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Charles Godfrey Leland



Written and compiled by George Knowles


Charles G. Leland was an American scholar, folklorist, humorist and prolific author who wrote several classic books on English Gypsies and Italian Witches.  These include Etruscan Roman Remains, Legends of Florence, The Gypsies, Gypsy Sorcery and perhaps his most famous book Aradia: Gospel of the Witches.  During his time he wrote more than fifty books on a variety subjects, and penned uncounted articles for many major periodicals.  His writings inspired the likes of Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente as well as many other pioneers of modern day Witchcraft.  In America he is also recognized for his effort to establish Industrial Art as a branch of public education.


Born of old English descent Leland’s ancestral lineage can be traced back to a John Leland who in 1530 was a chaplain and librarian to King Henry VIII.  He is distinguished in that a special position was created for him in 1533 when he became the first person to be appointed Royal Antiquary.  Another distinguished ancestor is Charles Leland who was Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries during the reign of Charles 1.  Other members of his linage moved to America in 1636 and were prominent among the early pilgrims to settle in Massachusetts.


Leland was born to parents Henry Leland and Charlotte Frost Godfrey in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the 15th of August 1824.  His father Henry was a descendant of Hopestill Leland, one of the first white settlers in New England.  His mother on her side of the family often referred to an ancestress that had married into “sorcery”.  In his own memoirs Leland wrote:  “My mother's opinion was that this was a very strong case of atavism, and that the mysterious ancestor had cropped out in me”.  His parents were both Episcopalians but during his early youth converted to Unitarianism and brought Leland up in that belief.  His parents encouraged his curiosity and he was exposed to a variety of ideologies as he grew up.


A few days after his birth Leland’s Old Dutch nurse carried him up into the garret of their home and performed a special ritual.  She placed upon his breast a Bible, a key and a knife, and then placed lighted candles, money and a plate of salt at his head.  The purpose of the rite was to ensure he rise up in life to be lucky and to become a scholar and a wizard.  As a child Leland suffered from a serious bout of a meningitis-like illness, which continued to dog him throughout his early childhood.  As a result he often appeared to be weak, nervous and frail.  Later he grew to a strapping six-feet, and enjoyed a vigorous adult lifestyle.


Leland grew up fascinated with folklore and magick, for as a child he was regaled with stories of ghosts, witches and fairies.  The family being prosperous, they lived in a household that employed servants, from one (an Irish immigrant woman) he learned about fairies, and from another (a black women working in the kitchen) he learned about Voodoo.  By the age of 6 or 7, Leland was already familiar with his parent’s library and was a voracious reader; he even memorized Prospero’s speeches from Shakespeare’s play ‘The Tempest’.  His interest in folklore and all things occult would occupy much of his adult life.


Leland was first educated in a series of private schools in Philadelphia and during the summer stayed with cousins in the New England countryside to benefit his health.  Although Leland was a great reader, he was a poor student and hated school.  His teachers, and even his father, regarded him as stupid due to his extreme weakness in mathematics.  Later he went on to Princeton University where he studied languages, wrote poetry, and pursued a variety of other interests, including Hermeticism, Neo-Platonism, and the writings of Rabelais and Villon.


After graduating from Princeton, his father financed his post-graduate studies and sent Leland to Europe where he studied at the universities of Heidelberg and Munich before moving on to the Sorbonne in Paris.  While in Paris, Leland played an active part in the French Revolution of 1848.  As Captain of a group of Revolutionaries at the hotel where he was staying, he constructed barricades and fought on the streets of Paris.  Later that year he returned to America after the money his father had supplied ran out.


Back home in Philadelphia, Leland apprenticed for a time in a law firm and passed the bar association exams to practice in Pennsylvania.  Law however proved to mundane for his adventurous spirit and in 1853 he opted for a career in journalism.  During his years as a journalist, Leland wrote hundreds of essays, reviews and articles for some of the major periodicals of the time, including Vanity Fair, Graham's Magazine and the Knickerbocker Magazine.  He also wrote for the Illustrated News in New York, the Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia and eventually took on editorial duties for the Philadelphia Press.



