Art and culture

The "Masche" in the collective imagination

November 2, 2012

A woman laden with years, with a disagreeable, repugnant face, rough and dark skin that suddenly becomes deathly white, cadaverous, with a low, narrow forehead covered with a thousand lines, veiled eyes, crooked in their sockets, and a voice that is hoarse and tremulous, at times imperceptible. Fear of the female witch, endowed with magic and wicked powers, persists in the popular conscience, even if somewhat faded. Through the image-icon that has been passed down over the years, superstitions, prejudices, and counter-spells are still widely diffuse in our own day, more or less tolerated and commonly shared, apparently inoffensive. To see the “masche” [witches] or show them to others, causing trouble, pain, suffering, or even just irritation, are idioms that are still very widespread throughout the Piedmont countryside.

And so it is spontaneous, instinctive, and a part of Piedmont culture, the surge of rage that takes hold when one can’t find things in their proper place and one gets the impression that it has to do with sneering and bothersome spirits who love nothing more than to complicate life, to keep us from finding what we need when we need it, things that were right before our eyes just seconds ago, from the button that needs to be sewn onto a shirt to a watch or a wallet or the keys to the house. But the idea that there are witches about also rises up when the car doesn’t want to start or when it suddenly shuts down, leaving us stranded. And so the witches maintain their hold, even if standing somewhat aloof, less menacing and dangerous than once upon a time.

A child who cannot stay still, full of energy, who gets into everything and seems to be consumed, as one often says, by a fire burning in his or her pants, is sometimes, still today, compared to a “masca”. And likewise when we are confronted with complicated situations that we see as sources of stress, we are tempted to say to ourselves that certain people, strange types or crazies, are showing us the witches. But we also often get the impression that a person standing in front of us is “furb paid na masca”, able and unreliable, ready to change the cards on the table, making us see white when it is black. To learn more, be sure to get a hold of the book MASCHE, edited by the Priuli&Verlucca publishing house in collaboration with the Arvangia Association, now available in the second edition.


Photo by Bruno Murialdo (