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The Witches’ Market of La Paz, Bolivia

Along a narrow cobblestone street in an old quarter of La Paz, in Boliva, old women dressed in traditional Andean garb of colorful ankle-length dresses and bowler hats sit with their wares spread out in front of them. This is the famous Mercado de las Brujas, or the Witches' Market. It has everything a witch could desire—amulets, talisman, herbs, good luck charms, dried armadillos and frogs, ceramic figures of naked couples, aphrodisiac formulas, owl feathers, dried turtles, starfish, snakes and the Bolivian favorite, dried llama fetuses. Many of these items are used in religious rituals honoring the spirits of the Aymara religion. Others are used to bring health, love, intelligence, happiness, wealth and longevity into peoples’ lives. One of the best-selling items is boxed herbs from Brazil and Peru that purportedly improves sex life.

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Photo credit: Daniel Chong Kah Fui/Flickr

Although a vast majority of Bolivians are Catholic, few actually practice Christianism. Instead, locals follow ancient tradition and visit fortune tellers and witch doctors called yatiri. These practitioners of the occult can easily be recognized in the crowd by their black hats and coco pouches containing amulets, talismans and powders that ensure luck, beauty and fertility. For the right price, these voodoo doctors will cast a spell on your enemies or grant a child good marks in school. Some witch doctors even sell packaged, pre-made spells and potions to treat various problems.

One of the most peculiar items on the market are the dried llama fetuses. According to traditional belief, families must make an offering to goddess Pachamama by burying a llama fetus under the foundations of their new homes for protection, health, happiness and good luck. Sometimes llama fetuses are burned to bring the good will of the goddess. It is said that nearly every Bolivian family have a dried llama fetus thrown under the foundations of their house for luck.

Fortunately, there is a large supply of naturally aborted llama fetuses resulting from miscarriages and still births which can be anywhere from a couple of weeks old to just before the birth. Some fetuses are also obtained if slaughtered llamas happen to be pregnant. Llama sacrifices are still a thing in Bolivia and play an important part in many Bolivian rituals. For example, every year miners throughout the altiplano would sacrifice llamas in order to appease El Tio, the lord of the underworld. The blood of the animal is then smeared all over the mine’s entrance, machinery and active veins of ore. This is why llama fetuses in the Witches' Market come in all different sizes.

Since the past few years, the Witches' Market’s biggest customers aren’t locals coming for cures to health and spiritual problems but tourists who take home the bizarre goods sold here as souvenirs.

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