MARTOR no. 28 / year 2023

Changing Destinies by Fighting Against Bad Luck

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Camelia Burghele
County Museum of History and Art, Zalău, Romania

Camelia Burghele is an ethnologist who specialises in traditional therapeutic magic and modern ways of adapting magico-ritual scenarios, and also in the dynamics of cultural processes in traditional Romanian villages, most particularly in villages in Sălaj. She holds bachelor’s degrees in Philology and Journalism from Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca and a PhD from the same institution and has done postdoctoral work at the Romanian Academy.

PAGES: 73-88

KEWORDS: Traditional Romanian village; magic; witchcraft; modern witches; corona-virus pandemic; magic mindset.


In the traditional Romanian village, misfortune (bad luck) was countered by the use of magic means. Those who took the lead in performing the magico-ritual act were women who possessed special powers that enabled them to identify, isolate and destroy evil and thus restore peace of mind and health to their clients by manipulating chance and changing their destinies. They were country women without special qualifications who healed a wide spectrum of ailments – themselves caused by ritual means – or made love charms. By contrast, the contemporary urban environment in Romania can show us modern witches who are widely advertised in the media, practise aggressive marketing, and are in most cases digitally literate (they make use of the Internet and digital applications to facilitate relations with clients); by employing sophisticated rituals and often also by drawing on black magic, they provide solutions to sickness, curses and being crossed in love, as also happens in traditional villages, but they are equally able to deal with unemployment, impotence, lack of money, hair loss, business failure and above the straying of unfaithful husbands, thus demonstrating that they are in tune with the times in which they live. Everything is possible, because people living in modern communities, despite the categorical appeal to reason, despite digitalisation, globalisation, bureaucratisation and the coming of the computer age, still feel the need to “explain the inexplicable,” in exactly the same way as peasants living in traditional villages do, and in addition feel the need for personal experiences, including of magic ritual and witchcraft.

The coronavirus pandemic had the effect of strengthening this impression of a “magic mindset” and even of uninterrupted coexistence between the magic of the traditional village and modern urban life, influencing the relation between magic/religion and science – something seen at its clearest in the attitudes of large numbers of people towards the origin and treatment of the virus and above all the vaccines.

My aim in the present study is to give a succinct diachronic perspective on the subject; I will argue for the view that magico-ritual performances were transposed from the traditional village into the contemporary urban scene and even into the particular case of the coronavirus pandemic. I underline that the field information comes from Sălaj, an area in north-western Romania (part of Transylvania) that is little industrialised and relatively conservative. We are dealing with a largely rural area in which customs, traditions and patterns of behaviour that form part of our country’s immaterial heritage can still be identified.


Burghele, Camelia. 2023. “Changing Destinies by Fighting Against Bad Luck.” Martor 28: 73-88. [DOI: 10.57225/martor.2023.28.05]

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