While I tend to focus on the things that go bump in the night in this blog and urge people to take those things seriously, I think that it behooves us to remember that there are those in the magical world who are actively working for the benefit of human kind. One of those groups, from history, are the Benandanti – a word which means something along the line of “good walker”.
Accounts of the Benandanti come to us from the records of the Inquistion so, as you might imagine, the historical record is somewhat skewed. The inquisitors viewed the Benandanti as just another sort of witch but these folk magicians were a doughty lot and were very vocal in expressing that the magic they worked was strictly for the good and that, in fact, they were out scrapping it on with the Devil and his minions. More than one Benandanti flung this assertion in the face of the Inquisition as though to ask what they were doing to fight evil. Needless to say, the inquisitors were underwhelmed but some of what they learned about this unique group comes through to us in these accounts.
The Benandanti were men, born, as were seers in Celtic countries, with a caul. When they turned 20, they became a part of a group that, upon the Ember Days, four times a year, journeyed out of body to do battle with the Malandanti, the “evil walkers” in an astral location called the Valley of Josaphat.
The Benandanti are sometimes cited in works on werewolves since some of them travelled, in the classic shamanic style, as animals. In whatever form, the forces of the Benandanti clashed with their enemies wielding only fennel stalks and sought to drive them back across the astral valley. The belief was that if the Benandanti prevailed, the crops and livestock would flourish, while if they were defeated, famine would grip the land. These men took this task with deadly seriousness, rallying under the banner of their Captain in the Otherworld, and calling to them allies from the angelic realms (it was said that two angels stood with the banners of the opposing sides – one an angel of Light guarding the Benandanti banner and the other an angel of darkness, a demon perhaps, that guarded the banner of the Malandanti).
If you would like to know more about the historical find that brought the Benandanti to our attention, you can read The Night Battles by Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg. Although some of Ginzburg’s conclusions have been challenged, his detailed account of the testimony given by this group is on my list of books to acquire once life settles down a bit.
Regardless, though, I have it on good report that the Night Battles still rage in the astral world and that men and women of good will still flock to the banner of the Benandanti on the astral. Here is a little snippet of a report that I received from one of these warriors:
I did not have a good visual on the enemy forces. It seemed to me more like a cloud of darkness rolling across the field as we charged to meet it. It was not until I entered the cloud that I encountered separate entities to fight. Some human and some very definitely not. It was difficult to see in the cloud but it seemed to me that our forces (and probably other groups) formed a spearhead and plunged into the dark warriors. I have a better idea what it was like to be in the midst of melee combat in the Middle Ages now; enemies on all sides, constant movement, one enemy combatant down and another takes his place, people (beings) slamming into you from all sides and a constant struggle to keep your feet.
I lost count of the number of opponents; I just know that I was using everything I ever learned in the martial arts. Stick, fist, foot, throw, break, etc.
Given the darkness that we see so much in our time, perhaps a return to that simple act of standing and spitting into the face of the darkness and calling it out is an act that more of us might want to consider. All discussions of ethics aside, there are some forces afoot in the world that, to humans at least, are simply evil. Edmund Burke is credited with saying “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” So often, we feel that there is really nothing that we can do.
Perhaps, if we are willing to stretch our minds and spirits a bit, there is at least one gloriously symbolic act that we can partake in. Hermetics tells us that “as above, so below” so who knows what effect the Night Battles might really have.