Aradia: Gospel of the Witches (Chapter 12: Tana The Moon Goddess)

Chapter XII

Tana The Moon Goddess

Charles G. Leland


The following story, which appeared originally in the Legends of Florence, collected from the people by me, does not properly belong to the Witch’s Gospel, as it is not strictly in accordance with it; and yet it could not well be omitted, since it is on the same subject. In it Diana appears simply as the lunar goddess of chastity, therefor not as a witch. It was given to me as Fana, but my informant said that it might be Tana; she was not sure. As Tana occurs in another tale, and as the subject is certainly Diana, there can hardly be a question of this.

Tana was a very beautiful girl, but extremely poor, and as modest and pure as she was beautiful and humble. She went from one contadino to another, or from farm to farm to work, and thus led an honest life.

There was a young boor, a very ugly, bestial, and brutish fellow, who was after his fashion raging with love for her, but she could not so much as bear to look at him, and repelled all his advances.

But late one night, when she was returning alone from the farmhouse where she had worked to her home, this man who had hidden himself in a thicket, leaped out on her and cried, “Thou canst not flee; mine thou shalt be!”

And seeing no help near, and only the full moon looking down on her from heaven, Tana in despair cast herself on her knees and cried to it:

“I have no one on earth to defend me,
Thou alone dost see me in this strait;
Therefore I pray to thee, O Moon!
As thou art beautiful so thou art bright
Flashing thy splendor over all mankind;
Even so I pray thee light up the mind
Of this poor ruffian, who would wrong me here,
Even to the worst. Cast light into his soul,
That he may let me be in peace, and then
Return in all thy light unto my home!”

When she had said this, there appeared before her a bright but shadowy form, which said:

“Rise, and go to thy home!
Thou has well deserved this grace;
No one shall trouble thee more,
Purest of all on earth!
Thou shalt a goddess be,
The Goddess of the Moon,
Of all enchantment Queen!”

Thus it came to pass that Tana became the dea or spirit of the Moon.

Though the air be set to a different key, this is a poem of pure melody, and the same as Wordsworth’s “Goody Blake and Harry Gill.” Both Tana and the old dame are surprised and terrified; both pray to a power above:

“The cold, cold moon above her head,
Thus on her knees did Goody pray;
Young Harry heard what she had said,
And icy cold he turned away.”

The dramatic center is just the same in both. The English ballad soberly turns into an incurable fir of ague inflicted on a greedy young boor; the Italian witch-poetess, with finer sense, or with more sympathy for the heroine, casts the brute aside without further mention, and apotheosizes the maiden, identifying her with the Moon. The former is more practical and probable, the latter more poetical.

And here it is worth while, despite digression, to remark what an immense majority there are of people who can perceive, feel, and value poetry in mere words or form – that is to say, objectively – and hardly know or note it when it is presented subjectively or as thought, but not put into some kind of verse or measure, or regulated form. This is a curious experiment and worth studying. Take a passage from some famous poet; write it out in pure simple prose, doing full justice to its real meaning, and if it still actually thrills or moves as poetry, then it is of the first class. But if it has lost its glamour absolutely, it is second rate or inferior; for the best cannot be made out of mere words varnished with associations, be they of thought or feeling.

This is not such a far cry from the subject as might be deemed. Reading and feeling them subjectively, I am often struck by the fact that in these Witch traditions which I have gathered there is a wondrous poetry of thought, which far excels the efforts of many modern bards, and which only requires the aid of some clever workman in words to assume the highest rank. A proof of what I have asserted may be found in the fact that, in such famous poems as the Finding of the Lyre, by James Russell Lowell, and that on the invention of the pipe by Pan, by Mrs. Browning, that which formed the most exquisite and refined portion of the original myths is omitted by both authors, simply because they missed or did not perceive it. For in the former we are not told that it was the breathing of the god Air (who was the inspiring soul of ancient music, and the Bellaria of modern witch-mythology) on the dried filament of the tortoise, which suggested to Hermes the making an instrument wherewith he made the music of the spheres and guided the course of the planets. As for Mrs. Browning, she leaves out Syrinx altogether, that is to say, the voice of the nymph still lingering in the pipe which had been her body. Now to my mind the old prose narrative of these myths is much more deeply poetical and moving, and far more inspired with beauty and romance, than are the well-rhymed and measured, but very imperfect versions given by our poets. And in fact, such want of intelligence or perception may be found in all the ‘classic’ poems, not only of Keats, but of almost every poet of the age who has dealt in Greek subjects.

