Raven Grimassi
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Aradia

Many Italian witches believe in the historical existence of a woman named Aradia, who brought about a revival of Italian Witchcraft. She is often called the Holy Strega or The Beautiful Pilgrim. In the oral traditions surrounding Aradia, residing in the Old Religion of Italy, it is said that she lived and taught during the later half of the 14th century. The Italian Inquisitor Bernardo Rategno documented in his Tractatus de Strigibus (written in 1508 AD.) that a "rapid expansion" of the "witches sect" had begun 150 years prior to his Time. Rategno studied many transcripts from the trials of the Inquisition concerning Witchcraft.

Tracing back over the years, he pin- pointed the beginnings of the witch trials, and noted their sharp increase over a period of years. Following a thorough study of these records (kept in the Archives of the Inquisition at Como, Italy) Rategno fixed the time somewhere in the mid to late 14th century. If Aradia had been born in 1313, as the legends claim, this would certainly have made her old enough to have taught and influenced others, and for groups to have formed that carried on her teachings. In 1890, author and folklorist Charles Leland published a book on Italian Witchcraft titled Aradia; Gospel of the Witches.

Leland's account of Aradia includes a legend about the "beautiful Pilgrim" preserved among Tuscan peasants for generations. In part this legend says: "Then having obtained a pilgrim's dress, she traveled 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 (the beautiful pilgrim)." In 1962, T.C. Lethbridge (former Director for Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology) published a book called Witches, which does refer to Aradia in several chapters

In Chapter 2, Lethbridge writes: "We can then, I think, assume that Leland's Vangelo and Dr. Murray's trial evidence are more or less contemporary and that it is reasonable to use the two together to form a picture of the witch cult at about A.D.1400... Aradia was sent to earth to teach this art to Mankind. That is, she was, in the opinion of her devotees, a personage, known in Hindu Religion as an Avatar, who taught them how to harness magic power. Aradia, at some far-off time, may have been as much an historical person as Christ, Krishna or Buddha..." It is also interesting to note that Ecstascies - Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath, by Carlo Ginzburg, contains a passage that may be a historical reference to Aradia. On page 189 he speaks of a Pagan Sect known as the "Calusari" who, during the Middle Ages (as late as the 16th and 17th Centuries), worshipped a Mythical Empress who they sometimes called "Arada" or "Irodeasa."

The Calusari also used the term "mistress of the fairies" for her, just as the followers of Aradia called Diana the Queen of the Fairies. Could this sect have still been practicing a form of worship initiated by Aradia over 100 years prior? According to the original legend of Aradia, she left Italy at some point in her Quest and traveled out of the country. Serbia, the home of the Calusari, lies a short distance across the Adriatic from Central Italy, and travel by ship was not uncommon in that Era. When Aradia left Italy she would not have traveled west to France because the Papacy was still established in France at the time, and Aradia was still being hunted by the Church. It would have been too dangerous to have gone to northern Europe because witches were being burned or hanged in that Region (Italy did not begin the burning of witches until after the time of Aradia). So in fact an eastern exodus would have been the only logical action which Aradia could have taken. At the very least, there is a striking coincidence between Aradia's witches and the Calusari of Arada.

In the late 12th century, Joachim de Flora (also called Joachim de Fiore) the Abbot of Corazzo wrote a prophetic text on the Age of Reason. His writings had a major influence on religious thought throughout the remainder of the Middle Ages. He passed his writings on to the Holy See in 1200 for approval. Concerning the Age of Reason to come, Joachim wrote:

"The Old testament period was under the direct influence of God the Father. With the advent of Christ came the age of God the Son. The time was now ripe for the reign of God the Holy Ghost. A new era was being introduced, a culmination; in the new day man would not have to rely on faith for everything would be founded on knowledge and reason."

The year 1300 was declared a Jubilee Year by Boniface VIII. It was also the year that Dante had his "vision: of Inferno Panderers." A sect known as the Guglielmites believed that a certain woman named Guglielma of Milan was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit and wished to establish a church with a female pope and female cardinals. Millennialism has frequently provided a basis for social progress regarding women. Women have historically taken very active and creative roles in millennial groups, even in societies where their voices would normally have been repressed such as that of Guglielma of Milan.

Manfreda Visconti was elected by the Guglielmites to be their papess. She was burnt at the stake in 1300. The year 1300 was to usher in a new era of female popes with Manfreda officiating a mass at Ste. Maria Maggiore. Guglielma was in reality, Princess Blazena Vilemina, daughter of the King of Bohemia. She was born in 1210 and appeared in Milan around 1260 and reportedly died on August 24, 1281. She appeared in Milan dressed as a "common-woman." Because of her noble background, she attracted followers from both the Visconti family as well as the Torriani family, noble rivals of the time, and was seen as a "peacemaker" between the families. There is some conjecture that she might have been influenced by the sisters of the "Free Spirit", a very prominent heretical group of the time, that preached the teachings of Joachim.

Guglielma's chief disciple, a man by the name of Andrea Saramita, said that he heard her make claims to "divinity." He was a rather well-off-layman, well versed in the teachings of Joachim about the Age of the Spirit. He wrote most of the documents and was the chief theologist of the sect.

Maifreda da Pirovano, cousin of Matteo Visconti, was the chief of the Guglielmite sect. Maifreda was actually granted the title of pope, vicar of the Holy Spirit upon earth, by the sect, and supposedly, it is her portrait that is the Papessa of the Visconti Tarot deck. Of the approximately 30 members of the sect from about 7 Milanese families, women outnumbered men, but 10 of the most fervent members were male. The sect had an interesting social life in which there was equality of the genders. There was no emphasis on virginity in the sect, though a good number of the female members were widowed or unmarried. What is interesting, is that the members of the sect crossed social boundaries. There were very wealthy people involved, as well as poor servants. Membership ranged from the ruler's son, Galeazzo Visconti to the poor seamstress Taria and the serving maid Bianca. On the ground that Guglielma had wanted her devotees to remain together as a family, they held frequent commemorative meals in her honor. Reportedly there were attempts throughout the 1300's to continue the remembrance of Guglielma, by hiding her in paintings and calling her by another name.

This theme, of a female messiah, a commemorative meal, and a coming Age of Reason may well have laid the foundation for the legends surrounding Aradia. At the very least it demonstrates that such a theme was known in Italy during the early 14th century. The pre-existence of such a theme later appearing in the Aradia material, lends credence to the Streghe legends, thus providing some historical foundation for its logical appearance in Old Italy.

According to legend, Aradia was born in 1313 in northern Italy, in the town of Volterra. She gathered a small band of followers and went about the countryside teaching and preaching the Old Religion of Italy. Aradia spoke of an Age of Reason that would come, and which would replace the Age of the Son. When she departed, Aradia requested that a meal be held in her honor, and that she be remembered by future generations.