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Country Bumpkins of the Empire's Outback

Ivy Madonna

The professor examined another framed photograph, on the other side of my bookcase. He turned his head. “And this one?”
“Mary, mother of mercy, at the sanctuary of San Frutuosso.”

The look on the learned man’s face told me he was in one of his expansive, didactic moods. Some folks are put off by academic lecturing, but not me. I loved to pick that man’s brain. He took a seat on the sofa, leaned back.

“The Ivy Madonna,” he said.
“Yes, that’s a good name for it.”
“Such religious icons are created to summon supernatural power, and especially to cure various ills. The first healing rituals were devised by early hunter and gatherer cultures. The ancient Kalahari people in southern Africa, for instance, began with simple music and dance. Later they added costumes and storytelling. Performance art, if you will. Then the storytellers added objects and paintings to enhance the healing message. You might say this is the very origin of Art.”

“The artist as shaman. Or is it the other way around?”

The professor grinned. “Clever fellow! The artist and healer were one figure. He was a specialist who went inward to a dark mysterious place of creativity. He took all the early spontaneous rituals and made them intentional. And all people believed that going into the space of music and art, and fully participating in the experience, would free their own healing spirit.”

“Okay, that’s Africa. What about Italy?”

“Well, there was in earliest times a thing called Stregheria, a nature-based Pagan belief system that embraced a masculine/feminine diety. In central Italy the goddess Diana and her consort, the god Dianus, were personifications of the forces of nature. Around 1000 BC Etruscans further developed and refined the concepts. Later Roman armies spread the beliefs into every land they conquered. When Constantine converted, though, he made Christianity the sole offical and mandatory religion. And those country bumkins in the Empire’s outback who clung to the Old Religion were persecuted. So Stregheria went underground.”


“And what?”

“Does Stregheria still exist? Say, here on Ischia?”

The professor laughed. “If you ask an old timer he’ll give you a funny look and pretend he never heard of it. Ask a Catholic priest, ditto. But then there’s something verrrrry curious. Not too long ago I heard that a priest at one of the churches here called in a Bishop from Rome to help a poor guy who was said to have been driven insane by a spell cast by some old Strega in Buonopane. The Bishop performed an exorcism, just like in the movies.”

“This Strega who cast the spell was from Buonopane?”

“Yes. Apparently it’s still a hotbed of witchcraft, passed down by individual familes for many, many generations.”

“And yet nobody talks about it.”

“Buonopane was an isolated community up there on the mountain, and it still is. Most still speak in the old dialect. And they never talk to outsiders.”

“Do you think that’s a remnant of the Christian persecution?”

“Partly. But a more likely reason for their silence is that the dialect is considered by modern Ischians and mainlanders as primitive, spoken only by rustics.”

“The country bumpkins of the Empire’s outback.”

“Precisely,” the professor said.

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Oh, this is wonderful. I enjoyed the professor's "lecture" very much. Marian shrines, like those of other saints, did strike me as exactly what he said here.

Btw, I once went to a local appearance (I'm near DC) by Raven Grimassi, who at least claims a lineage of stregheria direct from Italy. I bought one of his books and asked him to sign it in Italian. He wrote, Buona fortuna a Vittoria. No spells, but a nice thought!

Don't know how large the Streghan presence is in Italy anymore -- this branch of witchcraft traditionally keeps it workings secret -- but it has been growing in favor here in the states. It is usually taught within Italian families from mother or grandmother to daughter, right around the time of the first blood.

They're here on the island, in Buonopane, no doubt about it. If you yourself were not born into The Tradition then it's likely I know as much about it as you do. If you are a Strega then you know a great deal more...but you won't share any of it!

hello! i can imagine that it's secretive, with the surrounding catholic culture at least nominally disapproving of it. (though i found italy very secularized, for all the trappings, way back in the seventies.) for a while, i frequented a website called "fabrisia's boschetto" mostly because it was beautifully done and very informative (and had plenty of italian on it!). it did seem at that time that there were quite a few americans practicing the art.

In Italy seemingly powerful institutions like The Church and The Government usually elicit from the people only languid indifference.

But then on the other hand you just might be willing to tell me what you know about spells. Love spells. Have you ever cast one? Have you ever had one cast upon you?

What do you want to know? As a trad witch (non-Wiccan, non-Stregherian), I have been casting spells since I was eight years old. Love spells since I was 16. I'm much more cautious now, but no less inclined to cast one right around Beltane.

God, she is in the details

Thanks for your reply. I guess I'm most interested in a detailed description of your first love spell's ritual (so I can compare it with the Italian), the emotions you experienced while you performed it, and the outcome.

Many thanks. Now, whatever made me think Grimassi was dead?

Oh, I don't think he is, but I'm not on that grapevine any more (was for a while as a sort of inquirer). His website appears to have been updated last fall and not since, but there's no bad news there:

Raven Grimassi

He was very entertaining as a speaker and was pleasant to me when I begged him to sign in italiano. I got a really cool Raven's Call bookmark out of the evening. [g]

You probably got him confused with Dr. Leo Louis Martello.

Probably. But then no surprise--I'm often confused!

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