses… 

The worship of Maria Leonza extends further than just Chivacoa. Indeed, the pilgrims come from all over the country. 


Of course, it’s in this city, at the foot of the Mountain of Spells, as the Venezuelans call it, that beliefs are the strongest. Everyone has to have one of these sacred objects in their home. It is also said that one house out of three is home to a sorcerer or a medium. 

It’s the end of the day, and Pablo is going home. He has a house near the city. Everyone knows him in Chivacoa. He is said to speak to the spirits, and to be one of Maria Leonza’s “spiritual sons”. 


Pablo built a chapel right next to his house. This is where he meditates every evening and prays to his queen. 

Maria Leonza is thought to be malicious. She’s thought to be ferocious, capable of kidnapping children. She is feared, but above all venerated as the celestial queen of Nature, love and harvests. 

09:13 - ITV - Pablo

"All the statuettes and portraits of saints that you see here were either bought by me or offered by my spiritual brothers or by patients who were either cured or received spiritual solace. Today they are part of my altar.

Maria Leonza is a princess. The daughter of a Spaniard, she has now become a divinity on the Mountain of Spells, in Yaracuy. On this Mountain, there are many spirits and each one belongs to one of the seven spiritual courts which depends on the queen. There is the Indian Guacaipuro and Negro Felipe who protected Maria Leonza. They assist her and, with her, they embody the three powers as well as Simon Bolivar, the father of our nation, who is the head of the military court. These divinities are our spiritual masters in the Mountain.


The Mountain is a source of power through its crystal-clear waters and abundant vegetation. We get our spiritual force from the magnetism of the elements such as air, water and fire." 


Another legend on the origins of Maria Leonza says that she was the daughter of an Indian Chief and was born with green eyes. The village sorcerer saw this as a bad omen. To protect his daughter from being sacrificed, the Chief locked her in and forbade her to look into a mirror. But the evil spirit let down his guard and the princess fled. 

In the waters of a sacred lake, she saw her eyes fill with the mystery of the gods and the dead. A huge snake erupted from these two abysses, kidnapped her and caused the ruin of her people. 


The spirit of Maria Leonza wanders on the Mountain of Spells. But the queen shares her kingdom with other spirits that have appeared over time. 

Like, for example, doctor José Gregorio Hernandez, a very famous physician, or Simon Bolivar, a hero of the fight for independence who freed the country from the Spaniards. These great men have become divinities in their own right and their spirits are said to also dwell on the Mountain. 


When a spirit is awakened, a statuette is deposited in its honor. These small sanctuaries remind the passers-by of the sacredness of the place. 


So as not to anger these strange inhabitants of the Mountain, they are constantly worshipped. They are called upon through prayer, attracted by drums and the cigar, main instrument of the ritual, does the rest. 

13:21 - ITV – Pablo

"The role of tobacco is essential in Venezuelan rituals, especially to communicate with Maria Leonza. We mediums use it to speak to the spirits. Through the cigar, we know the life of a patient, whatever his or her problem is. The cigar is a magnetic force that attracts the spirits. Through this intermediary, we can thus receive their recommendations. The patient’s physical and psychological condition is written in the cigar.


On the right is your professional life, money. On the top is your spiritual aura that must be at peace with the spirits. On the left, is the sentimental branch of your family, which is rather obscure. In your case, you should go to the Mountain for a session and meet a spirit of the Indian court, to do away with the bad influence and negativity that’s inside you. You need to evolve and be guided. The spirits give pieces of advice and we, the mediums, try to direct you.


I’m a high school graduate and a trained mechanic. Before being a medium in the Mountain, I was a civil servant. I left my job to answer the calling of the spirits. Today, I spend my time helping people who need spiritual help." 


The mediums come from all over the country, even the state of Bolivar 1.000 kilometers away, like this woman who comes regularly to meet with the spirits. Here, she is a priestess and a healer. 

15:24 - ITV - Priestess

"Everything that touches spirituality on this Mountain is sacred for us. The work we do such as purification, massages or trances depend on the patient’s problems.

We pour liquors on a person's body to eliminate bad influences. We then bring him or her to the river for an ultimate purification, so that the problems disappear from the very core of his or her being.

Everything is extraordinary here, and I thank Maria Leonza and my brothers everyday for this atmosphere of happiness. I think everyone here shares this and feels the same deep down inside." 


They say they are the spiritual sons and daughters of Maria Leonza. Their ancestors were shamans, sorcerers or African healers. All of them have faith, some are even fervent Catholics. But they have also integrated the beliefs of their ancestors. Their paths meet here, at the Mountain of Spells, where they worship their queen and the gods through ancient rituals and practices such as purification, or baptism in the sacred river to get rid of evil influences. 

