Like Salem is to America, the city Naples is home to a rich and mysterious history of magic and witchcraft, or as it is called in Italian, stregheria. It is not at all uncommon for European cities to boast such a past, as the pre-Christian world was ripe with healers and folk magic, but the area around Naples continued their mystical traditions well into the Christian age.
During the late 1800s, an author by the name J.B. Andrews conducted a series of interviews with known Neapolitan strega (witches). He discovered that each witch seemed to specialize in his or her own area, whether it be sea magick, earth magick, herbalism, and even astrology. He was curious as to whether or not they learned their practices from sacred text but discovered that the tradition was entirely oral, “given by mother to the daughter.”
Stregheria is still prevalent in modern day Naples and has been highly influenced Hermetic groups. Of course today, we all have access to the spells and rituals that Old World strega used to practice thanks to a large interest in the occult and a number of volumes that have been printed on modern Paganism. Italian-American author and Salem, Massachusetts resident Raven Grimassi is one of the few writers to focus on Italian witchcraft today.
If the mystery of the occult piques your interest, then Naples and its surrounding area is the perfect place to plan your next European escape. Try a trip to Benevento, also called Italy’s “City of Witches,” a mere 50 km northeast of Naples. Here once stood a sacred walnut tree, known as the place where witches would gather on their sabbats to sing and dance. When Saint Barbato converted the Duke to Christianity in 622, the Duke proceeded to have the tree chopped down. Legend says it didn’t take long for the stump to magically begin to grow, restoring the old walnut tree to its previous glory. Even the transcripts from the Italian Witch Trials make mention of it. It is believed that this particular tree still stands near Avellino in Stretto di Barba and that modern day witches secretly meet there.
Not just concerning stregaheria, but Naples history in general has a lot to do with its relationship to Sicily. With a car rental in Italy, you will easily be able to travel down the coast to Villa San Giovanni and hop a ferry. Sicily was home to the famous Fairy Witch Trials. It is believed that the fairies and elves would make human contacts in Sicily and carry them away to Benevento. The fairies and the women who were involved with them were named the “donas de fuera.” During the 16th and 17th centuries, there were an unknown number of witch trials held in Sicily. Unlike the Salem Witch Trials, the women on trial said nothing of the devil, but instead spoke of the fae and were tried for sorcery. Far less violent than the US trials, most of the sentenced were simply banished, put in prison, and some were even set free.
What is interesting is that all of these events can be traced back or lead back to Naples. Plan your next vacation in Italy and discover the magic for yourself!
Melissa Rae Cohen is a travel writer in love with all things mysterious and magical. Her family immigrated to Ellis Island from Naples during the early 1900s. Today she lives in Portland, Maine with her husband and two naughty cats and works as a travel writer for Auto Europe.