The Witches Market by Thomas Carroll (August 29, 2000)
"Son para dinero y trabajo," the plump little witch raises the talismans to eye level. "Con estos tu tendras buena suerte."
Magic talismans for money and jobs? Do they work? Of course not, but I need all the luck I can get, so I purchase the talismans for five Bolivianos. Darn cheap if they'll do as claimed. Depositing the new toys in my leather shoulder bag I continue down the street, with my wife teasing me to the tune of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." She says that I have the hat, jacket and bag similar to Indiana Jones', but lack the bullwhip and gun. I left those in the States.
The cobbled street of Calle Linares hosts a crowded line of unusual stores collectively known as El Mercado de las Brujas, The Witches' Market, located in downtown La Paz, and it sums up Bolivia's strangeness quite well. Bolivia is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and revolutionary Che Guevara all met their fate. This is where the British ambassador to Bolivia was strapped naked to a donkey, paraded around the capital, and forced to eat a huge quantity of chocolate after declining the local drink 'chicha.' This is where the original Garden of Eden is located (or so the locals colorfully exclaim). This is where the Salt Palace sits, a hotel made entirely of, well -- salt. And this is where a young girl in Aymara dress, sitting amidst an array of several curiosities, offers my wife and I a dried llama foetus to protect our house against evil spirits. I nod my approvement, Veronica makes a face and shakes her head.
"Por favor entren," with a slight bow the girl opens her hands to the store's entrance. "Hay muchas mas cosas adentro."
The untidy place looks like something out of a horror movie. Mounted animal heads glare at me with unseeing eyes, feathers and potions adorn the tables, herbs spill from their dirty bags onto the wooden floor as a dog sniffs the powerful smells. I examine the items in no particular order as the girl offers them. For luck with a new business enterprise I can buy a llama foetus burnt on a plate of sweets and herbs -- too big to pack. The love amulet is to get married -- don't need that one. An amulet of a naked couple embracing to improve the sex life -- hhhmmmmm. Dried frogs for more money, armadillos to prevent thieves from entering the house, love potions, magic charms, animal skins, medicines and remedies used in Aymara traditions are all for sale -- what should I choose?
I notice a large collection of different colored candles. Intent upon making several sales the girl provides me with an explanation of their powers. They are made of animal wax and when burned release their magical properties. The blue candle is for good luck with work, yellow - health, green - money, purple - happiness, black wards off evil spirits, only to be used in a cemetary covered by night, white - protection...
With reverence I pull the black candle off its shelf . "Look at this Vero! This is what we need."
"Hey Indiana," she looks up from the naked couple amulet. "I don't think so."
Where did I leave my bullwhip?
If the black candle is going to cause problems a few talismans will have to do. I load up ten more in my shoulder bag, making sure that I include the toad talisman for good luck with money, and the deity talisman for buena suerte with jobs.
But do they actually work? Well, you're reading this article.
Name: El Mercado de las Brujas/Mercado de Hechiceria (Witches' Market)
Street Location: Calle Linares, between Calle Sagarnaga and Santa Cruz
City: La Paz
The Witches' Market is only a couple of blocks from Plaza San Fransisco, behind the Iglesia San Fransisco, and near the Museo de la Coca. From the centre of La Paz, Plaza Murillo, a taxi ride to the market will cost about 8 - 10 Bolivianos for one or two people, and about four more Bolivianos for each additional person. A vast array of unique and highly unusual items are for sale at the Market, many of which are used in Aymara traditions and to honor the earth goddess Patchamama. Bargain with the vendors and shop around to purchase merchandise at a lesser price.
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This article may be freely published and distributed as long as the resource box is included at the end and nothing is changed. (c) Copyright 2003 Thomas Carroll.