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Stregheria

Stregheria is an archaic Italian word meaning "witchcraft", that has been revived, principally by Raven Grimassi, to refer to an Italian-based tradition of witchcraft. It is sometimes called La Vecchia Religione (the Old Religion). The word for 'witchcraft' in modern Italian is stregoneria.

Italian witchcraft was a focus of the work of folklorist Charles G. Leland who interviewed people in old Italy claiming to be witches (as evidenced in his books Etruscan Roman Remains, and especially Aradia: Gospel of the Witches). Stregheria practitioners hold Aradia and the work of other historians as a work of interest, but many question the validity of the work. Unlike most other witchcraft traditions, with the exception of Gardnerian Wicca, Stregheria has received attention from the academic community.

Stregheria has both similarities and differences with Wicca, and in some ways resembles other culturally-based Neopagan religions. Practices include the celebration of seasonal holidays, ritual magic, and reverence for Gods, ancestors and tradition-specific spirits. Stregheria itself has variant traditions, and individual practices may vary considerably.

Origins and history

As described in Grimassi's books, especially Ways of the Strega, Stregheria claims an ancient history. This history incorporates historical and anthropological evidence from Italian history with a religious origin myth unique to the tradition. Girolamo Tartarotti, in his 18th century work titled Apologia della Congresso Notturno Delle Lamie, refers to "Stregheria" in the context of a cult devoted to the goddess Diana. Modern Italian uses stregoneria as the word for witchcraft, but the word stregheria appears in a variety of dictionaries and other sources from the last three centuries.

Usage of the word

The word "stregheria" is used almost exclusively in Apologia della Congresso Notturno Delle Lamie, by Girolamo Tartarotti (1751) and also appears as an entry in Vocabolario piemonteno-italiano del professore di gramatica italiana e latina - by Michele Ponza (1860), Vocabolario Bolognese Italiano - by Carolina Coronedi Berti (1874), and Nouveau dictionnaire italien-francais et francais-italien - by Costanzo Ferrari, Arthur Enkenkel (1900) - where both "stregheria" and "stregoneria" appear as separate entries with slightly different meanings; the entry on stregoneria refers strictly to sorcery, whereas the entry on stregheria refers to organized witchcraft in connection with the Sabbat. The word "stregheria" also appears in a modern Italian dictionary as a rare usage in place of the modern word "stregoneria" (Vocabolario della Lingua Italiana, edited by Nicola Zingarelli, 1970). Charles Godfrey Leland's nineteenth-century books on Italian witchcraft survivals, Etruscan Roman Remains, and Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches are both cited extensively by contemporary practitioners but the word stregheria is found only twice in Etruscan Roman Remains (on pages 237 & 238). In the book Materials toward a History of Witchcraft, by Henry Charles Lea (published in 1890) the author refers on page 1447 to an anonymous collection of stories (titled il Compendio storico della Stregheria) that was written in 1751. Another example is found in Lettere Famigliari - by Giuseppe Baretti (1760), and in Arte magica dileguata, by Scipione Maffei, published in 1750.

Contemporary usage of "stregheria" was revived by Raven Grimassi with his publication of Ways of the Strega in 1994.

Witchcraft in Italy

In the late medieval period and early Renaissance Italy was a stronghold of Roman Catholicism, and was less affected than other countries by the witch craze that gripped much of Europe during that period. For that reason, it was somewhat overlooked by mainstream witchcraft historians, such as Jeffrey Russell. Witchcraft trials nevertheless took place in Italy, where witchcraft was largely conflated with heresy in the view taken by Inquisitors.

After studying manuscripts of these trials, microhistorian Carlo Ginzburg, discerned an unusual constellation of beliefs about witchcraft amongst some of the accused. In his two books on the subject, Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath and, especially, Night Battles, Ginzburg described the beliefs of a group of people called the Benandanti. While the Inquisition treated the Benandanti much the same as it did others suspected of witchcraft in Europe, the Benandanti themselves believed that they were Christians engaged in a supernatural fight against witches (or the "Malandanti"). Grimassi views the Benandanti as secretly being part of the witches' sect.

Anthropologist Sabina Magliocco has criticized interpreting Italian folk traditions as a religious survival of pagan elements as doing "violence" to the way practitioners perceive themselves. It is important to remember that practitioners think of themselves as Catholic." However, some Italian scholars, such as David Gentilcore, view elements of Italian folk traditions and folk magic "as a surviving pre-Christian magical formula on to which has been tacked the Christian historiola".

In 1899 Charles Godfrey Leland published Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. Leland claimed that the material in the book, which describes a secret messianical Pagan religion, was found for him by his assistant Maddalena in the course of studying Italian folklore. In the myths given in the text, the goddess Diana has a daughter named Aradia, who comes to Earth to teach witchcraft to the oppressed. Other major characters in the myths include Lucifer and Cain. Leland's claims of authenticity have been disputed, but the book became very influential, fifty years after its publication, as a primary source for Wicca and other Neo-paganism. Grimassi's position on Aradia is that Leland's published version is a "distorted version" of the story of Aradia, and that, instead, there really had existed a mortal woman named Aradia di Toscano.

