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Aradia - Gospel of the Witches


~CHAPTER XIX~

~APPENDIX~

So long ago as the year 1886 I learned that there was in existence a manuscript setting forth the doctrines of Italian witchcraft, and I was promised that, if possible, it should be obtained for me. In this I was for a time disappointed. But having urged it on Maddalena, my collector of folk lore, while she was leading a wandering life in Tuscany, to make an effort to obtain or recover something of the kind, I at last received from her, on January 1, 1897, from Colle, Val d'Elsa, near Siena, the MS entitled Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches.

Now be it observed, that every leading point which forms the plot or center of this Vangel, such as that Diana is Queen of the Witches; an associate of Herodius (Aradia) in her relations to sorcery; that she bore a child to her brother the Sun (here Lucifer); that as a moon-goddess she is in some relation to Cain, who dwells as prisoner in the moon, and that the witches of old were people oppressed by feudal lands, the former revenging themselves in every way, and holding orgies to Diana which the Church represented as being the worship of Satan - all of this, I repeat, had been told or written out for me in fragments by Maddalena (not to speak of other authorities), even as it had been chronicled by Horst or Michelet; therefore all this is in the present document of minor importance. All of this I expected, but what I did not expect, and what was new to me, was that portion which is given as prose-poetry and which I have rendered in meter or verse. This being traditional, and taken down from wizards, is extremely curious and interesting, since in it are preserved many relics of lore which, as may be verified from records, have come down from days of yore.

Aradia is evidently enough Herodius, who was regarded in the beginning as associated with Diana as chief of the witches. This was not, as I opined, derived from the Herodias of the New Testament, but from an earlier replica of Lilith, bearing the same name. It is, in fact an identification or twin-ing of the Aryan and Shemitic Queens of Heaven, or of Night and of Sorcery, and it may be that this was known to the earliest myth makers. 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 identity of Herodias with Lilith. Isis preceded both.

Diana is very vigorously, even dramatically, set forth in this poem as the goddess of the god forsaken and ungodly, of thieves, harlots, and, truthfully enough, of the 'minions of the moon,' as Falstaff would have fain had them called. It was recognized in ancient Rome, as it is in modern India, that no human being can be so bad or vile as to have forfeited all right to divine protection of some kind or other, and Diana was this protectress. It my be as well to observe here, that among all free thinking philosophers, educated parias, and literary or book bohemians, there has ever been a most unorthodox tendency to believe that the faults and errors of humanity are more due (if not altogether due) to unavoidable causes which we cannot help, as, for instance, heredity, the being born savages, or poor, or in vice, or unto 'bigotry and virtue' in excess, or unto inquisitioning - that is to say, when we are so over burdened with innately born sin that all our free will cannot set us free from it.

It was during the so called Dark Ages, or from the downfall of the Roman Empire until the thirteenth century, that the belief that all which was worst in man owed its origin solely to the monstrous abuses and tyranny of Church and State. For then, at every turn in life, the vast majority encountered downright shameless, palpable iniquity and injustice, with no law for the weak who were without patrons.

The perception of this drove vast numbers of the discontented into rebellion, and as they could not prevail by open warfare, they took their hatred out in a form of secret anarchy, which was, however, intimately blended with superstition and fragments of old tradition. Prominent in this, and naturally enough, was the worship of Diana the protectress, for the alleged adoration of Satan was a far later invention of the Church, and it has never really found a leading place in Italian witchcraft to this day. That is to say, purely diabolical witchcraft did not find general acceptance till the end of the fifteenth century, when it was, one may almost say, invented in Rome to supply means wherewith to destroy the threatening heresy of Germany.

The growth of Sentiment is the increase of suffering; man is never entirely miserable until he finds out how wronged he is and fancies that he sees far ahead a possible freedom. In ancient times men as slaves suffered less under even more abuse, because they believed they were born to low conditions of life. Even the best reform brings pain with it, and the great awakening of man was accompanied with griefs, many of which even yet endure. Pessimism is the result of too much culture and introversion.

It appears to be strangely out of sight and out of mind with all historians, that the sufferings of the vast majority of mankind, or the enslaved and poor, were far greater under early Christianity, or till the end of the Middle Ages and the Emancipation of Serfs, than they were before. The reason for this was that in the old 'heathen' time the humble did not know, or even dream, that all are equal before God, or that they had many rights, even here on earth, as slaves; for, in fact, the whole moral tendency of the New Testament is utterly opposed to slavery, or even sever servitude. Every word uttered teaching Christ's mercy and love, humility and charity, was, in fact, a bitter reproof, not only to every lord in the land, but to the Church itself, and its arrogant prelates. The fact that many abuses had been mitigated and that there were benevolent saints, does not affect the fact that, on the whole, mankind was for a long time worse off than before, and the greatest cause of this suffering was what may be called a sentimental one, or a newly born consciousness of rights withheld, which is always of itself a torture. And this was greatly aggravated by the endless preaching to the people that it was a duty to suffer and endure oppression and tyranny, and that the rights of Authority of all kinds were so great that they on the whole even excused their worst abuses. For by upholding Authority in the nobility the Church maintained its own.

