Saturday, January 22, 2011

Art of Rational Thinking and Mutual Acceptance

These are my thoughts about the advent of the Stregharia tradition coming to America. This is an event that should be celebrated, but some have made it a time to cast aspersions and spread false rumors.

I have always believed in giving someone at least the benefit of the doubt when they present to me a new approach or new idea. No matter how long I have been studying something, there is always something new to learn or a different approach to be tried. Sometimes engaging with something too closely can have the effect of causing one to lose objectivity, so problem solving becomes difficult and figuring out a totally new approach requires some much needed outside input. I think that the pagan community might be in this kind situation, and could benefit from some outside benevolent intervention.

As pagan and witches, we should embrace the advent of a new idea or the discovery of an old tradition that was obscured by time. We should be flexible, open minded and use our critical thinking skills at all times to not only adequately gauge what someone is presenting, but also to cautiously judge it based solely on its merits instead of the person who is presenting it. We saw this issue emerge with the recent publication of Ben Whitmore’s book “Trials of the Moon,” where some in the pagan community were quite ready to dismiss Mr. Whitmore’s premises simply because he wasn’t a properly accredited academic. Instead, I urged people to give Mr. Whitmore a chance, and at the very least read his book carefully before critiquing it or his ideas. What we don’t need is to vilify each other and to wage witch or pagan wars either locally or nationally. We are a small group of unique individuals who are loosely grouped into various traditions, practices and beliefs. We are, in a sense, a lot like snow flakes, all analogous, but each unique and different in its own way - no two are alike. I suspect that this has a lot to do with the fact that so much of our beliefs are based on personal experience.

As my friend Steve Posch, a living treasure of wit and wisdom in our local pagan community has said, “Christians, Jews and Muslims are people of the book, we are people of the library.” Yet we are also individuals who rely a great deal on our personal experiences, and those must, by definition, be quite different. This can cause us to passionately disagree with one of our own people over some minor point of belief because we have invested a lot of our personal inner worth with what we practice and experience in the domains of Spirit and magick. Old age, verbally having the shit kicked out of me a few times and also mellowing have taught me that my way of doings things is not the only way, and that what I believe is right and good may not agree with others who follow the same path. I have long since given up fighting petty wars with others who might only slightly disagree with me. I know, just by looking around, that there are some real enemies out there in the world who would, if they could, do me harm or suppress me for my religious activities.

We can fight our brothers and sisters with a zealous passion over minor differences, but in the end, nothing is gained and much is damaged. Since we are such a small minority in our culture, I think that a common sense rule of thumb should be that we engage with our brothers and sisters with an open mind and a tolerance that allows multiple perspectives to live and thrive together. Certainly, there are boundaries to what we will accept, but what I have found is that few of us who are jointly on this path merit any kind of uncritical condemnation or dismissal. What seems to be required in our communities is a balance between rational and objective thinking and a kind of mutual acceptance. If you can’t show any kind of respect, love or forbearance to your spiritual kindred, then to whom can you show this special compassion? Not only that, but it starts with your brothers and sisters, and should hopefully grow to include nearly everyone of all faiths, persuasions, cultures and beliefs. 

The reason why I have brought up these points is that a very tragic thing has recently happened. We have been blessed recently with the arrival of a couple from Italy who represent the witchcraft movement in that country. I am speaking of arch-priestess and arch-priest Diana and Dianus who have brought a valid and living lineage of Stregharia to the west coast of the U.S. This is a momentous event, and one that we should celebrate and perhaps even be a bit excited about. While there has been a few representatives of the Strega tradition in this country since the 1960's, most notably the late Dr. Leo Martello (who represented a Sicilian branch of that faith), and more recently, with the brilliant and fascinating Raven Grimassi, this tradition has not really had a true and legitimate lineage traceable to the old country. I might be wrong about that, but I am pretty certain that no one from the actual Strega families came to this country and set up their practice with the knowledge and affirmation of their elders.

For this to happen now is a truly wonderful thing, because according to both Dianus and Diana, they have been urged by their elders to travel to this country in order to transfer their knowledge and their lineage to the fertile spiritual soil of America. They have come here not to make a fortune selling their religion, but instead came here to freely give this knowledge and its special insights to the witchcraft and pagan communities of this land. What that means is that now, for the first time, there will be a truly legitimate line of Strega, backed by the blessings and urging of the slowly dwindling Strega families in Italy. This is a very interesting and fascinating development, and we should at the very least, extend a hand in friendship and open-ness to the seeding of this old tradition in new soil. I think that it’s amazing that only now the Strega has sought to transplant itself here, and that no previous members had attempted to do this in the past. Many Italians and Sicilians migrated to this country over the last hundred years, but it’s possible that because witches are very much tied to the land of their mothers and fathers, they may have sought to stay close to their ancient lands instead of migrating, in order to continue to work its magick in the old and traditional manner.

