Strega means "witch" in Italian--and the name that comes to mind when it comes to the Craft in the Italian sense, is Raven Grimassi. The author of many books on Wicca and Witchcraft (not just Italian-style!), Raven is also the directing elder of the Arician tradition, and together with his wife Stephanie Taylor founded the College of the Crossroads--a mystery tradition school that works to preserve ancient paths (Stephanie also co-wrote The Well Worn Path and the Hidden Path!). Add to that a huge research project, and a cross country move and you have one very busy, very magical person, but I was able to catch up to Raven and ask him a few questions about where he's been, and where he's going...
NZ I have always loved the name Raven (not to mention the bird). I read that this is your pen name—how did you come to choose it?
RG I have always been attracted to ravens since I can remember. This increased when I began to study the occult and found the bird held a significant role there. Later I had the opportunity to work with injured ravens and became fascinated with them. The lore of ravens and their trickster nature appealed to my own sense of humor, and so I eventually took on the name of raven. I also had some training with an American Indian group, and they gave me the name "Laughing Crow" without knowing my name as Raven. I found that confirming.
NZ You're a first generation Italian-American (I'm second-generation, my mom's parents were from Italy—hopefully I got the generation thing right!), so this next “set” of questions is close to my heart:) You studied Italian folk magic and customs from a young age—was this in the family, or something you did on your own? If the former—can you tell us about a fond memory you have about learning at the hands of a family member? If the latter, what inspired you to find out more about this path?
RG In family traditions people grow up learning "the things we do" without any real label. I learned various things from various family members. My relatives from Italy visited in the summers and I learned a variety of things about the Old Religion from them. These visits were always special to me, and I also learned more things about Italian culture this way as well. A conversation on any topic almost always led to talks on old lore and the revelation of some old technique of folk magic.
NZ A good deal of the available information on Wicca and paganism is Celtic. What makes the Italian practice of the Craft different?
RG There are more similarities than differences, and certainly the seeds of southern European witchcraft were influential in the development of Wicca. The popular Charge of the Goddess, for example, begins with a verse from Charles Leland's work on Italian witchcraft, which is the Aradia material. In general, Italian witchcraft involves an emphasis on the veneration of ancestral spirits and upon a variety of nature spirits. There is no "Wiccan Rede" in old Italian witchcraft, but there is a rule against harming the innocent. Innocent is defined as someone who does not provoke the witch. When someone provokes a witch, then he or she loses the protection of being an innocent.
NZ Any suggestions for how our readers—especially those with Italian or European roots—can incorporate (for lack of a better way of saying it, and please, pardon the pun) an “Italian Flavor” into their practice?
RG I think that an emphasis on southern European deities will help along with the incorporation of guardian spirits such as the Lare (spirits of people related to us by blood). At the core, I feel that all Craft traditions are simply the cultural expression of the same beliefs and practices. So there are few true differences when all the dust settles.
NZ When Broomstix was an e-zine we explored direction and location as a theme. You took a new direction with a a big move a few years ago when you moved from west to east. What inspired the change? What do you miss most about California? What do you love the most about your new home, Massachusetts?
RG One of the reasons I moved to New England was to be able to live the seasons of the Wheel of the Year. In California, from a ritual perspective, you have to imagine the seasons more than you actually experience them. Surprisingly I don't miss California at all, but I do miss family and friends. I love the look and feel of New England. There is a vibrancy of the life force here that I never felt in California, at least not in such a tangible way. One of the primary reasons for moving to New England was the closer proximity to the annual events we are often invited to, and so in that sense it was a business inspired move.
NZ The Well Worn Path, and The Hidden Path are among my favorite divination/oracle decks: What inspired these projects? Was it a challenge to produce them as a group effort (you, Stephanie Taylor and Mickie Mueller)? I love that both decks can stand alone, but that they can also be brought together—was that the vision from the beginning, or was it something that evolved? Will there be future additions to this system?
RG The idea for the decks grew from a feeling that we (our community) could benefit from a system more rooted in Pagan themes. The Tarot is, in essence, a system based on Western ceremonial magic and Hebraic mysticism. As such we felt something was missing in terms of pre-Christian European spirituality. So instead of trying to make yet another "Witchy Tarot' or "Pagani Tarot" we set about the task of developing a system rooted in Pagan European themes. Originally we designed an 80 card deck, but the Publisher asked that it be reduced to 40 cards. So we separated out what we call the 40 foundational cards (in terms of teachings concepts) and those became the Well Worn Path. Later on, the Publisher wanted the other 40 cards, and so those became the Hidden Path (consisting of the 40 mystical concepts). The two decks have the same back design, are the same size, and are by the same artist, and so the continuity and compatibility are there. Therefore the decks can be shuffled together to make one deck (which was our original intent).
NZ Any new books and/or projects in the works?
RG Oh, I always have something in the works. I just submitted a proposal for a work tentatively titled 'Old World Witchcraft" which is about the commonality of European traditions. It is part history and folkoric and part Grimoire (note--this book is now available!). I am also just one chapter away from completing a compilation of the writings of Charles Leland in the subject of Witchcraft. I add commentaries and expand on his writings. (Charles Godfrey Leland was an American writer and scholar who did a great deal of research on folkways and folk lore. He wrote Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, a classic read for people on a pagan path.) * Since I first conducted this interview, Raven has had several books published--have a look at them HERE.
NZ We ask this of everyone we interview—what is your favorite sabbat and why? What do you do to celebrate?
RG I will assume that my answer is the most common one - Samhain. In my own tradition we have an emphasis on ancestral veneration. Witches have always been associated with communicating with the dead, and so this season in particular is very meaningful and intimate.
This is true--everyone loves Samhain! Discover more about Raven and his many projects:
Stregheria ~ A site devoted to the Italian Craft.
Raven's Loft ~ Raven and Stephanie's online shop.
Raven's Author Site ~ www.ravengrimassi.net
Get ready to soar!
Interview by Natalie Zaman