Among the tourist-crammed market stalls in La Paz hawking beaded jewelry, leather belts, and knitted flap-eared caps are shops selling souvenirs of a different sort.
You won’t find fringed hippie sweaters or garish cloth purses at the Witches’ Market (Mercado de las Brujas or Mercado de las Hecherias, market of the spells). This interesting little section of town is where locals and tourists go to consult fortune-tellers and psychics; to buy special ingredients for spell casting and burnt offerings; to find amulets and charms to draw luck in areas such as love, health, or money; and to stock up on candles, oils, soaps, herbs, incense, and powders that direct one’s fortune in a specific way. You don’t have to believe any of this stuff works — but if you are running low on dried armadillos, llama fetuses, desiccated toads, or candles shaped like labia, the witches of La Paz have you covered.
Most of the shops sell powders and soaps for various purposes: here we have seduction, success, to protect against evil spells, to get rid of someone, or to bring bad luck to an enemy.
Amulets and charms are used as talismen: frogs bring money; owls, wisdom; snakes, protection; intertwined people, family unity; intertwined couples, love; smiley face, happiness; the god Ekeko, health. Some, shaped like the sun or Inca cross, contain all seven and are meant to be hung on the wall for all-around good fortune.
Llama fetuses are used as good-luck charms, to ward off evil, and in burnt offerings.
They look gross, but in one store I visited, the shop owner’s little girl snuck up behind me and tickled me with a llama fetus. Mini-witches do not fear the ick factor, clearly.
But still. For non-witches? Ick. Blecch.
The sexxxy shelf! Aphrodisiacs and love potions, and candles shaped like male and female bits. Burn them and release their power! (No word on whether they are scented.)
More candles: skulls and totems, to ward off bad luck or attract the good.
I am naturally a skeptic, but I do appreciate that if a person or people have a fervent belief in something, there is power behind that belief. I also appreciate the power of a good packable souvenir, and so I loaded up on amulets and potions for the folks at home.
When seeking a “success in business” totem for my sister, who is opening a Bar Method exercise studio this month in northern New Jersey, I asked the resident witch if this thing really worked. “Of course it does!” she said, indicating the same totem she’d just sold me, hanging behind her own shop counter. “This store gets more successful every year.” Now, that success could come from the totem’s powers — or it could simply come from increased publicity online about the Witches’ Market, and tourists wanting funky souvenirs — but, regardless, she’s doing well. So who knows? Bring on the dried llama fetus!
Mercado de las Brujas
Calle Linares, between Calle Sagarnica and Santa Cruz
La Paz, Bolivia