The following 19th century folklore article is referencd to by Leland in his Preface to Aradia or the Gospel of Witches, 1899. It contains many small and marvelous treasures of Italian magical lore, including discussion of lore about the witches’ council meeting under the walnut-tree of Benevento, the flight of Herodiade, healing spells, prayers or spells made upon rosary without medals or knoted cords, etc.
If the reader has ever met with the works of the learned folk-lorist G. Pitre, or the articles contributed by “lady Vere De Vere” to the Italian Rivista, or that of J. H. Andrews to Folk-Lore,* he will be aware that there are in Italy great nubers of strege, fortune-tellers or witches, who divine by cards, perform strange ceremonies in which spirits are supposed to be invoked, make and sell amulets, and, in fact comport themselves generally as their reputed kind are wont to do, be they Black Voodooists in America or sorceresses anywhere.
*March, 1897: “Neapolitan Witchcraft”
–Charles G. Leland, Aradia or the Gospel of Witches, A New Translation by Mario Pazzaglini, Ph. D. and Dina Pazzaglini, 1989, p.115.
It seems that many 19th century folklorists mixed up different types of “withces” willy nilly. Andrews made no distinction between those who act for good or ill. He lumped together those who called upon devils in charms with those who invoked Jesus. Descriptions of deeds quite probably done by genuine living 19th century practitioners were intermixed with imaginary deeds done by folkloric witches.
Activities involving the use of a padlock and knotted cord to attract a lover and that certain charms were taught on Christmas eve were presented along with witches magically removing a hump from a hunchback, dancing naked to cure a sick person, and flying.
Probably Andrews intermixed these activities because they all fall into the realm of folklore about magic. However, by using the single English word, “witch,” he implies all these activities were done by one of the strega.
Leland, wrting at about the same time period, apparently has done much the same. He labeled all Italian female practitioners of magic and divination as strega.
TRANSACTIONS OF THE FOLK-LORE SOCIETY
Vol III March, 1897 No.1
by J.B. Andrews
Southern Italy has been for many ages the favorite country for witches; they come from all parts of the peninsula to the Grand Councils held under the walnut-tree of Benevento, and even from more distant lands, for its fame is celebrated in Mentonnese tradition. This tree is to have been destroyed by S. Barbato in 660, during the reign of Duke Romualdo, in contending against superstition. Benevento was formerly called Malevento, a name perhaps significant. The site of the tree is now disputed, its very existence doubted; but witches still pretend to meet on the spot where it grew. The Neapolitans have an occult religion and government in witchcraft, and the Camorra; some apply to them to obtain what official organizations cannot or will not do. As occasionally happens in similar cases, the Camorra fears and yields to the witches, the temporal to the spiritual. There are also wizards, but as elsewhere they are much rarer; according to the usual explanation they have more difficulty in flying, being heavier.
It is said that the devil as a man prefers women; they for their part are amiable to him, at times even seducing him. There are special departments of the art–there is that of the earth and of the sea–having their special adepts. The first will only be treated of now; any witch can, however, render service to sea-faring folk, in giving a good haul of fish or averting a storm. Amongst witches by birth are women born on Christmas Eve, or on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Whoever invokes the devil on Christmas Eve before a mirror may become a witch.
An instruction in the methods is by itself sufficient; it is frequently given by the mother to her daughter, but not exclusively; any one may learn the art, even those knowing only a single incantation can make use of it. When a new witch has completed her education, the two women open a vein in their arms; having mixed the blood, the older witch makes a cross with it under the left thigh of her pupil, who says : ” Croce, croce, sciagurata sono.” There is no visible sign by which to detect them, they recognise one another by looking into their eyes; then the one who first leaves salutes the other by striking her with her left hand on the left shoulder and simply saying : ” Me ne vo.” In payment for the power he gives, the devil receives her soul with those of the others she procures for him; in witness of her fidelity she mocks at religion, and will profane the Host by trampling on it. But she means to cheat him and save her soul at the hour of death. She goes to mass, fills her room with pious pictures, before which, however, she does not work her charms. In her death-agony she sends for the priest, gives up to him all her apparatus to be burnt, then confesses and receives absolution. Her companions try to save some of the most precious objects from the flames. There are certain crimes for which there is no forgiveness, such as having caused death or made a hunchback. Among the many devils the head of all is called Satanasso.
