Gypsies and the old black.

Following on from my favourite sangoma (if ancestors are virtual, why haven’t they got websites?), here’s a denunciation of our favourite crucifee, read up a rainy mountain this weekend:

Doncs, mira primer ab falsos miracles
com són tots los pobles per ell alterats.
Rompent de la llei los grans tabernacles,
als nostres rabins ha fet grans obstacles,
als seus prometent seran tots salvats.

I més prohebeix que pus ja no sia
al nostre gran César pagat lo traüt,
i el gran Satanàs tenint ell per guia,
engana los pobles ab nigromancia
i per grans meravelles parlar fa lo mut.

In poor Anglish:

Then see first how with false miracles
All peapoles are by him changed.
Breaking the great tabernacles of the law,
He has created great obstacles for our rabbis,
Promising to his people that all shall be saved.

Moreover he prohibits that to our great Caesar
Should any more be paid his tribute,
And great Satan having him as his guide,
Fools the people with nigromancy
And with great marvels makes talk the mute.

That’s from the Cervera Passion, which dates from 1534-45, according to Josep Massot i Muntaner in his Edicions 62 collection, Teatre medieval i del renaixement.

Grec tells us that nigromància (the accent is actually on the final “i” in the above excerpt) is C14th and came from the late Latin necromantia, which came in turn from the Greek necromanteía (nekros, corpse) and was influenced by the Latin niger as ancestor-powered forecasting (dead reckoning?) came to be seen as a black art.

There are various spellings (the splendid DCVB says that the 1585 Nebrija dictionary (Lexicon seu Dictionarium Aelii Antonii Nebrissensis) lists negromancia). However, curiously,the necro- form seems to have survived into the Middle Ages neither in Catalan nor in Castilian (the oldest Castilian citations in Corde are from the 1250s, but they are all nigro-s). I’d hazard that the earliest instances in English and French are also black- rather than dead-based, and the poor man’s OED says that the “Modern spelling is c.1550 from attempts to correct M.E. nygromauncy.”

All this makes me wonder–idly, as usual–whether the necro- sense ever existed in western vernaculars prior to the Renaissance. One of early mentions is in Alfonso the Stoned’s Lapidario (ca 1250; original text below), in which “those from India” are said to “work much in the art of nigromancy”, using abarquid/albarquid (whatever that is) to conjure fake pregnancies.

Indians in this case are gypsies, and I wonder (sorry) whether nigromancy was not one of a bunch of black things imported into Iberia by them, along with the black female deities with which they are more generally credited. Interestingly, the first English nigro- instance given by James Lambert (I hope he knows his directories are browsable…) is Chaucer in the Parson’s Tale (“Hem that bileeuen on dyuynailes as by flight, or by noyse of briddes or of beestes, or by sort, by nygromancye, by dremes…”). We all know that Chaucer visited Montserrat (I actually believe this), which of course is home to the bestest black virgin in the whole wide world. (Except for Madonna.)

De la piedra que llaman abarquid.

Del quinto grado del signo de tauro es la piedra a que dizen albarquid. & es fallada en tierra de affrica en las mineras del sufre. Liuiana es. & fuerte de quebrantar. Et es de fuera de color de alhenna mezclada uerde con un poco de amariello. Es de figura llana. & quando la omne bien cata; paresce en ella figura de escorpion. & si la quebrantan; fallan dentro la piedra figurada daquella misma manera. De su natura es fria & seca. Et a tal uertud que quando alguna mugier la trae consigo, enciendela tanto por cobdicia de uaron; que se non puede ende sofrir si non por muy grand fuerça. & assi lo faze qualquier animal que la tenga; que sea fembra. & los de india que se trabaian mucho del arte de nigromancia; obran mucho con esta piedra. Et a tal uertud que si dieren desta piedra molida a beuer a mugier; inchal el uientre poc a poco de guisa que semeia prennada. & quando uiene al tiempo del parir; desfazse. Et los nigromancianos fazen creer que por su arte. & por su saber; se faze aquella prennadez & se tuelle. Et la estrella luziente que es en el lado diestro de la figura de persio, a poderyo sobresta piedra & della recibe la uertud. Et quando ella fuere en el ascendente; muestra esta piedra mas manifiestamiente sus obras.

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