The essence of Romany Witchcraft - or more properly Sorcery - is in the mindset born from the nomadic way of life and the resultant eclectic culture. Preserving Shamanic traditions from India, the Sorcery of the Near East, and ancient Eurasian and Western European beliefs and practices, Romani tribes can be said to be a major source and conduit of magical tradition for those who practiced Historical Witchcraft. Traveling throughout Eurasia and beyond, and adopting local traditions, they can be regarded as important carriers in the transmission of ideas throughout the history of Witchcraft.
Some caveats are first needed before we proceed however. As observed by skeptics, Romani and Gadjo alike, most Romanis do NOT practice magic or fortune telling, or any of the other stereotypical habits of Gypsies. Even whole tribes have lost the art. However some tribes in every nation do contain, in varying degrees, clans that specialize in sorcery. For example amongst the British Romnichal and Welsh Kale tribes the Lee and Stokes clans are believed to contain many hereditary sorcerers (hence the number of fortune tellers who adopt this surname).
The practice of sorcery is a closely guarded secret revealed only to the initiated, even within Romani society, and so many do not know their own heritage (particularly in the modern westernized state). However all Romanis know the Bari Hukni, or 'Great Trick', the deception required in order to survive in a hostile environment. The first manifestation of which being the 'lie' that the Gypsies were on a seven year Christian pilgrimage in Europe, and so had the right to freedom of movement. All 'Christian' Romani wore crosses, but called them 'Trushul', derived from Trishula, the Trident of Shiva (symbolizing birth, life and death). The making of a sign of a cross to ward off evil was also used by Romanis, some say they introduced it and that it has nothing to do with a crucifix. From this 'Great Trick' was spawned the many 'little tricks' (the origin of huckstering from hukni?), which ranged from poaching (from poachy, Rom for pocket), to fake 'fortune telling', or Dukkerin, and 'magical' confidence tricks (such as treasure finding or curse removal). Due to this most Romani regard magic as a mere trick for Gadjos.
The Origins and Culture of the Romani
Before exploring Romani Sorcery directly in practical terms it will be useful to explore the origins of the Romanis, as a possible clue to their cultural and magical roots which are still mysterious and controversial.
Proto-Gypsies and Synthesis
Just over half of the Romani population shows evidence of North Indian origin according to genetic studies and their language is closely related to Sanskrit and Hindustani (about a 75% similarity has been demonstrated). However this is complicated by the fact that Romani culture is generally closer to Semitic culture than to Indian, and in particular Jewish culture with its Kosher rules. At the same time it also contains western Indo-European features. Recently scholars have observed that this combination was also typical of the Mitanni culture of Anatolia and Syria in 1500 BC, the ancestors of the Kurds, a mixed Indo-Persian aristocracy in a Semitic Amorite culture, overlain on a non-Semitic Hurrian grassroots, whose dominant language was almost identical to the Ayran Sanskrit variant originally spoken by its ruling class.
The ancient Hurrian tribes were also renowned metal workers (they taught the Sumerians the art of working copper) as well as sought after trainers and dealers of horses, much like the Romani were. They were also known for their sorcery. The coincidence is too much for many, thus the reality perhaps involves a series of migrations and cultural exchanges between Anatolia and the Indus Valley. The Romani people probably emerged from this melting pot. The Romani language contains many militaristic terms, indicating they were a nomadic warrior caste at some stage. Thus the orthodox Indian origin of the Roma is now challenged.
The Mitanni are also interesting in that their capital is believed by many scholars to have been the biblical Harran, city of the Moon God Sin. Thus is interesting for two reasons, firstly Harran is said to be the original home of the pagan Sabian and Yezidi cults, and secondly it was not only the first place Adam and Eve arrived when they left Eden, according to Chaldean mythology, but also the biblical location from were Abraham gathered his tribal followers and began his journey into Canaan and Egypt. These followers were probably the famous nomadic raiding tribes from the Harranian plateau, known to the Egyptians as the Habiru, the most violent being recorded by them as the tribe of Ben Yamin (or Benjamin).
