Gold is an essential part of Roma culture, especially for the queen of the witches, Maria Câmpina
This article originally appeared on VICE Romania.
Last year, Slovakian photographer Lucia Sekerková traveled to Romania to meet Maria Câmpina, the self-proclaimed queen of the fortune tellers, who are locally referred to as "witches." Usually of Roma origin, these women are said to be able to read a person's future in his or her palm, in grains of wheat, or in the stars.
Lucia made friends with Maria and spent time documenting the witches, their houses, and their trade—a profession has
been passed down from generation to generation since ancient times. I got in touch with her to find out a bit more about her project.
Maria Câmpina sitting on her gold couch
VICE: How did you end up documenting the lives of Romanian witches?
Lucia Sekerková: I've been both fascinated and scared by the occult ever since I was a child. I decided to come to Romania through the Erasmus student exchange program because I thought the country was quite mysterious and rich in folklore. I was searching the internet for information about the villages, the people, and their traditions when I came across a YouTube video of one of these fortune tellers. I knew right away that I needed to meet them in person.
So I asked the CouchSurfing community for help and met a local photographer, Cosmin Iftode. He ended up acting as my guide and translator, which was good, since very few of these witches speak English. I couldn't have done it without his help. Cosmin and I are close friends now.
How did you find the witches?
I just looked up their addresses and telephone numbers on the internet and in the papers, but it was pretty hard to convince them to let me take their picture. Some of them asked for money, others didn't. Anyway, most of them were willing to bargain. The prices ranged somewhere between 20 [$22] and 50 euros [$56] per session.
I told them I was taking their pictures for a newspaper in Slovakia. They
probably wouldn't have let me do it if I told them the truth: that I was working on my final project. Moreover, telling them I work for a newspaper assured them that I could pay the price they asked.
After days of searching and bargaining, I finally met Maria Câmpina—the self-proclaimed queen of the witches—and struck a deal with her. In order to take her and her acquaintances' pictures, I had to promise her the newspaper that I was working for would publish a full story about her, as well as give her the front page. This way, I didn't have to pay any money for the photo session. Maria's photo did end up on the front page of SME, a weekly Slovakian newspaper.
These gold chairs belong to a witch named Sultana. Sultana told the author that her studies will only depress her and that whenever she feels unhappy she should turn a rock upside down.
How hard was it to interact with these women?
The hardest part was persuading them to be honest. While I was interviewing them, I got the feeling they tended to exaggerate their stories. It was obvious they were trying to make a good impression. Fortune telling is ultimately a business. I wasn't used to dealing with people like that, so the conversation was quite exhausting.
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Did you test their fortune-telling abilities?
I did. 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 didn't.
The witches' houses are all about flaunting wealth, whether that means golden chairs or flat-screen televisions. This is the house of a witch named Amalia, who at the time was training her niece in the art of witchcraft.
think the local stereotype of Roma people being witch doctors helps these fortune tellers make money?
In Roma communities, it's usually the men who support their families. Whether they make an honest living or not is an entirely different matter. Fortune telling is an ancient trade—the only one that Roma women are allowed to practice. It's also the only way Roma women gain respect and success within their communities.
Roma girls go to school until they are 18, but they're also taught fortune telling by their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. 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.
How do you feel about the fact that this ancient
trade is practiced in a modern society?
At first, I was fascinated. I photographed some of the wealthiest and most respected witches in the world. These women have managed to accomplish something incredible: They've built a modern business using ancient rituals originating from their ethnic background. Their customs are exactly the same as a century ago. What's changed is people's perception of them.
Scroll down for more pictures.
Selena is in the process of learning magic and becoming a witch. She goes to high school but learns the magic arts from her aunt Amalia.
This furniture belongs to the witch Maria Câmpina, who told us she speaks to the dead.
Witches sometimes light candles to "open their inner eye" before casting a spell or looking into the future.
Loventa told the author that she could see the sadness behind her smile. She told her that the sorrow would grow deeper after one of her loved ones dies.
Atena was aware that the author did not believe in her powers or God. She said she would never be happy if she didn't embrace God.
This staircase belongs to Atena, who believes her life is guided by dreams of her dead grandmother.
The with Sunita told Lucia that an important turning point is coming in her life, and that she should watch her health.
Potions are a huge part of the witches' culture.
The witch Ivana Sidonia told Lucia that her ex wants her back and that a loved one would soon die.
Crystal balls are often used for seeing into the future.