If you ever find yourself feeling nostalgic for your secret middle school Wiccan phase, or have a friend crush on Hermione (or just enjoy casting the occasional spell), you’ll love Katarzyna Majak’s portraits of modern day Polish witches. Majak began taking photographs of women on alternative spiritual paths after participating in a “shamanic workshop,” which was part of her personal quest for spirituality beyond her Catholic upbringing in Poland. The result of her quest is “Women of Power,” a delightful photo and interview series that will soon be published as a book (the publication date is still TBA).
“I was lucky enough to meet women strong enough to follow their inner call and look for more pluralism in their spiritual search,” Majak tells Co.Design. Living in an ex-communist country without much religious diversity, Majak says she felt something missing, and wanted look for female spiritual leaders: “I intuitively felt that there is a lot hidden female knowledge and wisdom beyond the imposed mainstream, and followed the call.” She traveled all over the country and met women from a myriad of spiritual practices–Wiccans, Goddess followers, Herbal Healers, Druids, Asatru.
The women in these photographs don’t fit any of the cartoony stereotypes of “witches”: none have green faces, hooked noses, broomsticks, or cauldrons, and none of them are cackling. But they don’t look mainstream, either. Enenna, who leads an Alexandrian Wiccan coven, wears a hood and clutches a scythe. Natalia holds a voodoo doll in red-gloved hands. Justyna, a Ma-Uri Path Follower, holds a conch shell and stares piercingly at the viewer. You can’t help but wonder how these powerful women are perceived by the 90% Catholic Polish mainstream. “The main misconception is that they perform some kind of ‘magic’ or are dangerous,” Majak says. “Many people still have issues with understanding the word ‘witch’–which means a woman of wisdom. An important reason why we still approach witches with some sort of fear is history–an ongoing result of how wise women, who knew a lot about herbal healing and midwifery, were at some point used as scapegoats and persecuted.” It wasn’t just at Salem that this was the case–in Poland in the late 18th century, the Doruchow witch trial ended in the executions of 14 women for sorcery.
“We fear what we do not know or do not understand,” Majak says, “so you may imagine how courageous it was for the women in a basically mono-religious and not very tolerant country to ‘come out’ and call themselves witches, to say ‘this is who I am and I am proud of that’.” How do you say “Amen” in Wiccan?