La Befana


I was trying to decide just what I could do which would be both seasonal as well as apporpriate for my blog, when the perfect answer had come to me. Though I know have been away awhile and negelegeted this neck of the woods. I have been busy and now I have the perfect new entery.

Of course we all know of Santa Clause, though many different myths and tales associating around the figure, but I want to talk about a all together different figure whom many probably have not heard of that serves much the same purpose as Jolly old St. Nick. I am speaking of La Befana, which translate to The White Witch, so who is La Befana? She is a figure from Italian culture, and she very much does embody the rather common and typical imagery of a witch. She is an old hag like woman, who much like Santa Clause is rather round in figure. She very strongly resembles the typical kind of witch seen as part of Halloween decorations, with a big nose and gray hair. She is said to either ware gray or brown. She is believed to ride either upon a flying broom, or some stories say a donkey, and she carries with her a large sack of gifts with which to leave behind to the children of the world, as well she is said to leave both food and presents within the stockings of children.

Some people have come to believe that La Befana is Santa Clause’s wife and she helps him out, and it is from her that the idea of naughty children being left a lump of coal has come. It is always said that often before leaving a house she will use her broom to sweep the floor. Much like leaving milk and cookies for Santa Clause in the common American tradition. Children would leave  La Befana, a small glass of wine, as well as a few morsels of food behind and usually the food is something that is local to the particular area


Many of the creatures which have been featuredhere have been primarily male, and so this one was a bit of a nice change. The Ho’ok is a she-demon in the legends of the Tohono O’odham (The Desert People) in the Sonoran Desert.

In the belief of the Tohono people at the center of their lands there was a great mountain called Bapoquivari, whose vast range is millions of acres of desert extending down into Sonora from what is now known as Tuscon.  According to Tohono myth it is within this mountain that their Creator, and Elder Brother I’itoi lived, as well within the a cave in this mountain live the Ho’ok.

The Ho’ok appears to be female except for her hands in feet which are animal claws. She is a fierce man-eater and who is said to carry away children and babies which she than cooks and eats.

One of the things I wanted to mention about this, was the fact that it is common widespread among many cultures to portray “evil” females as being child eaters. It is a theme that often occurs within fairy tales, and much lore about witches tends to involve the idea of child sacrifice of the killing and eating of babies.

This can be seen in the same way in which Vampires and werewolves are often seen to prey upon women. The idea that there is nothing more vile and terrifying than the death of those that are viewed as being most innocent in pure.  As the old ideal of women was a fragile, delicate, and pure being.  And so when confronted with a female villain, what could be worse than the idea that she would target children.

Of course this also plays upon the ideas of woman as being maternal, and the old traditional views in which it is a woman’s natural instinct to always want to protect and love a child.  There is nothing which could cause more fear then a creature so monstrous she would not be affected by these instincts and could actually strike down a child.

In the same way that a werewolf can be viewed as a man who has simply abandoned himself to his “Wild” nature, and forsook civilization in refusing to allow his natural instincts to be contained and controlled, and instead of being ashamed of his animal brain, but rather relishes in it. A woman who could hurt a child, is a woman that has completely abandoned her humanity and has given into her wiles.

How Witches Sold Their Souls

Devil-Worship as Treason

One of the most upsetting things about witchcraft to Europeans of the past was the “fact” witches sold their souls to the Devil. Church authorities were already desperate to stamp out heresy, and outright Devil-worship (even if only assumed) made them apoplectic.

Although some so-called witches practiced only white magic, suspicions had already been aroused. Legal contracts made with Satan began to appear in courts. “These were taken as proof of heresy and high treason, both capital offenses, whereas offenses from blasphemy to practicing medicine without a license would deserve lesser punishments. Once witches were regarded as, in effect, citizens of another country, the kingdom of darkness, sworn in fealty to another prince, The Devil, they were political enemies, and all that was fair in war was fair in dealing with them” (Ashley 105, 106).

