PART TWO : ROMANI MYTHOS, SORCERY AND WITCHCRAFT
Continued from Romany Witchcraft Part One
The Essentials of Romany Magic
The magic of the Romanis is extremely eclectic and diverse, starting with a root tradition based on Indian shamanic practices and Chaldean sorcery, the various tribes picked up local beliefs and practices wherever they went and adapted them to their own culture (particularly in the Balkans, where indigenous, local and gypsy traditions are sometimes hard to distinguish from each other). This is a deliberate and ecclectic feature of Romani magic (there are even claims from modern practitioners that inventing one's own system of magic, after studying with other magicians, is an essential feature of the art). Because of this it is very hard to distinguish 'Romany magic' from 'indigenous magic', but some apparently unique features can be identified and educated speculation is often fruitful.
There are three basic trends in Romani magic but an underlying pattern can be found uniting them; these three trends are the evocation and use of the Fey and Ancestors, and occasionally Deities, to perform magic on ones behalf; the use of magic 'potions' and 'charms' (composed of herbs, animal parts and certain minerals); and the manipulation of earth energy and life force. The uniting feature in all of these is the contact with and communication with non-human intelligences, as the components of the 'potions' or 'charms', particularly the 'living herbs', are thought of as containing spirits that can be communicated with; and the energies channeled are seen as intelligent. So in all cases a direct communication with elemental beings is the key. This feature is not unique to Romani magic but the form it takes is distinctive, though often heavily influenced by local traditions from the Balkans and/or Near East.
Other central features of Romani Magic are the idea of dynamism, things are always changing and never stay the same, often following a cyclic pattern, a belief common to nomadic peoples; the connection to the Earth (seen as the source of magical power) is also important; but so is the human capacity for illusion (Romani magic is full of trickery). All three of these are contained in the most important symbol for the Romani, the Wheel (not all Roma traveled and lived in caravans, some lived in tents and relied on horses, but all used carts). The Wheel (Boler, Boleros or Cakra) is seen as the archetypal symbol of cyclic change and movement, however it only allows us to move forward when it is in touch with the ground, when ungrounded it goes nowhere and traps us in eternal cycles of illusion (a very Indian idea, though note how it is through immanence rather than transcendence that we escape the wheel). This perfectly sums up the Romani philosophy, rooted as it is in life and freedom and fearful of all that fixates, traps or 'imprisons' (Puskaria, 'a prison').
The Wheel is also seen as the model of the World. Earth was seen as a huge flat wheel that slowly turned (creating the Seasons) and the Heavens too were seen as a wheel turning around a hub or Pole Star (creating Time). This was reflected in Man who was also centered on a great wheel (Life) turning on a fiery heart. Whether this refers to the Heart Chakra or not is debatable (see below for a theory of Romani Chakras). The Heart of Fire (Tataghi in some dialects) was supposed to be at the heart of Man and also at the heart of the World, variously seen as an Inner Sun (terrestrially) or the Pole Star (celestially). Man is said to be the link between Heaven and Earth and the agent of balance. This is a fairly modern idea however and it is unknown whether ancient itinerant people really thought in such idealized terms. Though they were certainly a Moon and star centered people, like all nomads, and marked time by them.
Another common feature of Romani Magic is the notion of a trial or ordeal. Nothing comes easy or for free (apart from the rare gift considered a blessing). Most things needed to be strived for (even when it involved theft) and this strife can sometimes be heavy. But it is through such trials that things are achieved. The ordeal is part of many Romani initiations and is also said by some to be necessary to enter the Lower World. The Romani are not ascetic however nor do they think that suffering is good, they merely recognize it as a painful but unavoidable, necessary factor in life.
Finally a rather negative feature of Romani magic and culture is is conservatism, manifest in a fearful (often neurotic) system of taboos and 'correct practices', for maintaining order and safety in all endeavours, not least magic, as well as a very patriarchal system, which sees women as very powerful, but potentially dangerous and in need of control. 'All Romni are witches', as an old Rom saying goes. Fortunately the degree to which all this was taken seriously varied between tribes and today is fading away.
Controversially there are three occult practices some claim are Romani in origin; the use of crystal balls for 'scrying'; hypnosis or 'mesmerism', often using mirrors or other techniques; and Vampirism! These claims will be explored below.
