Magic and witchcraft in Chiclayo, Peru

A Peru traveler arrives to Chiclayo. (Photo: Irvine via Flickr)

By Andrew Kolasinski

Magic has a long history in Chiclayo, Peru.

Seven hundred years ago the Sican wizards of Tecume looked down on the Lambayeque valley from atop their pyramid castles. From these lofty perches they kept the population safe from natural disasters like earthquakes, draught, tsunamis, and storms. As long as the tribute and sacrifices kept coming, that is.

The Tecume site has about 20 adobe pyramids which have eroded to resemble flat topped mountains, up to 35 meters tall. The Sican culture pre-dates the Incan, and their artefacts are impressive.

Chiclayo boasts a complete marketplace for all of your witchcraft needs. The Mercado Modela, near the central Plaza de Armas, sells a bit of everything: housewares, food, souvenirs, pottery, clothing, as well as occult items. You can see and buy ingredients for magical potions and preparations, mostly derived from animals. Dried snakes, fish, monkeys (whole and parts), mammals, and birds are on sale. Even rare and endangered species like Andean Condors are sold as supernatural ingredients.

In addition there are ceremonial items: masks, drums, rattles, and whistles. The majority of the stalls are devoted to less sinister products, traditional herbal and natural medicines from Peru’s indigenous medicine men, from Andean healers to Amazonian shamen.

Even more exotic treatments can be found at the Mercado. My introduction came from a fellow guest at my hotel. Robert, a retired teacher from California described his treatments from witchdoctors in Chiclayo.

The first, he called the egg lady, had him stripped and prone on an alter. She broke an egg over his head and watched it flow down over his face. Then she blew a pungent liquid into his face, which induced Robert to vomit. She examined the broken yolk and vomit, making pronouncements about Robert’s past, his character, his health and his future prospects.

“I’ll be happy to hook you up with the egg lady,” offered Robert.

When I declined, he made the pitch, “When will you ever get a chance to experience something like this again?”

The next day Robert was back from Mercado Modela after another, even more bizarre experience.

“The guinea pig lady rubbed a live guinea pig over my body. After a few minutes it died. Then she split it open and read the entrails, telling my future. She said the animal absorbed my sickness and that I would now live a long and happy life,” said Robert.

“I’ll be happy to hook you up with her,” he offered.

Again I declined, preferring to experience such witchcraft vicariously.

My own wanderings through Mercado Modela led me to try a herbal remedy. Achiote seeds and leaves have been used by Amazonian people for centuries as a cure for inflammation, infections, heartburn and digestive disorders. For me, Achiote tea helped my queasy stomach, and made for an un-dramatic, but positive Chiclayo witchcraft experience.