The result of it all was a vast development of rebels, outcasts, and all the discontented, who adopted witchcraft or sorcery for a religion, and wizards as their priests. They had secret meetings in desert places, among old ruins accursed by priests as the haunt of evil spirits or ancient heathen gods, or in the mountains. To this day the dweller in Italy may often find secluded spots environed by ancient chestnut forests, rocks, and walls, which suggest fit places for the Sabbat, and are sometimes still believed by tradition to be such. And 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. They adored forbidden deities and practiced forbidden deeds, inspired as much by rebellion against Society as their own passions.

There is, however, in the Evangel of the Witches an effort made to distinguish between the naturally wicked or corrupt and those who are outcasts or oppressed, as appears from the passage: "Yet like Cain's daughter (offspring) 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: like then ye shall not be."

The supper of the Witches, the cakes of meal, salt, and honey, in the form of crescent moons, are known to every classical scholar. The moon or horn shaped cakes are still common. I have eaten of them this very day, and though they are known all over the world, I believe they owe their fashion to tradition.

In the conjuration of the meal there is a very curious tradition introduced to the effect that the glittering grains of wheat from which spikes shoot like sun rays, owe their brilliant likeness to a resemblance to the firefly, 'who comes to give the light.' We have, I doubt not, in this a classic tradition, but I cannot verify it. Hereupon the Vangelo cites a common nursery rhyme, which may also be found a nursery tale, yet which, like others, is derived from witch lore, by which the lucciola is put under a glass and conjured to give by its light certain answers.

The conjuration of the meal or bread, as being literally our body as contributing to form it, and deeply sacred because it had lain in the earth, where dark and wondrous secrets bide, seems to cast a new light on the Christian sacrament. It is a type of resurrection from earth, and was therefore used at the Mysteries and Holy Supper, and the grain had pertained to chthonic secrets, or to what had been under the earth in darkness. Thus even earthworms are invoked in modern witchcraft as familiar with dark mysteries, and the shepherd's pipe to win the Orphic power must be buried three days in the earth. And so all was, and is, in sorcery a kind of wild poetry based on symbols, all blending into one another, light and darkness, fireflies and grain, life and death.

Very strange indeed, but very strictly according to ancient magic as described by classic authorities, is the threatening Diana, in case she will not grant a prayer. This recurs continually in the witch exorcisms or spells. The magus, or witch, worships the spirit, but claims to have the right, drawn from a higher power, to compel even the Queen of Earth, Heaven and Hell to grant the request. "Give what I ask, and thou shalt have honor and offerings; refuse, and I will vex thee by insult." So Canidia and her kind boasted that they could compel the gods to appear. This is all classic. No one ever heard of a Satanic witch invoking or threatening the Trinity, or Christ or even the angels or saints. In fact, they cannot even compel the devil or his imps to obey - they work entirely by his good will as slaves. But in the old Italian lore the sorcerer or witch is all or nothing, and aims at limitless will or power.

Of the ancient belief in the virtues of a perforated stone I need not speak. But it is to be remarked that in the invocation the witch goes forth in the earliest morning to seek for verbena or verbain. The ancient Persian magi, or rather their daughters, worshipped the sun as it rose by waving freshly plucked verbena, which was one of the seven most powerful plants in magic. These Persian priestesses were naked while they thus worshipped, nudity being a symbol of truth and sincerity.

The extinguishing the lights, nakedness, and the orgy, were regarded as symbolical of the body being laid in the ground, the grain being planted, or of entering into darkness and death, to be revived in new forms, or regeneration and light. It was the laying aside of daily life.

The Gospel of the Witches, as I have given it, is in reality only the initial chapter of the collection of ceremonies, incantations, and traditions current in the fraternity or sisterhood, the whole of which are in the main to be found in my Etruscan Roman Remains and Florentine Legends. I have, it is true, a great number as yet unpublished, and there are more ungathered, but the whole scripture of this sorcery, all its principal tenets, formulas, medicaments, and mysteries may be found in what I have collected and printed. Yet I would urge that it would be worth while to arrange and edit it all into one work, because it would be to every student of archeology, folk lore, or history of great value. It has been the faith of millions in the past it has made itself felt in innumerable traditions, which deserve to be better understood than they are, and I would gladly undertake the work if I believed that the public would make it worth the publisher's outlay and pains.

