The Tuscan legend of Aradia, daughter of the moon goddess Diana who was dispatched to earth to
establish witchcraft and teach it to witches, was published by the American folklorist, Charles Godfrey Leland, in 1889. Leland said the legend had been passed on to him by a hereditary Etruscan witch named
Maddalena. Godfrey said the name Aradia is a corruption of Herodias, or Queen Herodias, the wife of Herod, with whom Diana came to be identified by the 11th century.
Leland went to Tuscany in northern Italy in the 1880s. There he met a “sorceress” named Maddalena, whom he employed to collect from her witch “sisters” old spells and traditions. In 1886, he heard about a manuscript that supposedly set down the old tenets of witchcraft. He told Maddelana to find it. A year later, she gave him a document in her own handwriting, an alleged copy of this manuscript. Leland translated it into English and published it as Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. He was struck by the
references to Diana and Lucifer, and offered it as evidence of witchcraft as an old religion. In his preface,
he never produced Maddalena or any documentation to verify her existence.
Aradia recounts the story of Diana’s daughter and of Diana’s rise to become Queen of the Witches. Diana is created first among all beings and divides herself into light and darkness. She retains the darkness and makes the light into Lucifer (whose name means “light-bearer”), her brother and son. She falls in love with him and seduces him by changing herself into a cat. Their daughter from that union, Aradia, is destined to become “the Messiah of witches.” Aradia lives for a while in heaven and then is sent to earth by Diana to teach the arts of witchcraft, especially poisoning and malevolent acts against “oppressors”:
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 the 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 with the hail and wind . . .
And when a priest shall do you injury
By his benedictions, ye shall do to him
Double the harm, and do it in the name
Of me, Diana, Queen of witches all!
When Aradia’s task is finished, Diana recalls her daughter to heaven and gives her the power to grant the desires of the meritorious witches who invoke Aradia. Such requests include success in love, and the power to bless friends and curse enemies, as well as:
To converse with spirits.
To find hidden treasures in ancient ruins.
To conjure the spirits of priests who died leaving treasures.
To understand the voice of the wind.
To change water into wine.
To divine with cards.
To know the secrets of the hand [palmistry].
To cure diseases.
To make those who are ugly beautiful.
To tame wild beasts.
The invocation for Aradia is given as follows:
Thus do I seek Aradia! Aradia! Aradia! At midnight,
at midnight I go into a field, and with me I bear water,
wine, and salt, I bear water, wine, and salt, and my talisman—my
talisman, my talisman, and a red small bag
which I ever hold in my hand—con dentro, con dentro,
sale, with salt in it, in it. With water and wine I bless
myself, I bless myself with devotion to implore a favor
from Aradia, Aradia.
The truth about the origins of Aradia may never be known. Some skeptics believe that Leland fabricated the entire story, or that he was duped by Maddalena, who made it up. A more likely scenario, put forward by scholar Ronald Hutton, is that Maddalena, pressed to deliver,
collected some authentic bits of lore and embellished them. Leland, who is known to have embellished his other folklore accounts, probably added his own flourishes. Contemporary folklore scholars do not accept Aradia as authentic.
Aradia had little impact on contemporary European Witchcraft, but enjoyed more prominence in America. In contemporary Witchcraft, Aradia is one of the most often used names for the Goddess.