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HISTORIA

RELIGIONUM
AN INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

9 2017

PISA ROMA
FABRIZ IO SERRA E D ITO RE
MMXVI I
Direttore
Natale Spineto (Universit di Torino)

Comitato scientifico
Gustavo Benavides (Villanova University)
Philippe Borgeaud (Universit de Genve)
Bernard Faure (Columbia University)
Giovanni Filoramo (Universit di Torino)
Jean-Marie Husser (Universit Marc Bloch, Strasbourg)
Massimo Raveri (Universit Ca Foscari di Venezia)
Jrg Rpke (Erfurt Universitt)
Giulia Sfameni Gasparro (Universit di Messina)
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

Guy G. Stroumsa (Hebrew University of Jerusalem University of Oxford)


Emilio Surez de la Torre (Universidad de Valladolid)

Redazione scientifica
Augusto Cosentino (Universit di Messina)
Alberto Pelissero (Universit di Torino)
Alessandro Saggioro (Sapienza, Universit di Roma)
Roberto Tottoli (Universit degli Studi di Napoli lOrientale)
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SOMM A R IO
sezione monografica
historical variations and continuities in the history of religions
A cura di Natale Spineto
Natale Spineto, Introduzione 11
Jeppe Sinding Jensen, Religion is the word, but, what is the thing if there is

one ? . On generalized interpretations and epistemic placeholders in the study of re-


ligion 17
Bernd-Christian Otto, Magic and religious individualization. On the construct-
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

ion and deconstruction of analytical categories in the Study of Religion 29


Luigi Berzano, Spiritualit. Persistenza e trasformazioni 53
Davide Ermacora, Invariant cultural forms in Carlo Ginzburgs Ecstasies : A

thirty-year retrospective 69
Emilio Surez de la Torre, Continuidad, innovacin y contexto : Eros en los papi-

ros mgicos griegos 95


Jrg Rpke, Crafting complex place : Religion, antiquarianism and urban development

in late republican Rome 109


Alberto Pelissero, Continuit e mutamento nelle religioni indiane. Contributo alla-
nalisi di un tema centrale per gli studi indologici 119
Ignazio E. Buttitta, Memorie dal sottosuolo. Una prospettiva di indagine sul sim-
bolismo rituale delle feste religiose tradizionali 135

saggi
Giovanni Filoramo, Relocating religion as a historiographical task. Aims and per-
spectives 169
Gaetano Riccardo, Agamben e i Maori. Homo sacer e il problema dellambiva-
lenza del sacro 179
Recapito dei collaboratori del presente fascicolo 201
Norme redazionali della casa editrice 203
IN VA R I A NT CULTUR A L FOR MS
IN CA R LO GINZBURGS ECSTASIES :

A THIRTY-YEA R R ETROSPECTI VE1


Dav ide Er macor a
Abstract
In 1989 Carlo Ginzburg published his controversial macro-historical narrative Storia notturna
(translated as Ecstasies), in which he investigated the pre-Christian antecedents of the witches
Sabbath. Ginzburgs central thesis was that an ancient shamanistic core was there in late medi-
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

eval and early modern European belief systems about witchcraft. Storia notturna has been much
discussed by scholars who write on witch trials, magic and shamanism. This thirty-year retro-
spective is founded on this debate and it aims to re-examine Ginzburgs points about the folklore
precursors of the Sabbath and the existence, and persistence, of invariants, or anthropological
constants. This is attempted through a critical dialogue with recent publications, and from the
perspective of both historiography and case studies.
Keywords : Carlo Ginzburg, Sabbath, witchcraft, folklore, shamanism.

To Susi Corazza, and the boot-shaped rJutav


[l]ike a shaman, [Ginzburg] collects the bones of Sir James

George Frazer [...] covers him with the skin of the philosopher
Ludwig Wittgenstein and brings him to life again .

Wendy Doniger, 19912


the cheese has become a planet .

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, 19933

1. Introduction

T he inquiries of Carlo Ginzburg (henceforth G.) into witchcraft beliefs, folklore


and shamanism in late medieval and early modern European communities, are
particularly rich in reflections on the limits of human knowledge.4 His writings involve

1 An earlier draft of this paper was read, December 13, 2013, as part of the Annual Conference of the Esto-
nian Society for the Study of Religions (University of Tartu). I am grateful to : Vesa Matteo Piludu for his trans-

lation from Finnish of Anna-Leena Siikalas review ; to Julian Goodare, Ronald Hutton, Gbor Klaniczay, Clive

Tolley and Simon Young for valuable comments and suggestions ; and to Jeremy Maslanka who provided me

with the English translation of Mieszko Ozibowskis article. Carlo Ginzburg was kind enough to read a draft
of this paper and offered me some constructive feedback ; while Gaetano Lettieri and Cora Presezzi generously

provided me with access, prior to publication, to the forthcoming book Streghe, sciamani, apocalittici. In margine
a Storia Notturna (see note 4, p. 70). All responsibility for inaccuracies rests, of course, with me, the author.
Finally, this paper benefited from work in the Mario Einaudi Archive at the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi in Turin :

many thanks to the management there.


2 Sympathy for the Devil, New York Times Book Review , 14 July 1991, p. 3.

3 Review of Le Sabbat des sorcires, LExpress , 14 Janvier 1993, p. 126.


4 C. Ginzburg, The Witches Sabbath : Popular Cult or Inquisitorial Stereotype ?, in Understanding Popular Culture.

Europe from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century, edited by S. L. Kaplan, Berlin-New York-Amsterdam 1984,
pp. 39-51 ; Idem, Preface to the Italian Edition, in Idem, Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, Baltimore 2013 [1986],

https://doi.org/10.19272/201704901005 historia religionum 9 2017


70 davide ermacora
such major issues as : the power of analytical categories ; the mythological continuum of

the Eurasian cultural sphere, where it is difficult to disentangle elementary human

categories and transmissible cultural models ;1 and what we might call the recognition

of invariant cultural forms in deep time.2 Here are key problems, regularly discussed
in their historical and cultural contexts in anthropology, folklore and the history of
religions. In the background, G. brings out even bigger theoretical and methodologi-
cal questions, including : the reaction to a historicism without structure and a struc-

turalism without history ;3 the formulation of the concept of human nature, with a

transcendent unchanging character ; the relationship between historical continuity and


change ; and the complex correlation between culture and nature.


In 1989, these arguments grew together into Storia notturna (Ecstasies), an ambi-
tious macro-historical narrative on the pre-Christian antecedents of conceptions of
the witches Sabbath. Almost 30 years after the publication of this study the twenty
and twenty-fifth anniversary was celebrated with various events 4 it will prove useful
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

to re-examine G.s points concerning the folklore precursors of the Sabbath and the
existence, and persistence, of invariants, or anthropological constants. This will be
done from both the perspective of historiography and case studies. Given that, in Ec-
stasies, G. made extensive use of the analytical instruments supplied by the history of

religions and by folklore ,5 I will, too, draw on folklore and historico-religious tools.

In addition, I will discuss folkloric cultural forms. I will, instead, avoid a purely theo-
retically based discussion of what we might call G.s anthropology of invariants ,6

philosophical anthropology 7 or conjectural psychology .8 These matters have, of


pp. xv-xx ; Idem, Freud, the Wolf-Man, and the Werewolves [1985], in ibidem, pp. 132-140 ; Idem, Le Alpi e le origini

del sabba, in La frontiera da stato a nazione. Il caso Piemonte, a cura di C. Ossola, C. Raffestin, M. Ricciardi, Roma
1987, pp. 303-310 ; Idem, Deciphering the Sabbath [1984], in Early Modern European Witchcraft : Centres and Peripher-

ies, edited by B. Ankarloo, G. Henningsen, Oxford 1990, pp. 121-137 ; Idem, Ecstasies. Deciphering the Witches

Sabbath, New York 1991 [1989] ; Idem, The Philosopher and the Witches : an Experiment in Cultural History, Acta

Ethnographica Hungarica , 37, 1991-1992, pp. 283-292 ; Idem, Witches and Shamans, New Left Review , 200, 1993,

pp. 75-85 ; Idem, Les origines du sabbat, in Le Sabbat des sorciers en Europe (xv e-xviii e sicles), dit par N. Jacques-

Chaquin, M. Praud, Grenoble 1993, pp. 17-21 ; Idem, On the Eurasian Roots of the Witches Sabbath Stereotype, in

: , , , Moscow 2003, pp. 54-63 ; Idem, The Night Battles. Witchcraft


and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Baltimore 2013 [1966] ; Idem, Travelling in Spirit : from

Friuli to Siberia, in Horizon of Shamanism. A Triangular Approach to the History and Anthropology of Ecstatic Tech-
niques, edited by P. Jackson, Stockholm 2016, pp. 35-51 ; Idem, Conjunctive Anomalies : a Reflection on Werewolves,

Revista de Estudios Sociales , 60, 2017, pp. 110-118.


1 A. Prosperi, A proposito di Storia notturna di Carlo Ginzburg, Paragone. Letteratura , 470, 1989, 14, p. 105.

2 G. Busino, La microhistoire de Carlo Ginzburg, Bibliothque dHumanisme et Renaissance , 61, 1999, 3, p. 766,

stressed how in Ecstasies [t]he invariant of a phenomena is called the morphology . The symmetry between

morphology and invariants is probably overstated here.


3 I. P. Coulianu, Invitation to the Sabbath, Liber , 2, 1989, p. 14.

4 E.g. the Harvard seminar Nocturnal Histories. Witchcraft and the Shamanic Legacy of pre-Christian Europe held
in 2009, gathering historians, anthropologists and archaeologists (S. Mitchell, N. Price, R. Hutton, D. Pur-
kiss, K. Patton, C. Raudvere, C. Severi, M. Aldhouse-Green, S. Semple, A. Pluskowski, M. Carver, C.
Ginzburg, Witchcraft and Deep Time - a Debate at Harvard, Antiquity , 84, 2010, 325, pp. 864-879). There were also

workshops : Sciamani e apocalittici : decifrazioni di Storia notturna . Giornata di studi con Carlo Ginzburg, and La

strega e lo sciamano. In margine a Storia notturna , held, respectively, in 2014 and 2015 in Rome : see the proceedings

in Streghe, sciamani, apocalittici. In margine a Storia Notturna, Forthcoming.


5 Ginzburg, Ecstasies, p. 11. See also Idem, The Witches Sabbath, p. 46 ; Idem, Les origines du sabbat, p. 18.

6 R. Rousselle, Anthropologie et histoire : peut-on parler de coupures anthropologiques ?, Lalies , 14, 1994, p. 223.

7 P. Anderson, The Force of the Anomaly, London Review of Books , 34, 2012, 8, p. 8.

8 C. Severi, Le Chamanisme et la dame du Bon Jeu, suivi dune rponse de Carlo Ginzburg, LHomme , 32, 1992,

p. 171.
invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 71
course, already been examined by many commentators writing in an epistemological,
existentialist and philosophical key.1

2. Myths thinks us ?

In his thought-provoking 1985 article on Freud, the Wolf-Man, and the Werewolves, G. ex-
amined Freuds celebrated case study of a Russian man and his dream of wolves. In the
conclusions G. asked, with reference to Claude Lvi-Strauss, whether we see in those
dreams pre-existing myths operating dynamically, but independently, in the uncon-
scious mind.2 I will leave aside, here, the question of psychological reductionism and
the usefulness of the psychoanalytic interpretation of myths reconstructed through
folklore sources. The ethnological aspects of this case have been revisited by Cesare
Romano, and his considerations are completely different from those contemplated by
G.3 On its appearance, G.s article was unanimously attacked by German scholars : G.
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

had, they said, overlooked social context(s) in favour of a speculative, comparative and,
ultimately, irrational approach.4 G. never responded to these charges and his recent
works show that he has persisted in his original interpretation.5
Later commentators remarked, meanwhile, how the autonomy of mental process-
es, together with the use of Freudian conceptual tools, was particularly important in
G.s Ecstasies.6 It is certainly true that G.s essay on the werewolves was elaborated
within the framework of a broader campaign of research. In both the Wolf Man and
Ecstasies there was the idea, recurrent in G.s oeuvre, that oral vernacular culture pro-
vided the key to a deeper reality. This reality, G. claimed, included millennial-old beliefs
and anthropological truths which lay concealed, unrecognized for what they were,
under a (Christian) surface.

1 E.g. F. Fortini, Il corpo e la storia, LIndice , 10, 1989, pp. 10-11 ; G. Celati, Lo stregone quotidiano. Lestasi e il

sabba, Il Manifesto , 23 April 1989, p. 11 ; Idem, Sciamani damore, Il Manifesto , 30 April 1989, p. 13 ; P. Citati, Uo-

mini, Dei, Sciamani, La Repubblica , 2 luglio 1989 ; C. Ginzburg, P. Citati, Siamo tutti Pollicini, ibidem, 1 luglio 1989 ;

M. Massenzio, Le radici dellattivit simbolica, Belfagor , 45, 1990, pp. 319-326 ; P. Rossi, Gli storici e la natura umana,

Rivista di Filosofia , 81, 1990, pp. 331-370 ; V. Petrarca, Sulla Storia notturna di Carlo Ginzburg, Prospettive Set-

tanta , 13, 1991, 4, pp. 604-615 ; P. Clemente, in C. Grottanelli, P. Clemente, F. Dei, A. Simonicca, Discussione su

Storia notturna di Carlo Ginzburg, Quaderni di Storia , 34, 1991, pp. 117-120 ; F. Dei, ibidem, pp. 123-124 ; A. Simonic-

ca, ibidem, pp. 125-129 ; Severi, Le Chamanisme, pp. 165-177 ; F. Egmond, P. Mason, The Mammoth and the Mouse. Micro-

history and Morphology, Baltimore 1997 ; Busino, La microhistoire de Carlo Ginzburg, pp. 763-778 ; A. Romano, F. Vigna,

Una traccia negata : Carlo Ginzburg e linterpretazione del Sabba, Rivista di Psicologia Analitica , 75, 2007, pp. 119-136.

2 Freud, The Wolf-Man, p. 140.


3 Il sogno delluomo dei lupi era davvero un sogno infantile ?, Psicoterapie e Scienze Umane , 48, 2014, 4, pp. 639-

660.
4 R. Schenda, Ein Benandante, ein Wolf oder Wer ?, Zeitschrift fr Volkskunde , 82, 1986, pp. 200-202 ; C. Dax-

elmller, Der Werwolf. Ein Paradigma zur Geschichte der kulturellen Wahrnehmung, ibidem, pp. 203-208 ; H. Gerndt,

ber die Kriterien kulturwissenschaftlicher Arbeit, ibidem, pp. 209-213 ; F.-W. Eickhoff, Einige psychoanalytische

Anmerkungen zu Carlo Ginzburgs Aufsatz, ibidem, p. 214 ; A. Niederer, Glckshaube oder Neurose ?, ibidem, pp. 215-

216 ; U. Jeggle, Verdrngung und Entstellung. Zur Rezeption der Psychoanalyse in der Volkskunde, ibidem, pp. 217-221 ;

D. Harmening, ber viel ltere mythische Inhalte, ibidem, pp. 222-225. See also P. Himl, Domenico Scandella e
Carlo Ginzburg : la carriera di un mugnaio e del suo storico [2000], in Uno storico, un mugnaio, un libro. Carlo Ginzburg,

Il formaggio e i vermi , 1976-2002, Trieste 20032, p. 119.


5 Ginzburg, Ecstasies, p. 174 ; Idem, Travelling in Spirit, pp. 46-47 ; Idem, Conjunctive Anomalies, pp. 111-112.

6 M. Sebastiani, Laltra faccia della cultura e della vita, Il Popolo , 29 June 1989, p. 8 ; G. G. Merlo, Review

of Storia notturna, Rivista Storica Italiana , 12, 1990, p. 222 ; Simonicca, Discussione su Storia notturna di Carlo

Ginzburg, p. 127 ; Severi, Le Chamanisme, pp. 171-172 ; C. Gaspard, Le sabbat vu par Jules Michelet et par Carlo Ginzburg.

