Friday, December 8, 2006

Gypsy Herb Magick

The Gypsies are a nomadic people believed to have originally been “low-caste Hindu exiles” from northern India. Having absorbed the religious and folk customs of the many lands through which their caravans sojourned, the Gypsies came to incorporate elements of both Paganism and Christianity into their practices.

“Gypsies have been renowned practitioners of magical arts, and they have undoubtedly had a profound influence on the development of folk magic,” states author Rosemary Ellen Guiley in The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. There can be no denying that the tradition of these mysterious travelers of the world is abundant with superstitions and bewitchments.

other’s Gypsy Fertility Charm Being brought up in a Queens, New York, neighborhood not far from a Romanian Gypsy settlement that existed in Maspeth from the mid-1920s until 1939, my mother was both leery of, and intrigued by, the Gypsies. Like many other children growing up in the early decades of the 20th century, she was frightened by the old stories she heard of Gypsies stealing babies and was warned by her elders that the Gypsies were a people not to be trusted.

This, however, did not prevent her from later marrying a man whose paternal grandfather was a Gypsy from Bohemia. Herbal Cosmetics

Nor did it stop her in the spring of 1959 from seeking the counsel of a chovihani (a Gypsy-Witch) after her two consecutive attempts to have a child resulted in miscarriages.

According to my mother’s account, the Gypsy woman first read her palm and then her tea leaves in a cup that was marked all the way around with astrological symbols. After interpreting the signs, she then presented my mother with a small silk pouch that contained a root (which I strongly suspect was from a mandrake plant) and instructed her to keep it with her, day and night, throughout the entire term of her next pregnancy.

Desperate to have a child and willing to try just about anything at that point, my mother followed the Gypsy’s advice.

Two days after Christmas in 1959 as an afternoon snowstorm raged, I finally came screaming and kicking my way into the world. (This, incidentally, is how one of my magickal names, “Lady Mandragora,” came to be, although my mother always affectionately referred to me as her “little witchling.”)

In 1962 my mother tried a fourth (and final) time to have a child but failed to use the Gypsy’s fertility charm as she had done during her previous pregnancy, which led to my birth. In October of that year, while sitting in the living room with my father and watching a television news broadcast about the Cuban missile crisis, my mother suddenly took ill and lost the baby. Coincidence? You decide.

Not surprisingly, Gypsy folk magick and divination have long been two of my passions. An interest in old Gypsy customs developed early on in my life despite the fact that my father never discussed his Gypsy heritage. For whatever reason he had, whether it was a sense of shame instilled during his childhood or a fear of discrimination from the predominantly Irish community in which we lived, he made it a point not to let others know that his ethnic roots encompassed more than just Irish and Czech. In fact, I was not even aware that my paternal grandmother was a Native American hailing from the Hopi Tribe in Arizona until my bereaved grandfather mentioned it at her funeral. Around the age of 10 I found myself drawn to cartomancy (divination by cards), and by my early teen years, I was already experimenting with some of the spells contained in Charles Godfrey Leland’s Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling.

In Leland’s book, the Gypsies of England are said to be believers in Witches existing among their own people. These Witches are feared for their powers, but are not associated with the devil. Leland calls it “remarkable” that the Gypsies regard their Witches as “exceptionally gifted sorcerers or magicians” rather than “special limbs of Satan.”

Gypsy folk magick draws heavily upon the use of herbs and other natural amulets, particularly seashells, eggs, animal teeth, and human hair. It also seems that a great deal of Gypsy spells are aimed primarily at the attainment of love and the warding off of the evil eye, the power of which many Gypsies both believe in and fear greatly.


Herbal Amulets for Protection

There are a variety of herbs, and other amulets, used by a Gypsy chovihani for protection. Among the most popular is garlic, which is often placed under a woman in childbirth to keep her, as well as her newborn baby, safe from any onlookers who may possess the evil eye. Garlic is also rubbed upon the spines of horses during the waning of the moon to have them “always in good spirits and lively.”

Hungarian Gypsies believe that hanging the twigs from a thistle plant on a stable door will protect horses, as well as other animals, from bewitchment.

The wolf ’s bane is another plant believed to have great protective powers. Centuries ago, many of the Gypsies in Romania were said to have valued it as an amulet to guard against those with the power to shapeshift into wolves.

Gypsy Love Magick

Rye is a popular herb in Gypsy love magick. When baked into bread and then served to a loved one, rye seeds are believed to secure the affections of that person.

