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Italy, Clavicles and Witchcraft
Article ID: 13573
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Sorita d'Este
Posted: October 11th. 2009
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The romance and history of Italy has long evoked feelings of magic and mystery in those who have seen and experienced the products of her artists and poets, architects, sculptors and writers. As a child I grew up with stories of castles, princesses, counts and countesses, the beauty of Virgil and the terrible beings of Dante's Inferno, the wonders of Leonardo Da Vinci and the artwork of Michelangelo, as well as many other stories from Italian literature which my Nonna (grandmother) shared with me, or encouraged me to learn more about. Amongst these was La Befana, the Italian Witch figure who acts in a role not dissimilar to that of Santa Claus.
On the 6th of January every year stockings are hung out for La Befana, if the children are good they will get nice fruit such as figs and oranges, as well as other sweets, and if they are bad they would get an onion or a piece of coal instead.
There are many parallels between the story of La Befana and Santa, she comes down the chimney, food should be left out for her, you have to be good to get a good present and of course the stockings being hung out for her, lets not forget that she is an old woman with a broomstick either. La Befana is also one of the oldest customs for children in Italy, which is still being celebrated, and some believe that she may have originated with a Roman Goddess. La Befana gives us the popular image of "a Witch" as found in European folklore, but in a positive light - not distorted into something negative as that which it became.
When I first became involved with and interested in the practice of modern Witchcraft I often heard about the idea that the practices as we know it may have originated in Italy. This idea was often based on the use of texts from The Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles G Leland in what is now the Wiccan tradition; but because the origins of this text has become disputed by those seeking to discredit the ongoing practice of Witchcraft through the centuries, so too has the idea that the image of the witch and the ideas associated with it, may have originated in Italy. It is an all-together familiar pattern of complete confusion and contradictions aplenty when trying to unravel a magical history!
The origins of one of the most popular of modern witch goddesses, Aradia, can be found in Leland's text; in fact in it Aradia is described not as a goddess as such, but rather as the messianic daughter of the goddess Diana and her brother/lover, Lucifer.
"This is the Gospel (Vangelo) of the Witches:
Diana greatly loved her brother Lucifer, the god of the Sun and of the Moon, the god of Light (Splendor) , who was so proud of his beauty, and who for his pride was driven from Paradise.
Diana had by, her brother a daughter, to whom they gave the name of Aradia [i.e. Herodias]."
[The Aradia, C.G. Leland, 1899]
Though there have been attempts to discredit Leland's work, it still remains standing amongst the huge volume of work produced over the preceding centuries which presents a very similar scenario in regards to the goddess Diana as being the primary goddess of witchcraft in Italy, and indeed throughout Europe.
David and I discussed this at length in our book Wicca Magickal Beginnings in which we wrote:
"For example, in 1749 Girolamo Tartarotti published a book called Del Congresso Notturno Della Lammie ('Of the Nocturnal Meeting of Spirits') which declared, "The identity of the Dianic cult with modern witchcraft is demonstrated and proven". Prior to this in 1647 Peter Pipernus wrote De Nuce Maga Benevanta and De Effectibus Magicis ('Six Books of Magic Effects and of the Witch Walnut Tree of Benevento') . Earlier still in 1576 Bartolo Spina wrote of witches gathering at night to worship Diana in his work Quaestio de Strigus ('An Investigation of Witches') . This trail of documentation, which only lightly scrapes at the surface of what is available from preceding centuries, does strongly suggest that the Leland material was indeed based on an existing tradition, rather than one fabricated out of thin air by Leland or his informant, the witch Maddalena. "
[Wicca Magickal Beginnings, Sorita d’Este and David Rankine, Avalonia, 2008]
Now what is further interesting about the Italian connections here is that when we examine modern witchcraft practices, in particular those of the Wiccan tradition, we find that much of the practices are drawn from the rituals and practices found in the magical grimoires, such as that in the Key of Solomon.
A link between what at a glance might seem like the folk remains of the worship of a Roman goddess and the grimoire texts which are more often thought of as being Judeo-Christian in origin might at first seem unlikely, and this is possibly the reason that it has been so easily dismissed. However, the links couldn't be clearer and more direct.
