Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Aradia” by Craig Spencer

Full Title: Aradia: A Modern Guide to Charles Godfrey Leland’s Gospel of the Witches
Author: Craig Spencer
Published: August 2020 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Magic Studies, Witchcraft Religion & Spirituality, Mythology
Edition Details: 240 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC – Requested by Me
Rating: {4/5 stars}

First Glance

In my early witchy studies, I tried to get my hands on anything written by older sources in an effort to understand the foundation of what witchcraft had become. At that time, I was a Wiccan and read through the writings of Gerald Gardner, Dion Fortune, Doreen Valiente, and other Big Name Pagans.

I tried to read Aradia, Gospel of the Witches multiple times, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. From the random inclusion of Lucifer to the rambling stories, I just couldn’t see anything of value for my personal path in Leland’s work, especially as I have no ties to Italy or its traditions.

Thankfully, someone who has those ties has taken the time to retranslate and discuss Leland’s Aradia. I requested a copy of the book when I saw it was available, because I hoped this time someone had made the Gospel make some kind of sense.

Positive Bits

I’ll start off by saying that Spencer made a good decision to write this book. Period. When you realize something is needed and you have the ability to provide it, I think it’s wise to step in and create a resource for others. He did a wonderful job on citing sources and noting where he changed the original translation (as well as why). It’s always a good sign when someone explains their process to you, because you can retrace their steps and see the clear delineation between points A and B.

Pointing out the Catholicism flavoring different portions of the Gospel makes the stories easier to follow. I hadn’t considered it before, but clearly local stories and folktales are colored by the cultures they live inside of; as those cultures change, so do the details of the stories. As I’ve never been Catholic, it was helpful to see the pieces that fit into the Catholic worldview separated and explained throughout the Gospel.

Spencer made sure his Part Two section included enough basic framework to point in the direction that Aradia’s witchcraft would travel without bogging it down in details. In “Attending the Sabbat”, he broke down ritual into individual portions that each tie together to form the great working. I’m always intrigued by new breakdowns of the ritual process, as the differences are often where a ritual’s magical flavor comes in.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I disagree with the premise that witchcraft is inherently a religious act. In the Gospel, I can understand and agree with the idea that the witchcraft of Aradia is meant to be a religion. However, there are so many paths of witchcraft out there that don’t interact with any higher beings, focusing instead on the use of personal and elemental energies to perform spells and rituals. I feel it’s often easy to slip on blinders as a religious witch and fail to recognize this. (As a hard polytheist and animist, I get it.)

Other than that disagreement, I actually found no issue with this book. Spencer set out to provide a better translation and context for Leland’s Aradia, and he did so. Period. I didn’t find his revelations (i.e. interpretations) to be overly invested in a personal agenda or attitude. Instead, he took the time to explain any interpretations he had that didn’t line up with Leland’s original, and he included enough sources to make checking his work possible for those so inclined.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The moral of this story (and it could also be said of Italian witches) is that we should never attack what we do not understand. We should never attack a divinity just because our own  personal path does not lead in their particular direction. Looking at the world today, this is a lesson that many people could benefit from learning – witches included. (56%)

The spirit of witchcraft is the driving force and power behind the words, not the rigid dogma of a set formula. (92%)

Be the witch you are meant to be, and let the magic of the Old Religion guide you, guard you, keep you, and show you its deep secrets. (98%)

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in historical (traditional) witchcraft, particularly of Italy. It’s a good resource for anyone focused on the “Old Religion” style of witchcraft as a religious path, particularly if you’re drawn to the European and/or Wiccan paths due to their ties to a historical context.


bookdragon, poet, witch

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