Aradia is a name that most witches become familiar with at some point along their journey into witchcraft. The name itself is most popularly known from the classic 1899 work of Charles Godfrey Leland, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches; however the mystery of Aradia has continued to captivate our community for over a century.
Who is Aradia? Where did the Gospel come from? Did a witch tradition really survive in Italy? Did Leland make the whole thing up? All of these questions have been proposed and debated since its first publication, but no one really took the time to go back to the source material to look for the answers… until now.
In my own upcoming book Aradia: A Modern Guide to Charles Godfrey Leland's Gospel of the Witches I did just that. By going back to the original Italian sections of the text, errors that have been overlooked for so long have been corrected. Further research led to many revelations, which answered these common questions and provided compelling evidence that Leland did not fabricate the Gospel.
Not only does this enhance our understanding of one of the most influential documents in the Craft revival, it also allows us to better understand this much loved, and misunderstood, Goddess that we call Aradia. Here are five things every Witch should know about Aradia.
- Champion of the Witches
Aradia is often described as the Witches Messiah, the saviour sent to Earth by the old gods to help their enslaved people to be liberated from the oppression of the Roman Catholic Church and the Italian upper classes. Although it is true that the Gospel portrays her in this light, I much prefer to think of her as the "Champion of the Witches."
The term messiah can be quite loaded; it comes with a sense of salvation being held within an individual. Aradia's witches do not seek freedom through her; instead they acquire the power to liberate themselves from following her example.
The Craft does not, and has never, needed an intermediary, and Aradia does not claim to be one. Aradia empowers her people to liberate themselves with the gifts of witchcraft, and this is as relevant to us as practitioners today as it ever was.
- Personality of the Goddess
As a champion leading the people in their fight for freedom we are shown a lot about the nature and personality of this amazing goddess. As a champion of the oppressed, Aradia is shown to stand against injustice. This not only highlights her nature as a feisty rebel willing to challenge the establishment; she is also shown to have great empathy and compassion for those disempowered souls who need to reconnect with their own magic and personal power.
As a teacher to these people, she tells them: "When I shall have departed from this world whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month, and when the moon is full… adore the mighty spirit of my mother, Diana… and ye shall all be freed from slavery."
In this she demonstrates that she does not require devotion or a cult of personality, as her goal is to help her witches find their way back to the Goddess. She is not driven by ego or self-important.
- Other Known Names and Roles
Leland's Gospel is not the only place that records Aradia and her association with the goddess Diana. The infamous 1486 CE witch-hunting manual Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of the Witches) has curious footnotes that links Aradia, or Herodias, with the witches' cult of Diana in Italy. In the text Diana is identified as the goddess and Mistress of the witches; when she cannot attend the ritual gathering Herodias stands in her place as Witch-Queen. This Aradia by another name comes 413 years before the publication of Leland's work on the subject, showing the long-standing belief that another figure was indeed sent to lead the witches in a time of need.
In addition to Malleus Maleficarum, the famous canon Episcopi also indicates the same relationship between Diana and Aradia. This demonstrates these two figures were central to the witchcraft practices of that time period. Although the exact date of its publication cannot be accurately identified, other texts published as early as 906 CE reference the canon directly. This means that Aradia had been recorded as a key part of the religious gatherings of witches in the cult of Diana, acting as Witch-Queen or teacher, for seven years short of a millennia before Leland first brought this incredible Gospel to the attention of the world.
- A Universal Goddess
Many have claimed over the years that witches have thirteen powers. This claim is made by referencing Leland's Aradia; however, this is not actually what the Gospel text states. The truth is that Aradia is a universal goddess who may be called upon by a witch for the fulfilment of any magical desire.
The Gospel text provides thirteen examples to the reader to demonstrate her wide-range of abilities, however these are only examples and not a representation of her limits in any way—this, the Gospel makes clear.
When working with the spirit of Aradia it is important to remember this fact and not attempt to limit or restrict her sphere of influence. She is a witches' goddess, after all; just as we can work in multiple aspects of the Craft, it stands to reason that such a goddess would be far more capable.
- The Charge of Benevento
The Charge of the Goddess, that much-loved ritual liturgy written by the late Doreen Valiente, was greatly influenced by a number of much older source material. One of the most prominent influences to appear in the bulk of texts opening is directly taken from Leland's Aradia. The original "charge" that is given directly from Aradia to the witches includes major references to workings timed with the full moon as well as an emphasis on community.
Within this declaration Aradia tells the people that they are to play the "game of Benevento." Benevento has long been considered an important meeting-site for Italian witches with associations becoming more widely popular in 1273. It was here that the witches would gather to perform their rites and spells around a sacred walnut tree; famous witch trials in 1428 reinforced these associations more strongly within the culture of Italy.
Freely admitting that such events took place, one witch described a special ointment or unguent that was rubbed onto the armpits and breasts to cause an out of body experience that allowed them to fly to Benevento to celebrate. The spell that was most frequently attributed to the activation of this unguent was:
Occasionally the witches claimed that their spirit would ride on a broomstick after this spell was cast, which just goes to show how deeply rooted these cultural images became within the global consciousness.
Carry me to the walnut tree of Benevento,
Above the water and above the wind,
And above all other bad weather.
Wherever you are on your path I genuinely believe that Aradia has something to teach us all. An old adage states: "If you want to know where you are going, you need to know where you have been," and over the Temple of Delphi the words "Know thyself" are found. The Gospel had such a great influence on the development of the global Craft revival that it is only logical to conclude that the best way to know thyself is to look back at this collection of tales more deeply.
In my forthcoming book Aradia: A Modern Guide to Charles Godfrey Leland's Gospel of the Witches you will find at the back a guide to incorporating those teachings into your Craft. By knowing where you have been, you will have the tools to know where you are going.
May Aradia forever bless you!
(Che Aradia ti benedica per sempre!)