All Things Gypsy: A Brief History & Cultural Collective
What is a Gypsy?
Dictionary.com defines a gypsy as being "a member of a traveling people with dark skin and hair who speak Romany and traditionally live by seasonal work, itinerant trade, and fortune-telling." But a gypsy is so much more than this...
While many people believe that the gypsies are Romani, there are gypsies or nomadic tribes from many different locations across the globe. Most of the gypsy tribes are thought to have originated in the Middle East, in places such as India, Armenia, and even East Anatolia. These are the darker skinned, darker featured wandering gypsies. This image of the gypsy is one that is commonly portrayed in movies, on television, in books, and also illustrated on published divinatory tools such as tarot cards, etc. But there are gypsies from other culture-rich regions of the world in addition to the Middle East, such as: the Irish travelers from Ireland, the Sea Gypsies from all across Southeast Asia, and the Scottish Highland Travelers from Scotland.
Whatever the image and our beliefs of what the "gypsies" are and were, there is much more to these mysterious peoples than meets the American eye. If we take a trip back through time and delve into the culture and reality of the gypsy tribes, we may be surprised as to how normal and yet still enchanting these nomadic people truly are.
A Brief History of the Gypsies
The Romani Gypsies
The Romani Tribe, perhaps the most well-known and largest gypsy tribe, was said for many hundreds of years to have originated in Egypt - hence the term "gyp- sy". An interesting tidbit of legend has it that the Romani gypsies actually were forced to become nomadic, as they were exiled from Egypt for harboring the New Testament's Messiah - Jesus of Nazareth.
As amazing and inspiring as the Egyptian Gypsy's story is, scholars now say that the gypsies, specifically the Romani tribe, came from the country of India. Apparently this has been proven by means of DNA testing. Just because these gypsies did not really come from Egypt doesn't make their history any less intriguing!
Through the centuries following the 12th century, the Romani Gypsies arrived and traveled throughout the entire continent of Europe. And guess where the Romani tribes wandered to from there? You guessed it...the good ol' U.S.! Many Romani peoples today claim that the Portuguese brought them over as slaves and dumped them in the Americas during colonial times. Helping to establish the United States, which many do not realize, the gypsies were an integral part of our country's roots.
Speeding up to the twentieth century, something revolting and unfortunate happened to the Romani gypsy tribes in Germany and other parts of Europe. The unfortunate occurrence was during the time of Hitler and his Nazis, it was the time of the Holocaust. Unbeknownst to many non-historians, the Jews weren't the only people persecuted, tortured, and killed off by Hitler and his brigades...the gypsies were also not a part of Hitler's distorted goals for the new world order, or what he referred to as the "Aryan" race. Remember, Hitler wanted everyone who wasn't blonde haired and blue eyed to go...more particularly the Jewish people, gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone with a handicap. These unique individuals made up groups of people that were threatening to his "perfect Aryan" race that he so desperately wanted for the world.
The Romani or Roma tribe is still around and going strong today, despite being ran out and depressed in many different areas of the world.
The Irish Travelers
The Irish Travelers are just that...travelers of and from Ireland. They are the minority and have been the minority of Ireland for many years. The Irish Travelers maintain their own language and culture, separate from that of the majority in Ireland, and have been carrying on in their gypsy ways for at least a couple of hundred years.
The Irish Travelers roots are not fully known but definitely debated. Most say that the Irish Travelers are descended from laborers during the famine in the 1840s. Still, the Irish Travelers and others believe that their history runs much deeper than the nineteenth century famine. There is documentation that the Irish gypsies date back to the 5th century, holding their own culture, values, and dialect of language since then.