Some of these Habiru tribes no doubt stayed around Harran, while others settled in Canaan or Egypt (the latter serving the Hyksos elite, Semitic invaders who came to regard themselves as Egyptian after ruling the country for a few generations) A few Habiru clans may have left Egypt with the historical 'Moses', if he really existed, later becoming known as 'the Hebrews', with the rest remaining. Thus there may have emerged a common culture and even kinship amongst some of the various nomadic tribal peoples in this region (Aboriginal, Semitic, Indo-Ayran etc, and their hybrids), of which the Romani were just the latest and largest addition, after the post-Islamic expulsions from India swelled this Middle Eastern subculture disproportionately (see below).
Curiously the name Harran means 'road' or 'crossroads', with Harranians being thought of as 'people of the crossroads', and a controversial derivation of the name Rom, not generally taken seriously today, is that it derives from Drom, 'road' or 'path', and once meant the 'people of the road'. Drom is a very important concept for the Roma, both mundanely and esoterically and relates to the idea of having a path, either as a vocation or practical direction in life, to know where one is going and to stick to it. Though typically the path is discovered intuitively and our knowledge of our 'true path' may vary in life. The term is certainly used by Romanis, but whether it is the origin of their name, and that of the Dom (see below), is highly speculative and not supported by any evidence. A more convincing etymology with evidential support is described below, but nothing is certain.
The other nation closely associated with the Romani are the Dom. These are a genuinely aboriginal people who migrated from India to the Middle East. They were, and are, showman and musicians by trade as are many Romani. They also had a cult of thieves, with a trickster-thief deity, while some Romani, revered the two 'thieves' crucified with Christ as patron saints. However the Romani language is quite different to Dom language, and the Romanis regarded the Dom as being of a 'lower caste'. Though the name Rom itself may be based on Dom. Dom is said to either come from the Sanskrit root 'Dam', meaning 'drum' or the Tamil term Itum meaning 'prank', and Rom may be a later word modelled on this. Rom either coming from the Bihari word Rouma, meaning 'man' or from Sanskrit Rom , meaning 'husband' (Romni = 'wife'), as opposed to Chav, meaning 'boy', 'unmarried' or 'immature'.
This reflects the Romani belief that early marriage (often from 12) was crucial for personal development, and the importance of it in general both mundanely and esoterically. The Dom were also closely linked with Tantric practises, and Dom women were typically chosen as sexual partners by left hand path Tantricists, due to both their low social status and alleged attributes. Dom were often divided into professional 'tribes', such as Biharis, performers and musicians; Madari, bear and animal trainers; Sapere, snake charmers; and Loharis, blacksmiths. The closely related tribes of the Banjaris, or Lambadas (traders), and the Lambanis, perhaps even more ancient than the Dom, were preservers of an archaic form of Shakti devotion. Male Dom were often acrobats and jugglers, and many were masters of the whip. Self-flagellation was a common practise amongst them as an ordeal, and seems to have been initiatory. Apparent links between the Roma and the Dom include the Bihari clan, a Romani family named after a Dom tribe (however this is complicated by a region of Hungary being called Bihar, though the reason for this is unknown). A likely scenario is that some Dom tribes were absorbed into the Romani nation (traditionally referred to as the 'Company of Romani and Chavs').
Another people once thought related to the Rom and Dom are the Lom. The Lom are an itinerant people of mixed Indian and Armenian origin living in Turkey, but their language is quite different to either Romani or Dom. They are also curiously known as Posha. Posh Rat in Romani means 'half blood' (Kalo Rat = 'black blood' or the rarer pure Romani) and is usually used to indicate half breed Romani (as opposed to Diddikai or part Romani). This may indicate some relation. The Lom are often now regarded as partly a similar people to the Dom, hence name, but from a different region of India. Like the Dom some might have been absorbed into the Romani.
The Sinti (Sinto m Sintika f) are a mysterious Gypsy people famous for their magical reputation. The name is believed to be derived from Sind, in Pakistan, however their culture is the most Middle Eastern of all the Gypsies (the grammar of the name Sinti is also not Indian). Others associate them with Sin, the Semitic Moon God of Harran, who by late Chaldean times had been Hellenized into a Lunar Goddess Aa, and perhaps Sina, the Fey Witch Queen archetype of the Roma and Sinti.
