It may surprise you to learn that there are actually several places around the world where witchcraft is still practiced today. Witches were heavily persecuted in Europe and America in the 1500s and the 1600s, but in modern-day Romania, which is in Eastern Europe, it seems as if they're there to stay. In that area, witches are actually thriving, and some make such good money at what they do that their government started taxing them as legal workers.
Romania, the land of Dracula and Transylvania, is actually the perfect place for witchcraft to thrive, if you think about it. They have a very active witch culture, and their trade has been passed down from generation to generation. Locally referred to as "witches," they're sometimes more akin to fortune tellers. Whatever you decide to call them, they make use of all the witchy tools you're probably thinking of, from spells and potions to crystal balls and incantations (no broomsticks, though!).
If you are in the spirit of All Hallow's Eve, which is swiftly approaching, get ready for the world's true witches who live scattered across Romania. Witches can be found in many countries even now, but in Romania, they're prospering. And there's much more to them than meets the eye. Here are 15 strange and intriguing facts that you should definitely know about Romania's witches.
15 It's Not Shameful to Visit a Witch
There is, however, a stigma attached to visiting a therapist and some kinds of doctors, so many Romanians first visit a witch. In many ways, it's an alternative to traditional healthcare. It's not shameful in Romania to visit a witch, and in fact, approximately one in 10 people there do so. Still, much like a regular old doctor appointment in the West, seeking out the help of a witch isn't something that people like to broadcast. But witchcraft is very much alive in Romania and is widely practiced and accepted. Some would even go as far as to say that witchcraft is thriving in Romania and is a lucrative and stable career for hundreds of women across the country. Many people choose to entrust their problems to these witches in hopes of making their lives better, and only later, if this fails, will they seek the help of an actual medical professional.
14 They're A Lot Like Stereotypical Witches
The women who work as witches in Romania are surprisingly similar to the ones you grew up hearing about in fairy tales. At least in terms of their "services," the witches live up to their reputation. They may not all be old and ugly with warts on their long nose, and they definitely don't wear the pointy black hat and striped stockings that are characteristic of storybook witches. But aside from the physical aspect, the witches do pretty much everything you could imagine witches would do. They cast love spells, release people from evil spells, brew potions, predict the future, and make and break marriages, and they can even supposedly cure diseases and perform exorcisms! And finally, just like in some fables, there exists in their world white and black magic...
13 The Truth About Their Predictions
No one expects a fortune teller to be 100% correct on everything she says about the future. After all, things can change from the time you're having your future read until that future actually happens. And even witches have their off-days. However, it might be a little more than that, because, at least according to Slovakian photographer Lucia Sekerkova, who spent time getting to know the witches and documenting their lives, their predictions weren't very reliable. Besides the fact that they, themselves, are aware that their craft can, at times, be morally questionable (see number 10 on this list), Sekerkova put their abilities to the test. She was disappointed to learn that they weren't all they were cracked up to be. She explained, "Part of my project was to see just how different the women's predictions were. And they were quite different -- some positive, others negative. All were really short and way too general. For example, one of the witches told me I was going to get married and have three kids within a year. It's been more than a year since, and none of the things she said would happen have actually happened. The strangest part was when a witch came up to me, pulled my hair, and told me that someone close to me was going to die. Luckily, they [sic] didn't."
12 White Witches and Their Use of the Cross
One Romanian witch named "Rodica" wants to fight black magic. She's the most famous gypsy witch in Romania, the daughter of Mother Caterpillar, who was once the most powerful gypsy witch in their country. She was the personal fortuneteller of the former Communist dictator's wife. White witches see no contradiction between their Orthodox Christianity and practicing witchcraft. Many other cultures would see this differently since many people consider witchcraft the work of the devil. But this is where white and black magic diverge, and one becomes evil, the other good. In fact, white witches are the only kind of witch in Romania who are allowed to use the cross in their work. The white witch Rodica said, "The cross represents our faith in God. Everything we do, we do with faith in God."
