La Befana – More than just Italian Santa

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TWH has written about la Befana, the Christmas Witch, in the past. For the uninitiated, la Befana is sometimes called the “Italian Santa,” bringing presents to good children (and reminders to be good to the bad ones) on January 6 in Italy.

But Befana is so much more than a gift-giver who enters the home through a hole in the ceiling to deliver her toys and treats.

At Samhain, many Strega invite our ancestors back into our homes at Samhain, and they stay with us throughout the winter by our hearth fires (or candles we keep burning throughout the season in our homes). The fires and hearths are linked to the Ancestors.

By entering the home through our chimneys/hearths on the smoke from our fires, Befana is also linked to the ancestors. In my tradition, she is viewed as an Archetype of the Ancestors, a goddess who reaffirms the bond between the family and the ancestors through the exchange of gifts. In this regard, she is seen as the “Big Grandmother,” as she is an older woman who visits and brings treats, then leaves.

Holiday display of Befana Dolls in Nemi, Italy [Photo Credit: S. Ciotti]

Befana is known to bring three types of gifts to the children, who stand in as proxy of the newborn Sun King. Each type of gift has a different association:

  • Rewarding Gift – which serves no purpose other than to bring joy. An example is Candy
  • Useful Gift – something that can be used. An example is a scarf or socks
  • Discipline Gift – which helps teach self-discipline and keeps us on top of our game. An example is an alarm clock

Coal was given to children as a gift, but it was not for “bad” children since coal is especially useful! The punishment for bad children was not receiving any candy. Coal, for example, would be given to the family to help keep the home warm through the winter. All gifts of Befana are about lessons and growth. She doesn’t “get even” based on the child’s behavior.

In Tuscany, there is an annual parade led by Befana. She is masked and receives offerings from the families who line the parade route. In return, she gifts them with prosperity. The masked Befana serves as the All Ancestor, acting as a conduit between the ancestors and each family who makes an offering.

Effigies of Befana are also burned on her Feast Day to re-accompany the spirit of the ancestor to the Kingdom Beyond the Tomb. By burning the effigy, she is released back into the astral.

One of the traditions of Befana’s Day (also referred to as Epiphany by the Christian tradition), is to create the Water of Bboffee Fire. This is fire water and is contains the magic of the Great Rite in every drop, as it is a combination of masculine and feminine energies.

Chocolate-filled Befana Stockings in an Italian Shop [Photo Credit: S. Ciotti

But What About Befano?

In the Stregheria tradition, elders teach that the Befana does not travel the countryside alone. She moves through the night with her husband/consort, Befano. While she is associated with the hearth itself, he is associated with the tools of the hearth, such as the bellows or pitchfork. She is associated with the broom, which serves as her ride through the night. He is associated with the donkey, which helps the duo reach the mountainside towns of Italy. Together, they are also associated with the Faeries, seen as their Queen and King in a similar fashion as Diana and Lucifer.

Befana is not simply around on January 6th and that’s it. She can be invoked at any time of the year for:

  • Anything involving children, especially sick children
  • Trying to connect with a relative (living or dead) – she is an amazing go-between
  • Dealings with animals and plants
The Water of Bboffe Fire

The Water of Bboffe Fire can be created on any one of three nights, and only on these nights. These nights are the Eve of the Winter Solstice, Christmas Eve (Dec. 24), or the Eve of the Feast of Befana (Jan. 5). This magical water can be used for any major points in your life, especially for critical moments in family life. You may use it to anoint gifts, or even to make soup, coffee, etc. This magickal fire water can be used both internally and externally.

On the night you choose to perform this rite, take a large non-iron bowl, and anoint it with olive oil. Fill this bowl almost full of water. You may place a clear quartz crystal in the water to represent the presence of the moon in the water.

Next place a fresh evergreen branch in the bowl. If you do not have evergreen, you may use holly, mistletoe, or rosemary. If you have an evergreen growing in your yard, it’s best to use a branch from this tree, as it connects the water directly to your home.

Take the bowl outside and place it either on an altar or directly on the ground. Invoke Befana and Befano, and call upon the Three Realms (underworld, aster, and material) to come together in the bowl. This sets up an Axis Mundi.

Burn your favorite incense that blends frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense represents Aster while Myrrh represents the Underworld. Stay with the bowl until the incense has finished burning.

Once the incense has burned through, bring the bowl inside and place it on your altar or in your sacred space. The bowl should stay on your altar throughout the night and through the whole next day with the branch floating in it. For example, if you create the water on the Eve of the Feast of Befana, the water will be ready on Jan. 8.

After that time, bottle the water and label it as your Water of Bboffe Fire. This water is good for one year.

No matter your tradition, Happy Befana to everyone celebrating!