Anecdotes and Stories
When as a lad I trudged along in the brick-yards, now more than forty years ago, I remember most vividly that the popular song of the employees of that day was
“When lads and lasses in their best
Were dress’d from top to toe,
In the days we went a-gipsying
A long time ago;
In the days we went a-gipsying,
A long time ago.”
Every “brick-yard lad” and “brick-yard wench” who would not join in singing these lines was always looked upon as a “stupid donkey,” and the consequence was that upon all occasions, when excitement was needed as a whip, they were “struck up;” especially would it be the case when the limbs of the little brick and clay carrier began to totter and were “fagging up.” When the task-master perceived the “gang” had begun to “slinker” he would shout out at the top of his voice, “Now, lads and wenches, strike up with the:
“‘In the days we went a-gipsying, a long time ago.’”
And as a result more work was ground out of the little English slave. Those words made such an impression upon me at the time that I used to wonder what “gipsying” meant.
Somehow or other I imagined that it was connected with fortune-telling, thieving and stealing in one form or other, especially as the lads used to sing it with “gusto” when they had been robbing the potato field to have “a potato fuddle,” while they were “oven tenting” in the night time. Roasted potatoes and cold turnips were always looked upon as a treat for the “brickies.”
I have often vowed and said many times that I would, if spared, try to find out what “gipsying” really was. It was a puzzle I was always anxious to solve. Many times I have been like the horse that shies at them as they camp in the ditch bank, half frightened out of my wits, and felt anxious to know either more or less of them. From the days when carrying clay and loading canal-boats was my toil and “gipsying” my song, scarcely a week has passed without the words
“When lads and lasses in their best
Were dress’d from top to toe,
In the days we went a-gipsying
A long time ago,”
ringing in my ears, and at times when busily engaged upon other things, “In the days we went a-gipsying” would be running through my mind.
In meditation and solitude; by night and by day; at the top of the hill, and down deep in the dale; in the throng and battle of life; at the deathbed scene; through evil report and good report these words, “In the days we went a-gipsying,” were ever and anon at my tongue’s end. The other part of the song I quickly forgot, but these words have stuck to me ever since.
On purpose to try to find out what fortune-telling was, when in my teens I used to walk after working hours from Tunstall to Fenton, a distance of six miles, to see “old Elijah Cotton,” a well-known character in the Potteries, who got his living by it, to ask him all sorts of questions.
Sometimes he would look at my hands, at other times he would put my hand into his, and hold it while he was reading out of the Bible, and burning something like brimstone-looking powder—the forefinger of the other hand had to rest upon a particular passage or verse; at other times he would give me some of this yellow-looking stuff in a small paper to wear against my left breast, and some I had to burn exactly as the clock struck twelve at night, under the strictest secrecy.
The stories this fortune-teller used to relate to me as to his wonderful power over the spirits of the other world were very amusing, aye, and over “the men and women of this generation.” He was frequently telling me that he had “fetched men from Manchester in the dead of the night flying through the air in the course of an hour;” and this kind of rubbish he used to relate to those who paid him their shillings and half-crowns to have their fortunes told.
My visits lasted for a little time till he told me that he could do nothing more, as I was “not one of his sort.”
From: Gipsy Life, by George Smith, 1880
The following is an excerpt from: Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling, a book written in 1891 by Charles Leland, President of the Gypsy Lore Society in London. It’s a bit of a hard read, but I found it interesting, so I’m sharing it here:
As their peculiar perfume is the chief association with spices, so sorcery is allied in every memory to gypsies. And as it has not escaped many poets that there is something more strangely sweet and mysterious in the scent of cloves than in that of flowers, so the attribute of inherited magic power adds to the romance of these picturesque wanderers.
Both the spices and the Romany come from the far East–the fatherland of divination and enchantment. The latter have been traced with tolerable accuracy, If we admit their affinity with the Indian Dom and Domar, back to the threshold of history, or well-nigh into prehistoric times, and in all ages they, or their women, have been engaged, as if by elvish instinct, in selling enchant. merits, peddling prophecies and palmistry, and dealing with the devil generally ill a small retail way.
As it was of old so it is to-day:
Ki shan i Romani– Adoi san’ i chov’hani.
Wherever gypsies go, There the witches are, we know.
