The Gospel of the WitchesThe Gospel of the WitchesPREFACECHAPTER I How Diana Gave Birth to Aradia (Herodias)CHAPTER II The Sabbat: Treguenda or Witch-Meeting--How to Consecrate the SupperCHAPTER III How Diana Made the Stars and the RainCHAPTER IV The Charm of the Stones Consecrated to DianaCHAPTER V The Conjuration of the Lemon and PinsCHAPTER VI A Spell To Win LoveCHAPTER VII To Find or Buy Anything, or to Have Good Fortune TherebyCHAPTER VIII To Have a Good Vintage and Very Good Wine by the Aid of DianaCHAPTER IX Tana and Endamone, or Diana and EndymionCHAPTER X Madonna DianaCHAPTER XI The House of the WindCHAPTER XII Tana, The Moon-GoddessCHAPTER XIII Diana and the ChildrenCHAPTER XIV The Goblin Messengers of Diana and MercuryCHAPTER XV LavernaAPPENDIX Comments on the Foregoing TextsThe Children of Diana, or How the Fairies Were BornDiana, Queen of the Serpents, Giver of the Gift of LanguagesDiana as Giving Beauty and Restoring StrengthNoteCopyright
The Gospel of the Witches
Charles G. Leland
If the reader has ever met with the works of the learned
folk-lorist G. Pitré, or the articles contributed by "Lady Vere De
Vere" to the Italian Rivista, or that of J. H. Andrews to
Folk-Lore, 1 he will be aware that there are in Italy great numbers
of strege, fortune-tellers or witches, who divine by cards, perform
strange ceremonies in which spirits are supposed to be invoked,
make and sell amulets, and, in fact, comport themselves generally
as their reputed kind are wont to do, be they Black Voodoos in
America or sorceresses anywhere.
But the Italian strega or sorceress is in certain respects a
different character from these. In most cases she comes of a family
in which her calling or art has been practised for many
generations. I have no doubt that there are in stances in which the
ancestry remounts to mediæval, Roman, or it may be Etruscan times.
The result has naturally been the accumulation in such families of
much tradition. But in Northern Italy, as its literature indicates,
though there has been some slight gathering of fairy tales and
popular superstitions by scholars, there has never existed the
least interest as regarded the strange lore of the witches, nor any
suspicion that it embraced an incredible quantity of old Roman
minor myths and legends, such as Ovid has recorded, but of which
much escaped him and all other Latin writers. 1
This ignorance was greatly aided by the wizards themselves, in
making a profound secret of all their traditions, urged thereto by
fear of the priests. In fact, the latter all unconsciously actually
contributed immensely to the preservation of such lore, since the
charm of the forbidden is very great, and witchcraft, like the
truffle, grows best and has its raciest flavour when most deeply
hidden. However this may be, both priest and wizard are vanishing
now with incredible rapidity--it has even struck a French writer
that a Franciscan in a railway carriage is a strange anomaly--and a
few more years of newspapers and bicycles (Heaven knows what
it will be when flying-machines appear!) will probably cause
an evanishment of all.
However, they die slowly, and even yet there are old people in the
Romagna of the North who know the Etruscan names of the Twelve
Gods, and invocations to Bacchus, Jupiter, and Venus, Mercury, and
the Lares or ancestral spirits, and in the cities are women who
prepare strange amulets, over which they mutter spells, all known
in the old Roman time, and who can astonish even the learned by
their legends of Latin gods, mingled with lore which may be found
in Cato or Theocritus. With one of these I became intimately
acquainted in 1886, and have ever since employed her specially to
collect among her sisters of the hidden spell in many places all
the traditions of the olden time known to them. It is true that I
have drawn from other sources, but this woman by long practice has
perfectly learned what few understand, or just what I want, and how
to extract it from those of her kind.
Among other strange relics, she succeeded, after many years, in
obtaining the following "Gospel," which I have in her handwriting.
A full account of its nature with many details will be found in an
Appendix. I do not know definitely whether my informant derived a
part of these traditions from written sources or oral
narration, but believe it was chiefly the latter. However,
there are a few wizards who copy or preserve documents relative to
their art. I have not seen my collector since the "Gospel" was sent
to me. I hope at some future time to be better informed.
For brief explanation I may say that witch craft is known to its
votaries as la vecchia religione, or the old religion, of which
Diana is the Goddess, her daughter Aradia (or Herodias) the female
Messiah, and that this little work sets forth how the latter was
born, came down to earth, established witches and witchcraft, and
then returned to heaven. With it are given the ceremonies and
invocations or incantations to be addressed to Diana and Aradia,
the exorcism of Cain, and the spells of the holy-stone, rue, and
verbena, constituting, as the text declares, the regular
church-service, so to speak, which is to be chanted or pronounced
at the witch-meetings. There are also included the very curious
incantations or benedictions of the honey, meal, and salt, or cakes
of the witch-supper, which is curiously classical, and evidently a
relic of the Roman Mysteries.
