A Very Cyprian Intermission

A Very Cyprian Intermission

This week’s post is a departure from the current series in which I explore the archetypes in ‘Whisperer in the Darkness’ and the magical tech that intersects with this tale from H.P. Lovecraft. 

This post falls on the feast days of Saint Cyprian and as such, I have dedicated myself to the study of his book and towards communicating with the Saint of all Necromancers.

I will freely admit, because I think candor in magical failure is important, that I only started working with Saint Cyprian at the beginning of 2017, when Ghostly Harmless tuned me into the Rune Soup podcast and as the premium membership courses were initiated shortly thereafter. I went through the motions, bought the candle, said his prayers, but largely he was very very quiet. It wasn’t so much that I felt nothing as I felt a very specific absence of a presence. My magical nadir this year, which coincided with the Great American Eclipse, had me almost giving up, I had stopped lighting his candle and had stopped trying to reach out.

Then came his feast days, I decided it was a good time to give it another shot, so I erected a very prominent altar to Cyprian on the feast day of Cyprian of Carthage and have been lighting novenas, saying prayers to Cyprian of Antioch, and reading nothing but the Book of Saint Cyprian and the Cyprianic legends in Jose Leitao’s ‘The Immaterial Book of Saint Cyprian’. 

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This is what I have learned.

The first thing that I didn’t expect when I began to read the Book of Saint Cyprian was his alignment with my current obsession, the Cthulhu Mythos. Hold on, hold on, I can hear those incredulous guffaws right through the internet. Just hear me out. Take the below quote that I pulled from ‘The Book of Saint Cyprian: The Sorcerer’s Treasure’ from Hadean Press:

“The Heterodoxy, of course, is not really restricted to these old records, as even today the typical canonical Cyprian legend can be contaminated with echoes from these flexible original practices. With regards to Cyprian’s Antioch, for example, one should know that Antioquia is also. Mythical city sunken in the Galician Lagoa de Antela (province of Ourense), on the upper basin of the Limia River, the river the Romans took to be the Lethe. In this sense one must keep in mind that when a Galician reads the orthodox Antiochian tale of Saint Cyprian, he might be reading something else entirely, adding a random variable to the fixed canonical practice.”

What I am reading in this passage is that Saint Cyprian is the highest priest in the land that is intimately in touch with the spirit world, with ghosts, with monsters, and demons. He is the high priest of xenomorphs, criptids, and pnuemamorphs that also comes from a ‘mythical’ drowned city. To this researcher, Saint Cyprian has a distinct Cthulhuean shape.

The next piece of wisdom I learned from ‘The Book’, and I hesitate to call this magical tech because it had such a profound impact on how I think about my practice, comes from Cyprian’s interactions with the spirit world, particularly those spirits that one might be quick to bind, banish, or run screaming from:

“Regarding ghosts that appear at crossroads, or souls from the spiritual world, who by commandment from God come to this corporeal world seeking prayers and purification from the mistakes they committed in this world against God Our Lord, and as thus sent to mortify its creatures and appear to them as ghosts so as to be prayed for; however, instead of prayers some men banish and curse them; a great error of humanity!”

This is a revelation to me and filled in a gap in my model that I did not know was there. I have felt since invoking the Four Kings for the first time this past Beltane, that the door was now open to me to travel down magical paths that I had previously been terrified to walk. I felt, wrongly, that because of that one ritual I would be immune or as Gordon White phrases it, ‘invincible’ when facing any spirit or demon. My readings of Cyprian this week, and I will refer to this again later, have shown me that not even Cyprian was beyond feeling the terror that spirits and ghosts, especially those with violent or malicious intent, instill in the human animal. What the above phrase tells me, however, is that if one is to walk the path laid out by the Book and by the sorcerer Saint, one must take it as a matter of duty to call on, speak to, and seek out any and all spirits, to stand and face them, and through your terror and their malevolence and chaos, derive from them what they need to find a kind of peace, to be absolved.

Come with me as I dig a bit further into Cyprian-level interactions with the spirit world. How does the Book answer the question, ‘What even am ghosts?’:

“They are visions that appear to certain individuals, possessors of weak spirit and a strong belief that the souls of those who have ceased to exist still visit this world. For ghosts only appear to those who believe in spiritual beings and not to the incredulous, for they would have no advantage in doing so; on the contrary, they would only receive curses.”

