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Best of Phoenix 2020: Believing in Magic at Zombi World Market

Genevieve El-Masri provides more than just merchandise for her customers.EXPAND
Genevieve El-Masri provides more than just merchandise for her customers.
Robrt L. Pela

In our stressful post-COVID universe, Zombi World Market has evolved into something more than a ceremonial magic supply store. In addition to selling incense, essential oils, and other necessities for occult, voodoo, and ceremonial high magic, owner Genevieve El-Masri finds herself lately offering spiritual comfort in the form of good old-fashioned reassurance.

“People are coming in freaked out because their conditions are changed,” she says. “They want comfort, and they’re hoping for a quick solution to all the horrible protests, the killings and violence against people of color, all on the heels of what’s happening with COVID. I spend part of every day reassuring people that the crisis isn’t all about bad juju and bad luck.”

She could probably make a killing selling magic fix-it herbs and potions to stressed-out Phoenicians, but she’s not that kind of gal. She deals instead in divination and ethnic hoodoo, and in Santería, an Afro-Caribbean religion that worships saints. But divination takes more than just a bagful of magic supplies.

“I can sell you a candle to light, but if you don’t believe in the magic, nothing will happen. It has to resonate, there has to be some belief. If you come in because you’re having a hard time with money, I can give you gold coins and tell you to put one under each shoe. But if you don’t connect to the symbolism, it won’t mean anything. My magic is effective, but you have to be willing to be transformed.”

She feels, she says, like a crossing guard directing people to social services around town. “People come in because they’ve lost their job and can’t afford their medicine. They’re homeless, and their supplier of Narcan bailed on them. I can’t give them a magic spell. I don’t sell a powder or a potion for that. I direct them to the people who can help them — social workers, mental health professionals.”

To create more balance in a messed-up world, El-Masri has upped Zombi’s charity game. “We’re raising money for the rainforest. I’m selling artwork where the money goes to an animal shelter. I’m doing a lot of condom outreach — if someone comes in and they want a love potion because they’re promiscuous, I give them a bunch of condoms, too. In December, we collected gifts for a child we heard about who is interested in witchcraft and pagan stuff. We’re gathering blankets and bags of backyard citrus for the homeless.”

Which isn’t to say she’s ignoring her hoodoo shop. El-Masri recently enlarged the store’s shopping space, adding another 6 feet worth of talismans and saintly statues and magical artifacts.

People want more than stuff from Zombi World Market, though. Lately, folks have been dropping in to ask El-Masri who will win the presidential election in November.

“I’d be lying if I said I knew,” she admits. “I try to redirect conversations like that. I talk about how when things are bad, it’s an opportunity to create a better world. I think we’ve got a good magic spell for doing that: loving one another and listening to the people next to you.” 

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