Italian Folk Magic is a fascinating journey through the magical, folkloric, and healing traditions of Italy with an emphasis on the practical. The reader learns uniquely Italian methods of magical protection and divination and spells for love, sex, control, and revenge.
The book contains magical and religious rituals and prayers and explores divination techniques, crafting, blessing rituals, witchcraft, and, of course, the evil eye, known as malocchio in Italianthe author explains what it is, where it comes from, and, crucially, how to get rid of it.
This book can help Italians regain their magical heritage, but Italian folk magic is a beautiful, powerful, and effective magical tradition that is accessible to anyone who wants to learn it.
About the Author
Mary-Grace Fahrun was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Italian immigrant parents and grew up in the Italian neighborhoods of Montreal and Connecticut. She describes herself as "an avid keeper of customs, traditions, and secrets" and is an authority on Italian folk magic and folk healing traditions. Visit her at www.rueskitchen.com.
Read an Excerpt
The house I grew up in was typical of our neighborhood. There were two floors: the upstairs and the downstairs. The upstairs consisted of the main front entrance door, the living room we never used, bedrooms, bathrooms, and an immaculate, almost shrine-like kitchen that we also never used. We only spent time upstairs to bathe and sleep. Downstairs is where life happened. Most homes had what served as the real front door cut out of the main garage door. You entered through that door and walked through an immaculately kept garage. Sometimes, workspace was reserved for mothers who worked piecework contracts on industrial sewing machines from home.
For most Italian families, the garage was also the space used to can tomatoes and process all sorts of vegetables to store for the winter. It was also where we made wine. Typically, it had a sink, and some people even had an old stove that was still fully functional, plus a table and chairs. The garage was pretty much another kitchen. The importance of the kitchen is evident in the fact that the Italians of my hometown typically had THREE kitchens in their homes.
The kitchen has always been and continues to be the most important and sacred room of the house. In fact, my paternal ancestors called the kitchen la camera de lu foche (the room of the fire) because their kitchens always contained a hearth. I hope to one day have a kitchen hearth; in the meantime, I am content that I have a gas range.
The kitchen, my kitchen, is the room where nourishing meals are prepared. It is where afternoon coffee is brewed and stories shared. When someone doesn't feel well, it is where chicken soup simmers and herbal teas for any ailment are brewed. Stored in the cupboards are dishes and cups, some of which once graced my mother's kitchen. It is where my herbs, spices, and oils are stored. It is the room where old friends sit and enjoy a cookie with freshly brewed espresso and share their joys and sorrows. It's where I go to pray. I meditate while I clean and pray while I cook. It is the room where most of my memories live. It is my temple, shrine, and altar.
> When people come to see me for a card reading or spiritual/magical guidance, we sit at the kitchen table.
> When a member of my family is ill, I prepare remedies in my kitchen.
> Important family conversations are had at the kitchen table.
> When the energy in my home feels stagnant or when I or a member of my family feels unsettled, I go to work to clear the energies and bless my home, beginning with my kitchen.
> When I need to visit with my people who are dear to me, who have since departed this world, I do so in my kitchen.
> When I need guidance from my ancestors, I communicate with them from my kitchen.
> Blessing rituals are conducted in my kitchen.
> Magic and spell work are carried out in my kitchen.
> When my kitchen is in disorder, everything is in disorder.
> When my kitchen is in order, everything is in order.
> When I am feeling rattled or unfocused, the quickest and most effective way I know to center myself and regain focus is to put my kitchen in order.
From a practical viewpoint, my kitchen contains everything I need to practice my craft.
My dad would say, "The kitchen is the heart and soul of a house. No matter how big or small, it must be well maintained and cared for. It must contain the entire natural world. Otherwise, it is just a room to store food and cooking tools."
I have had many kitchens. I've moved quite a bit in my life, and I've both rented and owned. I've had old and outdated kitchens in desperate need of repair. I've had brand-new kitchens and everything in between. They were all the heart and soul of where I lived, house or apartment — except for one. The kitchen in the tiny two-room apartment I rented in college was just a room where I stored food and kitchen tools. It was the only one I didn't fill with the natural world, and it indeed made a difference.