18:05 - ITV – Juana de Dios

"I’ve been coming here for 45 years and I still can’t explain the mystery of this Mountain. I’ve seen people come here in such a mental condition that they couldn’t recognize their own father or mother. They left the Mountain cured from their illness, driving their own car. Some say the queen is a myth, but she really exists. It's true. I saw and felt her in my body. She’s been here for several centuries." 


One of the characteristics of this cult is that it’s very open to other religious beliefs. For instance, with the arrival of many Cuban immigrants in the sixties, Cuban saints were added to the Mountain’s divinities. The mystical period of the seventies brought Celtic and Hindu saints. 


Maria Leonza is the magical and religious effigy of a whole people and many consider her a saint. She does, however, have her critics. 


Her popularity questions the power of the Church, which rejects any confusion in the faiths. 

In Chivacoa, the priest is adamant against this religious practice that makes the followers stray. 

20:16 - ITV  - Priest

"Maria Leonza is a myth, a legend like all others. It has no Christian value whatsoever. We, Catholics, respect the legend and the culture it comes from. But our religion cannot recognize a myth that is pure invention.

In Venezuela, like in other parts of the world, this myth can be compared to religious synchronism. The people who pray in church in the morning, go to the Mountain to worship Maria Leonza in the afternoon. They are all Catholics. They will celebrate Holy Week and deposit Christ’s effigy on the Mountain.

In fact, the popularity of the myth is due to the fact that people are naive and gullible.

Those who practice and direct this worship exploit the villagers’ faith. They say that they’re not doing anything wrong there. It’s quite the opposite: they legitimize their activity by using the image of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the Saints." 


The Catholic and Protestant Churches are against a practice they consider diabolical. Some even think its followers should be exorcised. 

22:04 – ITV - Pablo

"There is no difference between Maria Leonza and God. We still call on God as the Supreme Being. Without God there is nothing, because he’s everywhere. He is with us and we are with him. Many religions criticize us today and say Maria Leonza is evil. It’s not true. Maria Leonza is a saint. She’s the queen of our land. We are her children, her disciples, but we would never forget to call on God first." 


Maria Leonza’s legend has survived for more than 500 years. It has changed in time, fed by other legends, and the heroic and sometimes violent history of the Venezuelan people. 

The Indians, just like the African slaves were evangelized under Spanish rule. The Saints and Catholic symbols they took on sometimes masked their own gods and beliefs. If Maria Leonza is a Spanish princess, she also rules with Negro Felipe, an African warrior, and Guacaipuro, an Indian chief who rose against the Spaniards. All three symbolize the main ethnic origins of the Venezuelan people. 

These different influences gave birth to numerous spiritual courts. Thus Maria Leonza belongs to the celestial court alongside others such as the African and Indian as well as the doctors’ and military courts… When a new spirit appears, it becomes part of the relevant court. 

The diversity of worship on the Mountain of Spells, the peaceful cohabitation of various saints, gods and beliefs attract an ever-growing number of followers. 


Every weekend, more than a thousand pilgrims in search of spirituality stay on the Mountain. 

24:32 - ITV - Pilgrim

We are from Maracaîbo and came with Luis Gonzales our spiritual guide. We come to the Mountain two or three times a year, because we find many good things here. Our brothers, Maria Leonza, Negra Francisca, and chief Guacaipuro assist us. Everyone has a saint here. Some come to see Changò, the African sorcerer. Everybody's religion is represented.

If you feel good when you come here, it means that you’ve found what you were looking for. When we don’t feel right in Maracaibo we come to the Mountain, and are a lot better when we leave. What we are seeking above all is good health, peace, and sometimes even pieces of advice to solve financial matters. Generally, we are stressed out when we get here, but with a few cigars, things get better. Today our bus was packed with around ­50 or 60 people. The Maracaibo bus is always full when it comes to the Mountain." 


The pilgrims, sometimes seriously ill or in financial distress, come to the Mountain for solace they can’t find anywhere else. Most can’t afford a doctor or any type of expert, so they turn to spiritual guides. The guide is not only a religious person. He can also replace the doctor, psychologist and even financial advisor. 


Pablo reunites with Carmen who is here for the second time in hopes of being cured of a life-threatening illness. 

26:29 - ITV - Carmen

"I have a blood disease. The doctors’ finally diagnosed leukemia. I feel better since it was suggested I go to the Mountain to be cared for. I met Pablo thanks to my son, who has been coming here for a long time with his cousins. He has always been attracted to spirituality. He’s a strong believer. My son really insisted that I come here. One day, he told me ‘Mama, we don’t have the money to spend on doctors. We’ll go on the Mountain, and find a way to make you better. I’ve seen miraculous cures there’.