A la recherche des significations perdues, in Mlanges offerts Pierre Barbris, dits par G. Gengembre, J. Goldzink,
Fontenay-Saint-Cloud 1995, p. 106. See Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp. 133, 266, on the unwitting mythical transmission
which implicitly contains the formal rules of its own re-elaboration .

72 davide ermacora
Already in 1966, for instance, G. spoke about the benandanti as being prisoners of a

myth in which they were constrained , incorporated unconsciously according to cul-


tural expectations that they experienced in their dream-memories.1 Sentences such as


the totally unconscious and the phenomena of the substratum which tinge the

process of cultural mediation , and the oral culture [as an] unconscious filter , often

pop up in G.s later works.2 There is, evidently, a fascination for the very long transmis-
sion of cultural forms. But it is only from his 1976 book Il formaggio e i vermi (The Cheese
and the Worms) devoted, paradoxically, to the cultural dichotomy between vernacular
and learned religion, that G. has been charged with viewing vernacular culture as hav-
ing a pure, archaic essence, unsullied by elite culture.
Some of G.s most vociferous critics, such as Giorgio Spini, Paola Zambelli and
Dominick LaCapra, have noted that, for the peasant world-views studied by G., it
would, in some cases, have been better to privilege written evidence : a one-way pro-

cess of dependence from learned culture, rather than an immemorial popular substra-
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

tum described in general terms. It will be remembered that Menocchios imagery of


the cheese and the worms, echoed, according to G., Indian and Central Asiatic creation
myths.3 G.s view of an unchanging rural world was strongly challenged, then, and it
did not take long for him to offer a thoughtful if inconclusive defence.4 He would even-
tually come to admit that he had gone too far in his comparative search for authentic
popular beliefs in Menocchios system of thought.5
Pavel Himl argued that G. had, in Ecstasies, partially abandoned a previous thesis

on the autonomy and isolation of popular culture .6 However, G. continues to show

1 The Night Battles, p. 71.


2 The Dovecote has Opened its Eyes : Popular Conspiracy in Seventeeth-Century Italy [1978], in The Inquisition in Early

Modern Europe. Studies on Sources and Methods, edited by G. Henningsten, J. Tedeschi, C. Amiel, DeKalb 1986, pp.
190, 196. It is worth noting that many years later, C. Ginzburg, Prefacio, in Idem, Tentativas, Morelia 2003, pp.
53-54, wrote about this project on Costantino Saccardino as an unconscious attempt to escape important com-

parative questions raised by his early study on the benandanti.


3 G. Spini, Noterelle libertine, Rivista Storica italiana , 88, 1976, pp. 792-802 ; P. Zambelli, Uno, due, tre, mille

Menocchio ? . Della generazione spontanea (o della cosmogonia autonoma di un mugnaio cinquecentesco), Archivio

Storico Italiano , 137, 1979, pp. 62-65, 73-80, 85-98 ; Eadem, Topi o topoi ?, in Cultura popolare e cultura dotta nel

Seicento. Atti del Convegno di studio di Genova (23-25 novembre 1982), Milano 1983, p. 137-143 ; Eadem, From Menoc-

chio to Piero Della Francesca : the Work of Carlo Ginzburg, The Historical Journal , 4, 1985, pp. 986-995 ; D. LaCapra,

The Cheese and the Worms : The Cosmos of a Twentieth Century Historian, in Idem, History & Criticism, Ithaca-London

1985, pp. 45-69. See also J. Martin, Journeys to the World of the Dead : the Work of Carlo Ginzburg, Journal of Social

History , 25, 1992, 3, pp. 615-616, 621 ; W. Stoczowski, Raison Narrative : des vertus cognitives du rcit compares

celles du modle, Information Sur Les Sciences Sociales , 3, 2001, pp. 356-357 ; D. Gentilcore, Anthropological Ap-

proaches, in Writing Early Modern History, edited by G. Walker, London 2005, pp. 55-57.
4 C. Ginzburg, M. Ferrari, La colombara ha aperto gli occhi, Quaderni Storici , 38, 1978, pp. 631-639 ; C. Ginz-

burg, Introduzione, in P. Burke, Cultura popolare nellEuropa moderna, Milano 1980, pp. xiv-xv ; Idem, Carlo Ginz-

burg, Lhistorien et lavocat du diable . Entretien avec Charles Illouz et Laurent Vidal, Genses , 4, 2003, p. 129 ; Idem,

The Cheese and the Worms. The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, Baltimore 2013 [1976], pp. 153-155. The bitter ex-
change with Zambelli, repeatedly highlighted by commentators, was dismissed by Silvano Cavazza as an archac-

ademic professorial dispute (Review of Cultura popolare e cultura dotta nel Seicento, Belfagor , 2, 1984, pp. 251-253).

Unjustified bitterness towards G. (and other microhistorians) was also displayed by S. Bertelli, Il cinquecento, in
La storiografia italiana degli ultimi ventanni, ii, Et moderna, a cura di L. de Rosa, Bari 1989, pp. 36-37, 42, 47 ; Idem,

Appunti sulla storiografia italiana per let moderna (1985-1995), Archivio Storico Italiano , 156, 1998, pp. 121-125. Note

that P. Zambelli, Il mito attuale dellermetismo e il dibattito storiografico, in Eadem, Lambigua natura della magia.
Filosofi, streghe, riti nel Rinascimento, Milano 1991, p. 253, explicitly refused to discuss Ecstasies because of its strong
comparative and anthropological approach, i.e. for her it was not, in any sense, historical.
5 Ginzburg, Les contraintes invisibles. Entretien avec Carlo Ginzburg, La vie des Ides , 11th May 2010 (http ://

www.laviedesidees.fr/Les-contraintes-invisibles.html) ; Idem, The Cheese and the Worms, xx.


6 Domenico Scandella e Carlo Ginzburg, p. 118. Contra, see Martin, Journeys to the World of the Dead, pp. 620-621 :
invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 73
his true colours, praising the Freudian overtones of Marc Blochs phrase what is most

profound in history may also be the most certain .1 Indeed, G. offers as his motiva-

tion and profession of faith 2 a determination to get to grips with the dark side of

history .3 G. is utterly convinced of the powerful resilience of vernacular culture, as


an archaic and subterranean mode of production and reproduction, one potentially


able to absorb and modify all sorts of learned ideas. This is obviously based on Freuds
model of the construction of dreams, and of the passage from the unconscious to con-
sciousness.4 Perry Anderson got it right, more than two decades ago : [i]f there is a

single assumption that unifies all of Ginzburgs versatile work, it is this : that the deeper

something lies, the more significant it must be .5

3. The reception of Ecstasies

Ecstasies has according to one religious studies scholar opened up new ways of writing
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

religious history ,6 or, alternatively, has been dismissed by another as a neo-Frazerian


fantasy .7 The comparison with Frazer, the bte noire of contemporary social-history

and anthropology, is recurrent in writing about G.8 Today it is difficult to say whether,
as G. put it, Ecstasies was a big failure or, rather, a small success.9 Certainly, it was a
work which made many readers bristle, while it proved, at the same time, virtually

impossible not to admire [it] .10 We have now several detailed evaluations that, in some

cases, also critically revisit G.s earlier 1966 book I benandanti (The Night Battles) ; G. was

obviously right in stating, in 1979, when he was working on Ecstasies, that there will be

material for many discussions on this topic... .11

it becomes possible [in Ecstasies] to see such beliefs as at least relatively autonomous [and] that such cultural

forms have a life of their own outside of the particular social contexts in which they are located .

1 C. Ginzburg, Introduction, in Idem, Threads and Traces : True False Fictive, Berkeley-Los Angeles 2012 [2006],

p. 3 ; Idem, The Cheese and the Worms, xii. 2 Busino, La microhistoire de Carlo Ginzburg, p. 777.

3 C. Ginzburg, T. R. Gundersen, On the Dark Side of History. Carlo Ginzburg Talks to Trygve Riiser Gundersen,
Eurozine , 11th July 2003 (http ://www.eurozine.com/articles/2003-07-11-ginzburg-en.html).

4 Ginzburg, Conjunctive Anomalies, p. 111 : Freud has certainly been for me, for many years and in many ways,

an intellectual model . For the wide relationship between G. and Freud, see e.g. F. M. Gonzlez, Carlo Ginzburg

y Sigmund Freud. El psicoanalista y el historiador, Historia y Grafa , 8, 1997, pp. 105-143.


5 P. Anderson, Witchcraft, London Review of Books , 12, 8 November 1990, 21, pp. 6-11. G. himself agreed

with Anderson (Letters, London Review of Books , 13, 10 January 1991, 1), and so S. Cerutti, Microhistory : Social

Relations Versus Cultural Models ?, in Between Sociology and History : Essays on Microhistory, Collective Action, and Nation

Building, edited by A.-M. Castrn, M. Lonkila, M. Peltonen, Helsinki 2004, p. 33. Note that in Ecstasies, p. 228, G.
rhetorically wrote : [i]t must, however, be emphasized that more ancient does not mean more authentic .

6 M. Stausberg, Western Europe, in Religious Studies. A Global View, edited by G. D. Alles, London-New York
2008, p. 34.
7 I. M. Lewis, Preface to the Third Edition, in Idem, Ecstatic Religion : a Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession,

London-New York 20033, p. xix.


8 E.g. Schenda, Ein Benandante, ein Wolf oder Wer ?, p. 202, also recalled by W. de Blcourt, Spuren einer

Volkskultur oder Dmonisierung ? Kritische Bemerkungen zu Ginzburgs Die Benandanti , Kea , 5, 1993, p. 22. G. an-

swered to (and anticipated much of ) this criticism saying self-ironically that his work does not necessarily mean

to return to Frazer. Certain questions formulated by Frazer can be asked again without accepting his replies (my
Frazer had read Wittgenstein) (Ecstasies, p. 204). This was not enough for Wendy Doniger. Stressing the parallel-

isms with Frazer and his quest for origins, she wrote in a memorable review : Ecstasies is a Golden Bough that has

achieved what the philosopher of religion Paul Ricur calls a second navet [...] like Frazer, [G.] knows when
he is on thin ice, but he skates on anyhow. Sometimes he falls in (Sympathy for the Devil, p. 3). A (rare) positive

comparison of G. with Frazer is in L. Biasori, Some Queries about Some Queries , Cromohs , 18, 2013, p. 121.

9 The New History : Confessions and Conversations, edited by M. L. Pallares-Burke, Cambridge 2002, p. 199.

10 Martin, Journeys to the World of the Dead, p. 620.


11 Dialogue avec Carlo Ginzburg. Entretien entre Giordana Charuty, Daniel Fabre et Carlo Ginzburg, in C. Ginzburg,
74 davide ermacora
Among these we have Willelm de Blcourts criticisms, which have proved influen-
tial among historians.1 Indeed, so influential were de Blcourts words that G. inserted
a firm rebuttal to some of the Dutch scholars observations in both a recent article on
shamans and witches and in his new preface for The Night Battles. This is despite the fact
that, in the last fifteen years, G. has generally abstained from any debate with his crit-
ics on his witchcraft writings.2 An important part of de Blcourts disapproval focused
on the modern interpretations of the famous seventeenth-century Livonian werewolf
Thiess (Matss), and the agricultural aspects of this case. Thiess was a key figure in both
G.s The Night Battles and Ecstasies : mythical battles for fertility, linking the Baltic were-

wolf complex to the ecstatic benandanti in Italy.3


De Blcourt dismissed G.s reconstruction of Thiess out of hand : G., he argued, in-

fluenced by his reading around the benandanti, had simply misconstrued the sources :

neither trances nor ecstasy are explicitly evoked in the Thiess trial records. G. had made
the mistake, in fact, de Blecourt continued, of reducing animal shapeshifting to trances
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

and of considering Thiess to be an ecstatic werewolf who used to fight in spirit, to-

gether with other werewolves, against witches for the fertility of the crops .4 However,

Les batailles nocturnes. Sorcellerie et rituels agraires en Frioul, xvi-xviie sicle, Lagrasse 1980 [19722], p. 232. See e.g. Y.
B. Kuiper, Witchcraft, Fertility Cults, and Shamanism. Carlo Ginzburgs I benandanti in Retrospect, in Religion im

kulturellen Diskurs. Essays in Honor of Hans G. Kippenberg on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, edited by B. Luchesi,
K. von Stuckrad, Berlin-New York 2004, pp. 33-59 ; J. Sato, European Shamanism in Context : the Case of the Benan-

danti , The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology , 25, 2005-2006, 3, pp. 17-37. On The Night Battles, see also Nar-

don and Visentin quoted below, and A. del Col, I benandanti nella storia europea, Ce Fastu ? , 1, 1997, pp. 133-142 ;

Idem, Benandanti, in Dizionario storico dellInquisizione, a cura di A. Prosperi, V. Lavenia, J. Tedeschi, i, Pisa 2010,
pp. 172-173 ; G. P. Gri, Le fonti orali di oggi per la storia di ieri ? Livelli di cultura e persistenze folkloriche nellarco alpino

orientale. Il caso dei benandanti , in Cultura dlite e cultura popolare nellarco alpino fra Cinque e Seicento, a cura di O.

Besomi, C. Caruso, Basel-Boston-Berlin 1995, pp. 433-449 ; Idem, La cultura popolare in Friuli dopo I benandanti .

Cinquantanni di carte inquisitoriali. Atti dellAccademia San Marco di Pordenone , 18, 2016, pp. 361-388.

1 The Return of the Sabbat : Mental Archaeologies, Conjectural Histories or Political Mythologies ?, in Palgrave Advances

in Witchcraft Historiography, edited by J. Barry, O. Davies, Basingstoke 2007, pp. 125-146 ; W. De Blcourt, A Journey

to Hell : Reconsidering the Livonian Werewolf, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft , 2, 2007, pp. 49-67.

2 Ginzburg, The Night Battles, pp. 168-169 ; Idem, Travelling in Spirit, pp. 46-48. G.s lack of response to criti-

cism in the years following the publication of Ecstasies was stressed by P. Pryluka, Review of El hilo y las huellas.
Lo verdadero, lo falso, lo ficticio, Papeles de Trabajo , 6, 2012, 9, pp. 271-276. This, however, was a conscious choice

by G. who had had enough of witchcraft following the publication of Ecstasies : see Ginzburg, Entretien avec Carlo

Ginzburg, Asdiwal , 8, 2013, p. 10.


3 Another work on Thiess is by Bruce Lincoln and involves lycanthropic class struggle between a local German
elite and Lithuanian peasants : Un loup-garou de Livonie : le drame de la rsistance religieuse, Asdiwal , 10, 2015, pp. 111-

136. Peter Jackson, instead, used the old Mnnerbnde interpretation to re-examine Thiess with new arguments :

Cycles of the Wolf. Unmasking the Young Warrior in Europes Past, in Transforming Warriors. The Ritual Organization of
Military Force, edited by Idem, P. Haldn, London-New York 2016, pp. 36-48. There is also a quick comparison of
Thiess with a first-century BC Virgilian passage (Eclogae 8 : 97-99) carried out by J. R. Veenstra, The Ever-Changing

Nature of the Beast. Cultural Change, Lycanthropy and the Question of Substantial Transformation (from Petronius to Del
Rio), in The Metamorphosis of Magic from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period, edited by Idem, J. L. Bremmer,
Leuven 2002, p. 135. Here follows Virgil : his ego saepe lupum fieri et se condere silvis / Moerim, saepe animas

imis exciri sepulcris / atque satas alio vidi traducere messis (By their aid I have oft seen Moeris turn wolf and hide
in the woods, oft call spirits from the depth of the grave, and charm sown corn away to other fields) (original

text and translation in Virgil, Eclogues. Georgics. Aeneid : Books 1-6, edited by H. Rushton Fairclough, Cambridge,

MA 1916, pp. 82-83). As was already shown by W. W. Fowler, The Religious Experience of the Roman People [etc.],
London 1911, pp. 57-58, the fact that the werewolf, here, moves corn from one field to the next must be explained
within the framework of old Roman beliefs about the magical conveyance of the harvest, through incantation,
from the neighbours field property (already reflected, e.g., in a law from the foundational Twelve Tables). Virgils
similarities to Thiess, besides the corn and the werewolf, are vague.
4 Ginzburg, Conjunctive Anomalies, p. 111 (more caution in Idem, Ecstasies, p. 155, 165). See De Blcourt, A
Journey to Hell, pp. 55-56.
invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 75
De Blcourts argument is weakened by two simple facts : firstly, the motif of the soul

that takes on the form of a wolf while the body sleeps has been documented in Euro-
pean folklore since the Middle-Ages ;1 and, secondly, swoons (missing in Thiess), to-

gether with the fight against witches, can be found in another sixteenth-century Baltic
werewolf source, namely Kaspar Peucers 1560 Commentarius de praecipuis generibus divi-
nationum [etc.]. As G. has recently reiterated, the unconventional image of werewolves

as enemies of witches, on which Old Thiess insisted, was not without precedents .

