The Black Art Books of Cyprian, Pt. I: The Arts and Doctrines of Cyprian

cyprian altar.PNG

Revelore Press' Folk Necromancy in Transmission series recently released a landmark publication in the form of the late Dr Thomas K. Johnson's Svartkonstböcker: A Compendium of the Swedish Black Art Book Tradition.

It is with no hyperbole I call this text a monumental accomplishment of research and scholarship: translating, transcribing, and comparing over thirty original manuscripts of pre-modern Swedish folk magic to draw fascinating conclusions about the nature and implementation of such recipes and rituals. A profound practical resource for working magicians, this 666-page compendium will be greatly edifying for anyone interested in Northern European magic, folklore, and customs. In particular, the vein of Cyprianic and necromantic material here is especially interesting. Black Books indeed...

It is also a personally significant achievement of the Folk Necromancy in Transmission series to be able to publish this masterwork of Dr Johnson's posthumously, with the blessing of - and, indeed, a foreword from - his widower. It is an honour to bring this work to a new audience. I am exceedingly grateful for the hard work of my co-editor on the FNiT series, Jesse Hathaway Diaz, for his long hours re-inking and re-scanning the various (and occasionally especially tricksy!) seals, sigils, and runes of this monumental compendium; and of course for the fearless leadership and project management of Captain Revelore herself, Dr Jenn Zahrt.

I am very proud of our 666-page book baby

I am very proud of our 666-page book baby

As an editor on the Folk Necromancy in Transmission series, I am delighted to have been involved in helping make this publication happen, and so in honour of the Feast of Saint Cyprian and Saint Justina this day, this blog-post marks the first of a series examining the specifically Cyprianic material contained in this compendium. For establishing-shot context, I encourage all interested parties to check out Johannes Björn Gårdbäck's essay in the Cypriana: Old World anthology on the Cyprianus Förmaning specifically and, more broadly, examining our patron saint of nigromancy's reach and influence upon Northern European folk magic.

The Black Art Book collection curated by Dr Johnson boasts four manuscripts of particular Cyprianic significance. The first, The Arts and Doctrines of Cyprian, and their employment, is a compilation of thirty operations, remedies, and conjurations; explicitly said to be the teachings of our good Sorcerer-Saint. The second text is an exorcism, calling upon 'biblical and ecclesiastical personages to drive out the four primary Princes of Hell and their minions.' Such an exorcism is described as 'exhortations... presented as those made by St. Cyprian'. The third manuscript is a seventeenth-century exorcism and blessing which similarly begins as a first-person Cyprianic incantation. Both of these texts purport therefore to be the very words of the Good Saint of Antioch. Finally, the fourth manuscript, a collection of remedies and charms, is described as a 'Supriania', and consists of incantations and operations for healing, numbing pain, removing lameness from limbs, and - in a notable exception to the rest of its charms - a work of most explicit necromancy. 

This post is a cliff-notes breakdown of the operations and incantations contained within the first of these four documents, MS 12 NM 40.034. We end by considering one particular magical utility for the rod of divination described herein.


The Arts and Doctrines of Cyprian, and their employment
Ms 12 NM 40.034
(Onsby parish, Skåne province, 1809) 

1.      Experiment of the 'Snow-king' bird
This collection begins with a very short and somewhat strange operation in which one kills and then resurrects a bird 'that is called "snow-king"'. The operation foregrounds a charm that can be said over the wound 'as a plaster' that will heal it, and which perhaps might be used on other wounds, but the necromantic dimensions of killing and then healing an animal should not be lost on us. While some of these operations seem to be unrelated and have no particular succession, some we shall encounter later are quite definitely deliberately ordered so as to be performed in proper sequence. It is therefore tempting to see this first operation as somewhat of an initialising empowering mystery, that might begin our further engagement with these Arts and Doctrines... 

2.      Cyprian's Exorcism
This exorcism is also first-person, beginning 'I, Cyprian, the worshipper of the eternal God and Jesus Christ's only son, the pure and true Gospel, confess by the holy Spirit in Christ Jesus whereof here I exorcise you devilishness and exhort you by God', before going onto 'exhort and forbid' the evil influences upon a patient and bless them with the peace of God and Jesus Christ.

3.      The Litany to exorcise sick people
This litany consists of a relatively short prayer focused upon calling for God's mercy, before employing a Pater Noster and concluding with a short Latin passage.

 4.      A work for breaking enchantments
This operation is a clear example of a particular "gaming" of certain conventions of spell-craft: in this case, that an enchantment can only last as long as the victim is alive. It therefore mimics the conditions of being dead - specifically, of being buried 'into the earth' - by instructing the bewitched to put a section of cut turf upon their head and recite a charm that makes the case that the enchantment must now be ended given they fulfil such criteria 'now I have earth both under me and above me and await healing now'. The sod of soil is also replaced once this operation is performed, suggesting there is also a certain transference of the enchantment into the earth at work here too - a suggestion further solidified by the final instruction to return home without looking back.

