Cyprus Folk Magic – Part 1: Religious Customs/Hoodoo Influences

IMG 7615 - Cyprus Folk Magic - Part 1: Religious Customs/Hoodoo Influences

Upon starting my practice and study in the craft, I couldn’t help but draw some inspiration, at some level, from customs I found in my culture growing up. Me being a traditional witch, and traditional witchcraft having your cultural background implemented in your practice, I increasingly found an interest to not only start using these customs but also searching for more. However, just as folk magic in other cultures, these customs were passed down through word of mouth. Which means I have to draw them out of my memory. And sometimes memory can be extremely fuzzy. And so then I came to the decision to start writing things down so I can put them into perspective and slot the pieces of the puzzle in my brain back together.

Now, I don’t claim I know all about folk magic in Cyprus. This is a learning experience for me too. This goes to say that I am making my best to provide accurate information as possible. I will also only be focusing on folk customs practised within the Greek-speaking community of Cyprus as those are the ones I grew up with.

As you may have gathered from the title of this blog, I am originally from Cyprus. Some might know it as the Island of Aphrodite (or the land of Ayia Napa to our generation – although we can do better than that). In this island, most of the people (speaking of the Greek-speaking community at-least) are extremely religious Christian Greek Orthodox, which drove many people to think of magic as something evil, so the word witch, just like in many other cultures, was associated with someone working with dark and evil forces.

However, this didn’t stop us from believing – to this day – in superstitions and magic. If you look closely, a lot of us even practise magic through customs and beliefs, even if we don’t call it that.

Magical customs implementing religion

Now, as mentioned earlier, in the Greek-speaking community we consider the church extremely highly. To the point where bishops partake in political matters (unfortunately). If you are not Christian Greek Orthodox, you are considered an outsider. Of course, this now changes with the new generations being more secular.

The church in Cyprus, as with churches in every other country and culture, is considered a tight community. In the town I grew up in, we have two big churches, half the town goes to one and engages with the community of that side of the town, and the other half goes to the other church. This takes place in every village, town and city, and so we have learned to implement the church in customs about healing and protection.

Smoke cleansing (frankincense in particular) is one of the practices as part of the Sunday sermon in the church. Church-goers take this practice to their home. We acquire ample amounts of olive leaves blessed by the priest on Palm Sunday, where we take these at home and use them to burn as incense to cleanse and bless the house. In my family, we smoke cleanse almost every day. And come to think of it, everyone who visits our home they always comment on the clean energy of the house.

Speaking of Palm Sunday, a week later, on Holy Saturday, or the Saturday of Resurrection -as we call it – the Holy light is brought in Cyprus all the way from Jerusalem, where at midnight when it turns onto Easter Sunday, the priest shares the Holy Light with everyone who attended the sermon that evening. The candle is then taken home without being blown out where we mark a cross over the front door of the house with the fire of the candle and then leave the candle burn for the entire rest of the night. It is said the house will then be blessed for an entire year.

Petitioning the saints is another custom taken seriously by the Cypriot folk. One I grew up with is petitioning St Phanourio (his name translates to “the one who reveals”) when you lose an item or want to find something (a job, a husband/wife and whatnot), where you are required to bake a specific sponge cake. Then one piece is left from the saint and the remaining of the cake is shared between the family and friends.

When women are having a difficult pregnancy, they petition the Virgin Mary (and sometimes other saints) to help the birth go smoothly. In return, the child must be named after the Virgin Mary. My mother had big worries when she was pregnant with my younger brothers and she petitions the Virgin Mary. My grandmother, on the other hand, had difficulties giving birth while birthing and she turned to the icon of Apostle Andrew hung in the room and as soon as he asked him for help, her son came out. He is now named Andy. I have come across cases where the mother didn’t honour the petition and their child would be born with health issues. This is a custom no one takes lightly.

Some saints, just like St. Phanourios, are petitioned for specific situations. St. Marina is the saint who takes care of children, especially newborns. I remember my grandmother singing her lullaby to calm crying babies. St. Nicholas is the saint petitioned for help with travel, especially travel over water. And you might already know St. Cyprian (who is from Cyprus and that is where he took his name from) is petitioned for the removal of black magic.

Another form of petitioning the saints, healing candles are taken to the church in the life-size replica of the body part (if not the entire body) of the patient to help with the recovery. If, for example, someone had broken their arm and had an operation, a life-size replica of their ailed hand (of course this would be custom made) would be taken to the church to help with their recovery. A similar across can be found in the Santeria tradition in Mexico. Something I find extremely interesting as, historically speaking, the two countries don’t have events that connect the two traditions to my knowledge.

Shrines to the saints are set up in every religious home. We don’t necessarily call them shrines, in fact, in our house, we just didn’t call it anything. We considered it completely normal to just collect icons for every saint that we feel connected to. The counters in the laundry room are filled with icons all around (that’s a 2.5m counter length filled with icons). In fact, my mother places icons in every part, if not almost every wall, of the house (my partner finds that rather creepy, whereas I find it amusing).

These are only a few of these customs. The ones they come to mind at least. Come to think of it, I am unsure how these customs came to the country as I have seen some of the above practices in other cultures. In fact, it would be difficult to not associate them with Hoodoo. Afterall, Hoodoo is folk magic implementing saints. Even though I have a few theories as for this, a little trip to history lane would be in due to deepening these further, and so I will not dwell on this at this point just yet. And like with other folk customs and cultures, even when people don’t associate these with magic, they do sound a lot like spells. However, it is not unheard of people not associating themselves with the term witch or witchcraft to avoid prosecution, but this doesn’t change the power of intent and energy.

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  1. Hi!
    I was reading this, and I found a lot of similarities with Catholic traditions practiced in Italy, where I live. I'm quite sure that both the shrines as the petitions to the Saints might be an adaptation of pre-christian practices, substituting ancient gods with more Church-friendly entities (there are also theories that relate the beginning of Saints-worship itself to the necessity of making the new faith more acceptable to the people who were used to traditional religions)
    Regarding the body-shaped candles, I had never heard of them, but I think they might be related to Ancient Greek anatomical ex-voto

    1. I think it’s also a case of survival and adaptation. If you wanted to survive back at the time (i.e. not get killed for being a witch) you would hide between the religious dogmas that were present, which is why I think there’s a lot of similarities in so many cultures.

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