If a spirit, demon, or ghost appears to you, or manifests their presence in some way, it is because it is to that spirit’s advantage to do so, or their perceived advantage.

Let me explain that last bit, about perceived advantage. 

I grew up on a dairy farm in the northwestern corner of Illinois, that farm and my grandparents, particularly my grandmother, are so deeply ingrained into my psyche that I regularly visit the farm in my dreams. Wether this is an astral projection to the real place or, as Lovecraft would likely view it, a visit to a version of the farm that exists in a dream dimension is immaterial. The fact is that it is my ‘dream place’, an anchor that I return to again and again. 

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These visits, since my grandmother passed away, have become increasingly terrifying. Mostly quiet terror, the type that jars you with a realization that a spirit is present, you know the kind. My grandmother will be there and our interaction will be relatively normal, but then she will give me a sign, something odd, that she is in fact there but not among the living, but a type of dream ghost.

I’ve been operating under the assumption that she is still there in her house, which is dilapidated now, by her own choice. She did love the place. Following this past Decan ritual, however, I paid a visit to this place and for the first time my wife and kids were with me. My daughter ran into the second story bedroom where my Grandma used to sleep and all kinds of poltergeist hell broke loose, the rooms turned black, things started flying through the air, I ran in and grabbed her and my wife and son grabbed me and we were physically pushed out of the room in a very definite fashion.

I awoke with the feeling that my grandmother-as-a-spirit had transitioned from a form that recognized what she used to look like to something altogether more elemental, a force of raw anger, just dark and violent anger. She was never like that in life, so it got me thinking of the evolution of ghosts and spirits, of how, as time passes, they loose track of what it is they want and their perception of what they need from the living (for instance for them to GTFO) is not what they really want. The Book of Saint Cyprian really brings this idea home for me:

“Take heed, my brothers, these words do not come from the tip of my pen, but rather inspired from the depths of my heart! When a vision appears before you do not banish it, for it will curse you, it will damage all your businesses and all in your life will go sour; however, when you feel such a vision resort to the... Orison for the good spirits, for you will immediately relive that beggar who asks for alms from all charitable people... Pray, pray for those poor spirits, and call upon them in all your dealings and in everything you so choose that you will always be successful; this I swear.
Fortunate is the creature that is pursued by spirits, for it is certain that this is a good person and spirits pursue her so that she will pray to the Lord on their behalf, for she is worthy to be heard by the Creator...”

"Fortunate is the creature that is pursued by spirits..."

That phrase more than any other is what really turned my thinking around. I read a lot of accounts of hag attacks and other spirit contact where the writer conveys a sense of evil or maliciousness to the spirit. I subscribed to this view as well, which is why the dream contact from my grandmother troubled me so much. She was never malicious and I don’t believe that was her intent, but that certainly was the ‘feel’ I got from that experience and anyone else that might contact her in this state was certainly level banishments and curses upon her as if she were a nameless violent poltergeist. To view the spirit world through a Cyprian lens, to see them as he saw them as as his book prescribes, is to understand that my grandmother is still my grandmother and that her current manifestation is just an extension of her emotions and confusion and her need for contact.

The next bit of ‘tech’, and this I think I can call tech safely, that I learned from reading the Book and meditating on Cyprian was his particular method of cartomancy. If you are not familiar with the book, cartomancy in the Book of St Cyprian, in a nutshell, uses the Aces through Sevens of a regular card deck, along with all of the court cards as different manifestations of people in the querant’s life and the Jack’s, primarily, as the inner thought-life of those people. Each card is given a bit of a sentence, that is uniform throughout all readings. A noun, a verb, and action, etc. The cartomancer is described as laying out all 32 cards in a grid and then proceeds to read the rows across, using the context of the question to tell a story in what really amounts to prose poetry. I’ve read over this bit a couple of times and really didn’t ‘get it’ until reading it on the Saint’s Feast Days. This time around it triggered that part of my brain that has pushed volumes of (largely unpublished, such is life) poetry out of my brain and through my pen. 

The Cyprian method of cartomancy uses the cards as a prophetic poetic constraint. 

