Aradia: Gospel of the Witches Retold
Patricia Della-Piana, Lulu 2011
When Charles Godfrey Leland published Aradia, or The Gospel of the Witches at the end of the nineteenth century, he believed he was preserving what remained of an ancient but dying tradition. The bulk of the document came from a stack of handwritten material from his conversations with a Florentine fortune-teller and strega named Maddalena (Margherita Taluti). At the time the book received almost no attention and was more or less forgotten. Fast forward fifty years, and Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente read Aradia and incorporated some of the contents into their new religion, Wicca, thereby making it popular and widely-read for the first time.
Since then there have been many editions and reprints of this classic work. As Leland hoped, it remains a significant and singular document since it contains what may be the only collection of the rituals and rites of hereditary witches in Italy. Leland recognized how much ancient material was woven into Aradia, although this content has been controversial ever since. Speculation centers on the authenticity of the Gospel; the argument is that Maddalena “made the whole thing up” or that Leland forged the documentation in some fashion. Over the years, a number of authors have returned to Aradia and attempted to clarify or expand on the material. Many of them (most?) were not Italian, or even fluent in that language, making their translation or analysis immediately suspect.
Finally, with this invaluable new edition of Aradia we have translation that sidesteps the question “Is the material factual?” in favor of cleaning up the inaccuracies in the text (likely from translation errors) and providing commentary that clarifies what might be meant in terms of the authors’ personal knowledge of Italian culture and superstitions, drawing the reader deeper into understanding the hereditary practices.
Ms. Della-Piana has produced a thorough, exhaustively-annotated, scholarly work. It remains one of the most important single texts in the body of work in the swift-growing Neo-Pagan movement, and a must-read for every aspiring Witch. Highly recommended.