Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe

Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe By Raven Grimassi

This is a fascinating book, well-researched with appendixes and bibliography. It is an expanded revision of his previous book “The Way of the Strega.” Strega is the word for a female witch as stregone is for a male.- Apparently in Italy there are the triad traditions that can be traced back to the 14th century. These are the Fanarra, Earth tradition, the Janarra, Lunar tradition, and Tanarra, Stellar tradition. Diana, the Queen of the Witches and Goddess of the Moon and the Night is paramount. According to legend there was a great revival of the old religion in the 14th century due to the arrival of a woman called Aradia, said to be the daughter of Diana herself. Of course, the tradition is much older than this and is said to have been well-preserved in the hills of Tuscany far from the urban areas of the Roman Empire. According to the author the beliefs and practices derive from the pre-Roman Etruscan culture.

The author makes a very good case for many of the components of modern Wicca to have originated in this tradition. I would highly recommend this book to Wiccans and those interested in the history of witchcraft. He gives details of the researches of Gerald Gardner, Charles Leland, and James Frazer.

I especially enjoyed the stuff on moon magick, moon trees, moon portals,etc. There is a belief that at death one first travels to the lunar, or astral realm, then when the moon is full one moves on from there to the next life. Aradia taught that witches should practice naked in the forest clearing at midnight on the full moon for powerful magick. It was said that in the time of the agricultural fertility cults there would be sexual mating on the freshly tilled fields.

There are sections on the God as the stag and the wolf. The stag and the wolf are seen as the companions of Diana. The stag is prominent in the waxing part of the year as the horns grow and the wolf in the waning year -much like the Druid oak king and holly king. The 8 sabbats are the same as in Wicca - and there are mythic drama plays associated - such as where the goddess descends into the underworld - first recounted in the Sumerian Mystery of Innana. There is an interesting portrayal where two beings battle - one with a fennel stalk - the other with a sorghum stalk - sorghum wins out as the year begins to wane.

The author sorts magick into four types: natural magick, personal magick, spirit magick, and deity magick. The seven “planes” of occult philosophy - deriving from the Greek and not far from those of yoga - are used to explain the mechanisms of magick manifesting. There is much in medieval occultism and hermeticism that has mixed in the tradition as well as Greek and Roman paganism - There is the curious mention of the Grigori, the Watchers who bear witness to all rites and act as guardians between realms who were once human but now stellar - they are first noted in Hebrew mythology.

There is some interesting info on the crone goddess Befana, one of the three Fates in Tuscan Witchcraft. Apparently the Yule tradition of hanging stockings on the hearth comes from her honor as an ancestral goddess. She returns in spring as the maiden goddess Fana.

Two plants are particularly prominent in Italian Magick, rue and fennel. Both are medicinal - and I noticed that fennel is also venerated in the Northern traditions. Rue represents the god in some rites and is an herb of witches in general. Fennel is symbolic of the victory of fertility and successful harvest.

There is an interesting section on shadow magick - using actual shadows for magickal purposes by making animal shapes and imbuing them with magickal energy - while casting them on a target. Aye, the shadow puppets made me do it.

There is an interesting section at the end that is said to be the teachings(questionably) in the actual words of the legendary Aradia - mostly in terms of view- or how to view things - quoting the section on “Concerning Magick”

“It is the purpose of symbols to speak to the dream mind, and plant the magickal seeds that will manifest. It is the purpose of rituals (and spells) to establish the patterns of power. These patterns are established to either draw upon power or to raise power (or both).”

“Magickal and ritual correspondences are incorporated to take advantage of the Numen (energy/life force) qualities in objects, times of power, links to Deities, and states of consciousness (awareness).

“The art of magick is a blending of inner or personal power with that of natural powers and divine powers.”

Again in “Concerning Tana and Tanus”

“Tana is the sacred name of the Great Goddess, She who is All Goddesses. Upon the Earth She is known as Fana, in the heavens she is Diana (the Moon), and in the Universe She is Tana (containing them all). …….

“Tanus is the Great God, who is All Gods. On Earth He is Faunus, in the heavens he is Janus (the Sun), and in the Universe he is Tanus.”

There are even prophecies given presumably by Aradia which foretells of a golden age of reason and peace called The Age of the Daughter. The Myth of Diana is recounted whereby Diana unites with her brother/son Dianus, thus darkness and light unite and divide in the daily cycle and in the yearly cycle.

To reiterate - this is a great book for witches of all sorts to read.

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