Leda Rafanelli’s writings reveal some glaring contradictions. She denounced religion, but proudly declared herself a faithful Muslim. She trashed feminism, but her books featured liberated, intellectual female protagonists. She was an individualist anarchist who professed indifference towards what everyone else thought, but spent much of her career writing propaganda to influence how her readers thought.

Are these truly contradictions? What if we were to expand our definitions of what it means to engage spirituality, explore femininity, and enjoy freedom? Could broader understandings of these themes reconcile perspectives that appear to be contradictory?

Below are a few excerpts from Leda’s writing concerning these subjects. You can decide for yourself whether she was on to something, or just wildly eccentric. All excerpts are from this source.

On free love: Understanding life and living it serenely, happily, in a blossom of joy, in a constant and intense, full affirmation of love—giving life to healthy fruit, offering all of our brothers and sisters affectionate and constructive acceptance; understanding the inevitable pain, and remaining calm throughout mortal struggles, all with knowing awareness and a sense of peace: this is the human mission, and all who strive to fulfill it do not live in vain […] Many people, especially anarchists, have spoken of love and its necessary liberation—making an intelligent distinction between free love and free unions. Because this isn’t about reforming, extending or modernizing a law, but rather, a new, broad anarchical concept that will be embraced and promoted for the happiness and health of the human race, for the full expansion of masculine or feminine vitality, for the realization of wider social victories that require the total liberty and full strength of individuals. [1921]

On feminism[Feminism] is the fruit of today’s society, and therefore, from my point of view, fruit without any good substance and full of poison (…) While the proletarian woman more or less energetically combats the oppressor, the bourgeois woman (…) also rises up. But against whom? Against men; against males. Yes, the bourgeois woman has only one issue; and feminism has only one purpose: to reach the same level as man in his studies; imitate him in the professional world; to be compared as equals. Unfortunately this makes her seem ridiculous. (…) Perhaps the bourgeois woman will see men as the obstacle to her ideas and will fight against them, as it’s certainly easier to fight against males than it is to fight against society as a whole (…) feminism is a poisonous fruit of modern society, that strives to do nothing else but create female attorneys; who, just like male attorneys, will be perfectly useless in the society of the future, as soon as we, the people, render laws and courts useless and therefore eliminate them. [1904]

On femininity: Today, a day of idleness and fasting, spent waiting for evening to arrive, in order to defeat time, which seems to pass very slowly as she longs for coffee, which she will take as soon as the moon appears—Djali—the woman who belongs to herself—Sahara—the woman who resembles the desert— sing the stories of other sisters, of other women, of other females—good and evil, happy and unhappy, victorious, victims and tyrants—much like herself. This sevenfold contrast, a prism of the soul, lies within every woman. She has been happier than a queen, and now is unhappier than a beggar: she forms a complete parabola. She knows the whole arch. She knows that everything is useless and that what she says is also useless. [1922]

On individualism anarchism: Individualists feel and advocate a different concept and vision of life, entirely different from other interpretations. And it’s truly this different understanding of life that gives us our reason for being and our indifference to proselytism. Whether or not people follow us, whether or not we’re understood, we remain what we are and our ideas are not diminished nor devalued, but remain intact, alive inside of us. [1913]

On the role of propaganda: The propaganda of every faith, of every thought, of every ideal is an almost instinctive need for every thinking being, and is essentially a form of protest against the imposition of laws, habits, “obligations” that work against people who see things differently and generally have different points of view on human affairs. It is inside of us, in our thoughts; the hope that these things will materialize one day in the future. It is natural to express this hope, to present it as a possible form of moral revenge, it is natural to want to sow it in fertile soil. It is true that many seeds are scattered and lost in the field of uncultivated minds, but someone who believes in the value of propaganda does not give up trying. [date unknown]

On the goal of anarchist movements: It was our dream, perhaps even our noble Utopia, and it’s still our unattainable goal: to create, all around the world, a stronger and more aware Humanity, different from the oppressed, cowardly and aching throng of people who haven’t understood how much beauty, how much truth, how much good there is in Life…We know that this insurmountable distance between us and conformist, religious, militaristic society runs deep. Its version of reality is not only engraved in the textbooks used in State schools, but has been preached since time immemorial. As internationalists, we do not limit ourselves to national a airs: our heroes, our martyrs, our warriors are from all ages. From avengers to thinkers, poets to dynamic propagandists: every individual gave all they had to the Cause of Anarchism, the best of their minds and souls. [date unknown]

On religion: All religions are absurd legends, decorated with strange poetry, based on nonexistent creatures and endowed with all sorts of supernatural, mysterious, and therefore non-negotiable powers and virtues. An individual who has a healthy and active intellect does not need to work too hard to understand that a deep pit of lies yawns underneath the mystic veils. [1905]

On her Muslim faithMy name is, not my name ‘was’, Leda Rafanelli, as I am still alive and, inshallah, in excellent health, thanks to my lifestyle: nourishing my body with the yoga method and practicing the ritual of ramadan. I was not ‘a fanatic of the Muslim religion’ because I am a faithful and practicing follower of Islamic law, expert in the Arabic language, and still an individualist anarchist activist. Perhaps my ‘extravagance’ is due to the fact that I have remained deeply faithful to my ideas and to my Mohammedan religion. [1963]

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