I needed potions.
When I mix my paints to make the scrolls, I don’t use water. Instead I use magic potions.
This enhances the juju I put on the scroll, but only if the potions are made right. I’m picky when I buy things for my magic. I don’t just want scented water some ten-peso bruja put together. I want ingredients prepared by someone knowledgeable, with a good heart, and blessed as they should be.
That can be hard to find.
I travel. Presently, I’m in Mexico City, Mexico. Mexico has plenty of magicians but lots of imitators. Every public market has at least one stall selling ritual baths and magic candles. I went to several of these. I found the potions I needed, but I didn’t like them. I could tell they were purchased from some mass-producer and resold. If the packaging didn’t say what the potion was for, the women at the stall would have no idea.
So I decided to try the infamous Witches’ Market.
The Secret Entrance
No one would ever call it the Witches’ Market at the Witches’ Market. The magicians here don’t like being called “witch” in English or bruja in Spanish (even the ones who do curses). Instead we call call them herbalistas – herbalists. To their faces.
I had wanted to go to the Witches’ Market since I first heard of it. But generally you need a guide. And my friend who knew the way was always busy.
As I exhausted all my other possible potion sources, I made a choice.
“Give me directions,” I said.
“That’s a bad idea,” he told me.
Of course, that never stops me.
He laid out the reasons a foreigner shouldn’t go there alone. You could get cursed (he wasn’t worried about that with me). You could get pick-pocketed (this he was more worried about). Most of all, you could get lost.
The Witches’ Market is one small area of Mercado de Sonora, which in turn is in the biggest public market in Mexico City, the Merced market. If you haven’t been there – or maybe to Bangkok or Hong Kong – you aren’t picturing it big enough. The market goes on without end, indoors and outdoors, with tiny maze-like aisles. Just finding Mercado de Sonora was a challenge.
Even when I found it, I would have gone home in defeat if my friend had not told me the secret.
The Witches’ Market has a hidden entrance. You can know it’s there and walk right by it. Mercado de Sonora has seven entrances, and six of them take you into a toy market. That’s right – the stalls selling love spells, shrunken heads and curses are fronted with a giant bazaar of children’s toys.
Once you’re inside, it’s a different world. Near the entrance are a few stalls that sell the “commercial” stuff. Women hand out coupons for house blessing ceremonies and tarot readings. Knots of people stand around chatting, blocking the way.
At the “end” of the hallway-like market, you are again funneled into the toy market. Unless you turn sideways and squeeze through a narrow passage into what looks like an herb drying room, and end up finding the other 75% of the market.
I rubbed shoulders with herbalists and healers choosing their ingredients. I smiled at an old Santera, wearing her complete regalia, who watched in exasperation as the younger members of her house rang every single bell before buying one. A young man stuffed palos (sticks) into his bag for one of the oldest forms of Mexican-African magic.
Being there you feel special. The things you can find, the myths attached to them, the sense of pride that the merchants take in their wares. Outsiders are pre-screened and there’s no need for the over the top marketing. Most of the people shopping there are initiates or magicians themselves. There truly is no more magical place on earth.
And this is where I found the potions I’ll use to paint your scrolls.
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