News of this event has reached me through channels that I am not allowed to talk about just yet, but as an author and someone who is traveling the country meeting various people, my opportunities to meet fascinating and engaging people are quite high. Needless to say, Diana and Dianus, of the Benevento line of Stregharia will be giving two presentations at Pantheacon 2011. They are also beginning to teach, organize communities and to initiate worthy and interested individuals into their line of witchcraft, beginning with the San Diego area. This is all wonderful, and it would be something exciting to talk about and experience, except that there have been a few individuals who have already gone on the offensive to raise questions about the legitimacy of their tradition of Stregharia (some even demanding to know the actual line of initiates), and to specifically condemn their emphasis on the Great Rite, or sacred sexuality. These questions of legitimacy and of core practices should never be asked by someone who is not an initiate. You can either accept that they are legitimate (hopefully after meeting them) and that their teachings are valid, or not. However, no one has the right to ask for specific lineage based proof unless they are inside the tradition as initiates. The simple response is that this information is oath-bound, and I am sure that a lot of traditional initiates know what that is all about. As for the focus being on sacred sexuality and sacral nudity, I have already posted an article that explores that topic. It has long been a core discipline in a number of pagan and witchcraft traditions.

A couple of misguided fools have even resorted to saying that Diana and Dianus are potential sexual predators who should be avoided and shunned instead of greeted and engaged. Along with this condemnation is the implication that sacred sexuality and sacral nudity have no place in pagan practice, especially ones that involve the whole family, which would include children. No one in their right mind is even suggesting that underage children should be involved in sex magick or sacral nudity - these are activities exclusive to adults. Of course, all of this is astonishing, and even more so because this was publically declared before the two had even had a chance to give their very first presentation in San Diego. So without any real knowledge or anything to back up such accusations, slanderous and scandalous comments were made in what could only be construed as an atmosphere of fear and loathing. But a fear and loathing of whom or what? The potential for something happening was entirely based on zero evidence.

What seems to be going on here is actually a lot simpler and also quite tragic - someone’s afraid that their “turf” will be marginalized by the introduction of a bonafide tradition of Strega into the San Diego area. This is obviously the act of someone who is desperate to stop the intrusion of a new transplanted old tradition in the soil of our country. All this was done in ignorance and extreme prejudice, which I can only judge as being completely at odds with any kind of pagan mindset. Unfortunately, it’s always the case that a small minority will attempt to spoil and thwart the opportunities of the many simply for the sake of ego, territory and selfish personal gain. These folks have been relentless, attempting to contact Ravin Grimassi to discredit this couple and confound their selfless desire to teach and share their knowledge with us. They have actually gotten a couple authors stirred up who also contacted Mr. Grimassi. In short, they have been quite busy creating as much mischief as possible, all to no avail, because the weekend presentations in San Diego went ahead anyway.

Diana, with the help of her American translator and benefactor, Lupercus, has recently put out an interview that hopefully deals with these issues - you can find it here. What she and her mate are presenting to the public is certainly not for everyone, but only for the few who are truly interested and ready to take on the responsibility for being a representative of this venerable line of witches. They can be selective and picky about those with whom they choose to share their knowledge and practices. After recent occurrences, I can’t say that I blame them. I, myself, won’t take on just anyone who wants to learn my system of ritual magick. I want people to show me that they are willing to make a long term commitment and actually do the work, so that my time (and theirs) isn’t wasted.

I found the interview to be fascinating and also very sad, since Diana and Dianus have only been in this country for a month, and they have already experienced the petty back biting and viral gossiping that seems endemic in our small communities. I hope that this barrage of unpleasant behavior dies down and that people will give this couple the respect and open mindedness that they are due. They should be treated as we would want to be treated if we happened to travel to Italy and met with pagan folk there. Diana and Dianus are learning English, but they still need the help of a translator. I admire their perseverance, since they are here in a foreign land having to navigate in a foreign culture with a foreign language. They are not enduring this ordeal simply to enrich themselves in this new land. They came here to share their knowledge and practices, and therefore, we should accord them some very special considerations. We should be compassionate, open, engaging, kind and helpful to them, simply because they have come here with an open hand and a desire to reach out to each and all of us. How could we justify behaving in any other way?

