Clearing the waters: Cyprian and the seafarers

Recently, I sat down and read one of the latest publications from Hadean Press by Jose Leitao, Clearing the Waters: A Monograph on Saint Cyprian Divination From the 17th to the 19th Century. It is a compact book, 142 pages long including the index, that explores divination through a Cyprianic lens, especially filtered through the iconic historiola:

St. Cyprian,

Seven years the sea thou roamed,

To learn news of thy lady

Seven [lots] thou threw in…

Thy luck thou took out right…

I ask thee now my dearest miraculous Saint,

That thou discover this for me.

(pg. 15, Leitao)

On the practical specifications, the book is divided into two parts. The first being the monograph, or the exploration of Cyprianic divination methods both via inquisition records and through the published Cyprian books, and the Appendices. The font is well spaced and easy to read, and the book includes both a lengthy bibliography and an index. It is more or less trade paperback size, slim, and easily portable.

The first part offers a thorough study that allows the reader, especially one interested in divination and it’s changes through time, a look into how Cyprian divination methods shifted and morphed. Focusing on hydromancy and its offshoots, like favo-mancy (divination with the fava beans) and reading playing cards.

Through the lens of this historiola, and its use in hydromancy, the landscape wherein these practices (or doings) flourished unfolds. Which to me feels it did so in between, or amidst, a sort of threshold between rural living and the growing urban milieu. I will quote here from the book regarding hydromancy and its attendant historiola:

Noticeably, the majority of questions addressed in this form of divination tended to deal with the determination of the health status, survival, or fidelity of traveling or seafaring men. In this way, it filled a very specific purpose within the extensive arsenal of the early Portuguese urban folk magician, which could help explain why this was never the most common divination used within this magical milieu. Overall, general questions on love, wealth, or any other mundane preoccupation could be much more easily addressed by any other form of divination, and this one, given its clear seafaring motif, was likely relegated to questions concerning seafaring travelers.

(pg. 32)

With the changing tides, and from the variability of procedures and incantations associated with divination, both including and circling around Cyprian among other popular Saints within the Iberian (and consequent transatlantic) landscape, it is not surprising to find that the incantation of Saint Cyprian roaming the sea seven years transformed to envelope more of the growing urban terrain. A sort of expansion and inclusion, wherein the commonality of divination through playing cards came to reach more ground. Like a rhizome entangling and reaching outward, and growing and flourishing in different and particular ways.

One key aspect of the book that stands out for me is the translation and inclusion of details on inquisition records and the methods described therein, reaching outside cartomancy and hyrdromancy. For example, there is also a look at divination with fava beans, and another for seeking voices, “the search for answers to a question based on random words heard on the street or during specific religious ceremonies” (37).

Toward the back in the appendices, one has a look at specific cartomantic methods and examples taken from the Book of Saint Cyprian. One also finds a deeper look at the different inquisition records in dual language format, Portuguese and it’s translation into English.

In totality, this little book contains a treasure trove of methods and procedures, along with a rich monograph exploring the transformations of Cyprianic cartomancy through a changing landscape. Unfolding for the reader the rich soil wherein many of the now contemporary methods grew and flourished. As an historical document that delves into a unique area of inquiry it is invaluable, and as a practical book it is an excellent resource for any diviner, cartomancer, and magic practitioner.

A couple personal notes: I find it curious how this particular seafaring incantation came to circulate around Cyprian, how water and water divination comes to perambulate around the saint. It also reminded me of “La plegaria del naufrago” frequently prayed in spiritist circles here in the Caribbean,

Torna tu vista, Dios mío, hacia esta infeliz criatura

no me des mi sepultura entre las olas del mar.

Dame la fuerza y valor para salvar el abismo,

dame gracias por lo mismo, que es tan grande tu bondad.

Si yo, cual frágil barquilla, por mi soberbia halagado,

el mar humano he cruzado, tan sólo tras el placer;

déjame, Señor, que vuelva a pisar el continente,

haciendo voto ferviente de ser cristiano con fe.

Si yo con mi torpe falta me he mecido entre la bruma

desafiando la espuma que levanta el temporal,

te ofrezco que en adelante no tendré el atrevimiento

de ensordecer el lamento de aquel que sufre en el mal.

Y si siguiendo mi rumbo he tenido hasta el descaro

de burlarme de aquel faro que puerto me designó;

yo te prometo, Dios mío no burlarme de esa luz

que brilla sobre la cruz por el hijo de tu amor.

¡Oh! Tú, Padre de mi alma, que escuchas al afligido

y me ves arrepentido de lo que mi vida fue.

Sálvame, Dios mío, sálvame y dame, antes que de cuenta,

para que yo me arrepienta en el tiempo preciso. Amén

Colección de Oraciones Escogidas del Nuevo Devocionario Espiritsta (English translation)

In my view, I can see how a divination method and incantation specifically targeted for the seafarer can transform, given the transatlantic movement within and around Iberia, to encompass a more diverse milieu, and used to seek answers beyond the realm of the seas. If one takes living as a voyage upon the seas, and we each as seafarers in the seas of life, then it is easy to perceive how the various forms of the incantation transformed to include more methods, including the cards, and hence addressing a wider variety of life questions.

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