We had our camps in the forest, under the trees, and in the evenings Aradia would teach us, sometimes by words, sometimes by dancing, sometimes by singing, and sometimes by making love to us. She would almost always cast a circle about us, and tell us that the rules of the ordinary world did not matter in the circle, that the circle was between the worlds of men and of the Gods. In the circle she would anoint us with fragrant oils, and show us how to work magic upon one another, how to heal one another from the pain and sorrow of the past, and how to give pleasure to one another in new and ingenious ways. She would always end the evening by having at least one lover in bed with her, though she preferred having several at once, and it did not matter to her whether they were male or female, so long as they pleased her.
She commented to me once, “I prefer to have men much younger than me as lovers, because they do not think they own me, and because often they can keep on making love to me for hours, until I’ve had enough. And they’re always grateful to me for treating them so well, when women their own age have been such bitches to them. I’d think it unfair that the Gods made older men unable to continue making love for very long — whereas we women have no such limitations — if it were not for the special knowledge we have in the Craft that enables a man to go on having sex for hours and to reach the peak of ecstasy as often as a woman can.”
I said, “I do not know if I could bear to let a man touch me, when I have known such ecstasy with you.”
She replied, “There are many sorts of men. Even if most are beasts with a woman, the man who has life in his heart makes love gently, and the Gods are with them, and they are the Gods.”
Whenever Aradia approached a community of her followers, she was immediately taken in and given food and shelter. Under oath of secrecy the news was sent to other covens that an Angel of the Divine Word had arrived and was waiting in hiding. From all sides men and women streamed to hear the holy woman. She would preach her doctrine, wrapped up in elaborate phrases, unbelievably subtle words, as sublime, spiritual, and metaphysical as ordinary language can manage; she would go into trances, see visions, and prophesy for all present. The people, entranced, declared her to be a woman like the Goddess and greatly familiar with her, and would compete to be the first to make love to her. It was the ambition of every man and woman to become her lover. In this way the doctrine was preserved and developed.
One day black priests came to Aradia and said, “Our ruler has heard of your preaching and invites you to come preach in his palace.”
Aradia replied, “Why does he wish to hear me?”
“He wishes to come to one of your Sabbats,” they said.
Aradia said, “Why does he wish to come to our sabbats? Does he worship the Goddess? And why should I trust you?”
The priests replied, “He is beside himself with curiosity about your teaching, for he is a great scholar. He guarantees your safety and gives you full pardon to come and go freely.”
We begged her not to go, fearing it might be a trap, but she was determined. Knowing that the Mother had given all things into her hands, that she had come from the Goddess and would go to the Goddess, Aradia believed in their word and went with them to Lucca.
When they had blindfolded her, they struck her on the face and asked her, “Prophesy: who struck you?” and said, “Hail, Queen of the Witches!” After they had mocked her, he ordered his men to strip her. When they had torn her clothes from her, they all raped her, one after another. When they were finished, they threw her into a dungeon cell.
As she sat weeping in darkness, suddenly there was light, and a man was sitting in the cell with her. She cried and drew back from him. He said, “Please, do not be afraid. I have come to heal you, not hurt you.”
Aradia said, “But who are you?”
He replied, “I am he in whose name they will kill you . . . ”
“Oh, my God!” she cried.
“No, not your God,” he said. “Your brother, if you will have me. I have come to tell you I am with you, that you will not be destroyed.”
“Are they not going to kill me then?” she asked.
“Oh, yes, they will kill you, but that will not destroy you. They will burn you, for that is the cruelest death, but as soon as the flames leap up, bend over and breath in the smoke and flames. You will choke and die quickly, and wake in the arms of the Goddess.”
“I did not know that you were . . . one of us,” she said softly.
“Who else could I be?” he asked. “Could I ever have been one of these . . . fascists? These thugs who worship evil and claim I told them to? Oh, no. I told them and told them of the Queen of Heaven, but they never heard. They called me a Witch too, a madman and a troublemaker. They killed me, as they will kill you. But that did not stop me, and it will not stop you.”
“So death is not the end?” she asked.
“Not for us. It is for them, as Diana has told you,” he replied. “Because they have succumbed to the three temptations I refused, of wealth and fame and power, they have become rulers of this world and servants of the Evil One, whom they accuse you of worshipping. I had hoped to be the friend of those who had no friends, of beggars, prostitutes, petty thieves . . . I hoped to be the power of the powerless . . . but they have stolen that from me. You must go to the ones whom the churches have turned away, to tell them that there is hope, that the Gods are on their side. Tell all who can hear of the Queen of Love, that they may drink the cup of our communion, that they may be reborn. Now let me give you strength to bear what you must bear.”
He reached out and touched her between her breasts. Waves of power coursed over her body, soothing away the pain. And soon she slept.