Ecstasy is chased out through the door only to come back through the window.2
G. also attracted fire from historians of early-modern Europe, in particular social-his-
torians. For them, the polythetic shamanism 3 of Ecstasies was fundamentally ahistori-

cal : something, perhaps, true of all comparative and interdisciplinary exercises that link

phenomena from widely separate times and places. In Ecstasies shamanism became the
principal interpretative key4 for exploring deep folkloric beliefs related to the learned
fantasy of the witches Sabbath. G.s ingenious hypothesis 5 envisaged a complex net
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

of visionary experiences, of meetings with spiritual beings and, more broadly, the medi-
ation of the living with the world of the dead.6 Critics claimed that the socio-historical,
ecological, political and juridical background, and the effects of smaller-scale changes,
were systematically ignored in favour of a web of superficial resemblances. The reader

1 E.g. A. Gumundsdttir, The Werewolf in Medieval Icelandic Literature, Journal of English and German

Philology , 106, 2007, pp. 278, 282, 292 ; P. Bystrick, The Image of the Werewolf in Medieval Literature, Historick

asopis , 63, 2015, 5, p. 811 (for Old Norse and medieval Irish sources) ; E. Odstedt, Varulven i Svensk folktradition,

Uppsala 1943 (for later Scandinavian folklore) ; F. Armand, Le loup-garou : de sa liminalit dans le patrimoine narratif

gallo-roman sa parent neuroanthropologique, in Le patrimoine oral : ancrage, transmission et dition dans lespace gal-

loroman, dit par A. Reusser-Elzingre, F. Dimoz, Berne 2016, p. 185 (for French contemporary folklore). An echo
of the motive, note, can be perhaps found in Martin Delrio 1599 Disquistiones Magicae 1, 2 : 18 (later quoted in

Francesco Maria Guazzos 1608 Compendium maleficarum [etc.] 1 : 14, and Pierre de Rosteguy de Lancres 1612 Tab-

leau de linconstance des mauvais anges et demons [etc.] 4 : 6) : nam solet aliquando aliud corpus substituere, & illis

absentibus & alicubi in loco abdito soporatis, ipse assumpto lupi corpore, vel ex aere formato, & sibi circumdato
ista gerit, qu putant homines ab illo misero absente & dormiente patrata (Sometimes [the devil] substitutes an-
other body, while the witches themselves are absent or hidden apart in some secret place, and himself assumes
the body of a wolf formed from the air and wrapped about him, and does those actions which men think are
done by the wretched absent with who is asleep) (original text in M. Delrio, Disquistionvm magicarvm libri sex

[etc.], i, Lovanii 1599, p. 208, translation in F. M. Guazzo, Compendium maleficarum, edited by M. Summers, E. A.
Ashwin, London 1929, p. 51).
2 Ginzburg, Conjunctive Anomalies, p. 113 (on Peucer see already Idem, Ecstasies, pp. 156-157). This was also
noted in a recent article which offered some new sixteenth-century Italian evidence for the benevolent ecstatic
werewolf : M. Duni, What About Some Good Whether ? . Witches and Werewolves in Sixteenth-Century Italy, in

Werewolf Histories, edited by W. de Blcourt, Basingstoke 2015, pp. 132-133 (light criticism in Ginzburg, Conjunctive
Anomalies, p. 112).
3 C. Abry, N. Abry, M.-A. Cathiard, Icelandic Thorgeirsboli as an Alternative Case of Narrative Binding of the
Hide and Caul Motifs to Ginzburgs Ecstasies , Trictrac , 5, 2012, p. 32.

4 Or a reductio ad unum according to some : see e.g. Merlo, Review, p. 216 ; Anderson, Witchcraft ( what is

striking is the contrast between the richness and variety of the materials, and the paucity of the meaning to which
they are reduced ) ; G. Filoramo, Una storia infinita : la storia notturna di Carlo Ginzburg, Rivista di Storia e Let-

teratura Religiosa , 2, 1991, p. 287.


5 L. de Heusch, Con gli spiriti in corpo. Transe, estasi, follia damore, Torino 2009 [2006], pp. 129-130. De Heusch
continued as follows : [u]nfortunately, Carlo Ginzburg includes in the ecstatic shamanism a set of mutually very

different rites and beliefs, both from the historical point of view, and from that of anthropology .

6 Emulating the mythopoetic power of his shamanic models, at the end of Ecstasies G. admitted to having
explored the matrix of all possible narratives (307), including a personal journey to the world of the dead. G.

added, in fact, I have tried to explore flying in spirit from Friuli to Siberia (Travelling in Spirit, p. 49). As many

have remarked, in so doing the historian-storyteller G. become a shaman or, at least, a benandante. Though, of
course, this is a metaphorical device, a trip back into the past in which in the moment of return the scholar and

his reader could not only be disoriented, but somehow transformed (B. Boulay, Le document et la mtaphore du

voyage de lhistorien, Littrature , 2, 2012, p. 67).



76 davide ermacora
of Ecstasies was rewarded with subjective over-speculation and a far-fetched compara-
tive method which did not respect contextual chronology and linear documentation.1
It was also remarked that shamanistic practices played a very small role in the vast
majority of European witch trials ;2 that G. neglected the obvious shamanic character of

part of Scandinavian medieval folklore3 and, also, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-cen-
tury witchcraft prosecution of the Smi shamans (noaidis) in Finnmark ;4 and that the

materials compared in Ecstasies had an arbitrary side to them. These materials could not
be falsified and they could be amassed endlessly : the classes become infinitely stretch-

able ; think of a Chinese box structure with infinite regress.5 This was clear, for ex-

ample, in G.s use of medieval sources, which were treated as fragmentary documents
to be brought together with other fragmentary sources from other cultures and other
times.6 G. also arguably neglected, with his interest in a deeper past, the heuristic value
of medieval texts for early modern witchcraft, centred as these texts were on harmful
supernatural women.7
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

1 A good representative of this obvious criticism (only for The Night Battles) is, again, de Blcourt, Spuren einer
Volkskultur oder Dmonisierung ?, pp. 17-29.

2 G. Jerouschek, Review of Hexensabbat, Zeitschrift der Savigny-Stiftung fr Rechtsgeschichte. Germanist-


ische Abteilung , 108, 1991, p. 459 ; O. Di Simplicio, Autunno della stregoneria. Maleficio e magia nellItalia moderna,

Bologna 2005, 218-pp. 219, 308-309 ; R. Schulte, Man as Witch : Male Witches in Central Europe, New York 2009, p.

255. A good case in point here is Russia : in the seventeenth-century witch cases shamanism had no relevance

despite Russias proximity to Siberian shamans (V. Kivelson, Desperate Magic. The Moral Economy of Witchcraft in
Seventeenth-Century Russia, Ithaca 2013, pp. 21-22).
3 C. Lecouteux, Petits gnies domestiques, in tres fantastiques dans les Alpes. Recueil dtudes et de documents en
mmoire de Charles Joisten (1936-1981), Le Monde Alpin et Rhodanien , 1-4, 1992, p. 204 ; B. Sergent, Review of Entre

Mtamorphose et sacrifice. La religion populaire des Mayas, LHomme , 122-124, 1992, p. 447 ; S. Mitchell, Blkulla

and its Antecedents : Transvection and Conventicles in Nordic Witchcraft, Alvssml , 7, 1997, p. 82. For a positive view

of G.s treatment of Old Norse seir shamanistic magic see, however, N. Price, The Viking Way. Religion and War
in Late Iron Age Scandinavia, Uppsala 2002, pp. 86, 376-378.
4 For Smi shamans, see R. B. Hagen, Witchcraft and Ethnicity : a Critical Perspective on Sami Shamanism in Sev-

enteenth-Century Northern Norway, in Writing Witch-Hunt Histories. Challenging the Paradigm, edited by M. Nenonen,
R. M. Toivo, Leiden-Boston 2014, pp. 141-166.
5 P. Anderson, Letters, London Review of Books , 13, 7 February 1991, p. 7. See, similarly, also C. Carena,

Dietro le streghe del Sabba appaiono gli dei pagani, La Stampa/Tuttolibri , 652, 1989, pp. 4-5 ; Petrarca, Sulla Storia

notturna di Carlo Ginzburg, p. 611 ; K. Thomas, Riders to the Realm of the Living Dead, The Observer , 20 January

1991, p. 59 ; Filoramo, Una storia infinita, pp. 285-287. Filoramo, in particular, discussed G. on the propitiatory

adjective good (Lat. bona) which can be found, cross-culturally, in reference to a number of female deities or
supernatural beings. These entities, in Ecstasies, were inserted in the same comparative series on the basis of
those linguistic criteria alone : see, similarly, D. Piomelli, A. Pollio, In upupa o strige . A Study in Renaissance

Psychotropic Plant Ointments, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences , 16, 1994, pp. 268-270 (starting from the

plant name Atropa belladonna).


6 Merlo, Review, p. 222. One might usefully recall the enigmatic detail of the hirsuta manu of the nocturnal
goddness (Ricchella), mentioned by two old woman caught in a 1457 Alpine witchcraft trial and quoted, in the
same year, in a sermon by Bishop Nicholas of Cusa (original Latin text in N. Staubach, Cusani laudes. Nikolaus
von Kues und die Devotio moderna im sptmittelalterlichen Reformdiskurs, Frhmittelalterliche Studien , 34, 2000,

p. 337, translation in J. Hopkins, ed. Nicholas of Cusas Last Sermons (1457-1463), 2011, http ://jasper-hopkins.info/

SermonsCCLXXVI-CCXCIII.pdf ). Nicholas sermon was an important element in the comparative chain con-
structed by G., linking the hirsuta manu (perhaps hairy hand ) with the hairy paws of ancient female bear dei-

ties (Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp. 94-96, 100, 129-130, 132 ; Idem, The Philosopher and the Witches). The interpretation

of Nicholas passage, however, is far from closed : the phrase hirsuta manu can be variously read in a figurative

sense, while the same sermon may assume rich intertextual meanings leading researchers in other directions
(Staubach, Cusani laudes, p. 305 ; A. Annese, Hirsuta manu percutitur foedus. Sfiorare Storia notturna a partire

dal Sermo cclxxi di Cusano, in Streghe, sciamani, apocalittici. In margine a Storia Notturna).
7 A. Hall, The Contemporary Evidence for Early Medieval Witchcraft-Beliefs, RMN Newsletter , 3, 2011, pp. 6-11.

Richard Firth Green noted that in William of Auvergnes thirteen-century De universo 2, 3 : 8, in relation to the

figure of the faun, one can read the following phrase : unus ex militibus qui vulgo fatati dicuntur (one of those

warriors who are commonly said to be fairied) . As Green observed, this is an enigmatic sentence which can

invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 77
G. was well aware of the limits of his research, and lamented in Ecstasies that [t]he

price to be paid in terms of precise knowledge became part of the experiment. A great-
er cause for regret has been the necessary exclusion of the subjective dimension of

social actors.1 The strong comparative methodology employed in Ecstasies was always
justified by G. in terms of the experimental and provisional character of his research,
together with the unsatisfactory sources he was obliged to use.2 Given all this it is, per-
haps, surprising to find G. listed by Wendy Doniger among those few religious scholars
( J. Z. Smith, Bruce Lincoln, and Lawrence Sullivan) who carried out, she believed, re-
sponsible comparative work.3

4. The global benandanti

Many others remarked how G.s broader understanding of the witches Sabbath in Ec-
stasies was based upon an exceptional case-study, the benandanti described in The Night
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

Battles : the shamanistic Friulian cunning folk who battled witches for the success of the

harvest, and who were organized into regiments and into different age groups (an ele-
ment which, pace the Mnnerbnde interpretation, can be better explained through the
enrolment of Friulians in the Republic of Venices rural armies).4 There are critical eval-
uations of the benandanti in many recent syntheses dedicated to shamanism.5 Ecstasies
was described, for instance, as a detailed commentary on the benandanti, a fact which

seems to point to a reduction of its heuristic value as a stand-alone and comparative study.6
In The Night Battles (too often overlooked by commentators on Ecstasies),7 G. showed

perhaps be linked with local belief systems similar to the benandanti (original text and translation in Elf Queens
and Holy Friars. Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church, Philadelphia 2016, p. 60, 222).
1 Ecstasies, p. 16, 22.
2 E.g. Ginzburg in Round-Table Discussion with Carlo Ginzburg, Gustav Henningsen, va Pcs, Giovanni Pizza and
Gbor Klaniczay, in Witchcraft Mythologies and Persecutions, edited by G. Klaniczay, . Pcs, Budapest 2008, p. 49 ;

Idem, Rponse de Carlo Ginzburg, LHomme , 121, 1992, p. 175 ; Idem, Travelling in Spirit, p. 47 ; Ginzburg, Gunder-

sen, On the Dark Side of History. On the methodological implications of G.s experimental use of sources, see also
Petrarca, Sulla Storia notturna di Carlo Ginzburg, pp. 608-609, 611.

3 W. Doniger, Theoretical and Actual Approaches to Myth, in The Cambridge Companion to Lvi-Strauss, edited by
B. Wiseman, Cambridge 2009, p. 209 ; Eadem, The Implied Spider. Politics and Theology in Myth, New York-Chiches-

ter-West Sussex 20112, p. 72. Instead, Lincoln dismissed G.s comparativism as very speculative (Un loup-garou de

Livonie, p. 119 ; see G.s rather feeble rejoinder in Conjunctive Anomalies, pp. 112-114).

4 P. C. Begotti, I luoghi dei benandanti, Memorie Storiche Forogiuliesi , 81, 2001, pp. 137-163 ; Idem, Nel Cam-

pardo vicino a Cuniano. Echi coneglianesi e daltri luoghi in culti agrari friulani del xvi secolo, Storiadentro , 1, 2002, pp.

271-295. For the militaristic Mnnerbnde and the benandanti, see e.g. B. Collins, The Head Beneath the Altar. Hindu
Mythology and the Critique of Sacrifice, East Lansing 2014, pp. 120-121, 132-136. According to two depositions, the
benandanti were also summoned by means of military music (drums, bugle, etc.) a fact that Gary Tomlinson,
in an off hand way, suggested might be equivalent to drums in the rituals of shamans (Music in Renaissance Magic.
Toward a Historiography of Others, Chicago 1993, pp. 156-157).
5 E.g. R. Hutton, Shamans. Siberian Spirituality and the Western Imagination, London 2001, pp. 144-145 ; A. A.

Znamenski, The Beauty of the Primitive. Shamanism and the Western Imagination, New York 2007, pp. 184-187 ; T. A.

DuBois, An Introduction to Shamanism, Cambridge 2009, pp. 16-17 ; C. Tolley, Shamanism in Norse Myth and Magic,

i, Helsinki 2009, pp. 118-133 ; J. W. Boekhoven, Genealogies of Shamanism. Struggles for Power, Charisma and Author-

ity, Groningen 2011, pp. 8-9 ; L. K. Pharo, A Methodology for a Deconstruction and Reconstruction of the Concepts Sha-

man and Shamanism, Numen , 58, 2011, 1, pp. 60, 64. Znamenski, for example, noted the similarity between the

material collected by G. (in particular the benandanti) and Eliades shamanic flight.
6 U. Drobin, Introduction, in Horizon of Shamanism, p. xvii. Contra, see e.g. A. J. Schutte, Review of Storia not-
turna, The Journal of Modern History , 64, 1992, 3, p. 575 : [n]ot merely an extension of I benandanti .

