Letter from Castle Dracula
The newsbullettin of The Transylvanian Society of Dracula
This groundbreaking disclosure on the Rroma (Gypsy) culture was made at the Symposium of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula (May 26-28, 2006, in Sinaia, Romania) by Lecturer Dr. Delia Grigore of the University of Bucharest (herself a Rroma, and proud of it).
NOTE: it is the first time that this information is made public,- under the condition that any other use of this information, or parts of it, needs to get the prior, written approval of the author, at firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR THE REPRESENTATION OF THE SACRED AND HABITUALMEANS OF RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SUPERNATURAL IN THE RROMA TRADITIONAL CULTURE
(“This lecture is a chapter of my yet-unpublished book “Rromanipen the Family as Identity Mark”)
Lecturer Dr. Delia Grigore
The binary outlook on the world, including the opposition between pure (Rr. Uzo) and impure (Rr. Maxrime ) is to be found, when relating to the supernatural, in a Manichaeist type of faith, not unlike the Persian dualism, in which both the powers of Good, represented by God (Rr. O Del / Devel) and those of Evil, represented by the devil (Rr. O Beng) are complementary and equally necessary for the harmony of the world.
The same dualism could be found in the complementary roles of the man and of the woman in the family. The woman raises and educates the children, caters for menial jobs and is very important as a ritual player in the family traditions; the man is the normative authority, provides an income for the survival of the family and caters for the “external” relations.
Taking things a step further, we could say that the woman sides with Time, she is more conservative, passes the traditions on, including the “maternal” language (Rr. I dejaki chib); the man is the embodiment of will for action, the creative thinking, novelties included. The man masters the Space unlimited in nomadism yet bordered by the social requirements of the law of purity. He designs the behavioral rules within the community, the control and the social sanctions. He stands for virtuality, for the road ahead, facing the unexpected. The man is interdependent to the woman - who retains the memory of the community.
There are numerous representations of the supernatural in the Rroma traditional culture - mostly personified Good and personified Evil.
The most outspoken representation of Evil is “o Beng” (the devil) who, nevertheless, embodies the complementary force of God, or Good - equally necessary for the preservation of the universal balance. The tales (Rr. Paramica) picture the devil as naïve, easily outwitted by an intelligent Rroma - which shows that the fear of Evil is checked by the pragmatic belief in own wits.
Generally, the term for the representations of the malefic is bisuzo (unclean), which underlines the direct connection between Evil and Impure. Certain animals are considered unclean, therefore malefic, like the snake and the frog.
The category of Evil comprises diseases, as well, which generated protection tools like the linguistic euphemism (describe or call that disease in nicer words) or the linguistic taboo (call the disease by another name). For instance, the cancer or the sexual diseases are called “sungalo nasvalipe” (ugly, evil disease). When the sick person is also being mentioned, you must say: othe lesthe (let is stay with him/her).
The linguistic mode belongs to the transcendental dimension of the human existence. This “aver anav” (different name/nickname) protects against disease. It is said that the disease looks for the child whose name it knows, but will be unable to find the child if his/her true identity is concealed under a secret name. This is why most Rroma children have one name in their birth certificate, but known in the community under another name - “Rromano anav”.
An eloquent proof regarding the creative, also the destructive force of the spoken word is the belief of the Rroma in oaths (Rr. Solax) and in curses (Rr. Arman).
The Rroma word “solax” comes from the ancient Indian word sapatha (to call someone a name, to curse). O0ne takes the oath to back an assertion that cannot be proved. The most solemn oaths are taken in the presence of the priest - as intermediary to the divine. A broken oath works like a transcendental force, the same force that had been invoked by the person taking the oath. There is a saying “araklas les” (it found him/her) that signifies that the broken oath found the culprit and punished him/her, sometime by death.
There are two kinds of oaths: the formal and the ritual.
The formal oaths are improvised, often humorous, more or less metaphoric, with no bearing to the transcendental; they are traditional with the Rroma: “te meran” - “I’ll die if…”, or “te na maj dikhau o kham” - “may I not see the sun again”.
The ritual oaths pass for solid evidence and are taken on special occasions or in connection with the trials - kris Rromani. Such oaths are not taken easy because they are believed to bring bad luck. Should such an oath be false, it will turn against the taker, it could even kill him/her. Most often than not these oaths involve people or beliefs that form the Rroma’s highest values: “te meren me save” - “may my children die”; “te praxozes me saven” - “may you bury my children”; “te merau bi momelaqo” -“may I die without a candle”, which would entail the danger to become “strigoi”, ghost. The closer the person invoked in the oath, the graver the effect of the oath. The gravest oaths are those invoking the life of the children, also those referring to the dead; such oaths are taken in exceptional circumstances only.
