Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, by Charles G. Leland, , at sacred-texts.com
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, entitled Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches.
Now be it observed, that every leading point which forms the plot or centre of the Vangel, such as that Diana is Queen of the Witches; an associate of Herodias (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 metre 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 Herodias, who was regarded in the beginning as associated with Diana as chief of the witches. This was not, as I opine, 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, truth fully enough, of the "minions of the moon," as Falstaff would have fain had them called. It was recognised 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 may 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 overburdened with innately born sin that all our free will cannot set us free from it. 1
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 severe 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 practised forbidden deeds, inspired as much by rebellion against Society as by 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 them 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 spige or glittering grains of wheat from which spikes shoot like sun-rays, owe their brilliant like ness to a resemblance to the fire-fly, "who comes to give them light." We have, I doubt not, in this a classic tradition, but I cannot verify it. Here upon the Vangelo cites a common nursery-rhyme, which may also be found in 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 the 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 earth-worms 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, fire-flies 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 me what I ask, and thou shalt have honour 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
vervain. The ancient Persian magi, or rather their daughters, worshipped the sun as it rose by waving freshly plucked verbena, 1 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 orgie, 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, "cantrips," 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 archæology, 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 many 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 can not 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, vol. ii. p. 229, 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, Heretic 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 or Illuminé-ism, 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 Siècle, which is also a nervous chaos according to Nordau,--Woman being evidently a fish who shows herself most when the waters are troubled:--
"Oh, Woman, in our hours of ease!"
The reader will remember the rest. 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 debâcle 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 fertilised 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 co-ordination of powers--in doing which on a scientific basis all conflict ceases.
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 as deeply interesting as any other.
[paragraph continues] 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--as most novels bear witness--it is recognised that there is something uncanny, mysterious, and incomprehensible in woman, which neither she herself nor man can explain.
"For every woman is at heart a witch."
We have banished the broom and the cat and the working miracles, the Sabbat and pacts with Satan, but the mystery or puzzle is as great as ever; no one living knows to what it is destined to lead. Are not the charms of love of every kind, and the enjoyment of beauty in all its forms in nature, mysteries, miracles, or magical?
To all who are interested in this subject of woman's influence and capacity, this Evangel of the Witches will be of value as showing that there have been strange thinkers who regarded creation as a feminine development or parthenogenesis from which the masculine principle was born. Lucifer, or Light, lay hidden in the darkness of Diana, as heat is hidden in lee. But the regenerator or Messiah of this strange doctrine is a woman Aradia, though the two, mother and daughter, are confused or reflected in the different tales, even as Jahveh is confused with the Elohim.
"Remains to be said"--that the Adam-nable and Eve-il, or Adamite assemblages enjoined in
the Gospel of Sorcery, are not much, if at all, kept up by the now few and far between old or young witches and venerable wizards of the present day. That is to say, not to my knowledge in Central or Northern Italy. But among the roués, viveurs, and fast women of Florence and Milan--where they are not quite as rare as eclipses--such assemblies are called balli angelici or angels' balls. They are indeed far from being unknown in any of the great cities of the world. A few years ago a Sunday newspaper in an American city published a detailed account of them in the "dance-houses" of the town, declaring that they were of very frequent occurrence, which was further verified to me by men familiar with them.
A very important point to all who regard the finds or discoveries of ancient tradition as of importance, is that a deep and extensive study of the Italian witch-traditions which I have collected, a comparison of them one with the other, and of the whole with what resembles it in the writings of Ovid and other mythologists, force the conviction (which I have often expressed, but not too frequently) that there are in these later records many very valuable and curious remains of ancient Latin or Etruscan lore, in all probability entire poems, tales, and invocations which have passed over from the ancient tongue. If this be true, and when it shall come to pass that scholars will read with interest what is here given, then most
assuredly there will be critical examination and verification of what is ancient in it, and it will be discovered what marvels of tradition still endure.
That the witches even yet form a fragmentary secret society or sect, that they call it that of the Old Religion, and that there are in the Romagna entire villages in which the people are completely heathen, and almost entirely governed by Settimani or "seven months' children," may be read in the novel of the name, as well as several papers published in divers magazines, or accepted from my own personal knowledge. The existence of a religion supposes a Scripture, and in this case it may be admitted, almost without severe verification, that the Evangel of the Witches is really a very old work. Thus it is often evident that where a tradition has been taken down from verbal delivery, the old woman repeats words or sentences by whole chapters which she does not fully understand, but has heard and learned. These are to be verified by correlation or comparison with other tales and texts. Now considering all this most carefully and critically, or severely yet impartially, no one can resist the conviction that in the Gospel of the Witches we have a book which is in all probability the translation of some early or later Latin work, since it seems most probable that every fixed faith finds its record. There are literary men among the Pariahs of India; there were probably many among the minions of the moon,
or nocturnal worshippers of Diana. In fact, I am not without hope that research may yet reveal in the writings of some long-forgotten heretic or mystic of the dark ages the parallel of many passages in this text, if not the whole of it.