7 E.g. by Merlo, Review, p. 226 ; G. Pizza, The Virgin and the Spider : Revisiting Spirit Possession in Southern Eu-

rope, in Incontri di etnologia europea/European Ethnology Meetings, edited by C. Papa, G. Pizza, F. M. Zerilli, Napoli
1998, p. 55.
78 davide ermacora
how pre-existing (i.e. probably non-Christian) folklore, active in a peripheral Italian
region, was progressively assimilated by the Roman Inquisition to a learned under-
standing of the witches Sabbath. [T]he way in which a single myth had been lived in

different ways by different individuals was, thus, concretely reconstructed ;1 though,

in his analysis, focused on individual experiences and the dynamic systems of the trans-
formation of local knowledge, G. never adopted a purely socio-historical approach.
A social-history of the benandanti, putting the contingent and the contextual into the
foreground, including their learned persecutors, has been carried out by Franco Nar-
don and, more recently, by Dario Visentin.2
However, the scheme of the benandanti, critics have argued, was taken, in Ecstasies, to
an unreasonable extreme. Can an exceptional, geographically marginal but not unique
or isolated3 case, cast light on the witches Sabbath ? After all, the attributes and con-

figurations of the Sabbath differed according to chronology, region and circumstances.4


From a question like this G set out on his more ambitious comparative exercise in Ec-
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

stasies, while being aware, indeed, that the European geography of the diffusion of the

sabbath idea is extremely variable, with many gaps and time-differences .5 Encouraged

by Eric Hobsbawms 1966 view that [t]he story [of the benandanti] is local, but its rel-

evance to the general study of the witch-cult is obvious ,6 G. gave a positive answer.7

There is now no doubt that, in Europe, local beliefs modified or even supplanted

official or demonological models of the Sabbath ;8 but, in Ecstasies, an anomalous Fri-


ulian declination of the witches Sabbath was considered as a universal explicative mod-

1 Ginzburg, Letters, pace Merlo, Review, p. 226. See also Ginzburg in Round-Table Discussion, p. 49 : a micro-

historical test of my hypothesis concerning the origins of the witches Sabbath stereotype was made before, with
the book on the Friulian benandanti [Authors italics].

2 F. Nardon, Benandanti e inquisitori nel Friuli del Seicento, Trieste 1999 ; Idem, Benandanti funebri : le processioni

dei morti nei documenti inquisitoriali, in LIncerto confine. Vivi e morti, incontri, luoghi e percorsi di religiosit nella mon-
tagna friulana, Udine 2001, pp. 173-180 ; Idem, Miti terapeutici : saperi e pratiche curative dei benandanti nei processi

dellInquisizione friulana, Annali di San Michele , 16, 2003, pp. 47-59 ; Idem, Benandanti, in Encyclopedia of Witch-

craft. The Western Tradition, edited by R. M. Golden, i, Santa Barbara 2006, pp. 107-108 ; D. Visintin, I benandanti e il

SantUfficio alla met del Seicento, Metodi e Ricerche , 27, 2008, 1, pp. 23-52 ; Idem, Lattivit dellinquisitore fra Giulio

Missini in Friuli (1645-1653) : lefficienza della normalit, Trieste 2008, pp. 107-134 ; Idem, Michele Soppe benandante, Mon-

tereale Valcellina 2009. Nardon, in particular, stressed gender aspects and the healing function of the benandanti,
intentionally overlooked by G. (The Night Battles, p. 169). A deeper social-historical perspective on the benandanti
within sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Friulan village life had been advocated by many before Nardon. In
1979, G. acknowledged the need for a study of the benandanti in the context of Friulian rural society : Dialogue avec

Carlo Ginzburg. Entretien entre Giordana Charuty, Daniel Fabre et Carlo Ginzburg. See also A. del Col, G. P. Gri, R.
Cacitti, Tre voci per un nuovo libro sui benandanti. A proposito di Franco Nardon, Benandanti e inquisitori nel Friuli

del Seicento , Annali di Storia Moderna e Contemporanea , 7, 2001, pp. 547-560, and Davide Alzettas review of

Visentin books, contrasting G. and Nardon, Metodi e Ricerche , 2, 2009, pp. 176-184.

3 Pace Anderson, Witchcraft ; de Blcourt, The Return of the Sabbat, pp. 128-129. See Ginzburg, The Night Bat-

tles, pp. xvii-xviii ; Idem, Travelling in Spirit, pp. 46-47 (who corrected de Blcourt on this point) ; Idem, Conjunctive

Anomalies, p. 111 ; Kuiper, Witchcraft, Fertility Cults, and Shamanism, p. 45 ; J. Goodare, The Cult of the Seely Wights

in Scotland, Folklore , 123, 2012, 2, p. 214.


4 R. Kieckhefer, Mythologies of Witchcraft in the Fifteenth Century, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft , 1, 2006, pp.

79-108 ; De Blcourt, The Return of the Sabbat, p. 130 ; Idem, A Journey to Hell, pp. 64-67 ; Idem, Sabbath Stories : To-

wards a New History of Witches Assemblies, in The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe and Colonial
America, edited by B. Levack, Oxford 2013, pp. 85-86 ; G. Klaniczay in Round-Table Discussion, p. 47 ; M. Ostorero,

The Concept of the Witches Sabbath in the Alpine Region (1430-1440) : Text and Context, in Witchcraft Mythologies and

Persecutions, pp. 15-34. 5 Deciphering the Sabbath, p. 127.


6 Walking Witches, The Times Literary Supplement , 6 October 1966, p. 923.

7 Ecstasies, p. 11 : [d]id analogous events take place elsewhere ? To what extent was it possible to generalize the

case exceptional in the documents of the benandanti ? .

8 J. Sharpe, In Search of the English Sabbat : Popular Conceptions of Witches Meetings in Early Modern England,

Journal of Early Modern Studies , 2, 2013, p. 172.



invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 79
el for diabolical witchcraft and shamanism. In other words, the benandanti permitted
G. to fly out on his own night journey in which all cows proved to be black.1 I started

from a chance event, an anomalous document [belonging to the benandanti complex] ,

G. admitted, turning it into a case, first Friulian, then Eurasian .2 Once again, behind

G.s general cumulative concept of the Sabbath, typologically characterized by animal


metamorphoses, ecstatic battles and nocturnal flight, Friuli stood centre stage.3
This appears, however, to be the result of a precise choice. G. never concealed his
fascination for isolated anomalies, think, for example, to the evidential paradigm

elaborated in his essay Clues : Roots of an Evidential Paradigm (1979).4 G. always felt, in-

deed, that the benandanti were the tip of an iceberg and that they had a paradigmatic
and exemplary value, allowing for wider inductive generalizations. Indeed, Ecstasies
can be considered as an application, on a very large scale, of his evidential paradigm.5
The generalizing power of the benandanti was stated by G., in clear microhistorical
terms, long ago : general conclusions can be drawn from local data, as case studies ob-

Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

viously imply generalizations .6 Perhaps Matti Peltonen put it best. Micro-historians,

including G., are actually trying to discover very big things with their microscopes and

magnifying lenses .7

1 [P]rocrustean shamanistic bed for M. Ostling, Secondary Elaborations : Realities and the Rationalization of

Witchcraft, Preternature , 4, 2015, 2, p. 207, discussing similar claims advanced in E. Bever, The Realities of Witch-

craft and Popular Magic in Early Modern Europe. Culture, Cognition, and Everyday Life, New York 2008 (see Bevers
rejoinder in Culture Warrior : a Response to Michael Ostlings Review Essay on The Realities of Witchcraft and Popular

Magic in Early Modern Europe , Preternature , 5, 2016, 1, pp. 117-118).


2 Travelling in Spirit, p. 47. B. Scribner, Review of Ecstasies, History Today , 41, 1991, 11, p. 53, remarked, mer-

cilessly, that what [Ecstasies] does undoubtedly attest is the authors obsession with his initial discovery of the cult

of the benandanti and his conviction that he has stumbled upon the key to a vast amount of hidden knowledge.
Ultimately, it reveals the extraordinary lengths to which a scholar can be driven by such an obsession . In this

respect, Frazer comes naturally to mind : [w]hen I first set myself to solve the problem [of the succession to the

priesthood of Diana at Aricia] more than thirty years ago, I thought that the solution could be propounded very
briefly, but I soon found that to render it probable or even intelligible it was necessary to discuss certain more
general questions, some of which had hardly been broached before. In successive editions the discussion of these
and kindred topics has occupied more and more space, the enquiry has branched out in more and more direc-
tions, until the two volumes of the original work have expanded into twelve ( J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough : a

Study in Magic and Religion, New York 1922, p. iv).


3 As also noted by Martin, Journeys to the World of the Dead, p. 617, 623 ; C. Nugent, Review of Ecstasies, His-

torian , 54, 1992, 4, p. 711 ; Nardon, Benandanti e inquisitori, p. 42 ; Sato, European Shamanism in Context, p. 34 ; De

Blcourt, The Return of the Sabbat, pp. 128-130, 132.


4 An important and updated discussion of this essay is to be found in LInterprtation des indices. Enqute sur le
paradigme indiciaire avec Carlo Ginzburg, dit par D. Thouard, Villeneuve dAscq 2007. See also the monograph
issue dedicated to G. and entitled Sur les traces de Carlo Ginzburg, Critique , 67, 2011, 769-770.

5 M. L. Gonzlez Mezquita, Microhistoria o Macrohistoria ? Carlo Ginzburg entre I Benandanti y la Historia

Nocturna , Prohistoria , 4, 2000, pp. 136-137, 145.


6 C. Ginzburg, Anthropology and History in the 1980s : a Comment, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History ,

12, 1981, 2, p. 278. See further the thoughtful 1982 and 2012 prefaces to Idem, The Night Battles, pp. xi-xii, xviii-xix,
and Idem, Les origines du sabbat, p. 19 ; Qualche domanda a me stesso, in Carlo Ginzburg. Premio Balzan 2010 per la storia

dEuropa (1400-1700), Milano 2011, p. 13. See also Kuiper, Witchcraft, Fertility Cults, and Shamanism, pp. 45-46. Effec-
tively conjuring up Ecstasies while reviewing The Night Battles, Peter Burke observed : it should be clear that what

[G.] discovered in the archepiscopal archive early in the 1960s was only a small part of a phenomenon of Euro-
pean or even world dimensions. This benandante complex deserves a careful comparative study which would
bring out similarities and differences between beliefs recorded in different regions and would also discuss whether
the similarities are due to diffusion or to independent responses to similar circumstances (Good Witches, New

York Review of Books , 32, 1985, p. 32 ; see, similarly, R. Chartier, Lhistoire au singulier, Critique , 44, 1981, p. 77).

7 Carlo Ginzburg and the New Microhistory, Suomen Antropologi , 20, 1995, 1, p. 5 ; Idem, Clues, Margins, and

Monads : The Micro-Macro Link in Historical Research, History and Theory , 40, 2001, p. 350. See, independently, also

T. Molho, Carlo Ginzburg : Reflections on the Intellectual Cosmos of a 20th-Century Historian, History of European

Ideas , 20, 2004, pp. 145-146.



80 davide ermacora
Of course, how exactly the historian comes to build a general conclusion from little
facts is another matter, and it is exactly on this methodological point that G. excited
most criticism. Can a single element induce explanations of a more general kind ? Gs

answer, it was noted, is affirmative, but the issue is far from being resolved .1 Let us

now examine a particularly striking example, which show, perhaps, the limits of the
applicability of this explanatory model.

5. The neglected role of folkloristics


In one way or another, qualified commentators stressed the anachronistic or even the
pre-modern character of Ecstasies.2 They remarked how the book took on, in an at-

tractive new guise, ancient theories of our good old folklorists , such as Jacob Grimm,

and their simple and discredited anthropological explanations.3 It is no accident, critics


would say here, that Ecstasies gave strong impetus to both folklore studies4 and neo-
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

pagan writings : Ecstasies has been said to argue that European witchcraft was a di-

rect derivative of shamanism , in terms of continuous cultural and historical transmis-


sion.5 Yet others have highlighted the influence in G. of early to mid-twentieth-century


German Volkskunde ;6 or have remarked, instead, how G. basically ignored many later

twentieth-century reflections on myths from comparative mythology, the history of


religions and folkloristics. Scholars from these backgrounds had long theorized on the
striking uniformity of mythological themes as they appear in different world cultures,
while taking into account, at the same time, their historical contingency : one thinks

particularly of the Finnish historico-geographic method. As Anna-Leena Siikala ob-


served, G. made very little use of folkloristics in Ecstasies ; a fact that he, incidentally,

admitted.7
This is exemplified by G.s loose use of oral narrative materials, which played a key
role there. [M]y book , G. acknowledged, could be seen as a polygon with many

sides touching various disciplines. This means that it can be criticized and disassembled

1 F. Borghesi, Che cos un problema storico ? Riflessioni metodologiche su Carlo Ginzburg e dintorni, Discipline

Filosofiche , 16, 2006, 1, pp. 113-114, based on a sound case study from The Night Battles.

2 Dei, Discussione su Storia notturna di Carlo Ginzburg, pp. 121-124.


3 J.-M. Sallmann, Review of Le sabbat des sorcires, Annales. Histoire, Science Sociales , 50, 1995, 1, p. 187. See,

similarly, P. Dinzelbacher, Review of Hexensabbat, Mediaevistik , 3, 1990, p. 399 ; K. Biddick, The Shock of Medi-

evalism, Durham 1998, p. 128 (with unnecessary polemic and feministic tones : see L. Apps, A. Gow, Male Witches

in Early Modern Europe, Manchester 2003, pp. 29-30) ; Znamenski, The Beauty of the Primitive, p. 186.

4 As noted by Egmond, Mason, The Mammoth and the Mouse, p. 211.


5 This is the simplistic view in I. P. Couliano, Out of This World : Otherworldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert

Einstein, Boston 1991, pp. 9, 47-49. For neopaganism, see e.g. B. Whitmore, Trials of the Moon. Reopening the Case for
Historical Witchcraft, Auckland 2010, and the academic reflections by D. Lycourinos, The Work of Carlo Ginzburg as
the Researcher and the Reimagined Researched, (http ://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2014/06/06/the-work-of-

carlo-ginzburg-as-the-researcher-and-the-reimagined-researched-by-damon-lycourinos/).
6 Jerouschek, Review of Hexensabbat, p. 458 ; Staubach, Cusani laudes, pp. 306-307 ; De Blcourt, The Return

of the Sabbat, pp. 138-139.


