Saint Rocco

Woodcut from the  Nuremberg Chronicle

Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle



Saint Rocco (known to the anglophone world as "Saint Roch") was born in Montpellier in the 14th century to a noble family. His mother had been barren until she prayed to the Virgin Mary. Saint Rocco's birth was made all the more miraculous by a birthmark resembling a red cross on his chest. 

His parents died when he was twenty years old, at which point he gave away all his worldly possessions and set out on a pilgrimage to Rome. At the time, Italy was suffering from a plague epidemic. Saint Rocco cared selflessly for the sick, effecting many miraculous cures by making the sign of the cross or laying his hands on them.

In Piacenza, however, he finally fell ill. He was driven out of town and into the forest, where he made a hut for himself out of leaves and branches. Miraculously, a spring arose near his hut to provide him with water, and a local dog began bringing him bread to eat. The dog would also lick his wounds clean, eventually healing him. 

He returned to Montpellier looking like a wild man with unkempt hair and a long beard. Unrecognized by the townspeople, he was thrown in prison as a spy. He remained there for five years before dying, unwilling to reveal his identity out of humility. The townspeople recognized the birthmark across his chest, and he was venerated as a folk saint almost immediately after his death. But he was not officially canonized until the 17th century. 


A wound on his thigh, a dog (often seen bringing him a loaf of bread), pilgrim's hat and staff 


Saint Rocco is the patron of bachelors, diseased cattle, dogs, falsely accused people, invalids, surgeons, tile-makers, gravediggers, second-hand dealers, pilgrims, and apothecaries. 

He is often invoked against cholera, epidemics, knee problems, plague, and skin diseases.  

Votives left for Saint Rocco at the chapel in Saint Roch Cemetery, New Orleans. 

Votives left for Saint Rocco at the chapel in Saint Roch Cemetery, New Orleans. 

Feast day

Pilgrimage to Tolve

Twice a year, once on August 16 and again on September 16, pilgrims from throughout Southern Italy flock to the Santuario di San Rocco in Tolve, a comune in Potenza, Basilicata. Before the procession, Saint Rocco's statue is covered in the gold ex votos that his pilgrims have left for him over the years, estimated to be worth more than one million Euros. As you see in the video below, he almost seems to glow! 

Pizzica Scherma in Torrepaduli

The pizzica scherma is a form of pizzica dancing in which two men mime a duel with swords either with knives or, more frequently, their fingers. Traditionally associated with the criminal underground, it is said that the dance is only taught to initiates who are presented by a compare or godfather. There are two repertoires of choreography, the leccese style and the zingaro style. Within each repertoire, the gestures made by the dancers map to a complex web of meaning. 

Italian-American feasts

Saint Rocco is one of the most popular saints among Italian-Americans. One of the most famous Italian-American feasts, now in its 129th year, is held in New York by the Saint Rocco Society. I love this scene from the Godfather II, which shows what the feast was like in years past (minus, you know, the assassination bit): 

Songs & Prayers

Calabrian rhythm to Saint Rocco

In this video, my teacher Alessandra Belloni demonstrates a 6/8 rhythm typically played on a snare drum in honor of Saint Rocco in Calabria:  

The words "Cuncti simus concanentes" come from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, a collection of devotional songs from the late medieval era. 

Folk song to San Rocco from Basilicata 

This song is perhaps one of the most popular folk compositions dedicated to Saint Rocco. I highly recommend it for personal devotional use. If you want to sing along, you can just sing the chorus, as though you're doing call-and-response with the recording. (You can even switch "Tolve" for the name of your city, to personalize it a bit.)  

Ebbiva santi Rocco, santi Rocco ebbiva,
ebbiva santi Rocco, ca ind'a Tolve stai! 
Ebbiva santi Rocco, santi Rocco ebbiva,
ebbiva santi Rocco, ca ind'a Tolve stai!

'N nome di Padre Figlie e Spirte Sante,
voglio cantà 'na storia tanta galante,  
'N nome di Padre Figlie e Spirte Sante,
a nome di santi Rocco i' l'accummenzo. 


Nu iurnu in carità vuleze andà
vicino a 'nu purtone a tuppulà.
S'affaccia 'na runzella in finestrella:
«Aggi pace bell'omo questa giornata,

aggi pace bell'omo questa giornata,                         
ca stai lu patrune grave malate ».

« E t'aggio ditto, runzella, vinime ad aprì,
ca su se a lu malate voglio salì ».
A 'u minze di li scale foze arruàto,
lu segne la santa croce si volze fà, 
lu segne la santa croce si volze fà, 
ca subb'te lu malate s'avla a ozà.


I genti di la casa lu vulinno pagà,
e santi Rocco non si vuleva piglià:

« Si fosse pi tirnisi e pi dinare,
saria chine la fonte di lu mare.

Si fosse pi dinari e pi tirnisi,
saria chine la fonte 'u paravise ».


« E tu ca tini l'occhio oro e argento,
pari a vedè 'nu sante avveramente.

E tu ca tine l'occhio argento fino,
pari a vedè 'nu santo pellegrino ».


«Mo' ca la dignità meia èi 'nduvinata,
so' santi Rocco di Tolve pe' numinata ».

E 'n'at' a tre parole si fernesce la storia,
si ni vai santi Rocco a la gloria.

E 'n'at' a tre parole si fernesce 'u cante,
ebbiva santi Rocco e tutti i santi.

A Prayer to Saint Rocco 

This prayer was shared on the website for the Santuario di San Rocco di Tolve

English translation

O Holy God, 
Father, Son, 
and Holy Spirit, 
by the intercession
of Saint Rocco, 
our friend, 
deliver us
from all illnesses, 
from all sins, 
and protect
our families. 


O Dio Santo,
Padre, Figlio
e Spirito Santo,
per l’intercessione
di San Rocco,
nostro amico,
da tutte le malattie,
da tutti i peccati
e proteggi
e nostre famiglie. 

Saint Joseph


I can't see Saint Joseph and not see my father. I can't pray to him and not think of my godfather, who is named for him. I can't write this blog post and not mention my husband, who worked in a nursery for years. Perhaps, if you're reading this, it's the same way for you: this blend of the living and the dead, the familial and the famous. 


The Bible doesn't give us much to work with here. He's there when Jesus is born, but gone by the time Jesus dies. This has led some to speculate that he was much older than Mary when they wed. And they wed, it should oft be repeated, even though she was already pregnant and he knew the child wasn't his. 

We usually say he was a carpenter. But James Martin writes that tekton, the Greek work given for Saint Joseph's profession, is better translated as "day laborer": less of a skilled tradesman, more of a general handyman. Sometimes, I like to think of him as a giustacofane, a wandering fixer of broken things, a vocation that doesn't really exist anymore. I like to think of him wandering into the homes of his devotees and fixing the things in their lives that are broken. 

