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Monday
Jun072010

Benandanti

During the 16th century (and most probably before), in the northern Italian region of Friuli, there were the benandanti. These were all men who were born with a caul (amniotic membrane still attached to the top of the infant's head and forming a veil). Such a person was usually brought into the league of benandanti when he was in his late teens. They left their bodies at night to fight against witches who threatened their community. What we know about them is from records of trials in which one or more of them were accused of practicing witchcraft themselves. From this, it seems that the biggest battles occurred during four periods of the year: Wednesday to Saturday after the first Sunday in Lent (which begins on Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter), and three four-day periods which included Pentecost Sunday (the seventh Sunday after Easter, also known as Whitsunday), Holy Cross Day (September 14), and St. Lucy's Day (December 13).

At stake was the success of the harvests. The souls of both the benandanti and those of the witches would leave their bodies on these nights and fly through the air astride horses or other animals. The place they met for battle was sometimes described as "the Plains of Jehosaphat." The benandanti used bundles of fennel as weapons; the witches used bundles of sorghum. According to the trial testimony of one wife of a benandantu, her husband instructed her not to move his body on such nights when he was in a trance-like state lest his soul could not return to his body. It was also said that the soul of a benandantu could be seen leaving their bodies through his mouth or nose in the form of a fly.

 

http://www.istrianet.org/istria/legends/index.htm

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