It may be observed with truth that I have not treated this Gospel, nor even the subject of witchcraft, entirely as folk lore, as the word is strictly defined and carried out; that is, as a mere traditional fact or thing to be chiefly regarded as a variant like or unlike sundry other traditions, or to be tabulated and put away in pigeon holes for reference. That it is useful and sensible to do all this is perfectly true, and it has led to an immense amount of valuable search, collection, and preservation. But there is this to be said, and I have observed that here and there a few genial minds are beginning to awake to it, that the mere study of the letter in this way has developed a great indifference to the spirit, going in may cases so far as to produce, like Realism in Art (to which it is allied), even a contempt for the matter or meaning of it, as originally believed in.

I was lately much struck by the fact that in a very learned work on Music, the author, in discussing that of ancient times and of the East, while extremely accurate and minute in determining pentatonic and all other scales, and what may be called the mere machinery and history of composition, showed that he was utterly ignorant of the fundamental fact that notes and chords, bars and melodies, were in themselves ideas or thoughts. Thus Confucius is said to have composed a melody which was a personal description of himself. Now if this be not understood, we cannot understand the soul of early music, and the folk lorist who cannot get beyond the letter and fancies himself 'scientific' is exactly like the musician who has no idea of how or why melodies were anciently composed.

The strange and mystical chapter 'How Diana made the Stars and the Rain' is the same given in my Legends of Florence, but much enlarged, or developed to a cosmogonic-mythologic sketch. And here a reflection occurs which is perhaps the most remarkable which all this Witch Evangel suggests. In all other Scriptures of all races, it is the male, Jehovah, Buddha or Brahma, who creates the universe; in Witch Sorcery it is the female who is the primitive principle. Whenever in history there is a period of radical intellectual rebellion against long established conservatism, hierarchy, and the like, there is always an effort to regard Woman as the fully equal, which means the superior sex. Thus in the extraordinary war of conflicting elements, strange schools of sorcery, Neo-Platonism, Cabala, Hermetic Christianity, Gnosticism, Persian Magism and Dualism, with the remains of old Greek and Egyptian theologies in the third and fourth centuries at Alexandria, and in the House of Light of Cairo in the ninth, the equality of Woman was a prominent doctrine. It was Sophia or Helena, the enfranchised, who was then the true Christ who was to save mankind.

When Illumination, in company with magic and mysticism, and a resolve to regenerate society according to extreme free thought, inspired the Templars to the hope that they would master the Church and the world, the equality of Woman derived from the Cairene traditions, again received attention. And it may be observed that during the Middle Ages, and even so late as the intense excitements which inspired the French Huguenots, the Jansenists and the Anabaptists, Woman always came forth more prominently or played a far greater part than she had done in social or political life. This was also the case in the Spiritualism founded by the Fox sisters of Rochester, New York, and it is manifesting itself in many ways in the Fin de Siecle, which is also a nervous chaos according to Nordau - Woman being evidently a fish who shows herself most when the waters are troubled.

But we should also remember that in the earlier ages the vast majority of mankind itself, suppressed by the too great or greatly abused power of Church and State, only manifested itself at such periods of rebellion against forms or ideas grown old. And with every new rebellion, every fresh outburst or wild inundation and bursting over the barriers, humanity and woman gain something, that is to say, their just dues or rights. For as every freshet spreads more widely its waters over the fields, which are in due time the more fertilized thereby, so the world at large gains by every revolution, however terrible or repugnant it may be for a time.

The Emancipated or Woman's Rights woman, when too enthusiastic, generally considers man as limited, while Woman is destined to gain on him. In earlier ages a contrary opinion prevailed, and both are, or were, apparently in the wrong, so far as the future is concerned. For in truth both sexes are progressive, and progress in this respect means not a conflict of the male and female principle, such as formed the basis of the Mahabarata, but a gradual ascertaining of true ability and adjustment of relations or coordination of powers.

These remarks are appropriate to my text and subject, because it is in studying the epochs when woman has made herself prominent and influential that we learn what the capacities of the female sex truly are. Among these, that of witchcraft as it truly was - not as it is generally quite misunderstood - is a deeply interesting as any other. For the witch, laying aside all question as to magic or its non-existence - was once a real factor or great power in rebellious social life, and to this very day it is recognized that there is something uncanny, mysterious, and incomprehensible in woman, which neither she herself nor man can explain.

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