Using the Saints as part of the Italian Craft
In Italy (and in the USA) much of "traditional" Italian culture now a-days often has at least a gloss (if not a thick coating!) of Christianity. This is because Christianity is still the overwhelming dominant religion and probably will be for some time. It’s been like that for hundreds of years and it has left its mark on the culture, even for those people who aren’t Christian or are actively of another faith. It permeates the culture and customs. There is no getting around that unless you want to cut yourself off from huge aspects of Italian culture.
There are quite a few Italians that I know who are not Christian. Even so, the culture that birthed them (and that they are part of) still has certain aspects (folk, magic, and other) that are Christian in origin or at least in flavor.
Some of these Christian-based customs are starting to be seen by many as being less religious-Christian and more simply “cultural and personal customs” that "we do because it’s what we do as a community”. In other words, sometimes, the cultural customs that are Christina-based in origin have become community-based customs that have little religious significance but are still powerful for community and social purposes.
For instance, in Italy, it is still very popular for each town (or region) to have a patron saint and to celebrate the feast day, often organized and led by a local church. Although many of the people who participate in the celebration are Christian and hold that day as a special religious holy day, there are other people who participate and celebrate the day as a “day of community celebration” and don’t attach any personal religious significance to it.
In essence, the Saint become not an icon/representative of the Church (which they may be) but becomes an icon of cultural expression and power regardless (despite?) that the feast originated with Catholic origins and is still celebrated as such. Think of Christmas celebrations in the USA. Many are indeed Christian religious celebrations. Many are non-religious yet still tap into that power and community aspect from a cultural perspective.
Many Streghe who are Pagan (non-Christian) have come to terms with being birthed from a culture that is predominantly Christian and incorporated aspects, via culture, into their practice. How’s it done? Not through our Stregheria (pagan religious Witchcraft) but through our Stregoneria (witchcraft as a system of magical practices) and culture.
We acknowledge Christianity’s influence on customs and culture and try to get to the pre-Christian or pagan roots of the customs and magic when possible. When this is not easy to do, or even possible, we have two choices. One is to cut ourselves off from an overwhelmingly Christian aspect of our culture. The other is to acknowledge the cultural and community importance of certain customs and make personal associations and attachments to them that work for us as individuals and families (smaller communities).
A good example is how many of the non-Christian Streghe I know make excellent use of the Cult of the Saints.
The "Cult of the Saints", describes a particular popular devotion or abandonment to a particular Saint or Saints. Although the term "worship" is sometimes used, it is intended in the old-sense meaning to honor or give respect. I like to use the term “veneration”. For Christians, the Saints are petitioned to help out in just about any matter that you can imagine. This is almost always done by devote Catholics in a Christian-religious manner, i.e. following the dictates and customs of the Catholic Church.
When the Streghe interact or petition the Saints or include the Cult of the Saints in their Stregoneria (magic as a system of practices), it takes on a different perspective. To an outsider, on the surface it may look very similar to what a Christian may do but it is only a gloss. The Saints become less specifically Christian “entities” and become more “cultural and community powers”. They are treated with the same reverence and respect as any other “spirit allies” that the Strega works with. In other words, the Streghe works with the Saints from a personal and cultural perspective, not a Christian dogmatic perspective.
The Streghe consciously (and jointly) enter into a relationship with the Saint(s) with the Saint acting much the same as a spirit ally (albeit of a different order). Through the acceptance of, and exchange for, the Streghe’s energy in the form of respect, reverence, and offerings (incense, wine, feast tables, prayers, etc.), the Saint(s) offers assistance in matters in which they hold influence. It’s important to remember that this is part of Stregoneria (witchcraft as a system of magical practices) rather than Stregheria (pagan religious Witchcraft).
The important thing is that this is done with the utmost respect and honesty and that the Strega knows exactly who the Saint(s) are that s/he is dealing with and practices accordingly. You might realize that this sounds a lot like a number of other syncretic spiritual practices. Imagine that?
So, it is entirely possible for a Strega who practices Stregheria (Pagan religious Witchcraft) to also have part of their Stregoneria (magical practice of witchcraft) include the Cult of the Saints and not have a conflict of interest. It is not a religious matter, but a magical matter base on personal and cultural association.
Of course, there are Pagan Streghe who have chosen to NOT include the Cult of the Saints (or other customs that have become cultural) in their practice. That’s perfectly valid. Neither is a better or a more correct. More power to them! More power to us all!