It is not unusual to try to soften or even stop the effect of oaths: one practice is to go to the priest, to confess (“phiravdo”).
The curse is also a form to access the transcendental, in a verbal form. The Rroma term for the curse “arman” comes from the Persian word for Fate.
The curse is also of two kinds: formal and ritual.
The formal (daily) curses are inoffensive, of no supernatural relevance. They are employed in the course of eloquent (and humorous) speeches. They relate to the swearing (“o cusped”) and are often licentious (tee de blue me dean!” - “you may have sex with my mother if…”) which does not spell immorality. The variety is immense: “tee Rachel tot o Bang” - “may the devils find you”; “tee korari tot o Del” - “may God blind you”; “axle o Bang it bat” -“ may the devil eat your good-luck”: “tee sass denial or-o drama” “may you take the road mad” ; “tee taboo tee mass opal tithe” may the flesh burn on you”; “tee ushers koru” “may you wake up blind”; “tee an tot o sap” - “may the snakes devour you” ; “tee mares sir mule to papas” - “may you die like your grandfather did”.
The curses addressed to non-Roam have no follow-up. If there is any follow-up, it comes from the belief of these non-Roam in such curses. Cursing a non-Rroma is an attempt to scare, not to obtain any result.
The ritual curses enjoy a special status, they are means of social control and sanction invoking the sacred, the transcendent. They are employed in exceptional cases and may induce sickness, even death. Such curses are a form of ritually revenge for a major offence brought to the family. They are also a means to make the culprit acknowledge his/her guilt during a trial (Rr. Kris).. The person hit by a curse is believed to be subjected to a major and permanent danger, together with his/her family. The closer related, the greater the effect of the curse between the issuer and the recipient of the ritual curse.
The performer of the curse is the woman the master of the magical powers in a Rroma family. She wakes at sunrise and loudly curses the guilty, with everyone else in the community listening. The guilty, hearing it, should do his/her best to restore the peace, or else the effects of the curse will not cease to show. Sometime the guilty will not acknowledge the accusations and will return the curse (opre tuthe te perel! May it fall on you!). If truly innocent, the curse turns against the issuer.
O jakhalipen (the evil-eye) is a magic form of relation to the malefic supernatural. It could hurt intentionally or unintentionally. Many times a person who is lovingly and admiringly regarding another (especially a child) may cast the evil-eye effect, unwillingly. There are numerous magic and ritual practices of an apotropaic and prohibitive role.
A magical way to “discover the evil-eye effect” is the following: take a glass of water, burn seven matches and let them drop in the water; if the matches sink to the bottom, burnt-head first, it means that the suspected victim is indeed touched by the evil-eye. Now comes the restorative magic: the confirmed victim will drink some of that water; the performer dips the pointer-finger in that same water and makes the sign of cross in the palm, on the forehead, on the chest. The remaining water will be spilled on the hinges of the door, bidding the evil-eye effect to go where waters go.
It is the “I drabami” (the witch) who rejects the evil-eye and other evil spirits; who reads the future, who heals, protects, who induces love, but who can also bewitch and bring disease and other disasters; she is the performer of all kinds of magic, master of the spirits and of the realm of rites - according to the dualistic dogma that the woman is a priestess on earth, much like the man is a ruler in heavens.
According to their aim, the magical rites performed by the Rroma are:
# the premonitory/ divination/ mantis magic (cartomantis, arithmomantis, chiromancy, reading in grain, etc)
# the curative/ restorative/ taumaturgic magic (the chant, including “o jakhalimasqo drob” - i.e. the chant against the evil-eye; the “un-doing” of charms, of diseases; rain-making (start the rain or stop it).
# protection magic (incantations of protection for the new-born, protection formulae prior to a journey, prior to any beginning or establishment)
# inductive-negative/ prohibitive magic (“asman” - curse)
The types of magic also differ by implementation means, but these typological categories blend with one-another.
# magic by similitude/ by sympathy (an object whose attributes /qualities induces the same attributes to the person under magic. For instance, money is placed in the washing tub of the child, to make the child rich).
# magic by contagion/ touch (the person under the magical rite holds hands with the witch, or is touched by an object possessing the desired attributes, or protectional force. For instance, women who enter the room of the newly-born need to protect the child from stealing the sleep or from evil spirits - by wiping the child’s forehead with the rim of the apron; the divorced women, or the widows are not allowed to touch the bride.)
