Understanding Leland’s Aradia


One of the key texts in the history of Wicca is Leland’s Aradia, or the Gospel of Witches, 1899.

First my disclaimer: I confess I do not read or speak any dialect of Italian and thus have to depend upon translations from Italian about Italian folklore. In particular, I have depended upon a text by Mario Pazzaglini, Ph.D. and Dina Pazzaglini, which gives Leland’s original translation and a new translation of the Italian. If anyone is interested in studying Leland’s Aradia, I suggest s/he track down a copy of Charles G. Leland’s Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, A New Translation by Mario Pazzaglini, PhD and Dina Pazzaglini, 1998. Alas, the book is out of print, but a copy may be obtainable from Amazon. All page numbers for Leland’s Aradia in this discussion are from the Pazzaglini A New Translation.

In the late 1800’s, Charles G. Leland received some folklore, allegedly a "Vangelo, " from an Italian woman, Maddalena, which he published under the title of Aradia, or the Gospel of Witches.

Opinions were divided on it since its publication. The Folk-Lore Society (Great Britain) in Folk-Lore Society, Quarterly Review on Myth, Tradition, Institution, & Custom, Vol. XL, 1900 (p. 309) gave it a positive review.

…the book contains cosmic myths about Diana, or incantations for winning love, good luck, or prosperity, with a few miscellaneous legends. Diana as queen of the witches is known to us from antiquity, but it would be impossible to produce classical authority for most of the lore of this book. Having regard to the wild nature of the incantations, we have no doubt that the substance of the book is ancient; and we see no reason why it should not be, as Mr. Leland claims, a genuine relic of ancient belief, part of that secret lore which existed side by side with the poetical or systematised mythology. …

The question arises, how closely Mr. Leland has adhered to his authorities. A great part of the book is made up of charms, which are given in the Italian, and if the prose translation be as literal as the verse, we have no cause to complain. We wish, however, that the whole text of the Vangelo had been given in full; it would have been but a few pages added to the book. And we wish Mr. Leland would always tell us, when he departs from his text in briefest words what the text is. …In spite of this drawback, we heartily welcome his new book.

There are many questions about the text of Leland’s Aradia. Was Aradia actually an ancient Etruscan or Italic Goddess? Did this Vangelo or "Gospel of the Witches" truly represent evidence of a surviving 19th century faction of la vecchia religione? Was a garbled form of Paganism woven in from ideas resurrected during the Italian Renaissance? What Roman or Classical influences can be found in the text? Did Leland collect, via his informant, some rare pieces of authentic Italian folklore? Did this unusual collection of stories and spells represent fragments of a secret document of the streghe or witches? Was Aradia a 14th century Witch Queen and leader of the Society of Diana? Were other influences part of the pattern of ideas found in the text? What influences are due to Italian Catholicism and Italian Christian heresy? How should we judge Maddalena’s original material, the Vangelo, to the extent we can recover it from Leland’s book? Was Maddalena providing Leland with some family legends along with her personal interpretation of them?

Leland’s Aradia had a definite impact on the development of Wicca. Both Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente had independently read this book. Portions of Leland’s Aradia influenced the Gardnerian BOS, especially the "Charge of the Goddess." Alex Sanders invoked Aradia as a Moon Goddess in the 1960’s. Janet and Stewart Farrar used the name Aradia in their Eight Sabbats for Witches and The Witches’ Way. Hence Leland’s Aradia is an important text for someone studying the history of Wicca and witchcraft.

Leland was a 19th century amateur folklorist, among many other things. One of the premises of his book was that there was a surviving, though hidden, cult of Goddess worship into the 19th century.

The following is an over-simplistic narrative summarized in a walnut shell of the Vangelo of la vecchia religione.

The Goddess Diana, containing all things in herself, was created before all creation. She divided herself into light and darkness. The light became her son and brother, Lucifer, the "light-bearer," who was the God of the Sun.