7 A.-L. Siikala, Kohti kulttuurin historian peruskysymyksi, Suomen Antropologi , 20, 1995, 1, pp. 40-43. See

Ginzburg, Of Microhistory, Mentalities, and Other Unnecessary Labels : an Interview with Carlo Ginzburg, ibidem,

p. 38 : I think I use a lot of work done by folklorists [...] Yet, my perspective is quite different from a folkloristic

perspective, because I try to combine history and folklore [...] in a way which could be described as an attempt to
both combine and oppose the two approaches . For L. Arcari, Le pratiche di contatto col sovrannaturale tra diacro-

nia e isomorfismo. Riflessioni a margine di (una) Storia notturna, in Streghe, sciamani, apocalittici. In margine a Storia
Notturna, Ecstasies anticipated contemporary (and innovative) avenues of historico-religious research focused on
the value of the experience ; this was stated, however, in vague terms.

invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 81
into single parts, and this is what I expect .1 If it is true that folklore studies, like de-

monology, is a science of classification,2 we should admit that G. abandoned categori-


sation to selectively emphasise what suited his purposes. Nor did G. considered the
greater variation of traditional narratives, while he singled out (still generic) thematic
units or mythemes such as the riding of animals, zoomorphic combat, foot abnormali-
ties, etc.3 Yet G. had written, thinking of Propps studies on fairy tales, that the work

of classification should constitute a preliminary phase, meant to reconstruct series of


phenomena which I would like to analyze historically .4

G. argued, for instance, that the astonishing similarities between the Italian fairy-

tale of Sbadiln and the Caucasian legends about Amirani were so specific as to dem-
onstrate a historical connection by contact or by derivation from a common Eurasiatic
model. In both cases, there was a hero who was abandoned in a subterranean world by
his treacherous companions. The hero, then, cut a piece from his flesh (typically from
the lower limb) to ensure that a giant bird (usually an eagle or a griffin) brought him
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

to the upper world.5


What G. did not realize, with his corpus of just two narratives, was that the story of
Sbadiln and Amirani is attested in hundreds of versions from many places around the
world : these are part of the multifaceted international tale-type ATU 301 The Three

Stolen Princesses ; the motif B322.1. Hero feeds own flesh to helpful animal. The hero

is carried on the back of an eagle who demands food, serves frequently as a conclusion
to ATU 301.6 Bernard Sergent claimed, in an ambitious comparative study, that motif
B322.1. is one of the most ancient elements of ATU 301 a tale, he claimed, that had
Palaeolithic origins. Sometimes, however, in the collected variants there is no eagle but
other animals carry the hero up to the earth ; occasionally, the eagle is not fed by the

hero with parts of his body but with the flesh of domestic animals.7 G. saw a shaman-
istic background to the eagle carrying the hero : the mythic heros initiatory journey to,

and the ascent from, the subterranean world, while limping from self-mutilation. Later
scholars would stress the similarities with the magic flight of the Siberian and Central
Asian shaman, carried by an eagle, and the initiatory shamanic rite where the shaman
is dismembered and reassembled.8

1 T. Marrone, Il detective e lo sciamano, Il Mattino , 6 may 1989.


2 M. Ostling, Between the Devil and the Host. Imagining Witchcraft in Early Modern Poland, Oxford 2011, p. 233.
3 Petrarca, Sulla Storia notturna di Carlo Ginzburg, p. 610.

4 Preface to the Italian Edition, p. xix. 5 Ginzburg, Ecstasies, pp. 255-257, 288.
6 H.-J. Uther, The Types of International Folktales. A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti
Aarne and Stith Thompson, i (Animal Tales, Tales of Magic, Religious Tales, and Realistic Tales), Helsinki 2004, pp. 176-
179. Here I follow this classificatory system but I agree with Bernard Sergent that the now abandoned classifica-
tion AaTh 301B, episode V. Betrayal of the Hero, is more precise given the number of variants in the tale-type
(Gargantua, Jean de lOurs et le Dnicheur doiseaux, La Bgude de Meyzens 2009, p. 3, 277). See also motifs B322.1.
Hero feeds own flesh to helpful animal. The hero is carried on the back of an eagle who demands food ; B322.2.

Helpful birds demand food ; B455.3. Helpful eagle ; B542.1. Bird flies with man to safety ; B542.1.1. Eagle carries

man to safety ; F101.3. Return from lower world on eagle.


7 Variants in Sergent, Gargantua, Jean de lOurs, pp. 20-22, 27, 84, 136-137, 153, 380, 383-385. See also Idem, De Jean
de lOurs Perse ou de quelques modalits de la disjonction, in Routes et parcours mythiques : des textes larchologie.

Actes du Septime colloque international danthropologie du monde indo-europen et de mythologie compare


(Louvain-la-Neuve, 19-21 mars 2009), dit par A. Meurant, Bruxelles 2011, pp. 267-286.
8 A. Calvetti, Il salvamento dal rapace : AT 301, Lares , 58, 1992, 2, pp. 265-282 ; G. Bottani, Sbadilon in Islanda :

Il contesto iniziatico di tre racconti lontani, La Ricerca Folklorica , 46, 2002, pp. 117-123 ; Sergent, Gargantua, Jean de

lOurs, pp. 153, 200-202, 205-206, 299-301, 315, 383-387, 429-431. Bottani, in particular, compared Sbadiln and Amirani
with two versions of a (probably medieval) Icelandic ballad where the protagonist dreams of being kidnapped
and dissected by an eagle. Like G., she ignored the typological affinity to ATU 301. For shamans and the eagle see,
82 davide ermacora
The wide geographical distribution of ATU 301 with the bird-motif covers at least
Europe, large parts of Central Asia and the Middle East, China (Miao), Canada and
South America, and it is generally (but dubiously) believed that that the ascent of the

hero from the Underworld by the means of birds [...] is a motif of Oriental origin .1

Amar Annus, for example, connected these folk narratives with ancient Sumerian and
Akkadic myths.2 But bodily self-sacrifice, such as cutting flesh out of the limbs and
giving it to a giant bird of prey or equivalent creatures is a motif attested in ancient
(Buddhist) Indian literature : thus, part of the folklore of ATU 301 may well go back to

Indian origins 3 though this would certainly need further analysis.4


On the basis of the two variants of ATU 301, G. envisaged a striking confirmation

of Eurasian cultural unity .5 He was clearly surprised that these twin stories had been

documented, in modern times, at a distance of thousands of kilometres from each


other. According to the model of comparativism adopted in Ecstasies, formal similari-
ties of myths and narratives schemas, and their substantial persistence in time, possibly
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

derive from common Eurasian cultural origins, rather than from borrowing (or oth-
er explanations).6 But the wide geographical distribution of folk motifs and fairy-tale
plots is nothing new, for specialists working on oral narratives ; and a careful mapping

of as large a number as possible of sources is the necessary prerequisite for any inno-
vative theoretical generalizations. As G. himself warned, the existence of a Eurasian

however, P. Scarduelli, Laquila e lalbero universale nella mitologia dei popoli siberiani, Etnologia, Antropologia

Culturale , 5, 1977, pp. 52-62 ; D. Merkur, Eagle, The Hunters Helper : the Cultic Significance of Inuit Mythological

Tales, History of Religions , 27, 1987, 2, pp. 171-188.


1 J. Szvrffym, From Beowulf to the Arabian Nights, Midwest Folklore , 6, 1956, 2, p. 109. For distribution, see

Uther, The Types of International Folktales, pp. 176-179 ; Sergent, Gargantua, Jean de lOurs, pp. 2, 25 ; Y. Berezkin,

Folklore and Mythology Catalogue : its Lay-out and Potential for Research, RMN Newsletter , 10, 2015, pp. 62-64.

2 The Folk-Tales of Iraq and the Literary Traditions of Ancient Mesopotamia, Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Re-

ligions , 9, 2009, pp. 94-99. A more precise (and comprehensive) comparison of ATU 301 with Ancient Near East

mythology is contained in Sergent, Gargantua, Jean de lOurs, pp. 303-313, 319, 372-373.
3 B. Gal, King ibi in the East and the West : Following the Flight of a Suppliant Dove, International Journal of the

Classical Tradition , 2016, pp. 18-20, 24-25. See further F. Bellino, Mos, il falco e la colomba : origine, trasformazioni e

intrecci di una storia della letteratura islamica, Quaderni di Studi Arabi , 20-21, 2002-2003, pp. 208-209, 219-223 ; Eadem,

Mos, il falco e la colomba : edizione e traduzione del Ms. Gotha HB Ar. 2212, Kervan , 15, 2012, pp. 33-50 ; R. Ohnuma,

Head, Eyes, Flesh, and Blood : Giving Away the Body in Indian Buddhist Literature, New York 2007, pp. 278-279. Bellino also

showed how the Indian motif of the gift of flesh to a bird influenced the origin of the medieval Islamic tale of the
Prophet Moses offering his own flesh to an eagle or a falcon chasing a dove. To her abundant materials, I can add
a version documented around 1315 in Imd ibn Muhammad Taars Jawhir al-asmr (Jewels of Night-Tales ; see P.

M. Khan, The Broken Spell : the Romance Genre in Late Mughal India, PhD dissertation, Columbia 2013, pp. 51, 197-198).

4 Relying on the witness of ke Hultkrantz, Sergent recalled an Arapaho shamanic ceremony in which the
medicine-man cut pieces of flesh from the arm of a woman, offering them to the spirits (Gargantua, Jean de lOurs,
p. 206). He ignored, however, Indian literary parallels.
5 Ecstasies, p. 288. In a footnote (197bis) added at the last moment, G. cited a legend of the Russian or Vogul-
Ostyakak bear-hero who, when he has exhausted his reserves of food, feeds the eagle who is carrying him by

cutting off his calf . The legend was pointed out to him by Maurizio Bertolotti. Stressing the ursine character

of Sbadiln, Amirani and this Siberian bear-hero, the same Bertolotti, Carnevale di massa 1950, Torino 1991, pp.
190-192 ; Idem, La fiaba del figlio dellorso e le culture siberiane dellorso, Quaderni di Semantica , 15, 1994, 1, pp. 39-56,

envisaged an ancient historical connection. See further G. Barozzi, Due narratrici per un eroe : considerazioni sulla

replicazione nel folklore, in La fiaba e altri frammenti di narrazione popolare. Convegno di studio sulla narrazione popo-
lare, Padova, 1-2 aprile 2004, Firenze 2006, pp. 175-185, discussing G., Bertolotti and Bottani (but ignoring Calvetti).
6 Consider, in Ecstasies, pp. 258-260, 262, Siberian and Roman myths about a meal interrupted by the arrival of
cattle thieves. In his analysis of these myths, G. supposed that the affinities depended on derivation from a com-

mon model ; or a borrowing ultimately favouring the first. Discussing G. as well as other scholars, Francesca

Prescendi called into question the connections between such tales as an excess of comparativism (Somiglianze
fuorvianti. Riflessioni sul comparativismo partendo da miti romani e siberiani sul sacrificio, in Comparativa/mente, a cura
di P. Clemente, C. Grottanelli, Firenze 2009, pp. 87-99).
invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 83
space is the result of many connections over the centuries : diffusion is a fact , not an

easy explanation for the presence of a genetic relationship.1 From this point of view,
one wonders whether an in-depth analysis of the shamanic characters of ATU 301 with
the bird-motif, and its wide distribution, would have offered G. a better example of
Eurasian continuity than Cinderella.2

6. The problematic shaman


No scholarly research can stand outside time and, as we have seen, Ecstasies has been
repeatedly attacked. Anthropologists and historians have long bridled at the essential-
ist premises of G.s notion of shamanism, the explanatory paradigm par excellence. One
strand of disapproval concentrated, for example, on G.s lack of first-hand empirical
knowledge about shamanism, something that G. frankly acknowledged.3 There was,
then, G.s idea that the witches Sabbath could be grounded in vernacular beliefs prac-
tised by rural shamanistic figures active throughout early modern Europe. These fig-
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

ures, as was pointed out by G., relate neatly to the ideal-type of the shaman in the
Weberian sense (Idealtypus) ; as he categorically put it in 1966, there is a real, not an

analogical, connection between benandanti and shamans .4 Subsequently, this connec-

tion was confirmed by Mircea Eliade in 1975.5


Of course, today we know that shaman denotes a Western categorical concept or
a reality endowed with a meta-language, which revolves around the description of the
shaman as a specialist of sacred and performative ritual actions.6 Behind this abstract
intellectual operation with elements showing a strong stability despite the diversity of

the social and historical contexts in which they were detected ,7 there is, evidently, a

problem of definition.

1 Ecstasies, p. 217. See also Ginzburg in Round-Table Discussion, p. 48 ; Idem, Conjunctive Anomalies, p. 113.

2 Ecstasies, pp. 17, 243-249. For criticism of the shamanic interpretations of fairy-tales, see, however, W. de Bl-
court, Tales of Magic, Tales in Print. On the Genealogy of Fairy Tales and the Brothers Grimm, Manchester 2012, pp. 14,
170-173, 182-185, 223 ; Blcourt admitted that [t]he cooking and reassembling of limbs, the magic flight [...] could

certainly be traced back to shamanism .

3 I never met a shaman in my life. My knowledge of shamans and their European counterparts (if they ever

existed [...]) is unashamedly bookish (Travelling in Spirit, p. 35).


4 The Night Battles, p. xxiv, 29. Concealing a hypothesis with a statement, here G. went well beyond previous
attempts to compare, from a typological, social and psychological point of view, shamanism with European cun-
ning folk : see e.g. M. Bouteiller, Du Chaman au panseur de secret, in Actes du xxviiie Congrs International des

amricanistes, Paris 1947, Paris 1948, pp. 237-245 ; Eadem, Chamanisme et gurison magique, Paris 1950. Much later,

Hans Sebald followed Bouteillers footsteps without being aware of her scholarship : Shaman, Healer, Witch : Com-

paring Shamanism with Franconian Folk Magic, Ethnologia Europaea , 14, 1984, pp. 125-142.

5 M. Eliade, Some Observations on European Witchcraft, History of Religions , 14, 1975, 3, pp. 149-172. Although

not previously noticed, in 1951 Eliade already invoked a strong historical-religious comparative agenda for the
study of the connections between shamanism and European rural healers : see his Review of Chamanisme et guri-

son magique, Revue de lHistoire des Religions , 149, 1951, 2, pp. 247-249. Interestingly, in an incisive review veline

Lot-Falck observed that the French healers discussed by Bouteiller completely lack the ecstatic element, which is
so central in Eliades interpretation (Review of Chamanisme et gurison magique and Le chamanisme et les techniques
archaques de lextase, LAnne Sociologique , 5, 1951, p. 300).

6 E.g. Pharo, A Methodology for a Deconstruction, pp. 6-70 ; H. Rydving, Le chamanisme aujourdhui : construc-

tions et dconstructions dune illusion scientifique, tudes Mongoles & Sibriennes, Centrasiatiques & Tibtaines ,

42, 2011 (http ://emscat.revues.org/index1815.html.E) ; Comba, Un tamburo nelle tenebre. Sciamanismo siberiano e

nord-americano, Humanitas , 5-6, 2012, p. 931 ; K. von Stuckrad, The Scientification of Religion. An Historical Study

of Discursive Change 1800-2000, Berlin 2014, pp. 159-177. Ronald Hutton stressed the importance of Anna-Leena
Siikalas notion of rite technique for shamanism (Shamanism. Mapping the boundaries, Magic, Ritual, and Witch-

craft , 1, 2006, 2, pp. 210-211).


7 C. Stpanoff, Du chamanisme primitif . Rponse Franoise Aubin, Archives de Sciences Sociales des Reli-

gions , 168, 2014, pp. 93-102.



84 davide ermacora
Here we have dilemmas of comparison and the cross-cultural resemblance of a
constellation of cultural traits belonging to the Western ideal-type of the shaman. Is
shamanism intended, as a religious-historical category, and, especially, as a word that

enables us to discuss the commonalities of the phenomenon ,1 the historical and an-

thropological comparandum for the study of witchcraft, and in particular for some types
of European folk healers and sorcerer-figures ? Or is it, rather, as Jan Bremmer put it,

that shamanism is a joker that c[an] be put on the table to explain developments for

which scholars were unable to produce an internal [...] explanation ?2 Shamanism has

long been a metaphorical map for certain spiritual experiences involving direct contact
with spiritual forces, forces which can be detected in both Western and non-Western
cultures.3 Would G.s broadly defined notion of shamanism simply be another of these
cases ?