Other times, I like to imagine him various professions: as the baker, the butcher, the men who work at the groceria across the street from our home and ask me "where you been?" whenever I get back from a trip. They know I was gone because they're there from open to close every day so they can put food on their table and several other tables back in Mexico. In Southern Italy and Sicily, he is associated with the back-breaking labor of farmers who guard the fertility of the land, just as Saint Joseph guarded Mary's fertility by caring for her during her pregnancy and childbirth. 

In short, I'd attribute to him any vocation that anyone has ever performed in order to care for their family. 


Carpenter's tools, a staff with lily blossoms. 

According to Catholic tradition, Saints Anne and Joachim were very picky when choosing a husband for their daughter Mary. When Saint Joseph came to court her, the staff he carried with him miraculously flowered. That was how they knew he was a worthy suitor. Most Catholics will say this was a sign of his sexual purity. I say, if you look at a man carrying a rod that performs miracles and think "He must have been a virgin!", you are probably not going to get much out of this blog.

The  bastone  cards in a Neapolitan deck. Do they look virginal to you?  

The bastone cards in a Neapolitan deck. Do they look virginal to you?  


Fathers, men who care for children, workers, immigrants; prayed to for employment, real estate (most famously, his statue is buried upside-down when selling a house), against doubt, and for a happy death. 

Feast Day

Saint Joseph is celebrated as the patron of workers on May 1. The May Day celebration has ancient pagan roots and modern associations with labor rights. Many Italian American societies dedicated to the saints began as mutual benefit societies: groups of workers who would pool their resources to take care of each others' families in case of injury or death. 

There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand
There is power in a union

But today, we will focus on his March 19 feast day, which has special prominence in Italy, Sicily, and Italian America. 


Some of the most famous altars dedicated to Saint Joseph are found in Salemi, Sicily. Men and women spend five days a week for a whole month building these ornate altars. The men build the frames and cover them in lush vegetation, including seasonal flowers and citrus fruits. The women bake breads in special shapes. All of the gold you see in the picture below is bread. It's truly breathtaking. 

Saint Joseph's altars typically have three levels, representing either the persons of the Holy Trinity or of the Holy Family, depending on who you ask. The large breads in the center are dedicated to the Madonna, Baby Jesus, and Saint Joseph. 

An altar to San Giuseppe in Salemi, Sicily. 

An altar to San Giuseppe in Salemi, Sicily. 

The tradition of building altars to Saint Joseph continues in Italian American communities in the United States, the most elaborate of which are found in New Orleans. A good overview of the symbolism is available here. Every year, the Archdiocese of New Orleans publishes a complete listing of the altars along with the hours they are available for public visitation. 

A Saint Joseph's Day altar in New Orleans, LA 

A Saint Joseph's Day altar in New Orleans, LA 

The "Tupa-Tupa"  

This is, to me, the radical heart of Saint Joseph's Day. Three children are chosen to play the parts of the Madonna, Jesus, and Joseph. They come to a house and knock on the door. 

- Who is there? 
- Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. 
- What do you want? 
- We seek food and shelter. 
- There is no room for you here. 

The refugees go to the next house, and the same scene repeats. So they go to a third house. Inside of this house, an altar to Saint Joseph has been prepared. 

- We seek food and shelter. 
- Welcome, welcome! The food is prepared and the table is set. Come in and join us! 

The children are served a taste of every dish that has been prepared and left out on the altar. Once they have sampled each dish, the rest of the guests can enjoy the meal. This ritual reflects a belief common to many religious traditions in the Mediterranean world, which is that hospitality must be shared with strangers, who may very well be spirits, gods, or angels in disguises: 

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:1)

Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (Romans 12:13) 

For the ancient Greeks, this concept was known as "theoxenia", and it appears in several myths in which a stranger (xenos) turns out to be a god (theos) in disguise. Laws of hospitality obliged the Greeks to welcome strangers and travelers into their homes, where they fed and sheltered. Guests, in turn, were obliged to respect their hosts and give them a gift if they had one to give. 

Songs & Prayers 

A Sicilian Rosary to San Giuseppe 

This rosary can be prayed on a standard set of rosary beads, with the posta in place of the Pater Noster at the large bead and the Grani in place of the Ave Maria on the smaller beads. At the end of the decade, pray one Pater Noster and one Ave Maria.  

English Translation


Saint Joseph, foster father
foster virgin like the Mother. 
Mary the rose, 
Joseph the Lily, 
give us help, refuge, and advice. 

It's dark now and it will be light tomorrow,
providence you must send me. 
I wait for the providence
of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. 


All praise the Eternal, I sing: 
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 
And always beloved and blessed be
the name of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. 

Our Father

Hail Mary



San Giusippuzzu fustivu patri
fustivu virgini comu la Matri
Maria la rosa,
Giuseppi lu gigghiu
datini aiutu, riparu e cunsigghiu.

Scura ora e aggiorna dumani
la pruvvidenza nn'aviti a mannari. 
Aspettu la pruvvidenza
di Gesu, Maria, e Giuseppi.


Tutti ludamu l'Eternu, cantu: 
lu Patri, lu Figghiu e lu Spiritu Santu. 
E sempri amatu e binidittu sia
lu nomu di Gèsu, Giuseppi, e Maria.

Pater Noster

Ave Maria


Sacred Foods 

Many saints have associations with seasonal foods in Southern Italy and Sicily. Because March 19 falls within Lent, when Catholics would traditionally abstain from meat as part of the purificatory process leading up to Easter, Saint Joseph's traditional foods are vegetarian. There's an emphasis on seasonal delicacies, such as snails and sardines. 

It's also interesting to note that many of the foods associated with Saint Joseph in Sicily aren't indigenous to the island, but were brought there by Arabs in the 10th century. 


Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35) 

If that's all you've got, you can live on wheat flour and water together mixed together for a while. Then you'll die of malnourishment before too long. But if you take that same wheat flour mixed with water, allow it to ferment naturally, and bake it into bread, you can live off of that bread indefinitely. I'm in awe of this fact today, even though I understand the science behind it. I can only imagine how miraculous this must have seemed to our ancestors. And since we've learned to harness that power, bread has become a staple in the diets of people around the world. So much so, that any threat to the accessibility of affordable bread results in economic and political unrest: 

If you want to predict where political instability, revolution, coups d’etat, or interstate warfare will occur, the best factor to keep an eye on is not GDP, the human development index, or energy prices.

