12 Free Books About Italian Folk Magic (And Where to Find Them)
Today I’ll be sharing with you twelve books about our traditions which are available online for free. These books touch on a variety of topics, from Italian and Sicilian folklore, to the religions of ancient Greece and Rome, to official Catholic liturgy. Each of these is a thread in the tapestry of Italian folk magic. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have.
Mille grazie to the organizations which devoted the time and money to preserve, scan, retype, and host these books. Bravissimi!
- Magic: A Theory from the South by Ernesto de Martino
First published in 1959, Magic: A Theory from the South (originally Sud e magia) is a classic from Neapolitan anthropologist Ernesto de Martino. The psychoanalytic framework de Martino uses to explain the magical beliefs he encountered in Basilicata has fallen out of favor with most academics. However, his worth as an ethnographer, documenting beliefs ranging from the evil eye to magical binding, has withstood the test of time. Only translated into English for the first time in the past two years, Magic: A Theory from the South has been made available online for free courtesy of the publisher, HAU Books.
- Biblioteca delle tradizioni popolari siciliane by Giuseppe Pitrè
Giuseppe Pitrè stands beside Ernesto de Martino as one of the greatest ethnographers from the Mezzogiorno. His opus, Biblioteca delle tradizioni popolari siciliane (Library of Sicilian Popular Traditions) spans twenty-five (!!) volumes of Sicilian language and culture. It covers topics ranging from folk songs, to saints’ feasts, to proverbs. An absolute must for those who read Italian.
- Vestiges of ancient manners and customs, discoverable in modern Italy and Sicily by Rev. John James Blunt
Some books, ironically, preserve traditions better by condemning them than we ever could through celebration alone. Vestiges of ancient manners and customs, discoverable in modern Italy and Sicily by Rev. John James Blunt is one such book. Thought it was meant to be an attack on the decadence of papacy, you get the feeling that Rev. Blunt was enjoying every second of his journeys through Southern Italy. He reports back to his patrons in England on the cults of the saints and the Madonnas, the sacred dramas, the charms, and many more facets of Southern Italian life, comparing them to the religious beliefs and practices of ancient Greek and Roman paganism.
- Canti e tradizioni popolari in Campania by Roberto de Simone
If you love Neapolitan folk music or if you were inspired by our series on the Seven Sisters, Canti e tradizioni popolari in Campania by Roberto de Simone is a must-read. De Simone, a founding member of Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare, is a legend in Neapolitan folk music. In this book, he shares the lyrics to many classic folk songs and several versions of the tammurriata devoted to each of the Seven Sisters, the famous Madonnas of Campania. Translations into Italian are given for the songs, which are captured in their original Neapolitan.
- Pentamerone by Giambattista Basile
Giambattista Basile's Pentamerone, also called Lo Cunto de li cunti (The Tale of Tales) is a collection of fairy tales recorded in Neapolitan, all of which are set in Basilicata and Campania. As spiritually-inclined folks from around the world have noted, the fairy tales of a region encode instructions for dealing with that region's spirits. For this reason, the Pentamerone is well worth reading. The full text of the original Neapolitan is available here. The English translations of several of the stories are available here.
- Nuova Smorfia del giuoco del lotto by Giustino Rumeo
Are you feeling lucky? If you like to play the numbers, try using this old-school dictionary of la smorfia napoletana to translate your dreams into a winning lottery ticket. (And, if you don’t speak Italian or don’t have the patience to wade through hundreds of pages of entries, don’t worry. There’s an electronic dictionary in English here.)
- Rituale Romanum
If you're nostalgic for the beauty of the pre-Vatican II Church, this copy of the 1962 Rituale Romanum will… probably make you more nostalgic. It includes detailed descriptions of how the sacraments, blessings, and exorcisms were once performed.
- Missale Romanum
Of course, don’t forget this copy of the 1962 Missale Romanum to go with it! This Missal records the prayers which made up the Latin Mass before the reforms of Vatican II ushered in an era of Mass performed in vernacular. (Make sure to take a copy with you if/when you attend your first Latin Mass, ideally one with illustrations so you can follow along easily!)
The Raccolta is a collection of prayers and devotional acts which once carried an official indulgence. I’m fond of this elegant reprint of the 1959 version (the large type face makes it easy to read by candlelight), but if you are low on funds, a free PDF of the 1898 version is available in English here. And, if you would rather read the original Italian, the 1849 version is available here.
- An Introduction to Roman Religion by John Scheid
Available to borrow from a digital library, John Scheid's An Introduction to Roman Religion covers all the major concepts in Roman religion, including the ritual calendar, temple usage, and rituals of sacrifice and divination.
- Cults of Campania by Roy Peterson
Roy Peterson's Cults of Campania discusses Greek and Roman religion particularly as they developed in the region of Campania, home to Cumae, Naples, and Pompeii.
- Incubation, or The cure of disease in pagan temples and Christian churches by Mary Hamilton
Incubation was a pagan ritual wherein a sick person would fall asleep in a sacred location, such as a temple to the healing god Aesclepius, and be cured through a dream. The practice is an important one to study if we are to fully understand the roots of Southern Italian belief concerning the power of dreams.