Witches and Miracle Healers Still Rule Roost in Superstitious Balkans
26 Jun 2010
Gabriel Ronay in Sofia
It might sound weird, but even in 2010 the brooding Balkan countries can’t shake their addiction to psychics, clairvoyants, soothsayers and assorted ‘white witches’, all of which are still doing a roaring trade, from Bulgaria to Translyvania.
Clairvoyants and soothsayers ply their ancient trade around hospitals in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, reassuring anxious relatives with visions of a rapid recovery for their loved ones. They market ‘miracle cures’ and love potions, and in newspaper columns advise lovelorn women on how to land a man.
Some claim to be able to read, from coffee grounds, the fates of their fearful customers, while others predict the future from the stars. Their clientele pay handsomely for every divined word. Old women from the countryside tout herbal cures for everything from frigidity to erectile dysfunction and cancer, and claim that their healing craft extends well beyond traditional medicine. Credulous Bulgarians are the world’s biggest spenders when it comes to the miracle cures market.
Every second Bulgarian who took part in a survey for the Sofia television channel BTV said they believed in supernatural powers, and especially feared a curse being put on them. Professor Ljubomir Halachev confirmed in the programme that “trust in psychic powers and second sight is widespread in Bulgaria”.
At the upmarket end of this booming business, savvy younger ‘practitioners’ use state-of-the-art tools – internet websites, blogs and chatrooms – to spread their psychic messages, and give their readings a techy edge. Soothsayers’ most sought-after services include the lifting of curses, countering havoc wreaked by an evil eye and turning bad luck to good.
The apparently unchallengeable claim by Bulgarian clairvoyants and psychics to paranormal powers rests on the world-renowned reputation of their late peer, the seer Baba Vanga.
Born Vangelia Pandeva Dimitrova in 1911, this blind clairvoyant and herbal healer is claimed to have predicted, before her death in 1996, a number of world events, including the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the death of Princess Diana, the break-up of the Soviet Union, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US – “two American brothers would fall under attacks by birds of steel” – and the sinking of the Russian nuclear cruise-missile submarine Kursk.
Then there was her ‘chilling’ prophecy of the date for the outbreak of the Third World War – December 2010. Enigmatically, she said this would be the result of “attempts on the lives of four leaders following a conflict in Hindustan”.
Of course, ‘Hindustan’, in the parlance of an illiterate Bulgarian village clairvoyant, could well have covered the entire Indian sub-continent. And, as the slayings of Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh among others bear witness, the sub-continent is no stranger to political assassinations.
Asked, when she was quite elderly, about her psychic sources, she became shrewdly vague. Her words were especially difficult to decipher because she had spent her entire life in the Rupite region of the Kozhuh Mountains, and spoke with a heavy local accent barely comprehensible to outsiders. Her television interviews were always supported by subtitles.
She spoke of “creatures invisible to people with ordinary sight”, who told her about the fate and future of many people.
In the good ‘white witch’ stakes, Romania has the edge on the rest of the Balkans – even on Bulgaria. While keeping their ancient craft traditional, Romanian white witches use websites, blogs, email messaging and chatrooms to reach their clientele.
To judge by the claims of her website, Rodica Gheorghe is the leading ‘white witch healer’ in the country. Her credentials are based on her family tradition of witchcraft. She is the daughter of the witch Mama Omida and granddaughter of the witch Sabina. Some joke that her family are well on their way to having enough for their own coven.
But in the competitive cut-throat witch business, nothing is lasting, and in Romania’s Transylvania province, ‘black witches’ have muscled in on the lucrative evil eye and funerary markets. Proven spells to keep a newly widowed man from remarrying, and thus depriving his children of their inheritance, are especially well paid for.
After any death in the village of Camarzana, a witch is called in to smear the udders of cows with garlic to prevent ‘revenants’ – vampires returning from the grave – stealing their milk.
As long as the ancient Balkan superstitions rule ordinary lives, witches, clairvoyants and miracle healers will do brisk business, with or without the internet.