The pimento is another plant associated with Gypsy love magick. The continental Gypsies, according to Scott Cunningham, have used it in their amatory spells and sachets for hundreds of years.

When enchanted and secretly put in the food of another, it supposedly causes that individual to develop deep romantic feelings for him or her. A love charm popular among the English Gypsies is mentioned in Charles Godfrey Leland’s book of Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling. It calls for an onion or a tulip bulb to be planted in a clean and previously unused pot, while the name of one’s beloved is recited. Every day at both sunrise and sunset, the following incantation should be said over the pot:

“As this root grows
And as this blossom blows,
May his [or her] heart be
Turned unto me!”

As each day passes, “the one whom you love will be more and more inclined to you, till you get your heart’s desire.” There is an old belief among Gypsies that willow-knots (willow twigs that have naturally grown into a knot) are twined by fairy-folk, and to undo one invites bad luck. To recover stolen goods, a Gypsy man will often tie a string around a willow-knot and say: “With this string I bind the thief ’s luck!”

But if it is the love of a particular woman that he desires, he will cut the willow-knot and hold it in his mouth while, at the same time, turning his thoughts to the woman and reciting the following spoken charm:

“I eat thy luck,
I drink thy luck,
Give me the luck of thine,
Then thou shall be mine.”

To add even more power to the spell, the willow-knot should then be hidden in the desired woman’s bed without her knowledge of it.

If a man wishes to make a certain woman fall in love with him, an old Gypsy love spell instructs that he should secretly obtain one of her shoes, fill it with rue leaves, and then hang it over the bed in which he sleeps.

Magickal powers are attributed to the roots of trees, particularly the ash and the alraun, and it is said that many Gypsy-Witches cunning in the art of love enchantment know how to use them in the preparation of love philters (potions).

An old Gypsy recipe to make an aphrodisiac calls for the fresh roots of an asparagus plant to be boiled in red wine. It is said that if any man or woman drinks the wine for seven consecutive mornings (in place of breakfast), he or she will be overcome by lustful urges.

Many Gypsies also believe that beans are powerful aphrodisiacs when eaten, and function as sexual amulets when carried in one’s pocket or in a putsi, a special silk or chamois pouch or charm bag used by Gypsies in the same manner that a mojo bag is used by a hoodoo “doctor.”

A piece of orrisroot carried in a putsi is another common Gypsy love amulet, as is the mysterious human-shaped root of the European mandrake plant. In addition to arousing sexual passions, the mandrake is believed to ensure an everlasting love between a couple when both partners carry with them a piece of root from the same plant.

Fern seeds are also a staple in the art of Gypsy love magick. Men traditionally give love potions brewed from the seeds of a male fern to the women they desire, while women traditionally give those brewed from the seeds of a female fern to the men whose hearts they wish to win over.

Vervain is also another plant favored by the Gypsies for the drawing of love, as well as for the attraction of good luck.

It is said that vervain must be gathered on the first day of the new moon before sunrise or it will not be magickally effective.

Carry its dried flowers in a putsi or place them beneath your pillow before you sleep and, according to Gypsy legend, the love of another you will invite.

Gypsies are well aware of the intense powers that their love spells hold. Many who wish to keep themselves immune from such amatory bewitchments or counteract the magick of any unwelcome love enchantment used upon them have been known to wear over their heart a small putsi made of white silk and filled with seven leaves from the angelica plant.

Earth-Spirit Spell

It is believed among many Gypsies that if a baby refuses to feed from his mother’s breast, a “female spirit of the earth has secretly sucked it.” To cure this, according to Leland, an onion is placed between the mother’s breasts and the following incantation is repeated:

“Earth-spirit! Earth-spirit!
Be thou ill.
Let thy milk be fire!
Burn in the earth!
Flow, flow, my milk!
Flow, flow, white milk!
Flow, flow, as I desire
To my hungry child!”


Gypsy Witch-Drum Divination

In Hungary, Gypsies are said to be able to divine the death or recovery of any ill person or animal, as well as discover the location of stolen property, by special use of an instrument known as a “witch-drum.” Described by Leland as “a kind of rude tambourine covered with the skin of an animal, and marked with stripes which have a special meaning,” a witchdrum is traditionally made from wood that is cut on Whitsunday.

The way in which this instrument is used for divination is as follows: First, nine to 21 thorn apple seeds are arranged on top of the drum and then the tambourine is tapped by a small hammer that is held in the diviner’s left hand. (Some diviners simply use their left hand, instead of a hammer, to do the tapping.) After this is done, the position that the seeds take on the markings is then interpreted.

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