Continuity, Tradition, tradition, and survivals 1

Ciao a tutti,

Forgive the rambling but I’m going to do this off the top of my head. :-)

The past couple weeks, I’ve been thinking about the concept of Traditon(s), continuity, and tradition(s) (lowercase) as they apply to modern Paganism and Witchcraft practices. I was thrilled to listen to the recent episode of Seasons of the Witch where Raven and Stephanie interviewed Prof. Sabina Magliocco. You can listen to the broadcast here: Anthropologist Sabina Magliocco Interview.

It was very refreshing to hear a learned scholar discuss these issues from the perspective of academia as well as from personal experience. I found it quite helpful to wrap my head around some of the terminology. It seems that Tradition, tradition, survival, and continuity are used differently in lay-circles verses how they’re used in academic circles and I now understand a bit more why that is the case.

For instance, take a look at any of a number of the Catholic Feste (festivals) practiced in modern day Italy. From our perspective (Pagan), we can clearly see the Pagan origins of these practices. Does that make them Pagan practices dressed in Catholicism? If I understand the academic view properly, the answer is no.

The origin of that same “continuity of practice(s)” may have been once been part of ancient Pagan worship (Tradition) throughout their festivals (tradition) but was transformed into a Catholic tradition over time. The Festivals (tradition) are Catholic (Tradition) with a continuity of practice that reaches back to ancient times. But, since it is being practiced WITHIN the Catholic (Tradition) religious structure, it is a Catholic Festival. The origin of that same “continuity of practice(s)” may have been once been part of ancient Pagan worship (Tradition) throughout their festivals (tradition) but was transformed into a Catholic tradition over time.

Many modern Streghe who did not have the benefit of being raised in La Vecchia Religione are now rediscovering their Pagan roots and reviving various practices within a Pagan context. In essence, recreating or re-membering Pagan Traditions (traditions) through the exploration of tradition practiced by their ancestors as well as “reclaiming” traditions that were once part of Pagan practices.

I haven’t found a lot of interest in “Reconstruction-ism” amongst my Italian friends. Instead they seem be more concerned with practicing a living Tradition base on the traditions of their ancestors and some do this by reclaiming the practices that they clearly see in modern Festivals and transplant them (back) into their magical Pagan worldview. I don’t see that as being either disrespectful or less authentic. They are, in a very real sense, reconnecting to their ancestral past by plugging themselves into that continuity of practice.

In modern “Western” Paganism, a Tradition (upper case T), usually is understood to be a series of magical or spiritual/religious practices (and possibly beliefs) that is handed down through several generations in such a way as to be either unchanged or at least clearly reconcilable as the same set of practices. We’ve all heard the story about the Tradition that is being practiced by someone taught by their now deceased Grandmother (inset any relative really) that has been practiced continuously and unchanged since before mammoths roamed the earth.

In actual practice (sorry for using that word so often!), traditions (lower case and upper case T) change over time and it is often are hard for practitioners to even recognize this process except in hindsight. Often, what we think of as a Tradition of unchanged practice is really a Tradition of slowly evolving practice(s). That’s one way that a Tradition says alive and relevant.

In terms of “Traditional Italic Craft”, the idea of Tradition is a bit complicated when added in the idea of “continuity of practice”. What we call Traditions are less “defined organizational structures” (like many Traditions in modern Paganism) and more small group (Family) practices that hold continuity to their roots and are slowly shaped over time into what we as modern practitioners think of as a “Tradition”.

What we think of as Italy (including Sicily) has a wealth of information/history that is clearly rooted in ancient Pagan and magical history and practices, the most obvious being the pantheon of Roman Gods and the belief in many different forms of magical explanations (Fata, charms, superstitions, etc.) There is a rich history of a magical worldview (to use a phrase from Sabina Magliocco).

In my personal experience, much of Traditional Italic Craft (at least in the USA) is the culmination of series of practices and beliefs with continuity to the ancient pagan roots of the practitioners – even some clearly found in the Catholic Feasts. If some modern day Italians and Italian-Americans choose to enliven their own practices by moving some of these various “continuity of practices” out of a Catholic (or social) framework and back into a Pagan framework so as to be meaningful, then I think that can be a very good thing.

I see it as one way that modern Streghe (Italian Witches) can explore and shape their worldview in their search for cultural, religious, and spiritual identity while at the same time affording them a continuity to their ancestry and the practices of the past.

I supposed Traditional Italic-Craft in the USA can be seen to some extent as “traditional” (clear links to Old World forms), “transitional” (some elements from the Old World crystallize, while others adapt to the new context), AND “innovational” (in which new folklore is developed to make up for older forms that have been lost).  The description of traditional/transitional/innovational comes from (Klymasz, 1973) which I read in an article written by Prof. Magliocco at

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!



P.S. Apologies to Prof. Magliocco if I misunderstood any of the usages!

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One thought on “Continuity, Tradition, tradition, and survivals

  • Sabina Magliocco

    Thank you for this thoughtful post! You perfectly captured the essence of Raven, Stephanie and my conversation about the nature of tradition. Tradition is a *process,* not an unchanged thing; modern Streghe who revive, reclaim and carry on Italian vernacular magic traditions are actively participating in that process. It’s exciting to see Italian traditions change, adapt and live on in this context.