The New World of Saint Cyprian

(A representation of Saint Cyprian made after the description of the visions of my wife – by the artist Bebeto Daroz.)

My interest in the books of Saint Cyprian was reborn in 2011. I had just finished the first volume of my Thesaurus Magicus collection of translations for the Brazilian readers and decided to translate the Spanish grimoires attributed to the saint for the second volume. I had by then published my first English paper in the Diabolical anthology by Scarlet Imprint, and was invited by Jake Stratton-Kent to contribute to the first Conjure Codex by Hadean Press. Scarlet Imprint Howlings reignited my interest in goetic practices and studies, and Jake Stratton-Kent considerations about the forgotten importance of the dead in Western magic helped me to see the Book of Saint Cyprian with new eyes.

I first heard about the Book of Saint Cyprian when I was in my teens and used to frequent the Heavy Metal scene in Rio de Janeiro, which happened mostly in the Caverna show house. There was always strange stories circulating amongst the fans and once someone mentioned that the bass player of a local band was a warlock and that he used the Book of Saint Cyprian. That was years before I started to pursue the magical knowledge and the inference given was that the Book of Saint Cyprian was a work of black magic.

Next time the book was mentioned in my presence was when I was serving the Army in 1987. There I got in touch with comrades of lower socio-economical classes and it was through then that I heard the fantastic stories about the book. These stories were told in secretive ways and talked about houses where someone kept the book, with poltergeist like phenomena happening. The core of the concept was that the book had an intrinsic power, it was talismanic by its very essence and opening the book was the equivalent to opening the Doors to Hell. When someone opened it laughter and screams could be heard.

We own to Saint Thomas of Aquinas the concept of implicit pact but the idea that magic was dependent on the power of devils appears already with Origen and was established as a definitive point of Church doctrine in the writings of Saint Augustine. When Augustine wrote, however, the Confession of Saint Cyprian was already circulating and promoting the concept of the Devil as the spiritual patron of magicians.

The idea of Saint Cyprian as the “Saint of Sorcerers” is however a very new development. It did not exist in the Late Antiquity or the Middle Ages; on the contrary, the devotion paid back then that still today thrives in the Orthodox Churches focused on the proficiency of the Saint to fight against magic and sorcery. Saint Cyprian after his conversion and martyrdom was considered especially apt to break spells, curses and enchantments. It is from this tradition that the Book of Saint Cyprian versions that circulate in Brazil inherited the exorcisms and the versions of the Prayer of Saint Cyprian. I was later introduced to the importance of that exorcist aspect of the book on the third time I heard it mentioned in a conversation.

It was on an e-mail sent on the 16 of September 2011 that I first talked to Frank Redd from Nephillim Press about the possibility of publishing an English version of the Book of Saint Cyprian. I had presented the Heptameron o Elementos Magicos to Jake and introduced him to the Galician anthropologist Felix Castro Vicente. We put together a privy Yahoo group to exchange information to which I enlisted Frank, whom I made the acquaintance when I purchased from him a De Laurence Sixth and Seventh Book of Moses. After a time he left the group and that was when I wrote to him:

I received your unsubscription from the Book of Sand list. Jake and I are working in similar projects with the Book of Saint Cyprian, that is why there is so much stuff about it on the list. I am preparing a critical edition of the Book of Saint Cyprian as the number two of the Thesaurus Magicus collection. I want later to have it also in a special separated edition. Of course, it will be in Portuguese. However, if you have interest in publish a small edition of it in English, we can discuss the subject.

Frank bought into the idea and I started to work in both versions of the book, the English and the Portuguese. I invited Kim Huggens to help and she made the first revision of the material, giving the excellent feedback I expected from her. I was then immersed in the Cyprianic magical universe when I heard someone mention the book for the third time in my presence.