# magic by opposition (an object or a gesture possessing the opposed attributes to those that need to be induced by charm. For instance, laughing during the vigil of a dead has the role to drive away the “coxane”/ ghost and to bring relief in the souls of the mourners. 0r: the child is protected against the evil-eye by employing an exorcising element of the evil-eye - a mark of ash on the forehead.
# magic by attribution (the gift, which should lend its qualities onto the receiver; also the worded wishes).
# magic by substitution (any kind of magic that employs a trade, an exchange. For instance, the offering by which divinity is asked to lend a favour; or the “sale” of the child through a window, or the change of a child’s name - meaning that the sick child is replaced by another, healthy one)
# the divine magic/ by divine will or decision (for instance - swearing, which takes the divine for a warranty)
# magic by excess or abuse/ exorcism/ catharsis (for instance - the wailing, as excessive manifestation of pain/ regret upon someone’s death; the wailing has a cathartic role as well, exorcising the suffering)
# prohibitive magic (all kinds of taboo)
# invocative magic (the invocation of Virgin Mary in charms)
# gesture magic (any type of magic which employs gestures, beside the words)
# sacrificial magic (slaying the lamb at the Easter of the masons/ Hardelezi - with the aim of healing/ protecting family members)
# magic by individual trance (the witch often enters a trance - to be able to “see” the future)
# magic by collective trance (collective prayer, loud, especially within neo-protestant religions)
One of the frequent premonitory magic rites with the Rroma is “foretelling in the grains”, an esoteric practice characterize by an encoded, subtle phrasing, impenetrable to the un-initiated. “Foretelling in grains” is an attribute of the Rroma women, although certain men can also do it (inheriting the know-how from mothers). It is used in discovering someone’s fated pair, in distinguishing the phase or outcome of a disease. This magical rite is meant to help a person take a decision, also to relax, to warn, to encourage the needy,- thus playing a psycho-therapeutic role.
The fortune-teller watches over the well-being of the family, inspires confidence, takes part in the life of the subject and, aside from telling the fortune, the teller soothes and advises the subject to overcome a difficult moment. In turn, the subject confesses as if partaking in a psychological therapy session; the confidentiality is taken for granted.
The ritual developed in the traditional Rroma culture - in relation to the sacred, form the traditional Rroma calendar of events. They largely correspond to the events of the Romanian calendar, but stress certain specific elements, or group of rites, or show mutations in significance. Sometime the Rroma accept and perpetuate rites of alien origin, lost in the space of the traditional Rromanin culture (“the gypsy goat”). Other times complementary rites (to those of non-Rroma origin) are developed, to bring them in line with the Rroma culture (Vasilca, Paparuda). There are , nevertheless, calendaristic rituals proper to the Rroma only - with no corresponding ones in the neighbouring cultures: the Green Thursday, Hardelezi.
Early in the morning of Christmas Eve, the Rroma boys start caroling at 4-5 a.m., so that no woman would enter the house ahead of a man. The women are considered maxrime (unclean), and should one enter the house first in that morning of the Christmas Eve, then the house will be unclean for one year and the family will be unlucky - bibaxt.
At major holidays, especially at the New Year, the Rroma tinkerers use to place silver and gold coins in the drinking -water pail, along the chalice of the family (Rr. Taxtaj), so that the New Year be rich, bringing them money, gold, good-luck, health.
At Christmas, the man at the farthest end of the community, embodying the idea of beginning and renewal (because he is the first man to meet at that end) visits his neighbour or a close relative, bidding each-other “naklo bers sas bravalo, kao bers po baxtalo” (if you are rich this year, may you be richer next year).
Any kind of food prepared at Christmas is considered an offer to God; the first helping is given to a foreigner.
Before midnight, in the New Year’s Eve, the men bring water from wells, under interdiction to talk to one-another.. This is the “new water” or the “virgin water” that will be used, during the year, at purifying rituals, restoration practices. At home, the women and the girls will break an egg in a special mug and will pour “virgin water” over the egg. The mugs will rest covered till morning, then everyone will interpret the future according to the shapes in theirs. This is a premonition magical rite in which the Masculine - the sacred water as symbol of ritualic purity, meets the Feminine the egg, as symbol of procreation.
It is important to underline the profound symbolism of the chalice of every Rroma family (Rr taxtaj) which is handed over from one generation to another along the Masculine line. This most venerable item contains the complex significance of the Graal symbol of sacrifice and immortality. This symbolism is mentioned in the Rroma carols as well: “So si, Devla, and-o taxtaj / 0 taxtaj o rupuno? / 0the-I rat la Devlesqo” - “What is it, God, in the chalice/ In the silver chalice? / There is the blood of God).