“If I were to pick a single indicator—economic, political, social—that I think will tell us more than any other, it would be the price of grain,” says Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, who has been writing about the politics and economics of food since the 1950s. (source)  

Bread is perhaps the most important element on Saint Joseph's altars, whether in Italy, Sicily, or Italian America. And this isn't just any loaf we're talking about, either. These breads come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, often expressing something about the baker's devotion through traditional symbolism.  

You can make bread in honor of Saint Joseph at home. This recipe is easy and fun to make with friends and family. Even small children can join in the fun, as the dough is similar in consistency to play-doh. It can be eaten immediately or left out as a decoration. Many choose to have their bread blessed by a priest and keep it in the home the invite prosperity and stability in the coming year. 


  • 8 cups flour 
  • 1/2 cup lard or shortening 
  • 1 tablespoon salt 
  • 1 tablespoon sugar 
  • 1 packet of dry-active yeast 
  • Juice of 1 lemon 
  • 1 egg 

Dissolve the flour, lard, salt, sugar, and yeast in half a glass of warm water. Continue to add warm water until the dough is firm. Shape the bread using the symbols you desire. Beat the egg with the lemon juice. Brush the dough with the lemon-egg mixture. Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit until golden brown.  


Ah, but what symbols to include? That is, of course, a matter of personal preference. As you knead the dough, you can pray to Saint Joseph, thanking him for the blessings he has shown your family in the past year and praying for specific intentions you would like to manifest through his grace in the year to come. I recently took a phenomenal bread-making workshop with the lovely Allison Scola of Experience Sicily, who taught us that the symbols you choose can reflect those personal intentions. (PS - If you'd like to travel to Sicily but aren't sure where to start, she has several tours coming up in 2019  or she can even help you plan one that fits your unique desires.) 

Saint Joseph bread - before.JPG
Saint Joseph Bread - after.JPG

Here are a few ideas to get you started, blending traditional symbols with my own perspective as an Italian American: 

  • Sun - A symbol of the homeland, of life, of fertility, and even of God. 
  • Carpentry tools - Traditionally masculine work. Fixing broken things, building new things, tinkering with things to find out how they work or what they really are. Consider the function of each: the nail joins things together, and three nails is a shorthand for the crucifixion as much as the cross itself. The hammer applies force and breaks things apart. Pliers hold firmly, manipulate, bend, and compress. What tools do you need right now? 
  • Sewing tools - More delicate and traditionally feminine work. Storytelling through cloth. In many ancient Mediterranean cultures, textiles were the only way a woman could earn money of her own. Much of this work is safe and repetitive, making it an ideal trance induction technique. These implements figure in many fairytales. 
  • Ladder - Climbing to new heights. Reaching things that would otherwise be out of grasp. Promotions, achievements, acquisitions; taking things step by step. 
  • Staff - Vital force. Protection. Pride. 

Fava beans

According to legend, a famine hit Sicily in the 15th century. Perhaps it was due to a drought. The crops were withering and dying in their fields, and the people were desperate. So they prayed to Saint Joseph and, miraculously, one crop survived: the humble fava bean. It was considered fodder for livestock at the time. But let me tell you: fava bean soup made according to the recipe below is delicious. (And of course, when you're starving, anything is delicious.) 

Today, dried fava beans are considered "lucky". Some would say they're good for "money magic". Some carry one in their wallet, so they'll never run out of money. Some keep one in the pantry, so they'll always have food to eat. And some creative soul might even keep one in her stash box, for obvious reasons. 

When we look around the green world, we see so many teachers, elders, and allies. It can be tempting save time by categorizing them in broad strokes: the one is good for money magic, this one is good for love magic. But why use one love magic herb instead of another? Are they all interchangeable? Can you add every money magic herb you've heard of into a charm-bag to make it more powerful? 

To truly understand the way plants affect us, we must look beyond easy categories. Some money plants are prodigious multipliers, like mint. The magic and medicine of the fava bean is revealed in its myth. It is protection against disaster and hunger. It's not necessarily there for you to get a raise or a promotion. It's there as an assurance that, no matter what, you will always have something: maybe not the thing you thought you wanted, but enough to get by. That type of magic might not seem relevant to us city slickers whose wealth is stored in numbers on a screen and whose food is grown by other people in other countries. But the world is changing quickly, and if you ask me, I'd rather pass on a spiritual connection with the humble fava bean to my children. 


  • 1 lb. dried fava beans
  • 1 bunch green onions
  • 1 medium onion 
  • 4 cloves garlic 
  • 3 bay leaves 
  • 1 bunch parsley (chopped) 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil 
  • Salt & pepper to taste 

Cook the fava beans in boiling water until tender, adding more water as needed. During cooking, sauté seasoning in olive oil until tender; add to beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot in a soup bowl.  

Zeppole & Sfinge

Two classic pastries are baked in honor of San Giuseppe. But which is the zeppole, and which is the sfinge? That is a question for the ages, a subject of intense and heated debate among Italian Americans. At my local Sicilian bakery, we call the smaller pastry on the left--a puff pastry filled with cannoli cream--a sfinge, and the larger pastry on the right--filled custard cream--a zeppole. Others would say the exact opposite. To make matters more complicated, some people use the terms interchangeably, and the fried dough balls sold at feste are often called zeppoli

Follow your heart on this matter.


Read more about the saints in Italian folk magic: 

San Gennaro


Hagiography & Miracle 

It is said that San Gennaro was the Bishop of Benevento, incidentally a region famous for producing two things: witches and Liquore Strega. He was martyred by Emperor Diocletian in 305 AD, beheaded at the Solfatara crater at Pozzuoli. His head is now encased in an iconic silver bust.

According to legend, his wetnurse, a slave named Eusebia, gathered some of his blood from the site of his execution. In 1389, that blood began to liquify: first erratically, then regularly. Many devotees believe that when the blood fails to liquify, a disaster is soon to follow. For example, the blood failed to become liquid in 1939, the year in which World War II started; and in 1980, the year of the Irpinia earthquake which left at least 2,483 people dead, 7,700 injured, and 250,000 homeless. 

The tomb of San Gennaro, seen from above, in the Catacombs of San Gennaro in Naples

The tomb of San Gennaro, seen from above, in the Catacombs of San Gennaro in Naples


Vials of blood, Mt. Vesuvius, bishop's dress, pastoral staff

Feast Days 

For many years, the blood miracle was overseen by a mysterious group of elderly women known as the parenti di San Gennaro, “the relatives of San Gennaro”. Popular belief held that these women had descended from Eusebia herself, and that it was their rituals performed within the church but without the interference of church officials that were responsible for ensuring the continuation of the miracle. They were also responsible for divining possible threats to the homeland, with auguries relevant to different audiences depending on the time of year: 

  • First Sunday in May - divined for the city of Naples;
  • September 19 - his official feast day, divined for the whole country of Italy; 
  • December 16 - the least reliable of the miracles. 

