August 16th, 2002

Hidden Away in the Wilderness

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It occurred to me I had never mentioned the subject to Sylvia. Of all the people I'd encountered here, she was the one who would probably know the most, since she’s lived on this island for more than 30 years.

So I asked her. She didn’t appear to find the question at all unusual. It was as if she’d merely gotten an inquiry as to the Napoli ferryboat schedule.

“Most of the people on this island will never admit they believe in witchcraft,” she said, “but they do believe—actually know in their hearts—that witches are hidden away in the wilderness and have supernatural powers they can use for good, or for evil.

“But of course all the modern young people don’t care about this stuff. They’re too interested in their cell phones, designer sunglasses, motorinos, and clubbing. But others know the old religion is deep and ancient. As for the spells themselves, witches usually gather objects or symbols of their targets, or perhaps a strand or two of hair, or a photo.

“Now, these practices are old, handed down over many generations. And despite the nasty things outsiders say of the old ways, the practictioners don’t really want to break free of them. Why? ‘La sindrome del pappagallo,’ or the syndrome of the parrot. Open his cage, and he will remain inside. Because he is comfortable in there. Freedom is unknown, therefore terrifying.”

“Has anyone ever cast a spell on you?” I asked.

“Ha!” Sylvia said. “When I feel a spell coming on, I shout out: ‘Scio, scio, ciucciuvettola!’ Shoo, shoo, owl! And that evil bird flies off.”