The Roma culture is vast and complex representing the diversity of the people who make up this group. While the term “gypsy” might be considered offensive to the Romani, unfortunately it is the misnomer that is commonly used to refer to this population. I feel that is why Claude Lecouteux used the title The Dictionary of Gypsy Mythology: Charms, Rites, and Magical Traditions of the Roma.
While this book is chiefly a dictionary, there is an interesting introduction and a section at the end of the book which includes four relevant folktales (The Great Flood, The White Hind, The Mountain if Cats, the Fiancée of the Phuvus). The content has been thoroughly researched with footnotes and references to substantiate the text. However, much of the information is based on the works of the ethnologist, folklorist Henrich von Wlislocki who traveled throughout parts of Europe in the late 1800s, collecting the oral Roma traditions and then adapting the stories for a Non-Romani audience.
Lecouteux shares with us the belief that the Roma actually came from India, not Egypt, based on the linguistical patterns of their language, although these nomadic people traveled throughout Europe starting in the ninth century reaching Scandinavia by the 1500s. The author, a professor at the Sorbonne specializing in Medieval history, doesn’t deal with the sordid details of the treatment of these people by the residents of the towns they visited or settled, but focuses mainly on the cultural aspects of this society via an alphabetical listing of various relevant terms including lengthier mythological stories. There is a wealth of illustrations, a list of transcriptions and pronunciations, and various songs, nursery rhymes, and magical traditions interspersed throughout. At times the text is choppy but that may be due to the translation by Jon E Graham or by the decision to use “authentic wording”.
An extensive bibliography plus recommendations for books of possible further interest for the reader round out this comprehensive tome.
While I would have appreciated a smoother text and even more of the folklore, this is definitely a much needed addition to the neglected subject of the Romani People so I’m giving it four stars.
A thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Inner Traditions, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.