The video below shows footage from the September feast in 1948: 

Songs & Prayers 

Rosary of the Parenti 

These lines can be sung as a rosary. The first two strophes can be sung in place of the Ave Maria, and the last line in place of the Gloria at the end of the decade. 

English translation

San Gennaro, my powerful one
Pray to God for so many people

San Gennaro, my protector
Pray to God, our Lord

We thank the Holy Trinity who has given us San Gennaro as Father and Protector of this city. 


San Gennaro mio putente
Prega a Dio pe’ tanta gente. 

San Gennaro mio prutettore
Prega a Dio nostro Signore. 

Ringrazziammo la Santissima Ternità che ci ha dato San Gennaro pe’ Pate e Prutettore ‘e stà città. 


Faccia Gialla by Enzo Avitabile 

Enzo Avitabile is a master of Southern Italian folk music. This song of his reflects a modern take on the relationship between Neapolitans and San Gennaro. "Faccia Gialla" ("Yellow Face") is a friendly insult used with the saint by his devotees. 

English translation

Amidst the small of Solfatara
On top of a stone, under a sword
Sleep, people of Pozzuoli, stolen dreams
From the top of the mountain up to the sea 

It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water 

Under an emperor’s edict
Catacombs and persecutions
You, noble bishop of Benevento, 
Blade of grass against the wind

It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water

Yellow Face, melt it! 
Do it do it this miracle
Yellow Face, melt it! 
Do it do it for this people
That time we saw black
60,000 dead from cholera
All of the sudden, the Turks one evening
Then another time there was hunger and thirst 

It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water

Yellow Face, melt it! 
Do it do it this miracle
Yellow Face, melt it! 
Do it do it for this people 

It’s blood, not water
It’s blood, not water

Neapolitan lyrics

Mièzo all’addore da solfatara
‘ngopp ‘a na preta sotto a na spada
duorme Pozzuoli suonni arrubbati
da coppo ‘a muntagna fino ‘o mare
è sango e nun è acqua
è sango e nun è acqua

sotto a n’editto ‘e n’imperatore
catacombe e persecuzioni
Tu nobile vescovo ‘e Benevento
nu filo d’evera contro ‘o viento

è sango e nun è acqua
è sango e nun è acqua

Faccia Gialla squaglialo!
fallo fallo stu miracolo
Faccia Gialla squaglialo!
fallo fallo pe stu popolo
chella vota c’a vedetteme nera
sissantamila muorte ‘d culera
bello e buono ‘e turchi nà sera
pò nata vota fuie famma e a sete

è sango e nun è acqua
è sango e nun è acqua

Faccia Gialla squaglialo!
fallo fallo stu miracolo
Faccia Gialla squaglialo!
fallo fallo pe stu popolo

è sango e nun è acqua
è sango e nun è acqua


Santa Rosalia


Hagiography & Miracle 

Not much is known about the life of Santa Rosalia. She was born to a noble family. She rejected that life, instead pursuing one as a hermit in a cave on Mount Pellegrino. She died there alone in 1166. 

Things became more interesting in 1624, when a plague struck Palermo. At that point, Saint Rosalia appeared to a sick woman, then to a hunter. She told the hunter where her remains could be found and ordered him to bring them to Palermo, where they would be carried in procession throughout the city. 

The hunter climbed the mountain and found her bones in the cave, exactly where the saint had told him to look for them. He brought them back to the city, where the people carried them in procession three times. After that, the plague ceased. In gratitude for this miracle, the people of Palermo adopted her as their patron saint, and a sanctuary was built in the cave where her remains were discovered. 


Crown of roses, lily, rose, skull, pilgrim's staff, crucifix, Bible, rosary, chisel, Basilian monastic dress or hermitic dress, the following epitaph (in Latin): "I, Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Roses, and Quisquina, have taken the resolution to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ."

Feast Days

Santa Rosalia has two major feast days: the liturgical feast day of September 4, which Sicilians and others celebrate by making the pilgrimage to her sanctuary on Monte Pellegrino; and a feast day on July 15, which celebrates her deliverance and subsequent patronage of the city of Palermo, Sicily. It should be noted that, while the July feast is the major focus for Palermitani, the September feast is more widely celebrated in Italian-American communities due to the popularity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whose feast falls on July 16. 

In the video below, you get a sense for the enormity of the July feast in Palermo: 

Santa Rosalia and Magic 

Weather Magic 

After she saved the city of Palermo from plague, Santa Rosalia became known as a fierce protectress. She was credited with defending the people from earthquakes and storms, and was appealed to in prayers for a safe and successful harvest. The folk prayer (incantation? Mystery play?) below, taken from Sara Favarò's wonderful Santa Rosalia: Immagini, curiosità, preghiere, canti, demonstrates how she was appealed to for protection from dangerous weather: 


Rusulè, Rusulè
'n mezzu a lu mari chi sireva
l'Arcangelo Gabrieli
'nfàvura chi durmeva. 

- Susi, susi Gabrieli
chi sta vinennu 'na tempesta d'acqua
e 'n timpesta di ventu. 

- Timpesta unni vai? 

- Vaiu arbuli a scippari
e vigna a cutulari. 

- Nun ghiri arbuli a scippari
e mancu vigna a cutuliari
vattinni 'n 'on voscu scuru
unni è ca 'un ci àbita
né suli, nè luna e nudda criatura. 
Né campani sunari
e mancu addi a cantari. 


Rosalia, Rosalia
sat in the middle of the sea
the Archangel Gabriel
slept on the ground. 

- Get up, get up, Gabriel
a storm of water is arriving
and a storm of wind. 

- Storm, where are you going? 

- I'm going to uproot trees
and vines. 

- Do not go to uproot trees
or vines. 
Begone to a dark wood
where there isn't living
the sun, the moon, or any creature. 
Where no bells are sounding
nor roosters singing. 

Folk Altars

Several stunning edicole votive, or votive altars, have been documented here by the Santa Rosalia di Palermo Facebook page. 

Pagan Antecedents 

Santa Rosalia's sanctuary was once a sacred site dedicated to Tanit, also called Tinnit, Tannou or Tangou. Tanit was a Berber Punic and Phoenician goddess. She was the chief deity of Carthage alongside her consort, Ba'al Hammon. She was equivalent to the moon-goddess Astarte, and later worshipped in Roman Carthage in her Romanized form as Dea Caelestis or Juno Caelestis

In a striking parallel to Santa Rosalia's traditional role as a protectress from bad weather and a custodian of the harvest, it is customary in modern-day Tunisian Arabic to invoke "Omek Tannou" or "Oumouk Tangou" ("Mother Tannou" or "Mother Tangou", depending on the region) to bring much-needed rain during long periods of drought. 

