I grew up in a small town in England. In that working-class town there was a distinct separation of classes. Many of those who felt they were in the upper classes (often determined simply by a home address rather than any real class distinction) looked down on what they perceived as lower classes. And those who were treated as the lowest of the low were the Gypsies.
The rocks that the other children threw at me when I was going to and from private school (that's the same as "public school" in the US) didn't hurt as much as the slurs and insults. I never understood that behavior. I hadn't done anything to them. Neither had my parents. My grandparents had lived in central Europe, so they couldn't have done anything to hurt them either.
Children can be so cruel. The constant abuse did several things to me. First, I learned how to fight. Second, I learned independence since none of the other kids would play or do schoolwork with me. But at the same time, the slurs and attacks from so many people influenced my young mind to think that there was something wrong with me simply because I had been born to one set of parents and not another. I came to hate my Gypsy heritage. Later, I realized that I had come to hate myself.
When I was twelve, my father won the lottery. He had seen the pain and suffering I had gone through. Although he had stood up to it himself, he didn’t want me to experience it any more. So, like the archetypal Gypsy, we packed our things and moved to a place where we thought we wouldn't feel the bitter lash of thoughtless hate. We moved to San Diego, California.
Children, thankfully, have short memories. They can get into a violent fight with a playmate and five minutes later be playing together again. The slurs and attacks were gone. People accepted me for what I was. Nobody hated me for the accident of my birth. At least, that's what I thought. The self-hatred I felt was buried but not gone.
Having been brought up in England, and thus having a British accent (even if it was not the "proper" British accent of the newsreaders on the BBC or the out-of-place Cockney heard at Renaissance "Faires"), really helped me. Whenever a conversation got around to backgrounds, people would talk about being Irish, Italian, African, German, Japanese, Russian, and so forth. With my accent it was obvious that I was English. Nobody asked further than that. Nobody needed to know that I was what those children used to call me, a "dirty Gypsy."
I graduated high school and went to college and medical school, eventually becoming a pediatrician. Maybe something inside me wanted to be able to help those kids who had thrown rocks at me. Or maybe, in some way, I wanted to help the child inside of me who was still hurt by those childhood taunts.
MY SEARCH BEGINS
My medical practice grew and I became quite successful. In 1994 I met and married Melody, the most wonderful, talented, and beautiful woman I had ever met. We separated in 1997. As she left she told me, "I love you. But I can't stand the anger you feel about yourself, especially when you direct it, for no reason, at me. If you can ever resolve those feelings, let me know. Just don't wait too long."
So here I was, a 32-year-old man with a successful professional life but a rapidly crumbling personal life. The first month after Melody left I fell into a deep depression, only able to barely fulfill my professional obligations. But I was strong enough to realize that I loved Melody and wanted to get her back so things could be like before. No, that’s not exactly right. I wanted to renew our relationship so it would be even better than before. And I knew that the only way to do that would be to get more in touch with me.
Familiar with (and perhaps dependent upon) traditional western healing practices, I started to go to a psychologist. A year later, and after seeing two different psychologists and one psychiatrist during that time, I was only slightly better and many thousands of dollars poorer. I told my disappointment to my current psychologist, Dr. Elliott. He told me that if I was unhappy with therapy, I might try some alternate approaches. He reminded me that we had discovered the main cause of my problems resulted from the abuse I had experienced as a child. I just couldn’t get over it. He looked at me and asked me what turned out to be the most important question of my life: "Who are you?"
"I’m Terrance Lescault."
"No, that’s your name. Who are you?"
"I’m a doctor, a pediatrician..."
"No, that’s what you do. Who are you?"
I felt perturbed. This was downright silly. "Why are you asking me this Zen question?" I think the exasperation in my voice was clear to him.
"Not a Zen question, a Zen Koan. A question meant to be pondered and thought about and which can lead to enlightenment. So think about it. You might also think about another famous Koan: 'What did your face look like before you were born?'"
I went away from the office, frustrated, disappointed, and unhappy.
Just as the abuse by the children had stayed with me for all these years, so, too, did Dr. Elliott’s questions. Who am I? I came up with all sorts of answers. And then it dawned on my that I had missed the most important one of all. I was a Gypsy. As I said that to myself, I also heard the taunts. I realized that in my mind I was not a Gypsy, I was a “dirty Gypsy.” I was wrong in thinking that nobody in this country hated me for being a Gypsy. I hated myself for being a Gypsy. Not just a Gypsy, I was a dirty Gypsy.
And then I had the most important revelation of my life, a virtual epiphany. I had no idea what a Gypsy was. I had hated being called names so much that I had abandoned my heritage. I didn't hate myself, I hated what I thought I was. I hated what those children thought I was. My redemption, I realized, would only come when I discovered the truth about my background.
My mother had died several years earlier, so I went to my father's house and talked to him. He showed me some pictures of Gypsy wagons his father and his father's father had used. He told me a little of the history of our family. But it was all so unemotional, almost cold. It didn't even seem like he was talking to me.
I went to the library and got a couple of old books by Charles G. Leland, Gypsies and English Gypsies and Their Languages, but I found them dated and too dry. So I went to a bookstore. They had reprints of Leland. I asked if they had anything else and I was directed to the New Age section. This bothered me because I had always thought that New Age meant imaginary and unreal. But I dutifully went through the section, expecting nonsense.
