Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Southern Italian and Sicilian drumming, chanting, and dancing.

I just returned from a weekend workshop with Alessandra Belloni.  The workshop was a variation of her “Rhythm is the Cure - Healing Dance & Drum Workshop”. Alessandra describes the workshop as, “In this workshop featuring Southern Italian folk dances and rituals we will learn chants used to invoke the healing power of the sun and moon, as well as a repertoire of therapeutic dances, accompanied by the beat of Frame drums and tambourines. Alessandra presents these unique dance movements which trace their roots from Southern Italy back to ancient Greece, with connections to Iran, Egypt and Andalusia, as well as to the traditions of the Gypsies who traveled from Rajasthan through North Africa, Morocco and Spain to Sicily and Calabria.”

My reason for talking this workshop was to be exposed to (and hopefully learn a bit of) the traditional drumming and chanting that is native to Southern Italy and Sicily.  For me, the dancing was an added bonus. I wanted to learn about the Italian/Sicilian traditions of using rhythm, chant, and dance so I could incorporate some of the techniques into my own practice of Sicilian-American Stregheria.

From the outside, as an observer, one can see that this artistry has its roots in what is commonly referred to as the “folk customs and celebration of the ancient Italic peoples and their descendants.  However, from the perspective of the full participant who can approach this system with mindfulness and respect, a system of spiritual expression and healing is revealed.  This goes well beyond folk customs.  It becomes no less than a powerful spiritual devotion, a system of inducing trance states, and a door to the realms of ecstatic (Dionysian) dance, chant, and rhythm that can lead to healing and triggering cathartic events.
The weekend workshop was held in an ideal setting.  We stayed in a private mansion on 44 acres of gorgeous land. We had a wonderful and gracious host (Arden) and an amazing cook (Heidi).  Other than them, we had the entire grounds to ourselves.

Over the course of the weekend, Alessandra shared with us several basic drumming techniques using a type of Italian tambourine/drum (tamburello/tammora/tambourine).  The techniques were strung together into specific patterns designed to enliven the spirit and body and to align the participants with our goals. 
Coupled with that, we also learned some traditional rhythmic chants and combined them with the drumming to add to our devotional practice. Rhythm is the Cure – rhythm is the key.

Throughout the weekend we were also learn the basics of four traditional dances. They were the Tammorriata, the Pizzica Tarantata, the Tarantella de’ 600, and the Ritmo e Danza e di San Rocco or Spinning Dance. A person watching would immediately see the relation to the “Italian Wedding Dance” that is often seen at Italian-American festivals. These dances, however, are far more than simple folk dances or elaborate step dances that are performed at Italian-American community celebrations. Watching Alessandra perform these steps shows a clear spiritual essence to them and you KNOW that the dance is something that can bring one closer to the Divine.

The combination of rhythmic drumming, chanting, and drumming in this ancient style is powerful for all participants regardless of which role is performed.  A person usually takes one of the roles: drummer, singer/chanter, or dancer. With practice, some folks may combine the drumming and chanting but the dancers do not normally also drum or chant at the same time. Although, Alessandra is so accomplished that she can seemingly effortlessly do all three at once!

Frankly, I never knew what hard work drumming (and chanting and dancing!) were until I took this workshop. It’s hard. Also, it’s so very worth it.

I am immensely grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in the workshop.  It has given me some new tools to add to my own practice and Path. I had a wonderful time meeting new friends, being in a totally supportive environment, and expanding my understanding of the practices of my ancestors.
If you ever get the chance to see Alessandra Belloni, do so.  If you ever get the chance to study with her, do whatever it takes.  You won’t regret it.  I don’t.


Who is Alessandra Belloni?  An excerpt from her website ( says: “Alessandra Belloni is the Artistic Director, Founder and Lead Performer of "I GIULLARI DI PIAZZA", an Italian Music, Theatre and Dance Ensemble who is Artists-in-Residence at the Cathedral of St.John the Divine in New York City. She is also the designer of a line of signature series Italian tambourines made by Remo, and of special brushes for tambourine with Pro- Mark. She is the only woman in the U.S. and in Italy who specializes in traditional Southern Italian folk dances and percussion that she learned from the old people in the fields.”

TAMMORRIATA - This elegant and sensual dance from Naples is performed by couples playing castanets to the rhythm of the large drum, called the Tammorra. The dance movements have a strong Spanish and Middle Eastern flourish, with many recognizable movements of the Flamenco and Belly Dance traditions. These movements are set to the beat of African 4/4 rhythms. The Tammorriata is based upon an improvisational style of drumming and singing usually enacted during the summer rituals in honor of the ancient Earth Goddess Cybele, and later, the Black Madonna.
THE PIZZICA TARANTATA – This erotic and dynamic ritual dance originated as a cure for the mythical bite of the Tarantula, a condition causing a mental disease called tarantismo, which afflicted mainly women (tarantate) in Southern Italy. The wild rhythm of the Pizzica, played on medium size tambourines and accompanied by dance was performed as an exorcism ritual which produced a trance-like state beneficial for the healing of many disorders and imbalances. As part of a re-enactment of this healing ritual, Alessandra will lead the participants in a circle dance accompanied by her magic tambourine 6/8 rhythm and singing. During the ritual each student will learn the steps of the Pizzica, which means “ bite,” building up to a culmination where each student will enter the circle and lay down upon a white sheet, surrounded by red ribbons, and emulate "Spider" like movements on the ground, releasing stress and blockages of sexual energy, as well as opening the heart and throat chakras. The dance comes to completion as each participant dances their way out of an imaginary “Spider Web.”
TARANTELLA DE’ 600 – This is a Renaissance folk dance which is done in pairs which is very popular in Italy and throughout the Mediterranean. It contains both fast, energetic steps and combined arm and leg movements which improve coordination. This invigorating dance had been called by Alessandra’s students ‘Italian Aerobics”.  
 RITMO E DANZA DI SAN ROCCO or SPINNING DANCE – This dance originating in Calabria during the Middle Ages evokes the elegant and meditative movements of the Whirling Dervish ceremonies of the Sufis. This dance was used during the time of the plague to heal people and as a release from overpowering fears of death. Due to the trance-inducing movements and incessant spinning many people enter ecstatic states during this dance. The session ends with a meditation utilizing a chant to the Sun, Jesce Sole, in the Lydian scale. The calming and lilting harmonies of this chant combined with the ocean drum guides students into complete relaxation. Participants emerge feeling light and joyful after this healing journey through sound and dance.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What's up for December?