My relationship with Pablo, since my son brought me here, has been very strong. He’s part of me, part of my family. He’s helped and guided me through this experience. I’d really criticized this religion before, but now I support it. I hope my friendship with Pablo will last forever. I’m sure I can be cured." 


Before going on the Mountain, the faithful must address Maria Leonza. They have to abide by the laws of an ecological and spiritual chart which predicts hardship to anyone doesn’t protect Nature, carries out sacrifices or does black magic. 


The main altar where donations are made and the first prayers said, is at the foot of her kingdom. It’s also here that young initiates learn to recognize the path to the spirits before following a spiritual guide that will complete their training. 


Pablo is number one in the Maria Leonza “medium hierarchy”. He’s a ‘banco’, meaning a spiritual leader. He works on his own and the Mountain is his temple. 

Today, Pablo left his camp in search of an ideal location to counter an evil spell cast on one of his patients. 

For the spiritual guides, problems, troubled behavior, aggressiveness and depression are manifestations of evil spirits. To neutralize them, the exorcism is carried out through prayer, cigars, fire and powder. 

30:35 - ITV - Pablo

"Here, experience is important. It’s work we do often, but it’s very efficient to counter all sorts of witchcraft. The spells can be cast from anywhere in the world: Rome, Peking… Anywhere. People call us and after some astral inquiries, we get down to work to eliminate the spells.


Right now, we are working together to counter a bad spell that was cast on a woman. Someone made an evil doll that was put in a coconut and buried near where she lives. This woman, married for 15 years, started having problems at home and then had trouble with her ears, hands and kidneys. God will judge the person behind all these difficulties and we are here to destroy the spell. 


Here you can see the shape that created itself from the wax of the candles.

On one side is the body and on the other the head of the evil doll that was buried standing up near my patient’s home. It reappeared here, destroyed and vanquished. You can notice that the head is easily severed from the body.


This type of activity can be done anywhere if the weather conditions are right and if are surrounded by trees. It has to be done in an area with many trees. You can’t do it in a house, if so, the evil influences and everything that goes with them will remain there. It has to be done on the banks of a river, a beach, a forest, somewhere outdoors." 

32:34 - ITV - Priest

"I’ve been to the Mountain once. Of course, it wasn’t a good idea for the city priest, the church representative, to be seen there. What would the people think? But I wanted to see what was going on there. I felt very uncomfortable when I saw all those people being manipulated by sorcerers and in trance. They really were in trance, jumping around a fire, half-naked, spraying themselves with liquor or anything else they could put in their mouth. I felt really bad. It was as if I’d gone back to the Stone Age. As a priest, seeing all those people calling on the Devil could only disgust me. In my opinion, the sorcerers' work is in collaboration with the evil Spirit." 


Later in the day, Pablo assists a young officer. Several prisoners escaped from the jail where he works.

The young man asked Pablo to plead for the protection and mercy of Simon Bolivar, considered as the spiritual father of army men. 

But the appeasement vigil is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of one of the numerous priestesses of the Mountain. The ceremony, first dominated by the spirits of the military court, gives way to another, orchestrated by the African court. 

36:27 - ITV - Pablo

"Between the ages of 13 and 15, I suffered from convulsions and dizziness. I went to see many doctors who did dozens of cardiac and psychiatric tests. These people couldn’t find anything to help me. I then turned to the energy source of Maria Leonza’s Mountain. I was brought to meetings, then sessions and vigils. I was introduced to the spirits who protected and guided me. By developing my spiritual sensitivity, I finally understood my problems and was able to solve them. The people who come to me are often in need of spiritual assistance. They usually have strong faith and I give them the help they need." 


There is a succession of vigils all night to the beat of the drums.

Men, women and children lie down by the hundreds for a motionless trip to the kingdom of spirits. 


Tonight, Carmen will also go on this trip. But Pablo first prepares her for this ceremony. The river water, soap, and rum are the elixir of this initiation.


Then Pablo makes Carmen’s bed. On the ground, he writes the symbols of her cure. Talcum powder paints the strongest wishes of the pilgrims. 


The candles also have a meaning. They’re white for the sick, and colored for those who want to evolve.

Fruit brings prosperity.

Flower petals cure heartache.

Plants such as maratu, the nora herb, the love walnut; spices like anise and cinnamon they are all part of this ritual. 


Every bed is a temporary work of art and tells the story of the person who lies in it. Hundreds of them are made and undone in the night. They flicker in the candlelight like an ornament, made to seduce and charm the divinities. But they’re also a fragile message left by the banco to the spirits he wants to invite.

For Carmen, Pablo is calling on a spirit from the doctors’ court. 


