Thursday, June 21, 2007
I recently learned an interesting “fact” in an effort to research the religion of Stregheria. What I learned was that, in a sense, if I were to proceed in an earlier stated desire to use the goddess Aradia in some form of artistic format, I may not be the first to have ever done so. In fact, I may have been beaten by more than a century by a gentleman by the name of Oscar Wilde, who might well have used the goddess in a play. Others later followed suit, as she may have, albeit unknowingly, been the subject of at least two operas, one by the great Richard Strauss.
So, who is the goddess Aradia? Well, according to the established and for the most part largely hereditary triads, or covens, of followers of Stregheria, she was the daughter of the Roman goddess Diana, and the sun god Lucifer. Diana had become infatuated with her handsome yet standoffish brother, and seduced him by changing herself into the likeness of the gods favorite pet cat, then climbing into his bed as he was falling asleep. The union was consummated, and Aradia was the resultant offspring.
Diana later sent Aradia to the poor peasant women of Italy, who were being oppressed by the aristocratic landowners of the time, which was said to be sometime in the fourteenth century. She taught them witchcraft. Specifically, she taught them the arts of poisoning. She taught them other magical arts as well, including the ability to fly, which may have been a reference to a kind of astral projection.
Some hold that there was actually a woman named Aradia, who lived in the fourteenth century, and who actually started such a movement, though it was relatively small and unknown. As the decades advanced, however, though rumors of it's existence became more widely spread, even beyond Italy, it remained no less mysterious.
Most people held that it actually did not exist, that it was in fact a hysterical delusion. The proponents of this latter view were the Roman Catholic Church, which is very interesting. This suggests to me that this obscure little cult actually did exist, though it was unknown as to how widespread it was, or who were the participants. It is easy to infer from this that the Church wished to portray them as a delusion precisely to restrain interest in and affiliation with them.
Then came another development. It turns out that Aradia may not have been a thirteenth century woman at all, but a deified version of a far earlier historical female, in fact a somewhat very well known one.
Before long, the goddess Aradia became equated, at least at first glance, with the New Testament villainess Herodias. Indeed, the two names are entymologically identical. Herodias of course was the wife of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galillee during the time of Christ. The tetrarchs wife had instigated the execution of John The Baptist by convincing her daughter, Salome, to ask for the head of the Baptist as a reward for pleasing the tetrarch with the performance of a dance at his birthday banquet.
Only it seems that during the Middle Ages, Salome was mistakenly believed to also be named Herodias, due to her lack of being named in the New Testament. Because of this, it was merely assumed the girl, all of thirteen at the time of the incident, had the same name as her mother.
It later became more widely known, through the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, that the girls name was actually Salome. She went on to have an interesting history. She became married to a number of cousins and uncles, notably to Philip the Tetrarch, long mistakenly believed to have been the first husband of Herodias, thus Salome’s own father. Her true father, as it turns out, was named Herod, and he was a grandson of a former High Priest.
She later married a certain Herod, King of Chalcis, and then finally, as the wife of Tigranes IV, she became the Queen of Lesser Armenia. The reign of she and her husband in this oft disputed territory, a frequent bone of contention between the Roman and Parthian Empires, culminated after a mere six months in the execution of both of them. Following a rebellion and their consequent overthrow, they were, ironically enough in her case, executed by way of beheading.
As a side note, it is interesting that the New Testament puts the blame for the Baptists execution squarely on her and her mother, while Herod, though portrayed as a corrupt weakling, is nevertheless seen as having regret over the incident. His reluctance is portrayed as the reason for the artifice of mother and daughter to begin with. As the Gospel account was written right along the time of her execution in Lesser Armenia, this could possibly have been an intentional morality tale on the part of the New Testament writers.
Josephus for his part seems to cast the blame squarely on the shoulders of Antipas, who according to him wanted to kill the prophet, but just needed a legitimate pretext for doing so.
Whatever the case, according to this theory, Salome (not her mother) was actually worshipped by the earliest of the Stregha as an incarnation of the goddess Diana.
Nevertheless, there are serious academic doubts as to how old Stregheria actually is. When Charles Godfrey Leland wrote “The Gospel of Aradia” around the turn of the twentieth century, he remarked that a hereditary descendant of one of the old triads had given the volume to him. This has been very much in dispute, and more than likely his claims are wild exaggerations. The truth of the matter seems to be somewhere between-
A. He based his writings on old oral traditions related him by a triad member.
B. He made the shit up out of whole cloth.
I tend to lean my beliefs somewhere closer toward choice A, though I certainly accede it not only to be possible, but indeed likely that a good lot of it was his own interjections, interpretations, and even some of his own whimsy.
At the same time, the reluctance of the Catholic Church to lend any credence to the veracity of the cult’s existence gives me good reason to conclude-something was going on during this period of time that gave them some cause for alarm. After all, this was a period of time when the Church looked for any excuse to harass, torture, imprison, or execute any sect or religious group or philosophy that had even the slightest inclinations that could be portrayed as heretical.
There was almost definitely a “there” there. The Church feared its existence but since they had no way of knowing who they were, what they were, or even where they were, they fought them the best way they could. They insisted even the belief in their existence amounted to mass hysteria and delusion.
This might have been the reason for the identification of the goddess Aradia with the mortal teenage girl Salome. This might have been a way of portraying the cult as an evil one. The fact that they worshiped Lucifer-actually an ancient Greek god, the son of Zeus and Eos (goddess of the dawn) did not hurt them in their efforts to at the same time insinuate them to be a potentially malignant force.
In fact, a perusal of the Gospel of Aradia seems to indicate that the Stregha worshiped Lucifer as, in fact, the fallen god from the heavens, and while doing so they seem to equate Zeus,or Jupiter, with the New Testament Yahweh, in a sense.
Nevertheless, it is easy to see how this too could have come about. It is very likely that the word Lucifer became synonymous with the Christian Satan due to the artifice of translation of the scriptures from the original Hebrew to Greek. The Lucifer mentioned in the Old Testament might actually have been not in reference to a devil or a pagan god, but to some fallen mortal, perhaps the Hebrew King Saul, or some similar personage who “fell” or was “cast out” of God’s favor due to overweening pride.
The original Greek Lucifer, in fact, seems to have been a very minor god at best whose worship was extremely limited. He may have been actually all but unknown outside of a very small region.
Whatever the case, the period of time when the Stregha started, assuming the traditions are correct, would have been prior to the time of the Renaissance, and the followers would have been a very small group of peasant women, and a few men, and their families. They could not be expected to understand the nuance that existed in the different meanings of the word Lucifer, to say nothing of the difference between a very obscure and all but forgotten pagan god, and the being that we have come to know as the purest manifestation of evil and sin.
For the most part, it must be stressed, the vast majority of the gods and goddesses worshiped by the Stregha are the same gods to be found in both the ancient Roman and Etruscan pantheons.
On the other hand, Cain, the ancient murderer, plays a role in their cult as well, though I am not sure how. Nevertheless, remember-perhaps the most important art taught the oppressed peasant women of Italy by the goddess Aradia was the art of poisoning.
Well, I do not intend to go out and poison anybody tonight, nor do I intend to chop off any heads. But seeing as how as I write these words we are two and a half hours into the Summer Solstice,I might just visualize the goddess Aradia.
And I might well put on some music and dance.