By Judy Pinegar
While the region of Puglia is the “heel”, and the Gargano Pennisula is the “spur”, the mountainous regions of Abruzzo and Molise (united until 1963) are the “ankle” of the “boot” that is Italy. The area was settled by Apennine tribes in the Middle Bronze age (2000 to 1700 BC), was later taken over by the Romans, by the Normans in the 12th century, then by a succession of rulers out of Naples. In spite of all this, the Abruzzo region, dominated by the Apennines Mountains, to this day is a brooding, introspective land, with precipitous drops from mountain sides, endless tracks of forests, small towns clinging to mountainsides, a semi abandoned, poor area, one of the last wildernesses of Italy.
Yet the first Thursday of every May, ophidiophiliacs (snake-lovers, often accompanied by their own snakes) come from all over the world come to the town of Cocullo (with a population of 316 persons) for a festival, the Feast of the Serpari (Snake Festival) that has been re-created possibly three different times over the eons of time to become one of the most multicultural, ancient and historic festivals in all of Italy.
Town of Cocullo (Google pictures)
In pagan times, the tribe of the Marsi ruled this area east of Rome. A tough warlike, mountainous tribe, they were ruled from about 800 to 580 BC (before Christ) by the Eutruscans, and then until 325 BC under the Samnites. The chief divinity in their society was the ancient snake goddess, Angitia. She was an early goddess of witchcraft and healing, associated with verbal and herbal charms, especially against snake bite. Her name referred to killing snakes through enchantment, possibly with just a word from her deific lips. The Greek myths say Angitia was one of the three daughters of Aeetes along with Medea and Circe, two of the most famed sorceresses of Greek mythology. Angitia lived in the area around the Lake Fucinus (later drained) and specialized in curing snake bites.
Judy Pinegar is a writer. Part of this three part series appeared in the Corriere della Valle Magazine
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