Aradia is another deity name that is peculiar to contemporary Paganism and Wicca. Historically, the most we know about this figure comes from a text that Charles Godfrey Leland published in 1899: Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. Unfortunately for us, this source is not without a level of controversy. Leland reported that whilst researching Italian folklore, he became acquainted with a woman he called Maddalena in 1886, and she became the primary source for his Italian folklore collecting for several years. Leland described her as being a part of a dying sorcery tradition and wrote that “by long practice [she] has perfectly learned… just what I want, and how to extract it from those of her kind.” Over the years, he received several hundred pages worth of material from her, which was incorporated into his books Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition, Legends of Florence Collected From the People, and eventually Aradia. In his foreword Aradia, Leland wrote that he had “learned that there was in existence a manuscript setting forth the doctrines of Italian witchcraft” in 1886, and had urged his friend Maddalena to find it. Over a decade later, Leland received the Vangelo by post. The manuscript was written in Maddalena’s handwriting, and Leland understood it to be an authentic document of the “Old Religion” of the witches, but explains that he did not know if the text came from written or oral sources.
Today, we do not know if Leland invented the Vangelo himself or if it really was delivered to him by an Italian witch. Since the repopularization of witchcraft, various scholars have chimed in with their opinions as to the work’s legitimacy. Most recently, pagan studies scholars Ronald Hutton, Chas Clifton, and Sabina Magliocco have weighed in. Hutton takes the skeptic’s stance, and doubts that there was a religion the story claimed to represent in addition to doubting the existence of Maddalena. He argues that the likeliest scenario is that Leland created the whole thing–and it does seem that this would be easier to swallow that Leland believing some random Italian fortune-teller. Clifton takes Hutton to task, saying that he’s essentially accusing Leland of “serious literary fraud” based only on the fact there is no evidence to disprove that Leland received this information from an Italian source. Magliocco, on the other hand, believes that the manuscript really does represent a folk tradition involving Diana and the Cult of Herodias.
Yet, whether or not Leland’s book is truth or fiction, we have to acknowledge that the book contains very little information about its title figure. In fact, the main figure in the book is the goddess Diana, who was the goddess “first created before all creation”, and “out of herself, the first darkness, she divided herself […] into darkness and light.” The light became her brother Lucifer, who was hailed as the god of light, the sun, and the moon. When Diana, the darkness, finally saw the light, she desired to make it a part of her once again. But Lucifer rejected her and fell to earth, so Diana appealed to “the fathers of the Beginning, to the mothers, the spirits who were before the first spirit”, and they told her that “to rise she must fall”, or that to become the chief of goddesses she must become mortal. So Diana, too, went to earth. While there, Diana taught magic and gave rise to the witches and supernatural creatures, or “all that is like man, yet not mortal”. Eventually Diana took the form of a cat that her brother loved, and when she had been admitted into his bed she took on her true form and coupled with him. From this union Aradia, or Herodias, was born. The divine Aradia was then mortally reborn and sent to teach witchcraft to the poor men and women who had been made slaves by the rich. After Diana recalls her daughter to heaven, she bestows upon her the power to aid those who invoke her to help them achieve success in love.
Coupling this scant information with that of various legendary fragments concerning a Herodias, Erodiade, Aradia, Arada, or Araja, we can pull together a picture creating a mythic figure who can syncretize polarities or opposites, who has a deep understanding of magic and counter-magic, who has a vested interest in education, and in justice–particularly as it applies to deconstructing class problems–and who fully understands the nature of sexuality (the blending of two opposites into one) and of love. Whether or not Aradia is a cultural figure or one sort of created from contemporary scholarship and the growth of Wicca, you have to admit…she’s a deity you can get behind.
In his introduction to Aradia, Roderick writes that as a representation of the blending of light and dark principles, Aradia “is the keeper of secrets, both light and dark. She is the spirit of nature, and as such she is the complementary divine-feminine figure to the gods Cernunnos, Herne, or Pan. She is the goddess who hangs between the balancing points of maiden and mother–perhaps we can call her the archetype of the temptress. She is fertile and she expresses sexuality openly, not for the sake of pleasure, but because it is a magical act. For Aradia, sexual union represents the blending of two into one. […] She is the patroness of the woods, since that is where her devotees erected her sacred groves. She is also a goddess of justice, equality, wisdom, and magical policy.” Moreover, he tells us that “her sacred symbols are cypress tress and the crescent moon. Her magical essences and herbs are cypress, John the Conqueror, lemon, jasmine, and anise. Aradia is aligned with the north, with earth, and midnight. Her sacred colors are white and black. Her animal spirit is the cat, but she also takes the form of fish and the wolf. Aradia’s sacred foods are crescent moon cakes, poppyseed cakes, and grapa (an Italian wine).”
In honoring Aradia today, build a sacred altar to her divine presence. Take time to face the altar and intone her name, one syllable at a time (pronounced Ah-RAH-dee-ah) until you feel her presence surrounding you. Once she has arrived, spend some time contemplating what it mgiht mean to serve this aspect of deity. Take time to ask Aradia what it would mean to live life through her energy, and listen for her answer.
Spend the day honoring this goddess by working magic of any kind and by seeking to bring justice and social awareness to yourself and others.
The altar I created for my Aradia devotion included a printing of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, for it depicts a dynamic marriage of light and darkness in hills that look like they could be in Tuscany (really it’s southern France) with cypress trees in the foreground. I flanked the Justice tarot card with those of the Sun and Moon to show Aradia’s parentage (and was amused to see that the Justice card here seems to have visual elements of both the Sun and the Moon cards). I nodded toward Aradia’s interest in polarity with a plaque I have that looks a bit like the Lovers card in the Rider Waite decks, and I flanked it with a pair of black and white candles. I added a pair of quartz crystals and some moonstones, my amber and jet necklace, my pentacle, and an offering bowl of brewing jasmine tea with a slice of lemon.
It took me awhile to sense Aradia’s presence after I began chanting her name, but eventually I felt what could only be described as a spunky energy! It seems that Aradia is quite the whippersnapper. Bright and alert, she reminds me a bit of the teacher who taught through sheer enthusiasm. The type of teacher where you couldn’t help but grow to love her topic because she loved it so darn much. It’s a very interesting and enjoyable energy, and I can’t help but compare it to the previous devotion, Janicot. That, too, was an energy that seemed very much a “teacherly” one, but with so much more calm than Aradia’s.