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.”