From Written to Oral Tradition. The Survival and Transformation of the St. Sisinnios Prayer in Oral Greek Charms

Pp. 111-138

  • Haralampos Passalis
Keywords: Archangel Michael, Greek oral charms, exorcisms, Gylou story, female demon, folk religion, Saints, St. Sisinnios prayer, written/oral tradition


The Sisinnios prayer or Gylou story, part prayer part exorcism, is an ambiguous narrative enjoying an intercultural as well as a diachronic distribution. The text, which refers to the harmful influence and restraint – through the sacred intervention of Saints or an Angel – of a female demon bearing different names (Lilith, Gyllo, Werzelya, Veshtitsa/Aveshtitsa etc., depending on the particular ethnic culture from which it has emerged) has received substantial attention from researchers on an international scale. In the Greek tradition, in which this female demon is known as Gyllo, Gyloy, Yello or Yalou, there have been recordings of more than thirty versions of the text, spanning a time period from the fifteenth up to the early twentieth centuries. These recordings are located geographically in various different parts of Greece, and have been used within the framework of a folk religious context as a means of protection for newborn babies and their mothers. What is the effect of this particular story on the oral tradition of charms, i.e. on those charms which are orally transmitted and performed? What forms has it assumed, and which particular elements of the written tradition have been transmitted, incorporated, transformed, modified or omitted from charms in the process? The present study aims, on the one hand, to contribute further to the exploration of the well-known myth, and, on the other, to offer additional insight into the interaction between the written and oral tradition of charms in light of the fact that the Gylou story is particularly susceptible to those interpretational studies which focus on the crucial processes of incorporation and transformation of the written tradition in the field of oral charms.