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

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JHU Press, Oct 15, 2013 - History - 240 pages

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.

-- Peter Burke

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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 ... Read full review

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User Review  - kant1066 - LibraryThing

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 ... Read full review


The Night Battles
The Processions of the Dead
The Benandanti between Inquisitors and Witches
The Benandanti at the Sabbat
Index of Names

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About the author (2013)

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.

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