Stregoneria is the contemporary word commonly translated
into English as witchcraft. Native Italians
grow up with the idea that stregoneria is evil and harmful
in nature, and they hold the same stereotype beliefs about
stregoneria that the average American citizen holds about
witchcraft. The stereotype of stregoneria in Italy
features the Devil and the black arts of magic. The
practitioner is typically portrayed as an old hag that is
mistrusted and feared. However, the practitioner is
still sought out in secret by people needing the aid of her
mystical arts. But is this practitioner a witch or is it
In the course of
this article we will explore two different forms of stregoneria.
One form is that which appears in common culture and of
which various elements are found even in the average Italian
family. These are often referred to as simply "the things we
do." In essence this is simple folk magic. This form
of stregoneria incorporates various Catholic elements such
as the rosary, cross, holy water, communion wafers, saints,
candle vigils, and prayers. Various charms against
envy and the "evil eye" are also used for protection along
with simple spells such as the use of olive oil and water to
detect and banish ill forces. Among native Italians the
difference between stregoneria and folk magic is that
stregoneria is used for evil and folk magic for good.
Now that we
have looked at the common form of stregoneria (its exoteric
form) we will turn to the other form
of stregoneria, which is the oldest one and comes to us from
pre-Christian times. It is, in essence, a primitive
practice of magic uninfluenced by the so-called higher forms
of magic that appear in Western ceremonial magic.
Glimpses of this type of stregoneria can be captured in the
ancient tales of witches and witchcraft. In Western
literature we see the ancient witch calling upon various
sources of power. One example comes to us from the
tales of Medea, a Greek witch. In tales, such as those of
Ovid, Medea addresses her incantations to the stars, Hecate, Tellus, and the goddess of earth. She also erects an altar
to Hecate and another to Hebe. Her incantations reveal the
witch's connection to an ancient theology:
“Night, trustiest keeper
of my secrets, and stars who, together with the moon, follow
on from the fires of the daylight, and you Hecate of the
three heads, who know all about my designs and come to help
the incantations and the craft of the witches, and Earth,
who furnish witches with powerful herbs, and Breezes, Winds,
Mountains, Rivers, and Lakes, and all the gods of the groves
and all the gods of the night, be present to help me.
Night-wandering queen, look kindly upon this undertaking."
What we see here is the
calling upon of not only deities but of spirits or forces.
The latter is indicated by the inclusion of the wind,
mountains, rivers and lakes. This suggests two things.
First we may well be looking at concepts of Neolithic
thought if not of an earlier period prior to the
personification of deities in human form. Second, we
are looking at a "night cult" - demonstrated by the
inclusion of a "night-wandering queen" and "gods of the
night" not to mention the evocation of Night and the stars
themselves. This sets witchcraft apart from mainstream
There is no doubt that Roman
witchcraft was highly influenced by its Greek counterpart.
Elements of Roman witchcraft appear in Italian Witchcraft to
this day, but another important aspect is the influence of
Etruscan magic and theology. However this topic is too
vast to examine in this article. Author Charles Leland
deals with it nicely in his book Etruscan Roman Remains, and
the curious reader may wish to read that work.
Despite the inclusion of an altar and the evocation of
deities in the tales of witchcraft, the ancient Greek
writers refer to it as illicit religion. This topic is
discussed in the book Witchcraft and Magic in Europe:
Ancient Greece and Rome (edited by Bengt Ankarloo and
Stuart Clark, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999).
Over the centuries the magical art of witchcraft was the
primary focus of writers. This resulted in the view that
witchcraft is/was simply a practice and not a religion.
Ironically, during the Christian period of the witch trials,
witches were accused of worshipping the Devil, which is a
religious theme. But witchcraft continued to fall only
under the category of a magical practice.
trials in which the accused witches were asked for details of
their practices and beliefs strongly suggests that the ways
of the sect were not common knowledge. This in turn
points to witches being taught in secret through either
family lines or membership in some form of group or inner
society. In trial transcripts the questions put to the
accused are not directed at uncovering anything of a
religious nature (old or new) but instead are focused on
magical practices and ill deeds. It is this portrait
of witches and witchcraft that spreads into popular culture
and creates the stereotype in the minds of the populace.
Italian culture was less
influenced by witchcraft than it was by Folk Magic.
The latter is found not only in the common practices and
beliefs of the Italian people but also in the folklore and
various tales that natives grow up with. Like small
fragments of witchcraft, various elements of folk magic are
found in many Italian families.
In many cases the members of the family do not view such
things as being witchcraft or folk magic but simply as "the
things we do".
and social Anthropologists present various theories about
the origins of folklore and Folk Magic, but all seem to
agree that changes take place within them that alter the
original models. This is because the average person is
not interested in preserving things exactly as he or she
found them. Instead such things are often adapted for
personal use and this changes various elements of the lore
or Folk Magic within the culture.
the witch is a preserver of traditions and consciously works
not to alter the teachings and techniques. Things may
be added to his or her Craft, but the original models are
honored and preserved. The art of witchcraft is passed
on from witch to witch and is not available to the everyday
person within Italian culture. That small elements of
witchcraft found their way into popular culture seems
apparent by their presence. How and why this happened
is not important for the purposes of this article.
What we are
seeing in contemporary times is a sub-cultural movement in
Italy of individuals and groups interested in paganism,
witchcraft, and folk magic arts. Many of these seekers have
left the Catholic
faith and the restraints of mainstream society.