I must say that I am looking forward to meeting both Diana and Dianus at the forthcoming Pantheacon. It will make this event memorable and quite fascinating. Whether or not I choose to take the challenge of engaging with their tradition, I believe that there is something important to learn from them. So I will listen respectfully with an open mind and an open heart. I will embrace them for coming to this country in peace and goodwill, and I will show them that American pagans are worthy of their outreach. I hope that you will accord them the same respect and openness, if they should come to your town in the months ahead.

“Possa la luce della Luna e del Sole vi benedica con la loro luce e di amore.”

Frater Barrabbas


  1. Thanks for bringing up some important and valuable points. It is always good, I feel, to look at both sides of any conflict, introduce facts, and try to obtain a balanced view.

    And speaking of facts, I feel that some corrections need to be introduced. Frater Barrabas, you state that prior to now "no one from the actual Strega families came to this country and set up their practice with the knowledge and affirmation of their elders." One of the problems with such an assessment is that no one (including yourself) can know whether this is true or not, because no one can speak for all the Strega families. Not all of them are openly known, and not all of them are in contact with each other. Anyone who says differently is trying to sell something through misdirection.

    Another thing that needs to be corrected is your statement that my (Raven Grimassi) tradition has no "true and legitimate lineage traceable to the old country." You have no possible way of knowing if this is fact. Stating this as fact is irresponsible.

    The truth is that I belong to a lineage tradition from Italy and was trained by native Italians. While I have never published my personal practice of the Italian Craft, it is in my blood and is my Path.

    While I feel that your blog here is important and should be read in connection to recent events, I am afraid your comments about my family tradition and those of others that you dismiss, undermines what you wrote. It also does not flow along with your message of showing respect and giving the benefit of the doubt.

    Therefore, I cannot recommend your blog to others, and will not be sending people to read it. This is unfortunate, because I feel you should be heard in this matter. But you take away your own credibility with the remarks you made about traditions that you know nothing about.

    Raven Grimassi

  2. Dear Frater Barrabas,

    Please excuse that I do not yet write much English and am therefore sending this letter to you with the help of a translator.

    Your article, in general, is very interesting. Since our arrival in the USA, we have indeed been a bit surprised by the actions of certain individuals in the Neo-Pagan community. In Stregheria in Italy, things are very different. Partly the result of Centuries of persecution having forced Stregheria to go underground to survive exclusively along family lines, the various known surviving families enjoy an exemplary level of harmony and cooperation.

    There are a couple of errors in your article that need to be corrected. You write that prior to our arrival "no one from the actual Strega families came to this country and set up their practice with the knowledge and affirmation of their elders." This I do not believe to be the case.

    Let us not forget the groundbreaking work of Leo Martello and Raven Grimassi. I never had the pleasure of meeting Leo Martello, but I am aware of his family in Stregheria in Italy. Raven Grimassi, I would also like to mention, has been most graceful and helpful in welcoming our family to America. My conversations with Raven Grimassi have convinced me that his family additionally represents a legitimate lineage of Italian Stregheria.

    Our family, "del Bosco Sacro" has always been respected and honored among Stregheria families, due to our history first as the guardians of "The Sacred Forest" (del Bosco Sacro) of Nemi where the temple of Diana once stood, then as the guardians of the sacred forest of Benevento. As such, our family has always been the custodians of the deeper mysteries of The Great Rite.

    This is the great gift that our family brings to America. With the help of Raven Grimassi, we are already entering into contact with the other families of Stregheria in America with the aim of reinforcing their position through the communication of these additional mysteries from the Sacred Forest of Benevento.

    Bearing the torch of Diana Lucina,
    Dianus del Bosco Sacro

  3. Thank you, Dianus, for your post. Since I am not a member of the Strega family of witchcraft, I stand, corrected. It was never my intention to cast any doubts on anyone's traditional practice, wherever or however that practice was transplanted to the U.S.

  4. Frater Barrabbas, you say that your intention was not to cast any doubts, so may I ask then what you were trying to communicate when you said that Grimassi's tradition "has not really had a true and legitimate lineage traceable to the old country" - what was that meant to convey if not to generate doubts about his lineage?

