Facts and Fiction
by Mary W. Jensen
Gypsies are known as a vagabond race,
traveling from one place to another. Most fiction portrays them as having
loose morals - thieves, lustful, and dishonest. But that is a
generalization that truly only applies to a few, not the entire race.
Gypsy women are actually very faithful to one man at a time. Of course
some gypsies are thieves and tricksters, but you can find those in any
The technical term for a gypsy is Roma. Originally the Roma came from
India, which can be traced back through their language and culture. They
were likely called "gypsy" first by Europeans that thought they
came from Egypt. Now Romani can be found all over the world, but the
majority in central and eastern Europe.
Their culture, trades, and language are passed down from one person to
the next. Most do not read or write. Caravans are formed of related
families. Each band is led by a kris, a tribunal leader who passes
judgment based of their religious beliefs and customs.
A common feature of gypsies in fiction is
their magic: fortune-telling, curses, and the like. The specific beliefs
and cultures vary from group to group, as they have spread far and wide
without a collective location. Most modern Roma have absorbed local
religion and culture, so a modern gypsy curse would be unlikely. The
traditional beliefs were centered on their Goddess Kali. Her symbol was a
triangle. They believed in the power of curses, healing rituals, good
luck charms, reincarnation, and purity taboos.
The gypsy wagon is traditionally called a vardo. For a great site with
pictures and floor plans of a modern vardo, visit http://www.enslin.com/rae/gypsy/wagon01.htm.
The wagons are horse-drawn. Some modern day gypsies have switched to
trucks and trailers.
In the past, Romani typically married between the ages of 9 and 14.
Marriage to an outsider was strongly discouraged. The ceremony consisted
of joining hands in front of a chief or elder and promising to remain
true to each other, or in other tribes simply jumping over a broomstick
together in the presence of family.
Romania are well-known for their musicians, dancers, and fortune-tellers.
Drabardi is the term for a fortune-teller, though they only read fortunes
for non-Roma. Other traditional occupations are metalworking, horse
trading, and animal training and doctoring. As these skills aren't as
needed in modern day, many Roma live in poverty.
Gypsy tales, like most traditional fairy tales, are adult-oriented rather
than childish. As the rest of their culture, these stories were shared
orally. Francis Hindes Groom was a folklorist who immersed himself in
Roma/Gypsy life. His book, Gypsy Folk Tales, consists of the
stories he gathered during his experience. You can view it online at http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/roma/gft/index.htm.
Mulengro, by Charles de Lint, focuses on a modern day Rom living
in Canada. It's a dark fantasy and delves deeply into Roma culture. Otherland,
by Tad Williams, has gypsies in the form of nomads who disregard the
borders of an advanced virtual reality cyberspace. Lloyd Alexander's Gypsy
Rizka is about a half-gypsy girl awaiting the return of her Gypsy
father. Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy has a gyptian
race who travel on boats instead of wagons.
About the Author
Mary W. Jensen is an author on http://www.Writing.Com/
which is a site for Creative
Writing. She is an editor for the Writing.com Fantasy newsletter, and
the cofounder of an offline writing group. Mary is writing a fantasy
of the Fey
Romany People -
Diversity in the Travelers