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Illustration of a Witch.

Who Was the Mysterious Aradia - Italian Goddess or Wicked Witch?

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The line between goddess and witch or witch and saint is very thin in ancient history. One example of this confusion is the legendary story of Aradia – a woman whose life has been explored in neo-pagan and folklorist accounts of ancient myths and legends.

Aradia’s story became popular with the growth of Wicca and other Neo-Pagan traditions. She is known as the queen of the witches and the goddess of the moon. Aradia is often presented as an important deity and her character appears in many books. However, her origins are not so obvious. In fact, it seems that there are still more questions than answers related to this mysterious woman.

Her 19th Century Story

According to Charles Godfrey Leland, an American folklorist, his book Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches is a text which is based on the old knowledge of pagan witches from Tuscany, Italy. Leland says that his book is based on a text he received from a woman named Maddalena who lived in Tuscany. This account of Aradia is said to be created from ancient Etruscan mythology. The folklorist presents Aradia as a female messiah who came to Earth to support witches in their fight against the Catholic Church.

Gospel of the Witches.

Gospel of the Witches. ( Public Domain )

Leland’s writings became very popular following 1899, but the main question asked by historians is about the validity of his text. Leland claimed that the book he wrote was based on very good resources and stories repeated by centuries of people who were interested in witchcraft. However, many historians doubt it.

The story of Aradia starts with her birth. Leland writes that she was a daughter of a good and powerful deity named Diana, and Lucifer - the most powerful of the devils (who was also her brother.) In this version of the myth, Lucifer is the god of the sun, moon, and light, whose handsomeness was overwhelming. Since the first chapter, the author of the book shows Aradia’s power and an important mission which had been given to her by her mother. One day Diana said to her daughter Aradia:

''Tis true indeed that thou a spirit art,
But thou wert born but to become again
A mortal; thou must go to earth below
To be a teacher unto women and men
Who fain would study witchcraft in thy school
Yet like Cain's daughter 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 and knaves; like unto them
Ye shall not be....

And thou shalt be the first of witches known;
And thou shalt be the first of all i' the world;
And thou shalt teach the art of poisoning,
Of poisoning those who are great lords of all;
Yea, thou shalt make them die in their palaces;
And thou shalt bind the oppressor's soul (with power);
And when ye find a peasant who is rich,
Then ye shall teach the witch, your pupil, how
To ruin all his crops with tempests dire,
With lightning and with thunder (terrible),
And the hail and wind.... ''

Some parts of Leland’s text are related to ancient mythology while others remind one of local stories of different spirits, creatures, and witches. The truth behind Aradia’s story was mixed with other myths and legends, and it created a monumental book which inspired new life in pagan beliefs.

Francisco de Goya's ‘Witches Sabbat’ (1789)

Francisco de Goya's ‘Witches Sabbat’ (1789) ( Public Domain )

A Goddess for Modern Pagans

Leland’s book also inspired new books, including the famous Charge of the Goddess . These publications sound very convincing and assert that they describe the real legend of the goddess, however, their information is still uncertain because most of the texts are based on the book Leland published in 1899. And in Leland’s representation of her, Aradia appears as a sexual and sensual character, whose powers of witchcraft are stronger than many others.

Current historians and folklorists still can’t prove or deny the story created by the book published more than a hundred years ago. Nonetheless, Sabina Magliocco, a specialist in Italian folklore, believes that Aradia’s legend is a compilation of many characters known from ancient times to the 19th century.

She suggests that Aradia must have been a supernatural creature related to Italian folklore. Magliocco identified Aradia with the legendary witch figure - who is probably a supernatural legend known in the Sardinian tradition as ''sa Rejusta''.

Another theory comes from Raven Grimassi, who created Stregheria - a neo-pagan tradition. He says that a woman known as Aradia di Toscano was a real person who lived in the 14th century and was a witch, or a powerful leader of a group of witches, who worshiped the goddess Diana. Grimassi supposed that the woman described by Leland was none other than a medieval witch who believed she was an ancient goddess’ daughter.

Goddess Diana Leaving Her Bath.

Goddess Diana Leaving Her Bath. ( Public Domain )

One more hypothesis comes from Mircea Eliade, a Roman historian of religion who lived between 1907 and 1986. Eliade suggested that the name Aradia comes from Arada and Irodiada - a folkloric name for the famous Queen of the Fairies. In Romanian culture, she was related to Diana and was a patron for a group of dancers who existed until the end of the 19th century (although it's possible that they secretly continue their work even now.)

The Story Continues

No matter what the origins of Aradia are, she is still an important part of the story of the goddess Diana. Leland’s text is one of the key books of modern witchcraft and also one of the most fascinating materials on literacy, folklore, mythology, and historical research.

Top image: Illustration of a Witch. ( Public Domain )

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

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

Doreen Valiente, The Rebirth of Witchcraft, 1989. 

Charles Godfrey Leland, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches,1899. 

The goddess Aradia and other subjects, available at:
http://www.jesterbear.com/Aradia/notes.html

Comments

"Lucifer - the most powerful of the devils" Lucifer was the Canaanite name for the planet Venus, 'Prince of the Morning Light', and the Consort of the Goddess. When the Hebrews conquered Canaan, they took the Canaanite Gods and made them demons.

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