Charles G. Leland
So long ago as the year 1886 I learned that there was in existence a manuscript setting forth the doctrines of Italian witchcraft, and I was promised that, if possible, it should be obtained for me. In this I was for a time disappointed. But having urged it on Maddalena, my collector of folk lore, while she was leading a wandering life in Tuscany, to make an effort to obtain or recover something of the kind, I at last received from her, on January 1, 1897, from Colle, Val d’Elsa, near Siena, the MS entitled Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches.
Now be it observed, that every leading point which forms the plot or center of this Vangel, such as that Diana is Queen of the Witches; an associate of Herodius (Aradia) in her relations to sorcery; that she bore a child to her brother the Sun (here Lucifer); that as a moon-goddess she is in some relation to Cain, who dwells as prisoner in the moon, and that the witches of old were people oppressed by feudal lands, the former revenging themselves in every way, and holding orgies to Diana which the Church represented as being the worship of Satan – all of this, I repeat, had been told or written out for me in fragments by Maddalena (not to speak of other authorities), even as it had been chronicled by Horst or Michelet; therefore all this is in the present document of minor importance. All of this I expected, but what I did not expect, and what was new to me, was that portion which is given as prose-poetry and which I have rendered in meter or verse. This being traditional, and taken down from wizards, is extremely curious and interesting, since in it are preserved many relics of lore which, as may be verified from records, have come down from days of yore.
Aradia is evidently enough Herodius, who was regarded in the beginning as associated with Diana as chief of the witches. This was not, as I opined, derived from the Herodias of the New Testament, but from an earlier replica of Lilith, bearing the same name. It is, in fact an identification or twin-ing of the Aryan and Shemitic Queens of Heaven, or of Night and of Sorcery, and it may be that this was known to the earliest myth makers. So far back as the sixth century the worship of Herodias and Diana by witches was condemned by a Church Council at Ancyra. Pipernus and other writers have noted the evident identity of Herodias with Lilith. Isis preceded both.
Diana is very vigorously, even dramatically, set forth in this poem as the goddess of the god forsaken and ungodly, of thieves, harlots, and, truthfully enough, of the ‘minions of the moon,’ as Falstaff would have fain had them called. It was recognized in ancient Rome, as it is in modern India, that no human being can be so bad or vile as to have forfeited all right to divine protection of some kind or other, and Diana was this protectress. It my be as well to observe here, that among all free thinking philosophers, educated parias, and literary or book bohemians, there has ever been a most unorthodox tendency to believe that the faults and errors of humanity are more due (if not altogether due) to unavoidable causes which we cannot help, as, for instance, heredity, the being born savages, or poor, or in vice, or unto ‘bigotry and virtue’ in excess, or unto inquisitioning – that is to say, when we are so over burdened with innately born sin that all our free will cannot set us free from it.
It was during the so called Dark Ages, or from the downfall of the Roman Empire until the thirteenth century, that the belief that all which was worst in man owed its origin solely to the monstrous abuses and tyranny of Church and State. For then, at every turn in life, the vast majority encountered downright shameless, palpable iniquity and injustice, with no law for the weak who were without patrons.
The perception of this drove vast numbers of the discontented into rebellion, and as they could not prevail by open warfare, they took their hatred out in a form of secret anarchy, which was, however, intimately blended with superstition and fragments of old tradition. Prominent in this, and naturally enough, was the worship of Diana the protectress, for the alleged adoration of Satan was a far later invention of the Church, and it has never really found a leading place in Italian witchcraft to this day. That is to say, purely diabolical witchcraft did not find general acceptance till the end of the fifteenth century, when it was, one may almost say, invented in Rome to supply means wherewith to destroy the threatening heresy of Germany.
The growth of Sentiment is the increase of suffering; man is never entirely miserable until he finds out how wronged he is and fancies that he sees far ahead a possible freedom. In ancient times men as slaves suffered less under even more abuse, because they believed they were born to low conditions of life. Even the best reform brings pain with it, and the great awakening of man was accompanied with griefs, many of which even yet endure. Pessimism is the result of too much culture and introversion.
