There are several legends concerning the striga, striges plural, Italian Witch. One version has a supernatural meaning. It has them as women who turn themselves into terrible birds of prey, having huge talons, misshaped heads, and breasts filled with poisonous milk. Just as the Lamia and succubi, they pre on unprotected sleeping men and children. Following sexual intercourse, after they change into women, they drink the man’s blood. To small children, they offer their poisonous milk. They have been associated with screech owls, birds of sorcery, whose feathers were used to cast magical spells in classical myths.
Ovid surmised three theories as to their origin: they were born as striges, they were enchanted, or they were hags placed under a spell. Petronius claimed striges to be wise women of the night who possessed the power to overthrow the natural order of things.
With the rise of Christianity, striges still endured in folklore but in low Latin became a term for witch. The Church effected laws making it a sin to believe in such evil spirits or make offerings to them. One such law in Saxony made such belief punishable by execution.
By the Middle Ages striges were distinctly associated with the Devil and demonology clearly associated with screech owls. They were clearly thought to cast spells to cause men to waste away; thus came the tern “owl-blasted.”
As one can plainly see the above bias version of striges is from a Christian viewpoint. However, those having a more objective and favorable view of Witchcraft, its mysteries and lore tell different versions. In Italian witchlore the Watchers, related to the striges, was describes in an old Strega myth as recounted by Charles Leland in his Aradia–Gospel of the Witches, 1890. In the myth, Diana went to the fathers of the Beginning, and to the mothers, the spirits who were before the first spirit. These spirits are the Grigori, also called in some traditions The Old Ones. The Watchers are believed to be an ancient race that developed beyond the need for physical form. Teachings exit that they once lived on earth and could possibly be associated with the legendary Atlantis and of ancient Egypt. It is thought that they originated from the stars. In one legend it reads, “Though I am a child of the earth, my Race is of the stars.”
The ancient Hebrews also made reference to the Watchers, in Daniel 4:13-17 they are called the Irin, or Watchers who appear to be an order of angels. In Hebrew lore the Irin were a high order of angels who sat on the supreme Judgment Council of the Heavenly Court. The nearest concept in modern Christianity of the Watcher is the guardian angel. However, in the Apocryphal Books of Enoch and Jubilees they are referred to as the Fallen Angels originally sent to teach man law and justice. In the Secret Book of Enoch in which they are called the Watchers, they are referred to as the rebellious angels who joined the Sataniel to wage a heavenly war.
From these different versions of the legendary striga, or striges, one can easily see how they can be viewed as either bad or good. It was only Petronius who implied that they possibly possessed some good when he claimed striges to be wise women of the night who possessed the power to overthrow the natural order of things. Every other description claimed them to be degenerative. The Church first took them as evil spirits, not helping anyone, and eventually associated them with the Devil and demonology. People were forbidden to respect them, serving to strengthen the Church’s authority. The legends of the sriges resemble the legends of Lilith. In their hatred of the Great Mother, the Jews claimed she drank the blood of Abel. By the Middle Ages the Hebrew still made amulets to ward off the lilim. Her daughters, lusty she-demons, copulated with men, in dreams, causing nocturnal emissions.
Only in a non-ecclesiastical view are the striges are described as having any good characteristics. Some Jews saw them as angels sitting in judgment. In the ancient Stellar Cults of Mesopotamia, the Watchers were “royal” Stars, known as Lords, who guarded the four quadrants of the earth. They have been assigned various duties, but inevitably each time the Judeo-Christian religion characterizes them as possessing demonic traits. A.G.H.
Grimassi, Raven. The Wiccan Mysteries: Ancient Origins and Traditions. St. Taul. MN. Llewellyn Publications. 1999. pp. 100-102.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts On File, 1989. p. 331.