The Witch Queen in Traditional Witchcraft
The concept of a Queen of Witches is not new to modern traditional witchcraft. When investigating this concept from a historical perspective many common themes begin to arise, and we see the fluid stream of polytheistic syncretism. Certain names and themes circulate around this concept, shedding light on the transformative nature of pagan deities. They are not fixed in concrete and steel like the gods of modern society, but ever changing and growing like the roots of a tree, branching out above and below. For me, the Queen of the Witches is the chthonic aspect of the mother goddess embodied in the fertile earth. She draws her fertility from the dark rich soil, feeding the lifeforms of the surface. She is one of the elder gods. A nameless primal archetype of early humanity who has overtime assumed multiple forms, names and identities based on the people perceiving her.
Within the school of Traditional Witchcraft there are a handful of recurring deities that are linked in the historical procession of the primordial witch goddess; such recurring names as: Diana, Herodias, Habondia, Frau Holda and others help us piece together the etymology of the original goddess. I am generally focused on those figures found within the folklore of the British Isles and Germany via the Holy Roman Empire. Within this spectrum the earliest sources are traced back to Greece and Rome from which these themes disseminated originally. Witchcraft scholars seem particularly interested in the goddess Diana. Historical sources show that her veneration continued well into the Christian era. Her origins, like many others begin in ancient Greece before making their way to the Roman pantheon. It was a Roman custom to create composite deity names for various situations for example the Roman Juno-Lucina began as Hera-Diana in Greece. It is here that historian Carlo Ginzburg, in his famous Ecstacies, points out that the original nomenclature was written and transcribed as Hera-Diana. The Church seeking to associate goddess worship with diabolism used this as an opportunity to distort the original theme. Hera-Diana was transcribed as Hero-Diana to associate her with the biblical figure Herodias. This was reinforced at the ironically named Council of Truer in 1310, which set Herodiana next to Diana to perpetuate this distortion.
Herodias, Erodiade, and Aradia
According to the research of Raven Grimassi; “the appearance of Herodias, as a biblical figure, in connection with a goddess of witchcraft is an intentional displacement of deity figures.” (Herodias in Witchcraft) Initially it seems as though the close spelling between these two different names is what resulted in the distortion, however it played into the goal of the Church to dismiss the validity and reality of Dianic worship. This allowed church officials to connect the pagan figure Hera-Diana with the Biblical figure Herodiana or Herodias, and the Italian translation of Erodiade into one cohesive idea. The story of Herodias begins in the New Testament, much like the Old Testament’s Jezebel another wicked woman of the Bible. Herodias is known for her role in having John the Baptist beheaded for criticizing her marriage. She is depicted as one of the Bible’s many wicked women, in association with witches.
Erodiade (Herodias) remained part of Italian folklore prior to Charles Godfrey Leland and his popularization of the name Aradia. According to folklorist Sabina Magliocco, Aradia was a supernatural figure of Italian folklore that was widely known prior to the publication of the Gospel of the Witches, which wasn’t published until 1899. It seems that it is a common trend for the early Church to graft itself onto local folklore by creating Biblical connections with the intention of converting pagans, however in retrospect it seems that this only insured the survival of these entities by facilitating their transition into the new religious paradigm. Papal proclamations and decisions made in councils would determine the Church’s official stance on these issues.
Diana, as the Queen of Witches
There are a handful of female deities that most fully embody the power of the mother goddess and the craft of the witch. Diana, and her many counterparts and consorts are known for leading her followers on the winding path of spiritual discovery and personal power. The Church also recognized this powerful embodiment in the form of Diana, attesting to her connection to the Unseen. Their goal, after hundreds of years of polytheistic goddess veneration, was to convince people that Diana was an illusion created by the Devil to lead the unsuspecting away from God. By introducing the concept of deception, Church officials attempt to dismiss the validity of Dianic worship. They condemn those who believe in such illusions, however those who believe witchcraft itself is an illusion are even more deceived according to the Church. Church doctrine at the time explicitly warns of women who follow Satan, fly at night and worship Diana as found in the Canon Episcopi.
The four main points of the Canon Episcopi are outlined in the infamous Witch hunter’s manual, the Malleus Maleficarum. The first and most important of these main points is that there is only one true God and no other should be worshipped except for him. The second point mentions Diana specifically as the goddess of the pagans; it points out that she is actually the devil in disguise using glamour to deceive people. The third point continues to discuss the devil’s power of illusion, by making followers think that are flying long distances, it is actually another glamour used by the Devil. The fourth and final point again mentions Diana by name. It states that real witches make a pact with the Devil and must obey him in word and deed. The canon also encompasses all and every act of witchcraft which are many and diverse. It also states that real witches are doing much more than worshipping Diana and flying at night. It is suggested that the Canon should be extended because, “witches do much more than these women, and are of a very different kind.” I believe this quote from the Malleus Maleficarum is an example of the distinction between pagan folk practices and actual witchcraft, which was a common nuance at the time.
The image of the Queen of Witches has taken many forms over the millennia. The power to assume these cross-cultural forms is unique to the elder gods of our nameless tradition. Sects of night flying witches were known to ride with various ancestral goddesses. As the goddess of life, death, and rebirth; she presides over all aspects of our existence. She is the primordial mother of the Underworld beckoning the souls of the dead back to her embrace. According to many traditional witches, the Queen of Elfhame or goddess of witchcraft as she is known, is a counterpart to the Master of the Wild Hunt.(Craft of the Horned Piper, 17-20) During the winter months from Samhain to Yule the Wild Hunt or Furious Horde led by the Horned One and his Queen, are known across Europe for guiding the souls of the dead across the sky. Both assuming different aspects during the dark and light halves of the year.