About that gypsy life.
"We lead strange lives, chasing our dreams from place to place"
-The Night Circus.
The words "gypsy" and "boho" are thrown around incessantly in terms of contemporary fashion and lifestyle trends these days. Its easy to adopt the slang uses of these terms into modern vocabulary to refer to the way artsy, fashionable, and adventurous people behave... But where do these words really come from, and what do they really mean???
I'm learning that words are extremely powerful, and the idea that words bring thought forms into physical manifestation is one of the oldest forms of magic. Therefore, without taking myself too seriously, I like to at least decode the words I use to describe myself before placing labels on myself or others... even if I decide in the end that its fun to keep using the slang, its good to get an idea of where words come from!
Let´s start by decoding the words gypsy and bohemian.
A Gypsy in the dictionary is defined literally as a member of a people scattered throughout Europe and North America, who maintain a nomadic way of life in industrialized societies, specifically those who migrated from North West India beginning in the 9th century.
The word dates back to 1505, a slang version of the word gipcyan, which was a slang version of the word Egyptian. It stemmed, from a belief that Gypsies came originally from Egypt.
Now, the dictionary implies that Gypsy with a capital G refers to the ethnicity, where gypsy with a lowercase g is more a modern slang for a person who looks or behaves like a Gypsy in the way they dress or live, with regards to "freedom or inclination to move from place to place.
You may quickly notice a pattern of layering slang on top of slang to get the definition for gypsy that we use most commonly in modern western culture. Interestingly, the word bohemian is very similar in that regard.
When I read on about the meaning of the word Gypsy in ancient culture, the dictionary alludes to the fact that in Middle French they were called Bohémien, which leads to our modern word Bohemian.
Bohemia refers to a region in the West Czech Republic, and Bohemian with a capital B refers to people of that ethnic culture.
Again, bohemian with a lowercase b became slang for a person, such as an artist or writer, who lives free of regard for conventional rules and practices, or someone who is living a wandering or vagabond life, like a Gypsy.
They go on to define bohemian as "a descriptive term for a stereotypical way of life for artists and intellectuals who live in material poverty because they prefer their art or their learning over material goods. They are also unconventional in habits and dress, and sometimes in morals."
To take it a step further into slang terms, over the last ten years, the words gypsy and bohemian have become more commonplace than ever as its become very fashionable to adapt their stereotypes into fashion and lifestyle trends. Bohemian or "boho chic" is one of the most commonly searched keywords on the internet, leading to blogs and shopping destinations for gypsy and hippie style clothing, accessories and artwork... And while I LOVE the carefree, earthy, and artsy lifestyle trends, I can't help but guess that most kids who are following these trends haven't the slightest clue of the history behind it...
So why do I call myself a gypsy?
I like the word gypsy because for me, it represents a highly eclectic lifestyle, derived from every culture that inspires me, all rolled into one big bundle of artsy, thrifty, do-it-yourself joy!
As an "African-American" with little knowledge of my genetic ancestry, I've pretty much had to make up my own "culture" as I've gone along. Where many of my friends know exactly what their ethnicity and traditions are, I consider myself to be a world-citizen, adopting the parts of everyone's culture that I feel connected to.
My parents were a pretty outside-of-the-box couple who branched out and lived very different lives from their parents and siblings. My dad was part of the 80s and 90s "Black Power" movement, and my mom was friends with a diverse group of characters in New York City, where she picked up lots of eclectic, Eastern, Back-to-Africa, hippie, gypsy and bohemian tidbits. She calls it her "Soul to Soul" days.
While they were raised Christian, my parents converted to Islam when I was a year old, and even following that religious tradition, we were still very much our own version of "Muslims." Black American Islam is a very different culture from Arabic Islam, and to be honest, we didn't 100% follow the traditions of either one.
My mom home-schooled us for many years, and did her best to teach us an alternative education, health habits, and inquisitive mindset. We were not permitted to partake in American traditions like Christmas, Easter, or Halloween, but we came up with our own excuses to get dressed up and be festive! We weren't particularly wealthy growing up, so I combined my passion for whimsical art with sewing and craft lessons from my mother to create a unique sense of fashion. That knack for turning trash into treasure has never left me.
During my preteen years, I began attending public school, and around the same time, my family separated from the Mosque over disputes about what it meant to be a "Muslim." In the midst of these two major lifestyle changes, I found myself with a world of opportunity to question who I was, what I believed in, and how I could choose to represent myself in society. That journey to learn to "know myself" continued in varying degrees through high school and college, but really came to a head at age 23, after my parents divorced.
At that time, I had what New Age people like to call my "2012 Awakening," and I decided to strip myself clean of everything I thought I "knew" about life, health, history, religion, career options, friendships, and everything in between. I threw myself full-fledged into learning everything anew, not condemning any tradition, culture, or concept, but eclectically taking the positive aspects from all of them.
Now, at age 26, I've lived in about 20 different temporary residences and explored a wide variety of outside-the-box careers, fashion, art, health, and spiritual philosophies. Over the years, I've lived a nomadic life, never living in the same place for more than a hand full of years, something I inherited from my father. I've sold nearly everything but the clothes on my back at times, and started fresh in so many different ways... but I've learned that certain things about me always stick.
What makes me a "gypsy" is that I know what its like to give up stability in favor of exploration, traded "fitting in" for expressing who I am in my soul, turned trash into treasure, learned to make anywhere my home, and pinned bits and pieces of all the world's traditions to my backpack along the way. While I'm really not that big into labels, I'm drawn to the word "gypsy" because the modern use of it feels magical, collective, creative, spiritual, and expansive in unlimited ways.
Now, as I'm actively choosing to spread roots in one spot and learning what it really means to have a "home," I'm opening myself up to the possibilities of even more expansion in areas of my life other than having a new zip code every six months. It feels good to be able to manifest my eclectic lifestyle on the walls of a more permanent dwelling place, and to have the freedom of expression that comes along with that stability.
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