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Stregheria is Italian meaning religion of Witches, in general, and specifically refers to sorcery or magical practices of Witches that oppose their religion. Italian Witchcraft is one of the oldest form of European Witchcraft, and second only to Greek Witchcraft, mentioned by Homer and Hesiod, 8th century BCE. It also may be noted that in the Greek fable of Medea, priestess of Hecate, is the first reference to Witches in a religious context.
It may be noted that some of the earliest references to Witch in the region currently known as Italy which date around 30 BCE were in the poetry of the Roman poet Horace. Even though note writing kindly of Witches he ascribed to them the power to draw the moon down from the sky. He notes they worshipped Diana in ceremonies at night, and mentions a Witches' book of incantations called the Libros Carminum, the Book of Chants. Other writers of the era such as Ovid and Lucan noted Hecate, Prosepina, and Diana as being worshipped by Italian Witches.
In the third volume of Folk-Lore: Transactions of the Folk-Lore Society (March 1897) author J. B. Andrews described Neapolitan Witchcraft stating that the Witches of Naples were divided into "special departments of the art." He lists two as adepts in the art of the earth and sea magik. Later a third is implied, a specialty possibly existing related to the stars. Andrews also writes that these Neapolitan Witches performed knot magik, created medicinal herb portions, constructed protective amulets, and engaged in the arts of healing.
Andrews concluded his work with information which he had collected by interviewing Italian Withes. When asking what books their knowledge was gathered from, the Witches informed him that it was mostly oral, "given by mother to daughter." The Witches also told Andrews that blood is exchanged from a vein in the arm, and a new member is given a mark under the left thigh. Although the moon was not specifically mentioned the Witches told Andrews that they performed such ceremonies at midnight.
Italian Witchcraft differs from region to region. Traditions roots in the north tend to originate from the ancient Etruscan religion. Those in central Italy are likely to be a combination of medieval magic and Italic Paganism. In southern Italy the more rural forms of Witchcraft are prevalent. Sicilian Witchcraft is probably one of the least altered forms of Italic Witchcraft because of its relatively insular nature as an island. Its greater external influence came from the Spanish occupation, although there are some arguments for the influence by the Moors.
The ancient roots of Stregheria, the Old Religion, are not necessarily attached strictly to Italy, since the strege tradition comes from the Etruscan religion it could very well have been a Neolithic religion. This certainly would have been a Goddess worship tradition. Some modern versions of Stregheria are a combination of the medieval elements of the Tuscan peasant religion and saint worship.
It is reasonable that Catholic saint worship appeared during the Inquisition period as a veneer. The true adherents of Stregheria were not willing to abandon their goddesses such as Diana, Arcadia, and Demeter who had been their benefactors for centuries. With the emergent of Catholicism, to them, the Virgin Mary was the incarnation of the Goddess Diana. Even many Catholic priests did this for the same reason. The resurrection of Jesus represented the resurrection of Persephone or Osiris. The Old Religion never died, it just hid and continued serving its believers. It exhibits itself today. While many are not yet sure of their safety others practice this Old Religion in its traditional form.
The hysteria of Witchcraft possession came later to Italy and was less intense than in other parts of Europe. Although records of hangings and burnings do exist, the more common punishments were flogging, six-month imprisonment, and banishment; the Italian Inquisitors seemed more interested in repentant peasants that executions. Since these remain major factors, there remained a large preservation of knowledge of Italian Witchcraft that was passed onto future generations. A.G.H.
Grimassi, Raven. Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft.
St. Paul, MN. Llewellyn Publications. 2000. PP. 353-354
Stregeria: Old Religion or New? <http://www.unexplainedstuff.com/Magic-and-Sorcery/Stregeria-Old-Religion-or-New.html>
Stregheria-Frequently Asked Questions. <http://www.stregheria.com/faq.htm>