Volare via mare: The research on the janare, the witches from the Campania region of the Collettivo ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌

After concluding the IS.LAND residency in the context of Procida Italian Capital of Culture 2022, the Collective ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌ left the Island of Arturo to land on the Amalfi coast, in Praiano, to continue the research begun in the Aeolian island of Alicudi, where some legends concerning witch-like women, the so-called majare, are known.

«The idea that women could be free from their social function as mother and daughter has always been at the heart of men's nightmares and terror: just as the majare, the janare too, similar figures of the Campania tradition, exercise their desire to escape through the flight and participation in the sabbaths, as a desire to temporarily escape from an oppressive everyday life.»

From 31 October to 26 November 2023, the collective was a guest of Marea at Casa L'Orto to deepen the research on the janare through interviews and meetings with the area's inhabitants. «In addition to the stories of the sea, we are also interested in all the mythologies and stories related to the other side of the coast, that of the mountainous hinterland: the stories of the healers and the stories of women's work which took place mainly in contact with the earth. We have tried to connect with these stories to understand how they can live again in everyday life and our political imagination».

Volare via Mare: an introduction

In the Aeolian island of Alicudi, some recent legends are known concerning women, similar to witches, who were called majare who, unbeknownst to the men, sprinkled themselves with an ointment of their own preparation during the night and flew away to gather all together and participate in ecstatic parties. These local narratives, which took place in a minimal time, were probably caused by an infestation of the island rye by the Claviceps Purpurea, which causes solid hallucinatory events when taken.

Thanks to the knowledge of the local inhabitants, in particular of Praiano and Positano, who shared their family legends and the tales of the autochthonous tradition, the Collettivo ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ꩜ ﹌﹌ was able to find many points of contact between the Sicilian tradition and that of Campania, an example among all, the formulas recited before taking off:

“vento e sottovento, portami a sopravento”

“vient e sott vient e sott o muro e mulumiento”

Places and community

Unlike the Aeolian women, who occasionally worked as fishermen, the women of the coast were forbidden any maritime activity for reasons of superstition, to be instead relegated to the home, the countryside, or to the collection and transport of lemons; this has made them experts in the recognition of plants and in the preparation of medicinal remedies. According to an ethnobotanical approach, each plant has its own history in which mythologies, folk tales, and therapeutic properties intertwine; many plants, if taken in excessive quantities, reach a level of toxicity, such as causing hallucinations.
In the popular narration linked to the janare, oil was obtained from the stramonium plant, which was applied on the broomsticks, and its rubbing with the private parts caused hallucinations; St. John's Wort, contained in the traditional recipe for the ointment needed to fly, also caused hallucinations and sensations of dissociation.
Credits Collettivo ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌
Through the residency project on the Amalfi coast, the Collective deepened the research on witches by linking it to the concept of the other vision as a practice of escape and alternative knowledge. Starting from the territory of Praiano, the Coast, and, above all, from the stories of the women of the local community, the artist and researcher were able to focus on the role of the healers of the Amalfi coast. They have deepened the connection between the practices of the country healers connected to the mythologies of the Coast, to be traced in the use of the local medical herbs necessary for the Janare to perform their hallucinatory flights. Let's dive into their residency journey.

Trotula De Ruggero and the healing technics

Estratto fanzine - Credits Collettivo ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌
Who were the Janare, and why, over the centuries, have they always been so feared? The Janare were rebellious women who had acquired knowledge that had become inconvenient for science and official medicine.

During the month of residence on the Amalfi coast, the collective was able to deepen the "imaginative capacity of these figures who, through the use and knowledge of plants and other knowledge, have found a way to get out of the roles imposed on them by society while taking care of the community, often for free.»

Among the interesting ideas born from the residence, the healing techniques used in the past by the janare emerged, such as those experimented on by Trotula de Ruggiero, «one of the first female doctors in the world, probably active in the medical school of Salerno in the second half of the XI century.

Trotula lived in an incredible period for the Coast when she was learning all the Arab, Jewish, and Christian knowledge that came together and contaminated. And unexpectedly, at that moment, some women guided the doctors of the time with their learning".

Praiano, Datura, and its psychoactive properties

Estratto fanzine - Credits Collettivo ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌
From the collective's research, it emerged that the janare used ointments, concoctions, and herbs that still grow spontaneously in the area today and with which they could cure a series of pathologies and psychological ailments.

In particular, in Praiano, «we found a fascinating plant, the datura, a beautiful bell-shaped plant; they also call it Angel Trombone. It is a plant that, taken in certain quantities, can have poisonous properties; in others, it can instead be psychoactive and "make you travel" or "make you fly."

