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Article by Marguerite Rigoglioso

Stregoneria:

The “Old Religion” in Italy from Historical to Modern Times

 

By Marguerite Rigoglioso

Copyright Marguerite Rigoglioso, 2000

All rights reserved.

 

For this inquiry I set out to investigate the following questions:  What is Italian witchcraft?  Has it ever been a bona fide religious system, or merely an incoherent amalgam of magico-religious practices handed down from an earlier era?  What are its origins and how has it manifested throughout history?  Was it, in fact, a demonic art?  Is it practiced today?  If so, in what form?  Has Italian witchcraft been carried by Italian immigrants to the shores of America?  If so, how does American stregoneria compare with Italian stregoneria?

The methodologies I have used in conducting this research include historical and hermeneutical analysis, as well as narrative interviews.  For the latter, I spoke with an expert on Sicilian folk magic as well as four Americans of Italian descent who call themselves “streghe” (witches) and, as such, claim to be practicing the old pre-Christian religion of Italy that has been passed down to them through their family lines.  I also spoke with a contemporary American clairvoyant who is not of the strega tradition but has provided some general insights on the phenomenon.  For historical and ethnographical background, I have turned mainly to the work of scholars such as Carlo Ginzberg, Charles G. Leland, Frederick Elworthy, Gustav Henningsen, Peter Kingsley, and Elsa Guggino.  The writings of two contemporary Italian-American witches, Raven Grimassi and Leo Martello, have provided information on modern-day Italian witchcraft.

 I should note here that the word for witchcraft in the modern Italian language is “stregoneria.”  However, various writers, including Charles Leland and Raven Grimassi, refer to it as “stregheria” (or even the misspelled “stregeria,”), claming that this is the term historically used by its practitioners.  As at this point in my research I have not yet confirmed whether witches in Italy have in fact ever called their craft “stregheria,” I will use the term “stregoneria.”  In addition, ethnologist Elsa Guggino maintains that in Sicily the word “strega” is used disparagingly to describe someone who practices malevolent magic; other words such as “maga” are used instead to denote practitioners of the healing and magical arts.[1]  Nevertheless, for simplicity’s sake I tend use the word “strega” (and its plural, “streghe”) throughout this paper to mean “witch” in all senses of the word.  Also for simplicity’s sake, I use the feminine form of the word in Italian for both men and women.

 

Historical and Ethnographical Evidence for the Existence of Italian Witchcraft

In Ecstasies:  Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath, Carlo Ginzberg examines testimonies in the European witch trials from the 14th through 17th centuries and teases out a deep substratum of popular beliefs and practices that amount to a hidden shamanic culture operating in Italy during that period.  Arguing that diabolism was a projection on the part of Catholic inquisitors, Ginzberg determines from trial records that an ecstatic cult existed at the time, one centered on the veneration of a female deity or female spirits variously named Diana, Herodiana, Herodias, Abundia, Richella, Madonna Oriente, la Matrona, the “Good Mistress,” the “Teacher,” the “Greek Mistress,” the “Wise Sibilla,” the “Queen of the Fairies,” and so forth.  She is a deity at times “surrounded by animals, intent on teaching her followers ‘the virtues of the earth.’”[2]   Testimonies indicate that men and women, but above all, women, would ritually meet with her in shamanic trance, usually at night.  One group, the benandanti of the Friuli, fought during such episodes against malevolent “witches” who threatened the fertility of the fields.  Sometimes shapeshifting into animals or insects, other times riding on animals’ backs, they would end their journey by joining an otherworldly “procession of the dead.”[3]  Various references to “toads” and ointments in the trial records, suggests Ginzburg, indicate that practitioners may have induced such trances by ingesting or topically applying hallucinogenic substances derived from toad’s skin or psychoactive mushrooms.

We now move to the late 1800s.  Self-styled folklorist Charles Leland, in poking around the Romagna region of Tuscany (between Forli and Ravenna), stumbled upon what people there called “la Vecchia Religione,” the Old Religion.  This tradition, he claimed, “is really not a mere chance survival of superstitions here and there. . .but a complete system.”[4]  Its practitioners venerated the goddess Diana “and her daughter, Aradia (Herodias) the female Messiah.”[5]  In several remarkable volumes, most notably Etruscan Roman Remains and Aradia:  Gospel of the Witches, Leland compiled as much as he could of the mythology, folklore, and spells still being utilized by the streghe in the last decades of the nineteenth century.  In his works, he traces the origins of stregoneria back to the Etruscan period, showing how the spirit entities still being addressed by the latter-day streghe preserved names and attributes of the old Etruscan gods, such as Tinia, or Jupiter, Faflon, or Bacchus, and Teramo (in Etruscan Turms) or Mercury.  Leland’s books are a remarkable compendium of lore, ceremonies, and incantations to effect cures, attract love, remove evil influences, bring certain things to pass, evoke spirits, insure good crops or a traveler’s safe return, divine events, cast harm upon enemies, and so forth.  The practices, he notes, remained in the hands of “mystic families, in which the occult art is preserved from generation to generation, under jealous fear of priests, cultured people, and all powers that be.”[6]  A tradition that was predominantly the province of women, the rites and secrets were passed on in families to younger female members by female elders.

A century later, we find Italian American Leo Louis Martello in his 1991 book Witchcraft:  The Old Religion, confirming the notion that the Old Religion has been passed all the way down through family lines to the present day.  He writes, “The strege [sic] (Witches) in our family go back for centuries.  My grandmother used to read the old Tarochi deck of cards, from which we get the modern Tarot.  She was the village strega and both envied and hated by priests.”[7]  In 1951, when Martello himself was 18, his extended Sicilian family in New York initiated him into the tradition as well.  Italian stregoneria -- and Sicilian stregoneria in particular -- Martello says, has survived throughout the centuries by becoming an underground phenomenon during and after the Inquistion.  That his relatives observed him from afar for years before initiating him to make sure that he would do justice to the tradition and could be trusted to maintain craft secrets, he notes, is characteristic of strega families.[8]  It is because of the secrecy enshrouding the tradition, he maintains, that stregoneria is not more widely known than it is today.

Enter Raven Grimassi.  An Italian American who also claims to come from a strega family, Grimassi has taken Italian stregoneria out of the broom closet, making certain aspects of it available to the wider public.  In his several volumes, including the 1995 Ways of the Strega.  Italian Witchcraft:  Its Lore, Magick and Spells, Grimassi presents what he calls “the Aridian Tradition, originally established in North America as a branch of Tanarra [the form of stregoneria he says was traditionally practiced in central Italy].”[9]  The remarkably systematized religion he presents, a purported blending of several northern and central Italian stregoneria practices, is, he notes, “an attempt to restore the original Tradition.”[10]  As such, the stregoneria he describes has a coherent cosmology, mythology, and set of specific practices.  While some hereditary streghe complain that aspects of Grimassi’s stregoneria are inauthentic, “borrow” too heavily from Leland’s work, ignore the many regional varieties of stregoneria, and wrongly incorporate aspects of American New Age philosophy, many agree that at least some of the folklore and rituals he offers are indeed grounded in strega traditions.[11]  A growing number of Americans interested in paganism are turning to stregoneria la Grimissi to guide them in their work in covens or as individual practitioners.  Grimassi himself heads a coven in California.

