Ghost Stories, Love Potions and Sacrificial offerings of La Paz

Witch Market La Paz

Llamafetuses, Love Potions and Shamans - Urban Legends from La Paz

Ghost Stories, Love Potions and Sacrificial offerings - The Urban Legends that La Paz comes alive with!

You might have read my Travel Guide on the Things I loved most doing in La Paz, Bolivia. However, La Paz is a city that is alive with its legends and culture and it's the Urban Legends that made me truly fall in Love with this city. Never have I seen another place where stories were so vibrant, so present and such an intricate part of a city. The dusty mountain air and the busy little alleyways, the colorful markets and the paintings on the walls - there is a story to be discovered behind everything and I'll share a few of the stories that I encountered there with you:

Love Potions and Llama Fetuses at the Witch Market

The title mentioned love potions, and yes, you can actually buy love potions at the famous Witchmarket or Mercado de las Brujas in La Paz. And not only love potions! You can purchase a blessing or a curse, a potion to heal someone from a drug addiction or a powder that cures impotence. And among all of these, there are llama fetuses. Llama fetuses everywhere. Not to worry - they are natural miscarriages and quite common among llamas. Llama fetuses are omnipresent at the witch market and they're used for a wide variety of purposes. Most importantly, however, you need one when building your house. For good luck, you bury one of them underneath your house as an offering to Pachamama (Mother Earth). This however only works for houses with less than three stories (or so claims the urban legend). For houses taller than that, you need something more powerful. No, I'm not talking about two fetuses. I'm also not talking about a grown lama. Brace yourselves, people. For houses taller than three stories, Pachamama claims a human. A growna** human. But don't worry, you won't be thrown into a hole when visiting the city ;) According to the legend, when such a house is built, one of the Shamans will find someone who "won't be missed by anyone", such as a drunk homeless person without a family. Then the Shaman will get that person blackout drunk and drugged and when they're sufficiently out of it, they'll be buried underneath the house-to-be. Rumor has it that years later sometimes bodies have resurfaced under modern buildings - of course, this is all a legend!

 Llamafetuses everywhere!

Llamafetuses everywhere!

A cure for Impotence?!

The biggest of these witch markets is up high in El Alto, (one of) the biggest open-air markets in Latin America. I already told you before that one of the things that can be bought there are natural treatments for impotence. A few years back there was a new potion that treated impotence. And, as I was told the story: "the men who buy this stuff are usually also the men who aren't overly lucky with the ladies, sooo…". This "sooo" meant, that these are also the men who frequently used a prostitutes' services. Soon after this remedy had come onto the market, the prostitutes of La Paz came together to speak out for themselves on TV: Their customers were dying while climaxing! They asked the police to investigate and the investigation brought to light that the dose of this specific impotence cure was more suitable for a horse than a human. The dose was adjusted and you can now still buy that potion!

 Powders, Potions, Curses and Blessings - all in a neat package!

Powders, Potions, Curses and Blessings - all in a neat package!

Aymara Shamans and where their Powers come from

Next to the market in El Alto, there is a street dedicated to Aymara Shamans. They live in tiny wooden huts, one next to the other. Outside of each hut, there is a bonfire for the Shamans and their customers to make offerings to the gods. Not just anybody can become a Shaman - you have to either be struck by lightning and survive (apparently that awakens the powers inside of you) or inherit the power from your ancestors. We went to see one of these Shamans (don't do this without someone who knows the culture and what to do!) and got our fates read from coca leaves! "Our" Shaman inherited his powers from his great-grandfather, whose skull he also casually kept on a shelf in his hut. That by the way almost gave me a heart attack - I had never before seen an actual human skull, much less one casually lying around the house.

 Sacrificial Offerings burning in front of one of the Huts

Sacrificial Offerings burning in front of one of the Huts

Having our Future Read from Coca Leaves

Before our reading, we got to go out the back of the hut, where we were surprised with the most amazing view over the city! What you'd never expect when first entering the hut is that they are located right on the rim of the bowl that is La Pz and you can see the city from up high from their backyards!

But onto our reading. For those who don't know me, I'm a VERY down to earth, practical person and really not one to believe in those things, whether it be Tarot cards or zodiac signs. However, the atmosphere of this place was definitely something special. It's hard to describe what it was like exactly sitting there and having our fortune read from coca leaves. Asking questions about my life and future, I was awaiting the answers with a slightly queasy feeling in my stomach while thinking "all of this is so stupid" but still kind of wondering whether it's actually true… It was definitely an experience! I guess we'll know whether or not the shaman was right by the time I'm done with having kids - according to my reading I'll have two girls ;)

Coming back out and walking through the cobbled streets of La Paz, I and the others found our high spirits again and went back to joking about our readings. According to our guide, some people come to see the shamans daily to have their fates read. Some go there to find out whether their spouse is cheating on them, others to find direction in regards to their profession and others seek guidance when making a big decision. 

 The services offered by the Shamans - First the "Have your fate read from Coca Leaves, Alcohol or Fire"

The services offered by the Shamans - First the "Have your fate read from Coca Leaves, Alcohol or Fire"

Where these Traditions originate

A lot of these traditions back to a combination of indigenous beliefs and traditions and Catholicism. When the Spanish conquered these areas, they aimed to provide indigenous people with something they knew in order to convert them to Catholicism more easily. This is why Pachamama, or mother earth, an indigenous goddess was merged with the Virgin Mary. This manifests in a lot of traditional religious artwork. Just like that, offers to the gods, which were common to both traditions were encouraged by the Spanish. While these stories and traditions may seem wild and crazy and weird to a westerner like me, they are an intricate part of culture and history of La Paz. They reinforce the charm and fascination of the city and took my heart by storm!

What are the legends and stories about a place you visited that you enjoyed the most? Let us know in the comments!

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