An Ancient Bird


In Norse mythology Odin has two pet ravens: Hugin and Munin- thought and memory accordingly. Each day they leave Odin and return from "Midgard," (literal meaning: middle enclosure) the mortal realm.

Here at the Soul Food Cafe 'Ravens' regularly 'return' from 'Midgard' to roost in this virtual haven, bringing with them, from their mortal worlds, many thoughts and memories.

Meet Gail Kavanagh


Gail Kavanagh has been writing and drawing ever since she could hold a pen. Writing and art are both an escape, and a way of making sense of the world, of seeking out the truth. Born an Irish traveler, Gail now lives in Queensland, Australia. Her family is her greatest joy, and often her inspiration for digital art, painting, poetry and even blog creation.

Gail Kavanagh Online

Creative Fire
We do not know how, why or even when life began. We do not know how, why or when human life began, or how it evolved from its earliest ancestors to the forms we wear today. We guess at reasons for brown, blue, round and almond eyes - flat, straight or large noses - different hair colours, mouth and lip shapes, ears, languages.

But one thing seems clear. The same creative fire that infused a dead planet with life burns in us. From the earliest times, the desire to create has been a driving force.
Gail Kavanagh
I was born in Cobh, Ireland in 1946, into a traveller family. I travelled with fairs, circuses and shows until the early 70s, when I married and settled down to raise seven beautiful Aussie children. Today I live on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia, and spend my time doing crafts, art and occasional paid writing gigs. The slower life (after having to make a living as a journalist) is lovely, and suits me to a T.

I have been a member of Heather Blakey's Soul Food Cafe for some time now, and have set up a Gypsy Camp within its boundaries. Soul Food, and Heather Blakey's beautiful world of Lemuria, have been an inspiration to me, helping me create poetry out of my chaotic life.
Traveller Rose
It may seem like the height of arrogance for someone unknown to write her story and publish it on the web - but it is precisely these memories of unknown, everyday people that are lost in the passage of time. What we would give for some insight into the lives lived by those whose stories were never told - history records the deeds of the great and the infamous, but some of us yearn to know how the baker, the candlestick maker, and perhaps even the unremembered entertainer, the traveller who passed by and didn't leave a name or a forwarding address, lived their days.

Traveller Rose is the pen name of one of those who passed by - maybe it was your town. Maybe you will recall a skinny traveller child - or `chavvie' in the palari, the language of the travellels - who moved on as quickly as she arrived - there may have been a visit from the circus, a variety show at the local theatre, or a noisy fairgound. These are the stories, of those events, those places, that child and the world she knew, the people, the performers, the laughter and the adventures. This is for her children or grandchildren, really - but also for anyone who wants to sit a while in the caravan, with a mug of hot,strong tea, and hear the tales.

*Traveller Rose is Gail Kavanagh, a writer living in Queensland, Australia. Born a traveller in Cobh, Ireland, in 1946, Gail is writing this blog so that her memories of a world long vanished, so the memories don't vanish along with it.
Lemurian Star Gazers
Gather here on starry nights to discuss astrology.
Lemurian Gypsy Camp
The theories of Romany Origins have been many; they are the lost tribe of Israel, they were Egyptian (hence `gypsies') - they have even been suggested to be interstellar wanderers from another planet. But it seems that genetic scientists have finally nailed it - the Romany come from India.

Right here in Oz, at the University of Western Australia, Professor Luba Kalaydjieva and her team discovered the origin of the Rom by studying the DNA of up to 10 million European Gypsies.

The study has been going on for 10 years, and is the best evidence yet of the true origin of the Gypsy.

How the Roma Celebrated Christmas in the former Czechoslovakia


Since Christmas is a religious holiday, Roma all over the world celebrate it according to their chosen religion. Christmas is the main holy day for Catholics and Protestants, while Eastern Orthodox Christians place greater emphasis on celebrating Easter or the New Year.

Czech and Slovak Roma call Christmas Karachonya (or Karachon) and their celebrations display a number of elements derived from the respective majority societies around them, along with their own Romani traditions, some of which even reflect their centuries-old Indian origins.

Among the traditions in which Romani Christmas differs from Czech Christmas are forgiving and reconciliation, and remembering deceased relatives.

