Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Overview

Based on research in the Inquisitorial archives of Northern Italy, The Night Battles recounts the story of a peasant fertility cult centered on the benandanti, literally, "good walkers." These men and women described fighting extraordinary ritual battles against witches and wizards in order to protect their harvests. While their bodies slept, the souls of the benandanti were able to fly into the night sky to engage in epic spiritual combat for the good of the village. Carlo Ginzburg looks at how the Inquisition's...

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Overview

Based on research in the Inquisitorial archives of Northern Italy, The Night Battles recounts the story of a peasant fertility cult centered on the benandanti, literally, "good walkers." These men and women described fighting extraordinary ritual battles against witches and wizards in order to protect their harvests. While their bodies slept, the souls of the benandanti were able to fly into the night sky to engage in epic spiritual combat for the good of the village. Carlo Ginzburg looks at how the Inquisition's officers interpreted these tales to support their world view that the peasants were in fact practicing sorcery. The result of this cultural clash, which lasted for more than a century, was the slow metamorphosis of the benandanti into the Inquisition's mortal enemies—witches.

Relying upon this exceptionally well-documented case study, Ginzburg argues that a similar transformation of attitudes—perceiving folk beliefs as diabolical witchcraft—took place all over Europe and spread to the New World. In his new preface, Ginzburg reflects on the interplay of chance and discovery, as well as on the relationship between anomalous cultural notions and historical generalizations.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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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Editorial Reviews

London Review of Books - Anthony Pagden
A tour-de-force of reconstruction, building out of scattered and fragmentary sources a whole world for the reader to inhabit.
New York Review of Books - Peter Burke
A work of genuine intellectual distinction. It is an unusually original contribution to the study of witchcraft in early modern Europe, but its importance is far from being exhausted by that description.
New York Review of Books
A work of genuine intellectual distinction. It is an unusually original contribution to the study of witchcraft in early modern Europe, but its importance is far from being exhausted by that description.
London Review of Books
A tour-de-force of reconstruction, building out of scattered and fragmentary sources a whole world for the reader to inhabit.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801826054
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1992
  • Pages: 232

Meet the Author

Carlo Ginzburg has taught at the University of Bologna, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. The recipent of the 2010 International Balzan Prize, he is author of The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller and Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, also published by Johns Hopkins.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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