Remove the curse, drive the spirits out of the backyard, run to the witch market, buy dried frogs for Goddess Pachamama and hot marraketas for the family… A typical day an ordinary Bolivian in La Paz
Where the houses are higher than the clouds, and the gods peer into the windows like a neighbor, household magic is everyday life.
Hanging from the ceiling between bunches of dry herbs mummified armadillo. The semi-darkness of the witch's shop is saturated with sweetish smoke. On the shelves are boxes, flasks, powders, condor wings, snake skin, paws of some animals, feathers, claws, tufts of wool. A separate counter is lined with ceramic figurines of Indian gods.
“The condor brings good luck on the journey,” recommends saleswoman Alicia. She has black braids, a navy blue bowler hat, and blue layered skirts. On the face – indifference. Tourists are not included in the witch's target audience. But even a tuft of wool from a black sheep: penny figurines of Indian gods appeared in witches' shops especially for onlookers.
Buy an armadillo
On a metal tray on a white sheet of paper dried coca leaves, iridescent-dyed llama hair, dry grass, gaudy figurines made from a mixture of sugar and flour, orange petals of daisies, gilded corn kernels are stacked.
On top of the “herbarium” – a dried llama embryo with tucked-in legs. The long neck and shins are wrapped in silver and gold foil. In the mouth and ears – fresh flowers. “Not for sale,” Alicia nods toward the tray with the intricate “still life.” A standard trick of the vendors at the Witches' Market in La Paz. A quick and correct way to ward off curious foreigners and avoid tiresome explanations.
I buy a handful of souvenir gods, a bag of dyed llama wool, and a large pot-bellied clay condor that looks like a fat chicken. Alicia's gaze softens. “This is Pachamama's mess,” she says, allowing her to explore the contents of the mysterious tray more closely. “Pachamama” is Mother Earth. If you want to get something from her: a house, a job, a child, a husband, good luck in business, buy a mesa and perform the chalya ceremony. And wait. Everything will come true.”
Chalya is the rightly perfect offering for Pachamama. It can be done on your own or with the help of a professional, a Yatiri Indian healer. The mesa is consecrated, sprinkled with alcohol, set on fire, and the ashes are buried in the ground. Mesa Ingredient Kits are a popular purchase on the Witch Market. The more serious the desire, the more expensive the mesa. The price starts from 20 US dollars and reaches several hundred.
Llama embryos are a hot commodity. They are buried in the ground when laying the foundation of a new house. “If you do not bring gifts to Pachamama, then misfortune may occur. With workers. Or the house will collapse,” & nbsp; – says the witch-saleswoman. Such a security measure is quite relevant in the country of volcanoes and daily earthquakes, so representatives of local construction companies are frequent and welcome customers in the market.
“Dried frogs bring wealth and good luck. The armadillo drives away thieves and evil spirits from the house,” Alicia continues to enlighten me. “And this is a powder from the tongue of a dog. It makes a man faithful. Like a dog.
Posters and postcards depicting the Virgin Mary hang on the wall. “Women who cannot get pregnant buy it,” explains the witch. The shop also sells medicines. The pictures on the boxes are simultaneously reminiscent of frightening photographs of diseased organs on cigarette packs and advertisements for goods in a sex shop. “Everything has a purpose,” Alicia concludes the conversation.
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One of the main attractions of La Paz, the Witches Market, where Alicia's shop is located, looks like an ordinary street souvenir fair. A series of shops hung with ponchos, blankets, scarves, socks and mittens made of llama and alpaca wool.
Travel agencies offer bike rides along the “road of death”, a steep and dangerous serpentine in the Andes. Elderly Indian Aymara women in conspicuous bowler hats sit on the sidewalks. In front of each a large “potato” bag of coca leaves, a popular remedy for altitude sickness among locals and travelers alike.
Among this tinsel, it is not easy to see a handwritten sign nailed to the wall: “Destiny Consultant. Business, health, love, work, study, travel. Help spirits in the sale and purchase of cars and houses. Feedback from the souls of ancestors. Mesa Pachamame. I help pregnant women and sick children. I am guessing by coca leaves.”
In the depths of a deaf alley leading from the tablet, a blue raincoat fabric awning is stretched, there is a portable brazier and a rough-hewn low table. A woman in a blue skirt and a black bowler hat sits in the shade of an awning.
Dona Vicki is a yatiri, Indian doctor and guide between the real and other worlds with 20 years of experience. Bolivians turn to yatiri for everything from a migraine to an immigrant visa problem. Yatiri work on the principle of the MFC, a multifunctional center for the provision of otherworldly services.
“Frequent request for the return of the unfaithful husband,” says dona Vicky. “More curses. With curses come on Tuesdays and Fridays. Dangerous days, when spirits are the easiest to provoke. Bad people use this time to curse those who are envied. On Wednesday and Thursday, a lot of women come to get their luck in the trade.”
Doña Vicky's regular clients are Aymara women. Colorful shawls and layered Andalusian-style skirts with lace hems. Bowler hats, from under which two narrow black braids descend below the waist. Cholita, an Indian woman in traditional dress, is easy to recognize, but difficult to talk to and photograph. The Aymara are not known for their openness.
The indigenous people of Bolivia, despite the centuries of foreign rule – the Incas, Spaniards and the Catholic Church – have retained a unique language, culture and a special way of interacting with the world. They know how to find balance and harmony where it is not easy to do so. In the chaos of a big city built at an altitude of 4000 meters above sea level. Among volcanoes, unearthly beauty and cruel nature.
Balance, according to the Aymara, can be achieved through mutual exchange. When you not only take from nature, but also give something to it. Mesa-offering to Pachamama, where herbs, grains, flowers and dead animals are always present, symbolizes the natural biological cycle of substances in nature.
“A lot of work in August, when winter ends. The land is open and especially hungry. Everyone should bring a rich mesa to Pachamama, make a challah so that the new year will be successful,” says Vicki.
Vicki is approached by a squat middle-aged cholita in a full knee-length skirt. This length is preferred by Indian women engaged in trade. Skirts below the knee are a sign of high social status.
1/5K Yatiri, an Indian doctor and guide between worlds, Bolivians turn to for any issue, from a migraine to obtaining an emigration visa
Yatiri rustles coca leaves, throws them up, looks at the location of the fallen leaves. Apparently, the client is unhappy with the forecast. Vicki takes out a small prepared mesa, fumigates it with smoke, sprinkles beer on the offerings, and sets it on fire. This gift can appease Pachamama, and the goddess will turn fate towards the client.
Sweet smoke from the smoldering mesa rises to the sky. It smells the same in Alicia's shop, in the patio of my hotel, on the streets of the city, and even in the Government Palace and in the Parliament building on Murillo Square, which is a little more than five minutes walk from the witch's market.
Bolivians come to this quiet green square to relax after work or shopping. Here you see something amazing: smiles on the usually impenetrable faces of Indian women. Cholitas throw corn kernels to a flock of pigeons. Birds eat from hands. Behind the women on the façade of the Houses of Parliament, the hands of the clock reverse, celebrating the different course of the sun in the southern hemisphere and the everyday magic of Bolivian reality.