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If a peasant died without heirs, the land automatically became to the property of the lord. Ecclesiastical and lay authorities called upon the lords to destroy any remains of pagan structures on their lands and to compel their subjects to abandon pagan customs. It also seems ripe for the abuse of the peasant class, and on at least some level must certainly have caused hatred towards the lords.

One example is the evolution of English stories about the figure known as Robin Hood. If we view the story of Aradia as evolved and layered with new elements gathered over the centuries, then we can understand and appreciate it in the same way we do other folkloric figures of any culture. In keeping with the general theme of oppressed peasants, Leland states that Diana is the goddess of outcasts and outlaws.

But is there any pre-existing connection between Diana and witches in Italy? Among the earliest ancient Roman writings we find those of Horace.

In his work titled The Epodes , Horace includes a passage indicating that the goddess Diana is associated with witches and witchcraft. This comes in the form of an evocation by a witch named Canidia. The rituals the sorceress performs are from her point of view mystic rites confined to those adept in an esoteric form of wisdom, performed in secret, in silence and in the darkness of the night.

The Magic Circle by John Waterhouse. The view of witchcraft as a type of Dianic cult was argued by Giralamo Tartarotti, an 18 th century Italian writer.

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He is notable for his works titled Congresso notturno delle lammie and Apologia del Congresso notturno delle lammie in which he tried to debunk the belief in the existence of witches as having any supernatural connection. Tartarotti claimed that witches were simply magical practitioners involved in a pre-Christian cult of the goddess Diana.

His view was unwelcome by the Church, and is dismissed by most modern scholars. The authorities of the time believed that witches flew through the air and frolicked with the Devil, which is a much faultier concept than that proposed by Tartarotti. Witches flying to Sabbat. His ninth chapter carries as its caption: The identity of the Dianic cult with modern witchcraft is demonstrated and proven.

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In an article titled Curiosities of Superstitions in Italy , by author R. Busk, which appears in a late 19 th century journal, Tartarotti is portrayed in a more scholarly light [17]. This legendary creature is a type of vampire that preyed on infants. Eventually the tales of these creatures included the ability of the strix to assume the form of an owl or an old woman, as it pleased. Busk notes that Italian philosopher Gianfrancesco Pico put forth the belief that witches fly through the air on a stick called a gramita , a tool commonly used to hang out flax and hemp. According to Busk, Pico states that witches travel on the gramita at midnight to attend a gathering featuring banquets, dancing, and all kinds of depravity which Pico says is traceable to many pagan mysteries.



The persistence of themes related to the pagan goddess in Italy continually drew the attention of the Church and its agents on various levels, to the degree that the matter needed to be addressed. What at one time had been a focus on heretics, expanded in the 14 th and 15 th centuries to include witches. Why should inquisitors have become more concerned with witches in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries? Whitlock proposes that the rise of witch-hunts and the rise of the Renaissance are connected. He goes on to state that the Renaissance saw a growing interest in the revival of antiquity, including the ancient gods and goddesses.

But the association of Diana and witchcraft was not limited to Italy alone.

Historian Mircea Eliade, in his book Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions , states that Diana became the chief of the witches in western Europe. He goes on to discuss her role in Romania where she is depicted as the Queen of the Fairies. In Italian witchcraft we also find an acrobatic dance called La Volta. Is all of this coincidental or are we looking at spreading roots? Before leaving the topic of Diana and her connection to witchcraft, I turn now to the writings of Margaret Murray.

She was a British anthropologist who claimed to have discovered the existence of a pre-Christian religion. Modern scholars reject her findings and many people regard her work as thoroughly debunked. But was Murray completely in error, and should we reject absolutely everything she had to say? For him the core of truth is found in the claim that witchcraft has its roots in an ancient fertility cult.

One of the problems in sorting out the facts regarding witches and witchcraft is due to the academic situation itself. Due to adversarial politics, this source can be no more reliable than Roman writings about Druids and Celts. Another problem is that not until the s have historians paid significant attention to early medieval popular customs.

