Tuesday, May 19, 2015

'Alchemical Invocations of Vox Populi – Leland’s Aradia & the Creation of the Folk' [Part II]

The tradition that Leland invokes in Aradia is an idealistic tradition of the people.  Unbound by the historical accuracy or literary criticism through the character of Margherita Taluti, who is herself unbound through the mask of Aradia, he attempts to give voice to a deeper current of thought running through the cultural narrative. Just as the African Diaspora Traditions easily slide between Christian saints and African gods, Aradia presents the picture of a living tradition that invokes the Spirits by their Signs without regard for any cultural designations.  These are not the civilized gods of Empires, but the unrefined forces of Nature herself.

Despite the hesitation of some contemporary pagans over the use of the name Lucifer in the text, the marriage of Lucifer and Diana is not necessarily an amalgam of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman traditions. In Latin Lucifer can be interpreted as “Light Bearer” an epitaph for Apollo (also called Φοίβος, Phoibos, “radiant”) who is the brother of Artemis, Artemis being another name for Diana.  With Italian being so close to Latin, it may be that the use of Lucifer actually predates the Christian tradition.

Another appellation given to Apollo is “born of the wolf”, and in pre-Hellenistic times (as Jake Stratton-Kent points out in his work Geosophia) Apollo had a definitive role in Cthonic (underworld) rites. The designation given in Aradia of Diana’s husband with “one who of old once reigned in Hell,” may be a subtle clue that it is this Cthonic Apollo, the Oracular Apollo, who is being called upon.

The Invocation to Aradia hints at this when it says, “may there be  one of three signs distinctly clear to me: the hiss of a serpent, the light of a firefly, the sound of a frog” The Serpent was sacred to Apollo, and the connection of the firefly to the “light bearer” is self evident, the frog is sacred to Hekate, a Cthonic Greek goddess who, like Diana, is connected to magical rites and nocturnal pursuits.

If this seems a bit academic for folk wisdom, it may very well be. Leland’s recounting may be every bit as free as his critics contend. In his work English Gypsy Songs he laments that none of the Romany he spoke with  could give an adequate representation of their tradition.  “Not finding what I wanted, I had given up the intention of forming such a collection, when the perusal of a few excellent Romany ballads by a friend who may fairly claim to be among the ”
deepest” of the deep in the language, as well as others by Professor Palmer and Miss Janet Tuckey, suggested to me the idea that poetry, impressed with true Gipsy spirit, and perfectly idiomatic, might be written and honestly classed as Romany, even though not composed by dwellers in tents or caravans. The experiment was made, great care being taken to avoid anything like theatrical Gypsyism, or fanciful idealization.”

There are many correspondences in Aradia to beliefs common to European and early American folk magic which Leland would have been familiar with through his extensive reading and passion for the “occult.” The Charm of the Stones Sacred to Diana is surprisingly similar to the seer stone used by Joseph Smith for treasure hunting and scrying while dictating the Book of Mormon. Leland’s niece recounts that he, “not only studied witchcraft with the impersonal curiosity of the scholar, but practiced it with the zest of the initiated,” so it would not be surprising if a bit of his own practice seeped in to the reworking of Margherita’s account of Italian witchcraft.

In fact Leland, in his memoirs, tells of his own ownership of such a stone, only he calls it a “voodoo stone,” and based on the timing of the tale he tells (at the end of the Civil War) his possession of it predates by many years his time in Italy:

“Now, to-day I hold and possess the black stone of the Voodoo, the possession of which of itself makes me a grand-master and initiate or adept…”

– Memoirs, Charles Leland

Similarly the Conjuration of Diana which calls for water, wine and salt, bears resemblance to invocation techniques used by folk magicians discussed in George Oliver's book from 1875, The Pythagorean Triangle: “It appears that in the time when conjurers could profitably exercise their art, they used to raise spirits within a circle nine feet in diameter, which they consecrated by sprinkling with a mixture of holy water, wine, and salt; that they might be protected from any onslaught of the fiend.”


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