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Italian Witchcraft Trials with Debora Moretti

Italian Witchcraft Trials with Debora Moretti Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast

Take a first look at witch trial history in early modern Italy. Dr. Debora Moretti, of the University of York Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies shares her research on Italian witchcraft beliefs and trials during the Roman Inquisition. What type of historical record is available today from this period in Italy? In this intriguing conversation she talks about witchcraft belief variations around Italy, some differences and similarities between Italian witchcraft beliefs and those found in other countries, Witch Sabbat details, and word origins for varying terms for the word witch in Italian. This episode continues the message and questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches?, and we consider the tenor of history research and witchcraft academia today and what’s ahead. LinksResearch & Writing by Dr, Debora MorettiU.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote StabilityJoin One of Our ProjectsSupport Us! Buy Book Titles Mentioned in this Episode from our Book ShopPurchase a Witch Trial White Rose Memorial ButtonSupport Us! Sign up as a Super ListenerEnd Witch Hunts Movement Support Us! Buy Witch Trial Merch!Support Us! Buy Podcast Merch!Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramPinterestLinkedInYouTubeTikTokDiscordSupport the show

Show Notes

Take a first look at witch trial history in early modern Italy. Dr. Debora Moretti, of the University of York Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies shares her research on Italian witchcraft beliefs and trials during the Roman Inquisition. What type of historical record is available today from this period in Italy? In this intriguing conversation she talks about witchcraft belief variations around Italy, some differences and similarities between Italian witchcraft beliefs and those found in other countries, Witch Sabbat details, and word origins for varying terms for the word witch in Italian.


[00:00:20] Josh Hutchinson: Welcome to Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. I'm Josh Hutchinson.
[00:00:25] Sarah Jack: And I'm Sarah Jack.
[00:00:27] Josh Hutchinson: In this episode, Dr. Deborah Moretti of the University of York Center for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies tells us about Italian witchcraft beliefs and trials.
[00:00:40] Sarah Jack: I am so excited that we got to talk about Italy. There are so many variations in witchcraft beliefs around Italy, and Dr. Moretti is the person to learn about it from.
[00:00:52] Josh Hutchinson: In addition to learning about the witchcraft beliefs in Italy, we'll compare differences and similarities with beliefs found in other countries.
[00:01:04] Sarah Jack: There's a lot to learn about the witches sabbat, and it's in this episode.
[00:01:10] Josh Hutchinson: And we'll learn about the differences between demoniac and non-demoniac witchcraft, and we'll learn about the Inquisition's role and practices in witchcraft trials in Italy.
[00:01:24] Sarah Jack: Dr. Moretti talks to us about the records of some specific witch trials that occurred in Siena and Piedmont, and it's fascinating.
[00:01:35] Josh Hutchinson: Among the many words that we'll learn for witchcraft, one is masca. We'll learn what that term refers to, what the origins of the word are, and who was the last masca.
[00:01:51] Sarah Jack: Here is Dr. Deborah Moretti, who holds a specialized master's degree, an MLitt in ancient history and archeology from the University of Florence and a PhD in history from the University of Bristol. She has taught courses and seminars in ancient history and medieval and early modern history at the University of Florence and Bristol.
Her research interests cover the history of Italian witchcraft in medieval and early modern period; ancient, medieval, and modern European paganism and magic, and also material evidence of magic in archeological context. Her published research focuses on the interactions between magic, its archeological evidence, and the social perception of the historical practitioners of magic and witchcraft. 
[00:02:35] Debora Moretti: The curiosity in historical studies and archeological studies is out there. I have just done a three days public outlet for archeology. I had many young people, they're doing also history, and the interest is there. So that's a positive sign. We, as you know, we just did in July a witchcraft conference, magic and witchcraft conference over two days. We, when I say we, it was myself and Tabitha Stanmore from University of Exeter, we organized the conference, and we focused, we really wanted to give more space to early career researchers following magic and witchcraft academic studies. And I have to say many people were surprised of the interest.
The interest is still there. There are new avenues being studied, being researched. Therefore, I think magic and witchcraft studies are still in a very good place. There is a new blood coming in, and it was really exciting to have them all. Great exchange of ideas. We both have learned quite a lot.
And because of that, next year is already in preparation. Next year will be the third year. So last year, it was just me organize it, and I had big names like Ronald Hutton or Owen Davies, Marina Montesano from Messina University, just to assess their research, where this year we focused on early career researchers, because we wanted to see is there a follow up to the big names? And there is. 
So yes exciting times for studies in magic and witchcraft in all directions from spatial analysis to linguistic analysis, not just history or archeology, ethnography, anthropology. So it's still very vibrant, which is good to see, really. And also I think what excited me the most was how we are all prepared to embrace different type of media. So rather than follow the classical conferences, symposia, publication, there is more interest in having a more wider outlet, in social media and platforms like Instagram or, I'm not quite sure about TikTok, but Facebook, yes, I say I knew that the field was not stalling. I knew that it was still, the academic research was still carrying on, but I think I came out of the two days conference quite refreshed, knowing that yes, we are still there, we're still working, we're still researching in different areas to answer the many questions that still need to be answered.
[00:05:27] Sarah Jack: Dr. Danny Buck tweeted out a lot of his experience as he was there, and it was very enticing, and it sounded like the topics and the discussions were really, what he was sharing really highlighted what you just shared for sure. I followed a lot of new historians that I hadn't been aware of yet, and I thought some of their focus topics were really important, too. So what an exciting time.
[00:05:58] Debora Moretti: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Yes.
[00:06:01] Josh Hutchinson: I think of this as something of a golden age in witchcraft academic studies. There's so much research out there now, where, when I first got interested in witch trials about 15 years ago, there were a few books around, some of them older, but now it's just, I can't keep up with everything that's coming out. It's so wonderful.
[00:06:34] Debora Moretti: Yes, it's, as I said, is refreshing to see. So of course, up to maybe five years ago, everybody was following the same pathways, because I think the usual pathways have to be explored more in depth, and now that we have explored them, there is like an explosion. For example, there is a focus on the inner emotions of basically of both the accusers and the people that were accused and even of the judges or the inquisitors, what was their background culturally, but also what was the input that put them there to ask certain questions? There is a focus on, as I said spatial narratives. 