5.      A work of conjuring away gout
Gout is conjured out of the limbs of the patient by appealing to its various colours: 'you yellow gout, you blue gout, you red gout'. That this is indeed a conjuration of the disease itself is interestingly supported by this second-person form of address to 'you... gout'. 

6.      A work of unbewitching cattle
A prayerful incantation and exorcism to be said over the cud given to cattle who are 'unable to live, or thrive'. Ultimately, this charm forbids 'all sorcery, hauntings, and devilishness and all types of sickness that are recounted here', before closing out with a Pater Noster, Benediction, and short blessing.

 7.      Advice on milk stealing
Advice attributed to John Kolerius on how a 'milk-defiler' can ruin or steal your dairy, immediately followed by...

 8.      Protecting cattle from milk-hare
...advice on how to protect your cattle's new calves from such larcenous assaults, which involve feeding the infant a mixture of certain substances in rye-bread.

 9.      A means to perceive if the butter has been bewitched
Also a discussion of methods of magically torturing those who have stolen butter or cheese.

 10.  The breaking off of a divining rod
Instructions on acquiring a rod, which is charged that it will 'always and forever say to me the whole truth about what will happen in the future, and what will happen in the immediate present, and what in the past has happened'. Moreover the rod is instructed to also reveal 'the treasures that are under or are within the earth'. Such a conjuration, again directed at 'you, Rod', also includes appeal to the four Elemental Kings of Cherub, Thorsis, Oriel, Seraph.

 11.  A conjuration for this rod, if you wish to know something or wish to find a treasure
Having consecrated the rod for this use, the following operation presents the means to actually employ the divining rod for such a purpose. It too cleaves to appeal to 'the four Elemental Rulers Chrerub, Tharssis, Ariell, Serafhim'; indeed conjuring each ruler specifically by their element. The operation concludes with a nota that asserts and assures in equal measure that 'the often named Elemental Kings and spirits Cherub, Torssis, Uriel [sic], Seraph are actually: good angels foreordained to rule over the stars or the planets.' Having established the righteousness of such work, the next few operations are specifically centred around these ruling spirits.

 12.  The conjuration of the 4 Elemental kings (and the acquiring of a spirit-compelling walking-stick)
This operation begins by establishing a circle of protection, directing 'You Elemental Kings will show to me and my comrades in this Circle the pleasant service of now and from this moment cast away all of the spirits of Hell and ghosts and all the parties of Hell'. There follows a series of written charms, glyphs, and seals for the apparent binding of a wicked spirit, as well as a series of means of compelling 'the spirit of Hell' to do your bidding. It also ends with a brief instruction on how to cut a hazel or oak walking-stick that may further coerce 'the Spirits of Hell to follow your intent and orders', a subtle phrasing that thus includes both the letter and spirit of an instruction. 

13.  To make a correct rod
In fact two interrelated sets of instructions: the first, for acquiring and properly consecrating a wand 'that will attract silver and money'; and the second to 'conjure you staff that you be as strong that you now drive away all the types that I strike of Hell’s spirits'. Such methods demonstrate a common perspective on treasure-hunting necessities. Finding the place of buried treasure was only the first step; one must also be able to conjure and compel the spirits guarding such treasures to reveal it and give it up. One particularly neat conjuration methodology emerges from this operation: that of conjuring the spirit by a seal marked on a piece of paper that is then beaten by this rod, that 'this spirit of Hell I want to know and be able to sustain all the beatings that I will make with this walking stick, in his name, and be afflicted just as if he stood personally in front of me.'

 14.  To exorcise the dragon
Given that this exorcism is directed at 'you old apadonius, who lies here on top of this treasure', and given that it instructs such a spirit to 'release this treasure upon which you have long laid', it seems fair to consider this dragon exorcism to be a further supplement to the works of the treasure-hunting stick above. 

15. To see what is coming
A surprisingly simple operation of magical sight, one is instructed to anoint one's eyes with the sweat or moisture in a horse's eyes, in order to 'be able to see how it is'. Given This instruction falls between two operations apparently dealing explicitly with a treasure-guarding 'dragon' spirit, and so seems part of this broader endeavour, rather than simply a magical means of diagnosing a horse's ailments. Such a reading is backed up by the apparent referral back to this operation in the sixteenth working.

 16. When the dragon wants to grow
Soil that has been consecrated by touring it through a church is added to seeds and then thrown upon the treasure spirit, making it 'fall and disappear altogether.' We are also instructed, calling back the previous working, that washing the eyes with spring water will return our 'correct vision' to us.