By 1398, it had been officially decided that witches entered into pacts with Satan. Maleficia was no a crime treated as treason to God and country. In 1608, William Perkins wrote in A Discourse of the Damned Art of Witchcraft that

though the witch were in many respects profitable, and did not hurt but procured much good, yet, because he hath renounced God his king and governor and hath bound himself by other laws to the service of the enemies of God and his church, death is his portion justly assigned to him by God: he may not live.


Satanic Accusations

As treasoners and Devil-worshippers, witches were accused of many things:

  • Denying the Christian faith
  • Denying Christian baptism (or worse, being rebaptized by the Devil)
  • Replacing godparents with Satanic colleagues
  • Surrendering clothing and blood (as part of an oath) to Satan to represent their submission to him
  • Accepting the Devil’s mark.
  • Promising to pay taxes to the Devil
  • Promising to sacrifice children to the Devil
  • Promising to bring up their own children as the Devil’s servants
  • Accepting the Devil as both god and king

Making a Pact With Satan

 There were many ways of making a pact with the Devil.

The Formicarus (1435) gives the earliest if not the most complete description of what happens. Supplied with friends who have already forsworn God, the applicant arrives at a church on a Sunday morning very early and renounces God and the One, Holy, and Apostolic Church. He pays homage to The Devil, drinks the blood of sacrificed children, and subscribes to the rules of the damned, which cover many things from diet to cursing and sacrificing. He expresses the desire to trade his soul for one or more favors from The Evil One, often wealth or power for a specified number of years (Ashley 106).

Actually signing the Devil’s paperwork is difficult. It “must be signed in the person’s blood, drawn from the left arm. If it will not flow easily–human nature resists such an act–it is warmed with fire (representing passion overcoming intellect) and the person is inscribed in the ‘red book’ of death” (Ashley 107).

Another way of selling your soul to the Devil was to do the following:

  1. Get a piece of virgin parchment (from the first calf a cow bears, not a piece never written on before).
  2. Write on it with your own blood: “I promise GREAT DEMON to repay him in seven years for all he shall give me. In witness whereof, I sign my name.”
  3. Sign it in your own blood.
  4. Then, within a magic circle, hold the document in you hand and recite the invocation:

    LUCIFER, Emperor, Master of All Rebellious Spirits, I beseech thee to be favorable to me in calling upon thy GREAT MINISTER which I make, desiring to make a pact with him.

    BEELZEBUB, Prince, I pray thee also, to protect me in my undertaking.

    ASTAROTH, Count, be propitious to me and cause that this night the GREAT DEMON appear to me in human form and without any evil smell, and that he grant me, by means of the pact which I shall deliver to him, all the treasures of which I have need.

    GREAT DEMON, I beseech thee, leave thy dwelling, in whatever part of the world you may be, to come speak with me; if not, I shall thereto compel thee by the power of the might words of the Great Key of Solomon, whereof he made use to force the rebellious spirits to accept his pact.


  5. When the demon appears, throw him the pact. Do not step outside the circle on any account

Breaking a Pact With the Devil

According to Saint Alphonso Maria de Ligouri (1696-1787), it is possible to break a pact with Satan, even if it has been signed in blood. The following steps must be followed:

  1. Renounce and abjure any contract with Satan.
  2. Destroy all writings, talismans, charms, etc., connected with the black art.
  3. Burn the written contract, or declare you regret and reject it.
  4. “Make restitution for any harm done, insofar as is possible”

Cannibalism and Witchcraft

As seen in such tales as Hansel and Gretel, cannibalism is a trait associated with witchcraft. Although human bodies were thought to have been used for magical purposes, they were also thought to have been perversely used as food. One demon specialist wrote, “Our witches have slain many infants as appears everywhere in their trials; what is still more abhorrent to nature, they cut out their hearts and eat them” (Sidky 33).

Another demonologist believed “They tear living infants to pieces…and drink their blood to rejuvenate themselves, or else they roast them and eagerly devour them druing their obscene rituals” (Sidky 33).

