Pagan Community News: Italian tradition of La Befana, call to end “witch hunts” by 2030, and other news.

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Befana dolls in an Italian shop.

TWH – While Epiphany is a very Christian celebration, generally recognized by Catholics and Orthodox Christians, some traditions of La Befana, the Witch of Italian legend who delivers gifts on the eve of the Christian feast of the Epiphany, may have Pagan roots.

In some Christian folklore, Befana was a woman with magical powers who the three wise men or Magi asked to join them in their travel to greet the newborn Savior after she offered them aid or shelter or directions. In one variation of the story, she declines but later changes her mind after they have already departed and decides to join them in their journey.

When she but cannot find them, she distributes her gifts to other children. The tradition of hanging stockings near a window or hearth is partially derived from this folklore, as is the custom of leaving a glass of wine or similar treat.

Viewed through a Pagan lens, the history of Befana has both lighter and darker aspects. Some historical sources link her to the ancient practices like hollow wicker figures which would be stuffed with offerings and then were burnt as a symbol of removing the old and making room for the new.

As an old woman, Befana would also represent the deep knowledge of nature’s mysteries. Anthropologists Claudia and Luigi Manciocco, author’s of Una casa senza porte (“A House without Doors”), trace Befana’s origins back to the neolithic period, and also theorize she may have evolved into a fertility and agriculture Goddess.

Others suggest La Befana is linked to the Sabine or Roman goddess of new beginnings, wellbeing, and purification named Strenia.

In Italy, La Befana has become a cultural icon and her arrival is celebrated annually, and the tradition is spreading to other parts of the world.

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In other news:

  • A Monroe, Louisiana man, Tybias M. Truly, 34, was arrested December 23 on charges of simple battery of the infirm for striking a 68-year-old person and knocking them to the ground as they were entering the Ouachita Parish Library in Monroe. Initially, Truly told officers that he had struck the person because they had directed a racial slur at him. Under further questioning, Truly told authorities that a woman inside the library tricked him using “witchcraft” which caused him to hear voices and that he also believed the victim was using “witchcraft.” He went on to say that once he struck the victim, the voices he was hearing stopped. Truly was arrested and taken to the Ouachita Correctional Center where was being held on a $5,000 bond.
  • In Mansfield, Ohio 27-year-old, Tyler Kilgore was arrested and charged with felony intimidation after making a post on Facebook that included a death threat directed at Judge Phil Naumoff of Richland County Common Pleas Court. Kilgore accused Judge Naumoff of using “witchcraft” on him per both his Facebook messaging and again to arresting officers. Kilgore also stated he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was under a doctor’s care. His bond was set at $1 million.
  • The saga of appearing and disappearing monoliths seems to be continuing into 2021. The most recent is an 8-feet-tall one reported yesterday in Wisconsin’s Wauwatosa County Grounds Park in the U.S. Another monolith was reported in Courtenay, British Columbia, Canada. It appeared in the yard of local artist Karen Day, who is known in her neighborhood as the “Pink Witch” or the “Willemar Witch.” Her house is also often referred to as the “Halloween House” due to a variety of art displayed year around. When asked who placed the monolith, Day told The Comox Valley Record, “I personally didn’t put it there.” The number of monoliths popping up has grown through the month of December and have been seen in several countries. There have been so many monoliths that there is now a Wikipedia page that lists all the alleged monolith appearances.

 

In “witch-hunt” news:

Articles in this section may contain graphic descriptions of violence.

  • In the village of Sarisua in the district of Mayurbhanj, in Odisha, India,  Khairi Mahanta, was murdered allegedly by two brothers who live in the same village who believed she was a “witch.” The two brothers were seen nearby when Mahanta had gone to the well to get water. Her body was found on the road to the well and appeared she had been hacked from behind. They are alleged to have previously accused her of using “black magic” which had caused them to be unable to produce children. Another person interviewed suggested a rivalry between the two families existed. The brothers named only as Kalia and Balia are being sought by authorities but believed to have fled the immediate area.
  • There is a rise in extra-judicial murders of elderly people in the Gusii region of Kenya–five people in just the past three months have been tortured and then murdered due to accusations of being “witches” or practicing “witchcraft.” A recent case involved a woman in her 70s being dragged out from her farm, severely beaten, and then thrown into her house which had been set on fire. She did not survive. Former journalist, Ruth Manoti, who is now the director for Seeds of Hope, wants to see action quickly taken to prevent such attacks before they become more widespread. “In instances where information is passed early, police have been seen to act to save a life but where it had been, on the contrary, lives had been lost, sometimes in huge numbers,” Manoti told journalists.
  • 67-year-old Esinala Mbowe, of the northern district of Karonga in Malawi, was recently murdered after accusations that she had used “witchcraft” and caused her own son’s death. Both the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and the Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) have called the Malawi government to take action to not only better protect the elderly from such violence but to also seek a solution to stopping crimes rooted in the accusations and beliefs of “witchcraft.” “As a human rights organisation, we have previously raised concerns with other human rights organisations about the lack of progress on crimes related to violence on the basis of witchcraft accusations, but apparently there is no change. We urge the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to improve coordination so that investigations can be concluded and the cases can be committed to the high court for trial expeditiously,” as part of a joint statement issued last Tuesday by CHRR and Cedep as reported by the Nyasa Times.
  • In an article published by The Sahara Reporter and GhanaWeb, Dr. Leo Igwe, founder of Advocacy for Alleged Witches (AFAW), reaffirmed AFAW’s commitment to their initiative, Decade of Activism against Witch Persecution in Africa: 2020-2030. The goal of the initiative is to create a “witch-hunt”- free Africa by 2030 through education, advocacy for awareness, and reform of legal systems. Igwe also calls for “robust and effective campaign programs with a clear and categorical position against witchcraft imputation and witch-hunting.” However, he also had harsh words for Western-based non-profits (NGOs) who he perceives as undermining efforts to stop “witch-hunts” due to their stance of “respect for African religious and cultural beliefs.” Igwe, who is a humanist, sees all African “witchcraft” as superstition and wrote in his article, “Western anthropologists designate witchcraft as the gatekeeping concept for Africa, which is the frame to study and understand Africa including African thought and culture.”
  • Last week in Alwar in the Indian state of Rajasthan, an unnamed 16-year-old was charged and arrested for the murder of his 11-year-old cousin, Nirmal Bairwa. The accused cousin allegedly told authorities that Bairwa made fun of his interest in “witchcraft” and there was also tension between their families over a property dispute. The accused was also rumored to have been ill until he was treated by some type of occult practitioner in 2018 that allegedly cured his illness. After that time he professed to be an expert on “witchcraft” and his cousins often made fun of him over his claims. The body of Bairwa was found in a mustard field with evidence of strangulation.

Editorial Note: This article refers to individuals accused of witchcraft who are victims of persecution and violence. The accused individuals were not practitioners of any modern Pagan religion. TWH uses the upper case to denote practitioners of Witchcraft or who self-identify as Witches.

 

Tarot of the week by Star Bustamonte

Deck: Tarot of the New Vision by Pietro Alligo, artwork by Raul and Gianluca Cestaro, published by Lo Scarabeo.

Card: Five (5) Swords

The week ahead is likely to be challenging, and hold unexpected losses. Attempting to “win at any cost” could ultimately result in an even larger loss, and potentially leaving behind a scorched and desolate landscape.

 

Decks generously provided by Asheville Raven & Crone.