Especially malicious is the Diavolo Zoppo (the lame devil), proud, violent, and treacherous ; he occupies himself much with lovers. Others are Lucibello, Lurdino, Lurdinino, Quisisizio, Turbionone, Scartellato, Baldassare. Their aid is invoked, they are present at the councils. The witches go to meet them flying through the air, often on horseback. In order to be able to fly, after having completely undressed and undone their hair, they go a little before midnight to an isolated spot out of sight, away from every sacred object. It is forbidden to see them, but not to speak to them. Then they anoint their bodies with the following composition, the quantity varying according to their weight: ten pounds of spirits of wine, half a pound of salt of Saturn, half a pound of Dragerio, to be left for four hours in a covered vessel. Then, saying ” Sotto I’acqua e sotto il vento, sotto il noce di Benevento, Lucibello portami dove debbo andare,” they fly away.
The meetings take place at midnight in the country, when the witches dance and take council together. Anyone seeing them may claim a gift; thus a hunchback once got rid of his hump. Hearing them singing ” Sabato e Domenica” in endless repetition, he added ” E Giovedi morzillo” (and Shrove-Thursday), a favourable day for witchcraft, as is also Saturday. This story is one of those most widely spread in Europe. It is indispensable that the witches should return before dawn: once the hour has passed, they fall in their flight and are killed. As a proof, it is said that some have been found very early in the morning in the streets of Naples lying dead and naked. On their way they can neither traverse a running stream nor cross roads; they are obliged ” to go round them.” They can turn themselves into animals, especially into black cats, but not into inanimate objects. However, they may become “wind,” so as to enter a house in order to carry off someone, or to transform him, or for other bad purposes. If when in the house the witch is seized by the hair and so held until day-break, she dies; but if in reply to her question ”
What do you hold ? ” is said : ” I hold you by the hair,” she answers, escaping: ” And I slip away like an eel.” On entering a house she should say: ” lo entro in questa casa come vento per pigliarmi questo figlio, e a I’ora in cut me lo rubo, dev’ essere presente anche la morte.” If she means to transform the person she says: ” lo non sono cristiano, sono animale e sono eretico, e dopo di avere ereticato, ho fatto diventare questa donna (uomo o fan-ciullo) animale, ed io divento piu animale di questa donna.” Beside the bed she says: ” Io sono venuto per forza del demonio, il diavolo mi ha portato su di un cavallo, e come diavolo, e non come cristiano, io mi ho preso questa donna.” Their aid is invoked in quarrels. The Camorrists and bullies bring their arms to have them made invincible. A witch present at a fight can prevent the blows from striking home, or she may stop the fight by saying under her breath: ” Ferma, ferma, arma feroce, come Gesu` fermo la croce, come il prete all’ altare, I’ostia in bocca ed il calice in mano.”
Witches are much sought after in affairs of the affections between lovers, and between husbands and wives, and to restore love between parents and children. They use an ” acqua della concordia ” and an ” acqua della discordia.” To bring back an unfaithful lover the witch goes at night to the cemetery, digs up with her nails the body of an assassin, with her left hand cuts off the three joints of the ring-finger, then reducing them to powder in a bronze mortar, she mixes it with ” acqua benedetta senza morti,” bought at the chemist’s. The lover is to sprinkle the road between his house and his sweetheart’s with this water, and this will oblige the beloved one to return.
Another very powerful powder is made by scraping the left humerus of a dead priest; the powder is then made into a small parcel and hidden on the altar by the server at a mass paid for by the witch. When the priest says: ” Cristo eleison” she must mutter: ” Cristo non eleison.” Such a bone was shown me by a witch; it had been purchased for fifty francs from one of the servants of a confraternity. It had belonged to the witch’s mother, who was also a witch, and had been stolen from the objects given by her before dying to the priest to be burnt. It must be the left humerus, ” the right having been used for giving the benediction.”
