Wednesday, 19 March 2014

More Italian Spirits!

Since writing the post on Italian skulls I've had a few requests to write more on Italian folk beliefs. I thought a good post would be one that covers some spirits in popular folklore.


Munaciello is a mischievous spirit, he takes the form of a small man dressed in robes and wearing a wide brimmed hat. He is often blamed for the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. If one suspects a munaciello to be in the house then offerings of simple food can be laid to turn his mischievous nature to the occupants favour. 

There are several origin myths surrounding the Munaciello, few can agree on what he actually is.
One story is that the Munaciello is the spirit of dead Neopolitan sewer workers who can gain easy access to peoples homes via open drains. 
Another legend tells of him being a sort of folk saint popular in the 15th ccentury, The Munaciello is the offspring of two ill fated lovers, Catarina Frezza (the daughter of a wealthy merchant) and Stefano Mariconda (her fathers apprentice).
Catarina's father dissaproved of the affair between his daughter and Franco. When he learnt about the secret love affair he decided to put an end to it by sending Catarina's brothers to hide in the place were the secret lovers met and murder Franco.
But it was too late Catarina was already pregnant, when her father found out, to avoid the scandal of his daughter being an unwed mother he sent her to a convent. The nuns told Catarina of Francos fate and poor Catarina went mad with grief, her grief turned inwards and deformed her unborn child. She died shortly after giving birth to a boy child.

The nuns adopted the boy and dressed him in a hooded cloak and wide brimmed hat to hide his monstrous appearance. In the streets of Naples he was given the nickname "Munaciello" (little monk).
The child was credited with miraculous powers both to heal and harm. Sadly the little boy died due to his deformities at a young age. But was not forgotten.

There are other theories as to who or what Munaciello is, other tales tell of him being an agent of Satan; an evil spirit, or simply an imp or faery.

The Munaciello is generally regarded to be mischeivious, when not seen as down right malicious. However it is said if appeased by offerings of food (usually a small plate of bread dipped in honey laid behind a door) then the munaciello will return the kind gesture by bringing financial prosperity into the home and becoming a spiritual ally to the family dwelling there. Though any favours or blessings he does bestow should not be revealed outside the family or his wrath will be incurred and he will start to cause mischief and discord within the home again. 
This belief is the origin of the saying: “He must have a little monk in his house!” meaning someone is uncannily lucky.
Others warn against seeking financial assistance from Lo Munaciello and should he offer you money you should refuse it, as he is no more than a demon trying to purchase your soul.

Bella ‘Mbriana:

The Bella 'Mbriana is considered to be the spirit of a home itself and a spirit of sunlight. She will manifest herself as a beautiful woman, in this form glimpses of her may be caught out of the corner of your eye during the day (alluding to her solar nature) when the wind catches the curtains or her reflection glimpsed in a window pane. She may also manifest as a gecko appearing on walls to keep watch on domestic activities (which is why southern Italians will never disturb a gecko if they find one in their house).

A gecko, one of the forms of 'Mbriana

The Bella 'Mbriana is well loved and is considered to be largely a benevolent spirit, she can be consulted to bring harmony into the home or petitioned to solve family problems, she is also the antithesis of Munaciello and can be called upon to rid the house of him.

Bella 'Mbriana in her human form.

As benevolent as she is she may also be angered if household chores are ignored and cause trouble. Her wrath may also be incurred if the inhabitants of the house talk about moving within the home, all discussions of moving house must be held outside, some say her wrath at the betrayal of abandonment may be so violent she may kill one of the members of the household.
‘Mbriana can be placated or favour found with her by setting her a candlelit meal at the family table complete with cutlery and wine.


A hideous hag spirit that inhabits walnut trees but will force its way into homes, the Janara is heavily linked to the witches of Benevento. Some modern folklorists have also linked her to the cults of Hecate and Diana aswell as the mythos of Aradia (“Janara” is supposed to be a corruption of “Dianara” i.e  “follower of Diana”) . She is often envisioned or depicted with a walnut tree, another allusion to the witchcraft of Benevento.
Janara in her walnut tree presiding over a Sabbat.

In Benevento witches where believed to gather beneath walnut trees to hold their sabbats and cavort naked in lascivious diabolical rites. St Bernard of Siena was supposed to have cut one of these notorious trees down, only for it to be resurrected by Satan himself.

It is important to understand when we speak of Hecate we are not speaking of the Neo-pagan Hecate. The view of Hecate in medieval/renaissance Italian witch-lore is the infernal Hecate, a queen of hell, who’s dominion is the darkest magics, poisons that induce abortion, sexual perversion and damned souls.

Hecate, portrayed as a demon.

Janara lets her presence in the home known by inflicting sleep paralysis in the youngest or best looking males of the household which she then vampirises, she may also inflict birth defects on the unborn babies of pregnant women who enter the house, it is said she does this by passing the spirit of the unborn child through a magical tripod that she usually keeps her cauldron on to brew her poisons.
Should a household find itself under the influence of Janara a broom may be propped near the front door to keep her happy or a bag of salt hung by the door to keep her quiet (she will be compelled to count every grain of salt in the bag.) The Janara is a powerful witch and master herbalist, the less scrupulous members of the household may try and gain access to her secret knowledge of poisons by means of offerings of sorghum broom laid at the foot of walnut trees, she is said to be especially knowledgeable of poisons that cause paralysis and stupor.
Janara manifests as a gust of wind, she will on occasion take human form, should she do this remember her Achilles heel is her hair. Catch her by her hair and she will ask the question “What do you have in your hand?” if you answer “I have hair in my hand” then she will turn back into a gust of wind, escape and wreck havoc. If you answer “I have in my hand iron and steel” she is your slave and will protect you and your household for 7 generations.
Janara can also be spotted on Christmas Eve as the last woman leaving the church, she is believed to attend once a year to steal the host for her diabolical workings.

Well that's all for now! If you'd like more posts on Italian stuff just ask!