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

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  705 ratings  ·  43 reviews

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 t

Paperback, 232 pages
Published March 1st 1992 by Johns Hopkins University Press (first published 1966)
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really liked it 4.00  · 
Rating details
 ·  705 ratings  ·  43 reviews

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This book had a bit of an uphill battle against expectations: I've been hearing about it for years before I finally got around to reading it, and I already knew the rather amazing central focus. I also really liked The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-century Miller.

Night Battles is fascinating. Not so much on a page-to-page level: if anything, it can sometimes get bogged down in individual details there. But it's central conceit is really amazing: it's a study of a group of peas
John David
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 he
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was so cool. It only took an afternoon or so to read, and I have been thinking about it ever since. Really interesting stuff. It has the perennial problem that microhistories tend to have - is any of this really applicable to anything, or is this just a minor little neat corner of history - but it does get one thinking.
Night Battles is about a small society of people discovered and investigated by the religious authorities; a people who shared a bizarre set of spiritual beliefs. In the lat
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 benandant
John Wiswell
Aug 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History readers, religious readers, spiritual readers, anthropology readers
In the 16th and 17th century a small group of people believed they left their bodies to fight in an astral war on behalf of God. Whether they were insane, mistaken or somehow right, the Church saw them as Satanists. This book is a terribly interesting examination of how the Church trampled individual spirituality and attempted to explain Pagan experiences with its own cosmology and morality. Carlo Ginzburg's research is distilled into very readable and accessible prose.
Mar 22, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

Interesting read about a group I'd never heard of before who initially believed themselves to be doing deeds in "the service of Christ" but eventually, through decades of interrogation, began to see themselves as witches instead.
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In The Night Battles, Carlo Ginzburg looks at a small group of northeastern Italian people from the area of Friuli who claimed to be 'benandanti.' The benandanti, according to their legend, were people born with "the caul," and battled witches to protect the harvest and people, and to heal people bewitched. A second strand of benandanti claimed to be witness to processions of the dead. Using a small set of inquisition documents to do his microhistory, Ginzburg claims that he can reconstruct the ...more
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: couldnt-finish
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 t
Carlo Ginzburg was something of a visionary, which can be both a strength and a liability for a historian. Ginzburg reliably shot well past of the attested historical record in his books. There’s little evidence for his overarching theses, presented here and in undergrad-historiography favorite “The Cheese and the Worms,” about early-modern popular thought. His major claim in “The Night Battles,” that major strains of early modern witchcraft are the continuation of ancient Central European pagan ...more
Confirms that even for historians “bad” witches are more interesting than “good” witches.

"Anna la Rossa was trying, it would appear, to alleviate her own and her family's poverty by exploiting an extremely common but also insatiable desire, the longing to know something about the fate of a departed loved one (and linked with the hope of life beyond the tomb), mingled inextricably with the instinctive inability to think of a dead human being without restoring to it the life it no longer possessed
Nov 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, school
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting survey of the evolution of a complex of myths in Italy. Ginzburg attempts to show how the Church and Inquisition morphed an ancient agricultural folk cult into the traditional witches sabbath. I found myself thinking of this as a meeting of two Heideggerian 'worlds' where the Inquisitors, baffled by the seemingly contradictory "good witches" they encountered, tried to shoehorn the benandanti into the Church's closest conceptual analog i.e. witches, the devil, and the sabbath. Of cour ...more
Nov 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Docela jsem se na tuhle knížku těšila, i když je opět - šokující - zahrnuta v mé povinné literatuře. Některé momenty mě bavily, ovšem neustálé opakování toho, co jsou benandanti, procesy s nimi, kde vyslýchaný říkal více méně to samé, co ten předchozí... To bylo unavující. Celá kniha je v podstatě soubor procesů s benandanty/čarodějnicemi a to je vše. :)
Mary Kate
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My class tore this book to pieces but honestly, I kind of liked it. Do I feel that Ginzburg was a little bit willful with his evidence? Yes. In the words of Sherlock Holmes, he was twisting facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts. But do I think he is on to something? Also yes. This book is worth the read.
Vážně velmi čtivě napsáno, což se mi u tohoto druhu literatury moc často nestává. Autor vychází z výslechů a udání v tehdejší době a snaží se nám vše jasně vysvětlit. I když se po nějaké době člověk může začít ztrácet, protože se hodně faktů prolíná a míchá. Ale za přečtení rozhodně stojí.
Caprice Robinson
It is all over the place and not in chronological order. You get information after you needed it not when you needed it.
Steve Cran
May 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
In the area of Friuli Italy back during the medieval times there was a group of people properly known as the Banadante. There work was connected primarily to the agricultural farming seasons. There job was to protect the seeds and the harvest from the witches. Going to sleep at night lying on their backs there astral bodies would float thorough the air to meet the witches for battle. Armed with fennel sticks the Benadante were ready to defend , mean while the witches were armed with Sorghum stic ...more
Apr 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(Since this is a history book, and not a novel with a surprise twist at the end, be aware that this whole review is a spoiler - the events have already happened and should not be a surprise.)

