"Who Is Aradia,
and What Is She Doing In My Wiccan Ritual?"
by Myth Woodling
Quite awhile back, I started asking the question "Who is Aradia, and what is she doing in my Wiccan ritual?" Since 1979, I'd kept running across the book title Aradia or the Gospel of Witches and the name, "Aradia," in bibliographies, in rituals, in lists of Goddesses, in spells. I have in sundry places described how I was orginally unable to track down a copy of Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, by Charles G. Leland, 1899, and eventually borrowed a photocopied version of it. (Eventually, I did manage to purchase my own copy.) I wrote to Janet and Stewart Farrar about their book, The Witches' Goddess (1987), which had a whole section on Aradia.
I was delighted in the late 1990's when I spotted on the shelves of the Turning Wheel bookstore:
Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, by Charles G. Leland, Blaine, WA: Phoenix Publishing, Inc., 1998. A new translation by Mario Pazzaglini. Ph.D. & Dina Pazzaglini, with additional material by Chas S. Clifton, Robert Mathiesen & Robert E. Chartowich, and a foreword by Stewart Farrar.As you can see, I had been puzzling on this question for some time, even before I started my website focused on Aradia.
To briefly answer the first part of the question, "Who is Aradia...?": Aradia is a powerful "lunar spirit," "Moon Goddess," or "go between"--depending on who you talk to--and is related to the Italian Erodiade/Herodiade.
Who is the Italian Erodiade/Herodiade? In 1897, J. B. Andrews wrote in his NEAPOLITAN WITCHCRAFT: "...on the eve of St. John Baptist's Day. It is believed that at midnight then Herodiade may be seen in the sky seated across a ray of fire, saying: ' Mamma, mamma, perche` lo dicesti?' 'Figlia, figlia, perche' lo facesti?' "
See Neapolitan Witchcraft
The night of June 23, St. John's Eve, is also known as la notte delle streghe (night of the witches). Led by Erodiade, the witches traveled to their "night assembly." It was once customary in Rome to build bonfires outside the Basilica of San Giovanni Lateran in anticipation of the arrival of the night flying witches guided by Erodiade. A Roma i giovani si radunavano davanti alla Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano e accendevano dei fuochi per aspettare l'arrivo delle streghe guidate da Erodiade.
Let's return to the question of "Who is Aradia, and what is she doing in my Wiccan ritual?"
In the late 1800's, the folklorist, Charles G. Leland, received some folklore, a "vanglo" from an Italian woman, Margherita (aka Maddalena), which he published in 1899 under the title of Aradia or the Gospel of Witches. Among the other spells and stories, the vanglo recounted the tale of Diana and her daughter, Aradia. According to Leland's text, Aradia was born to the Moon Goddess, Diana. Diana took pity upon the suffering of the poor and oppressed. Observing how the people suffered from hunger and toil while the upper class lived in luxury, Diana sent Aradia, who had existed in the celestial realm, to "Diana's people." Aradia gave the people witchcraft (stregoneria) as a tool against a corrupt system of Church and State. Having completed her mission, Aradia returned to Diana's abode, from whence she may be invoked.
Leland said this fragmented collection of spells and stories was evidence that in Italy there was--in the late 19th century--a living, though hidden, religion of the moon Goddess, Diana. This claim remains a point of hot debate.
Perhaps because of some of the material in Aradia or the Gospel of Witches had an anarchistic and anti-Christian nature, or perhaps because of some of its sexual frankness, Leland's book seemed to fall into obscurity. Curiously, the book escaped the notice of Margaret Alice Murray in her witchcraft research.
I might as well now leave a bread crumb trail of links to the
"Online version of Charles G. Leland's Aradia"
And a bread crumb trail to the
"Key Texts from Leland"
Leland's book Aradia or the Gospel of Witches is how Aradia walked into the religion of Wicca.
Gerald Gardner, the Grand Old Man of Wicca, was the person most responsible for the rebirth of the Old Religion in 20th century England and the USA.
Both Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente independently stumbled upon Leland's Aradia. When Valiente became Gardner's High Priestess, she recognized the use of some of the material from Leland's Aradia in Gardner's Book of Shadows. Valiente also used some of the "traditional material" from Leland's Aradia to write, or re-write, the now famous "Charge of the Goddess," a cornerstone of Wiccan ritual.
If you are unfamilar with the Wiccan "Charge of the Goddess," and wish to compare it with some of the text in Leland's Aradia, please see the Vangelo Charge:
If you are interested about my speculatons about how and why Gardner used this Italian source of the Old Religion, read "Aradia in Wicca."
Aradia in Wicca
Returning to medieval lore, perhaps you are familar with the following quote from the Canon Episcopi, circa 10th century?
... some wicked women, perverted by the Devil, seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons, believe and profess themselves in the hours of the night to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of the pagans, and an innumerable multitude of women, and in the silence of the dead of the night to traverse great spaces of earth, and to obey her commands as of their mistress, and to be summoned to her service on certain nights.This quote is a reference to the "Society of Diana." According to the 10th century legend about the Society of Diana, women were said to ride with Diana and other spirits, traversing great spaces of the earth to attend a night assembly, which had much feasting, drinking, and dancing. At this night assembly, they would obey the commands of their mistress presiding over the gathering.
Yes, this is a reference to the ancient Roman Moon Goddess, Diana, who was identified with the ancient Greek Moon Goddess, Artemis. Some have suggested that this implies the worship of Diana continued into 10th century Italy. This suggestion remains a point of hot debate.
