In Italy there still remains, from early times, a curious tradition involving a beneficent Witch named Befana. She is also one of the three goddesses of Fate in Tuscan Witchcraft: Rododesa, Marantega, and Befana. On the night of January 6th, Befana leaves presents in children's stockings hung upon the hearth, a tradition very much like the Santa Claus tradition associated with Christmas in America. The stockings hung for Befana on the hearth are derived from ancient offerings to the goddess of Fate and Time. For such goddesses have always been associated with weaving, the loom, the spindle, and distaff (of which the stockings are totems.) In Italian folklore, Befana arrives flying on a broom, or a goat. This is symbolic of her connection to the plant and animal worlds, making her a woodland goddess as well as a goddess of annual renewal (the cycles of death and rebirth within Nature.)

Befana is also connected to ancestral spirits as a mythical ancestress who returns yearly. Through her timeless visits to the family hearth, her function is that of reaffirming the bond between the family and the ancestors through an exchange of gifts. The children receive gifts from Befanawhich in ancient times were representations of one's ancestors-to whom offerings of food were set near the hearth (very much like cookies and milk are set out for Santa Claus.) In Tuscany and elsewhere the Befana appears in street processions as a masked figure guiding a band of postulants who receive offers from families (and who, in turn, receive the gift of prosperity from Befana's blessings).

The hearth, in which fire is burned and the cooking cauldron is hung, symbolizes the elements of fire and water. The Epiphany holiday observed on January 6th includes purifying rites, and benedictions with water. The water prepared on the eve of Epiphany has a sacred and warding-off-evil-spirits value and is used in critical moments of family life. In the Abruzzo, it's called "Water of the Boffe." Fire, in particular, represents a recurring theme of cleansing and renewal.

In Italian folk tradition, an effigy of Befana is constructed of wood, depicting her holding a spindle and distaff. The effigy is stuffed with grapes, dried figs, chestnuts, pears, apples, carobs, sapa, and cotnognata. Later it is sawed open and the items are dispensed to the town folk, followed by the burning of Befana upon a pyre (thus returning the ancestral spirit to the kingdom beyond the tomb through the symbolism of the ascending fire.) The pyre is six to seven meters high and has to be conical. Chopped wood is placed on the bottom of the stack. Next is placed brambles, then horse chestnuts, and finally straw.

Pyromancy is performed by the sparks exploding from the chestnuts as the pyre burns. The burning of Befana is also designed to return the old life to the new life, the decay of Winter feeding the soil of Spring. For the figure of Befana as a crone is merely the reflection of her having been aged by Winter. From the Autumn Equinox, Befana is born again, life renewed, and she returns as Fana, the woodland goddess of Spring.

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