Happy December, everyone!

We've been very busy trying to get ready for the holidays. Since most of our customers tend to shop with us all year round rather than just at the holidays, we've been trying to figure out how to provide them with something new during this season. (Have I recently mentioned just what an amazing programmer Mike is?)

Mike came up with a fantastic idea. We had been talking about putting some sort of a wish list for our customers who wanted an item but were yet ready to make the purchase. Aside from the technical problem of figuring out how to program a wish list into an existing website, we didn't want people to have to set up a profile at our website just to let your friends know what items they would like for the holidays. I pulled a few customers about a wish list and many of them said that they already had an Amazon Wish List and would love to be able to put products from our site on their Amazon list for the friends and family to see.

Now, I know that Amazon does provide plug-ins for some browsers but folks tend to be picky about what plug-ins they install on your computer. Mike did a little bit of research into the Amazon "add to Wish List" button. With some technical tweaking he was able to integrate the technology for the Amazon Wish List button directly into our individual product pages.

Each one of our product pages has two buttons on it: our normal “add to cart” button, and new a new “Amazon Wish List” button! If you already have an Amazon Wish List, all you need to do is click on the new Amazon Wish List button and you'll get a small public by prompting you to add the product to your wish list. The best part is that if you have more than one Amazon Wish List, you can even select which list the product will go to!

If that's not enough, might even rewrote our inventory tracking system so we can keep even closer watch on our stock levels.

As always, if there's something that you are looking for but can’t find on the website, just let me know. Speaking of which, you may be wondering where our StregaCrafts products (potions, incense, and anointing oils) and Dryad Designs jewelry and statuary have gone. We've moved both lines of products (StregaCrafts & Dryad Designs) to our newest website HTTP:// Come on over and give it a look. We'd love your feedback.

That's all we have for now. I've got to get myself ready to dash off to a weekend workshop with Alessandra Belloni.

Ciao bello!


Thursday, September 29, 2011

New ventures

Hi everyone,

It's been a while since I've written a blog.  It's not that I haven't been inspired to say something (Gods know!).  It's that I've been very, very busy.

For the past several months, Mike and I have been working to get a new retail website up and running.  The focus of the site is/will be Witchcraft derived from the Mediterranean cultures and religious traditions.  Our new venture is called Strega Crafts and we'll be going live in October.  Our goal is a full site publish for the Monday, October 3, 2011.

We'll be offering handmade items and accessories and we'll be starting with my own incense, anointing oils, and potions.  We are in the works to get hand crafted chalices, jewelry and statuary, and strega-rosaries. 

Any other items that you would like to see us offer?



Friday, July 8, 2011

So, what happens when we die?

I was recently asked the question, "So, what really happens when we die?" .

What a great question.  For me, I see it as a very complicated subject that we can only use metaphors to describe.  I don’t think that there is any one right or correct interpretation as to what happens after death or before birth or between incarnation, etc.  Like the Gods, I think it is a Mystery that is so vast and profound that we can’t truly comprehend it while we are here in manifest form.  We can only commune with our Gods and seek the poetic metaphors that help us explain it both in a spiritual way as well as a mundane way.

I believe that we all have an immortal soul as well as a mortal spirit.  The mortal spirit is that non-physical aspect of us as manifest individuals.  Our consciousness, if you will.  The soul is the eternal essence that all of our incarnations have their roots in and is the part of us that is closest to the Gods.  Through each incarnation, the Spirit works towards communion with the Soul and the Gods.  I don’t believe that heaven, hell, underworld, Olympus, etc. are actually physical places.  I do believe that in the human psyche they have physical associations or equivalents though.  The Underworld is just that – under world, below the ground.  It is chthonic as are the earthly gods and Gods of the Dead.  Think of all the myths that place the entrance to the Underworld in Sicily (near Mt. Etna).  I also see the Underworld as having many different layers, each with their own purpose (rest for the beloved dead, etc.).

This is going to be hard to explain in writing but I’ll give it a shot.
  • When the Soul manifests a Spirit in the world, in a way, it becomes tied to the world.  Once the individual body dies, then the particular manifestation is over. 
  • The personality or spirit (that part of us that is US),  is withdrawn into the Soul. 
  • Loosed from the ties to the material, the Soul/ retreats (to the Underworld) to integrates the lessons learned.  Depending on how the life was lived and if the individual really learned or experienced anything, this process can be “like heaven” or “like hell”.  I think that this is why so many cultures have different levels of the Underworld, each assigned to a particular theme.
  • When the Soul has integrated the experiences and lessons of the particular incarnation, it returns to the realm of the Gods *by crossing back over the River of Forgetfulness*.
  • At that point, the Spirit (the individual personality) remains behind in the Underworld – perhaps as beloved dead. 
  • Then Soul, from within the realm of the Gods, ties itself to the world and manifests another Spirit in the world. 

The Soul evolves through each successive incarnation by integrating the lessons from each before being born again as a new incarnation.  The reason that the new incarnation won’t normally remember the past one is that bringing baggage from the past into the present/future is a self-defeating process.  The Soul already integrated the lessons of the previous incarnation and can guide the new incarnation with that knowledge but without the baggage.  

I believe that each incarnation (Spirit) is always tied to the Soul.  This explains how someone can train to remember past lives.  It also explains how we can contact individuals who have crossed over while still having the soul reincarnate.  It’s the Soul that reincarnates, not the Spirit.

When Vinnie dies, then Vinnie will go to the Underworld and (hopefully!) become one of the beloved dead.  The Soul that Vinnie was a part of then re-incarnates as a new Spirit after integrating Vinnie’s experiences and lessons.

Anyway, that’s my view.  Hope it was interesting.  :-)


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Nature of the Gods

Happy Solstice everyone!

Below is a repose of a response that I sent to one of the mailing lists that I am on.  It is a list about traditional Stregheria.  One of the members raised two questions and this was my (long winded) response.  I hope you enjoy!