And what of Italy today?  Has the strega tradition survived in that country and are there those who claim to still be practicing la Vecchia Religione?  My preliminary research indicates yes.  Fabrisia (who prefers that her last name not be used), a hereditary Italian-American strega who now lives in Tennessee, says that several male witches from the Bologna area have corresponded with her via the Internet since discovering her Web site on Italian witchcraft (www.Fabrisia.com).  “They are hereditary witches and tell me that what they practice has been passed down to them through their families and hasn’t changed since the 1500s,” she says.[12] 

Farther south, in Sicily, we find that popular magic is still widely used. “A very large number of people from all classes believe in magic in Sicily,” ethnologist Elsa Guggino says.[13]  However, as mentioned earlier, she notes that practitioners of magic there are generally not called “streghe” because that term is understood to signify the diabolical “witch” image that is now widely considered to have been creation of the Catholic church.  Rather, they are known by a plethora of names, including “maga, mago (the masculine version), magara, ma’ara,” and so forth.  The maghi that Guggino has observed are generally hired by others to perform a variety of rituals that will assist in the physical and psychic healing or protecting of the clients themselves or their loved ones.  The use of the “malocchio,” or evil eye, a spell intended to cause harm to another person (as well as spells to counteract it), is also widespread and commonly conducted by maghi at their clients’ request.  As her work abundantly demonstrates, contemporary Sicilian magic is highly syncretic, with many elements of Catholicism (prayers, names of saints) entering into the spells and rituals (something that was hardly present in the stregoneria of northern Italy during Leland’s time).  While the maghi that Guggino describes are not of the “New Age” variety (the latter exist but do not fall under the scope of her research), they have not stated to Guggino that they are practicing the Vecchia Religione, either.  Interestingly, Guggino has not found evidence for the latter.  Given that Leo Martello and other streghe of Siclian origin provide compelling anecdotal evidence that the Old Religion was still operating in Sicily at least as recently as 35 years ago, however, it may well be that Guggino has not been privy to the phenomenon because the strega families have maintained their iron curtain of secrecy.  Clearly this remains an interesting avenue for further research.

 

The Roots of Stregoneria

Having briefly established the existence of stregoneria as a form of pre-Christian religion that has survived into the present day in both Italy and the United States, I would like to explore in a more indepth fashion the various connections between stregoneria and its antecedents in the Mediterranean, West Asia, and Africa.

Perhaps the most dramatic document providing clues in this regard is the so-called “Gospel of the Witches,” which Leland claims to have obtained from a Romagnolo strega he referred to as “Maddalena.”  He says of this document, “I do not know definitely whether my informant derived part of these traditions from written sources or oral narration, but I believe it was chiefly the latter.”[14]  While its authenticity is disputed by some scholars, many contemporary hereditary streghe embrace it, asserting that it contains lore and rituals that they were taught by their families.  The Gospel (in English translation) begins like this:

Diana greatly loved her brother Lucifer, the god of the Sun and of the moon, the god of light (Splendor), who was so proud of his beauty, and who for his pride was driven from Paradise. 

Diana had by her brother a daughter, to whom they gave the name of Aradia (i.e. Herodias).

In those days . . .the rich made slaves of all the poor.

Diana said one day to her daughter Aradia. . . .

 

‘Tis true indeed that thou a spirit art,

But thou wert born but to become again

A mortal; thou must go to earth below

To be a teacher unto women and men

Who fain would study witchcraft in thy school. . . .

 

And thou shalt be the first of witches known. . . .

And when the priests or the nobility

Shall say to you that you should put your faith

In the Father, Son, and Mary, then reply:

“Your God, the Father, and Maria are

Three devils. . .

 

“For the true God the Father is not yours;

For I have come to sweep away the bad,

The men of evil, all will I destroy!. . . .

 

Now when Aradia had been taught, taught to work all witchcraft, how to destroy the evil race (of oppressors), she (imparted to her pupils) and said unto them:

 

When I shall have departed from this world,

Whenever ye have need of anything,

Once in the month, and when the moon is full,

Ye shall assemble in some desert place,

Or in a forest all together join

To adore the potent spirit of your queen,

My mother, great Diana. . .[15]

 

Votaries are thereafter enjoined to bake cakes of meal, wine, salt and honey in the shape of a crescent moon, to meet together and eat while naked, and to make love.  Vervain and rue are mentioned as plants sacred to Diana.

Aradia, says Leland, is Herodias, who was regarded very early on in stregoneria folklore as being associated with Diana as chief of the witches.  And, in fact, the carefully researched scholarly work of Ginzburg, mentioned earlier, confirms both the association between these two figures as well as their connection with Italian witchcraft, at least as far back as the 14th century.  Leland further notes that Herodias is a name that comes from West Asia, where it denoted an early form of Lilith.  Both figures, he says, had Isis as their precursor.[16]   The link between Diana and Isis is further underscored by the fact that they shared many sacred attributes, including the crescent moon (also a symbol for “horns”) and the lotus.[17]

Thus, from this chain of associations alone we can trace the origins of stregoneria to the religion of ancient Egypt, which venerated Isis.  Further links with Africa can be seen in the fact that the Roman statues of Diana of Ephesus are made of black marble, showing that they were intended to represent the “queen of the witches” in at least one of her aspects -- that of nurturing mother -- as a black goddess.[18]  As Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum has demonstrated in her forthcoming book, Dark Mother, images of the black goddess reveal a deeply buried racial memory of humankind’s origins in Africa and of our first deity as having been a dark African Mother.[19]

Isis worship most likely served as a precursor to stregoneria in Italy more directly from the 1st century B.C. to the 5th century A.D., when it was deliberately brought back into many countries in Western Europe under the Roman empire.  One of the temples to Isis was founded during that period in the Italian city of Benevento, a place mentioned numerous times in the witch trials and in Leland’s Aradia as a locale where streghe “met.”[20]  Whether these “meetings” occurred in the phenomenal world or in the trance realm is unclear.  Regardless, the multiple references to Benevento in the lore indicate that it was a particularly important center for stregoneria.  In Benevento and all over Italy, the focus on healing that was an important part of the Isis religion[21] was carried into stregoneria, whose practitioners used herbs and magic to treat people for innumerable ills.