Attracted to the light, Diana eventually transformed herself into a cat and tricked Lucifer into sexual intercourse. From this union of opposites, Aradia or Herodias, daughter of the Moon and Sun, was born. Due to the woes of humanity and oppression of the poor, Aradia/Herodias descended to earth and became a messiah of la vecchia religione. Aradia/Herodias thus became the patroness of Diana’s people, descending to Earth to teach them the witchcraft of Diana.

Certain critics speculated that Leland, a satirist, had simply pulled an elaborate joke. Some claimed he had invented his informant, Maddalena, as well as the Vangelo. Others speculated that his informant duped him by concocting the whole thing.

Leland did explain that Maddalena hadn’t given this Vangelo in one text. Some of the materials had been written fragments. Some pieces she had explained to him orally.

In any case, Leland did not produce any of Maddalena’s original notes or Maddalena herself for examination. Hence, critics have often been quick to point out that there is no solid proof that Leland’s Aradia constituted evidence of the continued existence of an Italian witch cult worshipping a pre-Christian Goddess into the 19th century. Critics have also stated that the Vangelo should not be viewed as proof that a woman referred to as Aradia ever caused a revival of the old religion. Some critics even insisted that Leland’s Aradia contained no genuine Italian folklore.

A hundred some years later, Leland’s Aradia still elicits mixed opinions from historians, folklorists, Wiccans, Neo-Pagans, Italian-American folk magic practitioners, scholars, and critics alike. However, in studying Leland’s Aradia, Mario Pazzaglini’s and Dina Pazzaglini’s text, A New Translation, is invaluable. The Pazzaglini translation also contains Leland’s original text in full and a line by line analysis with commentary by the authors. It has additional material, including evidence that Leland’s informant, Maddalena Talenti, was not a fictitious person created by Leland.

Since we know Maddelena existed, did she defraud her patron by making up the Vangelo? Field researchers in anthropology and folklore will occasionally find a local who will eagerly supply the researcher with exactly the sort of item or information the researcher was hoping to find. Unfortunately the item or information was simply a recent creation. So perhaps Maddalena did. Perhaps she didn’t.

Yet, we aren’t required to dismiss the whole text without a careful examination of it simply because it could have been created by Maddalena.


In his commentary, Leland speculated that some of this material was very ancient. Certainly folklore is often a palimpsest, tales that contain dim impressions of earlier beliefs, customs, and stories. Interestingly, identifying Lucifer—as a sun God—with mice may be such a palimpsest. The Greek sun God, Apollo, was adopted into the Roman pantheon. Apollo Smintheus, "Mouse Apollo," was associated with white mice.

Some have pointed out certain portions of the material in Leland’s book simply do not date back any further than the 1700’s. They may be referring to a spell in Chapter XV to Laverna, the ancient Roman Goddess of thieves, which involves "40 cards." (p. 222) This particular bit of spellwork does invoke an ancient Goddess, but the practice described probably is not any older than the 1700’s. Tarot cards were invented in 13th century Italy, but they were not widely used for divination and such until the 17th century.

Though Leland thought this spell and story of Laverna must belong to the same cycle or series of legends connected with la vecchia religione of Diana, Leland himself explained: "The following curious tale [of Laverna] with the incantation was not in the text of the Vangelo…" (p 215)

Certainly some parts of Leland’s Aradia do have counterparts in Italian folklore.

For example, other versions of the Chapter V "Lemon and Pins Charm" can be found in Italian folk practices.

However, the material in Chapter V, "The Charm of the Stones Consecrated to Diana," seems like a collection of diverse chants from different sources.

The material in Chapter II "The Sabbat—Treguenda or Witch-Meeting" describes how to consecrate the witch supper, with invocations of Cain, Diana, and Aradia. This chapter also seems to be a collection of diverse chants pieced together. Careful reading of the formula provided, "Conjuration of the Salt" (p. 137), indicated this blessing of the salt was not really part of a witch meeting night assembly. This formula was clearly for a divination, which was performed at noon while standing in a river.

It must be noted that if Maddalena was purposely defrauding her patron with a fake ceremony, she would have invented a better "Conjuration of the Salt."