It reminds me of the work of the OULIPO and my attempts to develop similar constraints. Constraints in art and writing are, in my opinion, the mother of creativity. This is distinct from a normal tarot reading, whether you use the archetypes or are an intuitive reader, the result is not a product of constraint, but really the opposite. If tarot is the stream of consciousness free verse of the Beats than Cyprian cartomancy is the variable foot of the Modernists.

Moving on from the Sorcerer’s Treasure, I did some additional research in Leitao’s “The Immaterial Book of St. Cyprian” - gifted to me by the always generous Ghostly Harmless. This little tome helped me put the cultural context of St. Cyprian and how to work with the spirit world into greater focus:

“St. Cyprian says, in a chapter of his book, that on Friday, while passing through a deserted place, he saw so many ghosts around him that he shuddered with fright and lost all of his strength to resist them; these ghosts were, however Bruxas seeking salvation. Immediately one of them approached Cyprian and said to him:
‘Save us, if thou so knows that after this life we shall have another.’
‘How shall I save thee?’ Asked Cyprian
‘How wert thous saved, infamous?’
‘Yes... I am a slave of the Lord! I am a slave of the Lo...’
Cyprian did not finish speaking, for he fell into a deep sleep.
He dreamt that the orison of the Custodian Angel would save him from danger.
As he awoke he saw in front of him an angel, who immediately disappeared... It was Custodian!
Cyprian remember the orison and said:
‘I, Cyprian, exhort and conjure the ghosts who appeared before me, under the penalty of obedience and superior precepts.’
A great thunder roared across the sky. Suddenly Cyprian saw in front of him fourteen Bruxas. 
‘Who art though?’ Asked Cyprian... ‘what dost though wish?’...
‘We wish for salvation and to be like thee, slaves of the Lord.’ Responded the Bruxas as a choir.
Cyprian saved all of these Bruxas, and with the orison of the Custodian Angel bound all demons, so as they could no longer bother them.”

Reading this after being contacted by my grandmother in a dream set off explosions in my head, all of the ectoplasm and the shades of reality from my dream gained a new clarity. In my prayers to the saint, when lighting the novenas during these feast days, I have added this bit in, asking him for small miracles that must be insignificant to someone of his power and promising to him (and now promising in print for the world to see) that if Cyprian assists me, if he allows me to pull from his bottomless well of magical power, I will change the manner in which I interact with the spirit world and align it with this Cyprian vision of all spirits, including the most malevolent, can come to me if they desire to move on to the life beyond the one they now inhabit.

One of the core powers of Cyprian and Cyprianic magical practice is the absolution he is able to bestow on the maleficent. He is the savior of witches that should not fear evil or doing evil or being in league with demons, for as long as they align themselves with Cyprian they are aligned with the good in the world, eventually. Cyprian is a route towards invincibility, towards not feature the world of the spirit or that hell of demons.

The second insight from this little atom bomb of a book centered around the Mouras and their relationship to treasure. From ‘Immaterial’:

"Narratives and accounts featuring [the mythical moura] typically offer no explanation for their existence or placement as treasure keepers... These Mouras, most frequent in the Portuguese North, are understood simply as being ancient, something that survived from another age and is kept in a neither-neither state by an evil enchantment... Thus these translate an idea of a certain alien strangeness. From a folk perspective, all which somehow falls outside of a community’s collective memory or identity is ascribed to these mythical Mouras and Mouras. All pre-Christian constructions, from prehistoric standing stones and hill forts to Roman ruins, are the constructions of the ancient Mouros: the all-encompassing ‘others’ used in the construction of ‘us’ by opposition. They can then be described as either giants or dwarfs... long gone or merely hiding in old, ruined, and wild places such as caves or natural or ancient water basins. They and their immense riches are then often associated and sought in ancient megalithic structures and local landmarks, strange and unusual natural formations such as boulders and barrows.”

The mythical moura is seen as evidence of a pre-human earth populated and governed by xenomorphs or pnuemamorphic beasts. The above passage takes me back to my original assertion, when referencing the drowned city of Antioch and Cyprian as his priest.

“Kept in a neither-neither state by an evil enchantment...”

