It took me years of searching to find a compendium of information on a witchcraft that made sense to me, and that was in the blog posts of Sarah Anne Lawless, the Witch of Forest Grove. I owe much to her. She published a recommended reading list that opened my mind and soul, and I’m not even through it yet.
The first book on the list is the mysterious and controversial little Gospel of the Witches by Charles Leland. Whether it was truly the grimoire of an ancient hereditary tradition given to Leland by the Tuscan witch Maddalena or a pure work of the author’s imagination is a question debated to this day, more than a hundred years after its publication. The truth is – as usual – probably somewhere in between the two extremes.
In any case, it is a paean to the Moon, known to the Romans and beyond as the Goddess Diana, she of the swift foot and the hunt, the night and the forest. Sister to Lucifer, mother to Aradia, and Queen of the Witches, Diana is adored, honored, invoked, and threatened in these pages.
The little threats (see below) are some of my favorite parts of the book. There is a wicked splinter in my heart that burns with delight when I get to that part of the spell or ritual, those one or two little lines where the witch demands the Goddess listen to her – or else.
My years as a Christian taught me to approach the One God directly – not through intermediaries such as the deities, or as I see them, the spirits of His Creation – and always as a supplicant, always humble, meek, mild, and entreating. What this does over time is not so much humble you as make you bitter, deeply regretful of your loss of what I call personal power – that awareness and experience of your own life force, the deep and vibrant wellspring of universal knowledge and primal strength that for most of us remains buried in your subconscious.
This is one of the many things that make more sense to me in my evolving personal cosmology – approaching the Great Creator through, for example, Diana as the Moon. I have always felt compelled to do this without knowing why.
For years I secretly harbored a suspicion that the Big Daddy God is a Creator, detached from the affairs of men. This is a no-no for Christians – one of my many pet no-no’s. We are supposed to approach God directly or through one of His other persons – the Son or the Holy Spirit. I have always felt very close to the Son, but not so much to the Father or the Holy Spirit. I now see the Holy Spirit more clearly by a different name, but that is the subject of another post.
To get back to the matter at hand – the Gospel of the Witches- I suggest if you are interested in Traditional Witchcraft, shamanism, or folk magic, you read this book and its enlightening footnotes.
Here are some of my favorite passages, some of them written by Leland and some coming to him ostensibly through Maddalena.
Witchcraft, like the truffle, grows best and has its raciest flavour when most deeply hidden. C.L.
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
And it came to pass that Diana, after her daughter had accomplished her mission or spent her time on earth among the living (mortals), recalled her, and gave her the power that when she had been invoked… having done some good deed… she gave her the power to gratify those who had conjured her by granting her or him success in love:
To bless or curse with power friends or enemies [to do good or evil].
To converse with spirits.
To find hidden treasures in ancient ruins.
To conjure the spirits of priests who died leaving treasures.
To understand the voice of the wind.
To change water into wine.
To divine with cards.
To know the secrets of the hand (palmistry).
To cure diseases.
To make those who are ugly beautiful.
To tame wild beasts.
Whatever thing should be asked from the spirit of Aradia, that should be granted unto those who merited her favour.
And thus must they invoke her:
The Invocation to Aradia.
Aradia! my Aradia!
Thou who art daughter unto him who was
Most evil of all spirits, who of old
Once reigned in hell when driven away from heaven,
Who by his sister did thy sire become,
But as thy mother did repent her fault,
And wished to mate thee to a spirit who
Should be benevolent,
And not malevolent!
Aradia, Aradia! I implore
And by the love which I too feel for thee!
I pray thee grant the grace which I require!
And if this grace be granted, may there be
The hiss of a serpent,
The light of a firefly,
The sound of a frog!
But if you do refuse this favour, then
May you in future know no peace not- joy,
And be obliged to seek me from afar,
Until you come to grant me my desire,
In haste, and then thou may’st return again
Unto thy destiny. Therewith, Amen!
I have found
A holy-stone upon the ground.
O Fate! I thank thee for the happy find,
Also the spirit who upon this road
Hath given it to me;
And may it prove to be for my true good
And my good fortune!
I rise in the morning by the earliest dawn,
And I go forth to walk through (pleasant) vales,
All in the mountains or the meadows fair,
Seeking for luck while onward still I roam,
Seeking for rue and vervain scented sweet,
Because they bring good fortune unto all.
I keep them safely guarded in my bosom,
That none may know it–’tis a secret thing,
And sacred too, and thus I speak the spell:
“O vervain! ever be a benefit,
And may thy blessing be upon the witch
Or on the fairy who did give thee to me!”
It was Diana who did come to me,
All in the night in a dream, and said to me:
“If thou would’st keep all evil folk afar,
Then ever keep the vervain and the rue
Safely beside thee!”
Great Diana! thou
Who art the queen of heaven and of earth,
And of the infernal lands–yea, thou who art
Protectress of all men unfortunate,
Of thieves and murderers, and of women too
Who lead an evil life, and yet hast known
That their nature was not evil, thou, Diana,
Hast still conferred on them some joy in life. 1
So conjure thee that thou shalt have no peace
Or happiness, for thou shalt ever be
In suffering until thou grantest that
Which I require in strictest faith from thee!