I originally began writing this as an exploration of historiolae and their narratives within a Cyprianic context. To be sure, historiola as a thing is the basis for this piece, but my focus has changed. I want to zoom in on “Saint Cyprian as a Healer and Further Considerations on Sorcerous Poetics” from Jose Leitao’s Opuscula Cypriani, specifically on that last part, sorcerous poetics, elaborating on ideas around my personal perspective; how I see incantations, the lyricism of the charm or historiola, and what it portends to utter these lyrical narratives. My exploration will be via a collage of sources from several books and places, with my thoughts interspersed in between, as inspiration has led me.
In crude terms the historiola is a narrative (often rhyming) one voices in order to achieve X desire. The charmer (or insert whichever title preferable that points to the one who voices the narrative), as an individual within a community and immersed in a landscape, is a person embedded in a living terrain of interactions. This terrain is like a breathing web of continuously moving connections. Immersed within this web, the historiola can be seen as a thing that erupts like an out-breath through the voice, a self in response to the terrain and to desire. From Henni Ilomaki’s The Self of a Charm, “Charms can be seen as an act of communication, in which it is assumed that the singer’s message has a (supranormal) recipient. A charm can thus be seen as speech (parole) containing a given message. Formally speaking a charm is a monologue uttered against another’s force” (53). They are “texts for specific rites, for which the reciter must be entirely committed; a vehicle for momentary yet intense influence, which draws each charm-reciter into that influential power” (55). The historiola as a charm enfolded with a specific desire, arises out of a milieu like an out-breath, and it is inextricably in-relation with the (a) terrain, the body, the voice, the charmer, all within a web of reciprocal interactions.
In David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous he illustrates how we, people, live in a an embedded perceptual field of meanings in an animate flesh-world of relationships, not just human to human, but human and the landscape, the topography, the flora, the fauna, etc. His “field of meanings” is what arises out of this sensuous relationship between the human and more than human embedded in this landscape. It is a web of interlaced threads, the human perceptual experience in place, the more than human, and the terrain within a temporal influx and efflux.
We are all participants in this field of meanings, within a conversant constantly interacting landscape. From here Abrams proposes arises language. Language arises out of this interconnected perceptual experience of place. The voice and the breathe give a form to experience, yet semantic-ally condensed. “The sensing body is not a programmed machine but an active and open form, continually improvising its relation to things and to the world” (49). All are in continuous sense-uous involvement and by “affirming the animated-ness of perceived things do we allow our words to emerge directly from the depths of our ongoing reciprocity with the world” (56). Hence, as our bodies are enmeshed in this breathing web, and if language is met in the body, through the body, as in the body as a place of encounter, then voice is another expression of the body in relation to the living terrain of forms and beings. Moreover, when what is voiced mirrors this lyrical involvement of form and movement, then potentially one enters into a field of creation through influence.
Now I want to slide into Sorcerous Poetics.
In the typical realms of Cyprian magic, the incantations used most frequently take the form of historiolae, stories, be them canonical or not, through which a certain power, entity or aspect of that power or entity is called forth for a particular action to be named and discussed in the remaining incantation. [Involving] linguistic artifices that produce a sought-after sound in order to make up what might be perceived as a powerful utterance.
The presence of such linguistic and poetic tricks brings us to the idea that there is no monolithic source of power when dealing with verbal folk magic. One may call upon a Saint or spirit through a predetermined incantation specific for that effect, but one can also apparently call on a certain ‘faceless’ power by the skilled use of voice and sound. Such an example can be seen in incantations which, while not calling on any power whatsoever, are used to gain power over a disease or evil by describing it in appropriate poetic verbal terms.
Therefore, when an individual within a community in-cants particular verses, themselves arising within a particular milieu, expressing a desire through voice, said individual enacts its participation in the multifaceted field of forms and relations, of sensuous involvement, and through this enters into a field of creation where reordering through the voice (what is spoken) is possible, as, “In the Beginning God said… and in the Beginning was the Word.” The keys here are enunciating the “appropriate poetic verbal terms,” cohering the rhyme and the flow. Hence, the key is unlocking the rhyme that mirrors the temporally emplaced interactions in the field of meaning, translating desire (what is desired) through this web to allow for influence/change. One can see it as a spontaneous dance between desire and the breathing web, where the poetic voice is the vehicle that influences.
In his commentary, Jose Leitao is focusing specifically on folk magic within a Cyprianic context. Yet I find that one can dive into this and need not conscript it to folk magic, and extract it as such exclusively. One can instead perceive the jewels and gems that form historiolae, and from there explore ones own participation within ones own animate landscape. Voicing for oneself a lyrical involvement, in-line with a Cyprianic context yet embedded in one’s own terrain.
To condense what I aim to express, if language arises in relation, and lyrical language holds the key to express this reciprocal web while also allowing for desire to be a channel for creation, then taking a cue from Jose Leitao, we can begin to weave “our” own historiolae fed by the same Cyprianic stream.
My aim here was to cohere a thought by various ways, a thought that arose out of, and inspired by, this section of Opuscula Cypriani written by Jose Leitao. True to form, towards the end of this section he adds his own lyrical creations given as examples, cementing the idea that Cyprianic charms or historiolae can and should be contemporaneously explored.
- David Abrams (1996). The Spell of the Sensuous.
- Henni Ilomaki (2004). “The Self of a Charm.” In Charms And Charming In Europe, ed. by Jonathan Roper (pp. 47-57).
- Jose Leitao (2019). “Saint Cyprian as a Healer and Further Considerations on Sorcerous Poetics.” Opuscula Cypriani (pp.103-11).