The question asked in the forums:
1) Do you percieve our Deities as monogomous? I mean I have a feeling the Greeks weren't much in monogamy... the Romans then absorbed much of their mythology.... 
And 2) “what would you call the major God and Goddess in Stregheria”

Vinnie's response:

Mind you, I can only offer my own perspective – and that hinges on your description of hard polytheism versus soft polytheism.  I believe that you and I may view hard and soft polytheism very differently and that colors how each of us perceives and interacts with the gods.

I believe that it was Dion Fortune in her novel Sea Priestess who said, “all goddesses are one goddess, and all gods are one god and there is one initiator”.  I don’t believe that she meant that to be taken literally, especially after reading her novel dozens of times.  I take that phrase to be true “metaphorically” but not literally.  The best way to explain that might be to describe how I see the gods. 

Hard Polytheism – Hard Polytheists believe that gods are distinct, separate real divine beings not psychological archetypes or personifications of natural forces. Hard polytheists reject the idea that "all gods are one God". (From Wikipedia)

Soft Polytheism – Soft Polytheism is prevalent in New Age and syncretic currents of Neopaganism, as are psychological interpretations of deities as archetypes of the human psyche. English occultist Dion Fortune was a major populizer of soft polytheism. In her novel, The Sea Priestess, she wrote, "All gods are one god, and all goddesses are one goddess, and there is one initiator. This phrase is very popular among some Neopagans (notably, Wiccans) and incorrectly often believed to be just a recent work of fiction. However, Fortune indeed quoted from an ancient source, the Latin novel The Golden Ass of Apuleius. Fortune's soft polytheist compromise between monotheism and polytheism has been described as "pantheism" (Greek: πάν pan 'all' and θεός theos 'god'). However, "Pantheism" has a longer history of usage to refer to a view of an all-encompassing immanent divine. (From Wikipedia)

On the whole, I find myself somewhere in the middle of the two.  I believe that the gods are individual entities or consciousnesses albeit far removed from how we normally think of human consciousness – they are individual consciousnesses of a different order than human consciousnesses.  Many gods or goddesses may share traits and be similar but they are NOT the same.  For instance, Mary (mother of Jesus) is NOT Hera (mother of the Greek Gods) even though they are both “divine mothers”.  They are distinct and separate entities even though they may share certain qualities and characteristics. 

However, I think that the “gods of myths” aren’t the actual gods.  The “gods of myths” are characters in the teaching stories of particular cultures, the purpose of which was/is to help the average person make sense of the universe and their place in it.  The myths (ancient and modern!) are teaching stories at best and soap operas of the ancient world at worst.  They were the stories of the gods for the common people, not the Initiates or the people in direct communion with the divine forces as Priests and Priestesses.  For the average person, the myths were there to help the common person understand the world and their place in it and they were by necessity tied to the culture in which they were told.  For the Initiates (the Priests and Priestesses of the goddesses), the myths were/are signposts (not to be taken literally) to the Mysteries and helped people connect to the divine.

Gods and Goddesses such as Aphrodite or Venus may both be Goddesses of Love but I see them as separate individual entities each with their own rites, rituals, personalities, etc.  Although separate and distinct, they “share a job description” if you will.  They are individuals but are both individual divine emanations of “LOVE,” yet as individuals they are not indiscriminately interchangeable.
This might help – think of all women as emanations of the divine concept of “WOMAN” and of all men as emanations of the divine concept of “MAN”.  Yet each woman and each man are distinct individuals and are not interchangeable.  Refer that back to the Dion Fortune phrase and you get the concept that all Goddesses are manifestation of the divine “GODDESS” and all Gods and manifestations of the divine “GOD”.  The phrase “one initiator” then means that GODDESS and GOD are the first individual manifest separations of the ineffable – that level of the divine which, as manifest beings, humans can’t comprehend without putting a face, name, attribute, or ritual to.

So, this is my personal cosmology.  The totality of ALL THINGS (knowable and unknown) is the ineffable divine and by its nature (and the limitation of ours), can’t be easily grasped in words, deeds, and concepts by the human, manifest mind.  GOD and GODDESS are the first conscious manifestations of the inedible that we can easily grasp and interact with.  Individual Gods and Goddesses are the specific *individual* divine entities that are often culturally specific – each with their own rites and rituals associated with them.  Witches deal with paradoxes all the time and the nature of the Gods is a paradox but it works.  So, for me, the gods are BOTH individual entities as well as manifestations of the unknowable.

Now, on to your questions –

1) the monogamy of the gods, specifically as expressed in Greco-Roman mythology.  Remember that these are myths – teaching stories that are culturally driven – not recorded factual activities of the entities known as Zeus, Hera, Apollo, etc.  They are the signposts to help someone find Zeus, Hera, Apollo, etc.  The specifics matter less than the underlying message (or mystery) of the myths.

And 2) “what would you call the major God and Goddess in Stregheria”.  That will vary depending on the specific tradition.   Once again, this is just my opinion and what I teach and isn’t what either Leo Martello or Lori Bruno taught me.  We (the Sheaves of Demeter) call on Great Apollo and Great Diana as the “celestial divinities” – Sun & Moon, Mother & Father, Light & Illumination.  The individual God named Apollo and the individual Goddess named Diana and their respective myths point us toward knowledge and communion with Great Apollo and Great Diana (Father & Mother, Lord & Lady).  We also have Demeter as our patron and through the individual Goddess Demeter, we seek contact with the living growing life of the world.  Hades and Persephone are the individual Gods that are the guardians of our beloved dead and through them and their interactions (Demeter, Persephone, and Hades), we seek the mysteries of life, death, and rebirth.  Additionally, we have specific secret names for “the Lord” and “the Lady” as well as an oathbound name for “the mother of the Craft” which we do not use outside of the Family.
In a way, for us, the individual divine entities of the Greco-Roman pantheon becomes a touchstone to interact with the ineffable via familiar names, faces, and rites so that we can understand and connect with them in order to explore the Mysteries.

I hope that answered your questions and I didn’t stray too far off topic.  Perhaps I should repost this response as a blog entry!



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May musings

I've sat down to write a new blog dozens of times since the last time I posted.  So, why haven't I posted anything since March 29th?  It's certainly not because things have been boring!  Oddly enough, it's because I felt that everything that I could blog about was negative and I didn't want to put that out in the world.