So, for example, there was a panel dedicated to the location of the Sabbat. So you, wherever you go in Europe, nevermind just one country, but in Europe altogether, you have different places that've been chosen to represent the perfect location for the sabbat by the people at the time. So you have liminal places. Therefore, you have a wooded area, you have the forest, you have the mountains, you have the sea.
And of course these liminal places were connected to the local culture of specific groups at the time. So what was important for their economy? What was important for their livelihood? What was important in the fears, like the fear of the forest, that contributed to create the perfect location of the sabbat?
[00:08:20] Sarah Jack: I was also thinking about the circle of borrowed concepts. 
[00:08:24] Debora Moretti: Yes that's mine. I'm really proud of that. Of course, I was referring to what I am studying specifically. So that is the context of the Roman Inquisition trials. In the trial documents, you see, there has been an argument in the last 20 years on how really the Inquisition trials documents are primary sources to understand the perception of witchcraft and witchcraft practices at the time, in both the people who were accused, the accusers, but also the inquisitors, because it's like a dichotomy.
So you have a more learned approach to witchcraft beliefs or it's more a theological approach. And that was what was driving the inquisitors and the judges. And then there is more a folk approach or folk perception of magic and witchcraft. And that's what you can read in the depositions of both the accused and the accusers.
Borrowing concepts, the idea behind that is that when somebody accused somebody else, they brought to the table their own perception, cultural and folk perception of what they believed a witch was or witchcraft acts were. And they were confronted by the perception of the Inquisitor of what a witch was and what witchcraft acts were.
And of course, the two met during the witchcraft trials and there is evidence of the one part influencing the other. Also you have to think that a witchcraft trials was not just one event. And despite the, both the accusers and the accused were told of not discussing the trial outside of the tribunal, discussion did happen.
So whatever the Inquisitor or the judge said was then reported to the wider village people. And it was absorbed in a way, but also the other way around. There is the folk perception of witchcraft and witchcraft practices, and then you have the more learned perception of witchcraft and witchcraft practices that come together and influence each other. That was the idea of the borrowed concepts of witchcraft beliefs.
[00:11:12] Josh Hutchinson: Turning our attention specifically to Italy, what elements of witchcraft beliefs are unique to Italy?
[00:11:20] Debora Moretti: The first element is the longevity. So let's talk about the folk perception of witchcraft and what a witch is in the witchcraft trials. So the archives that I am using, they're dated between 1570 to 1780, more or less, and the same concepts come through across the 200 years period. Two different perceptions. 
So there is still the idea of a witch as we have been told a witch should be, this almost supernatural figure, who would fly to sabbat either on top of a mountain or in a forest or somewhere else, have a pact with the devil, participate to the sabbat, so gathering of people. And during that sabbat they would do certain things, learning the dark art, copulating with the devil, eating specific things, amongst which, babies. So you have the supernatural witch, but then at the same time you have also the more practical witch, which is a normal person that has the capability of working sorcery for both a positive and negative end. 
So you find the same spells throughout the 200 years period. And I'm not sure if I confront them with the English trials, for example, I'm not sure you find the same chronological broadness of certain beliefs. At least the practical side of beliefs is there is a famous spell the spell of the carafe or specifically called the Spell of the White and Black Angel, which you can find as early as mid-sixteenth century, but then you can find in mid 18th century. Is the same spell that has been maintained and practiced across the country.
So I would say the longevity, yes, the longevity of the beliefs, but also the practices is one characteristic of Italian witchcraft beliefs. Some others, for example, how to remove the evil eye has survived till now. I have example of the evil eye and how to remove it in trials dating mid to late 16th century. And then, I have my great-grandmother who was born in the late 19th century, who used the same practices to remove the evil eye. 
So can we say that certain spells have survived throughout centuries? Yes, but with a condition. So where in the 16th century you would see a more defined perception of the supernatural, nowadays, removing a evil eye is just a matter of fact practice. So it has a less supernatural perception in it, if you like. So definitely let the longevity of the beliefs both as what a witch is and what the practices are. It's just that nowadays, because there is no pressure of the inquisition at certain practices are not, even in the 18 19th century, certain practices are no longer considered maleficia. So there's no connection to heresy. They're still there in some form. So continuity. Absolutely. The perception has changed. We no longer think that the devil has a major part in it. We are no longer talking of heresy, but we are still talking of bad and good practices, and certain practices are specifically maintained to help people to overcome certain problems.
[00:15:37] Sarah Jack: So as a little bit of an explainer, I'm wondering so like when you look at the New England witch trials, which is very different in every way, there is no longevity of practice, understanding. They're not even, there's no spells as a part of the trial history. But there are the hidden protective magic in their homes. The magic is there somewhere, but we don't really understand what their perception of it was. And we don't even have a perception of it today here in the United States. It's very interesting to me that we were targeting and murdering women as witches in the United States, but there wasn't even that element of spells or anything with it. So it seems very different, and I just wonder what people need to understand about that.
[00:16:33] Debora Moretti: I think the element was still there, but has not been recorded in the primary documents. Owen Davies has written a great book, I think it came out in 2013, which was America Bewitched: The Story of Witchcraft after Salem. And he pointed out that the perception of witchcraft and magic practices did not end at 1692. They carried on, but is the documentation that has changed.
He looked at different records, and he found evidence that the perception of witchcraft beliefs and beliefs in witches carried on later on and only petered out around the 1960s. Personally, what I really think is that there you had the same elements. So there were certain beliefs, certain practices that gave a push to the witch-hunt, but perhaps they were not recorded, because you have to understand the media through which this information has come to us. Now, I am lucky because I have the Inquisition records, and they were very meticulous in recording what constituted a witchcraft crime or a heretical crime. But if the local judges or the local priest did not record that and focused only on the heretical element or only on the pact with the devil, that's what we have.
