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Aradia (goddess)

Aradia (goddess)

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Aradia is one of the principal figures in the American folklorist Charles Leland’s 1899 work Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches
Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches
Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches is a book composed by the American folklorist Charles Leland that was published in 1899. It contains what he believed was the religious text of a group of pagan witches in Tuscany, Italy that documented their beliefs and rituals, although various historians and...

, which he believed to be a genuine religious text used by a group of pagan
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

 witches
Witchcraft
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...

 in Tuscany
Tuscany
Tuscany is a region in Italy. It has an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.75 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence ....

, a claim that has subsequently been disputed by other folklorists and historians. In the gospel, Aradia is portrayed as the messianic
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

 daughter of the goddess Diana
Diana
Diana may refer to:*Diana , ancient Roman goddess of the moon, the hunt, and chastity*Diana , people with the given name Diana*Diana, Princess of Wales, first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales-Music:...

 and the god Lucifer
Lucifer
Traditionally, Lucifer is a name that in English generally refers to the devil or Satan before being cast from Heaven, although this is not the original meaning of the term. In Latin, from which the English word is derived, Lucifer means "light-bearer"...

, who was sent to Earth in order to teach the oppressed peasants how to perform witchcraft to use against the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 and the upper classes.

The folklorist Sabina Magliocco
Sabina Magliocco
Sabina Magliocco , is a professor of Anthropology and Folklore at California State University, Northridge . She is an author of non-fiction books and journal articles about folklore, religion, religious festivals, foodways, witchcraft and Neo-Paganism in Europe and the United States.A recipient of...

 has theorised that prior to being used in Leland's gospel, Aradia was originally a supernatural figure in Italian folklore, who was later merged with other folkloric figures such as the sa Rejusta of Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

.

Since the publication of Leland's gospel, Aradia has become "arguably one of the central figures of the modern pagan witchcraft revival" and as such has featured in various forms of neopaganism
Neopaganism
Neopaganism is an umbrella term used to identify a wide variety of modern religious movements, particularly those influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe...

, including Wicca
Wicca
Wicca , is a modern Pagan religious movement. Developing in England in the first half of the 20th century, Wicca was popularised in the 1950s and early 1960s by a Wiccan High Priest named Gerald Gardner, who at the time called it the "witch cult" and "witchcraft," and its adherents "the Wica."...

 and Stregheria
Stregheria
Stregheria is a form of ethnic Italian form of Wicca originating in the United States, popularized by Raven Grimassi since the 1980s. Stregheria is sometimes referred to as La Vecchia Religione The word stregheria is an archaic Italian word for "witchcraft", the modern Italian word being...

, as an actual deity.
Raven Grimassi
Raven Grimassi
Raven Grimassi is the pen name of an Italian-American author, publishing on the topics of Neo-paganism and witchcraft. He is perhaps best known for his popularization of Stregheria, a neopagan revival of "Italian witchcraft"....

, founder of "Stregheria
Stregheria
Stregheria is a form of ethnic Italian form of Wicca originating in the United States, popularized by Raven Grimassi since the 1980s. Stregheria is sometimes referred to as La Vecchia Religione The word stregheria is an archaic Italian word for "witchcraft", the modern Italian word being...

", claims that Aradia was a historical figure named Aradia di Toscano, who led a group of "Diana-worshipping witches" in 14th-century Tuscany.

Italian folklore


The Italian form of the name Herodias
Herodias
Herodias was a Jewish princess of the Herodian Dynasty. Asteroid 546 Herodias is named after her.-Family relationships:*Daughter of Aristobulus IV...

is Erodiade.
By the 9th century, Herodias had been equated with the Roman goddess Diana in Christian understanding, as was noted in the Canon Episcopi
Canon Episcopi
The Canon Episcopi is an important document in the history of witchcraft. It is first attested in the Libri de synodalibus causis et disciplinis ecclesiasticis composed by Regino of Prüm around 906, but Regino considered it an older text; he, and later scholars following him, believed it to be from...

, and it was claimed that there were groups of women who believed that they could go on night journeys where they would fly across the sky to meet Diana.