In Chapter VI, "A Spell to Win Love," the "Invocation to Diana" asked Diana to send her daughter, Aradia, to perform the magic. I wonder if anyone has found another historical version of a spell similar to the one in Chapter VI, which invokes Herodias/Herodiade and Diana. This particular chapter reads more like a faery tale.

In Chapter VIII "To Have a Good Vintage and Very Good Wine by the Aid of Diana," there is evidence of old Roman influence. Diana, the "Queen," was invoked to protect the grapes.

…from when the bud is born
Until it is a ripe and perfect grape, (p. 72)

Leland noted that Diana as the Moon Goddess was sometimes connected with Bacchus, yet there is another ancient Roman connection here.

Diana, Goddess of the Moon, was associated with rain in Italy--particularly she was petitioned in ancient Roman times to keep the crops from being destroyed by storm. This historical link is critical in understanding Diana's connection with wine.

Grapes grow well in the dry, warm regions of Italy. Different areas of Italy produce excellent wine. Grapes grow well in those certain regions of Italy that have both warm and dry weather. Frost is bad for grapes, but so is a lot of rain. Many varieties of grape are susceptible to rot. Just a few too many showers during harvest time could potentially destroy a good part of the vintage.

Diana's feast day was on August 15, at which women would offer thanks in Diana's sacred grove and request the Goddess's continued aid and a harvest free of storms. (In modern Italy, August 15 is a feast day of the Virgin Mary, as Queen of Heaven. The feast is known as the Ferragosto.)

Historian Robert Mathiesen, in his essay in the Pazzaglini A New Translation, stated that in Leland’s Aradia there were pieces of genuine, authentic Italian folklore arranged in an atypical way. For example, Leland included a number of Italian nursery rhymes that are slightly different from Italian versions found elsewhere. These nursery rhymes are strung together in odd places.

It does seem that Leland gathered beautifully colored bits of potsherds from different pots, attempting to complete a pattern. In other words, Leland did collect some beautiful fragments of genuine Italian folklore—but he used them to make an entirely different mosaic. To truly understand the roots of Leland’s Aradia, it may be necessary to examine each potsherd separately.

Perhaps both Leland and Maddalena may have been trying to piece together fragments in order to reassemble what they perceived was an older Pagan tradition, which had been diluted by practices of Christianity or diabolism. A 19th century folklorist, Leland was swept up in the romantic vision of an ancient culture fading away in the face of modern change.

Leland did clean up the translations of verses to make them more palatable to a Victorian audience, as well as weaving in comments that affected the whole. Leland identified Herodias with Lilith, the Semitic winged night spirit with clawed feet. I wonder if Leland identified Lilith with the strix, the night-flying bird whose name evolved into the Italian word for witch, strega.

Leland in his preface to Aradia used the metaphorical image of uncovering ancient lore buried inside pieces of contemporary folklore—like relics and fragments from Pompeii buried under the ash of Vesuvius. If Leland and Maddalena assembled pieces of genuine folklore together in an atypical way, they may well have created an entirely new mosaic without intending to.

Maddalena was certainly a fortuneteller whose family probably had practices of various magical charms and blessings. Quite likely she knew a lot of traditional stuff tinged with Catholicism. Perhaps Maddalena herself had speculated most of this material had pre-Christian origins. Maybe Maddalena was providing Leland with unique family legends, probably from her own family and likely from other families, and/or her personal interpretation of some such legends.

Perhaps Leland told Maddalena that he was searching for folklore with pre-Christian material embedded within it. Historian Ronald Hutton, author of Triumph of the Moon, suggested that some of Leland’s identification of Herodias with Lilith may have been derived from Jules Michelet Satanism and Witchcraft, first published as La Sorciere in 1862. It is true that Leland apparently accepted the concept of medieval witches as rebels against the tyrannical social order of feudalism. He does seem to have imposed some ideas from Michelet upon the materials Maddalena provided him with.

