Raven Grimassi
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HERODIAS IN WITCHCRAFT

The appearance of Herodias, a biblical figure, in connection with a goddess of Witchcraft is an intentional displacement of deity figures.  A simple examination of the data reveals that the Church and its agents contrived to equate the pagan goddess with Herodias in an attempt to introduce a diabolical element into the survival of goddess veneration.

Most modern scholars claim that the name Aradia comes from the Italian Erodiade, which equates with Herodias of the New Testament.  They also equate Diana with Herodias in Witch trial records.  However,  scholar Carlo Ginzburg sheds some light on this subject in his book Ecstasies.  In Ecstasies, Ginzburg points out that the old hypothesis equating Diana and Herodias stems from a misunderstanding/misreading of the original reference to the goddess  “Hera Diana,” which is rendered Herodiana, and then “normalized” to read Herodias (page 104).   So, what should have been rendered Heradiana, appears instead as Herodiana, which is curiously close to the word Herodian. The latter indicates an association with King Herod of the Bible, and the tale of Herodias who was instrumental in the beheading of John the Baptist.   Here we begin to see a distortion take place, which on the surface seems to be simply a mistake in equating similar word names.  But was this an honest mistake?

Ginzburg points out (page 90) that Burchard, Bishop of Worms, added "Herodias" to the name of Diana when referring to an earlier canon about Diana and her night followers).   Therefore "Herodias" as not present in the original concept.  Ginzburg also mentions that the Council of Truer in 1310 “set Herodiana along side Diana” and here we see another intentional distortion of the original theme.   Ginzburg points out that in 1390 Friar Beltramino “inserted” a reference to Herodias that did not appear in the trial records concerning a woman named “Sibillia”.  Ginzburg states that the women on trial “only speak of ‘Madona Horiente’; her identification with Diana had probably been suggested to Sibillia by the first inquisitor…”

According to Ginzbug we find that Vincent of Beauvais added statements to the original Canon Episcopi, and that Dominican preacher Johannes Herolt added the name Unholde. Later editions of his Serones added Fraw Berthe and Fraw Helt, displacing Unholde. This appears to be evidence of deliberate alterations, which further confuses the allegations that attempt to equate Diana with other figures.
 

Ginzburg mentions the existence of a Medieval sect of peasants who worship Hera in the Palatinato (consisting of about 400 members). They believed that Hera flies through the night during the time of Epifania, bringing abundance to her followers (Storia Notturna. Una decifrazione del sabba, Torino 1989. page 81).  Ginzburg notes that Hera is tied to Diana, which creates a connection to Herodiana as a nocturnal goddess. He further notes that the name Herodiana eventually becomes transformed into Erodiade. This is supported by a 12th century reference attributed to Ugo da San Vittore, (an Italian abbot) who writes of women who believe they go out at night riding on the backs of animals with "Erodiade," whom he conflates with Diana and Minerva (Bonomo, Giuseppe. Caccia alle Streghe. Palermo: Palumbo, 1959).  Some commentators believe that the name Aradia may have evolved from the name Erodiade.

It is interesting to note that the ancient custom among the Romans was to create composite names for various deities. Some examples include Artemis-Hekate (AESCH. Hiket. 667-7) and Juno-Lucina (Catullus’ Hymn to Diana). In the Hymn to Diana, Catallus writes: “Diana whose name is Juno-Lucina, who hears the prayers of birthing women”. As we know, Juno is the Roman name for the goddess Hera. Here we can easily see a connection between Diana and Hera, a possible foundation for the name Hera-Diana. This root may help explain the confusion between Hera-Diana and Herodias (noting Ginzburg’s reference to Herodiana rendered as Herodias).

We know from many historical records that the worship or veneration of Diana continued well into the Christian era.  This concerned the Church and led it to address the problem head on.  One of the most popular means was through a text known as the Canon Episcopi, which reads:

 “One mustn’t be silent about certain women who become followers of Satan (I Tim. 5,15), seduced by the fantastic illusion of the demons, and insist that they ride at night on certain beasts together with Diana, goddess of the pagans, and a great multitude of women; that they cover great distances in the silence of the deepest night; that they obey the orders of the goddess as though she were their mistress; that on particular nights they are called to wait on her.” - Ecstasies, page 90

In the Witch Hunter's manual known as the Malleus Maleficarum we read:

In truth, if anyone cares to read the words of the Canon, there are four points which must particularly strike him. And the first point is this: It is absolutely incumbent upon all who have the cure of souls, to teach their flocks that there is one, only, true God, and that to none other in Heaven or earth may worship by given. The second point is this, that although these women imagine they are riding (as they think and say) with Diana or with Herodias, in truth they are riding with the devil, who calls himself by some such heathen name and throws a glamour before their eyes. And the third point is this, that the act of riding abroad may be merely illusory, since the devil has extraordinary power over the minds of those who have given themselves up to him, so that what they do in pure imagination, they believe they have actually and really done in the body. And the fourth point is this: Witches have made a compact to obey the devil in all things, wherefore that the words of the Canon should be extended to include and comprise every act of witchcraft is absurd, since witches do much more than these women, and witches actually are of a very different kind.”

“As regards those who hold the other two errors, those, that is to say, who do not deny that there are demons and that demons possess a natural power, but who differ among themselves concerning the possible effects of magic and the possible operations of witches: the one school holding that a witch can truly bring about certain effects, yet these effects are not real but phantastical, the other school allowing that some real harm does befall the person or persons injured, but that when a witch imagines this damage is the effect of her arts she is grossly deceived. This error seems to be based upon two passages from the Canons where certain women are condemned who falsely imagine that during the night they ride abroad with Diana or Herodias. This may read in the Canon. Yet because such things often happen by illusion are merely in the imagination, those who suppose that all the effects of witchcraft are mere illusion and imagination are very greatly deceived.”

What we see here is an attempt to dismiss the reality and validity of Diana worship by introducing the idea of deception.  The Church wishes people to regard the goddess Diana as an illusion created by the Devil.  Through this the Church hoped to equate Dianic worship with diabolism.  Over the course of time the Church succeeds in this venture, and ultimately we find this distortion well-rooted in the "Gospel of the Witches" by Charles Godfrey Leland.  Here we find the name Herodias  attached to Diana and Aradia.

The name "Aradia" can be broken down into two elements of two Latin based words: arabilis (in Italian arabile) and dea (Ara-dea/Ara-dia).  Arabilis/Arabile refers to fertile earth (specifically land that is tillable) and the word dea indicates a goddess. Here the name Aradia can be rendered to mean the goddess of tillable earth (fertile land).  In this we see her as the daughter of Diana (the mother in the heavens and the daughter below, which is the earth).

The name Aradia can also be related to the Latin word ara, which indicates an altar (typically set at the hearth). Here she would be a goddess associated with the altar of home and family (the daughter). The etymology of Diana's name is formed from the Latin dius and dium, which translate as "the luminous sky" (and so the name Diana means "the luminous One" of the sky). When applied to the Aradia theme, we can see the light of Diana's moon reflected in her daughter as the hearth fire.

It is unfortunate that so much distortion was applied to Diana and her connection to ancient Witchcraft.   This makes it difficult to unravel things enough so that we can clearly discern the pagan elements and distinguish them from the Christian ones.  We must therefore rely upon other sources in order to arrive at any reasonable conclusions.  For further information see my articles: The Society of Diana, and A Historical and Literary View of Italian Witchcraft (posted on stregheria.com)