Strega, Stregheria or La Vecchia Religione…sans Grimassi

Hi All,

I’ve been looking for resources on Stregheria due to some hints from family members that my great grandmother practiced some aspects of “the old Religion.” Genealogy research also points to some very interesting connections to families that were supposedly involved in the tradition, so it has felt more and more relevant for me to look into.

I’ve read Aradia or the Gospel of Witches and the Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition by Leland. After looking through some posts here it seems that Raven Grimassi isn’t a reliable source but his work permeates the entire field of study from what I can find. In fact, the Wikipedia page for Stregheria is, like, 80% devoted to Grimassi, he’s registered and he admins the online groups I can find.

Unfortunately, my Italian is incredibly rudimentary so I’m hoping to find English sources. I’m interested in anything you might suggest – books, academic articles, pop culture articles.

Any recommendations?

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Working with Baba Yaga

Once again I’ve found myself being beckoned to her woods but I’d like to be prepared before I stumble in their blind.

So in a round-about-way I’m asking if anyone works with her and what she’s like.

I’d love to pick up any tidbits of knowledge. It’d be great know her preferred offerings, things that might tick her off, how best to approach her etc. I’m a very visual person so would love to set up an altar for her, so knowing any associated iconography would be great too. :D

Many thanks to anyone who helps! ;D

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Dualism in Balto-Slavic Paganism

I’ve been away from Slavic recon for a good 5 years, and upon returning to it, I’m doing some things differently. For one, I’m figuring out how to incorporate moral dualism. I was resistant to this when I first started. I felt that the stark division between good and evil, dark and light, was something I was trying to get away from when I left Abrahamic religion behind.

In retrospect, when I look at the world today, I see some good reasons to embrace the distinction between good and evil in my spirituality. I’ve also come to the inescapable conclusion, as a reconstructionist, that dualism was a critical part of paganism throughout northern Eurasia. I will cite some of my sources for coming to this conclusion.

I should preface this by explaining a bit about my approach to Slavic recon. I approach Slavic paganism as a tradition that essentially arose from the interface between Balto-Slavic, Indo-Iranian, and Finno-Ugric cultures. This is based on comparative linguistics.(1)(2)(3)

This relationship is well illustrated in terms of afterlife beliefs. Some have claimed that the notion of punishment in the afterlife is an idea introduced by Christianity, but I will show that the specific ideas involved have more in common with Zoroastrianism than Christianity, and are too widespread to be the result of a recent event.

Afterlife Beliefs
My first hint of this came from research on Lithuanian mythology. In that tradition, there is a cosmic mountain which is ruled over by Dievas or Perkunas. The heavenly abode is a shining garden atop or behind it. Souls have to use their own nails or those of predatory animals that are burnt in the funeral pyre. One belief is that there is a bridge leading to the top of the mountain; the souls of the righteous cross easily, whereas those of the wicked fall down and are taken by a dragon. (4) A similar belief appeared among the Poles, involving a glass mountain (A common motif in Slavic fairy tales.) (5) The notion of a dragon beneath a mountain or in the underworld is also fairly widespread. The Norse Nidhoggr and Persian Azi Dahaka come to mind. It’s worth noting that there are stories foretelling the release of Azi Dahaka from beneath Mt. Damavand at the world’s end. I’ll get back to that later.

This piqued my interest, because during my long study of historical religion, I had studied a bit about Zoroastrianism. The bridge part sounded very much like the Zoroastrian Chinvat bridge.(6) Later, I would find that the same bridge and mountain found in Lithuanian afterlife beliefs also shows up in the Uralic Komi mythology, much farther east. (7) It seems clear that the notions of punishment in the afterlife found in Zoroastrianism have a very long history in the steppe region and in northeastern Europe. The idea of a bridge, for example, certainly didn’t come from Christianity. This is not surprising, because we know that by the iron age the steppe region had become dominated by Iranic language speakers known as the Scythians and Sarmatians. Their religion could not have been Zoroastrianism proper, but it could not have been unrelated to it either. Culturally, they were clear relatives of the Iranians. This raises the question of Pre-Christian dualism in Eastern Europe. Something that it turns out is fairly well attested.

