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Shamanism and sorcery & The Gypsy Chovhani

Shamanism and sorcery


The Gypsy Chov'hani



Ki Shan I Romani

Adoi san' I chov'hani


"Wherever Gypsies go,

There the witches are, We know"


Both spices and Gypsies come from the Far East - fatherland of Divination and enchantment, there is nothing Hindu in the Vedas, it's all pre-Aryan. The Bhut, a malignant spirit often referred to by other names, is still believed in and still doctored by Gypsies with herbs.


Shamanism is one of the oldest spiritual paths on earth. It is an old faith which came before all others and which existed through and under Brahmanism, Buddhism and Mohammedanism which has cropped up again and vigorously flourishes throughout the world. Shamanism is a way in which humanity has sought a connection to the world of healing, maintaining balance and harmony in society, keeping our connection with all creation. The Shaman communicates and uses spirits, the Shaman walks with one foot in this world and one foot in the spirit world and has done so for thousands of years, in harmony   and balance with the earth. Shamanism originated among the Mongolic Nations, consisting not only as superstitious and Shamanistic ceremonies, but also as a way of observing the outer world-Nature-and the inner world-Soul. Shamanism was found primarily in the northern and central parts of Asia.

Being a nomadic culture, the gypsies also have a long tradition of magic and Shamanism. Such practices which have parallels with many of the other traditional pagan cultures around the World. The Romany, if we admit their affinity with the Indian Dom, can be traced with acceptable accuracy back to the threshold of history into prehistoric times. Early man believed in the existents of terrors & evil spirits, before their belief in God or Angles. Many fearing the spirits of death & darkness, looked for answers and found them in the Shaman, as one who knew all about spirits and who could drive them away, or appease them. The earliest record we have of the Shaman is found in the Acadian & Babylon records. In this way, we can trace Shamanism from pre-historic barbarous times, to the times Gypsies preserved it, to the Greeks, from them to medieval time and into its current form practiced today.

The presence of shamanism in a community does not mean that Shamanism is central to the spiritual or religious life of the community, often it exists alongside and even in cooperation with religious or other healing practices of the community.


Shamanism as practiced in Europe may be traceable through Celtic and Germanic tribes, whose cultural use of it was unfortunately wiped out by the Church and Inquisition. Shamanism was actually the first steps toward human spiritual development. Shamans interacted with spirits not only in prayer, ritual and offerings but through direct contact with the Spirits themselves. Shamans routinely walk the pathway of the spirit world through an altered state of consciousness.

After the 3rd century, the Shaman medical use and research of herbal medicine was ultimately replaced by a Christian belief in God's wrath, as the frequent cause of an epidemic. Thereby empowering early Christian medicines emphasizes of prayer as the only solution.

 Gypsies have much familiarity with the spirits they call "mullo dudia or mullo doods" dead or ghost lights. Gypsy shamans attribute much power to these ghosts and spirits, who enable them to access the deeper secrets of the world, where there is no time, no future or past, only the unfolding of the moment where all is revealed. The most spectacular of Shamanistic magic is the shaman's communion with trees, animals and stones. The Gypsy Shaman is attuned to the human body, utilizing plant and medicines to deal with disease; they invoke spirits to guard over people by their influence and communion with nature.

Gypsies believe in their powers, exemplified by their use of curses such as "annria", and healing rituals. Since the Gypsies feel that illness is an unnatural condition called "prikaza", they believe that there are many supernatural ways in which disease can be prevented or cured.  The shaman may administer any number of herbs called "drab" used for the prevention or cure of various diseases. Some of herbs called "Sastarimaskodrabaro" actually have medicinal value, in addition to supernatural qualities. The body of superstitions varies among Gypsy Tribes groups, but essentially to some extent, factor in the lives of all of them. Another element relevant to the healing powers of the Shaman, as practiced among the Gypsies and based on belief in the supernatural, are good luck charms, amulets and talismans carried to prevent misfortune or heal sickness. The Shaman or female healer who prescribes these traditional cures or preventatives is called a "drabarni" or "drabengi".

Gypsy amulets

A.B. Elysseaff in an article entitled "Materials for the study of Gypsies"(1), gives the representation of four Gypsy amulets. Amulet A is from Ural. Bessarbian Gypsies supplied amulet B.  Amulet C was obtained from a Gypsy Sorcerer from Persia and amulet D is from Russian Gypsies, an ornaments placed with their dead.