 17. When you want to attract money
Again, seemingly part of the wider treasure-hunting magics of this collection, such an operation includes a variety of materia: asafetida, sulphur, the previously mentioned seeds, three splinters and a piece of the cloth from a church altar, as well as a knife (ideally made of nine different steels), your consecrated walking-stick, and a live cat. All these resources are employed in order to compel the treasure dragon to abandon its post. And fear not, the cat is not sacrificed; although it is dragged by the tail around the circle three times before letting it run away. A comparatively gentle employment given the usual trends in Cyprianic texts for animal torture...

18. For freedom for yourself, use these characters 3 times and tie them then around your waist and cast a circle around you
Such a work of protection seems to have at its centre the preservation to 'pay heed to neither sword nor shot'. 

19. A conjuration of exorcism and devil-binding
A conjuration of 'you unclean spirit' to 'turn away' from a bewitched or possessed patient, whose 'pain and suffering' is also abjured by appeal to God and Christ. The lines here between grimoiric conjuration, exorcism, and medical charm are not only blurred but ineluctably interwoven.   

20. A counter-magic incantation of protection
A conjuration against all evil spirits, compelling them away from 'this place this evening'. Various entities are specified as bound: 'witches, mountain trolls, and sorcerers, woodwives and water sprites, all types of spirits and all types of poisonous hauntings'. At the conclusion of the exorcising however, a further impulsion is pronounced: ' in the Devil’s name, so shall your strength be taken from you, and with these words you shall have no power.' Such an imprecation might simply be directed to the roving bands of spirits previously mentioned, but this also seems a somewhat pointed directive against a particular individual. It could certainly be employed in a counter-magical manner as one. 

21. Against wolves
This very short working operates around a fascinating deal made with the wolves against which one wishes to protect one's livestock. Offering three woolen threads clipped from your clothes at the first wolfprint you see on New Years, an appeal is made that 'with this I clothe you, but you and your friends will take your meals at some other place'. A gift demands a gift or favour in return after all.

 22. Against predators in the forest and others
The proportions of a herbal recipe for a powder to be burned as an incense 'and also to take internally eating a bit', which is specified as 'for use by a householder in his day to day work'. One cannot help but note the practicality and even community preservation of such an operation. 

23. Eye salve is bought at the apothecary
This entry merely states 'white galmaja'. No further information is provided.

24. For the brewing of liquor use this to cense the tin and the distilling tub
A proportioned herbal recipe, with no further magical instructions; once more foregrounding the practicality of some of these entries.

 25. To free your bees from all evil or what it may be, and that they won’t travel off.
Instructions seem to include inserting 'a little of a raven' into a beehive, although Dr Johnson notes this could refer to twigs from a raven's nest. 

26. A short exhortation for whatever, just use these words against all sorcery.
A binding exhortation against 'the Devil Lussefärd, Bälssebub, Belial, and Asstor, with all their evil and angry company'. The Devil is also bound in all his colours ' both brown and blue, tawny and gray, black and white, yellow and green.' Along with the express actions and effects of devils, 'evil people's sorceral arts' are similarly abjured against.

27. To put down into the cattle-shed’s stall for sorcery and grounds where you have the cattle.
A working to create a talismanic object of counter-magical protection. Beginning with instructions for getting out of bed, it instructs on simple purifications of washing, fasting and silence before carving an 'oak knob from the root', before further preparing it by boring '9 holes and write 9 Xs and nine types of fruitbearing trees, and garlic, and hair from each of the animals' are then stuffed into the holes. Thus ritually linked to the farm and its land and livestock, the object - called a "pill" - is conjured and activated.  

28. Stopping Thievery
A written and spoken charm for compelling a thief to return stolen goods. A paper inscribed with the correct magical glyphs is burned as the short spoken charm links this to the actions of the thief and the intentions of the operation to compel return.

29. For constipation
Allegedly taken from 'Hindrich Smit’s Healing Book', this operation involves inserting alum and meat into the constipated patient. After sitting for a good while in a chair, they are expected to walk around and 'be loosened'.

30. To protect horses over the winter from heaves
This operation involves feeding the horses a small amount of their own hair, taken from 'the mane and a little from around the genitals and a little from the rump' mixed into their oats. This should be done in autumn 'when they’re just starting to be fed inside', and it is specified that the hair must be cut very finely or ground.


Implications for Practice: Divining Rods

MS 12 should first simply be acknowledged for combining protection, exorcism, and works of physical healing with the more familiar cunning-crafts of thief-compelling, treasure-finding, and the conjuration of spirits. It is at various points eminently almost prosaically practical, and at others points deeply mysterious, with the assumptions, contextual skipping, and unexplained protocols of the spirit-work contained therein proving especially fascinating.

There are many threads I would like to pick at in this collection alone, but I will summarise but one piece of the largest block of instructions, conjurations, and workings -those of the divining rod. While the walking-stick clearly has broader applications in the conjuration, charging, and compulsion of unclean spirits, I will focus for now merely on its functions of it as divining rod.

