Sunday, November 23, 2008


[published in the London Guardian Weekly 2008]

Want to dominate that beautiful woman who always gives you the cold shoulder? Afraid your husband is chasing after other women? Need to find a job or rustle up some cash quick? Has someone cursed you with the evil eye or stolen your soul? Stop worrying and head on over to the Sonora Market, where you’re sure to find a magical cure for all that ails you.

The Sonora Market, located in the Historic Center of Mexico City, is a giant metal structure that has housed hundreds of small locales for over fifty years. This market is best known for the brujas and brujos (female and male witches), chamanes (shamans) and santeros (priests of the African-based santería) who work out of stalls, many of them the size of a walk-in closet. These healers perform limpias (spiritual cleansings), healing rituals, initiations and predictions, and all the materials needed for these and other ritual practices, including plants, birds and other animals (often used in ritual sacrifices) are available within the market.

Unlike traditional indigenous healers from the countryside, the urban spiritual healer isn’t supported financially by the community, and thus must make a buck like anyone else. Competition is steep, and these healers incorporate the most popular techniques and talismans from others practices (such as the use of crystals, Buddhas, Navajo dream catchers, and Feng Shui), in an effort to keep up with the latest trends and to be able to attract the greatest clientel possible. Unlike the Catholic Church, which views all other religions and spiritual practices as competition or enemies, no spiritual practice is excluded within the Sonora Market, making this one of the few places in the world where all beliefs peacefully coexist. Within the market exist several Catholic altars (including one with a bloody baby saint whose eyes have been gorged out), and dozens of different crosses, saints and baby Jesus dolls, all sold alongside figures of santería and voodoo. Jewish stars, Asian icons, Hindu incense, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Christian crosses, African orishas and even La Santa Muerte are given equal opportunity on the stands in the stalls.

Judging by the large number of alternative treatments and miracle products offered in the Sonora Market, it’s obvious that many Mexicans feel they need help they can’t obtain anywhere else. In fact, a large percentage of people in Mexico City suffer from symptoms, such as frights, evil airs, evil eyes, and nerves, that medical doctors tend to classify as hysteric, blaming the victims for inventing these complaints just to gain attention.

Sexual impotence and premature ejaculation are among the most common problems among men who seek cures in the Sonora market, while problems related to love are more common among women. People also often suffer from spiritual problems, such as the loss of a person’s soul brought about by hate, grudges, ambition or jealousy, a situation with leads to many illness and even death.

Spiritual healers in Mexico believe health comes from balance between the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of a person, an ideal which is very difficult to achieve in Mexico City. Environmental factors within the city include aggressive microorganisms and toxic substances in the air, water and food that cause disease, and traffic and street violence which cause high levels of stress. Newly arrived, poor immigrants from the countryside, many from indigenous communities, often have trouble adapting to the rhythm and cultural differences of the big city. The economic aspect of life is also an integral part of health, for without money, mental and physical health is impossible.

By undergoing limpias (in which an egg is often rubbed across one’s body to siphon off evil spirits) or by using certain powders, sprays, perfumes, candles and soaps, a person feels like they are no longer just a victim of fate or of the evil practices of others, but instead are actively participating in improving their lives and solving their problems.

The botánicas in the Sonora Market sell an incredibly wide range of these do-it-yourself cures, including powders, sprays, perfumes, candles and soaps, all truly inexpensive forms of spiritual self-medication. The owners of the botánicas, many themselves spiritual healers, often mix their own products, although almost all purchase pre-printed packages in which to sell them. Many of the products contain exotic ingredients, such as rattlesnake sperm. As a legal disclaimer, some of the powders state that they contain “special ingredients” and are sold as mere “curiosities.” Most of the products sold in the Sonora Market are made in Mexico, but many others are imported from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela, Miami and even Japan and East Germany (that is, if you believe the label). No other market in Havana, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg or Lagos sells so many magical products as the Sonora Market.

Hundreds of thousands of people who are ill, fed up with their bad luck, suffering from spiritual malaise, in need of some sexual healing, or just want to indulge in some good old-fashioned revenge, find help each year with the magic products on sale in the Sonora Market. Although men and women from the lowest classes represent the largest group of consumers of these products, they are by no means the only ones. The culture class, tourists and desperate suburban housewives are also to be seen passing through the market. Socially marginalized groups are also avid consumers, as there are few other institutions that help them with their particular problems. Thus, there are several products designed to keep your gay partner from leaving you or to attract same-sex lovers. Many products offer to help attract clients, although these clients are not so much corporate executives or businessmen but rather the kind who would frequent professional sex workers. The needs of all classes of criminals are also catered to, especially with the long line of products of La Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde (a bandit killed by the government in 1909 who has become the patron saint to narcos as well as all those who attempt to cross the border illegally).

Sex, love, money and control over others are what the great majority of magic products provide. A soap designed to help business flourish comes with an imitation one hundred peso to be folded into a triangle and placed under one’s pillow. The Don Juan of Money instructs people to place three coins into the bag of the powder, sprinkle a little of it onto three bills, or spread some of the powder around their business while they intone: “After I step on this powder, my steps will lead me to money.”

One powder entitled You Won’t be Able to With Anyone Else instructs women to add this powder to the water with which they wash their lover’s private parts before and after sex to gain control over their man’s willpower and passion, thus making him physically unable to make love to anyone else. To carry out the instructions for the I Have You Tied Up and Nailed Down powder, a person must put a photograph of the person they want to control on a rag doll, baptize it with holy water, tie the doll up and nail it down, say the prayer of La Santa Muerte, and sprinkle this powder over it on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays along with thirteen drops of perfume.

To shut the mouths of gossipy people, one soap comes with the prayer: “Lord, please close the mouths of those people of bad faith who would hurt me with their gossip and envy, and allow my emotional stability to continue.” By sprinkling powder on one’s hands and neck at night before going to bed, the Hunchback Humiliator will help humiliate others and defeat all enemies. For the Pull-Pull Powder, which “attracts what you desire through Luck and Good Fortune,” that is, to obtain a “love-slave,” a person must put a straw full of the powder, the name of the person to control written on a piece of paper run through by a needle, a piece of the victim’s clothing, a rock covered in cinnamon and a magnet in a glass of red wine.

Whatever your special needs or wants, whatever your particular perversion or pleasure, whether you want to dominate or be dominated, whether you want to screw or screw over, you can be sure to find a powder, candle, spray or soap in the Sonora Market that will help make your dreams come true.

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