Charles Godfrey Leland (1824-1903) is well-known as one of the inspirational individuals for modern Wicca and Neo-Paganism, primarily through his book Aradia, which purported to be a “Gospel” of the nineteenth century survival of Witchcraft. Aradia holds a somewhat dodgy space in the Neo-Pagan canon, owing to the reliability of his informant, an Italian Witch named Maddalena; however, the majority of Aradia presents a seemingly straightforward account of Italian Witch-Lore. Leland obviously spent the better part of his life fascinated by sorcery and folk-Magick, becoming something of an expert in the uncovering and collecting of Magickal methodologies.
His formidable knowledge of English Witchcraft is on fine display in this remarkable work of his creation, The Witchcraft of Dame Darrel of York, the fanciful account of a medieval English Wise-Woman. Discovered by Brown University Professor Emeritus Robert Mathiesen among Leland’s papers held by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (where he uncovered Leland’s original manuscript for Aradia, which shows that he was working from an Italian text generated by someone else), and published in a very handsome facsimile by The Witches’ Almanac, Ltd. (2011), The Witchcraft of Dame Darrel may represent the first modern Book of Shadows.
Leland was a very talented artist, who clearly dedicated much study to medieval art and classical architecture; the book is beautifully illustrated (in the manner of illuminated manuscripts) with elegantly rendered drawings and characters that display immense personality on the page. The book is Leland’s fiction- but one produced on a massively intense level, and assembled with a prodigious amount of information. The book concludes with an encyclopedia of folkloric and mythic creatures- common enough to find in our days of mass-assembled knowledge, but far less easily obtained in the nineteenth century when study into folklore and the Magickal practices of Old was relatively rare. A fascinating tendency in the nineteenth century is to begin to gather up the Witchcraft/ Folklore material of the Past: Walter Scott assembled one of the first collections of Witch-Case materials in the early 1800s, when he collected such Scottish Witch-Cases as he could find, publishing them as his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft; Jacob Grimm is moved to collect the mazillion scraps of Germanic Folklore the he can locate, eventually published as the four-volume Germanic Mythology; Leland belongs to this group, in that he is moved to seek out actual methodologies for Magick- I don’t suppose it would be stretching a point too far to suggest that Gerald Gardner also (basically) fits into such a category.
Leland is plainly moved by his studies in Magick to create this fantastically imaginative “account” of a medieval Witch; the resulting work is a marvelous work of love, beautifully artistically complemented, and wonderfully preserved in this gorgeous facsimile volume. This book would be ideal for collectors of the (Neo) Pagan Past (or the Nineteenth Century Pagan Past); for instance, I so hope someone has had the thought to present the New Alexandrian Library with an edition.