Attributes: Goddess of gifts, children and family.
Symbols: Verbena, figs and leaves.
“La Befana” is known in Italy as a wise woman, endowed with magical powers. She crosses the skies on her flying broom or flying donkey, bringing presents to the good children like figs, nuts and sweets on the night of the Epiphany. To those who were spoiled, she left a piece of coal.
Her appearance is very close to the traditional witch we know, represented in drawings and films. Elder with a broom and able to perform magic. She wears a black shawl and has a smiley face covered in soot, as she enters the children’s houses by the chimney. In Wicca we can associate her with the crone face of the Triple Goddess, whose aspects are wisdom, knowledge and renewal.
Befana is thought to be a descendant of the Roman Goddess Strina, who is responsible for the presents given in the new year. The two deities distribute similar pampering, promoting joy among people’s hearts.
Some say that the two are the same Goddess, and that Befana is a consequence that arose from the evolution of the cult of Strina.
She is an ancient Goddess, who pre-dates Christianity and may originally have been a deity of ancestral spirits, forests, and the very passage of time. Some scholars identify this Elder with the Greek Goddess Hekate.
Befana is also related to the Celtic culture, for when they inhabited the Alps, wicker puppets were set afire in honor of the Gods. The witch is nothing more than a priestess who knows the secrets of nature. Even the charcoal left to the disobedient children is a symbol of fertility attached to the sacred fires. When burned, it brings light and heat, renewing itself in energy.
As we can note, she also has some traits in common with Santa, whose myth is presented to all children. Because of this, she is also called the Christmas Witch.
One of many Befana’s legends tells that she was an ordinary housewife and that she spent her days cooking and cleaning. One day she received the visit of the Magi, who invited her to accompany them and to honor the birth of Jesus. She refused, claiming she was too busy, and they left. Later on she noticed a bright star in the sky and her heart made her change her mind. She left with candy and fruits to look for the boy and took his broom to help Jesus’s mother, Mary, with the cleaning services.
Befana never found Jesus, but she did not give up her quest, and she looks for him to this day. On the night of the Epiphany she visits all the houses that have a child and leaves gifts to all those who are good, because she knows that Christ manifests in their hearts.
The Epiphany, the last holiday of the Christmas period, is considered a period of renewal. The peasants believed that the predictions and forethought of the future were created and people gathered around campfires, telling fantastic stories.
The feast of Epiphany or La Festa dell’Epifania, in Italian, takes place on January 6 and is a Christian commemorative day, also called “Day of Kings” here in Brazil. On that day the revelation of God as human in His son Jesus Christ and the arrival of the Magi to present him are commemorated.
In the traditional celebration bonfires are lit at night and rites of purification and blessing with water take place. The water prepared for there rites is sacred and has protective properties, being used at critical moments in family life.