The Witch Doctor and the Rosary

I always had trouble remembering how to spell his name. Beppe. Actually, of course, it was Giuseppe. But was it with one p or two? Did I stress that p sound enough?  It really didn’t matter.  Not that we would discuss philosophy or anything, but I might have to ask him not to give my small son too many cherries.


Never did see him in anything but good spirits. Except this past week when he seemed rather glum. He might have been in his fifties, with a round bald head that matched his stomach in shape. Good natured, always ready to laugh, he had the typical warmth and hospitality of a peasant. If you showed up at his house, no matter what time, he would bring out a prosciutto, dense homemade bread and a flask of this year’s wine. “It’s special – not even if Christ himself had pissed it,” he would say. My three-year old was delighted when we climbed the worn tone steps to where Beppe lived, for this bear of a man would make him what he called little soldiers, bite-size pieces of bread with prosciutto.

Beppe was in charge of the archaeological dig.  That is, he was in charge of the workers once the archaeologist, the real boss, had decided what the next step was and where they were to dig. Occasionally, this meant following the advice of Checco, a repentant tomb robber who was skilled with a divining rod in finding water or empty spaces underground.  Checco, with his beard, pronounced nose, and searching eyes, not only looked like an Etruscan demon, but must certainly have had Etruscan ancestors. He was unusually tall and hailed from a small village nearby. Naturally, he was related to Beppe.


As the wife of the archaeologist, I could come and help uncover what had lain hidden for centuries. Sometimes the find would be in shards, bits and pieces, and it wasn’t unusual for our dining room table to be covered with fragments where the figures of warriors and gods painted in red or black were asking to be joined back together – a sort of three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Must say I was pretty good at that.

That day though, Beppe was not his usual self. “I can’t get rid of that damn pain in my shoulder,” he complained, “Porca M….” “Been to the doctor?” “Sure, but doctors never get it right.” “Well,” Checco insisted, “there’s a mago out near Todi who does miracles. I went to him the time I had problems.”  A mago, my husband explained, was a sort of witchdoctor.

Beppe shook his head. Still, one never knows. So off they went, including Checco and Beppe’s son-in-law, Walter, to see if the mago couldn’t find the answer to this problem. Good thing Checco knew where to go for the mago lived in a dark stone hut at the end of a practically invisible path in the countryside lined by brambles on either side. As they approached, a daunting figure with long tangled hair peered out. “You got the evil eye on you?” he queried. “Let’s see what’s up.”  He put some laurel leaves in a bowl of water and added three drops of olive oil. After studying their shape and how they floated, the mago sentenced: “yes, someone has put the evil eye on you.  There’s only one way of getting rid of it. Now follow my instructions to the letter. Every night rub down your arm and shoulder with warm red wine, and then wear a rosary around your neck for three days.”  Then his gaze fell on Walter. “Someone has put the evil eye on you too,” he told him, but at that point Walter declined the aid of the mago and they made their way back home before it got too dark.

There was no problem with the wine, even though Orvieto wine is normally white, and it seemed a shame to waste good red wine on something like this. But then there was the rosary. Evidently, some mysterious power was attached to this string of beads, whether they were used to recite the associated prayers or not. Beppe was a devout Catholic, but maybe it was sort of like having a black cat cross your path or walking under a ladder. “Can’t take any chances,” and he went in search of a rosary to put around his neck. No one had thought though that his round bald pate was just too big. No available rosary could even come close to passing over it. In the end, the solution was found when someone suggested using one of those rosaries that are draped on the wall at the head of a bed.

Beppe’s shoulder pain did eventually disappear although who can say whether it was the effect of the mago’s cure or just plain the passage of time.

3 thoughts on “The Witch Doctor and the Rosary

  1. What photos! What faces! What characters! And just the right details to bring them all to life!

    The adventuress who presents all of this to us has a great eye. Grazie!

    Envoyé de mon Di-Phone


  2. I love this story. It reminds me of the stories of exorcism in Puglia, where the local priest is authorized to perform ancient tribal rituals. A fascinating blend of religion and folk custom. Thanks for this delightful oddity!
    James II


  3. Hello Erika, I love the Witch Doctor! I haven’t ordered your book and want to do so now. I seem to recall that by ordering from the publisher I can add a review. Is that correct? And that can help publicize the book? We are fortunate to have lovely weather, whereas many parts of the US are suffering – fires in the west, torrential rains in other places. I hope Orvieto is pleasant. We had a good trip to Ithaca and Rochester. Ellie’s mobility is not good but is stable for the moment. Best regards to you and your family, and all the orvietani. Ellie sends regards. much love, James II You may have heard that Carolyn and Cindy have decided not to come to Asheville now. I look forward to seeing them whenever.


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