are the differences between stregoneria and stregheria, and what exactly
is stregoneria? Stregoneria is the modern word in Italian that is
commonly translated into English as the word witch. In the Italian
dictionary – Vocabolario della Lingua (Nicola Zanichelli, 1970) -
stregoneria is defined as a magical practice intended to produce harm or
illness. Stregheria is referenced in this book as a rare usage, and it
is also defined as witchcraft. In this article the differences between
the two words, and what they actually mean, will be revealed.
The statement that stregoneria refers to a harmful magical practice
is supported by ethnologist Elsa Guggino, who states that words related
to stregoneria are always used disparagingly to describe someone
practicing malevolent magic (Stregoneria: The “Old Religion” in Italy
from Historical to Modern Times, by Marguerite Rigoglioso, 2000).
Stregoneria, from a historical perspective, is a form of sorcery
found in pre-Christian times. With the establishment of the Catholic
Church, stregoneria was opposed and eventually outlawed. It appears to
have survived in fragmented forms well into the 17th century. As scholar
Ruth Martin points out, all practices such as sortilegio, erbaria, and
fattucheria were regarded as stregoneria. This is discussed in her book
titled Witchcraft and the Inquisition in Venice 1550 – 1650.
Martin also notes the last remaining vestiges of “non-Christian”
elements in stregoneria, which appear in the 16th century trial of Elena
Draga (also known as Elena Crusichi). Such elements demonstrate the
former pagan roots of stregoneria. However, with each passing century
the authentic forms of stregoneria withered and passed away. It was
displaced with Christian traditions mixed with folk magic beliefs, which
bear little if any resemblance to the authentic forms of stregoneria
that once existed in Italy. This is very often the fate of inner
traditions once they fall into the hands of the general population.
Some modern practitioners of Italian folk magic traditions now claim
to be witches. However, professor Sabina Magliocco points out that the
folk magic practitioners of Italy view themselves as Catholic; therefore
to refer to them as “witches” is an act of cultural violence against
Italian folk traditions and their practitioners (Spells, Saints, and
Streghe: Witchcraft, Folk Magic, and Healing in Italy – published in
Pomegranate, August 2000). Many Italian witches are offended that some
people equate witchcraft with the Catholic folk traditions of the
non-initiate population of Italy. Therefore this position is offensive
to both the authentic folk practitioners of Italy and the authentic
witches of Italy.
Stregoneria contrasts sharply with the tradition of Stregheria. The
former is now a quasi-Catholic oriented sorcery found in common Italian
folk traditions, and the latter is a pagan oriented religious system
with a magical structure for rituals and spells. The word “stregheria”
is an archaic word for witchcraft that is now applied in place of the
word “stregoneria.” Those wishing to differentiate themselves from
Christian stregoneria, (which usurped and distorted the pre-existing
tradition of witchcraft) now use the term stregheria. The use of the
word stregheria is now reclaimed by those who are not ashamed or fearful
of their Italian pagan roots.
One old example of the usage of “stregheria” appears in the book
Apologia della Congresso Notturno Delle Lamie, by Girolamo Tartarotti
(1751), which almost exclusively uses the word stregheria in place of
stregoneria. Due to modifications over the centuries, the terms
stregoneria and stregheria must now be viewed as referring to different
systems. In fact, a dictionary printed in the year 1900 (Nouveau
dictionnaire italien-francais et francais-italien – by Costanzo Ferrari)
provides separate entries for stregoneria and stregheria. The entry for
stregoneria refers strictly to sorcery, while the entry for stregheria
refers to organized witchcraft in connection with the Sabbat. The
connection of the word stregheria to the Sabbat is particularly
noteworthy. Tartarotti includes a discussion of the veneration of the
goddess Diana in connection with Stregheria, which further demonstrates
the difference between it and stregoneria. Such a connection can be
found in pre-Christian writings like those of Horace (the Epodes).
SIGNS THAT A TRADITION IS NOT AUTHENTIC ITALIAN WITCHCRAFT
past decade we have seen the rise of groups and individuals claiming to
be witches, but are actually only practicing common folk magic and folk
healing traditions that bear a slight resemblance to some elements of
authentic Italian witchcraft. In Italy the majority of groups (along
with websites) have merged eclectic material together, erroneously
portraying this as Italian witchcraft. In reality it is a mixture of
ancient Egyptian Isis worship, hermetics, Greco-Roman religion, and
Catholic-based folk traditions. Authentic Italian witchcraft in Italy is
still an underground society and continues to remain in the shadows.
Some modern groups and individuals claiming to practice witchcraft
have rejected any pagan elements in favor of the Catholic-rooted
traditions of Italy. Although seen in Italy to a small degree, this
phenomenon is largely found among segments of the Italian-American
population seeking their European roots. Their rejection of the
authentic forms of Italian witchcraft in favor of Catholic-rooted folk
traditions is a symptom of fearing to relinquish Christianity. In other
words they want to be witches but are apparently afraid to be pagan for
fear of damnation (a Judeo-Christian belief). Therefore they have
invented a “Christian witchcraft” system, which they feel is a safeguard
against offending “God”. The following are nine primary signs of this
fake type of witchcraft:
1. The inclusion of Christian symbols, the rosary, holy water,
communion wafers, saints, Jesus, and Church holidays.
2. The passing on of “the power” on Christmas Eve (typically related
3. Claiming that common folklore and folk traditions are witchcraft
4. Claming that folk healers and folk magic users are witches.
5. Ignorance of the cimaruta as the witches’ symbol, and viewing it
as a folk charm for protection or good fortune.
6. Ignorance of inner traditions related to Befana, the witch
gift-giver figure. In fake witchcraft traditions Befana is linked to the
birth of Jesus and the appearance of the Magi.
7. Denial of surviving elements of paganism, and denial of pagan
roots of origin.
8. Reliance upon information found in published books on Italian folk
traditions, customs, and folk magic (with no access to initiate level
material). From this is constructed a fabricated Christian witchcraft
system incorporating Italian folk traditions in an attempt to appear
9. A belief that common Italian family practices involving saint
magic & blessings, techniques against the “evil eye” and the use of
common items such as scissors, needles, red thread, salt, and other
household items is a form of authentic witchcraft.
One of the problems with Christianized stregoneria is its fostering
of superstitions, which are indicative of ignorance and lack of
education. Those who promote Christianized stregoneria contribute to the
negative stereotypes of Italians as ignorant and backwards. This
undermines the efforts of others who wish to demonstrate higher levels
of spirituality within Italian systems and traditions. As previously
noted, claiming that folk magic and folk healing in an Italian folk
tradition is witchcraft also offends authentic Italian folk
practitioners. The harm this is doing to the Italian witchcraft
community, the community of Italian folk traditions, and to sincere
seekers of information, is yet to be fully realized.