An incantation based on christian and pagan exorcisms from medieval Croatia

Some memories never fade. I can still picture my grandmother and what happened on the island of Pašman in Croatia on a stormy day, a long time ago. At first, she frightened me. Then she transformed into a domestic deity, albeit a bit clumsy. Holding a twig of an olive tree, waving it from one corner of the garden to the other, she murmured "Holy Cross, I believe in you, Saint Lucy, I follow you, St. Mary, I pray to you". She added incomprehensible syllables, "mek elek amelek" , invoked cohorts of saints to save her plants and animals. When the storm calmed down, I knew I had nothing to fear, because my grandmother knew how to appease the divine.

Concert during the festival Les Traversées de Noirlac – Centre culturel de rencontre – Saturday, June 23rd 2018. Video: titania

An eternity has passed, the old divinities are dead, other divinities came and went. One day, not too long ago, a little notebook seemed to pop into my hands in a Croatian research library, and the manuscript room suddenly filled with the smell of that stormy day on the island. The notebook contained inscriptions and clumsy drawings. It looked like a recipe book, written by a hand stained with earth, wax and grease: prayers, exorcisms, formulas of magic and traditional medicine, amulets to be worn around the neck, curses for chasing bad spirits or diseases, bad weather, the possessed. Written down between the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries by the Glagolitic clerics of the Dalmatian islands, who were a kind of half-shamans, half-priests. They invented words that sounded scholarly, wise, mixed up the Latin and Greek prayers they did not understand "Lex ex pex, kokla kokabula, mantam santam oderem".

Texts full of pagan elements, mixed with Christian prayers. Mesmerized by the universe of these priest-peasants, I decided to just lend my mouth to their spells and let them do their magic. These words have thus become the basis of a new creation in the form of dramatic miniatures, their musical language inspired by the Dalmatian Glagolitic tradition.

Katarina Livljanić

Kokla Kokabula by Katarina Livljanić is a part of the programme Walking in Beauty, along with the piece Changing Woman by Thierry Pécou (based on the healing rituals of Navajo Indians). The performance is concieved as a ritual, evoking healing powers and ancients wisdom of shamans and priests from oral traditions.

More information on this programme here.

Katarina Livljanić, mezzosoprano
Noa Frenkel, contralto
Laurene Durantel, double bass