; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Romani Culture, Myths and Legends

The Romani (also known as Roma) are an ethnic group living mostly in Europe, who trace their origins to medieval India. They are referred to many as Gypsies (though this moniker is historically incorrect) and have been persecuted for centuries throughout the world because of their traditional culture.

Romanies place a high value on the extended family. Virginity is essential in unmarried women. Both men and women often marry young and there has been controversy in several countries over the Romani practice of child marriage. Romani law establishes that the man's family must pay a bride price to the bride's parents, but only traditional families still follow this rule. Once married, the woman joins the husband's family, where her main job is to tend to her husband's and her children's needs, as well as to take care of her in-laws. The power structure in the traditional Romani household has at its top the oldest man or grandfather, and men in general have more authority than women. Women gain respect and authority as they get older. Young wives begin gaining authority once they have children. Many Romanies follow a strict form of Marhime, which is similar to the Hindu purity laws.

Romani legends and mythology tell of certain Romanies who possess passive psychic powers such as empathy, precognition, retrocognition, or psychometry. Other legends include the ability to levitate, travel through astral projection by way of meditation, invoke curses or blessings, conjure/channel spirits, and skill with illusion-casting.

During many traditional burials, steel or iron needles are pushed into the body's heart and pieces of steel in the mouth, over the eyes, ears and between the fingers. Hawthorn was placed on the legs or driven through the legs. They would also drive stakes, pour boiling water on the grave, and behead or burn the body. All this preparation was to ward off Vampires. Romanies have a particular concept of good and evil forces. Dead relatives were looked after loyally. The soul enters a world like the world of the living, except that death does not exist. The soul lingers near the body and sometimes wants to live again.

The Roma legends of the living dead added to and enriched the Vampire legends of Hungary, Romania, and Slavic lands. The Indian deity associated with blood drinking is Kali, who has fangs, wears a garland of corpses or skulls and has four arms. Her temples are near the cremation grounds. She and the goddess Durga battled the demon Raktabija who could reproduce himself from each drop of blood spilled. Kali drank all his blood so none was spilled, thereby winning the battle and killing Raktabija. Sarah, or the Black Goddess, is the form in which Kali survived among Roma.

Some Roma have a belief that the three Marys from the New Testament went to France and baptized a gypsy called Sara. Some refer to Sarah, their Black Goddess as "Black Cally" or "Black Kali". In 1448, four decapitated female skeletons were discovered in the foundation of a church in southern France and were tentatively identified as those of the three Maries and Sarah, their Egyptian servant. Over time, Mary Magdalene disappeared from the trio of Maries and today, only Mary Jacobé and Mary Salomé are the official Saints of the Catholic Church. One legend says that Mary Magdalene became a hermit, grew her hair long and hid herself in a cave to atone for her sins. Sarah has been forgotten by the Church and the official modern version of the legend offered by the Church authorities is that only the two Maries (Jacobé and Salomé) arrived in a boat from Palestine with their servant Sarah who is now called Saint Sarah despite the fact that officially there is no such saint in the hierarchy of Catholic saints. Equally mysterious is the presence of the black female statue in the crypt of the church in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, France. The present statue is said to have replaced an previous statue, which in its turn replaced an earlier one. Most Romani worldwide and of different religions celebrate Sarah in one form or another and by alternative names.

Some authors, taking up themes from the pseudohistorical book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, suggest that Sarah was the daughter of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. These ideas were popularized by Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code and is also the main plot in Eron Manusov's novel Ahavah's Dream.

Another form of Vampire in Romani folklore is called a Mullo (one who is dead). This Vampire is believed to return and cause malicious havoc and/or suck the blood of a person. The victim is usually a relative who had caused their death or hadn't properly observed the burial ceremonies or kept the deceased's possessions instead of destroying them as was proper.

People who are hideous in appearance, missing a finger, or had appendages similar to those of an animal, were believed to be a Vampire. If a person died unseen, they would become a Vampire...likewise if a corpse swelled before burial. It is believed that female Vampires can return, lead a normal life and even marry though they would exhaust the husband to the point of death, similar to a Succubus.

Roma people in Kosovo believed that Vampires were invisible to most people. However, they could be "seen by a twin brother and sister born on a Saturday who wear their drawers and shirts inside out" according to a late Serbian ethnologist. "This pair could see the Vampire out of doors at night, but immediately after it saw them it would have to flee, head over heels."

Romani Gypsies have also been incorporated in gothic literature, most notably in Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' in which the infamous Vampire's loyal 'Szgany' henchman (Romani Gypsies) were Dracula's caretakers and defenders.

“Always help brothers; Never harm Brothers; Always pay when you owe although not necessarily money; And never be afraid.”....Romani philosophy

This was only a brief overview of culture and legends of the Romani people. Please read the following links in reference to Romani history and the past / present discrimination they face - The Gypsies in History and Today and Romani Against Racism as well as Roma in the Americas BTW, the Romanies were the only other population besides the Jews who were targeted for extermination on racial grounds in the 'Final Solution'. You can read further at Rroma and Sinti Holocaust.


Romani Culture, Myths and Legends