Coronavirus in Italy to be Defeated by ‘Witches’? Sure, Who Knows!

If the covid-19 situation does not improve, we might resort to the Holy Water, to the Virgin, & Calabrian witches.

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If the coronavirus situation does not improve, we Italians might resort to the Holy Water, to the Virgin, and to the Calabrian grandmothers.
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This made my day, today. A short article on coronavirus-fighting strategy from a news website called Lo Statale Jonico publishing from Calabria, the Italian region where I was born, gave me the much required comic relief.

It reads like this: “The Ministry of Health has declared that reinforcements are coming! After the hiring of 10,000 new doctors—who are yet to take their qualifying examination—it is now the turn of the Calabrian grandmothers. Old women who are experts in rites against the evil eye, affascino and iettatura, will now be in the trenches against coronavirus. Knowing the ancient rite of removal of the evil eye will in fact, from today, be considered in Calabria as qualifying for the medical profession. It's time to join forces and appeal to everything,” comments a person from Germaneto. Between sacred and profane, between science and pseudoscience, between magic and medicine, Calabria clings to every type of remedy. Obviously, the grandmothers raise their hand with an enthusiastic “Present, sir” to the appeal and leave en masse for the Calabrian hospitals, at the forefront of the pandemic emergency”.

Witches and Unqualified Doctors: All Forces to Join in Battling Coronavirus

For the benefit of non-South Italians, affascino and iettatura are two more elaborate variations of the evil eye. I still cannot figure out whether the website is a satirical one like The Onion or not: the news they carry are an odd mix of funny stuff and real or realistic ones. I had the best laugh of the week, nevertheless. The image of 5000 Calabrian grandmothers assaulting hospitals, a bunch of chillies in one hand—Calabria is famous for chillies—almost canceled the real news. We need doctors.

A batch of 10,000 newly-graduated doctors with no training have been sent to work in hospitals to deal with coronavirus infected patients this week.

Unfortunately, they might be only as good as the Calabrian grandmothers in treating patients.

This move gives me ideas: I might also call my Skype coven of witches and get guidance. We should ask to be hired as volunteers even though we are not grandmothers yet. Here is what my coven looks like: a Calabrian, a Sicilian, another one from Naples, and a French Berber, too.

The Sicilian one is a doctor, a proper one on the frontline these days, but her grandmother in Sicily was the ‘witch’ of the village.

South Italy Takes Witchcraft Seriously, Even Without Believing in It

We are all from the South, after all, and we all know the basic witchcraft stuff. And, being from the South, we take ‘evil eye’ quite seriously even when we don’t believe in it. So seriously that a sentence attributed to the famous philosopher Benedetto Croce, who was born in Naples, sums up our attitude: “It is not true, but I believe it”.

Three years ago the young and posh Naples mayor, Lugi De Magistris, proposed to build a 60-metre-tall monument representing the main antidote against evil eye and iettatura: a red horn.

Almost all of us South Italian children have worn, at least briefly, a tiny cute coral or gold horn pending from chains or bracelets, often along with a medal carrying the image of an angel. The sacred and witchcraft together? Who cares! They have, after all, been closely linked to each other in the South. Not approved by the Church, of course, but again: who cares!

Fascino, a particular kind of evil eye, is mitigated with prayers and then using water, salt and oil. This skill is supposed to be passed from a woman of the family to another (not necessarily mother to daughter) during the Christmas night. It is something that many perfectly educated, polished, and cultured women from South Italy can still do. Trust them to do it when somebody is going through a long string of unlucky events, even if they don't believe in it.

Coronavirus Emergency Brings Saints, ‘Virgins’ and ‘Witches’ Together

Witchcraft is deeply embedded in the culture of the southern parts of Italy. For centuries, so called ‘witchcraft’ has been the only kind of culture and knowledge women could call their own. Unfortunately, many have paid a very high price for common sense and knowledge that would traditionally be denied to them. Being labelled as ‘witches’, many smart women lost their lives.

In time of a pandemic, however, you resort to everything. Even the vilified witches!

We also have miscellaneous ‘saints’ which are supposed to be prayed to in this particular event. Not to forget the army of ‘Virgins’—there's one in my hometown, too—who are supposed to take epidemics away when carried in the streets. The Virgin in my hometown, a painting, has a mark on her cheek. Devotees believe that this mark was left on her face when she took away the plague from my town.

In Rome, in a church at the back of piazza Colonna, there's the ‘Virgin of the Dwell’, who took away another epidemic and now the water of the dwell is supposed to heal any kind of desease.

If the coronavirus situation does not improve, if the curve does not flatten, we might resort to the Holy Water, to the Virgin, and to the Calabrian grandmothers. Meanwhile, I shall call my witches’ coven and start the job. You never know.

(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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