Stregoneria also obviously derived from other, earlier mystery religions of the Mediterranean.  As mentioned previously, Leland traces stregoneria in the Romagna region to the magico-religious practices of the Etruscans, a non-Indo-European people whose existence in Italy has been dated to somewhere around 1000 B.C.E.  Many of these practices, including occult remedies for disorders, were carried into the early Roman period.  Authors such as Cicero, Tacitus, Livy, and Virgil explicitly state that their divination and religious practices were drawn from Etruscan sources.  In fact, Etruscan books of magic were popular in Roman times, and the information contained therein was not just reserved for the elite but shared by the common people.[22]

It is significant to note that one of the attributes of Diana, as with her Greek precursor, Artemis, was as protector of women in childbirth.[23]  Streghe, her priestesses, thus also had an important role as midwives, dispensing herbs to help usher along the birth process and ease the pain of labor.  The two main herbs cited as being sacred to Diana are rue and vervain.  The “cima di ruta” or sprig of rue, in fact is a symbol that was and is still popularly worn as an amulet by streghe.  It consists of three main branches (symbolizing the triple nature of the goddess).  At the tips of each branch (which bifurcate into a total of eight small branches) are symbols such as the crescent moon, the lotus, the hand, and the key (each one of which alone can serve as a prophylactic against the evil eye[24]).  While much is written about the many healing uses of rue and vervain and their connection with Diana, none of the sources I have found mention this interesting fact, which I discovered independently by consulting Gatto Trocchi’s Magia e medicina popolare in Italia:  both were used as abortive agents.[25]  Indeed, sometimes midwives inserted the root of the rue plant directly into the uterus to induce abortion.[26]  Clearly this piece of information has been so taboo that it has escaped the detection even of great strega sleuths such as Leland himself.  In discovering it, I had the insight:  Is the “sprig” of rue a symbol of women’s power to take away life?  If so, the wearing of it by streghe as a sign of loyalty to their craft and to Diana could thus have been as a defiant, subversive statement indeed about women’s power (particularly during the time of the Inquisition)  -- and one that I suspect remains largely buried in the collective unconscious, even in the minds of most streghe today.  This is not surprising.  It is the awful, death-wielding aspect of the Goddess - and ourselves - that we are still trying to come to terms with on the collective level.  It is, perhaps, the darkest aspect of the Dark Mother.  The sprig of rue may thus well be a signifier for the chthonic mysteries, pointing to stregoneria as a practice ultimately chthonic in nature, itself.

Further evidence for this notion can be found in the fact that the lore and iconography surrounding Diana in the classical Roman era is also connected to that of the Greek goddesses Demeter (herself considered a form of Isis [27]), Persephone, and Hecate, whose chthonic-based religion was widely practiced in southern Italy and Sicily.[28]   Diana was closely associated with Hecate as queen of the witches, and in this aspect was considered a deity whose realms were nocturnal (hence her association with the moon) and underworldly.[29]  We can also see echoes of the mother-daughter/descent myth of Demeter and Persephone in the story of Diana and her daughter Aradia, who “descends” to earth to help humankind.  Further, one of the Roman names of Diana was Diana Triformis, indicating that she was considered a triple goddess who communed with heaven, earth, and hell.  As such, she had three distinct names:  “in heaven . . .the Moon; upon the earth Diana; in hell Prosperpine [the Latin name for Persephone].[30]  She was also considered in another threefold form as Hecate/Diana/Prosperpine.[31] 

 

The Sicilian Difference 

In Sicily, we find a number of possible cross-influences that have led to the particular flavor of stregoneria practiced there.  First of all, some scholars speculate that the Sikels (I believe this is the English translation of the Italian “Siculi”), a people who settled in Sicily at least as far back as 1500 B.C.E.,[32] may have been Etruscan migrants who arrived by sea.[33]  The likelihood that these migrating Etruscans would have brought their beliefs with them suggests that Sicily may well have been sprinkled with the same seeds from which northern Italian stregoneria derived.  The Greek inhabitants of Sicily, who began establishing settlements on the island in the 8th century B.C.E., adopted one of the pre-existing sacred spots of the Sikels, namely the city of Enna and its environs (including Lake Pergusa), for their own religious purposes.[34]  It is here that they brought their legend of Demeter and Persephone and built a great temple to their grain goddess (the latter in 480 B.C.E.[35]).  It has been suggested that the religion was easily adopted by the indigenous people because it closely resembled Sikelian beliefs and practices in which “the nether-world held first place.”[36]  (Just how closely the latter resembled Etruscan practices remains to be investigated).  Frederick Elworthy even notes, “it is very pertinently asked whether the Latin [names for these Greek goddesses,] Ceres, Libera, and Dis were approximations in sound to the names of the original deities of the hill of Enna.”[37]

The question of ancient names becomes quite relevant to our discussion of Sicilian stregoneria.  For Leo Martello claims that the name of the original Sikelian goddess prior to Demeter and Persephone (who themselves became blurred and sometimes indistinguishable[38]) has been preserved but is known only to Sicilian streghe.  “Sicilian witch covens,” he writes, “descended from [the Sikelian] tradition, still use the name of the ancient Sikelian goddess, one that has never been revealed or published.”[39]  If Martello’s assertion is accurate, we can see that while Sicilian stregoneria retains Dianic elements, it appears to be a specific outgrowth of the Sikelian/Greek mystery religion that centered on Demeter and Persephone (and their Sikelian precursor).  Martello underscores this idea in a description of his Sicilian strega grandmother:

My grandmother was openly a witch but secretly a high priestess of the Old Religion.  Once a month, at the time of the full moon, she joined with others in worship of the mother goddess near the foothills of volcanic Mount Etna and the once-sacred Lake Pergusa where Persephone was kidnapped.  Enna was her hometown, but she moved away when she got married.  At age 16, she was initiated into the ancient rights of la vecchia religione.  Her family were direct descendents of the Sikels who founded Sicily.[40]

 

Mount Etna is another spot that is associated in mythology with various goddesses, including Demeter.  As I have noted elsewhere,[41] Lake Pergusa was considered to be a sacred locale by Sicily’s ancient inhabitants - most likely because its periodic reddening was seen as a great cosmic blood mystery, one that symbolized the “menstruation” of the goddess herself.  Thus in Martello’s strega grandmother we have evidence for the direct continuation of the mystery religions from ancient times until at least the early 20th century.

Other evidence regarding the continuation of the Demeter/Persephone religion by streghe in the modern era centers on lore regarding two statues of the Madonna and Child in Enna in which the baby is female.  Martello, who was told by streghe relatives to peek under the swaddling clothes of one of the statues located in a small Ennese church during his visit to Sicily in 1964, relates what he says is the “true story” his family told him about it: 

The sculptor who made the Madonna with a female Jesus belonged to la vecchia religione   . . .and in this way paid tribute to his Goddesses, Demeter and Persephone.  Shrewdly he realized that no one would look too closely under the ‘swaddling clothes’ to determine if their “Jesus” was male or female.  Even the thought would have been considered sacrilegious.  He counted on their taking for granted that the Madonna’s child was a male Jesus.  Old Religionists knew better and had many a laugh over it.[42]

 

Of interest here is the story that Bellezza Squillace recounts[43] regarding her initiation into the strega tradition of her own family, whose members felt a strong identification with Sicily although they hailed from the southern part of the Italian mainland.  She recalls being three or four years old and climbing into the manger of the life-sized nativity scene in front of her church in Saint Paul, Minnesota at Christmas time.  “I picked up the baby Jesus and said, ‘I knew it! It’s a girl!’” she says.  “My streghe grandparents just laughed and laughed and laughed.”  It was shortly after that, Squillace believes, that they began to teach her “the old ways.”  While Squillace notes that the story of Demeter and Persephone was one of the myths her family passed down to her, she says she was unaware of the existence of the “female Jesus” in Sicily until I brought it to her attention.