It is no great problem ill ethnology or anthropology as to how gypsies became fortune-tellers. We may find a very curious illustration of it in the wren. This is apparently as humble, modest, prosaic little fowl as exists, and as far from mystery and wickedness as an old hen. But the ornithologists of the olden time, and the myth-makers, and the gypsies who lurked and lived in the forest, knew better.
They saw how this bright-eyed, strange little creature in her elvish way slipped in and out of hollow trees and wood shade into sunlight, and anon was gone, no man knew whither, and so they knew that it was an uncanny creature, and told wonderful tales of its deeds in human form, and to-day it is called by gypsies in Germany, as in England, the witch-bird, or more briefly, chorihani, “the witch.”
Just so the gypsies themselves, with their glittering Indian eyes, slipping like the wren in and out of the shadow of the Unknown, and anon away and invisible, won for themselves the name which now they wear.
Wherever Shamanism, or the sorcery which is based on exorcising or commanding spirits, exists, its professors from leading strange lives, or from solitude or wandering, become strange and wild looking. When men have this appearance people associate with it mysterious power.
This is the case in Tartary, Africa, among the Eskimo, Lapps, or Red Indians, with all of whom the sorcerer, voodoo or medaolin, has the eye of the “fascinator,” glittering and cold as that of a serpent. So the gypsies, from the mere fact of being wanderers and out-of-doors livers in wild places, became wild-looking, and when asked if they did not associate with the devils who dwell in the desert places, admitted the soft impeachment, and being further questioned as to whether their friends the devils, fairies, elves, and goblins had not taught them how to tell the future, they pleaded guilty, and finding that it paid well, went to work in their small way to improve their “science,” and particularly their pecuniary resources. It was an easy calling; it required no property or properties, neither capital nor capitol, shiners nor shrines, wherein to work the oracle.
This is a poem that talks about how both life and death are a mixture of sadness and joy.
O chonut asal amen
Kaj e phake erovimase
thaj e asamase
The moon smiles
down on us
around the fire
Our crying flies up
among the moonbeams floating down
heaven smells our tears
we sense the beams
If the moon is blinded we can see
who is speaking…
With one wing of tears
and one laughter
we take off to meet him.
Some of these quotes are about Gypsies, some are by Gypsies. What they really show is how badly, inhumanly,and unfairly Gypsies were treated, as well as the strength they had to stand together and fight!
“No we were not always slaves; see our brothers who live in the mountains. They know nothing of chains, neck irons, whippings and hunger and thirst…Let us go free!!”
“They scarcely ever stop in one place more than thirty days..they move from field to field with their oblong tents, black and low, like arabs.”
~Simeon Simeonis, a monk in Crete in 1322
“Their ears be nailed to a tree, and cutted off, and them banished the county; and if thereafter they be found again that they be hanged…the idle people calling themselves Egyptians.”
~Scottish law against vagrants, 1579
“I saw a woman guard kill four Gypsy children for eating leftover food.”
~Barbara Richter 1963
“We are people of worth, not thieves or murderers. History has played with us, thrown us down and split us up. But we must seek our destiny..by coming together as one people.”
~Jarko Jovanovic, 1978
“Well this policeman stopped my motor and asked where I live. ‘First tree I come to I can climb.’ I said”
~Gypsy Girl 1972
“It is true, as the Lovara Rom say, “Amari shib si amari zor” ‘Our language is our strength.”
~Dr Ian Hankock, a Gypsy 1975
“Gypsies express in their music their grief and their joy…Music accompanies their life from the earliest childhood until death itself.”
~Dr Jan Cibula 1978
“The greatest strength of Gypsies is their invisibility…they merge into the mass of strangers in the street.”
~Ronald Lee 1971
More to come but that’s all for now.
~Sovereign Brigand 1998
For Gypsies there is far more concern for the living than for the dead. Yet the Rom believe there must always be a family vigil prior to the death of a family member. After the death there will be the funeral, which must be followed by a proper period of mourning.
English Gypsies believe that the owl is a harbinger of death. If they hear an owl hooting away in the distance, then it means someone close to them will die. If the owl is close by, with its cries loud and clear, then the person who will die is distant.
When an elderly member of the tribe is ill, and certain that he or she is going to die, work is sent out to all family members whereverthey happen to be scattered. They will immediatly return home, no matter from how far, for this is the one event that takes precedence over all others. The family members gather around the dying person’s bed, or outside around the tent or vardo.
There is always someone seated at the bedside until the death. It is a time for much socializing, with very little emotion shown regarding the dying man or woman.