Forgiving and reconciliation are very important for Roma, because during the time when the Roma were a completely isolated, they had to have strong solidarity within the group. They were entirely dependent on the community in which they lived, so they could have no dissension. The Roma therefore made use of the Christmas season to reinforce the relationships between members of the family or community. This custom finds expression in idioms found in all Roma groups which are inseparably connected to the Christmas holidays:

O Roma penge tele muken.
Roma forgive.
O Roma jekh avres phiren te mangel, kaj leske te odmukel.
Roma go to each other to beg forgiveness and be forgiven.
O Roma, kaj save te ulahas rushte, pre Karachonya penge odmuken u aven pale lachhe.
Roma, though they be the worst enemies, forgive and are reconciled during Christmas.
Sar shaj jivas, te na janas jekh avreske te odmukel? How could we live at all, if we didn't learn to forgive each other.

Remembering deceased relatives at Christmas is connected to the belief among the Roma that a person's soul survives them and exists after the body's departure in the next world. The Romani word for the souls of their dead ancestors is mule and they try to be on good terms with them, since the mule can also harm them. During Christmas Roma placate them by leaving them food on the windowsill or in the corner of the room, so they won't haunt them. Roma also talk about their deceased relatives and remeber them over Christmas.

During Advent Roma would prepared for coming christmas holidays - cleaning, the women would whitewash the walls and then the last step would be fixing up the floor - because they didn't have a wooden floor, they would spread yellow clay as a floor. During Advent the Roma would also trying to get enough food for the Christmas holidays, which is why Roma children looked so forward to Christmas - finally once a year they could eat to their heart's content! Roma musicians practiced the songs they would play to the farmers on Christmas night under their windows, and Roma boys learned to exchange best wishes - in other words pass on wishes for good health and fortune for the coming New Year.

For Christmas Eve Roma use the word Velija or Vilija. Just like Czechs, Roma would fast on this day. The strictness of this fast varied, however - in some amilies they simply didn't eat meat until the evening, in others they ate nothing but baked potatoes all day. Christmas Eve dinner was always prepared by the mother, who would be helped by her daughters. The decoration of the Christmas tree was always the responsibility of the boys. Before dinner the father or oldest member of the family would give a speech, and after that a toast and blessing and a remembrance of the dead. Candles would be lit for them and food from each course put in a bowl and set on the window sill or in the corner for them.

For Christmas Eve dinner Roma most often ate cabbage, beans with plums, potatoes, pishot (pastries stuffed with boiled potatoes) and boblaky (buns sprinkled with poppy seeds and soaked in milk). In some areas, Roma went around exchanging best wishes immediately after Christmas Eve dinner, in others they didn't do so until Christmas Day. Romani men and boys went from house to house, so as not to leave anyone out, and exchanged their wishes for health and good fortune. During these rounds, Roma would also forgive each other, because as the older Roma say: when Roma stick together, neither hunger, poverty, nor evil can destroy them.

Christmas Day became a day of Christmas feasting, during which Roma gathered together and ate, even meat. During these banquets the Roma would once again be exchanging best wishes, and singing old Romani songs.

Source: Romano Dzaniben, no. 4, 1995.


The Rookery - Day Three

Come out to the Gypsy Camp under the apple trees at Riversleigh Manor and take a seat around the campfire. There are a couple of plump hens turning on the spit, and plenty of roast potatoes nestling in the ashes.

A Traveller's Christmas


The Kavanghs outside the bus in which we had our first Christmas. Dad built the interior, that's why he looks so proud!

Long ago I promised to tell Kezza some stories about a Traveller's Christmas. Come out to the Gypsy Camp under the apple trees at Riversleigh Manor and take a seat around the campfire. There are a couple of plump hens turning on the spit, and plenty of roast potatoes nestling in the ashes. Old Granny Bridget Kavanagh has boiled a Christmas pudding in her big iron pot, and the tea is strong and black, the way Travellers like it. When everyone is comfortable, I'll start the storytelling by plucking a few memories out of the starry night...


Taken around 1948-9. The photo shows the family wagons and vehicles with a set of swinging boats.