Judika Illes
Judika Illes
Judika Illes is the author of non-fiction books of folklore, folkways and mythology about the subjects of the occult, magic, divination, spiritualism, fairies, witchcraft and the paranormal...

, in her Encyclopedia of Spirits, noted: "Although venerated elsewhere in Europe, Herodias was especially beloved in Italy. She and Diana are the goddesses most frequently mentioned in witch-trial transcripts and were apparently worshiped together."

Magliocco believed that the legends surrounding this figure, known as Aradia, Arada or Araja, spread throughout various areas of Italy, and she traced records that showed that two being known as s'Araja dimoniu (Araja the demon) and s'Araja justa (Araja the just) were found in Sardinia
Sardinia
Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea . It is an autonomous region of Italy, and the nearest land masses are the French island of Corsica, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Tunisia and the Spanish Balearic Islands.The name Sardinia is from the pre-Roman noun *sard[],...

. Magliocco believed that the latter of these two figures, s'Araja justa, was the antecedent of a supernatural witch-like figure known as sa Rejusta in Sardinian folklore.

The Romanian historian of religion Mircea Eliade
Mircea Eliade
Mircea Eliade was a Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago. He was a leading interpreter of religious experience, who established paradigms in religious studies that persist to this day...

 also noted that Arada, along with Irodiada, was a name used for a Romanian folkloric Queen of the Fairies (Doamna Zinelor), whom he believed was a "metamorphosis of Diana". She was viewed as the patroness of a secretive group of dancers known as the calusari
Calusari
The Căluşari were the members of a Romanian fraternal secret society who practiced a ritual acrobatic dance known as the căluş. According to the Romanian historian Mircea Eliade, the Calusari were known for "their ability to create the impression of flying in the air" which he believed represented...

 who operated up until at least the 19th century.

Leland's Aradia



In 1899, the American folklorist Charles Leland published Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches
Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches
Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches is a book composed by the American folklorist Charles Leland that was published in 1899. It contains what he believed was the religious text of a group of pagan witches in Tuscany, Italy that documented their beliefs and rituals, although various historians and...

, a book which he claimed was the religious text belonging to a group of Tuscan witches who venerated Diana as the Queen of the Witches. He also claimed that he has been given the book by a Tuscan woman named Maddalena, although historians such as Ronald Hutton
Ronald Hutton
Ronald Hutton is an English historian who specializes in the study of Early Modern Britain, British folklore, pre-Christian religion and contemporary Paganism. A reader in the subject at the University of Bristol, Hutton has published fourteen books and has appeared on British television and radio...

 have disputed the truth of these such claims.

Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches began with the tale of Aradia's birth to Diana and Lucifer
Lucifer
Traditionally, Lucifer is a name that in English generally refers to the devil or Satan before being cast from Heaven, although this is not the original meaning of the term. In Latin, from which the English word is derived, Lucifer means "light-bearer"...

, who is described as "the god of the Sun and of the Moon, the god of Light (Splendour), who was so proud of his beauty, and who for his pride was driven from Paradise". Diana instructed Aradia to "go to earth below / To be a teacher unto women and men / Who fain would study witchcraft". When Aradia descended, she became the first of all witches, and promised her students that "ye shall all be freed from slavery, / And so ye shall be free in everything".

Aradia was described as having continuing power to affect the world after she returned to the sphere of Diana. For example, in "A Spell to Win Love", the "Invocation to Diana" asked Diana to send her daughter Aradia to perform the magic. Leland's Aradia had a chapter containing folklore about the night assembly or banquet titled, "The Sabbat: Tregunda or Witch Meeting," which involved Diana. Leland commented in the Appendix, "I also believe that in this Gospel of the Witches we have a trustworthy outline at least of the doctrine and rites observed at these meetings [the witches' Sabbat]. They adored forbidden deities and practised forbidden deeds, inspired as much by rebellion against Society as by their own passions."

Leland speculated that this folklore ultimately had roots in ancient Etruscan mythology.