It appears to be strangely out of sight and out of mind with all historians, that the sufferings of the vast majority of mankind, or the enslaved and poor, were far greater under early Christianity, or till the end of the Middle Ages and the Emancipation of Serfs, than they were before. The reason for this was that in the old ‘heathen’ time the humble did not know, or even dream, that all are equal before God, or that they had many rights, even here on earth, as slaves; for, in fact, the whole moral tendency of the New Testament is utterly opposed to slavery, or even sever servitude. Every word uttered teaching Christ’s mercy and love, humility and charity, was, in fact, a bitter reproof, not only to every lord in the land, but to the Church itself, and its arrogant prelates. The fact that many abuses had been mitigated and that there were benevolent saints, does not affect the fact that, on the whole, mankind was for a long time worse off than before, and the greatest cause of this suffering was what may be called a sentimental one, or a newly born consciousness of rights withheld, which is always of itself a torture. And this was greatly aggravated by the endless preaching to the people that it was a duty to suffer and endure oppression and tyranny, and that the rights of Authority of all kinds were so great that they on the whole even excused their worst abuses. For by upholding Authority in the nobility the Church maintained its own.
The result of it all was a vast development of rebels, outcasts, and all the discontented, who adopted witchcraft or sorcery for a religion, and wizards as their priests. They had secret meetings in desert places, among old ruins accursed by priests as the haunt of evil spirits or ancient heathen gods, or in the mountains. To this day the dweller in Italy may often find secluded spots environed by ancient chestnut forests, rocks, and walls, which suggest fit places for the Sabbat, and are sometimes still believed by tradition to be such. And I also believe that in this Gospel of the Witches we have a trustworthy outline at least of the doctrine and rites observed at these meetings. They adored forbidden deities and practiced forbidden deeds, inspired as much by rebellion against Society as their own passions.
There is, however, in the Evangel of the Witches an effort made to distinguish between the naturally wicked or corrupt and those who are outcasts or oppressed, as appears from the passage: –
“Yet like Cain’s daughter (offspring) thou shalt never be,
Nor like the race who have become at last
Wicked and infamous from suffering,
As are the Jews and wandering Zingari,
Who are all thieves: like then ye shall not be.”
The supper of the Witches, the cakes of meal, salt, and honey, in the form of crescent moons, are known to every classical scholar. The moon or horn shaped cakes are still common. I have eaten of them this very day, and though they are known all over the world, I believe they owe their fashion to tradition.
In the conjuration of the meal there is a very curious tradition introduced to the effect that the glittering grains of wheat from which spikes shoot like sun rays, owe their brilliant likeness to a resemblance to the firefly, ‘who comes to give the light.’ We have, I doubt not, in this a classic tradition, but I cannot verify it. Hereupon the Vangelo cites a common nursery rhyme, which may also be found a nursery tale, yet which, like others, is derived from witch lore, by which the lucciola is put under a glass and conjured to give by its light certain answers.
The conjuration of the meal or bread, as being literally our body as contributing to form it, and deeply sacred because it had lain in the earth, where dark and wondrous secrets bide, seems to cast a new light on the Christian sacrament. It is a type of resurrection from earth, and was therefore used at the Mysteries and Holy Supper, and the grain had pertained to chthonic secrets, or to what had been under the earth in darkness. Thus even earthworms are invoked in modern witchcraft as familiar with dark mysteries, and the shepherd’s pipe to win the Orphic power must be buried three days in the earth. And so all was, and is, in sorcery a kind of wild poetry based on symbols, all blending into one another, light and darkness, fireflies and grain, life and death.
Very strange indeed, but very strictly according to ancient magic as described by classic authorities, is the threatening Diana, in case she will not grant a prayer. This recurs continually in the witch exorcisms or spells. The magus, or witch, worships the spirit, but claims to have the right, drawn from a higher power, to compel even the Queen of Earth, Heaven and Hell to grant the request. “Give what I ask, and thou shalt have honor and offerings; refuse, and I will vex thee by insult.” So Canidia and her kind boasted that they could compel the gods to appear. This is all classic. No one ever heard of a Satanic witch invoking or threatening the Trinity, or Christ or even the angels or saints. In fact, they cannot even compel the devil or his imps to obey – they work entirely by his good will as slaves. But in the old Italian lore the sorcerer or witch is all or nothing, and aims at limitless will or power.
Of the ancient belief in the virtues of a perforated stone I need not speak. But it is to be remarked that in the invocation the witch goes forth in the earliest morning to seek for verbena or verbain. The ancient Persian magi, or rather their daughters, worshipped the sun as it rose by waving freshly plucked verbena, which was one of the seven most powerful plants in magic. These Persian priestesses were naked while they thus worshipped, nudity being a symbol of truth and sincerity.
The extinguishing the lights, nakedness, and the orgy, were regarded as symbolical of the body being laid in the ground, the grain being planted, or of entering into darkness and death, to be revived in new forms, or regeneration and light. It was the laying aside of daily life.