Easter is the only holiday of the year, for all the Rroma, which celebrates “living and dead, together”. During the night of the Easter, returning from the church, the Rroma go to the cemeteries to bring light to the dead; the get-together ends in the morning. This is the night of the resurrection of the dead, and of the opening of the sky, the night in which you can see into the future, can reach the spirits of the dead. Numerous rites of magic (premonition, inductive, recuperative) are performed during this night.
From the church and cemetery, the Rroma return home. Right after the first song of the roosters, the children are taken, bare-footed, in the grass; they are given communion, wine and fish - to be swift throughout the year. The father knocks the head of the children with a purse of money, so that the children will partake of money in their lives. By 10 a.m. the Rroma return to the cemeteries, with blessed food, which is offered to others. The joy of the resurrection of the dead, the respect for the dead, turn the cemetery into a holiday place, with musicians; the Rroma spend there till evening, eating and drinking.
In the morning of the Easter day, the Rroma tinkerers perform a purifying ritual, benefic for the whole family: the head of the family (the father, or the eldest son) takes a chunk of earth with grass on it - called “pasca”, similar to the ritual cake and drives an axe through it - to cut the evil away. Then he sets foot on the axe, says “Christ has resurrected” and gives each member of the family a piece of the real “pasca” and a sip of wine (communion) out of the family chalice, the taxtaj (the Graal of the Rroma), which passes from hand to hand. The family members answer “Indeed He resurrected”. The head of the family receives his pasca and wine from the eldest son.
With the Rroma bear-tamers, the women, during the Easter fasting, clean the house, white-wash it and prepare the oven for cakes.
It is the women who set, in the first Easter day, somewhere in the house, close to a table - a piece of iron and grass. 0n the table rests a plate with wine in it, some money and painted eggs. Some communion is brought from the church in the morning. During the morning of the first Easter day, all family wash their faces with the wine in the plate, then touch their faces with the communion and the eggs, while keeping a foot on the iron set in the grass. Iron protects against evil spirits; the grass is a means of communication with the ancestors. Then every member takes a piece of communion in the mouth and starts running: he or she who reaches the door or the gate first, will be swift, powerful, alert all year.
The Rroma will offer a meaning for every kind of ritual food: lamb to be light and clean like a lamb; fish (to be served in the first Easter day) - to be as swift. No-one eats corn-mush in the first Easter day, to avoid becoming soft and to preserve the fertility of the women and the fecundity of the men. Also, the family members should not touch salt, to avoid perspiring. All these food taboos and rules are rooted into the magic by similitude.
Regarding the specific relationship of the Rroma with the sacred, let us take the example of the Hardelezi, called “The Easter of the Menders” the main holiday of the Rroma who mend broken metal pans, etc. This holiday takes place one week after the Christian-0rthodox Easter. It unifies the paschal meanings with those of the Muslim Gurban. The main element is the sacrifice of the lamb: the sacrifice is meant to heal a sick member of the family, to protect the family from misfortune and sickness. Sometime a lamb is cut for each child, for the child’s good fortune.
Those poor families who cannot sacrifice the lamb at Hardelezi, can do so on St. Peter’s.
The sacrificial ritual is complex and contains elements connected to purifying and to the consecration of the sacrifice. In the evening preceding the holiday, those women who will attend the sacrifice knit crowns made of willow branches and of flowers - into the so-called “firtree of the lambs”. The crowns are set on the heads of the lambs that are to be sacrificed, while the children hold two candles each. The lambs are given wine from a plate (form of communion). Then the lambs are sprinkled with the wine left in the plate (purifying sprinkling, to consecrate the sacrifice) and get their crowns removed.
The next day, before the sacrifice proper, the crowns are again set on the heads of the lambs. The children ride the lambs, holding candles. During the sacrifice proper the musicians are playing, with the men who perform the sacrifice crossing themselves, facing East. The women who made the “fir-tree of the lambs” collect the blood and place a dot of this blood on the foreheads of the children, for good fortune and for protection against the Evil throughout the year. For the sacrifice to be effective, the blood of the lambs is collected in new vessels. No drop of blood should reach the ground, to protect the sacrifice from impurity.
Those who cut the lambs offer the by-standers a glass of plum-brandy, receiving biddings of good health in stead. The lambs are shared either raw, or cooked with rice, onion, garlic and parsley. The organs of the lamb (liver,, kidney, heart) are boiled together with the cleansed intestines, then chopped, mixed with vegetables into the so-called “gypsy mix”, to be shared to the children in the street.
