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Inside Mexico City’s Street Market for Cults

The Sonora Market is the commercial ground zero for religious fashions, from Santeria to medicinal herbs to ritual cleansings to statues of Santa Muerte.
Santa Muerte, demons and narco saints figures for sale outside of the Sonora Market.
Santa Muerte, demons and narco saints figures for sale outside of the Sonora Market.Gustavo Graf

Inside the Sonora Market in Mexico City, statues of death clutter long aisles. They share space with magical amulets and wooden pots for the storage of gods, Perspex pyramids, statues of Nigerian orishas, medicinal herbs, magical shampoos, tarot cards, live animals, and costumes for children’s and adult parties.

Felix Eduardo Vargas, a stallholder for 30 years now in what remains of the old herb market remembers how his collection of foreign and domestic herbs was formed. The stall originally sold only a small selection from Hidalgo from where his family came, but his father liked to travel through Mexico finding herbal remedies for different ailments. Most of the herbs come from Chiapas, Michoacán, and Guerrero—used for local folk remedies of the Mestizo population. Vargas himself prefers to read pharmacological books to traveling the countryside where finding herbs can be rough. “In isolated parts of the countryside there were for a long time no doctors and people had to rely on local cures,” says Vargas. Bemused by all the magical and religious booths around him, he notes that the changes were “a bit creepy” at first, “but I have gotten used to it.”