Thursday, July 21, 2011

Aradia: Gospel of the Witches

Book Review: Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles Leland
(The Witch’s Almanac LTD 2010 – originally published in 1899)

This book is one of the great influential texts on the development of modern Witchcraft and Wicca. It was adapted extensively by Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente in the development of the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca. Leland, like others of his time, was a collector of folklore. This was a valuable pastime in the last few centuries as modernity gradually snuffs out the old folk traditions. Leland’s main source of information for this book was a woman called Maddalena who was a fortune-teller in Florence. The Vangelo or Gospel of Aradia tells of an Italian witch tradition based on the Goddess of the moon Diana, or Tana, of her consort the light-bringer Lucifer, and of their daughter, the daughter of night and day, called Aradia, or Herodias. The lore is not mostly Roman and Etruscan mythology but has both Christian and anti-Christian elements mixed in. There are consecrated cakes of grain meal, salt, and honey as in the Roman Mysteries.

The first section describes the birth of Aradia from the union of Diana, the Goddess of the Moon and of Wild Creatures and her lover and brother – the God of Light and the Sun and the Moon – Lucifer – who was banished (in the Christian mythos) due to his pride and vanity. Her mission as a mortal was to help the disenfranchised – often slaves who had to resort to crime to get by. She was a ‘Robin Hood’ figure of sorts – showing the weak how to harm their oppressors. Such arts as poisoning, paralyzing, crop destruction , and other malevolent forms of magic, did she learn and teach. Freedom – first from the condition of slavery – was highly valued:

“And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye Shall be free in everything;
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also:”

Diana is the Goddess of Witches and the ‘witch supper’ of cakes of meal, honey, salt, and water were consecrated to Diana but also the biblical Cain (related to the moon as he was said to be prisoner of the moon) who is conjured in other rites as well. The magic of the firefly is invoked as well as contemplation of the grain mysteries that were likely part of many Earth Mother cults. The cakes are made into the crescent moon shape. The method is to consume them as eucharist – while all are naked and then sing, dance, drink, and make love. So here we have the wild revelry of orgiastic ecstasy. Diana, in this later tradition, is also apparently the Goddess of thieves and criminals and protects those among them who call upon her properly.

There is given a method to invoke Aradia in a field at midnight with water, wine, salt, and one’s talisman and a small red bag. When one asks a favor of Aradia – there are three signs given in the invocation that one’s wish is to be granted – the hiss of a serpent, the light of a firefly, or the sound of a frog.

There is the curious method of asking the ‘deities’ – Diana and Aradia for favors and then as in some ceremonial magic methods – of demanding and threatening the spirits or deities with harm if they do not obey one’s request. This may be a very late addition or not but it is noted in several spells. It may be a reaction to Christianity in some sense as well – as in a subtle belief among some that these gods, or spirits are inferior – but also perhaps a reaction to ceremonial magic traditions where the will and might of the mage exceeds that of gods and spirits.

Fortunate things to Diana are especially a stone with a hole through it. Also the plants vervain and rue are sacred to her and to strega, or Italian witches. The stone with the hole is protected by incantation and by a magical figure called the Red Goblin who aids the owner mage.

There is a curious ritual given of sticking a lemon with many colored pins for good luck or with 13 black pins for cursing. The incantations are given in the text.

There are spells given to win love, for luck, for finding rare treasures, and for getting a good wine vintage. Wine in that incantation is called the blood of Diana and it is said there that grapes ripened in the waning moon will not make a good vintage. This incantation appears very old and with the emphasis on the drinking horn may link to Diana, or Artemis of Ephesus (from Ancient Greek Anatolia) who often appears with a horn and is often associated with Dionysus/Bacchus. Leland also notes a curious legend from his book – Legends of Florence:

“... there is one of the Via del Corno, in which the hero, falling into a vast tun or tina of wine, is saved from drowning by sounding a horn with tremendous power. At the sound, which penetrates to an incredible distance, even to unknown lands, all come rushing as if enchanted to save him. In this conjuration, Diana, in the depths of heaven, is represented as rushing at the sound of the horn, and leaping through doors or windows to save the vintage of the one who blows.”

It is the Red Goblin (equated by Leland to the English Robin Goodfellow) that saves the hero. The Red Goblin is an attendant of Diana, or as Leland says – Diana-Titania. Also given in the wine spell is the notion of kissing one’s hand to the new moon – which Leland says was banned as a pagan custom by the Hebrews in Old Testament times and thus somehow keeps its heretical spirit. I believe gypsies do a similar thing though I am not sure if they do it as a salute to the moon.