The following material has been collected from 19th century anthropology, particularly that of Charles Godfrey Leland, mainly from the Balkans, 20th century studies, again mostly from the Balkans, and a variety of reminiscences from Romani themselves. It also includes aspects of some modern 'reconstructions' and 'revelations' made by Romani practitioners in various popular publications, ranging from Romnichal Ray Buckland to Kale Rom Patrick Jasper Lee. The material has been compared and selected for consistency. Though such studies of course have always been complicated by the ambiguous relation between the Romani and Gadjo and the westernisation of their culture.
There are four basic types of magician in Romani tradition; a Chovani (f) / Chovano (m), basically a Sorceress and sorcery, who works with the elements and their energies; a Drabengro or Patrinengri, a kind of Hedge Witch, or 'Good Witch', who works with herbs and potions mainly; a Drabarni, Wise or Cunning Woman, who tells fortunes, heals and answers questions; and finally the Borsorka, or 'Evil Witch', who harms people. The names of these varies in the many Romani dialects, for example amongst the Romnichal of England an 'evil' witch is called a Bun, and a Sorceress a Choviar, but these are the names most used in the academic literature and derive from the dominant Balkan tradition (principally of the Kalderas). In addition to these specialists any Romani can learn and use magic, the elders in particular were once said to use it to punish miscreants or protect the community. The popular use of magic amongst ordinary Romanis however is usually a sham, particularly when used to frighten or con the Gadjos.
The Chovana (pl)
The Sorcerer and his Worlds
One of the best accounts of the survival of Romani sorcery into modern times comes from Patrick Jasper Lee, who claims he was initiated into the tradition of the North Welsh Kale. Lee's account casts the Romani sorcerer as a typical shaman, and while his story seems influenced by popular books, such as the Casteneda series, it also seems both an apt popularization and reasonable assessment.
The Chovana's power comes directly from their relationship with the Fey, the Ancestors and sometimes the Demons. The first initiation given to Chovano (m) or Chovani (f) is the journey into the Wilderness. It is here that they encounter the Fey for the first time, usually deep in ancient forest or high in the mountains. Ideally they will sleep in this place all night and will obtain a dream. This dream is their first contact and if they are accepted will give them their true Drom and the 'Keys' to the World of the Fey. Some old traditions even talk of direct physical contact between Fey and Chovana, which sound not to dissimilar to contemporary UFO contactee accounts. The Drom, or the 'true road', refers to the path of the Chovano/i, not only whether they are accepted by the Fey, but what will be their actual practice, given the individual nature of the tradition.
The 'Key' appears to be some kind of 'password' that enables the doors to Faerie to open for the Sorcerer. Following this they will make their first journeys into the Other World (see below). Very early in their practice they are contacted by ancestor spirits who will become their guides, Lee's account describes a single archetype figure called The Ancestor, who seems to come from a distant Romani past. The final stage of their preparation is the obtaining of their own private Fey and Spirit contacts, entities that will become their main coworkers. This may occur in a dream or trance journey, or more rarely from an evocation of some kind. Some sources talk of contact with a particular deity, often the Queen of the Fey or Lord of the Wilderness, the latter sometimes also morphing into the Satan within the folklore of some Romanian tribes.
This entity will assign them Fey or Spirits as their allies, very often it also assigns a Familiar (which Leland refers to as a Spiridush). At some stage in this procedure they will be given their tools, primarily the Vastengri (Tambourine) or Drum, for trancing, sometimes a magical knife, various protective amulets and talismans and always a Bakterismasko Ran (Magic Wand), decorated with symbols and bells, which is used to channel power and 'command' (usually negative forces to leave). There is a tradition that the Ran or Wand is never bought or taken from a tree, but given as a gift from the Fey. This usually takes the form of a random find, branch fall, or even something the cat literally dragged in. The wand is then personalized. Following this traditional incantations and spells are learned. The Sorcerer is then born.
Other variants of this describe the hereditary initiation, in which spirits and tools may be passed on to the initiate by an elder. Though the general pattern is the same. There are also indications that the apprentice Sorcerer may visit or be visited by several teachers (human or not), each with their own practices, in order to learn, adopt what they like and perhaps invent their own practice.
In addition there are also tales of rather specialized ways of obtaining Fey and Spirit helpers. Perhaps the most interesting are the Sorcerers sometimes known as the Kristni. These are said to sleep in a hollow tree in the forest one night, where they meet a Fey lover. When the union is complete they have a friend for life! There is a deep mystery regarding the 'sacred marriage' of the Fey and mortals, an act said to empower both parties, giving power to the mortal and 'freedom' to the Fey in someway, apparently making it more human. An alternative method is the battle with a Demon, which if defeated becomes a magical helper. Exposing of the Serpent People to the light of day also imparts 'gifts'. There is very little indication that the Romani constructed servitors at all, as is allegedly the case in other traditions. Though there are tales of dolls being obtained or made, which act as protectors or advisers (an apparent Slavic technique). Neither does there seem to be much evidence of Pacts with the Devil to obtain power. Most in fact are trained to fight the Devil.
