Diana’s Moon Rays – Part I

Diana’s Moon Rays – Part I January 20, 2017

This is the first part of the article “Diana’s Moon Rays” which I wrote for the 2013 anthology The Faerie Queens. I am currently revisiting some of my research on this fascinating Goddess, the various influences on her cult in the Roman world, and the subsequent influence of her cult on the development of Western magic and modern Paganism.   Diana, alongside the goddess Hekate, is the quintessential Witch Goddess – but like Hekate, to whom she is closely associated, she is also so much more.

Diana’s Moon Rays – Part I
The Goddess Diana & The Aradia

“there are certain women who do say that they have dealings with Diana the Queen of the fairies.  There are others who say that the fairies are demons, and deny having any dealings with them…”

[William Hay, 1564]

The Roman Diana was one of the most formidable goddesses of the ancient world.  The moon, oak groves, lakes and the wilderness were all associated with her, and she was the protector of women in childbirth, young children and wild animals.  Her cult predates that of Rome and found ways of adapting to the ever changing political and cultural landscapes it encountered as her worship spread to ever extensive regions, incorporating some of the practices and traditions it encountered – notably that of the Hellenic goddesses Artemis and Hekate. In this essay I present a small part of my research on this fascinating goddess, including examples that illustrate the way in which she was seen as both a Faerie Queen and a goddess in Scotland and in her home country, Italy.

With the dawn of new religious movements in Europe the older traditions often became amalgamated into the new, continuing earlier practices and beliefs in varied guises.  It was a natural progression which continues today as different cultures and traditions continue to cross-fertilise one another.  Christianity continued this approach, seeking to convert the followers of the older traditions by finding ways of integrating older traditions and practices into its Church.  However, it is clear that some cults and customs simply did not lend themselves to comfortable conversion, with their adherents not allowing their deities to be demoted into positions of diminished power, and desiring to continue their practices as their ancestors had done for generations.  This presented an obstacle for the Church which responded with increased efforts to remove the power and strongholds from these traditions –demonising the gods and practices of the older traditions.  Through this process the good gods of the past became the evil devils and demons of the new religion. The spiritual practices of the older religions became the witchcraft of the new.  Notwithstanding this, the older cults found ways to survive, they became more exclusive, elusive and secretive, developing methods of keeping their teachings alive until such times as circumstances no longer forced them to survive like fugitives on the margins of society.

Triple cult image of Diana Nemorensis (Diana of Lake Nemi).  In this depiction she is sometimes described as Diana, Hecate and Selene (or Artemis). Image: with permission from Circle for Hekate.

Invocation to Diana.

Diana, beautiful Diana!

Who art indeed as good as beautiful,

By all the worship I have given thee,

And all the joy of love which thou hast known,

I do implore thee aid me in my love!

What thou wilt ’tis true

 Thou canst ever do:

And if the grace I seek thou’lt grant to me,

Then call, I pray, thy daughter Aradia,

And send her to the bedside of the girl,

And give that girl the likeness of a dog,

And make her then come to me in my room,

But when she once has entered it, I pray

That she may reassume her human form,

As beautiful as e’er she was before,

And may I then make love to her until

Our souls with joy are fully satisfied.

Then by the aid of the great Fairy Queen

And of her daughter, fair Aradia,

May she be turned into a dog again,

And then to human form as once before!

(Aradia, Leland, 1899)


The book Aradia- Gospel of the Witches by Charles G. Leland (1899) has become one of the most significant books through which Diana became recognised and worshipped again as a goddess in the revivalist Pagan traditions of the 20th century.  In Aradia, Leland presents Diana as the primary goddess of witches in Italy who worshipped her as a goddess of magic, witchcraft and of the Moon – all attributes which were linked to her in antiquity too, of course.  The above spell from chapter VI of this book specifically names Diana as a “great Faerie Queen”  highlighting that Leland and his informant Maddalena were familiar with Diana as both a Pagan goddess and as a Faerie Queen in the late 19th century. Speculations that the work presented by Leland might have been, as Prof. Hutton suggests in his Triumph of the Moon, “to some extent the concoction of Leland himself” and indeed that it is possible that the author was duped into believing he was being presented with authentic material by his informant Maddalena abound. The evidence suggests differently and the work Leland presented in Aradia fits neatly into a long tradition of the continued recorded and alleged worship of Diana in Italy, often also associated with folk magic, witchcraft and superstition.

