LA FESTA DELL' INVERNO - THE WINTER SOLSTICE
(Celebrating Il Natale in the Italian Stregheria tradition)
Designed by Eustacia Blackstar (email Eustacia)
Performed Dec. 15, 2000
In Italy, there remains today, a tradition involving the beneficent witch Befana. She is one of the three goddesses of Fate in Tuscan Witchcraft: Rododesa, Marantega and Befana. Befana may be considered the Italian version of Santa Claus. She is dressed as a Renaissance peasant woman and may be seen as the Hecate aspect of the Goddess.
Befana arrives flying on a wooden broom or a goat. This is symbolic of her connection to the plant and animal worlds, making her a woodland goddess as well as a goddess of annual renewal. She is also connected to ancestral spirits as a mythical ancestress who returns yearly. Through her timeless visits to the family hearth, her function is that of reaffirming the bond between the family and the ancestors through an exchange of gifts. The children receive gifts from Befana which in ancient times were representations of one's ancestors, while offerings of Befannini or sugar cookies were set near the hearth, very much like cookies and milk are set out for Santa Claus. If a child has not been so good, it is also possible to receive coal from Befana. This is a specially prepared black merangue sweet.
In Tuscany and elsewhere, the Befana appears in street processions with her consort Befano. He is considered to be the sacrificed God. They lead a band of postulants who receive offerings from local families who in return receive the gift of prosperity from Befana's blessings.
Sometimes an effigy of Befana is constructed of wood. It is stuffed with fruits and nuts. Later it is sawed open and the items are dispensed to the town folk, followed by the burning of Befana upon a pyre. Thus the ancestral spirit is returned to the kingdom beyond the tomb, through the symbolism of the ascending smoke. The burning of Befana is also designed to return the old life to the new life, the decay of Winter feeding the soil of Spring. For the figure of Befana as a crone is merely the reflection of her having been aged by Winter. She will return again as Fana, the woodland Goddess of Spring.
La Befana vien' di notte
LA FESTA DELL' INVERNO -THE WINTER SOLSTICE
Ritual space is in semi darkness as participants arrive. Food is deposited in the kitchen. Gifts for exchange are placed around the tree (l'albero di Natale). Participants are seated on the floor, around the altar. The altar is seasonally decorated with Befana (good witch) figures. "La Luna" is played on tape. Maiden sweeps ritual area with the besom. Guardia #1: (rings bell) Auguri e Buon Natale a Tutti! Tonight we celebrate in the Italian witchcraft or Stregheria traditon. It is La Festa dell'Inverno or the Winter Solstice. Now, in parts of northern Italy, the ancient land of the Etruscans, the rivers and lakes have frozen over. The trees are frosted with snow. They lie dormant while animals sleep. Know that this season marks the same cycle of darkness and rebirth as it did for the ancestors. They looked out on that silent, still world. They hoped that from this ice and sleep the glorious Sun, that quickens the earth, would soon be reborn. Let us cast the Circle as we chant: All: In sacred space, we all invite to greet the Sun, this longest night. As we will it, so mote it be! Guardia #2: (rings bell four times) Earth and Air, Fire and Water! Guard and Guide your sons and daughters. We evoke you on this night. Assist us with this sacred rite. (Grigori/Quarters march silently into their places in Circle. They wear red tunics.) East: All hail to Thee, O Eastern Powers! Guard us. Guide us in these hours. As we wait this longest night, With your breath, keep safe the Light. South: All hail to Thee, O South and Fire! Grant us now what we desire. Help us guide the Sun's return. Blessed Fire, blaze and burn! West: O Western Waters, hail to Thee! From her womb all life shall be. As we attend the Sun God's birth, From all that harms, wash clean the Earth. North: O Earth, the Northern Powers, hail! We've come this far. We must not fail. The Turning Wheel brings forth renewal. We know the Sun God soon will rule. Guardia #1: (ring bell once) And now the Lady we invite, to guide us through this winter's night. (Three knocks are heard on the front door. The HPS/ Lady appears and walks to the altar.) HPS: As the children warned themselves by the hearth, they dreamed and wished. Representations of these wishes were burned in the cauldron in the same way as children today may write to Santa Claus. Let us reenact this form of magick. (Wishes are written on small pieces of paper and burned in the cauldron.) (Star and HPS sing "Vienite Pagani" * HPS: We mark now, with this sacred gathering, the rebirth of the Sun God. It is the Great Mother who gives him birth. It is the Lord of Life born again. From the union of our Lord and Lady, hidden in the Realm of Shadows, we will soon receive the Child of Promise! We call forth now from the Portal of the Northern Power my Lord High Priest and representative of the Lord of Light. We call to the ancient one who brought forth the beasts of the field and forest. Welcome, he who was known by our ancient tribes. (HPS rings bell once. HP descends the stairs and stands in God position.) We greet you O Horned One, horned with the rays of the Sun, by whose blessings and grace shall life always be born again. Behold, Your Witches are gathered! Bless