The Gospel of the Witches
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Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches
by Charles Godfrey Leland
Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches is an 1899 book by Charles Godfrey Leland. The book is an attempt to portray the beliefs and rituals of an underground religious witchcraft tradition in Tuscany that, Leland claimed, had survived for centuries until his discovery of its existence in the 1890s. Scholars have disputed the veracity of this claim. Still, the book has become one of the foundational texts of the Neopagan witchcraft movements Wicca and Stregheria.
The text is a composite. Some of it is Lelands translation into English of an original Italian manuscript, the Vangelo (gospel). Leland reported receiving the manuscript from his primary informant on Italian witchcraft beliefs, a woman Leland referred to as "Maddalena" and whom he called his "witch informant" in Italy. The rest of the material comes from Lelands research on Italian folklore and traditions, including other related material from Maddalena. Leland had been informed of the Vangelos existence in 1886, but it took Maddalena eleven years to provide him with a copy. After translating and editing the material, it took another two years for the book to be published. Its fifteen chapters portray the origins, beliefs, rituals and spells of an Italian pagan witchcraft tradition. The central figure of that religion is the goddess Aradia, who came to Earth to teach the practice of witchcraft to peasants in order for them to oppose their feudal oppressors and the Catholic Church.
Lelands work remained obscure until the 1950s, when other theories about, and claims of, "pagan witchcraft" survivals began to be widely discussed. Aradia began to be examined within the wider context of such claims. Scholars are divided, with some dismissing Lelands assertion regarding the origins of the manuscript, and others arguing for its authenticity as a unique documentation of folk beliefs. Along with increased scholarly attention, Aradia came to play a special role in the history of Gardnerian Wicca and its offshoots, being used as evidence that pagan witchcraft survivals existed in Europe, and because a passage from the books first chapter was used as a part of the religions liturgy. After the increase in interest in the text, it became widely available through numerous reprints from a variety of publishers, including a 1999 critical edition with a new translation by Mario and Dina Pazzaglini.
About the Author:
Charles Godfrey Leland (August 15, 1824 – March 20, 1903) was an American humorist and folklorist, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was educated at Princeton University and in Europe.
Leland worked in journalism, travelled extensively, and became interested in folklore and folk linguistics, publishing books and articles on American and European languages and folk traditions. By the end of his life shortly after the turn of the century, Leland had worked in a wide variety of trades, achieved recognition as the author of the comic Hans Breitmann’s Ballads, fought in two conflicts, and had written what was to become a primary source text for Neopaganism half a century later, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches.
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