Mary-Grace Fahrun is Rue of Rue’s Kitchen which has been an online resource of magical practices for 20 years. Author, healer, teacher, psychic, and guardian of Italian folk magic, folk medicine, customs and traditions, Fahrun was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Italian immigrant parents. She grew up in the Italian neighborhoods of Saint Leonard in Montreal, Canada and Connecticut. She is fluent in English, French, and Italian (including several dialects). Fahrun, describes herself as “an avid keeper of customs, traditions, and secrets” and is an authority on Italian folk magic and folk healing traditions. Her first book, Italian Folk Magic: Rue’s Kitchen Witchery published by Red Wheel/Weiser Books was just released May 1, 2018.
This is a book that I’m so glad was written and one I’ve been wanting someone to write! I’m amazed at how practical all the practices are, even for folk magick. They’re all so simple and just seem like mindful practices and prayers incorporated into everyday life. It seems pretty much everything in the house becomes a magickal tool, which I really love. Even the divination practices in the book are pretty straight forward. Why do you think Italian Folk Magic is so practical compared to other forms of ritualistic magick?
The very short answer is that it had to be: our ancestors lived simply – mainly because they were poor. They made the most of what they had, and nothing was wasted. The little they did have was used in their magical practice. Life was harsh and uncertain. Their overall survival, was always at the mercy of predators, disease and the elements, which could devastate a family’s crops and livestock. They worked hard from dawn until dusk. There wasn’t any down time therefore, the mundane, arcane, sacred and profane was incorporated into their daily lives. It is a mindful practice incorporated into every day life. Italian folk magic is the magic of the Italian countryside. It is an oral tradition handed down from generation to generation.
What was the first act of folk magic that you performed as a child and who taught it to you?
My mom loved telling this story. I was three years old. My dad had returned from hunting and the hare he shot was lying lifeless on the doormat in front of the door in our kitchen that led to the garage. I was so upset. I kept petting and begging it to wake up, “wake up Bugs, wake up!” My mom gently took me aside and looked me straight in the eye and explained to me that the hare was dead and that it wasn’t going to ever wake up.
I began to cry. Between sobs and hiccups, I begged my mom that we had to do something because “Bugs’ spirit was trapped in his body”. My mom went to the refrigerator and got some carrots. She said to me, “You can help. First, we will pray the Requiem Æternam. Then you will prepare a meal for the hare and place it outside to lure his spirit out of his body, so he can return to Jesus.”. And that is what I did. I cut up the carrots (eating half of them) and placed it on a plate. We went to our backyard and placed the plate on the grass between the shed and our vegetable garden.
The next morning, I was playing on our back porch when suddenly I see Bugs by the shed. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Bugs sat up and looked at me for what seemed to a very long time. I called my mom to come see. My mom came out and looked towards the shed and she said to me: “Brava, Mary-Grace. See? Bugs’ spirit came to say thank you”. I wanted to get a closer look. But when I looked back at the shed, Bugs was gone. Of course, years later my mother admitted that she had not seen Bugs at all, but truly believed that I had, since I was the one doing the magic.
Was there anything you learned in the process of writing this book or was it just sharing information that you already knew and that was passed on to you?
My book is a combination of information that I already knew. Customs and practices that were passed on to me, my observations, and experiences.
I was surprised to read that all the Italian Folk Magic practitioners you’ve met would be horrified to be called a Strega (witch) but would more likely just refer to themselves as superstitious. Why is this?
No one in my family nor in my community would ever describe their practice as witchcraft nor, would they ever self-identify as a witch. Never. Firstly, because they were all Roman Catholic. Secondly, because they did not view their practices as folk magic or witchcraft. Our practices didn’t have a name. We simply referred to our practices as “the things we do”, if we referred to them at all. It was more likely they would use the word maga (female)/mago (male), meaning magician, to describe a person who offered their magical services for a fee. In my family and community, “superstitious” is the word we used to identify practitioners.
When did you realize without a shadow of a doubt that there was something to the folk magic practices beyond mere superstition?
I cannot remember a time when magic was not real. At the same time, the clinician in me always remains a little skeptical, a little detached. I think it is this skeptical, detached quality that allows me to experience wonder whenever I observe or experience a quantifiable result. It never gets old.