The pious doctors spared none of the lurid details when describing the horrifying cravings of these man-eating monsters. One demonologiest reported that in Lausanne, Switzerland, witches cooked and ate their own children, while in the Canton of Berne at least thirteen infants belonging to others were devoured in this manner. The witches arrested for these scabrous crimes divulged the horrifying details of their activities: “We set our snares chiefly for unbaptized children, and even for those that have been baptized, especially when they have not been protected by the sign of the Cross and prayers…and with our spells we kill them in their cradles or even when they are sleeping by their parents’ side, in such a way that they afterwards are thought to have been [smothered] or to have died of some other natural death. Then we secretly take them from their graves, and cook them in a cauldron, until the whole flesh comes away from the bones to make a soup which may be drunk. Of the more solid matter ewe make an unguent which is of virtue to help us in our arts and pleasures and our transportations; and with the liquid we fill a flask or skin, whoever drinks from which, with the addition of a few other ceremonies, immediately acquires much knowledge and becomes a leader of our sect.” Thus, by killing and eating the flesh of Christian children, demonographers attested, witches acquired their magical abilities, especially the power to fly through the air, a feat they accomplished by means of an ointment made from the fatty residue of their cannibalistic meals.

Aside from devouring infants, witches were thought to regularly consume the putrid flesh of human corpses, which they secretly exhumed from cemeteries in order to serve up during their hideous noctunal banquets. The witches’ lust for gore, it seems, had no bounds

The Canon Episcopi

The Canon Episcopi, recorded about 900 AD, was used in witchcraft trails. Needless to say the Canon created about as many problems as it solved since it defined “witchcraft as Devil-worship but declared it to be nothing more than a foolish delusion.”

The Canon denied that witches could physically fly through the night, and said, “Whoever was ‘so stupid and foolish’ as to believe such fantastic tales was an infidel.” It claimed people believing such tales were deluded by the Devil. However, even though such flights and other feats were physically impossible, they could be achieved in spirit. And, whoever did such things in spirit were just as guilty as if they had done them physically.

By the 12th century the Canon was creating all sort of problems for demonologists. These men were accepting the validity of physical metamorphosis and transvection. The Canon pronounced these phenomena to be illusionary. “It was reasoned that even if witches flew with Diana and demons in spirit or imagination only, they were just as guilty as if they had done so in the flesh.”

From these deductions it was a simple thing to say all heretics including witches, whether physically or spiritually, formed pacts with the Devil. However, there were no defenses against such accusations for who can prove what he does or does not think or imagine? It was easy to accuse women of riding through the night upon beasts to sabbats and charging that lurid and demonic acts took place at such meetings.

Toward the mid-15th century the inquisitors and demonologists were beginning to dismiss the Canon Episcopi. It was presenting to many problems, however, it influence lingered on another 200 years



Toads have just as long of a history with witches and play just as an impoerant role in the history of witchcraft as cats do. Many of us are familiar with the age old beleif that witches were comonly thought to have warts becasue of the fact that they handled toads. Of course we now know that toads do not in fact cause warts to appear. To have a wart was once a sure mark of a witch. Toads play many roles in witchcraft as do cats. Serving as familiars as well as a componoents to spells, and minions of the devil.

Toads as Familiars

 Toads were perfect as familiars. “Thanks to the two tiny horns borne on his forehead, a toad was recognizable as a demon, and witches took infinite care of him. They baptized their toads, dressed them in black velvet, put little bells on their paws, and made them dance” (Givry 136). “Jeannette d’Abadie, a witch of the Basses-Pyrénées…declared that she saw brought to the Sabbat a number of toads dressed some in black, some in scarlet velvet, with little bells attached to their coats” (Summers 159).

Sent out to cause mayhem and to poison others, toads were also thought to have accompanied witches to the Sabbat. Konrad von Marburg, the German Inquisitor General and heretic-finder, believed many “Luciferians” worshipped toads (King 27).

