New interest dawns for Italy's old pagan roots

Fri Oct 24, 2008 2:37pm EDT
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By Barbara Cornell

MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Milan will sweep aside its Roman and Papal heritage this weekend to celebrate Samhain, popularly regarded as the Celtic New Year, at a festival which highlights Italy's awakened interest in its pagan past.

The city's Sforzesco Castle will host crafts like weaving, coining money and making chain mail to a backdrop of music from Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Spain. More than 100,000 visitors are expected to come to see Celtic warriors clash in battle.

The focus is strictly cultural heritage, not religion, said Emanuela Magni, co-organizer of the event.

"It teaches how even with the passage of time, there are some concepts of the universe that have endured here," Magni said, noting that the Celtic holy tradition of Samhain was a precursor to holidays like All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

But as Italy uncovers its pre-Christian roots, it is also awakening pagan practice.

"Indeed something is afoot here quietly but determinedly, and it appears to be a movement," wrote American religious studies researcher Francesca Howell, in a paper published last month by the international journal of pagan studies, Pomegranate.

Italy has deep roots in witchcraft, or "stregoneria," Howell said in an interview. But its current pagan movement echoes earlier trends in the British Isles and America. Italy's pagans have coalesced around movements like feminism and environmentalism.

"It truly is a different cup of tea, or different cauldron of herbs, if you will," she said.   Continued...

<p>A Samhain ritual is seen in a file photo. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell</p>