them, and the days before them! HP (blesses each participant and gives each a candy cane ie. symbol of the " intertwining" of the God and Goddess) Blessed be in the care of the Lord of Light. (stands in God position in front of altar.) HPS: O most ancient provider, Lord of Light and Life, we pray You grow strong that we may pass the Winter in peace and fullness. Emanate Your warmth and Your Love that the cold and harshness of Winter not dwindle Your followers. O Ancient One, hear us! Protect us and provide for us. We place ourselves in Your care. Blessed be all in the God! Let us now enact the Myth that we may better understand the lesson: Guardia #2 Now the time came, in the Hidden Realm of Shadows, that the Goddess Tana would bear the child of Janus, the Great Dark Lord. And the Lords of the four Quarters came and beheld the newborn God. Then Tana spoke to the four Lords saying: " Take my son who is born of Janus, that he might bring life to the world. For the world has grown cold and lifeless." So the Lords of the four Quarters departed to the world of men, bearing the new Lord of the Sun. And the people rejoiced, for the Sun God had come that all upon the earth might be saved. (Grigori move to surround and obscure the view of the HPS, HP and Maiden from the participants.) East The night is dark, the Sun is gone, Yet we know the Wheel turns on. Through midnight's hour solid dark Within our hearts remains a spark. South Queen of Winter, Mother of All, Hear us as our voices call. Send your fire back to Earth As we will the Sun's rebirth. West She will light the sacred fire, Bringing back our heart's desire. Sacred fire kindled bright, Lead us back into the Light. North As the flames around us glow, So may love within us grow. Awaken Sun King! Be reborn! Bring Your Light this Solstice morn. ( Sounds of child birth may be heard during the above chant. Maiden produces a lighted candle.) Maiden: Behold the Lord of Light born this night! (She hands the flame to the Lord of the East who moves to his Quarter and lights the Quarter candle. All return to Quarters.) LOE: All hail the Lord of the Sun! (Flame is passed to LOS) LOS: All hail the Lord of the Sun! (This movement continues around the Quarters. During this time the Maiden lights the tree and the other lights in the ritual area. The Sun candle is given back to HPS by LON. She places it on the altar.) HP: Let your spirits be joyful and your hearts despair not. For on this sacred day is born He whose Light shall save the world. He has come forth from the darkness and his light has been seen by all. He is the Child of Promise who is slain for the world and ever rises again. Blessed Be! HP: Maiden, bring forth the sacred log! (A "Yule log" cake is presented and the candle lit on top.) Know by this light that the Lord of Light and the Lord of the Land are one and the same. So mote it be! Now let us partake of the Cakes and Ale. (Guardia #2 and Maiden pass Cakes and Ale.) Star sings "This Winter's Night"** as the Cakes and Ale are passed. HPS: Behold the God whose life and light dwells within each of us. He is the Horned One; Lord of the Forest, and the Hooded One; Lord of the Harvest, and The Old One; Lord of the Clans. All honor to Him! (Glasses are raised.) HP: And to the great Mother Goddess. May she ever watch over and guide her children. Blessed Be! And now in recognition of the Divinity within each person the gifts will be presented. The story of La Befana (the good witch) is read by Guardia #1 and #2 ( see last page) All chant (see chant for La Befana) to encourage the appearance of Befana who is dressed as an old woman. Befana appears besom in hand. She may dance. She then passes out the gifts as she sees fit. Gifts are opened one at a time. The giver is acknowledged and explanations of symbolism etc. may take place. HP: And now as the Sun returns to the sky, we have kept the faith with our ancestors and it is time to open the Circle. (Ring bell four times.) East: Powers of the East and Air, we thank you for joining our Circle. We ask your blessing as you part. May there be peace between us now and forever. South: Powers of the South and Fire etc. West: Powers of the West and Water etc. North: Powers of the North and Earth etc. HPS: Lord of the Sun, Lady of Rebirth, we thank you for joining our Circle on this longest night Love is the Law and Love is the Bond. Buon Natale! Auguri a Tutti! HP: All honor to the Lord and Lady. Blessings of the season be with you all. The Circle is open. Let the feast begin! * Venite Pagani (Tune-Adeste Fidele) Venite pagani. Noi siamo pronti. Vedere il sole ancora. Qui nell'ombra, abbiam' paura. Quando vedra Il Sole? Quando vedra Il Sole? Quando vedra Il Sole? Il Deo. ** This Winter's Night (Tune-Greensleeves) It's been so long this Winter's Night. We can't survive without the Light. The Season's Wheel must turn once more. O Goddess, we will remember. Chorus: Hail! Hail, the Sun God King. Rejoice we now can dance and sing. Hail! Hail! Let's bring him praise, The Child, the Son of the Lady. The fires burn and the candles blaze. We raise our glasses to brighter days. We've kept the faith for another year. O Goddess, we will remember. Chorus: Now fast away the old year goes. We banish all of our cares and woes. All hail the New Year! Hope it brings. O Goddess, we will remember. Ritual needs: Cakes and Ale, Befana figures, "Yule log" cake, Quarter candles, God candle, cauldron, paper/pencils, besom, candy canes.