Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Guest Blogger Post: Author Tali Spencer talks Witches and Markets

Hey everyone! Thanks for peeking in today! As a pre-Halloween reward I have the fabulous Tali Spencer with us today talking about Witches, Markets and Llama fetuses! Whhhaaaaa? Oh yes. Read along as Tali takes over the blog today and tells us all about her amazing adventures while sharing with us a few juicy tidbits about her new release, The Seventh Sacrifice, part of the Devil’s Night Anthology from Storm Moon Press. Let the Halloween madness begin….



Thank you, Night, for letting me stop by and share some of my experiences. Yes, I’m promoting an anthology, but I think the story of how I came to my story might interest some folks. For example, I love to haunt the Witches Market in La Paz, Bolivia…

The Witches Market located just behind the Church of San Francisco is more of a tourist trap these days. When I first visited the market, it was still more of a native shopping center. The next street over was filled with shops for spices and clothing and other crafts, and the Calle Saganara had mostly artisans. But the Witches Market was a street devoted to witchcraft and indigenous magic. There were the expected racks devoted to the tourist trade: cheesy charms, fake potions with kitschy labels, and tacky figurines with bad paint jobs, most dreadful and incongruously made in Asia. Still, there were also plenty of genuine stalls and shops. That’s not so much the case anymore.

I had fierce guardians every time I visited the Witches Market. Female relations, in particular, were determined to prevent me from being taken advantage of. Sorcerers on the whole were not considered trustworthy and the best preventative, they decided, was that I stay out of sight so as not to be targeted as a tourist. That was not happening. I wanted to look and see for myself.

A witch or sorcerer could be either male or female. My family members favored a man who kept a permanent shop instead of stall. His shop was tiny and crammed to the beams with arcane items and paraphernalia. He was quite suspicious of me. People in this country generally saw me as an oddity and never were quite sure what to make of someone so obviously foreign. The presence of family members helped make me acceptable. My mother-in-law in particular was a great help, because she was Aymara and spoke that language fluently, and she eventually cajoled the sorcerer into displaying some of his craft. I couldn’t understand the Aymara portions of their conversation, but we made good progress with Spanish.

The most shocking item was on prominent display, not just in this shop but in stalls up and down the street. Llama fetuses just look… scary. And dead. Scary and dead. Their little legs are tied together and their pointy heads look birdlike. I asked about how they died and the sorcerer explained that llamas often abort their babies, or give birth to two babies and one dies. The native herders do not kill the babies, but consider the aborted fetuses to be gifts. The fetuses—called sullus—possess great magic and are put to good use. The most common use is to return them to Pachamama, Mother Earth. This is done by burying them in the ground. Almost every home in the Altiplano region of Bolivia has a llama fetus under its foundation for good luck. This belief is so powerful that construction workers will refuse to work in a building that has not had a ceremony with blessings to Pachamama and sullus buried at the work site.

My family members would not let me buy a sullu. If unburied, it could be bad magic and, besides, I wasn’t sure I could smuggle it back into the States. I could just see trying to explain the dead llama baby in my luggage. However, the sorcerer warmed to me and showed me some of his charms. My mother in law clicked her tongue at my interest in penis charms. She wasn’t prudish. The Aymara are much more open about sex than Americans are. Penis charms are fairly dark magic, though. While they are most often purchased by men hoping to restore their virility, women usually purchase them to punish a man by sending bad magic against his penis. I was married to her son, so… no penis charm for me.

More appropriate was a happiness charm. There was much discussion in Aymara until my mother-in-law was satisfied the sorcerer would give me real magic and not cheat me. The sorcerer created the charm using a Pachamama figurine he filled with various powders and pinches of strange items, then presented to me after he had tied it with a special thread over which he had performed a chant. I thanked him profusely and was very happy already with my purchase. There was much lively discussion on the walk back to the house over whether to even tell my husband and about the proper ways to store and use such an item, not to mention why an American—who should be happy already—would even want such a thing.

My time in Bolivia taught me a great deal about how magic exists as part of a people and community. I came away with a profound respect for magic systems and how the people who practice them must respect those systems if they are to access the power. The sorcerer talked about his training and the importance of balancing magic to achieve results. He introduced me to his apprentice, a young woman who had been with him for three years learning to be a witch. I learned a lot, but mostly I learned that I know nothing at all about some things.

But every time I go to Bolivia, I visit the Witches Market hoping to learn just a little more.

When I wrote “The Seventh Sacrifice” for the Devil’s Night anthology, I hoped to bring readers into this world I love. “The Seventh Sacrifice” depicts a collision of cultures, sex, and fate: In modern day La Paz, a young Spaniard hell-bent on revenge is attracted to a native sorcerer determined to break a centuries old curse. They meet at the Witches Market….


Excerpt: “The Seventh Sacrifice”

Two stone steps flanked by tables of packaged, prefabricated charms led to the narrow hole-in-the-wall that constituted a store.  Every spare millimeter of space was packed with arcane objects.  Fully furred llama fetuses with huge, black eyes and grimacing teeth hung from a pole over the doorway, while more of the samemummified and without furlay piled in baskets.  The dried husks of armadillos, toads, and starfish held sway among racks of cheap beads, brass bells, and trays of colored powders.  Beltran hoped the powders were herbs, but at least one looked like dried blood, and he knew the others could be anything from antlers to hooves, teeth, or bones.

But what caught his eye next, and took away his already scanty breath, was the man sitting on a stool just inside the doorway.  Black hair, straight and shining, framed a brown face with strong features and high cheekbones.  The heavy mane cascaded behind broad shoulders and a red poncho of alpaca wool.  As the man rose to his feet, Beltran saw that he was taller than most native men, with a wiry, powerful frame.  The shopkeeper’s eyes commanded him most of all: deep and black, they locked onto his with a hunger so fierce, the compulsion in them made him quiver.

Holy Mother of God, Beltran thought, forcing himself to breathe normally.  Marisol never told me her shaman would be gorgeous!

Devil's Night is now available through Storm Moon Press.


Links to me and my books:

Twitter: @tali_spencer


  1. Damn that was an interesting read. I would love to have the learning opportunities that you had Tali. I think you should write a travel book. Of course I would probably read it if you wrote the phone book. Off to buy more books. Thank goodness they are digital.

    1. Thanks, Carrie. I've always been adventurous. Still am. But I sure am happy I traveled a ton when young. I didn't always appreciate it at the time, but I do now. :D