Like other feast days around this period, Epiphany was widely associated with the Winter Crone. In Carinthia the Epiphany was called Berchtentag, after the hag Bechta, and in Italy, the hag goddess of the Twelve Nights is Befana, her name a corruption of Epiphania (‘epiphany’). Though her role has largely been taken over by Santa Claus in modern Italy, she was once the yuletide gift bringer. Sicilians especially honoured Befana, also called la Strega (‘the witch’)or la Vecchia (‘the old woman’). Befana descended from the mountains, riding on her broom, and entered houses through the chimney, leaving presents for children. Children left notes for her in the chimney. For those children who had been naughty, she left only coal (shops sold carbone, a sweet that looks like coal) or a birch rod (to be spanked with). Witch-like images of Befana were placed in the windows of houses, and there were processions through the streets. Singers serenaded houses where cloth images of Befana were placed in the windows, or carried her image from house to house while carolling. The Befana dolls were afterwards burned, probably in token of the passing of the old year. Omens were taken from the fire. If the smoke blew towards the east, it was an indication that the harvest would be good. If the smoke blew towards the west, it would be poor.
The rites of the Epiphany signal that the darkest time has ended.
Hag Goddess Ritual
I shall be honouring the winter witch goddess tonight, decorating the altar with evergreen and my witchy dolls, and lighting a candle to her, saying:
Hag Goddess who comes at twilight,
With your wind shredded clothes
And witch’s hat
All hail to you!
This is your season,
And I give you due honour
© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Year, Llewellyn, 2021