Image:Charles Godfrey Leland portrait.jpg


Photo of Leland published in an article “Legend of Bernadus”, The Illustrated News, Jan 1853


In 1856 Leland married and became deeply devoted to his wife of 46 years ‘Eliza Bella “Isabel” Fisher’.  While acting as an editor for Graham's Magazine, he published the first of his German-English poems “Hans Breitmann's Party” (1857).  These he wrote in a mixture of German and broken English, imitating the dialect and humour of the Philadelphia Germans (also called Pennsylvania Dutch).  Collectively they were first published in the 1860’s and 1870’s and so popularized Leland that he soon became a sought-after and prosperous writer.  The poems were later collected in “The Breitmann Ballads” (newly edited in 1895).


It was about this time in the late 1850’s and during the build up to the American Civil War of 1861-65, that Leland developed strong pro-Union sentiments, and founded the Continental Monthly, a pro-Union Army publication to support their views.  He coined the term “emancipation” as an alternative to “abolition” in reference to the Union’s anti-slavery position.  After the war broke out on the 12th April 1861, Leland enlisted in 1863 and joined an emergency regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg.  After the war ended Leland traveled extensively throughout America developing his knowledge of folklore and the occult. On one occasion he tried his hand at prospecting for oil and on another while traveling through the old Wild West, he stayed for a short visit with General Custer at Fort Harker.


During his travels he lived and studied with the Algonquin Indians for months at a time recording their stories, myths and legends.  He also studied the myths and legends of the Eskimos, the Finno-Ugric languages of the Finns and Lapps, and delved into the anthropology of a number of Mongoloid peoples.  He found parallels in various Norse and North American Indian myths in as much as the Algonquin Indian stories could be related to Norse legends, he then developed a theory on their themes.  He postulated that certain myths had spread from Greenland down to Canada and into Northeastern America.  Leland’s studies led him to the conviction that the US did not have a meaningful legitimate folk ethos, and maintained that the American Indians understood nature and spirituality better than even Ralph Waldo Emerson or Walt Whitman.


In 1869 Leland’s father died, and with the inheritance from his estate together with the income he was generating from sales of his “Breitmann poems, Leland abandoned journalism, being able finically to pursue his interest in folklore, mysticism and the occult.  In 1870 he moved to England and began his study of the English Gypsies. Over the course of time he won the confidence of the then “King of the Gypsies” in England, Matty Cooper.  From Cooper, Leland learned to speak Romany the language of the Gypsies, but it took many years before the Gypsy people accepted him as one of their own.  They called him Romany Rye, meaning a non-Gypsy who associates with Gypsies.


While in England Leland was profoundly impressed by the growing appreciation of the newly formed Arts and Crafts movement inspired by the likes of the English reformer, poet and designer William Morris.  So impressed, in 1879 Leland returned home to Philadelphia and established the Industrial Art School.  Initially it was a school to teach Art and Crafts to disadvantaged children in Philadelphia, but became widely known later when it was visited and praised by Oscar Wilde.


In a lecture given in New York and reported in the Montreal Daily Witness on the 15th May 15 1882, Wilde is quoted:  I would have a workshop attached to every school...I have seen only one such school in the United States, and the was in Philadelphia, and was founded by my friend Leland.  I stopped there yesterday, and have brought some of their work here to show you”.  In a letter to Leland also in May 1882, now preserved at Yale University, Wilde wrote:  When I showed them the brass work and the pretty bowl of wood with the bright arabesques at New York they applauded to the echo, and I have received so many letters about it and congratulations that your school will be known and honoured everywhere, and you yourself recognised and honoured as one of the great pioneers and leaders of the art of the future”.


As a result of his efforts Leland unknowingly kick-started a popular resurgence of Arts and Crafts in America and was an important influence on the Arts and Crafts movement.  Later the Home Arts and Industries Association was founded in imitation of his initiative.  In 1883 Leland returned to England to continue his studies on the Gypsies.  While traveling around Europe with his Gypsy friends, Leland also discovered a secret language used by traveling tinkers called Shelta.  During this time he wrote two classic books on Gypsies and established himself as the leading authority on the subject.  Later in 1888, Leland founded and became the first President of the Gypsy-Lore Society.