I would start to write and realized that I was complaining.  Topics were about how someone wasn't acting honorably, being fed up with gossip, or simply "I can't believe that XXX did YYY".

So, tell me.  When you want to post something, how do you keep it positive? 

I'm going to try something new.  As you might be aware, I'm often on Facebook and frequently post things that I find amusing, articles that I find of interest, or just good wishes for folks.  Although I haven't yet figured out how to get my Twitter feed and FaceBook statuses to post here as "mini-blogs", I'm going to take the time and cross-post some things here.

Light and life to you all!



Monday, March 28, 2011

The little things like standing up straight...

Back in February, I had a little accident involving a large patch of ice and a fall.  Ouch!  I really did a number on my back and it laid me up for a while.  Eventually, I realized that the pain meant that I had done more to my back than simply bruising it so I made an appointment to see the Chiropractor that Mike has been going to for a number of years.

One of the reasons that we chose the practice that Mike had been going to was that they are wonderful and profession and professional people.  What had impressed me was how they look at their clients and their treatments in a "life encompassing way" (i.e. holistically).  They even have an optional program for consciously living a healthy life called Bonfire Health.

So rather than making an appointment to be adjusted to take care of the problem/symptoms from my slip&fall, I decided to see them and set up a "correction plan" so I could work on the symptoms AND learn what I should be doing to be healthier.

I've been going for about 6 weeks now and it's been pretty amazing.  My posture is better, no more neck aches, I grind my teeth a lot less, and the most amazing thing - no more insomnia!  Apparently my back had been so out of whack for years that it interfered with my sleeping and relaxation.  Honestly, that never occurred to me as a reason for my insomnia.  Afterall, my posture wasn't great but it wasn't THAT bad either.

The health update?
Just a little bit of adjustment in how I sit, some conscious awareness of what I do with my neck and head when driving, and some simple exercises to strengthen my core.  Amazing.  Just from those little changes, I notice that I sleep better, I ache less, and I have more energy.  In short, I feel fantastic!

It's the little things in life...



Monday, January 31, 2011

New Streghe on the block? - Revisited

Over the weekend, I received an email from Lupercus.  In it, he informed me that, "Diana decided to publish this Q & A on our own blog and also to send it to as many concerned parties as possible."

In the spirit of goodwill and clarification, I would suggest that people head over to their blog site and read, "Questions & Answers: APS Diana & AP Dianus del Bosco Sacro".  The site is located at:



Friday, January 28, 2011

New Streghe on the block?

OK, so over the past few weeks, there has been an uproar about some people who are claiming to be streghe from Italy coming to the US and teaching "the mysteries of the Great Rite".  Folks have been asking me to comment on them and their validity/authenticity.

Without meeting them, I can not comment on either their validity or authenticity.  Witchcraft (by any name) in Italy is incredibly diverse so it's possible that they are both valid and authentic. It's also possibly that they're trying to make a quick buck on the gullible pagans (sheeple) in the US who fall for the "but they're from XYZ and claim BlahBlahBlah so they must be TRUE".  Without meeting them in person, I can not offer an opinion on anything other than their press releases.

So far, it appears that whatever it is that they do, it has nothing to do with the type of Italian Craft that I was passed by Leo Martello and Lori Bruno. Why do I state this?  Because on one of their recent blogs, they draw a connection between Leo and their own Tradition.

The blog in question is here:
My response is reproduced here:
"Rev. Vincent Russo, said...
I don't think that it is in any doubt amongst Streghe in the USA that Leo did import a valid and authentic Witchraft tradition of Sicily/Italy. However, I am a bit confused when you say, "The town has always spoken of Leo Martello's Grandmother, a great witch and perpetuator of the del Lago Stregheria family and tradition". To the best of my knowledge, as one of this students and adopted family, Leo did not practice the "del Lago tradition" or the tradition of the del Lago family. He practiced what he simply referred to as the "Strega Tradition" which he defined as the witchcraft traditions of HIS family. He did not claim to speak for the myriad of other traditions peppered through the Italic cultures. Granted, he was trained by members of his own family as well as members of other families, initiated into Continential Witchraft and various traditions of what is now known as BTW, and supplimented what was passed to him with his own research, experience, and gnosis. But, he never claimed that his family was a perpetuator of del Lago Stregheria.

So, just to be clear:  these folks may or may not be authentic or valid.  It's not my call to make and I have not met them personally so I am not yet in a position to comment.  However, Leo Martello is not part of their tradition and his name shouldn't be linked to their tradition.

I do know that the material that they claim to be presenting to the public in their workshops is not material that Leo would have made available to in a public setting.

I am sure that I will be posting more on this topic as time goes on especially since a number of us will be traveling to Pantheacon to meet them for ourselves.



Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brilliant Analysis of the Charge by Sorita d'Este & David Rankine

Note Bene:  This is NOT my work!  This is a repost from I just happen to think that it's very very good.  Buy the book.  :-)

Charge of the Goddess: Analysis

The following is an extract from the book WICCA MAGICKAL BEGINNINGS by Sorita d’Este and David Rankine (Avalonia, 2001, 2005, 2008) Versions of it have been published in numerous publications to date.  It is reproduced here with kind permission of the author and publishers.
(c) 2001-2008 Sorita d’Este and David Rankine, all rights reserved.

Textual Analysis of the Charge of the Goddess

(This is an extract from the Chapter “Adore the Spirit of Me” in the book Wicca Magickal Beginnings by Sorita d’Este and David Rankine.  Those seeking a more complete history and analysis are advised to obtain a copy of the book which considers the ritual and text, as well as its history in a more complete form).  The book is available from numerous bookshops, as well as from Amazon and directly from the publishers:
“HP: Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who of  old was also called among men, Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Ceridwen, Diana, Arianrhod, Bride, and by many other names.”

