Stregheria is a branch of modern Paganism that celebrates early Italian witchcraft. Its adherents say that their tradition has pre-Christian roots, and refer to it as La Vecchia Religione, the Old Religion. There are a number of different traditions of Stregheria, each with its own history and set of guidelines.
Today, there are many Pagans of Italian descent who follow Stregheria. The website Stregheria.com, which bills itself as “the home of Stregheria on the web,” says,
“Catholicism served as a veneer that was fitted over the Old Religion in order to survive during the period of violent persecution at the hands of the Inquisition and secular authorities. To many modern Italian Witches, most Catholic saints are simply ancient pagan gods dressed in Christian garb.”
Charles Leland and Aradia
Stregheria appears to be based primarily upon the writings of Charles Leland, who published Aradia: Gospel of the Witches in the late 1800s. Although there’s some question about the validity of Leland’s scholarship, Aradia continues to be the basis of most Stregheria traditions. The work purports to be a scripture of an ancient pre-Christian witch cult, passed along to Leland by a woman named Maddalena.
According to Maddalena, by way of Leland, this tradition honors Diana, the moon goddess, and her consort, Lucifer (not to be confused with the Christian devil, who is also named Lucifer).
Together, they had a daughter, Aradia, and she comes to earth to teach people the ways of magic. To some degree, this teaching is focused on enlightening peasants as to how to overthrow their tyrannical masters, and find freedom is escaping from societal and economic constraints.
Leland’s material gained in popularity among Italian Americans during the 1960s, but his work was not the only influence on what is today practiced as Stregheria.
During the 1970s, author Leo Louis Martello, who was open about his practice of Italian witchcraft, wrote numerous titles detailing his family’s practice of magic originating in Sicily. According to Sabina Magliocco, in her essay Italian American Stregheria and Wicca: Ethnic Ambivalence in American Neopaganism,
“While the secret nature of his family magical practice made it impossible for him to reveal all its characteristics, he described it as a remnant of Sicily’s cult of Demeter and Persephone, preserved under the guise of Marian worship in the Catholic Church. In fact, he claimed that Sicilian families concealed their pagan religion under the guise of devotion to the Virgin Mary, whom they interpreted as simply another version of the goddess Demeter.”
There has been some skepticism towards Leland’s claims. Author and scholar Ronald Hutton has theorized that if Maddalena did exist, the document she gave Leland may have contained her own family’s hereditary tradition, but that it was not necessarily a widespread practice of “Italian witchcraft.” Hutton also suggests that Leland had enough knowledge of local folklore that he could, conceivably, have made the whole thing up in its entirety.
Regardless of the source, Aradia has had a significant impact on modern Pagan practice, particularly among those who follow Stregheria.
As with many other Neopagan religions, Stregheria honors both male and female deities, typically personified as the moon goddess and the horned god. Author Raven Grimassi, in his book Ways of the Strega says Stregheria is a blend of ancient Etruscan religion blended with Italian folk magic and early rural Catholicism.
Grimassi says of his tradition of Stregheria,
“The Arician Tradition strives to maintain the ancient mystery teachings while at the same time working to adapt to modern times. Therefore we do embrace new material and teachings, but we do not discard older material.”
Interestingly, there are some practitioners of Italian witchcraft who have tried to distance their version of Stregheria from Grimassi’s and the other Neopagan forms of the religion.
Some, in fact, have complained that it’s become “too blended” with Wicca and other non-Italian traditions. Maria Fontaine, a third-generation Stregha from Pittsburgh, says,
“A lot of what’s traditionally sold as Stregheria by Neopagan authors is an offshoot of Wicca with Italian names and customs mixed in. Although there are some similarities, it’s very different from traditional Italian folk magic. It’s like the difference between eating real Italian food in a village in Tuscany, and going to your local Olive Garden restaurant for dinner. There’s nothing wrong with either, they’re just very different.”
We believe that the Great Spirit, or source of All things is both masculine and femanine in nature.
We believe that all humans have a spark of divine within themselves, the soul.
We also believe that we are actually spiritual beings who are temporarily encased in physical body.
We believe in reincarnation and view it as a process for spiritual liberation from the physical dimension.
We believe in psychic abilities and the supernatural as normal conditions which have been suppressed by the Judaic/Christian culture, but may be restored through the practice of the Old Ways.
We believe in magick as a manifestation of energy that is directed by the mind through various ancient techniques.
We believe in spiritual worlds and spiritual beings.
We believe in the Law of Action and Reaction, and that what we do affects others, and what others do affects us. Therefore we always strive to live in peace with everyone.
We believe in Karma, we believe in responsiblity and consequences.
We believe in love, life and harmony as the spiritual foundation of our ways.
We believe in the expression of religious beliefs through rituals and festivals.
We believe in Earth Energy, we acknowledge places and objects of natural power existing upon our planet.
We believe in a positive afterlife and a successful spiritual evolution.
We believe that everything in Nature is of equal importance. Everything is linked and entwinded beyond seperation.
