It fascinates me in my research to see the constant coming and going between Myth and Magic: what better example than Cyprian for this, a legendary character, created to promote Christianity, to attack magic and paganism, and that ended up giving rise to so many sorcerous traditions? And from his Portuguese book also came the Witch of Évora, who from fable became a pombagira, a female spirit in the Quimbanda.
It was thanks to the eminent Portuguese Cyprianist José Leitão that the secret of the origin of this character was clarified for me: the text that appears in the edition of the Livro de S. Cypriano ou Thesouro do Feiticeiro, published at the end of the 19th century by the Livraria Econômica in Lisbon, with the title of A Feiticeira de Évora ou História da Sempre Noiva (The Witch of Evora or the Story of the Forever Bride), was taken from a work by Amador Patrício (pseudonym of Martim Cardoso de Azevedo) published in 1739, the Historia das Antiguidades de Evora.
EBORA LIBERALITAS JULIA
The historian Plínio (the Elder) in the first century called the Roman settlement established in the place where the city of Évora is located today, Ebora Cerealis, a name derived from the ancient Celtic eburos, which indicated a shrub known today as yew. The neighborhoods are notable for the Neolithic megaliths that date back 5,000 years, including the Cromlech of the Almendres, one of the largest groups of menhirs in Europe.
In the 1st century BC, the town received the honorary title Liberalitas Julia for its loyalty to the Roman emperor Julius Caesar during the civil wars. One of the historical landmarks of that time are the ruins of the Temple erected in honor of Emperor Caesar Augustus, who was revered as a god; the attribution of the Temple to the goddess Diana was made erroneously in the 17th century, and again in another error in 1945 to the Goddess of Grace.
IN THE BOOK OF SAINT CIPRIAN
The chapter dedicated to the Witch of Évora in the edition of Livraria Econômica opens with the description of the discovery of a fantastic place that, in fact, comes from a narrative also from the Historia das Antiguidades de Evora but which does not refer to the Witch. It is the (very interesting) description of the discovery of the grave of one Montero-mur, during the supposed construction (or reconstruction) of the Castle of Giraldo, a castro (fortified structure) with origins in the Bronze Age, located today in the District of Évora:
In the middle of the house was a grave the height of a man. The inside was all painted in circles, with lizards, snakes and geckos. Outside, at the edges, were four natural stone frogs, and between frog and frog were figures of children, each half the size of a cubit, standing. They had bundles of wands in their hands that threatened the frogs. In one of the corners of this house was the figure of a monster that from head to waist was a man, and from the waist down a coiled snake. In the other corner was a turtle and on top of it a crow that had a bat in its mouth, as if it were eating it. In the other two corners, in each, a figure of a woman, one awake and the other sleeping; the awake had a man’s head in her left hand by the hair, and at the foot was a hunting dog with his mouth open, as if he wanted to attack the head, and the woman with her hand prevented it. The one who slept had an owl in one hand and a hawk with open wings in the other, wanting to attack the owl. On the walls of the house were many paintings of snails, slugs, frogs, wasps, drones, beetles, bugs and other small animals.
This is a translation of the text as seen in the Livro de S. Cypriano; it follows very faithfully what is seen in the Historia das Antiguidades de Evora, with one or other copyist error; but, the following sentence was inserted to associate the place with the Witch of Évora,
It was the den where the Lagarrona witch performed her diabolic spells.
Lagarrona is the name given in the story for this witch (bruxa), who is also called a sorceress (feiticeira) several times. At no point in the original text do we see the expressions Witch of Évora or Sorceress of Évora being used; these expressions, which became so popular, were introduced by the Livro de S. Cypriano that gave its composed text the title of A Feiticeira de Évora, ou História da Sempre Noiva (The Sorceress of Evora or the Story of the Forever Bride). When introducing the character, Amador Patrício wrote that she was “a Moor, also Magician, and enchantress, which was called Lagarrona”.
THE POWERS OF THE WITCH OF EVORA
This story introduces us to Lagarrona as a witch of great powers: she makes her son invisible, and then turns him into an ass. Here we find new mistakes by the copyist, who claims that this donkey disappeared “fleeing through the fields”, when the original narrative says he was carried away in the air – so Lagarrona also had this power.
The sorceress “had achieved by her spells that her son would disappear for the love of a Christian woman“, so she could predict the future. She prepared spells that, placed under the pillows, made the girl coveted by her son and her fiancé to fall asleep without consummating the marriage, and other enchantments that, put on the groom’s clothes, killed him in twenty-four hours. And so with two more suitors.
