Charge of the Goddess

History and Variations

Field Meditation
The Charge of the Goddess has a long and complex history. PeopleImages / Getty Images

Charge of the Goddess is perhaps one of the best-known pieces of ritual poetry in today’s magical community, and is often credited to author and priestess Doreen Valiente. The charge itself is a promise, made by the Goddess to her followers, that she will guide them, teach them, and lead them when they need her the most.

However, before Valiente, there were earlier variants, dating back at least as far as Charles Leland’s Aradia: Gospel of the Witches.

Because, like so many other writings in today’s Pagan world, Charge of the Goddess has evolved over time, it’s almost impossible to attribute it to one single author. Instead, what we have is a constantly changing and fluid piece of ritual poetry, that each contributor has changed, modified, and rearranged to suit their own tradition.

Leland’s Aradia

Charles Godfrey Leland was a folklorist who roamed about the Italian countryside collecting legends during the final decade of the nineteenth century. According to Leland, he met a young Italian woman called Maddalena, who provided him with a manuscript about ancient Italian witchcraft and then promptly vanished, never to be heard from again. This, obviously, led some scholars to question the existence of Maddalena, but regardless, Leland took the information he claimed to have obtained from her and published it as Aradia: Gospel of the Witches in 1899.

Leland’s text, which reads as follows, is a speech that Aradia, daughter of Diana, delivers to her pupils:

When I shall have departed from this world,
Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full,
Ye shall assemble in some desert place,
Or in a forest all together join
To adore the potent spirit of your queen,
My mother, great Diana.She who fain
Would learn all sorcery yet has not won
Its deepest secrets, them my mother will
Teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown.
And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything;
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also: this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead;
And ye shall make the game of Benevento,
Extinguishing the lights, and after that
Shall hold your supper thus…

Gardner’s Book of Shadows and the Valiente Version

Doreen Valiente played an instrumental part in twentieth-century Pagan practice, and her deeply evocative version of Charge of the Goddess may be the best known. In 1953, Valiente was initiated into Gerald Gardner’s New Forest coven of witches. Over the next several years, they worked together in expanding and developing Gardner’s Book of Shadows, which he claimed was based on ancient documents passed down through the ages.

Unfortunately, much of what Gardner had at the time was fragmented and disorganized. Valiente took on the task of re-organizing Gardner's work, and more importantly, putting into a practical and usable form. In addition to finishing things up, she added her poetic gifts to the process, and the end result was a collection of rituals and ceremonies that are both beautiful and workable - and the foundation for much of modern Wicca, some sixty years later. 

Although Valiente’s version, released in the late 1950s, is the most commonly referenced version today, there was an incarnation that appeared a decade or so earlier in Gardner’s original Book of Shadows. This variant, from around 1949, is a blend of Leland’s earlier work and a portion of Aleister Crowley’s Gnostic Mass.

Jason Mankey at Patheos says, “This version of the Charge was originally known as Lift Up the Veil, though I’ve heard it referred to as “Gardner’s Charge” on a number of occasions… Doreen Valiente’s version of The Charge of the Goddess dates back to sometime around 1957 and was inspired by Valiente’s desire for a less Crowley influenced charge.” 

Some time after writing the Charge poem that has become well known to today’s Pagans, Valiente also crafted a prose variant, at the request of some members of her coven. This prose version has also become immensely popular, and you can read it over at the official Doreen Valiente website.

Newer Adaptations

As the Pagan community grows and evolves, so do the various forms of ritual texts. A number of contemporary authors have created their own versions of the Charge that reflect their own magical beliefs and traditions.

Starhawk included her own form of the work in The Spiral Dance, first published in 1979, which reads in part:

Listen to the words of the Great Mother,
Who of old was called Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Diana, Arionrhod, Brigid, and by many other names:
Whenever you have need of anything, once a month, and better it be when the moon is full,
you shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me Who is Queen of all the Wise.
You shall be free from slavery,
and as a sign that you be free you shall be naked in your rites.
Sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in My Presence,
for Mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and Mine also is joy on earth.

The Starhawk version, which forms one of the cornerstones of her Reclaiming tradition, may be the one that newer Pagans are the most familiar with, but – as with any other piece of poetry or ritual – it is one that many have continuously adapted to suit their own needs. Today, several traditions use unique versions that pay tribute to their own deities of a number of different pantheons.

For a complete and in-depth breakdown of the various influences upon the different versions of the Charge, author Ceisiwr Serith has a great piece on his website, comparing Aradia, Valiente’s work, and the Crowleyan variants.