Amulet A, which also represents the sun, the moon, the stars, earth and a serpent, can equally serve as a symbol of the universe.  Amulet B represents a man surrounded by a halo, aided by the moon and the stars and armed with a sword and arrows, beneath is represented the horse: the serpent symbolizes Auromori. As a whole this amulet represents the conflict between the good and evil principle. Amulet C represents a gleaming star and the serpent, and is called Baramy symbolizing the Gypsy proto-divinity Amulet D which represents a flaming pyre and some hieroglyphics, it may also symbolize the prayer addressed to the divinity of fire. The cabalistic sign represents roughly a serpent, the symbol of Auromori the evil principle in Gypsy mythology, the figure of an arch surrounded with stars is, according to M. Kounavine, held by the Gypsies as actually symbolizing the earth, the meaning of the triangle A is not known. The moon and stars which surround the earth and which are so to speak, enclosed in the serpents coils, symbolize the world lying in evil. This sign is engraved by the Gypsies on the harness of horses.

Predominate among the early Gypsies was the belief that all life's ills came from the action of evil spirits. Because all diseases and disasters are the work of evil spirits, it was only through the influences of the Shamans with their amulets, exorcisms and drums that evil sprits were driven away. Shamanic spells & charms used today among certain Gypsies are those preserved from prehistoric times as the world's first Religion. The Shaman calls on these traditional practices and ceremonies using the spirits and giants of the forest to banish evil. These symbols & other things are most notably connected to Greek, Roman & Indian Mythology.

Cuckerdy a pal m're per

Caven save misece!

Cuckerdy a pal mi're per

Den miseceske drom odry prejial.


"Frogs in my belly

Devour what is bad

Frogs in my belly

Show the evil the way out"

Gypsies are a race given to shamanism, yet they revere a higher being called O Del or Devla. There are also three other spirits which the Gypsies believe in, the "mullo doods" and air spirits who play tricks or cause injury. The earth spirits (pcuvushi), noble spirits who give sage consul to men and water spirits (nivashi) who behave kindly to men. (David Mac Ritchie 1890 Earth House & their Inhabitants)(2).

The drum plays an important part in the Gypsy Shaman's armory, (chovihanescro buklo). About the size of a tambourine, it is round and made of wood, covered with the skin of an animal, which is then marked with stripes that have certain meanings. Nine to twenty one seeds are placed on the drum head and then the side of the drum is gently struck with a little hammer. The fate of the patient for recovery or die is predicted according to the position the seeds take on the marks.

Gypsies in Hungry use the drum for divination, to learn if an invalid will recover, whether an animal will get well and also to determine where stolen property is concealed.

A Gypsy Shaman's drum
Shaman Drum (pictured by Dr Wlislocki)

Gypsies put great faith in their Shamans and incantations. They believe there are women and some men who possess supernatural power. Most of these women known as "Gule Romni" are trained from infancy by their mothers in the art of medicine & magic. This activity indicates the practice draws from a period in India, a commonalty with the shamanic religion of India as the Turanian source. But there stands the "Lace Romni" or good women who draw their power from the spirits of water & earth.

In Hungary the Gypsy Shaman has many charms or conjurations to cure or protect animals, there is in fact contained within these charms and conjurations, elements that connect them with the earliest rites and religions. The Gypsies believe that the Earth-spirits are especially interested in animals. In southern Hungry there are even charms made from goat dung.

The Hungarian Gypsy Tribe of the Kukuya has special charms and incantations for a mare to foal. There is a charm and incantation for protecting and aiding cattle. In England, charms and incantations are not necessary, because the fairies are favorable to cattle. Just as children are often cautioned to be good "I Urme na'bitcher tute sonnakai pabya" (The fairies will not send you any golden apples).

There is a celebration at Christmas and Easter that have their roots, in a 1000 year-old festivals, with many of a purely Gypsy-Oriental origins. In pre-historic times the Shaman preformed ceremonies to protect cattle or land from evil influences by adorning the animals with flowers & wreaths. A mistress of the family in Germany merely touches each animal with a cross to bless the animal and ward off evil spirits.