Giordana Charuty, Giovanni Pizza and Ronald Hutton reasonably observed that a
shamanic or shamanistic model applied rigidly might not draw out but, rather, con-
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

ceal historical truth, by obscuring as an umbrella concept alternative explanations for


unrelated European magical and belief elements.4 Pizza also argued that the concept
of European possession, proposed by Cristiano Grottanelli in the debate around Ec-
stasies, would have explained, in a more effective way, many European folklore phe-
nomena labelled by G. as shamanic.5 Here, one should remember that G. saw no
relationship with forms of possession, for the early modern shamanistic practitioners
he examined ;6 an opinion which he later partially corrected : the relationship between

possession and ecstasy is much more complicated than I put in my book .7 A close

analysis of Pizzas suggestion, however, showed that his ethnography of European


possession is inadequate as a foundation for the phenomenology of possession, and it
must therefore be rejected.8

1 Bever, The Realities of Witchcraft, p. 201, 476.


2 J. Bremmer, Shamanism in Classical Scholarship : Where are We Now ?, in Horizon of Shamanism, p. 68, 77, refer-

ring to the problem of Greek shamanism. Interestingly, the same author, in a footnote, prudently remarked that
[t]o a certain extent, this is perhaps true, too, for the work of Carlo Ginzburg in relation to shamanism . In this

regard, Filoramo, Una storia infinita, p. 292, R. Bartlett, Witch Hunting, The New York Review of Books , 38,

1991, 11, p. 38, had no hesitations.


3 Filoramo, Una storia infinita, p. 292 ; A. Znamenski, General Introduction - Adventures of the Metaphor : Shaman-

ism and Shamanism Studies, in Shamanism. Critical Concepts in Sociology, edited by Idem, London 2004, p. xix ; R.

Hamayon, Le chamanisme. Fondements et pratiques dune forme religieuse dhier et daujourdhui, Paris 2015, pp. 47-60.
4 G. Charuty, Folie, mariage et mort. Pratiques chrtiennes de la folie en Europe occidentale, Paris 1997, pp. 41-102 ;

G. Pizza, La vergine e il ragno. Etnografia della possessione europea, Lanciano 2012 ; R. Hutton, Pagan Britain, New

Haven 2013, p. 375.


5 Pizza, La vergine e il ragno, in Grottanelli, Discussione su Storia notturna di Carlo Ginzburg, pp. 103-116.

6 Ecstasies, p. 249, 285.


7 Round-Table Discussion, p. 48. Here G. was referencing the presumably very ancient cultural differentiation

(Ecstasies, p. 249) that separates, he believed, Africa, with its elements of possession, from Eurasiatic forms of
shamanism. Scholars immediately noted, on the publication of Ecstasies, how contemporary ethnographic litera-
ture and ethnological descriptions contrasted sharply with G.s idea : in several cases there is a clear convergence

between possession and shamanism, or at least the factual difficulty of separating trance and possession into
discreet categories (among many, see Grottanelli, Discussione su Storia notturna di Carlo Ginzburg, pp. 107-108).

For shamanism in Africa and scholarly proposals and counter-proposals, about the problematic and widely de-
bated use of the word shaman to refer to local religious specialists, etc., see the lucid pages by J.-L. Le Quellec,
Shamans and Martians : the Same Struggle !, in The Concept of Shamanism : Uses and Abuses, edited by H. P. Francfort,

R. N. Hamayon, Budapest 2001, pp. 147-148.


8 D. Ermacora, Sulla costruzione della possessione europea (i ) : il ragno. A proposito di un libro recente di Giovanni

Pizza, I Quaderni del Ramo dOro Online , 6, 2013-2014, pp. 161-194. Some counter-criticism against Pizza had

been already raised by Ginzburg, On the Eurasian Roots, pp. 57-58 ; . Pcs, Possession Phenomena, Possession-

invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 85

7. Shamanism, witchcraft and folklore


Let there be no mistake : the comprehensive materials examined by G. on individual

dream cultures will persist. Only the linkage of the elements, and the shamanic inter-
pretation of them, can be disputed.1 For instance, the major problem of the tltos-com-
plex (crucial in Ecstasies), i.e. the Hungarian magical healer who perhaps most authenti-
cally resembles the Siberian shaman, and his European parallels, such as the benandanti,
remains in the background. There is the intriguing possibility of historical connections,
and religious interactions, of parts of the Finno-Ugric sphere with central Asia and the
Balkan peninsula.2 This happened, perhaps, through the mediation of the Scythians and
other Iranian nomads who may have had some form of shamanism even if the exis-
tence of a Scythians shamanism has been seriously questioned.3 In any case, since the
1980s, G. has no longer been alone in his research into Europe-wide traditions for sha-
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

manistic night-riding. It is impossible, today, to discuss G.s scholarship without consid-


ering the evidence of what has been called peripheral European shamanism or Eu-

ropean agrarian shamanism , surviving in the context of early modern Christianity.4


Systems. Some East-Central European Examples, in Communicating With the Spirits, edited by G. Klaniczay, . Pcs,
Budapest 2005, pp. 108-109, 135-142. Equally problematic to me is the link between the ghost-spirit possession of
southern Europe and the shamanistic spirit-journey, as tentatively proposed by Nancy Caciola (Afterlives : The Re-

turn of the Dead in the Middle Ages, London 2016, p. 337).


1 One related line of research explored the connections between European animal masquerades and Siberian
hunting rituals : see, in particular, Bertolotti, Carnevale di massa 1950 ; Idem, La fiaba del figlio dellorso (criticism in

O. Raggio, M. Boarelli, A. de Clementi, Discussione su Carnevale di massa 1950 , Quaderni Storici , 83, 1993,

2, pp. 595-623, with a rejoinder by Bertolotti in ibidem 84, 1993, 3, pp. 901-911 ; A. Testa, Mascheramenti zoomorfi.

Comparazioni e interpretazioni a partire da fonti tardo-antiche e alto-medievali, Studi Medievali , 1, 2013, pp. 99-104 ;

Idem, Ritual Zoomorphism in Medieval and Modern European Folklore : Some Skeptical Remarks on a Possible Connec-

tion with Shamanism, Religio , 25, 1, 2017, Forthcoming). Several commentators remarked, independently, that

Bertolotti imitated G., or at least that Bertolotti used an interpretative model derived from that of G. (e.g. G.
Ciappelli, Carnevale e Quaresima. Comportamenti sociali e cultura a Firenze nel Rinascimento, Roma 1997, p. 11 ; Ber-

telli, Appunti sulla storiografia italiana, p. 129 ; Pizza, La vergine e il ragno, p. 186). This is unfair, as Bertolottis main

research framework was already formulated in the article Le ossa e la pelle dei buoi. Un mito popolare tra agiografia e
stregoneria, Quaderni Storici , 42, 1979, 2, pp. 470-499, which G. used amply in Ecstasies.

2 Hutton, Shamans, pp. 143-145 ; A. Oiteanu, Il drago e il solomonar. I termini di unequazione mitica archetipica,

in Idem, Il diluvio, il drago e il labirinto. Studi di magia e mitologia europea comparata, Verona 2008 [abridged 2004],
pp. 75-192. A more careful reappraisal of the tltos phenomena would also be useful : see . Pcs in Round-Table

Discussion, pp. 41-42 ; R. Neykova, Shamanhood and the Bulgars, Sofia 2009, pp. 187-205, and the articles by va Pcs

and Gbor Klaniczay contained in Witchcraft and Demonology in Hungary and Transylvania, Forthcoming.
3 D. Dana, Preuve et malentendu : sur le mythe historiographique de lorigine et de la transmission du chamanisme en

Grce ancienne, Cahiers du Centre de Recherches Historiques , 45, 2010, pp. 109-128 ; L. Zhmud, Pythagoras and

the Early Pythagoreans, Cambridge 2012 [1994], pp. 209-215 ; Bremmer, Shamanism in Classical Scholarship. Equally

critical in regards of the existence of Thracian shamanism is Neykova, Shamanhood and the Bulgars ; this is a

work, however, which fully embraces Alexander Fols theory of a mythical Thracian Orphism. On Fol and his
ideological agenda, see D. Dana, Llaboration dune mmoire religieuse des Thraces, entre Anciens et Modernes, in Le
savoir des religions. Fragments dhistoriographie religieuse, dit par D. Barbu et al., Genve 2014, pp. 527-533 ; T. Mari-

nov, Ancient Thrace in the Modern Imagination : Ideological Aspects of the Construction of Thracian Studies in Southeast

Europe (Romania, Greece, Bulgaria), in Entangled Histories of the Balkans iii . Shared Pasts, Disputed Legacies, edited by
R. Daskalov, A. Vezenkov, Leiden 2015, pp. 10-117 ; Idem, Nos anctres les Thraces. Usages idologiques de lAntiquit en

Europe du Sud-Est, Paris 2016.


4 . Pcs, Between the Living and the Dead. A Perspective on Witches and Seers in the Early Modern Age, Budapest
1999 [1997], p. 15. Also for C. Tolley, The Peripheral at the Centre. The Subversive Intent of Norse Myth and Magic,
Arv , 70, 2014, p. 19, the witchcraft of the late Middle Ages might be described as a variant of peripheral sha-

manism . On the other hand, Indo-Europeanists often stressed the importance of witchcraft studies for the re-

construction of archaic forms of Indo-European shamanism : see e.g. B. Sergent, Les Indo-Europens. Histoire,

langues, mythes, Paris 20052, pp. 410-412.


86 davide ermacora
Investigations into the individual experiences of magical practitioners accused of
witchcraft in Europe have, in fact, corroborated G.s shamanistic paradigm, and discov-
ered that European magical figures , perhaps, have more in common with shamans

than witches .1 These enquiries plugged into ideas about trance-like states and noctur-

nal spirit flight, and shared G.s lines of research. A number of scholars concentrated,
for instance, on the ambivalent mythological realm of the fairies and white Sabbaths
(i.e. fairy cults) in early modern Europe, as an antecedent of the vernacular concep-
tions of witch meetings.2 Contact with ambiguous female fairy-like spirits is a rela-
tively recurrent feature in Eurasian forms of shamanism.3
Fragmentary similarities, together with dramatic differences between European
cults with supposed shamanistic traits,4 were detected, and further theoretical and his-
toriographical backbone was provided for the charismatic and much-debated relation-
ship between witchcraft and shamanism. Reactions to the typological category of sha-
manistic cults have been elaborated (see, for example, Pizza above) ; we can certainly
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

reiterate Erik Midelforts prudent words that [i]t will take a lot of work before we will

have anything like a history of this newly recognized variety of religious experience .5

There is no question, though, that the documentation on witchcraft and shamanism


confirmed in many points G.s earlier inquiries and his model of the witches Sabbath :

the Sabbath was, essentially, a cultural compromise formation with a vernacular con-
struction of regional witch folk traditions.6

1 G. S. Poole, European Magical Figures : Why Witches ?, Chicago Anthropology Exchange , 28, 1998, p. 66.

2 E.g. G. Henningsen, The White Sabbath and Other Archaic Patterns of Witchcraft, Acta Ethnographica Aca-

demiae Scientiarum Hungaricae , 37, 1991-1992, 1-4, pp. 293-304 ; Idem, The Witches Flying and the Spanish Inquisitors,

or How to Explain (Away) the Impossible, Folklore , 2, 2009, pp. 57-74 (for Italy) ; Z. i a, Vilenica and vilenjak :

Bearers of an Extinct Fairy Cult, Narodna Umjetnost , 1, 2002, pp. 31-63 (for Croatia) ; . Pcs, Tunderes and the Or-

der of St Ilona or, did the Hungarians Have Fairy Magicians ?, Acta Ethnographica Hungarica , 54, 2009, pp. 379-396

(for Central Europe and in particular Hungary) ; Goodare, The Cult of the Seely Wights (for Scotland).

3 One should think, for example, of the fairies (periye/parting) in the Hunza shamanism of Northern Paki-
stan. Here, shamans communicate with these supernatural beings through sances and also act as mediums
between fairies and individuals requesting help. See L. K. Csji, Flying with the Vanishing Fairies : Typology of the

Shamanistic Traditions of the Hunza, Anthropology of Consciousness , 22, 2011, 2, pp. 159-187 ; P. Nicolau, The

Taming of the Fairies, in Studies on Iran and The Caucasus. Presented to Prof. Garnik S. Asatrian on the Occasion of his
60th Birthday, edited by U. Blsing, V. Arakelova, M. Weinreich, Leiden 2015, pp. 205-227.
4 On the tricky use of cult in reference to these phenomena, see Goodare, The Cult of the Seely Wights, pp.
210-211 ; Idem, The European Witch-Hunt, New York 2016, p. 144. Cult was first used by G. in The Night Battles and

subsequently in Ecstasies, but never precisely defined by him (see the remarks raised by A. H. Kelly, Review of
The Night Battles, Cithara , 24, 1985, 2, p. 62 ; H. C. E. Midelfort, Review of The Night Battles, The Catholic

Historical Review , 72, 1986, 4, p. 649, and the exchange between G. and Robert Bartlett in The Witches Sabbath,

The New York Review of Books , 38, 1991, 13). What we should avoid, I think, is to link cult to the physical

existence of an organized or sectarian sect of witches involving ceremonial or ritual activities, and to reduce
these shamanistic cults into cunning-folk, i.e. by considering them as more or less exotic examples of traditional
magical healers providing valued service to the community (pace de Blcourt, Spuren einer Volkskultur oder D-
monisierung ? ; D. Owen, Popular Magic. Cunning-Folk in English History, London 2003, pp. 177-185 ; W. Monter,

Gendering the Extended Family of Ginzburgs Benandanti , Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft , 1, 2006, 2, pp. 223-225).

5 Midelfort, Review of The Night Battles, p. 649.


6 See the historiographical overviews of W. Behringer, Witches and Witch-Hunts. A Global History, Cambridge
2004, pp. 11-48, 140-158 ; G. Klaniczay, Shamanism and Witchcraft, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft , 1, 2006, 2, pp.

214-221 ; F. A. Campagne, Strix Hispnica. Demonologa cristiana y cultura folklrica en la Espaa moderna, Buenos

Aires 2009, pp. 105-150, 247-253 ; Tolley, Shamanism in Norse Myth and Magic, pp. 109-133 ; to their bibliographical

discussion one should add i a, Vilenica and vilenjak (for Croatia). A list of more recent literature on witchcraft
and shamanism should include Bever, The Realities of Witchcraft, pp. 93-97, 118-129, 185-213, 436-437 (for Germany) ;

Pcs, Tunderes and the Order of St Ilona (for Central Europe and in particular Hungary) ; Oiteanu, Il drago e il

solomonar ; D. Shishmanian, Chamanisme chez les roumains : pourquoi pas ?, Les Cahiers Psychanodia , 1, 2011, pp.

167-181 (for Romania) ; E. Wilby, The Visions of Isobel Gowdie. Magic, Witchcraft and Dark Shamanism in Seventeenth-

invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 87
Julian Goodare wrote, in this respect : [t]here were many [...] shamanistic cults in

pre-industrial Europe , but, at the same time, [t]here was no one-size-fits-all template

for shamanistic cults .1 What was recurrent in the Sabbath-conflation 2 of folklore el-

ements was the ability of privileged individuals initiated by supernatural (often female)
spiritual beings to interact with another world. This was done through visionary ex-
periences or altered states of consciousness, such as the nocturnal transmigration of
the independent or free-soul. Practitioners sometimes took on animal forms : zoopsy-

chonavigation in Suzana Marjanis term.3 In-depth investigations also variously con-


tributed to an understanding of singular regional affinities in marginal European areas.


There is, for example, a strong relationship (geographical, cultural and partially eth-
nic) between the benandanti and the krsniki or kresniki (and their enemies, the vedomci),
documented in post-medieval Slovenian and Croatian oral tradition. This was recog-
nized by G. as early as 1966,4 and Michael Bailey tentatively proposed that traces of
krsniki can even be found in a 1427 sermon of Bernardino of Siena.5 Much like other
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

European shamanistic cults with similar traits, there is evidence that the South-Slav-
ic krsniki, fighting over fertility in nocturnal spirit-battles, had both supernatural and
human members. In their first-person accounts, local folk healers called themselves
krsniki, apparently seeing themselves as belonging to a recognizable cultural group or
a network of individuals with a shared occupational identity .6

But why is shamanism evoked so often by scholars working on European witchcraft ?