The old Etruscan name for Diana, is Tana, and is still used in Tuscany. Next is given the mythic story of Tana and Endymion, a youth whom she fell in love with – but also another witch fell in love with him but since he loved Tana, the other witch was jealous and hexed him to eternal sleep. Tana made a counter-charm whereby she could meet Endymion on the full moon and they could make love in the world of dreams. Leland suggests that this myth is an inheritance of Dianic witches and that it represents making sacred that which is secret and forbidden.

In Italy and Sicily, Diana as moon goddess is also combined with the Madonna and there are apparently quite a few legends where the Madonna takes on magical aspects of the moon goddess in order to help women with love and acceptance. One legend of a sad woman leaping to her death by night may indicate a devotee of Diana as Goddess of the Dew – which also falls by night – and is also associated with Venus/Aphrodite. Diana saves her and exhorts her to follow her ways and she attains her desire for a great wedding that her unkind parents prevented for her.

There is another story called – The House of the Wind – where a young girl was destined to become a nun according to her parents but she wanted to marry and make a family. She found her governess praying to the moonlight one night and the governess told her that it is better to pray to a goddess one can see – the moonlight – than to the unseen god of Christianity. She began practicing as her governess and following the Vangelo and met a great lover – but her mother would not have it and locked her in a tower. With the aid of Dianic magic she escaped and she and her lover dressed in pilgrim’s clothes and preached the doctrine of Diana – the goddess of the moon and fairies, and of the poor and oppressed, around the countryside. She was well-loved and worshipped as La Bella Pellegrina – the Beautiful Pilgrim. She was noted for her beauty, her goodness, and her charity. Her mother and the priests finally caught up with her and captured her intending to torture and kill her. But after she invoked Diana a great storm came and destroyed every house and structure except the little peasant cottage where she was imprisoned. This became known as the House of the Wind.

Diana (and Artemis) was also the Goddess of Chastity and there is a story in this tradition where a virgin woman is about to be raped but calls on the full moon for protection and so is protected and becomes the Goddess of the Chaste and the Moon.

There is another story where children of a very poor and hungry family offer flowers to a statue of Diana and the magician and poet Virgil (Roman author of the Aeniad – and apparently a figure of magic in the Strega tradition) appears to them and teaches them how to invoke Diana and her good fortune. After this they find slain prey near her statue that feeds their family. A priest walking by denounces Diana – seeing offerings before her statue and out of spite and derision rolls a decaying cabbage before her. He wakes up with a decaying head of a man they had recently beheaded and dies a few days after.

Another curious story is one about the goblin messenger of Mercury on whom Mercury bestowed the gift of being able to overtake and catch whatever or whomever he pursued. He had a sister and on this same day Diana bestowed on her the ability to elude whatever pursued her – and so there was a battle of the deities’ powers. Finally, Jupiter – the father of the gods – turned the sister into the moon and the brother into the sun and decreed that the moon shall ever elude him yet he shall catch her with his light – and this would be in a cycle as when the moon is new it is could and so covered with many coats (like an onion) and as she warms up she casts off her coats one by one until she is naked and the race begins again. Indeed – the Egyptians saw the moon in the symbolism of the onion as the crescent shapes appear when it is cut.

Diana, in her aspect, as patron of thieves and outcastes, had a peculiar manifestation as the goddess Laverna who protetced thieves and those who work by night and by secrecy as well as those who wished to avoid scandal as a result of lusty and laviscious acts. She was said to be the goddess of all dishonest and shabby people – for they needed patrons as well. Her statue ( perhaps as a head in reference to her story being clever to appear as a head and then a body and in each instance swearing on the unmanifested part) was said to appear in a hidden grove outside of town where robbers would secretly meet to view and share their plunder. She was said to be worshipped in perfect silence – due to the need of criminals to keep silence on several levels.

Leland discusses the nature of Herodias from the New Testament but notes that the worship of Diana and Herodias (Aradia) was condemned in very early Church Councils of the late Roman Empire. Leland equates Herodias to the Sumerian/Semitic Lilith. He thinks that the continuation and the changed form of the witch tradition was a result of the oppression of the Church and State against nature-oriented rural folk and their traditions. Of course, this oppression increased until it peaked in the times of the Inquisitions when keeping folk beliefs became punishable by torture and death.