There are tales in Roumania of Scholomance, hidden in the heart of the mountains, where ten gypsies are trained in magic and the language of the animals, by the 'Devil' himself (understood as the Horned God rather than Bang or Satan). At the end of the course nine graduate and the tenth becomes a teacher. This seems to be an adaption of the legend of the magical cavern of Doindaniel in Salamanca. Which no doubt later became linked with legends of Agharti and Shamballah popular in the Victorian Age.
Once trained by what ever means and trusted by his peers, the Sorcerer will usually become the community magic worker and lead public rituals.
A Chovano Rite
Lee describes a typical Chovano Rite as consisting of beginning with a fast, in which nothing but alcohol and stimulating herbs are taken. When in the required state of mind contact is made with the spirits of the locality, particularly the tree spirits, the spirits of the elements and the Sun and the Moon, whose energy and assistance is sought. No quarters are mentioned as being cast but a circle of salt is made. Negative influences banished through the power of charms, bells, incantations and the power of the wand, while the patrinengri burns herbs in the central fire. As he begins to enter trance he asks his familiars, ancestors and fey for assistance and guidance. He dances himself into trance and with the whole company joining in he passes into another world. His actions there effect the real world.
Other accounts describe the Chovano's power to command spirits through the power of his wand or to trap them in talismans. Magic being the power of these spirits to do as guided. Other than this simple incantations and spells are believed to shape events if said in right state of mind.
Example of call to Fey to test for an enchantment
Face of possible victim held over running stream:
Pani, pani sivoka! Dik the upre, dik tele! Buti pani sikovel Buti pal yakh the dikel Te akana mudarel!
Water, water hasten! Look up, look down! Much water hastens, May as much come into the eye, Which looked evil on thee, And may it now perish!
If the stream makes a sudden noise the enchantment is confirmed and the counter magic launched.
Example Love Spell
Me jiuklo, yoy jiukli, Yoy tover, me pori, Me kokosh, yoy castra, Ada, ada me kamav!
I the dog, she the bitch, I the helve, she the axe, I the cock she the hen, That, that I desire.
The Ways of the Fey
The Elemental Fey have specially defined functions in Romani lore. The Air Sprites and Wind Daemons are said to be very wise, but unstable and unreliable, they are prone to trickery and to cause illusions, but are powerful agents of change. Water Sprites are similarly illusory, and very dangerous in own domain, but out of it they are more placatable and reliable. They are often the favoured medium between worlds due to their containability and nature as transmitters of influence. Water is always present in ritual. They are asked for guidance and help find lost objects. Fire Sprites are very energetic, direct and quick, both a creative and destructive power, but safe and reliable if contained. They can flare up and turn dangerous of course. They can also be invoked against other elementals. Earth Sprites are solid and dependable, nurturing and life giving, though some like the 'little people' like to play tricks when in forests, caverns or mines. The Kobolds being very mischievous and the Mountain Monk a potentially dangerous poltergeist in mines, who is only occasionally helpful. Thus not surprisingly the order of magical preference here is Earth, Fire and Water. With Air Sprites generally seen as Storm Demons and warded off or used only by 'black magicians'.
The Keshali, or Wood Folk, are the most human like of the Fey and the tribe that the Romanis work most closely with. They are a proud race who live in the ancient forest and are very similar to Germanic Elves, including the idea of the sound of hunting horns announcing their presence. They govern the woodlands that the Romanis are most often found in and have a kind of kinship with them, with some tribes regarding them as ancestors. They also have a close relationship with the tree and stone spirits and can act as intermediaries. Different Keshali clans are sometimes associated with different types of tree or environment. The Romani say they were once visible to all, but have faded and now only they can see them. They are sometimes regarded as survivors from a lost race.
Water elementals are the most carefully treated of all, with a drop of water given in libation every time a jug is drawn or poured. When drawn from a stream it is always drawn with the current and never against it, and never at all from a point where taboos have been broken. Only then is it held safe to deal with them.
