Benandanti The Good Walkers

One of the strangest cases in the files of the Italian Inquisition is the case of the benandanti (Italian for “good walkers”), a secret society of peasant magicians in the region of Friuli, in the far northeast of Italy. The benandanti first came to the attention of the Catholic authorities in 1575, when a member of the society was brought before the Inquisition on an unrelated charge. The Benandanti claimed to travel out of their bodies while asleep to struggle against malevolent witches (streghe / malandanti) in order to ensure good crops for the season to come. The special powers of the benandanti gave them the ability to heal illnesses and lift curses, but their central duty was the nocturnal battle against the malandanti. The inquisitors were completely baffled by what they learned, as it did not match official portrayals of Satanism or pagan religion. Investigations continued in a desultory way for the next three-quarters of a century, with over a hundred benandanti finding themselves hauled before the Inquisition and grilled about their beliefs.

The Benandanti, who included both males and females, were individuals who believed that they ensured the protection of their community and its crops. According to their testimony, children born with a caul (a portion of the amniotic sac) on their head were destined to become benandanti. On the ember days – the days to either side of the solstices and equinoxes – they left their physical bodies behind and traveled in animal form to the Vale of Josaphat at the center of the world (similar with Werewolf). There, using fennel stalks as their weapons, they battled the malandanti or “evil walkers,” sorcerers armed with sorghum stalks. If the benandanti won, the harvest would be good; if the malandanti won, the crops would fail.

Location of the historical region Friuli in Italy

As historian of medieval culture Carlo Ginzburg has pointed out, the records of the benandanti are of high importance because they document one form of a tradition – found all over medieval Europe in various guises – of nocturnal journeys in animal form, often in the company of a goddess. Ginzburg noted that whether the benandanti were themselves witches or not was an area of confusion in the earliest records. Whilst they combated the malevolent witches and helped heal those who were believed to have been harmed through witchcraft, they also joined the witches on their nocturnal journeys, and the miller Pietro Rotaro was recorded as referring to them as "benandanti witches"; for this reason the priest Don Bartolomeo Sgabarizza, who recorded Rotaro's testimony, believed that while the benandanti were witches, they were 'good' witches who tried to protect their communities from the bad witches who would harm children. Ginzburg remarked that it was this contradiction in the relationship between the benandanti and the malevolent witches that ultimately heavily influenced their persecution at the hands of the Inquisition.

The Inquisition office in Friuli, as elsewhere in Italy, rejected the use of torture and gave accused persons certain legal rights rare north of the Alps. As a result, very few of the benandanti faced serious punishment; most were let off with penances and a stern warning to abandon their supposedly superstitious beliefs. The last trial involving benandanti was in 1644; after that time, faced with more serious threats to Catholic orthodoxy, the Friulian Inquisition abandoned the issue and no further investigations were ordered.

Sources:
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies: "The Ultimate A-Z of Ancient Mysteries, Lost Civilizations and Forgotten Wisdom" by John Michael Greer;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benandanti

Pic Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Baldung_Hexen_1508_kol.JPG



Written By Tripzibit on Mar 28, 2014 | 19:55

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