What Is Stregheria?

Elderly Italian Woman in Field
Stregheria is a blend of traditional Italian magic and modern customs. Helmuth Rier / LOOK-foto / Getty Images

Stregheria is a branch of modern paganism that celebrates early Italian witchcraft. Its adherents say that their tradition has pre-Christian roots, and refer to it as La Vecchia Religione, the Old Religion. There are a number of different traditions of Stregheria, each with its own history and set of guidelines.

Today, there are many pagans of Italian descent who follow Stregheria. The website Stregheria.com, which bills itself as "the home of Stregheria on the web," says,

"Catholicism served as a veneer that was fitted over the Old Religion in order to survive during the period of violent persecution at the hands of the Inquisition and secular authorities. To many modern Italian Witches, most Catholic saints are simply ancient pagan gods dressed in Christian garb."

Charles Leland and Aradia

Stregheria appears to be based primarily upon the writings of Charles Leland, who published "Aradia: Gospel of the Witches" in the late 1800s. Although there's some question about the validity of Leland's scholarship, "Aradia" continues to be the basis of most Stregheria traditions. The work purports to be a scripture of an ancient pre-Christian witch cult, passed along to Leland by a woman named Maddalena.

According to Maddalena, by way of Leland, this tradition honors Diana, the moon goddess, and her consort, Lucifer (not to be confused with the Christian devil, who is also named Lucifer). Together, they had a daughter, Aradia, and she comes to earth to teach people the ways of magic. To some degree, this teaching is focused on enlightening peasants as to how to overthrow their tyrannical masters and find freedom in escaping from societal and economic constraints.

Leland's material gained in popularity among Italian Americans during the 1960s, but his work was not the only influence on what is today practiced as Stregheria. During the 1970s, author Leo Louis Martello, who was open about his practice of Italian witchcraft, wrote numerous titles detailing his family's practice of magic originating in Sicily. According to Sabina Magliocco, in her essay "Italian American Stregheria and Wicca: Ethnic Ambivalence in American Neopaganism,"

"While the secret nature of his family magical practice made it impossible for him to reveal all its characteristics, he described it as a remnant of Sicily’s cult of Demeter and Persephone, preserved under the guise of Marian worship in the Catholic Church. In fact, he claimed that Sicilian families concealed their pagan religion under the guise of devotion to the Virgin Mary, whom they interpreted as simply another version of the goddess Demeter."

There has been some skepticism toward Leland’s claims. Author and scholar Ronald Hutton has theorized that if Maddalena did exist, the document she gave Leland may have contained her own family’s hereditary tradition, but that it was not necessarily a widespread practice of “Italian witchcraft.” Hutton also suggests that Leland had enough knowledge of local folklore that he could, conceivably, have made up the whole thing.

Regardless of the source, "Aradia" has had a significant impact on modern pagan practice, particularly among those who follow Stregheria.

Stregheria Today

As with many other neopagan religions, Stregheria honors male as well as female deities, typically personified as the moon goddess and the horned god. Author Raven Grimassi, in his book "Ways of the Strega," says Stregheria is a blend of ancient Etruscan religion blended with Italian folk magic and early rural Catholicism.

Grimassi says of his tradition of Stregheria,

"The Arician Tradition strives to maintain the ancient mystery teachings while at the same time working to adapt to modern times. Therefore we do embrace new material and teachings, but we do not discard older material."

Interestingly, some practitioners of Italian witchcraft have tried to distance their version of Stregheria from Grimassi's and the other neopagan forms of the religion. Some, in fact, have complained that it's become "too blended" with Wicca and other non-Italian traditions. Maria Fontaine, a third-generation Stregha from Pittsburgh, says,

"A lot of what's traditionally sold as Stregheria by Neopagan authors is an offshoot of Wicca with Italian names and customs mixed in. Although there are some similarities, it's very different from traditional Italian folk magic. It's like the difference between eating real Italian food in a village in Tuscany, and going to your local Olive Garden restaurant for dinner. There's nothing wrong with either, they're just very different."

Additional Reading

Magliocco's essay, linked above, has a fabulous list of references available if you'd like to learn more about Stregheria, but here are a few more just to get you started:

  • Grimassi, Raven: "Italian Witchcraft," Llewellyn Publications (previously titled "Ways of the Strega")
  • Leland, Charles Godfrey: "Aradia, the Gospel of the Witches," Witches Almanac Publishing
  • Martello, Leo Louis: :Witchcraft, the Old Religion," Kensington Press.
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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "What Is Stregheria?" Learn Religions, Apr. 5, 2023, learnreligions.com/about-stregheria-traditions-2562552. Wigington, Patti. (2023, April 5). What Is Stregheria? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/about-stregheria-traditions-2562552 Wigington, Patti. "What Is Stregheria?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/about-stregheria-traditions-2562552 (accessed June 5, 2023).