Some speculate this lore involving Diana and her daughter dates back to Italio-Etruscan mythology or folklore. This speculation is also a point of hot debate.
The ancient Italian Goddess, Diana, ran through the Italian woods at night with her train of nymphs.
In later Italian lore, Diana, "the goddess of the pagans," led an innumerable multitude of women. Those who traved to the night assembly were known as the bonae mulieres (Good Women) bonae res (Good Things), or dominae nocturnae (Night Women). They might be the spirits of witches, ghosts, or faeries.
Even if one maintains there is no consistent lineage of unbroken, organized worship from ancient Italian times to the 10th or 19th centuries, clearly there is a continuation of folklore surrounding the figure of Diana.
In modern Italian Stregeria lore, Aradia is la binan figlia della Diana (daughter of Diana), la prima strega (First Witch or first among Witches), La Maestra (Teacher), etc.
In Wicca, Aradia is known as the "Gracious Goddess," "Queen of All Witchery," "Queen of All Witches," "protector of the oppressed," "Giver of Life," "Night Queen," etc.
The folklore motif of a female spirit that led the night ride through the skies and/or presided over the night assembly was well known. The story was retold all over Europe. This female spirit had several different names in Europe: Holda, Holle, Habondia, Herodias, Percha, Noctiluca, Bensozia, Gulfora, Diana, Minerva, and others. In Italy, the names of the leader the night ride/night assembly included: Bensoria, Madona Horiente, Signora Oriente, Abundia, Richella, Minverva, Fortuna, Diana, and Erodiade.
This is just the beginning of an answer to the question, "Who is Aradia, and what is she doing in my Wiccan ritual?" Among Wiccans, the name of Aradia is called as one of many of the names of the Moon Goddess, or as a specific Goddess who is Queen of All the Witches. Among Italian-American practitioners of Stregeria and stregoneria, she is called as a powerful lunar spirit or go between the worlds.
There are lots of scattered materials with different pieces of information and opinions about Aradia. Do a websearch. See what you come up with. Try Wikipedia. Read everything. Talk to those who know Aradia's name.
In the meantime, I suggest reading Dr. Sabina Magliocco's article, Who Was Aradia? The History and Development of a Legend. It's 16 pages long, so you may want to print it out.
"Who Was Aradia?" by Sabina Magliocco
I also suggest you read a small excerpt of Aidan A. Kelly's
Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches: A History of the Craft in California, 1967-1977, (1993) pp. 11-13. In it Kelly speculates the names "Aradia" and "Cernunnos" probably were the secret Gardnerian names of the Gracious Goddess and Powerful God in early Wicca.
"Speculations and Evidence About the Use of the Name Aradia In Wicca" by Aidan A. Kelly
Let me add this quick quote from Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone:
Janet and Stewart [Farrar] were originally taught [by Alex Sanders] there were only two true deities of witchcraft, Aradia and Karnayna. Aradia is Italio-Etruscan in origin, and Karnayna, often thought by Stewart to be Alex Sanders' mispronunciation of Cernunnos, was in fact an egotistical joke: it was the name given to Alexander the Great by the Carthaginians on his reaching godhood. After moving to Ireland, Janet and Stewart changed the god name to Cernunnos, a more generic term of Gaelic/Latin origin meaning simply "horned god." The dogma of only two true names for the God and Goddess continues today among some hard-liners of Alexandrian and Gardnerian Wicca.For links to Wiccan rituals and spells, which show the presence of Aradia in Wicca:
--Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, Progressive Witchcraft (2004), p. 79
Farrar-Alexandrian Invocation of Aradia (used by many Wiccans)
Tyche and Aradia (an example of how this Wiccan invocation of Aradia also known as the "Almalthean Horn Prayer" was adapted from other materials)
Aradia Chanting (English coven)
Italian Invocation of Aradia
Here are some more links.
Secret Story of Aradia" by Myth Woodling (fiction, short story)
"Understanding Leland's Aradia" by Myth Woodling (article)
"La Figlia di Diana" by Lady Isadora (song lyrics)
"What Would Aradia Do?" by Mad Maudin (humor)
"The Dance of Herodias' Daughter" (an Italian legend retold)
Visual images relating to Aradia:
Tile images from Aradia's Gallery
Sacred Source images
Lunar Goddess Necklace
I've put this article together for the next Neo-Pagan who asks me one or more of the following: "Who is Aradia?" "Is that Italian?" "What does Aradia have to do with Wicca?"
copyright October 2011 Myth Woodling
Who is Myth Woodling? I am not a practicing strega. Heck, I'm not even Italian. I'm a Wiccan. You know, a fuffy-wuffy, tree hugging, bunny-loving, ring around the rosey, Mother Gaia dancing, Neo-Pagan Wiccan. Yep, that's me. I'm the sort of Wiccan who pursues a question for years--if it catches my interest. I can beat to death any piece of trivia with a pen or pencil, assuming it sits still long enough.
Sometime in 1999/2000, I started working with this specific Goddess, Aradia, (and I also wrote a story). I have since come to the conclusion that Aradia is now my "patrona" (matron/patron/patroness deity). As such, I started studying all of this and amassing a website in order to achieve a more complete understanding of my patrona.
I invite you to browse around my website, "The Goddess Aradia and Other Subjects," --actually I tend to invite everyone to my website. The website is an informational site which is part of my service to the Goddess Aradia.
Aradia home page