The benandanti ("Good Walkers") were members of an agrarian visionary tradition in the Friuli district of Northeastern Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Dating traditions italy
During these visions, it was believed that their spirits rode upon various animals into the sky and off to places in the countryside.
Here they would take part in various games and other activities with other benandanti, and battle malevolent witches who threatened both their crops and their communities using sticks of sorghum.
When not taking part in these visionary journeys, benandanti were also believed to have magical powers that could be used for healing.
In 1575, the benandanti first came to the attention of the Friulian Church authorities when a village priest, Don Bartolomeo Sgabarizza, began investigating the claims made by the benandante Paolo Gasparotto.
Although Sgabarizza soon abandoned his investigations, in 1580 the case was reopened by the inquisitor Fra Felice de Montefalco, who interrogated not only Gasparotto but also a variety of other local benandanti and spirit mediums, ultimately condemning some of them for the crime of heresy.
Under pressure by the Inquisition, these nocturnal spirit travels (which often included sleep paralysis) were assimilated to the diabolised stereotype of the witches' Sabbath, leading to the extinction of the benandanti cult.The Inquisition's denunciation of the visionary tradition led to the term "benandante" becoming synonymous with the term "stregha" (meaning "witch") in Friulian folklore right through to the 20th century.The first historian to study the benandanti tradition was the Italian Carlo Ginzburg, who began an examination of the surviving trial records from the period in the early 1960s, culminating in the publication of his book The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1966, English translation 1983).In Ginzburg's interpretation of the evidence, the benandanti was a "fertility cult" whose members were "defenders of harvests and the fertility of fields." He furthermore argued that it was only one surviving part of a much wider European tradition of visionary experiences that had its origins in the pre-Christian period, identifying similarities with Livonian werewolf beliefs.– were members of a folk tradition in the Friuli region.The benandanti, who included both males and females, were individuals who believed that they ensured the protection of their community and its crops.