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see RomaniRomani
or Romany
, people known historically in English as Gypsies and their language.

1 A traditionally nomadic people with particular folkways and a unique language, found on every continent; they are sometimes also called Roma, from the name of a major
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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A nomadic population who originated in northern India. A mass exodus began about the middle of the ninth century, as large groups of people departed their homeland and moved westward. They passed through Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Persia, eventually reaching the Caspian Sea north of the Persian Gulf. There the large group split into two distinct, smaller groups, one moving northward through Turkey and, by way of Byzantium, into Bulgaria; the other, smaller band, going southward, sweeping down through Jordan into Egypt. By 1348 the nomads were in Serbia, with others heading north, through Walachia and into Moldavia. By roughly 1400, they were so widespread that they could be found as far away as Peloponnesus and Corfu in the south, as well as in Bosnia, Transylvania, Hungary, and Bohemia. By the early 1400s, they had moved into Central Europe, carrying on into Germany by 1417 and England and Wales by 1430.

As the nomads spread across Europe and other areas, their origins were unclear. With their dark, swarthy skin and colorful dress, it was suggested that perhaps they were descendants of the ancient Egyptians. When that idea caught on, they were referred to as "Egyptians," which was sometimes shortened to "'Gyptians" and, eventually, to "Gypsies."

Gypsies (more correctly, Romanies) were, in many places, equated with witch- es and sorcerers. They were accused of engaging in black magic and dealing with the devil, and in many countries they were banished. Tenaciously they held off their oppressors. When people treated them as mystics, they were quick to play that role. They carried tarot cards and read palms and told fortunes. While doing so, they kept their own pagan beliefs hidden, outwardly adopting the main religion in whichever region they happened to be in.

Charles Godfrey Leland says that Gypsies had a goddess named Gana, whom he identifies with Diana. Although it is difficult to label the Gypsies' actual religion, there are many similarities between their practices and those of Witches. For example, both work magic, do spells, and perform divination, and both prefer to worship a female rather than a male. The Gypsies "Saint" is known as "Black Sara," or "Sara la Kâli," who differs in many respects from the Saint Sara of the Roman Catholic Church. La Kâli means both "the black woman" and "the Gypsy woman" in Romanes, which is the Gypsies' language.

Gypsies believe in vampires, ghosts, and spirits of the dead. The Kalderash Gypsies say that God is not the creator of the world. Rather, the world has always existed as the mother of all humans. They refer to the earth as De Develeski, "The Divine Mother."

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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Two modern-day gypsy women and a young girl walk through town in Sibiu, Romania. AP/WideWorld Photos.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Gypsies are a nomadic population who originated in northern India. A mass exodus from that area began about the middle of the ninth century and large groups of people departed their homeland and moved westward. They were driven out of their homeland by successive armies of invaders: Greeks, Scythians, Kushites, Huns, and Mohammedans. The Gypsies passed through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Persia, eventually reaching the Caspian Sea, north of the Persian Gulf. There they split into two distinct groups, one going northward through Turkey and into Bulgaria by way of Byzantium; the other, smaller band, going southward, sweeping down through Jordan into Egypt. By 1348, the nomads were in Serbia with others heading north through Walachia and into Moldavia. By the turn of that century they were to be found as widely spread as in Peloponnesus and Corfu; Bosnia, Transylvania, Hungary, Bohemia; and, in the early 1400s, in Central Europe. They were in Germany by 1417 and England and Wales by 1430.

As they spread across Europe and other areas, the local populations wondered where these travelers had come from. With their dark, swarthy skin and colorful dress, many people believed that they were descendants of the ancient Egyptians. The idea caught on and they were referred to as “Egyptians.” This was sometimes shortened to “‘Gyptians,” and eventually to “Gypsies.” The Gypsies themselves played up to this idea, claiming to have originated in “Little Egypt.”

Gypsies—more correctly Romanies, or Roma—were in many places equated with witches and sorcerers. They were wrongly accused of engaging in black magic and dealing with the devil. In many countries they were banished, but they managed to hang on tenaciously. They did whatever they could in order to survive. Along with making metal and wooden objects, weaving baskets, and mending pots and pans, they trained animals to dance and to do tricks. They also told fortunes. Everybody was interested in trying to learn what the future held, so fortune-telling was a big attraction. Not being great mathematicians, the Gypsies seldom got into astrology or numerology, but they did do a great deal of palmistry, tea leaf reading, and various forms of card reading. People treated them as mystics and mediums and the Gypsies filled that role. They carried tarot cards and they worked magic, did spells, held séances, and performed divination. The Gypsies were probably most responsible for the spread of tarot cards across Europe, because they traveled and took the cards with them wherever they went.

Charles Godfrey Leland (1824–1903), the scholar and litterateur who was founder and first president of the Gypsy Lore Society, wrote, “Next to the Bible and the Almanac there is no one book which is so much disseminated among the millions, as the fortune-teller in some form or other … Gypsies have done more than any other race or class on the face of the earth to disseminate among the multitude a belief in fortune-telling, magical or sympathetic cures, amulets and such small sorceries as now find a place in Folklore … By the exercise of their wits they have actually acquired a certain art of reading character or even thought, which, however it be allied to deceit, is in a way true in itself, and well worth careful examination.”


Buckland, Raymond: The Buckland Romani Tarot: The Gypsy Book of Wisdom. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 2001
Buckland, Raymond: Gypsy Witchcraft and Magic. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1998
Clébert, Jean-Paul: The Gypsies. New York: Penguin, 1967
Fraser, Angus: The Gypsies. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992
Leland, Charles Godfrey: Gypsy Sorcery & Fortune Telling. London: Fisher-Unwin, 1891
The Spirit Book © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(self-designation, roma), a people, or more accurately an ethnic group with a common origin and language, found in Europe, Southwest and South Asia, North Africa, North America, South America, and Australia.

