Life & Culture

Searching for the Real Witches of Transylvania

Photographic duo Patrick Bienert and Max von Gumppenberg present a documentary series capturing the reality of Romanian witches

  • TextTed Stansfield

No place on earth is as synonymous with the occult as Transylvania in Romania. The region is shrouded in myth and mystery, inextricably tied to chilling stories of werewolves, witches and vampires – most notably, of course, Dracula. But is there any truth to these tales?

Well, as the saying goes, there’s no smoke without fire...

For the S/S18 ‘Psychodrama’ issue of Another Man, photographic duo Patrick Bienert and Max von Gumppenberg and Fashion Director Ellie Grace Cumming travelled to Romania to create a fashion story. Upon their arrival, they came into contact with an artist from the city of Timisoara called Virginia Lupu, who is familiar with witchcraft and indeed many witches.

“I remember getting bitten by a snake once, that was my first contact with witchcraft,” she says. “I was really frightened and great-grandmother poured tin to cure me from the fear. She poured the metal in the water and it formed the shape of a snake. I had to carry this with me for a while and then break it into four pieces and throw it at a crossroads, one piece in every direction.”

Virginia’s great-grandmother ignited a passion in her for witchcraft, which remains with her today – though her practice differs from Western perceptions of the medium. “Tarot is my main witch activity,” she explains. “I also like paying homage to the moon according to her phases and especially to Lilith, the first feminist of the universe. I am interested in witchcraft also because it goes hand-in-hand with feminism and anti-capitalism. The witch is a powerful symbol and while it’s most iconic in the popular imagination as a woman with a pointed black hat, huge nose and scary face, the truth is that anyone can be a witch.”

Acting as their guide, Virginia introduced Patrick, Max and Ellie to several local witches – including Mihaela Minca who is the greatest witch in Romania and has even won an award for her witchcraft – who welcomed them into their homes. “We took some pictures of them, but then they said it’s in their culture that they have to invite us in for food, so they made lunch for us,” recalls Patrick. “After this we went out and built a fire and did a long ritual. They put some ingredients in the cauldron and danced around the fire. It was a ritual for love, she said, and afterwards there needed to be another ritual which we couldn’t attend.”

In addition to their fashion story for the S/S18 issue of Another Man, Patrick and Max shot a documentary series, which can be seen here. These photographs document this ritual, along with the women who performed it, shining a light on the reality of Romanian witches – away from the “black hat, huge nose and scary face” cliché.