The Gospel of the Witches, as I have given it, is in reality only the initial chapter of the collection of ceremonies, incantations, and traditions current in the fraternity or sisterhood, the whole of which are in the main to be found in my Etruscan Roman Remains and Florentine Legends. I have, it is true, a great number as yet unpublished, and there are more ungathered, but the whole scripture of this sorcery, all its principal tenets, formulas, medicaments, and mysteries may be found in what I have collected and printed. Yet I would urge that it would be worth while to arrange and edit it all into one work, because it would be to every student of archeology, folk lore, or history of great value. It has been the faith of millions in the past it has made itself felt in innumerable traditions, which deserve to be better understood than they are, and I would gladly undertake the work if I believed that the public would make it worth the publisher’s outlay and pains.
It may be observed with truth that I have not treated this Gospel, nor even the subject of witchcraft, entirely as folk lore, as the word is strictly defined and carried out; that is, as a mere traditional fact or thing to be chiefly regarded as a variant like or unlike sundry other traditions, or to be tabulated and put away in pigeon holes for reference. That it is useful and sensible to do all this is perfectly true, and it has led to an immense amount of valuable search, collection, and preservation. But there is this to be said, and I have observed that here and there a few genial minds are beginning to awake to it, that the mere study of the letter in this way has developed a great indifference to the spirit, going in may cases so far as to produce, like Realism in Art (to which it is allied), even a contempt for the matter or meaning of it, as originally believed in.
I was lately much struck by the fact that in a very learned work on Music, the author, in discussing that of ancient times and of the East, while extremely accurate and minute in determining pentatonic and all other scales, and what may be called the mere machinery and history of composition, showed that he was utterly ignorant of the fundamental fact that notes and chords, bars and melodies, were in themselves ideas or thoughts. Thus Confucius is said to have composed a melody which was a personal description of himself. Now if this be not understood, we cannot understand the soul of early music, and the folk lorist who cannot get beyond the letter and fancies himself ‘scientific’ is exactly like the musician who has no idea of how or why melodies were anciently composed.
The strange and mystical chapter ‘How Diana made the Stars and the Rain’ is the same given in my Legends of Florence, but much enlarged, or developed to a cosmogonic-mythologic sketch. And here a reflection occurs which is perhaps the most remarkable which all this Witch Evangel suggests. In all other Scriptures of all races, it is the male, Jehovah, Buddha or Brahma, who creates the universe; in Witch Sorcery it is the female who is the primitive principle. Whenever in history there is a period of radical intellectual rebellion against long established conservatism, hierarchy, and the like, there is always an effort to regard Woman as the fully equal, which means the superior sex. Thus in the extraordinary war of conflicting elements, strange schools of sorcery, Neo-Platonism, Cabala, Hermetic Christianity, Gnosticism, Persian Magism and Dualism, with the remains of old Greek and Egyptian theologies in the third and fourth centuries at Alexandria, and in the House of Light of Cairo in the ninth, the equality of Woman was a prominent doctrine. It was Sophia or Helena, the enfranchised, who was then the true Christ who was to save mankind.
When Illumination, in company with magic and mysticism, and a resolve to regenerate society according to extreme free thought, inspired the Templars to the hope that they would master the Church and the world, the equality of Woman derived from the Cairene traditions, again received attention. And it may be observed that during the Middle Ages, and even so late as the intense excitements which inspired the French Huguenots, the Jansenists and the Anabaptists, Woman always came forth more prominently or played a far greater part than she had done in social or political life. This was also the case in the Spiritualism founded by the Fox sisters of Rochester, New York, and it is manifesting itself in many ways in the Fin de Siecle, which is also a nervous chaos according to Nordau – Woman being evidently a fish who shows herself most when the waters are troubled.
But we should also remember that in the earlier ages the vast majority of mankind itself, suppressed by the too great or greatly abused power of Church and State, only manifested itself at such periods of rebellion against forms or ideas grown old. And with every new rebellion, every fresh outburst or wild inundation and bursting over the barriers, humanity and woman gain something, that is to say, their just dues or rights. For as every freshet spreads more widely its waters over the fields, which are in due time the more fertilized thereby, so the world at large gains by every revolution, however terrible or repugnant it may be for a time.
The Emancipated or Woman’s Rights woman, when too enthusiastic, generally considers man as limited, while Woman is destined to gain on him. In earlier ages a contrary opinion prevailed, and both are, or were, apparently in the wrong, so far as the future is concerned. For in truth both sexes are progressive, and progress in this respect means not a conflict of the male and female principle, such as formed the basis of the Mahabarata, but a gradual ascertaining of true ability and adjustment of relations or coordination of powers.
