Witchcraft in the Alps
OK, time to explore a very interesting topic (at least for me).
Witchcraft is as old as the mountains themselves. The traces of magical rites are everywhere: the stones themselves were carved with magical symbols long before the Celts descended from the north and the first Roman legionary set foot north of the Appenines.
Unfortunately we have very little in way of recorded history: Latin historians and writers (often Celts themselves, like Virgil and Pliny The Elder) say surprisingly little and most ecclesiastic records were destroyed at the end of the XVIII century by French troops and local Republicans bent on purging the world from "ancient superstitions".
From what we have been able to piece together there appear to have been two main influences: Celtic and Germanic.
Celtic and Germanic influences abounded unti the '50s, when urbanization and modernization did what no Roman consul, Frankish count or Catholic bishop could accomplish, namely wiping out the "superstions" which abounded among the mountains.
One of these influences is the belief that magic can only be performed by either women or homosexual males with one notable exception (we'll be back on it later). According to some writers (Roberto Corbella, Massimo Centini etc) this originated from the fact that among Celts and Lombards (the German people who invaded the plains of Northern Italy between the V and VI century) only women were "cleared" to perform magic. The famed Druids were not magicians: they were priests, advisors, philosophers, judges and, on occasion, political leaders. Magic was beneath their dignity. These women were called Bna Deruyd and are considered a remnant of an extremely ancient shamanic religion which was "incorporated" by the civilized Celts who could not wipe it away. One of their original tasks was to sacrifice the "sacred king" when he started to show signs of aging (see The Golden Bough) by either strangling him or stabbing him in the back. As time wore on their tasks became more mundane: they cast spells, removed curses and performed cerimonies to ensure a good harvest or victory in battle. The Romans considered them extremely dangerous, for no other reason that they seemed to able to work warriors into a sort of berserk-like frenzy. Their patron divinity was (and perhaps still is) the Morrigna. No need to tell this is the dreadful Morrigan, always represented as a crow or raven.
Lombard influences are much lighter, mostly because they were horsemen and stuck to plains and open valleys, but interesting nonetheless. Despite their conversion to Christianity, they kept their original traditions alive. Part of these traditions were the Spacone. The Spacone were always women and always came from noble families. Their foremost duty was to perform an elaborate cerimony to ensure the souls of slain enemies could not harm the clan. While Christianity wiped away the cannibalistic feast, the tradition didn't die out: skulls of slain enemies were fashioned into drinking cups, called skala, by these high-born sorceresses still the VIII century. Rothari, the famous Lombard king, even provided legal protection to the Spacone in his laws.
"Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve: find and catch the Devil's Moose and bring it here to me. Seize the Stallion born of Fire, harness the Golden Horse. He captured and bound the Moose, he tamed the Golden Horse. Still there remained one final task: hunt for the Bird from the Stream of Death"
-Kalevala, Rune XIII-