Carlo Ginzburg provides a fascinating window into how high learned culture and popular culture affected one another in the early modern world. The benandanti were members of an old fertility cult in northern Italy whose participants believed their souls left their bodies to fight witches at night, the victor
Jul 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
I had to read this book for my "Restorations" class in college, in which we covered the topics of religious restorations in late 15t and 16th century Europe.

Ginzburg is clearly the authority and has establish a reputation as one of the most learned scholars in matters of inquisition and witch hunt. His narrative, which is presented in a more or less linear manner (one story leads to another in a very conscise way) and is tied together by the depositions of the accussed, mostly peasants, in north
Sep 30, 2016 rated it liked it
So, I'm no historian to start with; I read this out of curiosity.
The narrow subject matter deals with the agrarian cult in Fruili called the benandanti. They have been recorded in depositions by the Holy Office from around 1400s - 1600s. The book deals with the roots of this fertility cult and its folklore, to a time when it was moulded to fit Christian motifs and ideas.
I found it interesting and the chapters are bite size (though the paragraphs can be long). The book did not have a satisfying c
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
J.M. Hushour
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Who wouldn't love this outstanding work of history? Ginzburg pored through Inquisiton archives previously inaccessible and brought us the story of the "benandanti", or "good-walkers". Largely rural folk, the benandanti of the Friuli in Italy were people with the ability to leave their bodies at night and battle witches and demons to protect the villages' crops and livestock. No shit. Numerous denunciations and interrogations of benandanti are discussed here. Even cooler, there is evidence elsewh ...more
Sep 20, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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 - ...more
Apr 11, 2011 rated it liked it
A book for Historians and one that probably needs some context. Ginzburg returns to the much berated works of Mary Murray and offers a new perspective on the witchhunts. The book lacks a good conclusion and often the author is merely making educated guesses unsupported by the evidence offered. For the well read on witchcraft this is a must read, but for the novice this book can not stand alone.
Come sempre, quando un saggio storico riporta le voci dei ceti subalterni, come nei verbali di un processo dell'Inquisizione, mi piace moltissimo. Qui si tratta di credenze popolari e culti agrari del Friuli.

As always, when a history book reports the voices of the people, such as verbal of inquiries of the Inquisition, I love it. This one is about popular myths in Friuli (Northern Italy).
Sep 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
A really interesting look into the origins and applications of the witch craze in Europe. It's not just about midwives anymore! Instead you get to see the actual trials of the benandanti--a group of people in the Friuli region who fought against witches, but then came to be seen as witches through the Inquisition's manipulative tactics.
Teddy Elizabeth
I had to read this for a class about Witchcraft. The book was interesting, but the author repeated himself a lot (about 2/3 of the book could be condensed into the other 1/3), and he wasn't able to prove his point extremely well. However, important points were made in the book, and I'm glad I read most of it.
Nov 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: buyable
so many things I love in this book: benandanti, werewolves, the procession of the dead, witches... a really fun book!

I must remember to look further into the Kernstniki and the Vile(viljenaci), and history of the island of Arbe.
Sep 07, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: storiografia
Bello, chiaro,esauriente,interessante. Accessibile a qualsiasi tipo di pubblico. Ci riporta indietro ad un universo mentale per noi quasi inimmaginabile, presentandoci testimonianze dirette, vocI di persone esistite,pensieri di uomini e donne così lontani da noi nel tempo e nella sensibilità.
Sean Mccarrey
Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book concentrated on the sort of stuff that really fascinates me. It had elements of witchcraft and the occult, along with broader social and political structures. That being said, it lacked a certain amount of analysis that was bothersome for me. Over all though I liked it.
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Born in 1939, he is the son of of Italian-Ukranian translator Leone Ginzburg and Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg. Historian whose fields of interest range from the Italian Renaissance to early modern European History, with contributions in art history, literary studies, popular cultural beliefs, and the theory of historiography.