Once dead, the person is caught between the world of the living and the world of the dead. He or she will stay there until buried. In order to ease the stay there, and to prepare them for the transition to the world of the dead, there is a simple ritual that is sometimes performed by the shuvani(often without the knowledge of any of the other members of the tribe).
A small fire is lit – quite separate from any cooking fire – as soon as possible after the last breath. The fire should be laid carefully so that it can be started with one light and so that it will burn for a sufficient time without having to have more fuel added. Onto the fire are thrown thyme, sage, and rosemary, in that order. The dead person’s name is chanted repeatedly as the shuvani walks backwards (widdershins, or counterclockwise) seven times around the fire, which is then left to burn itself out.
Gypsy women, as long as we have known anything of Gypsy history, have been arrant fortune-tellers. They plied fortune-telling about France and Germany as early as 1414, the year when the dusky bands were first observed in Europe, and they have never relinquished the practice. There are two words for fortune-telling in Gypsy, bocht and dukkering. Bocht is a Persian word, a modification of, or connected with, the Sanscrit bagya, which signifies ‘fate.’ Dukkering is the modification of a Wallaco-Sclavonian word signifying something spiritual or ghostly. In Eastern European Gypsy, the Holy Ghost is called Swentuno Ducos.
Gypsy fortune-telling is much the same everywhere, much the same in Russia as it is in Spain and in England. Everywhere there are three styles – the lofty, the familiar, and the homely; and every Gypsy woman is mistress of all three and uses each according to the rank of the person whose vast she dukkers, whose hand she reads, and adapts the luck she promises.
There is a ballad of some antiquity in the Spanish language about the Buena Ventura, a few stanzas of which translated will convey a tolerable idea of the first of these styles to the reader, who will probably with no great reluctance dispense with any illustrations of the other two:
Late rather one morning
In summer’s sweet tide,
Goes forth to the Prado
Jacinta the bride:
There meets her a Gypsy
So fluent of talk,
And jauntily dressed,
On the principal walk.
“O welcome, thrice welcome,
Of beauty thou flower!
Believe me, believe me,
Thou com’st in good hour.”
Surprised was Jacinta;
She fain would have fled;
But the Gypsy to cheer her
“O cheek like the rose-leaf!
O lady high-born!
Turn thine eyes on thy servant,
But ah, not in scorn.
“O pride of the Prado!
O joy of our clime!
Thou twice shalt be married,
And happily each time.
“Of two noble sons Thou shalt be the glad mother,
One a Lord Judge,
A Field-Marshal the other.”
Gypsy females have told fortunes to higher people than the young Countess Jacinta: Modor – of the Gypsy quire of Moscow – told the fortune of Ekatarina, Empress of all the Russias. The writer does not know what the Ziganka told that exalted personage, but it appears that she gave perfect satisfaction to the Empress, who not only presented her with a diamond ring – a Russian diamond ring is not generally of much value – but also her hand to kiss.
The writer’s old friend, Pepíta, the Gitana of Madrid, told the bahi of Christina, the Regentess of Spain, in which she assured her that she would marry the son of the King of France, and received from the fair Italian a golden ounce, the most magnificent of coins, a guerdon which she richly merited, for she nearly hit the mark, for though Christina did not marry the son of the King of France, her second daughter was married to a son of the King of France, the Duke of M-, one of the three claimants of the crown of Spain, and the best of the lot; and Britannia, the Caumli, told the good luck to the Regent George on Newmarket Heath, and received ‘foive guineas’ and a hearty smack from him who eventually became George the Fourth – no bad fellow by the by, either as regent or king, though as much abused as Pontius Pilate, whom he much resembled in one point, unwillingness to take life – the sonkaypè or gold-gift being, no doubt, more acceptable than the choomapé or kiss-gift to the Beltenebrosa, who, if a certain song be true, had no respect for gorgios, however much she liked their money:
Britannia is my nav;
I am a Kaulo Camlo;
The gorgios pen I be
A bori chovahaunie;
And tatchipen they pens,
The dinneleskie gorgies,
For mande chovahans
The luvvu from their putsies.
Britannia is my name;
I am a swarthy Lovel;
The Gorgios say I be
A witch of wondrous power;
And faith they speak the truth,
The silly, foolish fellows,
For often I bewitch
The money from their pockets.