  5. @Tamara - As far as I knew, there were no Strega who had come to the U.S. with the backing of their Strega family. That is not the same thing as saying that someone has an authentic practice handed down from one's linear ancestors. Since I was incorrect in my premise, I have admitted as much. Therefore, it was never my intention to negate anyone's authentic practice of Strega.

  6. It's good that you acknowledge there was nothing to substantiate the allegation against Grimassi. I give you kudos that you admit your comment came from ignorance of the Strega families of witchcraft.

    Alot of people would have stood by the false allegation as though it was fact. It's nice to see there are still some decent people around.

  7. Well, it sounds like the "Anonymous poster" has both an axe to grind with Raven Grimassi and trouble with reading comprehension when it comes to what Raven has written and plainly stated. Perhaps Anonymous should meet Raven (or Raven's mother) before being so... aggressive... in the accusations.

    As a former student and adopted Family member of Dr. Leo Martello and Lori Bruno I am am very interested in meeting these folks. Especially so since they say, "I never had the pleasure of meeting Leo Martello, but I am aware of his family in Stregheria in Italy." I will be attending Pantheacon 2011 so perhaps we will get a chance to chat.



  8. This rant is odd. You appear to have misunderstood what Grimassi wrote in his article.

    Let me state that I know Raven Grimassi personally. He never attacked any Strega family from Italy, and actually has welcomed Dianus and Diana (famiglia del Bosco Sacro). They say so themselves on this blog.

    What Raven is saying in the article (which you misinterpret) is that no one has the one and only true way no matter where they come from. That's not a slight against anyone. It means that everyone is equal.

    Grimassi has always made it clear to his initiates his tradition is NOT the one way, but simply one of the ways. He is not insulting any family from Italy by saying that each one represents their own way and none are the one and only true way. This is his position, and it makes sense.

  9. I am saddened by the letter written by Anonymous attacking Raven Grimassi. Our family, del Bosco Sacro, in no way approves of this sort of thing. Our family has granted recognition to the Arician Tradition of Raven Grimassi as a legitimate Tradition, and we welcome it among Stregheria Traditions as we do all Traditions in Italy.

    We are saddened that our arrival in America has in any way led to such behavior. We opppose all public criticism of one Stregheria family of another and wish to promote the same sort of peace and harmony in America that Stregherian families in Italy have enjoyed between one another for Centuries. This is the way of Stregheria. Raven Grimassi has our full and unwavering support. In no way to we approve of the behavior of Anonymous.

    - Dianus del Bosco Sacro

  10. All - I deeply apologize for the rant that the "Anonymous" user has posted. While I never interfere with any comment posting to this blog, and that there is no prior editing or gate keeping established, I don't invite this sort of divisive kind of rhetoric.

    We are all the hidden people of the Goddess, in each of our pathways and chosen traditions. As I stated previously, I had no intention of questioning anyone's lineage. This was not the reason why I wrote the article. My whole point was to try to gain some open mindedness and tolerance amongst the various members and factions of our greater community to allow two members of the Strega community in Italy some credibility within our own community. I am very sorry that this article has brought anyone to conclude otherwise.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. For Anonymous:

    Ciao strunzo, le vostre parole sono soltanto aria fritta - niente

  13. I think today it's potential ridicule, more so than not being given permission, that has been the motivation for hereditary traditions maintaining such secrecy. It's a different type of persecution, one from within the Neo-Pagan community, who should be allies not adversaries. To some, if it's not in a book backed up by archaeological evidence, it doesn't count. To others, it's what Butler said: "Those who really know, do not shout about it; and those who shout about it, do not really know." When I have told people of my background, many of them have demanded details that are oath-bound such as specifics of my training and the "spells" I was taught. This from people who are part of other oath-bound traditions and should know better.

    There are families of different lineage and mixed lineage both in the US and in Italy. What is true for one family is not necessarily true for another. So when people come along and say that they are "Grand Conservator of Stregan Faith and Traditions," I raise a brow of skepticism. Of ALL traditions? A claim that there are only "a handful of families?" Perhaps it's a language difference and I don't quite understand the statement? I also take issue with using the names Diana and Dianus and Lupercus. I do not appreciate people taking the names of a Goddess and a God in what, on the surface, appears to be an attempt to seem more legitimate.