The lambs are shared in full, the family retains nothing. Everyone eats from someone else’s offering.
In the afternoon, a great party begins with musicians, food, drinks, during which biddings of good health are the rule (believed to have a sure effect because of the sacrifice of the lambs). The godchildren must visit with the godfathers; the children with their parents; the younger brothers - with the elder. The party lasts till late, with the musicians paid according to the number of sacrificed lambs.
The Rroma dealing in pewter, in Alexandria (by the Danube) officiate the Hardelezi on St. George’s. They fast three weeks, a spiritual preparation for the celebration. Those families who did not fast, will not enjoy the ritual of the sacrificed lambs, as impure.
It is believed that the lamb should willingly come to be sacrificed - this is why a musician is hired to sing to it, to make it come and kneel on the sacrificial spot.
During this sacrificial day, the Rroma must eat a lot of vegetables (especially parsley and lovage) to purify themselves from the sin of sacrificing.
The Rroma dealing in wood-carving, in Chilii-Caracal, just like their relatives, the menders, celebrate the Gurban/Hardelezi. Their celebration takes place on the Ascension Day and consists in sacrificing a lamb, offered to God, as a price of healing the sick (recovery rite).
Should a member of the community fall sick, here is a premonitory ritual that takes place: the sick goes to a wood and prays to God, then takes a handful of grass from the place of the prayer. He/she takes the grass home and sleeps on it (under the head). It is believed that the sick will dream whether survival is possible. It is also believed that the sick will dream of lambs, and their number shows how many years the Gurban will have to be celebrated. Should a flock of lambs be dreamt, then the sick will need to celebrate the Gurban the whole life. If the lamb is dreamt near a water, the sacrificed lamb must be cooked as soup; if there is no water around, the lamb will be fried.
Three days before the Ascension, a pole is brought from the wood, to place the lamb on it. When the Gurban day comes, the lamb is sacrificed, taking care not to spill the blood to keep the sacrifice pure. Dots of this blood will be set on the foreheads of children (in the middle of the forehead, in-between the eyes) - known as “the third eye” or “Shiva’s eye” in Hinduism, or the protective eye of the divinity, in Islamism.
Concomitantly, dow is prepared and bread baked. Corn-mush is available, also a jug of wine. The lamb, the bread, the corn-mush and the wine are Eucharistic food, food for offerings. Continuing the ritual, the head of the family brings a willow (or accacia) branch, giving the members a few leaves - to be placed by the right ear. Some leaves are put into the lamb’s mouth. Thus, the lamb, by means of the branch, will address the people regarding its sacrifice. More, it is said that people can hear, by means of these leaves, whispers concerning their future and fate that year (premonitory ritual). These many acts symbolize sharing in the destiny of the lamb, which, by its sacrifice, becomes a messenger to divinity of all those who performed the offering or those who took part in it.
The Gurban meal is attended only by the clean ones, who observed the rule of food abstinence (fasting) and sexual abstinence, also by those who were not label “unclean” (Rr maxrime) by the I kris Rromani (the Rroma tribunal). The left-overs of the lamb are not given to the dogs, but buried - proof of a ritual offering, a special meal, with inductive-restoring meanings.
O0n St. George’s day (April 23), the Rroma tinkerers (the virgins and the newly-wed women) perform a ritual of peace and of love: they bake “bewitched” prezzels (bread of love - Rr kamimasqe manre) aimed at speeding marriages or returning unfaithful husbands.
In Moldova, St. George’s day sees a grand meeting of the Rroma, which lasts three days: songs, dance, a chance to arrange marriages. It is forbidden, during this holiday, to quarrel; more, you must make peace with your enemies.
To summarize, let us advance a hypothesis - bold and interesting - regarding the relationship of the Roma with the sacred. The first written mention of the Rroma dates from 1068, made by a monk at a monastery in now-a-days Georgia. The document spoke of the heresy of the Albigenses “the pure, the untouchables”. If we remember one of the fundamental models of the Rroma culture - the opposition between pure-impure, also the dualism of the Rroma relationship with the sacred (God devil / 0 Devel - 0 Beng), and with the dynamics of the earthly life (good-evil, woman-man), and with the representations of the Holy Graal by the chalice of power (Rr 0 taxtaj) we may reconstitute what could be called the ancient, lost religion of the Rroma.
Translation in English: TSD
CESNUR Home Page - DRACULA Library