Double, double, toil and trouble. Where does one go to see fire burn and caldron bubble? One good bet is the Mercado de Sonora, a sprawling outdoor shopping area in the heart of Mexico City that’s the Walmart of the witch world.
It’s a maze of alleyways stacked with hundreds of stalls, located on Avenida Fray Servando Teresa in the Venustiano Carranza borough. For locals who dabble in witchcraft, or visitors looking to stray off the typical tourist trail, the Sonora market has all your ritualistic remedies.
You can find everything from antique amulets to medicinal herbs; live snakes to mysterious brews; and animal-shaped ceramic charms to powdered potions for health, wealth and romance. The market is loosely organized into three parts: Healing herbs, Afro-Cuban paraphernalia and black magic.
Walking amongst the tribal rattlers, taxidermy rabbits and other accessories of the underworld, I met Bertha Gutieriez Montes de Oca, a shaman who has been working in the market for 51 years. The five-foot-nothing elderly woman explained the ritualistic purpose behind the potions.
“Witchcraft plays a central role in Mexican society and medicine,” she explained. “In the half-century I’ve worked here, the market has grown and the faces have changed but people’s hopes and desires have stayed the same — hopes for money, love, good luck, marriage and fewer problems at work are among the most popular.”
Navigating a clutter of products that claim to ward off evil spirits, Bertha took me to a set of stalls selling popular love sprays. For the ladies, there are potions for better sex, long marriage and curbing a boyfriend’s flirtations with other women.
For men, the art of seduction is a popular sell. Male customers looking to attract their heart’s desire will find Bertha recommends a product called Quita Calzon. As belief has it, men looking for love must first lather their bodies with this powder and think about the woman for whom they yearn. The power of the talcum-like potion will cause the woman in question to succumb to the man’s wildest fantasies, all for the equivalent of a few dollars.
Just in case there was truth to the bottles claims, I dabbed on a little “true love” perfume, an aphrodisiac oil that promises to attract Mr. Right. In the rat race of today’s dating scene, I figured a little sorcery couldn’t hurt.
From there, Bertha showed me a soap called Tapa Voca purchased by women who want to stop gossiping, and a pair of cloth voodoo dolls for women who crave more commitment in their romantic relationships. For every problem, the market sells a solution.
A visit to Sonora market is a culturally significant look into a side of Mexico most tourists don’t normally see. I learned that, though these beliefs stem from indigenous knowledge and centuries-old traditional medicine, witchcraft continues to play a big role in contemporary Mexican society.
As for that love spray? I’m still waiting for results.
Julia Dimon is co-host of Word Travels, airing Sundays at 8:30 p.m. EST on OLN; juliadimon.com.