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The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian…

The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth &… (original 1966; edition 1992)

by Carlo Ginzburg

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549727,118 (3.96)9
Title:The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries
Authors:Carlo Ginzburg
Info:The Johns Hopkins University Press (1992), Paperback, 232 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries by Carlo Ginzburg (1966)


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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I managed 80 pages. And it IS interesting...I should imagine the author must have got quite immersed in transcribing the 16th century inquisitorial evidence on the witches of the remote Italian region of Friuli. But there's quite a sameness abouit the allegations, and I abandoned yet another out-of-body experience for something more lowbrow.
Essentially, Ginzburg is considering the strange cult of the Benandanti - a select group of persons (all born in a caul) who, as adults, would be called on to do battle for the forces of good against local witches. Their spirit left the body (a dangerous procedure, as if the body were moved or buried in its absence, they would become unquiet spirits) and went off to engage with warlocks...the baddies armed with sorghum stalks, the Benandanti with fennel. The result meant success (or failure) of the crops.
Of course the reader's immediate query is 'what was going on here?' There's a definite theme throughout the 'vagabonds' 'conversations with the church- and many took place with no torture involved. Ginzburg posits some vague thoughts on hallucinogenic ointments, cataleptic trances and self-induced ecstasies, but there is no answer to why? how? why don't they do it now?
More helpful is his investigation into the origins of the cult...links to various Germanic and Slavonic beliefs, benevolent Livonian werewolves and much more, including a mother-goddess cult based around Diana and a Wild Hunt, imported from the Middle East.
Ginzburg argues that the Benandanti saw themselves as the direct opposite to witches, but that repeated dealings with a disapproving Catholic church conflated the two.
Certainly reading this sends the reader off to google these places where such fabulous stuff happened. And the records bring to life the personalities of the time who would otherwise have disappeared from history...little bits about their lives, finances, families emerge from the documents.
But that's as far as I got...went off for a bit of light relief from Philippa Gregory! ( )
  starbox | Jan 20, 2019 |
quando vedo su un banco di libreria uno di quei tomi di centinaia di pagine, con titoli a sensazione e copertine a tinte forti che pretendono di spiegare che cosa sia stata la stregoneria, mi viene il nervoso e penso a Carlo Ginzburg.
In questo libro, circa 250 pagine di piccolo formato, il più originale storico modernista italiano in attività, ricostruisce una vicenda di ritualità magica, senza fronzoli, ma con grande rigore filologico.
E' stato il primo a ri-scoprire questi tipetti dei benandanti e poi molti ne hanno approffittato ma, a mio giudizio, l'originale resta sempre il migliore.
Uno di quei lavori dai quali si può evincere che la storiografia seria forse è un "mattone", ma non è mai una palla. ( )
  icaro. | Aug 31, 2017 |
This book was impossibly dry. The information contained within it was often presented without appropriate background, or without the background presented first. I was often lead to read the same paragraph or section over and over again in an attempt to understand it - it was not well written. Though the subject matter was very interesting, the book itself was a disappointment simply because of how difficult it was to get the information out of it that it was intended - and attempted valiantly - to present to it's readers. ( )
  J9Plourde | Jun 13, 2017 |
This book presents an extraordinarily complex set of historical data that even beginning to write about it seems like a daunting task. Making matters short and sweet for the sake of reviewing a book of such scholarship might not be advisable, but that’s what I’ll try to do here.

This book carefully combines an analysis of folklore, popular tradition, and culture. In the Friuli region of Italy, a group known as the “benandanti” (literally “well-farers” or “good walkers” but literally translated here as the “night battlers”) leave their villages on prescribed nights of the year to engage in fights with witches. These men and women who identify themselves as benandanti are born with the caul – that is, a piece of amniotic sac around their necks – and are thereby marked as benandanti from birth. According to them, the purpose of these nighttime adventures were to fight witches who were trying to infect and kill crops; they saw themselves as protectors of the crop. Therefore, they are usually identified as an “agrarian cult.” The origins of this cult are ambiguous, but seem to date back to older German divinity cults, and especially the auspices of the goddess Diana. No matter their origins, this is most important: the benandanti always imagined themselves as warriors for the Christian God, and completely Christian themselves.

The most fascinating part of the book, which by far takes up most of its content, is what happens when this cult meets the Catholic Church in the form of the Inquisition. Over a very long period of time, this interaction slowly turns a very Christian cult into a devilish coven of witches convening at a sabbat fighting against God, and therefore against the Church. Members were called before Church trials and demanded to explain their experiences. Some claimed that the night battles were oneiric visions, while others insinuated that they were quite “real.” Other irregularities were quickly latched onto by the Church, and it was soon turned into, at least in the eyes of the Church, nothing short of witchcraft.

Because Ginzburg spends most of his time showing this careful transformation, the numerous – perhaps a few dozen – case studies presented are all carefully examined, sometimes dropped, picked up later in the text, and then re-examined; this can make the thread of the argument and its most prominent actors difficult to keep straight. Despite Ginzburg’s tight, short presentation, parts of the book can seem repetitive. Of course, this aspect of the book is essential for scholars of the Italian folklore of the time, but it can be more than a little tedious for someone just interested in one of the more seminal texts in the development of what we now call “microhistory.” While this might be difficult for someone with a less-than-scholarly interest in this material, it is nonetheless a careful and very important study that deserves the attention it has garnered. ( )
4 vote kant1066 | May 20, 2013 |
important, but more for its data than for ginzburg's conclusions. ( )
1 vote heidilove | Dec 19, 2005 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carlo Ginzburgprimary authorall editionscalculated
Boeke, YondTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meijer, LoekTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tedeschi, AnneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tedeschi, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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C'est l'auberge fameuse inscrite sur le livre,

Où l'on pourra manger, et dormir, et s'asseoir.

Baudelaire, La mort des pauvres
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On 23 March 1575, in the monastery of San Francesco di Cividale in the Friuli, there appeared before the vicar general, Monsignor Jacopo Maracco, and Fra Giulio d'Assissi of the Order of the Minor Conventuals, inquisitor in the dioceses pf Aquileia and Concordia, a witness, Don Bartolommeo Sgabarizza, who was a priest in the neighbouring village of Brazzano.
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Based on research in the Inquisitorial archives, the book recounts the story of a peasant fertility cult centred on the benandanti. These men and women regarded themselves as professional anti-witches, who (in dream-like states) apparently fought ritual battles against witches and wizards, to protect their villages and harvests. If they won, the harvest would be good, if they lost, there would be famine. The inquisitors tried to fit them into their pre-existing images of the witches’ sabbat. The result of this cultural clash which lasted over a century, was the slow metamorphosis of the benandanti into their enemies – the witches. Carlo Ginzburg shows clearly how this transformation of the popular notion of witchcraft was manipulated by the Inquisitors, and disseminated all over Europe and even to the New World. The peasants’ fragmented and confused testimony reaches us with great immediacy, enabling us to identify a level of popular belief which constitutes a valuable witness for the reconstruction of the peasant way of thinking of this age.
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The rituals and beliefs of Friuli peasant "anti-witches," who are part of a widespread fertility cult, and an analysis of their persecution by the Inquisition.

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