On St. Georges day in Hungary, young girls bake a magical cake mixed with herbs, which is divided among friends to ensure their love (3) Lizzie Buckland told a story that in the old time, Gypsy girls baked a peculiar cake "a Romany Morriclo" baked for their lovers and they would throw the cake over the hedge at night. To make it more acceptable and speed up the action of the charm they would put money into the cake.

Omens, taboos and prophecies are all a part of everyday life for the gypsies. Knowledge of herbs is essential for healing, Gypsy spells and charms favorably influence events, while using "the sight" leads to making better choices & clearer decisions. All of these are used by the Gypsy Shamen or chouvani "keeper of the tribe's magic, rites & superstitions",to bless, curse or heal as they see fit. Their powers, like the old pagan beliefs, were brought with them from India. According to Shamanic belief every disease is caused by evil spirits and can only be driven out by magic, In the New Testament all diseases were regarded by the ancients as coming from evil. When it was discovered that certain herbs really possessed curative qualities, they increased their power by combing them with water. The spirit of earth went into saffron and that of saffron into water; The Shaman sent the pain back to the source where it came from. In the Christian religion saffron & orange are symbols of God embracing the heart and illuminating the souls of the faithful. (Des Couleurs symboligues, Paris 1837)(4). Dr A Elysseaff (Gypsy lore journal 1890)(5) gives a Russian incantation by which fire is invoked to cure illness. (Great Fire, my defender and protector, son of the celestial fire, equal of the sun who cleanses the earth of foulness, deliver this man (women) from the evil sickness that torments him night & day.)

A Hungarian Gypsy Shaman on Easter Monday will make a wooden box called a bitchapen, at the bottom of the box they lay two sticks across and on these are laid herbs & other fetish objects, this in turn is wrapped in red & white wood and then is carried by the eldest from tent to tent for everyone to touch, by doing this all diseases & disorders which could befall them in the coming year are conjured into the box.

In Christian beliefs there are blessing of Animals and Stables, once a year so no harm or evil comes to them. Children have been blessed by candles to keep them free of throat diseases for the year, between blessings and banning it soon became evident that many formulas of words could be used to bring about mysterious results. When a mother begins to suffer the pangs of childbirth, a fire is made before her tent, which is kept lighted until the infant was baptized in order to drive away evil spirits, A child is given three names by the mother, one she whispers into the child's ear only for the child to hear and the evil spirits will not know, one for the family and one to use in the godja world.

Shamanism and the many forms of early incantations are also found in today's Christianity. Such as the prayer of St Paul against snake bite and even a prayer against toothache and an amulet to carry on one's person. Many Catholics carry an amulet for protection and blessings, the fetish has virtue from being the dwelling of a protecting spirit, the amulet may rest on a higher range of ideas, but both the fetish and amulet are regarded as bringing luck.

Katar Rook

Katar Puv

Kater Mamus

Aki so mi ruzlapen


From the tree

From the earth

From the mother

Here is all my strength

Among the Slavonic and Gypsy mythology all witchcraft, fairy-and Folk-lore rests mainly upon a belief in certain spirits of the wood, field of earth and water, which is apparently taken in great measure directly from Indian origin. We have forest and field spirits, also moss spirits and folk spirits from Germany, France and Bavaria. Who are more like divinities, exerting a constant and familiar influence of good or evil on human beings, which on occasion the Shaman prays to exorcise?

All the Gypsy magic and sorcery described here is purely Shamanic -- and of interest because it has been preserved from early times as characteristics of the world's first religion, in that it treats every disease as the work of an evil spirit and banishes these influences by the aid of ceremonies and the use of amulets for protections (6).

In many tribes, a Gypsy will not eat food that a shadow has fallen across, its marime (polluted). Among the Transylvania Gypsies anyone who so much as treads on their shadow will be given a headache, for which the shaman will give the following remedy of rubbing the head & washing it with vinegar while repeating. (7)

Odoy, Odoy sikoves

Ko jal pro m'ro ushalyin

Adaleske e duk hin!


Thither, thither hasten!

Who treads up on my shadow

To him be the pain!

One old magical belief is that if a chouvani find a lock of hair, they can use it to work evil. Should birds find a lock of hair and make a nest with it, the one who lost the hair will suffer headaches.