Great license is allowed to painters and poets, but when they take a subjective, especially a deep tradition, and fail to perceive its real meaning or catch its point, and simply give us something very pretty, but not so inspired with meaning as the original, it can hardly be claimed that they have done their work as it might, or, in fact, should have been done. I find that this fault does not occur in the Italian or Tuscan witch versions of the ancient fables; on the contrary, they keenly appreciate, and even expand, the antique spirit. Hence I have often had occasion to remark that it was not impossible that in some cases popular tradition, even as it now exists, has been preserved more fully and accurately than we find it in any Latin writer.

Now apropos of missing the point, I would remind certain very literal readers that if they find many faults of grammar, misspelling, and worse in the Italian texts in this book, they will not, as a distinguished reviewer has done, attribute them all to the ignorance of the author, but to the imperfect education of the person who collected and recorded them. I am reminded of this by having seen in a circulating library copy of my Legend of Florence, in which some good careful soul had taken pains with a pencil to correct all the archaisms. Wherein, he or she was like a certain Boston proof reader, who in a book of mine changed the spelling of many citations from Chaucer, Spenser, and others into the purest, or impurest, Webster; he being under the impression that I was extremely ignorant of orthography. As for the writing in or injuring books, which always belong partly to posterity, it is a sin of vulgarity as well as morality, and indicates what people are more than they dream.

“Only a cad as low as a thief
Would write in a book or turn down a leaf,
Since ’tis thievery, as well is know,
To make free with that which is not our own.”

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Aradia: Gospel of the Witches (Preface)

Aradia: Gospel of the Witches

Preface

Charles G. Leland


This book was written by Charles G. Leland in 1890. It is not copyrighted in any way and therefore may be duplicated in any manner required for the widest possible dissemination.

If the reader has ever met with the works of the learned folk-lorist G. Pitre, or the articles contributed by “Lady Vere de Vere” to the Italian Rivista or that of J. H. Andrews to Folk-Lore, he will be aware that there are in Italy great numbers of strege, fortune-tellers or witches, who divine by cards, perform strange ceremonies in which spirits are supposed to be invoked, make and sell amulets, and, in fact, comport themselves generally as their reputed kind are wont to do, be they Black Voodoos in America or sorceresses anywhere.

But the Italian strega or sorceress is in certain respects a different character from these. In most cases she comes of a family in which her calling or art has been practiced for many generations. I have no doubt that there are instances in which the ancestry remounts to mediaeval, Roman, or it may be Etruscan times. The result has naturally been the accumulation in such families of much tradition. But in Northern Italy, as its literature indicated, though there has been some slight gathering of fairy tales and popular superstitions by scholars, there has never existed the least interest as regarded the strange lore of the witches, nor any suspicion that it embraced an incredible quantity of old Roman minor myths and legends, such as Ovid has recorded, but of which much escaped him and all other Latin writers.

This ignorance was greatly aided by the wizards and witches themselves, in making a profound secret of all their traditions, urged thereto by fear of the priests. In fact, the latter all unconsciously actually contributed immensely to the preservation of such lore, since the charm of the forbidden is very great, and witchcraft, like the truffle, grows best and has its raciest flavour when most deeply hidden. However this may be, both priest and wizard are vanishing now with incredible rapidity – it has even struck a French writer that a Franciscan in a railway carriage is a strange anomaly – and a few more years of newspapers and bicycles (Heaven knows what it will be when flying-machines appear!) will probably cause an evanishment of all.

However, they die slowly, and even yet there are old people in the Romagna of the North who know the Etruscan names of the Twelve Gods, and invocations to Bacchus, Jupiter, and Venus and Mercury, and the Lares or ancestral spirits, and in the cities are women who prepare strange amulets, over which they mutter spells, all known in the old Roman time, and who can astonish even the learned by their legends of Latin gods, mingled with lore which may be found in Cato or Theocritus. With one of these I became intimately acquainted in 1886, and have ever since employed her specially to collect among her sisters of the hidden spell in many places all the traditions of the olden time known to them. It is true that I have drawn from other sources, but this woman by long practice has perfectly learned what few understand, or just what I want, and how to extract it from those of her kind.