The Gypsies are called tsygane in Russia, gitanos in Spain, Bohémiens or Tsiganes in France, Zigeuner in Germany, zíngaros in Italy, Heidens in the Netherlands, Cigany or Pharao nérek in Hungary, mustalaiset in Finland, and Çingene or Çingane in Turkey. According to various sources, they number between 2.5 million and 8 million; a few estimates raise the figure as high as 10–12 million. There are 209,000 in the USSR, according to the 1979 census. During World War II approximately 20,000 Gypsies in Central and Eastern Europe were exterminated by the Nazis. The Gypsies speak the Romany language, which is divided into several dialects; usually they also speak the languages of the peoples among which they live or wander.

Modern scholarship has borne out the theory that the ancestors of the Gypsies emigrated from India. This theory was first advanced by the German scholars J. Rüdiger and H. Grellmann in the late 18th century and A. F. Pott in the 19th century and by the Slovenian scholar F. Miklosich in the 19th century.

The Gypsy nationality took form only after the ancestors of the Gypsies left India, possibly because of Muslim invasions, late in the first millennium A.D. Settling initially in Southwest Asia, they long remained on the eastern outskirts of the Byzantine Empire. Between the 13th and 15th centuries the Gypsies migrated first to Southeastern and Eastern Europe, then to Central and Western Europe, and later, in the 19th century, to North Africa, North America, South America, and Australia. They were welcomed in Western Europe in the early 15th century, but as public opinion changed, they were persecuted as vagrants who earned their living by fortune-telling and begging. The Gypsies were outlawed and became subject to deportation and even execution. Not until the late 18th century were they regarded more tolerantly in Europe.

The Gypsies divided into settled, semisettled, and nomadic groups. A wandering band of Gypsies is a group that moves within a definite, traditionally established territory and is led by an elected chieftain, the voivode. The voivode officially represents the band in dealings with the administrative organizations of the country in which the band wanders; he also acts as a judge, resolving internal disputes. Women play a subservient role in the band; they are ruled first by their fathers and then by their husbands, and they are totally responsible for feeding the family. Settled and semisettled Gypsies practice the religions of the peoples among which they live, easily converting to a new faith when they move. Nomadic Gypsies adhere to traditional superstitions and rituals. Many Gypsies have retained their time-honored occupations: metalworking, woodworking, basket weaving, horse raising, and fortune-telling. Many have preserved the traditional Gypsy skills and art forms, including instrumental performance, song, dance, acrobatics, and animal training.

The Gypsies made their way into Russia by two routes: from the south in the 15th and 16th centuries they came through the Balkans; in the 16th and 17th centuries they came from the north through Germany and Poland. Before the October Revolution of 1917, Gypsy men in the cities engaged primarily in horsedealing, and Gypsy women practiced fortune-telling; the wandering Gypsies were mostly beggars, fortune-tellers, and, sometimes, blacksmiths and tinsmiths. The Gypsies who took up residence in St. Petersburg and Moscow in the period beginning in the 1830’s lived a settled life, and many of them belonged to choral ensembles.

After the October Revolution of 1917, a number of decrees were issued by the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR. Of particular importance was the decree of Oct. 1, 1926, “On Measures for Aiding the Transition of Nomadic Gypsies to a Working and Settled Way of Life.” In 1931 the Romen Moscow Theater was established. During the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, Gypsies fought in the ranks of the Soviet Army and in partisan detachments.

On Oct. 5, 1956, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR issued the edict “On Reconciling Vagrant Gypsies to Labor.” Some Gypsies have made the transition to a settled, working way of life. In the USSR, they have the same right as other peoples to obtain a secondary and higher education, and they may choose any profession; not all Gypsies, however, use these rights.

Since the 1960’s a number of measures for improving the Gypsies’ legal status have been adopted in the countries where they live. Organizations have been established that study ways to raise the Gypsies’ socioeconomic and cultural level. Examples are the Comité International Rom (founded 1971) in France, the Institute of Contemporary Romani Research and Documentation in Great Britain, the Komitia Lumiaki Romani and’e Amerika in the USA, and the Indian Institute of Romani Studies (1973) in India. An international congress of Gypsies was held in London on Apr. 8–12, 1971, and an international Gypsy festival took place in Chandigarh, India, on Mar. 25–27, 1976.


German, A. V. Bibliografiia o tsyganakh: Ukazatel’ knig i statei s 1780 po 1930 gg. Moscow, 1930.
Pott, A. F. Die Zigeuner in Europa und Asien, vols. 1–2. Leipzig, 1964.
Miklosich, F. Über die Mundarten und die Wanderungen der Zigeuner Europas. Vienna, 1872–80.
A Catalogue of the Gypsy Books Collected by R. A. Scott Macfie. Liverpool, 1936.
Voux de Foletier, F. de. Mille Ans d’histoire des Tsiganes. [Paris, 1970.]
Black, G. F. A Gypsy Bibliography. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1971.
Catalogue of the Romany Collection Formed by McGrigor Phillips D. U. Edinburgh, 1962.
Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, old series, 1888–92, vols. 1–3; new series, 1907–16, vols. 1–9; third series, London, 1922—, vols. 1—.
Etudes Tsiganes. Paris, 1955—.
Roma, Chandigarh, 1974—, vols. 1—.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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