A figurine depicting the goddess Tanit from the Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum in Israel

A figurine depicting the goddess Tanit from the Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum in Israel


Why that skull, though? 

The common answer I have found in English-language sources is that the skull indicates a saint who spent much of their life contemplating death. St Gerard, for example, is said to have kept a skull and crossbones on his desk to inspire continuous contemplation of death; he is now often depicted with a skull in his icons. In this case, the skull is essentially a momento mori. But is that the case for Santa Rosalia? We know so little about her life, how can we be sure she spent it in contemplation of death? 

I wonder whether the skull is actually meant to indicate the manner in which she was "born" as a saint: by indicating the location of her remains to someone who then retrieved them. That is what her feast on July 15 commemorates. And it points to the underlying "technologies" of sainthood: the emphasis on martyrdom (in the ancient Mediterranean, murder victims were more likely to become revenants), the veneration of relics (which are disturbed remains, another way to create a revenant), the use of novenas (which are a period of ritualized mourning), etc. 

I know several practitioners based in the US and UK who have independently associated Santa Rosalia with necromancy, perhaps due to the heraldry of the skull. Wolf & Goat, makers of several quality oils dedicated to saints according to traditional practices, offer the following description of their Oil of Saint Rosalia

The Flower of palermo, protectress of souls, Saint Rosalia, the Santuzza–the Little Saint–is a powerful mediator on behalf of the Land itself and the Dead who dwell within it. She echoes the superintending care of the Creator for His people, and gives voice the Souls forgotten whose blood and sweat has given fruit to the Land upon which we dwell. He-in-whom-we-move-and-have-our-existence is celebrated through Her, and her protection and intercession from the Mountains where she dwells is true manifestation of the might and love of God.

Of course, this is deviating a bit from the Sicilian tradition as I have yet encountered it. So take it with a grain of Trapani sea salt. 

Hymn to Santa Rosalia 

I love including some traditional music in my devotional practice, even if it's just something to play in the background while I pray or meditate on the saint's Mysteries. This beautiful hymn to Santa Rosalia does just the trick: 


Lyrics courtesy of

Diva, cui diedero
lor nome i fiori:
o santa, o nobile
stirpe di re!
Tu il puro anelito
dei nostri cuori,
tu il faro vigile
di nostra fè!

Rit. O Rosa fulgida
che dolce olia
o Giglio candido
spruzzato d’or.
Fiore freschissimo,
o Rosalia,
accogli il palpito
del nostro amor!

Tu, che di gelida
cavernsa in seno,
scolpivi il nobile
patto d’amor.
Tra cento ostacoli,
concedi almeno
che della grazia
serbiamo il fior!

Rit. O Rosa fulgida…

Tu che sui culmini
del Pellegrino,
sfogavi all’aure
l’immenso ardor;
Tu fa che il fervido
fuoco divino
avvampi ogni anima
bruci ogni cor!

Rit. O Rosa fulgida…

Tu, che sollecita
de la tua terra,
la lue malefica
fugasti un dì.
O Pia, difendici
da fame e guerra,
d’ogni contagio
che ci colpì.

Rit. O Rosa fulgida…

Tu, che con l’anima
in Dio rapita,
sorella agli angeli
fosti quaggiù;
l’arcano insegnaci
de la tua vita:
sognar la Patria
cercar Gesù!

Rit. O Rosa fulgida…

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! 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  6. 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.)
  7. 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.
  8. 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!) 
  9. Raccolta
    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.
  10. 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.  
  11. 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. 
  12. 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. 

Italian Folk Magic on the Italian American Podcast

As an Italian-American woman, I am a huge fan of the work that Dolores Alfieri and Anthony Fasano are doing through their website, The Italian American Experience. The podcast, the blog, the videos--everything these two put out into the world is such a beautiful representation of our unique cultural heritage. So when Dolores reached out and asked me to be a guest on their podcast, how could I say no? 

I was not disappointed. The conversation we had was intimate, personal, and ground-breaking for both of us. I felt vulnerable speaking so openly about my family history for the first time. A million thanks to Dolores for making this happen. May this conversation spark a light of remembrance for others! 

Full show and links are available on the Italian American Experience, which is well worth checking out. (If you liked this episode, you will love their interview with Robert Orsi, scholar of religious studies and author of The Madonna of 115th Street.) 

Don't miss out on future episodes of The Italian American Podcast! Make sure you subscribe and leave a review on iTunes

Saint John

Happy Saint John’s Day! In Italy as in other parts of Europe, the feast of Saint John the Baptist (or San Giovanni Battista) is inextricably tied to magic, witches, and divination. Celebrated starting the night of June 23 into the day of June 24, the feast was popularized as a Christian alternative to (or innovation on?) the celebration of the summer solstice. Carol Field writes in Celebrating Italy (p. 92): 

Christianity simply grafted the pagan fires to the celebration of the Feast of San Giovanni. The prophet was born precisely at midsummer, just as Jesus was born six months later at the turning point of winter, two moments in the calendar that mark passage across a critical threshold. Bearded and dressed in animal skins, subsisting on honey and locusts, San Giovanni also resembles an ancient god of the fields, or the mythical King of the Wood who married the Great Goddess in dark midwinter. Six months later, the King of the Wood was put to death beneath a great sacred oak by his successor. So this sacrificial death, with its intimations of rebirth and renewal, was meant to encourage the fertility of the fields.

U Muzzuni

Saint John's Day is known in Alcara li Fusi, a municipality in Messina, Sicily as La Festa di Muzzuni. This is one of my favorite Southern Italian folk traditions. It's also said to be one of the oldest. Although performed on the feast of Saint John, many recognize this as the survival a propitiatory rite to the Great Goddess Ceres or Demeter, who rules over the fertility of the earth. The rituals surrounding the Muzzuni are focused on finding love, and thus also may call upon Aphrodite and Adonis. In these rituals, young women dressed in white dance to love songs sung by male musicians. 

The Muzzuni is constructed with an uncorked wine bottle ("headless", like Saint John himself), which is then stuffed with grains, covered with a handkerchief, and ornamented with precious metals. The Muzzuni is often placed between two oil lamps in front of a colorful tapestry.  

You can see examples of the Muzzuni here, and in the video below!  