An accused Cathar, a woman named Bilia, “admitted to having a familiar toad to which she fed meat, bread, and cheese, and out of whose feces, together with human body hair, whe made a powder from which she confected the potions drunk at the synagogues” (Russell 1972 223).

Toads were often beloved pets, and if people injured or killed such a familiar, they placed themselves in grave danger. The following story comes from Somerset, England:

There lived an old woman who kept three pet toads with the engaging names of Duke, Dick and Merryboy. One autumn afternoon, carrying her toads in a basket to keep her company, she watched three young farmers reap a field, singing to the rhythm of their flashing scythes. One of the toads hopped from the basket directly into the path of the reapers. The young men sniggered and, before the woman’s horrified eyes, slashed the beast to pieces.

‘I’ll set hell on you,’ cried the woman. ‘None of you will finish this day’s work.’ And, having said that curse, she trudged off across the field, carrying the remaining toads carefully away.

The young men only laughed, but within moments one of them had cut his hand with his scythe badly enough to stop his working. The next sliced across the toe of his boot on a downswing, and the last cut his boot open from one side to the other. Unnerved, they left the field. As their neighbor had said, none of them finished work that day

The Power of Toads

The breath of toads, and sometimes even being glanced upon by a toad, was also considered dangerous. The breath of a toad was believed to infect a person wherever it touched. Another common superstition existed stating those whom a toad regarded fixedly would be sized by spasms, palpitations, swoons, and convulsions. In the eighteenth century, Abbé Rousseau experimented with toads. He “avowed that when of these animals looked upon him for some time he fell in a fainting fit whence, if help had not arrived, he would never have recovered” (Summers 158).

In addition, toads were integral in some forms of experimental divination. It was believed “if you put the heart and left foot of a toad over the mouth of a sleeping man, for example, he will immediately reveal to you whatever you ask him.”

Toads in Potions and Spellcraft

Toads secrete a thick, white, hallucinogenic substance from skin glands when they are injured or provoked. This toxin (C24H34O5) is called bufagin, bufotenin, or more colloquially, toads’ milk (Guiley 1989 341). The secretion acts like digitalis in biological action, and was believed to have been used by witches for various nefarious purposes. Toad excrement was theoretically used as an ingredient in flying potions by Basque witches (Levack 45).

In Artois, a flying potion made from toads was created when the witch put consecrated bread and wine into a pot full of toads. “When the toads had devoured the sacrament, they were killed and burned. Then the ashes of the toads were mixed with the powdered bones of dead Christians, the blood of children, herbs, and the recipe was completed with ‘other things'” (Russell 1972 250).

Unfortunate toads could be decapitated, skinned, and thrown into cauldrons along with other strange ingredients. A lotion of sow-thistle sap and toads spittle was believed to make a witch invisible, and brandy embued with burned toad ashes was believed to be an effective cure for drunkenness. If a toad was baptized with an enemy’s name then tortured to death, the victim supposedly suffered the same fate.

In 1329, a Carmelite monk named Peter Recordi was sentenced to death for “having made images of wax, toads’ blood, and spittle, consecrating them to the Devil and then hiding them in the houses of women with whom he purposed sexual intercourse.”

Toad Stones

 Toads were also believed to have a precious stone in their heads. This stone was considered both a talisman for obtaining “almost perfect earthly happiness” (Givry 345) and a means to detect poison. If the stone became hot, poison was nearby. The adjacent illustration is from Johannes de Cuba’s 1498 work Hortus Sanitatis. It shows “a method, at once practical and elegant, of extracting this stone” (Givry 345). Sometimes, however, accomodating toads would simply vomit up the stones by themselves (Guiley 1989 341).

Toad stones were considered most effective when set in rings (Guiley 1989 341). This gold ring is from fourteenth-century Italy. “This stone, which counted as precious, allegedly came from the head of a toad, though actually it was a fossil derived from a certain kind of fish.”