Filotas states that historians have focused primarily on evidence coming from the leading figures and public institutions, and therefore upon the dominant ideas popularized by them. There is one more factor to consider regarding the academic problem. The view of scholars, pertaining to witchcraft, is based upon texts written by the accepted authorities of the period. The clashing views of Neo-Pagans are dismissed because there is no support from the old authorities. But how credible are these authorities?

They believed in the magical flight of witches, the manifestation of the Devil in material form, pacts with demons, and in the extraordinary supernatural abilities of witches. Were these people in a state of mind to now be regarded as credible investigators, spokesmen, judges, and experts?

Modern scholars note the lack of evidence to support the idea that witchcraft was an ancient religion practiced by witches.

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However when we look at the questions asked of accused witches, we see nothing designed to truthfully or accurately ferret out such a connection even though elements of Dianic worship arise during interrogation. The questions are instead designed to extract confessions of Devil worship, heresy, and diabolical deeds. When the accused spoke about the goddess Diana, the inquisitor responded with the question of how often the Devil appeared to the accused in the form of Diana. No one was looking for it and so it does not appear. Another academic problem lies in deliberate misrepresentations that occurred in the past.

The roots of this are exposed in what some historians refer to as the conspiracy. Historian Steven L.

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It is interesting to note that the accusations raised against witches are the same that appear against Jews and lepers in connection with the conspiracy. It is in this period that we find allegations of poisoning wells and fountains, which were public sources of water.

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These allegations were leveled primarily against the Jews, but become a component against witches in the following years. Kaplan writes of witches becoming a growing threat in the eyes of the Church at the onset of the 15 th century. He further suggests that a new image of witches as a threatening sect arises in the eyes of the Church.

At this time it features in a trial at Valais, which is situated on the northern border of Italy. This trial introduces, for the first time, the concept of magical flight and the transformation of witches into various animals. Earlier we noted the tregenda as a reported assembly of witches, who claimed to be able to communicate with the dead. Scholar Walter Stephens writes:. Nonetheless, some people do sincerely think that they see dead people. This is impossible, says Passavanti presumably because these souls are in hell or purgatory and are not allowed out. But people are seeing something that is real.

His own belief was that demons assumed the likeness of men and women and travelled to the tregenda. Here they were mistaken for humans. Much of what we know regarding the tregenda comes from the 15 th century sermons of the friar Bernardino of Sienna. His writings are, of course, very negative in his depiction of witchcraft and paganism. But, in a secondary sense, they are rich in the lore of the period a time when the deliberate misrepresentation of paganism and witchcraft has yet to reach its peak. Scholar Franco Mormando writes:. His later treatise on witchcraft and superstition, De idolatriae cultu , contains a reference to the tregenda, though the word itself does not appear in the text.

This Latin work nonetheless gives us some idea of his conception of the regular witches assemblies, which eventually evolved into the sabbath. A 13 th century mural discovered at Massa Marittima a town south-west of Siena demonstrates this absence. The mural was discovered in August, , and has been identified by a British university lecturer as the earliest surviving representation of witchcraft in Christian Europe. The 13th-century mural is a large, richly colored painting, seven meters high.

It was discovered under layers of subsequent over-painting next to a fountain in the centre of Massa Marittima. It shows a tall, spreading tree with two groups of women standing below it.

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The Mural at Massa Marittima. Beneath the tree are two groups of women, one standing to the right and the other to the left side of the trunk of the tree. One of the women in the group on the left is holding up a stick with which she appears to be trying to dislodge a bird's nest. The mural features two of the other women grabbing each other's hair as they appear to fight for possession over one of the phalluses picked from the tree.

Ferzoco, after examining this feature, recalled a passage from the inquisitors' manual known as the Malleus Maleficarum. In its description of witchcraft practices, there is an allegation that witches robbed men of their genitals. The passage claims that witches sometimes collect male organs in great numbers as many as twenty or thirty members.

These are placed in a bird's nest or closed inside a box, where they come alive and are fed oats and corn.