Angitia - The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

The Marsi, an ancient Central Italian tribe, claimed descent from Circe’s son. Their chief deity was his daughter, Angitia, a snake-charming sorceress who learned her craft directly from her grandmother. The Marsi themselves were renowned as magicians and healers. The Romans considered their territory “the home of witchcraft.”

Very little concrete information survives regarding Angitia: a sacred grove was dedicated to her on the shores of Lake Fucinus, as was a temple where the arts of herbalism and snake charming were practiced and taught. Earliest recovered regional inscriptions include votive offerings to Angitia recovered from the lake.

The Marsi made an alliance with the Romans in 304 BCE but revolted two years later. The Romans ultimately reasserted their authority; the Marsi lost political autonomy and were absorbed into the Roman Empire. However, they retained their magical reputation. As late as the second-century CE their presence as fortune-tellers plying their trade on the streets of Rome was noted. The Marsians were also reputedly magical healers, with power over bites of venomous snakes and rabid dogs.

Some believe that when Medea fled from Jason and Greece, she went to Italy and became Angitia. See HALL OF FAME: Medea.

Angitia’s power was not forgotten post-Christianity but was transferred to San Domenico (951—1031). Much of what is known regarding Angitia is derived from rituals re-dedicated to San Domenico, especially the Festa dei Serpari (The Procession of the Snake Catchers or Snake Charmers) in Cocullo, Italy. The earliest historical evidence of this festival dates from 1392. By the sixteenth century, the festival was held on the first Thursday in May, as it is today.

Snake catchers (serpari) begin capturing local snakes during the Vernal Equinox. A standard Mass is held within the Church on the day of the festival but afterwards a votive image of San Domenico is brought outside so that snake charmers can cover it with live snakes.

The serpari, carrying the serpent-covered statue, lead a processional through Angitia’s old stomping grounds. Roman Catholic priests provide an escort while costumed young women carry snake-shaped cakes. Live snakes are draped around other serpari as well as those wishing to demonstrate their devotion to the saint.

See also Circe; ANIMALS: Snakes; CREATIVE ARTS: Dance: Processions and Snake Dances; DICTIONARY: Ciaraulo.