Fortune-telling in all countries where the Gypsies are found is frequently the prelude to a kind of trick called in all Gypsy dialects by something more or less resembling the Sanscrit kuhana; for instance, it is called in Spain jojana, hokano, and in English hukni. It is practised in various ways, all very similar; the defrauding of some simple person of money or property being the object in view. Females are generally the victims of the trick, especially those of the middle class, who are more accessible to the poor woman than those of the upper. One of the ways, perhaps the most artful, will be found described in another chapter (What is The Hukni? and What is Cauring?)
From: Romano Lavo-Lil
Each gypsy had three names:
The first was a secret name whispered into the baby’s ear shortly after birth and again when the child reached puberty but never spoken aloud at any other time and never told to anyone else.
The second was a gypsy name, used between gypsies only.
The third was a local name, usually chosen to reflect the general names being given to non-gypsies in the country where the gypsy resided. This was the name the gypsy was to use publicly,with a gadje (non-gypsy), or for on official documents.
The Gypsy has some queer, old-fashioned gold piece; this she takes to some goldsmith’s shop, at the window of which she has observed a basin full of old gold coins, and shows it to the goldsmith, asking him if he will purchase it. He looks at it attentively, and sees that it is of very pure gold; whereupon he says that he has no particular objection to buy it; but that as it is very old it is not of much value, and that he has several like it.
“Have you indeed, Master?” says the Gypsy; “then pray show them to me, and I will buy them; for, to tell you the truth, I would rather buy than sell pieces like this, for I have a great respect for them, and know their value: give me back my coin, and I will compare any you have with it.”
The goldsmith gives her back her coin, takes his basin of gold from the window, and places it on the counter. The Gypsy puts down her head, and pries into the basin. “Ah, I see nothing here like my coin,” says she. “Now, Master, to oblige me, take out a handful of the coins and lay them on the counter; I am a poor, honest woman, Master, and do not wish to put my hand into your basin. Oh! if I could find one coin like my own, I would give much money for it; barributer than it is worth.”
The goldsmith, to oblige the poor, simple, foreign creature (for such he believes her to be), and, with a considerable hope of profit, takes a handful of coins from the basin and puts them upon the counter.
“I fear there is none here like mine, Master,” says the Gypsy, moving the coins rapidly with the tips of her fingers. “No, no, there is not one here like mine – kek yeck, kek yeck – not one, not one. Stay, stay! What’s this, what’s this? So se cavo, so se cavo? Oh, here is one like mine; or if not quite like, like enough to suit me. Now, Master, what will you take for this coin?”
The goldsmith looks at it, and names a price considerably above the value; whereupon she says: “Now, Master, I will deal fairly with you: you have not asked me the full value of the coin by three three-groats, three-groats, three-groats; by trin tringurushis, tringurushis, tringurushis. So here’s the money you asked, Master, and three three-groats, three shillings, besides. God bless you, Master! You would have cheated yourself, but the poor woman would not let you; for though she is poor she is honest”: and thus she takes her leave, leaving the goldsmith very well satisfied with his customer – with little reason, however, for out of about twenty coins which he laid on the counter she had filched at least three, which her brown nimble fingers, though they seemingly scarcely touched the gold, contrived to convey up her sleeves.
This kind of pilfering is called by the English Gypsies cauring, and by the Spanish ustilar pastesas, or stealing with the fingers. The word caur seems to be connected with the English cower, and the Hebrew kãra, a word of frequent occurrence in the historical part of the Old Testament, and signifying to bend, stoop down, incurvare.
From: Romano Lavo-Lil
The Gypsy makes some poor simpleton of a lady believe that if the latter puts her gold into her hands, and she makes it up into a parcel, and puts it between the lady’s feather-bed and mattress, it will at the end of a month be multiplied a hundredfold, provided the lady does not look at it during all that time. On receiving the money she makes it up into a brown paper parcel, which she seals with wax, turns herself repeatedly round, squints, and spits, and then puts between the feather-bed and mattress – not the parcel of gold, but one exactly like it, which she has prepared beforehand, containing old halfpence, farthings, and the like; then, after cautioning the lady by no means to undo the parcel before the stated time, she takes her departure singing to herself:
O dear me! O dear me!
What dinnelies these gorgies be.
The above artifice is called by the English Gypsies the hukni, and by the Spanish hokhano baro, or the great lie. Hukni and hokano were originally one and the same word; the root seems to be the Sanscrit huhanã, lie, trick, deceit.
From: Romano Lavo-Lil