22

Conclusion

Many people feel that the Old Religion is long gone, fragmented and faded, perhaps a bit like a jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing. Others maintain that it never existed in the first place, and that it is a modern invention based upon bits of lore and legend. Still others do not even speculate, but simply enjoy it as it is today, no questions asked. Hereditary Witches simply grin or walk by the skeptics, whistling, maintaining the legacy of secrecy that has preserved the Old Religion for centuries.

In this book we have looked at the historical documentation of the Witch Cult and its association with the goddess Diana down through the centuries. We have seen that, as early as 30 B.C., writers in Italy were commonly addressing Witches as followers of Diana. The trail of this Society of Diana has been preserved through the records of the Inquisition at Como, Italy, and clearly attests to this ancient tradition, as is evident in the chronology appearing in chapter 2. Supporting evidence of this antiquity is also noted in the appearance of ancient Etruscan elements discovered in Tuscan Witchcraft as late the nineteenth century.

We have seen that the trial transcripts of the Italian Inquisition (as late as the seventeenth century) note that the Benandanti and Malandanti Witches held rites associated with the fertility of crops and animals. They also performed marriages and other customs that clearly address the structure of a functioning Witch community. Such a structure is also noted in the Compendium Maleficarum concerning Italian Witchcraft. The image of Witches worshipping a Queen of the Sabbat, seated with a Horned Deity (as depicted in Jan Ziarnko's seventeenth-century print) also adds credence to the concept of a Witches' God and Goddess pantheon. Despite the views of those whose writings negate the existence of the Old Religion, clearly enough historical evidence exists to give one pause for thought.

We know from the writings of the Italian Inquisitor Bernardo Rategno that something apparently took place in the mid-fourteenth century that caused the Church to focus upon those who were believed to be involved in the practice of Witchcraft. Bernardo Rategno refers to it as a "rapid expansion of the witches sect." What was the catalyst to this resurgence? In Italian folklore, we have seen that native Witches believed that Aradia brought about the revival of the Old Religion at that same period in Italian history that Rategno refers to. Skeptics may be interested to know that I first wrote about Aradia as an historical Witch of the fourteenth century, who brought about the revival of the Old Religion, in The Book of the Holy Strega (published in 1982). The first time I came across the reference to Rategno's comments concerning the fourteenth-century expansion of Witchcraft was when they were reported in Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath, by Carlo Ginzburg (published in 1991).

Some scholars may feel that the works of Frazer and Leland, upon which I have drawn in this book, are no longer given the importance they once enjoyed in those authors' day. While it is true that academia may no longer consider their books to represent mainstream thought, this in no way detracts from individual points raised within their works as a whole. Like most persecuted people, Witches know how incorrect public thought can be anyway, even at its best.

In the final analysis, it is not the historical evidence, or claims to ancient traditions by those who profess a membership therein, that attest to the survival of the Old Religion. It is what everyone who practices the Old Ways knows in their hearts, and in their spirits, that confirms the living legacy of the Craft. When we look upward upon the same Moon as did the ancients, and we gather in the celebration of Nature beneath her, we all know then that it never passed away. When we join in kindred celebration at festivals or ritual gatherings, we know the ancient joys, and we all feel the love that cannot die. Perhaps it is simply that here, at the close of the twentieth century, Pagans and Witches still call upon the ancient deities, still recall their names and times of celebrations, truly proclaiming the survival of the Old Religion. As Italian Witches say, "As it was in the time of our beginning, so it is now, so shall it be."

Charles Leland wrote, in the closing of Aradia; Gospel of the Witches, "It would be a great gratification to me if any among those into whose hands this book may fall, who possess information confirming what is here set forth, would kindly either communicate it or publish it in some form, so that it may not be lost." I hope that this book has accomplished what he wished for in his final days.

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