What about the core material of the Vangelo relating to the story of Aradia (Herodias)? References to Herodias, known either as Herodiade or Erodiade, did appear in other collected Italian folklore. For example, J. B. Andrews in his Neapolitan Witchcraft article in 1897 recorded this folklore involving Herodiade. Two voices were heard crying, "Mamma, mamma…" and "Figilia, figilia…" meaning "Mother, mother…" and "Daughter, daughter…" during Herodiade’s flight on St. John’s eve. See article. www.users.erols.com/jesterbear/notes/Neapolitan.html

According to Rosemary Ellen Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, 1989, the biblical Herodias or Herodiade became, in Christian folklore, a condemned spirit like the Wandering Jew. Herodiade was condemned to wander the sky until the end of time. One story said she was only permitted to rest in treetops between midnight and dawn.

It does seem apparent that around circa the 10th or 11th century Herodiade got attached to the lore of Diana’s train of nymphs, women, and spirits who flew by night across the Italian countryside. There were several references to this night flight with these two spirits together. (Other female names attached to the night flight of Herodias included Minerva and Noctiluca.) Erodiade is the more common Italian pronunciation of Herodias. (In late Latin, the letter "h" is mute.)

Nevertheless, Chapter I "How Diana Gave Birth to Aradia (Herodias)" does not seem to have a specific counterpart in other recorded Italian folklore. Is it possible that the bit of folklore about two spirits calling "Mother, mother…" and "Daughter, daughter…" could have caused Herodiade to be identified as Diana’s daughter in some Italian folklore?

Perhaps, yes.

If so, that would imply that the story of a daughter of Diana and Lucifer is simply a variant legend of Herodiade/Erodiade which was not collected by anyone else.

This brings up the question, has any contemporary folklorist or historian found the name Aradia in Italy?

When Mario and Dina Pazzaglini were doing research for A New Translation, they traveled around Italy. Mario Pazzaglini wrote:

In traveling in northern Italy, many practitioners [of folk magic] and non-practitioners were asked if they had heard of "Aradia"—the word itself. No one had heard of it, even when they were familiar with Diana and with the chants connected with the old religion.—Mario Pazzaglini as quoted in Charles G. Leland, Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches, A New Translation, by Mario Pazzaglini, Ph.D., and Dina Pazzaglini, 1998, p.93

His statement raises an interesting possibility about this name Leland said he collected via Maddalena.

The name of "Aradia" itself is intriguing.

In both Italian and Latin, the word ara means "altar." In Italian it is used as a combine name in both male and female names.

The dia could be a different spelling of dea, meaning in both Italian and Latin, "Goddess."

Hence, Aradia could be translated as "Altar of the Goddess."

Maybe. Possibly. I have to be honest. No one I’ve contacted who speaks Italian has agreed with me that this incredibly brilliant insight of mine <wink> has much significance. I suppose dia could be an abbreviated form of Diana, or could be related to another ancient Roman Goddess, Dea Dia, "the Goddess Dia."

To my knowledge, no one has found the name of "Aradia" written in some independent source prior to the publication of Leland’s Aradia in 1899.

It would be really interesting if someone found in the dig of an 18th century ruins in the region of Tuscany a spell sealed in a bottle, penned in Tuscan Italian, "I curse the fever in the name of Aradia and tell her to take it away with the moon."

In any case, the name "Aradia" might have been derived from the Italian Herodiade or Erodiade. We might speculate that Aradia was the name used by Maddalena or someone else she spoke to, in certain conjurations. We might alternatively speculate that Leland thought this name Aradia, "Altar of the Goddess," was her true name.

Maybe. Possibly. This is a lot of speculation.

It would be nice if someone discovered another source which refers to a variant of Herodias’s name recorded as either "Erodia" or "Aradiade."

If someone ever found a bottle in the dig of a 17th century ruin which said in Italian, "I conjure Aradiade to fly away with her sisters and the fever," that would be something to really speculate over.

In Italian folklore, Herodias was believed to fly through the air with or without an attending train of spirits—probably including streghe (witches). In popular Italian folklore, Diana supposedly led a procession of such spirits as well. This popular Italian folklore about Diana probably harked back to classical Roman mythology, which described Diana traversing the countryside on moonlit nights with a train of attendant nymphs. In Roman mythology, Hecate, another lunar Goddess, was supposed to lead a troop of ghosts and spirits at night. There was also a minor Roman Goddess, Abundantia, who personified abundance. Abundantia was credited with entering households of people at night to bring prosperity.

