A continuation fo my exploration of “Italian Witchcraft”.
Difference Between Latin and Etruscan
Grimassi relays the studies of Charles Leland, Etruscan “folklorist” in his teachings of Stregheria. He writes that “Italian Witchcraft, or Stregheria, pre-dates Celitc Witchcraft by centures. […] Italian Witchcraft is the proud legacy of Etruscan Civilization and the Roman Empire” (i, Italian Witcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe). There are great errors in this opening statement.
Rev. Agnostino Taumaturgo points out acontradiction Stregheria.com’s FAQ, question number six where it says “[Stregheria] is primarily derived from Etruscan religion rather than Roman.”
This is getting confusing! The Etruscans and Romans were actually very different!
First of all, the Etruscan Civilization was focused in central Italy long before the great empires of Rome. At their height they were marvelous sea merchants and wondrous goldsmiths with evident trade relations with the Middle East and Egypt. They were also served a specific vase market for The Greeks – Greek artists actually made specific vases to suit Etruscan tastes. We know this because many of the least-damaged Greek vases in existence today have been found in Etruscan tombs.
Greece had a great influence over Etruria. We see from tomb illustrations that Etruscan religion and attitudes towards death became darker, more similar to Greek religion over time. We can find some parallels between Etruscan and Greek deities but it is also possible that scholars are being misled by the names inscribed on Greek vases. Do they show Etruscan deities or Greek deities with Etruscan names? Perhaps the Etruscans saw them as enjoyable characters. Or they saw parallels between the two pantheons. We may never know.
The Etruscans weren’t a unified people. Italy was scattered with their loosely affiliated independent city-states, much as Greece was. This unfortunately also made them much more susceptible to attack. Weakened by attacks from the Greeks over the centuries, the Roman Empire finally overcame the Etruscans and assimilated them almost seamlessly into their religion and culture.
The origins of the Etruscans will always be a mystery. They weren’t there only peoples who ever populated Italy – the Greeks moved into the south, the region of Sicily, during their period of greatness. There we also the Umbrians. The great majority of pagan european cultures, including the Norse, Indian, and the Celts, actually shared ancestry. This is most strongly proved by their languages, which share common elements and can be traced back to the Indo-Europeans. We also see similaries in the cultures values as well as their religions. Looking at common elements between Celtic and Vedic religion has allowed for a lot of theorization and exploration of the similarities between Druids and Brahmins, the “priests” of Celtic Paganism and Vedism respectively.
The Romans were quite adoptive of other religions. They had a great philosophy: “Come with us to Rome, and bring your Gods with you! We can all pray to them to bring victory and prosperity to Rome!” It definitely worked for them, for a while.
It is important to note that the Etruscans were not descended of the Indo-Europeans. This gives them a completely different background than the latin-speaking Romans. Genetic testing has linked Etrsucans with the Turkish, though there’s definite room for error in this theory. Still, this likens the Myth of Aradia (depending on how you feel about Leland) to the Descent of Inanna and opens new, exciting doors.
Furthermore, the Etruscans didn’t actually call themselves that. The Greeks called them Tyrrhenoi . They called themselves The Rasenna. We commonly use the Latin title. If Grimassi’s craft draws primarily from Etruscan roots, is deeply connected to them, why doesn’t he call them by the name they had for themselves? Why call themselves Streghe at all when it is an Italian, Latin-descended and not Etruscan word?
Etruscan vs. Italian
Etruscan mythology and culture is an important piece of the Italian puzzle. Someone on working in an an Etruscan-centered tradition has a lot of dust to stir up and many mysteries to explore. Despite it all, a craft called Italian could never particularly emphasize Etruscan religion. Italy is a country in name only. With so many dialects and city affiliations, with such rowdy politics, the people of Italy are united in the way they are so very different from each other. Contemporary elements of Italian life, including politics and religion, must be considered when it comes to Italian Craft because it reveals the true, distinct qualities of Italians.
