“When you would expect something mystical, there is a young witch with iPhone in her hand taking a selfie picture before a ritual or during,” says Ivana Šusterová, a Slovakian ethnologist who contributed research to the Vrajitoare photo series. “Because of the internet, the work of vrăjitoare is much easier and more available to clients.”
The vrăjitoare use the dollar sign as a symbol of wealth in their rituals.
Younger members of the vrăjitoare begin training at age seven, observing their mothers and grandmothers with clients before opening their own practice.
Bláhová says it was helpful to work with an ethnologist familiar with Roma culture in order to complete the series. “They are a closed community that is hard to penetrate,” she explains.
Facebook is the most popular social platform among the vrăjitoare. Witches use the livestream feature to broadcast rituals, sometimes to an audience of thousands.
“During my first visit [with the vrăjitoare], I picked their pose and location,” Bláhová recounts. “Later, I decided that it would be better to let them pose as they like. It shows you more about their self-presentation.”
Witches often perform rituals out of their homes and use a smaller room to meet with clients. Bláhová says some Roma women have become quite wealthy through their practice of witchcraft.
Historically, Romanian women would pick up customers wherever they travelled. Now, using the internet, the vrăjitoare are able to work with clients remotely using Facebook chat. Payment is typically conducted by transfer of funds.
Bláhová says Vrăjitoare Danusia, above, only uses white magic because she doesn’t want to hurt others. “She doesn’t use spells, only prayers,” Bláhová explains. “I used my flash and television behind her to create a kind of artificial digital halo effect inspired by religious iconography.”
In 2011, the Romanian government proposed a new law that required the vrăjitoare to pay a 16 percent income tax. The vrăjitoare response was two-fold: Some supported the tax as it established witchcraft as a verifiable profession, while others angrily threw poisonous mandrake plants into the Danube River.
Bláhová says that several of the witches she photographed would involve her in their rituals. “Suddenly, women started manipulating us into the client role for the purpose of their self-promotion on social networks,” she recounts. “I realized that you don’t have to be a naive person to believe them because they have really good tactics in getting your trust.”
Above, two young girls pick flowers in the yard behind their house in the middle of the capital city. Bláhová says this photo shows the discrepancy between what the vrăjitoare say in interviews and what she witnessed through her research. “Women said they have been picking flowers in secret places, always in wild nature, far away from civilization, usually during the sunrise,” Bláhová says. “The more interviews we had with them, the more we got a feeling of a kind of performance for their clients or a kind of competition between the women.”
A client pre-ritual. At the witch’s request, customers wear a white veil over their head so they cannot see the vrăjitoare’s secret practice.
Members of the vrăjitoare field calls from clients on their iPhones as they celebrate Martisoare, the first day of spring.
Witches often sacrifice animals during rituals. Above, a black hen is used to remove evil spirits.