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The Other Season of the Witch?

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

I'm currently getting into the Yule spirit by reading a new Llewellyn title. The book The Old Magic of Christmas by Linda Raedisch is a collection of Christmas traditions that many of us may not be familiar with. Creatures such as elves, gnomes, and werewolves roam the wintry landscape and leap off the pages. Goddesses and witches also make appearances, which has helped me to look at the Christmas season in a new light.

Yes, this book focuses on historical Christmas traditions, but Raedisch posits that many of these traditions and tales have their origin in Europe's pre-Christian past. I'm inclined to agree.  This book really does explore the "old magic" of the season. For instance, there is an interesting tension between the feminine aspect of death and birth in many of the folk customs that are described. Much like the traditional Halloween, there is the juxtaposition of the crone witch with the young woman who tries her hand at fortunetelling for fertility, luck, and husband-seeking.

For this post, I thought I would share with you my favorite figure discussed in the book, the Italian Christmas witch Befana.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Christmas_Market_in_Santa_Lucia_39.jpg
The Befana doll pictured above is from a Christmas market and depicts her in the traditional way riding her broom; although, she doesn't appear to have the hamper of gifts that she will deliver down the chimneys of Italy's well-behaved children. While she is associated with Christmas, she delivers her presents on the eve of Epiphany.

Some say that Epiphany is where Befana gets her name, but she has tantalizing connections to the Roman new year goddess Strenia. Wikipedia discusses this:

There is evidence to suggest that Befana is descended from the Sabine/Roman goddess named Strina. In the book Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs, Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicily by Rev. John J. Blunt (John Murray, 1823), the author says:

"This Befana appears to be heir at law of a certain heathen goddess called Strenia, who presided over the new-year's gifts, 'Strenae,' from which, indeed, she derived her name. Her presents were of the same description as those of the Befana—figs, dates, and honey. Moreover her solemnities were vigorously opposed by the early Christians on account of their noisy, riotous, and licentious character". [Source]

The Christian image of Befana is heavily connected to magic. She was approached by the 3 Magi and was asked to join them on their journey. However, Befana was too busy cleaning to go with them. She changed her mind too late, and set off on her own with gifts. Ever since that night she has been traveling and delivering presents on a quest to find that babe in the manger. To receive these gifts from Befana, children are to write their wishes and send them up the chimney.

So, where does the broom come in? She brought her broom along with her to clean up for Mary. (I have to interject here and say that I love this practical approach to the birth of Jesus.) Then, at some point, she began to be pictured flying this broom around the countryside.

This is an image that I can't deny the romance of. I love the idea of a crone bearing gifts, giddy on her broom. A Christmas witch delights me! Then there is her connection to goddess traditions. These are interesting, but just touch the surface of the reach of the Goddess across the Yuletide season.

 

IMAGE CREDITS:
Picture of book by this blog author.
Befana photo from Wikimedia Commons.


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Emily has a master's degree in literature with a focus on women's history and works as a writing teacher. She is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids.

Comments

  • Jeanine Byers
    Jeanine Byers Thursday, 12 December 2013

    Love the idea of a Christmas witch!

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