A Traveller's Christmas in Ireland Late 40's

In the depths of an Irish winter, with snow piled up to the axles, a group of caravans huddled together on Christmas Eve. There was no electricity, so no fairy lights shone in the windows. There was little room inside, so there were no laden Christmas trees with piles of parcels underneath. But there were paper chains and the odd decoration dangling from an overhead locker. The presents - and there were few enough of them - were in  the lockers under the seats. Everyone in the camp was crowded into the largest caravan, an old wooden showman's trailer, which had the distinction of a coal stove to keep it warm. It was too cold for a campfire, but we children, piled on a bunk and plied with cake and lemonade, didn't mind that. Father Christmas was no fool - he could find an Eskimo igloo in a snowstorm, our Grannies said, so he could find us.

The adults sat round the table at the other end of the wagon, sharing a warming drop of something we weren't allowed to have, and waiting for the mince pies in the oven. None of our parents had ovens- my mother cooked on a simple Primus stove, so a treat like this was something to get excited about. The fragrant spice smell drove us mad.

We were all sleepy, but determined to stay awake late. No one chided us. We made it to the mince pies and a glass of milk then we nodded off one by one and were taken to our own beds. Once, instead, we were taken to midnight mass, but all I remember of it was seeing with pleasure that the empty cradle in the manger had been filled with a plaster baby after we came out.

On Christmas morning I was woken by our dog Moffie licking my face and begging to be let out. Moffie was privileged for a traveller dog - she got to sleep in the caravan on my bed, keeping me warm while the other dogs slept in the trucks. There was a small pile of parcels at the end of my bed, but I let the dog out first before I started tearing off the wrapping. What kind of presents did a traveller child get in the late 40s? I remember getting a doll I had seen on a shooting gallery stall - my father went down there one night and won it for me. There might be a skipping rope - or the latest craze I was mad for, a yoyo - there would be a bar of chocolate, and a scarf knitted by the Grannie, a doll's tea set or a cheap tin toy. Sometimes the uncles would get something together for me, like the year they traded something for an old tricycle and got it back in working order. Later on I got books and jigsaw puzzles, craft sets and one big present every year, like a bike or a set of roller skates. These were usually second hand, but I didn't mind. It was no more and no less than every other traveller child got.

Christmas Day was spent in the usual fashion - sledding and throwing snowballs and building snowmen. If there was a church nearby, we children might be hauled off by the Grannies.Dinner was usually a joint of bacon, or in lean times, wild rabbit - with roast jacket potatoes, cabbage and whatever else could be scrounged. Winter was not a `fat' time as the elders often said - but we made do on whatever we could get. But there was always pudding and custard, as even a Primus stove could cope with these.

Local farmers could be astonishingly generous at Christmas, exchanging eggs, butter and bread in return for a bit of labour around the farm. Traveller children were always given extra treats, such as mince pies and cake, and a glass of warm milk to keep out the cold. The farmer's wife sometimes passed on old toys and clothes as well, which helped to swell the number of parcels on Christmas morning. In return she got sharp knives, mended pots and shoes, a tidy yard and baskets and clothes pegs.

During the warmer months there was plenty of work, and plenty of carnivals and fairs across the country, but in the winter it was much harder to make a living. The Kavanaghs had a touring show which they put on at halls in the villages, and gratefully accepted food for an entrance fee when the farmers were strapped for cash as well. Tea was especially welcome. I think it was thrift that started the traveller tradition of strong black tea- the dregs were never thrown away, just reboiled with another teaspoon of leaves added to the pot.

Christmas night was pretty much a repeat of Christmas Eve, the children finishing off the cake while the adults drank their strong tea and told stories by the light of a kerosene lamp.


Mum and Dad, from the first production of Sinbad the Sailor atClochester. They are Little Beaver and Maree.

First Christmas in England, Early 50s

My father was determined to have a turkey that year - a big turkey, with stuffing - and something else - feathers. We weren't sure why he was so insistent on feathers, but as he said he'd pluck the bird himself, Mum agreed. After all, she had a brand new oven in which to cook the bird.

We didn't have an oven when we lived and travelled in Ireland. In the early caravans and motor home that Dad built, there wasn't room for a cooking stove, so Mum had made do with a campfire and a Primus, a single burner kerosene stove. No oven, no grill - but when we moved to England in the early 50s and Dad bought an old Sunshine Coach to renovate into a motor home, the only thing Mum asked for was a kitchen and a stove that ran on bottled gas.

We were living just outside Manchester at the time and there were still some farms in the area, so Dad placed his order for the bird. It was a fine big one, and Dad remarked that the turkey's feathers were `just what he was after.' No accounting for taste.

