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Aradia: Gospel of the Witches

by Charles Godfrey Leland

This scholarly work by Englishman Charles Leland, first published in 1890, documents the vestiges of witchcraft [Strega] in Northern Italy. Though this book heavily influenced the occult movement in England in the 19th century, and contributed lots of "mythology" about Wicca, the majority of it is created from Leland's fertile imagination combined with legends of witchcraft. This is not to say that Strega itself is not a long tradition of witchcraft but that Leland's work should not be taken as scientific or archyological fact.

Aradia is a short book containing translations of the stories and legends that Leland, an ethnographer, gathered from an old Iitalian woman/witch. Most importantly it contains the oldest known version of what was to become the "The Charge of the Goddess," though it is not referred to as that. Gerald Gardner, considered by many to be the father of modern Wicca, based most of his tradition on Leland's Aradia, the OTO, and Margaret Murray's Witch Cult in Western Europe, (an anthropological study of what turned out to be a contemporary, not ancient, phenomena). I recommend this book to Wiccans interested in the mythos of their religion. ~ Virginia

This book is worth reading for the same reason we read books on mythology. Aradia, while not historically true, is part of the sacred history of Wicca. The ideas expressed and the very flavor of our Goddess-bent path were influenced heavily by this book -- so whether or not the actual story is empirically accurate, the mythology that it offers us is now integral to the Wiccan tradition. At least, that's how I see it. ~ Amber

Information on Strega

Leland writes of Witches who gather nude to worship a Goddess and a God when the moon is full. Anthropologist Julio Baroja in his book called The World of Witches, reveals evidence of a flourishing cult in southern Europe that worshipped Diana during the 5th and 6th Centuries AD. In the author's notes, he states that the cult also worshipped a male deity called Dianum.

Many Italian witches believe in the historical existence of a woman named Aradia, who brought about a revival of Italian Witchcraft. She is often called the Holy Strega or The Beautiful Pilgrim. In the oral traditions regarding Aradia residing in the Old Religion of Italy, it is said that she lived and taught during the later half of the 14th century.

Leland's writings of Aradia includes a legend about the "beautiful Pilgrim" preserved among Tuscan peasants for generations. This legend says: "Then having obtained a pilgrim's dress, she traveled far and wide teaching and preaching the religion of old times, the religion of Diana, the Queen of the Fairies and of the Moon, the Goddess of the poor and the oppressed. And the fame of her wisdom and beauty went forth over all the land, and people worshipped her, calling her La Bella Pellegrina (the beautiful pilgrim)." However, they do not worship her as a Goddess. A mistress of the Goddess, yes. A full-blown Goddess, no.

Reviewed by Diane Sylvan




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