a students' magazine / us and them

Witches in Salento: the “MACARE”

We had witches in Salento. They were called “macàre”. 🙂

Our “macàre” seemed to have a double personality, because they were mothers and wives during the day and, at night, they became witches.

In fact, the “macàre” were (or are still, who can say this for sure?) old or young women that, at night, wearing old, torn, black rags or sometimes even naked, went around villages entering people’s homes to cast spells (called “macarìe”), curse babies or kill or steal children  as a revenge for having not been invited at somebody’s marriage or Christening (remember the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty”?).

According to the tradition, at night they would rub a potion on their skin while reciting a magic formula and would turn themselves into animals like birds or black cats, snakes or pigs.

They also used their powers to punish unfaithful husbands, lovers or friends. Somebody also says that if they found someone at night they would force him/her to dance with them continuously for all night always repeating the same refrain; then they would leave the poor person at dawn, which was when they lost their powers and became mothers and wives again. 🙂

We can think of the “macàra” as a mix between the White Witch and the Black Witch I mentioned in the previous post. In fact, according to tradition, she was also able to prepare filters and drugs to heal anything which was bad for the body or the mind of a person or she could get information on something or someone that was far away, for example men who had left for the war; so people went to a “macàra” for help and often benefited from her powers.

However, “macàre” were very touchy, and nobody dared to challenge them. As everyone was scared of them, people used to put a broom made of straw or a jar with salt outside the door at night because they believed that “macàre” would start counting the straws or the grains of salt and this would take all the night and they wouldn’t enter the house and harm them. The same thing happened with the holes of the sieve for flour (called “farnàru) or even with the knots that made up the fishermen’s nets: spending all night counting them was simply irresistible for macàre! 😉

People also put a pair of scissors or a scythe on the doors of houses and churches or around the cradle of children to protect themselves from “macàre”.

Moreover, macàre were thought of being unable to bend, and for this reason the doors people usually built for the “pajare”, typical stone buildings in the countryside, were lower than a person’s average height, to prevent macàre from entering them.

In Salento the town of Soleto is called the “town of macàre”.

In fact, an ancient legend tells that the steeple of this town, called Guglia Orsini, was built in one night by witches and demons (four of these were petrified at dawn at the four corners of the spire and we still can see them) under the instructions of the philosopher and alchemist Matteo Tafuri, who designed the building.

But today we hardly ever hear talking about “macàre”: only our old grandparents may know about them.

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