The tradition of the “Dead Souls”: witches and ghosts of Mt Etna

Categories: Blog, Sicily

Author: Etna Excursions Posted on: 2018/10/03 Updated: 2018/10/04



In Sicily we do not celebrate Halloween, or rather we celebrate it now but without much conviction. This brand new Anglo-Saxon tradition, in fact, could not replace yet our age-old “Dead Souls’ Night”, linked to myths and legends and … yes, even to witches and typically local ghosts.

The Sicilian Halloween is “a chiazza e morti”

Until about twenty years ago, it was not rare to hear, at the end of October, the adults and the elderly ask the children “Do you know a Chiazza e’Morti?” (that is the “dead’s place”). And if the children answered no they would explain “U patri accatta , a matri ammuccia, u figghiu ammucca “(the father buys, the mother hides and the child is fooled). Only many years later the little ones would have understood the sense of those mysterious words that prepared them for the Feast of All Saints and the Feast of the Dead Souls on November 1st  and 2nd. Those words would break a spell, the one of the gifts and sweets that mysteriously appeared on the morning of November 2nd and that “were brought by the dead relatives” to thank the children for their prayers. A way of teaching respect for those who were no longer living which joined the delight and the mystery of surprise.

The Marabecca and other Etnean ghosts


Beyond the kind souls of dead relatives who leave the gifts to children, even Sicily and Etna in particular keep legends of witches and ghosts that are very similar to those celebrated by Halloween. The most famous is the Marabecca, the witch who lives in the wells, ready to kidnap  the children and to eat them. The legend is certainly born to prevent the little ones approaching the dangerous wells but still today it scares them, and adults too, when the grandparents tell about it in the full moon evenings! Another legend is linked to the ghost of the Horse without Head that seems to infest the streets of the historic center of Catania at night. In the 18th century many believed they could hear it riding in the night, especially in Via Crociferi, and it is said that a couple of people even died of fright. The shepherds of Bronte, today, still believe in the legend of the ghost of Queen Elizabeth 1st: the queen who ruled England for more than 40 years in the 16th century, according to the tale, was kidnapped by the devil as she died. The devil had to take her with him to the hell, but while flying over Mount Etna the queen lost one of her precious shoes and it seems that even today the ghost of Elizabeth is wandering around the pastures of Etna looking for it!

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