I picked up a book with the word "Gypsy" in the title. I glanced at the cover and dropped it in shock. I picked it up again and looked at the cover. There, in black and white, was a Gypsy wagon just like the ones I had seen at my father's house. It was even being drawn by a horse with thick legs and large hooves, something I had noted in the photos my father had shown me since I was used to seeing the delicate legs of race horses. I turned it over and saw the author, Raymond Buckland, sitting on the steps of a Gypsy wagon. He was a half-blooded Gypsy and had written other books on Gypsies.
But as I read more, my heart fell. The title of the book was Gypsy Witchcraft & Magic. I didn’t want to learn about what I usually called “woo-woo” stuff. I wanted to learn who I was. But a historian gives a compliment to the book on the back cover, saying how this really does cover gypsy life, so I decided to buy it and give it a try.
SOMETHING RINGS TRUE
The author of Gypsy Witchcraft & Magic begins by recounting the known history of the Romany people, along with the myths of why they wander. Of course, he shows that we came from India, not Egypt ("Gypsy" is derived from "Egyptian"). But then I started to read about the religious practices from an insider. It would seem that historically, Gypsies are Pagans. Many of us remain Pagan today. [Note: in reading back over this article I realized that I changed to acknowledge my Gypsy heritage by now referring to Gypsies as "we" instead of "they."]
I was brought up in what we called the "C of E" or Church of England. It is also known as the Anglican church. Although I considered myself a "good Christian," I was really somewhat of an agnostic. I enjoyed some aspects of my religion, but other things just didn't "seem right." By the time I was in my twenties, I would only attend church for weddings and funerals.
But this book presented something new to me. It wasn't the silly witches of movies and TV with their nose wiggling and poofs of smoke. Instead, it was the worship of a goddess or "Saint" known as "Black Sara." The male god is not anthropomorphic and is thought of in terms of being the Sun, Moon, sky, clouds, and stars. The devil is simply a negative force and not an evil entity.
I had always wondered why God was thought of as being a male. Knowing that my ancestors worshiped the female as well as the male just felt right. The more I read, the more I felt like I was "coming home." I wanted to learn more about my heritage.
As a doctor, I am always looking for safe remedies to health problems. This book has several. I went to an herb store and purchased some herbs described in the book as well as a mortar and pestle. A week later I compounded a supposed headache remedy made from willow bark and St. John's Wort according to the directions in the book. I gave it to a friend of mine who was subject to migraines. He tried it and found that it worked for him. I don't know if it will work for others, but it did work for him. There were also herbal cures for eye problems, ear problems, mouth problems, asthma, common colds, stomach problems, bladder difficulties, and many more. I intend to investigate all of them with the help of friends and co-workers.
As I continued with the book I became more and more fascinated. I went past the section on using magic to get money because I have all I want. The next section had a part that intrigued me. Gypsies, of course, traveled in their wagons (or vardos) and would simply find a place to stay. A friend of the author's who went around with some Gypsies always found that the place they would pick would take on a "special ambiance that made him feel that they had picked the best campsite ever." This, he discovered, was because the tribe's Witch or Shuvani would use a broom called a besom (made from the twiggy growth of a birch tree) and "walk all around the camp sweeping outward, away from the vardos...brushing away the uncleanness, the badness...[it] had the power to turn any place into a warm and cozy campground." (p. 86-87)
Okay. I’m a well-educated, modern man. But I decided to give it a try. I went out and purchased a broom (I don't know if it was birch or not) and went around my house, sweeping from the center of each room to the walls. Then I went outside and swept from the edge of the house to the edge of my property. With each sweep of the broom I focused my thoughts on trying to send away any sort of negativity. I just imagined it in my mind. Of course, there was a scientific part of me that felt this was silly and wouldn't work, but I tried to keep an open mind about it. I went back inside and lit a fire (it was a cold night) and continued to read the book by the light of the hearth.
As I continued to read, I noticed that the room "felt" different. Maybe it was subjective. Maybe it was objective. But what I was reading was ringing true for me.
And I felt different, too. More secure. More strong. More sure of who I was. I was not a "dirty Gypsy" any more. I was — I am — a full-blooded Romany, a Gypsy, with a history that goes back many hundreds of years. For the first time in my life I was proud about who I was. I felt powerful. The taunts of those children no longer hurt me. It only made them look foolish, insecure and weak. They did not defeat me — I had survived and come out stronger.
The major result from my experience with making practical use of Buckland's book is that I am a healthier person — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I would encourage everyone to look into their personal past to discover the spiritual nature of their culture. I would also encourage everyone to study the cultures of others, too, with books like Gypsy Witchcraft & Magic. Through knowledge comes understanding, and through understanding comes peace.
And that new, inner strength brought me more peace with myself than I've had in a long time. In fact, I had a long talk with Melody about this and we're getting together later this week for dinner. I've really changed and I hope she will see it. Wish me luck.
Editor’s note: Quotes used by permission. We do not suggest changing the use of any medicines without consulting your medical practitioner.