Around February of this year, Rubedo Press released a book by Jose Leitao, compiled and translated by him. I jumped at the chance to purchase the book as I highly admire his writing, his narrative is both accessible and rich. I find his scholarly take on the subject of Saint Cyprian, and especially on The Book of Saint Cyprian: The Sorcerer’s Treasure which he also translated, vast and deeply insightful. I do own The Book and continue to read it often, it never leaves my night table and my working table. Hence, I find Rubedo Press’s release of The Immaterial Book of St. Cyprian: Folk Concepts and Views on The Book as a Cultural Item Through the Reading of Folk Narratives is another gem. It includes a lengthy introduction by Jose Leitao, and the text has both the original Portuguese and the English translation side by side. So far, I have read it a couple times, and continue to read the occasional story every once in an while. This is my brief take on the book as I have experienced it.
As a preamble, this is Jose Leitao speaking on The Book of Saint Cyprian.
This is a book that stands outside of social normality, to touch it or even merely speak of it (never mind actually use it) is a sin, and this ‘sin’ extends well beyond any Christian definition. This is social and cultural sin; it is the undermining of all written, spoken and unspoken rules and conventions of what defines a society and the rule and place of the individual within it. By reading it, studying it or becoming a ‘specialist’ in it, all those around you become unable to accurately locate you in the social fabric and read your motivations and ambitions, and logically, you become the target of fear and suspicion: a witch, in its sociological sense. (Jose Leitao, 33)
This recent compilation of narratives all focus around The Book and its users. It is also meant to illustrate how The Book itself is an “object of power” both for the user and in the context of the user’s milieu. Simply owning The Book itself is a transgression and a daring. In these tales, the impact of the significance of The Book and by consequence what it means to use it unfolds in a haze of shadows and promises of treasure. Moreover, I want to add that these are all Iberian folktales.
From a geographical perspective, a majority of the tales take place outside, slightly apart from the locus of villages or towns. Additionally, the narratives center mainly around the edges of society, mostly during the hours of the night, around abandoned areas or strange rock formations. In most if not all, the promise of treasure is the impetus that begins the journey, wherein The Book is key because of its use as an object for treasure hunting.
The centuries passed, and no one brave enough appeared to perform such a feat, but time did not erase the belief in this hidden treasure or dull the faith of its gain in men, even if for this one would have to perform the ritual described in the legend. Greed was a stronger feeling than repugnance and fear, not to mention that human cunning is in such a way daring and pretentious that, by itself, can give to those willing an initial courage which in most cases, if it is not a condition for success, it is at least enough to reach the last stages of this. (“The Enchanted Girl”, 89)
Immersing myself in this liminal book has left me with some lasting impressions that bleed into interactions with spirits and approaches to what resides at the fringes or normative culture. It is clear that courage and daring is crucial as one takes the leap to venture outside of the norm in search of treasure, gain, and this in no way implies solely in the material sense. It is a daring to transgress beyond the norm, without looking back, in order to achieve a goal that equally lies outside of normative culture but immediately affects and effects it.
As one “steps out” or in other words, decentralizes, the portrait of the enchanted landscape appears, with golden tools and icons, just beyond one’s reach, and crepuscular spirits looming closer, as the fear of the undefined grips one’s throat. Within this landscape unfolds these web of folk tales.
There is a resonance here of daring and courage, as it is only the courageous, the one that has the necessary steadiness to complete the task, who receives the reward. One mistake, one exhalation of fear, one misreading from The Book, one second of distraction, and the quest is foiled. There is also precision here, and the willingness to endure in the face of what is unknown.
Furthermore, there is also a question of desire. What do we desire, and how far we are willing to venture outside of the norm to seize that which is desired?
The boy understood that he had to do this alone, without help or aid of anyone, but solely supported by the love he felt for the young girl. Building up his courage, he approached the serpent and, without greater difficulties, kissed her, receiving in return, in his arms, his girlfriend. (“The Enchanted Girl”, 95)
As these stories prove, the threshold or liminal place is a spectral space of challenges, blurry intentions, and allure. How one navigates intentions and desires within this landscape is key, as well as having the right tools to achieve the goal.
More on The Book’s contextual footprint:
Those cast in the times when This Book was not simply a commodity that could be bought and sold, when night meant a darkness that no light could break, when civilization was small and the mountain immense. The knowledge of the certainty of a Devil and an infinity of other inhumanities roaming the wilderness, the remote and ragged cliffs of endless echoes no one will ever hear, the clarity of the right and wrong of a society, the will to cross this border and its cost- this is the habitat of the experience we want to explore here. (Jose Leitao, 14)
Needless to say, I highly recommend this book, the experience of reading it has given me a lasting impression of the contextual milieu of The Book’s footprint, its portent, and also its enduring appeal. There is a tenebrous breath of magic that weaves itself through the stories and for reader which takes one on a memorable chthonic journey. The tales are also elegantly compiled with the original Portuguese in tandem. The book itself is small and compact allowing one to carry it for reading outside at one’s leisure.
*All instances where The Book is mentioned, italicized and capitalized, I am referring the The Book of St. Cyprian: The Sorcerer’s Treasure, published by Hadean Press. Which can be purchased here.
*All quotes are from The Immaterial Book of St. Cyprian: Folk Concepts and Views on The Book as a Cultural Item Through the Reading of Folk Narratives, compiled and translated by Jose Leitao, published by Rubedo Press in 2017.