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Gypsy Religion and Folklore

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GYPSY RELIGION AND FOLKLORE. The gypsy religion, which was originally the old pantheistic conception of the Indo-European tribes, has been so extensively and continuously modified in the course of the centuries of wanderings of the gypsy tribes in many lands that the ancient belief, as a religious system, has disappeared, leaving behind it many curious superstitions, beliefs and practices. The gypsy, being a constant and persistent wanderer, has cr:,:tcd no churches, elaborated no system of religion, associated himself, as a race, with no special form of religious belief. In England he is nominally Protestant; in most Catholic countries where he has long resided he has con formed, in a manner, to Catholicism; among the Mohammedans he generally subscribes to the creed of Islam; in Russia and Greece he bows to the tenets of the Greek Church. But everywhere he carries with him more than an echo of the rich, imaginative faith of his Indian ancestors. It is this perhaps more than any thing else that binds him to his nomadic life and renders him a factor apart from the life in which he lives. Amulets, charms, nature spirits and mysterious forces, unknowable and inex plicable, form a part of his life. Dreams, omens, signs and the planets exercise, he be lieves, a constant influence over his being and his actions. His isolation, racially, from the people of the nations among which he resides, his illiteracy, his traditionary lore of very con siderable extent and his tenaciousness of tribal customs and practices have continued to mark the gypsy as distinctly as the Jew has been marked, throughout the many centuries during which he, too, has been a wanderer from his native land. Naturally where gypsies live to gether in large numbers, as in Transylvania, these characteristics are more strongly marked. Here mythology, folklore and curious supersti tions, survivals of the very distant past of the race, are abundant, imaginative and varied. Here that attitude of the gypsy toward life and religion is much more pagan than Christian. Yet even here these ancient religious beliefs and social customs and superstitions are strongly influenced by Christianity. The gypsy's

religious attitude has ever been so hard to understand that he has been accused of having not only no specific religion but no religious sense. This is not a true view, however. The gypsy's religion, as already pointed out, varies according to the country in which he lives; the influences to which he has been sub jected; the length of time that these influences have been exerted; the extent of the body of gypsies living together and their tendency to become less nomadic. In England, for in stance, the gypsy belief may be said to he Christianity fantastically trapped out with the survivals of an elaborate nature worship. In Austria and Asia the gypsy nature worship has put on the trappings of Christianity but has assimilated little of its spiritual force or its attitude toward life.

The fortune telling and crude astrology of the gypsy are survivals of his tribal religion for the fortune teller is but the modern form of the ancient oracle. In many countries the gypsy still governs his actions by omens and he is even given to reading the signs of nature. He is much of a fatalist and luck and unlock are his constant companions. Palmistry is an art that he has handed down for unknown cen turies, from father to son, or rather from mother to daughter. The gypsy woman may and does read fortunes to flatter those who try, through her medium, to look into the future. This is but an exhibition of the dishonesty and deceitfulness so often shown by the race. Even though she knows she is not keeping faith with her office and profession, she still firmly believes in the science of palmistry which she has been taught to read; though it is not always to her interest to interpret as she reads. With her ancestors palmistry was a religious rite; and even to-day it is used very much in the ancient sense, to forecast the horoscope of a child and the luck of persons going into new ventures or entering into new relationships in life, as marriage, for instance.

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