The Romani also preserve the tradition of traveling to the Elfhame through burial mounds, were they feast with the Queen of the Fey. They also regard stone circles as gates to the land of the dead, with megaliths referred to them as 'talking stones', each one being linked to a dead person, who speaks through it and mediates between the worlds. Other gates between the world of the living and the dead are found in specific events or times, such as end/beginnings within calendar years, the dark moon, an eclipse (solar eclipses being called the 'blackening of the sun'), and any death or birth event.
The Fey are kept on good terms with, contacted by using 'keys' and channeled through spells and talismans. Knowing a Fey's name is the key to controlling it. Though in many cases the relationship is more mutual.
The Other World
The Worldview of the Romani has evolved over the centuries from a primitive shamanism to a fairly complex geography of the modern practitioner who recreates it for today's audience. The Cosmos for the Romani is said to be threefold, consisting of an Upperworld, a Middleworld and a Lowerworld. With each of these divided into a central domain and higher and lower dimensions, all invisible to each other. Our World is the central domain of the Middleworld. The Upperworld is described as consisting of solid light and is associated with feelings of ecstasy and elated emotion, it is fluidic, dreamlike and changeable, but usually benign. Its inhabitants are Develesko, or Great Devas, and the spirits or lower Devas, and below them are the Giants and Light Fey who guard the passage to their World. A World reached by climbing mountains, trees or vines (even beanstalks) in the higher dimension of our World.
It can also be flown to. The base of the climb is also accessible via special rivers that run throughout the Middleworld. Its upper region is a parallel world of Fairylore, an alternative 'physical' world, complete with mountain top castles, and all the characters familiar from the traditional folk tales. Its lower region is the dark Fairyland of valleys, caverns and dragons, guardians to the gates of the Lowerworld. Many Sorcerers build homes and lairs here as bases of operation and meeting places with the Fey.
It is a malleable domain that reflects the mind, imagination and preconceptions of the viewer. There are also Shadow domains that have not yet been 'dreamt'. All Fairylore, legends and works of fiction are found in the many regions of this World, plus the personal fantasies of the viewer. The gates to the Lowerworld are guarded by the Dark Fey and the Dwarves. It too can be navigated by river. The Lowerworld is intense and sometimes painful, a highly volatile and changing world. It is a place of intensity, fear, passion and charged emotions of all kinds. Its lowest region is a swamp containing Bang and the Bangesko 'demons'. Higher up lie the ambiguous Serpent People, with the highest region the realm of the Dark Fey. Travel through this real may take the form of tunneling. It is believed that real power comes from this Lowerworld and it is a place of initiation.
Beyond the Cosmos, seen as a constructed realm of dream, is the true reality of Meriben, a substantial non-dualistic realm where all opposites are united and everything lies in potential. A place of emergence and transformation. Life and Death are united here, and it is the source of magic and paradox in the manifest world. Its gates lie in the lowest and highest realms of the Cosmos. Its manifest agents are the piebald, black and white, animal spirits such as the Magpie which announces what is emerging from it.
The Drabengra and Patrinengra
These practitioners have their roots in the herbal magic of ancient peoples, Drab means 'herb', Patrin means 'leaf', engra means 'persons' (or 'beings', as even animals can be so designated). But they have long since also acquired other associations.
The original term was probably Drabengra, with Dranengri the female singular and the now more common Drabengro as the male. The Drabengra deal with all herbal work and magical potions, they also work with magical talismans etc. Their tools are not solely herbs but also items of animal and mineral origin. The Drabengro of medieval times were sadly often contacted by Gadjos, particularly the nobility, to perform acts of malefic magic and poisoning. For this reason Drabengro came to mean 'Poisoner' and has negative connotations. Thus not surprisingly the alternative term Patrinengri, almost always a woman, is more commonly used. Though the origin of the term was probably more like a 'scout' as the Patrin was also a term used for the marks left behind by Romanis; marks on trees, broken branches, piles of stones, certain leaves etc, indicating who had been there, where they came from, what the area is like and where they went. A reader of these signs also read the natural signs in an environment and guided the way of the Company. This skill was perhaps learned by the later Patrinengri too.
On taking up their profession these practitioners are initiated in the woods in a similar way to the Sorcerer. They are required to first make contact with the Fey in order to establish a magical connection with them. But in particular they must commune with and be accepted by the Weshni Dai, or Forest Mother. As a benign aspect of E Phuri Dai (the Old Mother or Earth Goddess), a unique Weshni Dai is found in each forest, with a Great Forest Mother (Bari Weshni Dai) presiding over them all. The Forest Mother protects people in the woods, particularly children, prevents them getting lost, and according to tradition teaches the Patrinengri her craft. In practice though it is probably passed down by an elder (perhaps representing the Weshni Dai, or even being ridden by her).
