Cipriano y las cabañuelas: Weather Augury, the Sorcerer Saint, and the Year Ahead

Consulting the notes taking during las cabañuelas to divine the year's weather, from this video. 

In many parts of Latin America and Spain, the month of January becomes a complex weather prediction system known as las cabañuelas. January is not the only possible month for this system, especially in Iberia, but more on that later. This system is not unlike many weather predicitive or even broader augury systems known across the Iberian peninsula- the use of the témporas, or the basque zotalegun (wonderfully highlighted over at ‘Por encima de todas las zarzas’ by Maria Martínez and and also over at Occvlta last year by Júlia Semproniana), not dissimilar from larger concepts of the Scandinavian ‘year walk‘ and other predictive calendrical pilgrimages. Or even the stock market’s January barometer

What has always interested me past the mechanics and reputation of this system, which is weather predictive almost exclusively in practice, is the peculiar folklore around this system in the Southwest of the United States and the Borderlands of Mexico amongst curandero/as- the (folk) Catholic faith healers, and also attributed to the confradías of the area, like the Hermanos Penitentes. Okay, still with me?

So firstly, what are las cabañuelas?

(la) cabañuela: cálculo o suposición puramente fantástica, por el que se pretende pronosticar el tiempo que hará en cada mes, rigiéndose por el que hace en los doce primeros días del año, o deduciéndolo de la observación de las variaciones atmosféricas acaecidas en los veinticuatro primeros días del mes de agosto del año anterior. [1]

cabañuela: a calculation or purely fantastic assumption, which is intended to predict the weather in each month, governed by what it does in the first twelve days of the year, or deducing it from observing the atmospheric variations that occurred in the first twenty-four days of the August of the previous year.

Let me start by saying that this system is taken very seriously by some people, and is considered “highly scientific” and infallible by many. Ready? Vamos.

La sistema de las cabañuelas

January 1- 12 are known as las cabañuelas a derechas- the cabañuelas to the right (like how Western calendars read). Each day’s weather predicts the weather for each month, corresponding to its number, chronologically. The 1st is January’s, the 2nd is February’s and so on until the 12th which is, naturally, December’s. 

January 13- 24 are known as las cabañuelas a rataculas ( although I first heard the term cabañuelas a revés, apparently a minority term). Each day’s weather predicts the weather for each month, anti-chronologically, i.e. the 13th belongs again to December (who just had the 12th), the 14th belongs to November, the 15th belongs to October, working backwards through the calendar of the year until the 24th which corresponds again to January. Many people feel las rataculas is more accurate than the omens offered during the derechas period. 

January 25- 30 are not often given a specific name it seems in published accounts, although I have heard las cabañuelas de Salomón, and las cabañuelas de la Santa Misa from New Mexicans. Both of these terms reference the practice of these specific cabañuelas- each day is divided in two, the first half of the day belonging to the chronological first of two months paired on that day predictively, the second half belonging to the other. The divisions are standardly 12am-12pm, and 12pm back again to 12am. Thus, the auguries of the 25th from Midnight to Noon belongs to the predictions for January, and from noon to midnight belong to February. The 26th, March/April, and so on, ending with December on the 30th from noon to midnight. Also, the division of the days in twain then makes sense of the alternate (definitely minority names) given- the Judgement of Solomon reference of 1 Kings in ‘ Salomón’) and by referencing the number of days, the six candles of the High Mass become tokens for the six days of this period (las cabañuelas de la Santa Misa).

Jan 31- la cabañuela última- the “last” day. This day is the summary of everything we have done with the cabañuelas. The day is divided into 24 hours, and the first twelve hours from midnight to noon are representative of January through December, and like a derechas/ a rataculas, at noon we proceed anti-chronologically, from December through January which ends the month from 11pm to Midnight. 

So each month comes up five times during the cabañuelas: once during a derechas, once during a rataculas, once during de Salomón/Santa Misa, and twice during la última. A veritable mano poderosa of augury: we have much to observe, much to collect! (Suggestion: Worry about interpretation later, it is more important to write it down!)

In many areas (and indeed in most modern published summaries), the auguries looked for are solely meteorological- if it rains or snows on a given month’s representative day or half-day or hour, then it will be said to be a wet corresponding month. Some will use the six day period and the last day as predictive of specific parts of the month, based on a combination of data from the different periods. 

However, it is not uncommon that in practice, the omens can be anything the observer chooses to acknowledge- plants, insects, animals- perhaps a combination with other traditions mentioned earlier, or a natural expression of augury in general. This is documented in Zamora, and I know it is not uncommon amongst curandero/as in the Southwest/Borderlands. (Keep this potential in mind!)

Also, it should be said that not all adherents of the cabañuelas system fix the predictive month to January (January is more common in the New World), in fact for some it is not a month so much as a period of 31 days. The most common alternatives are in August, or even starting on specific days in August- the 2nd or the 13th for example, or in the case of Alcozar in Spain, las derechas begin on December 13th and the system ends on January 5th, the Eve of Epiphany.