The work could have been extended ad infinitum by adding to it the
ceremonies and incantations which actually form a part of the
Scripture of Witchcraft, but as these are nearly all--or
at least in great number--to be found in my works entitled
Etruscan-Roman Remains and Legends of Florence, I have hesitated to
compile such a volume before ascertaining whether there is a
sufficiently large number of the public who would buy such a
Since writing the foregoing I have met with and read a very clever
and entertaining work entitled Il Romanzo dei Settimani, G.
Cavagnari, 1889, in which the author, in the form of a novel,
vividly depicts the manners, habits of thought, and especially the
nature of witchcraft, and the many superstitions current among the
peasants in Lombardy. Unfortunately, notwithstanding his extensive
knowledge of the subject, it never seems to have once occurred to
the narrator that these traditions were anything but noxious
nonsense or abominably un-Christian folly. That there exists in
them marvellous relics of ancient mythology and valuable folklore,
which is the very cor cordium of history, is as uncared for by him
as it would be by a common Zoccolone or tramping Franciscan. One
would think it might have been suspected by a man who knew that a
witch really endeavoured to kill seven people as a ceremony or
rite, in order to get the secret of endless wealth, that such a
sorceress must have had a store of wondrous legends; but of all
this there is no trace, and it is very evident that nothing
could be further from his mind than that there was anything
interesting from a higher or more genial point of view in it
His book, in fine, belongs to the very great number of those
written on ghosts and superstition since the latter has fallen into
discredit, in which the authors indulge in much satirical and very
safe but cheap ridicule of what to them is merely vulgar and false.
Like Sir Charles Coldstream, they have peeped into the crater of
Vesuvius after it had ceased to "erupt," and found "nothing in it."
But there was something in it once; and the man of science, which
Sir Charles was not, still finds a great deal in the remains, and
the antiquarian a Pompeii or a Herculaneum--'tis said there are
still seven buried cities to unearth. I have done what little (it
is really very little) I could, to disinter something from the dead
volcano of Italian sorcery.
If this be the manner in which Italian witchcraft is treated by the
most intelligent writer who has depicted it, it will not be deemed
remarkable that there are few indeed who will care whether there is
a veritable Gospel of Witches, apparently of extreme antiquity,
embodying the belief in a strange counter-religion which has held
its own from pre-historic time to the present day. "Witchcraft is
all rubbish, or something worse," said old writers, "and
therefore all books about it are nothing better." I sincerely
trust, however, that these pages may fall into the hands of at
least a few who will think better of them.
I should, however, in justice to those who do care to explore dark
and bewildering paths, explain clearly that witch-lore is hidden
with most scrupulous care from all save a very few in Italy, just
as it is among the Chippeway Medas or the Black Voodoo. In the
novel to the life of I Settimani an aspirant is represented as
living with a witch and acquiring or picking up with pain, scrap by
scrap, her spells and incantations, giving years to it. So my
friend the late M. Dragomanoff told me how a certain man in
Hungary, having learned that he had collected many spells (which
were indeed subsequently published in folklore journals), stole
into the scholar's room and surreptitiously copied them, so that
the next year when Dragomanoff returned, he found the thief in full
practice as a blooming magician. Truly he had not got many
incantations, only a dozen or so, but a very little will go a great
way in the business, and I venture to say there is perhaps hardly a
single witch in Italy who knows as many as I have published, mine
having been assiduously collected from many, far and wide.
Everything of the kind which is written is, moreover, often
destroyed with scrupulous care by priests or penitents, or the vast
number who have a superstitious fear of even being in the same
house with such documents, so that I regard the rescue of the
Vangelo as something which is to say the least remarkable.Footnotesv:1 March, 1897: "Neapolitan Witchcraft."
vi:1 Thus we may imagine what the case would have been as regards
German fairy-tales if nothing had survived to a future day except
the collections of Grimm and Musæus. The world would fall into the
belief that these constituted all the works of the kind which had
ever existed, when, in fact they form only a small part of the
whole. And folklore was unknown to classic authors: there is really
no evidence in any ancient Latin writer that he gathered traditions
and the like among the vulgar, as men collect at present. They all
made books entirely out of books--there being still "a few left of
the same sort" of literati.
CHAPTER I How Diana Gave Birth to Aradia (Herodias)
"It is Diana! Lo!
She rises crescented."
"Make more bright
The Star Queen's crescent on her marriage night."
This is the Gospel (Vangelo) of the Witches:
Diana greatly loved her brother Lucifer, the god of the Sun and of
the Moon, the god of Light (Splendor), who was so proud of his
beauty, and who for his pride was driven from Paradise.