The opening introductory statement by the High Priest is clearly presenting the idea of a universal goddess.  This piece seems to be original, though there is a historical basis for the concept and name of the Great Mother, as can be seen in the writings of the Roman historian Lucian, in the second century CE, who wrote of the goddess in his work De Dea Syria (‘The Syrian Goddess’) as:

“She is our Mother Earth, known otherwise as the Mother Goddess or Great Mother. Among the Babylonians and northern Semites she was called Ishtar: she is the Ashtoreth of the Bible, and the Astarte of Phœnicia. In Syria her name was ‘Athar, and in Cilicia it had the form of ‘Ate (‘Atheh). At Hierapolis, with which we are primarily concerned, it appears in later Aramaic as Atargatis, a compound of the Syrian and Cilician forms … for in one way and another there was still a prevailing similarity between the essential attributes and worship of the nature-goddess throughout Western Asia.”

The Roman historian and magician Apuleius, a contemporary of Lucian, expressed a similar theme.  In his novel of initiation, The Golden Ass, he has Isis describe herself as the goddess of whom all others are aspects.

“For the Phrygians call me the mother of the gods: the Athenians, Minerva: the Cyprians, Venus: the Candians, Diana: the Sicilians, Proserpina: the Eleusians, Ceres: some Juno, others Bellona, others Hekate.”

The Qabalah also needs to be considered when we look at the idea of the great mother goddess.  There is a very mistaken concept amongst those who have not studied its mysteries that the Qabalah is entirely patriarchal.  This is not the case and it never was.  TheSefer ha-Zohar (“Book of Splendour”) places great emphasis on the Shekinah or divine feminine, and it brought sexual polarity very much to the forefront of Qabalah at the time of its publication in 1290, and the subsequent publication of the Sefer ha-Bahir (“Book of Brilliance”) in 1310, when the Hermetic and Neoplatonic texts were also being translated, resulted in both traditions feeding into alchemy, the Grimoires and other magickal traditions of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  Significantly this also predated the main period of the witch trials, and the conflation of prejudice against Jews, heretics and witches.

“From Her do they receive their nourishment, and from Her do they receive blessing; and She is called the Mother of them all.”[1]

The word Shekinah is from the root Shakhan meaning ’to dwell’, and refers to her presence within all humanity.  In the ninth century the German branch of Qabalists described the Shekinah as the circle of fire around God, their union causing the throne, angels and human souls to come into being.[2] The Shekinah has been seen as manifesting in two ways.  As the Lesser or Exiled Shekinah she is perceived as being the world soul, somewhat akin to the concept of Gaia as postulated by James Lovelock.  However as the source of souls, Shekinah is also present in every person, as the spark that seeks to reunite with the Greater Shekinah, the great goddess.

“Her ways are of pleasantness, and her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; and happy is every one that retaineth her.”[3]

The Kabbalistic Shekinah, the Gnostic Sophia and the classical goddesses all enjoyed notable attention through the Renaissance, and it could convincingly be argued that the deities of Wicca are expressions of an inevitable resurgence of the divine powers seeking an outlet, as they have done for the last fifteen hundred years.

This idea of a universal goddess or great mother goddess was to continue through the Renaissance, as can be seen in writings by authors such as the German humanist Konrad Mutian (1471-1526).  In correspondence he observed, in a manner which would have been seen as sacrilegious by the Church at the time:

“There is but one God and one Goddess,
But many are their powers and names:
Jupiter, Sol, Apollo, Moses, Christus,
Luna, Ceres, Proserpina, Tellus, Maria.
But have a care in speaking these things.
They should be hidden in silence as
are the Eleusinian Mysteries;
Sacred things must be wrapped in fable and enigma.”[4]

This view is one which would be repeated in writings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  In 1901 Sir Arthur Evans became convinced of the idea of a single great goddess in prehistoric times when he was excavating Knossos in Crete.  From this idea he subsequently chose to interpret all divine female figures at the site as a single goddess, and all male figures as a single subordinate son/consort god.  This idea was expanded by the French archaeologist Joseph Dechelette, who suggested that the cult of the Great Goddess had originated in the Neolithic period in Asia Minor and the Balkans and expanded across the Mediterranean to the whole of Western Europe.[5]

Occultists would also incorporate these ideas into their world-views and hence their writings.  The author George Russell (AE) in his classic work The Candle of Vision, published in 1918, espoused the original divinity being divided into the Great Mother and Great Father, from whom the gods and goddesses derived.  This idea was also subsequently seen in the occult novels of Dion Fortune in the 1930s.

In the part version of the Charge published by Gardner in Witchcraft Today in 1954 all the names following that of Aphrodite were omitted – i.e. Ceridwen, Diana, Arianrhod and Bride – giving the impression that the Celtic Goddesses were later additions.  It is also interesting here to note the difference between the version of the Charge attributed to Doreen Valiente and published in the Witches Bible where the goddess Diana is changed into Dana and the name of the Greco-Roman Egyptian goddess Isis is added before that of Bride.

Reference to Melusine occurred in Crowley’s Law of Liberty, and some discussion of her is called for here to put her inclusion into perspective.  Melusine was described in the late fourteenth century tale of Mélusine de Lusignan.[6] Melusine can be seen as the archetypal fairy wife.  In different versions of the tale she is half fish, serpent or dragon.  The gist of the story is that she married Remond, who became the Conte de Poitiers.  She made Remond swear that on Saturdays he would allow her privacy, but after his brother made him wild with jealousy, Remond burst in on Melusine and realised her true nature.  She then left him, in the manner of the fairy wife whose true nature has been discovered.  The inclusion of such a figure may seem strange, but Melusine was a tremendously popular figure, like Morgan Le Fay, whose roots hint at earlier divine origins.  Her inclusion does however provide a further clear illustration that this piece of prose does not have Roman origins as Gardner suggested.

We may also conclude that it is possible that the person who compiled the earliest versions of the Charge had read Crowley’s Law of Liberty – material from which can be found in both the earlier Lift up the Veil and the later Charge of the Goddess.  Crowley mentioned Melusine in the Law of Liberty when he wrote: “Do not embrace mere Marian or Melusine; she is Nuit Herself, specially concentrated and incarnated in a human form to give you infinite love, to bid you taste even on earth the Elixir of Immortality”.  We can see here the equation of Nuit as the universal goddess, and the idea of the High Priestess as being the representative of this goddess in ceremonies.

This introductory line to the Charge is generally thought to be the original material of the author(s) thereof, as no known precedent exists in the works which otherwise influenced it.

