Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Do Gypsies even understand Gypsies? Are there any true traditions anymore?

From the very first day I was old enough to understand what it meant to be Sinti, I knew coming forward and telling people would not be easy. My family spent a huge amount of effort hiding it from us, withholding information, and being secretive...something that is common in their generation and in the culture. It only in the last 6 and 7 years that I truly began to understand what it all meant. And I was right, it wasn't easy. I tried to take direction from my cousins in Germany who showed us what their lives were like, where they hung out, what they listened to (Gypsies love them some Barry White!). They were so defined in who they were and proud of it, that I took that with me to the US. I figured, if the could be that way in a place where, to this day, we aren't aloud in certain clubs and restaurants, then the US would be a great place to be open about my culture. After all, everyone is accepted there. I was surprised at not only the ignorance about Sinti and Roma but the mixed views about them. In one world, you have the metaphysical community and the Renaissance festival type people who only know Gypsies and magical palm readers. Then you have the people who understand the politics but know nothing of the culture. Then you have the people who know the culture but know nothing of the politics. It was clear that anyway you looked at it, the Gypsy people are far from being understood by anyone, including the Gypsies.

When I opened my ebay store, I was suprised I started to get a lot of nasty emails. Not so much from bigots, but from people who claimed Rom or Sinti heritage! They weren't doubting my items, in fact a large amount of my buyers are Rom and Sinti buyers. But they were arguing that my information was incorrect, and that they had the truth. And that truth contradicted that of another person who e-mailed me about their beliefs said to be truth. I had people angry that I used the term Gypsy, feeling it necessary to remind my about the term and where it came from as if I didn't already know. I got on the internet and found even more versions of these "facts". There was 2 shocking realizations to this situation. One was, that Gypsies were fighting among themselves and that wasn't good. And the other, is the secretive and ever changing culture has confused even those within in it. Was there truth to any of these things anymore? Gadje never understood Gypsies. But do Gypsies even understand Gypsies?

I decided to test a theory. I placed an item up on e-bay that I made up. I don't want to embarrass anyone so I wont mention what it was. The point is, I had an item and created a story to it, that was full of ritual and stories and history. I explained the origin and traced it back hundreds of years even. I was surprised that no one called me out on this item! In fact, there was even one Romani who said they haven't seen one of those in a long time! I canceled the bids on it before the auction closed, claiming the item broke because I felt a moral obligation to NOT sell something I knew was a fake. But this confirmed what I had suspected all along. Gypsies did such a good job at misleading gadje, that they have been unable to pass along any tangible traditions to the newer generations. And that these generations, in such a flurry to understand their history, fight with other Gypsies, because they are so afraid of finding out that everything they thought to be true could have simply been a rouse intended for outsiders. That with the many numbers of deaths in the war, and the fear of future persecution, what true traditions died with those victims, are being kept secret by those who survived the war, leaving their children to try and interpret memories they were not old enough to understand, and had to fill in the blanks.

Every country is different, every clan is different, and every family is different. It is pointless at this point to argue because what may be true to one person may not be true to another. The important thing is that what traditions we can get out of the living family members needs to be preserved. What was lost, needs to be rebuilt with new traditions. Traditions we create in our own families that we can pass down. What a tremendous and wonderful responsibility and opportunity my generation now has. The opportunity to make new traditions that will hopefully change the way the world views the Gypsies forever.


Anonymous said...

so true...I still get confused.

TonyTheProf said...

I'm researching Romany customs and traditions in England and the Channel Islands, and I'm trying to find out how authentic the following person is, or whether they are making some of what they say up.

If you can help I'd be very greatful.

As many of you will know I was born into a wytch clan as had my mother and
her mother before we go bcak 5 genenrations as far back as we can trace our
Romany heretiage.

As a girl growing up before school I though everyone went out and worshiped
under the moon and that we all made things at certain times of the year and
had sabbats, that all women read the tarot and we all saw spirits, once I
started school I learnt very quickley this was far fron the truth.

When I was a teen ager I was given the choice as to weather I wanted to
continue my traddion or find another path, there was never any doubt in my
mind what I wanted and so I under went my first initation.

I have allways lead a tradtional Wytches life but I can not say it has been
easy far from it, in fact at time it has been unbearebally hard but I ahve
stuck with it hope fully the teast have made me a better person and more
empathic with others.

Many people think I am strange my long hair jewlerry and mostley black
clothing but I dont care this is me take it or leave it I have nothing to
prove to my self or others.

People from all wlaks of life came to me an a daily basisi for Tarot
readings or spell working from house selling to baby makeing, I am also
called upon for house cleansing.

I dare to be differant and embrace my relegion in the way that is right for
me and my clan, we are happy my boys are happy and well balanced thank ~ you

dani said...

Are you asking if the person talking about the Wytch clan is telling the truth? Sorry but I would say no. This sounds like the same old stuff you see all over the web and its mostly crap.