Peter Kingsley, an expert on Sicilian pre-Christian religions, describes the Demeter/Persephone/Hecate religion as one that “was in the hands of women.”[44]  Clearly it retained that quality as it evolved into stregoneria, a tradition that was and is female dominated in Sicily just as it has been further north in Italy.  Being, as mentioned, chthonic in nature, its focus was on the “Underworld,” a shamanic realm of mystery and terror that was also a paradoxical place - one that had to do with both death and healing, darkness and light.  Initiation into this religion, Kingsley notes, involved “descent into a chamber,”[45] a custom that has been continued into contemporary times by Sicilian streghe.  Martello tells the story of his own initiation:

[My Sicilian relatives] blindfolded me and took me by car, probably somewhere either on Long Island or in New Jersey.  We got out of the car and they lowered me down into something.  They told me I had to stay there until they came to get me. . . .I’m down there and I reach around and all of a sudden, what am I feeling:  dirt!. . . .I was in an open grave.[46]

 

Sicilian-American strega Lori Bruno, 60, who now lives in Massachusetts, tells of a similar experience.  “When I was 18 and again when I was 51, I entered a cave in Canada,” she says.  “During those nights I experienced visions and journeys in the darkness.  That was my initiation into my family’s tradition.  It was a symbolic burial.  And it was a going back to the “Mother.”[47]

It is interesting to note that the Sicilian-American streghe themselves whom I have met seem to have what could be considered a certain “underworldy” quality about them.  By that I mean they have a no-nonsense intensity and an air of mystery and secretiveness about them, and they maintain a concern with combating negative spirit forces operating in their environment and in society.  The fierceness of Sicilian streghe has also been noted by Martello and others.  “Unlike most other Witchcraft traditions,” he writes,

the Sicilian and some Italian branches do not hesitate to threaten the deities.  . . .This Sicilian quality is not one of disrespect of blasphemy.  It is one of positive self-assertion, a recognition of our own inner divinity, and a sense of personal power in our own lives that neither man nor God nor Goddess can undermine.[48]

 

Perhaps even more compelling in this regard is Bellezza Squillace’s out and out assertion that her streghe relatives prepared her to become “a death priestess.”[49]  “I was taught to understand the cemetery and the death rites, to be able to face the fear of death so that I could go to that realm over and over again,” she says.  Having been prepared for such a role, she notes, “I am called to the deathbed of all of my relatives to annoint them.  They will not die until I get there.”  In addition, Bellezza says she regularly journeys to the Underworld in shamanic trance and works in her nocturnal dream state for a variety of ends, including obtaining wisdom from the divine realm, effecting healings, and intervening to change events in the phenomenal world such that they may have a more positive outcome.  “In one of my dreams I saw a car accident that my brother was going to have,” she recounts.  “I changed things so that the truck didn’t hit him head on but jack-knifed so that they would both end up in a ditch and survive.  The accident happened just that way a day later.”[50]  Clearly what we have here is a priestess of Persephone, the goddess who, more than being just the maiden who picked flowers at the edge of the lake, was the Queen of the Underworld, the ruler of the dead.  Bellezza is no doubt one in a long line of priestesses of Persephone who have operated in Italy, Sicily, and beyond as sacred mediators between this world and the one beyond the veil.

Historical evidence linking stregoneria in Sicily to the Demeter and Persephone religion (or its Sikelian antecedent) is not unequivocal but still suggestive.  My main historical source thus far has been a chapter by Gustav Henningsen entitled “‘The Ladies from Outside’:  An Archaic Pattern of the Witches Sabbath.”  In it, Henningsen examines approximately 70 case records of trials of Sicilian witches held from 1547 to 1701 by the tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition in Palermo.  The trials involved “donne di fuori” (women from the outside), as they were called, a title that was alternately applied both to witches themselves and to supernatural, fairy-like entities who accompanied them on their nocturnal sojourns. 

Henningsen determines from the trial records that a “Sicilian fairy cult” was thriving on the island at least during the time of the Inquisition, if not even earlier.  It was led mainly by women who served as “charismatic healers” and cured ills caused by the fairies.  Several nights a week, they would “rush out in spirit. . .and take part in the meetings and nocturnal journeyings.”[51]  Interestingly, many of the names used to address the fairies were identical to those that northern Italian witches used for their deities (as cited earlier in Ginzberg), although Henningsen does not directly mention Diana or Herodias among them.  The striking similarities point to the strong ties that must have existed between Sicilian and northern Italian witchcraft, strengthening the notion that the practices in both places originally derived from a common source (the Etruscans?).  And the fact that two of the names used in both places are “The Greek Lady” and “the Wise Sybil” becomes particularly significant in the case of Sicily.  I strongly suspect that “the Greek Lady” was a reference to the ancient goddesses Demeter and/or Persephone.  I also suspect that the mention of the “Wise Sybil” reflected an archaic memory of the sybil at Delphi, who Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum demonstrates was associated with the Roman Diana of Ephesus.[52] 

 

An “Underworld” of a Different Sort:  Stregoneria, the Mafia Connection, and Malta

A discussion of Sicilian stregoneria would not be complete without an inclusion of Leo Martello’s stunning but compelling assertion that the phenomenon of the Sicilian mafia has its origins in la Vecchia Religione.  He writes:

Sicily, because of its constant conquest by other nations, became a country of secret societies. . . .Because [Sicilians] could not achieve justice by the indifferent foreign rulers, who kept changing, each new conqueror bringing in a whole new set of harsh laws and religious ideas, secret societies with oaths of initiation, blood vows, and code words were inaugurated.  Centuries ago these were made up mainly of the Old Religionists. . . Their joy was given full reign only when they worshipped in the woods on moon-filled nights while armed sentries guarded all passes to their mountain retreats.  At first defenders of the faith, the poor, and the oppressed, some of them became power-mad and worked for the feudal lords.  They gradually dropped the worship of the Goddess and became an all-male chauvinist society.  They retained some of the rituals for initiation purposes, but dropped, and eventually lost, both the worship and the origins of the rites.  There were many schisms, splits, offshoots, and formations of rival societies.[53]

 

In particular, Martello points to several important aspects of mafia initiation rituals -- “the kiss, the blood oath, the vow never to reveal the secrets, and the use of the knife”[54] as originating in stregoneria rites. 