In the winter of 1888 Leland moved to Florence in Italy, where he lived for the rest of his life.  It was here he began an in-depth study of “Stregheria” or Italian Witchcraft.  His greatest source of information came from a mysterious lady called Maddalena, who worked as a Tarot reader telling fortunes in the back streets of Florence.  Leland believed her to be a practicing hereditary witch and employed her as his research assistant.  She in turn introduced him to another Tuscan witch called Marietta, who also helped to provide material for his research.


Leland was particular interested to learn about old medical treatments and magical rituals performed by witches across the rural areas of Tuscany.  Many of the treatments he found to be similar to those used by the ancient Etruscan Civilizations of the early centuries BC.  Passed down orally from generation to generation many of these age-old treatments were still being used at the beginning of the 20th century.  They included common treatments for dreams, toothaches, eye problems, headaches, bladder stones, colic and most all types of bodily pains.


Overtime Maddelena passed on to him more than 200 pages of written folklore, incantations and stories.  Later Leland wrote that her memory seemed inexhaustible, and that the incantations she had learned seemed endless.  He also felt sure that the incantations were originally Etruscan.  Although it took her ten years to do so, it was Maddalena who eventually provided Leland with the material he needed for his most famous book Aradia: Gospel of the Witches.






Leland was a prolific collector and spent most of his spare time collecting Witch lore and purchasing items of antiquity.  One of his most prized possessions was the Black Stone of the Voodoos.  It is believed that there are only five or six of these stones, or “conjuring stones” existing in the whole of America.  The stones are small black pebbles thought to have originally arrived from Africa during the slave trade, and whoever succeeds in obtaining one would become a Master of Voodoo recognized as such by all other Voodoo practitioners in America.  Leland somehow obtained one and this he exhibited at the Folk-Lore Congress in London during 1891.





Surviving the death of his beloved wife Isabel on the 09th July 1902, Leland himself died on the 20th of March 1903 in Florence.  He had suffered with ill health for the pervious seven years, and toward the end a bout of pneumonia and resulting heart problems caused his death.  Leland was cremated in Florence and his ashes returned to America, where they were buried at The Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, PA.




Photo's courtesy of Raven Gramassi 


Elizabeth Robins Pennell, Leland’s niece who inherited much of his notes, letters and unpublished materials, wrote a two-volume biography on him:  Charles Godfrey Leland: a Biography (published in Boston by Houghton, Mifflin and Co in 1906).  Her biography is filled with comments on his early passionate interests in witchcraft, magic and the occult, of his passion she writes:


As might be expected of the man who was called “Master” by the Witches and Gypsies, and whose pockets were always full of charms and amulets, who owned the Black Stone of the Voodoo’s, who could not see a bit of red string at his feet and not pick it up, or find a pebble with an hole in it and not add it to his store – who in a word, not only studied witchcraft with the impersonal curiosity of the scholar, but practiced with the zest of the initiated”.


Sadly Leland departed without completing his work on Italian Witchcraft, however his legacy lives on through his books.  Until his time, no other books existed claiming to contain material obtained directly from a practicing witch.  His book Aradia: Gospel of the Witches became one of the most influential works to affect and influence modern Witchcraft and Wicca.  It is also one of the few books on Witchcraft to remain in print for over one hundred years.




A select bibliography:


1855: Meister Karl's Sketch-book

1855: Mystery of Dreams

1856: Piaui es of Travel

1862: Sunshine in Thought

1862: Heine's Book of Songs

1864: Legends of Birds

1870: Music Lesson of Confucius

1871: Hans Breitmann Ballads

1872: Pidgin-English Sing-Song

1873: The English Gipsies

1873: Egyptian Sketch Book

1879: Johnnykin and the Goblins

1879: Life of Abraham Lincoln

1880: The Minor Arts

1882: The Gypsies

1883: Industrial Education

1884: Algonquin Legends of New England

1889: A Dictionary of Slang (with Albert Barrerre)

1891: Gyspsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling

1892: The Hundred Riddles of the Fairy Bellaria

1892: Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition

1893: Memoirs

1895: The Breitmann Ballads (newly edited)

1895: Songs of the Sea and Lays of the Land 

1896: Legends of Florence Collected from the People (2 vols.)