Leland mentions vervain, verbena, and rue, and also poppies as sacred herbs in the Italian tradition. He notes that priestesses in ancient Persia were said to greet the morning sun naked waving stalks of freshly-picked verbena. He mentions nudity as a symbol of truth and sincerity. He also notes that in these stories it is a woman –Diana – who creates the universe and not a male figure as in many mythologies. He mentions the feminine power – since it is emphasized in the witch traditions for:

“Every woman is at heart a witch.”

Leland held out hope that one day would be discovered ancient texts that revealed the true antiquity of these traditions as he believed that much of the rhymes and incantations were preserved in the full archaic-ness. He provides some interesting conjecture about the power and role of women and the nature of folk-lore – ahead of its time really (1899).

There is another story of the Fairies (and dwarves and giants) as the Children of Diana and their forms being made of the rays of the moon. Another story is called: ‘Diana, Queen of the Serpents, Giver of the Gifts of Languages,’ where a legendary magician and physician called Melambo as a child plays with a nest of young snakes and wishes he could talk with them. Then he has a dream where the snakes go into his hair and their mother makes a long invocation to Diana and he is then able to understand the languages of all creatures. This is somewhat reminiscent of the Germanic/Norse Saga of the Volsungs where after Sigurd slays the Serpent-Dragon Fafnir he acquires the ability to understand the language of birds among other secrets, talismans, and treasures of Fafnir.

Diana is also invoked to give beauty and wealth and to restore vitality as other stories attest. Diana also is associated with cats and the ability to appear in the form of a cat in the strega tradition. Indeed, she is said to have seduced her brother Lucifer by first sleeping with him as a beloved cat then shape-shifting into her human form.

The last section of the book offers short essays by 13 contemporary people about the nature of Stregheria, Dianic Witchcraft, and the influence of Leland and this text. This is a fascinating section with the likes of Lori Bruno, Raven Grimassi, Dr. Leo Louis Martello, Patricia Della-Piana, and Christopher Penczak.

Lori Bruno mentions Aradia as daughter of Diana and Apollo. Dr. Leo Lois Martello is quoted as saying, “A true follower of the code of Aradia if you see an injustice and do nothing about it, you are just as guilty as the perpetrator of that injustice.”

Other of these commentators have noted that remnants of veneration of Aradia appear on the island of Sardinia and even in Romania – as Irodiada, the Queen of the Fairies. Herodias and Aradia may well relate to Hera (Juno) as well. In Tuscany this mother of the gods – Juno, was Jana and Diana was Dione and Tana. Aradia as Herodiade was also linked (by the Church) to the Germanic Holda – (or Frau Holda) as a wild and nocturnal goddess. But, apparently there also became a peasant tradition of anti-goddess magic among the Christian converts:

“Indeed, lest she ruin his crops, he would fire his gun into the storm clouds in which he imagined she traveled and shout the words:

“Curse, curse Herodias,
Thy mother is a heathen
Damned of God and fettered
Through the redeemer’s blood!”     (quoted from commentary by Paul Huson)

Dr. Leo Lois Martello talks of a place in Sicily where there is a statue of the Madonna with a female Jesus – as indeed Aradia was sometimes called the female messiah – and of a much different spiritual tradition. He mentions also that threatening the deities perhaps brings us back to earlier traditions such as shamanism and even those of the African diaspora where such activities occur – as the gods are seen as suffering beings like us – but of a higher level but also laible to be influenced by threatening. Christopher Penczak also notes this aspect of Aradia as a messiah or an avatar. I have seen this as well in other legends that Raven Grimassi wrote about. 

I think also that the Luciferian, or rebellious aspect of Aradia and her cult – bears further examination. These are deities associated with the downtrodden and outcaste – not only the poor and peasant – but also those who seek free thought and to go beyond the oppression and forced obedience of society in general. I have heard of other traditions associated with Aradia as well – in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and other places. She is a big aspect (though somewhat secretive) of the maiden-goddess in Wicca. Her egregore – I think – also encompasses taboo-breaking, unbridled sexuality, and wild female power – not unlike the Thelemic deity-thought-form of Babalon. She is also a pilgrim – a lady beloved of the people who travels and teaches among the folk. I think Aradia – as an archetype of freedom, justice, the balancing of the social outcastes, and rebelliousness in the service of justice – is a workable archetype. Very cool book to read and contemplate. I look forward to Leland’s other books – Legends of Florence – and Etruscan Roman Remains. Very little is known about the Etruscans – yet strange names of gods and strange pagan folk customs – only partly Roman are still around in Tuscany and Northern Italy. Perhaps as Leland hoped – more will be learned about the Etruscans in the future.

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