Evil Gods and Earth Divers
Among the Slavs, the clearest reference to moral dualism in the Black God, Chernobog. You may know his as the devil from Disney’s Fantasia. In his Chronicon Slavorum, the 12th century Christian chronicler Helmold of Bosau had this to say about him:

The Slavs, they say, have one peculiar custom: during feasts, they pass a goblet amongst them in circle, for purpose not to praise, but rather to curse in the names of gods, good and evil, for every good thing praising a good god, and for every bad thing cursing an evil god. This god of woe in their language is called Diabolous (*in Latin) or Zherneboh, meaning black god.

Helmold also talks about a single heavenly father God who delegates the governance of the world to his children while concerning himself only with heavenly affairs. Much as with afterlife beliefs, the knee-jerk reaction of some scholars seems to be to assume Christian interpolation or Christian influence. Once again, this is unjustified. This type of dualism is completely consistent with creation stories found among Baltic, Iranic, and Uralic sources, as well as some in Siberia. It’s time to talk about Earth Diver Creation myths.

In a nutshell, the earth diver creation myths are extremely widepread. They involve someone or something diving to the bottom of the primordial sea and retrieving sand, which is then inflated to create the Earth. In many variants it’s an animal like a bird, but in some it takes a dualistic form in which a good creator orders and evil counterpart to fetch the sand for them. A dualistic form of this myth shows up in Lithuania, involving Velinas and Dievas. It is also found among the Slavic and Finno-Ugric peoples (7)(8 ) In the Carpathians, the Ruthenian highlanders known as the Hutsuls had a variant of this myth involving a being called the Aridnyk. According to them, he was responsible for the creation of swamps, the abode of Velinas in Lithuanian lore. He also was said to be imprisoned underground, much like the Norse Loki and his children, or like the Persian dragon Azi Dahaka I mentioned earlier. When the world ends, it is said that the Aridnyk will engage in a final battle with St. Elijah, the Christianized form of Perun. (9)

One of the most interesting variants of this myth occurs in Siberia, among the Tungusic people. In this version, we see some similar themes of competition between two brothers trying to create the world. In the end, Buga creates a massive tree, whereas his brother fails and has his head painfully turned into iron. According to the Tungusic peoples of Siberia, the name of the creator is Buga, a clear loan from an Iranic language, with the same etymology as Slavic (Bog). (10) The parallels to Zoroastrian dualism are obvious.

Ancient North Eurasian Dualism?

This bit is far more speculative, but very exciting in my opinion. There is evidence that the dualistic concepts described here ultimately have their origin in Siberia. It was discovered not long ago that Native Americans have ancient north Eurasian ancestry (also found in northern Europe.) DNA evidence has shown that this type of ancestry shows up strongly in the Siberian Mal’ta culture about 20,000 years ago, and seems to spread both east and west. It has been suggested that the distribution of the Earth Diver creation myth (From Lithuania to the Americas.) suggests common origins with the Mal’ta culture as well. (10) This is not the first attempt to establish cultural continuity between the Americas and North Eurasia. To date, the proposed Dene-Yenisian language macro family (Connecting the Yenisian languages of Siberia to the Na-Dene languages of North America) has gained support among linguists. (11) This is obviously an ambitious claim, and I understand skepticism on this matter, but it should be noted that some native american creation stories feature dualism as well as earth-diver motifs, as well as other similarities to the north Eurasian counterparts. (12)(13)

Based on all this, (in my opinion) the most plausible explanation is an extremely ancient dualistic worldview originating in Siberia, perhaps the Mal’ta culture, which traveled both west and east with the Uralic and Beringian migrations. The Proto-Indo-Iranian religion likely started out without strong dualism between a good and an evil god, and was generally similar to the Vedas. However, one group may have underwent strong Uralic and/or Siberian influence and developed a dualistic variant that eventually developed into Iranian Zoroastrianism. The Uralic peoples influenced the Balts, and subsequently, an Iranic back-migration (in the form of the Scytho-Sarmatians) brought further dualistic influence to the Slavs.