Grimassi's history

Grimassi describes the roots of Stregheria as a syncretic offshoot of Etruscan religion that later blended with "Tuscan peasant religion", medieval Christian heresy, and Saint worship.

Grimassi writes that Aradia di Toscano passed on a religion of witchcraft, based on ancient Etruscan Paganism, to her followers (whom Grimassi calls "The Triad Clans"). The Triad Clans are referred to as "an alliance of three related Witch Clans known as the Tanarra, Janarra, and Fanarra" that in turn, passed on the myths and practices until the modern day, when Grimassi published a modernized version of them in Ways of the Strega.

Along with references to Ginzburg and Leland, Grimassi points to a number of historians, anthropologists and other scholars who have mentioned witchcraft beliefs in Italy as demonstrating the survival of Aradia di Toscano's religion.

Stregheria popularized

Italian-American Leo Martello claimed to belong to a "family tradition" of religious witchcraft in his 1970s book Witchcraft: The Old Religion. Martello does not use the word "Stregheria" when referring to his personal practice, but refers to it as "the Strega tradition".

Grimassi began teaching the "Aridian Tradition", a modernized public system presented in his published works, in 1980 in the San Diego, California area. He currently teaches the Arician tradition, an initiate level variant of Stregheria that he describes as based upon an older system taught to him. Regarding his published material, Professor Sabina Magliocco points out that "Grimassi never claims to be reproducing exactly what was practiced by Italian immigrants to North America; he admits Italian-American immigrants "have adapted a few Wiccan elements into their ways".

After the release of Ways of the Strega, people who had not studied under Grimassi began to adopt Stregheria practices, using the book as either a guide or as an addition to Eclectic Wiccan practice. Grimassi published additional books on the topic, such as Hereditary Witchcraft, now manages an annual spiritual retreat for practitioners, and is developing a "mystery school".

Practices

Like Wicca, most systems within Stregheria use a pentagram as an important symbol. The pentagram is often worn in the form of ring or necklace piece, and this symbol was also used by Pythagoreans. Most traditions of Stregheria use the ritual tools of cup, wand, pentacle and blade, which are seen in the suits of occult or divinatory tarot cards and amongst many systems of Western occultism. Some Stregheria rituals take place in a circle, with an altar facing North. Ritual actions include prayer, and the blessing of food.

Like Wicca, many groups within Stregheria celebrate eight holidays, called "Treguendas", while others celebrate the Catholic holidays or the ancient Roman holidays. One unified practice among Streghe is "ancestor reverence through spirits known as Lares (Roman deities)". Some Stregheria groups (a Stregheria group, according to Grimassi, is called a Boschetto) practice their religion skyclad. The Aridian tradition contains a rite of initiation, similar to some Wiccan traditions.

Most practitioners of Stregheria think of themselves as witches and believe that magic can have an effect upon reality. Some see their practice as more shamanic in nature. The more hermetic traditions of Stregheria contain a specific belief about the influence of spiritual beings on magic. They believe that beings known as the Grigori, or "Watchers" witness the "ritual display of prescribed signs and gestures", and that they have the power to "negate magickal energy" from the "astral plane". Not all traditions of Stregheria work with the Grigori or any angelic beings. Some traditions of Stregheria incorporate elements of Christianity into their practice, which establish non-pagan themes and concepts.

Relationship with other traditions

While Grimassi, whose books on the subject have been through a number of reprints, remains the principal name associated with Stregheria, there are also people who identify with the tradition, and Grimassi's history of it, but do not recognize him as a religious leader. Some other parties interested in Italian witchcraft have been critical of both him and his writing.

Stregheria shares commonalities with both Wicca and polytheistic Reconstructionism. Stregheria is one of a number of ethnicity- or culture-oriented traditions of witchcraft, such as Celtic Wicca, Kemetic Wicca, or Seax-Wica. Some Stregheria members attempt to distance themselves from Wicca, in a manner similar to Pagan Reconstructionism, or argue that their belief system pre-dates it. Some adherents of these traditions also reject the label of "Neopaganism", preferring to emphasize a cultural continuity with the past. While those interested in the pre-Christian belief systems of the Celts, "Kemetic" (Egyptian) religion, or the beliefs of the Norse, can readily find information on either associated Wiccan traditions or as Reconstructionist projects in books and websites, information on Etruscan or Roman Reconstructionism has yet to become available through book publishing.

In comparing his version of Stregheria to Wicca, Grimassi notes both similarities between the two and differences. The differences include holiday names and the element of "ancestor reverence". Grimassi has defended his material as being significantly different from Wicca at the roots level, and asserts that many of the foundational concepts in Gerald Gardner's Wicca can be found earlier in works on Italian Witchcraft and ancient Mediterranean mystery sects.

See also

Notes and references

External links

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