Intriguingly, even though Aradia was a hugely influential text on the development of initiatory Wicca (a ceremonial tradition of witchcraft taught by Gerald Gardner), as well as modern Paganism, it is rarely credited as such.  Yet, one of the best known ritual texts used in Wicca, The Charge of the Goddess clearly borrowed its opening lines from Aradia. The Charge of the Goddess is used not only by the initiatory branches of Wicca today, but also by various other traditions of modern Paganism and Goddess spirituality.  I include an extract from Aradia (1899) for comparison with an extract from a published (public domain) version of Gerald Gardner’s Book of Shadows (a book of rituals copied by initiates of the tradition) dated to 1949.

In Aradia the words below are spoken by Aradia, the daughter of Diana with her brother/lover Lucifer, after she was instructed to teach magic to the witches by her mother, Diana:

 “When I shall have departed from this world,
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: this shall last until

The last of your oppressors shall be dead…”

(Aradia, Leland, 1899)

Sculpture of the Goddess Diana in the Louvre, illustrating a conflation with the Hellenic Artemis, with whom she is equated.
Sculpture of the Goddess Diana in the Louvre, illustrating a conflation with the Hellenic Artemis, with whom she is equated. Photo by Sorita d’Este.

In Wicca the words of The Charge are spoken by the High Priestess of a Coven as part of the ceremony of Drawing Down the Moon which is performed at most ceremonies:

“Whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full, ye shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me who am Queen of all Witcheries and magics. There ye shall assemble, ye who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet 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, both men and women, and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music, and love, all in my praise. “

(Charge of the Goddess, Book of Shadows, Gerald Gardner, 1949)

Numerous historians and writers recorded their beliefs and observations that Diana was associated with witchcraft and sorcery long before Leland published Aradia. For example, in the mid-18th century the Italian author Girolamo Tartarotti wrote that “The identity of the Dianic cult with modern witchcraft is demonstrated and proven” in his book Del Congresso Notturno Delle Lammie.  Tartarotti’s writings attacked the popular notions held by the Church about witchcraft as being anti-Christian, instead attributing magical practices of his day to the cult of the goddess Diana.  A century before Tartarotti, Pietro Piperno in his 1647 essay De Nuce Maga Beneventana & De Effectibus Magicis mentions Diana in the context of witchcraft, and earlier still, in 1576, Bartolo Spina wrote saying that witches gathered at night to worship Diana, in his work Quaestio de Strigus.

There were many fascinating rituals, customs and festivals associated with Diana in antiquity. The Nemoralia was perhaps the most ancient as well as the most famous of the festivals dedicated to Diana, named after Lake Nemi in Aricia where the festival originated as a provincial cult, eventually spreading throughout Italy.  Here Diana Nemorensis (Diana of the woodlands) was celebrated. Stratius wrote describing this, saying that:

“It is the season when the most scorching region of the heavens takes over the land and the keen dog-star Sirius, so often struck by Hyperion’s sun, burns the gasping fields.  Now is the day with Trivia’s Arician grove, convenient for fugitive kings, grows smoky, and the lake, having guilty knowledge of Hippolytus, glitters with the reflection of a multitude of torches; Diana herself garlands the deserving hunting dogs and polishes the arrowheads and allows the wild animals to go in safely, and at virtuous hearths all Italy celebrates the Hecatean Ides…”[1]

Lake Nemi was also named Speculum Dianae (Mirror of Diana) by Virgil and was a wealthy centre where Diana was worshipped as a goddess for at least 1000 years.   Here Diana was served by the Rex Nemorensis (King of the Woods) who was both Priest and guardian to the temple, fulfilling an important role of office, one which started and ended with bloodshed.  The British historian Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) in his translation of The Battle of Lake Regillus poetically describes Lake Nemi and the cruel reality of its priest:

“From the still glassy lake that sleeps

Beneath Aricia’s trees–

Those trees in whose dim shadow

The ghastly priest doth reign,

The priest who slew the slayer,

And shall himself be slain.”[2]

Strabo’s The Geography provides us with further insights on the Rex Nemorensis telling us that the position of priest was held by a man who was a run-away slave, who having successfully attacked and killed his predecessor, took his place as King of the Woods. As a result the serving priest was always armed with a sword and on the look-out for would-be attackers in order to defend his life and his position. Thus the Priest-King of Diana was a hunter who was hunted in turn, a King who had to prove him-self to be the best against each challenger in order to maintain his position as servant and guardian to the goddess.



[1] Statius, Silvae 3.1.52-60, c. 93 CE.

[2] Thomas Babbington Macaulay, The Battle of the Lake Regillus, 1860:113.

Cover of The Faerie Queens.
Cover of The Faerie Queens.


Article available in full in The Faerie Queens (Avalonia, 2013).

Part II will also be published on this blog, Adamantine Muse.


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