Owing to the publicity that Witches such as Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders received in the past, English Witchcraft in particular was highlighted on the world map. However, any research on Witchcraft history will show that it actually occurs all over the world in different variations. One of these Witchcraft varieties is the Italian version called ‘Stregheria.’ The word ‘Strega’ (stray-guh) means a female witch, singular; ‘Streghe’ (stray-gay) is the most common plural form; a male witchcraft practitioner is a ‘Stregone’ (stray-go-nay), and, when talking about a tradition of Italian witchcraft, it is a ‘Stregheria’ (stray-guh-ria) tradition.
Popularised in the later twentieth century by such public Italian-American witches as Leo Martello, Lori Bruno and Raven Grimassi, Stregheria is rapidly increasing in popularity amongst Pagans in the USA and is rather more slowly making inroads into Australia as well. Stregheria, in a roundabout way, has already had a profound influence upon modern British Wicca. One of the major Stregheria texts which is also an old Wiccan favourite - ‘Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches,’ compiled by Charles G. Leland and published in 1899 - is believed by several scholars to be the inspiration for the Charge of the Goddess, an invocation much used in Wiccan ritual.
In his essay accompanying the new 1998 translation of ‘Aradia’ by Mario & Dina Pazzaglini, Wiccan author Robert Chartowich suggests that ‘Aradia’ is also responsible for the use of nudity within British Wiccan ritual:
“And ye shall be freed from slavery, And so ye shall be free in everything; And as the sign that ye are truly free, Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men And women also.” -Aradia. p.7
Consequently, anthropologist and folklorist Sabina Magliocco suggests that ‘Aradia’ should be looked at “as the first real text of the 20th century Witchcraft revival.”
The Streghe worship Diana, the Roman moon goddess who is recorded in Roman history as having three aspects and is known as Diana Triformis. Her three-fold nature consists of Luna the moon, Diana the huntress, and Hecate the underworld goddess. Thus she has influence over the three worlds, celestial, terrestrial, and underworld. Although in other mythologies Diana is usually represented as a virgin, in Stregheria Diana is the mother of Aradia by her brother Lucifer the Light-Bringer (Apollo). Streghe believe that Aradia or, as she is also known, Herodias, once manifested as an earthly incarnation and as a lunar “avatar,” taught witchcraft to mortals.
“‘Tis true indeed that thou a spirit art, But thou wert born but to become again A mortal; thou must go to the earth below To be a teacher unto women and men Who fain would study witchcraft in thy school... ...And thou shalt be the first of witches known; And thou shalt be the first i’ the world. “ Aradia. p.4
Why Herodias in particular would be a daughter to Diana is a puzzle. Herodias is a name most often associated with the wife of the Biblical Herod Antipas and the mother of the infamous dancer Salome. However, she is also a figure associated with night flying and, as the Canon Episcopi recorded Diana as a generic goddess name associated with the Wild Hunt, it is possible the two eventually became conflated. Early witch trial records list confessions of night-journeys following “Erodiade,” the Italian name of Herodias.
The very word “Strega” has connections to night flying. The word “Strega” actually comes from the Latin word “strix,” meaning screech owl. Pliny the Elder wrote about “Striges” (plural of strix), who were women who could transform themselves into birds of prey by means of magic. The Roman author Apuleius gives a description of this metamorphosis in his book ‘The Golden Ass’. In that sense, then, it belongs to the collective archetype of the so-called ‘9th Sabbat’: the perpetual Sabbat in the center of the Wheel of the Year, accessed through spirit-flight, in this case manifesting through a Mediterranean lens.
Although certain contemporary authors such as Raven Grimassi claim to be practicing and teaching an hereditary form of Stregheria and, in Grimassi’s case, have published “how to” books on the subject which are very popular (although his detractors call it “Wicca Florentine style”), Stregheria is really a Pagan religion under re-construction. Grimassi’s books are not the last word on the subject and, if you are interested in digging deeper, books such as ‘Etruscan Roman Remains’ and ‘Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches’ by Charles G. Leland may be your next step. These do have their limitations, and making the effort to study particularly Italian folklore, Roman and Etruscan magic, Paganism, and history will also prove rewarding. Nor is it actually necessary to be of Italian descent to successfully practice Stregheria, but it helps if you have a deep interest in Roman Paganism, as well as both ancient and recent Italian history. Some students go as far as to learn Latin and/or modern Italian for performance of rituals and to access texts in those languages. For those who do have Italian heritage, the revival of Stregheria has also stimulated collection of much family folklore. Many different traditional paths within Stregheria are now evident.