In Part 1 of Diana’s Moon Rays I explore the goddess Diana’s importance in Italian witchcraft, and her place in Charles G. Leland’s 1899 The Aradia. Read Part 1 first <
This article was first published in 2013 in the anthology The Faerie Queens. I am currently revisiting some of my research on Diana, the influences on her cult and the influences her cult had on subsequent Western occultism.
Diana’s Moon Rays – Part II
The Goddess Diana – The Faerie Queen
In her 2010 work The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland, Emma Wilby writes that:
“Among contemporary scholars, the Scottish fairy queen and her train or host are generally agreed to represent a version of the ‘European nocturnal goddess’ commonly associated with these narratives. This link is also reflected by the fact that educated Scots linked the fairy queen with Diana, one of the deities identified with the female spirit-group leader as early as the first decade of the tenth century. James VI referred to ‘That fourth kind of spirits, which by the gentiles was called Diana and her wandering court, and amongst us was called the fairy or ‘our good neighbours’; while Scottish minister William Hay claimed, in 1564, that ‘there are certain women who do say that they have dealings with Diana the queen of the fairies’.”
This then provides us with a glimpse of Diana as the Queen of the Faeries in Scotland and raises the question of how an ancient Roman goddess came to be known as the Queen of the Faeries in Scotland. The Romans travelled far and wide throughout Europe, the Mediterranean and beyond, taking with them their household gods and goddesses. Likewise merchants and travellers often took the worship of their deities with them to other parts of the world and in this way the worship of Diana, as is the case for many other deities, became known in parts of the world which might not be immediately apparent. In Britain there are at least six known Roman inscriptions to Diana, and at least five engraved gems, all dating to the 2nd to 4th century CE. These gems were found in the south of England and the Welsh borders, two of which show just Diana’s head, and three showing her as a huntress with bow and arrows.
But how and when did Diana become a Faerie Queen?
As we have seen from the quote by Wilby above, Diana was already equated to the Faerie Queen in 1564 in Scotland, enough for a Scottish minister to name her as such and indeed it seems to have been a widely held belief in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The poet Dryden (1639-1700) also identified the queen of the faeries with the goddess Diana, writing in his The Flower and the Leaf:
“Where we with Green adorn our Fairy Bow’rs,
And even this Grove unseen before, is ours.
Know farther; Ev’ry Lady cloath’d in White,
And crown’d with Oak and Lawrel ev’ry Knight,
Are Servants to the Leaf, by Liveries known
Of Innocence; and I myself am one
Saw you not Her so graceful to behold,
In white Attire, and crown’d with Radiant Gold?
The Soveraign Lady of our Land is She,
Diana call’d, the Queen of Chastity…”
In 1590 and 1596 Spenser’s famous The Faerie Queene was published, a beautifully written allegorical text which remains one of the longest poems written in the English language. In this text Spencer addresses many of the political issues of his day, making many poignant remarks about religion at a time when the religious landscape of England was changing fast at the hands of the Reformation. He praises the Tudor dynasty linking them to that of King Arthur and in it many of the prominent people of the political and social landscape of the time were represented as characters, all in an allegorical manner of course! Spenser’s clever use of classical mythology to tell his story shows his familiarity with Diana:
“The woodborne people fall before her flat,
And worship her as Goddesse of the wood;
And old Sylvanus selfe be eems not, what
To thinke of wight so faire, but gazing stood,
In doubt to deeme her borne of earthly brood;
Sometimes Dame Venus selfe he eems to see,
But Venus never had so sober mood;
Sometimes Diana he her takes to bee,
But misseth bow, and shaftes, and buskins to her knee.”
Spenser’s work was highly influential, though it was not the first to merge Diana the goddess with that of the Faerie Queen, it would certainly have helped to perpetuate it. In a letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, in which he expounds on his intentions for writing his book, Spencer writes that:
“So have I laboured to do in the person of Arthure: whom I conceive, after his long education by Timon (to whom he was by Merlin delivered to be brought up, so soone as he was borne of the Lady Igrayne) to have seen in a dreame or vision the Faerie Queene, with whose excellent beautie ravished, hee awaking, resolved to seek her out: and so, being by Merlin armed, and by Timon throughly instructed, he went to seeke her forth in Faery land. In that Faery Queene I mean Gloryin my generall intention: but in my particular I conceive the most excellent and glorious person of our soveraine the Queene, and her kingdome in Faery land. And yet, in some places else, I doe otherwise shadow her. For considering shee beareth two persons, the one of a most royall Queene or Empresse, the other of a most vertuous and beautifull lady, this latter part in some places I doe expresse in Belphoebe, fashioning her name according to your owne excellent conceipt of Cynthia, (Phoebe and Cynthia being both names of Diana).”
