At the tail-wagging end of the 19th century, American folklorist Charles Leland received a stack of handwritten material from a Florentine fortune-teller and strega named Maddalena (Margherita Taluti). He translated and annotated her writings, and it was published in 1899 as Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. The book received little attention and only a couple of reviews, and was more or less forgotten.

Fifty years and two world wars later, this sleepy little book woke up when Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente read it and borrowed some of its contents for their Wiccan rites. Since then there have been numerous editions and reprints of this classic work. It’s a significant and singular document since it contains a collection of the Moon-centered rituals and rites of hereditary witches in Italy. Leland recognized how much very ancient material was woven into these pieces, although this content has been subject to discussion and controversy since the book rose to popularity. Regardless, it is 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.

Although there are admittedly some bits that may be off-putting at first glance, the raw intensity and sincerity of the chants, incantations and conjurations is visceral. This edition includes both the original Italian and English translations of these goddess-workings, giving the reader the opportunity to experience the beautifully melodious flavor of the original. Those readers capable of giving voice to the Italian verse will be especially blessed.

In addition to the incantations, Leland’s book includes a variety of folk goddess tales about Diana and Aradia and a selection of spells. This edition features an introduction by Professor Robert Matheisen, and concludes with thirteen (nice number!) short essays about the book by notable contemporary stregae and neo-pagans. These offer thoughts to add to one’s own on the contents.

Every Wiccan and neo-pagan and moon-goddess lover should certainly read Aradia at some point along their paths, and there are lovely parts that can be incorporated into Esbats. This is a particularly fine edition, as Leland’s process and the book’s journey through time are outlined in the introduction. It’s a quick read, but begs careful re-reading over the years. The clear fonts and meticulous editing live up to the gorgeous book cover and as an extra delight there are whimsical antique engravings and endpieces interspersed through the text.

“Luna mia, bella Luna! Piu di una altra Stella” (My Moon, beautiful Moon! Fairer far than any star). This edition of Aradia gets a full moon and a sky full of shining stars from this reviewer.

Molto bravo!

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Author: Charles Godfrey Leland
The Witches Almanac, Ltd., 2010
pp. 175, $16.95

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