The Triad Traditions
Most every religion has different “sects” within it. This braching off allows each group to specialize in a particular area, as well as creating a healthy diversity within the tradition. Stregheria or Strega also has branches or sects. Making up the Old Religion are three groups, known as the Triad Traditions. They are known seperately as the Janarra, the Tanarra, and the Fanara. When Aradia first brought the Old Religion to the people of Italy, she taught her followers the secrets of the Earth, the Moon, and the Stars. With the beginning of the persecution of witches in Italy, the Religion split. Each group was entrusted with one section of the mysteries.
They seperated. The Fanara, who are the Keepers of the Earth Mysteries, centered in northern Italy. They kept the secrets of ley lines, and other forces of the Earth. The Janarra and Tanarra both occupy central Italy. The Janarra are the Keepers of the Lunar Mysteries. They are entrusted with the mysteries of the lunar energy, and other powers of the Moon. The Tanarra are the keepers of the Stellar Mysteries. They hold the mysteries of stellar forces.
Common to all three traditions are the arts of herbalism, divination, magic, ritual,and other aspects associated with the Old Religion.
Each tradition has one person who is responsible for maintaining the purity of the Tradition, as well as ensuring its continued survival. This leader is called the Grimas. The Grimas allows only new aspects to be added to the Tradition that do not deviate from the original teachings. Each Grimas has a working knowledge of the other traditions. They work together in making decisions which will effect the Old Religion. Basically, it is their job to make sure the Strega religion stays true to its followers.
A fourth tradition now also exists, developed by Raven Grimassi Originally a branch of Tanarra, it is known as the Aridian Tradition. It is a blending of the Triad Traditions, and is an attempt to restore the original Religion Aradia brought back to the people long ago.
The Watchers called Grigori, are called to guard the ritual circle and to witness the ritual. Strega also recognizes a third person, Aradia. She came to be known as the Holy Strega, a spiritual teacher and wise woman. The message of Aradia, called the Covenant, offered her followers the path to freedom and personal empowerment. Aradia also 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 and Beliefs. The Charge of Aradia is the message she left her followers.
The Covenant of Aradia
Observe the times of the Treguenda, for therein is the foundation of the powers of Stregheria.
When good is done to you, then do good to another. If someone wishes to repay you for a kindness, then bind them to go out of their way to help three others, then this shall clear the debt.
Do not use the arts of Stregheria to appear powerful among others. Do not lower the standards of the Art and thereby bring contempt upon the Old ways.
Do not take the life of anything unless it is to preserve life, yours or another’s.
Do not give your word of honour lightly, for you are bound by your words and by your oaths.
Do not accept any authority over you unless it is of the Gods. Instead, cooperate with others but do not be a slave and always preserve your honour. Give respect to others and expect respect in return.
Teach all who appear worthy and aid the continuance of the Old Religion.
Do not belittle another’s religious beliefs, but simply state your own truths. Strive to be at peace with those who differ.
Do not purposely cause harm to another, unless it is to prevent true harm to yourself or another.
Strive to be compassionate to others, and to be aware of the hearts and minds of those around you.
Be true to your own understanding and turn away from those things which oppose the good in you, or are harmful to you. Hold reverence to all within Nature. Destroy nothing, scar nothing, waste nothing, live in harmony with Nature, for the ways of Nature are our own ways.
Remain open in your heart and in your mind to the Great Ones who created all that is, and to your brothers and sisters alike.
Charge of Aradia
Whenever you have need of anything, once in the month when the Moon is full, then shall you come together at some deserted place, or where there are woods, and give worship to She who is Queen of all Witches. Come all together inside a circle, and secrets that are as yet unknown shall be revealed.
And your mind must be free and also your spirit and as a sign that you are truly free, you shall be naked in your rites. And you shall rejoice, and sing; making music and love. For this is the essence of spirit, and the knowledge of joy.
Be true to your own beliefs, and keep to the Ways, beyond all obstacles. For ours is the key to the mysteries and the cycle of rebirth, which opens the way to the Womb of Enlightenment.
I am the spirit of witches all, and this is joy and peace and harmony. In life does the Queen of all witches reveal the knowledge of Spirit. And from death does the Queen deliver you to peace and renewal.
When I shall have departed from this world, in memory of me make cakes of grain, wine, and honey. These shall you shape like the Moon, and then partake of wine and cakes, all in my memory. For I have been sent to you by the Spirits of Old, and I have come that you might be delivered from all slavery. I am the daughter of the Sun and the Moon, and even though I have been born into this world, my Race is of the Stars.
Give offerings all to She who is our Mother. For She is the beauty of the GreenWood, and the light of the Moon among the Stars, and the mystery which gives life, and always calls us to come together in Her name. Let Her worship be the ways within your heart, for all acts of love and pleasure gain favor with the Goddess.
But to all who seek her, know that your seeking and desire will reward you not, until you realize the secret. Because if that which you seek is not found within your inner self, you will never find it from without. For she has been with you since you entered into the ways, and she is that which awaits at your journey’s end.
Gifts of Aradia
In the fourteenth century, Aradia taught that the traditional powers of a witch would belong to any who followed in the ways of the Old Religion. Aradia called these powers “Gifts”, she also stressed the point that these powers were the benefits of adhering to the Old Ways, and not the reason for becoming a witch.