The nocturnal flight of the soul, during which the spirit abandons the body, is a recur-
rent element in the bricolage ( la Claude Lvi-Strauss) of local folkloric beliefs and
imaginative abilities of cunning folk caught in witch-trails.7 G. identified the motif of
the ecstatic experience of the soul journey, and its symbolic relationship with the realm
of the dead, as the nucleus of the Sabbath.8 The pluralistic conception of the person,
where the spirit leaves the sleeping body, is typically intended as a precondition and a
distinctive trait for shamanism as a trans-cultural category. In Eliades opinion (shared
by ke Hultkrantz), the soul journey is the central characteristic of shamanism. It re-

Century Scotland, Toronto 2010 ; Eadem, We Mey Shoot Them Dead at Out Pleasur : Isobel Gowdie, Elf Arrows, and

Dark Shamanism, in Scottish Witches and Witch-Hunters, edited by J. Goodare, Basingstoke 2013, pp. 140-158 ; Eadem,

Burchards strigae, the Witches Sabbath, and Shamanistic Cannibalism in Early Modern Europe, Magic, Ritual, and

Witchcraft , 8, 2013, 1, pp. 18-49 ; Goodare, The Cult of the Seely Wights (for Scotland).

1 The Cult of the Seely Wights, pp. 200, 214. 2 Wilby, Burchards strigae .

3 Witches Zoopsychonavigations and the Astral Broom in the Worlds of Croatian Legends as (Possible) Aspects of Sha-
manistic Techniques of Ecstasy (and Trance), Studia Mythologica Slavica , 9, 2006, pp. 169-202 (but the essay is very

confused). For the so-called Guntram Legend, see Ermacora, Sulla costruzione della possessione europea , pp.

171-175 ; C. Don, Il sogno di Gontrano : tracce sciamaniche nella tradizione medievale, in Eroi dellestasi. Lo sciamanismo

come artefatto culturale e sinopia letteraria, a cura di A. Barbieri, Verona 2017, pp. 75-100.
4 The Night Battles, pp. 133-134, 180, 193 (retrospectively, Ginzburg, Ecstasies, p. 177, admitted that the juxtaposi-

tion benandanti-kresniki [...] was dealt with too hastily ).

5 Nocturnal Journeys and Ritual Dances in Bernardino of Siena, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft , 8, 2013, pp. 11-15.

6 Goodare, The Cult of the Seely Wights, p. 211. On the krsniki after G., see at least C. Carmichael, The Fertil-
ity of Lake Cerknica, Social History , 19, 1994, 3, pp. 305-317 ; M. Bokovi -Stulli, On the Track of Kresnik and

Benandante , in MESS. Mediterranean Ethnological Summer School, edited by R. Muri, I. Weber, Ljubljana 2003,

pp. 13-40 ; Z. mitek, Combattenti notturni : eresie contadine e stregonerie in Slovenia e Friuli [2014], in Il paesaggio im-

materiale del Carso, a cura di K. Hrobat Virloget, P. Kavrei, Koper 2015, pp. 33-49.
7 The reference, here, is to W. Behringer, Shaman of Oberstdorf : Chonrad Stoeckhlin and the Phantoms of the

Night, Charlottesville, VA 1998 [1994], pp. 146-152 (see also C. Severi, Il percorso e la voce. Unantropologia della me-
moria, Torino 2004, pp. 220-226). Already Burke, La cultura popolare nellEuropa moderna, pp. 116-148 ; Idem, Good

Witches, p. 33, considered the benandanti engaged in a process of bricolage .


8 Ecstasies, p. 101, 307.


88 davide ermacora
fers to an experience that is typically shamanic ;1 but, at the same time, according to Eli-

ade, the symbolism of mystical flight and ascension can be found outside the religious
category of shamanism, and, indeed, outside shamanic cultures as well.2
This is important for those who have argued that ecstatic early European mediums,
and their soul journeys, are not proof of shamanism. Many scholars have made the
case that we should be more cautious in using shamanism and related terms out-
side traditional shamanic cultures. Clive Tolley, for instance, argued this for medieval
Scandinavia where he found the use of the term shamanism both dubious and con-
fusing.3 As for witchcraft, Gustav Henningsen, writing about early modern European
witch trials, had little patience with trance theory. He evoked cultural pressures on
dreaming and preferred to speak of a deep lethargic sleep with a strong, visual dream

experience ,4 or of a trance sleep, in which [sorcerers] had these particular cultural


dreams .5 This has long been the position of Peter Burke,6 and one rejected by G.,

though G.s argument is surely inadequate here.7


Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

Scholars in the humanities are dealing with complex topics that psychologists and
dream researchers have discussed at some length. The fact that culturally patterned
and socially interpreted dreams have a vivid impact on the dreamers waking aware-
ness, and on the dreamers lived religious beliefs and attitudes (and vice versa), is now
fully acknowledged.8 Emma Wilby persuasively proposed, also, that psychological
phenomena such mutual dreaming and meeting-dream experiences shaped the world-
view, and the transmission of shared cultural cognition, in early modern European sha-
manistic dream cults.9 One should remember, here, that some of these cults remained
active at least until the end of the last century : a focus on contemporary tradition bear-

ers would certainly provide interesting psychological data. There are, for example, late
twentieth- / early twenty-first-century records of flesh-and-blood Istrian (male) krsniki
and of Sicilian (prevalently female) donni di fori : unfortunately, these cases seem not

to be known by international scholars. These individuals shared many of the folklore

1 Shamanism : Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Princeton 1964. On Eliade, shamanism and the soul journey, see the

critical discussions provided by G. Casadio, Lo sciamanesimo prima e dopo Mircea Eliade, Roma 2014 ; L. Ambas-

ciano, Sciamanesimo senza sciamanesimo. Le radici intellettuali del modello sciamanico di Mircea Eliade : evoluzionismo,

psicoanalisi, te(le)ologia, Roma 2014.


2 E.g. M. Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries. The Encounter Between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Realities,
New York 1960 [1957], pp. 104-105 : [t]he motifs of flight and of ascension to Heaven are attested at every level of

the archaic cultures [...] as in the myths and folklore of other members of the society . See further Idem, Some

Observations, p. 151. 3 Shamanism in Norse Myth and Magic, pp. 581-589.


4 Henningsen, The White Sabbath, p. 302 ; Idem in Round-Table Discussion, p. 35.

5 The Witches Flying, pp. 69-70.


6 Varieties of Cultural History, Ithaca, NY 1997, pp. 40-41 (the first version of the article dates 1973). In the same
line as Burke, see also the very learned essays by L. S. Milne, Pieter Bruegel and Carlo Ginzburg : the Debatable Land of

Renaissance Dreams, Cosmos , 29, 2013, pp. 59-126 ; Eadem, Dream Cultures in the Renaissance : the Mythology of Night

Travels, in Sources of Mythology : National and International Myths, edited by K. Antoni, Tbingen 2014, pp. 153-178.

7 to use a label like dream cult seems more problematic, insofar as we are trying to make sense of some-

thing which is really far from our culture something really difficult to imagine. We are confronted with dreams
based on a repeatable cultural pattern something we are unable to make sense of (Ginzburg in Round-Table

Discussion, p. 47).
8 K. Bulkeley, Big Dreams. The Science of Dreaming and the Origins of Religion, Oxford 2016. Many useful reflec-
tions on the relationship between dream, belief, memory, truth and knowledge have been produced in studies on
the Greek cult of Asclepius and the ritual of incubation. Here, intuitive cultural expectations variously shaped
stereotyped dreams and visions : see e.g., in a cross-cultural perspective, E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational,

Berkeley, CA-London 1951, pp. 102-134 ; M. Dorati, Sogni doppi, Studi Italiani di Filologia Classica , 11, 2013, pp.

201-250. Dorati compared, significantly, Paul the Deacons 8th-century Guntram Legend in Historia Langobardo-
rum 3 : 34.

9 The Visions of Isobel Gowdie, pp. 503-520.
invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 89
traits of their homologues described in centuries-old sources, and have even experi-
enced ecstatic or dream states.1

8. Ginzburg and Mircea Eliade


As I said, in G.s view, a homogeneous archaic shamanic substratum informed a num-
ber of trans-cultural religious expressions across Eurasia. This underlying Eurasian

mythological unity or Eurasian shamanism, as we might call it, was typologically


distinguished from spirit possession.2 It was also characterized by the ecstatic state of
a medium with a social role. The substratum featured particularly in scholarship about
the history of religions ; so the functional role of the shaman as a form of media-

tion 3 in internal societal and interpersonal tensions, was reflected in features such as

charisma, therapeutic ability and an apotropaic role encouraging fertility. In Ecstasies,


the shaman typically had a strong spatial dimension over which he or she had complete
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

control. G.s shaman moved effortlessly between the ordinary (i.e. visible) world of
men and that of the spiritual powers : two aspects of ontological reality which commu-

nicate and fold into each another. Here G.s position still represents the general view.4
Nevertheless, it was noted by many commentators that, in this respect, G. seemed to
share the phenomenological historico-religious agenda developed by Eliade, more than
30 years before, in his classic work Le chamanisme et les techniques archaques de lextase
(1951, the English updated edition dated 1964). The theme of a Eurasiatic religious sub-
stratum preserved in the peasant cultures of south-eastern Europe is a constant in Eli-
ades researches into shamanism, and comes out of his deep interest in the pre-Hindu
roots of yoga in India.5 As John Martin observed, Eliades earlier work on shamanism

is fundamental to Ginzburgs analysis though Storia notturna breaks decisively with


several aspects of Eliades work .6 In other words, the ideas of Eliade and G. converge

1 E.g. Gri, Le fonti orali di oggi per la storia di ieri ? (an almost krsnik interviewed in Trieste in 1992) ; E. Guggino,

Fate, sibille e altre strane donne, in Eadem, Fate, sibille e altre strane donne, Palermo 2006, pp. 9-148 (several donni di fori
interviewed during the 90s and 2000s, also experiencing nocturnal spiritual flight) ; O. Hedean, Myth and/or Sha-

manism (Case Analysis : Puna from Trenjevica), in Roma Religious Culture, edited by D. Djordjevic, Ni 2003, pp. 84-90

(an old Roma woman interviewed in Serbia in 2002, initiated by a witch ; the Roma woman specialized in treating

diseases and was able to enter a trance state). This latter case should be perhaps compared, as Hedean observed,
with the rusalje folk phenomena where women gained a reputation for their ability to communicate with spirits :

see D. Sinani, Possessed Women Performing Public Ritual Drama : a Case Study from Serbia, in Rational Magic : Cultural

and Historical Studies of Magic, edited by S. E. Hendrix, B. Feltham, Oxford 2011, pp. 147-178 ; B. Neagota, Communi-

cation with the Dead and Feminine Ecstatic Experience in South and South-Western Rural Romania, in Dying and Death in
18th-21st Century Europe, ii, edited by M. Rotar, A. Teodorescu, C. Rotar, Cambridge 2014, pp. 6-28.
2 Ecstasies, p. 267, 285.
3 S. Tomkov, Wayward Shamans. The Prehistory of an Idea, Berkeley 2013, p. 178.
4 The shamanic action takes place on the double spatial framework of the mythical and ritual vertical action
(based on the principles of the infernal or celestial shamanic journey and the religious mediation with protective
ancestors), and on that of the social model of horizontal reciprocity, shaped by the matrimonial alliances with
the spirits. These are two integrated (i.e. not opposed) dimensions, active within the same topological system

(Stpanoff, Du chamanisme primitif, pp. 93-102 ; see also Pharo, A Methodology for Deconstruction, pp. 10-11, 55, 60 ;

Hamayon, Le chamanisme, pp. 85-120). 5 Ambasciano, Sciamanesimo senza sciamanesimo.


6 Martin, Journeys to the World of the Dead, p. 625. On G. and Eliade, see in particular Znamenski, The Beauty
of the Primitive, pp. 184-186. De Blcourt, The Return of the Sabbat, p. 138, completely missed this point. It should
be remembered, though, that the notion of shamanism and the shaman as cultural hero, in The Night Battles, came
not from Eliade (who G. had not yet read in the 1960s) but from Sergei Shirokogoroff s The Psychomental Complex of
the Tungus (1935), mediated by Ernesto de Martino in Il mondo magico. Prolegomeni a una storia del magismo (1948) (C.
Ginzburg, Una storia con additivi, tra il caso e la prova. Intervista a Carlo Ginzburg, Alfabeta2 , 3rd July 2016, http ://

www.alfabeta2.it/2016/07/16/speciale-carlo-ginzburg-cinquantanni-mestiere-storico/ ; Idem, Genses de La Fin du


monde de De Martino, Gradhiva , 23, 2016, pp. 196, 198, 200-201 ; Idem, Travelling in Spirit, pp. 38-40, partially cor-

90 davide ermacora
at some points and veer apart at others. Eliades culture-transcendent approach was fo-
cused on the control of the archaic techniques of ecstasy as an essential religious (and
experiential) element of shamanism. Hence his generalizing (i.e. not local) definition
of the category of the shaman as a master of ecstasy and spirits ; and the way that Eli-

ades shaman was invested with social functions and was present in many different soci-
eties outside Arctic and Siberia. The same element of ecstasy, for Eliade, was intended
as an initiatory ritual death, thus assimilating the figure of the shaman to the dead.1
G. agreed with this definition : ecstasy was a characteristic trait of the Eurasian sha-

mans, and the shamanic flight was conceived by him as an initiatory journey to the
land of the dead. The shaman and comparable figures from European folklore were
mediators with the world of the dead, because initiation is always, symbolically, a

death .2 Through their ecstatic journeys to the underworld, shamans and, G. would

say, benandanti, all experienced a symbolic death ; but he stressed, on the other hand,

the absence of [shamanic] cosmological implications in the [folklore] phenomena an-



Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

alyzed here .3 G., as it happens, never gave in Ecstasies a straightforward definition of


what shamanism was for him, nor did he rely on a predetermined typology : as Eliade

and others had. Instead, G.s method consisted in a deliberate comparison of shaman-
istic or shamanic traits which he found across Eurasia : he analysed them within an

intuitive scheme.
G., in fact, rejected comparisons with Eliade out of hand : [d]ifferent assumptions,

different research strategies, different conclusions .4 Eliade was, for G., an overrated

and, indeed, mediocre scholar. No wonder, then, that G. firmly distanced himself from
Eliades general theoretical approach, focused, in particular, on the autonomy of reli-
gious phenomena : i.e. the notion of archetypes and other eternal and universal catego-

ries of hidden religious symbolism. As G. put it, I strongly objected to Eliades notion

of the archetype, which is central to his approach to the history of religions in general,
and to shamanism in particular .5 This was a rejoinder to the many scholars who dis-

missed Ecstasies as a work rooted in the same meta-historic assumptions as Eliades


shamanism, focused on the idea of the universal presence of the ecstatic element and
ultimately grounded in the rhetoric of primitivism and the cult of the archaic.6

recting Znamenski ; also de Blcourt, A Journey to Hell, p. 54, note, should be corrected). For S. Botta, Lo scia-

manesimo di Storia notturna e le tecniche arcaiche dellestasi. Appunti sul dialogo a distanza tra Carlo Ginzburg e Mircea
Eliade, in Streghe, sciamani, apocalittici. In margine a Storia Notturna, Eliades formulation would have indirectly
(and involuntarily) influenced The Night Battles, though Botta did not provided any specific evidence in support
of his assertion.
1 Shamanism, p. 95 : [t]he ecstasy is only the concrete experience of ritual death ; in other words, of transcend-

ing the profane human condition . See also Idem, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, p. 96. For the fascination, or even

obsession for the mortuary theme in Eliade, see M. Idel, Mircea Eliade. From Magic to Myth, New York 2014, pp.
104-135.
2 Ecstasies, pp. 14, 158, 170-173, 191, 203. Note, though, that the mortuary aspects of the initiation paradigm
have often been challenged, and several scholars would disagree with this sentence : see the studies contained in

Les rites de passage. De la Grce dHomre notre xxie sicle, dit par P. Hameau, Grenoble 2010.
3 Ecstasies, p. 181. A more nuanced opinion of cosmology and witchcraft can be found in Tolley, Shamanism
in Norse Myth and Magic, p. 132. 4 Response by Carlo Ginzburg, in Horizon of Shamanism, p. 90.
5 Ginzburg, On the Eurasian Roots, p. 57. On these strong reservations on Eliade, see Idem, Ecstasies, pp. 18, 28,
203 ; Idem, Mircea Eliades Ambivalent Legacy, in Hermeneutics, Politics, and the History of Religions. The Contested Lega-

cies of Joachim Wach and Mircea Eliade, edited by C. K. Wedemeyer, W. Doniger, Oxford 2010, pp. 307-323 ; Idem in En-

tretien avec Carlo Ginzburg, p. 16. How G. would react on reading that he has supplanted Mircea Eliade as an oblig-

atory reference for European historians who discuss shamans ? (Monter, Gendering the Extended Family, p. 222).

