Gypsy communities divide along gender lines. Men wield public authority over members of their community through the "kris" - the Gypsy form of court. In its most extreme punishment, this court bars a Gypsy from their community. Men also take control in all official and public duties with non-Gypsies. Gypsy women are treated as subordinates.
The role of Gypsy women in this tradition is not limited to childbearing: she can influence and communicate with the supernatural world; she can pollute a Gypsy man so that a "kris" will expel him from the community; and in some cases she makes and manages most of a family's money. Successful fortune-tellers, all of whom are female, may provide the main income for their families. Men of their families will usually aid the fortune-telling business by helping in some support capacities, as long as they are not part of the "women's work" of talking to customers.
Parents of marriageable age children arrange their marriage. These children may travel with their parents to meet prospective spouses. Romance is not important in these marriages - only money and the ability to earn more of it are the chief factors. If a Gypsy woman marries a non-Gypsy she is expelled from her community permanently. But a Gypsy man, may eventually get permission to return to his people with his non-Gypsy wife. A newly married daughter-in-law must subject herself to the demand of her husband's family - until her first pregnancy. With the birth of her first child, she fully enters womanhood.
Gypsy cultural attempts to prevent children from learning non-Gypsy ways, and to facilitate raising them as Gypsies. Children generally do not go to school, day-care centers, or babysitters who are not friends or relatives. Also, Gypsy culture forbids children to play with non-Gypsy children - instead they socialize with Gypsies of all ages. Formal schooling is minimal, as the culture devalues education from outside their own culture. An important reason Gypsies do not send their children to school is that they will have to violate Gypsy taboos: they will have to use public restrooms, and the boys and girls will come into contact too closely in classrooms and on playgrounds. Many Gypsy Americans send their children to schools until the age of 10 or 11, at which time the parents permanently remove them from school.
Children are expected to watch and act like their elders. Rather than bar them from adult life, these children are included in conversations and in business. They learn the family business and in their late teens, they marry and become partners in the family business. Daughters, but not sons, of a fortune-teller train early to become fortune-tellers. Boys may train to sell cars.
At the core of the Gypsy culture is their religion, which derives from Hindu and Zoroastrian concepts of "kintala" - balance and harmony, as between good and evil. When that balance is upset, ancestors send signals to keep people on track. The mysticism of fortune-tellers and tarot readers - though such services to non-Gypsies are not the same as Gypsies' own spirituality - has bases in Gypsy spirituality. Many Gypsies are Christians, with denominational allegiances that reflect their countries of origin.
"Historically, toward the beginning of the second millennium B.C., Gypsies invented a story of their origins in Egypt - hence the name, "Gypsies" - which gave many of them safe passage in a hostile Europe. The story claimed that they had been oppressed and forced into idol-worship in Egypt, and that the Pope had ordered them to roam, as penitence for their former lack of faith. This story also played on legends of a common heritage of Gypsies and Jews, which were partly based on actual overlap of these two ethnic cultures in marginal trades and ghettos. Sway indicated that the story of an Egyptian origin convinced Europeans until the early 16th century when the church became convinced these 'penitents' were frauds. The church moved to isolate its followers from Gypsies: 'As early as 1456 excommunication became the punishment for having one's fortune told by a Gypsy. More effective than the policy of excommunication was the assertion by the Catholic Church that the Gypsies were a cursed people partly responsible for the execution of Christ.
(continued next week)