Anthropology

The Cult of Aradia

Aradia, daughter of Diana, Messiah, or historic figure?
By: Alexandria Addesso

Witchcraft seems to be a phenomenon that has touched every continent and almost every culture in many different shapes and forms. While Wicca is now very mainstream in the western world, many\ other forms of witchcraft and sorcery have been active in many cultures since basically the dawn of time. One such practice of magic which is both old and has touched more modern mainstream practices is the cult of Aradia..

In 1890, American author and folklorist Charles Leland published a book on Italian Witchcraft titled Aradia; Gospel of the Witches. The book is supposedly based on Leland’s interviews with Italian witches in which they shared with him not only their stories and beliefs, but spells and rituals as well. Leland’s account of Aradia included a legend about the “beautiful Pilgrim” which was preserved among Tuscan peasants for generations. The book refers to Aradia in the legend in the following manner: “Then having obtained a pilgrim’s dress, she traveled far and wide, teaching and preaching the religion of old times, the religion of Diana, the Queen of the Fairies and of the Moon, the goddess of the poor and the oppressed. And the fame of her wisdom and beauty went forth over all the land, and people worshipped her, calling her La Bella Pellegrina (the beautiful pilgrim).”

Leland’s account has long been looked at with suspicion being not only because he was a folklorist, but also because female Italian witches are known to keep their practices a secret that can only be passed down according to their bloodline, why would they let a random American male in on their secrets? The practice of Italian witchcraft is very old and often referred to as stregoneria, stregheria, or La Vecchia Religione (The Old Religione) being that it was a dominant belief in Pre-Christian times on what is now known as the Italian Peninsula as well as the island of Sicily.
 
So even if Leland’s account is a fabrication, what can we know about Aradia for sure as well as her followers? Aradia is acknowledged by those that follow Dianic Witchcraft to be the daughter of Diana or even a female Christ-like messiah figure that was sent by Diana to renew her devotions. Diana was part of the Roman god pantheon and is also associated with the Etruscan goddess Uni. Aradia is also associated with Herodias (or Herodiade or Erodiade, in Italian), the mother of Salome in the biblical story, around whom a cult also developed in Medieval times.

 

Then there is the historical figure of Aradia

According to Italian witchcraft revivalist Raven Gramassia, Aradia di Toscano, who was born in Tuscany in 1313 was apparently taught witchcraft by her aunt and became known as “The Holy Witch” or “La Bella Pellegrina” (“The Beautiful Pilgrim”). While this is similar to Leland’s account, Gramassi stresses that Leland’s writings contain errors. Aradia thus went on to use her power to challenge the existing order in 14th Century Italy. This historic Aradia recruited followers, known as “The Triad Clans”, from the Lake Nemi region of central Italy that were responsible for passing on “La Vecchia Religione”.

 

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