I started working in Angola in 1999 providing security services to the Sociedade Mineira de Catoca in Angola, the fourth largest kimberlite diamond mining in the world. As the work requires I fly from Brazil and back on the average four times in a year. Now and then I travel together with other Brazilians, with whom I have a polite but distance acquaintance. On that occasion I ended up with a group of them in the Belas Shopping in Luanda. The conversation was about the usual themes, things that not really ever caught my interest like beer and football. Suddenly, without any intervention on my part, they started to talk about cemeteries and ghosts and the Book of Saint Cyprian.

The oldest man in the group, an electric engineer, said his father had the book when he was a kid and used it to perform exorcisms when someone of the family had what to me sounded like epileptic attacks. However, the fits he described were also accompanied by bizarre behaviors like grabbing and eating insects. His father then used to take the book and read from it until the crises were subdued. He most likely was using the Prayer of Saint Cyprian after the advice given by the book itself.

After that you must say the orison of S. Cypriano to unmake every quality of sorcery and conjurations from demons, malign spirits or bindings made by men or women, or to pray in a house that is judged to be possessed by malign spirits and even for everything related to supernatural diseases.

I had the chance to talk to that man again this year as we once again traveled together. He told me his father belonged to what seems to be a kind of Spiritism group who met around a table in his house in a closed room. He once defied his father asking why he did not use the Book of Saint Cyprian to get cured from his drinking habit, and received a slap in the face as an answer.

This man is from the Northeast states of Brazil, a place where Saint Cyprian is a kind of folk hero, sung in poetic verses for instance in the chap books published in the “literature de cordel” genre. The cordel genre gets its name from the string (“corda”) which sew the pages and where the pamphlets hang in the fairs where they are sold. It is a continuation of the Portuguese “papel volante” and the Spanish “hojas volanderas” that appeared in the seventeenth century and that were printed in the eight-page quarto format. The Saint Cyprian that appears in these chap books is well advanced in the “whitewashing” process his figure is undertaking, starting in the many popular editions of the book where the frightening descriptions of his magical career are left out and the description of his magical studies are emphasized. In the “Luta e vitória de São Cipriano contra Adrião Mágico[1] written and first published by the cordelist Joaquim Batista de Sena in 1966 a young Cyprian pretends to be illiterate to trick the evil magus Adrião to allow him access to his books. After learning all he could he engaged the older magician into a magical fight with many recognizable folkloric elements – as the transformation contest which Cyprian wins when he transforms himself into a chicken and eats Adrião under the form of corn grains.

Saint Cyprian and his partner Justina were already represented in the Spanish „hojas volanderas” so his role as folk hero in the cordel literature is not an innovation; Spanish versions of the Prayer of Saint Cyprian were also produced in this medium.

The oldest version of the Prayer I could find is the Arab one published by Rene Basset. It is considered to be derived from a Greek version that most likely existed, as the structure of the prayer follows closely the argument of the Greek Confession. In it Cyprian mentions his past as a magician and his misdeeds, his repentance and conversion, and then addresses a list of sorceries he is breaking with the help of God. Its many variations are very instructive when we want to compare what kind of magic was believed to be perpetrated at the time the prayer was employed. The Arab version for instance lists:

If there is sorcery or magical binding or wickedness by iron, by gold, by silver, by bronze, by lead, by tin, let it be unmade and be no more, as if it existed in a thread, from silk, from cotton, from flax, threads of silk, in the remains of wool, let it be unmade; if it is made with human bones, with the bones of a quadruped, or of birds, of fish, let the enchantment be undone. If the enchantment or the magical binding was made with the help of wood or any other created plant, let it be undone. If it exists in a book, in a beam, in a stone, in the tomb of an orthodox, of a Jew, of a pauper, of a foreigner, or of a hermit, in ruins, inside the corpse of a murdered man, in a coffin, in the bone of a dead man, in the water, in a point of infiltration of water, in a spring, in a fountain, in a river, in the sea, in a brook, let it be removed from the carrier of this writing, so-and-so son of so-and-so [mother]: If the enchantment exists in a high room or in a low room, in a purse, in a field, in an orchard or in a tree, in a rosebush, ina narrow place, or in a grotto, let it be undone and frustrated. If it is made under a star, at a crossroad, among ruins with the image of a martyr, in beeswax, in a fava bean, or anything of the kind, let it all be undone. If it is in the wall or in the hinge of the door, in the ashes, in the atrium, in the oven, let everything be powerless against the carrier of this writing, so-and-so son of so-and-so [mother], as everything wicked I mentioned and the ones I did not mention that will be tried against him.

