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Much in the style of the Bolivian and Peruvian munachi sex charm and munaiwarmi marital fidelity charm is a class of soapstone talismans once used among the Quechua and Aymara people for ensuring the reporductive fertility of domestic animals. Called illas or canopas in Quechua and mullas in Aymara, these are small figurative charms used to ensure fertility, love, and other of life's benefits. Those which are made for the purpose of increasing the fecundity and health of flocks of herd animals are also sometimes called chacras, that word meaning field or pasture and the charms being activated by burial in a field or pasture.

I ran across three very old illas of the chacras type in 1995 at a store called The Uptown Gallery in Sebastopol, California, which specializes in antique folk art and textiles from around the world. Two of the illas depicted wooly sheep with horns, and the third -- which i bought -- was what the store owner called a "twin illa," specifically designed to encourage fecundity by depicting two animals side by side. In this case the species was cattle, and the carving, about 1 3/4" tall, 2" long, and 1 1/4" wide, is of two horned bovines, one slightly smaller than the other, joined along their flanks.

The carving is schematic, like that of a munachi, but unlike contemporary Quechua stone charms, it is smooth and stylish in execution, resembling an ancient (not recent) Zuni fetish. The cattle's legs are not depicted at all (neither were the sheep's legs on the two single-sheep illas). The powerful forward-leaning bovine bodies seem to rise from the earth as monoliths, and their heads are disproportionately small; their horns, however, are neatly detailed, making their species at once recognizable.

Soapstone illas like this are not made or used anymore, but old ones are dug up out of the fields during plowing, and sold to the folk-art trade. Mine shows signs of long burial in the soil, the once-white stone discoloured and a bit of the leading edge broken off and worn. According to the store owner, it is at least 100 years old and may be older, but it dates no farther back than the Spanish conquest of Peru.

Being a Taurus (the sign of the bull) with Gemini (the sign of the Twins) in the ascendent, and Venus conjunct Mars (a significator of sexual union) also prominent on my horoscope, i was very taken with these "twin cattle" and their use in magical fecundation, and so i paid the price -- $40.00 -- to own this very old charm. May my herds increase!

Not all pre-Columbian Quechua illas were used for fertility. One of the notable exceptions was the weaver's hand amulet, carved in the form of the hand of a weaver holding a beater-stick. Like the illas used for fertility, ancient weaver's hand votive amulets were buried in the ground, but in this case the purpose was to increase the manual dexterity of the petitioner. A modern derivation of the Quechua soapstone weaver's hand amulet be seen in a Peruvian package amulet of the "collage" type.


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