Sitting on my desk as I type is a small glass vial. It is sealed with a metal cap and is filled with a clear liquid I presume to be water. What appears to be a small gold chain runs around the bottom. Filling the vial are tightly packed objects, perhaps bits of cloth, of various sizes and shapes and bright colors. These in turn press several gold-colored objects up against the glass.
One is in the shape of a truck, one a horseshoe, another a hand. There is a man & woman holding hands. A key, a frog and maybe an angel. Plus a couple I can’t make out. Each looks very much like the sort of charms young girls collected on their charm bracelets in the America of the 1950s and 60s when I was growing up. Maybe they still do. I’ve lost track.
Anyway, what these are is something much more potent. These are powerful talismans. Each represents a different aspect of life and each is designed to bring good luck in their assigned area to their possessor. The whole thing is one big, universal lucky charm. I know this because the 8-year-old witch who sold it to me (20 Bolivianos, about $2.87) told me so. Not a bad deal.
None of the witches I met looked like this.
Now if you happen to be in the market for the services of a witch, and these days who isn’t, it helps to find yourself in La Paz, Bolivia. In many parts of the world, over the past few centuries, witches have been driven out, driven into hiding or simply burned at the stake. In other words, in short supply. But in La Paz…..well there you can just mosey on down to the Calle de Las Brujas (Street of the Witches) and take your pick.
Calle de las Brujas
Lining this street for two or three blocks you’ll find stall after stall, each with its own witch or two, their goods spilling out onto the cobble stones. Jar upon jar of potions, herbs, spices and charms for every occasion. Oh, and dried llama fetuses. Lots and lots of dried llama fetuses. They come in all sizes. Small enough to fit in your pocket right on up to about four feet tall. I have no idea where such a range comes from. They all appeared to my uneducated eye to be around the same stage of development. Maybe different size llamas?
Llama fetuses, your choice.
From what I gather if you hang one in your home it will bring blessings and good luck. Of course, then along with good luck you’ll have something pretty creepy hanging in your house. Which is why I didn’t bring one home. Well, that and not immediately figuring out how I might explain it to a curious customs agent.
But llama fetuses are only one of the many talismans available. Unlucky in love? Embarking on a journey? Looking for a job? Seeking wealth? Feeling ill? No sling nor arrow of misfortune or opportunity sent your way is without a remedy or assistance to be found here. At a great Boliviano v dollar exchange rate to boot.
We’re also told there is…
…to be had, magic to curse and destroy your enemies, if you ask in the right witches in the right places. We didn’t.
No, my little 8-year-old witch could not have been purer of heart or more charming. Not to say she didn’t know her stuff. Closely watched for accuracy and with pride by her grandmother, she took us thru their shop carefully explaining each item. She even explained the good fortune each charm in the little glass vial I bought from her would bring. There must not have been one to improve my memory, however, as I can now only vaguely guess at their powers.
I do know that shortly thereafter I found and bought the baby alpaca wool sweater that was to save my life during the frigid nights on Salar de Uyuni. No small feat when you’re my size and shopping in a land of petite people.
Later that evening we ventured up a dark and creaky flight of ancient wooden stairs. The walls were lined with dusty old objects randomly hung seemingly hundreds of years before. A narrow hallway led to a dim room set with tables and chairs as old as the building itself. On the menu I found and ordered Lemon Trout. Went back for it again the next night. And the next. It was truly magic.
My companions mocked me for buying the silly little glass bottle good luck charm. But I was really buying the charms of the 8-year-old little witch who sold it to me. Or so I told them and, as far as it goes, it’s true. But clearly, the magic is already working.
This is what the real witches we met looked like.
Of course, neither the girl or the old lady pictured above is an actual witch. As our little witch patiently explained to our photo-happy traveling companion, she could not allow her picture to be taken. She knows that should her image be captured on film a little bit of her soul and a little bit of her power is taken as well. Silly superstition? Maybe. But before you scoff too long and hard think for a moment on the sordid lives of our nation’s over exposed child pop stars.
I rest my case. And hers. No pictures were taken.