Today, Roma celebrate the Goddess-Saint Kali Sara

St. Sarah, Kali Sara, Sara Kali, Sara-la-Kali, Sati-Sara, The Black Madonna, The Black Mother… many names for one Goddess-Saint sacred to Roma all over the world. Today is her festival– she is the Goddess of Fate, good fortune, fertility, and protection– and Roma honor her in pilgrimage, by worshiping her statue, through dance and community… so many ways, so many incarnations of the goddess who accompanied the Roma all the way from India.

Take a look at these articles below for more information about the Goddess-Saint, Romanipen/Romani religion/spirituality, and her celebration. Be sure to click the links for the whole articles.

The Romani Goddess-Saint Sara Kali

The Romani Goddess-Saint Sara Kali

 

“Until recently it was widely believed that this worship of Kali Sara, the Romani Black Madonna or Goddess was unique to Les Saintes Maries de La Mer. My own recent research among Romani refugees from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and in countries of the Balkans has uncovered the little-known fact that other Black Virgins are worshipped by Roma in central/eastern Europe and that Roma from these countries perform similar rituals. These rituals include laying flowers at the feet of the statue, adorning the statue with clothing of the sick hoping for cures, placing requests to the statue, and lighting candles to the female divinity. To the Roma, Kali Sara is the Protectress who will cure sickness, bring good luck and fertility and grant success in business ventures.
The Romani ceremony at Les Saintes Maries, as elsewhere, consists of carrying the statue on a platform strewn with flowers (4) into the closest body of water such as a sea, lake, flowing river or even a large pond of clear water. The platform is then lowered to touch the water while the crowd throws flowers into the water. Indian scholars such as Dr. Weer Rishi (5) and others who have witnessed this Romani ceremony, as well as Western observers who are familiar with Hindu religious customs have identified this ceremony with the Durga Poojaof India. In Romani, Kali Sara means Black Sara and in India, the Goddess Kali is known as Kali/Durga/Sara. Like the Hindus, the Roma practice shaktism, the worship of Goddesses. In other words, the Roma who attend the pilgrimage to Les Saintes Maries in France and in other related ceremonies elsewhere honouring black female divinities, are in fact continuing to worship Kali/Durga/Sara their original Goddess in India.

According to the Durgasaptashati (seven hundred verses in the worship of Goddess Durga and her various forms), chapter 5, verse 12, which mentions Sara, contains the following: “Salute to Durga, Durgapara, (Deliver of all difficulties), Sara, (Embodiment of everything par-excellent), Cause of everything, Krishna and Dhurma (Evaporated form in smoke).” Other references in this ancient Hindu scripture also confirm that Sara is one and the same with the Indian goddess Durga who is also another aspect of Kali, the consort of Shiva.” —“THE ROMANI GODDESS KALI SARA” by RONALD LEE

The Indian Goddess Kali

The Indian Goddess Kali

 

Some Romani groups in Europe today appear to maintain elements of Shaktism or goddess-worship; the Rajputs worshipped the warrior-goddess Parvati, another name for the female deity Sati-Sara, who is Saint Sarah, the Romani Goddess of Fate. That she forms part of the yearly pilgrimage to La Camargue at Stes. Maries de la Mer in the south of France is of particular significance; here she is carried into the sea just as she is carried into the waters of the Ganges each December in India. Both Sati-Sara and St. Sarah wear a crown, both are also called Kali, and both have shining faces painted black.  Sati-Sara is a consort of the god Ðiva, and is known by many other names, Bhadrakali, Uma, Durga and Syamaamong them.” —

“ROMANI (‘GYPSY’) RELIGION” by Ian Hancock

Sara, toi la sainte patronne des voyageurs et gitans du monde entier,
tu as vécu en ce lieu des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Tu es venue d’un lointain pays au-delà des mers.
J’aime venir te retrouver ici, te dire tout ce que j’ai dans le Cœur,
te confier mes peines et mes joies.
Je te prie pour tous les membres de ma famille et tous mes amis.
Sara, veille sur moi!

(Sara, patron saint of travelers and gypsies the world over, you who lived in this region of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. You came from a far-away country from across the seas. I love to come and find you here, to tell you all that I have in my heart and in you confide my sorrows and joys. I pray to you for everyone in my family and all my friends. Sara, come to me!) —Saint Sara-la-Kali: A Sister to Kali Maa

Saint Sarah

Saint Sarah

Advertisements

“Writers Of Color Flock To Social Media For A New Way To Use Language” NPR

This NPR article by Kima Jones, “Writers Of Color Flock To Social Media For A New Way To Use Language” struck a chord with me.

“The poem can’t find its audience until the poet has turned on the little hallway light of empathy and mercy and meaning. Those are the building blocks of understanding and reconciliation. That is the foundation.

For too long, writers of color have been told there is no audience for our work. That unless we write towards the universal human—which, of course, is code for white person—our work would not be understood, or read or taught. We are told that regardless of the work the poem is doing, we should codify it in a way that it is accessible and understood and praised by the universal human.”

This is why I use social media to raise awareness of Romani (“Gypsy”) culture and Romani rights. One of the most important things, I think, is spotlighting Romani writers, activists, and artists– Roma are “real” in a world where they are cast as romantic or villainous fantasies, and much of Romani arts and culture touches on the human rights crisis. It’s an issue that seems to have practically no audience, but once I started writing and publishing through social media, I found an audience. I was offered a position as a staff writer at an Quail Bell Magazine, and encouraged to write poetry, fiction, and non-fiction about Romani issues. The response has encouraged me to write a novel about a half-Romani woman who seeks retribution for her people after the Holocaust, and people seem to give some fucks about it.