1897: Hundred Profitable Acts

1899: Unpublished Legends of Virgil

1899: Aradia, or 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

1903: Kuloskap the Master, and other Algonquin Poems (with J. Dyneley Prince)



Book sources:


Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft  - By Raven Gramassi 

An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present  - By Doreen Valiente

A History of Witchcraft (Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans)  -  By Jeffrey B. Russell

The Triumph of the Moon  -  By Ronald Hutton

Drawing Down the Moon  -  By Margot Adler

The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft  -  Rosemary Ellen Guiley


Website sources:



First published on the 04th May 2001, 21:44:50 © George Knowles



Best wishes and Blessed Be



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Traditional Writings:


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Correspondence Tables:


IncenseCandlesColours Magickal Days Stones and Gems Elements and Elementals




Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /


Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /


Other things of interest:


Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) /  Esbats & Full Moons Links to Personal Friends & Resources Wicca/Witchcraft Resources What's a spell? Circle Casting and Sacred Space  Pentagram - Pentacle Marks of a Witch The Witches Power The Witches Hat An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 Doreen Valiente Witch” (A Book Review) /   


Sabbats and Festivals:


The Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)


Rituals contributed by Crone:


Samhain / Yule Imbolc Ostara /  Beltane Litha Lammas Mabon




Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron Magick Mirror Gazing




Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) /  AntelopeBatsCrow Fox Frog and Toads Goat / HoneybeeKangarooLion OwlPhoenix Rabbits and HaresRaven Robin RedbreastSheep Spider SquirrelSwansWild Boar Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat




In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder


Sacred Sites:


Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /


Rocks and Stones:


Stones - History, Myths and Lore


Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:


Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble


Wisdom and Inspiration:


Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /


Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:


Murdered by Witchcraft The Fairy Witch of Clonmel A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) /  Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-Lantern The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark


Old Masters of Academia:


Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras





A "Who's Who" of Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)


Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)


Abramelin the Mage /  Agrippa Aidan A KellyAlbertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” /  Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” /  Alison Harlow /  Amber KAnna FranklinAnodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey /  Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite /  Austin Osman Spare /  Biddy Early /  Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel /  Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke Cecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey Leland /  Charles Henry Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda Metteyya /  Charles WaltonChristina Oakley Harrington Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" /  Dion Fortune /  Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki Doreen ValienteDorothy MorrisonDr. John Dee & Edward Kelly /  Dr. Leo Louis Martello /  Edward FitchEleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” Eliphas Levi /  Ernest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake /  Fiona Horne /   Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia Friedrich von Spee /  Francis Barrett /  Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft /  Gwydion Pendderwen Hans HolzerHelen Duncan /   Herman Slater - Horrible Herman /  Isaac Bonewits Israel RegardieIvo Domínguez Jr. /  Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick /  James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches /  Janet Farrar and Gavin BoneJessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” /  Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" /  John Belham-Payne John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" /  John Gerard /  John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred /  John Michael Greer /  John ScoreJoseph John Campbell /  Karl von Eckartshausen Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" /   Laurie Cabot  - "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis SpenceMargaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMarie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMatthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” /   Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" /  Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set /  Monique WilsonMontague Summers /  Nicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellarsMrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning GloryOld Dorothy Clutterbuck /  Old George PickingillOlivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis /  Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsus /  Patricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPhilip HeseltonRaymond Buckland /  Reginald Scot /  Robert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" /  Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) /  Rudolf SteinerSabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" /  Scott CunninghamSelena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" /  Silver RavenwolfSir Francis Dashwood /  Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough"S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  Starhawk /  Stewart Farrar /  Sybil LeekTed Andrews The Mather Family - (includes:  Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) /   Thomas AdyT. Thorn CoyleVera ChapmanVictor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" /  Vivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWalter Ernest ButlerWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest /  



Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)



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