My Grandfather once asked me…“Lo sai come si chiama il marito della Strega?”
“No. Lo Stregone è quello che uccide persone e Streghe. Il marito della Strega è lo Strego!”
“The Strego (HE-WITCH) is the husband of the Strega (WITCH).” my grandfather said.
When I was a child, I wondered if that word really existed.
I had never heard it before.
In books and cartoons I had always heard about Stregoni (SORCERERS) and Maghi (MAGES).
Strego: it sounded so strange!
In fact, reading absentmindedly here and there, I often read about “Stregone-Strega” as two homologous terms for the two genders. Actually, things are quite different.
Let me first say: I was born in Italy and I’ve always loved to study the old myths, with which Europe is very rich. And my knowledge of Latin helped me a lot! But, let’s get back to what we were talking about…
Strega (WITCH) is a very ancient term. Although the common conception of Strega refers to Medieval and, above all, Renaissance tradition, it’s an extremely reductive definition. A Witch was a woman who received magical powers after making a pact with the Devil and who participates in Sabbath and uses her powers of black magic against the civilization. Similarly, also the creation of the term Stregone (SORCERER) is quite recent: it was introduced only in the XV century.
STREGONE: generally, it is a male figure who dedicate himself to black magic or necromancy. He emanates negative energy and he uses it to reach power and profit.
Although today this term is used as equivalent to shaman and with a definitely positive meaning, in the Old Continent, where this term originated, the Stregone was a destructive entity.
According to these beliefs, it seems that my grandfather was right: the Stregone destroys and kills for self-interest.
So, there had to be something else to consider…
The origins of Strega and Strego date back to before the Middle Ages.
These figures originate in prehistory; already in the shamanic traditions of the Paleolithic, until the Classical Era in which the word Strega emerges. It derives from Latin strix -igis, στριξ -ιϒός in Greek, and it means owl in both languages. The etymology is uncertain and it can derive from both:
– the onomatopoeic for the verse of the nocturnal birds of prey.
– the Latin verb “stringo”: to tear
The hypothesis of the nocturnal bird of prey derivation for the Striga seems to be confirmed by the myths.
The legends of the Classical Era talk about half human and half bird creatures, with the ability to change their shape in that of any animal, that, at night, scream and kidnap children to drink their blood. Generally, they were beings with female features endowed with magical powers. But, why are we talking mostly about women? Because, in the patriarchal traditional society, women occupied position for which it was much easier to be accused and investigated for witchcraft, for example cookers, midwives, attendants, healers…
Striga is surely a female noun, but in history we find also male entities under this name.
We can find the same origin in the Strigoi of Romanian mythology: spirits without peace that, emerging from their graves, can turn into animals and feed of the blood of their victims. The spirit can be male or female, it has no gender. And Strigoi has the same etymology of the Latin Strix and it comes directly from the Romanian verb Striga which means “to scream”.
Moreover, in the Middle Ages it’s reported that Charlemagne, who didn’t believe in evil spirits, sentenced to death the Saxons that had burned as Strigi men and women believed to have cursed the clans.
So, is it possible to talk of Strego as the real male homologous of Strega, as my grandfather claimed?
Actually, if we consider the popular tradition of northern Italy, we find the figure of the Strego; this character has its roots in shamanic rituals dating back to the Paleolithic. They are men who gather in the woods, at night, making strange magical rites, singing and screaming. Sometimes they can be recognized by some little light they bring with them.
There seem to be a clear parallelism between Strego and Strega, based on the original meaning of the ancient times.
I don’t know if my grandfather was right about this, I never got the chance to ask him again about it. But I hope that, wherever he is, he likes this post!
Dedicated to my grandfather, Avito.
by Alice Colombo
Images from web