Every time a plant or other item is taken from the forest a payment to the Fey, particularly the Kashali, is required in exchange. Ingredients are nearly always gathered and only cultivated under conditions of scarcity. Most commonly this is a libation or offering of beer or milk, in ancient times it appears to have been a blood offering. There are hints that once the offering was of the witches menstrual blood, and certainly this is recorded as an ingredient in some potions. The most famous example being the fidelity inducing 'love cake'. This claim is odd though given the taboos in regard to menstrual blood amongst Romani, but may have been a very ancient tradition.
Working with Herbs and other items is not simply a matter of using them instrumentally, they are treated as living beings, closely related to the Fey, and a rapport needs to be built up with them. One plant spirit in particularly will usually become a guide, and act as a mediator with other plant spirits when a special combination is being made, and so a particularly strong relationship is required with this entity. Sage often fills this role according to one contemporary source, hence its name perhaps.
The use of herbs is sometimes identical to that of a modern herbalist, however just as often the herbs are burnt in a ritual fire, often along with symbols of the person to be effected, and the effect is purely magical (much like the witches cauldron of folklore). Incense is also a popular tool of these practitioners as well and is held to have a general magical effect. Sometimes the leaves of a certain plant need only be waved above the subject's head together with the appropriate Fey evocation for the magic to work.
Tree spirits were the aristocracy of the plant life in a forest and had to be respected even when passing by and not collecting any of their produce. Trees each had a very individualized being in Romani lore and were often given personal names. They were considered very old and wise beings in general and could bestow gifts such as the Sorcerer's wand. There is some evidence that their personalization was an effect of the special relationship between them and human beings. A witch would sometimes simply sit in a forest and listen (Shoon) to the voices of the trees as they chattered.
The term Drabarni is a regional version of Drabengri, but can be used to signify another variant of this magical practitioner. The fortune teller, healer and midwife (Bibi), a strange combination common to Romani culture. The first two are linked in that fortune telling and healing are often closely linked, one has to first find out what the trouble is before one heals and a fortune teller often discovers hidden illness, so one may be called to do the job of the other, sometimes merging the two roles. The healer of course also acts as nurse and the nurse acts as a midwife. So its not hard to see how this type emerges.
Healing may also be carried out by the Sorcerer and the more traditional Hedge Witch of course, the first by commanding the spirits of illness to leave or battling against them, the second via herbal magic, but the healing carried out by this type of practitioner seems to be different in that while she too is a herb witch she also seeks out the causes of the illness and addresses them rather than dealing with the illness itself or the symptoms of the illness. Such a healing might involve a change of lifestyle or the adoption of a certain ritual. She might also refer to another practitioner.
This kind of magic user is common amongst the Sinti in particular, where the practice of fortune telling was also extended into fairground work.
Romany Fortune Telling
Romanis have a long tradition of reading the cards, they do NOT however read Tarot, they have always read traditional playing cards. Of course the image is so engrained that some professional fortune tellers have now adopted the Tarot, but this is quite rare and certainly not traditional. When cards are not available they have been known to read dice, dominos or anything else suitable that comes to hand. It is hard to tell how seriously this was taken by its public practioners, originally it would have been mere 'dukkerin' for gadjos. Demonstrated by the confidence tricks that followed, such as the eckory ackery scam (Ekkeri, akai-ri, u kairan being a phoney spell to double the money given to the fortune teller on a false promise of return).
Another Romany name for this dodge was hakk'ni panki, from which hanky-panky (the money being sealed in a handerchief), as a synonym for trickery of any sort, probably stems. On the other hand traditional Romani are known to have used sticks and stones for fortune telling amongst themselves, originally called 'drabberin', probably derived from local customs, in modern times playing cards may have replaced this. The same background history is probably true for that other famous technique tea leaf reading. Another popular technique certainly remembered from this writers family was the spinning knife.
Two other techniques may have been taken more seriously however. The first is palmistry, or chiromancy, an ancient art of hand reading found in Vedic India and carried to the Middle East by nomads long before the historical Romani. This was not only performed to read destinies and character, but also to diagnose illness. The Romani were particularly proficient in this art. Though given that the term 'dukkerin' originally meant hand reading the evidence on the authenticity of this is ambiguous. The second technique was probably invented by the Romani and is always associated with them, the art of scrying with crystal ball or mirror (Dik- to Look, slang Dekko). The traditional method of scrying is to gaze into a silver bowl of water. However, this was not always practical for nomadic people, particularly where water was a precious resource. Therefore it is common to find such people carrying various kinds of mirror for such work, and such was the case amongst the Romani. However the use of a crystal ball for the same purpose seems to be a Romani innovation. Crystal balls have existed since Neanderthals times and were found in the graves of many ancient peoples of Europe, along with other magical tools. However as far as can be gathered from contemporary description the use of these spheres was as a kind of magical energy store and lens for projecting power.