To the many contemporary theories about where the word “mafia” comes from, Martello adds two more, which also tie it to the Old Religion.  According to some streghe, he says, “the word itself is an anagram which means “faithful adoration of the Mother.”  It stems from the Latin words mater, meaning “mother,” and fidelitas, “faithfulness.”[55]  Even more interesting is the second theory he posits:  that the word mafia is a combination and elision of “ma” for mother (mater in Latin; madre or mamma in Italian) and “filia” for daughter.[56]  The mother and daughter in this case would be none other than Demeter and Persephone.  While there may be no conclusive proof for either of these theories, certainly they provide an interesting dimension to our discussion of Sicilian stregoneria.

Another fascinating assertion Martello makes is that Malta, an archipelago just south of Sicily, also has a living witchcraft tradition.  “The strege [sic] undergrounds of both islands have long maintained close ties,”[57] he says.  As in Sicily, witchcraft in Malta would have emerged from its own the ancient Goddess religion, for which there is ample evidence in the archeological record as well as in the local lore.  The fact that the Maltese language has no word for “father,” notes Martello, bespeaks to its longstanding tradition of matriarchy, which no doubt was part and parcel of the goddess culture.[58]  One piece of contemporary lore in Malta that he relates is particularly fascinating in this regard.  The story concerns a number of grade-school children and their teachers who, as the August 1940 issue of National Geographic reports, descended into the underground maze of temples, tunnels, and catacombs in Malta and never returned.  Of this incident, Martello writes:

Many Sicilian and Maltese Witches say that the true secrets of Hal Saflini [or the Hypogeum, the large underground chamber in Malta that was used for ritual purposes in ancient times,] have not been discovered and that those teachers and children are not dead but are now part of a living race of people still surviving in their underground homes, still worshipping the ancient deities, and protected from discovery by various booby-traps that could initiate landslides should explorers get too close.  The teachers and young children who were lost insured the propagation of their race - new blood mingling with old - providing a stronger stock for their Maltese underground matriarchy.[59]

 

Whether this story has any phenomenological truth to it or not, it certainly suggests that the memory of matriarchy - and the hunger for it in present times -- remains strongly embedded in the psyche of both the Sicilians and the Maltese.  At the very least, the possibility of the existence of a Maltese witchcraft tradition with ties to Sicilian stregoneria is an intriguing topic for future research.

 

Stregoneria Today

Contemporary Italian-American streghe echo Martello’s claim that in Sicily, Italy, and among Italian Americans in the United States, the old religionists have survived to this day by raising their children publicly as Catholics, while privately and deliberately teaching them the old beliefs and practices.  One of the more dramatic stories in this regard comes from Lori Bruno.[60]  Significantly, Bruno counts among her ancestors Giordano Bruno, the Italian heretic.  Giordano himself considered Diana an important deity, held that witches were the midwives of social reform, and maintained that the Egyptian religion as transmitted in the Hermetic literature was superior to Christianity.[61]  As a result of his radical ideas, he was burned at the stake in Italy in 1400.  Lori Bruno also claims descendancy from “Gawhar the Sicilian,” who she says was a military leader sent by the caliph of Baghdad to conquer Egypt in 969 A.D.  One of her distant great grandmothers, she notes, also lived in Sicily in the 14th century and brought the wrath of the Church down upon herself for using the practical and magical healing knowledge she had learned from Sicily’s Arab colonizers to treat sufferers of the bubonic plague.  “They hung her upside down in the market place,” says Bruno, “because they said she was violating God’s will.”  Thus, along with stregoneria, the fear of authorities was handed all the way down to Bruno’s own generation.  “In our studies, we don’t write anything down,” she says.  “I was taught that you don’t leave paper lying around or the ‘Inquisition’ will get you.” 

Bruno, who grew up in Brooklyn, says that her family’s practices involved regularly calling on the old gods, including Diana, Apollo, Hecate, Demeter, Persephone, “and the ancient Siculian goddess,” on occasions such as the full moon and other holidays.  One of the rituals they conducted was a puberty rite in which a girl or boy of 12 years old was passed through a sapling that had been split in two.  Some of the child’s hair, along with an image of a god or goddess, was inserted into the split and then the tree was tied back together to grow around and enclose the objects.  “I later found a photograph in Life magazine of people doing that very ritual in Sicily,” she says.  (In fact, I have that issue of Life in my files.)  Other rites included burying red eggs in the east at sunrise on Easter morning, and burying silver coins with honey in the ground, she says, “to honor the Earth Mother.”  Meanwhile, Bruno says with a chuckle, “We were all good Catholics.  We played their game right in front of them.”

For Bruno, the practice of stregoneria is, at core, one of service to humanity.  “The ultimate purpose of our craft is to make the world a better place to live in, to help people thrive and not destroy,” she says.  For example, she recalls her streghe relatives engaging in magical interventions to attempt to influence the outcome of World War II.  “I remember very distinctly that something secret was done in Sicily with one of our relatives to prevent Hitler from coming and hurting our people.  I also remember my mother reciting special prayers so that Hitler would be stopped before getting into England.”  Sicilian streghe, she says, joined the Resistance, as well, participating in activities such as forging baptismal records to help Jews.  Today, Bruno herself offers her services as a psychic to her local police force in Massachusetts to assist them in finding perpetrators and victims of crime.  Since turning 51 (the age at which she says a Sicilian strega may begin to teach), Bruno, now 60, has also headed a coven called the “Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose” (Trinacria being the ancient Greek word for Sicily).  By starting a non-family coven, she has become one of the few Sicilian streghe in the United States to “go public.”  Through it, she is passing her teachings down to Sicilian- and non-Sicilian-descended people alike who wish to commit to the strega path.  In the final analysis, she says, stregoneria is “all about love.  You can learn all the techniques you want, but without heart, the magic isn’t going to flow.”

For Minnesota resident Bellezza Squillace, 55, coming to consciouness about the fact that her family practiced “the Old Religion” has been a long, ongoing process.[62]  “As I started learning about paganism years ago,” she said, “I realized:  This is what I’ve been living all my life!”  Her family’s own practices, she noticed, had a decidedly old-world, Italian flavor and had always been carried out as a matter of course, without fanfare.  Often the teachings were enfolded in women’s activities such as cooking or sewing.  Rolling a ball of yarn for knitting, for example, was akin to entering and exiting the mythological “labyrinth or maze” - an activity that allowed one to problem-solve on a right-brained, intuitive level.  “One person had the skein of yarn on either hand, the other person was making the ball,” she explains.  “A rhythm was created, like the swaying of the ocean, as the arms went up and down and the hands spiraled.  This was the ‘entering of the maze,’ a time in which the two of you would talk about the issues at hand.  By the time you finished, you had new insights into your life.”[63]

Squillace recalls how her relatives also told her stories about figures such as Medeusa, the Sirens, Hecate, Demeter, and Persephone, as well as the Italian witch Befana and Saint Lucia.  These stories served as “another method of instruction in problem resolution,” she notes.  “I was taught that the ‘Fatas,’ the fairies, were shapeshifters.  They could take the form of a beautiful woman or an old bum on the street.  That meant you always had to treat everyone you encountered with respect, because you never knew who might be a Fata.  You certainly didn’t want to offend one.” 