We simply do not have a record of an ancient Etruscan Goddess who visited her followers at night or led a train of attendant spirits. There were surviving inscriptions to Artini, who was the Etruscan counterpart of the Greek Artemis.

Some speculate a few of the "pre-Christian classical Roman influence" could date back to the Italian Renaissance, when Italians embraced their ancient heritage. Classical Roman writings influenced sculpture, paintings, and literature. Certainly some influence from the Italian Renaissance could be remaining in 19th century Italian folklore. Diana was a favorite Goddess of the Renaissance. However, legends about Diana leading the night flight were in circulation in the 10th century. The Italian Renaissance began in Tuscany in the 14th century. Hence the legends of Diana pre-dated the Renaissance.

I recently stumbled across a wonderful article by Sabina Magliocco, Who Was Aradia? The History and Development of a Legend, The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies, Issue 18, February 2002. See link.


Magliocco explored the legend about Diana, Herodiade/Erodiade, and Bensoria in Italy. She also revealed that Herodiana, which combines Diana and Herodiade, was indeed a name found in a 14th century ecclesiastic encyclical as one of the female leaders of the night assemblies. Irodeasa was a name used among the Romanians to describe a similar figure. In the region of the Italian Alps, the lady who travels at night between Christmas and the Epiphany is known as Rododesa, Redosa, or Redosoia.

In France, the night flying queen of a troop of spirits, faery, and/or women was known as Satia and Domina Abondia (Dame Abonde). In Germany, Holde or Holda or Bercha led the night flight. [Magliocco didn’t mention it, but Frau Bercha is often said to lead a nighttime procession of the "Cricket Folk" between Christmas and Epiphany.]

Magliocco stated such a wide dispersal of this legend of Herodiade and the Society of Diana probably indicated an early diffusion of the story—which in turn may hark back to the classical myth of Diana and her attendant nymphs roaming the Italian countryside at night.

Magliocco’s entire 16-page paper is just too long to condense here. I urge you to read this article.

Quite interestingly, while no one has found the name of "Erodia" or "Aradiade," yet since having written the above-mentioned article, Magliocco has found the name, "Araja" in Sardinian folk legend. She is known as S’Araja Justa, "the just Araja," the female leader of the night assembly which enters into homes, rewarding the thrifty and punishing the lazy. The spirit S’Araja Demoniu,"the demon Araja," rides at night at the head of the train of the restless ghostly dead. In private correspondence, Magliocco states, "‘Araja’ is very close to the name, ‘Aradia’, and represents a common linguistic transformation that occurs in similar words as they transfer from Italian to Sardinian; so it does seem likely that a legendary character by the name ‘Aradia’ existed at some point in Italian folklore." (from private correspondence, October 2, 2007)

I have already pointed out that the text of Leland’s Aradia has some definite pre-Christian elements. It clearly has some Catholic influences from the 10th to 12th century, including the presence of the legend of Herodias/Herodiade.

There also seems to be a definite Cathar or dualist influence. The Italian Cathars were a heretical Christian sect which according to Carol Lansing in Power and Purity, 1998 (p.5) "…enjoyed considerable popularity in many Italian towns in the 1240s and ‘50s."

The Cathars were dualists who believed in a good God of light and evil God of darkness. They viewed the physical world as a veil of tears created by Lucifer. Lansing translated a Latin text describing Italian Cathar belief:

In the beginning, there were two principles, good and evil….The devil, termed the great dragon, and Lucifer, together, created the world in six days, with the God of light permitting them to do so.
-–13th century document quoted by Carol Lansing in Power and Purity, 1998, pp. 84-85.

The text explained also that Lucifer created Adam from earth. Lucifer, using trickery and violence, trapped one of the angelic spirits, who was loyal to the God of light, in this mortal, human body. This theology thus explained that humans have a basically good or angelic nature; however, they are deceived about their angelic nature and about the corrupt nature of the physical world.

I do not claim that Leland’s Aradia represents a lost Cathar text, simply that the Italian folklore in Leland’s Aradia apparently preserved some elements of this Cathar dualism.

