Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches/Chapter XI

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Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches by Charles Godfrey Leland
CHAPTER XI
Published by David Nutt, London, 1899.

The House of the Wind[edit]

"List to the whoop and whistle of the winds,
Their hollow drone as they come roaring on,
For strength hath many a voice, and when aroused
The flying tempest calls with awful joy
And echoes as it strikes the mountain-side,
Then crashes in the forest. Hear the cry!
Surely a god hath set his lions loose
And laughs to hear them as they rage afar."

--C. G. Leland.

The following story does not belong to the Gospel of the Witches, but I add it as it confirms the fact that the worship of Diana existed for a long time contemporary with Christianity. Its full title in the original MS., which was written out by Maddalena, after hearing it from a man who was native of Volterra, is La Pellegrina delta Casa al Vento -- "The Female Pilgrim of the House of the Wind." It may be added that, as the tale declares, the house in question is still standing.

There is a peasant's house at the beginning of the hill or ascent leading to Volterra, and it is called the House of the Wind. Near it there once stood a small place, wherein dwelt a married couple, who had but one child, a daughter, whom they adored. Truly if the child had but a headache, they each had a worse attack from fear.

Little by little the girl grew older, and all the thought of the mother, who was very devout, was that she should become a nun. But the girl did not like this, and declared that she hoped to be married like others. And when looking from her window one day, she saw and heard the birds singing in the vines and among the trees all so merrily, she said to her mother that she hoped some day to have a family of little birds of her own, singing round her in a cheerful nest. At which the mother was so angry that she gave her daughter a cuff. And the young lady wept, but replied with spirit, that if beaten or treated in any such manner, that she would certainly soon find some way to escape and get married, for she had no idea of being made a nun of against her will.

At hearing this the mother was seriously frightened, for she knew the spirit of her child, and was afraid lest the girl already had a lover, and would make a great scandal over the blow; and turning it all over, she thought of an elderly lady of good family, but much reduced, who was famous for her intelligence, learning, and power of persuasion, and she thought, "This will be just the person to induce my daughter to become pious, and fill her head with devotion and make a nun of her." So she sent for this clever person, who was at once appointed the governess and constant attendant of the young lady, who, instead of quarrelling with her guardian, became devoted to her.

However, everything this world does not go exactly as we would have it, and no one knows what fish or crab may hide under a rock in a river. For it so happened that the governess was not a Catholic at all, as will presently appear, and did not vex her pupil with any threats of a nun's life, nor even with an approval of it.

It came to pass that the young lady, who was in the habit of lying awake on moonlight nights to hear the nightingales sing, thought she heard her governess in the next room, of which the door was open, rise and go forth on the great balcony. The next night the same thing took place, and rising very softly and unseen, she beheld the lady praying, or at least kneeling in the moonlight, which seemed to her to be very singular conduct, the more so because the lady kneeling uttered words which the younger could not understand, and which certainly formed no part of the Church service.

And being much exercised over the strange occurrence, she at last, with timid excuses, told her governess what she had seen. Then the latter, after a little reflection, first binding her to a secrecy of life and death, for, as she declared, it was a matter of great peril, spoke a follows:

"I, like thee, was instructed when young by priests to worship an invisible god. But an old woman in whom I had great confidence once said to me, 'Why worship a deity whom you cannot see, when there is the Moon in all her splendour visible? Worship her. Invoke Diana, the goddess of the Moon, and she will grant your prayers.' This shalt thou do, obeying the Vangelo, the Gospel of (the Witches and of) Diana, who is Queen of the Fairies and of the Moon."

Now the young lady being persuaded, was converted to the worship of Diana and the Moon, and having prayed with all her heart for a lover (having learned the conjuration to the goddess)[1], was soon rewarded by the attention and devotion of a brave and wealthy cavalier, who was indeed as admirable a suitor as any one could desire. But the mother, who was far more bent on gratifying vindictiveness and cruel vanity than on her daughter's happiness, was infuriated at this, and when the gentleman came to her, she bade him begone, for her daughter was vowed to become a nun, and a nun she should be or die.

Then the young lady was shut up in a cell in a tower, without even the company of her governess, and put to strong and hard pain, being made to sleep on the stone floor, and would have died of hunger had her mother had her way.

Then in this dire need she prayed to Diana to set her free; when lo! she found the prison door unfastened, and easily escaped. Then having obtained a pilgrim's dress, she travelled 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. At last her mother, hearing of her, was in a greater rage than ever, and, in fine, after much trouble, succeeded in having her again arrested and cast into prison. And then in evil temper indeed she asked her whether she would become a nun; to which she replied that it was not possible, because she had left the Catholic Church and become a worshipper of Diana and of the Moon.

And the end of it was that the mother, regarding her daughter as lost, gave her up to the priests to be put to torture and death, as they did all who would not agree with them or who left their religion.

But the people were not well pleased with this, be cause. they adored her beauty and goodness, and there were few who had not enjoyed her charity.

But by the aid of her lover she obtained, as a last grace, that on the night before she was to be tortured and executed she might, with a guard, go forth into the garden of the palace and pray.

This she did, and standing by the door of the house, which is still there, prayed in the light of the full moon to Diana, that she might be delivered from the dire persecution to which she had been subjected, since even her own parents had willingly given her over to an awful death.

Now her parents and the priests, and all who sought her death, were in the palace watching lest she should escape.

When lo! in answer to her prayer there came a terrible tempest and overwhelming wind, a storm such as man had never seen before, which overthrew and swept away the palace with all who were in it; there was not one stone left upon another, nor one soul alive of all who were there. The gods had replied to the prayer.

The young lady escaped happily with her lover, wedded him, and the house of the peasant where the lady stood is still called La Casa al Vento, or the House of the Wind.

This is very accurately the story as I received it, but I freely admit that I have very much condensed the language of the original text, which consists of twenty pages, and which, as regards needless padding, indicates a capacity on the part of the narrator to write an average modern fashionable novel, even a second-rate French one, which is saying a great deal. It is true that there are in it no detailed descriptions of scenery, skies, trees, or clouds--and a great deal might be made of Volterra in that way--but it is prolonged in a manner which shows a gift for it. However, the narrative itself is strangely original and vigorous, for it is such a relic of pure classic heathenism, and such a survival of faith in the old mythology, as all the reflected second-hand Hellenism of the Æsthetes cannot equal. That a real worship of or belief in classic divinities should have survived to the present day in the very land of Papacy itself, is a much more curious fact than if a living mammoth had been discovered in some out of the way corner of the earth, because the former is a human phenomenon. I foresee that the day will come, and that perhaps not so very far distant, when the world of scholars will be amazed to consider to what a late period an immense body of antique tradition survived in Northern Italy, and how indifferent the learned were regarding it; there having been in very truth only one man, and he a foreigner, who earnestly occupied himself with collecting and preserving it.

It is very probably that there were as many touching episodes among the heathen martyrs who were forced to give up their beloved deities, such as Diana, Venus, the Graces, and others, who were worshipped for beauty, as there were even among the Christians who were thrown to the lions. For the heathen loved their gods with a human personal sympathy, without mysticism or fear, as if they had been blood-relations; and there were many among them who really believed that such was the case when some damsel who had made a faux pas got out of it by attributing it all to some god, faun, or satyr; which is very touching. There is a great deal to be said for as well as against the idolaters or worshippers of dolls, as I heard a small girl define them.

Footntote to Chapter Eleven[edit]

  1. ^  This incantation is given in the chapter entitled "A Spell to Win Love."