Idolatry and Witchcraft in the Streets of Bolivia Today

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A thin fog hovered over our neighborhood, but it wasn’t the weather.  This fog carried a dense aroma of liquid soaked wood that causes it to smolder without being consumed by the fire, so that a Yatiri (an Aymara witch) can offer sacrifices and blessings to Ekeko, the little god of abundance.  Today, and every 24th of January, is the day of Alacitas.  It is a day where the Yatiris and Ch’mankanis (head witches that “control the darkness”) set up shop in the parks and plazas in order to “bless” the people.

The Bolivians turn out in thousands buying “fake” money, tiny wooden cars, tiny wooden houses, and other trinkets to offer as sacrifices.  Booths selling these trifles and food line the sidewalks and the streets.  In my neighborhood there was so great a number of booths that there wasn’t enough room for them all, so the main thoroughfare was closed to accommodate the masses.

After buying an object or several objects, the purchaser stands in line waiting for the Yatiri or Ch’mankani to offer their blessing.  The Yatiri takes the object and waves it through the smoke of the smoldering wood, offering their prayer, making a chant, and sometimes touching the objects with a flower dipped in various oils.  He or she may also ring a bell or even burn the object until it is consumed and disappears in the smoke.

Objects for sale to be "blessed"

Objects for sale to be “blessed”


And what is the purpose of all of this?  The idea is that if a witch blesses your tiny purchased trinket, you will receive this object in the near future.

In the picture below, a family puts their hands into the smoke after they were washed in grain alcohol, while the Yatiri rings his bell, so that they will have success in their endeavors.

A Yatiri "blesses" a family on the Day of Alacitas

A Yatiri “blesses” a family on the Day of Alacitas

But I have a greater promise from God, the Creator, that I am like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that I do, I prosper! (From Psalm 1).  I am blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places and I am seated in Christ, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come.  (From Eph. 1 & 2).  I am blessed in the city and I am blessed in the country, my children are blessed, my basket is blessed, I am blessed coming in and going out. (Duet. 28).  And I am adopted by God the father, I am blessed to be called a child of God (Eph 1 and John 1).  I have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light (Col 1).  And I am loved by Christ and nothing can separate me from it; not death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in creation. (Rom. 8)  I am saved and forgiven from sin and I can say He is my God and I am his people!

There must have been more than fifty Yatiris in my small neighborhood and I am sure that 10,000 people passed through their smoke.  I went into the city today as well, and there on nearly every corner was an individual passing out a small amount of fake money while pointing to a Yatiri and his fire not far away.

Usually jammed with traffic the street closed for the Day of Alacitas

Usually jammed with traffic the street closed for the Day of Alacitas

Sometimes I am asked how much Christianity is present in Bolivia.  The government claims there is a strong Catholic presence, and yet the President is a high priest serving mother earth, making stricter laws that disfavor Christianity, and the streets flow with the people looking for a blessing from an idol.  And when I see it, when I walk through it, my heart breaks for them.  How much Christianity is present in Bolivia?  Not near enough!

A last word:  Today I thought of words of Reinhard Bonnke when he said, “In other religions, people spread the table for their gods, but in Christianity, our God spreads the table for us.  In other religions, people search for their god, but in Christianity, our God searches for us.” (Paraphrased).