And it is here that we find the connection with the janare and its associated characteristics, such as the use of the jimsonweed they spread on the broom handle and whose transvaginal absorption gave the sensation of flight.

"It's nice to imagine what it meant for them to leave the domestic environment, often oppressive and patriarchal, to meet and eat delicious food or dance together under the famous Benevento walnut tree."

Meeting with Seby and Faustina Fusco: the Pozzo of the Witches and the Guarramone

To go deeper into the research on janare and healers capable of using herbs for therapeutic purposes, we went to see Faustina and Seby Fusco, a woman from Praiano with a diploma in opera singing and a profound connoisseur of stories and traditions related to local oral culture, and not only.

Seby told us that Praiano has always been magical and that in the village, there are two important places for the janare: the Pozzo delle Streghe, near the Praia bridge, and the Guarramone, down at the Gavitella beach.

"My great-grandmother, Giovannina, was a janara. They called her the Lupamagna, which means devourer of men. She had a small room with many arches where she kept small bottles containing oils and ointments. If someone got hurt, she knew how to cure it with a mixture of paretaria grass and rue, dented with a stone in a mortar. 

My father told me that, thanks to an ointment he put under her armpits, she knew how to fly. One day, someone changed it for her, and she fell downstairs. She did not die, and so then took her revenge.

Another anecdote is from my mother's grandmother. She said that a woman had got together with another woman's boyfriend. This she turned to a janara who made a magic potion for the man by putting menstrual blood in the coffee.

When we were little, they always told stories of Monacelli and janare. All things that need meditation, a thought, were born at night. Meditating, I understood why: the night is a way of talking to the soul, that part of us that we don't see but is there and makes you come to terms with yourself.»

Teresita, the students of Praiano, and the thaumaturgical dimension of the talismans

Deepening the intersection between feminism and the southern question, the collective had to deal with a void given by the «lack in Southern Italy of a univocal feminist movement, since here more experiential and less academic forms of feminism survive, which have more dealing with everyday struggles.

To fill this void, the collective has interviewed and met people of different generations who inhabit these places. Thanks to Teresita Rispoli, teacher of the lower secondary school of Praiano, the Collettivo ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌ spent an afternoon with her alums, experimenting together the practice of collective drawing.

«A drawing workshop was born while we exchanged stories and memories. The kids brought back the stories handed down to them by their grandmothers. We shared our research with them, designing small-sized talismans. Through this theme, we have rediscovered the thaumaturgical dimension of magic in drawing. The talismans were dedicated to the Catholic culture's supernatural deities, God, and saints. It is an object that has an inherent healing ability».

Through the experiences and memories of Teresita and the kids, stories kept by the community of Praiano and fragments of personal stories and mythologies related to the territory have emerged. «Inspired by Teresita, these young people continue to collect stories and tales, interviewing their relatives, thus reconstructing new cosmologies, which are important to preserve.»

Sound meditation exercises with the artists Alice and Altea

The artists Alice and Altea, who are part of the musical collective Thru Collected came to visit us, made up of artists and music producers active since 2020 in the Neapolitan territory.
After immersing themselves in the luxuriant nature of Praiano, together with the Collettivo ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌, they went to the church of San Giovanni, near Casa L'Orto, where they created and experimented with a sonic meditation, a form of meditation centered on sound, inspired by the sound meditation exercise of the American composer Pauline Oliveros.
Estratto fanzine - Credits Collettivo ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌
Estratto fanzine - Credits Collettivo ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌
«We have reworked this meditation by rethinking it with Alice and Altea, who, singers, have a beautiful voice. We asked ourselves a series of questions, closed our eyes, exhaled, listened to our breathing, and tried to locate the sounds inside and outside our body, behind us, and in front of us.
After a moment of silence, of meditation, we tried to reproduce these sounds, starting from the sound we had concentrated on within ourselves, throwing it out. From there, a beautiful delirium started. Someone will have heard us. In the future, new mythologies may develop starting from these mysterious sounds coming from the church of San Giovanni».

The Witches of Benevento: the visit with the Anthropologist Maria Scarinzi

Together with the Collettivo ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ꩜ ﹌﹌ we visited the Janua witch museum in Benevento, where we met Maria Scarinzi, an anthropologist from Campania and a profound connoisseur of the popular traditions and legends of Benevento and Sannio.

From this visit, it emerged that the janara was an expert in medicinal herbs, a wise and powerful woman with a free disposition when women did not have cultural or professional spaces to confront each other.

The collective learned about the legends and the symbolic, mysterious, and passionate imagery linked to the figure of the janara through historical reconstructions, magical practices, and relics that belonged to women considered janare, preserved today in the museum. Among the most widespread practices was the love spell, a custom much feared by men: to bind her loved one to herself, the woman, under the guidance of a janara, put a few drops of menstrual blood into a drink. The terror of being cursed with menstrual blood has meant that even today, many men from the Benevento area have many reservations before going for coffee with a woman.