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What Kind of a Vegetarian Are You?

…if in fact you are a vegetarian at all, which I’m not (omnivore with definite tendencies towards carnivore). But it would be interesting to know how strict the other members who do observe dietary restrictions are and what those restrictions are based on. I’m sure religious/moral/ethical concerns are a big factor for many here, but some dietary observations are based on food allergies, medical considerations, price and availability, or just plain personal preference. And among those who consider themselves vegetarians there is a range from strict vegans to those who will eat dairy and (unfertilized) egg products. I’ve even run across a pescetarian; he eats fish and shellfish but otherwise avoids products of birds and land animals. “Lapsed” and “occasional” are also valid answers here. So, let us know a little bit about what keeps your home fires burning!

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Our Lady of the Hens?

So I stumbled across an article on Stregheria which led me to several interesting websites on the topic. Although, I’m just as confused about it as when I started a name really stuck out to me; Madonna delle Galline.

I googled the term and apparently it means Our Lady of the Hens. So I dig a bit more digging and I found a possible origin for this figure was the uncovering of a statue by chickens pecking at the ground. But some people have hinted at a link between Madonna delle Galline and the story of Demeter and Persephone.

According to one site, Demeter takes the form of a generous older woman and Persephone takes the form of the hen being nourished by the grain given to her. Another one points out that the statue was unearthed in the springtime and thus reflects Persephone’s ascent from the Underworld.

I’m utterly fascinated and can’t help but wonder if there’s possibly some deity associated with chickens whose iconography has been adapted over time.

Ooh upon further research I’ve come across the Kurinyi Bog and Hühnergött, both meaning ‘chicken god’. Their lore seems to be tied to hag stones, but I have no idea why.

I’m totally intrigued and wonder if anyone has come across this figure before or perhaps has some knowledge of obscure poultry deities. XD

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Atheism and Paganism

Question photoYay! You have clicked on my thread so I’m hopeful I can get a good conversation going. I have tried reaching out to pagans before about this topic and it was a horrible disaster. I’m hoping the people here will be much more open to a conversation.

Ok, a little history on yours truly, PanSoka. You can call me Pan. You can call me Soka. I respond to any pronouns. I’m a pretty easy going person….most of the time. I’m 31 and I live in Virginia. I was raised Baptist throughout my childhood and by high school, I began to have doubts. I started researching other religions, mostly pagan religions as they appealed to me. I attempted to start practicing something similar but not entirely Wicca. But soon, life just happened and any religious or spiritual learning took a backseat. I slipped into being an agnostic, looking into things like Buddhism and Hinduism from time to time, but nothing really stuck. Fast forward to my late 20’s and I was having a good hard think about what I believed. It hit me both like a ton of bricks and fresh air at the same time. I did not believe in God. I did not believe that gods existed. It suddenly did not make sense to me. I struggled with it for a bit, but then it settled and I was very comfortable and felt as if a weight had lifted. The world made more sense.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Is this atheist seriously on our forum trying to convert us or insult us. NO! I am most certainly not. I’m just giving you the story how I feel it and experience it. This is not to insult you or belittle your religious beliefs at ALL. Please hear me out.

Ok, so some time went by. I’ve been an atheist for a few years now and for a while I’ve been quite happy with it. Recently, I’ve been feeling this pull. To give you a visual to maybe better explain it. Imagine religion sits on the side of a hill. Doubt and questioning are the side of the hill. The point of no return is the apex of the hill and it drops off to a cliff, at which sits yours truly. The valley is atheism. Its nice there, but the religious side of the hill is nice too (with the exception of a few extremists, but hey my valley has those too). Recently I’ve been feeling this tug. A gentle pull to the cliff face. I look up it and almost, for the briefest of seconds miss the other side. I miss that sense of community. I miss the “magick”. I miss belief. There are a few people at the top of the cliff throwing down ropes but none of them are long enough to reach  me. I cannot climb the cliff.