This part of the Charge corresponds directly to that used in the Lift Up the Veil charge dated to 1949, which could then be said to be the earliest known source, presumably written by either Gerald Gardner himself (as this was pre-Valiente) or it could possibly be part of an original piece of prose currently lost to us today.

As an aside, for those who love life’s little coincidences, we thought we would include something similar which we found in a book published in 1920 on the subject of the Native American tribe of the Iroquois, which reads ”My Children, listen to the words of the Great Mother. You are burdened and troubled; your little ones are silent and fearful…”[7] There is nothing of course to suggest that this is directly related to the compilation of the Charge, but it is a fascinating parallel usage which we thought worthy of inclusion.

“High Priestess: At mine Altars the youth of Lacedaemon in Sparta made due sacrifice.”

Interestingly here, we find that Gardner wrote in Witchcraft Today “At mine altars the youth in Lacedaemon made due sacrifice”.However, it is noteworthy that in Gardner’s rendition of it there, he at least omitted a rather obtuse error in this first line of this version of the Charge, but of course we don’t know whether this was an accidental mistake or a deliberate omission in an effort to not reveal too much of the prose.

So what is wrong with this statement?  Put simply the geography is all wrong.  Sparta was a city in Lacedaemon, not the other way around, this statement is like saying England is in London or America is in New York!  Then there is an apparent contradiction with the line “Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice….” which is found later in the same version of this Charge. So, whilst the goddess seems to be saying that sacrifice was made, she is also saying that she demands no sacrifice now!  This is probably a side effect of the use of literature from a number of sources and the conflation of the myths of a variety of goddesses to represent the words spoken by one, or it could indicate a change of position on the part of the goddess, or her worshippers!

The reference to the ‘youth of Sparta,’ is to the ritual flogging which took place at the altars of the goddess Artemis Orthia (“Artemis of the steep”) during the Roman period.  As part of the rites, young boys would be scourged on Artemis’ altar until it was smeared with their blood, being both their ritual purification and their sacrifice to this virgin huntress.

The origins of this rather grim ceremony are believed to have come from the discovery of an image of Artemis Orthia which had been lost from a temple for some time before being rediscovered.  Two Spartan warriors, Astrabakos and Alopekos, discovered it and upon doing so immediately went completely insane.  Following this a temple was erected around the rediscovered statue in honour of Artemis and through doing so the goddess was temporarily propitiated.  However, during a sacrifice taking place on the altar, rival groups of Limnatians, Kynosourians and Mesoans got themselves into a brawl and as a result many of them were killed on and around the altar.  Artemis, not known for forgiveness, decided to kill the rest of those involved through disease as a punishment for defiling her temple.

The Spartan people made desperate appeals to an oracle for advice on what to do and were told that the only way to stop the disease was to stain the altar with human blood as an offering to Artemis.  For many years they offered human sacrifices at the altar (the sacrifice being chosen by lot) until this practice was eventually substituted with that of the whipping of young prepubescent boys.  The boys were scourged until enough blood had been produced to stain the altar anew and thus ensured another period of peace with the goddess. During the scourging a priestess would hold a light wooden image of the goddess with which she would be able to tell if the men who were doing the scourging were slacking on the amount or the severity of the blows given to the boys based on beauty or rank.  If the statue grew heavy it was due to the men slacking and the priestess would chastise those doing the whipping to ensure that Artemis’ offerings were made correctly and appropriately.

As an interesting aside, flogging is a theme which recurs in the worship of the goddess Artemis.  It also played a part in the cheese-stealing rituals recorded by Xenophon in Lakedaimonion Politeia in the fifth/fourth century BCE.  Here two groups of young men would contest a piece of cheese which was placed on the altar of Artemis.  The first group defended the cheese with whips, whilst the other group had to try and steal it.  Though there is no direct connection here with sacrifice, which is clearly indicated in the example of Artemis Orthia, it may be that this was another variation of a similar rite as those being scourged would undoubtedly bleed onto the altar, making a blood sacrifice as part of the ceremonial goings on.

The use of the scourge in an ancient ceremony was well exemplified by the frequently quoted Roman festival of Lupercalia, where young men clad in skins would rush around beating people with strips of goatskin, which was believed to promote fertility and easy childbirth.  However this does not really bear much resemblance to the use of the scourge in the Wiccan tradition.  In medieval times the scourge was described as being used frequently for punishment of witches.  One such example is seen in Murray’s The God of the Witches:

“The accused escaped with her life, but her sentence was, ‘To be scourged from the end of said town to the other.  And thereafter to be banished from the country’.”

Another common suggestion is the claim that the Knights Templar used scourging, a reference Gardner himself makes in his works.  Whether they did or not, there is certainly a well-documented history of self-flagellation within the Christian church as a means of’purification’, so this is a much more likely source of the magickal beginnings of using the scourge to be “properly prepared”.

“Whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the Moon is full. Then ye shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me who am Queen of all Witcheries. There ye shall assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet who have not won its deepest secrets. To these will I teach things that are yet unknown. And ye shall be free from slavery, and as a sign that ye be really free, ye shall be naked in your rites…”

Gardner omits “Whenever ye have need of anything” in Witchcraft Today. He also writes “meet in some secret place, and adore me who am Queen of all the magics… for I am a gracious Goddess, I give joy on Earth, certainty not faith, while in life; and upon death unutterable, rest and the ecstasy of the Goddess.  Nor do I aught in sacrifice…” At this point Gardner tells us that he is forbidden to reveal any further part of the charge.

This piece is clearly derived with only minor changes from chapter one of the Aradia, which reads:

“Whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month, and when the Moon is full, ye shall assemble in some desert place, or in a forest all together join to adore the potent spirit of your queen, My mother, great Diana.  She who fain would learn all sorcery yet has not won its deepest secrets, them my mother will teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown.  And ye shall all be freed from slavery, and so ye shall be free in everything; and as the sign that ye are truly free, ye shall be naked in your rites, both men and women also.”

Here it is necessary to look at the difference in use of the text.  In the Aradia, it is the goddess Diana who addresses her daughter, Aradia, giving her instruction on how to teach witchcraft to humanity.  In the context of use within the Wiccan tradition, the priestess is said to channel a goddess and speak these words to the witches.  This may seem like a small inconsistency, but one which has quite a huge magickal implication, as well as of course a spiritual one, both of which are worthy of some consideration.