These remarks are appropriate to my text and subject, because it is in studying the epochs when woman has made herself prominent and influential that we learn what the capacities of the female sex truly are. Among these, that of witchcraft as it truly was – not as it is generally quite misunderstood – is a deeply interesting as any other. For the witch, laying aside all question as to magic or its non-existence – was once a real factor or great power in rebellious social life, and to this very day it is recognized that there is something uncanny, mysterious, and incomprehensible in woman, which neither she herself nor man can explain.
The Children Of Diana, Or How The Fairies Were Born
All things were made by Diana, the great spirits of the stars, men in their time and place, the giants which were of old, and the dwarfs who dwell in the rocks, and once a month worship her with cakes.
There was once a young man who was poor, without parents, yet he was good.
One night he sat in a lonely place, yet it was very beautiful, and there he saw a thousand little fairies, shining white, dancing in the light of the full moon.
“Gladly would I be like you, O fairies!” said the youth, “free from care, needing no food. But what are ye?”
“We are moon rays, the children of Diana,” replied one –
We are children of the Moon.
We are born of shining light;
When the Moon shoots forth a ray,
Then it takes a fairy’s form.
“And thou art one of us because thou wert born when the Moon, our mother Diana, was full; yes, our brother, kin to us, belonging to our band.
“And if thou art hungry and poor…and wilt have money in thy pocket, then think upon the Moon, on Diana, unto whom thou wert born; then repeat these words –
“‘Moon, Moon, beautiful Moon!
Fairer far than any star;
Moon, O Moon, if it may be,
Bring good fortune unto me!’
“And then, if thou has money in thy pocket, thou wilt have it doubled.
“For the children who are born in a full moon are sons or daughters of the Moon, especially when they are born of a Sunday when there is a high tide.
“Full moon, high sea,
Great man shalt thou be!”
Then the young man, who had only a paolo in his purse, touched it, saying –
“Moon, Moon, beautiful Moon,
Ever be my lovely Moon!”
And so the young man, wishing to make money, bought and sold and made money, which he doubled every month.
But it came to pass that after a time, during one month he could sell nothing, so made nothing. So by night he said to the Moon –
“Moon, O Moon, whom I by far
Love beyond another star,
Tell me why it was ordained
That I this month have nothing gained?”
Then there appeared to him a little shining elf, who said –
“Money will not come to thee,
Nor any help or aid can’st see,
Unless you work industriously.”
Then he added –
“Money I ne’er give, ’tis clear,
Only help to thee, my dear!”
Then the youth understood that the Moon, like God and Fortune, does the most for those who do the most for themselves.
To be born in a full moon means to have an enlightened mind, and a high tide signifies an exalted intellect and full of thought. It is not enough to have a fine boat of Fortune. And it is said –
“Fortune gives and Fortune takes,
And to man a fortune makes,
Sometimes to those who labor shirk,
But oftener to those who work.”
Diana, Queen Of The Serpents, Giver Of The Gift Of Languages
In a long a strange legend of Melambo, a magian and great physician of divine birth, there is an invocation to Diana which has a proper place in this work. The incident in which it occurs is as follows –
One day Melambo asked his mother how it was that while it had been promised that he should know the language of all living thins, it had not yet come to pass.
And his mother replied, “Patience, my son, for it is by waiting and watching ourselves that we learn how to be taught. And thou hast within thee the teachers who can impart the most, if thou wilt seek to hear them; yes, the professors who can teach thee more in a few minutes than others learn in a life.”
It befell that one evening Melambo, thinking on this while playing with a nest of young serpents which his servant had found in a hollow oak, said, “I would that I could talk with you. Well I know that ye have a language, as graceful as your movement, as brilliant as your color.”
Then he fell asleep, and the young serpents twined in his hair and began to lick his lips and eyes, while their mother sang –
Diana! Diana! Diana!
Queen of all enchantresses
And of the dark night
And of all nature,
Of the stars and of the moon,
And of all fate or fortune!
Thou who rulest the tide,
Who shinest by night on the sea,
Casting light upon the waters;
Thou who art mistress of the ocean
In thy boat made like a crescent,
Crescent moon bark brightly gleaming,
Ever smiling high in heaven,
Sailing too on earth, reflected
In the ocean, on its water;
We implore thee give this sleeper,
Give unto this good Melambo
The great gift of understanding
What all creatures say while talking!
