Charles Leland (Aug. 15, 1824 – March 20, 1903) was an American folklorist, humorist and expatriate who found himself wandering the hills of Italy, collecting stories about local witchcraft. At one point, according to his claims, he met a woman named Maddalena, who provided him with a manuscript about Italian witchcraft in 1897, and then promptly vanished, never to be heard from again. Because of this, there has been some skepticism about whether or not Maddalena really existed, or whether she was perhaps a con artist hoping to take advantage of Leland's hopes of finding a pre-Christian Italian magical tradition.
However, Maddalena’s authenticity aside, Leland then took the information she had given him, which was published as Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. Leland claimed that Aradia was the secret and sacred text of a hidden Italian goddess-based tradition of witchcraft.
Again, there has been some skepticism towards Leland’s claims. Author and scholar Ronald Hutton has theorized that if Maddalena did exist, the document she gave Leland may have contained her own family’s hereditary tradition, but that it was not necessarily a widespread practice of “Italian witchcraft.” Hutton also suggests that Leland had enough knowledge of local folklore that he could, conceivably, have made the whole thing up in its entirety. Regardless of the source, Aradia has had a significant impact on modern Pagan practice, particularly among those who follow Stregheria, which is an Italian magical tradition.
In addition to Aradia, which remains his best-known work, Leland also collected a number of pieces of Gypsy folklore in Europe, and published several books and scholarly articles. Of note, while a student at Princeton University, he wrote a poem entitled Educatio Diaboli: How the Devil Came to Princeton, which was never formally published. It remains in the Charles Godfrey Leland Collection in Princeton’s archives.