Yet a few years, reader, and all this will have vanished from among the Italians before the newspaper and railroad, even as a light cloud is driven before a gale, or pass away like snowflakes in a pond. Old traditions are, in fact, disappearing with such incredible rapidity that I am assured on best authority--and can indeed see for myself that what I collected or had recorded for me ten years ago in the Romagna Toscana, with exceptionably skilful aid, could not now be gathered at all by anybody, since it no longer exists, save in the memories of a few old sorcerers who are daily disappearing, leaving no trace behind. It is going--going--it is all but gone; in fact, I often think that, old as I am (and I am twelve years beyond the limit of extreme old age as defined by the Duke of Marlborough in his defence), I shall yet live to hear the rap of the auctioneer Time as he bids off the last real Latin sorcerer to Death! It may be that he is passing in his checks even as I write. The women or witches, having more vitality, will last a little longer--I mean the traditional kind; for as regards innate natural development of witchcraft and pure custom, we shall always have
with us sorceresses, even as we shall have the poor--until we all go up together.
What is very remarkable, even to the being difficult to understand, is the fact that so much antique tradition survived with so little change among the peasantry. But legends and spells in families of hereditary witches are far more likely to live than fashions in art, yet even the latter have been kept since 2000 years. Thus, as E. Neville Rolfe writes: "The late Signor Castellani, who was the first to reproduce with fidelity the jewellery found in the tombs of Etruria and Greece, made up his mind that some survival of this ancient and exquisite trade must still exist somewhere in Italy. He accordingly made diligent search... and in an out of the way village discovered goldsmiths who made ornaments for the peasants, which in their character indicated a strong survival of early Etruscan art." 1
And here I would remark, that where I have written perhaps a little too bitterly of the indifference of scholars to the curious traditions preserved by wizards and witches, I refer to Rome, and especially to Northern Italy. G. Pitré did all that was possible for one man as regards the South. Since the foregoing chapters were written, I received Naples in the Nineties, by E. Neville Rolfe, B.A., in which a deep and intelligent interest in the subject is well supported by extensive knowledge. What will be to the reader of my book particularly interesting is the amount of information which Mr. Rolfe gives regarding the connection of Diana with witchcraft, and how many of her attributes became those of the Madonna. "The worship of Diana," as he says, "prevailed very extensively... so much so, that when Christianity superseded Paganism, much of the heathen symbolism was adapted to the new rites, and the transition from the worship of Diana to that of the Madonna was made comparatively simple." Mr. Rolfe speaks of the key, rue, and verbena as symbols of Diana; of all of these I have incantations, apparently very ancient, and identified with Diana. I have often found rue in houses in Florence, and had it given to me as a special favour. It is always concealed in some dark corner, because to take any away is to take luck. The bronze frog was an emblem of Diana; hence the Latin proverb, "'He who loves a frog regards it as Diana." It was made till recent
times as an amulet. I have one as a paper-weight now before me. There is also an incantation to the frog.
That wherein Mr. Rolfe tacitly and unconsciously confirms what I have written, and what is most remarkable in this my own work, is that the wizards in Italy form a distinct class, still exercising great power in Naples and Sicily, and even possessing very curious magical documents and cabalistic charts, one of which (familiar to those who have seen it among the Takruri and Arab sorcerers in Cairo, in their books) he gives. These probably are derived from Malta. Therefore it will not seem astonishing to the reader that this Gospel of the Witches should have been preserved, even as I have given it. That I have not had or seen it in an old MS. is certainly true, but that it has been written of yore, and is still repeated here and there orally, in separate parts, I am sure. 1
It would be a great gratification to me if any among those into whose hands this book may fall, who may possess information confirming what is here set forth, would kindly either communicate it or publish it in some form, so that it may not be lost.
103:1 Hence the saying that to know all would be to forgive all; which may be nine-tenths true, but there is a tenth of responsible guilt.
109:1 Friedrich, Symbolik, p. 283.
118:1 I am here reminded, by a strange coincidence, that I having rediscovered the very ancient and lost art of the Chinese how to make bottles or vases on which inscriptions, &c., appeared when wine was poured into them, communicated the discovery on the spot where I made it to the brother of Signor Castellani; Sir Austin Layard, who had sent for him to hear and judge of it, being present. Signore Castellani the younger was overseer of the glass-works a Murano, in which I made the discovery. Signore Castellani said that he had heard of these Chinese vases, and always regarded the story as a fable or impossible, but that they could be made perfectly by my process, adding. however, that they would cost too much to make it profitable. I admit that I have little faith in lost arts beyond recovering. Described in my book (unpublished) on the Hundred Minor Arts.
120:1 In a very recent work by Messrs. Niceforo and Sighele, entitled La Mala Vita a Roma ("Evil Life in Rome"), there is a chapter devoted to the Witches of the Eternal City, of whom the writer says they form a class so hidden that "the most Roman of Romans is perhaps ignorant of their existence." This is true of the real Strege, though not of mere fortune-tellers, who are common enough.