The Romani claim them as one of their tribes or nations, the most ancient and first to leave their homeland (India?) and settle in Mesopotamia. The Sinti themselves however often deny Romani origins and claim they are related to the Chaldeans, or more mythologically that they are descended from the companions of Abraham on his journey to Egypt (Habiru?). This would closely equate them with Harran and the Mitanni mentioned above. Most Sinti now reside in Germany, Northern France and Poland, a small number also settled in Britain from Germany in Victorian times. They became particularly associated with fairgrounds and fortune telling. They speak a different dialect to other Romani, unintelligible to most, but have some overlap with the Romanugro. They are also distinguished by their refusal to adopt Christianity or Islam, unlike the Romani for whom conversion was common, albeit nominally. Though a few escaped this trap, many Romani in Albania and Kosovo joining Sufi Orders for example.
It may also be relevant here to observe that Sind was once part of the Harrapan civilization in the Indus Valley circa 4000BC, which would have a close relationship with Sumeria. One theory suggests that the famous Gundestrup Cauldron of the proto Celtic La Tene culture (175 BC), with its image of the 'Celtic' Horned God, Cernunnos, in lotus position, apparently derived from the Lord of the Animals of this civilization, originally came from India. Seated beneath the ivy, with the ram-headed serpent of the underworld in his left hand, the stag free to his right, and surrounded by twined wolf, lion, bull and fish gods. This might attest to contact between early Celtic nomads and the more ancient, metal working, Indo-Persian nomads (the Sinti ancestors), who were once linked to Harrapa. Certainly the cauldron was made by equestrian, warrior nomads, who revered a dualistic, wheel carrying deity and goddess, according to its imagery.
Various mythic origins exist for the Romani, both from themselves and from Gadjos. Their basic legend is that they came from Rom Chal, their original state, 'the Land of the Rom' or 'Children of the Rom', a great civilization or people that fell, or was lost in a flood, and its people scattered by God (Chal also means 'home', 'heaven', 'golden age', 'children' or 'migrants' to different tribes). The English Romnichal equate their origin with historical 'Rome', but this is no doubt an error.
Some Christianized Romani equate Chal with Egypt, and call themselves the 'Pharaoh's people', believing themselves to be descended from the Egyptians (or 'Egyptoi') scattered after the Red Sea closed behind Moses' passage or in a similar failed crossing by an ancestral people. This might reflect a legend preserved by the Habiru, but perhaps is an adoption (reclamation) from anti Romani Christian propaganda. As was the claim they were descended from the Blacksmiths who made the nails for the crucifixion and so were cursed to wander (now chased by the supernatural nails!). The Blacksmith connection coming from the Judaic belief that Romanis were descended from the smith Tubalcain and the musician Jubal Cain, or sometimes just the nomad Cain, or the offspring of Lilith and Adam. A belief some Romanis happily adopted. More positively they also claimed descent from the Three Magi, or according to Agrippa, the first 'Cushite' sons of Ham.
In the East the Romani claimed to have emerged from the underground kingdom of Agharti, or Nagaland (home of the Nagas or 'Serpent People'), though also claim to have only taken shelter there after some disaster or persecution (gaining great magical knowledge from their hosts). This might be a half remembered initiation tradition merged into a myth of original emergence.
Curiously of all the Gitanos (Spanish Romani) once claimed kinship with the Guanches of the Canary Islands, whom orthodoxy claims are descended from the Mesolithic ancestors of the Berbers. While Voltaire thought the Guanches to be of Atlantean origin (as well as the Basques), and the Canaries to be the peaks of the mountains of Atlantis, and so equated the Gitanos with a similar origin!
According to researcher Roger Moreau the oldest and most eastern location definitely associated with the Romanis was Dasht i Nawar, 'the desert of the Gypsies', near Ghazani in Afghanistan . They lived there for three hundred years until the mid 11th century he claims and most ot their early militaristic language supposedly derives from this time. He concludes they were resettled Indian mercenaries following the Islamic invasion of India. They then migrated into Persia and across the Persian plain westward. This is now often considered part of the orthodox theory of Romani migration.
