Women of Vision National Geographic Photographers on Assignment
Maria Lionza
Kitra CahanaKitra Cahana

Maria Lionza

Flecked with the blood of a medium, these followers of María Lionza participate in a healing or purification ritual. Once possessed by a spirit, some mediums slice their tongues with a razor blade. Others may use nails or other sharp objects to puncture their bodies. The blood becomes a powerful talisman.

Though a central figure, María Lionza is just one spirit in a wide-ranging, eclectic, and ever-growing pantheon. At the annual gathering at Sorte Mountain, María Lionza followers can visit different “courts,” or groupings of similar spirits, such as Indian, liberators, and even “santos malandros” or holy thugs. The ceremony depicted here took place in the Viking court populated by the spirits of Norse lords, including Erik the Red. Practitioners come to these courts to seek healing for a physical ailment or strength to deal with the trials of life, like unemployment or marital problems.


Other Photos by Kitra Cahana