Lucia Bláhová

2013 - Ongoing

Vrăjitoare – witches, fortune tellers, healers...

Many Romanian Roma (Wallachian groups) women identify themselves with such descriptions. In the past fortune-telling had a strong tradition within many travelling Roma groups wandering across the European area. Fortune telling abilities were primarily attributed to, in the main, older women, undoubtedly for their lifelong experiences. Their potential clients were to be found anywhere in the streets of the villages and towns where their caravans happened to have stopped.

Me and an ethnologist, Ivana Šusterová, have decided to make a fusion between photographic work and an ethnological study. For over four years, we have been researching the world of Romanian Roma women who professionally practice fortune telling and witchcraft. Before the revolutionary year 1989, their work was affected by the Communist regime which prohibited fortune telling and witching activities under the threat of imprisonment. In recent years, the popularity of their services is again on the upsurge and the topic is widely discussed, at home and in the media. On the other hand their names are mentioned in police reports, they are charged with blackmail and with manipulating with their clients.

In my photographic collection I try to record the consequences of modernisation, which has inherently transformed this profession, which in itself balances on the thin divide between mysticism and showmanship for the client. Today these women no longer walk the streets in search of suitable palms from which to tell their owner ́s future, but the clients themselves seek them out on the basis of advertisement in the media or on social networks, subsequently visiting them in their splendid houses. Instead of palm reading or fortune telling from tea leaves, it is now sufficient to know your name, date of birth and perhaps an on-line chat on the social network. The profession has been transformed into a business, inherited across generations. Nine year old girls are already starting their promotional “vrăjitoare” profiles on the Facebook. Dolls are at one moment their toy, yet at any time they can transform themselves into a magical artefact with the ability to regain a client ́s lost love.

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  • The young witch Selena wanted to pose as the Virgin Mary, holding her tarot cards. The young girl must be a virgin until the marriage, otherwise she has no value in Wallachian Roma community. The boy's parents choose the bride for their son and they have to pay for the bride to her parents. The price depends on the reputation of the potential bride and her family, on her age and beauty. If she has magical powers which is passed down from mother to daughter it can be an advantage because probably she will able to bring extra money to the family. House of her aunt Amalia, Bucharest, Romania. 2014

  • Sometimes you can find ads such as posters or small DIY banners in the streets of Bucharest but today it is really rare to find them because witches transferred their activities to social networks. In their own words it is cheaper and also more effective. Bucharest, Romania, 2013

  • In the picture you can see a self-proclaimed queen of white magic Maria Campina. She is one of the most famous witches in Romania. The golden crown is a symbol of prestige for her and in general a golden object is kind of an amulet for the Wallachian Roma people who believe in its magical power to protect them against evil. Bucharest, Romania, 2014

  • The sisters. This picture represent the importance of tight family relationship between Roma people. It is the same in their work as witches, they prefer family cooperation more than being individualists but only in the closest family. House of their mother also witch Margareta, Bucharest, Romania, 2016

  • The house of famous witch Vanessa. Bucharest, Romania, 2017

  • I decided to photograph all rituals without clients because a client doesn’t have to be a part of the ritual in most cases. The women claimed that they can solve problems of clients via the phone and also they can tell their future in tarot cards without visiting them. All you have to do is to call them. Witches from Natalia’s family demonstrate their version of ritual for love. On the courtyard of witch Natalia’s house. Bucharest, Romania, 2017

  • The daughter of witch Vanessa checks a video which she had taken for her mother’s Facebook fun page during our interview. Live stream video of witch Vanessa gets more than 10 000 view and and thousands of comments on her Facebook profile. Some of them are positive but also negative or mocking. House of witch Vanessa, Bucharest, Romania, 2017

  • There is a dollar sign in the picture, it is a typical decorative element of their houses. It is an important symbol of prestige, wealth and power, as well, in Wallachian Roma community. I took pictures of their glossy interiors because the witchcraft is also really good business in Romania. House of witch Sidonia, Bucharest, Romania, 2017

  • I focused on their self-presentation and the presentation of their work in my project. They perceive their work as a “gift”, as something with which they must have been born, as a skill that God has given to them. The witch Danusia presented herself as the only one who uses white magic because she doesn’t want to hurt others, she believes in God. She doesn’t use spells, only prayers. This is the reason why she poses with her hands in prayer position. I used my flash and television behind her to create a kind of digital halo effect inspired by religious iconography. House of witch Danusia, Ploiesti, Romania, 2017

  • This picture represents a client before the ritual began. Every client has to have their head covered by white fabric throughout because they must not see what exactly the witch does around. Witch Atena used my friend Ivana for demonstration of the ritual instead of its description in the interview. Her daughter recorded the whole ritual and after that posted it on her mother’s facebook witch profile. They often used us to increase their own popularity on social networks. People might think that she is her real client. The room for clients in the house of witch Atena, Bucharest, Romania, 2017

  • A doll is usually used as a magical artefact with the ability to regain client´s lost love and at the same time it is used as a toy for their children. House of witch Vanessa, Bucharest, Romania, 2017

  • The “Sânziene” holiday, annually on June 24. It is time for celebration of the summer solstice when the heavens open up, making it the strongest night for magic spells, especially for the love spells according to folk beliefs not only in Romania. The witches from Ervira’s family performed rituals during this period in forest on the outskirts of the city. Bucharest, Romania, 2017

  • The picture shows disbalance between the reality which we have witnessed and what they told us during the interview. Mostly, women said they have been picking flowers in secret places, always in wild nature, far away from civilization, usually during the sunrise. In this picture you can see two young girls who are picking flowers in the yard behind their house in the middle of the capital city. Bucharest, Romania, 2017

  • There is the potion which is used for love spells on the left side and the potion against charm on the right side. I have been focusing on DIY visuality of these objects and their diversity. House of witch Monika, Bucharest, Romania. 2017

  • Group portrait of women from witch family. Mother Margareta is in the middle of the picture next to her youngest daughter Beatrice. She wants to be a witch as her mother is because it means money and money means a lot of food according her words. At the right side there is her daughter who is called Melissa and at the left side there is Fatima. Both of them are witches with their own practice. Before the picture was done they wanted to collect all things which they usually use for rituals. Especially, have a laptop in the picture, it was really important for them because it demonstrates that they are modern witches. 

  • The witches from Margareta Minca’s family performed rituals during the “Martisoare” period near the river on the outskirts of the city. There is a feast called “Martisoare” on March 1, in Romania and it symbolizes the celebration of victory of life over death. Winter ends and spring is coming. The clients called them with their problems - mostly relationship problems - and the witches gave them advice and blessed them in the name of God using their Iphones during these night rituals. Bucharest, Romania, 2017

  • Portrait of witch Marea which was created for her promotional purposes on social networks during the “Martisoare” period in Bucharest. Romania, 2017

  • Witches are used to sacrificing an animal – in this case a black hen for removing black magic spells. An evil magic can be taken away from a person and can be moved into an animal, said witch Natalia after the ritual. Bucharest, Romania, 2017

  • After the "Sanziene" ritual. During the summer solstice period, according to old Romanian tradition, young witches made flower crowns which are enchanted and thrown into the river together with burning candles. This ritual should help other girls find their promised love. Bucharest, Romania, 2017

  • Young witch Monika takes a selfie picture with a cross before the ritual begins. My intention was to point to the modernisation of this ancient craft. Bucharest, Romania, 2017