But Spenser was just following an already established tradition of seeing Diana in the role of faerie queen. The writings of the Bishop of Exeter (1161-84), Bartholomew Iscanus, show that the association between Diana and faeries was already established in the twelfth century:
“Whosoever, ensnared by the Devil’s wiles, may believe and profess that they ride with countless multitudes of others in the train of her whom the foolishly vulgar call Herodias or Diana, and that they obey her behest. Whosoever has prepared a table with three knives for the service of the fairies, that they may predestinate good to such as are born in the house…” (MSS Cotton. Faust. A. viii, fol. 32)
Iscanus also provides us with a bridge between Diana’s association with faeries and her association with the magical ability to fly through the air, which is a classical image of witchcraft and sorcery in Europe. He was however not the first to make this association, instead he was simply continuing an already established Christian tradition. In the ninth century Canon Episcopi similar associations are highlighted in association with Diana:
“This also is not to be omitted, that certain wicked women, turned back toward Satan, seduced by demonic illusions and phantasms, believe of themselves and profess to ride upon certain beasts in the night time hours, with Diana, the Goddess of the Pagans, and an innumerable multitude of women, and to traverse great spaces of earth in the silence of the dead of night, and to be subject to her laws as of a Lady, and on fixed nights be called to her service.”
It is a theme which was persistent, centuries after the Bishop of Exeter and nearly a thousand years after the Canon Episcopi, similar accusations were still made of Diana. This example is from the 1834 text The Darker Superstitions of Scotland: Illustrated from History and Practice:
“Some wicked women, resigning themselves to Satan and to the illusion of demons, believe and declare that they ride forth on certain animals in the night, along with Diana the goddess of the Pagans, or with Herodias, accompanied by a numberless multitude of women : and summoned to serve on particular nights by the orders of her whom they obey as their mistress, they pass silently over many regions during a tempestuous season”.
In his 1597 Daemonologie, King James wrote about Diana and her faerie court saying that:
“That fourth kind of spirits, which by the gentiles was called Diana and her wandering court, and amongst us was called the fairy or ‘our good neighbours’.”
This further emphasises that Diana was viewed as having a court of faeries who accompanied her, or that women seeking knowledge of sorcery would follow her. The origins of this motif can be found in classical mythology where Diana is accompanied by a group of nymphs or virgin priestesses on her travels, who often feature as key figures in the recorded myths. Conversely translators writing in the 1560s such as Phaer and Golding believed that it was not the Roman goddess who developed into Diana the Faerie Queen, but rather that it was the other way around and that the Faerie Queen developed into the goddess. Bennett notes:
Another major theme which needs investigating further within the context of Diana as the faerie queen is her association with witchcraft and sorcery. An examination of the history of the Roman Diana shows that she has close associations with the Hellenic goddesses Hekate and Artemis. Hekate in particular has a very long history of being associated with witchcraft and sorcery, as well as with the spirits of the dead and practices such as necromancy. Furthermore, as early as the fifth century BCE the goddess Hekate was conflated with the virgin huntress Artemis, who in turn is considered to be the Greek Diana. The histories, myths and cults of these three goddesses are at times exceedingly tangled and so it is a tangible argument that Hekate’s magic would become that of Diana. This is a consideration supported by the 19th century writer Walter Scott, who also links Hekate and Diana to other powerful and divine female figures from Scottish mythology, who could also be considered to be faerie queens in their own right:
“Like Diana, who in one capacity was denominated Hecate, the Fairy Queen is identified in popular tradition with the Gyre-Carline, Gay Carline, or mother witch, of the Scottish peasantry … She is sometimes termed Nicneven”
The connection between the Greek Hekate and the Scottish faerie queen tradition is explored a little by the author David Rankine in his essay Hekate Wears Tartan which was published in the anthology Hekate Her Sacred Fires (2010). In it Rankine discusses the connection between the Greek Hekate and the Scottish Faerie Queens in the context of the practice of Flyting, he asserts that:
“The reference to Nicneven and her nymphs comes from an earlier 1585 work, The Flyting of Montgomery and Polwart. Flyting was a verbal contest of insults, often given in verse, between two poets in medieval Scotland. This tradition has an ancient history, and may be found in many cultures around the world. Interestingly it was often used as a prelude to physical battle between warriors, including in ancient Greece, where we find Hekate.”