Squillace was also taught that the fierce female entities known as the Furies could be called upon for assistance, a practice she herself has used in extreme situations.  “They are called in to right an injustice perpetrated by someone in a position of authority or to avenge the matriarchy,” she explains.  “I’ve invoked them in two different rituals.  Once I did it to help catch a man who was raping and killing women, and burning their bodies in a park.  The next day the man was arrested.”

Squillace recalls other old family practices, such as using fish for divination.  “You watch a fish in a pond or a tank and say, ‘If it swims this way, the answer to my question is yes; if it swims that way, the answer is no,’” she explains, adding that she is now passing such practices onto her young granddaughters.  Mirrors, she was also taught, must always be consecrated by being buried before they’re used.  Furthermore, they must be turned or covered for a period of time after a person dies.  “I didn’t put a lot of stock in this until after my father died and I kept seeing his reflection in the mirror.  I’d turn around and he wouldn’t be there.  Now I don’t look into a mirror unless it’s been consecrated,” she says.

While Squillace’s family considered these activities as natural as breathing, they did teach their young charge that their members were “different,” somehow set apart from the mainstream, and that their differences should not be advertised to anyone.  “They told me, ‘We believe differently, but you still go to church.  You go along,’” she recalls.

Fabrisia, 44, who grew up in a large Italian-American community in Massachusetts, also remembers things being “different” for her family, as well.[64]  “We all went to church, but the old Italian ladies said ‘Ave Diana’ instead of ‘Ave Maria,’” she says.  Fabrisia also recalls her grandmother turning the statue of Mary away from what she was doing when she was out in her herb garden harvesting plants for remedies and spells.  Her paternal grandmother, great-grandmother, and aunt, all of whom were born in northern Italy, identified themselves as “streghe” and told Fabrisia they were practicing their own “religion.”  They began teaching her from a young age the family traditions, particularly the knowledge about herbs.  Not surprisingly, one of their favorite plants was rue.

Fabrisia remembers that it was typical for her female relatives to hang wind chimes all over the yard.  “My aunt believed that when the chimes rang they announced the presence of a fairy,” Fabrisia recalls.  She also remembers her elders regularly leaving food out in the garden as an offering to the deities.  One ritual they taught her, which Fabrisia uses regularly, invokes protection from a bad storm.  “You go to each door of the house, lay pennyroyal down as an offering, and recite:  ‘Winds of the East, winds of the West, I beg you give us rest.  Winds of the North, winds of the South, I ask you please blow around me,’” she says.  “I did that ritual one day when a tornado swept through our town in Massachusetts.  I saw my gas grill go up and down without tipping over, and we could feel the wind going around our house while on the house across the street the shutters and shingles came ripping off.  We hardly had any damage at all.  Now any time there’s a storm my kids say, ‘Ma, quick!  Get the pennyroyal!’”

It is interesting to note that all of my informants referred to a controversy currently raging in streghe circles over the use of nakedness in rituals.  As mentioned earlier, the “Gospel” of the witches published by Leland enjoins participants to meet, greet, eat - and subsequently make love - in skyclad fashion.  Several of the streghe told me that Raven Grimassi’s coven enacts the “Great Rite” during certain celebrations.  That is, the high priest or high priestess has ritual sexual intercourse with another coven member in front of the entire coven.  While Grimassi apparently claims that this ritual is a part of the original stregoneria tradition, my informants all tell me they were not taught that this was a part of the Vecchia Religione.

Several of them also mention a prophesy (which Grimassi also talks about in Ways of the Strega) that has been handed down by streghe, stating that humanity would pass through four ages:  the age of the mother, the age of the father, the age of the son, and the age of the daughter.  Squillace and Fabrisia believe that we have now or will very soon be entering the age of the daughter, a time in which women and the Goddess will be honored again.

 The Role of “Negative” Magic

Before I conclude this paper, I should mention that during the Italian Renaissance, “magic” and “witchcraft” were two strands of magical practice that sometimes ran independently of one another and sometimes wove together.  Peter Burke, in his chapter “Witchcraft and Magic in Renaissance Italy,” points out that “magic” was an important part of the world views of major Renaissance figures such as the aforementioned Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico, and others during the 15th and 16th centuries.  These intellectuals revived the magic that was praised by the ancient writers they so respected.[65]   The Italian “magician” was generally considered to be someone who used rituals and spells for good or evil, whereas the “witch” referred to people - mainly women - who did harm by supernatural means without rituals and spells, and sometimes without meaning to do so.  While some would hold that “magic” belonged to the educated and “witchcraft” belonged to the “common people,” Burke argues that this distinction was, in fact, blurred.  Moreover, the distinction between “magic” and “witchcraft” was also frequently blurred; that is, “magicians were often thought to be wicked, and witches to use spells and rituals,” he notes.[66]  What contributed to this blending was the work of Hugh of St. Victor, who in the 12th century had divided magic into five parts.  One of them was “maleficium,” which he defined as evil deeds done by the help of demons.  Burke notes that in the witch trials of the 15th and 16th centuries in northern Italy, “maleficium” was one of the most common accusations.

Interestingly, the revival of magical practices among the male elite in Italy also corresponds with the peak of the witch hunt there.[67]  While men were not exempt from this purge (witness Giordano Bruno), it was the women practitioners who were mainly targeted.  Many feminist authors in recent years have rightly pointed to the fact that this was an attempt by the male power structure to further diminish women’s power and role in the psychic arts, healing, and midwifery. 

What is little discussed, however, is whether women witches actually engaged in negative magic designed to harm others, and, if so, what this means for women today as we attempt to reclaim our power. 

Any scholar of witchcraft will soon discover that the use of magic to bring harm upon another has indeed historically been widely practiced by streghe all over Italy and Sicily.  While it is difficult to determine which “admissions” of evil-doing in witch trial records refer to authentic practices and which are the result of intimidation or torture on the part of the authorities, we do have a plethora of ethnographical evidence pointing to the use of malevolent spells on the part of streghe.  Charles Leland devotes a whole chapter of Etruscan Roman Remains to “evil incantations” that he states were commonly used among the Romagnolo people even in the late 1800s.  Among them are spells to stop a man from loving another woman, to cause marital strife between a couple, to bring misfortune upon a household, and even to kill a person.  While I am still gathering evidence as to the efficacy of such spells, I have thus far found at least one fairly contemporary story that tells of a witch in San Pancrazio (of the legendary Romagna region) at the turn of the 19th century who is believed to have succeeded at killing a priest by use of a spell.[68]  More recently, ethnographer Luisa Del Giudice, in her paper “Cursed Flesh: Faith Healers, Black Magic and (Re-Membering) Death in a Central Italian Town,” discusses how a number of people in her ancestral town of Terracina maintained that the use of “black magic” was responsible for the death of her 37-year-old brother-in-law in 1988.[69]

If we turn now to Sicily, we note that Gustav Henningsen has observed that no one there was killed by the Inquisition for being a witch, contrary to what happened in the rest of Europe from the 14th through 17th centuries.  The reason, he says, is that the Inquisition and the Church were for the most part unsuccessful at persuading the local people to characterize the “donne di fuori” as demonic in nature.[70]   At the same time, negative magic was regularly used by witches[71] and remains widespread on the island even today.  Elsa Guggino’s books on Sicilian magic, in fact, are peppered with stories of witches who even call upon the devil, himself in their work.  They view him as merely one of many entities they can invoke to both heal and harm.