Leland also equated Aradia with Herodias, explaining his speculation that Herodias was actually Lilith: "This was not... derived from the Herodias of the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

, but from an earlier replica of Lilith
Lilith
Lilith is a character in Jewish mythology, found earliest in the Babylonian Talmud, who is generally thought to be related to a class of female demons Līlīṯu in Mesopotamian texts. However, Lowell K. Handy notes, "Very little information has been found relating to the Akkadian and Babylonian view...

, bearing the same name... So far back as the sixth century the worship of Herodias and Diana by witches was condemned by a Church Council at Ancyra
". Pipernus and other writers have noted the evident identification of Herodias with Lilith. Historian Ronald Hutton
Ronald Hutton
Ronald Hutton is an English historian who specializes in the study of Early Modern Britain, British folklore, pre-Christian religion and contemporary Paganism. A reader in the subject at the University of Bristol, Hutton has published fourteen books and has appeared on British television and radio...

 suggested in Triumph of the Moon that this identification with Herodias was inspired by the work of Jules Michelet
Jules Michelet
Jules Michelet was a French historian. He was born in Paris to a family with Huguenot traditions.-Early life:His father was a master printer, not very prosperous, and Jules assisted him in the actual work of the press...

 in Satanism and Witchcraft
Satanism and Witchcraft
Satanism And Witchcraft is a book by Jules Michelet on the history of witchcraft, published, originally in French, in 1862. The first English translation was published in London in 1863. According to Michelet, medieval witchcraft was an act of popular rebellion against the oppression of feudalism...

. Anthropologist and field folklorist Sabina Magliocco
Sabina Magliocco
Sabina Magliocco , is a professor of Anthropology and Folklore at California State University, Northridge . She is an author of non-fiction books and journal articles about folklore, religion, religious festivals, foodways, witchcraft and Neo-Paganism in Europe and the United States.A recipient of...

, on the other hand, is willing to consider a connection between the Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 Erodiade (Herodias), the Cult of Herodias, the night assembly, and Aradia.

Neopaganism


Aradia has become an important figure in Wicca
Wicca
Wicca , is a modern Pagan religious movement. Developing in England in the first half of the 20th century, Wicca was popularised in the 1950s and early 1960s by a Wiccan High Priest named Gerald Gardner, who at the time called it the "witch cult" and "witchcraft," and its adherents "the Wica."...

 as well as some other forms of Neo-Paganism.
Some Wiccan traditions use the name "Aradia" as one of the names of the Great Goddess
Great Goddess
Great Goddess refers to the concept of an almighty goddess, or to the concept of a mother goddess, including:*Great Goddess, anglicized form of the Latin Magna Dea*Great Goddess, anglicized form of the Sanskrit Mahadevi, the Shakti sum of all goddesses...

, Moon Goddess or "Queen of the Witches".
Portions of Leland's text influenced the Gardnerian Book of Shadows
Book of Shadows
A Book of Shadows is a book containing religious texts and instructions for magical rituals found within the Neopagan religion of Wicca. Originating within the Gardnerian tradition of the Craft, the first Book of Shadows was created by the pioneering Wiccan Gerald Gardner sometime in the late 1940s...

, especially the Charge of the Goddess
Charge of the Goddess
The Charge of the Goddess is a traditional inspirational text sometimes used in the neopagan religion of Wicca. Several versions exist, though they all have the same basic premise, that of a set of instructions given by a Great Goddess to her worshippers...

. Alex Sanders
Alex Sanders (Wiccan)
Alex Sanders , born Orrell Alexander Carter, was an English occultist and High Priest in the Neopagan religion of Wicca, responsible for founding the tradition of Alexandrian Wicca during the 1960s. He was a figure who often appeared in tabloid newspapers...

 invoked Aradia as a Moon Goddess in the 1960s. Janet
Janet Farrar
Janet Farrar is a British teacher and author of books on Wicca and Neopaganism. Along with her two husbands, Stewart Farrar and Gavin Bone, Farrar has published "some of the most influential books on modern Witchcraft to date." According to George Knowles, "some seventy five percent of Wiccans...

 and Stewart Farrar
Stewart Farrar
Frank Stewart Farrar , who always went by the name of Stewart Farrar, was an English screenwriter, novelist and prominent figure in the Neopagan religion of Wicca, which he devoted much of his later life to propagating with the aid of his seventh wife, Janet Farrar, and then his friend Gavin Bone...

 used the name in their Eight Sabbats for Witches and The Witches Way. Aradia was invoked in spellcraft in Z. Budapest's The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries. An entire website, the Goddess Aradia and Related Subjects, is devoted to Aradia as a Wiccan goddess and a powerful spirit in Italian folklore.