Following the tenth operation's instructions on breaking off and performing conjurations of consecration upon a wand or rod, the eleventh operation in MS 12 is entitled: 'If you wish to know something or wish to find a treasure, you should do this with the rod.' As with the breaking off of the rod previously, the Elementals seem central to this kind of wand working. We are instructed to 'put the divining rod on the Elemental Kings Element where the thing you desire is hidden; and hit that place with it saying the previously mentioned Elemental King’s name in the following conjuration'. Such instructions - to strike the earth for the thing you want - are of course central components of treasure-hunting magic. Here the wand has a physical use. It is not merely a token of authority or means to weave subtle virtues - although it certainly performs these roles too. It is also employed to touch and interact with the land, its spirits, and its mysteries; not to mention actual soil, water, charcoal, and all the elementated wonders of the worlds.

The rod is instructed after multiple conjurations of the Elemental Kings to 'stand up, you noble Rod', and then more specifically to 'arise and show me without delay and without falsity show to me, Rod, the truth of what I wish to know'. I cannot help but note that such material would serve well as frameworks and material for preparatory prayers with which to begin divination. The suggestion that the rod may be conjured to express some form of motion or physical inclination perhaps most obviously calls to mind various dowsing practices - and certainly such rites seem apt for using a rod in this manner. But the combination of striking the earth and the suggestion of enspirited tool in the rod work of MS 12 strike me as also applicable to the practice of geomantic squilling.

Squilling is the point of interaction for guiding and ruling spirits of geomantic divination to express their wisdoms and to reveal truths. The diviner, in a particular state of tranquility and reception, projects a set of uncounted marks with a stick in the earth; once these points are made they are tallied into geomantic figures and interpreted. Popular early modern geomancer and magician John Heydon suggests the spirits conjured to empower (indeed, enable) our geomantic divination move 'the hands of the projector' of these points.

The rod work of MS12's tenth and eleventh operations - with its exhortations that all deceptions, distractions, and potential difficulties are exorcised so that truth can be revealed - seem especially apt for the creation and employment of a geomancer's squilling stick. I leave you with the opening salvo of the consecrations and conjurations of this magical tool:

'I conjure you Rod, by Adonaij tetragramantor Zebaoth, Eloeh, Abh. Eloo Elea, and I conjure you Rod by the Lord Jesus Christ: Siloh the adonaij tetragramator Elohim Ber. Lord of the wonderful name Skhadob mallo: and I conjure you Rod by adonaij tetragamator Elohim Ruach hakadosak hagion hagiotatum – and I conjure you Rod by the 4 Evangelists’ name, Matei, Marki, Lukas and Johanis: and I conjure you Rod also by the names of the 12 apostles, and I conjure you Rod by the names of the 4 archangels: Mikaiell, Gabriell, Rafhaiell and Uriel, and I conjure you Rod by the [name] of the four Elemental Rulers Chrerub, Tharssis, Ariell, Serafhim, that you will provide to me the correct truth that I wish to know, by demonstrating a quick dip before me, as truly as

Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, and as truly as Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and as truly as God lives and reigns, and as truly as God created the Heavens and the Earth, and as truly as God has created the Sun and the Moon, and as truly as Jesus Christ crushed the head of the Serpent of Hell: So assuredly you, Rod, will do this.

(N.B.: name here the purpose and give the correct truth to know if it has happened. Then put the divining rod on the Elemental Kings Element where the thing you desire is hidden; and hit that place with it saying the previously mentioned Elemental King’s name in the following conjuration:)

N, I [name] conjure you , you King of the Element of Air, who is called Cherub,or the Element of Water who is called Tharsios, or Earth’s by the name of Oriell, or Fire’s whose name is Seraph, by Adonaij tetragrammator Eloeh Abh.and by the invisible Elo Elell, and I conjure you the King N., of the Element N.

(NB: here is mentioned both the King’s and the Element’s name, which has just been mentioned.)

By our Lord Jesus Christ Adonaij tetragramator and I  conjure you Eoloeh ben Lord of the named names sadobmals: and I conjure you King N. of Eleor hakedosak Elohim Hagior hagiotator and I conjure you King N. of the Element N: 5 and I conjure you King N. from the Element N., in the name of the four Evangelists Mateus, Markus, Lukas and Johannes. And I conjure you King N of the Element N, by the names of Jesus Christ’s twelve apostles.

And I conjure you King N of the Element N by the 4 holy archangels Mikaiel, Gabriell, Rafhael and Uriell, and your name King N of the Element N., Steer and guide this Rod and lead it to your Element and help me through this Rod to discover and take up the expectation of my soul, so that I may find out through this Rod and come to the main goal and complete truth of my purpose and find it...'