So we have to remember that witchcraft-related sources are incredibly biased and they've been biased from the time that were created. So we have to see who wrote them, who actually wrote the documentation, why the person has written them, and what was the purpose of the final document? So again, if I make you a comparison with Inquisition trial documents, we know that the Roman Inquisition dealt with heresy. Therefore, in the interrogations, you can see how the Inquisitor was chasing the heretical crime. So of all the many things that the accused person was telling, the Inquisitor focused on the heretical crime, and that is a form of biased. Now we are lucky. I am lucky because everything was recorded.
But if in your case, the person noted down on the document decided that a certain spell did not qualify as heretical and did not fit the agenda of that specific trial, it was left out. So the fact that references to spells are not there does not mean that they were not there. It probably, in fact, very likely means that the person writing down did not consider them important to the agenda that the person was following or the trial agenda.
So we have to be really careful in how we handle any document that is related to witchcraft accusations, because ultimately they were written by somebody who did have an agenda. Therefore, large parts were left out. In Italian witchcraft trials, we, back 20 years ago, we were saying, oh yes, from the late 17th century witchcraft trials were no longer important. They didn't happen or they petered out. That's not quite true. The agenda of the inquisition changed. Therefore, the questions during the interrogations did not cover some elements. You have to understand what was behind the interrogation. What was the agenda of the institution or person that was carrying out the interrogation? What was the ultimate goal? So for the Roman Inquisition was to find out heretical practices, because they had jurisdiction only on practices that had a heretical nature. The rest, they didn't have jurisdiction on them.
I think I would say the first step for anybody that wants to get into witchcraft studies is, especially if they're working on archival material, is to understand the institution that has created the archival material and what was the ultimate goal of this institutional judge or, I don't know, tribunal? What was the ultimate goal? Was it really persecuting every form of magical practices, or was it just one section, were they chasing only the pact with the devil? Therefore, in that case, they would've left out everything else. They would've left out, I don't know, healing practices that might have had a magical side to them or other things, because did not support what they were chasing, basically.
And Owen Davies has used, as I said, different materials like newspapers, ethnographical material, and I love the book. And he, I think he showed that the perception of witchcraft did indeed change, but accusations were still there. The perception of the malevolent witch was still there. It was just in different primary sources. It was treated differently by the legal system. It's a different form, but the beliefs themselves, they were still there and I think, maybe spells and magical practices were there, but they were not recorded because not necessary for what they were looking for.
[00:23:10] Josh Hutchinson: They did record a few practices, divination, but not the spells. They would mention that a person would go away mumbling, but they wouldn't say what the person said. They never wrote down the words. They just wrote down that, yeah, they might have cursed this person. But the words weren't important for whatever reason.
[00:23:36] Debora Moretti: Exactly. Where again, I am lucky because the words were recorded is like in the case of Caterina Caponero, for example, we are early 17th century. She was, by the time she was accused and therefore put on trial, she had a 20 years career of magical practitioner, if you like, and she did all sorts of things. She did love spells, she did healing spells. She was quite well known in the community. The real reason why she ended up in front of the Inquisitor was because of this specific Spell of the White Angel, Black Angel, which the inquisitor's manuals saw as heretical because, shall I tell you what the spell is so you understand?
 This is a spell that is very famous, and, as I said, it has survived. It was practiced across Italy for 200 years. So basically the person doing the spell would collect holy water from a church and put the holy water in a carafe. The person then would get a holy candle, usually what was leftover of Candlemas, so a specific type of candle. They would put the candle, so the carafe on the table, the candle behind the carafe, and then they would ask either a child or a nun, somebody who had not had sexual intercourse or a virgin human being to look into the carafe. So the candle would create shapes into the water and the person would tell the magic practitioner what the shapes were, and the magical practitioner would basically understand what the shapes were, and this spell was usually done for either finding treasures or recovering stolen objects.
Now, even some churches across Italy would ask the help of magic practitioners to use this spell, if they had some goods stolen by others. Now, Caterina was really good at it because there is a woman accusing her, saying that she didn't want to get involved with her, but she was desperate to find the stolen goods. So she went to Caterina, and not only Caterina saw where the goods were, but Caterina also saw who had stolen the goods and we don't know if then the woman went and got her goods back. But she was adamant on the fact that Caterina was, she never said, oh, she's good, but she said something on the lines of, I was surprised, and she was right. She told me who they were, and I knew that they were these people. So of 20 years magical practices career, the Inquisitor just focused on this one because the Inquisition manuals said that the black angel is the devil. So the magical practitioner was interacting with the devil.
And that was that. Nevermind the fact that she cured many people. Nevermind that she used other things for love magic. That was the thing that got her in trouble, and she was in and out of prison for decades and she got tortured for this. And she was basically kept in prison. So you see if the Inquisitor or the tribunal was not really careful in taking notes of what she was saying, we would've missed her spell, her love spells, or her healing spells, and we would've known of her, only of the white angel, black angel spell.
See how very narrow it's, so it depends on who is down the interrogation. So yeah it's very, the sources are very biased from the very beginning. So I think one who wants really to approach the trials documents has to keep that in mind all the time.
[00:27:50] Sarah Jack: Yeah. I just keep thinking about Samuel Wardwell in North Andover, and part of it's my own as I've come along trying to put all this together. He has this fortune telling. He's known, or it's brought up about him. He's questioning it. If these practices were getting them in trouble, but they were known to do it and comfortable, like, why were they so surprised for getting in trouble when they were publicly doing these things?
And now I'm seeing that many of them were, it was a very, possibly a very normal part of their interaction with each other, but because of what the target of the Salem witch trials was, which was the devil and the covenanting. There are these tiny little flickers of magical practices, even in the Salem witchcraft story. And it doesn't fit, it doesn't make sense. But that's why, this is why, what you are explaining is the answer to that.
[00:28:51] Debora Moretti: Even further back in time many practices were in place generation prior the person being accused of witchcraft. Now, you would wonder why all of a sudden what they have been prac, like Caterina, she has done that for 20 years. What happened to suddenly make her a heretical witch?