This is Cthulhu, dead but dreaming, in his drowned city of Ry’leh, is it not? In fact, the entire description of a world where Mouras are a reality in the minds and in the landscape of the Portuguese might as well be an account of Lovecraft’s rural communities and their relationship with the wild and impassable country around their small towns. 

“Living in wild places such as caves or natural and ancient water basins...”

Is this not an account just like what we see in ‘Whisperer in the Darkness’? Is the Immaterial Book of Saint Cyprian not describing a landscape filled with the ancient Winged Ones who traverse the solar system to collect unique resources from the wild places on Vermont’s Dark Mountain. Are those ‘ancient megalithic structures’ described in the passage not the walls and Tower of Jericho? The first tower known, a tower built to track and worship the mechanics of our sun and the stars? I found further connections to my recent explorations in the next quote:

“One other common theme in the North of Iberia and eventually Brazil... is the description of the enchanted Moura as a serpent. Building upon their erotic and sexual character, these serpent Mouras typically present themselves with the intention of being kissed or have some kind of oral contact with their potential male disenchanted, occasionally described as an opportunity to suck his baptismal oils as a means of regaining human form.”

The Moura are both Cthulhu and Medusa.

Looping back to a previous theme, that of Cyprian as a path to invincibility, let’s look at the next few passages from ‘Immaterial’:

“To use the book as a non-specialist is always an act of courage, given the dangerous and possibly lethal side effects that might spring from its use.”

It seems to me what is being said here is that using the Book, or even just possessing the Book of Saint Cyprian, can and is considered an act of initiation, if the idea of magical initiation is to put oneself at risk or in some sort of a dangerous position in the pursuit of understanding magic or gaining magical power. Leitao continues:

“The idea of the book, simply, as a mysterious thing. It’s written content is indifferent, and it’s significance as an object of power in the hands of the specialist is almost total, even if never completely under control.”

The above phrase leads one to think (or maybe not, probably just leads me to think) about artists books theory and how the Book is interpreted as more of what it is physically or what it always has been, a container of information, the Book of Saint Cyprian is not only a container of information but it is also a status symbol, a power symbol, either when presented to humans, or not-humans.

And to continue digging into this theme of how owning the Book is a form of initiation:

“It’s association with [witches and werewolves], priests and [magicians] is really not just a literary convention. This is a book that stands outside of social normality, to touch it, or even nearly speak of it (never mind to actually use it) is a sin... well beyond any Christian definition. This is a social and cultural... undermining of all written and spoken and unspoken rules and conventions of what define society and the rule in place of the individual within it. By reading it, studying it or becoming a specialist in it, all those around you become unable to accurately locate you in the social fabric and read your motivations and ambitions, and logically you become the target of fear and suspicion...”

As an interesting aside, Werewolf (the English translation of the Portuguese word used by Letaio) seems to be the term for the male witch in the Portuguese Cyprian tales... Also, as is mentioned elsewhere, wolves are not the only animal forms taken. This tells me that male witches, as they are referred to in the Cyprian legends, are an extension of an older shamanic skinwalker form.

In summary, the feast days of Saint Cyprian are not over and neither is the lasting impact the saint will have on my own and many others magical practice. 

I learned this week that a Cyprianic magician approaches all spirits equally and with compassion in her heart, regardless of the malevolence or violence that the spirit brings to the encounter. This approach is a real type of ‘othering among others’ as, from what I can tell, spirits and spirit contact is normally considered a very binary event.

I learned that Cyprianic cartomancy is divining through poetic constraint, which opens up so many possibilities for extensions, experiments, and innovations as well as a respite from archetypes or intuitive cartomancy. Cyprianic cartomancy is a legitimate third path outside of the norm.

And finally I learned that to follow Cyprian, to read his book and to chase the insights and the alternate methods of Western magic he offers, I learned that this is in itself a form of initiation, at least in the cultural context from which Letaio writes. The question I am left with here is, considering the viral spread of the Sorcerer Saint through all corners of the Western magical tradition, is this still true? 

Looking at the first two paths that were revealed to me in my work during these days of Cyprian, my hypothesis is that it is true.

Cyprianic magic and the Book of Saint Cyprian itself are a form of magical initiation and a path of absolution and protection for those of us that travel willingly the roads of Hell.