Diana The Goddess Excerpted from ‘Witchcraft: A Secret History’
by Michael Streeter
The Roman Empire occupies an important place in the history of witchcraft. Such was its wide-ranging dominance that it provided a bridge from the ancient world, the world of the Sumerians, Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, and Greeks, into the Christian era in Europe.
The Romans were generally suspicious of witchcraft and magic: for them, it was just another subversive element in a world where order always seemed to be under attack from chaos. Yet the Romans also bequeathed us the legacy of one of the most powerful goddesses of the ancient world, a goddess who was to have a huge influence on the development of the modern witchcraft religion.
There is little doubt that, of all the goddesses associated with witchcraft, Diana stands out as the most important. In the Greek world she was known as Artemis, and she was also identified with the Egyptian goddess Isis. Yet it is under her Roman guise that Diana is best known and most worshiped; it is certainly the name by which she is generally revered by modern witches. In fact, this goddess has given her name to the Dianic tradition of modern Wicca, a tradition that grew out of the feminist movement in the United States in the 1970s.
It is not difficult to see why Diana appeals to many women in witchcraft. She is the Maiden Goddess, independent, free-spirited, and beholden to no one, including any man. Diana is a moon goddess, who exemplifies the waxing of the moon, an important time in witchcraft for carrying out magic rituals. For some she represents the moon in its entirety.
The headstrong daughter of Jupiter/Zeus and the twin of Apollo, Diana/Artemis was also strongly identified with childbirth. Her mother, Leto, was said to have suffered great pain in giving birth to her twin Apollo, and Artemis helped ease that suffering by acting as midwife. Thus women have traditionally offered prayers to Artemis or Diana to help soothe their pain in childbirth.
Goddess of the Hunt
Diana has a fierce and aggressive side to her character, as shown by her well-known portrayal as a goddess of the hunt. The story goes that, while still young, Diana displayed such a love of the wild that her father gave her a bow and arrow and a pack of hunting hounds so she could run through the wilderness, able to look after herself and to protect others. This is another important aspect of the goddess Diana: she is closely identified with helping out those who needed protection, both animals and humans, and in particular with helping those women who had been brutalized by men.
It is also significant that Diana, who in one guise was known as Lady of Wild Things, is associated with nature and the countryside, as modern witchcraft identifies itself very strongly with all things natural.
In the early years of Christianity, there was perhaps some ambivalence toward Diana among some of its followers. This is hinted at in excavations near the site of the once-fabulous ancient temple dedicated to her at Ephesus (now in modern Turkey), which was sacked by the Goths in the third century A.D. (This vast temple was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.) The discoveries apparently included a pit where Christians had broken and discarded many statues of the old pagan gods they despised. Two statues of Diana survived intact, however. This has prompted speculation that the statues were spared because some early Christians saw links between the virgin goddess Diana and the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Whether this is true or not, Mary is certainly supposed to have lived (and possibly died) in Ephesus, and even now there is a house and a church dedicated to her there. It is interesting how legends of the virgin “Mother of God” become entangled with those of ancient goddesses such as Diana and also Isis. One of the strengths of the Christian Church—and one of the reasons for its spread across different cultures—has been its ability to assimilate other beliefs and icons.
Linked to Diana is the rather confusing story of Aradia. Aradia is the leading character of the book Aradia: Gospel of the Witches, published by the American folklorist Charles Leland in 1899. Leland claimed the story came from a witch called Maddalena, whom he met in Italy and who supposedly provided him with stories and traditions from what she claimed was a surviving witch cult associated with Diana. According to this story, Diana was known as the Queen of the Witches, and Aradia was her daughter. Diana sent Aradia to earth to teach the secrets of witchcraft to the poor and the oppressed, so that they might fight against their rulers. Few people now take seriously Leland’s (or Maddalena’s) claims that there was any surviving witch cult, based on Diana or anyone else.
The importance of Aradia, however, is that she is often worshiped as an aspect of the Goddess by modern Wiccans. The name Aradia is derived from Herodias, the wife of King Herod in the New Testament, whose own name was at times linked with Diana.
Excerpted from Witchcraft: A Secret History by Michael Streeter, published by White Lion Publishing, an imprint of The Quarto Group. Learn more https://quartokno.ws/WitchcraftASecretHistory.