María Lionza



This website brings together the results of the lengthy research I have undertaken in visual anthropology about the role of images in the cult to María Lionza (Venezuela). Imagined and represented in many different ways, María Lionza is the centre of a widespread religious cult which includes episodes of spiritual possession. This research was also conducted in Catalonia and online.

From the outset, my aim was to study images through images. In other words, I seeked to analyze the cultural meaning of religious images using visual methods and experimenting with image-based modes of representation.

This multi-modal research has given rise to: films, photographs, articles, a book, a participatory website and an exhibition -which you will find on this website.

I would like to thank everyone who has helped me and especially the followers and artists associated with the cult to María Lionza – Roger Canals.


Here you will find the texts I have written about the cult to María Lionza in English, French, Catalan and Spanish. These works address three main ideas: the importance of visual creativity as a way to come into contact with the divinities, the relational aspect of the gaze within the ritual context, and the possibilities of the camera and of visual methods as tools to analyse religious phenomena.

The book A Goddess in Motion. Visual Creativity in the Cult of María Lionza (Berghan Books, 2017) is available in paperback, hardback and as an electronic book (ebook).

Articles and book chapters


Film allows us to capture aspects of the ritual that are hard to express using words alone, such as the movement of bodies, music, emotions, the use of colour and the importance of material culture. In addition, through the montage we can establish relationships of continuity and discontinuity between different events and perspectives, and experiment with the relationship between images, words and sound.

I present here two full-length films and two short films about the cult to María Lionza. They were all filmed in Venezuela except Una deessa en moviment, where I combine images from Venezuela, Catalonia and the internet.

A Glimpse into the Mountain of Sorte (2006, CNRS-Images):
this shorfilm offers an intimate portrait of the rituals in the Montain of Sorte.

The Many Faces of a Venezuelan Goddess (2007, CNRS-Images):
this film explores how believers and artists reinvent the image of María Lionza, and how the spirit of the goddess descends during rituals of spirit possession.

The blood and the hen (2008, CNRS-Images):
this shortfilm shows a healing ritual in Maracaibo.

A Goddess in Motion (María Lionza in Barcelona) (2016, the Wenner-Gren Foundation and Jordi Orobitg Produccions):
this film is a reflexive essay in which I compare the practise of the cult in Barcelona, Venezuela and on Internet.



Between 2020 and 2021, the Ethnological Museum of Barcelona hosted the exhibition María Lionza. A Goddess in Motion. Entry to the exhibition was free, and it was the first time citizens of the city were shown the rich visual universe characterising this religious practice. The exhibition was structured around three main axes: religious ritual, art and social media.

As an anthropolgist, I am convinced that exhibition projects are very important as they bring our research closer to a lay audience. Exhibitions can also create spaces for encounter and reflection.

In this section you will find images of the exhibition and an introductory video.


María Lionza’s primitive name is Yara; born in the Yaracuy region, she was a beautiful indigenous girl with green eyes…

Iván Drenikoff - Andhi

Participatory Website

Between 2016 and 2019, I ran a participatory website about the cult to María Lionza. This website was presented as a research tool: it allowed believers to send their own images of the cult to María Lionza –and also to comment on the images of others. Thanks to this device I was able to see images of the goddess and her cult which I would never have seen otherwise.

This website –and the film A Goddess in Motion (2016)– were funded by the Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Wenner-Gren Foundation.


If you have any suggestions or comments, please send them to me at:

Roger Canals Vilageliu
Universitat de Barcelona

Current project:
ERC-Consolidator Grant: Visual Trust. Reliability, accountability and forgery in scientific, religious and social images (2021-2026)