(Textual analysis of the Charge of the Goddess part 3)
This introductory line to the Charge is generally thought to be the original material of the author(s) thereof, as no known precedent exists in the works which otherwise influenced it.
This part of the Charge corresponds directly to that used in the Lift Up the Veil charge dated to 1949, which could then be said to be the earliest known source, presumably written by either Gerald Gardner himself (as this was pre-Valiente) or it could possibly be part of an original piece of prose currently lost to us today.
As an aside, for those who love life’s little coincidences, we thought we would include something similar which we found in a book published in 1920 on the subject of the Native American tribe of the Iroquois, which reads "My Children, listen to the words of the Great Mother. You are burdened and troubled; your little ones are silent and fearful…” There is nothing of course to suggest that this is directly related to the compilation of the Charge, but it is a fascinating parallel usage which we thought worthy of inclusion.
“High Priestess: At mine Altars the youth of Lacedaemon in Sparta made due sacrifice.”
Interestingly here, we find that Gardner wrote in Witchcraft Today “At mine altars the youth in Lacedaemon made due sacrifice”. However, it is noteworthy that in Gardner’s rendition of it there, he at least omitted a rather obtuse error in this first line of this version of the Charge, but of course we don’t know whether this was an accidental mistake or a deliberate omission in an effort to not reveal too much of the prose.
So what is wrong with this statement? Put simply the geography is all wrong. Sparta was a city in Lacedaemon, not the other way around, this statement is like saying England is in London or America is in New York! Then there is an apparent contradiction with the line “Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice....” which is found later in the same version of this Charge. So, whilst the goddess seems to be saying that sacrifice was made, she is also saying that she demands no sacrifice now! This is probably a side effect of the use of literature from a number of sources and the conflation of the myths of a variety of goddesses to represent the words spoken by one, or it could indicate a change of position on the part of the goddess, or her worshippers!
The reference to the ‘youth of Sparta,’ is to the ritual flogging which took place at the altars of the goddess Artemis Orthia (“Artemis of the steep”) during the Roman period. As part of the rites, young boys would be scourged on Artemis’ altar until it was smeared with their blood, being both their ritual purification and their sacrifice to this virgin huntress.
The origins of this rather grim ceremony are believed to have come from the discovery of an image of Artemis Orthia which had been lost from a temple for some time before being rediscovered. Two Spartan warriors, Astrabakos and Alopekos, discovered it and upon doing so immediately went completely insane. Following this a temple was erected around the rediscovered statue in honour of Artemis and through doing so the goddess was temporarily propitiated. However, during a sacrifice taking place on the altar, rival groups of Limnatians, Kynosourians and Mesoans got themselves into a brawl and as a result many of them were killed on and around the altar. Artemis, not known for forgiveness, decided to kill the rest of those involved through disease as a punishment for defiling her temple.
The Spartan people made desperate appeals to an oracle for advice on what to do and were told that the only way to stop the disease was to stain the altar with human blood as an offering to Artemis. For many years they offered human sacrifices at the altar (the sacrifice being chosen by lot) until this practice was eventually substituted with that of the whipping of young prepubescent boys. The boys were scourged until enough blood had been produced to stain the altar anew and thus ensured another period of peace with the goddess. During the scourging a priestess would hold a light wooden image of the goddess with which she would be able to tell if the men who were doing the scourging were slacking on the amount or the severity of the blows given to the boys based on beauty or rank. If the statue grew heavy it was due to the men slacking and the priestess would chastise those doing the whipping to ensure that Artemis’ offerings were made correctly and appropriately.
As an interesting aside, flogging is a theme which recurs in the worship of the goddess Artemis. It also played a part in the cheese-stealing rituals recorded by Xenophon in Lakedaimonion Politeia in the fifth/fourth century BCE. Here two groups of young men would contest a piece of cheese which was placed on the altar of Artemis. The first group defended the cheese with whips, whilst the other group had to try and steal it. Though there is no direct connection here with sacrifice, which is clearly indicated in the example of Artemis Orthia, it may be that this was another variation of a similar rite as those being scourged would undoubtedly bleed onto the altar, making a blood sacrifice as part of the ceremonial goings on.
The use of the scourge in an ancient ceremony was well exemplified by the frequently quoted Roman festival of Lupercalia, where young men clad in skins would rush around beating people with strips of goatskin, which was believed to promote fertility and easy childbirth. However this does not really bear much resemblance to the use of the scourge in the Wiccan tradition. In medieval times the scourge was described as being used frequently for punishment of witches. One such example is seen in Murray’s The God of the Witches:
“The accused escaped with her life, but her sentence was, ‘To be scourged from the end of said town to the other. And thereafter to be banished from the country’.”
Another common suggestion is the claim that the Knights Templar used scourging, a reference Gardner himself makes in his works. Whether they did or not, there is certainly a well-documented history of self-flagellation within the Christian church as a means of ’purification’, so this is a much more likely source of the magickal beginnings of using the scourge to be “properly prepared”.
 The Hero of the Longhouse, Mary Elisabeth Laing, 1920
Extract from: Wicca: Magical Beginnings written by d’Este & Rankine, 2008 (Avalonia.) PB / Kindle @ https://amzn.to/3Ay4HJr. Shared here with the intention to inspire and inform the now and future generations interested in Wicca and other Pagan traditions inspired by it.