These are the powers:
To bring success in love
To bless and consecrate
To speak with spirits
To know of hidden things
To call forth spirits
To know the Voice of the Wind
To possess the knowledge of transformation
To possess the knowledge of divination
To know and understand secret signs
To cure disease
To bring forth beauty
To have influence over whild beasts
To know the secrets of the hands
The Strega Wheel of the Year
The Strega Wheel of the Year turns as the Wiccan does, It is written; “Aradia teaches us that Nature is the Great Teacher, and that by participating in the seasonal festivals, we come to know the higher ways of the Spirit.” The celebrations are similar to the Wiccan Sabbats. These celebrations are called Treguendas. There are eight Treguendas which make up the year. Four major rites occur in October, February, May and August. These are the Spiritual Festivals. Four minor festivals occur on the Spring and Autumnal Equinoxes, and the Summer and Winter Solstices. These are agricultural festivals.
ShadowFest — La Festa Dell’ Ombra — October 31
ShadowFest marks both the beginning and ending of our year. On November Eve, we mark the time when our Lady descends into the Underworld seeking to understand the Mystery of Death. She meets Dis, the Lord of the Underworld. She is angry with him, for he has taken away those things that she loved. He tells her it is not he who does this, but age and fate which robs her of these things. He simply tries to make the time until they are reborn more pleasant. Eventually, he wins her heart. They come together in Holy Union, and share their mysteries with each other.
Winter Solstice — La Festa dell’ Inverno — December 21/22
Goddess gives birth to the new Sun God, the child of the Holy Union of ShadowFest. The Watchers, known to the Streghe as the Grigori, come to see this new child, but are suprised to see Janus there presenting his new-born child. It is here that we see Dis and Janus are the two faces of the Great God. The Grigori then proceed to the world of man, bringing the new Lord of the Sun. Lupercus, the Sun, once again begins his growth.
Lupercus — Festa di Lupercus — February 2
The Festival of Lupercus marks the puberty of our Lord, Lupercus. The Grigori have set “twelve labours” before the young Wolf God that he must master to prove his worth as the new Sun God. Lupercus proves his worth by completing the tasks. Lupercus is invoked at this time of year to scatter the wolves of the dark winter night. Assisting us in releasing the atavistic power within us all. Through him, we are free of the constraints of our bodies, and of the winter season.
Spring Equinox — Equinozio della Primavera — March 21/22
The Vernal Equinox celebrates the beginning of the Goddess’ ascent from the “Realm of Shadows”. Longing for her children and the light of the Sun, She emerges. As She returns, the Earth awakens, and her children rejoice. This is a time of great fertility. It is also the time that the God Lupercus is slain in a hunting accident. Yet he rises the next day as the new Sun God, taking on the persona of Janus. His brother, Cern, takes rule of the Waxing Year on Earth and will, with the regenerative growth of his antlers, become the Horned God of summer.
Tana’s Day — La Giornata di Tana — May Eve/May 1
Celebration for the full return of the Goddess from the Realm of Shadows. She has returned to her hidden children, bringing with her the Mysteries she has learned. We also celebrate God and Goddess, and their delight in each other. They court, and the world is made merry. Goddess becomes the dominant force, and the Goddess months begin.
Summer Solstice — La Festa dell’ Estate — June 21/22
Summer Solstice marks the marriage of God and Goddess. From this union comes the bounty of the Harvest Tide. This is a time of growth and life. At this time we do works to heal the Earth. This is also a time when the Elemental forces are abound in great number. We honour the fata, the elementals, and other spirits of Nature. (For the witch and the fata are of a similar nature…)
Cornucopia — La Festa Di Cornucopia — August Eve
The celebration of anticipation of plenty. This is the time of the First Harvest. God is preparing to sacrifice himself so that the world can continue. Even as we begin our harvest, we plant the seeds of rebirth. For those seeds which are planted now and nurtured over the cold winter will become the strong plants of spring.
Autumn Equinox — Equinozo di Autunno — September 21/22
Time of the full harvest. The bounty of the harvest is due to God’s sacrifice of himself. Janus now dies and departs to the Underworld. The Lord of Light has now become the Lord of Shadows. He now becomes the Hooded One, and after this Treguenda, we too become hooded in our rites until the Goddess begins her Ascent again at Primavera. Our God Cern is killed in another hunting accident, and Lupercus again takes rule of the Waning Year. Grieving for her lost lover, Goddess descends into the Realm of Shadows, seeking him. In celebratation, we feast upon the bounty of the harvest. We count our blessings and prepare for the upcoming Winter.
Article by Patti Wigington, Published on ThoughtCo
Grimassi, Raven: Italian Witchcraft, Llewellyn Publications (previously titled Ways of the Strega).
Leland, Charles Godfrey: Aradia, the Gospel of the Witches, Witches Almanac Publishing
Martello, Leo Louis: Witchcraft, the Old Religion, Kensington Press
Aymen Fares, Published on Spiritual