This important document in the history of witchcraft is at least as old as the beginning of the tenth century A.D. and may be older.
It was published by Regino (circa A.D. 906) in his De Ecc, esiastica Discip, inis (quoted in The Geography of Witchcraft by Montague Summers, Kegan Paul, London, 1 927), as being part of the Canon Law of the Church.
Regino ascribed it to the Church Council of Ancyra, which met in A.D. 314; but modern authorities doubt this. At any rate, the Canon Episcopi, as it was known, was for centuries the official teaching of the Christian Church about witchcraft.
Its importance lies in the fact that it describes witches as deluded heretics, who worship “Diana, the goddess of the pagans”; not, as the
Church later alleged the Devil or Satan. However, says the Canon Episcopi, it is the Devil who seduces them into doing this.
Furthermore, the witches’ meetings, and their supposed flying by night to such meetings, are all mere hallucinations.
This is the exact opposite of what the Church later taught, in such literature as the notorious Malleus Maleficarum (translated by Montague
Summers, Pushkin Press, London, 1 948), the witch-hunters’ handbook published in 1486.
The previous dogma evidently had not availed to root out the heresy of witchcraft; so the Church had to change it and bring in all the horrific allegations of devil worship and of real Sabbats where all sorts of horrors and abominations took place, in order to light the fires which would effectively, as the witch-hunters thought, burn out witchcraft forever.
From the first, the Church persecuted witches, not because they were wicked but because they were heretics.
The Canon Episcopi shows plainly that the witches were accused of being pagans, and it is also evidence of their devotion to Diana, the moon goddess, just like that of the pre-Christian witches described in classical literature, and those of La Vecchia Religione whom Charles Godfrey Leland found in modern Italy.
The following is an extract from the Canon Episcopi. Its description of witches has a certain echo of poetry as if the good Churchman who
wrote it had himself felt the dangerous glamour of the moonlight and the night wind :
It is also not to be omitted that some wicked women perverted by the devil, seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons, believe and
profess themselves, in the hours of the night, to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of pagans, and an innumerable multitude of
women, and in the silence of the dead of night, to traverse great spaces of earth, and to obey her commands as of their r mistress, and to be summoned to her service on certain nights.
However, it is not them alone who perished in their faithlessness, and did not draw many with them into the destruction of infidelity.
For an innumerable multitude, deceived by this false opinion, believe this to be true and, so believing, wander from the right faith and are involved in the error of pagans when they think that there is anything of divinity or power except for the one God.
Wherefore the priests throughout their churches should preach with all insistence to the people that they may know this to be in every way false and that such phantasms are imposed on the minds of infidels and not by the divine but by the malignant spirit.
In some later versions of the Canon Episcopi, the name of Herodias is given, as well as that of Diana.
This again links this very old document (whatever its actual date) with Charles Godfrey Leland’s discoveries; because Aradia and Herodias are evidently one and the same. Herodias may be simply a monkish rendering of Aradia, confusing her with the Herodias of the Bible.
It may be also, that the name Herodias is, in fact, the name of an ancient goddess, similar to Lilith, after whom the lady who enchanted King Herod was named.