Other researchers point to Gypsies living around Constantinople long before the 11th century, where they were regarded as refugees from Egypt. It was then they were first called Egyptoi or 'Egyptians'. They were considered the latest of several waves of migrants into Anatolia from the Middle East. Contemporary scholars have suggested that one of the first written references to them, under the term "Atsinganoi" (Greek, of unknown meaning), dates from the Byzantine era during a time of famine in the 9th century. In 800 AD, Saint Athanasia gave food to "foreigners called the Atsinganoi" near Thrace. Later, in 803 AD, Theophanes the Confessor wrote that Emperor Nikephoros I had the help of the "Atsinganoi" to put down a riot with their "knowledge of magic". "Atsingani" was also used to refer to itinerant fortune tellers, ventriloquists (an early name for 'psychic mediums'), snake charmers and wizards who visited the Emperor Constantine IX in the year 1054. They also brought acrobats and trained bears. The hagiographical text, The Life of St. George the Anchorite, mentions that the "Atsingani" were called on by Constantine to help rid his forests of the wild animals which were killing off his livestock. They are later described as sorcerers and evildoers and accused of trying to poison the Emperor's favorite hound. The Church associated them with the Paulicians - promiscuous, glosallalic Christian 'Gnostics', under possible Manichean influence (perhaps reflecting both the dualistic nature of Romani culture, their pseudo-Christianity and a possible Tantrism of early Gypsies).
Their name might mean 'those who do not touch', which may refer to the typical taboos of the Roma. In later texts Egyptoi and Atsinganoi are used interchangeably, and 'Gyptoi can be demonstrated as a term used for Romani peoples in the Middle Ages. Though some believe they were the ancestors of the Sinti rather than Romani proper. Thus a possible theory arises that there were at least two factions of Egyptoi, the proto-Sinti, of mixed ancient Indo-Ayran|Amorite|Hurrian origin, and the Indo-Ayran Romani, of medieval origin, more numerous and closer to Indian than Chaldean. But as both spoke variants of Sanskrit and had similar origins they were merged into a singular population, with the larger population of Romani becoming linguistically dominant while adopting much proto-Sinti culture, with the Sinti proper being those who retained the older traditions and language in purer form.
The 'Egyptians' settled around Modon, Greece in the 12th century. This became known as Little Egypt and its denizens became known as Gypsies ('Gyptoi). It is believed by many that various nomadic peoples made up the Romani people, and here merged and unified their culture. From here in subsequent centuries many migrated into the Balkans, which became their new home for generations, adopting much from and giving something to the local culture. Others crossed the Med into North Africa, either via Crete or through Palestine (eventually making their way around to Spain), and again adopted much local tradition, particularly in North Africa. The Balkan Romanis eventually arrived in Germany, via Bohemia, and from there moved north to Scandinavia and west into France. They then entered Italy, via France. The French initially referred to them as Bohemians due to their supposed origin and culture (a term later extended to artistic dropouts). Romanis also entered France from the South in the form of the Gitanos of Spain and North Africa (where they cohabited with Berbers).
Finally the Romani arrived in Britain in the late 14th and early 15th century. In Ireland and Scotland they exchanged memes with Irish Traveler, or Tinker, culture, as well as other British nomadic traditions elsewhere. These were often referred to as Didikai by Kalo Rat Romanis. They would first immigrate to America from here also (though later immigration was from all over Europe).
Nations and Tribes
The exact socio-cultural division of the Romani people is hard to define, and controversial, but scholars sometimes simplify things by dividing them into ten 'Nations' (based on geographic, linguistic and cultural difference), subdivided into more traditional Tribes (based on activities and/or identical language and kinship, or for Roma by 'common ancestor'). These tribes, tens of thousands large, themselves consisting of several Clans, or extended families, often several hundred scattered people with common name. While this is very useful others think it is a little Procrustean. While modern Roma may talk about unity (Shena) in an enlightened way, the Roma traditionally only exhibit such loyalty to their actual families, Amare Familia (Our Family) and to a lesser extent their Clans, or to the Companies, groups of families traveling together and sharing an economic bond (in Balkans amongst settled Romanis some of these became craft guilds, each with their own patron saint, secret symbols and initiatory practices).