Unfortunately they tend to carry with them the basic
concepts of what they learned growing up, which naturally colors
their perception related to things such as witchcraft.
Much of what they were exposed to, and came to accept at one
point in their lives, came from the Church. Additional
influences came from the movies, the magazines, whatever
published books were available. Unfortunately this
conveyed little more than the stereotypes. The actual
practices of witches remained hidden from plain sight.
This situation has resulted
in attempts to recreate such things as stregoneria from
whatever public sources are available. Naturally this
misinformation results in confusion, and from this we find
misrepresentations and misidentifications of witchcraft and
folk magic. One example is that of the Internet group
calling itself "Stregoneria Italiana" that collects and mixes a
hodge-podge of systems and practices into one conflated
concept under the banner of "Stregoneria Italiana." Another example is the site
known as Rue's Kitchen, which presents
mainstream folk magic concepts of Italian culture as though they
reflect a cohesive system of practice and belief. But
like Stregoneria Italiana, the featured material is not
representative of initiate teachings but is simply the
layperson's perspective of what is actually an esoteric
system that remains outside of their knowledge and
The Rues' Kitchen site hosts an article that distorts Grimassi's
position on Stregheria. Its primary goal seems to be
that of misguiding the reader about Grimassi's role in the
presentation of "Stregheria" as well as attempting to
discredit the validity of the system.
The first erroneous allegation is that
Grimassi has given the word "Stregheria" a "complete
makeover." However the facts are that at its core,
Grimassi's presentation of Stregheria as a religious form of
witchcraft connected with the goddess Diana, is in keeping
with pre-existing writings on Stregheria. These
writings include the 17th century writings of Giralamo
Tartarotti, the 19th century writings of folklorist Charles
Leland, and a variety of trial transcripts in which "Diana"
and other goddess names appear. Therefore the
accusation against Grimassi is unfounded and unwarranted as
he clearly did not invent or "makeover" these concepts.
One devious statement is that what Grimassi
exactly like modern Wicca with an Italian accent." This is
stated in a way that suggests deception on Grimassi's part.
However, in his book, Italian Witchcraft, Grimassi clearly
states that the material is a blend of Italian witchcraft
with Wiccan elements. The book also makes it clear
that its focus is on the "Aridian Tradition" which Grimassi
states is a modern one that he created (based upon an older
model). In this we see that Grimassi is forthright in
his presentation of Stregheria as a blend, and is not
misleading anyone as suggested by his critics.
Another false allegation is that Stregheria,
as Grimassi presents it,
is "completely unrecognizable" to Italians
who have grown up in an actual family tradition. This
implies that the critic has personal knowledge of what
constitutes authentic family witchcraft traditions, which is
highly doubtful when looking at other commentaries from this
In any case, the readership mail sent to Grimassi from native Italians
demonstrates that many similarities exist between his
writings and the practices of Italian people claiming to
practice witchcraft (although
certainly not the Wiccan elements). Therefore although
some things may be unrecognizable in Italian family
traditions, many are recognizable, and so the
statement that Grimassi's material is completely
unrecognizable is completely untrue.
The final erroneous statement is that
Stregheria is a "unique" and "modern construction with an
ancient label slapped onto its surface." The facts are
that both the word "stregheria" and the concept of it as a
religious form of witchcraft associated with Diana is not
modern or unique. However what is a modern
construction by Grimassi is the Aridian Tradition of which
he writes in his book Italian Witchcraft (formerly titled
Ways of the Strega), and his book Hereditary Witchcraft.
It should be noted that the Aridian Tradition is not
"Stregheria" itself but falls under the umbrella .
Stregheria is the ancient Witch religion of Old Italy, and
the Aridian Tradition is a contemporary Italian-American
system based upon it but adopting modern elements from other
sources as well.
By way of summary, we
have looked at the two types of Stregoneria. One is
that which is known to lineage practitioners who have been
trained and initiated into the timeless arts. The
other version is that which is imagined by non-initiates who
are comprised of everyday people growing up with the
stereotypes of popular culture. And as we have seen, it is
not uncommon for fragments of folk magic to be practiced
among average Italian families. These elements come from
simple non-initiate levels of popular culture and are
readily recognizable by the man-on-the-street. The
initiate level teachings escape notice because they are not
part of popular culture but remain available only to an
inner society. By contrast the layperson's perspective
is easily found on sites like Stregoneria Italiana and Rue's
Kitchen. Hopefully the day will come when authentic
Stregoneria is written about and is featured on websites
just as elements of authentic Italian witchcraft have been
brought to light through the efforts of Stregheria initiate
Grimassi is currently
working on a new book, tentatively titled The Witchcraft
of Old Italy. This book will present authentic
Italian witchcraft without the Wiccan elements of the
Aridian system featured in previous works by Grimassi.
This book will help demonstrate what is authentic and what
is not, and will further demonstrate the differences between
Stregheria itself (as a whole) and the Italian-American
branch formed by Grimassi under the name of the Aridian
tradition. This will be the first book ever written by
an actual initiate practitioner of Italian witchcraft to
disclose what has been kept secret for generations.
Grimassi feels that due to the persistence of false
information and deliberate distortion on the Internet, that
the time has come to finally sort the chaff from the grain.