Here we should note that Nicneven which means the daughter of Nevis and the traditional Queen of the Faeries who has a hall in the otherworld under the earth, believed to be under Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland. Rankine provides an extract from one such flyting from Scotland in which Hekate is named:
“On ane thre headit hecate in haist þair they cryit:”
(On a three-headed Hecate in haste there they cried)
In the tradition of conflating Hekate with Diana and giving these two goddesses the same attributes and shared myths, Scottish folklore does not disappoint. In his epic work Albion’s England (1586) William Warner describes Hekate as the queen of hell, or possibly the otherworld and links her with faeries and elves who act as her servants, which seems to imply that they are her servants and therefore that she might also be considered to be a faerie queen in this context:
“Saw Hecat new canonized the Sourantisse of hell,
And Pluto bad it holiday for all which there did dwell …
The Elves, and Fairies, taking fists, did hop a merrie Round:”
The Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg suggested that the Scottish fairy queen has her origins in the night goddesses of Europe and explores this theme in his work The Night Battles in which he examines the evidence and trial records of the Benandanti of 16th and 17th century Italy. Claims of night-time excursions, flying through the air on the back of animals or by other means and obeying their female leader, who is sometimes named as Diana, seems to be similar – if not identical – to the claims made of Diana in Scottish lore. In the 10th century this notion of women flying out at night with Diana was already established enough to cause the French cleric Reginon de Prum to speak to priests regarding such women saying that:
“One cannot allow that certain wicked women, perverted and seduced by Satan’s illusions and mirages, believe and say that they go out at night with the goddess Diana, or with Herodias, and a great crowd of women, riding astride certain animals, covering large amounts of ground in the night silence and obeying Diana like a mistress” advising them to preach “…to the men of their parishes that all this is absolutely false and that such fantasised in the minds of the faithful come not from the spirit of God but from Evil…”.
Perhaps it was not so much a transformation of Diana the Roman Goddess into Diana the Faerie Queen, but rather that Diana gained the additional role of Faerie Queen whilst also retaining her place as a goddess. This process allowed her traditions and myths to be kept burning brightly, for a minority this beckoned them towards desiring knowledge and understanding of her mysteries – whilst others feared and continued to demonise it and her followers.
“We are moon-rays, the children of Diana,” replied one:–
“We are children of the Moon;
We are born of shining light;
When the Moon shoots forth a ray,
Then it takes a fairy’s form.”
(The Aradia, Leland, 1899)
Bennett, J.W. (1942) The Evolution of “The Fairie Queene”. New York: Burt Franklin
Dalyell, J.G. (1834) The Darker Superstitions of Scotland: Illustrated from History and Practice. Edinburgh: Waugh & Innes
Dyer, T.F.T. (1884) Folklore of Shakespeare. London: Harpers
D’Este, Sorita (ed) (2010) Hekate Her Sacred Fires. London: Avalonia
D’Este, Sorita and Rankine, David. (2007) Wicca Magickal Beginnings. London: Avalonia
D’Este, Sorita and Rankine, David. (2008) The Isles of the Many Gods. London: Avalonia
D’Este, Sorita. (2005). Artemis: Virgin Goddess of the Sun & Moon. London: Avalonia
Green, C.M.C. (2007) Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Leland, Charles G. (1899) Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches. London: David Nutt
Paton, Lucy Allen (1960) Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance. New York: Burt Franklin
Schlam, Carl C. (1984) Diana and Actaeon: Metamorphosis of a Myth. In Classical Antiquity Vol 3.1:82-110.
Scot, Reginald (1886, first edition 1584) Discoverie of Witchcraft. London: Elliot Stock
Scott, Walter (1869) Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. London: Alex Murray & Son
Thomsett: M.C. (2011) Heresy in the Roman Catholic Church: A History. North Carolina: McFarland & Co. Inc.
Wilby, Emma (2010) The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland. Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press
http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/gbos/gbos02.htm, accessed March 2013-07-01
 Wilby, The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland, 2010:306.
 Dryden, The Poems of John Dryden, 1822:221
 Spenser, The Works of Edmund Spenser: With Observations of his Life and Writings, 1849:3.
 Thomsett, Heresy in the Roman Catholic Church: A History, 2011:131.
 Dalyell, The Darker Superstitions of Scotland: Illustrated from History and Practice, 1834:537.
 King James VI, Daemonologie, 1597 Book 3.57
 Bennett, The Evolution of “The Fairie Queene”, 1942:8.
 Scot, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 1869:449.
 Rankine, in Hekate Her Sacred Fires, 2010:257.
 Rankine, in Hekate Her Sacred Fires, 2010:257.
 Chalmers & Johnson, The Works of the English Poets from Chaucer to Cowper, 1810 Vol 4.548.
 Wilby, The Visions of Isobel Gowdie: Magic, Witchcraft and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland, 2010:304.