Acqua di San Giovanni

As his name implies, Saint John the Baptist is often associated with water in regional folklore. In particular, the dew which collects overnight between June 23 and June 24 is believed to be magically potent. This dew can be collected, some say ideally by a woman who has fasted and who recites the Ave Maria as she goes about her business. This dew can then be combined with certain herbs and left out under the moon to gain magical potency. 

One Italian source describes the following as standard herbs used in the preparation of this potion, or to be dried and used in other magical workings until the next St. John’s Day:

  • the yellow-colored St. John’s wort, to be kept on the body all night to protect from misfortune, and to provide serene sleep, or outdoors to protect families;
  • artemisia against the evil eye;
  • rue for healing properties, and as a ward against the devil, given its cross-like shape;
  • dewy mint that guarantees long life;
  • sage to protect against evil creatures;
  • verbena, symbol of peace and prosperity which was dear to witches and able to heal from illnesses;
  • currant, whose red fruits are also called berries of St. John;
  • periwinkle, also used for the preparation of vegetable talismans;
  • mandrake, one of the most dangerous plants, with the dual faculty of sedating and exciting given its ambivalent essence, male and female; very dear to witches, used it to prepare narcotics and love filters;
  • rosemary, hung with St. John's wort and rue at the doors of the houses, kept away the devils and witches;
  • garlic, potent talisman, if harvested before sunrise was particularly strong against witchcraft; …
  • lavender, with bouquets in drawers and cabinets, protected the linens and by extension the whole family;
  • fern, which gave divinatory powers, supernatural forces and wisdom (according to popular belief, its flower opens only the Night of St. John, remains visible for only a moment and can only be harvested after fighting with the devil);
  • carline thistle, which was used to prevent the witch's malicious passage; If nailed to the door of the house, it forces the witch to count all its caps... 

The acqua di San Giovanni, properly prepared, is believed to increase beauty while protecting against the evil eye, envy, and curses. 

Piombo di San Giovanni

Saint John's Eve was a traditional time of love divination, when young men and women would contact the spirit world to gain insight into their marriage prospects. One such divinatory spell involved melting lead and dropping it into cold water, where it would freeze into shapes which could then be interpreted according to traditional symbolism. 

This ritual was often undertaken following a novena which lasted from the evening of June 15 until the vigil of the feast. While the prayer said on these nights was composed in regional dialect, a form in Florentine Italian is found in Il Libro dei Rimedi Magici by Guido Guerrara: 

San Giovanni benedetto, 
pe' un infame maledetto, 
foste a morte condannato,
con sto' piombo coagulato, 
conoscere mi fai, 
la fortuna che mi dai, 
San Giovanni della vita.

In English: 

Blessed Saint John, 
cursed by an infamous one, 
you were condemned to death, 
with this coagulated lead, 
let me know, 
the fortune that you give me, 
Saint John of life. 

Of course, if lead is difficult to get a hold of, or if you are concerned about the possibility of lead poisoning, you could also perform this ritual with an egg in water. To do so, it is advised to find a large, clear glass and fill it with water. Then, crack an egg and separate the whites from the yolk. Drop the whites only into the glass of water and leave out overnight on the windowsill. According to tradition, water covered in bubbles signifies that you will soon find a mate who is handsome, nice, and rich; the image of a building or church is a good omen, but marriage is not indicated in the short-term; and should no images appear, you'll just have to wait until next year! 

Italian Folk Magic on The Spiritual Alchemy Show

What can I say? It's always a pleasure to chat with Astrid over at The Spiritual Alchemy Show! In this episode, we talk about my favorite magical sites in New York City, the similarities and differences between Italian and Italian-American folk religion, and why the Black Madonna is black. You can tune in below: 

Show Notes: 

Mallorie’s Teachers

Best Places to Visit in NYC

Other Links Mentioned in the Show

Don't forget! The Spiritual Alchemy Show runs Every Thursday : 11pm GMT / 6pm EST / 3pm Pacific. Listen LIVE on

Or, like them on Facebook! 

Saint Anthony

O, Sant'Antonio! I have loved you more than any other saint. And I am not the only one. His popularity has spread throughout Italy, Europe, and beyond. Here are a few of my favorite Southern Italian devotions and spells calling upon this beloved saint. 

Neapolitan spells calling on Saint Anthony

According to Il libro dei rimedi magici: Riti, scongiuri, formule by Guido Guidi Guerrera, Saint Anthony was said to bestow thirteen favors which were of particular interest to Italian peasants:  

  1. To have a good harvest of wheat
  2. To gain copious weight
  3. To possess many strengths 
  4. To enjoy long life
  5. To make the best wine
  6. To be spared from violent death
  7. To escape the temptation of the devil
  8. Not to sin
  9. Not to be taken in by the snares of womanly passions 
  10. Not to suffer the betrayal of a man
  11. To be spared from cholera
  12. To have abundant pastures for grazing
  13. So that animals do not get sick

The following prayer must be recited over the course of three consecutive nights. It should be preceded and followed by three Glorias. For best results, recite it for the first time on the morning of June 11, and for the third time on the morning of June 13: 

Sant’Antonio da Padova venisti, carità trovasti e carità facisti, ‘sta grazia fammi per amore di Gesú Cristo… 

Or in English: 

Saint Anthony, you came from Padova, you found charity and you did charity; do me this favor for the love of Jesus Christ... 

Then you pick one of the thirteen favors listed above to request. 

Or, if the wheat harvest doesn't interest you, you can use this conjuration dedicated to three saints traditionally given as protectors of women to find a rich husband:  

Sant’Antonino, mettetelo in cammino, 
San Pasquale fa’ ciò verificare, 
Sant’Onofrio glorioso, 
Bello, piccolo e grazioso.

It is said as a novena, each day after saying three Pater Nosters and three Glorias. After completing the novena on the ninth night, you must go to your balcony at midnight and look out into the street. The first person who passes by is the man you will marry. (If a woman or a priest passes by, this is said to be a bad omen, and it is necessary to continue praying more on the matter.) 

A Sicilian Rosary to Saint Anthony

Rosaries and other prayers are often made to Sant'Antonio every day during his Tredicina, June 1 until his feast on Jun 13. You can say these prayers on a standard set of rosary beads, praying the posta on each of the large beads (where you would normally pray the Pater Noster) and the grani on the small beads (where you would normally pray the Ave Maria). 

Here's an extraordinarily trippy rosary which was documented by Sara Favarò in Palazzo Adriano in the 80s. 


Sant'Antunineddu cadiu malateddu
in pettu purtava du' pumidda d'oru
bagna la manu e vidi chi c'era
c'era lu risu cu tuttu lu Paradisu. 

(Saint Anthony was sick
on his chest he was wearing two gold knobs
he wet his hand and saw what it was
it was the smile with all of Paradise.) 


