"If you want to fall deeply in love, you need to get some cinnamon, the spiciest kind, the one that is 500 pesos ($26 US) a kilo over in La Merced," self-proclaimed enchantress Lukcero Aghakán tells me. "Arabica is the best kind, kinda like hashish, of which the one from India is best. This is how our ancestors cleansed themselves: with mushrooms, peyote, and pot, to be able to roam the land from north to south. Those are the plants that heal, though they can kill as well."
I'm at the Sonora Market, one of the oldest and most important in Mexico. The market is famous for offering alternative cures for body and soul, and for its tightly packed and idiosyncratic aisles. Medicinal plants and magic supplies have their own clearly separated corridors.
Going into the market around Valentine's Day is insane. There are heart-shaped balloons coming from all directions, hitting me in the face as I walk; candy peddlers throw chocolates at the ground; empty-eyed teddy bears loom over me, hanging from the ceiling, in silence. (I sincerely think they should be sold around October 31, not February 14.) There are also roses, and the kind of cheesy gifts that win the love of teenagers.
Plowing through the Valentine's madness, I finally get to the magic section. I find myself at the stand run by Lukcero, a woman who, according to her poster, "mastered the secrets of the dark science."
There are clients waiting for her. I tell Lukcero I just want something to help me find love, something quick. She welcomes me as Cuban music lingers in background; the master of dark science slowly clears her space, surrounded by amulets.
Lukcero practices Sufism, a form of esoteric Islam. "This is the recipe I give all my godchildren." (That's what she calls her clients.) "Anyone can make it at home," the witch tells me as she writes down the ingredients for a love potion "to make anyone fall for me." The recipe is mostly spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and herbs, some of which are unexpected: purslane, purple Mexican tea (or apazote), and two kinds of parsley. One is masculine, the other feminine; according to Lukcero, I need both to reach equilibrium. "A recipe is not always necessary," she tells me. "Magic is in what you eat. It's in milk, chocolate. Magic is an energy that emanates from behind." Lukcero continues, pointing at her butt: "Witchcraft enters you through every hole, starting from behind." That last one I didn't quite get and, to be honest, I was too scared to ask. She's an intimidating woman. Now I regret not digging in further.
Lukcsero explains to me that she is the daughter of Oshun, the goddess of love in Santeria, and that this prevents her from eating certain foods, like eggs. Her eyes widen as she tells me how much she likes "eggs from a fat hen," but because they highly respected in her faith—they are symbols of fertility—she has to stay away from them. She can't eat pumpkin or watermelon, either. "I can only eat pumpkin en tacha [a syrup preparation]," she tells me. "Not with tachas [Mexican slang for molly], en tacha. I'm a serious witch."
Lukcero is looking at me in the eye. "You've got to be careful with the recipe I gave you, OK?" The poción she gave me has toloache, or datura inoxia, a Mexican herbaceous plant with narcotic, spasmodic, and psychoactive properties. The herb has been used for centuries in traditional Mexican medicine, but in high doses it can cause hallucinations and affects the central nervous system, which can cause death. In "The Love Market," as I call it now, toloache is sold in every stand, but always with a warning.
"People from all over Mexico and all over the world come to see me," Lukcero says when I tell her I must leave. "Come whenever you want. With me you get the best, and the worst." Indeed, Lukcero, indeed. I thank her and we fist-bump goodbye.
I keep going through the stands, asking for potions and amulets, but everybody tells me: "If you're not buying, don't bother." They can see the skepticism in my eyes, or that's what I'd like to think. I try to change my approach; I dive into the isles. Every stand sells the same products: bottles with fluorescent beauty potions, herbal virility powders, pheromone soaps, scented candles to attract love. Each santero has a different story for these products.
"I can't tell you much," says one of them, "but I recommend the 'total bondage' oils. They are selling like crazy. Maybe this prepared honey to avoid fights, too."
"The oil is taken in drops," says another santero. "There's nothing better for conquest than the 'panty dropper' oil for women who won't yield. A couple drops and you're set." Sophistication is pervasive in the market.
"These honeys are for bonding," says a third guy on a different stand. "Marriage, that is. If he doesn't want to drop the question and is all wishy-washy about it, just give him a couple drops and he'll fall." The stand also sells powders for "when you get bored of her and want her out of your life."
Everything in the market is interesting; I could stay here asking questions for hours, and my curiosity is piqued. I find something, though, that breaks my heart: It's called a chupamiento, and it's an amulet made out of a dead hummingbird. "You hang it and leave it there until your crush comes knocking on your door," I'm told. There are different designs, and the otherwise zany and amusing market suddenly turns grim.
A phone call shakes me out of my stupor. It's Lizbeth, a witch I booked to perform an amarre or bonding spell. At last! We agree to meet at the exotic animal stands; we'll recognize each other by our clothes. The Mercado de Sonora is known for its illegal trade of wildlife; here you can find anything from dogs to monkeys, iguanas, parrots, and anything in between.
A couple minutes after introducing ourselves and walking through the cages, we get to a cozy room covered in gold-embroidered sheets. Lizbeth asks me to sit and pay attention.
"Hacer amarres —como le llaman al acto de magia— es un don que traigo desde que soy niña", me cuenta. "Los he hecho toda la vida, es algo que no se aprende, lo traes o no". Lizbeth cubre la mesa con pétalos de rosas, frascos con líquidos extraños, jaleas, jabones y velas hechas con unos polvos llamados "ven a mí". Al final coloca un "chupamiento" —ay, mi corazón—, al que le pone unas gotitas de feromonas. Me lo regala. Debo llevarlo siempre conmigo.
También me recomienda beber un té "cundeamor" con un poco de manteca de cacao. "Tómatelo durante un baño de tina, será más efectivo".
Y para mantener la fidelidad, una vela en forma de pene. "No te asustes", me dice Lizbeth. "Cuando creas que tu novio se está acostando con alguien más, prende esta vela y tendrás control sobre su miembro". Qué romántico. "Pero antes debes prender la vela de la unión y, cuando consumen su acto de amor entierra la base de la vela bajo un árbol. Así tu amor crecerá tan fuerte como el árbol".
"La bruja del amor" me regalo un kit completo de velas, polvos, y jabones para hacer un amarre amoroso a quien yo quiera, cuando quiera. "Una nunca sabe cuándo lo va a necesitar", dice ella. "Ah, pero antes debes hacerte inmune al mal de amores o a los amarres que alguien más pueda hacer contra ti", me advierte y me aconseja que compre una hierba llamada rompe saraguey, una raíz medicinal muy popular en la santería, y me beba una infusión bien cargada hecha con ella.
Me fui con una bolsa cargada de objetos tétricos y con una sensación extraña. No sé si estoy sorprendida por la alta demanda de estas bebidas esotéricas para conseguir el amor—el mercado estaba lleno de gente husmeando y comprando amuletos y brebajes— o si sigo asustada por el colibrí muerto que cargo conmigo.