To all this, illusionism powers are added, well described in an interesting paragraph that, unfortunately, the copyist of the Livro de S. Cypriano forgot to include, and that I take the opportunity to rescue. According to what can be seen in the Historia das Antiguidades de Evora, when the girl intended by her son was captive in her home, the Lagarrona distracted her:
[…] with many inventions of enchantments: now it seemed, that she was in his very sumptuous Palace, in fresh gardens, and cheerful orchards: at other times she invented beast hunts, horse games, tournaments, dances, masks; and finally a thousand things, with which she spent time, and she was happy.
Lagarrona, in despair when her son was arrested and sentenced, again resorted to her powers of illusionism, making “many black shadows shrouded in fire” and “armed giants and ferocious animals” appear in the prison.
Tying the prisoner, with his hands and feet, they went out with him to punish him; but when they arrived at the gallows, great thunder and lightning began, which terrified everyone, and soon there were black clouds, so thick, that the air darkened and they didn’t see each other, and after that the earth opened up, with a lot of smoke and black shadows that walked through the air, with snakes in their hands, whipping everyone. Then, hearing a great thud and earthquake, the air came to stay as clear as before.
The witch dies at the end of the story, when her magical trance is interrupted by the men of justice during a great spell, and she suffers a fatal accident. As the Livro de S. Cypriano also presents copy errors here, I translated from the original:
Justice put her in that place hanged, where she was until rotting, which was the same house, where she lived; and after that the place was called Lagarrona, taking the name of this witch, who there died, and changing a letter it today is called Lagardona.
The magic words that Lagarrona used in her last spell, according to the story, were not recorded, “but some Authors say […] that she said the following words”:
Olenta in pus, nigabao, negabus. Oleolapolaó merrinhao, mirrinhaó, nhao, nhao, nhao, nhao.
The copyist of the Livro de S. Cypriano left us:
Olenta in pus, nigalao negabus. Oleolapolaó, merrinhaó, merrinhao, nhão, nhãn, nhão!
Whoever tells a story increases it, so goes a saying. The Livro de S. Cypriano has added several stories where, without regard to details of time and logic, we have adventures where the saint and the sorcerer mix. Likewise, new narratives about the Witch of Évora were being created. One of the most beautiful is found in the book by Maria Helena Farelli:
But what do the Arabs have to do with our history? The reason is that, according to the legend, the Witch of Évora was Moorish; yes, they said she was Arab or Moorish. She was dark, not white like most Portuguese women. She had come from the hot lands and had Arab friends, but she was raised in Iberia; so she spoke Arabic and Portuguese well, besides Latin. Legend has it that her father and mother died when she was seven; that an old aunt raised her and taught her the magical arts, giving her as talismans seven gold coins from the caliph Omar, an agate stone with Arabic inscriptions and a silver plate with the name of the Prophet. And she taught her to work in pottery: the witch made her clay pots and vases. Some say that she was crazy about rugs and, all the money she earned, she spent on them. Legend has it that she read the Koran and wrote; among her belongings was a rich carved copper inkwell. She knew mathematics and, looking at the sky, she recognized the stars; she knew how to read the luck in the sands, in the stars, and how to do spells and healings. She knew the magic of her Muslim ancestors; but, living in the 13th century, she also knew that of the Celts, who for a long time occupied the south of Portugal. Infidel, therefore. Devil worshiper … Enemy of the Church. But the old witch had already made the pilgrimage to Santiago of Compostela, where there were precious relics. She had already gone to the Cathedral of Braga many times to pay promises, and she lived well. She was free. She picked flowers and herbs, earned her rich money, was feared and respected. She was afraid only of being arrested and tortured as a devil worshiper. So, she used to disappear. They said she flew on her broom, with her owl on her back … things from the time of kings..
Farelli’s narrative turns the Witch of Évora into a magical heroine, even a scholar. In the original narrative, she was, in fact, a wicked sorceress who collaborates in the kidnapping of a Christian virgin and helped to kill her grooms.
CYPRIAN & THE WITCH
The original narratives about Saint Cyprian make him a martyr during the reign of Diocletian, who reigned from 284 to 305. The story of the Witch of Évora takes place during the time of the Muslim occupation of Portugal, which lasted from 726 to 1249. The book São Cipriano o Legitimo Capa Preta, however, had no qualms in putting the two characters in the same narrative:
At the age of thirty, he went to Babylon where he was to learn astrology and the deepest mysteries of the Chaldeans, at the same time that he gave himself up to an impure and scandalous life. In order to be more connected to the demons he studied magic and came to associate to the old Witch Évora, known as the most powerful fortune teller and dream interpreter. When the Witch died, at a very old age, she left all her secrets and discoveries, carefully compiled in her manuscripts, material that would be of great use for Cyprian.
