Diana and the Children
There was in Florence in the
oldest time a noble family, but grown so poor that their feast days were
few and far between. However, they dwelt in their old palace (which was in
the street now called La Via Cittadella), which was a fine old building,
and so they kept up a brave show before the world, when many a day they hardly
had anything to eat.
Round this palace was a large
garden, in which stood an ancient marble statue of Diana, like a beautiful
woman who seemed to be running with a dog by her side. She held in her hand
a bow, and on her forehead was a small moon. And it was said that by night,
when all was still, the statue became like life and fled, and did not return
till the moon set or the sun rose.
The father of the family had
two children, who were good and intelligent. On day they came home with many
flowers that had been given to them, and the little girl said to the brother,
"The beautiful lady with the bow ought to have some of these!"
Saying this, they laid flowers
before the statue and made a wreath, which the boy placed on her head.
Just then the great poet and
magician Virgil, who knew everything about the god and fairies, entered the
garden and said, smiling, "You have made the offering of flowers to the goddess
quite correctly, as they did of old; all that remains is to pronounce the
prayer properly, and it is this:"
So he repeated the invocation
|Lovely Goddess of the bow!
Lovely Goddess of the arrows!
Of all hounds and of all hunting
Thou who wakest in starry heaven
When the sun is sunk in slumber
Thou with moon upon thy forehead,
Who the chase by night preferrest
Unto hunting in the daylight,
With thy nymphs unto the music
Of the horn - thyself the huntress,
And most powerful: I pray thee
Think, although but for an instant,
Upon us who pray unto thee!
Then Virgil taught them also
the spell to be uttered when good fortune or aught is specially required
|Fair goddess of the rainbow,
Of the stars and of the moon!
The queen most powerful
Of hunters and the night!
We beg of thee thy aid,
That thou may'st give to us
The best of fortune ever!
If thou heed'st our evocation
And wilt give good fortune to us,
Then in proof give us a token!
And having taught them this,
Then the children ran to tell
their parents all that had happened, and the latter impressed it on them
to keep it a secret, nor breathe a word or hint thereof to any one. But what
was their amazement when they found early the next morning before the statue
a deer freshly killed, which gave them good dinners for many a day; nor did
they want thereafter at any time game of all kinds, when the prayer had been
There was a neighbor of this
family, a priest, who held in hate all the ways and worship of the gods of
the old time, and whatever did not belong to his religion, and he, passing
the garden one day, beheld the statue of Diana crowned with roses and other
flowers. And being in a rage, and seeing in the street a decayed cabbage,
he rolled it in the mud, and threw it all dripping at the face of the goddess,
saying, "Behold, thou vile beast of idolatry, this is the worship which thou
has from me, and the devil do the rest for thee!"
Then the priest heard a voice
in the gloom where the leaves were dense, and it said, "It is well! I give
thee warning, since thou hast made thy offering, some of the game to thee
I'll bring; thou'lt have thy share in the morning."
All that night the priest suffered
from horrible dreams and dread, and when at last, just before three o'clock,
he fell asleep, he suddenly awoke from a nightmare in which it seemed as
if something heavy rested on his chest. And something indeed fell from him
and rolled on the floor. And when he rose and picked it up, and looked at
it by the light of the moon, he saw that it was a human head, half
Another priest, who had heard
his cry of terror, entered his room, and having looked at the head, said,
"I know that face! It is of a man whom I confessed, and who was beheaded
three months ago at Siena."
And three days after, the priest
who had insulted the goddess died.
The foregoing tale was not given to me as belonging to the Gospel of Witches,
but as one of a very large series of traditions relating to Virgil as a magician.
But it has its proper place in this book, because it contains the invocation
to and incantation of Diana, these being remarkably beautiful and original.
When we remember how these 'hymns' have been handed down or preserved by
old women, and doubtless much garbled, changed, and deformed by transmission,
it cannot but seem wonderful that so much classic beauty still remains in
them, as, for instance, in -
|Lovely Goddess of the bow!
Lovely Goddess of the arrows!
Thou who walk'st I starry heaven!
Robert Browning was a great poet,
but if we compare all the Italian witch poems of and to Diana with the former's
much admired speech of Diana-Artemis, it will certainly be admitted by impartial
critics that the spells are fully equal to the following by the bard -
|I am a goddess of the ambrosial
And save by Here, Queen of Pride, surpassed
By none whose temples whiten this the world;
Through heaven I roll my lucid moon along,
I shed in Hell o'er my pale people peace,
On Earth, I, caring for the creatures, guard
Each pregnant yellow wolf and fox bitch sleek,
And every feathered mother's callow brood,
And all that love green haunts and loneliness.
This is pretty, but it is only
imitation, and neither in form or spirit really equal to the incantations,
which are sincere on faith. And it may here be observed in sorrow, yet in
very truth, that in a very great number of modern poetical handlings of classic
mythic subjects, the writers have, despite all their genius as artists, produced
rococo work which will appear to be such to another generation, simply from
their having missed the point, or omitted from ignorance something vital
which the folk lorist would probably not have lost. Achilles may be admirably
drawn, as I have seen him, in a Louis XIV. wig with a Turkish scimitar, but
still one could wish that the designer had been a little more familiar with
Greek garments and weapons.