Women and the masche of the langa

Who is scared of the Masche? No one. Which is to say, everyone. There is nobody who lives in the Langa del Sole whose back doesn’t tingle when they hear the word.

Who were the Masche? Fairies or witches? Helpful or hurtful? It is difficult to say with certainty. The Masche are one of the most widespread and persistent legends of the Langhe. They are the embodiment of uncontrollable feminine power with the ability to change the social fabric of a community.

From studies on pre-Christian religious beliefs, the figure of the Masche is believed to be related to the practice of a healer woman who guarded the community with shamanic rituals and restorative tonics. From this cheerful role, a more nefarious and mythical legend of the witch, a bringer of misfortune, has spread throughout the Langhe.

Anyone seeking to know more about the mysterious Masche must ask no further than the ederly, the keepers of the Langa del Sole: traditions and tales. Not one of them will share with a you a short story; the oral history of the Masche and their doings is thick with intrigue and many will swear to you that her presence is still felt in the hills.

If you are looking for a more studied approach to the Masche, take a trip to Paroldo, the southern border of the Langa del Sole and “Country of the Masche”. The Associazione Culturale “Masche di Paroldo” recreates the deepest identity of a Masca, looking at her anthropological history as a woman and caretaker of a community and how this perception changed during the Medieval period when her nightly rituals and daily customs were targeted as evil destroyers of society.

The Feast of Saint Martin, the patron saint of Paroldo, is celebrated on November 11 and follows the town’s ancient traditions. Friday evening is the Masche Dinner; Saturday is full of spectacles and shows in the theatre and town square followed by the grand Bagna Cauda dinner in Cavallini, and Sunday is dedicated Saint Martin’s ‘Summer’ with a fair of local goods. In recent years the custom of taking a nighttime stroll along the paths of the Masche has taken hold, with residents embracing the tales of ancient battles, the occult and stories from the elderly as a way to bring them into the modern world and preserve this unique part of the Langa from obscurity.

The Masche and the Truffle

In the Langa del Sole when the midnight bells tolled the Masche emerged to begin their work. No one dared to leave their home for fear of pain, misfortune, death or even worse, the gaze of the evil eye upon their family. Only one “hero” was courageous enough to brave the night: the esteemed truffle hunter. In the company of their trusted hunting dog and with nothing more than a walking stick and a long litany of blessings, the truffle hunters took extreme care to avoid the Masche’s locations. Of course, encounters between the two were bound to occur and the truffle hunters would return with wild tales of their escape. This vaulted the “dangerous” work of the truffle hunter into the land of the mystical and to this day, the knowledge of a truffle hunter is touched with auspices of the divine and the superstitious.