 “…and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music, and love, all in my praise.”

Another piece from Aradia, this time chapter two, shortened and rewritten, finishes this part of the Charge: “… and, the feast over, they shall dance, sing, make music, and then love in the darkness, with all the lights extinguished: for it is the Spirit of Diana who extinguishes them, and so they will dance and make music in her praise.” Dancing, singing, making music and love are all classic ingredients in the ‘imagined’ witches Sabbath as described in the major works of the height of the persecutions by such infamous figures as Peter Binsfeld (Tractatus de confessionibus maleficorum et sagarum, 1591), Nicolas Rémy (Daemonolatria, 1595), Martín del Río (Disquisitionum magicarum libri sex, 1599), Francesco Guazzo (Compendium Maleficarum, 1609), and Pierre de Lancre (Tableau de l’inconstance des mauvais anges et demons, 1612, and L’incredulité et mescréance du sortilege plainement convaincue, 1622).

“For mine is the ecstasy of the Spirit, and mine is also joy on earth. For my Law is Love unto all beings.”
The latter part of this line comes from Crowley’s Law of Liberty, quoting “ecstasy be thine and joy of earth” (AL I.53) and “love is the law” (AL I.57).  Although these pieces are pulled out of context and put together, it is worth noting that the beginnings of the two relevant verses are “This shall regenerate the world” (AL I.53) and “Invoke me under my stars!” (AL I.57), both concepts of great relevance to the Wiccan tradition, and also hinting at their union in the Orphic Oath of “I am a child of earth and starry heaven.” So although seemingly out of context, this line retains a great deal of relevant symbolism, even if quite concealed.

This phrase is an inspirational one, as can be seen by the following quote from the nineteenth century English poet and literary critic John Addington Symonds, “The mania of Plato was a permanent ecstasy of the spirit, in which love led the way to heaven, and raised a man above himself.”[8]

We may also note the occurrence of the phrase ‘ecstasy of the spirit’ in the writings of the late fifteenth century poet John Skelton, when he wrote in a way which strongly resembles the reincarnation theme found in the Charge, “ls it possible that in some such passionate ecstasy of the spirit we pass through death into the life beyond death?”[9] Skelton also mentioned the triplicity of Diana, Luna and Persephone in his work Garland of Laurels in 1523 when he wrote “Diana in the leaves green, Luna that so bright doth sheen, Persephone in hell”.

“Keep pure your highest ideal. Strive ever towards it. Let naught stop you or turn you aside. “

Again this line draws straight from the Law of Liberty, where Crowley wrote: “Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever toward it, without allowing aught to stop you or turn you aside.” This key line refers to the concept of the true will, and doing only what is right to achieve your full potential.

“For mine is the secret door which opens upon the land of youth;”

This is somewhat rewritten from the earlier version of the Charge (Lift Up the Veil), which draws more directly from Liber Al, “There is a secret door that I shall make to establish thy way in all the quarters” (AL III.38).  The reference to the quarters is one which is not used in the Charge, but interesting from the point of view of Wiccan terminology, where the four directions are sometimes referred to as quarters.  It also hints at the grimoires where the magick circle was often divided into quarters, as seen in theHeptameron and subsequent grimoires.  The ‘land of youth’ is a translation of the name of the Irish otherworldly realm of Tir-na-Nog, home of the Irish pantheon of the Tuatha de Danaan.  As the nineteenth century author Thomas Croker observed in Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1828), “It is called the Land of Youth, because time has no power there, no one becomes old.” The presence in the Charge of this Celtic otherworld clearly indicates the relevance of the Celtic goddesses in the initial list of names.

“and mine is the cup of the Wine of Life: “

This line seems to derive from the Catholic Liturgy, as part of the reading drawn from the Byzantine Matins, in the Table Blessing for Holy Thursday, which goes, “Instructing his friends into the divine mysteries, Jesus, the wisdom of God, prepares a table that gives food to the soul, and mingles for the faithful the cup of the wine of life eternal. Let us all, therefore, draw near the mysterious table, with pure souls let us receive the Bread of Life” The real question here, which we can neither prove or disprove at this point, is whether this was a deliberate use or whether it was a phrase merely imbedded in the psyche of the person who compiled the Charge,who consequently used it without realising the source of their inspiration?

“and the Cauldron of Ceridwen, which is the Holy Grail of Immortality.”

This seems to be original material.  The reference to the “Cauldron of Ceridwen” brings in another of the goddesses mentioned at the start of the charge.  The equation of the cauldron to the Holy Grail, a very Christian symbol, is somewhat puzzling and inappropriate, but it has a nice poetic ring and flows on naturally from the previous line which as we have shown was likely borrowed from Christian liturgy.  It is of course also a popular theme in the Arthurian and Grail Mysteries, which might have influenced the person(s)who compiled this piece, due to its inherently ’Celtic’ overtones.

Years later, in An ABC of Witchcraft (originally published in 1973), Valiente quoted from Hargrave Jennings’ The Rosicrucians, Their Rites and Mysteries in her entry for the Cauldron. In this, if indeed she was the author of these lines, she may have revealed her inspiration for their inclusion, but this is purely speculation on our part, and certainly is not an adaptation of words / phrases as found throughout the Charge. “We claim the cauldron of the witches as, in the original, the vase or urn of fiery transmigration, in which all things of the world change”[10]

The idea of immortality is raised in relation to the incarnation of the Goddess on Earth in Law of Liberty, as we have seen in regards to the inclusion of Melusine earlier with the phrase “Elixir of Immortality”

“I am the Gracious Goddess who gives the gift of
Joy unto the heart of Man.
Upon Earth I give the knowledge of the Spirit Eternal,
and beyond death I give peace and freedom,

and reunion with those who have gone before.
Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice, “

This is another extract from the Law of Liberty, derived from Liber AL 1.58 adapted and expanded on from Crowley’s original: “For hear, how gracious is the Goddess; “I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy; nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.”

“…for behold, I am the Mother of all things,
and my love is poured out upon the earth.”

