Origins of the Malandanti – update

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 many 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 suggested they still existed as a network of witches practising black magic for their own ends, be it industrial, commercial, political or personal gain. They remained hidden, active and effective. And if no one knew they existed, there was no one to fight them. No Benandanti anymore.



When I initally researched the story of the Benandanti one village name kept cropping up: Iassico. Acccounts of the Benandanti referred to Paulo Gaspurotto from Iassico being the first to be investigated for his witchcraft.

However, I searched the whole of Friuli for Gaspurotto’s village, but there was nothing on the ground. I assumed it was an ancient village long since abandoned, or possibly absorbed into a larger town.

Several weeks ago, researching the details for Who Among Us… I had another hunt for Iassico and still found nothing. What I did find was another account of Paulo Gaspurotto helping to heal the son of a man from another village called Brazzano. This village was on the map, in the agricultural plains of southern Friuli, and a few hundred metres away a hamlet called Giassico!

Gaspurotto’s village did exist. All the articles – derived from an initial article copied again and again – had missed the capital G. There can’t be more than twenty buildings in Giassico, so there’s an outside chance that one of them is, or stands on the site of, Gaspurotto’s home from way back in 1575.

The Benandanti found and therefore, the Malandanti found too.

Satellite image of Giassico in southern Friuli. (copyright Google)


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