Non-Pagan Elements in Italic-American Witchcraft 2

Non-Pagan Elements in Italic-American Witchcraft

(C) 2014, Vincent Russo –

I’m often asked questions such as “Why are some branches of the Strega Traditions more Pagan, and some more Christian, and some more of a blend of both? Why is does this appear true, especially in the United States?”

It is a good question.  Why keep non-Pagan elements as part of a Pagan Witchcraft Tradition.  The answer is, simply put, as a people grow and develop, so do their cultural practices.  This is traditionally a slow process occurring over a long length of time but it is a normal process of change and growth.  It is easier to recognize the changes when looking at the difference between the practices of an original culture and comparing them to the practices of a culture that has immigrated elsewhere and settled in as a sub-culture of a new greater culture.  This natural process of cultural evolution (yes, I said the “e” word) is quite evident when comparing the practices of the descendants of the immigrants from Italy and Sicily to the U.S.A.

In Italian-American Folklore, Malpezzi and Clements provide 2 excellent passages that show specifically how and why this process happens on a cultural level.

Passage #1 –

Like other immigrants to the New World, Italians from both North and South transported a rich cultural heritage, much of which had developed and was maintained without the support of official institutions of church or state. The folkways of the regions of Italy relied for their dissemination and survival upon oral tradition, conservation, and other factors within the communities themselves. Members of those communities brought their folkways with them preserved features that were useful in their new lives, adapted other features to New World contexts, and discarded those features that were no longer useful or adaptable.”[1]

We’ve see this quote before and it is just as relevant now. When Italian and Sicilian immigrants game to the USA, they found themselves as a minority in the greater American tapestry of culture and traditions.  Many families strove to preserve their traditions as closely as possible to how they were in the old country. Others, like my family, had decided that they were not “good Americans” and assimilated into American culture while preserving only those traditions that they felt were important to their identity.

My family is a blend of both Sicilian and Northern Italian – two very different regions in terms of geography and cultural traditions to say nothing off the language difference. My family, like others, were proud of their origin but were willing to mostly put aside their regional differences when coming to the USA in order to blend into their new adopted country.  While still fiercely proud of the region from which they came, the regional rivalries took a backseat to the need to survive in the new American culture. People from the North became friends with people from the South. People from Sicily became friends with people from mainland Italy. Some even intermarried.  Without regional rivalry at the forefront but still with strong regional pride, this led to families with traditions blended from all over the Italian peninsula and the island.  In many ways, it is a testament to the ability to retain cultural identity of origin while integrating into a greater culture in order to do what is best for the family.

Passage #2 –

As Italian immigrants and their children became more and more a part of American society, their ever-dynamic traditional cultures went through other changes. The immigrants (or first generation) found that their children and grandchildren preserved Italian identity in some ways that seemed very familiar, but also in ways that were strikingly new and different. Some forms of folklore completely disappeared with the immigrants themselves; others have persisted relatively unchanged even through the third and fourth generations; still others have been adjusted to American ways; additional traditions have been borrowed from other nationality groups in the New World; and, finally, new folklore has developed.”[2]

Again, we’ve also seen this quote and it is a perfect illustration of how “Christian practices” have crept their way into some forms of Pagan Witchcraft (natively and in the U.S.A.)

Often, what one generation finds important, a later generation may find not so much. Likewise, what an older generation found less important, a younger generation may be fascinated by and want to re-explore and embrace.

As I already mentioned, my family took the attitude that although we were proud of our heritage, we were now good Americans and chose to integrate into the greater American culture.  One thing that I find particularly and personally sad is that many families taught their children to only speak Italian/Sicilian at home and not in public. A reason for this was so the children would grow up without being thought of as newcomers. I believe that we have this attitude to thank for the unique “Italian-American” dialect such as dropping  the vowels at the end of words to sound less foreign (proshut instead of proscuitto, gabagool instead of capicola, maddon instead of Maddonna, etc.)and using words from “universal” Italian in place of words from their native dialects (Strega instead of Maga or Marche, etc.). Then there is what I could call “Italic-American Slang” which is not Italian but more closely resembles a blending of regional words and concepts in a uniquely American way.

This same syncretic practice happens within spiritual traditions and religions as explained in an essay by Nemesis titled, Southern Italian Traditionalist Craft[3]:

In more recent times, during the Crusades and the resulting Italian Renaissance, Arabs left their mark on Southern Italy. This is especially true of Sicily, Sardinia, and Malta. For instance, the traditions of the tarantella (a dance steeped in magical folklore) have roots in and similarities to Middle Eastern dances performed by women to cure illness, divine the future, and gain visions from the Dead.

On the islands of Sicily and Malta, you also find strong traces of French and German folklore, brought by the Norman invaders. Due to Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian presence in Southern Italy, ancient Deities were identified with Christian Saints. For instance, a feast of Demeter was once held in late July – this became married to the Catholic traditions of Lammas (August 1) and the Feast of Mary, Queen of Heaven (August 15) .

In America, with our multicultural/pluralistic society, different Italian cultures have blended (sometimes unwillingly) to find a common identity. The same can be said for the Craft traditions stemming from Italy and its Islands. We also have begun to both complement and supplement our traditional Craft practices through contact with Traditional Wicca, Hellenismos, Religio Romana, and Afro-Diasporic Traditions (specifically, Santeria and Kardecian Spiritism) .

I also think that some Christian or Catholic elements have crept into Italic-American Craft because for many, Christianity is intimately and intricately entwined with secular culture in Italy as well as in Italic-American culture.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that these elements are viewed AS religious practices. I know many people who say, “Religiously, we are La Vecchia Religione but culturally we are Catholic”.


[1] Italian-American Folklore by Malpezzi and Clements © 1992, August House, Inc., P26

[2] Italian-American Folklore by Malpezzi and Clements © 1992, August House, Inc., P26 – 27

[3] Southern Italian Traditionalist Craft by Nemesis

Note bene: This post is part of a book that I have been attempting to get out of my head for several years.  Any constructive feedback is appreciated!

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2 thoughts on “Non-Pagan Elements in Italic-American Witchcraft

  • Tanaria

    Thanks for this excellent post. As a second generation Italian, I have noticed this trend and didn’t know the terminology for it. My family didn’t teach us Italian because they wanted to be “good Americans”, as you note in the article. I’m doing a lot of work to connect with ancestry, including ancestral spiritual practices. It feels like archaeology, because I’m digging through layers of disempowered Catholicism. I know that the good stuff is there, because we did have a lot of folkloric practices in our family.

    • Enzo Post author

      Glad you enjoyed it! I totally understand the “good American” thing. My grandmother forbade any of the grandchildren from learning Italian because she was worried that it would bring discrimination for being “foreigners”.
      Now, those of us who embrace both cultures can more readily choose which aspects of the old Italian and Sicilian cultures we want to reintegrate… and how!