If you have any interest in Italian witchcraft and have Googled “Strega” (Italian Witch) then you’ve read comments about the so-called “real Strega.” One argument is that you have to look to Italy for authentic practitioners. This dismisses the fact that people do relocate to other countries from Italy and therefore some witches from Italy (or from an Italian lineage) are not living in Italy.
Another argument is that you must at least have visited Italy (if not lived there) in order to know anything about authentic practices of Italian witchcraft. This view dismisses the fact that relocated witches can teach their offspring or others in the country of their new residence. Being taught witchcraft from relocated witches does not make for a poorer witch. It only means that the offspring witch has not had the benefit of personally experiencing the mainstream culture of Italy. It comes instead through the native teachers.
One thing we must realize is that witchcraft is as misunderstood in Italy as it is in any other country. Ask the “man-on-the-street” in Italy about witchcraft and you will hear about the stereotype of the witch as a doer of ill deeds. You will most likely also hear about the witch in league with the devil. Therefore just because someone was raised in Italy doesn’t automatically mean that he or she actually knows about authentic forms of witchcraft practiced by Italian witches. The same is true about people in other countries regarding the “man-on-the-street” view of witchcraft (versus a true practitioner).
One of the problems in trying to define the “real Strega” is that Italy has long been divided into regions with different customs, lore, and folk traditions. It naturally follows that witchcraft in these regions will have differences. Therefore one cannot be compared against another in order to decide which one constitutes the real thing. This leaves us with the reality that no one can speak for Italian witchcraft as a whole. But of course, this fact does not stop people from doing so.
The answer to the question “who are the real Strega” is simple; they are the people who practice their regional traditions. They are the people who practice evolved forms of regional practices. They are the people who feel a spiritual lineage. Some have a hereditary lineage and some do not. A witch is not the region she or he was raised in, a witch is someone connected to the Old Ways that emanated from the spirit of the land. By analogy, breath comes from the lungs but does not stay in the lungs. The breath of Italian witchcraft can be drawn in by those who know how to be in the wind.
Some people feel that someone coming from Italy and stating that she or he is a witch makes that person automatically credible. In accord these people feel that whatever such an individual says must be the real deal. But logically speaking, think about your own country and the variety of people there who say they are witches. If one of them goes to another country are they representative of all the witches in your land? Do they speak for witchcraft as a whole in your country? The truth is that they represent their particular view derived from their own experiences. No country has the “One True Way” and there is no central authority that regulates what constitutes the “official” witchcraft of the nation. To believe otherwise is nonsense and should be discouraged.
When we look at Italian witchcraft, there are identifiers that identify its roots. There are identifiers that point to additions. While traditions tend to preserve, they do not stop growing and adapting to the needs of each new generation. This is why some additions and modifications can take place. But the old guard doe not allow anything to be tossed out in favor of something new. The Old Ways survive, and nothing is forgotten.
There are challenging obstacles when defining Italian witchcraft and they are based upon academic studies and field research. Academia defines witchcraft as harmful acts, and defines witches as practitioners of the evil magic. The problem here is that the academic study of witches, in terms of history, is not an ethnographic study of a people calling themselves witches. It is instead a study of the beliefs and attitudes held by non-witches about witches and witchcraft. In other words, the “history” of witchcraft is the documentation of the views of judges, interrogators, theologians, commentators, and official Church doctrine. It is not the views of witches and what they believed in or practiced. Therefore there is no history of witchcraft to examine. We have only a history of how superstition influenced popular beliefs about imaginary witches and witchcraft, and how theologians further invented ideas about the subject. This is a make-believe witchcraft of fantasy themes, and again, not an ethnographical study of a real culture of people who were witches. It is inventive “history” at best.
Another challenge is that there are two different words used to indicate Italian witchcraft: Stregheria and Stregoneria. Stregheria refers to witchcraft as a religion and Stregoneria refers to it as a magical system, a form or sorcery. Stregheria is an old term, not commonly used in mainstream Italian society. Stregoneria is the contemporary word in common usage, but this word always refers to witchcraft as something of ill intent.
A relatively new addition to Italian witchcraft is the introduction of saints. The traditions of Italian witchcraft that have maintained their pagan roots view the saints as the Old Gods in Christian garb. They were added as a veneer to hide the old practices. Systems that actually venerate the saints (as being the saints of Christianity) are viewed by pagan-rooted systems as offshoots of Italian witchcraft. They are more closely related to folk magic traditions in Italy than to old witchcraft traditions.
Do additions to old traditions negate their authenticity? If we add something from one culture to the tradition of another culture, is the original completely undone and no longer relevant to the culture? Or is this simply the new blossoms on the old tree whose roots remain the same as they were in the previous season?