Real Roma don't refer to themselves as witches or Goddess. There are a subculture of these people who claim Gypsy or Gypsy blood but most of this is untrue, they are wiccans, and just people who believe they have some gift and feel the need to create a story as to why or are just plain scamming you. Most of this stuff is just marketing, stories meant to sell their service.

Any card readings and healings and such done by Gypsies were done for Gadje mostly, not within the clans. Although Roma have supernatural practices and are deep rooted in superstitions etc, much of this is nothing like what people believe it is and is not publicized.

Just put it this way, I have never met a person doing tarot and calling themselves a Romany witch to actually be telling the truth. If there was any true Roma drabarni or healer out there you would most likely not find them promoting themselves publicly or online. The few that I have seen, talk about the history of their family and speak the language and share photos and have more information.

Here is some excellent reading about this subject. Most everything on this website comes from Professor Ian Hancock, a Roma professor, and is accurate. http://reocities.com/Paris/5121/beliefs.htm

TonyTheProf said...

Thank you - that is most helpful.

I note the Ian Hancock is quite critical of George Borrow.

I have a book by another writer, Gypsies of Britain (1944) by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald. Do you know how accurate that is?

dani said...

Ian did a very thorough review on Borrow here: http://radoc.net/radoc.php?doc=art_c_language_borromani&lang=fr&articles=true

I have personally not read the book you ask about, however I do recall seeing it mentioned in our group and several well respected elders refer to it often. Ian also has it listed in suggesting reading. I tend to trust everything Ian has to say because his research is thorough and he tends to seek out and expose misinformation very quickly.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...


I have had folks send nasty emails to me, same as you. Telling me "Roma" don't do it this way or that way. Calling my a liar. I tell them: I'm not Roma, I never claimed to be! I am a Scottish Gypsy, not a Roma Gypsy and I've never claimed any of my family traditions to be Roma! My family's traditions are steeped in Faerie Folklore and Hoodoo Magic. I never said the traditions passed down in my clan was true of any other Gypsy family. I don't know if they were or not. I just know that they were passed down this way in my family and this is how they were taught to my by my two grandmothers. My family kept a record of everything in a 1400s Bible that has been passed down from one Holy woman to the next (grandmother to granddaughter), throughout the centuries women in my family were burned as witches (even though they never called themselves such) because of our magic art traditions and communicating with the little people. That is my family history. It is what it is.

But when I talk on my blog about traditions my family passed down, other Gypsies get all angry and say well that's not how their family taught them. Well, I never said it was!

In every culture, every family has vastly different traditions, that doesn't make any one of them more "African" or more "Cherokee" or whatever, it just means that each family, regardless of culture, has unique traditions.

I had one girl (a Tarot reader) yell at me and say I was giving readers like her a bad name, because I wrote an article about how my (Gypsy) family shunned the use of Tarot as Satanic. She went off in a rant about how TRUE GYPSIES (like her) were Pagans and Wiccans and consulted Tarot for everything and would NEVER be Christians! OMG! Wicca is a religion invented in 1953, did she even know that? Okay, so maybe her family were Pagans and used Tarot cards, who am I to argue with that?

I guess what gets folks so upset, is the fact that I am a Gypsy, and I practice magic of sorts, but folks are so used to Tarot readers and Wiccan spells, that they just can't wrap their minds around the stuff I do. I really hate it when folks find out my race and than say "Oh so you are a witch." ARGH! I hate that! Then they want to know, "Okay, so you're a Gypsy, but what culture are you, where are you from?" They act like Gypsy is a title or something, they have no idea it is an actual race. If I said African-American, or Native American, or Canadan, or Cherokee, they'd be "Oh cool, so tell me about your culture." But you say Gypsy and they treat you like it's a career choice or a religion or something. Around here (in New England) the word Gypsy is synonomous with the word witch, they are so deluded and have no idea that Scottish Gypsies is the ACTUAL name of our race and culture! I finally say it means I'm from Scotland and they go "Oh, cool, so you are a Witch from Scotland, why aren't you wearing a kilt?" ARGH!

I don't mind the people who don't understand, so much as the entertainers and showpeople, who work as Tarot readers, and say I'm ruining their careers, because my REAL Gypsy family doesn't have traditions that matches the made up Hollywood myths they think of when they think Gypsies. they say every time I talk about things my grandmother said, I put their jobs at risk, because people think of Tarot when they think of Gypsies!

But the fact remains, I was talking about what MY grandmother taught ME. I wasn't talking about all Gypsy families in general, I was retelling the history of my own family. *sheesh* Why do folks have to get all upset, whenever they meet other Gypsy families? From what I can see EVERY Gypsy family is unique and TRUE Gypsy traditions are as vast as the ocean and come in all shapes and sizes, no one any better or worse than any other. Can't we just all get along and agree that each clan has it's own unique traditions?


Unknown said...

sorry for the doubled comment! don't know what happened there, I deleted one.