Diana, the primary deity, divided herself into the two principles of light and darkness. Darkness tricked the light into having intercourse and thus created Aradia/Herodias.

In an interesting twist, Lucifer, the light-bearer, was identified with the light, and clearly identified with the pre-Christian sun God, Apollo. However, Lucifer remained something of a minor figure. For example, no incantations were addressed to him. (There is one invocation to Cain in Chapter II for the witch meeting night assembly.) Lucifer primarily served as agent for Diana’s pregnancy. Aradia/Herodias was not created by parthogenesis, but by a dualistic union of opposites.

These similarities point to a possible Cathar influence, which Leland seems to have been unaware of. Robert E. Chartowich, Enigmas of Aradia, in the Pazzaglini A New Translation described something in the text which appeared to indicate a Gnostic influence in Chapter I, lines 30-34.

And when the priests or the nobility
Shall say to you that you should put your faith
In the Father, Son, and Mary, then reply
Your God, the Father, and Maria are
Three devils… (p. 131)

Chartowich observed that the Holy Spirit was not cursed. Indeed, the Holy Spirit was not even present in these three lines, which is odd in that the Trinity is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Curiously, the Virgin Mary is cursed along with God the Son (Jesus), and God the Father.

Chartowich also observed that according to Gnostics the Holy Spirit was Sophia, the spirit of Gnosis. Thus he stated that a Gnostic would never curse the Holy Spirit.

This observation and Chartowich’s accompanying speculation about the verse as evidence of Gnostic influence is certainly interesting.

What is an even more interesting speculation is that likewise a Cathar might not have wanted to curse the Holy Spirit either.

The 13th century document, quoted earlier by Lansing, also stated that the Holy Spirit "…and none other has salvation." Power and Purity, 1998, p. 86.

Admittedly such speculations are highly speculative. To be honest, we can’t be certain that any Cathar would have been willing to curse Jesus, God the Father, and Mary either.

The Italian Cathars did revile the Catholic cult of saints, which claimed the physical body of a saint remained incorrupt in death and performed miracles. The Cathar Perfecti maintained the entire physical world, including bodies, were corrupt.

If this passage does represent a Cathar influence, it might represent a twisting of Cathar doctrine by Catholic propaganda.


Was Aradia actually an ancient Etruscan or Italic Goddess? What Roman or Classical influences can be found in the text? Aradia has several connections to ancient Goddesses. Diana was an Italic Goddess of great antiquity. Hecate had been adopted into the Roman pantheon. Abundantia was a minor Roman Goddess. Another Goddess, Dea Dia, who had similarities to Diana, was certainly one of the early Goddesses of Italy.

Aradia’s name may only date back to the 19th century. Alternatively, the name Aradia may be a variation of Erodiade, which is from the 10th century. It is also possible Aradia’s name derives from the figure in Sardinian folklore, "Araja." From the lack of information about the Etruscans, any links to an Etruscan Goddess are at best tenuous.

Other Roman or classical influences in this text may include Lucifer’s association with a mouse, which may be related to Apollo Smintheus, "Mouse Apollo." Apollo had been adopted into the Roman pantheon. In Roman times, Diana was particularly petitioned to protect crops from damage by storm.

Did this Vangelo or "Gospel of the Witches" truly represent evidence of a surviving 19th century faction of la vecchia religione? Did this unusual collection of stories and spells represent fragments of a secret document of the streghe or witches? Leland stated he was never shown an old manuscript and explained that Maddalena had given him written pieces and explained the rest orally. Hence there is no proof that there was an intact secret document of the streghe.

Without question, there were pre-Christian survivals in Italian culture. However, many survivals seem to be part of an under layer of folklore, not an organized surviving 19th century faction of la vecchia religione.

Was a garbled form of Paganism woven in from ideas resurrected during the Italian Renaissance? It is possible that some influences from the Italian Renaissance became woven into Italian folklore, which Leland later collected in the 19th century. Some certainly may have, but not all. The Italian Renaissance began in Tuscany in the 14th century. Legends about Diana and the night flight and the night assembly were circulating in the 10th century.