Among other strange relics, she succeeded, after many years, in obtaining the following “Gospel”, which I have in her handwriting. A full account of its nature with many details will be found in an Appendix. I do not know definitely whether my informant derived a part of these traditions from written sources or oral narration, but believe it was chiefly the latter. However, there are a few wizards who copy or preserve documents relative to their art. I have not seen my collector since the “Gospel” was sent to me. I hope at some future time to be better informed.

For brief explanation I may say the witchcraft is known to its votaries as la vecchia religione, or the old religion, of which DIANA is the Goddess, her daughter Aradia (or Herodius) the female Messiah, and that this little work sets forth how the latter was born, came down to earth, established witches and witchcraft, and then returned to heaven. With it are given the ceremonies and invocations or incantations to be addressed to Diana and Aradia, the exorcism of Cain, and the spells of the holy-stone, rue, and verbena, constituting, as the text declares, the regular church-service, so to speak, which is to be chanted or pronounced at the witch meetings. There are also included the very curious incantations or benedictions of the honey, meal, and salt, or cakes of the witch-supper, which is curiously classical, and evidently a relic of the Roman Mysteries.

The work could have been extended ad infinitum by adding to it the ceremonies and incantations which actually form a part of the Scripture of Witchcraft, but as these are nearly all – or at least in great number – to be found in my works entitled Etruscan-Roman Remains and Legends of Florence, I have hesitated to compile such a volume before ascertaining whether there is a sufficiently large number of the public who would buy such a work.

Since writing the foregoing I have met with and read a very clever and entertaining work entitled Romanzo dei Settimani, G. Cavagnari, 1889, in which the author, in the form of a novel, vividly depicts the manners, habits of thought, and especially the nature of witchcraft, and the many superstitions current among the peasants in Lombardy. Unfortunately, notwithstanding his extensive knowledge of the subject, it never seems to have occurred to the narrator that these traditions were anything but noxious nonsense or abominably un-Christian folly. That there exist in them marvelous relics of ancient mythology and valuable folklore, which is the very cor cordium of history, is as uncared for by him as it would be by a common Zoccolone or tramping Franciscan. One would think it might have been suspected by a man who knew that a witch really endeavored to kill seven people as a ceremony rite, in order to get the secret of endless wealth, that such a sorceress must have had a store of wondrous legends; but of all this there is no trace, and it is very evident that nothing could be further from his mind than that there was anything interesting from a higher or more genial point of view in it all.

His book, in fine, belongs to the very great number of those written on ghosts and superstition since the latter has fallen into discredit, in which the authors indulge in much satirical and very safe but cheap ridicule of what to them is merely vulgar and false. Like Sir Charles Coldstream, they have peeped in the crater of Vesuvius after is had ceased to “erupt”, and found “nothing in it.” But there was something in it once; and the man of science, which Sir Charles was not, still finds a great deal in the remains, and the antiquarian a Pompeii or a Herculaneum – ’tis said there are still seven buried cities to unearth. I have done what little (it is really very little) I could, to disinter something from the dead volcano of Italian sorcery.

If this be the manner in which Italian witchcraft is treated by the most intelligent writer who has depicted it, it will not be deemed remarkable that there are few indeed who will care whether there is a veritable Gospel of the Witches, apparently of extreme antiquity, embodying the belief in a strange counter-religion which has held its own from pre-historic time to the present day. “Witchcraft is all rubbish, or something worse,” said old writers, “and therefore all books about it are nothing better.” I sincerely trust, however, that these pages may fall into the hands of at least a few who will think better of them.

I should, however, in justice to those who do care to explore dark and bewildering paths, explain clearly that witch-lore is hidden with most scrupulous care from all save a very few in Italy, just as it is among the Chippeway Medas or the Black Voodoo. In the novel to the life of I Settimani an aspirant is represented as living with a witch and acquiring or picking up with pain, scrap by scrap, her spells and incantations, giving years to it. So my friend the late M. Dragomanoff told me how a certain man in Hungary, having learned that he had collected many spells (which were indeed subsequently published in folklore journals), stole them, so that the next year when Dragomanoff returned, he found the thief in full practice as a blooming magician. Truly he had not got many incantations, only a dozen or so, but a very little will go a great way in the business, and I venture to say there is perhaps hardly a single witch in Italy who knows as many as I have published, mine having been assiduously collected from many, far and wide. Everything of the kind which is written is, moreover, often destroyed with scrupulous care by priests or penitents, or the vast number who have a superstitious fear of even being in the same house with such documents, so that I regard the rescue of the Vangelo as something which is to say the least remarkable.

Aradia – Or The Gospel Of The Witches