The Etruscans were, essentially, the beginning of an entire culture - going down through the Greeks, Romans and on to modern day Italy. The Etruscans represent one of history's most fascinating people. They knew how to write and had their own language. Many were sailors, warriors, miners, merchants and metalworkers. They planned their cities, cemeteries, temples and roads. The cities they built are still thriving today, with slightly different names of course. The Etruscans were polytheist, meaning they believed in more than one God. These gods formed two different groups: the gods and goddesses of the state religion and the spirits, which were thought to inhabit shrines. Each segment of the Etruscan universe was identified with a chief god or goddess who had a specific area of influence. Their universe was divided into three major forces: the heavens, the earth and the underworld. The Gods and Goddesses regulated, ordered, controlled and ruled all the natural elements: moon, sun, sky, weather and stars. Every craft and skill was under the patronage of some deity.
Stregheria is the Craft of the Italian Witches. It's an ancient system, steeped with History that dates back to the 14th century. We are the descendants of an ancient people who used MoonLore, Omens, Portends, Symbolisms, Herbs, Charms and Spirits (Faery) to work their magick. 'Strega' is an old word, derived from the Latin 'Strix' and every dialect has a word and a legend for it. The word 'strega' in modern Italian means 'witch' or 'hag'. 'Strix' is also the root word for 'strigoaica' or 'strigoi' the Romanian witch and 'shtriga' the Albanian witch.
Stregheria resembles Witchcraft/Wicca in that both systems are Goddess based. Both Stregheria and many Wiccan traditions accept the duality of both a female and male God. Many of the Goddesses and Gods are known by different names in different traditions. These dieties are evoked for many purposes and are part of our everyday life.
Stregheria and Wicca celebrate many of the same rites or Festivals even though the names are not the same and sometimes they occur on a slightly diffferent date. The 'Tools' will vary from person to person and the true witch knows that the only indispensable 'tool' is her/him self. When I call the elements I might use: for North: stones; East: feathers; South: candles; West: scissors. North is Earth therefore I use something that to 'me' signifies the earth. East is Air so I use feathers to 'fan' the air around me. South is Fire so I use a lit candle. West is Water so I would use scissors to symbolize the tides coming in and out of the ocean, much as the scissors open and close.
Some Strega also recognizes a third person, Aradia. She came to be known as the Holy Strega, a spiritual teacher and wise woman. Aradia taught that the traditional powers of a witch would belong to any who adhered to the way of the Old Religion. Aradia called these Gifts. The Charge of Aradia is the message she left her followers. A great read is 'Leland's Aradia: Gospel of the Witches'. Written in 1890, Leland spent better than 12 years researching Italian Witchcraft.
On the night of January 6th (Twelfth Night or the Eve of the Epiphany or Little Christmas), Befana leaves presents in children's stockings hung upon the hearth or in their shoes placed at the door, a tradition very much like Santa Claus associated with Christmas in America. The children write notes and hide them up the chimney for La Befana. The notes or offerings are generally a list of toys or other items that they want La Befana to bring. This time of year is filled with singing, rich foods, family, gifts, and helping others in need.
I believe that we as humans will come full circle. Meaning, we have passed thru different 'Ages' as the centurys have gone by. If we look to the ages of the Mother vs the Father, we witness patriarchal power that surpressed women and took control of every aspect of life. When the Father age gave way to the Son age, the Mother returned to a supporting, nurturing role that the Father age kept stifled. The Son did not totally suppress women, but he was still under the influence, guidance, control and manipulation of the Father. The Ages do overlap...there is no 'defined' beginning or end to each 'Age'.
In Italy and still in some places in the US, women and men born with a 'caul' (inner fetal membrane still covering the body, especially the head) were believed to have mysterious healing powers and the ability to see witches. After the child is born the veil is spead somewhere to dry out of the sun. Because tthe caul is special, it is treated carefully and with great repect. It is kept folded impossibly small and usually tucked into a red case that has a ribbon on it so it can be worn about the neck.