Throughout the History of the Gypsies, there are written reference to Shamanism and Chouvani, who were healers and keepers of the tribe's magic. Living for centuries along paths, near and in forests they have an affinity with nature and the cornucopia of the earth's blessings. The elderberry called "yakori bengeskro" or the devils eye is used to cure sleeplessness. While a pain in the eye is cured with a wash of spring water & saffron, during which the following incantation is recited:

Oh dukh adral yakha

Ja André pani

JA andral pani

Andre safrane

Andre pcuv

JA adral pcur

Kiya pcuvusheske

Odoy hin cerca

Odoy JA Te ca


Oh, pain from the eyes

Go into the water

Go out of the water

Into the earth

To the earth spirit

There's thy home

There go and eat.

The Gypsies have several cures for fever, depending on the tribal beliefs, is to go to a running stream and cast pieces of wood nine times backwards into the running water, repeating a rhymes,

Shilalyi prejial,

Panori me tut dav!

Nani me tut kamav


Fevers go away from me

I give it, water, unto thee

Unto me thou art not dear.


Another cure for fever was to go into the forest and find a young tree, when the first rays of sun fell on the tree you would shake the tree with all your might and call out: 


Shilalyi, Shilalyi prejial,

Kathe tu besh, kathe tu besh


Fever, fever, go away

Here shall thou stay, Here shall thou stay!


In 1050, the Emperor Momomackus was plagued by wild animals devouring the game in the imperial park. He called on the Adsencani, notorious soothsayers & sorceries, who laid down charmed pieces of meat which killed the ferocious beasts. The name Adsincani as used in this text is the Georgian form of the Greek word Atzinganoi, which the Byzantines commonly referred to as Gypsies.

The Athinganoi were the subject of a commentary by the church that threatened church members with a six-year excommunication, if they accepted an amulet as a cure and protection for diseases & the evil eye, or if they associated with magicians, soothsayers and sorceries who were Athinganoi. The practice of healing by the Athinganoi may include a Gypsy woman, a healer whose portrait is part of a sixteenth century collection of sketches in housed in Arras, France. She used her medical art to restore the health of the King of Scotland, after his physicians had given up on healing him.  (Fraser 1972. The Gypsy Healer & King of the Scots).(8)

As the Mongols spread across Asia into Siberia and Northern Russia, they brought with them ancient customs and religious beliefs of the Gypsy Shaman & Chouvani, whose practices can be traced back to Oriental and Indian rites.


The vocation of being a Shamen is that of an inspired person, regardless of whether or not the calling is hereditary. To the believers, the calling also includes accepting several spirits and communicating with the spirit world, interacting with the spirits not only in prayer, ritual and offerings, but also through direct contact with the spirits themselves. Shamans routinely walk the pathway to the spirit world, through an altered state of consciousness.


As an interesting footnote discovered when researching material for this piece, is a reference made to an Autumn Festival of the Mongols, called the "Urus Sara". A very ancient ceremony mentioned by writers of pre-Christian times and also during the Middle Ages by Marco Polo. Urus Sara as celebrated by the Mongols denotes the month in which they start their New Year. The celebration of Sara is intended to symbolize the renewing of all things. I thought this obscure footnote reminiscent of our current day "Black Sara" celebration.

Dolores Littell

I would like to thank the following sources for their reference material contribution.


Ref; Social Anthropology, M.A. Czaplicka    Oxford University 1914

   1    A.B. Elysseaff    "Materials for the study of Gypsies"

  2    David Mac Ritchie 1890 "Earth House & their Inhabitants"

   3   Lizzie Buckland 1914 Czaplicka

  4     Des Couleurs Symboligues, Paris 1837

  5     Dr A B Elysseaff      Gypsy Lore Journal   1890

  6     Elwood Trigg    Gypsy Demons & Divinities.    Secaucus N J Citadel 1973

  7    Pierre Derlon    Secrets of the Gypsies       1979 NY Ballatine

  8     Angus Fraser 1972 Gypsy Healer & King of Scots.

  9     Charles LeLand  Gypsy Lore Journals   1891

 10   Jean Paul Clebert      1967            


A special thanks to Shaman Bergus Wood

Tutti Sutti Mishto

Shaman Grey Boswell, Norfolk Eng.





The article above reflects the personal views of the author and not necessarily those of O NEVO DROM, its editors or others connected with this publication and other sites associated with O NEVO DROM. Editor-in-Chief