Diana had by, her brother a daughter, to whom they gave the name of
Aradia [i.e. Herodias].
In those days there were on earth many rich and many poor.
The rich made slaves of all the poor.
In those days were many slaves who were cruelly treated; in every
palace tortures, in every castle prisoners.
Many slaves escaped. They fled to the country; thus they became
thieves and evil folk. Instead of sleeping by night, they plotted
escape and robbed their masters, and then slew them. So they dwelt
in the mountains and forests as robbers and assassins, all to avoid
Diana said one day to her daughter Aradia:
E vero che tu sei uno spirito,
Ma tu set nata per essere ancora.
Mortale, e tu devi andare
Sulla terra e fare da maestra
A donne e a' uomini che avranno
Volentà di inparare la tua scuola
Che sara composta di stregonerie.
Non devi essere come la figlia di Caino,
E della razza che sono devenuti
Scellerati infami a causa dei maltrattamenti,
Come Giudei e Zingari,
Tutti ladri e briganti,
Tu non divieni...
Tu sarai (sempre) la prima strega,
La prima strega divenuta nel mondo,
Tu insegnerai l'arte di avvelenare,
Di avvelenare (tutti) i signori,
Di farli morti nei loro palazzi,
Di legare il spirito del oppressore,
E dove si trova un contadino ricco e avaro,
Insegnare alle strege tue alunne,
Come rovinare suo raccolto
Con tempesta, folgore e balen,
Con grandine e vento.
Quando un prete ti fara del male,
Del male colle sue bene di'Zioni,
Tu le farei (sempre) un doppio male
Col mio nome, col nome di Diana,
Regina delle streghe...
Quando i nobili e prete vi diranno
Dovete credere nel Padre, Figlio,
E Maria, rispondete gli sempre,
"IL vostro dio Padre e Maria
Sono tre diavoli...
Il vero dio Padre non e il vostro--
Il vostro dio--io sono venuta
Per distruggere la gente cattiva
E la distruggero....
"Voi altri poveri soffrite anche la fame,
E lavorato malo e molte volte;
Soffrite anche la prigione;
Mapero avete una anima,
Una anima più buona, e nell'altra,
Nell'altra mondo voi starete bene,
E gli altri male."...
'Tis true indeed that thou a spirit art,
But thou wert born but to become again
A mortal; thou must go to earth below
To be a teacher unto women and men
Who fain would study witchcraft in thy school
Yet like Cain's daughter thou shalt never be,
Nor like the race who have become at last
Wicked and infamous from suffering,
As are the Jews and wandering Zingari,
Who are all thieves and knaves; like unto them
Ye shall not be....
And thou shalt be the first of witches known;
And thou shalt be the first of all i' the world;
And thou shalt teach the art of poisoning,
Of poisoning those who are great lords of all;
Yea, thou shalt make them die in their palaces;
And thou shalt bind the oppressor's soul (with power); 1
And when ye find a peasant who is rich,
Then ye shall teach the witch, your pupil, how
To ruin all his crops with tempests dire,
With lightning and with thunder (terrible),
And the hall and wind....
And when a priest shall do you injury
By his benedictions, ye shall do to him
Double the harm, and do it in the name
Of me, Diana, Queen of witches all!
And when the priests or the nobility
Shall say to you that you should put your faith
In the Father, Son, and Mary, then reply:
"Your God, the Father, and Maria are
"For the true God the Father is not yours;
For I have come to sweep away the bad,
The men of evil, all will I destroy!
"Ye who are poor suffer with hunger keen,
And toll in wretchedness, and suffer too
Full oft imprisonment; yet with it all
Ye have a soul, and for your sufferings
Ye shall be happy in the other world,
But ill the fate of all who do ye wrong!"
Now when Aradia had been taught, taught to work all witchcraft, how
to destroy the evil race (of oppressors) she (imparted it to her
pupils) and said unto them:
Quando io saro partita da questo mondo,
Qualunque cosa che avrete bisogna,
Una volta al mese quando la luna
Dovete venire in luogo deserto,
In una selva tutte insieme,
E adorare lo spirito potente
Di mia madre Diana, e chi vorra
Imparare la stregonerie,
Che non la sopra,
Mia madre le insegnera,
Sarete liberi della schiavitù!
E cosi diverrete tutti liberi!
Pero uomini e donne
Sarete tutti nudi, per fino.
Che non sara morto l'ultimo
Degli oppressori e morto,
Farete il giuoco della moccola
Di Benevento, e farete poi
Una cena cosi:
When I shall have departed from this world,
Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full,
Ye shall assemble in some desert place,
Or in a forest all together join
To adore the potent spirit of your queen,
My mother, great Diana. She who fain
Would learn all sorcery yet has not won
Its deepest secrets, them my mother will
Teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown.
And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything;
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also: this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead;
And ye shall make the game of Benevento,