Most Companies were informally run in a similar way to most nomadic peoples, but among the Kalderas tribe, a more organized from of government and court system developed that would influence many other tribes. This was the Kris, or court of elders, who made all the important decisions, arbitrated over differences and judged in legal trials (with penalties ranging from fines, through hexes, to banishment from the Company). But this only applied to the most important and difficult decisions, serious crimes and major transgressions of tradition, everything else was decided consensually at the Divan ('round table'), around which whole families or Companies met.
In everyday life the notion of the tribe for most Roma was one only for mythological stories of cultural origins, and the 'Nation' of the anthropologist was unknown, in fact they sometimes regarding these other 'nations' as not being real or pure Roma (not Our Roma, Amare Roma), or of some other 'unclean' people ('foreign Roma'), which often led to feuds. All affinity and loyalty being reserved for those they lived or worked with, not any abstract notion of kinship.
Despite the defining geographical associations of the various nations and tribes, there was also considerable overlap, with for instance Romanian Kalderas arriving in 19th century Scandinavia, and now regarded as native as the local Rommani, who have been there since the late Middle Ages and were once considered more indigenous. Though many Rommani still regard them as newcomers and foreigners of course. This needs to be born in mind when we explore the possibilities of cultural transmission.
The Ten Nations (and their tribes):
1. The Kalderashi (or Vlach Roma). The most numerous, traditionally copper smiths, from the Balkans, many of whom migrated to central Europe and North America, heavily adopting local Balkan practises and language elements; Example Tribes - Kalderas (main Kalderashi tribe from Romania, renowned for openness to Gadjos); Lovari (Horse traders and musicians of Hungarian origin); Machvaya (Kalderash of Serbian origin); Boyash (low caste Kalderash of Romanian origin, divided into Kashtale, 'woodworkers', Rudari, 'miners' and Ursara, 'bear trainers'); Rusurja (Ukrainian Roma); Ashkali (Albanian Roma); Gurbeti (Serbian horse traders, unique for veneration of protective Saint Bibi (Aunt), who shares many features with Durga); Jambazi (Traveling horse traders between Balkans and Turkey, related to Gurbeti).
Common Vlach Clan names include Stojka (related to Stokes), Lakatos, Bihari
Vlachi is a Romungri term, and Kalderashi a generalization, both are accepted by them, however, they call themselves Roma, čáče Roma (true Roma), or sometimes mesal'ake Roma – literally "table Roma", after the table around which the family or company gathers. In Vlachi folklore we often find the expression sunto mesal'i (sacred table) in reference to it.
The Kalderashi rever the Queen of the Fey and Witches as Dina, but also know her as Sina (see below).
2 The Cikani or Bohemian Gypsies. The now extinct, pre Holocaust Bohemian and Moravian Roma. These were the link between the Balkan Roma and the Western Europe Roma.
3. The Romungri This is a Kaldereshi term for northern settled Gypsies. There are two subdivisions Hungarian Rom, or Ungrika; and the Servika, further divided roughly into Transylvanian/Ukrainian Roma and Slovakian/Southern Polish Roma, these were mostly horse-dealers, peddlers, blacksmiths, and entertainers; A common nickname and rare Clan name amongst the Slovakians is Dzugi, derived from a Persian Dom Clan, the Djugi, whose name comes from the Sanskrit Yogi, 'holy beggars'. This Clan rejected caste, taboos and tradition and also practiced Indian occultism. The nickname may be partly intended in jest as such behavior was rare in the Balkans
The Romungri had absorbed some linguistic elements from their neighbours, the Sinti, but the two languages were unintelligible to each other. This point is a crucial one regarding the transmission of ideas, which was often difficult between Romani nations and even tribes. Though contact through the host language was always possible, but more likely between Romani and Gadjo. The name of Gana, for Dina, Queen of Witches and Fey, derives from this people, and is most commonly found in Transylvania, where she is the bride of the Devil.
Note : Transylvanian Roma also include nomadic Vlachi, who share a common Transylvanian culture with the above, at least in part.