The kitchen contains all four elements in its basic configuration:
Air: Refrigerator. Freezer. Range hood ventilation. If you're lucky, a window above the kitchen sink; if not, some kind of fan, ceiling, standing, etc. It gets hot and steamy in the kitchen, and Italians are fanatical about ventilation!
Earth: The stones in my water filter. Cast-iron pots and pans. Granite or marble mortar and pestle. Wooden spoons and bowls. Straw baskets. Clay pots.
Fire: Stove or range, oven, electrical cooking appliances.
I am partial to gas ranges. I think the reason is that my parents had a gas range when I was little. When I went to live with my aunt and uncle, they (and all my neighbors and other aunts and uncles) had hearths in their main living area! I also think it is because I am a Leo, a fire sign, and fire just makes me happy!
Water: Sink and faucet.
I also have a water filter on my kitchen counter. It's the kind with a ceramic disc filter and marbles and stones. It looks like a fish tank, but I don't have fish in it because fish would poop in there and that would defeat the whole water filter thing.
For the most part, I use the same supplies for magic that I use for cooking.
Continuing in the vein of bringing the natural world into the kitchen:
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are all in their most natural form, fresh or dried. Whenever possible, grow your own, in your kitchen. Each plant has a spirit. The more spirits in your house, the more power resides there. I have a cupboard dedicated to dried herbs and spices. I love to cook, and therefore, my collection is quite diverse. Herbs and spices are used in cooking, medicine, and magic. The herbs (leaves, not ground) and spices (whole and ground) you must have on hand are the following:
Anise: It can be in the form of ground spice, star anise, or anisetta liqueur.
Basil: I grow my own, and I always have freeze-dried, dehydrated, and fresh on hand.
Bay laurel: I use whole leaves; freeze-dried when I can find it; otherwise, dehydrated.
Black pepper: Whole peppercorns.
Chamomile: Dried whole flowers and leaves.
Chili pepper: Fresh, dried whole, dried flakes. I have a treasured large glass jam jar filled with dried whole chili peppers from my late uncle Pellegrino's garden.
Cinnamon: Ground and sticks.
Coriander: Seeds and ground.
Cumin: Seeds and ground.
Mint/spearmint: I grow mint for fresh and dried leaves.
Oregano: I grow my own for fresh. I mainly use dried leaves. There are different kinds of oregano — my favorite being Sicilian and Greek oregano still on the stem.
Parsley: I grow my own when I can. Freeze-dried.
Rosemary: I grow my own. I also have a much-treasured eight-ounce glass jar of dried rosemary needles, one-third full, that my parents bought when they were newlyweds in 1958. The price sticker says seventy-five cents.
Rue: I grow it for fresh and dried leaves.
Sage: I grow my own for fresh and dried leaves.
Spikenard: Seeds, root.
Thyme: I grow my own for fresh and dried leaves.
This list is not exhaustive, but it provides you with a good start. I strongly urge you to raid your relatives' pantries, especially older relatives, and ask them to give you whatever they don't use — especially old herbs and spices. Don't believe the TV cooking gurus who tell you to toss your herbs and spices in the trash after three months. They last decades stored in little glass jars when protected from heat and moisture, and they are magical.
Some Basic Pantry Supplies
A well-stocked pantry is your magico-medicinal arsenal. Keep some basic supplies on hand, and you will be ready for everything. You can cook up a delicious meal or a little magic at a moment's notice.
Here's my list: garlic, onions, lemons, oranges, good olive oil, red wine vinegar, coarse sea salt, sun-dried tomatoes, dried porcini mushrooms, dried pasta, canned tomato paste, canned whole tomatoes, anchovies in oil, canned baby clams, rosewater, orange flower water, coffee beans, sugar, and honey.
There's no need to go out and buy special Italian witchcraft tools.
The first reason is that they do not exist. The second and most important reason is that all the tools you need are already in your kitchen. All my cookware, dishes, utensils, glasses, cups — everything in my kitchen is used for cooking, natural medicine, and magic. However, no matter how modest, every item in my kitchen is carefully thought out and curated. Most of my kitchen equipment is inherited from my family and my husband's family. There is a lot of family history in my dish cupboard, for example.
