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Aradia and the Revival of Modern Witchcraft

By Eldyohr

Contemporary Paganism is a religion without a hermeneutical tradition – there is no revealed scripture afforded sacred status insofar as its nature and words are considered infallible. The lack of dogma, centralizing authority, and textual exegesis is considered almost religiously patriotic and emphasizes the experiential and intuitive dimensions of the religion over the logical and philosophical theology of the Abrahamic religions. The paradox, as Chas Clifton points out, is that Contemporary Pagans eschew textual authority, but “typically buy, own, and read lots of books” (p. 3). In fact, books have been the primary entrance point into Contemporary Paganism since its conception and continue to be so alongside the internet (Helen Berger & Douglas Cowan). Books like The Paganism Reader and A Pagan Testament: The Literary Heritage of the World’s Oldest New Religion both discuss and offer readings from texts that have influenced Contemporary Paganism and are well worth the read. One of the oldest is Charles Leland’s Aradia, though Clifton notes that almost no one reads the text anymore since the focus seems to be on “how-to” books and popular portrayals of Contemporary Paganism rather than the contributory historical works. One notes, however, that Aradia is considered to be a work of historical fiction by most Contemporary Pagans and we must take this into account before claiming that Contemporary Pagans simply don’t care about their own history.

Aradia, or The Gospel of the Witches, is a composite manuscript about La Veccha Religione, or Italian Witchcraft beliefs, primarily in Tuscany, and it centers on the beliefs, rituals, spells, and practices of these supposedly ancient Tuscan witches. Leland’s primary informat was a gypsy named Maddalena. Folklorist, Roma Lister, believes her real name was Margherita, and that she was a “witch” from Florence who claimed a family lineage from the Etruscans and knowledge of ancient rituals. Leland wrote,

“…the witches even yet form a fragmentary secret society or sect, that they call it that of the Old Religion, and that there are in the Romagna entire villages in which the people are completely heathen.”

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