11 White and Black Magic
It makes sense that both white and black magic exist, as both good and evil exist. According to the witches, with black magic, you do evil. With white magic, you undo it. White magic is performed in the day, and black magic is performed at night. When practicing white magic, things like honey, flowers, and water are used because they're signs of life. Black magic uses things like dead animals and blood for its rituals. Some witches claim to be able to communicate with the dead using black magic and say they can cross over into the realm of the dead. Examples of white magic include curing illnesses, casting love spells, or anything with a selfless purpose behind it (other than the fact that they're being paid, of course). Black magic would involve cursing a person, causing a death, or any malevolent or selfishly motivated spell. A woman named "Maria Campina" is the undisputed leader of the witches and holds the title "White Magic Queen of Romania." This is her, pictured above.
10 Most of the Witches Are Roma Gypsies
Witches in Romania are often of Roma heritage, meaning they're gypsies. Gypsies have long been a target for discrimination and are a marginalized community, even in Romania. Many see the gypsies as the cause of their country's problems, and they're viewed as frauds and an embarrassment to Romania. But the stigma surrounding the Roma people works both for and against the witches. There's a local stereotype of Roma people being witch doctors, which aids them as fortune tellers and thus, at making money. This ancient trade is the only work a Roma gypsy woman is allowed to practice because, in their culture, it's the men who are the providers. Practicing witchcraft is the only way these women are able to gain respect within their community. Girls attend school until a certain age, but they're also taught the art of fortune telling by their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. In the above photo are 13-15-year-old witches-in-training: Melisa, Casanndra, Alice, and Esmeralda, learning from Queen witch Mihaela Minca.
9 Politicians Fear Them, As They Should
The government of Romania doesn't appreciate witchcraft, and as previously stated, they find the witches to be an embarrassment. That being said, many politicians fear the power that they possess. Before 2011, when the laws changed so that witches could be taxed, politicians were hesitant to move forward with the tax because too many of them were afraid of becoming the targets of black magic. The tax was first proposed by Alin Popoviciu and Cristi Dugulescu of the ruling Romanian Democratic Liberal Party, but in 2010, too many of their colleagues feared the backlash from the witches and worried they would be cursed by them. In fact, they were right to be nervous because when the new tax law did go through that year, the witches did cast spells on the politicians by hexing them. Casting dark spells upon the politicians, the witches hurled poisonous mandrake into the Danube River during a protest as they're seen doing in the above photo. One witch even told reporters that she would cast a spell on the government and the president using a concoction of cat excrement and a dead dog, which is decidedly black magic.
8 Online Witchcraft!
There's just something about "visiting" a witch online that takes away from the mystical image of fortune telling and witchcraft, don't you think? Nevertheless, for the past decade or so, the witches of Romania have also been practicing their craft over the internet. They may have an ancient trade, but they're apparently also keeping up with the times. The white witch Rodica was one of the first to do so. She has a website, although it's all in Romanian. She said, "I still do spells and potions the traditional way, but the blog keeps me closer to potential clients and can be used to convince the skeptical that witchcraft is real." After Romania joined the EU in 2007, the witches thought going online would be a good way to win more customers.
7 Two Romanian Witches Charged With Blackmail and Extortion
Two witches identified only as "Melissa" (left) and "Vanessa" (right) were charged with blackmail and extortion in 2011 after they promised Romanian celebrities that they would help them "break curses" and overcome difficulties at work and in love. At first, the celebrities were charged very little for the services, but then, the witches began to increase their prices. One victim, who was identified as Romanian television personality Oana Zavoranu, said she forked over hundreds of thousands of Euros in cash and property for the witches' spells. She was seeking protection from her mother-in-law, who had put a curse on her, but the witches say she wanted them to cast a spell to kill the woman, who is still alive. Either way, the victims alleged that when they tried to stop payments, Melissa and Vanessa threatened to put spells on them or to reveal details of their personal lives.
6 Fines and Imprisonment For Bad Predictions
One month after the witches of Romania began to be taxed as legal workers in 2011, a new bill emerged seeking to fine or imprison them should their predictions not come true. The witches defended their faulty predictions and said that rather than blaming them, their divination tools like tarot cards and crystal balls should be to blame. Queen Witch Bratara Buzea further pointed out that sometimes, their clients weren't honest about their real identities, birthdates, and other personal details, which all affected their readings. It was interesting that they acknowledged their predictions were sometimes wrong, but they still defended them. Bratara said, "They can't condemn witches. They should condemn the cards. What about when a client gives false details about themselves [sic]? We can't be blamed for that."