The prayer would later be forbidden as being superstitious by the Catholic Church, in the process that step by step took Saint Cyprian away from its official teaching, but survived in the Portuguese Book of Saint Cyprian. We can compare the list of sorceries to the broken contained in both versions:

Free from every danger and unbind everything which has been bound by this creature of the Lord; let it be untied, unbound from any form. I unbind, unpin, tear, put and take out everything, such as the doll which is in some well or taken, to dry this creature (so and so), so every damned devil and everything be delivered from evil and from all the evils or bad deeds, sorceries, enchantments or superstitions, and diabolical arts! The Lord destroyed and annihilated all of them; let God from the height of Heaven be glorified in Heaven and on Earth as Emanuel, which is the name of the Powerful God. […] if any witchery is made against you by the hairs of the head, cloth of the body or of the bed, in the footwear or in cotton, silk, linen, or wool; in the hair of Christian, of Moor, or of a heretic; in bones of human creature, of birds, or of any other animal; in wood, books, or in a sepulcher of Christians or Moors, in a fountain or on a bridge, altar or river, in a house or in a wall of lime; in a field or in solitary places; inside the churches or at the division of rivers; in a house made of wax or marble; in figures made of cloth, inside a frog or inside a salamander; in animal of the sea or of the river; in a slough or in food or drink; in soil taken from the left or from the right foot, or in any other things by which a sorcery can be made… All these things be undone and unbound from this servant (so and so) of the Lord, the ones I, Cyprian, have done, as much as the ones made by these witches, servants of the demon; all this be turned back to what it was before, or in its own figure, or in the one in which God created it. Saint Augustine and all the Saints, by holy names, make all creatures be free from the evil of the demon. Amen.

If Cyprian then was valued as being the protector against sorcerers, how did it happen he is now seen as the „Saint of Sorcery”? This is a very interesting development that was mostly influenced by the syncretism between Christian and African religions in the New World. The syncretism between Orishas and Vouduns and Ikses with the Catholic Saints shed a new light on the way the saints could be seen and associated many of them with magical ideas and practices. Portuguese folk magic, brought to Brazil with the exile of witches forced by the Inquisition, included in the same spell without any parsimony appeals to saints and devils and so already displayed a propensity to syncretism.

The contact between metropolis and colonies enriched the Book of Saint Cyprian itself. One of the magical secrets in the Portuguese edition is so presented:

In the province of Mato Grosso in Brazil, there was a celebrated sorcerer, who was an indigenous negro, who died in 1884, and who performed amazing miracles for a long time, such as the secret we will indicate to the readers.

It is possible that the sorcerer mentioned here was inspired in Juca Rosa (1822-1889), a very important religious leader of African descent who lived in Rio de Janeiro, where he led a mysterious magical association with members coming from all levels of society. For many decades after his death, he was still remembered, and his name became a synonym for black sorcerer. He was nicknamed the „King of the Macumbas” due to the use of these musical intruments in his sessions.

Juca Rosa was prosecuted in the end of the XIX century and was very loquacious in his testimonies and in the interviews he gave to the newspapers, leaving to us a rich description of the magical practices in vogue in the court of Rio de Janeiro. It is unsure if editions of the Book of Saint Cyprian published in Portugal were already circulating in the colony during the lifetime of Juca Rosa, but it would be most likely. Anyway, according to the testimony of the Brazilian journalist Joao do Rio (1881-1921), who in 1904 conducted a series of interviews in the demimonde of the Rio de Janeiro, the book was by then already very popular:

