Befana la Strega (Befana the Witch)/Befana la Vecchia (Befana the Aged) - The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

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

Befana la Strega (Befana the Witch)/Befana la Vecchia (Befana the Aged)
The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

Also known as Befania.

Befana is a benevolent Italian witch who brings gifts to children on the night of January 6th, the Feast of the Magi: she fills children’s stockings with gifts just like Santa Claus elsewhere in the world. This tradition is believed to derive from the pagan practice of leaving woven goods, such as stockings, for the Goddess of Fate on this date.

The name Befana is believed to derive from Epiphany. Befana manifests as an old lady who flies through the air on a broom or goat. She carries a heavy sack on her back filled with gifts, or is a hunchback. She is believed to have originally been an ancient deity of ancestral spirits, forests, and the passage of time.

Befana is invoked in many Italian spells, especially those for good fortune.

According to Christian legend, when the Magi were searching for the Christ Child, they encountered an old lady and invited her to join them. She declined because she was too busy cleaning but later had regrets. She attempted to catch them up but became hopelessly and eternally lost. Still in the process of searching, on encountering homes with children, she leaves treats for good ones and tricks, like coal and rocks, for the disobedient.

Different regions of Italy celebrate Befana in different ways:

Image The most prevalent method of celebrating Befana throughout Italy involves creating a wooden effigy of the witch holding her distaff and spindle, which is then filled with sweets. The figure is broken open like a piñata to disperse the treats and is eventually burned on a pyre. This may be intended to resemble the Yule Log, although obviously any reference to bashing and burning witches is easily interpreted otherwise.

Image In Tuscany, images of Befana are carried in street processionals.

Image In Rome, people assemble to make a noise in her honor with drums, tin horns, and tambourines.

Image In other areas, rag-doll Befanas are placed in windows.

See also Mana; ANIMALS: Goats; DICTIONARY: Magi; TOOLS: Brooms.