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  1. 1. Magical Practices of Gypsies on Bulgaria Eugenia I. Ivanova and Velcho Krastev Assoc. Prof. Eugenia I. Ivanova PhD in History in The RegionalMuseum of History, Stara Zagora, Bulgaria. E-mail:; Velcho Krastev is a PhD student at the section “Bulgarian Ethnology” atThe Institute of Folklore and Ethnography of the Ethnographic Museum,Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. E-mail:; Since ancient times, sorcery and magical beliefs, divination andfortune telling have accompanied the lives of human beings. They areincredibly persistent in time and space and they form an essential part ofthe Gypsies’ traditional culture as well. Gypsies themselves say, thatFather God (Our Lord) took away from them all the worldly goods, buthe gave them the gift „to see (realize the divine – n.a.) and to makemagic“. The magical practices of the Gypsies in Bulgaria have never beenreviewed as a separate topic. The general researches on the Gypsies,as well as the numerous archive materials tell about their sorcery skills,about soothsayers and diviners. The purpose of our presentation is toshow the Gypsies in Bulgarian lands not only as the agents, but also asthe targets of magical practices and divination during the period betweenthe end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 21-st century. Oursources comprise literature and documentary archives, their oral history
  2. 2. which takes us two-three generations back, as well as our terrainresearches done during the last about ten years. Sorcery, divination and soothsaying are practiced by women, andthis is linked not that much to the men and women social roles definitionthan to the strong awareness of sex differences. Since very old times thefact that the woman gives life has been conceived as a magical gift. The Gypsy women have kept from their land of origin their skills tocast spells and unspell, divination and fortune telling. The neighbouringpopulation, especially those sharing similar superstitions and beliefs,see them as the best performers of such actions. The historical sourcesdating back to their arrival in Asia Minor and on the Balkans and theirspreading from here towards Europe, present the Gypsies as sorcerers,clairvoyants, fortune tellers, enchanters. This is illustrated in theresearches of a number of authors as M. Goeje, P. Charanis, G. Soulis,J.-P. Liegeois, Е. Marushiakova and V. Popov, L. Wiener and manyothers. We see them as such also in the next centuries in the itinerariesof the foreign travelers passing through the Bulgarian lands – theAustrian Johann Kempelen (1740), the French Esprit-Маrie Cousineri(18th century’s 70s-90s.). The most numerous facts in the oral history,documentary archives and the local press date back to the end of the19th – the first half of the 20th century. A periodical of the Bulgarian Books Society of 1895 has publishedthe following notes: „Mostly the Gypsy women are believed to besorcerers, especially the Chergari (nomads). The Sorcerer not onlywould not disclose her art, she would also beware of being known to besuch. People disfavour those.” The Obshtestven Glass issue of the 12th March, 1911 reports thatin the inn next to a school in the town of Shumen since 2-3 months therewas a group of Russian Gypsies, Kalaydzhii (whitesmiths). Their women
  3. 3. were told to be “fortune tellers” and many men and women came tothem for “soothsaying”. Both in the settled and in the nomad groups of Gypsies thesoothsaying, spell casting and unspelling is considered to be traditionalwomen’s trade. Women practice palmistry, they cast beans and tell thefortune (as a rule only for luck and happiness), they make magic for goodhealth and for love (as an exception possibly “black” magic – negativemagic). In Sliven in the beginning of the 20th century “mostly the Valah Gypsiesdealt with begging and divination”. The Mechkari (bear trainers) womenduring their tours in the country make charms and read palms, coffeecups, they cast beans and unspell. An informer of ours from the StaraZagora region (age 75, 2005) a member of the Demirdzhii group wasproud to tell us of his grandmother: „My grandmother knew how to castlead, to do midwifery, to cast beans and shed tell you everything wright.She was much needed. That was how she used to earn some penniesfor the household“. Тhe tradition of soothsaying and divinaion among the Gypses isoriented towards earning their living rather than towards helping people.Our respondent Rosa of the Horhane Roma group, who lives in a village
  4. 4. near Stara Zagora, says: “I dont go around the villages or visit peopleshomes, I work from here. I cast the beans, I read the cards – whatever itshows. I also undo spells. People come to me a lot, if I cast for you nowyoud need to put money – nothing shows without money”. In some of the groups these activities are very often practicedtogether with begging (the Kanglyari/Grebenari (combs makers)),together with pickpoketting (the Kardarashi), together with charms andmedicinal herbs sales. The police records for 1943 say: „Order that the twoGypsy women who went in the home... did some soothsaying for his wife andmanaged to steal three golden pendars and two mahmudi (old Turkish coins)be searched for and caught and convoyed. The said Gypsy women go in agroup of Grebenari (comb makers) ...“. Very rarely, both in the past and nowadays, it is mentioned amongthe Gypses about men-soothsayers and sorcerers. We do have such anexample in the city of Plovdiv. In the beginning of the 20th century in thenew Gypsies quarter, the present-days Stolipinovo, the most respectedperson was the old Asan – a medicine man and a sorcerer. „All sorts ofwomen would go to him to have magics done - young, old, scruffy, spiffycity ladies, poorer dressed ones. Each of them would say her worries,and Asan would listen carefully without interrupting. When shed finishedtelling her story, he would start doing the magic mysteries”.
