If you have any interest in Italian witchcraft and have
Googled “Strega” (Italian Witch) then you’ve read
comments about the so-called “real Strega.” One argument is
that you have to look to Italy for authentic practitioners.
This dismisses the fact that people do relocate to other
countries from Italy and therefore some witches from Italy
(or from an Italian lineage) are not living in Italy.
Another argument is that you must at least have visited
Italy (if not lived there) in order to know anything about
authentic practices of Italian witchcraft. This view
dismisses the fact that relocated witches can teach their
offspring or others in the country of their new residence.
Being taught witchcraft from relocated witches does not make
for a poorer witch. It only means that the offspring witch
has not had the benefit of personally experiencing the
mainstream culture of Italy. It comes instead through the
One thing we must realize is that witchcraft is as
misunderstood in Italy as it is in any other country. Ask
the “man-on-the-street” in Italy about witchcraft and you
will hear about the stereotype of the witch as a doer of ill
deeds. You will most likely also hear about the witch in
league with the devil. Therefore just because someone was
raised in Italy doesn’t automatically mean that he or she
actually knows about authentic forms of witchcraft practiced
by Italian witches. The same is true about people in other
countries regarding the “man-on-the-street” view of
witchcraft (versus a true practitioner).
One of the problems in trying to define the “real Strega” is
that Italy has long been divided into regions with different
customs, lore, and folk traditions. It naturally follows
that witchcraft in these regions will have differences.
Therefore one cannot be compared against another in order to
decide which one constitutes the real thing. This leaves us
with the reality that no one can speak for Italian
witchcraft as a whole. But of course, this fact does not
stop people from doing so.
The answer to the question “who are the real Strega” is
simple; they are the people who practice their regional
traditions. They are the people who practice evolved forms
of regional practices. They are the people who feel a
spiritual lineage. Some have a hereditary lineage and some
do not. A witch is not the region she or he was raised in,
a witch is someone connected to the Old Ways that emanated
from the spirit of the land. By analogy, breath comes from
the lungs but does not stay in the lungs. The breath of
Italian witchcraft can be drawn in by those who know how to
be in the wind.
Some people feel that someone coming from Italy and stating
that she or he is a witch makes that person automatically
credible. In accord these people feel that whatever such an
individual says must be the real deal. But logically
speaking, think about your own country and the variety of
people there who say they are witches. If one of them goes
to another country are they representative of all the
witches in your land? Do they speak for witchcraft as a
whole in your country? The truth is that they represent
their particular view derived from their own experiences.
No country has the “One True Way” and there is no central
authority that regulates what constitutes the “official”
witchcraft of the nation. To believe otherwise is nonsense
and should be discouraged.
When we look at Italian witchcraft, there are identifiers
that identify its roots. There are identifiers that point
to additions. While traditions tend to preserve, they do
not stop growing and adapting to the needs of each new
generation. This is why some additions and modifications
can take place. But the old guard doe not allow anything to
be tossed out in favor of something new. The Old Ways
survive, and nothing is forgotten.
There are challenging obstacles when defining Italian
witchcraft and they are based upon academic studies and
field research. Academia defines witchcraft as harmful
acts, and defines witches as practitioners of the evil
magic. The problem here is that the academic study of
witches, in terms of history, is not an ethnographic study
of a people calling themselves witches. It is instead a
study of the beliefs and attitudes held by non-witches about
witches and witchcraft. In other words, the “history” of
witchcraft is the documentation of the views of judges,
interrogators, theologians, commentators, and official
Church doctrine. It is not the views of witches and what
they believed in or practiced. Therefore there is no
history of witchcraft to examine. We have only a history of
how superstition influenced popular beliefs about imaginary
witches and witchcraft, and how theologians further invented
ideas about the subject. This is a make-believe witchcraft
of fantasy themes, and again, not an ethnographical study of
a real culture of people who were witches. It is inventive
“history” at best.
Another challenge is that there are two different words used
to indicate Italian witchcraft: Stregheria and Stregoneria.
Stregheria refers to witchcraft as a religion and
Stregoneria refers to it as a magical system, a form or
sorcery. Stregheria is an old term, not commonly used in
mainstream Italian society. Stregoneria is the contemporary
word in common usage, but this word always refers to
witchcraft as something of ill intent.
A relatively new addition to Italian witchcraft is the
introduction of saints. The traditions of Italian
witchcraft that have maintained their pagan roots view the
saints as the Old Gods in Christian garb. They were added
as a veneer to hide the old practices. Systems that
actually venerate the saints (as being the saints of
Christianity) are viewed by pagan-rooted systems as
offshoots of Italian witchcraft. They are more closely
related to folk magic traditions in Italy than to old
Do additions to old traditions negate their authenticity?
If we add something from one culture to the tradition of
another culture, is the original completely undone and no
longer relevant to the culture? Or is this simply the new
blossoms on the old tree whose roots remain the same as they
were in the previous season?