Can Italian Folk Magic be practiced or performed by anyone regardless of heritage or ethnicity, even if they aren’t Italian?
Of course, it is easier for someone of Italian heritage. Having said that, if you wanted to begin practicing Italian folk magic/witchcraft, I would recommend you begin by learning the Italian language, and everything else will follow. Learn how to cook Italian food. If you’re not into cooking, learn how to order Italian food at a restaurant. Then, learn to cook Italian food. Seriously. Cooking is such a huge part of our culture, you can’t skate around this one. Learn the history. Did I say learn the language? By learning the language, you learn the history, customs, and traditions. You don’t need to be fluent. All you need is to be truly interested.
It may surprise you Mat, that I had never heard of Aradia before the late 1990s when I read Charles Leland’s, Gospel of the Witches. Incidentally, it did not resonate with me one bit. The only thing I recognized was the lemon. No one in my family nor my community had ever heard of Aradia either. As for “janaras”, well, in my experience, janare is the word for “witch” in the dialects of Campania. I can’t imagine anyone growing up Italian and not knowing the legend of the walnut tree of Benevento!
Do you find that Italian paganism had any influences on modern Italian Folk Magic or do you believe that it’s purely a sort of Folk Catholicism that sprung up on its own?
Current practice always reflects and is informed by what has come before, but I believe Italian Folk Magic developed and evolved organically over millennia.
An Italian witch friend of mine made a joke that I found amusing and curious. She said that the word Italian translates as “Saint Punisher” in reference to the practice of taking things away from statues of saints, such as taking the baby Jesus away from the statue of Anthony. Why is this done? Do you find it disrespectful to do such things to the saints?
To put it simply, the practice of saint punishing is literally a coercion tactic (as in your example of taking the baby Jesus away from the statue of Saint Anthony) a practitioner uses when they feel their saint is not fulfilling their needs. I can’t confirm that saint punishing is a widespread practice among practitioners of Italian folk magic, nor Italians in general. Do I find it disrespectful? It is not the type of relationship I have with my saints. However, I do not judge people who do. I am results oriented. If it gets you results, then use it. Most practitioners I have encountered love and respect their patron saints. I do cover the subject of saint punishing in more detail in my book.
Is there a concept of maintaining Italian Folk Magic as it’s passed on, or is there innovation and customization with its practitioners as time goes on?
Practitioners take much pride in maintaining Italian folk magic practices as close to how they were handed down from mother to daughter, through millennia. Each practitioner will innovate and customize based on personal preferences, availability of ingredients, and current social mores. In my book, I give the example of my grandmother replacing a live frog with a potato to cure a fever. My grandmother, almost one hundred years ago in the 1920s, and quite ahead of her time, felt it inhumane and just plain unnecessary to kill innocent frogs. A potato worked just as well to obtain the same result. Italian folk magic practitioners always recognize each other. Even if their practices differ somewhat. The core components are always constant.
The book opens with this really captivating tale of your cousin receiving the evil eye and your aunts removing it. I loved you also had a whole section devoted to discussing the Malocchio (Evil Eye), and though the concept is almost universal, I associate that the most with Italian Folk Magick. For those unfamiliar with the concept, can you explain it?
Malocchio is a popular belief that a look or glance from one person can send misfortune and bodily symptoms to the person being looked at. It is believed that when one looks upon another with envy, they can unintentionally inflict that which they look upon with a mild state of spiritual illness. Belief in malocchio is not limited to Italians. Like you said, Mat, the concept is universal and most every culture in the world has their version of the malocchio.
Any projects that you’re working on that we can look forward to?
My first book was just released on May 1st, 2018. I will be very busy starting with a trip to Pompano Beach, FL for a weekend of book signing, classes, and psychic readings at New Moon Books , June 9th and 10th, 2018.
Patreon Exclusive Bonus
Mary-Grace Fahrun shares her Archangel Raphael Bone Healing Tea. It is based on a decotto (decoction) her bis-nonna (great grandmother) made to help heal broken bones. It contains naturally anti-inflammatory ingredients and is a good support for people who suffer from arthritis. This is available for Patreon supporters with the tier “In The Know Jackalope” and higher.