Fratelli d’Italia! Culture and Language Identity
What does it mean to be Italian? This is something I personally struggle with as someone of mixed heritage in North America. I was not born in Italy, do not speak the language, am not a part of the local Italian community. I do not call myself Italian, though do feel many ties to this country and culture that has so shaped myself and my family. Certainn tendencies and customs have remained through years of assimilation and immigration, which is why I consider them so important.
Is being Italian important?
Grimassi has written that being Italian isn’t neccessary in order to be a Strega.
“No, you don’t [have to be Italian to practice Stregheria.] Stregheria is a spiritual path that is open to all. It is, however, based on traditional Italian witchcraft and does have an Italian flavor.”
This is a bit confusing, given that Grimassi’s website claims to be home to Traditional Italian Witchcraft and not something based on it, but I have to disagree somewhat here. A connection to Italy is neccessary to work with Italian Craft. That doesn’t seem to be unreasonable. Why else would anyone else want to practice it?
Even Italians amongst one another will refer to their specific area/village/province/dialect with great pride. I’ve heard of Montreal-Italians in the 60s who knew multiple Italian dialects – that really impressed me.
Community, Filial Piety and Ancestor Worship
I will argue that the family core and remembrance of the ancestors must be central to any modern Italian Craft. Italian-North Americans are very family and community oriented.
Little Italies have popped up in every every major city and Italian communties have grown to accommodate entire lives and routines. My Nonna lived in Montreal her whole life and never learned French or English, never learned how to write and never needed to become a Canadian citizen. She enjoyed Italian TV, local stations and ones syndicated from Europe. There’s an Italian Hospital, an Italian Market, etc. Large families, village life, church life – a connection to the community is part of being “Italian” and should be very improtant to an Italian Witch.
A lot of practitioners disagree on the subject of Christianity. Some, like myself, believe that a lot of core beliefs unique to Italy would have been integrated into Christianity to attract the Pagan native and facilitate their conversion. I entertain the possibility that certain distinct qualities about Roman-Catholicism that differ from other Christian sects might be remnants of La Vecchia Religione, The Old Faith.
For example, most Christians believe that after death, spirits depart to either heaven or hell. Italian Roman-Catholics traditionally put great influence on all souls day, visited graveyards, kept a candle lit for the Beloved Dead next to a display of photos. Is this not, in it’s own way, a belief in spirits? An act of ancestor worship?
What about the very religious, pious nature that we see in our relatives? I’ve come to associate piety with italians as well, people who live their faith.
The Virgin Mary
Despite not being Christian, I cannot help but feel humbly awed by The Virgin. She has many names bestowed by various Christian sects: Queen of Heaven, Queen of the World, Madonna, Mother of God, Mary of Guadaloupe, Our Lady of Lourdes… Specific practices, such as rosary bead prayers, are devoted to her. The association with the rose is but one of many elements that link her to other Mysteries.
There is something mystical about Her that I feel is imperative to Italian Craft, this awareness and reverence to The Virgin.
She is the First Mother, She who have birth by herself. She is the void before the “Big Bang”. She wears the stars in the sky and is the darkness that lies beyond, that which we will never truly know. She holds the mysteries of birth and death. You may have already have another name for Her, but she has always been truly loved by Italians.
Dare I add feasting, wine, fine art, games and competitions to list? Story-tellings and joking? Very loud conversation? These of course are not unique to Italians, but are important for people and families.
The Makings of an Italian Craft
- A Mother Goddess, an Agriculture God
- An awareness of the land, its distinctiveness, its spirit(s)
- Reverence of the Beloved Dead, remembrance of The Ancestors, honouring the newly born
- A commitment to the community, be it your neighborhood, your local Pagan community, your child’s school…
And so, I share the above list because it is a truly important part of my Art. While developing your own path, I urge you never to forget what is most important to you, to think about what you love most about life and give thanks for it in your spiritual tradition.