In The Golden Ass, Isis says of herself, “I am she that is the natural mother of all things,” giving a likely source for the use of this phrase.  In this context it could also possibly be derived from the Qabalistic title of the Sephira of Malkuth, “Mother of all living things”. Other than this these lines seem to be the original writings of the person(s) who compiled the Charge. The phrase “Mother of all things” is also found in Milton’s Paradise Lost, in Book XI where he wrote, “Eve rightly called, mother of all mankind, mother of all things living, since by thee Man is to live.” This may be significant as a subsequent line in the Charge also seems to originate with this same work by Milton.

“HP: Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess,“

Once again the text returns to Crowley’s Law of Liberty, “We have heard the voice of the Star Goddess”, emphasising the Egyptian stellar goddess Nuit, who represents the entire universe in the cosmology of Thelema.

“She in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of Heaven, whose body encircleth the universe.”

This line appears to be more original material which is most likely a continuation of the reference to Nuit, who in Egyptian mythology is perceived as encircling the universe.  The phrase “Hosts of Heaven” is very widely used, but it is worth noting here that it may refer to the company of Angels in heaven in popular Christian use as it occurs several times in the Bible, or indeed to the Moon and Stars in the Occidental traditions, which again supports the idea that this line refers to the goddess Nuit.

“HPS: I who am the beauty of the green earth;
and the White Moon amongst the Stars; and the mystery of the Waters;  and the desire of the heart of man,”

This is largely original material, though it is possible the line “desire of the heart of man,” may have been inspired by Crowley’s bookThe Vision and the Voice (1909) where we find “I am the blind ache within the heart of man”.  We may note however that the phrase“beauty of the green earth” used in conjunction with stellar references was a common occurrence in Christian writings of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, so this is a well documented analogy.  Illustrating this point with two examples, in The British Preacher (1831) we read “How good must that light be which reveals to us the grandeur of the starry heavens, and the beauty of the green earth,” and in Evangelical Christendom (1893) we see, “if the glories of the starry heavens, if the beauty of the green earth never taught man of God”.

“call unto thy soul: arise and come unto me. “

This line is clearly again derived from Crowley’s work, as “arouse the coiled splendour within you: come unto me!” is found in both the Law of Liberty and its inspiration Liber AL I.61.

“For I am the Soul of nature who giveth life to the Universe;
From me all things proceed; and unto me, all things must return.”

Uniquely this part of the Charge appears to come from the Ritual for Transformation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, in which we find “O Soul of Nature giving life and energy to the Universe. From thee all things do proceed. Unto Thee all must return.”Alternatively it is possible that the author of the Charge took the line, “From me all things proceed; and unto me, all things must return”, directly from Milton’s Paradise Lost, which was the probable source of inspiration for the Golden Dawn.

“and before my face, Beloved of the Gods and men,”

This is again probably original material.  Although almost certainly just coincidental, we thought it amusing to mention that this line is also found in a novel published in 1908 which has a character called Doreen in![11] In Norse myths, Baldur, the son of Odin is often referred to as “beloved of Gods and men” which might have provided some inspiration for the use of the term; however this seems strange and unlikely considering he is male.  With these being words of the goddess this would be an inappropriate usage.  However, the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, was also sometimes referred to by the same title, and it is hopefully more likely that the author(s) of the Charge, may have taken their inspiration from this goddess rather than using the title of a male god.

“let thine inmost divine self shall be enfolded in the raptures of the infinite.”

Again this seems to be derived from two more quotes merged from the Law of Liberty: “He is then your inmost divine self” and “in the constant rapture of the embraces of Infinite Beauty”.  These quotes are in reference to words spoken by Hadit, the masculine divine in the cosmology of Thelema.  Thus it is being used completely inappropriately as words spoken by the Goddess, as in fact it originates in relation to the God.  This may indicate that the person compiling this version of the Charge was not familiar with Crowley’s work or philosophy, but thought of the words themselves as mere poetry to be used, as it would seem from this that the material used to compile the Charge was used regardless of its original context and symbolism, instead being purely utilised for its poetic and emotive effects.  This recalls Valiente’s remark in An ABC of Witchcraft that Gardner told her he “had supplied words which seemed to him to convey the right atmosphere, to strike the right chords in one’s mind.” If this is the case, then it could also support the idea that Gardner was the author, or one of the authors, of the original, as it seems to have been rewritten from the Lift Up the Veil charge.

“Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold:”

The line “heart that rejoiceth” could be taken from Crowley’s Vision and the Voice, though it is not a unique phrase so this may be coincidence.

“all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals; “

More from the Law of Liberty, here emphasising the sexual and sensual components of magickal ceremony in a very Crowleyan manner, “Remember that all acts of love and pleasure are rituals”

“and therefore let there be Beauty and Strength,
Power and Compassion,
Honour and Humility, Mirth and reverence within you.”

The reference to “beauty and strength” could be from Liber Al (AL II.20) or may be coincidence.  The rest all seems to be original, though it may have been inspired by “let there be Harmony and Beauty in your mystic loves, that in us may be health and wealth and strength and divine pleasure according to the Law of Liberty”; words spoken by the Deacon during the Gnostic Mass, another of Crowley’s works.

“And thou who thinkest to seek me, know that thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not unless thou know the mystery,
that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee,
thou wilt never find it without thee, for behold;
I have been with thee from the beginning,
and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.”

The inspiration here comes from Crowley’s Liber LXV, lines 59-60, “But I have called unto Thee, and I have journeyed unto Thee, and it availed me not. I waited patiently, and Thou wast with me from the beginning.”

[1] Kabbalah Unveiled, Mathers, 1887 [2] Kabbalah, Ponce,1974
[3] Proverbs 3:17-18.
[4] The Survival of the Pagan Gods, Seznec, 1953
[5] Manual d’archeologie prehistorique Celtique et Gallo-Romaine, Dechelette, 1908
[6] Mélusine de Lusignan, Jean d’Arras, 1393
[7] The Hero of the Longhouse, Mary Elisabeth Laing, 1920
[8] An Introduction to the Study of Dante, Symonds, 1890
[9] Essays in Romance and Studies from Life, Skelton, 1878
[10] An ABC of Witchcraft, Doreen Valiente, 1984
[11] Mary Ware: The Little Colonel’s Chum, Johnston, 1908