It is possible to make a lover come in the following manner. At noon precisely take hold of a shutter or door of the room with the left hand, shut it quickly three times, then strike the floor heavily three times with the left foot. This ceremony is repeated three several times; at the end the shutter is slammed with violence. Each time the door or shutter is shut, say: ” Porta, che vai e vient;” then at the last time of all : ” Prendilo, Diavolo, e non lo trattieni; giacche` set il Diavolo Zoppo, portami N– o vivo o morto.”
To prevent a lover from liking another, stand in front of a wall so that your shadow falls on it; speak to the shadow as if to the lover, saying: ” Buona sera, ombricciuola mia, buona sera a me e buona sera a te; avanti a N— tutte brutte figure, ed io bella come una luna.” In speaking of oneself, touch the breast; the shadow, in naming the lover; in saying bella, touch the face; in mentioning the moon, the wall. Witches undertake to punish the unfaithful. They prepare three cords with knots, a black cord for the head, red for the heart, white for the sexual organs. To cause pain in the head, they take hold of the black cord, gaze at a star, and say: ” Stella una, stella due, stella tre, stella quattro, io le cervella di N– attacco, glide attacco tanto forte, che per me possa prendere la morte.” This is repeated five times outside the witch’s door. For the heart, say: “Buona sera, buona sera, N– mio, dove e` stato? Diavolo da me non e` accostato; diavolo, tu questa sera me lo devi chiamare e qui me lo devi portare.”
Taking hold of the white cord, is said:: ” Diavolo, to in mano ho questo laccio; to gli lego c—i e c-o, da nessuno possa f/–e ed impregnare; solo a questa f-a possa adorare.” The incantation finished, the cord must be worn in order to keep the knots intact, for if untied the charm is broken. A lemon, orange, or even a potato, stuck over with pins of various colours and nails answers the same purpose. The pins and nails are inserted at midnight in the open air, deeply or superficially, according to the harm intended. In sticking in each pin, is said: “Stella, stella, delle fore fore, diavolo quattro, diavolo nove, io questa spilla in testa a N— inchiodo,gliela inchiodo tanto forte che per me ne deve prendere la morte.” Then knots are made round some of the pins with a cord secretly bought by the witch for this special purpose, refusing to take change; if the seller calls her back she tells him that he is mad. In knotting the cord, is said: “Diavolo Zoppo, io metto questa spilla in testa di N– vivo o morto.” Then the object is hidden to prevent a disenchantment, as by throwing it into a drain or into the sea. The head, heart, or liver of an animal is also used, the head of a cock for a man, of a hen for a woman.
To prevent an unfaithful lover from sleeping, the woman goes to bed quite naked, takes hold of the left sleeve of her chemise, saying: ” Rissa, rissa, diavolo, io mi vendo questa camicia, non me la vendo per denaro. Pulci, cimici, piattole e tafani e I’ortica campaiuola, da N– ve ne andate, ed allora pace fossa trovare, quando questa camicia si viene a prendere.” Then, putting the chemise in the middle of the bed, she stands at the foot, places her arms crossed on the bed, and turns them four times so that the last time the-palms are turned upwards, saying: “Il letto di N– non Io vedo, non Io so. Ai piedi ci metto due candelieri, alia testa ci metto un capo di morte, nel mezzo due spine di Cristo. Diavolo, per me si ha da volt are, spesso e tan to deve volt are forte, che per me deve pigliare la morte.” Then she must lie down without speaking, or else she will herself have much suffering. To detach a husband from his mistress, the wife can go barefooted with unbound hair to a crossroad, where picking up a pebble and putting it under her left armpit she says : ” Mi calo a terra e pietra piglio, tra M– e N– un grande scompiglio, e si vogliono acquie-tare, quando questa pietra qui sotto si viene a pigliare.” She does the same at a second cross-road, putting the pebble under the right armpit; then at a third placing the pebble between the chin and breast. Returning to her house she throws the pebbles into the cesspool, so that they cannot be got at, saying: ” M– allora con N– fossa tu parlare, quando queste tre pietre qui dentro viene a pigliare.”
