Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Benandanti

So this week's topic is Favorite Creature That Goes Bump in the Night.  And I am going to do a very self-serving post about my favorite, which also happens to be the subject of my trilogy (The Twin Willows Trilogy, out Winter 2013 from HarperTeen).

The Benandanti.

The What?

Chances are you've never heard of the Benandanti (translation: Good Walkers).  I hadn't before I started writing the book.  In fact, I've only run into one person who had actually heard of them before I launched into my overly-enthusiastic explanation.  So let me introduce you to the coolest supernatural being this side of Friuli.

Back in 1575, the Roman Inquisition started getting reports about some strange doings in a town up north.  The Friuli region of Italy is so far north that they speak German in some of the villages.  But it's never too far to travel when the Inquisition gets a whiff of witchcraft.  So they sent some of their Inquisitors to check it out.

They found a lot of people willing to talk...just not any of the Benandanti themselves.  But villager after villager told of their crops being protected by the Benandanti from the "evil demons," of strange rituals performed in the hillsides, of spouses who would fall asleep and could not be woken up.  Finally, someone named names and the Inquisition hauled in a real, live Benandanti.

He was just a simple man.  "I must not speak of the Benandanti," he said.

Well, after some coercing (which in 1575, you can imagine what that entailed), they got him to talk.

The Benandanti are born, not made.  To be born into the Benandanti, one must be born with the caul, meaning born with the amniotic sac still covering the baby (vecchio venerdi).  To be born with the caul is considered a sign of great fortune in Italy.  The caul represents that the baby's soul has been born separately from the baby's body.

Because of this, the Benandanti can separate their souls from their bodies, and their soul takes on the form of an animal.  In my trilogy, my main character Alessia transforms into a Falcon. 

While they are transformed, their human body appears dead (frightening many a spouse back in 1575 Friuli).  If their body is turned over while their soul is gone, the soul cannot return to the body and the Benandanti will die.  In order to protect themselves from this, they must wear their caul (Alessia's is in a locket) at all times.

The Benandanti's greatest enemy are the Malandanti (Bad Walkers).  Although both the Benandanti and the Malandanti can identify each other by their animal forms, none of them know each other's true, human identities.  In Shift, Alessia's greatest antagonist in the Malandanti is the Panther...but she does not know its real identity.

And above all, they must never, ever speak of the Benandanti, or they will be banished from their Clan.

These are all characteristics of the real Benandanti that I wove into my story.  From there, my mythology veers widely away from the original myth.

But back to Friuli, 1575.*  After the first Benandanti talked, a few more came out of the woodwork to back up his story.  And so unraveled a great conspiracy - for generations, the people of Friuli had known about the Benandanti, who they believed protected their village from the evil demons of Satan (the Malandanti).

The Inquisition investigated the Benandanti for one hundred years.  And in all that time, they did not convict one person for witchcraft in Friuli.  Finally, they acknowledged that they believed the Benandanti - and they did indeed think they were witches - but because the Benandanti were performing good, protective magic, they let them off the hook.  Which is rather astonishing considering the Inquisition was not really known for letting people off the hook.

When I first stumbled upon the Wikipedia page for the Benandanti, my heart began to pound as soon as I read "born, not made."  In so many other supernatural mythologies - vampire, werewolf - one has to be made into the creature.  The idea that a Benandante was born, that they cannot change their destiny, reeled me in.  Add to that their unusual history with the Inquisition, and I was hooked.  I knew I had to write a book about them.

History says that after the one hundred years of the Inquisition meddling in their business, the Benandanti died out.  But in the mid-nineties, a girl was born in Friuli, vecchio venerdi.  Shortly thereafter, her mother moved her to Twin Willows, Maine...   

*Much of the research I did on the original Benandanti was taken from the excellent book The Night Battles by Carlo Ginzburg.  Check it out if this post has piqued your interest!

And the next time you meet someone who was born with the caul, you'll know their secret.

Nicole Maggi lives in Los Angeles, CA with her amazingly supportive husband and is a mom to one-year-old Emilia.  She worked as an actress for many years in New York before the lure of sunshine and avocados enticed her to the West Coast.  Though she still acts, her focus now is on her writing.  In her very limited spare time, Nicole enjoys yoga, hiking, baking (and eating what she bakes), reading, reading, watching reruns of LOST, and more reading.  Please follow her on Twitter so she can reach her goal of 1000 followers by her book's release date!


  1. I can't wait to read the Twin Willows Trilogy!! The Benandanti are a very intriguing subject, and I've got stories to share with you about sleep paralysis ... not fun stuff!!

  2. I recently researched this as I had a reading that mentioned that I had been in the Bernandanti in a previous life . I am fascinated and I am drawn to visiting italy were i lived in that lifetime. I am getting possible flashbacks of being a woman leader in this group xx