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  HOME | Bolivia

Bolivian Capital’s Witches Market Blends Traditions and Mysticism

LA PAZ – Love potions, powders to forget not being loved in return, amulets to bring good luck and dried llama fetuses as offerings to Mother Earth are some of the goods to be found in the mystic Mercado de Las Brujas (Witches Market) in La Paz, recently named Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Andean city.

The narrow, colorful streets behind San Francisco Church in the old colonial area of La Paz preserve the centuries-old wisdom that surprises those who walk along its cobblestone lanes.

In this strange market, people’s hearts and souls can be cured of their malaises with perfumes guaranteed to attract the loved one, and with magic powders that if taken every day will bring wealth and good fortune.

Such are the powders made of pusanga, a plant that saleswoman Flora Lopez told EFE will help win the heart of the person that is longed for, and those of dog’s tongue, which will attract a greater choice of women or men, but only if these brews are taken daily.

Others improve sexual potency or undo some hex, but there are also ceramic amulets of different shapes that save everything positive and make all jealousy and bad vibes go away.

“It all depends on the faith with which you view this street,” Lopez said, since for her that is the secret of assuring that the diversity of amulets cast their respective spells.

The saleswoman said, for example, that dried frogs serve to bring riches and good fortune, the ceramic owl to have a good year of studies, the condor for a successful journey and the sun to attract energy.

Many people hang these amulets around their necks while others keep them in their purses or billfolds so they are always present.

The objects most in demand are undoubtedly those that help attract love, such as the llama fetuses and the “candies” added to the sacrifices to the Pachamama, or Mother Earth, which are burned to thank her for her gift of prosperity or are buried to ask her permission to begin a new construction.

The market is a must-see for tourists, who walk around astonished at the amount and uniqueness of the collections of objects to do with faith and mysticism.

“It’s interesting how much they value the spiritual aspect and the ancestral culture,” Lucas Yoni, who had come to La Paz for the first time from the United States and who called this an “exotic place” to visit, told EFE.

Women called “chifleras” who sell products used in witchcraft offer medicinal plants to cure bodily ills, from chamomile, wira-wira and eucalyptus for fighting off colds to aloe vera to stop encroaching baldness.

Some trays are prepared with a variety of plants for taking baths against evil spells, and pomades like the one made from mule fat to ease bone pain.

Other potions like “the devil’s intestines” guarantee that whoever swallows them will never drink alcohol again.

The indigenous wise men known as “yatiris” read people’s fortunes in the coca leaf or in cards to tell them what their future holds and how their health will be.

Also to be found are endless Bolivian artifacts and textiles that enliven these crowded streets with bright colors.

A few days ago this extraordinary market was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of La Paz by the city’s Municipal Council, which notes the historic, cultural and social value of the place where ancestral knowledge of nature and humanity are preserved.

For the saleswoman in her 30th year on the job, this recognition confirms that the Mercado de las Brujas is the “heart” of the city, where the believers, the superstitious and the incredulous converge and are equally surprised.


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