Toads and the Devil

Sometimes the Devil would appear to witches as a toad. In these instances, witches would kiss the toad’s mouth in an act of homage (Russell 1972 146). Satan was believed to have presided at Sabbats in the form of a he-goat, a black cat, a raven or crow, or a feathered toad” (Givry 74).

In their worship of the Devil, witches were said to have mangled, torn apart, and bitten toads. “By stamping his foot, the Devil could send all toads into the earth” (Guiley 1989 341).

In 1610 Juan de Echalear, a sorcerer of Navarre, confessed at his trial before the Alcantarine inquisitor Don Alonso Becerra Holguin that he and his coven collected toads for the Sabbat, and when they presented these animals to the Devil he blessed them with his left hand, after which they were killed and cooked in a stewpot with human bones and pieces of corpses rifled from new-made graves. From this filthy hotch-potch were brewed poisons and unguents that the Devil distributed to all present with directions how to use them. By sprinkling corn with the liquid it was supposed they could blight a standing field, and also destroy flowers and fruit. A few drops let fall upon a person’s garments was believed to insure death, and a smear upon the shed or sty effectually diseased cattle

*Image info: Medieval witches cooking “magic” brew with toad and henbane. From the Golden Guide: Hallucinogenic Plants

Strange Beasts: Familiars

We have talked about Cats and dogs, here are some other animals that were like to have fallen under the suspsicion of being declared as familiars:


According to many demonologists, if a witch or sorceress managed to eat a queen bee before she was arrested, she would be able to withstand torture and trial without confessing. This was one of many ready explanations offered by witch-hunters when their victims refused to confess. In this way, many witches were condemned to death despite the lack of a confession (Guiley 1989 22).

Bees were also valued familiars because they made wax. From this wax, witches were thought to have fashioned images with which to practice their arts upon.


A chicken named Nan was considered a familiar in the 17th-century Bury St. Edmonds trials of Suffolk, England. Three other chickens were also cited as imps in the same area (Guiley 1989 44).

Alice Samuel, the witch of Throckmorton, confessed to having a dun chicken as a familiar. At one time, this chicken plagued the children of Throckmorton, but ceased because:

the said dun chicken with the rest are now come into her, and are now in the bottom of her belly, and make her so full she is like to burst, and this morning they caused her to be so full she could scant lace her coat, and that on the way as she came, they weighed so heavy that the horse she rode on did fall down and was not able to carry her (Purkiss 137).

Some witches were believed to have had sex with chickens. At the end of the seventeenth century, Johannes Henricus Pott tells of “a woman who, having probably coupled with a demon in the guise of a rooster, laid eggs every day.”


Margaret Wyard, an accused witch of Bury St. Edmonds in Suffolk, England, confessed to having flies among her familiars


Margaret Wyard, an accused witch of Bury St. Edmonds in Suffolk, England, confessed to having mice among her familiars. Other witches in the area admitted to having two “heavy and hairy” mice as familiars. In 1662, the nine- and eleven-year old daughters of Samuel Pacy somehow saw invisible mice which they threw on a fire. One mouse “screeched like a Rat.” The other mouse “Flash’d like to Gun-Powder.”

One 16th-century Essex woman confessed to having three mouse-shaped imps named Daynty, Prettyman, and Littleman. Another woman had four named Sparrow, Robyn, James, and Prickeare


A victim of Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, John Bysack confessed to having six familiars in the form of snails. These imps sustained themselves by sucking Bysack’s blood. “Each snail was an assassin with a particular assignment: Atleward killed cows, Jeffry pigs, Peter sheep, Pyman fowls, Sacar horses and Sydrake Christians” (Guiley 1989 44).


“Spinner of webs, an archtrickster, and a silent and murderous trapper, the spider was tiny enought to hide in the hood of a witch’s cloak as a familiar and whisper instruction in her ear” (Lehane 106). Margaret Wyard, an accused witch of Bury St. Edmonds in Suffolk, England, confessed to having a spider among her familiars.


Wolves were sometimes thought to have been used as mounts by witches on their way to the Sabbat.

Witches were sometimes believed to be werewolves, as well.