Herbs often have several different associations or symbolic correspondences. It is the aspect of the herb being used in the spell that will determine its symbolism. Herbs can also be used to enhance the power of ritual tools. Herbs can be used in many formats: Balm, Salve, Decoction, Infusion, Lotion, Oils, Poultice, Ointment, Syrup or Tincture.
With the introduction of Christianity, many of the Etruscan stories transformed and became attached to Catholic saints and martyrs. Pagan holy sites and shrines were rededicated to Christian figures, yet they retained their mystical quality. Hidden within the Catholic Church, the saints served as the focus for the Strega's devotional practices. Each saint was thought to have special powers. Some Strega regarded the saints as 'supernatural' beings who could be enlisted in their cause or request. The saint I speak of here is not the same as the saint as known to the orthodox Catholics. The Strega would believe that the saying of a prayer, the lighting of a candle, and an offering are 'enough' for the particular saint to intervene. The Catholics would go thru the same process, but they would 'hope' that the saint would aid them. Big difference. Should the saint fail the petitioner, their statue could be subjected to: being buried, being put in the freezer, being broken or totally destroyed. Many patron saints had their own festival days. Look to any real Italian/Sicilian section of a large city and you will find these festivals. The statue of the saint was carried in a procession or parade thru the streets.
There is much talk about the 'degree' system that many traditions use. I do not agree with those who think they can earn a First Degree in less than 1 year....even if they have prior experience, they need to learn the way of another tradition which may be very different from the one they had previously known. 'Degrees' are a tricky thing. Some covens require them, some don't. Some unscrupulous people 'just jump to 3rd'. Some never make it past 1st. Some don't want the 'stigma' of being degreed. It is my personal opinion that our Strega ancestors did not have a degree system. I believe they definately had what I call a 'pecking order'. The oldest ruled and depending on your age and your knowledge, is where you stood in line. The Degree system I believe came by way of Gerald Gardener. The following is my own personal opinion and from my own experience.
A First Degree initiate (one who had decided they wish to learn more of a certain tradition; also called a dedicant) has demonstrated possession of the knowledge and skills needed to take care of his or her own spiritual needs. Also he or she must possess the basic working and hands-on knowledge of: the Elements and with basic correspondences; ability to banish, bless, and consecrate material to prepare it for ritual use; familiarity with basic magical tools; familiarity with the Wheel of the Year; ability to cast and close a Circle; ability to center, ground, and shield; become proficient in one method of divination. The usual time frame for First Degree can be anywhere from 1 - 2 years.
A Second Degree initiate has demonstrated that he or she: can safely lead a magical working; possesses the willingness and the capacity to minister to the needs of others (this includes mediating and counseling); to work within the Witch/Wiccan/Pagan community. This time frame can be another 1 -3 years.
A Third Degree initiate has demonstrated that he or she is competent to lead his or her own Coven or Circle. This means 'running the whole show'!! Preparing rituals, assigning duties, counseling, clergy duties. This time frame can be another 1- 3 years.
As I understand it, the 'Wiccan Rede' was never part of the Italian Witches belief, and was not part of the Witchery born in Italy. As I am also given to understand, in Italy some Strega do not follow the Law of 3 or the Rede. It was not part of the Strega beliefs IN Italy hundreds of years ago, therefore it is not included now. There are some groups in Italy who have adopted the Law and Rede. I believe they in Italy view the Law and Rede as Wiccan...something more NEW.
I do not claim to be 'the' authority on Stregheria, however I will be happy to try to answer any question you may have. I love to get email as much as anyone I know, but please, do not email me asking me to do your school homework/college research. Please don't ask me where 'this city' or 'that mountain' is; please don't ask me to look up information for you. Don't ask me for 'love' spells. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but you wouldn't believe the number of requests I get from people asking me to find a map, or look up books, or send them some of my research. If you have a question about Strega, Witchcraft, the Etruscans, or something relative, then by all means email me. I just don't have the time to do your homework.
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