The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 5/The Witches' Ladder (Leland)

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Florence, May 9, 1887.


I suppose that you have by this time received more than one explanation of "The Witches' Ladder" given in Part 1, vol. v. of the Folk-Lore Journal. Perhaps the following account of one may interest your readers. I give it verbatim as it was related to me by a girl of this city.

"Eight years ago a child died here in Florence by witchcraft. It began to waste away. The parents took it about everywhere for cure or advice, but nothing did it any good. It withered and shrivelled up and died. Then they found one day in its bed la stregheria, or the witch craft, which had killed it. First there was a figure like that of a cock made of cotton, stuck full with feathers. With this was a long twisted cord also stuck fall of feathers put in cross-wise."

Here I attempted to draw the object according to the girl's description, but she taking the pencil from me made a more accurate likeness of the Witches' Ladder as given in the Folk-Lore Journal. She did not call it a ladder, but a guirlanda, or garland.

It is to be observed that in all African or Voodoo sorcery, chicken's feathers form an important part. Thus in the United States, if you bury, with the proper accompaniments, the breast-bone of a chicken under an enemy's door-step, he or she will waste away and die. Several travellers in Africa have observed that in many places, though the natives raise the hens they do not eat them, the reason is that they are for Voodoo.

I add to this the following instances of witchcraft in this neighbourhood:—

La Foccacia, the Cakes,—One day a witch came to a child and gave it some cakes. Soon after it began to waste away, and the parents knowing the cause took the witch and beat her. Then she gave the child certain other cakes, and it recovered.

II Coltello, the Knife.—A child died here in Florence of witchcraft. They knew what to do. They took bread of which the child had eaten, and put it at midnight on a table, with a garment which the child had woni. This drew the witch to the window, where she fluttered in the air, and howled in agony till she died.

I Bacchi, the Silkworms.—A man had many fine silkworms, when all at once they died. He knew that a certain witch must have done it. So he called on her, and while talking said that his silkworms were all well, and that he wanted her to come and help him to take care of them. Then he went home and found that half of his bacchi had come to life again. So he armed all his men and women with knives and sticks, and they laid in wait for the witch and beat her till she revived all the dead silkworms.

I heard the following repeated only about an hour ago, as I write, by a woman while telling fortunes by cards. It is manifestly an incantation, which had originally no connection with cards;

Venti cinque siete!
Venti cinque diavoli!
Diventerete, anderete nel corpo, nel sangue, nell' anima,
Nel sentimienti del corpo!
Dair mi amante non possa vivere,
Non possa stare ne bere
Né mangiare, ne ..... ne ..... ne co uomini ne con donne non posas favellare fiviche a la porta di casa mia
Non viene picchiare!


Ye are twenty-five!
Twenty-five evil spirits!
Become a part of, enter into the body, the blood, the soul
Into the feelings of the body!—
I cannot live away from my love
(Cause) that he may not stand or drink
Nor eat nor speak to man or woman till at my door
He comes to knock!

Florence appears to be one of the most abundant fields for Folklore which I have ever examined, and Prof. Dom. Comparetti of this city possesses one of the best Folk-lore libraries in Europe.

Yours faithfully,