Holy Fools


Here is a version I found of a holiday I can remember since I was young.. This story is basically the same as the one my family told me and their family told them. It also explains just a little bit of my culture's piece of the puzzle.



There was a time when the gods felt that fire was too dangerous to be used by humankind. In those days the Rom (male Gypsy) would jal a drom (travel the road) gladly through the summer, but cold and miserable were the winters.

One fine day, a tribe sat on some rocks about their atchin' tan, enjoying the warm day. The puridai (female Gypsy wise one) gazed up at the sun and said, "If only we had a piece of that, we could be warm all through the year."

Then young Bokka spoke up. He was the youngest son of the wagon wheel maker. "I will go and ask the gods for a piece of the sun," he said.


His older prals (brothers) laughed at him, but the puridai nodded gravely. "It would be good," she said.

Bokka took some of his mother's good, unbaked bread and set off on his journey. His travels took him over hill and dale, across rivers and streams, through woods and across fields. One day he was passing an old barn, at the corner of a Farmer's field, when he heard a small voice call out

"Good sir, please help me!"

Bokka stopped and looked into the barn. The building was used for storing corn and nuts and was three quarters filled with them but in the front, near the door, sat several very large traps. In one of these traps, held fast, lay a large, black rat.

"Did you call out to me?" Bokka asked.

The rat nodded. "I am caught in the farmer's trap;" he said, "You are a Romany, you know what it's like to be free. How would you like to be caught in a trap?"

"I wouldn't," said the young man. "But then I wouldn't get caught in the first place." He looked at the huge pile of grain and nuts. "Were you taking the farmer's s grain?" he asked.

"There is plenty there for all," the rat replied. "Grain is free. The gods give it to us. The farmer should not begrudge me my small portion."

"I agree," Bokka said, and quickly he knelt and opened the trap. The rat ran out.

"I thank you, kind Rom," said the creature. "My name is Yag. I am forever in your debt. Let me ride with you, on your shoulder, so that I may help you in any way I can along the way"

Bokka placed the rat on his shoulder and off they went. As he walked, Bokka explained his mission, to find the gods and ask for a piece of the sun. Yag vowed that he would help.


After much journeying, late one evening, Bokka spied the atchin' tan of the gods. Their bright, colorful vardos (Gypsy carved wagon) were drawn up in a circle in the middle of a large clearing in the woods. All of the gods sat around, eating and drinking, laughing and singing. And there, in the middle of the circle, Bokka saw a piece of the sun. It lay on the ground, throwing out its light and its heat. The gods had placed a pot filled with bubbling water over it and had several sushis (rabbits) and hotchiwitchis (hedgehogs) on long skewers, slowly cooking by its heat. Bokka's mouth watered at the smells and, even from the edge of the trees, he could feel the warmth coming front the piece of the sun.

"I must ask the gods to let me have some sun to take home to my tribe," he said.

Yag laughed. "They will not give any to you."


"But the sun is like the corn and the grain, the nuts and the fruits of the trees," Bokka said. "It is there for everyone."

"Then how is it you don't already have a piece of the sun?" Yag asked.

Bokka couldn't answer.

"Well." said the rat, looking at the unhappy young Gypsy, "I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask."

Bokka eagerly got to his feet and went forward into the ring of light. The gods looked up in surprise to see him approach.

"Greetings, Mighty ones," said Bokka, bowing his head. "I come to ask for a piece of the sun, to take home to my tribe. They are cold and would dearly love to have its heat."

The old puridai of the gods, a wizened old woman many centuries old, spoke. "You may eat and drink with us," she said. "But you may not take anything away with you."

Bokka, who had eaten little throughout his journey, sat and ate. Yag climbed down off his shoulder and gnawed on some vegetable roots. The gods watched in silence. Eventually Bokka once more got to his feet. "You arc certain I may not take some of the sun with me?" he asked, hopefully.

"We are certain." said the old woman.

As Bokka turned sadly to leave, Yag moved across to where a length of fennel stalk lay at the edge of the ashes. He grasped it in his teeth and ran off into the woods with it. The gods laughed. "Your young friend must indeed be hungry," they said. "Let him keep the fennel stalk."

As young Bokka trudged back into the woods, away from the gathering of the gods, he felt a tear fall upon his cheek. He had failed. He had set out so full of hopes but now they were shattered. He must return to the cries of derision he knew he would hear from his brothers.

It took many days to get back home to his tribe, but eventually Bokka came into the ring of vardos and saw the old familiar faces of family and friends. He took a breath. Now was the time to speak up and admit his failure.

"Here! Give them this," said a small voice.

Bokka looked down and saw Yag at his feet. The rat still held the fennel stalk between his teeth

"Give them that?" said Bokka. "But why?"

"Just do as I say," said Yag.

So Bokka took up the fennel stalk and moved forward to where his father and mother, his brothers, the puridai, and all the others awaited him.

"Here," he said, and held out the fennel stalk. As he did so, he noticed a small trail of gray-blue smoke curling up out of the end of it. Fennel, like the elder, has a soft, pith core inside its sturdier outer casing. This core smoldered with the fire of the sun.


There was much rejoicing as the smoldering fennel was blown upon and used to light straws and then wood. Soon a great pile of sun-fire was blazing in the Gypsy camp.

"How can I ever thank you?" Bokka asked of his furry friend.

"It was simply my return for what you did for me," said Yag.

But from that day to this, the Romany word for fire is Yag, named after the king of the Rats.

At midsummer, known as Shanti, a special fire is built by many Gypsy tribes. The night before midsummer's eve is spent in darkness, in remembrance of the days when there was no fire, with no warmth or comfort, or means of cooking. Everything is quiet and hushed. No singing, no revelry. Then, at first light the next morning, the Gypsy King, the tribal leader, lights a fire. A young boy then takes a faggot from that fire and goes around, from vardo to vardo, lighting all the other family fires.

A huge breakfast is cooked, with steaming mugs of tea, and singing, dancing, and general celebration follows.


Photographs on this page courtesy of: PhotoMythology, please visit their website to see many other wonderful images.


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