La Befana Italian Epiphany witch

La Befana, known as the ‘Good Witch of Christmas’, is Italy’s most well-known and interesting Christmas character.

 

Who is La Befana?

 

La BefanaIn Italian folklore, La Befana is the old lady who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy. Her name may have come from the festival of Epiphany or even from the Roman goddess, Strina, who presided over the New Year’s gifts.

Another popular fairytale version, the story says that the three Wise Men stopped to get directions and invited the old woman, who resembled a Strega, (a witchy woman), to join them on their journey to bring gifts to Baby Jesus. She initially refused, due to being too busy with housework, but then tried to follow them. Unable to find Jesus, the kind-hearted Befana gave the toys to other children.

Other stories suggest that this folktale may actually date back to the Roman Pagan Festival of Saturnalia, the multiple week festival starting just before the Winter Solstice. At the end of Saturnalia, Romans would go to the Temple of Juno on the Capitoline Hill to have their fortunes read by an old crone. This story most likely evolved into the tale of La Befana.

 

 

La Befana and The Feast of Epiphany

 

The Feast of the Epiphany, an important post-Christmas date on the Christian calendar, is celebrated on January 6 as a national holiday in Italy.

The tradition of La Befana, who arrives on the night before Epiphany, plays a big part in this celebration.

This holiday also marks the end of Christmas festivities in Italy, after which the children go back to school, the adults go back to work, and the Christmas decorations all come down.

The Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the twelfth day of Christmas when the three Wise Men arrived at the manger bearing gifts for Baby Jesus.

 

But for Italian children, it’s the day when they finally get their holiday presents!

 

La Befana arrives on her broomstick during the night of January 5 with toys and sweets for the good children and lumps of coal (usually a sweet candy, like black licorice) for the bad children. 

Children are not allowed to see La Befana because the parents need the children in bed while they put out the gifts, sweep the floors, and drink the wine on the eve of the Feast of Epiphany. 

Normally there are many local festivals throughout Italy celebrating La Befana – however, with Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns currently in effect throughout Italy, there will be none this year. 

 

 

hekates night goddess of witches

Night of Hekate

 

Hekate (also spelled ‘Hecate’) is the Greek Goddess associated with magic, witchcraft, necromancy, the underworld, and childbirth.

 

Hekate's night November 16She is the goddess of the three paths, goddess of the crossroads, both physical and spiritual. As a Triple Goddess, Hekate rules the realms of Earth, Sea, and Sky, the conjunction of past, present, and future, as well as the Moon, Earth, and Underworld.

Hekate is considered by many as the protectress of the oppressed, the marginalized, and witches. As the Goddess of the in-between, the liminal spaces, the boundaries, and the transitional times of life including birth and death, she carries a torch for illumination. This illumination is not just of the dark, but of our personal pathways, especially our shadow side, guiding us through our choices at the crossroads and the path we eventually choose.

Hekate’s time is that of the Dark Moon, the time of release and renewal.

She is also honored on the 30th of each month, at the Dark Moon, and at the beginning of sunset on November 16th (and until sunset the next day) each year, known as The Night of Hekate.

 

Hekate’s Night Ritual

 

Hekate’s ancient devotees held dinners in her honor known as Hekate Suppers.

On Hekate’s Night, food offerings consisting of any of the following that Hekate (and her dogs) love are served:

  • wine
  • honey
  • crescent-shaped bread and pastries
  • eggs
  • garlic
  • fish
  • mushrooms

 

These offerings of food are both consumed by those celebrating and left out by the front door (the “crossroad” between indoors and outdoors, between one’s private space and public spaces) or at a crossroad, on a (perishable) plate or flat stone, as an offering to Hekate as she roamed the Earth by night with her sacred dogs, and to invite her blessings for those who dwell inside.

Make your invocation and petition, this is a good time to ask for her assistance to release something from your life, and then walk away without looking back. Encountering or hearing a dog is an indication that your petition has been heard by Hekate and her sacred dogs.

On this night, it is good to acknowledge Hekate’s strength. Recognize her as the ultimate protector of all realms of existence.

 

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