  5. 5. The tendency to relate the Gypsies to the „trade“ of sourcerers,soothsayers, divinators is alive also in present days in certain groups.They are treated with different attitude. On the one hand people aroundthem seek their services, on the other hand they fear them. In the 80s –90s of the 20th century in the Stara Zagora Gypsy quarter Lozenetsthere was a local medicine woman and soothsayer named Kera (of theFitchers group). „A lot of people came to her, she would help a lot ofpeople. She used to soothsay on the Bible, undo the spells, „untie theluck“. All sorts of people would come to her from everywhere” (a woman,age 77, Fitchers, 2005). In the Gypsy quarter of the town of Sandanski (2001) there livedan old Gypsy woman – sorcerer. The locals were afraid to speak abouther, and they would only whisper her name – Kaymeta, for fear thatsome of her magics might reach them. In the Fakulteta quarter in Sofiathere was a famiy whose nickname was related to sorcery: „They usedto call them the Cambovs... Cambov comes from „magic“, but I dontknow whether they made magic” (a woman, age 39, 2001). During the first decade of the 21st century the Lingurary womenstill continued to offer there services for fortune-telling in the streets ofStara Zagora. The women of the local Kardarashi clan were theircompetitors. Very often they were accompanied by a little girl. Theywould give a geranium – geranium sp. (a symbol of good health, welfareand long life in the Bulgarian cultural traditions), thus attracting theattention of the target passer-by – in most cases a woman. During a visitto the clan in the autumn of 2009 the six-years old grand-child girlwanted to show us her fortune-tellers skills and she did that before theeyes of her grandmother. The Kardarashi girls commence their“vocational training” in fortune-telling and theft in young age.
  6. 6. During the 90s of the 20th century the Sveta Nedelya Church inthe capital Sofia is the place where usually fortune-tellers meet , andthose are also of the Kardarashi group. Lately we see them offering theirservices in the streets of the capital, in the parks, around churches, inthe Malls. They go in couples holding a bunch of geranium in one hand. In the sea capital of Bulgaria – Varna, in the summer time suchservices were offered in the park around the Municipal Administration. Apart of those appeared also in the District Hospital courtyard, were theytook advantage of the health issues of the visitors and used those toconvince the patients that they could help them.
  7. 7. The Gypses are not only the agents of different magical practies,they are also the target of sourcery, evil eyes and other evil forces. TheGypses (of the Blagoevgrad region in the Western Bulgaria), wheneveranyone falls ill they would first of all look for spell that brought theilness. They believe that this is a woman-sourcerers deed. She musthave found a piece of clothing that belonged to the target man andsewed it up in the mouth of a frog. Then she must have burried it underthe threshold of the targets home or plastered it with some clay in theoven. Then, as the frog dries away, the charmed man would languishand die away. Whenever anyone falls ill the whole family starts diggingunder the thresholds or around the oven – they look for the spell (awoman, age 71, 2001) The Gypsies would apply sorcery in their family affairs, as well, incertain cases. They would make a spell to a man who has stopedshowing sexual interest towards his wife or a one who harass her all thetime. In principle, the spell is made by his mother or by his wife.„Though, in most cases the wife would not admit shes done it. If shemakes it, shed do it very quietly and no one should know of it”.
