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WITCHES' MARKET, BOLIVIA

We shed our muddy shoes as we began the long ride back to La Paz to visit the Witches Market.  There is an interesting blend of superstition and magic interwoven with Catholic ritual in Bolivia, and the Witches Market represents the meeting of the two worlds.

The streets of the Witches Market area were lined with quiet, mysterious women overlooking small stalls of goods, most of which were quite strange looking. Carved stone and ceramic sculptures of ancient Gods, coiled snakes, and quite a few other unidentifiable figures overflowed the shelves of the stalls.  Odd little dry candy like figures and objects caught my attention, as did little packets of brightly colored yarns and papers. 

Local herbs and dried plants were often available, and we had some samples of two herbs and a root that we were trying to obtain for a friend back in Sedona.  Through the language barrier we arrived at and purchased what we hoped were the proper medicines.  We smelled and touched many plants throughout this process, and I found myself falling into their familiar aromas in a way that honored fully my recognition of them.

A rather nauseating display of dried llama fetuses was present in most every stall, often as a focal point.  Our guide informed us that these creatures were the result of natural miscarriages, though I have to say I did question this.  I felt that they represent to the Bolivian people the same sort of energy  that the Buffalo symbolizes to Indigenous Americans.  Their presence in ceremony is an honoring, and represents fertility and great abundance for the people. 

We were told they are frequently used in blessings and rituals performed by Kallawayas at certain locations high above the city.  Our interest was certainly piqued, and we asked our guide Marcos if it was possible to arrange such a ceremony for us the next day.  It was certainly meant to be, for he was easily able to line up a taxi and a practicing Kallawaya that he knew well for a personal ritual for us.  As the next day was free time for us, he respectfully asked if he could be allowed to join us with his young son.  The practices and ancient rituals of the Bolivian culture are giving way to modern times, and Marcos wanted his son to have every possible opportunity to experience them.  We welcomed their energy and gladly invited them to attend the ceremony.

The next morning, in our cramped little taxi, we all made our way up and up curvy roads that took us far from the city.  We felt the air become cooler as rain began to fall.  Marcos held the fairly large llama fetus we had chosen the day before for the ritual, as well as other objects we had stopped to purchase at the Witches Market just before our excursion. 

Our chosen Kallawaya incongruously wore a neatly pressed suit and tie and sat in the front seat with the driver. We paid both the holy man and the taxi driver 50 US dollars each for their time, which was quite fair compensation.  They both seemed eager and quite pleased that two American tourists had such keen interest in local spiritual practices.  They seemed to hold Marcos and his boy in very high regard.  His life appeared to bridge two worlds, as he shared with us that he had nearly saved enough money to purchase his own vehicle, as well as other accoutrements of the modern world. He considered his child's education a high priority.  While appreciating the modern way and its conveniences, he still held the old ways in his heart.

Several oval, brown loaves of bread were brought along with us, and these became gifts for the wild dogs alongside the roads we traveled.  It warmed my heart to finally meet some locals who didn't consider dogs to be vermin.  We tossed hunks of bread out the windows and watched the grateful and hungry creatures eagerly devour them.  This bread tossing seemed to be a common practice, as the dogs knew to assemble and wait for the bread to come their way.  They shared fairly amicably. This giveaway to the animals set the tone and energy for our ritual offering.
 
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