Saturday, May 21, 2011

When imagination runs wild

In a recent blog written by a gentleman named David Griffin (aka Lupercus) I note some very odd and unwarranted allegations against my character.  Mr. Griffin's defamatory attacks against my name appear to stem from a post I made on the Traditional Witchcraft forum.  Mr. Griffin's apparent misinterpretation of my comments seem to have resulted in what I consider to be a very bizarre rant.

While much of what he says is a reinvention of the history between us, and a misrepresentation of the facts regarding me and my tradition, I feel that I should address his blog anyway. Normally I do not like to give energy to false accusations, but it seems wise in this case to make a statement.

Mr. Griffin and I had early communications by phone and email.  He reinvents the history here by claiming that I wrote to him seeking protection for my reputation and wanting him to alert me to negative comments made against me.  However, the facts are I first contacted him directly because people were writing to me inquiring about the authenticity of these individuals. Before arriving at an opinion, I wanted to go to the source. So, that is what I did.

In the beginning, communications were cordial.  I tried to help them deal positively with their critics, and David and his Italian guests and I agreed to keep each other informed about comments that people might make in an attempt to set us against one another.  I expressed my desire to have them judged fairly by community, and I actively countered anything on the Internet in which people without first hand knowledge were saying negatively about them.

During the course of events, one of my initiates went into a private forum without my knowledge or direction, and posted a critical view of David and his Italian guests.  Mr. Griffin chose to regard this as a covert operation launched by me, which of course it was not.  In response, I wrote a public post on Facebook pointing out that I did not agree with my initiate's views, and did not set her out to post against anyone. At the time this seemed to satisfy Mr. Griffin's misgivings.

In an attempt to keep boundaries clear, Mr. Griffin, his Italian guests, and I agreed not to cross-pollinate (so to speak) and it was decided out of courtesy that we not teach each other's initiates and active students. However, in his recent blog, Mr. Griffin reinvents this agreement, and paints it in the light of fear on my part that my people would learn the "true teachings" he and his guests hold, which implies that mine are bogus.  A clever maneuver, but an easily seen through move on his part.

Among the odd things in Mr. Griffin's blog is the reference to the Great Rite as indicator of the only true and authentic form of Italian witchcraft, and he asserts that I know nothing about it.  This, of course, appears to indicate an attempt to take away my credibility as a witch practicing a form of  Italian witchcraft.  He also asserts that the tradition of his Italian guests, which is known as The Sublime Art, is the mark of authentic Italian witchcraft.  He then asserts that it is unknown to me (by that name) and therefore what I teach is entirely made up.  How sad to see this "My way is the only true way" theme reappearing in the Craft community. I remember this mentality from the 60's and early 70's.  I had hoped we had all gotten over this nonsense and ego driven agenda.

For anyone actually interested in the facts, what I stated that apparently upset Mr.Griffin was a factual clarification of his position and not a condemnation.  Here is what I wrote (which Griffin edited on his blog) in response to a question someone raised, asking if anyone knew something about the Stregheria del Bosco Sacro (people). This appeared on the Traditional Witchcraft forum, under the thread someone else started, which was titled Stregheria del Bosco Sacro  -

"Yes, I have had several emails and phone conversations with the people in question.  In the early stages of communication they claimed to be an Italian  witchcraft  tradition of great antiquity, which  they stated continued in the Lake Nemi region of Italy.  They further claimed that the priestess in their company comes from a lineage of 38 generations of priestesses at Nemi (the former sacred site of  the temple of Diana).

The couple from Italy are staying with their sponsor David Griffin, a name associated with the Golden Dawn controversy.  When I first spoke with him about the couple, David told me on the phone that the "coming of the Stregans" is going to be like when the Beatles first came to the US, and that the impact on the Pagan community will be unimaginable. However, following their debut at the Pantheacon convention, it seems like things turned out a bit differently than he envisioned.  Attendance at their talks was low, and the majority of the reviews were not complimentary.

It is noteworthy that after Pantheacon, and the resulting questions and objections raised, David and his Italian guests are no longer referring to themselves as "Stregans" or "Italian Witches". They have changed the text on their website, removing all references to Stregheria, Italian Witchcraft, and so forth. They are now calling their tradition "the ancient Shamanic tradition of the Great Mother in Italy". The use of "Stregheria" on their site has now been replaced with Egyptian Alchemy.

I have more information and am happy to answer any questions related to this topic.

- Raven Grimassi"

Mr, Griffin chose to regard this as an accusation that I consider the folks in question to be frauds.  I did not say that, and it was not my intention to depict them as such. My intention was to demonstrate that they are no longer referring to themselves as strega/Italian witches, which is an important point and distinction that I wanted to make on a forum devoted to traditional witchcraft. Nowhere did I state these people are fake, I simply clarified their position as conveyed to me.  No one on the Traditional Witchcraft forum asked me for my personal opinion about the authenticity of these people and I did not offer one.

What Mr. Griffin chooses to leave out of his rant blog, is my forum comment:

"I also have a problem with the idea of initiating people on first meeting.  I asked them about it and they replied that this is their structure and how the system functions.  They inform me that after initiation the training begins, but that initiation and oath-taking is required before anything else.  They have no "outer court" phase.   It's alien to what I was taught by my native Italian teachers.  But, to be fair, witchcraft differs in each region of Italy.  There is no "one size fits all" - but even so.....further questions are begged.

- Raven Grimassi"

My comments were intended to convey that one tradition of Italian witchcraft cannot be compared against another in an attempt to mark authenticity.  Each regional system differs.  But, as clearly indicated in Mr. Griffin's blog, he apparently feels that his system is the only true one, and if differences appear in mine, then mine cannot be authentic. All of this reminds of the stage magician's trick of misdirecting the audience's attention away from what is actually taking place so as to leave the impression that what he showed is real.

In closing, I suggest that Mr. Griffin and his Italian guests should feel confident in who and what they are, and not be threatened by something they misinterpret as a debunking of them.   People who are genuine have no need to be fearful. Anger, it is said, is a fear based emotion.  So, Mr. Griffin and his Italian guests should embrace the courage of their convictions, and go forth with their truth. It's a much healthier approach than what appears on Griffin's blog.

Peace to all,
Raven Grimassi
David Griffin's blog:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who are the "real" Strega?

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?