There is a shift with the at least I'm talking of course, for Italian witchcraft here, specifically. So when the Reformation kicked in and the Roman Catholic Church kicked back with a Counter-Reformation, so we are mid 16th century, the Catholic Church had to reform its ways so could fight back the Reformation. In reforming itself, push down on its flock. The supervision of the Church of its flock's practices became more focused. 
So the general people had to follow a tighter line, a better Christian behavior. So all of a sudden the practices that they are carried out and learned from their parents and they have freely carried out up to that point, became dangerous practice, or the church started to consider them dangerous. Therefore, they became suddenly visible. And what the church did was also to invite the general public to come forward, if they had known of people practicing heretical. And they did, the population did. So the church provided a platform and the people used the platform. So we tend to say that the witchcraft accusations did not come from above, they came from below. So once there was a platform created by the Church, the general people used it, and that's when the accusations started. And the accusations, a good percentage of the accusations, were between neighbors, within the same family, and what propelled these accusations were usually bad social interactions.
There is an example in the witchcraft trials of Novara in the north in Piedmont, where a woman, an elderly woman, she was a widow and her husband, and you can read this in the trial, her husband left with good money, which was unusual. So she ended up lending money to different people, farmers, traders, et cetera, because that's how she would have an interest and have a better life.
When the time came that these people had to pay her back, that's when they accused her of being a witch. So she was bad-tempered, and everybody knew that. And they used that to say that she was a witch, so they didn't have to pay the money back. So you see, once they had the platform upon which to act, they did act on it, and they accused, whoever they were unhappy with at the time. They accused these people. 
But then if you come forward to nowadays, don't you think people would do the same? If the authorities created a platform where you could get rid of your neighbor that has been making your life miserable for 15 years, wouldn't you do that? I think what happened there is a very human behavior. Pettiness, jealousy, even competitiveness played a role and also social situation. Generally speaking, these people struggled in their day-to-day lives. So they had to make their lives better, and they had a place to do that. They had a stage upon which play all these things. 
So witchcraft trials are, gosh, so complicated. There are so many factors that one has to keep in mind, and that's why it feels like you are never a specialist. You are one person that continues to study even the same witchcraft trials, because you have to approach them from different viewpoints, and you have to understand exactly the role played by everybody in a specific trial. You can't just see the side of the accused. You have to see the side of the accusers. You have to understand what type of economy was there at the time. You have to understand the political scenery of the time, the religious background of the time, and then also considered, in my case, what was the ultimate goal of the Roman Inquisition? What and who were they chasing? 
It is like Caterina, for example, she was a bit surprised of all these accusations. And she did say, "I've been operating for so many years." And she actually did say, "I even went around saying, 'oh, I'm really good at doing this and that magical practices.'" And she had a good trade, and she could not understand why all of a sudden she was being accused by the very same people who she helped, because the main accuser on her trial was a really disgruntled wife who had a cheating husband. And the wife thought that the cheating husband was cheating on her, because he was somehow bewitched. Personally, I don't think so, but there you go, that's my very personal opinion. But previous this so she accused the two women who took away her husband and then she accused Caterina of providing the magical meaning for these two women to steal her husband. Now, previous that, few years previous that, and this is in the trial, the same wife did go to Caterina for a love spell, to have her husband back.
So Caterina gave her the spell of the magnet. Literally was a piece of magnet that had been baptized in the church. And Caterina called the wife to keep it either in her mouth when she was kissing the husband, or in other parts of her body while they were doing other things, so the husband would be attracted to her, literally magnet attraction. So Caterina is saying, "but I have helped you with your husband, so why are you now accusing me of this?" 
So you can see the social interconnection. These trials are never in isolation. You have to keep in mind the social context of them amongst all the other things. And that's why I say trial documents are complex. You have to read them in context. I am fond of giving the stage to the people that were in the trial rather than me making assumptions. I like them to be the main actors, because it's them who we should be listening to. And also the judges and inquisitors, because it's only them that can tell the story appropriately.
And then we have to place these stories within a really wide cultural, political, social, economic background. And I think only then we can get a glimpse of really what happened to have the full picture of them.
[00:37:11] Josh Hutchinson: Many excellent points. In Italy, in your articles, you've written about the regional differences in the witchcraft. Can you explain some of those? What was the difference, for instance, between belief in the Alps and belief south of the Alps?
[00:37:31] Debora Moretti: Yes. So this was part, this was the main part of my PhD thesis. So I worked on two different archives. One is the inquisition archive of the city of Siena, which is still is thankfully in Tuscany, so we are talking center north of Italy. And in the Episcopal Archive of the city of Novara, which is in Piedmont, therefore in the North.
And the witch trials of the Novara archive, they are, the events took part in two very small villages in the Alps. Now, the difference between, and I'm going to give you the general differences. Otherwise, we will be here for three days. So the main differences are that in the Novara archive, the witches, or the accusations carried out, present the supernatural witch, the heretical witch, as we know it from Central Europe, so the typical witch that we know. 
So the person, supernatural person, who would indeed fly to the sabbat on top of a mountain, in a gathering, the sabbat, where first and foremost they would meet the devil. They would kiss his bottom of the devil and then have sex with the devil and then dance obscene dances. And usually they were dancing backwards, and then they would have lots of food, always without salt. One of the preferred food was children, there's a lot of children.
So that's the stereotypical, heretical witch that was pushed by the elite of the time. So that is the heretical witch. Whereas in Tuscany or in the Siena archive, there are references to the sabbat, but they are, they're almost like passing by references. And the figure of the witch is not really the heretical witch. You have more a low level sorcerer. So the person who would learn certain spells and they were not necessarily all bad. So the majority of the spells that you find in the accusations that you find in the north, as I said, they are heretical acts and mainly killing children, adoring the devil, and all that. So that is pure apostasy, and that's why that is a heretical crime. Where in the Siena archive, you find healing spells, you find love spells, you find what at the time called a tero tero spells. So they are spells to make, usually men, win games or find treasures. You do have references to the devil, but they are very specific. The adoration of the devil in Central Italy or in the Siena archive is usually associated with priests, nuns, or educated people. 