Similarly, when the system proves itself wrong (or let’s say... "uninterpretable" or "contradictory") by the 31st (as the first and last hour of the day should reflect in some way the weather of January already experienced), then we can always switch to August! (“¡Ay! es que estamos en la cabañuela de agosto” (We are in the August cabañuela!)[2].

I suppose I could have made this cleaner too by differentiating between prediction and forecasting. What is being done in las cabañuelas “proper” is a form of weather forecasting- which always contains an element of uncertainty, while prediction implies a certitude reserved for eclipses (in a positive connotation) and fortune-telling (for a less positive connotation). But we’re not proper are we? I mean, I think its called prediction to both ridicule its ‘unscientific‘ methodology, but I think we can embrace that conflation with fortune-telling, being who we are. Still with me? (I know, some of you came here for Cyprian and you’re waiting patiently like a good Christian for the Rapture).

So now, I suppose, we then have to dive into the origin, or at least the purported origins, of las cabañuelas.

11th Century Jewish Spanish Origins

The “official” story is that in Toledo in 1020, the Jewish population was celebrating Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles, and erected a great many cabañuelas (surpise! it means tent/booth!) in celebration of the Holiday, itself a commemoration of the wandering in the desert, the tents being demonstrative of the type of temporary dwelling the Israelites made for themselves while in the Desert. (Book of Exodus referential, etc.). Because it was common practice for the Jews to make weather predictions around this festival, the practice of weather prediction based on specific time periods became known as cabañuelas.

(Is that truly an origin though? Of the term, maybe.... but- remember this Judaism connection.)

(Aside: I've also wondered if cabañuelas could be used to describe something like the lunar mansions.... temporary dwellings? Perhaps even the name is just a reference to understand how the Sun passes through the days just as it will the years- the days, half days and hours are themselves cabañuelas the Sun passes through on its journey through the year, and we learn a bit of how the Sun, and indeed the weather, is predisposed by his behavior in each cabañuela?)

Ancient Egyptian Origins

Now, popular folklore in Spain and Latin America says that it is actually an ancient Egyptian system, and was calculated with the appearance of Sirius, the Dog Star, in August (which rises around the mid August start time of some systems of cabañuelas.) This appeal to Egyptian antiquity also fits the exotifying narrative of 19th and early 20th century, and continues in occult mythic history to explain many things mystical- like the tarot. (Of course, Egypt did affect everything that came after it in its area of the world, and this is not to say that many things don’t have their origin in Egyptian practice. Egypt is amazing and it may be the origin of MANY things, but we have to consider the appeal to antiquity/exoticism that it has become. That’s a discussion for another time, perhaps). That said........ remember this Egypt part!

New World Indigenous Origins

There is also a theory proposed that indigenous new world practices influenced or are perhaps even the origin of the cabañuelas. Graciela Minaya, in a 1945 article in La Nación, viewed las cabañuelas as “an example of the common heritage of the ancient indigenous peoples of Mexico, central America, and the larger Caribbean islands, that was passed down from one generation to the next.” [3]

We can see even historical precedent for at least a similar practice: "The testimony of Román Pané, a monk of the order of St. Geronimo, who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage, lends credence to the idea that las cabañuelas originated in the New World. While in Haiti, Pané recorded the fact that "these Indians know by consulting their gods and observing the first days of the year which days will be good, which will be bad, which will be rainy and which dry." (Loosely translated from what is the earliest purely ethnographic treatise on American Indians.) Pané, incidentally, is thought to have been the first person to take tobacco back to Spain." [4]

I’m totally attracted to this theory (acknowledgement of personal bias!), and the fuller exploration of a possible Mayan origin can be read here. The indigenous origin has recently started being promoted again in social media which favors a contestation of Spanish origin to everything latino that is deemed more permissible than it once was. Also, I think its helpful to remember weather prediction or even calendrical correspondence augury is not unique to any one culture. And, importantly for this focus, all can meet in the hybrid cultural expressions that is Mexican magic. (If I am mestizo, why does my magic “have to be” only one thing? A constant theme in my life. Mudblood magic ftw.) But all this is probably best explored at another time.

