History 3 – Charles Godfrey Leland

Charles Leland was born on August 15th, 1824 to Charles Leland and Charlotte Godfrey in Philadelphia. He claimed that shortly after his birth his nurse performed a ritual on him using a bible, a knife and key among other items to ensure a long and prosperous life.

After graduating from Princeton where he studied languages and pursued interests such as *Hermeticism and **Neo-Platonism, Charles continued his studies abroad in Germany and Paris. Upon returning to America he began a career as a journalist despite having just passed the bar in Pennsylvania. In 1856 he married Eliza Bella Fisher. Charles was also the founder and First Director of the Public School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia, which started as a school for disadvantaged children. This school later inspired the organization of The Home Arts and Industries Association.

In 1869 Charles returned to Europe to travel and soon after settled in London England. In 1871 he became famous for a comic series he was writing called “Hans Breitmann’s Ballads”. While he traveled he spent time studying the Gypsies which became the topic of many of his later books. He also began publishing books and articles on American and European languages and folk traditions. He became president of the English Gypsy – Lore Society in 1888. Charles moved to Italy this same year.

However, the book that Charles Leland is now famous for, “Aradia, The Gospel of the Witches” was written in 1899. Charles claimed that the book contained traditional beliefs of Italian Witchcraft provided to him by a woman named Maddalena. Although the accuracy of this book has been widely disputed, there are still many who use it as a study of witch lore in 19th century Italy.

*Hermeticism: a set of philosophical and religious beliefs based on the writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus.

** Neo-Platonism: school of modern mystical philosophy based on the teachings of Plato

Written works by Charles Leland:

1855 – Meister Karl’s Sketch-book

1864 – Legends of Birds

1871 – Hans Breitmann’s Ballads

1872 – Pidgin English Sing-Song

1873 – The English Gipsies

1875 – Fusang or The Discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist Priests in the Fifth Century

1879 – Johnykin and the Goblins

1882 – The Gypsies

1884 – Algonquin Legends

1891 – Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling

1892 – The Hundred Riddles of the Fairy Bellaria

1892 – Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition

1892 – Leather Work, A Practical Manual for Learners

1895 – Songs of the Sea and Lays of the Land

1896 – Legends of Florence Collected from the People

1899 – Unpublished Legends of Virgil

1899 – Aradia, The Gospel of the Witches

1899 – Have You a Strong Will?

1901 – Legends of Virgil

1902 – Flaxius, or Leaves from the Life of an Immortal

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