Four Ritual Tools
In modern Witchcraft (and Wicca) we often find the inclusion of what
is commonly referred to as the "four tools of Western occultism."
These are the pentacle, wand, dagger, and chalice. It is
interesting to note that in the ancient cult of Mithras we find the use
of ritual tools known as the wand of command, the libation cup,
the crescent-shaped blade, and the platter. In the
book The Cults of the Roman Empire, by Robert Turcan, the author
also notes the presence of a ritual sword and a scourge known as the
sun's whip. These Aegean/Mediterranean tools bear a striking
resemblance to those that later appear in Gardnerian Wicca.
One possible explanation for this theme is that the Cult of Mithras was
spread to the British Isles by the Roman legions, which occupied Britain
for several centuries.
It is noteworthy to find the appearance of the blade, cup, pentacle, and wand
displayed together in a magical/ritual context in the symbolism
of the early Italian Renaissance period. This image of the traditional
tools of Western Occultism is captured in the 15th century Visconti
Cary-Yale tarot deck, the oldest known extant deck. The Visconti
Magician card depicts a man standing before a table. In his left hand he
holds a wand. On the table itself is set a large chalice, a sword, and a
pentacle. Stuart Kaplan, an acknowledged expert on the Tarot, says that all
Tarot symbolism as we know it today evolved from the Italian Tarot.
Source: The Encyclopedia of the Tarot, U.S. Games Inc., Stamford
The Book of Shadows
Italian Witches were hand copying from the Key of Solomon in the 17th
century, and mixing it with spells and rituals in their private hand
Francesco Guazzo wrote in his 17th century Italian Witch
Hunter's Guide that witches use a black book from which they read during
their religious rites. **
Sources: *Journal of Social History, volume 28,
1995, article by Sally Scully, Department of History at San Francisco
University. **Compendium Maleficarum 1608.
Drawing Down The Moon
In the writings of the ancient Roman poet Horace (Epode 17) we find
these words (addressed to Canidia): (the Witch Canidia replies) ... must
I, who can move waxen images and draw down the moon from the sky by my
spells, who can raise the vaporous dead, and mix a draught of love
lament the effect of my art, availing nothing upon you?"
The Four Elements
Empedocles (a student of the teachings of Pythagoras) was
historically the first person known to have taught the concept of the
Four Elements as a single cohesive doctrine. He lived around 475 BC in
his native homeland of Sicily where he presented the teachings
concerning the four elements as the four-fold root of all things.
Source: Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic; Empedocles and
the Pythagorean Tradition by Peter Kingsley, Oxford University Press
In book one, chapter 18 , of the Compendium Maleficarum by Francesco
Guazzo (1609) we read that Italian witches work with spirits of certain
specific natures. Guazzo lists these as: fiery, aerial, terrestrial and
water. Here, of course, are the elemental creatures also related to
modern Wiccan beliefs.
Source: Compendium Maleficarum, 1608
The Ritual Circle
Italian witches employed beech twigs to trace ritual circles in the
ground. Such a circle is depicted in a 17th century Italian woodcut by
Sources: Compendium Maleficarum, 1608.
In classic Roman and Greek concepts we find the Divine Couple imagery
in such matings as Jupiter and Juno, Zeus and Hera. At the second
lectisternium in 217 BC, for the first time in their history, the Romans
selected a dozen deities and grouped them together into couples
according to the Hellenic pattern. From this celebration arose the Roman
version of the Twelve Principle Deities in Roman Mythology. Folklorist
Charles wrote if Italian Witches who worshipped Diana and her consort
the Roman god Lucifer, the morning star.
Sources: Etruscan Roman Remains. Roman and European Mythologies
compiled by Yves Bonnefoy, University of Chicago Press, 1992.
In Italian Witchcraft the beings known as the Grigori (Watchers) are
an integral aspect of the belief system. Over the course of many
centuries the initiates of Italian Witchcraft have developed various
signs and gestures that are recognized by the Grigori and indicate the
presence of a trained witch of the Old Religion. This intimate
relationship between Grigori and initiate has been forged and nurtured
by the Strega for countless generations. The ritual display of
prescribed signs and gestures at the appropriate quarter grants passage
by the Grigori and allows the initiate to gain access to the portals
that lead directly into the Otherworld realms.
of the portals to such realms as the astral plane, the Grigori can
negate magickal energy from manifesting there. This results in a failed
magickal work or spell. The reasons why the guardians might intercede in
such a manner are varied, but the Grigori bear the title "guardians" for
good reason. Non-initiates of authentic forms of Italian Witchcraft, and those to whom
these inner mysteries have yet to reveal themselves, often dispute the
role of the Grigori (if not their existence itself).
Another erroneous claim made by non-initiates is
that initiates of Italian Witchcraft believe their actions are "judged"
by the Grigori, which is untrue and is based upon ignorance of authentic
Italian witch beliefs and practices. The appearance of the
essential Grigori or Watcher concept, in the literature on Italic
paganism, dates back to archaic Roman religion, which itself is derived
from the Etruscans. Ovid, in his work titled Fausti, calls the Lare the
"night watchmen." In archaic Roman religion small towers were built at
the crossroads and an altar was set before them upon which offerings
were given to the Lare. The Lare were guardian spirits associated with
these towers and with demarcation in general, as well as seasonal themes
related to agriculture.
In the early Stellar Cults of
Mesopotamia there were four "royal" stars called the Watchers. Each one
of these stars "ruled" over one of the four cardinal points common to
Astrology. This particular system would date from approximately 3000 BC.
