Washing with the Gods. An exhibition of Magic Soaps from Central America, South America, and Spain
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Most people are familiar with bars of soap and probably use them every day without thinking about them. Soap is one of the mundane objects that form part of our everyday lives. Generally, a normal bar of soap will cost between fifty pence to about three pounds depending on where you shop and is made from a mixture of fat or lard, oil, lye and chemicals that make it smell nice. It’s main function is to wash grease and dirt away from the surface of the body. Or so I thought until I was introduced to Magic Soap. Magic Soaps (commonly known in Spanish as Jabon Esoterico) are bars of soap that are sold at Tiendas Esoterica1 (stalls that sell items associated with magic) in the inner-city markets of Central and South America and Spain. Unlike regular bars of soap, Magic Soaps draw on the powers of a range of beings (gods, sacred objects, animals, folk saints), which, if applied directly, will make a user’s chosen desire come true. They are presented in visually striking packages that are illustrated with pictures that either show the circumstances that led to the Magic Soap being used (e.g. a person being frightened by evil magic), the results the Magic Soap produces (e.g. a woman dominating her wayward husband on page 15), or the being whose powers the Magic Soap calls upon (e.g. a folk saint of Guatemala on page 26). Magic Soap often comes with small prayer cards that provide instructions for the user to ensure best results and some have small charms, talismans or seeds mixed in to them. Washing with the Gods, held at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, home to one of the World’s largest collections of items related to European magic and the occult, exhibits Magic Soaps collected from Ecuador, Colombia, Perú, Chile, Mexico and Spain between 2015 to 2019. The Magic Soaps displayed here form possibly the largest collection of its kind and exhibiting them at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic will reveal new insights into the links between European and Latin American magic, and how household magic is used today. Even though there is literature that already deals with these subjects, Magic Soaps have been over looked and this exhibition aims to bring them to the fore and to begin a discussion of how the images on their packages contribute to the history of how ideas of magic from Europe and indigenous groups of Central and South America merged.
Washing with the Gods was exhibited at the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle 20 July - 20th September 2019.
Cardiff Metropolitan University (Grant ID: Cardiff Metropolian (Internal))
- Artistic Research 
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