Aradia is a central figure in Stregheria
Stregheria
Stregheria is a form of ethnic Italian form of Wicca originating in the United States, popularized by Raven Grimassi since the 1980s. Stregheria is sometimes referred to as La Vecchia Religione The word stregheria is an archaic Italian word for "witchcraft", the modern Italian word being...

, an "ethnic Italian" form of Wicca introduced by Raven Grimassi
Raven Grimassi
Raven Grimassi is the pen name of an Italian-American author, publishing on the topics of Neo-paganism and witchcraft. He is perhaps best known for his popularization of Stregheria, a neopagan revival of "Italian witchcraft"....

 in the 1980s.
Grimassi claims that there was a historical figure called "Aradia di Toscano", whom he portrays as the founder of a revivalist religion of Italian witchcraft in the 14th century. Grimassi claims that Leland's Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches is a "distorted Christianized version" of the story of Aradia.

Neo-Pagan narratives of Aradia include Raven Grimassi, The Book of the Holy Strega (1981); Aidan Kelly, The Gospel of Diana (1993); Myth Woodling, Secret Story of Aradia, (2001)

In 1992 Aidan Kelly
Aidan Kelly
Aidan Kelly is an American academic, poet and influential figure in the Neopagan religion of Wicca. Having developed his own branch of the faith, the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, during the 1960s, he was also initiated into other traditions, including Gardnerianism and Feri, in...

, co-founder of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn
New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn
The New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn is a Wiccan organization/tradition/denomination that, despite its name, has little or nothing to do with the original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.The NROOGD Tradition of the Craft originated in 1967 with a group of friends The New Reformed...

, distributed a document titled The Gospel of Diana (a reference to Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches). The text contained a list of mother and daughter priest
Priest
A priest is a person authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and deities. They also have the authority or power to administer religious rites; in particular, rites of sacrifice to, and propitiation of, a deity or deities...

esses who had taught religious witchcraft
Witchcraft
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...

 through the centuries. Instead of Leland's goddess Diana and her messianical
Messiah
A messiah is a redeemer figure expected or foretold in one form or another by a religion. Slightly more widely, a messiah is any redeemer figure. Messianic beliefs or theories generally relate to eschatological improvement of the state of humanity or the world, in other words the World to...

 daughter, Aradia, Kelly's text described mortal human beings. The priestesses' names alternated between Aradia and Diana. Magliocco describes the character of Aradia in Kelly's accompanying narrative as "a notably erotic character; according to her teachings, the sexual
Human sexual behavior
Human sexual activities or human sexual practices or human sexual behavior refers to the manner in which humans experience and express their sexuality. People engage in a variety of sexual acts from time to time, and for a wide variety of reasons...

 act becomes not only an expression of the divine life force, but an act of resistance against all forms of oppression and the primary focus of ritual
Ritual
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

". Magliocco also notes that the text "has not achieved broad diffusion in contemporary Pagan circles".

External links

  • "Aradia", Stregheria.com, an article by Raven Grimassi about the legend of Aradia and its evolution.
  • The Stregoneria Italiana Project, which contains an academic discussion of the history and controversies associated with Leland and Aradia.
  • "Epithets of Aradia", www.AradiaGoddess.com (2005), contains epithets used for Aradia the Goddess in Wicca.
  • "Understanding Leland's Aradia". Myth Woodling (2007), www.AradiaGoddess.com. This article discusses the theory about the derivation of Aradia from "Herodiade" or "Erodiade."