A legend says that when the Devil was chased away from Paradise, he fell from the sky, bringing angels down with him. Some became little devils, while others stayed on Earth as elves of mountains, rivers and valleys.

The men and women of Venezuela are similar to the divinities they venerate: half dark, half light, between good and evil, carrying in their core the long-lost memory of the time when Indian and African spirits ruled. 


After two sleepless nights, the pilgrims head home. Strengthened by their stay on the Mountain, they often regain their lost hope. 

42:52 - ITV - Carmen

"I started to feel like a current running in my legs. I tried to control myself, but this pleasant feeling became stronger and stronger. It’s as if I was lifted from the ground. I couldn’t stop my arms, I felt them lift up to the sky. A chilling cold went through my body. It was a marvelous sensation. I got the feeling something was grabbing onto me, as if it was trying to pull something out of my body. Then the pleasant feeling came back, and under my closed lids, I saw this beautiful intense blue color that I’ll never forget." 

43:51 - ITV – Carmen’s daughter

"When I saw my mother during the vigil, I got very scared. The sensations and vibrations that were going through her terrified me. I was about to question Pablo to know what was going on, why my Mom was reacting like that. But I stopped myself and prayed God to help her." 

44:25 - ITV - Carmen

"What links Pablo to Maria Leonza is his strong faith. He has the power, given to him by the queen, to help and cure people. Only good is done here, evil doesn’t exist." 


Some followers will stay, drawn by the enchantment of the place. They’ll spend a week, a month, or even more, abandoning their daily lives for a more mystical experience. 

All must give donations to the mediums. Those who can’t afford them, offer what they can: statuettes, amulets… 


The pilgrims say that Maria Leonza never lets them down and that she can meet all their expectations, even the most urgent and down to earth ones. Before leaving, they ask her for favors right up to the last minute. 


The Mountain cult is above all an initiation. Transmitted by bancos onto their followers, it has been considerably developed these past few years. The political and economic crises and uncertainty for the future have probably contributed to increase the people’s fervor for its Queen. 


After the pilgrims have left, when Chivacoa is peaceful once more, people still tell the stories of Maria Leonza’s Mountain. They try to unfold a mystery that is unexplainable but deeply felt. Here, no one doubts her powers. 

46:46 - ITV – Leaning woman

"The people who come to the Mountain, don’t only come from Chivacoa but from all over the country. They say their prayers and the spirits come down to them. I say this because I’ve seen it with my very own eyes. Maria Leonza is good and so are the spirits alongside her. But one mustn’t forget that on the Mountain, good and evil intertwine." 

47:11 – ITV – Man wearing cap

"I have a lot of respect for the beliefs on the Mountain. I lived near here for ten years, but at the time I was a teenager and didn’t have much faith. Then I saw strange things happen. Since then, I believe in witchcraft and I have a newfound respect for the cult. There are a lot of unexplained things that happen to us, that we can feel. Generally, we aren’t able to understand them. It goes over our heads. There really is a big mystery surrounding this place. It’s definitely bewitching." 


It would seem that the priest is the only one who resists the calling of the spirits in Chivacoa. 

48:07 - ITV - Priest

"It can only be the work of the Devil. These people have made an agreement with him. At the beginning, this myth was poetic. They had the Mountain and could take advantage of its beauty, of Nature. Instead of that, they’ve destroyed everything.

This legend, which was beautiful to begin with, has been completely changed and has spread to the entire country. During the celebrations, thousands gather here. No one bothers to bring a little culture to these people.

In fact, you can’t counter this phenomenon, because big financial interests are at stake here and we can’t fight against that."  

49:35 - ITV – Forest guard

"In spite of everything I’ve heard, I’ve never seen anything strange appear, especially not ghosts or anything else. Of course, I’ve seen sessions with miraculous results. But seing specters or spirits, certainly not.  I've never seen anything like that.”

50:01 - ITV - Colombian.

"We feel good here. We are with the saints. We earn a small salary from our work in the company and are close to the Mountain. The weather is pleasant here, not too hot. Every weekend people come and go on the Mountain to swim, call on the spirits and attend sessions. The Mountain is pure spirituality." 

50:33 - ITV - Pablo

"For me the Mountain is essential because it fills me with satisfaction and energy. Without it, I wouldn't feel normal, I would feel isolated from my spiritual brothers and from its magnetic force. Today, I couldn’t live without it." 


The Mountain of Spells reveals Venezuela itself. But the story doesn’t end here. It’s written day after day. Tomorrow, other divinities will be added on the Mountain next to Maria Leonza. The celestial dissident will watch over the newcomers.


© Text from "The Mountain of Spells", a film written and directed by Laurence Doumic, produced by Ampersand and TV10 Angers. Copyrights Ampersand - 1999.