6 Among the last ones, see Botta, Lo sciamanesimo di Storia notturna.


invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 91
In a further answer to those who stressed the connection between himself and Eli-
ade, however, G. was less than convincing, focusing on minor matters. For example,
according to G., in Ecstasies he avoided referring to shamanism (recognized, implicitly,
to be a scholarly i.e. ideological construction), and instead referred to shamans or
shamanistic figures, rituals and practices ;1 as these would not be, themselves, ideo-

logically or typologically oriented.2 It is clear that G.s use of terminology also presup-
poses that the adjective shamanistic is distinct from, and deliberately broader than

shamanic .3 This is a view consistent with contemporary anthropological under-


standing, even if not evident in the words themselves.4

8. Conclusions and perspectives


What about the cultural archaeology5 of Ecstasies today ? G. summed up the implica-

tions emerging from the documentation on the benandanti with the following ques-
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

tion : is it possible to analyze from a historical perspective myths and rituals that be-

long to cultures very distant both in time and space ? 6 He, then, investigated a good

number of invariant cultural forms from Christian and pre-Christian Europe in terms
of religious, linguistic, folkloric, and archaeological evidence. His trans-disciplinary
and cross-methodological stance is certainly to be welcomed, so long as it can be cou-
pled to a careful comparative system. We certainly need a much more thorough study
of the witchcraft traditions of Europe in a comparative religious perspective,7 and
Ecstasies may well serve to remind historians that they must always work on myth .8

However, after having re-read Ecstasies, one is left with the impression that we still
know too little about the creation of the fantastic early modern witches Sabbaths. Our
certainties are few : 1) the scheme of occult conspiracy of the enemy within (a sect)

against Christianity was very important ; 2) the witch-hunt and the idea of the Sabbath

emerged in the Western Alpine region, c. 1430-1440 ;9 and 3) the Sabbath assimilated

1 Ginzburg in Round-Table Discussion, p. 48 ; Idem, On the Eurasian Roots, pp. 57-58 ; Idem, Travelling in Spirit, p.

48 ; Idem, Response by Carlo Ginzburg, p. 90. G.s 1992 talk at Symposium Karl Meuli in Basel was titled Schaman-

ismus und Hexenwesen ; however, as the author explained to me, this title was printed in the conference program

without his knowledge.


2 For example, the ethno-political struggles of the Hungarian quest for the tltos were superficially exam-

ined by Boekhoven, Genealogies of Shamanism, pp. 117-120. See further K. Vereblyi, Chamanisme Hongrois, Nu-

ovo Meridionalismo Studi , 3, 2016, pp. 299-291.


3 Goodare, The Cult of the Seely Wights, p. 212 ; Idem, The European Witch-Hunt, p. 141.

4 This use of terms can be contrasted with Edward Bevers arguments based on neurocognitive realism.
These offer, perhaps, a more thoughtful attempt to distinguish shaman, shamanic, shamanist and shamanis-
tic. According to Bever, all these terms (shamanesque is fortunately avoided) refer to deliberate practices involv-
ing alterations of consciousness ; but only the first two refer to interactions with spirits or the perception of the

spirit world (Bever, The Realities of Witchcraft, pp. 201-202, 212, 274, 436).
5 Mythical archaeology for G. Modestin, Review of Shaman of Oberstdorf, The Sixteenth Century Journal ,

31, 2000, 2, p. 484 ; philological archaeology for Molho, Carlo Ginzburg, p. 129 ; intellectual archaeology for D.

Oldridge, The Idea of a Witch Cult, in The Witchcraft Reader, edited by Idem, Abingdon 20082, p. 88.
6 Prefacio, pp. 53-54.
7 Here I certainly agree with C. Tolley, Review of The visions of Isobel Gowdie. Magic, Witchcraft and Dark

Shamanism in Seventeenth-Century Scotland , Shaman , 19, 2011, 1-2, pp. 217-223.


8 J. Mali, Mythistory. The Making of a Modern Historiography, Chicago 2003, p. 26. As Hutton recently put it,
the images and ideas descended from the pre-Christian world are clearly of importance to the early modern

European witch-trials, and [...] the latter cannot fully be understood without reference to the former (The Wild

Hunt and the Witches Sabbath, Folklore , 125, 2014, p. 162, 175).

9 The moment and the region where the Sabbath emerged were elucidated in the first part of Ecstasies, the
only conventionally historical part of the book, and the least discussed. More or less positive appraisal of this sec-
92 davide ermacora
many pre-existing fragments of spiritual and folklore belief rather than a wholesale
coherent belief-system.
This varied from region to region ; sometimes, there was the belief that certain in-

dividuals could send out their spirit in their sleep to battle or to join the fairies. It
is here that the European shamanistic cults may have contributed to the stereotypes
of witchcraft, particularly to the widely believed motif of the flying witch.1 But the
archaic image of the supernatural flying witch, the night witch with oppressive and
vampire-like qualities, also played a major role in pan-European witchcraft-human in-
teraction and conflict : this has been stressed, in particular, by Norman Cohn, va Pcs

and Goodare.2 Night witches often connected to phenomena of sleep paralysis


were left to one side in Ecstasies,3 and have been overlooked by scholars more generally.
Robert Rowland, for instance, observed that [t]he nocturnal battles of the benandanti

are structurally analogous to the world of the night-witches in Africa .4 Night witch-

es travelling by flight and attending meetings are attested in sub-Saharan Africa and
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

parts of the Americas and Melanesia, i.e. in regions of the world outside Ginzburgs

shamanic province .5

There is also evidence that in Europe witchization frequently involved nocturnal


supernatural beings being translated into living human witches ;6 a pattern which can,

tion can be found in Merlo, Review, pp. 212-228 ; C. Vivanti, Storia degli ebrei in Italia e storia dItalia, Studi Stori-

ci , 2, 1990, pp. 373-376 ; Klaniczay in Round-Table Discussion, pp. 45-47. For the pivotal role of the Western Alps

in the creation of the witchcraft paradigm, with few corrections to G.s reconstruction, see further Limaginaire
du sabbat. Edition critique des textes les plus anciens (1430c.-1440c.), dit par M. Ostorero, A. P. Bagliani, K. U. Tremp,
Lausanne 1999 ; Ostorero, The Concept of the Witches Sabbath.

1 M. Bailey, The Medieval Concept of the Witches Sabbath, Exemplaria , 8, 1996, pp. 419-439 ; B. Levack, After-

word, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft , 11, 2016, 1, pp. 115-116, argued that the flying concept apparently has a very

uneven distribution among the early modern European judicial records involving witches, and can be even con-
sidered rare as a whole. Their views, however, can be challenged : see e.g. M. Ozi bowski, Motyw lotu czarownic

w tzw. Zbiorczej koncepcji czcirownictwa europejskiego. wiadectwa redniowieczne i wczesnonowoytne, Almanach

Historyczny , 5, 2003, pp. 49-74 ; Goodare, The Cult of the Seely Wights ; Idem, Flying Witches in Scotland, in Scottish

Witches and Witch-Hunters, edited by Idem, pp. 159-176.


2 N. Cohn, Europes Inner Demons. The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom, Chicago 19932, pp.
152-166, 211-233 ; Pcs, Between the Living and the Dead, pp. 37-57 ; Goodare, The European Witch-Hunt, pp. 148-150.

The night witch is type C witchcraft in Pcs model ; this model was created for early modern Hungary, but it

could be usefully employed in other cultural contexts as well. For Spain, see Campagne, Strix hispnica, pp. 151-
223 ; P. Castell i Granados, Wine vat witches suffocate children . The Mythical Components of the Iberian Witch,

Humanista , 26, 2014, pp. 170-195 ; for Italy, see R. Kieckhefer, Avenging the Blood of Children : Anxiety Over Child

Victims and the Origins of the European Witch Trials, in The Devil, Heresy and Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Essays in
Honour of Jeffrey B. Russell, edited by A. Ferreiro, Boston-Leiden 1998, pp. 94-99, 104, 105-106, 109 ; Idem, Mythologies

of Witchcraft ; L. Cherubini, Strix. La strega nella cultura romana, Torino 2010, pp. 17-52.

3 Besides Ecstasies, pp. 300-301.


4 Fantasticall and Devilishe Persons : European Witch-Beliefs in Comparative Perspective, in Early Modern European

Witchcraft, p. 183. It is a pity that G. did not developed, in Ecstasies, a hint contained in Burke, Good Witches, p. 33,
regarding the existence in Tanzania of a seemingly parallel to the benandanti cult : village-defenders who see the

witches in dreams and fight them and drive them off.


5 R. Hutton, Anthropological and Historical Approaches to Witchcraft : Potential for a New Collaboration ?, The

Historical Journal , 47, 2004, 2, pp. 427-428. For example, Pierre Lemonnier used Ecstasies for his ethnographic

study of sorcery among the Ankave of New Guinea. Here, the local system of beliefs centered on the nocturnal
meetings of ombo monsters and strikingly resemble the European Sabbath. Both share magical flight, animal
metamorphosis, cannibalism, etc. (Le sabbat des lucioles. Sorcellerie, chamanisme et imaginarie cannibale en Nouvelle-
Guine, Paris 2006, pp. 353-391 ; see also R. Caprini, Review of Le sabbat des lucioles, Quaderni di Semantica , 32,

2011, 1, pp. 159-164).


6 Wilby, The Visions of Isobel Gowdie, p. 495, relying on . Pcs, Fairies and Witches at the Boundary of South-
Eastern and Central Europe, Helsinki 1989, p. 9. See also Eadem, Between the Living and the Dead.
invariant cultural forms in carlo ginzburg s ecstasies 93
again, be observed in non-European cultures.1 A comparative/contrastive, large-scale
investigation of regional European folklore concepts of the (real and mythological)
witch, from ancient to early modern times, is needed. Hutton is currently engaged in a
project considering shamanism, cross-cultural night witches and a comparison of the
geographical variation of witchcraft trials with the geography of prehistoric traditions :

interesting results are sure to follow.2


As I said, psychology and related branches of science have something to offer here.
Psychologists have long worked on both sides of the frontier between the specifics of
culture and universals. Ecstasies demonstrated an almost total lack of interest as regards
biological and psychological perspectives a serious lacuna, Paolo Rossi noted, for a
work focused on human nature and the history or structure dilemma.3 Bever and,
more recently, Goodare, have shown what these subjects can bring to the study of
early-modern witchcraft and vernacular magic, including visionary practitioners. The
debate on G. could certainly benefit from their input and there are promising signs that
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

in the next generation this debate will widen to include cognitive issues.4
It is probable that these issues will also restate old and controversial arguments such
as whether the widespread presence of shamanistic traits observed in European witch-
craft are due to diffusion from historical contacts with shamanic cultures (G.s hypoth-
esis), or, rather are to be intended as native (i.e. independent) cultural developments,
or a combination of both.5 Shamanic ecstasy, intended as an autonomous and univer-
sal psychological experience, could, for instance, substantiate the second point. Some
scholars have already contrasted, with good linguistic arguments, G.s highly criticized
diffusionist sequence Siberian nomads-Scythians-Thracians-Celts with local continu-
ity from prehistoric times.6 A recent study by Tolley of the Eurasian mythologem of
the bone-collecting and the missing bone, which had a central place in Ecstasies, and
which G. (and others) argued came from hunting culture, pondered these solutions

1 Lemonnier, Le sabbat des lucioles.


2 Hutton, Anthropological and Historical Approaches, pp. 413-424 ; Idem, Writing the History of Witchcraft. A Per-

sonal View, The Pomegranate , 12, 2010, 2, pp. 240-250 ; Idem, Witch-Hunting in Celtic Societies, Past and Present ,

212, 2011, pp. 43-69 ; Idem, Pagan Britain, pp. 374-375 ; Idem, Witches, Pagans and Historians. An Extended Review of Max

Dashu, Witches and Pagans : Women in European Folk Religion, 700-1000 , The Pomegranate , 18, 2016, 2, pp. 205-234.

See Idem, The Witch. A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present, Forthcoming.
3 Gli storici e la natura umana. Rossi also showed how G. had, in the 1980s, a nineteenth-century image of
what biology was. For G. the idea of biology merely corresponded to determinism, mechanical philosophy,
Nazi misinterpretation, etc. One might think, here, of Ginzburg, The Night Battles, p. 17, on the need to explain
the beliefs of the benandanti on the basis of the history of popular religiosity not on that of pharmacology

or psychiatry .

4 Bever, The Realities of Witchcraft ; J. Goodare, Visionaries and Nature Spirits in Scotland, in Book of Scientific

Works of the Conference of Belief Narrative Network of ISFNR, 1-4 October 2014, Zugdidi, edited by B. Mosia, Zugdidi
2015, pp. 102-116.
5 E.g. U. Drobin, Afterword, in Horizon of Shamanism, pp. 85-86, on the benandanti beliefs as a kind of pre- or

proto-shamanism . G. commented that this is an interesting, although highly speculative suggestion possibly

even more speculative than the Eurasian conjectures which I chose as a title for the third part of Ecstasies (Re-

sponse by Carlo Ginzburg, p. 90).


6 M. Alinei, Temi magico-religiosi fra evoluzionismo e diffusionismo : un approccio interdisciplinare, Quaderni di

Semantica , 15, 1994, pp. 9-22 ; R. Caprini, A proposito di Bertolotti, Ginzburg e lipotesi siberiana, ibidem, pp. 57-66 ;

Eadem, Gli Sciti : (ri)nascita di un mito, LImmagine Riflessa , 8, 1999, 1, pp. 102-114. Interestingly, a derivation

of shamanistic elements from a common pre- or proto-historic (perhaps Paleolithic ?) source was largely dis-

missed by G. with linguistic arguments (Deciphering the Sabbath, p. 130 ; Idem, Ecstasies, pp. 17-18, 213, 216, 257),

a fact perhaps linked to his early distrust vis-a-vis shamanism as a transcultural category (Idem, Travelling in

Spirit, p. 45).
94 davide ermacora
once more. Tolley inclined towards the myth arriving in Europe with steppes peoples
(Huns, Alans, etc.), in the early Middle-Ages.1
Let us conclude that the comparative questions G. asked in Ecstasies were the correct
ones : the big questions [G.] has raised will not go away .2 He also usefully brought to

light most of the available historical evidence in his writings. The answers and the re-
search methodologies employed were, instead, problematic, not least considering that
a great deal of energy was wasted on producing arguments that had little or nothing to
do with witchcraft and the Sabbath.3

1 On the Trail of rrs Goats, in Mythic Discourses. Studies in Uralic Traditions, edited by A. Frog, A.-L. Siikala, E.
Stepanova, Helsinki 2012, pp. 82-119. For Tolley, however, G.s discussion lacks precision and depth . Note that

Tolley was overlooked in the useful survey of M. Egeler, Celtic Influences in Germanic Religion. A Survey, Mnchen
2013, pp. 33-44, 50.
2 P. Burke, How to Write a History of Europe : Europe, Europes, Eurasia, European Review , 14, 2006, 2, p. 235.

3 Here I deliberately echo G.s undogmatic opinion about Frazers The Golden Bough (see e.g. Ginzburg, in
Copyright by Fabrizio Serra editore, Pisa Roma.

Idem, A. Polveroni, Laltra faccia della storia, Paese Sera , 12 May 1989, p. 11 ; Idem, Ecstasies, p. 204).