Almost a year ago now, my companion and I were walking through the halls of the Mercado de Sonora in Mexico City. Thinking back now, what stands out most is the sheer density of humanity in those corridors, all the places where my skin pressed against the skin of another by sheer necessity. I am a fat person, and I never felt more uncomfortably aware of that fact than when traffic stopped in the market’s corridors and I realized just how tightly we were packed in together, all waiting for the movement to resume. It all seems like a dream now, a memory from another world.
We came to the Mercado de Sonora, I will be honest, because we read an article on Atlas Obscura about it. “For just about anything that ails you, there’s a solution in the Sonora Market, the largest esoteric market in Mexico and a must-see for those interested in mysticism,” the article told us. “Local vendors have an answer to any of life’s daily troubles in the form of a magic soap, a holy water spray, or a love potion that uses toloache, a plant with hallucinogenic properties.” Being that we were both Witches, we couldn’t resist the urge to see it.
I was skeptical at first – the doors through which were bounded by stalls selling pinatas in the shape of Spider-Man and SpongeBob, which, while fun, did not exactly indicate the esoteric wares that had drawn our curiosity. Further inside the stalls changed gradually over into more occult merchandise: incense, oils, votive candles, and endless shelves of identical statues of Santa Muerte and Jesús Malverde, the so-called “Narco Saint.” (I wondered if tourists like me were their target audience.) Out in the streets of the market we found stands filled with plants and bones that I mostly couldn’t recognize, as well as a troupe of Indigenous dancers whom I could have easily watched perform for the whole day.
That said, of all the things on sale at the Mercado, the ones that have stayed with me haven’t been the most explicitly “witchy.” One stall stood at a crossing near the far end of the market from where we came in. I smelled it before I saw it, the rich scent of manure and sweat, animal savors. In my beloved Soulard Farmers Market back home, there were occasionally live animal sales, mostly of chickens, but here, there were all sorts of creatures for sale: ducklings, goats, lambs, all sorts of fowl, guinea pigs, many colorful birds, and a rabbit so comically large that it would have needed its own seat on the plane home if I’d bought it.
Near the front of the stall, just to the left of the enormous rabbit, was a cage set at just below eye-level. I stooped down to look at it, and saw inside two corvids, their feathers slightly ruffled, their plumage a warm and pleasant black. I don’t know what species they were, and didn’t have the foresight to take a picture; they might have been young ravens or crows, or they might have been one of any number of other plump black birds. In my memory, I recall their eyes being red, but I don’t know whether to trust this; I don’t trust many of my instincts when it comes to corvids.
I am generally somewhat skeptical of “signs from the gods;” I find the idea of constant bombardment with messages from the powers to be unlikely at best. (And probably not a good thing, if it really were happening: I recall Alaric Albertsson, in the days before he published a bunch of books and was just my Uncle Alaric, telling me that if things were going well for someone the gods probably wouldn’t have to keep prodding them.) For the most part my gods only speak with me during ritual or other intentional practice, and even then, it’s not common.
That said, I make an exception for corvids, especially when they come in pairs. I keep my eyes out for them, especially when traveling – I have spotted them at Stonehenge at the winter solstice, and in the streets of Birmingham on my way to see the Staffordshire hoard, and circling over Thingvellir in Iceland. As is to be expected, one might say – they are common birds, especially if one doesn’t draw a strong distinction between ravens and crows.
I accept this, but a superstition is a superstition, and this one is mine. I think it started as a running gag of sorts, something to point out to friends who knew I was a Heathen who would appreciate the idea that Odin was keeping an eye on me. But as often happens, when we build patterns into our lives, whether they start as jokes is immaterial – do something often enough and it becomes part of who we are. And as I became more enmeshed in my own relationship with Odin, so too did I become more aware of, and befuddled by, the corvids that I associated with him.
In that sense, it did not surprise me to find a pair of black birds looking back at me from their wire cage in the great esoteric market. They were ordinary birds, for sale, I assumed, as pets – but living with a magical sensibility means understanding all sorts of mundane things within mythic contexts. They were two black birds, but then, every pair of black birds are Odin’s black birds to my eyes.
“Of course you’re having a staring contest with them,” said my partner, as though I were expecting them to say something to me. I smiled at her, wishing I had something at hand to slip to the corvids.
“Only to say hello to the boss for me,” I said, more to the birds than to my companion. I watched them in silence for a few minutes, and with their red eyes, they watched me back. Then I stood up, patted the top of their cage, and wandered back with my partner into the throng of humanity pressed against one another in the market of dreams.