The references to the devil of your normal folks is, you don't find the devil much, and when you do find it, it has almost like a secondary role. They addressed the saints, they addressed God, they addressed the angels, they even addressed stars, certain stars. And then if all that did not bring a change, then they addressed the devil. The devil was not that important. It was part of a supernatural universe. They, the majority of these people, apart the few, like the priests or the aristocrats or the nuns, the majority of the people accused were poor people that were struggling, so in the trials, you see how they justified certain acts as a way of making their life better. So sometimes you have people saying, when they've been asked, did you address the devil? And they say, oh yes, but it wasn't my first choice. I went to Saint So-and-so first and then the angel, and then the bright star, and then I have to go to the devil, because nobody else made it happen. 
So you have this feeling that the sabbat is not important. Not even in the accusations, because we have, if we want to understand the sabbat, we have to read the accusations. So in the accusations of the Novara Piedmont North, you have, people accusing somebody else of going, flying to the sabbat and committing apostasy and kissing the devil's bottom. Where in the Siena Archive, there's not much there. There, there are references, but they are not your typical heretical gatherings. 
Now, you find different references to different type of sabbats across Italy. So these are not the only two typologies. It's almost a regional perception of the sabbat. But whereas in the north you have your typical sabbat that you also have in central Europe, for example, or even in Scotland, in the center and maybe the south is more local. So you have the walnuts of Benevento or you have other types of sabbats. So they're more folk perceptions of the sabbat. Where in the north, as in the rest of Europe, is the stereotypical sabbat that was imposed from above.
[00:43:18] Josh Hutchinson: So it's more of a diabolical pact that's important in the north, and in the south, it, and central, it sounds like it had more to do with magic that was being used for practical purposes, and it's the magic itself doing the harm versus what the source of the magic is. Yeah. Okay.
[00:43:43] Debora Moretti: Exact perfect. Perfectly. Yeah. Perfectly spotted.
[00:43:47] Josh Hutchinson: you. Can you tell us about the different words there were for witchcraft and witches?
[00:43:57] Debora Moretti: Oh, yes, 
[00:43:58] Josh Hutchinson: know you pointed out several of different words and they had somewhat different meanings.
[00:44:04] Debora Moretti: Yes. So strega is the one that we all know the best, because it is the one that comes from Latin. And that has survived into modern time. But then you have, for example, the masca, that seems to come from a more Germanic type of substratum. This is my hypothesis, the different names for witch in Italy, they are determined by the different languages in different regions. For example, in the areas that were because you have to remember that in Italy you didn't just have the Roman Inquisition, you also had the Spanish Inquisition in the south and some parts of the center. And then you had the Episcopal tribunals, et cetera. So it was a very complex religious situation regarding witchcraft.
So you have in some part of Italy witches is that are called bruja, for example, that comes from Spanish. So that's an influence of the language. And masca, for example, comes from the Germanic, I think. It's definitely Longobard, or Lombard as, as you say in English, of Lombard origins. So the the terminology of witch depends on the subcultural substratum of different regions. 
[00:45:33] Debora Moretti: And then, of course, you have, so in the modern language you have strega, fata, and maga. So the fata is derives from the Latin word for fatum, which is a prophetic declaration, an oracle, or a prediction and is more, the fata is more of benign folklore figure. So it's not necessarily a witch, but sometimes fata has magical powers, and they were usually benign, but if humans treated them badly, then they would take revenge on them, basically. 
Maga is, it comes from Latin. And it comes from Maji, from the Persian Maga, in fact derived originally from Greek, and then it was used in the Latin language. So it comes from that word, from the Persian word that means learned and priestly class. And then it became more like of a magical practitioner. And in the modern Italian folk tradition, the maga would be also synonymous of a healer or cunning woman. Now you do have the male version as well. So maga mage is for it's a female magic practitioner where mago magi is a male magic practitioner. They're less threatening figures, but they certainly still have magical powers. 
The strega is absolutely a negative figure, because it really comes from the Latin strix and striges. So there's no way to find a benign character in the name. The masca, again, that's specific to the northwest of Italy, is mostly a negative, is still is today seen as a negative magic practitioner. And he still, now, it's one of the most famous type of witches in Italy to the point that Piedmont, for example has a specific tourist sector dedicated to the masca.
So yeah, so you have your typical witch the strega, which is definitely negative, has negative attributes. Then you have the fata, which is more of a folk benign entity that can turn nasty, but usually as a vindictive act. You have the maga or mago, which is more cunning folk type of person.
And then you have, there are many others, many others. And then you have the masca, which is again, has a negative connotation but at the same time has also a cunning folk vibe to it. So it's more complex than just either the strega or the maga.
So the strega is negative totally. The maga is mainly cunning folk type of figure. It could turn nasty, generally speaking magic practices, the fata is more of a folklore, supernatural entity. And then you have the masca, which is the demonic witch but at the same time is also the cunning folk type of person, because they usually were, next door neighbor who during the day they would do the normal things every person would do. And they, in the night, they would transform themselves into these demonic figures. There are many others, many others. And the variation in the terminology, I think is because of the cultural substratum. Is there being a Spanish influence there? Therefore, you might have a different type of name. Is there being a Greek influence in the region? Then you have a different name. It depends on where you are in Italy, to have different terminology to express the term witch.
[00:49:37] Josh Hutchinson: And can you tell us more about the masca? In one of your articles, you break down the origins of the word and where that might've come from. Can you tell us about that?
[00:49:50] Debora Moretti: Yeah. That was a mental exercise on my part. I wanted to see, because it's such a well-known character or figure, I wanted to see if I could find material evidence of its provenance. So I have chased the etymology of the word, and I have traced it back to believe it or not proto-Indo-European to a proto-Indo- European root of. Now the pronunciation of in European, it's all made up. So forgive me if I just don't pronounce it well, but who knows how they pronounce it? So is mezeg, which meant to knit, plait, and twist. And that came down to Proto-Germanic mask, and it had cognates in all the Germanic dialects. So you find in, you find it in Old High German as max, and that is sixth to ninth century. You have it in the Old German or Old Saxon of eighth, 12th century as masca. You have it in German from the 16th century as masca. So you know through different yeah, Germanic dialects.