To attract a lover, the witch provides a magnet wrapped with a knotted cord; it must be worn. Much recommended are cakes containing, according to the case, menstrual blood or sperm. A padlock also serves to submit a person to one’s will. In opening it, say: “N— di lontano ti vedo, da vicino ti saluto, ti chiudo e non ti sciolgo, se non farai tutta la mia voglia.” Then lock the padlock, put a knotted cord round it, and keep it in a safe place. It is possible to overcome the protection of holy medals or other blessed objects, especially if something belonging to the person can be obtained-a bit of his skin, nails, or clothing; besides this, the co-operation of four or five witches is necessary. They sing together, one saying ” Tu gli I’hai fatta, to gli la leva,” another replying “Tuglilafai, e non gli la nego.” The witches also undertake to break spells. Suspending a sieve on scissors under the bed of a man made impotent, the witch also places there her shoes crossed; she provides herself with a rosary without medals or other blessed objects, and a packet of unwashed herbs, then tearing the packet and scattering its contents on the ground, she says: ” Come io sciolgo questo mazzo, cost sciolgo questo c-o.”
Sometimes a dance of naked witches takes place round the bed of a sick person, recalling the devil dances in Ceylon, the object of both being to cure the illness. There must be three or five witches; if five, one remains at the back, one stands at each corner of the bed, holding between them cords which must cross the bed diagonally, then dancing, they sing ” Tit git I’hai fatta, ed io gli la tolgo,” going round the bed. When there are only three witches the left corner at the foot of the bed remains empty, the cord being held laterally. They cure all diseases, employing medicinal herbs as well as magic, or even pious objects. Medals of S. Anastasio are much recommended against infection; they are also most efficacious amulets against the Evil Eye, as are also spinning whorls and the well-known horns.
As regards the Evil Eye, witches cannot make it, but they can avert its influence. A small packet of salt worn on the person is a protection against it; but according to the Neapolitans it is useless against witchcraft, contrary to the belief in some other places. For that, a little bag full of sand is good, the witch being obliged to count each grain before working her spell, in the meanwhile the hour of her power passes. A comb, three nails driven in behind the house-door, and the horseshoe are also recommended against witchcraft. Witches can make storms cease, or render them harmless, by saying before an open window: ” Ferma, ferma, tuono, come Gesu` fermo I’uomo, e come quello schifoso prete all’ altare, con ostia in bocca ed il calice in mano.”
Witchcraft is powerless on Wednesday, during Holy Week, and (contrary to what is thought in some other countries) on the eve of St. John Baptist’s Day. It is believed that at midnight then Herodiade may be seen in the sky seated across a ray of fire, saying:
” Mamma, mamma, perche` lo dicesti?””Figlia, figlia, perche’ lo facesti? “
The were-wolf is known, but not as the creation of witches. It is a curse on men born on Christmas live; they are known by the length of their nails. The malady seizes them in the night; they run on all fours trying to bite, but they retain the human form. If they are wounded so as to lose blood, the madness is stopped at once. Girls born on Christmas Eve are not maidens.
The foregoing information was obtained quite recently from witches in Naples. When asked what books they used, they answered None, that their knowledge is entirely traditional. The incantations, often composed in verse, have become in time so damaged that it has seemed better not to attempt to indicate the verses. Still, literal accuracy in repeating the spells is believed to be of the greatest importance. A scarred tongue was shown to me as the consequence of a mistake.
Some of the apparatus of witchcraft mentioned was presented to the Society that it might be placed in the Cambridge Museum.
I owe much to the kind aid of Signor Luigi Molinaro del Chiaro, of Naples, founder of the paper, Giambattista Basile, so much appreciated by amateurs of Italian traditions. Unfortunately it exists no longer.
Le Pigautier, Menton, September, 1896.