    Something that seems to be going on in the last several years is an ancestral call to many Italians to, not just merely open the doors of their tradition and let anyone in, but to bring others "into the Family." I've only recently come to accept this and willingly let my ancestors guide me to those who will keep The Ways of My Family by becoming an adopted part of it. I don't really advertise it. I know that it will happen when it's supposed to. But that is _my_ mission, and I don't disparage anyone who is charged to go about it differently. There has also been a surge of Italian Americans who have not been part of a family tradition, going in search of their Ancestor's Ways. Some, but not all of that is thanks to those authors who have had the gumption to come out and publish and talk about it and ignore the inevitable derision.

    I will keep an open mind, brush up on my Italian, and hope they visit the East Coast. I welcome the opportunity to meet and learn from others.

  14. @ Rev. Vincent Russo

    Dianus del Bosco Sacro this morning gave me a response to your comment above with a few comments about Leo Martello and his origins. I just finished translating this for you and publishing it on our family blog. I hope that you enjoy it!


    "Leo Martello and the "del Lago" Stregheria Tradition"


  15. @ Society of Diana

    The title of Grand Conservator of Stregan Faith and Traditions was bestowed on Dianus del Bosco Sacro by our Congregation in Benevento in recognition of Dianus' advanced spiritual attainment as well as of his essential role in preserving and transmitting the Stregheria Traditions of Janare of Benventano, Masca of Piemonte, and Majara of Puglia, and Maiare of Sicily.

    It should be obvious to anyone that understands anything at all about Stergheria that neither Diana nor Dianus in any way pretend to speak for Stregherian Traditions, Clans, Congregations, or families other than those they represent and the lineages that they embody. We have listed these with great specificity again and again on every possible venue.

    Anyone who understands the true nature of Stregheria clearly comprehends that there is no such thing as any sort of Grand Lodge, etc. and that any and all titles of recognition are given exclusively at the local Congregation level. I am a bit surprised that it should be in any way necessary to explain these things among initiates of Stregheria, however. This is common use and common knowledge among ALL legitimate Congregations, Traditions, and Clans of Stregheria THROUGHOUT Italy.

    If it sounds like I am questioning your legitimacy, I am not. I am merely puzzled by the nature of your question. But then again, you did not actually state that you are an initiate, and perhaps things are even done differently here in America than they have always been done (and continue to be) in Italy.

    In regard to your second question, Diana, Dianus, Lupercus, and Aegeria are, of course, not our real magical names in Stregheria. These are names that were given to us by our Congregation in Benevento to use in public in conjunction with our mission in America.

    The Elders of our Congregation in Benevento wisely forsaw problems in accomplishing this mission, including magical attack. We were therefore instructed to use these magical names in all public aspects of our work in America.

    This is but a small piece of an extremely powerful castle of magical protection that was erected around us, not only to protect us personally, but also to protect our mission itself. The wisdom of the Elders of Benevento in this regard has been proven already by the events in San Diego of last week.

    Bearing the torch of Diana Lucina,
    Lupercus del Bosco Sacro

  16. @ Lupercus del Bosco Sacro

    Thank you for taking the time to respond. I appreciate the clarification. My point was, as you said, that anyone who knows better understands that there is no one ruling body or group. Of course I'd be skeptical of a person claiming they spoke for everyone. But that is what came across when I read it: That there was a claim of being elected President of the United Italian Witches. I now understand that this is not what was being said.

    I didn't think you were questioning my legitimacy (which would be fine, I have no problem with that). I was giving an example that here, even amongst friends, there will be distrust and questioning and unreasonable demands of "proof." Perhaps Americans are more magically jaded? When someone comes out of virtually nowhere to present something new, and uses the names of the deities associated with that particular form of magick, it will be questioned. It's something teenagers (and some new to the craft adults) do here when they first discover paganism: They pick a name that is a cliche for the tradition they have chosen. To introduce oneself as Dianus or Lupercus of an Italian clan sounds cliche to jaded, American ears.

    I wish I could attend Pantheacon, but I will just have to be patient and look forward to meeting in the future.

  17. Gentile Signore Anonymous,

    Sono stata un'iniziata della tradizione di famiglia di Raven Grimassi da tanto tempo. Ho copiato del materiale dal Libro di Modi di sua madre che lei stessa ha scrivato a mano nei 1930's e 1940's.

    Così, sa che Lei parla di prima che Lei comincia a attaccare Raven o qualunque altra persona sull'autenticità della loro tradizione!

    Sì, parlo italiano e non vedo l'ora di forse incontrando e parlando con APS Diana e AP Dianus in italiano.

  18. All -

    As requested, I have removed the anonymous post. Normally I don't interfere with comments, but for this instance, if feel it was just to intervene.