Patron saint of the Romani honoured in Hamilton

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HAMILTON, On. – A celebration in honour of Sara e Kali, patron saint of the Romani people, will be held at the Willow Cove Pavillion, in Confederation Park, located in Hamilton, Ontario.

This event is the vision of organizer John “Corvus” Huculiak. He instigated this celebration of the saint, after attending a retreat at Brushwood: “She came to me during a ritual. The feelings of security and passion were overwhelming, and [I] made an oath to fashion her effigy, align her current to where I lived, and have a one-time celebration to welcome her to the sacred geography of Hamilton.”

That “one-time celebration” was in 2014, and this year marks the fifth annual public celebration hosted by Huculiak and the Kali Sara Hamilton committee.

Hamilton has a vibrant Pagan community, with many traditions and paths present. Huculiak is an active participant, and this event enjoys the support of people from many backgrounds. “The Hamilton Pagan community is very open to most traditions, Pagan or not,” he explained, with particular support coming from the Wiccan Church of Canada. “Hamilton has been supportive of the Kali Sara Hamilton events. I am supportive of their endeavours. All of the Hamilton community, and many outside the Hamilton Pagan community, come to Hamilton Pagan Pride Day every year. It is one of the largest PPDs in Canada.”

For Huculiak, the celebration is also very important to his own journey, and family history: “Kali Sara is the saint of my blood. She heals the collective shame some of my relatives had being Romani in Canada, reconnecting me to the richness of my Romani ancestry. When I see her, I smile and know my father’s ancestors are smiling with us. She is celebrated communally, so I am able to share her mystery with others, apart from their faith, but together in music, song, dance, and joy!”

Event organizer John “Corvus” Huculiak, and Sara e Kali [Alen W Greene].

Celebrations of this saint occur worldwide, across Europe, India, and the Americas. Brazil has a notable celebration for her, but the most famous and most historic is the one in France, at the village of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. Every May, on or around the 25th, thousands of Romani from Europe and around the world gather in the town to carry the black statue of Sara e Kali from her resting place in the cellar of the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer to the sea.

The statue is placed on a pedestal, bedecked in beautiful fabric, and offerings of flowers are placed at her feet. She is carried on the shoulders of her worshippers to the Mediterranean Sea, where she is submerged, before being returned to the church. The whole procession is accompanied by the sounds of Romani music and dance.

The exact connection between Romani people and Sara e Kali, like her origin, is shrouded in mystery. There are legends that she was Sara, the Egyptian servant of Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobe and Mary Salome who fled Palestine after the crucifixion of Christ. Sara supported the Marys, by traveling around, begging for alms. There is another myth that she saved them from drowning, by spreading her cloak on the water, when their boat was sinking.

Sara became the patron saint of sailors, wanderers, the disenfranchised, and the Romani. She is known by many names, in many regions. The Black Madonna, Sara-la-Kali, Sara Black, Sara Brown and Santa Sara Cigana are a few.

The festivities in Hamilton will reflect the customs of the celebrations in France. The day will begin at 10:00 am with the arrival of the statue of Sara e Kali. This effigy was created in 2012, and has been a part of the Hamilton community’s reverence for her ever since. The day will include music and dance performances by Troupe Obskurah, Paromita Kar, Leanna Mendolia, Jozsef & Daniel Botos, and many more.

Ritual offerings to the saint are also part of the proceedings, as Huculiak explains: “With Santa Sara e Kali Cigana mysteries, we also offer her cloaks and fabric to dress her, but also [to] remind us of her act of casting the cloak upon the violent waters to allow calm and safe harbour.

“To layer this further, one must think of what works for all people, whether celebrating in India, France, Brazil or Canada — what each can freely offer her — the symbols of life and vibrancy, which both fabric and flowers, and the music and dance, offer. Though coins and jewelry are also fair offerings to her, the price of devotion should not be one paid in gold, but with hard currencies of spirit, passion, talent, and hard work.”

The statue of Sara e Kali at Lake Ontario, 2017 [Alen W Greene].

The ritual parts of the day start at noon with a water purification and cleansing of hands. Ritual elements will be interspersed with entertainment until the climax of the day at 4:30, when the effigy of Sara e Kali is carried on a litter to the shores of Lake Ontario. The procession will be accompanied by dancers and drummers, including Witchdoctor Utu of the Dragon Ritual Drummers.

Says Huculiak: “The event itself is a collaborative affair with dancers, musicians, speakers, and ritualists all coming together to celebrate the unique blending of culture, history, and faith through Sara e Kali. I was blessed that Dr. Lee. . .  Canada’s leading authority on the Romani culture and history, lives in Hamilton, and he and his wife are also familiar with Kali Sara and the Neopagan scene. I met with him a few times regarding the celebration, and he became a strong supporter to the endeavour. . . .

“Dr. Paromita Kar [is an] amazingly talented and skilled dancer. . . .  The artist who was not in attendance but is a part of the event each year, is Émilie Boisvert, who we have to thank for the custom-designed Kali Sara Hamilton picture we use each year, and on the devotional cards. We are gifted to have them, and all the performers each year.”

The sharing of this celebration will continue into the future, and Huculiak is already looking ahead to expanding and growing next year:” What truly started as a one-off event, paid with the change I found wandering from here to there, has become a yearly event. Now it’s year five, I finally have others helping me plan this labour of love! We can now apply for funding and grants offered by various organizations, as we have passed the five year mark as an independent initiative.”

The openness and inclusivity of the event, and Huculiak’s attitude, is a fitting tribute to Sara e Kali. Huculiak’s tangible enthusiasm for his saint and his community is contagious as he describes Sara e Kali’s effect on those who meet her: “There is truly something with Sara e Kali that is unifying. We can trace her history, see how she adapted to new lands and new cultures, and yet she maintained her mysteries.

“Even [for] those who are undecided about their own path, she . . . non-judgmental, a champion of the disenfranchised, approachable, and loves what most of us love: community, celebration, and experiencing life! Come join us on May 26th if you can, check us out on social media, and may Kali Sara hear your prayers!”