And so here I sit, at the bottom of the cliff, comfortable in my valley, but kind of missing the hillside. Does that make sense to anyone? Anyone still with me so far?

Ok, so maybe you are wondering. Pan…what DO you believe? Well…that’s kind of simple but yet complicated. I do believe in a universal energy that is within everything and everyone. It is the energy that holds atoms together. It is the energy of fire, and the energy of rain. Potential and kenetic energy. Emotions. Planets and suns. Its all part of a vast flowing network of energy, all feeding into each other. Never ceasing, always existing. In a way, I guess you could call that “god”. But I don’t believe this energy to be sentient. At least not as a whole. Parts of it can be sentient, in the way you and I are sentient. My cat is sentient. Plants are sentient. Anything with life, is sentient. But potential energy doesn’t know that it will become kenetic energy. It doesn’t make that conscious decision. Wind, for me at least, is not consciously trying to blow my house over (though sometimes I swear its trying). Wind is just wind. It just is. And because this is how I view this energy, I don’t think, other than life forms, it can be influenced. I don’t feel it can be manipulated in any way except a physical one (redirecting water with a dam, picking a flower thus cutting off its nutrient supply, shielding your eyes from the sun). I do believe it can be experienced through physical and spiritual means, but not necessarily influenced.

Ok, sorry for the book. I’m just trying to set it all on the table. So what it all comes down to is, I have this urge to come back to paganism, but I just simply cannot reconcile my disbelief in god figures. I can’t climb back up that cliff and no one has been able to throw me a rope long enough. Its a switch I can’t turn back on. Trust me, I’ve tried. But again, I still have this urge to come sit at the bottom of the damn cliff, looking up and wondering what it would have been like if I hadn’t slid down into the valley.

If anyone has gotten this far, I thank you for at the very least, hearing me out. I attempted to get some feedback from a reddit group and was met with only hostile responses (save for like two people, one of whom directed me here).

So, anyone want to chat with me here about this here cliff and what I should maybe do about it? Anyone kind of in the same boat want to come sit by the cliff with me? I’m just lost here.

Tarot vs. Oracle Cartomancy

tarot photo
Photo by SanFranAnnie

For those of you who have read with both, how do they differ for you? What do tarot/oracle each have that you look for? Are there ideas in tarot decks that rub you the wrong way, but work in more freeform oracle decks and vice versa?

Personally, I like the structure and the “story” of tarot, but its that same structure I often find to be a limiting barrier to my ever developing an intuitive reading style. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the vast majority of oracle decks I’ve encountered seem… incapable of giving you an answer you don’t want to hear lol.


How do you make and keep altars and shrines?

pagan altar photo
Photo by Editor B
We’ve had a thread for showing off our altars and shrines for a while, and we’ve had several threads asking for help with altars and shrines. How about a thread digging into the specifics of how you use these magical/ritual concepts in your practice?

I recently set up a new desk that has a separate platform off to the side from the main one; I’ve been using it as an altar, on which I keep a few specific things. One is a speaker for playing music; another is a fountain through which I make water libations to my gods; and the rest are tools and magical items. It’s been satisfying to keep it clean and perform a simple cleansing ritual before it. I’ve also noticed that it serves a distinctly different purpose than my shrine, which is simply to house beautiful things and idols in honor of my Powers.

But the process of setting up this altar and starting to practice at it has gotten me thinking about just what purpose altars and shrines serve for modern pagans. For me at the moment, my altar is serving the purpose of helping me organize my changing practice and anchor it in simple rules and rituals at all times. As such, I have clear rules about what I keep on it versus what I keep on the shrine, and I make sure to perform a daily ritual of cleansing and offering there.

But I know that other people have different experiences, and I’m interested in learning about them. If you keep altars or shrines in your practice–what purpose do they serve? On what principles do you construct them? What rituals do you perform at them regularly? How do you take care of them? Do you merge them into one altar/shrine, or keep multiple separate spaces for different purposes and Powers?