Speculations and Evidence About the Use of the Name Aradia in Wicca
by Aidan A. Kelly

In Toronto, as I leafed through "Ye Bok of ye Art Magickal," when I reached the point in the Third Degree ritual where the names would be given, what I saw was a word written in Theban script in gold, outlined in red. There was some additional writing in Theban script entered in ballpen above it and to the right. It looks most impressive--and my heart sank. "Oh, my God!" I thought. "He did write the secret names in here." I thought I might be able to find a copy of the Theban script somewhere in Gardner's library--but time was short, so I just transcribed the Theban letters. When I had returned home again, in my first spare minutes I grabbed a book with the Theban script, sat down with my notes, and set to work decoding. In a few minutes, the name lay before me, and it was ...

(I had the great pleasure one evening of telling this story to two Garnerian High Priestesses, Alison Harlow and Margot Adler. by the time I reached this point, they were, naturally, on the edge of their chairs, mouths wide open, ready for the worst.)

The name was: Abracadabra!

I fell back in my desk chair, and roared with laughter. It is an incredible experience to have your leg so thoroughly pulled by a "booby trap" set thirty years ago.

(Likewise, margot and Alison, when they heard "The Name," simply collapsed, and rolled on the floor, shrieking with laughter. Finally Alison recovered enough to say, "Oh, Aidan, yes, you've discovered the truly secret name! Abracadabra!" and my friends, and I know they weren't pulling my leg--their glee was too heartfelt--but the part of me that appreciates a good practical joke insists that "Abracadabra" might not be a bad choice for a secret name. It was a magical name for the Gnostics. It would be easy to keep secret, because who would want to admit it in public? And even if someone did, who would believe it.)

I was glad to be able to write to Derek Copperthwaite, calling off my "red alert"--but the story's not finished. There were also those Theban entries in ballpen on the page in question, that is, the names given out by "Rex Nemorensis." Had he, in fact revealed the secret names? I asked Alison and Margot about this also--when they had calmed down--and they assured me these were similar to one pair of the lesser names, but not the truly secret ones. I still wonder, however: if these were not the names then being given as the third-degree passwords, why were they written on this crucial page, in code?

T. C. Lethbridge thought he knew the secret name used for the Goddess. On page 62 of of his Witches, he wrote,

I happen to have been told the name under which the modern witches adore Diana, but since they are not supposed to divulge it, I think it would be unfair to mention it here. Their reticence, however, seems to me to be unnecessary, for it does not appear to be the secret name of the goddess. It seems to translate without difficulty from a garbled Celtic into "The Lady of the Summer Pasture." No one could use it to work magic against her."
Now, in Ripley's files is a letter from Lethbridge to Gardner dated June 15, 1959. It reads in part as follows.
Is not this the Gaelic "Airaidheach," or something similar, meaning "The Lady of the Summer Pastures"? In the same way that Cailleach is the "Lady of the Woods"? She would be the same as the Irish Macha, who must have been "The Lady of the Fertile Plain." In the highlands and islands the people moved up to the airaidh for the summer grazing. ... The difficulties all hinge on the danger of using the real names for fear of hostile magic. Isis had 10,000 names, and Macha over 30. But if this explanation is correct, the witches need have no fear in mentioning Aradia, for it is not the goddess' real name, but just a roundabout way of saying who they are taling about.
Perhaps Lethbridge misunderstood the import of a hypothetical question--but I doubt it. More likely Gardner approached Lethbridge, a Cambridge don and one of the few scholars in the world then inclined to be friendly toward the Craft, in order to get an expert opinion on the meaning of an obscure name, and had to take him into confidence in order to do so. Hence Aradia and Cernunnos probably were the secret names until "Rex" destroyed their usefulness as shibboleths, and they had to be replaced.

Aidan A. Kelly, Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches: A History of the Craft in California, 1967-1977, (1993) pp. 11-13. Used with author's permission.

Myth's Notes

The Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches: A History of the Craft in California, 1967-1977 was privately published and is a little difficult to get ahold of now. Much of this same information was reported in Crafting the Art of Magic, Vol. I (1991) and Inventing Witchcraft (2007).

Yet I have to agree with Aidan Kelly that Abracadabra is not such an unreasonable secret magic word. It was used for centuries among the ancient Romans and throughout the Mediteranean and among the Gnostics. I am reminded of something I saw a long time ago about a discussion between an eastern master and his disciple.

Disciple: "Master, why is the truth hidden?"

Eastern master: "The truth is hidden because it is obvious. Whatever is obvious is hidden."

Disciple: "And if it were truly obvious?"

Master: "It would still remain hidden."

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