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Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition

Charles G. Leland


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Description

This is essentially an ethnography of practical magic with an Italian flavor. We meet the Goddess of Truffles, learn the details of divining by oil, fire and molten lead; how to bring back the dead, and coerce nature spirits into performing favors. Leland carefully documents his field notes, and includes the full text of numerous spells and songs in Italian, particularly the Tuscan dialect. The text includes many fairy-tales of the sort that are not suitable for children. Although difficult reading at points, this book will reward anyone seeking details about the actual practice of a folk magic.

This book has 444 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1892.

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Excerpt from 'Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition'

THERE is in Northern Italy a mountain district known as La Romagna Toscana, the inhabitants of which speak a rude form of the Bolognese dialect. These Romagnoli are manifestly a very ancient race, and appear to have preserved traditions and observances little changed from an incredibly early time. It has been a question of late years whether the Bolognese are of Etrurian origin, and it seems to have been generally decided that they are not. With this I have nothing whatever to do. They were probably there before the Etruscans. But the latter at one time held all Italy, and it is very likely that they left in remote districts those traces of their culture to which this book refers. The name Romagna is applied to their district because it once formed part of the Papal or Roman dominion, and it is not to be confounded with La Romagna proper. Roughly speaking, the region to which I refer may be described as lying between Forli and Ravenna. Among these people, stregeria, or witchcraft--or, as I have heard it called, "la vecchia religione" (or "the old religion")--exists to a degree which would even astonish many Italians. This stregeria, or old religion, is something more than a sorcery, and something less than a faith. It consists in remains of a mythology of spirits, the principal of whom preserve the names and attributes of the old Etruscan gods, such as Tinia, or Jupiter, Faflon, or Bacchus, and Teramo (in Etruscan Turms), or Mercury. With these there still exist, in a few memories, the most ancient Roman rural deities, such as Silvanus, Palus, Pan, and the Fauns. To all of these invocations or prayers in rude metrical form are still addressed, or are at least preserved, and there are many stories current regarding them. All of these names, with their attributes, descriptions of spirits or gods, invocations and legends, will be found in this work.

Closely allied to the belief in these old deities, is a vast mass of curious tradition, such as that there is a spirit of every element or thing created, as for instance of every plant and mineral, and a guardian or leading spirit of all animals; or, as in the case of silkworms, two--one good and one evil. Also that sorcerers and witches are sometimes born again in their descendants; that all kinds of goblins, brownies, red-caps and three-inch mannikins, haunt forests, rocks, ruined towers, firesides and kitchens, or cellars, where they alternately madden or delight the maids--in short, all of that quaint company of familiar spirits which are boldly claimed as being of Northern birth by German archæologists, but which investigation indicates to have been thoroughly at home in Italy while Rome was as yet young, or, it may be, unbuilt. Whether this "lore" be Teutonic or Italian, or due to a common Aryan or Asian origin, or whether, as the new school teaches, it "growed" of itself, like Topsy, spontaneously and sporadically everywhere, I will not pretend to determine; suffice to say that I shall be satisfied should my collection prove to be of any value to those who take it on themselves to settle the higher question.

Connected in turn with these beliefs in folletti, or minor spirits, and their attendant observances and traditions, are vast numbers of magical cures with appropriate incantations, spells, and ceremonies, to attract love, to remove all evil influences or bring certain things to pass; to win in gaming, to evoke spirits, to insure good crops or a traveller's happy return, and to effect divination or deviltry in many curious ways--all being ancient, as shown by allusions in classical writers to whom these spells were known. And I believe that in some cases what I have gathered and given will possibly be found to supply much that is missing in earlier authors--sit verbo venia.

Many peasants in the Romagna Toscana are familiar with scores of these spells, but the skilled repetition and execution of them is in the hands of certain cryptic witches, and a few obscure wizards who belong to mystic families, in which the occult art is preserved from generation to generation, under jealous fear of priests, cultured people, and all powers that be, just as gypsies and tramps deeply distrust everything that is not "on the road," or all "honest folk," so that it is no exaggeration to declare that "travellers" have no confidence or faith in the truth of any man, until they have caught him telling a few lies. As it indeed befell me myself once in Bath, where it was declared in a large gypsy encampment that I must be either Romany or of Romany blood, because I was the biggest liar they had ever met--the lie in this case having been an arrogant and boastful, yet true, assertion on my part, that though penniless at the moment to stand treat, I had, at home, twenty-four gold sovereigns, eighteen shillings in silver, and twopence in bronze. "And I don't believe," added the gypsy, "that he had a d----d sixpence to his name. But he's all right." So these travellers on the darkened road of sorcery soon recognised in the holder of the Black Stone of the Voodoo, the pupil of the Red Indian medaolin, and the gypsy rye (and one who had, moreover, his pocket always full of fetishes in little red bags)--a man who was worthy of confidence--none the less so since he was not ungenerous of pounds of coffee, small bottles of rum, cigars, and other minor requisites which greatly promote conviviality and mutual understanding in wisdom. Among these priestesses of the hidden spell an elder dame has generally in hand some younger girl whom she instructs, firstly in the art of bewitching or injuring enemies, and secondly in the more important processes of annulling or unbinding the spells of others, or causing mutual love and conferring luck. And here I may observe that many of the items given in this book are so jealously guarded as secrets, that, as I was assured, unless one was in the confidence of those who possess such lore, he might seek it in vain. Also that a great portion has become so nearly extinct that it is now in articulo mortis, vel in extremis, while other details are however still generally known.

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