How do you like your dandelions?

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Photo of Wicca books and dandelions
Out of the Broomcloset

For some individuals, or at certain times, inspiration can be found, seemingly, everywhere, rather like dandelions. Some just see a weed to be removed, and some, alas, are oblivious; the plant is hiding in plain sight, as it were. Some see potential, and go with it. And perhaps dandelions are on my mind as a distraction from other, more pressing matters this summer.

Manage the dandelions, and the government can tend to itself. In the right hands, dandelions, under the dominion of Jupiter can provide a tonic for the system, act as a diuretic, and provide vitamins and minerals as a salad green (when picked young, as not to be bitter), or be made into dandelion wine.

Who is Charles Geoffrey Leland?

All of the above is meant as a homespun parable, or metaphor, for discussing Charles Geoffrey Leland, one of the unintentional parents of the Witchcraft revival. He was born in Philadelphia in 1824, and died in Florence in 1903. He was a noted writer, journalist, and folklorist, omnivorous in his interests. He was the toast of America and Europe in his heyday.

One of his early passions was studying the ways and customs of the Roma people (Gypsies, in the parlance of the day, without a pejorative connotation). He published several books on their customs and language, all quite popular in their day, as there was a vogue in Victorian society for the “curious” or “quaint.” Collecting and disseminating the lore of the under classes was much in vogue. Today, we would consider this more of the nature of slumming, or cultural appropriation. But that was then, and this is now.

Unlike many Victorians, his interest was more than academic, founding the Gypsy Folklore Society. And the Roma considered him quite proficient in their traditional methods of divination and spell workings. This assisted him in the next stage of his studies. When he and his wife moved to Florence, his pursuit of spells and folklore led him into the demimonde where love charms and fortune-telling were the currency. He had more than enough coin to spread around, as mentioned above.

One of his sources, who he referred to as “Maddalena” (who had previously been one of those who contributed material to Leland’s “Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition”) told him that she had heard of a “Vangelo,” a “Gospel of the Witches.” But it was several years before a copy of it was presented to him. Over time, he combined this text and accompanying translation with lore from previous books, and sent it along to his publisher, who then ignored it for two years. He only put it into print when he was asked to return the manuscript. Contemporary reviews consisted of, basically, “another job well done.” And then it sat on library shelves for decades, not cited, not mentioned in occult circles.

Tastes had changed; there was little call for the tale of a brother and sister (the Sun and Moon) having a child who came to earth to teach magic to the oppressed, as a way to fight back.

The Pagan revival movement

“Aradia” found new life undercover when Gerald Gardner, collecting scraps from his wide-ranging study of magic and folklore, “borrowed” the section, which became “The Charge of the Goddess” in many Wiccan circles (generally without attribution). As the Pagan revival movement picked up steam in the late 1960’s the book, long in the public domain, was reprinted by several publishers. It’s tone was anti-establishment, having a certain resonance.

And then it went away again. Pagan groups moved their message from shouting out their existence to being folks just like everyone else. “Aradia,” except among those identifying with the Italian Stregheria tradition, or the Wymyn-centric Dianic movement, wrote it all off as a fable concocted by Leland, or to fool Leland, mixing as it did Christian elements with folkloric, low magic; it seemed not sufficiently “Pagan.”

But now is not then; perhaps it’s time for magical practitioners to take another look at these legends, and internalize the message. It might be necessary to use magical means to overthrow those who would oppress the weaker (and not stop until they have all shuffled off this mortal coil). Harsh, yes; but how do you like your dandelions?

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