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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!

Cultural Influences

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. 

Roman-Catholicism

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. 

What else?

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.

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Two Different Words? Stregheria and Stregoneria

In a thread ar MysticWicks online, Grimassi disected the two words. Where strego or streg refers to Witches, and eria is a suffix that implies “doings”, the word Stregheria would almost translate directly into English as Witchery, if we disregard the fact that it’s a word unknown to most Italian-speakers. The word nero is the Italian means black, and Grimassi insists that Stregoneria refers distinctly to black magic and ill intent.

Grimassi wrote: Ask the average Italian what stregoneria is and you will be told it is harmful magic, and most likely you will be told it is being in league with the Devil. The same thing would happen if you stopped the average American on the street and asked him or her for a definition of Witchcraft. (1)

It’s as though that he implies, with this reasoning, that Stregheria would generate no such xenophobia. However, If you ask do Italians what Stregheria is, you’d get a different reaction – Stregheria is a word that does not exist. It not known to most Italians today. It is in no Italian-English dictionary that I have come across. Could it be that Grimassi himself invented the word, removing the “black” aspect from it?

Paolo Giordano’s article “What is Stregoneria vs Stregheria” is featured in Raven Grimassi’s official website and explains where we find first find pre-Grimassi evidence of the word “Stregheria”, naming two specific dictionaries. (2) If someone has seen these dictionaries and knows where I could find a copy , scan or photocopy, I’d be very interested.

Lessons in Grammar

In his book Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe, Grimassi explains that “Italian is a Latin language, and employs the use of gender in its words and sentence structure.”(3) This is true, as illutrated by the word teacher which translates into professore for men and professoressa for women.

The dictionary definitions for strega and stregone are feminine and masculine words for sorceress/er. (4) Grimassi states that streghe is the all-encompassing plural term, although that is gramatically incorrect. Strega, as a feminine noun, will also be feminine in the plural form. Streghe is absolutely feminine. Stegoni would be the term used for a group of males, and by default, a group of mixed genders as well. With this in mind, Stregoneria refers to the practice of Stregoni. We cannot be certain that the neria part of word refers to blackness.

In his examination, Grimassi wrote “that the word stregheria is rooted in an understanding of Witchcraft as a community of Witches, a people if you will. Stregoneria seems to suggest a magic system as opposed to a people.” I feel that this point is moot – Grimassi’s Stregheria tradition is certainly a magical system itself. We can also link the word stregoni to stregoneria which would indeed link it to a “community” as much as the use of streghe in stregheria does.

Stregheria can be interpreted gramatically as craft solely for women, which would be understandable for an Old Country point of view. All Witches were thought to be women, but then again, all witches were also considered evil. I’m playing the devil’s advocate with this argument – Grimassi would endorse no such image.

Given that Grimassi traces his craft primarily to the Etruscans, who were definitely not Latin, it is surprising he would emphasise the later language of the Romans at all.

Questions for Contemplation and Discussion

If contemporary Italians do not recognize the word Stregheria, is it really Italian?

The Stregheria.com FAQ says:

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.  It is primarily derived from Etruscan religion rather than Roman.

Why practice a distinctly Italian Craft if you are not even distantly Italian? Pride in Italy is a major part of Italian culture and therefore makes it neccessary for one to be somewhat Italian in order to be an Italian Witch.

More importantly, what does it mean to be Italian? And why should the Etruscans be emphasised more than the Romans?

Notes

(1)
MysticWicks Online Pagan Community and Spiritual Sanctuary > Raven Grimassi > Stegoneria Italiana

http://mysticwicks.com/showthread.php?t=196124
Posted July 5, 2008, Accessed July 10, 2008.

(2)
“One old example of the usage of “stregheria” appears in the book Apologia della Congresso Notturno Delle Lamie, by Girolamo Tartarotti (1751), which almost exclusively uses the word stregheria in place of stregoneria. Due to modifications over the centuries, the terms stregoneria and stregheria must now be viewed as referring to different systems. In fact, a dictionary printed in the year 1900 (Nouveau dictionnaire italien-francais et francais-italien – by Costanzo Ferrari) provides separate entries for stregoneria and stregheria. The entry for stregoneria refers strictly to sorcery, while the entry for stregheria refers to organized witchcraft in connection with the Sabbat.”

Giorando, Paulo. “What is Stregoneria vs. Stregheria.”
http://www.stregheria.com/what.htm
Copyright 2006. Accessed July 19, 2008.

(3)

Grimassi, Raven. Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe.
2000. Llewellyn Worldwide, Pp 4.

(4)
WordReference.com
http://www.wordreference.com
Accessed July 14, 2008

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