The area of Benevento in southern Italy is well-known for its history of witches. For centuries, even nowadays, there are people in Benevento who believe in a type of witch called la janara. She could be a member of the family, a neighbour or a friend who, at night, secretly transforms into una janara.
It is believed that, on Saturday nights and in the early hours of Sunday, whilst everyone is asleep, the women who are the secret witches of Benevento say a magic spell whilst rubbing a special ointment onto their skin. The spell is as follows:
portami al noce di Benevento
sopra l'acqua e sopra il vento
e sopra ogni altro maltempo.
take me to the walnut tree of Benevento
be it in rain or wind or in any kind of bad weather.
After reciting the magic words and using the ointment, the witches are transformed into invisible spirits that secretly enter houses by passing like air under the doors.
If they wish, they can cause harm to those who sleep.
It is said that you know when la janara has entered your room by feeling an ice-cold tingling on your face. This is the hand of la janara touching you. If la janara visits you once, it is said that she will return: it is never a single visit.
To protect themselves, people sprinkle salt in front of their doors, to ward off any janare who may try to enter by passing underneath.
During the night, le janare steal horses and braid their manes. They ride the horses or fly as spirits to a mysterious walnut tree known as il noce di Benevento which grows somewhere on the banks of the nearby river Sabato.
They dance together around the tree.
Even the locally-produced yellow liqueur of Benevento is called Strega, meaning 'Witch.'
You may have seen it in shops or in Italian restaurants. It is sold all over the world.