Southern Italian & Sicilian Healing Traditions of Benedicaria

Benedicaria is a relatively new term for healing traditions found mostly in southern Italy and Sicily. Benedicaria means “Way of Blessing,” (bene = “blessing”, di caria = “the way”). This way of doing things leans heavily towards traditional Catholicism. Basically, it is a combination of Catholic rites of the Southern Italian and Sicilian contadinas (rural peasants) but based on ancient traditions. Removing the effects of the evil eye, novenas (9 day prayer vigils) to the saints, using ex-votos (votives), using altars, healing with holy rosary,  smoke or water, invoking Saint Michael the Archangel, making Saint Michael’s oils, spiritual cleansings with eggs, lemons and limes, spiritual baths for love, candles to bring money , removing ghosts from the home, reading the Sicilian cards… all rural traditions from wisdom passed down by the elders.  

Preparing her helper plants – Photo

History of the term
Among Sicilians, there is generally no word for “Benedicaria,” and usually it is simply called “being a helper” (Gauritana or Guaritori) and ”the things we do.” However, the name for a general practitioner is Benedetto (male) or Benedetta (female), both of which mean “Blessed One.”  This is not a name a helper gives themselves, but is what the community will call a healer that “does it all”. The word Benedicaria itself first appeared on the scene thanks to Sicilian-American author Vito Quattrocchi, who wrote “Sicilian Benedicaria: Magical Catholicism.” Vito’s book was very popular, and now the word Benedicaria is used by many as a general term for these traditions of spiritual practices.  Agostino Taumaturgo, also associated with Benedicaria, is a Catholic priest who published ”The Things We Do: Ways of the Holy Benedetta”  in 2007.  

Traditions of Benedicaria
These traditions are dependent upon the Benedettas relationship with the Creator, the spiritual world and the plants, therefore the practices vary from family to family and from person to person. The most common methods are the use of olive oil and/or eggs as a cure for the Malocchio or Evil Eye, the use of candles, the rosary, herbs, and novenas in honor of the various Saints. 

An egg cleansing resting my altar

A widespread practice is the use of eggs as a form of cleansing or to remove the Evil Eye. Before a cleansing, the egg is washed, dried, and then covered in holy water or annointing oil while the practitioner prays over it. The egg is then rubbed over the patients’ body from head to toe, front and back, paying special attention to any area which may feel the most pain; the egg absorbs negative energy, pain, inflammation and lodged emotions. After doing this with the egg, it is then broken into a glass of water sometimes to be “read”. The next day it is disposed of by  flushing the remains down the toilet or throwing it out at a crossroads (which is the older way of handling it.)

This is very similar to a practice found in Mexican Curanderismo and Filipino Pagtatawas which practices the same method and is an example of how Mediterranean traditions were carried around the world by the Spanish sailors and the church that blended with local indigenous practices.

Limes and Lemons from the old world are also adopted for cleansings the same way as the egg

Benedicaria & Stregheria
There is alot of talk of what exactly the traditions of Benedicaria, and Stregheria encompass. However, the one thing that everyone agrees on is that Benedicaria is heavily Catholic and Stregheria is much more ancient and pre-Christian.

I simply prefer the old ways without the distinct labels. I work on a very broad group of people, all from varying backgrounds, so I need to have an understanding of their cultural and spiritual roots.

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