So what is this mental exercise on the etymology of the word I, in my article, I throw it out there that the modern masca, which was definitely a witch figure in the Lombard low codes, comes from an even more ancient figure that was associated to bog bodies.
I know this is a bit of a leap of faith, and I say that maybe the original etymology of masca, which means, as we said to knit, plait, twist is perhaps a memory of a practice carried out from Iron Age cultures in Europe to basically deliver bodies into bogs. And they were usually pinned down by knitted material or twigs. So that's the mental exercise. 
Now, I have no evidence of that, because we need more work, but we know for example, from Tacitus that certain individuals within certain societies were punished by drowning in marshes or bogs, and they were pinned down into the bogs. So in my article, I'm just wondering if the Lombard witch, masca witch, has survived as a witch figure in modern time, still called masca, actually is a memory of an ancient, sacrificial or punishment of certain individuals not well accepted within specific societies.
We know from Tacitus that the people that were pinned down in bogs were prostitutes or unclean individuals. Not quite sure what that means, but clearly there were individuals that were not well accepted within the society where they practiced this. I don't think there were sacrifices per se, but they were definitely killed because of their perceived crimes.
So could that be, maybe there is still more work to be done, because it's very difficult to bring together the philological interpretation of a term and then find the archeological evidence, an act that we can see in the archeological records that could explain the evolution of an etymology and then can that be transferred to historical figure. That was a mental exercise. 
I think it is possible, because bog bodies are a specific, it was not your usual burial. There were reasons, either rituals or social reasons for certain individuals to be dumped into marshy areas. Why were they pinned down? They were, we know that, I dunno if you know what hurdles are, but they are like mesh twigs, and so they were properly kept down in the bog. And because of this mesh situation or even bodies that have been wrapped up, I was just wondering, is there a connection, because the etymology of the word masca takes you all the way back to Proto-Indo-European, meaning knitting, meshing. Is there connection there?
But Yeah, it's all hypothetical. 
[00:54:43] Josh Hutchinson: And you talk about the last masca killed in Piedmont.
[00:54:50] Debora Moretti: Yeah.
[00:54:50] Josh Hutchinson: When did that occur?
[00:54:53] Debora Moretti: Early 19th century. And she was the post medieval masca were considered witches, and they were told to possess a specific book that would give them the power to carry out their acts. And the book was called Book of the Fisica. She was accused of having one of these books, and the book apparently had belonged to the family for a very long time. She was accused of causing illness and death to two people in the village. So authorities were called, but nothing was done. Therefore, the people of the village decided to take matter into their own hands.
And they choose two men to have it killed. And these two men were never prosecuted for the murder, because the village basically supported the alibi. Therefore, they were never prosecuted, and yes, she was killed by them just because the village thought that she was a witch.
[00:56:02] Sarah Jack: I have to tell you that this is a little bit off, and we don't have to keep this in the episode, but I have to tell you, I can't help but think of Dorothy Good right now, Josh. 
[00:56:12] Debora Moretti: Again, the connection there is an historical connection to bog bodies and witches. But again it's not a direct connection. So the main direction in the Burgundian laws, so that is. 500 AD. So we are early, early medieval Europe. There is a chapter that says, tell how adulterous women should be treated. And there is a connection, of course, between the adulterous women, prostitutes. And then there is an associations of prostitutes with witches. And adulterous women should be drowned in bogs, basically. 
We have the archeological evidence of bog bodies. Then you have Tacitus that mention certain unholy or I can't quite remember what he named them, but certain individuals in society that deserve to be drowned into bogs. And then you have the Burgundian laws that specifically refers to how an adulterous woman and prostitute should be dealt with.
So there is something there. Now we, as Ronald Hutton always say never join the dots, because that is a very long chronological period to assume something. So there is definitely something there. But even in my article, I say, is this too much of a leap of faith because you, you would need to have direct references all the way through. So from, early, early medieval to then post medieval, either Europe or Northern America, to definitely say absolutely there is absolutely a connection between bog bodies and witches. But it's fascinating. I like to think that there is something there. Otherwise I would've not gone through, the etymological research on the word masca. So if I put my scholar cap on, I would say, yeah, we have to be careful because do we have evidence in, so after, let's say after the seventh century AD, do we have evidence of that?
We don't really but as a person who is really passionate about witchcraft studies, yeah. , no even here, even in Europe, there's no association between bog bodies and witchcraft directly. So it's just me working on the masca, which is, Italian. Really. So no bog bodies are all, I think from late bronze age, iron age period type of they do have them here in England as well. Definitely in Scandinavia and Central Europe as well. But not in later periods well, not yet. Who knows, maybe.
[00:58:58] Josh Hutchinson: But the point of going back with the word is basically the words meaning evolved over time to become witch. It started out as a different kind of situation of an unclean person and then evolved somehow. 
[00:59:17] Debora Moretti: I only gave you like the shorter road from Proto-Indo-European to the Lombard word masca. But there are more bits in between which allowed me to have an hypothesis on, a theory on this. But yes, we start with something that means, knitting or mesh ending then into a witch figure, which is an incredible, incredibly large leap of faith. I give you that. But I think there is something about it, and when I will have a little bit more time, I will expand this with some philologists so they will know better about the evolution of Proto-Indo-European into then Germanic languages, et cetera. Because I'm not a philologist. Then, yeah, I can look better into the bog bodies, see if we have more later evidence.
So yeah it's intriguing. Absolutely. Just it needs to be taken with a little bit of a pinch of salt. I personally think there is something there, but it needs to be studied in depth. Really.
[01:00:20] Josh Hutchinson: The masca, what were some of their powers? I know you talk about their spirit coming from their body.
