Origins of the Malandanti

Who were (are) the Malandanti? I came across them when I was researching witchcraft for the second Toten Herzen novel. To understand the Malandanti you must first learn about the Benandanti.


Benandanti means ‘good walkers’ (Benandante is the singular) and were a group of people from the Friuli region of northeastern Italy in the 16th Century. Their story is rare in that they were tried for heresy by the Inquisition, but survived. Their secret magic brought them to the attention of the Inquisition along with the charges of witchcraft, but when the trial judges heard what the Benandanti were doing they found themselves with a moral and religious dilemma.

Tagliamento river in Friuli region. (photo Johann Jaritz)

Far from being Satanists the Benandanti were a select group of people chosen at birth. (Those babies born with part of the amniotic sac still attached to their heads were selected.) Using magic they would travel at night in the form of animals to the Vale of Josaphat and battle the Malandanti, which means ‘evil walkers.’ (Malandante singular.)

These battles were ultimately to do with crops and harvests and took place around the solstices and equinoxes, (the ember days). The Benandanti armed with fennel stalks, the Malandanti using sorghum stalks. Whether the harvests failed or not depended on who won the battles. The Benandanti also had the power to treat illnessess.

The Inquisition in Italy was never as robust as that in northern Europe, and a cursory interest in the goings on in Friuli simmered for seventy five years. They were first investigated by Don Bartolomeo Sgabarizza, a village priest, in 1575. When the matter was finally investigated with any rigour, those accused were let off with penances and forced to promise they wouldn’t dabble in their forbidden arts any more. But the name had become synonymous with witchcraft and members of the Benandanti considered to be stregha (witch).

Sorghum, used by the Malandanti and sometimes used for broomsticks. (photo pethan Botanical Gardens Utrechct University)

What the Benandanti were doing was not uncommon in European folklore (travelling in the form of an animal) or the folklore of other parts of the world. Shamanism is a common feature of may cultures. Similar manifestation were found such as Livonian werewolves, Hungarian taltos, Romanian calusari and the armiers of the Pyranees. But there is a question mark.

We know what happened to the Benandanti, but what became of the Malandanti?

In the second Toten Herzen novel, Malandanti, I’ve suggested they still exist, a network of witches practising black magic for their own ends, be it industrial, commercial, political or personal gain. They remain hidden, active and effective. And if no one knows they exist, there’s no one to fight them. There are no Benandanti anymore.


2014-3d-malandantiToten Herzen Malandanti is available now. The band are in the studio recording their comeback album, the first in over thirty five years. But progress is delayed when a powerful European coven come calling, looking for information Toten Herzen don’t even know they possess.

“So there’s no point me asking if you’re a good witch or a wicked witch?”
“Choose the one you’d prefer me to be.”
“I think you know the answer to that.”
“Well I’m no benandante, if that’s what you think. . . .”


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