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Befana :: Christmas goddess

 Befana, Italian Goddess
of Christmas Customs & the Epiphany

The Goddess comes in many forms. But what do you make of a witch-goddess who was such a part of an important Christian event that the holy day it inspired even bears her name?

Though she was originally just a mortal witch, you could call her a Christmas goddess since the spiritual journey she undertook on the first Christmas led to her becoming immortal.

The Story of Befana

A long time ago, there was an elderly woman (in goddess terms, a Crone), who lived quietly in the forest. She was not one to socialize and, as rumor would have it, she was probably even a witch, a follower of Trivia (a goddess of sorcery and witchcraft, the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Hecate.)

Befana's neighbors seldom sought her out unless they needed one  of her herbal concoctions. (They had to admit that, odd though she might be, she was a healer and quite useful to have around.) But Befana was aware of the rumors the villagers spread about her.

Parents were quick to warn their children to keep away from her cottage, passing on rumors that children who went near her house were sometimes "Never seen again".

Of course they could not name a single child who'd been "disappeared" that way, but it was a convenient way to teach the children to obey their parents, rather like the injunction to "Never Speak to Strangers" in today's world.

Befana had long ago given up on ever having children of her own, so it wounded her deeply to know the village children were afraid of her and would be punished if they came near her as they played.

Befana cared enough that every day she cleaned her cottage from top to bottom and baked a batch of cookies so she'd be ready to entertain any child who was brave or curious enough to come to her door.

None did, of course, so Befana set the cookies out for the animals and creatures living in the forest to feast upon.

But in the year that the Christ Child was born, an incredible thing happened. It was to change Befana's life forever.


The Three Wise Men and the Witch

Befana was sweeping her doorsteps and looked up to find three men, dressed in expensive, exotic robes, approaching her to ask for directions. (Note: I've often wondered if that's why they are called the Three Wise Men . . . most men I know would never stop to ask for directions.)

She invited them in and offered them cider and her freshly baked cookies and listened to the the wondrous tale they told. . .  that they were from far away places, following the bright star that had been in the nighttime sky in recent months.

Even more astonishing was their belief that it would eventually lead them to the place where a son of the god of the Israelites was being born. They were travelng to attend the first Epiphany, to see this magical child and to honor him with their finest gifts.  (1. Epiphany (noun): A Christian feast, traditionally observed on January 6, celebrating the revelation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.)

Though Befana was unable to supply them with information about which route they should take, the weary visitors were grateful for her hospitality and invited her to accompany them on their trip.

She was tempted, but she just didn't see how she could do it--too much housework and baking still to be done so she regretfully declined.

goddess Befana

When she took the last batch of cookies out of the oven and swept the crumbs out the back door, Befana realized she had made a dreadful mistake.

"All my life I've been house-proud, invested in doing everything perfectly, and what do I have to show for it? A clean house, that's all! I had the chance of a lifetime and I just blew it!"

Realizing she might still have the opportunity to go with them, Befana jumped on her broom and took to the skies, searching for the Wise Men so she could join them.

But she was too late. They were nowhere to be found.

Suddenly Befana realized the high price that her perfectionism and trying to gain the acceptance of her neighbors had cost her.

Goddess Quiz: Discover how your personality type determines the patterns of your life.

Then and there she determined she would begin to live her life on her own terms, going from house to house at night, coming down the chimney, and sneaking into the children's bedrooms as they slept to take a peak and see if each babe could be the Christ Child she was looking for, only to come away disappointed.

Year after year at Christmastime she searched for the magical child. One night as pulled the blanket back from a small, sleeping child's sweaty head she had an epiphany of her own. (2. epiphany (noun): A comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization.)

Suddenly she realized that "All children are magical and deserving of love, adoration and gifts."

And at that moment, she herself was magically transformed and, because of her great love for children, made immortal so she could travel from village to village forever, dispensing her love to the young.

And this is how she came to be the world's first Santa Claus, leaving little gifts in their stockings wherever she visited.

Personally I don't believe she'd ever just give a 'naughty' child  a lump of coal, partially because I've yet to meet a child who got one (and I certainly know a few who  would surely deserve it.} It's just not her "style".

More likely, that rumor was invented by parents as yet another means of "behavior control/coercion" . And which us who have parented can't identify with that!

How else can you get them to go to bed so you can assemble the [whatever-they-just-had-to have] before they're racing in to check their stockings?

Use this link to read more of the Christmas customs Befana created.                          


Befana witch

The lessons of the witch-goddess Befana

  • Release unrealistic expectations and standards that ask too much of us, especially during holiday seasons. (We can't all be Martha Stewart. After all, she's already taken!)

  • Forgive yourself when you let all the hustle go. Do only what you enjoy, what literally brings you joy.

  • Nourish your spirit, search for what is meaningful and good in your life.

  • Hold yourself open to the possibilities. Even some of the cruelest challenges somehow bring you miracles that transform your life.



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