[01:00:28] Debora Moretti: Yes. So they had the ability to operate outside their body. So in folklore evidence that were collected quite recently in the 1980s people remembered, so we are talk, the majority of the people talking about their memories, they were, in 1980, they were around like 70, 80 years old, and they referred to traditions that came from their parents. So we are looking at the end of the 19th century. So they would say that one of the most feared characteristic of the masca was that she would, let's say they were doing some work together in an evening. So the village was gathered together, she would fall asleep and then she would, her soul or spirit would come out of her mouth and she would commit witchcraft acts in a spirit form.
So that was one of the most feared elements of the masca. That way that could fly. And there are some references to how they would, in that form would collect the fat from children. And they would keep this fat in jars hidden in their homes. And then they would use the fat to enhance their magical powers and then to fly further.
And in one of the folk references there is, there was a gentleman who said, I remember in my village. So as I said, yeah, the these folk narratives were collected I think it was 1980s or early 1990s. So the gentleman said, I remember of a masca farfalle, which is butterfly. And she was basically a woman masca, a witch, benign for what the person was saying, who would every so often fly back to her own country, which was France, so she could fly as a butterfly.
So yeah, they had this power of either operating in spirit form, coming out from the bodies through the mouth, or fly around like butterflies.
[01:02:43] Josh Hutchinson: It sounds so familiar to with New England witches they were, a lot of the evidence that came in was spectral evidence, and it was about the specter of the individual leaving the body and going off to do the nefarious things. And it would fly to Sabbaths and go into people's houses in the night to injure them, make them sick, just torment them in some way, and then return to the person.
And there's stories of, there was one woman who had, I believe, catalepsy, and she would pass out basically. And so they found her body lying there still and revived her. But then in later years, they were looking back on that incident and they're like, yeah, we should have known she was a witch right then, because her soul left her body while she was snoozing.
[01:03:50] Debora Moretti: Yeah, that's why in my PhD I said that the masca is more of a strictly speaking, demonic witch because she would operate, in the same way that demonic witches would operate. So yeah. But that the idea of the masca being the demonic witch was perceived earlier on, even in the Lombard law codes because the masca was somebody who, like a strega a witch about witch would eat a man inside out. So they had supernatural abilities to hurt people from inside out. Absolutely differently from the various witches from the Siena Archive, for example, where you really don't have that.
There are a few elements that they did hypnotize parents inside their own homes to steal children and then steal the fat of the children. But again, they, compared to the quantity of the trial documents, these elements are few in percentage. The remaining they are just, they were practical witches, if you like. 
[01:05:03] Josh Hutchinson: Yes. And I'm really curious what did the witches do with the baby fat?
[01:05:12] Debora Moretti: In both the Siena archive and then the Novara archives, they would cover themselves with the fat, and then they would be able to fly or being able to summon the devil to fly with the devil. Yeah, it was, it would enhance their powers.
[01:05:33] Josh Hutchinson: And when they flew, would they fly as their human form, or would they always transform into something else, or?
[01:05:45] Debora Moretti: You also have metamorphosis. But usually they would fly on a horse, in fact not even fly. So sometimes once they anointed themselves a goat would appear that's the devil. And the goat would take them to the sabbat. Sometimes is a speaking horse. Sometimes they would fly themselves.
So it depends. There are so many traditions on how to get to the sabbat. There is one common element, though, while in motion they could not mention God, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, or any of the saints. Otherwise, their magical power would disappear, and they will fall down. And there are some of them that will say, and all of a sudden, I woke in the middle of a field covered in bruises, because I said Dio, Maria and Jesu, and all the magic disappeared, and then they became normal again.
[01:06:46] Josh Hutchinson: We had them on broomsticks. Sometimes Satan would appear as a horse or a dog or some animal to them, but usually they would ride on a pole to the sabbat. And
[01:07:01] Sarah Jack: about each other? Isn't there a couple that just rode another witch?
[01:07:06] Josh Hutchinson: There was something where they made somebody ride them. But there were also, there were crashes. There were times where the poles snapped, and they fell to the ground. And that's recorded in their confessions. And there's one story of one, one witch clinging onto the other for dear life, because she was falling off the pole. So they were very elaborate in their descriptions of flight in New England, at least during the Salem trials, when the devil really played such a critical role.
[01:07:44] Debora Moretti: Yeah. I found detailed narration of the food that they would have at the sabbat. Loads of food, high status food. So that is almost what they were wishing, because of course their daily food wasn't that type of food. And all the time the food had no salt in it, because the salt, again, would annihilate the magical power, and sometimes they say basically great variety of food, really lush, but then when they ate it, it tasted charred material, like sand or burned material. So that gives you the idea that even in their narratives, they knew that all that was just an illusion, the illusion of the devil. 
[01:08:35] Josh Hutchinson: The salt is very interesting because I've seen that elsewhere used in protective magic to form a circle around you of protection, that kind of thing.
[01:08:50] Debora Moretti: We still have in Italy. I remember seeing my mom spreading salt at the bottom of our external staircase to make sure that there was no evil coming in. And we still say, do not spill salt. And if you do, then you have to chuck a little bit behind your shoulder to make sure, so the salt has always had magic, a counter witchcraft or counter magic properties of it was an apotropaic mineral. It's being used in antiquity, as well. Yeah.
[01:09:22] Josh Hutchinson: I just had this idea of the salt as, we talk about sympathetic magic and where a property, there's a transference of some property, of something that's like another thing. And the salt, because it preserves the food against rot and decay. Maybe it also protects the person in other ways.
[01:09:51] Debora Moretti: That is very possible. Very possible. Also, remember that salt has healing properties. What is the first thing you do when you cut yourself if you don't have whatever the name of the, alcohol based solutions, you just use hot water and salt. So yeah, it's healing property and preservation of food. Yes, absolutely. Yeah. Sympathetic magic right there.
[01:10:21] Josh Hutchinson: Yeah. You'd mentioned some other sympathetic magic earlier. Was that common in witch trial cases?
[01:10:31] Debora Moretti: Absolutely. The most used spells, for example to prevent fertility in a man, one of the most common spells were the knotting of the string. So you can see the, so you are knotting something therefore the man will stop being fertile, for example. And then, yes, the the spell of the magnet. So it's literally a piece of magnet that was baptized. So you see, they were practicing magic within their own cultural background. So they were religious people, they were Catholics. So for something like a magnet to be active, to be magical, to kick in the sympathetic element of the magical practice, it had to be baptized.