Interview to the artist Derek Di Fabio

During the residency of the Collective ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌ in Praiano, the artist Derek Di Fabio (they/them) also came to visit us. Based in Berlin, Derek works with the Sardinian association Chuerimos which deals with the territory and contemporary art. After a superstorm blocking him in Naples for one night, he finally reached the Coast, where he joined the group, enriching his search and letting the dawn wake him every day.
Her work «is to be listened to in bed when one speaks silently to oneself, to be read aloud but melodically on the dance floor, to be perceived around a bonfire when our bodies together are closer to the planets» (Dalia Maini, 2021).

The Fanzine showed during the Alta Marea Fest

From the residence of the collective, the first graphic work was born, which took the form of a fanzine, already presented during the two days of Alta Marea Fest.

Conceived in loose sheets, the zine contains visual and textual notes that tell the ideas born during the residence.

Lavoro Oscuro: visual notes and the sound piece

In addition to the fanzine, Lavoro Oscuro was also born from the residence of the Collective ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌, a project composed of a series of visual notes and images related to Praiano and the herbs present in the area, and a sound piece.
𝘥𝘢𝘭 𝘮𝘦𝘥𝘪𝘰𝘦𝘷𝘰 𝘥𝘪 𝘵𝘳𝘰𝘵𝘶𝘭𝘢 𝘦 𝘥𝘪 𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘥𝘦𝘨𝘢𝘳𝘥𝘢 𝘢 𝘲𝘶𝘦𝘭𝘭𝘰 𝘥𝘦𝘭𝘭𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘳𝘦𝘨𝘩𝘦, 𝘥𝘢𝘪 𝘴𝘦𝘤𝘰𝘭𝘪 𝘥𝘦𝘭𝘭’𝘪𝘯𝘲𝘶𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘻𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘦 𝘵𝘦𝘰𝘳𝘪𝘦 𝘧𝘳𝘦𝘶𝘥𝘪𝘢𝘯𝘦 𝘴𝘶𝘭𝘭’𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘢, 𝘭𝘦 𝘥𝘰𝘯𝘯𝘦 𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘰 𝘴𝘦𝘮𝘱𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘰𝘯𝘪𝘢𝘵𝘰 𝘶𝘯𝘢 𝘨𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘦 𝘧𝘢𝘮𝘪𝘭𝘪𝘢𝘳𝘪𝘵à 𝘤𝘰𝘯 𝘭’𝘦𝘳𝘣𝘰𝘳𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘢 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘱𝘳𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘢 𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘢𝘱𝘦𝘶𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘢 𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘮𝘦𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘪𝘢 𝘥𝘪 𝘶𝘯 𝘮𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘰 𝘰𝘳𝘮𝘢𝘪 𝘱𝘢𝘴𝘴𝘢𝘵𝘰 […] 𝘲𝘶𝘦𝘭 𝘤𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘢 𝘴𝘶𝘤𝘤𝘦𝘥𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘰 𝘦 𝘤𝘪ò 𝘤𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘪𝘢𝘮𝘰. 𝘭𝘢 𝘷𝘪𝘢 𝘥𝘪 𝘤𝘰𝘭𝘦𝘪 𝘤𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘢 𝘰𝘴𝘢𝘵𝘰 𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘭𝘦𝘪 𝘤𝘩𝘦 𝘩𝘢 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘪𝘷𝘪𝘴𝘰.

Estratto da lavoro oscuro Collettivo ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌ 2022

The sound piece that makes up Lavoro Oscuro, on the other hand, welcomes within it the whole oral dimension of the meetings that the collective made during the residency, almost assuming a value of synchronicity between the dialogues and the relationships established with the community, the drawing workshops collective, sonic meditations and self-awareness activities.
«Lavoro Oscuro (Dark Work) because it brings inside everything that is not visible or perceptible and that goes well with the magical imagery at the center of our research, between procedural and dialogical interstices.» We share an extract of the work, made by the voices of the Praiano community and of all the people who have enriched their research.
«We cross an invisible. This is our research. We are interested in figures associated with the obscure, the irrational, and who are not easily framed».
The residence of the Collective ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌ ended with restitution that took place during the two days of Alta Marea Fest. For the occasion, they created a beautiful set-up, the result of collective work and dialogue with each of the people they met, but also according to the spirit of the community of Praiano and the Amalfi coast.
Thanks ৺ ෴ ර ∇ ❃ ﹌﹌! We and Praiano miss you very much! And while we wait for your return, let's fly by sea.