But what is ignored by the people who sustain the sorcerers, is that the base of their entire science is the Book of Saint Cyprian. The greatest alufas, the more complicated fathers-of-saint, have hidden between the stripes and the animals one nothing fantastic edition of S. Cyprian. Whilst that crying creatures await for the bewitchings and the fatal mixtures the blacks spell the S. Cyprian, by the light of the lamps…

It is to the idea of the book that we own the presence of Saint Cyprian in magic until the more recent syncretism. The Confession mentions the books Cyprian burnt when he converted, and after that the book(s) he had possessed when he was the most powerful of the magicians became the object of a never ending greed. So now lost works mentioned by Trithemius and Agrippa were produced under his name, but it was not until the printed editions in Spain and Portugal in the XIX century that the idea of the book having intrinsic powers started to crystalize until people began to believe that the mere possession of the book correspond to an implicit pact: to have the book is enough to turn the person into a sorcerer, and to buy or to accept it as a gift is the equivalent of an implicit pact.

The belief in the powers of the book in Brazil is so strong that it was mentioned in a juridical process in 2014 in the city of Brasilia de Minas where the lawyer adviced caution to the justice official in charge of convening the defendant because the latter „possess the book of Saint Cyprian and so he can transform himself into a piece of wood or hide behind a hoe.”[2]

The impressive presence of the Book of Saint Cyprian in Rio de Janeiro in the beginning of the XX century explains the importance of Saint Cyprian in the origins of the Quimbanda, but it is difficult to ascertain why he lately lost his importance in the cult. Different and even divergent trends may have contributed to it. The „whitewashing” of the forms of Spiritism considered to be „lower” undertaken by the first generation of Umbandists severely limited the scope of the forms of Quimbanda accepted by them, and of course they tried to distance themselves from the book. Although Saint Cyprian remained a popular saint, he was never syncretized with an African deity, what had serious consequences and led to his virtual disappearance in the cults. Also the importance is his fall from favor inside the Catholic Church, which removed his feast from the calendar of the Roman Rite in 1969 and from the Roman Martyrology in 2001. Before that, the prayer of Saint Cyprian was already prohibited by the Catholic Church and condemned as being superstitious by the Inquisition in the Index of 1559.

The syncretism between African and Christian ideas happened in a very popular level, the same cultural level where the legends about Cyprian that we find in the Portuguese book were produced. The legends cofound the Cyprian before and after the conversion, the saint and the sorcerer, and prepared the way for the „Saint of the Sorcerers” concept to emerge. The folk magic tradition from Portugal which was not ashamed of invoking in the same voice the saints and the devils and the powerful dead queen Maria Padilla is still much alive as we can see in the Internet groups dedicated to Saint Cyprian. Prayers attributed or addressed to him in these groups usually do not care for moral scruples – what underscore that today the saint and the sorcerer are not distinguished n the same figure anymore. This new Cyprian forged by folk wisdom is a sorcerer who acquired holiness without abandoning his former path, and because of that he became more powerful. He is a spiritual patron who serves and can be served both by God and the Devil. In this new Cyprianic view of the Devil is not an outcast to be forced by recourse to God but again the ruler of his own domains we see in the text of the Confession. The new Cyprian that emerges attains to Hermetic perfection by holding the keys to Hades and Olympus at the same time, as when he was described as sacrificing to Pluto, Hecate, Pallas, Ares and Kronos.

He is the triumphant Hero of Sorcery who teaches us that the same path goes from Hell to Heaven.

[1] “Fight and Victory of Saint Cyprian against Adrian Mage”.

[2] Processo N° 0086 14 124-8 da 2ª Vara Cível e Criminal da Comarca de Brasília de Minas/MG.


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Position: Collaborator City: -Itacaré, Brazil Age: 48 Beliefs/System: Scientific minded magical practices Domains of interest: Solomonic traditions, Shamanism, Neoplatonism, Hermetism, Alchemy, Traditional Wicca, Neopaganism, Thelema, Angelology, Qabalah, Enochian, Hoodoo Website: Read more>