I also peruse thrift stores for special vintage kitchen items. I collect only items that I can use. Over the years I have found — and I'm certain a number of you may relate with what I am going to say — that these items that are so special to me, they hold a tremendous amount of power. So much so, that if I attempt to cook something special in, say, a pot I never use or one I borrowed from someone else, not only does my food not turn out as good, but I've experienced the worst disasters. I won't take that chance with food. I definitely will never take that chance with magic!
Setting Up Your Kitchen
The first thing you need to do is set up your sacred space, your temple, your altar, your shrine. Are you ready?
This may be a big job, depending on the current state of your kitchen. I can't promise this task won't be work, but I promise it will be worthwhile, because once it's done, it will be a joy to have and to maintain. I recommend you do this when you know you have at least two days. You can enlist the help of family members and friends for the first part.
Remove everything from your kitchen that does not belong in a kitchen. If it is not used to cook, it doesn't belong there. I know, I know — you probably have tons of cupboard space, and you may not be using it all for kitchen purposes. So, you figured, why not use those cupboards to store sporting equipment, nail polish, all those magazines you're hanging onto that you may need some day....
Now, move all your kitchen stuff to boxes or, if you have the space, another room. Empty your kitchen like you're moving out. Now do a deep cleaning of your kitchen. Scrub every nook and cranny clean from ceiling to floor. Everything inside and out. Clean out your fridge, and clean your stove as well as your oven. Remove anything hanging on the walls. Wash the walls, and if you can, give them a fresh coat of paint. If you have windows, wash the drapes and blinds, and clean the windows. Don't forget light fixtures and the one thing I hate the most: the range hood.
Once your kitchen is empty and scrubbed clean, you may want to order some pizza. Seriously, I know this is very hungry work, and you deserve a meal break!
Go through all your kitchen stuff. Keep what you love, discard what you never use and don't care for, and move it out of your house to discard or donate before continuing.
Now move the boxes of stuff you are keeping back into your kitchen. If you have things that need to be washed first, then do that. The next part of this process you need to do on your own because it takes some thought and because it must be you who sets it up.
Stand in your kitchen. Feel that stillness? You did that merely by cleaning it. Turn on some background Italian music. Your kitchen needs to have flow. I keep all my herbs and spices in a cupboard near my stove. My glasses and coffee mugs near my coffee machine. My dishes in one cupboard. My pots and pans in another. The only items in my drawers are kitchen utensils and clean dish towels. All my dry goods are nicely organized in my pantry. The contents of my freezer and refrigerator are organized as well.
Once everything is put away where it belongs, stop. Do you feel that calm, still energy? You did that. This is the part of the exercise where you will begin to feel a connection to your kitchen. You have brought the natural world into your kitchen and that feeling is your kitchen's spirit(s).
Now it's time to clear, bless, and ward your kitchen.
To clear or purify, simply toss a pinch of salt in every corner. Now sweep from the corners inward. Collect the salt and toss it out the back door.
In a two-quart pot, add three cinnamon sticks, three whole cloves, a teaspoon of sea salt, and a lemon cut in half. Fill the pot three-quarters of the way with water. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat and allow to simmer for one to two hours. This mixture smells amazing and clears not only your kitchen, but your entire home! Turn off the heat and leave to cool. Once it is cooled, remove the lemon and pour the rest in a clean spray bottle. I keep this purifying/blessing solution on hand for whenever I need to clear the air, so to speak.
I purify my kitchen whenever it's feeling a little cluttered or the energy feels stagnant or stale.
The following amulets work well to ward your kitchen: garlic, dried whole peperoncino, coarse sea salt, a photo or statue of a patron saint or deity whose protection you wish to invoke, and a palm blessed on Palm Sunday. My Neapolitan relatives and friends simply kept a little bowl of sea salt on their kitchen counter. If they were business owners, they also kept a little bowl of sea salt on their store counter. My dad, who was born in Abruzzo, hung braided garlic and a string of dried peperoncino on his kitchen wall. A blessed, braided palm from Palm Sunday hung on the wall above the kitchen door. I've seen ceramic garlic and peperoncino on twine braids at the Italian grocery store in my town. As for me, I ward my kitchen with a San Giuseppe votive candle from Saint Joseph's Oratory in Montreal that has never been lit and has been with me since my very first apartment. I also have a tiny little diptych of Padre Pio (now San Pio), and there is always garlic and dried whole peperoncino present. On the wall above the entrance to my kitchen is a dried sprig of rue from one of my rue bushes.
