Saturday, April 23, 2011
Gypsy Magic - The May SEHA theme
“Even a man, who is pure at heart and says his prayers at night, may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the moon is shining bright.” So says the gypsy fortune teller from the classic, The Wolfman. When gypsy magic is mentioned, these are likely the images that come to mind – the traveling fortune teller, always ready to read a palm, or perhaps pick a pocket as well, with the horses and wagons long gone by the time the sheriff arrives. Are these images rooted in anything other than Hollywood stereotypes? We wanted to find out. According to the dictionary, the word gypsy is an alteration of Middle English gypcian, short for Egipcien, Egyptian (so called because Gypsies were thought to have come from Egypt). The definition is a member of a people that arrived in Europe in migrations from northern India around the 14th century, now also living in North America and Australia. Many Gypsy groups have preserved elements of their traditional culture, including an itinerant existence and the Romany language.” Rom culture has deep ties to Hindu traditions and beliefs, and is quite firmly entrenched in a masculine society. Tribes tend to travel, even today, with a Baro at the head of these nomadic clans. The term Romanipen is used to describe the deep and complex set of social mores, values, the spirit of the Romani and the absolute loyalty to the Romani culture – if one does not have Romanipen, one is not Romani, no matter what the circumstances of birth are. Having such fierce and staunch standards of loyalty no doubt went a long way to preserving the culture of the Romani, who’s history is deeply plagued by the scourge of slavery and the horror of genocide. To this day, across Europe, the persecution of the Romani people persists. It is easy to see how romantic notions of these “gypsies” flourished, the mystery surrounding them veiled by the prejudice that followed them and nomadic lives they led. A deep love of music is part of Rom life, the culture rich with this love, and no Eastern European wedding is complete without Romani musicians. With the constant pressure of persecution from the outside world, it is easy to see how the gypsy fortune teller was born. Living on the outskirts of society makes it necessary to earn one’s living on the fringe. Fortune telling lends itself to this need, making it possible to earn a living, honest or no, capitalizing on that aura of mystery that surrounds the Romani. (It is worth noting that the term “gypsy” is offensive to many Romani, due to the negative associations. It is like calling anyone of Italian heritage a Mafioso.) There is also a legend, regarding the Romani people and the Crucifixion of Christ. Legend says that a Romani blacksmith was charged with providing the nails for the Crucifixion – upon delivering these nails, the Romani secretly hid one of the nails, thus depriving Christ’s crucifiers with the nail meant for His heart. The legend says that God blessed the Romani and gave them free reign to take whatever they needed to live and flourish without fear of Godly repercussions, and so it seems one man’s thievery is another man’s divine right, or so says the legend. The ability to peddle curses, sell spells, to see the future in one’s palm or tea leaves and reveal the secrets of past and future became associated with the gypsy, and whether or not this art is rooted in some inherent psychic ability or a culturally cultivated way to separate locals from their gold when holding traditional jobs within accepted society is not allowed is a question I cannot answer and perhaps do not wish to. When we think of “gypsies”, and the magic of these people, it is not their alleged ability to read the future or see the past that should come to mind, although the image of a dark beauty, full of passion, here today and gone tomorrow, is appealing for obvious reasons, but the ability of a nation, nomadic and with no real home of their own, to survive against all odds, to suffer the chains of slavery and brutality and persecution that most contemporary Westerners would and should find reprehensible and unbearable and to still find it in their hearts to sing and dance and raise families and keep their traditions alive, and pass them down from generation to generation - that is true gypsy magic.