This was not surprising given that the natural crystal ball is formed when lightning strike sand on a beach, with the superstitious observer thinking it had arrived from heaven with the lightning bolt and stored its power. The earliest Celtic references to them call them Dragon's eggs, while in China they were called Dragon's hearts, testifying to their ancient universality (dragon here presumably a fire elemental or the personified lightning). However it seems the Romani on acquiring such magical objects had no use for them in this respect and converted them for use in fortune telling. It is most likely that this adaption first occurred in the deserts of the Middle East. Crystal Balls were used in early medieval Europe it seems before the official arrival of the Romani, however this may be explained either by an earlier arrival or more likely through the Crusades.
Other older techniques were probably simply watching nature for 'signs' and 'omens' as did all nomadic peoples the world over.
The Borsako represents the traditional concept of the 'evil witch'. Oddly Borsako is a male term, the female should be Borsaki, but the archetype is nearly always female, perhaps representing a misogynistic element with the patriarchal culture. But the grammar here reveals that 'evil witches' can in fact be male or female.
Interestingly there are no actual pure Borsakos in Romani society according to tradition. There are only Borsaki-Chovani, witches that can perform either beneficial or malign magic. Reflecting the modern idea that there is no black or white magic just magic, that can be put to any use. The fact that the term Chovani is used probably indicates that practices are essentially the same as that of the sorcerer. Though there are clear elements of the Drabengra in her work too.
There is the Borsako outside of Romani society however and all Gadjo magic users tend to be thought of as 'evil witches'. This probably emphasizes the taboos regarding cross cultural contacts and particular contacts involving magic. A serious stumbling block for those proposing Romani Gadjo witchcraft exchanges. However given the influence of the courts created to deal with taboo breaking we can assume taboos were often broken! In traditional lore the Borsako can cause infertility in crops, steal milk from cows in the form of a toad or frog, cause illness or damage relationships between people. Basically the power to fragment things and break holisms, the opposite of positive magic which fertilizes, heals and brings things together in harmony. They are nearly always a Gadjo peasant woman in folklore, though male versions also exist.
The third type of Borsako is not even human they are the classic Lilith type child stealer in typical witch form. They often work in league with other supernatural beings such as the Luca demons, or the Jagalo Manus, the mysterious 'man of fire'. Perhaps representing folklore elementals of the Changling tradition. The Borsako herself seems to be a personification of malefic magical influence and so often overlaps with the human Borsako concept.
Another form of negative magic is in some dialects called the Jakhaliban or 'evil eye'. In normal contexts this is an unconscious malign influence cast on someone through bitterness or jealousy. Many Romanis think this is normally just an unavoidable part of life, as if someone causes jealousy then they may 'deserve' the misfortune. As with the Jews they think it is a form of 'divine punishment' hard wired into our nature. However when caused by undeserved malice it becomes a serious problem and has to be dealt with somehow. The fear of the evil eye is so great amongst some superstitious people that the term Jakhaliban is also used for a curse that causes a person to give the evil eye to everyone they look at, even if in admiration! This is similar to the ideas that a 'malign' menstruating woman (PMT?) can unconsciously send out her 'shadow' to harm people.
Personifications of Malefica in Romani Tradition
As has just been outlined evil influences can take anthropomorpic form as demons or witches. So also can diseases. There is a legend that Bang (the Romani concept of the Devil) seduced the Queen of the Fey, who gave birth to the spirits of disease. This is probably meant to emphasis that disease is just part of nature and has its own elementals. Each disease has its own spirit with various names, but the queen of them all is often called Dschuma, who may appear as a fierce virgin or old witch, and who is heard at night wailing in disease stricken areas. Another feared entity is the Mamuna or 'Nightmare', which is essentially the 'Night Hag' (or sleep paralysis). In modern terms all of this probably reflects the power of suggestion and the creation of thought forms associated with various conditions.
