The Washington Post
Thursday, December 28, 2000; Page A14

Mexican Witches Cast Year-End Spells

By Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service


Chain-smoking and near tears, Maria de Los Angeles Macedo told her sad story to the witch. After seven years of marriage and two children, her husband ran off
with another woman, and she wanted him back for the New Year.

Doctor Aura, a self-proclaimed witch with large eyes and a necklace of little wooden skulls, nodded confidently. She wrapped 10 lemons in black silk, placed them
in a plastic bag and doused them with an oil guaranteed to sap any sweetness out of the fruit. That night, she promised, she would visit a graveyard and bury the bitter
bag near the tombstone of a woman named Maria, asking her spirit's help to drive a wedge between the wayward husband and the home-wrecker.

"Soon they will be fighting nonstop; If they stay together, I won't let him rest," said Doctor Aura, collecting about $10 to cure Macedo in a cramped little booth deep
in the labyrinth of Mexico City's Sonora Market.

At this most hopeful time of year, many Mexicans are seeking a change in their luck, not through New Year's resolutions, but through this nation's remarkably large
number of witches. Looking for love? Want to be rich? Just hoping next year will be better than this one? Mexico's witches offer their help, for a price.

"It's very busy these days; a lot of people are trying to discard all the bad energy before the New Year," said Aura, one of a long line of witches in her family.

Fortune-tellers, swamis, shamans and soothsayers of every stripe can be found everywhere from New England state fairs to the bazaars of India, but fewer places
can boast a culture of witchcraft as thriving and lucrative as Mexico's. Witches from all over Latin American hold annual conventions in Mexico, and bookstores are
full of stories from the coven and recipes for black magic. Some witches wind up in the official limelight, hired by police departments to help find victims of
kidnappings or retained by politicians to help plot strategy.

Early last year, many top-ranking witches gathered at the National Press Club of Mexico City to announce they had cast a spell on the presidential election to make
it, for the first time in recent memory, clean and fair. The gathered crowd of foreign journalists nearly choked on their skepticism, but the witches turned out to be
dead on.

And witchcraft is clearly big business. There are no reliable estimates of how much money witchcraft pumps into the Mexican economy, but a visit to the Sonora
Market, where Doctor Aura works, suggests that it is immensely popular and profitable.

Sonora Market covers a couple of city blocks. It buzzes with commerce, in everything from pottery to hamsters, as well as witches and other spiritual mediums
peddling their expertise and the tools of their trade. For $1.50, "love sprays" in aerosol cans promise an end to unrequited love. A dash in the right direction and the
object of your affection is under your spell.

Sacks of grasses and seeds and roots and twigs and powders are stacked atop each other, all promising some different power. Want a better job for 2001? Try the
green liquid. Want a better lover? Try the scorpion oil aphrodisiac or the "Come to Me" soap. Looking for money, or -- more specifically -- a new motorcycle?
Spray yourself with the huge blue aerosol can of "Rain of Luck."

Stalls are buzzing with customers asking about different potions and clerks stuffing potion after cure after lotion into plastic bags. At one given moment on a recent
day, a half-dozen people waited in line for Aura. They each paid about $10 -- a day's wages for many of them -- for a consultation in her tiny corner office.

Witchcraft is so much a part of Mexican culture that academics have studied it and thousands of people have made it their life's work. There is a National Association
of Sorcerers in the capital, and a town in the state of Veracruz has crafted a busy tourist industry by touting itself as a national center of witchcraft.

To skeptics, the brand of witchcraft practiced at the Sonora Market, with its promises of immediate fixes for heartache and physical pain, is a goofball theme park of
snake oil salesmen. But for believers, it is a place of potential magic, where the power of other worlds is available to those seeking answers to everyday problems.

Macedo, the downcast wife who had come to seek Aura's help to get her husband back, perked up and began smiling when Aura went to work on the lemon
concoction that was supposed to sour relations between the cheating husband and his mistress.

With one of her small daughters clinging to her side, Macedo said she believed the witch's spell was her best hope for saving her marriage. She said she had seen
Aura on a television show and had come to the Sonora Market to tap into her magic to get her husband back.

"I miss him," she said.

Aura says the witchcraft practiced in the market is a blend of religious beliefs and ancient rites passed down through the centuries. The cramped quarters where she
works is a mishmash of religions and cultures. Jesus Christ hangs on a crucifix next to a two-foot statue of the Grim Reaper, not far from a plastic rooster and some
books explaining the Santeria religion. There is also a Buddha and a Sitting Bull-style Indian headdress. Mexican witches say their power is drawn from the blend,
which covers everything from fresh herbs picked yesterday to recipes for potions that are said to date from Aztec traditions of pre-Columbian times.

While it is impossible for an outsider to judge Aura's talents, it is clear she is a focused listener and a keen observer of her customers' facial expressions and body
language. She seems gifted in the art of sizing up the person before her; she has a politician's empathy and power of persuasion.

Under different circumstances, she could earn big money as a "Yes! You Can!" motivational speaker touring American corporations.

"Your problems will be over, and you will find stability in 2001, but you must let your worry go," she told one customer after a reading of Tarot cards. "March will
bring money. . . . September will be your best month, an excellent month."

Aura said two basic truths keep her in business: People have too little money and too many cheating husbands. And she said that those problems, and many more,
make the last days of December the busiest time of year for witches. The new year, she said, is a time for leaving the bad luck behind and moving on to something

"We're very busy this time of year," she said.

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