Italian Word of the Day: Strega (witch)

Today’s ‘word of the day’ is part of our Italian Halloween Word series. On the days leading up to Halloween, we’ll post a word that is related to this spooky time of year. Enjoy! 🦇

Halloween is on the horizon so what better character to write about than the Queen of the Night herself, the strega (feminine, plural: streghe)!

IPA: /stré·ga/

La strega ha trasformato la bambina in una rana.

The witch transformed the girl into a frog.


The word strega can only be used for female witches. A male witch, or sorcerer, is known as a stregone.

Below are a few words and expressions that tend to be associated with streghe in fairy tales:

  • manico di scopa = broomstick
  • volare = to fly
  • gatto nero = black cat
  • calderone = cauldron
  • verruca = wart
  • cappello nero = black hat
  • lanciare un incantesimo = to cast a spell

When talking about real-life witches who practise Pagan Witchcraft, or Wicca, the term seguace della Wicca is used rather than strega or stregone. Seguace means follower or disciple.

Just like the English word witch, the word strega can be used in a derogative sense to refer to an ugly old woman with an unpleasant personality.

Che vecchia strega! Ha sbattuto la porta in faccia ai bambini.

What an old witch! She slammed the door in the children’s faces.


Strega is also used to describe other things:

  • Il latte della strega (lit. the witch’s milk) = colostrum, the first secretion that comes out of the mammary glands after giving birth
  • Il cerchio / circolo delle streghe (lit. the witch’s circle) = the fairy ring / circle, it refers to mushrooms that grow in circle on the grass.
  • Il colpo della strega (lit. the blow of the witch) = it refers to back strain (to put your back out)

Attento a sollevare quello scatolone pesante che ti viene il colpo della strega!

Be careful when lifting that big heavy box, you could hurt your back!


La Befana: the most famous Italian witch

In Italian folklore, Befana (or the Christmas Witch) is an old strega who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on the night of January 5th (Epiphany Eve). Traditionally she fills their socks with sweets and presents if they are bravi (good), or a lump of coal if they are monelli (naughty). In exchange, the family leaves her a small glass of wine and a small plate of regional delicacies, just as American children leave cookies for Santa Claus and carrots for his reindeer.

In modern day Italy, children rarely, if ever received a real lump of coal if they’ve been badly behaved. What they might receive instead – regardless of whether they’ve been good or bad – is a lump of sugar coal (carbone di zucchero) which parents often make themselves or buy at their local pasticceria (pastry shop).

Illustration by Elisa Riva

La Danza delle Strege

La Danza delle Strege (The Dance of the Witches), otherwise known as E Le Strege Ballano (And the Witches Dance) is a fun children’s song you can dance and sing along to with your little ones at Halloween if you are learning Italian as a family. Below you can watch the music video for this song by I Piccoli Cantori di Milano.

E le streghe ballano la danza per i maghi
Con un filtro magico per spaventare i draghi
Gira gira il mestolo, tira su il coperchio
Fuoco fuoco notte e dì, le streghe fan così (Ah!)

Zampe di topo
Coda di serpente
Quattro pipistrelli
Filtro magico
Un ragno senza un dente

E le streghe ballano la danza per i maghi
Con un filtro magico per spaventare i draghi
Gira gira il mestolo, tira su il coperchio
Fuoco fuoco notte e dì, le streghe fan così (Ah!)

Metti un po’ di zucchero dentro al pentolone
Ed un po’ di pepe con un grosso peperone
Ali di farfalla e con un pizzico di miele
La pozione è pronta, sì, le streghe fan così (Ah!)

E le streghe ballano la danza per i maghi
Con un filtro magico per spaventare i draghi
Gira gira il mestolo, tira su il coperchio
Fuoco fuoco notte e dì, le streghe fan così (Ah!)

And the witches dance the dance for the wizards
With a magic filter to scare dragons
Turn turn the ladle, pull up the lid
Fire fire night and say, the witches do it like this (Ah!)

Mouse paws
Snake tail
Four bats
Magic filter
A spider without a tooth

And the witches dance the dance for the wizards
With a magic filter to scare dragons
Turn turn the ladle, pull up the lid
Fire fire night and say, the witches do it like this (Ah!)

Put some sugar in the pot
And a sprinkle of pepper with a large bell pepper
Butterfly wings and with a hint of honey
The potion is ready, yes, the witches do it like this (Ah!)

And the witches dance the dance for the wizards
With a magic filter to scare dragons
Turn turn the ladle, pull up the lid
Fire fire night and say, the witches do it like this (Ah!)

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