"In practice, most of the terms and categories the historical actors used when discussing crimes of magic were remarkably unstable, elastic, and imprecise. Just as the Venetian Inquisition's charge of 'Lutheranism' embraced all manner of Protestantism, so the tribunal's (Latin) charge of sortilegium usually signified magical divination, but it also applied to other categories of misconduct, such as the practicing of harmful magic, otherwise termed maleficium. In Italian, magical acts could be termed variously as magia (magic generally), fatture (usually malevolent magic), erbere (literally herbal magic, but also used to denote divination or witchcraft more broadly), stregheria (witchcraft generally), maleficio (harmful magic), or divinazione or sortilegio (divination). Someone who engaged in any of these activities could be called a strega (female) or stregone (male) or an erbera, a term that was sometimes applied to female healers as well. A Venetian suffering from a magical attack might be called guasto (literally 'broken' or 'spoiled'), ammaliato, fatturato, maleficiato, or stregato.
"To impose some order on these overlapping, shifting terms, I will use the term maleficio to mean harmful magic causing illness or injury, and "witchcraft" to encompass practices--performed predominantly by women in the lower orders of Venetian society--of divination, maleficio, love magic, and the like. Such activities were usually free of the theoretical underpinnings of natural magic practiced predominantly by high-class males. The term 'magic' will stand in as an umbrella for all of these practices, while 'bewitched' and 'sickened' will be used to translate the various terms describing the victims of a magical attack."
To summarize: "Witchcraft" (or, in Italian, Stregheria or Erbere) can refer to any number of beneficial magical practices, including herbal medicine (and other healing arts), divination, and love magic. Those who are expert in these arts can be called many things, including Witch (or in Italian Strega or Erbera). Those who claim that Witches are hated, malevolent workers of malefic magic are either unfamiliar with the truth, or knowingly distort it.
And now for a few links:
- A review of Seitz' book by Thomas Deutscher at H-Net:
- Raven Grimassi on Italian Folk Magic and Witchcraft:
- Max Dashu on "The Politics of Witchcraft Studies":
- Sally Scully on "Marriage or a career? Witchcraft as an alternative in seventeenth-century Venice":