However this is also quite useful as it allows for the entity to be battled and expelled, or simply asked to leave, a technique commonly applied by the Chovano. It also allows the practice of 'Offloading'. This is when the energy or being is cast into something else. Its simplest form is to discharge negative energy into a stone or tree, the traditional spell formula being "Bater, bater, pro kašt pro bar". "Bater, bater, may the evil go into wood or stone." This is used mainly for routine cases of the evil eye or pain. Hen's eggs are often also used for this. Just as in Persian tradition eggs are broken and the yoke believed to absorb malign energy. For more serious magical attacks involving powerful energies or entities, or illnesses with disease forms, something more is needed.
Here the negative entities, often perceived as 'black shadows', are reasoned with, humored or battled, and if this fails are offloaded into chthonic creatures, such as insects or worms, who take them back to the underworld.
Spirits often attacked by breathing a deadly breath that caused sores, this could be cured by a Chovani who smeared the blood from a sacrifice on to the sores, and with a spell called out the negative energy into various animals. The subject then had to drink from three sacred springs or streams and throw wood nine times into a fire every day till cured.
Another basic protective tradition is the 'Other Name' or Aver Nav. This means keeping your real name secret and only allowing a nickname to be used for you, the 'other name'. This is only known to a child and it mother in traditional tribes. The rational being the disease entity or malign force can only effect those whose name it knows and has heard used. In practical terms this may be a defense from curses. Similar images of a person are protected or not allowed at all.
In the Lee tradition it is also claimed there is a 'spirit of balance' who stands on thresholds and liminal spaces who can be called on to help defeat malign entities. Or more precisely 'balance them' as it is believed that it is disequilibrium that causes disease and evil.
Mahrime/Moxado Taboos and 'Putting the Mockers On'
Romani behaviour is governed by strict rules and taboos, similar to Jewish Kosher laws, which makes many things 'unclean' or 'taboo', or as it is called Mahrime (or in English Romani Moxado). The purpose of this is on the one hand hygiene, to make sure only clean (Uzo) things are handled, very important for nomadic people in the wilds (its extreme nature perhaps ensuring survival), on the other it sometimes has more to do with social prejudice and 'purity'. Occasionally a mix of the two may be present. There is also a more interesting sense in which it refers to 'isolation' and 'stagnation', implying a lack of contact, exchange and flow has created a deathly or malign state of affairs. The interesting thing from a magical point of view is that it is believed that breaking these taboos is one sure way to bring down malign influences. Or in English Romani slang, to 'put the Mockers on'. It is also implied this can be done deliberately, and so a study of the Mahrime code can be enlightening from a defensive magical perspective. There are four basic divisions:
1 Food and Hygene Obvious hygiene rules are covered here, but a soiled item is destroyed or buried and cannot be cleaned.
2 Illness and Death Similar to above but with regard the problems of infection. Though for some death itself is negative and Sinti and Lovari will not go near doctors, nurses or midwives or anyone who has been touched by death. This reflects the belief that death like any negative energy is similar to a sticky force that flows out of people like a fluid. Thus contamination rules cover this as well as the kind we are more familiar with.
3 Woman Coming into contact with a woman's body, particularly her sex organs and even more so during birth and menstruation is taboo (unless blessed through a marriage ritual), as malign energy can be transferred, particularly in the latter cases. Special blessings are needed and ritual separation is called for in these conditions according to tradition. This is obviously mainly misogynistic, but it it also believed that under certain conditions women radiate negative energy, particularly during menstruation (which might have some truth, though no doubt some men radiate it all the time).
There is also an overlap with the above, in that for instance food must never come into contact with a woman, or at least not contact her below the waist. Nor should food come into contact with the dead or death, or a (menstruating) woman step over a dead person (least they become undead!) Neither should water come into contact with any of these, in fact water in general is seen as a keeper or carrier of energy, positive or negative. Though this can also be used to wash away negative energy. However only fire can destroy it, and is also regarded as generating a protective energy.
4 Non Roma Like women these are also sometimes thought of as unclean and shunned. This often includes Romani from unrelated tribes.
Different peoples take Mahrime seriously to various degrees, the Romungri have all but abandoned it, while the Kalderisa and Sinti take it very seriously and the Finish Kaalee tribe are almost neurotically fanatical about it (defining that one should always get into a bath with right foot for instance at risk of calamity). Most take a position between these extremes though.
The most extreme traditions also include Pekelemos, or 'casting a shadow'. In this case where touching any of the above is harmful in terms of Mahrime, even standing in its shadow, finding it between you and a protective fire, or making eye contact with a Mahrime person is considered harmful, sometimes even more so than touching! This gave rise to the idea of hexing by looks, or 'overlooking'.