E decimilia voti
e ludamu a sant'Antuninu. 
E ludamulu tutti l'uri
ca è lu nostru protetturi. 

(And ten thousand times
We praise Saint Anthony
And we praise him all hours
Because he is our protector.) 

Songs to Saint Anthony

This is my favorite mix of songs to Sant'Antonio, perhaps because I am a sucker for the vintage sounds on some of them: 

If you would like to sing along (and I hope you do!), here are the lyrics to my favorite Italian hymn to Saint Anthony: 

O Dei Miracoli

O dei miracoli inclito Santo;
dell’alma Padova, Tutela e vanto:
benigno guardami prono ai tuoi piè: 
o Sant’Antonio prega per me!

Col vecchio e il giovane a te sen viene
e in atto supplice chiede ed ottiene;
di grazie arbitro Iddio ti fé: 
o Sant’Antonio prega per me!

Per te l’oceano si rasserena; 
riprende i naufrago novella lena; 
morte e pericoli fuggon da te: 
o Sant’Antonio prega per me!

Per te d’angustia esce l’afflitto: 
trova ricovero il derelitto, 
col pane al povero doni la fé: 
o Sant’Antonio prega per me!

Neapolitan Children's Prayers: Before bedtime

These classic Neapolitan prayers are taught to children by their mothers and grandmothers. Like children's prayers from around the world, these are short, simple, and rhyme. I've included recordings of how they are pronounced, in case you are not familiar with the language. (Please note, this is not my native tongue, so my pronunciation is not perfect.) 

If you would like to learn more about the Neapolitan language, I highly recommend booking an online session with Anna Scognamiglio. I've been working with Anna for several months, and she is an excellent source on Neapolitan language and culture. Fans of this blog will especially enjoy working with her, because she knows several prayers, novenas, and superstitions. Your first lesson with her is free!


Me cocco e me faccio ‘a croce
‘a Maronna mè mamma
Gesù Cristo mè pate
e Sante mè so pariente
me cocco e nun aggio paura e niente.

Mi corico e mi faccio la croce
la Madonna mi è mamma
Gesù Cristo mi è padre
i Santi mi sono parenti
mi corico e non tengo paura di niente. 

I go to bed (lie down) and I make the sign of the cross
The Madonna is my mother
Jesus Christ is my father
And the saints are my relatives
I go to sleep and I don’t fear anything.

Je me cocco ‘int’ ‘a ‘stu lietto
e ‘a Maronna affianco ‘o pietto
jo dormo e Essa veglia,
si è coccosa me risveglia;
Gesù Cristo m’è pate
‘a Maronna m’è mamma
‘e Sante me so’ pariente
duorme… ca nun haje paura ‘e niente!

Mi corico dentro questo letto
la Madonna a fianco il petto
io dormo e lei veglia
se qualcosa mi risveglia;
Gesù Cristo mi è padre
i Santi mi sono parenti
dormi… che non hai paura di niente. 


I go to sleep in this bed
The Madonna at the side of the chest
I sleep and she watches over me, 
If anything, she wakes me up; 
Jesus Christ is my father
The Madonna is my mother
The saints are my relatives
(You) sleep… you don’t have to fear anything.

E’ sunata ‘n’ora ‘e notte
e l’angiulillo p’‘a porta,
e Maria p’‘a casa;
‘o tristo jesce e ‘o buono trase
e Dio ‘nce guarda ‘o capo ‘e casa.

E’ venuta la notte
l’angelo è alla porta
Maria per la casa;
il tristo esce e il buono entra
e Dio protegge il capo di casa. 

An hour of the night has struck
And the little angel is by (coming in?) the door, 
And Maria is around the house
The sadness goes away and the goodness comes in
And God protects the head of the house.

Io me cocco ‘a lietto
e cu l’angelo perfetto
e cu l’angelo preganno
Gesù Cristo prericammo
Io me cocco e nun m’addormo
l’anema mia ‘a lascio ‘a Maronna
Io me cocco a lietto e nun m’addormesse
l’anema mia ‘a lascio ‘a Gesù Cristo
Io me cocco e nun me vene
tre cose a chiese tene:
cunfessione, cummunione e uoglio santo
e lu cantu ‘o Spiritussanto
aiutaci Maria a tutti quanti.

Io vado a letto
con l’angelo perfetto
e con l’angelo pregando
Gesù Cristo predichiamo
Io mi corico e non mi addormento
l’anima mia la lascio alla Madonna
Io vado a letto e se non mi addormento
l’anima mia la lascio a Gesù Cristo
Io mi corico e non mi viene (di addormentarmi)
tre cose la chiesa tiene:
confessione, comunione e olio santo
ed il canto allo spirito santo
aiutaci Maria a tutti quanti. 

I go to bed
With the perfect angel
And with the angel praying
Jesus Christ we preach
I go to bed and I don’t fall asleep
My soul I leave to the Madonna
I go to bed and I wouldn’t want to fall asleep
My soul I leave to Jesus Christ
I go to sleep and it doesn’t come to me (i.e. I can’t fall asleep) 
The church has three things: 
Confession, communion, and holy oil
And the song to the holy spirit
Help us, Maria, all of us. 

Bonasera Maronna mia
tutt’ ‘o munno a te s’inchina
cu’ chillu frutto ca dunaste
a tutt’ ‘o munno rallegraste
rallegraste l’anema mia
buona sera Maronna mia.

Buonasera Madonna mia,
tutto il mondo a te s’inchina.
con quel frutto che donasti,
tutto il mondo rallegrasti,
rallegrasti l’anima mia,
buonasera Madonna mia. 


Good evening, my Madonna
All the world to you bows.  
With that fruit that you gave, 
All the world you cheered up, 
You cheered up my soul, 
Good evening my Madonna. 

Italian Folk Magic on Rune Soup

The brilliant Gordon White of Rune Soup invited me on his podcast to talk about the origin of the saints, the Italian American diaspora experience, the Black Madonna, necromancy, sacred dances and a whole lot more. You can listen below, or via your favorite podcast app. 

Many thanks to Gordon for having me on the show! If you like what you hear, make sure to check out his books: The Chaos Protocols, Star.Ships, and Pieces of Eight.

PS - In case you didn't notice, Gordon's spirit animal here is Giordano Bruno--who was born near and lived in Naples! #homeboy

San Rocco in Frigento, Avellino

From the official website of the Comune di Frigento:

The statue of the Saint is taken in the streets of the town with a procession. Some women who are devoted to the saint put on their heads the “mezzetti” which are large wooden containers that contain roughly 30 kg of wheat.

The “mezzetti” are decorated with weaved wheat, colored ribbons and plastic flowers.

