A couple of years ago, and with an impeccable sense of timing – just a few weeks before we were struck by a global pandemic – I was inspired with an idea that I named “the Companie of Aradia” (for reasons that I hope will become clear, below). Through lockdowns and social distancing, the concept has had to remain on ice. But now that Bojo the Buffoon and his Clown Car Cabinet have decided that covid is over (it really isn’t), perhaps it is time to take a delayed project or two out of cold storage. This is my first real attempt to give some detail on what the Companie of Aradia is intended to be, and to be for; and to begin outlining a process that hopefully makes it all possible.
Way back in ancient history, otherwise known as 1992, I conceived the idea that eventually became Wolf’s Head & Vixen Morris. WH&V has evolved and changed somewhat over the years, so it’s worth restating the original intention; I wanted to create a group that would be explicitly Pagan, and that would be committed to ritual performance. And that, really, sums up part of the intention behind the Companie of Aradia. The concept is for a group that defines itself as Pagan, that develops and performs ritual actions – using techniques derived from theatre, dance and performance art (for instance, but not limited to those) along with specifically magical arts – often in predominantly public spaces, and often with wider community engagement.
But why Aradia?
Charles Leland’s 1899 book Aradia: Gospel of the Witches is among the roots of the modern neo-Pagan revival. One of the (allegedly) ancient folk tales that Leland includes in the book – an exploration of a (again, allegedly) surviving tradition of pagan witchcraft in rural Tuscany – tells the story of Aradia as “the Beautiful Pilgrim”. I won’t expend a lot of words to paraphrase the story here; long out of copyright, it’s easy enough to find a copy of Aradia: Gospel of the Witches on the internet, these days. But it does define Aradia as a rebel against the establishment of Church and State, and a leader both in symbol and in practice of the lower classes in defiance and rebellion against oppression.
Over the past few years, Aradia has been making her presence felt once more among the Pagan community. She has, in fact, become a bit of a trend. There’s a book that draws on her as an inspiration, The New Aradia, and a social media hashtag #wearearadia that might, just might, gain enough momentum to develop into a movement-within-a-movement. Because this freshly woken Aradia is very much tied into the movement demanding action on climate change, and for social justice. She is a figurehead of sorts for magick-as-activism, and for witchcraft as a radical, counter-cultural, liberatory commitment.
The Companie of Aradia is conceived as being very much a part of that movement. It would be engaging in ritual actions with radical purpose. For example, linking into campaigns for action on climate change, against despotism and war, against bigotry and discrimination, for community and solidarity.
There’s a fine tradition of such magical work in the Pagan community. We could arguably regard the legendary “magical Battle of Britain” (described by Dion Fortune in her book of that title) as a part of it, along with the “political ritual” that was central to the activity of Paganlink in the 1980s, and also the Reclaiming Tradition. In a world increasingly threatened by catastrophes, from war to genocide and extreme weather events, that’s a thread that needs to be taken up once more in our hands.
The question that obviously arises is one of appropriate training or preparation. In order to be effective, the Companie of Aradia would need people who not only hold Pagan beliefs and a certain level of training in magical practices, but alongside that a range of creative skills and talents from storytelling to costume-making. That’s a tall order, really. The key, I think, is to regard the Companie as a group in development – and perhaps the development will never be finished, as such – and to consider training as an ongoing process integral to the group’s internal life.
That’s been true of WH&V, through all the years of the Morris side’s existence. The weekly practice evenings have always been about creating a spirit of community and solidarity within the group, as much as they’ve been about learning the dances. And if that spirit can’t be built within the prospective Companie of Aradia, we won’t be able to project it into our communities and into the wider world.
So anyway, that’s the basic outline. And this is, in effect, the first real call for people to get in touch if interested in being part of such a project, and especially if local enough to me (in Kent, and possibly in London) to make the connection practical. It might take a little time to develop. But no worries, it’s taken two years to come this far…