Friday, September 05, 2008

Building a story with Wikipedia

The Benandanti "Good Walkers":

The Benandanti, which included both male and female members, were a small group of anti-witches that ensured the protection of the crops and villagers. Unlike most other occult organizations, the Benandanti were born, not made: only children born with "the caul," or the amniotic sac partially covering their face were destined to join the ranks of the Benandanti.
On Thursdays during the Ember days, ...the Benandanti claimed their spirits would leave their bodies at night in the form of small animals (wolves, butterflies and rats in the Friuli). The spirits of the men would go to the fields to fight evil witches (malandanti). The Benandanti men fought with fennel stalks, while the dark
witches were armed with sorghum stalks (sorghum was used for witches' brooms, and the "brooms' sorghum" was one of the most current type of sorghum [1]).
If the men prevailed, the harvest would be plentiful.

The female Benandanti performed other sacred tasks. When they left their bodies they traveled to meet a Goddess, who was known by a variety of names, such as Abundia, Irodiana, or simply "the Abbess". Thus, the Benandanti were related to the cult of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, and her Wild Hunt. The cult of Diana
was present in septentrional Italy since at least the end of the 14th century [1]
There they danced, ate and drank with a procession of spirits, animals and faeries, and learned who amongst the villagers would die in the next year.

The themes associated with the Benandanti ... are found repeated in other testimonies: from the armiers of the Pyrenees, from the followers of Signora Oriente in 14th century Milan and the followers of Richella and 'the wise Sibillia' in 15th century Northern Italy, and much further afield, from Livonian werewolves, Dalmatian kresniki, Hungarian táltos, Romanian căluşari and Ossetian burkudzauta.


According to Roman Catholic priest Arnold Ipolyi, in his book "Magyar mitológia" (Hungarian Mythology) from 1854, a táltos was in direct contact with God during the prenatal period. Once born, the táltos had a special mission in life to cure both body and soul of other members of society. The táltos could be either male or female, and should be born with unusual features, like six fingers (altogether 11 or 12 fingers) or already-grown-in teeth.

During their childhood, they had to be brought up in secret to learn everything to be some kind of shaman. The táltos was able to go into a deep meditation called "révülés", and in such a state could cure sickness of any kind. The táltos also had a mission to communicate with the entire Hungarian nation in a time of danger, to warn against invading armies or an impending cultural collapse.

According to general consensus, the táltos were considered as part of pagan religion, and were persecuted in a witch-hunt during the reign of King St. Stephen. There is evidence, though, that the táltos were still existing until the Habsburg era, when this tradition was terminated. Maria Theresa made a law requiring that all babies born with teeth or with six fingers be reported and killed, a deliberate act against surviving táltos.[1] The painted ceiling of the church of Székelyderzsi had a figure with six fingers, it was renovated, "correcting" the picture to five fingers.[2]

According to legends, the two most famous táltos were called Göncöl and Kampó.
Kampó had "iced body" ("jégtestű"), he was short and had thick legs, he lived in Temesvár (present-day Timişoara). He ate lunch in Buda at the same table as King Matthias, he was always poorly dressed so the king was asked several times why he is eating in the same table as the king, but King Matthias insisted on this tradition. When the Turkish army attacked the Kingdom of Hungary, he spilled fire from his mouth and he "fought with his iced body against metal Turkish", and he redeemed the "moonly" ("holdas") horse of King Matthias from the Turkish.

Göncöl, (also Döncöl, Güncü) on the other hand, had tremendous knowledge. He spoke with animals, and he understood the meanings of the stars, he invented the coach, and he had a coach which was driven by not one horse, and had its perch broken and bended. His death was not seen, but thought that he disappeared into the stars. All Hungarians see the "coach of Göncöl" at the sky which is commonly known in astronomy as "Ursa Maior" (Great Bear), where the tail of the bear is the perch of the coach.

In the Chronicle of the Hungarians by Johannes de Thurocz, Attila of the Huns asked several táltos to foresee the outcome of Battle of Chalons, where they predicted that the war would be lost.

Maria Theresa:

During the reign of Maria Theresa, infant mortality was a big problem in Austria. And, after calling in a renowned Dutch physician Gerard van Swieten to study the problem, she followed his recommendation and made a decree that autopsies would be mandatory for all hospital deaths in city of Graz--Austria's second largest city. This law--still in effect today--combined with the relatively stable population Graz, has resulted in one of the most important and complete autopsy records in the world.

...Other important reforms included outlawing witch-burning and torture, and, for the first time in Austrian history, taking capital punishment off the penal code...

So, if you're John Crowley or Steven Brust, you could mix all of this up into a very interesting story about what exactly Maria Theresa, Holy Roman Empress and ruler of Austria-Hungary might have been up to when she banned witch burning, reduced infant mortality and also promoted infanticide of infants with the taltos marks. You could tie this in with Hungarian history and the story of the Night Battles of the Benandanti. Or, you could go in a completely different direction altogether....

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