Christ Stopped at Eboli

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  • Topic: Magic, Folk religion, Anthropology of religion
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Many Italies, Other Italies
Emily Cormack
May 3, 2010

Magic and Religion depicted in Southern Italians

Magic and Religion has always had a very prominent and distinct role in the lives of Southern Italians. Magic serves as their form of hope and believing in something bigger than themselves, something they cannot see and that is how it is integrated into religion. In both, Nuovo Mondo and Christ Stopped at Eboli, the role of magic and religion are explored and the impact that it has on their lives. Love also serves as a very strong part of their life and is linked to magic in a certain way. Carlo Levi observes their way of life and forms a very strong opinion about them.

Magic and superstition has always been a stereotype that many people associate with Southern Italian people. There are multiple examples in the Levi’s book that shows how connected and involved magic is to their lives. The peasants use magic to explain a lot of events that have happened to help them deal with loss. These people only have what the earth gives them and this serves as their safety net. They believe that many animals possess a sort of power or magical quality about them.

“The peasants say that there is something satanic about goats. This is true of all the animal world, and of the goat in particular. Not that it is wicked or has anything to do with the devils of the Christian religion, in spite of the fact that they often show themselves in its guise. It is demoniacal like every living thing, and even more so than the rest, because some strange power lurks behind its animal exterior. To the peasants the goat represents the ancient satyr, indeed a living satyr, lean and hungry, with curling horns, a crooked nose, and pendulous teats or male organ; a poor, hairy, brotherly, wild satyr, looking for grass on the edge of a precipice (Levi 68).”

Many people of Gagliano also believe that Carlo Levi’s dog, Barone, has some sort of magical air about him. These superstitions have become a part of their daily life, even circumstances that seem very normal to most people they view as having some hidden meaning. There is one case where a mother loses her child and believes it to be taken away from her by some power and when she finds her child a few days later she rejoices and thanks the Madonna of Viggiano who she believes protected him during those few days. They also believe in gnomes and sprites that torture you and play little tricks on you but if you can capture the red hood that they have in their head they will lead you to a treasure. Giulia, Levi’s maid, is a witch herself and she believes in many different spells and potions such as love potions that she gives to many of the girls in the village. She also attempts to teach Carlo Levi a few of her incantations and spells so that he can use them as well. In Nuovo Mondo, the grandmother represents these old Italian ways of the South and is known in her village as a great healer and was highly respected for her abilities. Magic was also a form of healing and medicine in these primitive communities because they didn’t trust any of the doctors or pharmacies in their village. All of these are examples as to how much of these people’s lives are dedicated to magic.

However, women, at least in Gagliano, are known to be animal-like themselves and are comprised of various qualities or features that remind us of many different animals. They have very dark eyes and are said to be very much connected to the earth in a way. Women are looked at as less than or inferior to men in many cases because of their emotions and sensitivity to natural and psychological changes. Levi describes these women of Gagliano as being very similar. “At first sight they all seemed alike, short, sunburned, with dull expressionless black eyes like the empty windows of a dark room (Levi 81).” Giulia is a great example of a strong, southern woman with animalistic features. She was...
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