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
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
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.
did, of course, so Befana set the cookies out for the animals and creatures
living in the forest to feast upon.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.