The witch here has a more dignified ending … In the original texts on Saint Cyprian, written in the fourth century, one of the first things the sorcerer does when deciding to convert is to present himself to the bishop and burn his books; the São Cipriano o Legitimo Capa Preta also innovates on this point:
Already converted, Cyprian hurried to distribute his goods to the needy and his manuscripts, as well as the notes of the Witch Évora, he kept them at the bottom of a large chest, locking it with a powerful lock. Even though Cyprian recognized that them had no value against the Almighty God, worshiped by Justina and Eusebio, he recognized that those documents could, in the future, clear many doubts and elucidate certain mysteries.
THE POMBAGIRA WITCH
The Livro de S. Cypriano mentions two characters who would later become part of Quimbanda; Maria Padilha appears in five spells in this book, and is today one of its most important entities. Spells with Maria Padilha appear in the confessions of Portuguese witches exiled by the Inquisition to Brazil, in the times of the colony, but the Witch of Évora only made her passage from Myth to Magic thanks to the popularization of the Books of Saint Cypria sold and published in Brazil.
The Pombagira Witch of Évora has become popular; this seems to me to be a recent phenomenon, as I have found no mention of her (so far) in the literature of Umbanda and Quimbanda of the first seven decades of the 20th century. In an Internet source, which also uses material from Farelli’s book, today we see:
Pomba-Gira Witch of Évora is very much in demand when you don’t know what else to do. She knows and does it with the greatest willingness, as she is thirsty to complete her objective. Instead of chasing her victims, she prefers to attract them, which she does very well. She herself decides which spirit will be assigned to each mission and has the power to surprise them if they do not perform their tasks well.
She was always visited by a black goat. Goats were always animals of sorcerers because they were considered sensual. The Pomba-Gira Witch of Évora obeys all Yabás (female orixás), a little-known entity that has many mysteries around her. Almost you don’t hear about her, but she works with all sorts of magic and enchantments for all purposes. She presents herself as she wishes, now as a lady, now a dame, now a beautiful and pleasant girl. Because she works for all Yabás, she doesn’t have a very definite stereotype, she likes champagne and cigarillos.
Proving that she is here to stay, the Pombagira Witch of Évora already has its own image, as we can see below. It follows the archetype of the old witch riding the broom so popular in our culture.
THE REAL WITCHES OF ÉVORA
When she was surprised in her last spell, the Lagarrona was in a room where “a sign of Solomon was painted on the floor”. This detail is in accordance with the narratives collected by the Portuguese inquisitors; in O Imaginário da Magia – Feiticeiras, adivinhos e curandeiros em Portugal no Século XVI, by Francisco Bethencourt, for example, we see:
Isabel Lopes, for example, used to say that she made a circle in the house and entered it and from within she would call the devils, who if they found her outside that circle and the sign of Solomon they would make her into pieces.
The Portuguese Inquisition began in Évora in 1536, with the promulgation of the papal bull Cum ad nihil magis; its court functioned until 1821, when the Holy Office in Portugal was extinguished by the government.
A very interesting thing raised by Francisco Bethencourt, based on the Évora court cases, is the existence, in the 16th century, of a network of exchange and learning among witches. So we know, for example, that the witches Brites Marques and Brites Frazoa were considered by the others to be “the most knowledgeable”; Brites Marques was consulted in more difficult cases by companions Inês Arruda, Inês Rodrigues Catela and Guiomar Rodrigues, who even sent them “clients whose problems exceeded their level of competence”. These networks of witches also extended outside the localities: Ana Godinha, a witch from Alcácer do Sal, had learned from Brites Frazoa de Évora, and even the “most knowledgeable” Brites Marques and Brites Frazoa consulted the Moorish woman from Montemor called Maria Fernandes. In an interesting detail, the sorceress Jerónima da Cruz confessed to having learned to communicate with the devil with “a captive moorish woman”.
These witches and sorceresses trapped in the net of the Inquisition of Évora were sometimes sent to serve time in Brazil. For example, in 1675 the Évora Court arrested Leonor Gonçalves, accused of witchcraft, superstition and pact with the devil, and deported her to the colony. Leonor confessed to talking to her guardian angel and her deceased husband, and that “she took from the altar of the Church of Mercy of Vila de Frades, a piece of the altar stone to make certain spells with it in order to cure the sick”. She declared to the inquisitors that:
Our Lady of the Rosary was the mother of the Devil and Our Lady of Medicine was the aunt of the devil and that she gave her soul and heart to him for having nothing better to give. (Vadios e Ciganos, Heréticos e Bruxas: Os Degredados no Brasil-Colônia, Geraldo Pieroni)
Exiled to the colony, these Witches of Évora became, by right, the first Witches of Brazil.
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