I Have No Head at All

From Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, compiled and translated by Charles Godfrey Leland:

Among the gods or spirits who were of ancient times — may they be ever favourable to us! Among them was one female who was the craftiest and most knavish of them all. She was called Laverna. She was a thief, and very little known to the other deities, who were honest and dignified, for she was rarely in heaven or in the country of the fairies.

She was almost always on earth, among thieves, pickpockets, and panders–she lived in darkness. Once it happened that she went (to a mortal), a great priest in the form and guise of a very beautiful stately priestess (of some goddess), and said to him:

“You have an estate which I wish to buy. I intend to build on it a temple to (our) God. I swear to you on my body that I will pay thee within a year.”

Therefore the priest transferred to her the estate.

And very soon Laverna had sold off all the crops, grain, cattle, wood, and poultry. There was not left the value of four farthings.

But on the day fixed for payment there was no Laverna to be seen. The goddess was far away, and had left her creditor in asso — in the lurch!

At the same time Laverna went to a great lord and bought of him a castle, well-furnished within and broad rich lands without.

But this time she swore on her head to pay in full in six months.

And as she had done by the priest, so she acted to the lord of the castle, and stole and sold every stick, furniture, cattle, men, and mice — there was not left wherewith to feed a fly.

Then the priest and the lord, finding out who this was, appealed to the gods, complaining that they had been robbed by a goddess.

And it was soon made known to them all that this was Laverna.

Therefore she was called to judgment before all the gods.

And when she was asked what she had done with the property of the priest, unto whom she had sworn by her body to make payment at the time appointed (and why had she broken her oath)?

She replied by a strange deed which amazed them all, for she made her body disappear, so that only her head remained visible, and it cried:

“Behold me! I swore by my body, but body have I none!”

Then all the gods laughed.

After the priest came the lord who had also been tricked, and to whom she had sworn by her head. And in reply to him Laverna showed to all present her whole body without mincing matters, and it was one of extreme beauty, but without a head; and from the neck thereof came a voice which said:

“Behold me, for I am Laverna, who
Have come to answer to that lord’s complaint,
Who swears that I contracted debt to him,
And have not paid although the time is o’er,
And that I am a thief because I swore
Upon my head–but, as you all can see,
I have no head at all, and therefore I
Assuredly ne’er swore by such an oath.”

Then there was indeed a storm of laughter among the gods, who made the matter right by ordering the head to join the body, and bidding Laverna pay up her debts, which she did.

Then Jove spoke and said: “Here is a roguish goddess without a duty (or a worshipper), while there are in Rome innumerable thieves, sharpers, cheats, and rascals — ladri, bindolini, truffatori e scrocconi — who live by deceit.

“These good folk have neither a church nor a god, and it is a great pity, for even the very devils have their master, Satan, as the head of the family. Therefore, I command that in future Laverna shall be the goddess of all the knaves or dishonest tradesmen, with the whole rubbish and refuse of the human race, who have been hitherto without a god or a devil, inasmuch as they have been too despicable for the one or the other.”

And so Laverna became the goddess of all dishonest and shabby people.