That’s really what the whole #RealGypsyWarrior thing is about– I want to shine light on powerful Roma and Romani allies who are doing good work, and hopefully that kind of awareness will change the face of “Gypsies” in the media. People will think before appropriating the word “gypsy” or using it to define what have become harmful stereotypes about Roma. For instance, people often use the word “gypsy”  to describe whimsical or irresponsible nomadism, but Romani nomadism was born out of persecution, and using the word in a romantic or pejorative way erases the persecution that Roma have suffered for centuries and continue to suffer today. Also, “gypsy” with a lowercase “g” is an ethnic slur, so that’s not great either.

Social media has also made it easier for me to connect with other Romani writers, artists, and activists in what is a very scattered and (understandably) secretive community, so I’m not only finding an audience, I’m finding my own community. Social media as been great for the Romani Rights movement (Opre Roma) in general because of this beautiful combination of visibility, accessibility, and connectivity.

How do other WOC use social media to create an audience for their work and passions?

“God grant that I will die in the pub!” and other Romani Oaths that I should use all the time

Solax, or oath-swearing is an interesting can be humorous and informal or deeply serious and ritualistic. Learn more about it here on ROMBASE: didactically edited information on Roma. http://ling.uni-graz.at/~rombase/cgi-bin/art.cgi?src=data/ethn/belief/oath.en.xml

For the record, The Corner House in Cork City, Ireland is my favorite pub, or God grant that I will die in that pub in front of the fire place with a lovely hot port on the tree-slice table before me.

Image

Image from: www.panoramio.com

Link

“The devil stays away from those who make music”– check out Jordi Oliver’s book Gypsy Soul

“The devil stays away from those who make music”– check out Jordi Oliver’s book Gypsy Soul

The devil stays away from those who make music. –Manouche proverb

With a glowing intro by Esmeralda Romanez and an emphasis on the inextricable link between Romani rights and Romani arts, this book seems like it should be on everyone’s wishlist. 

Addendum to fortune telling nostalgia

Since I posted about my great-great grandmother I’ve been thinking about the complicated issue of fortune telling and how, in that sense my family is an anomaly.

The author of the STFU, Gadje! tumblr puts it very succinctly:

“Gypsies – Rroma and real Traveller people – do not have psychic abilities. We are real people, not caricatures. When a Rroma/Walking Person does resort to fortune telling, it is as a person of color being forced to conform to racist stereotypes of their own people in order to survive.

This happens disturbingly often. My own grandmother did tarot readings with gadje for money when times got tough, but she always told me, if she caught me doing anything similar, she would tan my own hide.”

So this is a more common response to the fortune-telling business. It’s usually common-sense advice for money in hard times, done out of necessity under the shadow of oppression.

For my family, it’s a little different. During WWII Germany, my grandmother was not allowed to talk about or practice so many of her heritage’s customs, but every Sunday afternoon, her extended family would come over and read each others’ tea leaves. It became not only a connection with her family during dark times when everything was uncertain and the threat of death and torture was ever-present– it was also one of the few glimmers of her culture that she was allowed to practice. It was discreet, so even if an officer did burst in, they were just drinking tea, right?

Perhaps reading tea leaves, palms, and cards made my relatives feel more in control of their lives, or more aware, during an unspeakably frightening time. It became so important that they practiced it with a seriousness that most other Romanies would balk at. They would meditate before reading, allowing their minds to empty so as to be more receptive. They would stare at the dregs in a cup, the lines of a palm, or a card spread as though it were a mandala and would not speak until the shapes unlocked before their eyes. After my grandmother immigrated to The States, she became notorious for her eerily accurate readings. All that meditation must have paid off, is all I’m sayin’.

My grandmother taught me to read palms when I was five, and then cards and tea leaves when I was sixteen. It was important to her that I knew how to read, really read, that I practiced the art responsibly. She told me it would always be a helpful skill, and she was right. I worked as a fortune teller for years, and enjoyed it, and a lot of my clients felt I was accurate in a helpful way, not in a terrifying carnival-machine way. And as it was for her, fortune telling became one of the most salient cultural practices for me, along with dance and music. It also became one of the most cherished memories I have of her, and it’s something we still do together when I visit. But I understand that what is a “cultural practice” for me is a practice of necessity for others and a source of great sadness, shame, and desperation. It would be irresponsible not to acknowledge that. I’m trying to navigate the complexity and richness of this topic with the main character of the novel, too.

With that said, check out STFU gadje! which is not at all aggressive as the name might suggest. She has some interesting posts and helpful tips about cultural appropriation, misrepresentation, conscious language, etc, for example, why you shouldn’t name your pets “Gypsy.” Funny story though, my grandmother named her horse Gypsy for a laugh when she was younger. She’s a proto-hipster, I’ve decided. So much ironic reappropriation, and then some earnest reappropriation, too. And we all know that the mark of a good hipster is when you are unable to tell the difference.

To be fair, horses are very special creatures in Romani culture. But yeah, don’t name your pets Gypsy, unless, I suppose, you’re a Romani hipster and will enjoy explaining the reappropriation to everyone your pet meets. In that case, go forth and be ironic!

Every culture is made up of individuals.

Note:

* Gadje isn’t a derogatory term, it’s just a word for people outside the culture (non-Romani people).

* I know people who have named their pets Gypsy and in no way meant to be hurtful or offensive, they just didn’t know not to. It’s ok. I still love you.