“This is a work of fiction. But the Benandanti are real. They were investigated by the Roman Inquisition from the late sixteenth century to the mid-seventeenth century in the Friuli region of Italy. Although many people confessed to having the gift to separate their souls from their bodies, the Inquisition never convicted a single Benandante. They realized that the protection the Benandanti gave to their villages was too valuable to remove. . .”

-From the Author’s Note in WINTER FALLS

Although I greatly changed the mythology of the Benandanti to suit my story’s purposes, the foundation is built upon the original legend.

Much of my research came from Carlo Ginzburg’s excellent book THE NIGHT BATTLES, which includes many of the transcripts from the actual Inquisition trials.

According to Ginzburg, the Benandanti originated as a fertility cult that defended crops and protected the harvests. All of the Benandanti that were questioned by the Roman Inquisition maintained that they fought for God, against the evil stregha, or witches, who were aligned with Satan.

Benandante were born, not made. They were marked at birth by being born with the caul, i.e.having part of the amniotic sac (which usually breaks during delivery) covering their face. On certain Thursdays during the Roman calendar, they claimed to leave their bodies in the forms of small animals such as mice, rabbits, and even butterflies. The men reported to fighting epic battles with the stregha, while the women attended huge feasts presided over by a great spirit known only as The Abbess. The women also claimed to be able to foretell who in their village would die in the next year. Many Benandanti had healing gifts as well.

The earliest accounts of the Benandanti date from 1575. There was much confusion over whether the Benandanti were good or evil; while they were fighting for the protection of their communities, they were also, undeniably, performing witchcraft. Eventually the Inquisition lumped their activities into the “witches Sabbath,” which the Inquisition considered diabolical, and the Benandanti cult died out.

Just as Alessia finds in WINTER FALLS, my first introduction to the Benandanti was through a Wikipedia page on the subject. Here is a link to the original page, in the hopes that it will fascinate you as much as it did me.