Where the holy things are

In his Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs, Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicily (1823), Rev. John James Blunt describes several locations where the Lares, or Roman domestic gods, were commonly positioned and where contemporary Italians and Sicilians often keep images of saints. These are:

  1. “ the public streets, particularly in situations where several ways met, and where the conflux of the populace was consequently greater. These were called Viales or Compitales…” (21)
  2. “ guard the entrances of houses…” (24)
  3. “...for them a corner was reserved in their principle living rooms…” (25)
  4. “...guarding the chamber and bed from the influence of evil spirits by sight.” (26)
  5. “...the protection of shipping.” (30)
  6. “...for charms…” (40), particularly as pendants around the neck

Vestiges of ancient manners and customs (1832)

Vestiges of ancient manners and customs, discoverable in modern Italy and Sicily (1832) by the Rev. John James Blunt is a compilation of Rev. Blunt's observations on the culture of the Mezzogiorno region compared with texts describing that of antiquity. While Rev. Blunt, an Englishman, tends toward a tone at once condescending and titillated, many of his observations are worth reading. Chapters:

I. Introductory Remarks II. On Saints III. On the Virgin IV. On the Festival of S. Agatha at Catania V. On the Churches of Italy and Sicily VI. On the Religious Services and Ceremonies of the Italians and Sicilians VII. On the mendicant Monks VIII. On sacred Dramas IX. On the Dramatic Nature of the Ceremonies of the Church of Italy X. On Charms XI. On the Burial of the Dead XII. On the Agriculture of Italy XIII. On the Towns, Houses, Utensils, &c. Of the Italians and Sicilians XIV. On the Ordinary Habits, Food, and Dress, of the Italians and Sicilians XV. Miscellaneous Coincidences of Character between the ancient and modern Italians

It is available through the grace of for reading and download here.

Sicilian rosary to Saint Joseph

Transcription courtesy of Preghiere Siciliane:


San Giusippuzzu fustivu patri virgini fustivu comu la Matri Maria la rosa, Giuseppi lu gigghiu datini aiutu, riparu e cunsigghiu.

Scura ora e aggiorna dumani la pruvvidenza nn'aviti a mannari la pruvvidenza di la casa mia l'aspettu di Gesu, Giuseppi e Maria.


Ludamu l'eternu Quantu, lu Patri, lu Figghiu e lu Spiritu Santu Sia lodatu e binidittu sia lu nomu di Gèsu, Giuseppi e Maria.

Pater Noster

Ave Maria

Selected quotes from dark mother

"Healing black madonnas are associated with wooded areas, water (the sea, a lake, a river, a fountain), grottoes and caves, and with the subterranean, often volcanic, chthonic earth." (140) "Deborah Rose went to France in search of black madonnas; afterward, she wrote, 'the last thing I expected was to re-enter Catholicism, the religion of my childhood.' She found that 'devotions of the catholic faithful were keeping alive a reverence for the mother that I suspected was much older than that to the Christian Mary.' Her twenty five years of work in holistic health care have made her 'a firm believer in body memories and cellular consciousness. On an individual, and I believe on a collective level, the body remembers the past. And the oldest memory is of darkness as the source and the beginning. The dark mother is the original mother.'" (149)

"Lucia's popular meaning is caught at Canicattini Bagni, paleolithic site in Sicily, where Lucia is sought for eye maladies connected with loss of wisdom. In italian popular culture, loss of wisdom means loss of hindsight, or memory of the past, and loss of vision, or faith in the future." (171-172)

"In popular themes underlying political traditions of the left in Italy, the black of anarchism is understood as fidelity of subordinated peoples to the truth of the earth." (172)

Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, dark mother: african origins and godmothers

law, logic, and the dark mother

"In Italy, Isis was a mother divinity associated with healing; the 6th century BCE temple to Isis at Pompeii is located next to a temple of Aesculapius, or Serapis. A significant characteristic of Isis, one later associated with the christian madonna, was that she was a compassionate mother. In the rhcistian epoch her son Horus was represented as a child figure. Isis is often depicted with a laurel wreath and two prominant ears, symbolizing that she listened with both ears to the prayers of all those who came to her, an image that can be found to this day in italian folklore. "Water, always associated with Isis, held a sacred quality: holy water, holy rivers, and holy sea. The serpent, identified with Isis, was always sacred. ...Isis and wheat, in the roman epoch, became Ceres and wheat. In the christian epoch Isis became santa Lucia, whose images always carry a sheaf of wheat. The olive tree, associated with Isis, has today become symbol of nonviolent transformation. Italy's contemporary nonviolent left political coalition is named L'Ulivo, or the olive tree. ...In her 600 BCE image in the Museum of Cairo, Isis is figured as a black nursing mother, who bears a startling resemblance to christian images of the nursing madonna.

"Veneration of Isis, her spouse Osiris, and son Horus persisted in all the pharaonic dynasties, a 3,000 year old history when belief in Isis spread from Meroe and Alexandria to 'the whole Mediterranean basin.' In Italy and other latin countries where the holy family is a focus of devotion, the trinity of Isis and her husband and child became the popular christian trinity of Maria, Joseph, and Jesus, popular trinity that differs from the motherless trinity--father, son, and holy ghost--of canonical christianity.

"At african Memphis, hymns praising Isis as a civilizing, universal divinity who had ended cannibalism, instituted good laws, and given birth to agriculture, arts and letters, moral principle, good customs, and justice. Mistress of medicine, healer of human maladies, sovereign of earth and seas, protectress from navigational perils and war, Isis was 'Dea della salvezza per eccellenza... veglia anche sulla morte,' divinity of salvation par excellence, who also watches over the dead. ...

"Acknowledging the dark african mother who preceded patriarchal world religions does not, to this sicilian/american woman, seem all that iconoclastic. It may be a matter of how we think. Erik Hronung, egyptologist of the University at Basel, refers to the complementarity of egyptian logic, which resembles complementarity in physics. 'For the Egyptians two times two is always four, never anything else. But the sky is a number of things--cow, baldachin, water, woman--it is the goddess Nut and the goddes Hathor, and in syncretism a deity a is at the same time another, not-a.' For Hornung, 'the nature of a god becomes accessible through a "multiplicity of approaches," [and] only when these are taken together can the whole be comprehended.' Sicilians, as Justin Vitiello reminds us, know this intuitively. So do artists, craftsmen, poets, and peasants of the world. In the 1970's, when I began to research my italian godmothers/grandmothers, I came across a tile with a blue-black star with thrity-two points in a blue green sea. The tile was named Iside, italian for Isis."

Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, dark mother: african origins and godmothers, pp. 20-21, 27.