When We Were Witches

When We Were Witches: The Enduring Power of Shamans, Saints, and Seers in Italian, Latinx, and Indigenous Cultures

Frankie Castanea leads their demonstration during the second half of “When We Were Witches”

The Coccia Institute for the Italian Experience in America would like to thank all who attended the highly successful “When We Were Witches” event presented by Professor Gina Miele. This event was enthusiastically attended by more than 100 people, and it was a pleasure to welcome both new and familiar faces from all over the United States! We look forward to continuing this important conversation in new upcoming projects, which will be announced soon!

To view photos from this event, please click here.

If you would like to receive a personal link of the recording of this event, please send an email to Cristina Latino at coccia-assistant@montclair.edu.

We may think we are beyond believing in witchcraft, but if we look around today, we see persistent traces of many of the beliefs our ancestors lived by. On Witchtok and Instagram, the ancient stories seem more alive than ever — perhaps they never really went away. As modern takes on ancestral healing practices populate social media squares, scholars are finding commonalities across cultures that are not only surviving, but thriving.

If you have ever worn a charm to ward off the evil eye, used herbal remedies to heal various ailments, or consulted tarot cards or runes for guidance — or been tempted to try these age-old methods — come hear practitioners and researchers discuss the origins of folk practices and why we are still fascinated by them today.

Presented by Professor Gina Miele of the Department of World Languages & Cultures, join us for an important conversation with guest speakers Marybeth Bonfiglio, Frankie Castanea, Lisa Fazio, and Kino Vera.

This event will be held on Thursday, April 20th from 2:30-4:30pm in the Feliciano School of Business, Room 101. RSVP for this event here.

Meet Our Speakers:

MaryBeth Bonfiglio
MaryBeth Bonfiglio is second generation American with lineages from Piemonte (Venaus), Cilento (Vallo Di Diano), Sicilia (Nebrodi and Madonie Mountain regions) and the highlands of Poland. She was raised in an Italian American enclave in western NY. She’s a writer, mother, and lineage medicine seeker/keeper. She works with people of all lineages to help them reconnect and remember who they may have been before the plague of whiteness, colonization, and assimilation. She holds ancestral pilgrimages on the beloved island of Sicily for those longing to go deeper with land, culture and people through her organization, Radici Siciliane. She is the creator of Blood and Belonging, an ancestral wisdom school. Her personal practice and lens for teaching comes straight from what she learned from her elders; folk catholicism and animism, both of which are rooted in Saints, Mothers, land, food and protection spirits, MaryBeth holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University- her thesis was on Ancestral Memory in storytelling. She has written the book, On Longing: variations of belonging that weaves through time and space of both ancestral and current stories. She is currently writing her second book, a hybrid memoir on underground and illegal economies and collectivity and Italian Americanism. She believes that right now we have an opportunity, an invitation, to create new worlds together, to be part of the emergence of a new and ancient medicine— to be the voice of our culture in healing and regenerative ways. She currently lives in the Hudson River Valley with her partner and together they have three daughters
Frankie Castanea
Frankie Castanea (they/them) is a practicing witch of 7 years and has dedicated the last two years to reconnection with their ancestors and learning about Italian folk practices. You can find them online under the name “Chaotic Witch Aunt” or co-hosting their podcast, Books and Broomsticks.
Lisa Fazio

Lisa Fazio is an Irish/Italian American folkloric witch, heretic, herbalist, astrologer, and the mother of 4 children and Nonna to 2 grandchildren. She is also “una donna che aiutana” (a woman who helps). This is an Italian phrase that refers to the traditional peasant herbalists and healers who provided physical, spiritual, and energetic healing services to their communities both in italy and in the Italian diaspora. Her principal training is in Traditional Western Herbalism, Western Astrology, and the folk ways of her Italian immigrant family. The primary focus of her work is ancestral revival and remembrance within the Italian diaspora as well as with anyone who longs for ancestral connection.

Her practices uses the tools and methods from the Folk Catholic and animistic traditions of her Italian ancestors who were the original people of Calabria; the Brutti people, and Benevento; the Samnite people.

She has an academic background in Psychology and Ethnobotany as well as years of study and practice in the traditions of Trika Shaivism and Plant Spirit Medicine.

She thinks of herself as an infinite embodied imaginal being living as a human doing her best to remember what it’s like to be in a multigenerational and multi-species relationship with all time; past, present, and future.

Her forthcoming book “Della Medicina: Plants of Italian American Folk medicine” (Inner Traditions, 2023) is a book of ancestral and cultural traditions and practices focused on plants and Italian American healing practices.

Walther Vera (Kino)

Walther Vera (Kino) is a Peruvian healer and filmmaker working and studying here at Montclair State University. Shamanism and mysticism have been present in his family for more than five generations, and right now, his father Orlando Vera is the main shaman of his family in the Peruvian North Shore’s Dry Forests.

Walther Vera, also, is the director of Casa Inti Healing and Research Center, a safe space here in New Jersey where the academic world can meet folklore and ancestral traditions. Casa Inti hosts shamanic ceremonies with sacred medicine, conferences, retreats, and more.