Anyone breaking a serious Mahrime taboo rule would find themselves up against the Kris in the Kalderas tribe. The Kris also had the power to hex.
The Kris and Magic- Oaths, Hexes and Curses
The council of elders known as the Kris deals not only with criminal charges within the Company, but also infringements of Taboo. The practice is however the same and the descriptions available of the magical elements of the trial are quite revealing.
Firstly as in most courts the defendant is asked to take an oath that they will tell the truth. This however reveals interesting features of the Romani oath known as the Solax, which is derived from the Sanskrit verb 'to curse'. This is apt because the subject does that they effectively curse themselves if they do not tell the truth. Much like 'May I be struck down if I lie', but performed as a genuine magical act which everyone believes will have an effect. This is demonstrated by the serious counter measures some defendants have been known to take, something that reveals more about Romany Magic.
The basic defense against a curse is said to be holding a metal object or a special stone in their pocket, and for this reason the defendant is searched before taking the oath. Another defense is to take the oath with one foot off the ground which is believed to make it ineffective. What this means is uncertain, it may simply be a cultural mechanism or it may have real effect. If the later we seem to be dealing with a belief that magic needs to draw up energy from the earth through the feet, which can also be discharged, rather than held, through any conductive substance held by the person. Perhaps this suggests a Romani model of energy being drawn in through the feet and stored somewhere before being discharged through the hands (or as in Mahrime lore through the eyes).
A Typical Solax
'Fire, who punishes the evil-doer, who hates lies, who burns the impure, thou destroyest offenders, thy flame devoureth the earth. Devour [name] if he says what is not true, if he thinks a lie, or if he acts deceitfully'.
The energy aspects raises speculation about something like a Romani chakra system. No such thing has been identified as yet, but certain parts of the body are used or refered to in spells so much that the idea is tempting. The body parts are: the Feet, Punra; Genitals, Kor/Goolis/Minj, the Belly, Por; the Chest (or perhaps heart), Kolyin; the Head, Shero; and the Hands, Vasta, which do mesh well with the idea of chakras. Drawing on Romany hand lore we might also suspect a link with the fingers, based on the traditional associations of Thumb to Mind and Mars/Venus, Index Finger to Ideals and Jupiter, Middle Finger to Order and Saturn, Ring Finger to Art and Apollo or Venus, Little Finger to Intellect and Mercury, Upper Palm to the Sun (sometimes), Thumb base to Love and Venus and opposite base to Moon. With the end phalange of each finger representing Projection of that influence, the middle Balence or Storage, and the base phalange the Opposite or Negative (thus for the Thumb we have Will - Reason - Love). Admittedly a speculative idea but a traditional one.
Certainly in India the Chakras are associated with a line from Thumbtip to Lunar Mound or alternatively with the individual fingers aligned as Thumb Base - Root Chakra, Thumb - Sex Chakra, Index - Throat Chakra, Middle - Solar Plexus Chakra, Ring - Head Chakra, Little - Heart Chakra and Palm - Crown Chakra.
If the defendent is found guilty they are usually fined, if the crime is serious enough they may even be expelled from the community as an outcaste or 'banished man' (there being no death sentence), and may be marked in a way that warns other Romani of their past. This is interesting in relation to the evidence from 'werewolf' cases of suspects being found in the woods tatooed on their hands with a half moon. Given that Lycanthropy, or 'werewolfism' is often thought to be the result of Datura poisoning or some such (see below) this may be the reason for their dwelling alone in the woods.
If the defendents guilt is uncertain a kind of conditional curse or hex (Kosaban) can be placed on them, for instance 'If you are guilty of this crime may you bla bla'. To be hexed is called Armandino in some dialects, 'to have a curse on' or 'to be under a spell'. From the term for curse in this context is Armaji (pl Arman) which is derived from the Sanskrit for 'ruin'. Any curse can be lifted by a reconcilliation rite (Jertimos) however, though in Austrian Kalderasa tradition this can only happen on one day in the year, usually on April 31st or some other day in April. Hard luck then if you are cursed on March. The process seems to be the same as 'offloading' were the influence is discharged into a stone.
Though it implied the curser also needs to withdraw the curse. In Romani lore a curse is considered more effective the more emotionally closer the hexer and hexee. A Mother's curse being the most powerful of all, and the curse of a friend or brother (Pal, Pral, Prala, from Frala/Frata) is believed to be very heavy. In contrast the curse of an associate or stranger is far less effective. It is for this reason that 'Gypsy Curses' on Gadjo are not taken seriously (not least because most are for effect or show anyway).