Examples abound, possible the best known being that of the Malipiero sisters, two Venetian witches whose comings and goings were recorded in the meticulous documents of the Archivio di Stato during the 17th century.
The Italians had a love-hate relationship with The Key of Solomon, something that was highlighted in the excellent Veritable Key of Solomon (Skinner/Rankine, 2008) . It was on the Index of Forbidden Books for many years and there was even and attempted magical murder of Pope Urban VIII in 1633 with it, though a failed one which ended in un-pleasantries with the Inquisition for those who tried.
So its not a surprise that the Roman Catholic Church would take particular notice of the Key of Solomon in the light of such an attempt, especially as there was a huge interest amongst monks in the ritual contained with it, with hundreds of accusations related to the use of the Key of Solomon which were lodged against monks also recorded. Likewise there would be a huge increase in interest amongst book dealers and the Inquisition, which would rise after it was recorded that the Key had been translated from Latin into Italian in 1640.
When Laura Malipiero's house was searched by the Capitano of the Sant Ufficio in 1654 they found numerous manuscripts, some being roughly written spells, whilst others contained detailed and sophisticated herbals and most importantly copies of The Key of Solomon. It is important here to note that Laura was noted in the records as being a "Strega famosissima" (i.e. a famous witch) . There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that the use of the Key of Solomon around this time in the same region in Italy was widespread.
For example, the Archivio di Stato also contained references to a man, Boniface Cabiano who was found to be selling magical manuscripts near the Rialto in Venice in 1648 which clearly states that he was found to be dealing in documents of Agrippa and a book which was described as one with little signs and secret circles. Agrippa's work was also influential on the development of Wicca and modern pagan magic, as well as being influential on the development of some of the other grimoires. Likewise with Giacomo Batti who had a bookshop on the Frezzeria.
This is a clear example from more than 350 years ago of the use of the Key of Solomon and other grimoire materials by witches, who also had an interest in spells and herbals, as well as healing (Laura was a known healer, especially in her later life) . It also shows that Italy may well have been a melting pot for the combination of witchcraft and grimoires, which would later give birth to the Wiccan tradition.
There are many interesting things to gleam from the history of this relatively unknown Italian Witch woman of the 17th century; one account seems to even hint at the existence of what we would today refer to as a Coven:
"In 1630, Laura's witchcraft was of the domestic, private and amateur variety. When she surfaces in the historical record again, in her second trial in 1649, it is for public and professional acts of a variety of undifferentiated magic. Along with fourteen others, among them her mother and sister, she is accused of various standard types of love magic, divination and other of the practices which were clearly and frequently labeled "stregarie". Her magic has evolved, and she is part of a group which exchanges techniques and shares customers..."
[From Marriage or a Career, witchcraft as alternative in 17th century Venice, by Sally Scully]
When considered in this context, the famous words spoken by Diana's daughter Aradia in Leland's Gospel of the Witches, might take on a new meaning, especially to those unfamiliar with its original context:
"When I shall have departed from this world,
Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full,
Ye shall assemble in some desert place,
Or in a forest all together join
To adore the potent spirit of your queen,
My mother, great Diana. She who fain
Would learn all sorcery yet has not won
Its deepest secrets, them my mother will
Teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown."
[Aradia Gospel of the Witches, C.G.Leland, 1899]
Wicca Magickal Beginnings, Sorita d'Este and David Rankine, Avalonia, 2008
Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, C.G. Leland, 1899
Copyright: (c) Sorita d'Este 2009 (www.sorita.co.uk)
Location: Glastonbury, England
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Bio: Sorita d’Este is an esoteric researcher, author and priestess who brings her knowledge of the wisdom of the ancient world into the modern age. Her particular areas of interest relate to the Western Esoteric Traditions, including the Pagan Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Celtic Britain and Ireland, folklore, Qabalah, divinatory and magical practices through the ages.
She is author of more than 15 books on western esoteric and occult subjects; including HEKATE Liminal Rites; Wicca Magickal Beginnings and Practical Elemental Magick.
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