5 They're Aware It's Morally Questionable
"Magic" amongst the Romanian witches is something that, for the most part, is taught. The older women of a family pass down the craft to their daughters, nieces, and granddaughters. In the minds of many, psychics and fortune tellers and those with magic powers were born with a supernatural gift, and it's something that cannot be taught. For those in Romania that were not born with paranormal gifts (meaning most of them), they grow up learning how to read cards, palms, the stars, crystal balls, etc. After a Roma girl finishes her schooling, she must decide if she wants to enter into this trade, which is really her only option besides being a housewife. According to Slovakian photographer Lucia Sekerova, who befriended and documented the witches, "Each girl has to decide for herself if this trade is morally correct or not because practicing it often entails taking advantage of their clients' naivety." Pictured above is the young witch apprentice Selena, who's still in school but learns witchcraft from her aunt Amalia.
4 The Witches' Pool
30 minutes outside of the Romanian capital of Bucharest is a little spot called the Witches' Pool or Balta Vrajitoarelor. It's thought to have been cursed, and it's feared by the locals. It's a tiny little pond just 16 feet in diameter in the Boldu-Creteasca Woods. It looks very ordinary and not spectacular in any way. But locals believe that the little pond is surrounded by forces from other worlds and that unexplainable events happen there, such as storms forming out of nowhere. They say animals refuse to drink from it, and supposedly, witches gather there close to important nights like St. George, Midsummer's Day, and St. Andrew. Legend has it that every spell or curse cast at the pool comes true. With a shallow depth of less than five feet, one of the mysteries is that it can allegedly swallow huge amounts of matter, like the mortar that was thrown in after the 1977 earthquake in Bucharest.
3 They Flaunt Their Wealth With Gold and Luxurious Homes
The witches of Romania appreciate lavish lifestyles, as is evidenced by their luxurious homes decked in gold and marble. According to the Slovakian photographer who befriended the witches and wrote a story about them for her newspaper, "The witches' houses are all about flaunting their wealth, whether that means golden chairs or flat-screen televisions." Pictured above are some of the houses the photographer, Lucia Sekerkova, visited. As you can see, they're very regal-looking and probably much nicer than most people would think a Romanian witch's home would be. The gold chairs in the upper left photo belong to a witch named "Sultana," and the room in the upper and lower right photos is the home of the Queen of the Fortune Tellers, Maria Campina. The bottom left photo shows the home of Atena, a witch who believes that her life is guided by her dead grandmother.
2 Their Divination Tools
Like any other kind of witch, Romanian witches have plenty of tools at their disposal that aid them in casting spells, reversing spells, curing people, cursing people, and predicting the future. Potions are one thing that's very common for witches to use, and one of their more modern concoctions is actually a gay love potion! They also use charms, incantations, crystal balls, amulets, talismans, tarot cards, holy water, and even voodoo dolls. In Romanian mythology, it said that each witch has access to a Black Book, the kind you see in movies with witches who are looking up spells. During the summer solstice, which is the most important holiday of the year for Romanian witches, they make use of the stars to tell them what the future holds.
1 They Adapt Their Fees Depending on the Client
The witches of Romania are either terrible businesswomen for their lack of consistency, or they're geniuses because, at least when it comes to finances, they cater to the customer. By this, I mean that they adapt their fees depending on the wealth of the person who's come to visit them. While this is likely not true for every single Romanian witch there ever was, it is for one witch named "Margareta," who spoke about her changing fees in an interview with a BBC writer who had visited as a child. Margareta is the most famous witch in her town, a city of about 80,000 called "Targu Jiu," which lies in the Southwest of Romania on the river Jiu. She practices her magic on Tuesdays and Thursdays most weeks, and she decides what to charge each customer by judging his or her wealth. Then, she determines a fee accordingly. Margareta and other witches also adapt their spells depending on the client's specific needs.
Sources: digitaljournal.com, livescience.com, vice.com, romaniajournal.ro