As a minority (and they are a minority) - there was a census taken back in 2006, and the population of Irish Travelers in Ireland was less than 25,000! Their population is sure to have increased since then and the Irish Travelers are also populating in the United States, mostly in the South. In the United States, many people refer to them as "rip-off" artists and thieves, and unfortunately in Ireland they are also ostracized. More professionally, they can be known as traders - traders of greyhounds and horses. The women hold a particular interest and service in healing, though it is sort of ironic that their fatality rates are generally very high compared to the rest of society both in the US and in Ireland. It was said that the Travelers don't usually live to be over 40 years old in many cases! Whatever their origins and careers now, the Irish Travelers are an intriguing tribe of gypsies and will be for quite some time to come.
Probably the most notorious activity that the gypsies are known for is divination (fortune-telling). When one hears the word "gypsy", one usually thinks of a dark room with a beautiful woman, with a scarf wrapped around her ebony hair and a crystal ball beneath her hands. This image is one that has emanated through time, especially due to Hollywood's effect on society's views of different cultures and people. Though it is a prominent and looming image, it is still somewhat of a correct image, as many gypsies have used the art of fortune-telling as a means to make a living.
Two of the most well-known and commonly used forms of gypsy fortune-telling is the use of tarot cards and also the use of a crystal ball. Other forms of gypsy fortune-telling included palm and face reading and also tea leaf readings. The crystal ball readings were the most popular amongst outsiders, as the gypsies were able to set up elaborate booths in order to entice and wow their clients.
In "The Giant Book of Magic" by Cassandra Eason, Gypsy Love Cards are described in full detail. Though many tarot decks are modeled after the gypsy way of life and style, most of the time the gypsy fortune-teller would use a simple deck of playing cards! To the gypsy fortune-teller, each suit of cards had a general meaning, for instance:
- The suit of diamonds usually talked about the practical issues in a relationship
- The suit of clubs talks about communication in love and relationships
- Hearts pinpoint emotions involved in love and relationships (jealousy, passion, etc.)
- Spades specifically represented challenges and fate imposed
If one particular suit popped up in a reading over the others, this could mean that one particular area of your relationship or how you love that person is bogging down the relationship in some way (or in an opposite situation uplifting it). Usually a person would seek the advice and wisdom of a gypsy for matters of the heart...love! And usually, a gypsy fortune-teller would give them a reading on the things that they needed to improve for certain things to happen for love in their lives.
Now, on a secondary level to a gypsy love card reading, the numbers in a deck also have their own particular meanings. For example:
- The Joker - take a step into the unknown, listen to your own instincts
- Aces - new beginnings
- Twos - balance within a relationship
- Threes - expansion
- Fours - taking a chance and not letting security prevent from new experiences
- Fives - accepting life and love for what they are
- Sixes - harmony and idealism and reflect inner peace (or a necessity for it)
- Sevens - dreams and spiritual searching
- Eights - responding to setbacks and limitations in plans
- Nines - retaining one's identity in a relationship and its importance
- Tens - cards of completion, fulfillment and commitment
The Court Cards:
- Jacks - a teenager or immature person involved in a relationship/threatening a relationship in some way
- Queens - refer to a wife, female or older woman
- Kings - husband, father, older male
Inspired by Gypsies
In modern culture, many elements have been inspired by the gypsies. Things like clothing, divinatory tools, and even music. As far as clothing goes, from where do you think Bohemian style clothing is derived? Take a peek at Dolores Monet's Bohemian Clothing Hub here: http://hubpages.com/hub/BohoTheFashionHistoryofBohemianClothes. Dolores really does a beautiful job at thoroughly describing the roots of the Bohemian fashions that are so widely worn today.
As for divinatory tools, there are tarot cards based off of the gypsies' tarot decks, even titled "gypsy tarot deck"! You can also purchase crystal balls that may be titled "gypsy..."
Perhaps my all-time favorite song is Fleetwood Mac's "Gypsy", with the gorgeous and ethereal Stevie Nicks as the lead singer. This song is enchanting and will leave you wanting more and more...and may even have you wanting to join the gypsies on the road to a magical life!
Written and copyrighted © by Kitty the Dreamer (May Canfield), 2011. All Rights Reserved.
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