Review – Opuscula Cypriani: Variations on the Book of St. Cyprian and Related Literature

Saint Cyprian has become a fascinating figure for magicians from many different opuscula-cypriani-pb-mockupbackgrounds, and a spiritual patron for many of today’s practitioners. Given previous authors’ focus on Solomon as the wizard par excellence, and the linguistic barriers to correlating material on Cyprian from various traditions, our knowledge of the folklore and ritual practice surrounding him has been severely limited. Recent publications have done much to break down these barriers, with Hadean Press’ latest release, Opuscula Cypriani, or “Minor Works of Cyprian” being another welcome addition. The book will soon be available both in hardback and paperback; this review is based on a PDF of the hardback.

In the Opuscula, José Leitão return again to the Portuguese Cyprianic corpus that informed his previous releases, The Book of Saint Cyprian and The Immaterial Book of Cyprian. That one can fill up nearly a thousand pages with barely any overlap with other published material attributed to Cyprian certainly attests to the depth of the tradition. At the same time, however, it illustrates how trying to define any particular trait of “Cyprianic magic” is as perilous and likely as fruitless as trying to label a type of magic as “Solomonic.”

This will be more general impressions rather than an in-depth examination of the work, as 900+ pages is more than I care to read right now. Yet I’d like to talk about the general plan and the highlights.

The works begins with the earliest Cyprianic material Leitão can find from the region: extracts from the processes of the Portuguese Inquisition in which people were found to be using spells attributed to Cyprian. This is followed by one of the most significant works in the book, Universidade de Coimbra MS. 2559, a lengthy eighteenth-century collection of prayers attributed to Cyprian and employed to bring success at treasure hunting. Many of the items in this section include facsimiles of the original documents, along with both Portuguese and English texts for their contents.

In the middle of the book, Leitão gives us a lengthy description of the magic of Cyprian’s history in Portugal (he largely stays clear of the Spanish, Brazilian, and other traditions). He notes that the material from the manuscript editions is largely different from what appears in the later printed literature, and that the Lisbon tradition of the Book of Cyprian has mostly superseded the others presented here, likely due to the effects of successive regimes appropriating or denigrating the folk culture from which it sprang. On the way, we get a quick introduction to Portuguese political history and modern spirituality that I found very welcome.

Many different books attributed to Cyprian, or that seem to be adjacent to it, were published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Much of the rest of the book is taken up with translations of such works, ranging in topic from lists of treasures to procedures for divination – physiognomy, cartomancy, and the like. This is the part with which I spent the least time – maybe ritual magic snobbery is showing through on my part – but I think those who wish to know more about folk magic will delight in it.

So, who else would enjoy this work? This is a tough question for me. I think its title as “Minor Works of Cyprian” is a good indicator of whether a potential buyer would like it, though those interested in folk magic of Iberia should also seek it out. Also, those who do not have Leitão’s Book of Cyprian should acquire that first before reading this one. At any rate, I hope to see more such volumes on Cyprian, possibly encompassing works from other countries that might give us more insight into the length and depth of this tradition.

Published in: on January 9, 2020 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] I received my copy of the Opuscula Cypriani, and it is huge. You can check out my review on what’s inside here. […]

  2. […] other concern about the text is the transcription and translation to use. I recently reviewed the Opuscula Cypriani, and its archival documents followed what I feel is the standard in dealing with such texts: we get […]

  3. […] Interested in Universidade de Coimbra MS. 2559, that eighteenth-century book of Cyprianic treasure magic mentioned in my review of Opuscula Cypriani? Can’t afford that book? Hadean has issued it as a standalone book, in both print and digital editions. […]


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