The Star Aldebaran, when it marked the Vernal Equinox, held the position
of Watcher of the East. Regulus, marking the Summer Solstice, was
Watcher of the South. Antares, marking the Autumn Equinox, was Watcher
of the West. Fomalhaut, marking the Winter Solstice, was Watcher of the
In Charles Leland's book Aradia he recounts the tale of
"The Children of Diana, or how the fairies were born," in which it is
stated that Diana created "the great spirits of the stars." In this book
we also find a reference to an elder race: "...Then Diana went to the
Fathers of the Beginning, to the Mothers, the Spirits who were before
the first spirit, and lamented unto them that she could not prevail with Dianus. And they praised her for her courage; they told her that to rise
she must fall; to become the chief of goddesses she must become a
Sources: Dumezil, Georges. Archaic Roman Religion. Baltimore and
London: John Hopkins University Press, 1996, volume 1, page
The Lure of the Heavens; A History of Astrology by Donald Papon,
Star Names; Their Lore and Meaning by Richard Allen, Dover
Aradia, Gospel of the Witches by Charles Leland. 1963.
Three Degrees of Initiation
Italian Masonic group known as the Carbonari (circa 1820) had three
degrees of initiation marked by colored cords or ribbons: blue, red and
black. A triangle marked the first degreelevel. The Carbonari claimed to
have been based upon the Mystery Cult of Mithra.
Source: A History of Secret Societies by Arkon Daraul, Citadel
Structure of the Circle Ritual
It is interesting to note that in the Essay on the Mysteries of
Eleusis, by M. Ouvaroff, we find passages from the ancient philosopher
Porphyry who reveals that the symbols of the Greek and Roman Eleusinian
Mysteries included the circle, triangle and cone which are all aspects
of Wiccan rites. Source: The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly Hall,
Philosophical Research Society 1962. The Northern Orientation of Ritual
The Etruscans who occupied central Italy (from whom the Romans borrowed
heavily) placed their deities into quarter associations. To the north
was the chief god Tinia (and his consort Uni) who was king of the gods.
The north was divided up into four sections which spanned from the north
to the east quarter. In the east (the furthest extension of the
northeast placement) dwelled the twelve major gods and goddesses of
Etruscan religion. In the south were placed the lesser gods and nature
spirits. In the west were placed the deities of Death and the
Underworld. In this Etruscan view of the Cosmos we have the earliest
account of Italic beliefs associated with the four quarters.
Source: Roman and European Mythologies complied by Yves Bonnefoy,
University of Chicago Press 1992.
Conduct of the Ritual by a Priest, Priestess and Maiden
Stucco relief from the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii Italy
depicts a woman leading a blindfolded initiate assisted by a silenus
priest and a female attendant (relief from the Farnesina 30-25 BC Rome,
National Museum). The ancient cults of Roman typically involved both
priests and priestesses with their attendant maidens. The Mystery Cult
of Dionysus at Pompeii is a classic example depicted on murals.
Source: Mystery Religions in the Ancient World by Joscelyn
Godwin, Harper & Row 1981.
The Descent of the Goddess to the Underworld
The Eleusinian Mysteries, originating in Greece, involve themes of
descent and ascent, loss and regain, light and darkness, and the cycles
of life and death. Author Manly Hall, the author tells that the rites
associated with these Mysteries were performed at midnight during the
Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. Hall reports that the Eleusinian Mysteries
spread to Rome and Britain where initiations into this cult were
performed in both countries. The Eleusinian Cult contained the Greater
Mysteries and the Lesser Mysteries. The Lesser dealt with the abduction
of Persephone by the Underworld God, a classic descent myth. The Greater
Mysteries dealt with the Quest for the return of the Goddess, and the
rites were performed in honor of Ceres (an Agricultural Goddess who was
Patron of the Mysteries). In the general mythos, Persephone descends
into the Underworld and encounters its Lord. The life of the world
disappears with Her and the first autumn and winter befalls the earth.
The Lord of the Underworld falls in love with the Goddess and wants to
keep Her in His realm. Ceres intervenes on Her behalf and pleads with
the Underworld Lord to release Persephone. At first He refuses because
Persephone has eaten the seeds of the pomegranate, an ancient symbol of
the male seed (as we see in the Wiccan Descent Legend they loved and
were One). Eventually He agrees on the condition that She returns again
to His realm for half of each year (cycle of the seasons).
Source: The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly Hall,
Philosophical Research Society 1962.
Lunar Orientation and Full Moon Meetings
The writings of the ancient Roman poet Horace give us perhaps the
earliest accounts of Italian Witches and their connection to a lunar
cult. In the Epodes of Horace, written around 30 BC, he tells the tale
of an Italian Witch named Canidia. Horace says that Proserpine and Diana
grant power to witches who worship them, and that witches gather in
secret to perform the mysteries associated with their worship. He speaks
of a Witches' book of Incantations (Libros Carminum) through which the
Moon may be "called down" from the sky. Other ancient Roman writers such
as Lucan and Ovid produced works which clearly support the same theme.
In Charles Leland's Aradia; Gospel of the Witches (1890) we also find a
reference to Italian Witches gathering for lunar rites:
"Whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month and when the
moon is full, ye shall assemble in some secret place, or in a forest all
together join to adore the potent spirit of your queen, my mother, great
Diana. She who fain would learn all sorcery yet has not won its deepest
secrets, them my mother will teach her, in truth all things as yet
unknown. And ye shall be freed from slavery, and so ye shall be free in
everything; and as a sign that ye are truly free, ye shall be naked in
your rites, both men and women also..."
Sources: Epodes of Horace, 30 BC. Aradia, Gospel of the Witches,