Gypsies: The name Gypsy, an abbreviation of “Egyptian,” has been used for centuries by English-speaking people to denote a member of a certain caste of turbulent wanderers who travelled Europeduring the Middle Ages, and whose descendants, in a much-decayed condition, are still found in most European countries. Many other names, such as “Saracen” and “Zigeuner,” or “Cigan” have been applied to these people, but “Egyptian” is the most widespread in time and place. It does not relate to Egypt, but to the country of “Little Egypt” or “Lesser Egypt,” whose identity has never been clearly established. Two Transylvanian references of the years 1417 and 1418 indicate that Palestine is the country in question, but there is some reason to believe that “Little Egypt” included other regions in the Levant. Gypsies speakof themselves as Romane’, and of their language as Romani-tchib (tchib = tongue). Physically, they are black-haired and brown-skinned, their appearance, like their language, suggesting affinities with Hindustan. But, although possessing marked racial characteristics, for the most part, they must also be regarded as a caste or organization. In recent centuries, if not in earlier times, many of their over-lords were not of Gypsy blood, but belonged to the nobility and petite noblesse of Europe, and were formally appointed by the kings and governments of their respective countries to rule over all the Gypsies resident within those countries. The title of baron, count or regent of the Gypsies was no proof that the official so designated was of Gypsy race. This fact must always be borne in mind in any considerationof the Gypsy system.
The rulers thus appointed, being emppowered by Christian princes, and under Papal approval, were necessarily Christian. Moreover, their vassals were at least Christian by profession. Although their behaviour was often wildly inconsistantwith such a profession, it was in the character of Christian pilgrims that they asked for and obtained hospitality from the cities and towns of Mediaeval Europe. On the other hand, they seemed to have practised rites which could not be described as Christian. This twofold character is illustrated in connection with the services which they still hold in the crypt of the church of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, in the Ile de la Camargue, Bouches-du-Rhone. In this church the Festival of the Holy Marys is annually celebrated on the 25th May, and to it the Gypsies come in great numbers. The crypt is specially reserved for them, because it contains the shrine of Saint Sara of Egypt, whom they regard as their patron saint. Throughout the night of the 24th–25th May they keep watch over her shrine, and on the 25th they take their departure. Among the Gypsy votive offerings presented in the crypt, some are believed to date back to about the year 1450. All this would indicate that the Gypsies were Christians. Another statement, however, tends to qualify such a conclusion. This is the assertion that the shrine of Saint Sara rests upon an ancient altar dedicated to Mithra; that the Gypsies of that neighbourhood who are known as “Calagues,” are descended from the Iberians formerly inhabiting the Carmargue; and that their cult is really the Mithraic worship of fire and water, upon which the veneration of Saint Sara is super-imposed.
Confirmation of this view may be obtained from the worship of fire still existing among the Gypsies of Southern Hungary. The ceremonies observed at child-birth, in order to avert evil during the period between birth and baptism, may be taken as evidence. Prior to the birth of the child, the Gypsies light a fire before the mother’s tent, and this fire is not suffered to go out until the rite of baptism has been performed. The women who light and feed the fire croon, as they do so, the following chant–
Burn ye, burn ye fast, O Fire!
And guard the babe from wrathful ire
Of earthy Gnome and Water-Sprite,
Whom with thy dark smoke banish quite !
Kindly fairies hither fare,
And let the babe good fortune share,
Let luck attend him ever here,
Throughout his life be luck aye near !
Twigs and branches now in store, -bis.
And still of branches many more, /
Give we to thy flame, O Fire !
Burn ye, burn ya, fast and high,
Hear the little baby cry !
It will be noted that the spirits of Earth and Water are here regarded as malevolent,only to be overcome by the superior aid of fire. Nevertheless, those women who are believed to have learned their occult lore from the unseen powers of Earth and Water are held to be the greatest magicians of the tribe. Moreover, the water-being is not invariably regarded as inimical, but is sometimes directly propitated. As when a mother, to charm away convulsive crying in her child, goes through the prescribed ceremonial in all its details, of which the last is this appeal, as she casts a red thread into the stream: — “Take this thread, O Water-Spirit, and take with it the crying of my child ! If it gets well, I will bring thee three apples and eggs !” The water-spirit appears again in a friendly character when a man, in order to recover a stolen horse, takes his infant to the stream, and, bending over the water, askks the invisible genius to indicate, by means of the baby’s hand, the direction in which the horse had been taken. In these two instances we have a clear survival of the worship of water and the watery powers.It may be questioned whether thses rites ought to be ascribed to Mithraism in its later stages, or whether they own an earlier origin.
One definite statement with regard to Gypsy lore is afforded by Joseph Glanvil, in a passage which inspired Matthew Arnold’s poem of “The Scholar-Gypsy.” “There was lately a lad in the University of Oxford,” says Glanvil (Vanity of Dogmatising, 1661), “who was, by his poverty, forced to leave his studies there, and at last to join himself to a company of vagabond Gypsies.” Glanvil also goes on to say that “after he had been a pretty while exercised in the trade,” this scholar-gypsy chanced to meet two of his former fellow-students, to whom he stated: — “that the people he went with were not such impostors as they were taken for, but they had a traditional kind of learning among them, and could do wonders by the powers of imagination, their fancy binding that of others; that himself had learned much of their art, and when he had compassed the whole secret, he intended,” he said, “to leave their company, and give the world an account of what he had learned.”
