Mexicans Seek Charms, Potions To Ward Off Bad Luck

At the Sonora Market in Mexico City, statues of Christian icons are displayed for sale next to Day of the Dead figures and narco-saints. Increasingly, Mexicans are turning to amulets and figurines amid the country's brutal drug war and languishing economy.
At the Sonora Market in Mexico City, statues of Christian icons are displayed for sale next to Day of the Dead figures and narco-saints. Increasingly, Mexicans are turning to amulets and figurines amid the country's brutal drug war and languishing economy. Jason Baeubien/NPR

In a country facing tough times, business is booming for vendors at the Sonora Market in Mexico City. There, customers buy candles, charms, figurines and other talismans to fend off financial woes, drug violence, problems of the heart and other tricky situations.

The Sonora Market near the center of Mexico City is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways that wind between overstuffed stalls where the air is thick with sage smoke. One entire section is known as the mercado de brujeria, or the "witchcraft market."

In a country facing tough times, Mexicans come to the market to buy potions, herbs and charms that supposedly will bring good luck and protection.

Piles of herbs are stacked in front of some stalls. Women who insist they are not witches offer "purifications."

On a recent day, Graciela Hernandez Pina, 36, stands in front of a stall piled high with green spikes of fresh aloe vera. Dried rattlesnake skins dangle just above her head.

Hernandez says she has come to buy some herbs.

"They give me energy," she says.

A regular customer at the market, Hernandez says she comes two or three times a week to buy herbs or candles. And she says they work.

"For example, they wanted to let me go at work. But I lit a candle and they didn't fire me.  They cut my hours but at least I still have my job," she says.

Vendors say that employment is one of the topics that many customers are seeking help with. Increasingly, Mexicans have also been seeking amulets for protection.

The country is facing one of its most difficult periods in decades. The drug war has claimed almost 30,000 lives over the last four, and migrants to the United States are sending home less cash. Mexico appears to be pulling out of the global recession, but millions of people remain unemployed or outside the formal economy.

And people are flocking to the market, seeking solutions to these problems -- and more.

Some stalls specialize in figurines. One shop is entirely dedicated to Santa Muerte, or the Saint of Death, a hooded, sickle-carrying skeleton. Others have statues of the Virgin Mary for sale next to grinning skulls and busts of the so-called "narco-saint," Jesus Malverde.

There are ointments and even aerosol sprays that claim to contain "Real Female Pheromones" to attract women. Some of the packages show a magnet pulling in iron filings to demonstrate their extreme attracting powers. Others cut to the chase and show women flinging their clothes off with abandon.

Dolores Velasco runs a stall with her daughter that's been in her family for three generations. Velasco says one of her most popular potions is also one of her family's oldest recipes.

The ingredients include coyote and snake skins, amber, gold, silver and magnetic rock, among other things. Prepared correctly and whispered over with proper incantations, she says this will protect the recipient from evil and bring good luck.

Velasco estimates that about 80 people a day stop by her stall.

And she says business has been booming lately, the result of the country's rampant drug violence and Mexicans' concerns about the economy. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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