Once we open the door to the understanding that streghe have regularly used negative spirits (including the “devil”) and harmful spells in their work, we begin to peek into a very spooky room, indeed.  It is a room, in fact, that can start looking remarkably similar to the one painted by the Catholic church during the witch trials.  For we must inevitably ask:  If negative magic is and has been used, where does such a practice begin and end?  Can we entirely dismiss some of the more sensationalistic accusations derived from the witch trials, such as that witches ritually sacrificed children?

Looking at this issue of child sacrifice, history alone strongly suggests (and some scholars would say clearly demonstrates) that human and child sacrifice may well have been practiced in many different cultures from very ancient times onward.  Spiritual feminists balk at this, particularly when such accusations are made against societies that were goddess-oriented and perhaps women-centered.  We would rather think that such activities are the product of the male imagination than our own actions.  However, a powerful clairvoyant I spoke with, who wishes to remain anonymous, makes the following remarkable statement:[72]

As a clairvoyant, people come to me for many different reasons.  Some people come to me from their Christian perspective; other people come to me through their ‘black magic’ perspective.  Through trance and psychic means, I have access to those lifetimes in which I learned how to use both sides -- darker forces, lighter forces, whatever you want to call it.  I have very clear and vivid memories of eating children and being in circles of people, men and women, witches, warlocks, what have you.  They were called by a number of different names.  I have very vivid experiences of snatching children.  And I have very vivid memories of us killing one another if there was any breach of trust. 

The purpose of eating the babies was to empower ourselves with life, to nourish ourselves.  Just as many ancient and contemporary cultures have used the placenta as food, I think these people came to the awareness, maybe as cannibals do, that eating the body and blood of new babies provides one with life-giving force.  It is similar to the practices of Native Americans and others in which they ritually drink the blood or eat the flesh of certain animals to incorporate the qualities of those animals into their own being.  Even today, many people still participate in absorbing the life force of small children either by feeding off their energy, engaging with them sexually, or just by being around them.  They simply want a part of that new life force.  Earlier in our history, there were people in what were becoming civilized communities who were still practicing those spiritual beliefs in a very embodied way.  And they were not in touch with the heart-chakra such that they could experience the pain they were inflicting on others.  They were just out there in that experience of power, or force, or blood lust. . . .

When I go into trance, I get vivid images of practices that were very dark being conducted by women in witchcraft circles.  Even to this day, I have a lot of clients for whom their work is based entirely on ‘She cursed me, I curse her.’  And they become entirely engaged in the exchange of punishment of one another. . . .A woman came to me and asked me to curse the boyfriend of her daughter, who got the girl pregnant at 17.  I wouldn’t get involved.  My practice is to get out of these games.  But she wasn’t happy with that and went to someone else to ‘take the boy out.’  And, lo and behold, that boy was killed in a car accident on the spring equinox of the same year his son was born.  She called up and said, “I’ve done something horrible.”  But behind her remorse was a level of satisfaction that she’d gotten what she wanted.

I include the words of my clairvoyant informant here not to offer conclusive proof that Italian streghe have engaged in child sacrifice.  I do so merely to help us open our thinking and not close off possibilities about how women and men may have used and misused their spiritual powers in the past -- and may be continuing to do so today.  I have brought up the discussion of stregoneria’s negative side as a conclusion to this paper because as a scholar who hopes to contribute to the evolution of humanity - and as a feminist engaged in helping women come to true empowerment -- I believe it would be irresponsible of me to do otherwise.  While it is important to perpetuate, reclaim, and restore the strega tradition, as many of us are now doing, it is also important that we do so without naivete.  In the world view that I and many others hold, magical practices can influence the phenomenal world.  The strega, like any shamanic practitioner, encounters a whole range of powerful energies and entities and must navigate among them with wisdom and maturity.  S/he must also make decisions regarding what s/he encounters - decisions that can have a significant impact on the lives of others.  Those who would engage with stregoneria, either as clients or practitioners, need to be aware of the fact that the tradition is a multifaceted one that deals in both the light and the darkness. 

Moreover, as women come to greater empowerment by adopting roles as streghe or priestesses, it is important that we do not gloss over the damage, harm, and suffering that may well have been perpetrated by those who have gone before us or that we ourselves may have engaged in during previous incarnations.  I am not suggesting that we revert to a “blaming-the-victim” mentality toward women, which would further oppress us.  Nor am I suggesting that women become sickly sweet Glenda Goodwitches in compensation for real or imagined past misconduct.  Rather, I am suggesting that we acknowledge our own Shadow - on both the individual and collective level - and that we take care to manage it appropriately, as Carl Jung would have us do.  For I believe that coming to true power as women means taking responsibility, without excuses, for both the good and the bad that we are capable of and that we have engaged in throughout the ages.  By holding to the view that streghe of the past, however oppressed, had choices and should be held fully accountable if they used their powers for negative ends, we remind ourselves that we, too, however oppressed, have choices.  In doing so, we challenge ourselves to reach a more evolved level of consciousness.  From there, the road to true liberation opens up before us.


 

Bibliography

 

 

Birnbaum, Lucia Chiavola.  Dark Mother:  African Origins, Godmothers, and the Uncruel Revolution (forthcoming).

 

Burke, Peter.  “Witchcraft and Magic in Renaissance Italy:  Gianfrancesco Pico and his Strix.”  In Sidney Anglo, ed., The Damned Art:  Essays in the Literature of Witchcraft.  London:  Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977.

 

Del Giudice, Luisa.  “Cursed Flesh:  Faith Healers, Black Magic and (Re-Membering) Death in a Central Italian town.”  In Quaderni di Storia:  Antropologia e Scienze del Linguaggio (forthcoming).

 

Elworthy, Frederick.  The Evil Eye:  The Origins and Practices of Superstition.  London:  Collier Books, 1958.

 

Ginzburg, Carlo. Ecstasies:  Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath.  New York:  Random House, 1991.

 

Grimassi, Raven.  Ways of the Strega.  Italian Witchcraft:  Its Lore, Magick and Spells.  Saint Paul:  Llewellyn Publications, 1995.

 

Guggino, Elsa.  Il corpo fatto di sillabe:  Figure di maghi in Sicilia.  Palermo:  Sellerio, 1993.

