Dating countryside people
Across Europe, popular culture viewed magical abilities as either innate or learned; in Friulian folk custom, the benandanti were seen as having innate powers marked out at birth.
In the folklore of Friuli at the time, cauls were imbued with magical properties, being associated with the ability to protect soldiers from harm, to cause an enemy to withdraw, and to help lawyers win their legal cases.
Ginzburg noted that whether the benandanti were themselves witches or not was an area of confusion in the earliest records.
Whilst they combated the malevolent witches and helped heal those who were believed to have been harmed through witchcraft, they also joined the witches on their nocturnal journeys, and the miller Pietro Rotaro was recorded as referring to them as "benandanti witches"; for this reason the priest Don Bartolomeo Sgabarizza, who recorded Rotaro's testimony, believed that while the benandanti were witches, they were 'good' witches who tried to protect their communities from the bad witches who would harm children.
Between 15, in the midst of the Early Modern witch trials, a number of benandanti were accused of being heretics or witches under the Roman Inquisition.
According to Early Modern records, benandanti were believed to have been born with a caul on their head, which gave them the ability to take part in nocturnal visionary traditions that occurred on specific Thursdays during the year.
When not taking part in these visionary journeys, benandanti were also believed to have magical powers that could be used for healing.
In one account, this feast was presided over by a woman, "the abbess", who sat in splendour on the edge of a well.
For this reason, historian Norman Cohn asserted that the benandanti tradition highlights how "not only the waking thoughts but the trance experiences of individuals can be deeply conditioned by the generally accepted beliefs of the society in which they live".
On Thursdays between the Ember days, periods of fasting for the Catholic Church, the benandanti claimed their spirits would leave their bodies at night in the form of small animals.
During these visions, it was believed that their spirits rode upon various animals into the sky and off to places in the countryside.
Here they would take part in various games and other activities with other benandanti, and battle malevolent witches who threatened both their crops and their communities using sticks of sorghum.– were members of a folk tradition in the Friuli region.