Venezuela: Maria Lionza Pilgrimage
Thousands of pilgrims participated in the annual celebration of Venezuela’s María Lionza religious cult at Sorte Mountain in the state of Yaracuy on October 11 and 12, 2011. Centered around María Lionza, an indigenous goddess with supernatural powers who is depicted riding a tapir, the religion is a blend of African, indigenous, and Catholic beliefs similar to the Caribbean Santería. She is revered as a goddess of nature, love, peace, and harmony.
During the week-long celebration, devotees are organized into numerous "courts" such as the Indian court led by María Lionza, the Political Court which includes Simón Bolívar, the Court of Melandros made up of criminals and the Viking Court which includes Erik the Red. Followers perform possession rituals and claim to channel deities and spirits, run through fire and perform cleansing rituals by smoking cigars and bathing in a nearby river.