Ginzburg, Carlo

Ginzburg, Carlo – Professor of Italian Renaissance studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is best known as a pioneer of “microhistory” (examining a small period of history in meticulous detail to reveal more general information) as applied to the benandanti (“those who go doing good”), a late-16th- to mid-17thcentury group of peasants in the Friulian countryside near Venice, Italy, whose anti-witchcraft actions involving such supernatural activities as spirit flight (or journeying), were themselves, like those of cunning folk in Great Britain in the early modern period, persecuted as witchcraft practices. Ginzburg’s claim that the benandanti are evidence of an enduring European fertility cult is too much of an interpretative leap for many historians to accept, especially given the backlash against Margaret Murray’s comparable, if arguably less nuanced and poorly researched, thesis. Ginzburg develops this idea, proposed in The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1983), and in the follow-up volume Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath (1991), with the more general—and therefore even more difficult to swallow—claim that descriptions of night flights and battles across Europe and Asia are indicative of a persistent shamanic substrate.

SOURCE:

Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007

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