14 Stunning Photos Take You Inside The Cult Of Maria Lionza

Photo: Troi Anderson.
This story was originally published on August 30, 2016.
They come from across the globe to seek a spiritual connection with the world beyond this one. Each year, people from all walks of life who are devoted to the goddess María Lionza travel to the remote Venezuelan mountain they believe her spirit inhabits.
They are known as Marialionceros, and their beliefs blend indigenous Venezuelan, African, and Catholic traditions. Legends around her vary, but many of the goddess' followers believe that María Lionza was the beautiful daughter of an indigenous leader who survived being sacrificed and became one with Sorte Mountain in the 16th century. She is believed to be the goddess of nature, love and harmony, as well as a miracle worker.
People arrive in caravans and section off areas of the jungle to perform elaborate rituals in her honor, entering into trances and communicating with spirits. Although followers make their pilgrimages year round, October 12, also known as Indigenous Resistance Day, is considered to be a special time to visit, according to the Venezuelan Ministry of Culture.
It was by connecting with these caravans of pilgrims that North American photographer Troi Anderson was able to observe these intimate ceremonies.
"They are people pursuing some notion of the sacred," Anderson told Refinery29 via email. "Their thoughts and their hearts must be made vulnerable. This is necessary so they can be open to the spirits that reside here. So, as an outsider, you will often be welcomed; in their minds, there is nothing that is not connected to the spirits."
Preserving their traditions in the face of changing times and political uncertainty is part of the practitioners' struggle, Anderson said.
"I think today, the loss of faith is universal. These ceremonies allow for something vital, a language that can be spoken without intermediation. The appeals and prayers they make for healing, wealth, knowledge are made directly as they must be. María Lionza is a poetry that can be made by all," he added.
Ahead, stunning photographs of the ceremonies surrounding María Lionza.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Captions were provided by Troi Anderson.

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