And this was, the baptizing random objects, was a thing, because we find sermons that, stating this ignorant, backwards, people bring all sorts of things to be hidden under the altar to be baptized. So the priest would not know what he was baptizing to give the magical power to certain objects, because the church itself had a magical element. And that's why amongst the different apotropaic object, you would also have saints figurine carried on the body or prayers carried on the body. Their perception of atropaic was vast and certainly included liturgical objects, liturgy itself. Everything was, could be used, in a different way from what. 
[01:12:20] Josh Hutchinson: And people still wear protective medallions and amulets today.
[01:12:26] Debora Moretti: Yes, absolutely. This again, is one of those human element, that never goes away. And I think there is at least for me, it's comforting to know, because I use amulets, I wear certain type of stones in my jewelry or a specific metal in my jewelry. And it is for me, a sort of comfort to know that what I am doing has been done for thousands of years, but also that is because this is my perception of what witchcraft is, or not necessarily witchcraft, because witchcraft was almost created with the demonization of magical practices. 
But yeah, magic is a sort of, you are nowadays, why do you practice magic is to have, bring control to your life, to almost shape the universe around you so you are in control. And for what I read from the, not all of them, but a good percentage of the witchcraft trials documents. That's why some of them did that, because they say that I had no bread for three days. I had no food for two days. Hence doing this. And also there is a practical element is Caterina, she made money, good money in selling her spells.
So yes, there is a psychological element to magical practices. So they're almost a way, a coping mechanism. So if life is particularly hard on you, you try to take back control, and I think as it applies today, it did apply back then. And there is the element and then there is the practical element.
So people either truly were magical practitioners and they made money out of it, or they pretended to be magical practitioners, so they could basically almost force people to help them. Otherwise, they would put spells on them, even if they were not magical practitioners. 
[01:14:40] Josh Hutchinson: Was there anything else you wanted to talk about before we wrap up?
[01:14:46] Debora Moretti: We have to have more social media coverage, academic study of witchcraft and magic has to have more media coverage. Because in the past tended to be more for specialists, where I think it has to go out there to a wider public. So thank you very much. Thank you to your listeners.
[01:15:08] Sarah Jack: And now for a Minute with Mary. 
[01:15:19] Mary Bingham: The name Putnam has caused many to cringe when we talk about the Salem Witch Trials. After all, some of them were the main accusers in 1692. But only some of them. In fact, only a small few, Thomas Junior, his wife and daughter, Ann Senior and Ann Junior, Thomas's brother Edward, and Jonathan, a cousin of Thomas and Edward. If I missed a Putnam or two, it's not more than three. Here's the deal. My fellow volunteer at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, John Fellows, readily tells our visitors the name Putnam is like the name Smith. To further that point, archivist for the town of Danvers and the historian Richard Trask says that the Putnam clan made up 12% of the entire population of no more than 550 living in Salem Village in the late 1600s. These Putnams included the families of the daughters who married and started families of their own. 
So what were the views of the other Putnams regarding the witchcraft allegations? One can't speak for all of them, but we know one thing for sure. Several signed the petition in defense of Rebecca Nurse. One of them was my 10 times great-grandfather, Captain John Putnam. It's interesting to note that Captain John was at that time in heated arguments with the Esty and Towne families regarding the boundary dispute between the towns of Topsfield and Salem Village in Massachusetts Bay Colony, British America.
These families with whom Captain John was ready to do physical battle were close relatives of Rebecca Nurse and her sister, Mary Esty, both hanged in 1692. However, Captain John never accused Rebecca Nurse or Mary Esty of witchcraft, as did his nephew Thomas and his family, never. The other Putnams who signed the petition in defense of Rebecca Nurse were Captain John's wife Rebecca, Jonathan Putnam, Benjamin Putnam, Sarah Putnam, and Joseph Putnam.
Just because someone was named Putnam doesn't mean they were accusers. Hopefully, I have laid this misconception to rest, for a few minutes, anyway. Thank you. 
[01:17:53] Sarah Jack: Thank you, Mary.
[01:17:54] Josh Hutchinson: Here's Sarah with End Witch Hunts News. 
[01:18:05] Sarah Jack: End Witch Hunts, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) weekly news update. Today is World Day Against Witch Hunts. Humanity, has not yet gotten past the fearful behavior of hunting vulnerable people, witches. Witch hunting targets the vulnerable and innocent.
Please join me right now and have a 30-second moment of reflection for those who have been executed as witches.
If you would like to spend more time reflecting, you should do so and pause the episode.
On August 10th, 2020, World Day Against Witch Hunts was started in order to recognize the violence in at least 41 countries around the globe, such as countries in Africa, Oceania, and Latin America, where fearful, panicked people target vulnerable, scared people because of witchcraft fear and blame.
The victims are hunted, tortured, and often killed. The inaugural World Day Against Witch Hunts was in 2020. This date of remembrance was chosen to honor the attack on a woman in Papua New Guinea on August 10th, 2012. She was accused of being a witch by residents of her village and tortured for days. She survived the violence, was able to escape, and was brought to safety with the help of advocate and Swiss nun, Sister Lorena Jenal. And so the International Catholic Mission Society launched August 10th as the day to draw attention to the devastating consequences of sorcery accusation-related violence and witch hunts, to connect experts and advocates, and to grow awareness and pool violence prevention and education initiatives.
Work with us on growing this day of remembrance, and take time to post words like August 10th, World Day Against Witch Hunts 2023, in order to amplify this annual day of education and remembrance. We want it to be an annual anticipated day of recognition for the victims and advocates facing this crisis daily. It is a memorial day and a day of education. Worldwide, multitudes of victims do not have a physical memorial, but they now have the World Day against Witch Hunts. Tell your friends about it and send them our way to learn more. 
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[01:21:42] Josh Hutchinson: Thank you, Sarah.
[01:21:44] Sarah Jack: You're welcome.
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