We collected the bird on Christmas Eve and Dad plucked it thoroughly, sitting outside the coach in the freezing air. He carefully placed all the feathers in old pillowcases, separating them into fluffy down feathers, long wing feathers and so on. Then he handed over the nude bird to be stuffed and cooked.

Disaster! It was too big for the oven. Mum had no choice but to remove the legs and wings and cook them separately. Dinner was late, but it was delicious. Our first Christmas Turkey! In Ireland we had always had rabbit (if there was no money that year, and all we had to rely on was the hunting skills of Dad's late, and dearly loved, greyhound Moffie) or a joint of bacon. The latter was not to be sniffed at, but I sincerely hoped the former would never cross my plate again.

When the new year came round, we finally learned what Dad wanted with all those feathers. He started fashioning them into a war bonnet to wear in the sharp shooting act.

Christmas 1961

The lives of travellers and performers are often uncertain. In the lead up to Christmas that year there had been little work available, and my parents were completely broke. My mother had stashed a few presents away, but Christmas Day still looked like a dismal prospect with no Christmas dinner to look forward to, and probably no place to camp either. We were constantly on the move, hoping things would get better, and then, quite suddenly, they did. My father spoke to a theatre producer called Edwin Hicks, and scored a booking into a first run panto called Sinbad the Sailor. It was to open at the Colchester Hippodrome on Boxing Day. So the day before Christmas Eve, we arrived at the theatre, found a camp spot nearby and it would all have looked rosy, except that we still had no money.

But with six weeks of work and a New Year pay day in the offing, Dad pawned his camera for £7.10s and on Christmas Eve, Mum hit the Colchester shops like a tiger, buying up last minute bargains in Christmas goodies.

``She’s happy as a cricket,” Dad said fondly as we set off. We scoured the market for tangerines, those sweet fruit (called mandarines in Australia) that were only available at Christmas. As it was running late, Mum even managed to get her turkey at a lower price. Christmas that year was all it should be, with turkey and pudding on the table, and a pile of presents at the foot of the bed.

In the New Year, pay day ensured Dad got his camera back from the pawn shop. More luck followed, because the innovative panto, with its exotic theme that was so different from the familiar fairy tales, was a smash hit and continued for many Christmases after - I even made my stage debut one year. Dad took on a regular role as the Lord High Executioner, one he relished as he got to wear a black mask and wield a prop axe over the head of the Principal Boy, as we called the star of the show. The Principal Boy, of course, was always a girl - until the innovative Edwin got the idea of putting a muscular and handsome young tenor in the part and made Sinbad the most popular panto that year.


Gail and Maree outside a cafe in Barcelona, trying to look local!

Almost Christmas in Barcelona 1963

In November 1963, we were in Barcelona with the Spanish Circo Americano. Spaniards love Christmas - it was the first time I had seen such glitter and abundance as the Barcelona shops lit up and the Ramblas (the main shopping street) became a fairy land of lights. The decorations were unbelievably elaborate, with the most gorgeous little nativity scenes. I had to have one to take home with me. The Christmas cards were like nothing I had ever seen before - not the plain folded cards with robins and Victorian carol singers on the front, but exquisite concoctions of paper lace and gilded edges. It was Christmas lover's paradise. In Spain, it was the Three Kings and not Santa Claus who delivered the Christmas presents for the Children on Twelfth Night. Alas, I was not there to see that - but I might not have been able to wait that long for my presents anyway! We returned to England in December, and Christmas was spent at Portsmouth with the panto Sinbad the Sailor. I gave everyone the beautiful cards I had bought in Spain, but kept one to treasure for myself.

Gypsy Camp Activities

Make sure to revisit the Soul Food Silk Road Adventure Calendar and find more Gypsy Camp activities.

Read Tarot With Priscilla


Priscilla Reading Tarot
photograph by Mari Mann

Check out Raven's Tarot Site and look online for a free Tarot reading. Share your revelations at the Lemurian Gypsy Camp. Tarot can be a wonderful inspiration for writing. Experiment and try Tarot Narrative. If you don't want to share your reading, pick three cards at random and write a story, incorporating the meanings of the cards.

While you are at the Gypsy Camp, read your tea leaves visit the poet's forge and hammer an unfinished poem or story into shape. Post it at the forge and share your sweat and tears with the tribe.