  8. 8. Sometimes love spells are made. The woman who knows how tomake those, would be visited by the boy or his mother. Various lovespells would be applied: they would sew up a root of „obichniche“ (loveherb) (meadow-rue), to the boy would be given to drink „love“ herbspotions so that the girl would fall in love with him. Asan - the medicine man and sourceror of Plovdiv, used to makea spell to „untie“ the luck of the young couple. The young couple loveeach other, but the girls parents do not consent. So, Asan would make amagical object that the young people should sleep with, „but no otherpeoples eyes should see that”. The Gypsies know only the practical aspect of magic. They do notanalyse the mental processes on which their activities are based. Theydo not reason the abstract principles related to it. Without realizing it, intheir practice they use different types of magic – immitative (indirect,based on the similarity principle), verbal (magical speech), contact(based on the laws of contiguity), contageous (the contact with objectsor belongings of someone is equal to the dicrect contact with the target). At the immitative magic they are both agents and targets. We seeit as a part of the child birth rituals in certian Gypsy groups. The paralelmanifestation of action and speach builds the basis of the magical act,and the imitative contents put in them defines the magical nature of theritual. On the third day after the birth a round bread is made, and onlywomen guests are invited. The ritual has some local versions in differentgroups and its purpose is to socialize the newborn child, so it may growup and secure the reproduction of the family. Either the mother of thebabys father or the tallest of the women would jump up high whileholding the bread above her head (“up” is the growth direction) andwould shout out loud the name of the baby (the group acknowledgesthat the baby belongs to them). They would smudge under the skirt of
  9. 9. each woman before they break down the bread, some sex imitatingactions would be carried out, the whole group would laugh out loud(attracting the reproductive basis). At the contact type of magical influence the Gypsies are alsoboth agents and targets. They themselves make and carry amulets asprotection against deamons and ilness. In order to protect the motherand so that she may be healthy, the Fitchers of Stara Zagora put an ironobject under her pillow, and under the babys pillow they put salt, a pieceof bread and a spikelet of broomcorn. Those should stay there until the40th day. The Kalaydzhii (Whitesmiths) of Thrace make an amulet of ahorse bead, garlic, a coin and a turkey butt, and they tie those amuletswith red thread to the babys wrist and to the head scarf of the mother. The iron objects, and especially those related to the fire, possessgreat repellent power. Women who cannot keep their babies carry smallamulet-axes forged by an Agupt (Agupts – Gypsies blacksmiths wholive in the Rhodopi mountains, muslims) „at midnight after 12 p.m., whohas done it without speaking a word and naked”; the same amulets arecarried by any newborn child in a family where children have died, by 3-4 years old children to prevent them from falling ill. On a Bulgarianwedding in the Rhodopi mountains (the Smolyan region) the bridereceived as a gift a fire poker and a spatula – to protect her from evilforces. The gift was given by an Agupt woman who had been specially
  10. 10. invited to the wedding, and the objects had been forged by her husband– a blacksmith. At the verbal magic the Gypsies are more often the agents. Theyuse that mostly when they tell the fortune and at begging. They start withblessings and good wishes. If they do not receive any responce to theirwish, some of them would continue with curses and forecasts ofsomething evil. The power and the action of their curse lie on the spell ofincantation (the words).
  11. 11. Contageous Magic. The Gypses of the Silistra area believe, thatsomeone who wants to make evil to a child might steal a piece of thechilds clothing in the dark and cast a spell on the child. „There are suchpeople - enimies. They would steal the cloths of the child, they wouldmake a magic and then the child would not be able to speak or walk –depends what magic they have done”. The Yerlii of Sofia use the skin of the syunet (circumcision ofboys) to make love spells. The preserved skin the boy would wrap in acandy or something else and he would give that to the girl to eat it. Thismagic guarantees reciprocal love. *** The Gypsies use theirl skills to make and undo spells, to soothsayand tell the fortune on different occasions and at differentcircumstances, but they do that always with commercial purpose.Sometimes their target would be the foreigners, another time – their ownpeople. These magical practices persist in time, we can see them evennowadays.
  12. 12. Научното съобщение е прочетено на годишната среща на TheGypsy Lore Society, проведена в Бейоглу, Истанбул, Турция, 21-23септември 2012 г.МагияМагически вярванияЦиганиБългарияМагически практикиГадателкаВрачкаМагьосници циганкиВлашки циганиДемирджииЛингураркиКардарашиМъже-гадателиЛюбовна магияВербална магияИмитативна магияКонтактна магияКонтагиозна магияТракийски калайджииагупти