Did Leland collect, via his informant, some rare pieces of authentic Italian folklore? How should we judge Maddalena’s original material, the Vangelo, to the extent we can recover it from Leland’s book? Was Maddalena providing Leland with some family legends along with her personal interpretation of them? Leland, via his informant Maddalena, did collect and record some rare pieces of genuine, authentic folklore. He assembled these fragments in an atypical way. Likely, Maddalena had purposely searched out pieces of folklore with items she believed contained pre-Christian elements.

Was Aradia a 14th century Witch Queen and leader of the Society of Diana? There is no proof that there was a living woman who took the name Aradia, Erodiade, or Herodiana and acted as a Witch Queen in the 14th century. There were many historical references to a Society of Diana and/or cult of Herodias. However, whether stories refer to pure legend or anything factual remains unknown.

What influences are due to Italian Catholicism and Italian Christian heresy? Surprise, there are a number of Catholic influences in the text. Aside from the names of Cain and Herodias, which are Biblical, Diana’s only daughter, Aradia, was presented as a female messiah who brings the salvation of practicing her mother’s witchcraft to the people.

There is also a dualistic element which points to a possible influence of the Italian Cathars.

Were other influences part of the pattern of ideas found in the text? Leland’s own pre-conceived ideas about witchcraft, some of which were influenced by Michelet, also affected how Leland reassembled the pieces of folklore Maddalena provided him with.

A great deal more could be written about Leland’s Aradia. I have pointed out a few pieces of potsherds from this powerful mosaic in order to examine the whole.

Copyright October 2007 Myth Woodling

J. B. Andrews, Neapolitan Witchcraft, 1897.

Folk-Lore Society (Great Britain), Folk-Lore Society, Quarterly Review on Myth, Tradition, Institution, & Custom, Vol. XL, 1900.

Rosemary Ellen Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, 1989.

Carol Lansing, Power and Purity, 1998.

Charles G. Leland, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, A New Translation by Mario Pazzaglini, PhD and Dina Pazzaglini, 1998.

Sabina Magliocco, Who Was Aradia? The History and Development of a Legend, The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies, Issue 18, February 2002.

Jeffrey B. Russell, A History of Witchcraft, 1980.

Myth's Notes

Yes, I am writing a Myth' Notes comment upon my own article.

In "Understanding Leland's Aradia" I made a point of not speculating on the nature of Aradia, Diana, Hecate, etc. in Wicca. That was not within the scope of a brief historical look at Leland's text and the possible influences that contributed to the materials collected in that text.

There was a quote from Bonewits’ Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca (2006). I can’t find the darned book right now, so I’ll paraphrase from memory.

The Neo-Pagan/Wiccan movement was created by poets, dreamers, storytellers, romantics, and rascals.
According to Leland, poets, dreamers, storytellers, romantics, and rascals all belong to the moon.

My personal concept is perhaps when Leland took fragments of Italtian folklore he reassembled them attempting to reconstruct an older patturn. He assumed that ancient lore was buried inside pieces of contemporary folklore. He was picking out the older pieces and attempting to put it back together. This type of reconstruction by 19th century folklorists was very common. Metphorically speaking he saw the fragments collected for him by Maddalena as parts of a larger and older whole like relics of Pompeii burried under the ash of Vesuvius. Leland, therefore, was attempting to complete a pattern using potsherds from different pots. If Leland and Maddalena assembled pieces of genuine folklore together in an atypical way, that without intending to they created a new mosaic.

I do not say this to discredit Leland. On the contrary, I think Leland managed to record some rather intriguing ideas and pieces of lore. In assembling the fragments in an atypical way, he created a distintily poweful mystical mosaic.

It is my suspision that Leland may have, himself, belonged to the Moon, being born on Diana's feast day (August 15) as well as being a romantic.

In any case it is my theological opinion that he tapped into something very real while assembling this mosaic, and that in doing so he gave us an important message from the Goddess. Such opinions belong to theology, not history. Hence, they are not discusted in "Understanding Leland's Aradia."


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