 

_____.  Un pezzo di terra di cielo:  L’esperienza magica della malattia in Sicilia.  Palermo:  Sellerio, 1986.

 

_____.  La magia in Sicilia.  Palermo:  Sellerio, 1978.

 

Henningsen, Gustav.  “‘The Ladies from the Outside’:  An Archaic Pattern of the Witches’ Sabbath.”  In Bengt Ankarloo and Gustav Henningsen, eds., Early Modern European Witchcraft:  Centres & Peripheries.  Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1990.

 

Kingsley, Peter.  In the Dark Places of Wisdom.  Inverness, CA:  The Golden Sufi Center, 1999.

 

_____.  Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1995.

 

Leland, Charles G.  Etruscan Roman Remains.  Blaine, WA:  Phoenix Publishing, Inc., No date given.

 

_____.  Aradia: Or the  Gospel of the Witches.  New York:  Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1974.

 

Martello, Leo Louis.  Witchcraft:  The Old Religion.  New York:  Citadel Press, 1991.

 

_____. “What It Means to Be a Witch,” Occult, January 1974.

 

Orion, Loretta.  Never Again the Burning Times:  Paganism Revisited.  Prospect Heights, IL:  Waveland Press, Inc., 1995.

 

Picarrazzi, Teresa, ed.  Lus. The Light.  Ermanna Montanari Performs Nevio Spadoni.  West Lafayette, IN:  Bordighera Press, 1999.

 

Rigoglioso, Marguerite.  “The Rape of the Lake,” Pandora, Spring 1999.

 

Trocchi, Gatto.  Magia e medicina  popolare in Italia.  Rome:  Newton Compton, 1982.

Macadam, Alta.  Blue Guide: Sicily.  New York:  WW Norton, 1993.

 

[1] Personal interview with Elsa Guggino, April 6, 2000.

[2] Carlo Ginzburg, Ecstasies:  Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath (New York:  Random House, 1991), p. 131.

[3] Ibid., p. 155.

[4] Charles G. Leland, Etruscan Roman Remains (Blaine, WA:  Phoenix Publishing, Inc., No date given), p. 9.

[5] Charles G. Leland, Aradia: Or the  Gospel of the Witches (New York:  Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1974), p. viii.

[6] Leland, Etruscan Roman Remains, p. 4.

[7] Leo Louis Martello, Witchcraft:  The Old Religion (New York:  Citadel Press, 1991), p. 33.

[8]Martello, “What It Means to Be a Witch,” Occult, January1974, p. 4, and private interview with Martello, April 14, 2000.

[9]Raven Grimassi, Ways of the Strega.  Italian Witchcraft:  Its Lore, Magick and Spells (Saint Paul:  Llewellyn Publications, 1995), p. xviii.

[10] Ibid., p. xviii.

[11] Information relayed during interviews with my informants, April 2000.

[12] Interview with Fabrisia, April 2000.

[13] Interview with Elsa Gugguno, April 14, 2000.

[14] Leland, Aradia, pp. vii-viii.

[15] Ibid., pp. 1-6.

[16] Ibid., p. 103.

[17] Frederick Elworthy, The Evil Eye:  The Origins and Practices of Superstition (London:  Collier Books, 1958), p. 355.

[18] Ibid., p. 191.

[19] See Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, Dark Mother:  African Origins, Godmothers, and the Uncruel Revolution, forthcoming.

[20] Martello, Witchcraft, p. 85.

[21] Birnbaum, Dark Mother, p. 19.

[22] Leland, Etruscan Roman Remains, p. 11.

[23] Elworthy, p. 350.

[24] Ibid., p. 355.

[25] Gatto Trocchi, Magia e medicina  popolare in Italia (Rome:  Newton Compton, 1982), pp. 86, 106.

[26] Ibid., p. 106.

[27] Birnbaum, Dark Mother, p. 14.

[28] Peter Kingsley, in Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic and In the Dark Places of Wisdom, characterizes the Demeter/Persephone religion in this way.

[29] Leland, Etruscan Roman Remains, p. 151.

[30] Elworthy, p. 348.

[31] Ibid., p. 349.

[32] Alta Macadam, Blue Guide: Sicily (New York:  WW Norton, 1993), p. 11.

[33] Martello, Witchcraft, p. 146.

[34] Elworthy, p. 335.

[35] Macadam, p. 182.

[36] Elworthy, p. 335.

[37] Ibid., p. 336.

[38] Peter Kingsley, Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 352.

[39] Martello, “What it Means to Be a Witch,” p. 3.

[40] Ibid.  Given that Mount Etna is several hours away from Lake Pergusa by car, we can only assume that Martello’s grandmother participated in rituals at these various locales at different times in her life (not on the same night, for example).

[41] Marguerite Rigoglioso, “The Rape of the Lake,” Pandora, Spring 1999., pp. 30-33.

[42] Martello, Witchcraft, p. 138.

[43] Interview with Bellezza Squillace, April 9, 2000.

[44] Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom (Inverness, CA:  The Golden Sufi Center, 1999), p. 97.

[45] Kingley, Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic, p. 246.

[46] Interview with Leo Martello, April 14, 2000.

[47] Interview with Lori Bruno, April 6, 2000.

[48] Martello, Witchcraft, p. 145.

[49] Interview with Squillace.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Gustav Henningsen, “‘The Ladies from the Outside’:  An Archaic Pattern of the Witches’ Sabbath,” in Bengt Ankarloo and Gustav Henningsen, eds., Early Modern European Witchcraft:  Centres & Peripheries (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 195

[52] Birnbaum, Dark Mother, p. 105.

[53] Martello, Witchcraft, p. 151.

[54] Ibid., p. 153.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid., p. 98.

[58] Ibid., p. 100.

[59] Ibid., p. 101.

[60] Interview with Bruno.

[61] Loretta Orion, Never Again the Burning Times:  Paganism Revisited (Prospect Heights, IL:  Waveland Press, Inc., 1995), p. 89.

[62] Interview with Squillace.

[63] This story is particularly intriguing because it points to the matriarchal underpinnings of the Greek myth of Theseus, who is aided in his journey into the labyrinth by Ariadne’s “ball of yarn.”

[64] Interview with Fabrisia.

[65] Peter Burke, “Witchcraft and Magic in Renaissance Italy:  Gianfrancesco Pico and his Strix,” in Sidney Anglo, ed., The Damned Art:  Essays in the Literature of Witchcraft (London:  Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977), p. 33.

[66] Ibid., p. 34.

[67] Ibid., p. 33.

[68] See Teresa Picarrazzi, ed., Lus. The Light.  Ermanna Montanari Performs Nevio Spadoni (West Lafayette, IN:  Bordighera Press, 1999).

[69] Luisa Del Giudice, “Cursed Flesh:  Faith Healers, Black Magic and (Re-Membering) Death in a Central Italian town,” in Quaderni di Storia:  Antropologia e Scienze del Linguaggio (forthcoming).

[70] Henningsen, p. 205.

[71] Ibid., p. 195.

[72] Interview with anonymous clairvoyant, April 29, 2000.