Here we have clear indications of the possession of a body of esoteric learning, which included the knowledge and exercise of hypnotism. Even among modern Gypsies this power is exercised. De rochas states that the Catalan Gypsies are mesmerists and clairvoyants, and the present writer has experienced an attempt on the part of a Hungarian Gypsy to exert this influence. The same power, under name of glamour, was formerly an attribute of the Scottish Gypsies. Glamour is defined by Sir Walter Scott as “the power of imposing on the eyesight of the spectators, so that the appearance of an object shall be totally different from the reality.” And, in of a reference to “the Gypsies glamour’d gang,” in one of his ballads, he remarks: “Besides the prophetic powers ascribe to the Gypsies in most European countriesthe Scottish peasants believe them possesed of the power of throwing upon bystanders a spell to fascinate the eyes and cause them to see a thing that is not. Thus the old ballad of ‘Johnnie Faa,’ the elopement of the Countess of Cassillis with a Gypsy leader is imputed to fascination–
‘Sae soon as they saw her weel-faur’d face,
They cast a glamour o’er her.'”
Scott also relates an incident of a Gypsy who “exercised his glamour over a number of people at Haddington , to whom he exhibited a common dung-hill cock, trailing, what appeared to spectators, a mossy oaken trunk. An old man passed with a cart of clover, he stopped and picked out a four-leaved blade; the eyes of the spectators were opened and the oaken trunk appeared to be a bulrush.” The quatrefoil, owing to its cruciform shape, acted as a powerful antidote to witchcraft. Moreover, in the face of this sign of the Cross, the Gypsy was bound to desist from the exercise of what was an unlawful art. As to the possibility of hypnotizing a crowd, or making them “to see the thing that is not” that feat is achieved to-day by African witch-doctors. What is required is a dominant willon the one hand and a sufficiently plastic imaginationon the other.
Scott introduces these statements among his noteson the ballad of “Christie’s Will,” in relation to the verse–
“He thought the worlocks o’ the rosy cross,
Had fang’d him in their nets sae fast;
Or the Gypsies glamour’d gang
Had lair’d his learning at the last.
This association of Rosicrucians with Gypsies is not inapt, for hypnotism appears to have been considered a Rosicrucian art. Scott has other suggestive references in this place. “Saxo Grammaticus mentions a particular sect of Mathematicians, as he is pleased to call them, who, ‘per alienosque vultus, varus rerum imaginibus, adumbraie callebant; illicibusque formus veros obscurare conspectus.” Merlin, the son of Ambrose, was particularly skilled in this art, and displays it in the old metrical romance of Arthour and Merlin. The jongleurs were also great professors of this mystery, which has in some degree descended , with their name, on modern jugglers.
It will be seen that various societies are credited with the possession, in an eminent degree, by the art of hypnotism, in the Middle Ages. Presumably, it was inherited from one common source. How much the Gypsies were associated with this power may be inferred from a Scottish Act of Parliament of the year 1579, which was directed against “the idle people calling themselves Egyptians, or any that fancy themselves to have knowledge of prophecy, charming, or other abused sciences.” For the term “charming” like “glamour” and other kindred words (e.g. “enchantment”, “bewitched”, “spellbound”) bore reference to mesmeric influence.
The statement made by Glanvil’s scholar-gypsy would lead one to believe that the Gypsies inhabiting England in the seventeeth century possessed other branches of learning. They have always been famed for alleged prophetic power, exercised through the medium of astrology and chiromancy or palmistry, and also by the interpretation of dreams; this last-named phase being distinctly specified in Scotland in 1611. It does not appear that any modern Gypsies profess a knowledge of astrology. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that Groome was shown by a Welsh Gypsy-man the form of the written charm employed by his mother in her fortune-telling, and that form is unquestionably a survival of the horoscope. Both mother and son were obviously unaware of that fact, and made no profession of astrology; but they had inherited the scheme of the horoscope form ancestors who were astrologers.
The practice of chiromancy is still a Gypsy art, as it has been for ages. A curious belief was current in mediaeval times to the effect that the three Kings or Magi who came to Bethlehem were Gypsies, and in more than one religious play they are represented as telling the fortunes of the Holy Family by means of palmistry. This circumstance has evoked the following suggestive remarks from C.G. Leland.
“As for the connection of the Three Kings with Gypsies, it is plain enough. Gypsies were from the East; Rome and the world abounded in wandering Chaldean magi-priests, and the researches which I am making have led me to a firm conclusion that the Gypsy lore of Hungary and South Slavonia have a very original character as being, firstly, though derived from India, not Aryan but Shamanic, that is of an Altic, or Tartar, or ‘Turanian’ stock…. Secondly, this was an old Chaldean-Accadian ‘wisdom’ or sorcery. Thirdly– and this deserves some serious examination– it was also the old Etruscan religion whose magic formulas were transmitted to the Romans….. “The Venetian witchcraft, as set forth by Beroni, is evidently of Sclavic-Greek origin. That of Romagna is Etruscan, agreeing very strangely and closely with the Chaldean magic of Lenormant, and marvellously like the Gypsies’. It does not, when carefully sifted seem to be like that of the Aryans…. nor is it Semitic. To what degree some idea of all this and of Gypsy connection with it, penetrated among the people and filtered down, even into the Middle Ages, no one can say. But it is very probable that through the centuries there came together some report of common origin of Gypsy and ‘Eastern’ or Chaldean lore, for, since it was the same, there is no reason why a knowledge of truth should not have been disseminated in a time of a traditions and a earnest study in occultism.”
These surmises on the part of a keen and accomplished student of every phase of magic, written and unwritten, are deserving of the fullest consideration. By following the line indicated byLeland it may be possible to reach an identification of the “traditional kind of learning” possessed by the Gypsies in the seventeenth century.
from the –Encyclopedia of Occultism, A compendium of Information on the Occult Sciences, Occult Personalities, Psychic Science, Magic, Demonology, Spiritism, Mysticism, and Metaphysics by Lewis Spence copyright 1923, reprinted 1960.