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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Feeling now quite satisfied that Gipsies were


now quite satisfied that Gipsies were, at one time, actually separated over the bodies of dead horses, and horses only, (for I could find no other animal named but horses,) I proceeded to have the fact confirmed by the direct testimony of the people themselves. And whether these horses were sacrificed expressly for such purposes, or whether the rites were performed over horses accidentally found dead, I could not discover till the year 1828. It occurred to me that the using of dead horses, in separating man and wife, was a remnant of some ancient ceremony, which induced me to persevere in my enquiries, for the purpose of ascertaining, if not the origin, at least the particulars, of so extraordinary a custom. In the year mentioned, and in the year following, I examined a Gipsy on the subject; a man of about sixty years of age, who, a few years before, had given me a specimen of his language. He said that he himself had witnessed the sacrifices and ceremonies attending the separation of husband and wife. From this man I received the following curious particulars relative to the sacrifice of horses and ceremony of divorce; which I think may be depended on, as I was very careful in observing that his statements, taken down at four different times, agreed with each other.

When the parties can no longer live together as husband and wife, and a separation for ever is finally determined on, a horse, without blemish, and in no manner of way lame, is led

forth to the spot for performing the ceremony of divorce. The hour at which the rites must be performed is, if possible, twelve o'clock at noon, "when the sun is at his height."[182] The Gipsies present cast lots for the individual who is to sacrifice the animal, and whom they call the priest, for the time. The priest, with a long pole or staff in his hand,[183] walks round and round the animal several times; repeating the names of all the persons in whose possession it has been, and extolling and expatiating on the rare qualities of so useful an animal. It is now let loose, and driven from their presence, to do whatever it pleases. The horse, perfect and free, is put in the room of the woman who is to be divorced; and by its different movements is the degree of her guilt ascertained. Some of the Gipsies now set off in pursuit of it, and endeavour to catch it. If it is wild and intractable, kicks, leaps dykes and ditches, scampers about, and will not allow itself to be easily taken hold of, the crimes and guilt of the woman are looked upon as numerous and heinous. If the horse is tame and docile, when it is pursued, and suffers itself to be taken without much trouble, and without exhibiting many capers, the guilt of the woman is not considered so deep and aggravated; and it is then sacrificed in her stead. But if it is extremely wild and vicious, and cannot be taken without infinite trouble, her crimes are considered exceedingly wicked and atrocious; and my informant said instances occurred in which both horse and woman were sacrificed at the same time; the death of the horse, alone, being then considered insufficient to atone for her excessive guilt. The individuals who catch the horse bring it before the priest. They repeat to him all the faults and tricks it had committed; laying the whole of the crimes of which the woman is supposed to have been guilty to its charge;

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