This legend contains much that is very curious; among other things an invocation to the firefly, one to Mefitia, the goddess of malaria, and a long poetic prophecy relative to the hero. It is evidently full of old Latin mythologic lore of a very marked character. The whole of it may be found in a forthcoming work by the writer of this book, entitled “The Unpublished Legends of Virgil.”
Diana As Giving Beauty And Restoring Strength
Diana hath the power to do all things, to give glory to the lowly, wealth to the poor, joy to the afflicted, beauty to the ugly. Be not in grief, if you are her follower; though you be in prison and in darkness, she will bring light – many there are whom she sinks that they may rise the higher.
There was of old in Monteroni a young man so ugly that when a stranger was passing through the town he was shown this Gianni, as one of the sights of the place. Yet, hideous as he was, because he was rich, though of no family, he had confidence, and hoped boldly to win and wed some beautiful young lady of rank.
Now there came to dwell in Monteroni a wonderfully beautiful blonde young lady of culture and condition, to whom Gianni, with his usual impudence, boldly made love, getting, as was also usual, a round No for his reply.
But this time, being more than usually fascinated in good truth, for there were influences at work he knew not of, he became as one possessed or mad with passion, so that he hung about the lady’s house by night and day, seeking indeed an opportunity to rush in and seize her, or by some desperate trick to master and bear her away.
But here his plans were defeated, because the lady had ever by her a great cat which seemed to be of more than human intelligence, and, whenever Gianni approached her or her home, it always espied him and gave the alarm with a terrible noise. And there was indeed something so unearthly in its appearance, and something so awful in its great green eyes which shone like torches, that the boldest man might have been appalled by them.
But one evening Gianni reflected that it was foolish to be afraid of a mere cat, which need only scare a boy, and so he boldly ventured on an attack. So going forth, he took a ladder, which he carried and placed against the lady’s window. But while he stood at the foot, he found by him an old woman, who earnestly began to beg him not to persevere in his intention. “For thou knowest well, Gianni,” she said, “that the lady will have none of thee; thou art a terror to her. Do but go home and look in the glass, and it will seem to thee that thou art looking on a mortal sin in human form.”
Then Gianni in a roaring rage cried, “I will have my way and my will, thou old wife of the devil, if I must kill thee and the girl too!” Saying which, he rushed up the ladder; but before he had opened or could enter the window, and was at the top, he found himself as it were turned to wood or stone, unable to move.
Then he was overwhelmed with shame, and said, “Ere long the whole town will be here to witness my defeat. However, I will make one last appeal.” So he cried, “Oh, vecchia! thou who didst mean me more kindly than I knew, pardon me, I beg thee, and rescue me from this trouble! And if, as I well ween, thou art a witch, and if I, by becoming a wizard, may be freed from my trials and troubles, then I pray thee teach me how it may be done, so that I may win the young lady, since I now see that she is of thy kind, and that I must be of it to be worthy of her.”
Then Gianni saw the old woman sweep like a flash of light from a lantern up from the ground, and, touching him, bore him away from the ladder, when lo! the light was a cat, who had been anon the witch, and she said, “Thou wilt soon set forth on a long journey, and in thy way wilt find a wretched worn out horse, when thou must say –
‘Fairy Diana! Fairy Diana! Fairy Diana!
I conjure thee to do some little good
To this poor beast.’
Then thou wilt find
A great goat
A true he-goat
And thou shalt say,
‘Good evening, fair goat!
And he will reply,
‘Good evening, fair sir!
I am so weary
That I can go no farther’
And thou shalt reply as usual,
‘Fairy Diana, I conjure thee
To give to this goat relief and peace!’
“Then will we enter in a great hall where thou wilt see many beautiful ladies who will try to fascinate thee; but let thy answer ever be, ‘She whom I love is her of Monteroni.’
“And now Gianni, to horse; mount and away!” So he mounted the cat, which flew as quick as thought, and found the mare, and having pronounced over it the incantation, it became a woman and said –
In the name of the Fairy Diana!
Mayest thou hereby become
A beautiful young man,
Red and white in hue,
Like to milk and blood!
After this he found the goat and conjured it in like manner, and it replied –
In the name of the Fairy Diana!
Be thou attired more richly than a prince!
So he passed to the hall, where he was wooed by beautiful ladies, but his answer to them all was that his love was at Monterone.
Then he saw or knew no more, but on awakening found himself in Monterone, and so changed to a handsome youth that no one knew him. So he married his beautiful lady, and all lived the hidden life of witches and wizards from that day, and are now in fairy land.