Italian Witchcraft Basics

First, a little about my path/how I got here (to reading Raven Grimassi with my cat while I’m supposed to be working from home =P):

I was introduced into witchcraft when I was a teenager, like a lot of people, through the writings of Scott Cunningham and Silver Ravenwolf on Wicca and solitary witchcraft. I was raised Roman Catholic and exposed to Italian and Native American cultural traditions from a young age.  Over time, through reading books, meeting other practitioners and figuring out what seemed to be and not be right for me, I’ve come to practice an esoteric magick that blends elements of european witchcraft, catholic and native american traditions, the bits of italian (specifically sicilian) witchcraft I learned from my great-grandmother (who has passed into spirit), divination and workings with the dead. In ritual, I call primarily on the Egyptian sun god, Ra.

I bought Raven Grimassi’s book Italian Witchcraft to delve more deeply into my ancestral/magickal roots and learn about a variety of different Italian traditions (not just those of my own family members). I held off on reading Grimassi’s book for awhile because I resented his almost constant comparisons to Gerald Gardner and Wicca in his writings about Italian witchcraft, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. None of the Streghe in my family ever honored a horned god, for example, but that obviously doesn’t have any bearing on what other Italian witches may or may not believe.

From my notes on Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe by Raven Grimassi, Chapter 1: Beliefs of the Strega (I didn’t use parenthetical citations in these notes–it’s for a blog, not a research paper, after all–but most of this info comes from Grimassi, not me):

  • Italian Witchcraft or “Stregheria” pre-dates Celtic witchcraft by centuries
  • Italian Witchcraft is a legacy of Etruscan civilization and the Roman Empire
  • Stregheria is a passionate Magick–originally involving naked rites and sexual activity between practitioners
  • Strega-female witch
  • Stregone-male witch
  • Stregheria-old italian word for witchcraft
  • Stregoneria-modern italian word for witchcraft/sorcery but sometimes viewed as disrespectful
  • Streghe-plural for witches
  • Boschetto-coven; the word literally means grove because witches used to meet in groves
  • In central Italy, witches worshipped the goddess Diana
  • Witches in covens in Italy were still persecuted like in other parts of Europe, but solitary witches were often left to their own devices and even regarded as village healers and counselors
  • In 14th century Italy, Aradia brought about a revival of the old religion–La Vecchia Religione–and three separate traditions arose out of her efforts–the Fanarra, Janarra and Tanarra–known together as the Triad Traditions, separated in order to safeguard the Mystery Teachings from the Catholic Church
  • Fanarra-northern Italy; Keepers of the Earth Mysteries
  • Janarra-central Italy; Keepers of the Lunar Mysteries
  • Tanarra-central Italy; Keepers of the Stellar Mysteries
  • Grimas-leader of each tradition; also has a working knowledge of the other two traditions
  • Initiates train in their own traditions and if they want to hold Priest or Priestess ranks, they train in the other two traditions
  • Aridian Tradition-established in North America as a branch of the Tanarra, based on the blending of the Triad traditions in an attempt to restore the original tradition of Aradia, but it has modern (and even Wiccan) elements to it as a result of exposure in the U.S.
  • Strega rituals focus on fertility and agricultural themes, which translate into modern times as personal growth (fertility) and prosperity (agriculture)–specifically, Grimassi writes, “if we are fertile in our minds and hearts, then our relationships increase and prosper. If we celebrate the cycles of growth and prosperity, then we draw this positive energy into our work and our careers”
  • Ranks within Stregheria are similar to Gardnerian ranks because Gerald Gardner borrowed them from Italian Witchcraft:
    • Sacerdotessa-High Priestess; represents Goddess in ritual
    • Sacerdote-High Priest; represents God in ritual
    • Dama D’onore-Lady’s Attendant/Maiden; responsible for maintaining the altar and for assisting the high priestess during rituals
    • La Guardia-Guardian; responsible for conduct of new initiates and for the safety of the high priestess
  • Uni and Tagni are the most ancient names for the Goddess and God
  • Nature-manifestation of spiritual forces or laws
  • Old Religion is preserved today mostly in Tuscany/Tuscana in northern Italy because people there are descendants of an ancient people related to the Etruscans
  • Italian Craft has mostly been preserved because it has been passed down through generations of the same families (this is a thing I can actually verify for certain!!!)
  • Tuscan tradition maintains elements of Etruscan religious belief and is different from other traditions in Italy–some examples of Tuscan-specific beliefs include, according to Grimassi:
    • the Craft is a legacy that must be passed on to at least one other person before you die (something else my grandmothers definitely believed, also)
    • witches are reborn in human form many times, becoming more powerful each time until they reach spirit or even demi-god status
    • magickal focus is on spells, omens and natural objects/actions like falling stars or fruit falling from a branch
    • ritual circles are seldom used–instead they may use a large flat rock in a field and place objects and symbols on it altar-style
    • metered tonal chants are employed in almost every act of magick
    • everything that happens is the result of either a spirit or god’s action or that of a witch
    • elemental forces (especially fire) are revered and nature is filled with spirits
  • Fauni and Silvani-spirits of the woods
  • Monachetto-gnome-like spirits
  • Linchetto-elven spirits, specifically of the night; native to Tuscany; cause nightmares and odd noises in the night; hate disorder, so spilled seeds were often thought to keep them away
  • Fata-spirits of the wood and water; beautiful, gentle and kind; shape-shifters who sometimes take human form; reward those who help them and punish those who are cruel to them
  • Lasa-‘the Old Ones;’ associated with the Underworld; also known as the Lare; protect the homes and families of the Streghe; preserve family bloodlines and traditions; assist the Streghe to be reborn again to those they have known and loved in the previous life; are often honored at ancestral altars in the west or east part of the home and given offerings of wine, milk and honey on important family occasions; sometimes thought of as the first spirits known upon the earth
  • Folletto-spirits that travel in the wind and cause swirls of dust/knots of wind; friendly, but also mischievous and annoying; magickal beings who are attracted to sexual situations
  • In Italian folklore, inanimate objects have power–e.g. gold and silver keys, scissors, horseshoes, pearls, red coral
  • A clove of garlic, a piece of red ribbon, a pair of crossed straight pins and a pinch of salt together are believed to provide protection (also something my great-grandmother told me, so this is probably true for at least some Sicilian witches and not just Tuscan ones)

 

**please know that I mean no disrespect in anything I write on here, especially about Stregheria, as I’m still very much in the reading and learning stage–but hopefully the more I read, the more gaps in my own (admittedly limited) knowledge base I’ll fill in**

 

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