Finally, you want to have some sort of talisman in your kitchen that represents abundance to you. It can be anything from a beautiful painting of a table set with fruit, vegetables, bread, wine, and cheese, to always keeping a tin of cookies on the counter. These paintings or prints used to be very common in Italian households, and a tin of cookies always comes in handy for those little afternoon coffee breaks!
The most important thing is to choose amulets and talismans that fit your personality and mean something to you.
Sacred Spaces and Home Altars
Growing up Italian meant to be always surrounded by the outward expression of our culture and spirituality. We never spoke of home altars. The only "altar" we knew was in church. We didn't even have a name for these holy spaces that surrounded us indoors and outdoors. Although nameless, their presence was seen and felt everywhere.
In my Italian neighborhoods in Quebec and in Connecticut, Madonna statues graced impeccably tended front lawns surrounded by low, black wrought-iron fences. They were so common that I didn't pay any attention to them until the neighborhoods changed, and they began to disappear. Occasionally, a statue would be in disrepair and the yard a mess. This condition was extremely uncommon, and it usually meant that the person living at that home was ill or infirm and thus unable to care for the yard. It wouldn't remain in that sad state very long. There was always a neighbor ready and willing to give the Madonna statue a fresh lick of paint and plant some flowers. It was an act of service toward the person living in that home and to the Madonna. Tending to the aesthetics of the statue, mowing the lawn, and weeding the flowerbed were an offering, a prayer, with the intention to keep misfortune away from the home and family of both the person needing the yard tended to as well as the person doing the tending. A family in mourning would have a red memorial votive lit, and the flowers from the funeral would be placed there after the service. Children were never permitted to play in the front yard. They were also told to take care to not damage anyone's property and to be nice to each other because la Madonna is always watching. The front yard of a home was practically sacred ground.
These sacred spaces were everywhere in the homes and places of business and were as individual as the person who set them up, yet at the same time they followed a similar theme. The most common were, of course, statues of their family's patron saint. Inside the homes of many of my friends and relatives were tables or shelves with at least one statue of a saint. These tables or shelves were always meticulously clean and tidy. The statues were adorned with rosary beads that shimmered like diamonds, fresh flowers, silk flowers, sparkly ribbons, and colorful feathers and sometimes money. Beneath the statues were elaborately embroidered or crocheted doilies handmade years before when the matriarch was a young girl. Upon the doilies were offerings of fresh fruit, flowers, olive oil, coffee beans, and money. Most often these altars were illuminated day and night with candles, whether wax or electric. The most common statues found in homes were the Miraculous Madonna, the Immaculate Heart Madonna, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and Our Lady of Lourdes. People who could not afford a statue hung a picture of their patron saint. Every family had their own patron saint. These patron saints were the patron saints of their Italian paese (village) of origin as well as any saint that may have granted them a miracle. Some were well known, such as Saint Anthony of Padua; others less known, such as Saint Eustace.
Excerpted from "Italian Folk Magic"
Copyright © 2018 Mary-Grace Fahrun.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Kitchen 6
Chapter 2 Sacred Spaces and Home Altars 15
Chapter 3 Food 26
Chapter 4 Witchcraft or Medicine? 53
Chapter 5 Nature 64
Chapter 6 Superstitions and Proverbs 73
Chapter 7 Amulets and Talismans 96
Chapter 8 Communication or Divination 108
Chapter 9 Spells and Charms 131
Chapter 10 Rituals 150
Chapter 11 Malocchio (The Evil Eye) 160
Chapter 12 Curses 167
Chapter 13 Working with Spirits 176
Chapter 14 The Sacred and the Profane 209
Chapter 15 Conclusion 215