Rom - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. In addition to traditions that may have earlier roots, the religion of the Rom incorporates elements from Eastern European folk religions, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism. Today, although most consider themselves Catholic, large numbers have turned toward evangelical Protestant sects such as Pentecostalism. Beliefs are derived partly from indigenous traditions and partly from the official and folk religions of the countries among which the Rom have lived. God, O Del, and saints are venerated, and numerous spirits, some associated with natural elements such as wind or water, are recognized. Some are anthropomorphized; others more manalike in their expression. Luck, Bax, especially is considered an active supernatural force, closely bound with the notion of fate. Symbolic uncleanness is sometimes also reified as an incarnation of evil. Pollution, or marime taboos based on the symbolic impurity of the lower body, especially of women, dictates proper behavior between the sexes, older and younger people, food and laundry handling, and the arrangement of household furnishings. The same separation of clean from unclean also dictates the kinds of social and economic relations permissible between the Rom and non-Gypsies.

Religious Practitioners. No formal priests, shamans, or other religious specialists exist among the Rom. A few women are noted as interpreters of dreams; others may be feared as witches because of their age or ability to cast curses.

Ceremonies. Major ceremonies with religious components include saint's day feasts, baptisms, funerals, feasts of honor, weddings, and Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas celebrations. All celebrate the Rom as a people; by the giving of feasts, respect is demonstrated to both the supernaturals and other Rom.

Arts. Arts consist of music, including recent musical compositions and adaptations, dance, folk songs, legends, and family history. Oratory, especially at a Kris, may also be considered among the artistic expressions of the Rom. Folklore serves educational, evaluative, and prescriptive roles of major importance in the absence of writing and more formal education.

Medicine. There is some evidence that the Rom once possessed a rich body of folk medicines, remedies, and cures, most of which by now have fallen into disuse. There do not appear to have been any internally recognized medical specialists, although the older women served as multipurpose ethnopsychiatrists, herbalists, and curers for outside clients. Modern medicine is accepted, and in cases of serious illness the best physicians and hospitals are sought regardless of the cost or distance.

Death and Afterlife. Spirits of the dead are believed to survive death. The deceased are provided with money, a new suit of clothes, and travel necessities. Their spirits roam the earth for one year after death, retracing the steps traveled during life. The year after death is punctuated by a series of memorial feasts, with the last one after a year formally concluding the journey with a ceremony of "Opening the Road," presumably to heaven, raio, and the liberation of the spirit from any further earthly obligations. Anniversaries of death are also commemorated with food offerings, generally by an extra place setting at a table. There is no corresponding belief in hell. Death is considered as polluting, and the appearance of spirits of the dead is generally feared unless the one perceiving the ghost had an especially close and good relationship with the person while alive. Nevertheless, one's ancestors may be invoked to intercede on one's behalf at a time of great need. Those Rom who have recently become Pentecostals have renounced most of these beliefs and practices as "pagan."

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