Thursday, December 12, 2013

Italian words used by Westerners (FB post)

I just posted this in one of the FB group in which I participate. I thought that folks here might find it interesting...

New topic (bound to be controversial!) 

Let's talk about how Italian words are used by Westerners (specifically, English speakers). 

Often, English speakers will modify foreign words to make them sound better within an English sentence. For instance, in English, a person who practices "Wicca" is referred to as "Wiccan". However, a person who practices "Stregheria" is "a Strega", not "Streghan". Personally, I feel that if someone is going to use a foreign word, it's important to understand the word in the native language from which it originates and use it in that context. Of course, it can get even more complicated when we start to get into colloquial expressions! If one still chooses to anglicize a foreign word after knowing it's origins and use, then at least it is an informed choice.

Below are common Italian words that we use in this forum. I'd like to offer how *I* use them. This is not meant to tell others that they aren't using them correctly but is instead offered as a way of explaining how I heard them used when I was in Sicily:

Stregheria - archaic word Witchcraft. As Raven says, "The 18th century writings of Giorlamo Tartorotti refers to "Stregheria" as the survival of the cult of the goddess Diana". I use Stregheria to indicate "Pagan religious Witchcraft" based in the Italic cultures.

Stregoneria - the common word in modern Italy used to indicate Witchcraft. As Raven says, "In mainstream Italian culture "Stregoneria" means harmful magic and is associated with the Devil". (Vinnie notes - just as the word "witchcraft" does in most mainstream Western cultures.) I use Stregoneria to indicate witchcraft as a magical practice regardless of religious, spiritual, or ethical association; i.e. folk magic and tradition as a practice rather than a vocation.*

Strega (una strega) - singular, female witch

Stregone (uno stregone) - singular, male witch

Streghe - plural of strega; i.e. a group of female witches (also commonly used to indicate a group of witches of mixed sex)

Stregoni - plural of stregone; i.e. a group of male witches

della strega - possessive singular; i.e. The witch's broom (La scopa della strega)

delle streghe - possessive plural; i.e. The witches' broom (La scopa delle streghe)

Words that are not Italian but commonly used by English speakers:
Stregan, Streghan, Stregherian - These are American derivations of Italian words but not actually Italian. They are often used to indicate a practitioner of witchcraft (stregheria or stregoneria). However, a person who practices stregheria (or stregoneria) is not "stregan" or "stregherian". A person who practices Stregheria is a "a strega" or "a stregone" (English) [or "una strega" or "uno stregone" (Italian)]. 

*Nota bene: I was always told that in Italy/Sicily, the word Strega was always negative and never used as a self-identifier. I was very surprised to find that to be the case "for the general, non-magical public" but not necessarily for the magical community. For the general public, like in parts of our culture, Strega (or any type of witchcraft) most definitely has a very negative connotation. However, that's starting to change. There are dozens of shows (mostly for teens and pre-teens) where the good guys are witches. Kinda like the Disney show "Witches of Waverly Place". What I did notice was that the word Strega was almost never used on its own by the *general* populace. It was always clarified with something like: strega cattiva, strega buona, strega bella, strega maga, etc. to indicate what type of strega, as if the word (on its own) was simply an indicator of a practitioner of magic (folk or cultural).

I encourage all my students to get a basic understanding of Italian music, culture, food and language in order to understand the context from which Italic Craft is derived. I hope that you found this "buon argomento di meditazione" (good food for thought).


Monday, December 9, 2013

The Feast of the Seven Fishes - an Italian-American Tradition, but is it Italian?

The Feast of the Seven Fishes - an Italian-American Tradition, but is it Italian?

Well, it depends on how you define Tradition and how you define Italian.  The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a Christmas Tradition for many Italian-American households.  The idea is that on Christmas eve (Christmas day for some), the feasting table is laid with seven dishes that represent the bounty of the sea. The exact number seems to be contested and that, like the specific dishes that are served, seems to be family-specific.  Some families have seven and some families have 12 while other families use a different number of dishes. Many Italian-Americans have very specific and heart held beliefs about this event known as The Feast of the Seven Fishes.

A great article on the history of The Feast of Seven Fishes is by Amy Zavatto and can be located at

One of my favorite quotes from that article is:
“I think something is not authentic or real when people want to do it all perfect. If there’s anything food culture is not, it’s perfect. And Italians don’t give a shit about these rules—they’re the most anti-rule culture there is! Rules are for the French. The number seven doesn't matter. The meal is a heartfelt, imbedded thing. You eat fish on Christmas Eve, and that’s it.”

From my research, it seems like The Feast of Seven Fishes is an American-Italian Tradition but not an Italian Tradition.  In Italy, you often find fish and no meat on the Christmas evening feasting table. It's often refered to as the feast of the magro - no meat. This custom is directly from Christianity. The "event" of the Christmas evening meal is called Vigilia (a vigilia).  

Vigilia - (
1   Retain a person awake or asleep.
2   Lack of sleep or difficulty sleeping. insomnia.
3   Day immediately preceding the one that is festive for the Church. before.
4   Work or activity that takes place at night

In more agricultural times, a "vigilia" was the time that the family gathered together after work in the fields. They would often finish chores, feast, and tell stories as a way of teaching and passing on traditions.

In relation to Christmas and the Christmas evening meal, the Vigilia is the family feasting event where the family gathers, shares joy, stories, and traditions. The mean itself can be quite varied but due to the heavy church influence, meat abstained from and fish figured prominently.

Although the Italian-American Tradition of Christmas dinner known as The Feast of Seven Fishes" isn't "native Italian", you can see how it is strongly based on the traditions of the native Italian culture and practices.

Rather than arguing whether it is "authentically Italian", Italian-Americans should be proud that we've held onto the heart of the traditions from our ancestral land and adapted them to our unique culture of being both Italian and American. Traditions that connect us to the continuity of the past are extremely important - as is making sure that the traditions are more than just handwaving. We should be proud that we've connected these traditions in a way that honors our ancestry and speaks to us as modern day Italian-Americans.

Whether you celebrate The Feast of the Seven Fishes, Vigilia, Christmas, Solstice, Sol Invictus, Yule, Festa della Befana (American Style) or some other holiday at this season, I say to you, "i migliori auguri"!

I'll close with the last paragraph from the first article I references:
"“The important thing is to maintain the tradition,” says DiPalo. “That’s what Christmas is—a way to celebrate family and invoke the memories of all the people that have passed on. It brings them back, and we’ll see them alongside us, those who used to make this dish the best, and who wouldn't eat that one. To an Italian family—and an Italian-American family—what’s special takes place around the dinner table.”"