Finally, Saint Cyprian

Now, I heard of the cabañuelas growing up, and when I started talking to various curandero/as starting in the 90s, there was always a belief that it worked. People may not know how to interpret the signs, but there was a strong belief in the cabañuelas as legit. When I began talking with E Bryant Holman about such during the mid 2000s on the 1curanderismo e-group (RIP, yahoo egroups), which a few of us co-moderated, and we had more than a few discussions on the local lore he had heard in Ojinaga (in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, on the border with Texas), and from a few other curanderos in his area of Texas (on the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo), more towards New Mexico than the Gulf itself. My experience came from exploring the curanderismo of my maternal ancestral lands of New Mexico, in addition to my familiarity with broader Mexican curanderismo as practiced in Los Angeles where I grew up. (It is a continuing passion and study of mine, this beautiful thing called curanderismo). All that said... we became enamored of the Ciprianic lore that was commonly embedded within Borderland concepts of magic. Some of these things were discussed on the now-defunct egroup, some in private correspondence. Around that time I was also talking with Doña Concha Ruiz of Curious Curandera and Chris Bilardi on similar things, in those wonderful ways early e-groups promoted sharing of information and late night phone calls between digital friends in that pre-facebook era. But I digress.

Okay, so there is a story of Cipriano that we had heard from several people, one I was familiar with growing up as well, connecting him to the cabañuelas practice. The larger context of this Southwestern/Mexican Cypriana will be discussed hopefully more in the future in Cypriana: New World (forthcoming- we’re working on it!), and I’m eagerly awaiting (and encouraging) Alex Djinn to publish his interviews and experiences in the Rio Grande Valley concerning brujeria at large, but especially with extant Cyprian lore in the Borderlands. But what is Cyprian's connection here? Bear with me.

Many people say that certain cofradias (religious fraternities)- itself an appeal to authority in the Southwest- promoted a Ciprianic narrative where Cyprian himself was indeed a pagan magician of antiquity, but that he was by birth Jewish on his mother’s side. (The history of marranos in New Mexico is well documented, and several Catholic saints are often said to be not only sympathetic to the crypto-Catholics but crypto-Catholic themselves- i.e. secret jews or muslims). And that his mother was from a sect of Judaism that actually was by ancestry Egyptian, those few Egyptians that had travelled with the Israelites in the Exodus from Egypt and converted, or at least lived alongside, the Israelites. (The “mixed multitude” of Exodus 12:38). So the magic of Egypt lives on in Judaism, which lives on in Catholicism, and “it still goes on today” (I invoke thee, Cecil Williamson!) in the cofradias and home altars of the faithful in the Southwest.

I'm curious about the history of this association- I may never know- perhaps the grand sweeping lore of las cabañuelas as popular practice naturally lends itself to also fall under Ciprianic patronage for those already dedicated to him. The areas noted for the Ciprianillo (in Galicia especially) tend to use the témporas rather than las cabañuelas, which is a system of weather prediction during each of the Ember Days. Some Ciprianillos (Books of Saint Cyprian, for there are indeed many) do include calendar based predictive augury and weather forecasting, some even include las cabañuelas directly (Jose Leitão and Felix Castro Vicente- I bow to you here, any thoughts?), but lets suppose none of that matters. Because it may inform the patronage, the possibilities, but I worry it is perhaps more history than inspiration.

Synthesis and a Proposal

This appeal to Ciprianic authority promotes the use of the cabañuelas in parts of New Mexico, Texas, and Northern Mexico. And the popular “of ancient Egypt” origin story passes through the popular “historical” origin story of cabañuelas as referring to Jewish predictive practice, merging Egyptian and Jewish origins through the authority of the pagan trained Sorcerer Saint Cyprian of Antioch. Who himself in Mexican lore is said to have learned the sorcery of ancient America through the grace of the pagan gods he trained with! Yup. Cyprian learned everything. (Well some might say his patience or compassion is still something he's working on, but that's some, not me, never...)

Now, I’ll complicate this further. Let’s say that you use the augury of each day in the month of January to predict, indeed, forecast how your year should go. How January goes might indeed predict months in which you should take on certain projects, avoid others, times to accept company, or days of solitude. Indeed, a personal calendar for the year may be derived by the light of the Candlemas Virgin as you process the cabañuelas information you recorded in this very month, not only predicting weather, but perhaps, advice from the Sorcerer Saint as to your personal taboos expressed contextually in time, your strengths and divine encouragements on the calendar of the year...

That, friends, is of great interest to me. That the Saint-who-bleeds-Ink might help you record the auguries, that through his intercession you be given insight into those auguries, that you plan your year ahead, based on the mirror of the first step into the year! (A waltz of sorts, with twelve advances forward, twelve back, twelve forward, and again twelve forward and back!) That this month allows for a personal foray into learning how to predict, something you may yearly revisit, under his specific patronage, that helps you live your year to its potential. Precedent is more than there.

The lore runs deep, and I am in love with the depth the extant traditions and stories provide me- may they continue to inspire others- for, as I have written elsewhere- our Book is never done- the Ciprianillo is written by those who deign to practice this path of sorcerous faith that Cyprian seems to embody and radiate.

Predict the weather, predict your year.
May you always find the eye of the storm.
May your inner Christos still the storm of your soul.

And bleed sorcery all over your year, cabañuelistas! A Happy New Year to all.




[3] Ibid



Popular Posts