4. The Sinti. Mostly in Alsace and other regions of France and Germany. Other experts, and Sinti themselves, insist that Sinti are not a subgroup of Roma but rather a separate ethnic group which also had Indian origins and a history of nomadism; They form a fairly uniform group with tribal divisions reflecting locale or profession. Many Sinti were associated with Fairs. They refer to Gadjos as Hexo, meaning 'dim', as do the Finnish Kale and some Turkish tribes indicating a possible relation. The name Sinti may be related to Sina, a dialect name of Queen Dina.
The Manushe. From Manu (Man). French and Italian Romani held to be a subgroup of the Sinti. They differ from them only in having a more Romani type language. They are thus possibly a Sinti - Romani hybrid formed in northern France. Mostly organized as groups of traders, fair workers and hucksters (allegedly Italian Manushe have links with the Strege or Italian Witches)
The Sinti-Manush are often musicians, fairground people, fortune tellers, circus artists, or other entertainers. Their Clan names are often of German origin.
It is likely that a popular Continental term for Gypsies, the Hungarian term Cigany (Bohemian Cikan, Russian Cygan, German Zigeuner, French Tsigane and Italian Zingari) initially designated the Sinti-Manush group who arrived first, but was later extended to all Romani. An alternative derivation is from the Atsingani. Though as we have seen these might be compatible.
5. The Gitanos (also called Calé). Mostly in the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, and southern France; associated with entertainment; There is a minor tribal division between the Cale of North Africa, the Gitanos of Iberia and the Gitan of France. The latter two speak Calo, a Spanish dialect with many Romani loan words, known locally as 'the black tongue'. They are also associated with the Black Madonna, known to them as St Sara. She in turn is sometimes called Sara the Kalee, literally Sara the Black (a connection with Kali is often suggested, but this could be coincidence). She is probably the local form of Dina or Sina. They maintain a strong tradition of Egyptian origins. Their Clans are identifiable from their Spanish names.
6. The Romnichal (or Rom'nies). Mainly in Britain and North America; Divided into two tribes, the Romnichal proper, of England and Scotland/Ireland, and the now almost extinct Kale of Wales, though the difference is slight (with the Welsh Kale seemingly regarding themselves as purer and genuinely preserving Persian elements in their dialect). Romnichal in Ireland and Scotland speak a dialect slightly influenced by Shelta, the language of the non-Romani Tinkers. While the English Roma merged with indigenous migrants. The main English Clans are the Boswells and Lees, while the main Welsh Clan were the Woods. There was a tradition of large Clans designating their elders as Kings of the Gypsies, but this seems to have impressed Gadjos more than fellow Romanis.
There are unsourced legends in English Witchcraft of persecuted Gadjo Sorcerers and Witches seeking sanctuary amongst the Romnichal (the same is also said of renegade monks in some tales). This may be true, though in the Balkans all non-Romani magic users were considered evil and taboo. The Romnichal know Dina as Diana, or perhaps even Danu in some places.
7. The Arli (also known as Yerlii or Erlides). Settled in southeastern Balkans and Turkey. An understudied grouping. Dominant tribes being the Muslim Rom Sepečides, the Ayjides of Istanbul (often bear trainers, from Turkish Ay, bear), Macedonian Roma and the Medvedara (Greek Roma, also bear trainers); The dominant Greek Clan is the Demeters. Greek Romani may have known Dina as Artemis or even more fittingly as Hecate. They are one of the few Romany groups to preserve the ancient serpent cult, and many still keep snakes as pets.
8. The Rommani. Scandanavian Roma. Generally divided into tribes of Norwegian and Swedish Rommani, both of presumed Bohemian origin, but the difference is slight. Rommanis are often called Tatars in Sweden and Norway, and Wandriar in Norway.
9. The Kaalee. Finnish Roma refered to locally as 'blacks'. Possibly related to Sinti.
Unclassified Roma tribes include the Errumantxela, a hybrid Basque - Gitan people; the Luri, Entertainers of Persia/Iran and Arabia; and the Qawliya of Iraq. The Zargar are a Balkan tribe who returned to Persia. Curiously it has been observered that Romnichal, Gitanos, Kalé, Sinti, Manush, and others do not use Roma when referring to themselves, but to others.