Monday, August 23, 2010

Villa Toscano Winery in Amador County

The Villa Toscano Winery was featured on this weeks In Wine Country, which airs on Sunday evening on local NBC affiliates. In fact, you may watch the program on their website throughout the week. Actually, the "wine country" is not just Napa County, but a much larger region of Northern California. Also, the above image is not the Villa Tuscany. The winery is located in Plymouth, California, which has a population of less than one thousand. The program showed the winery as a very pleasant place to visit. Beyond a place to wine taste, purchase wine, or take a tour; it's a place to have lunch at their bistro, enjoy a massage, or walk off on your own along the vinyards. They seem to even have some rooms for rent.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

New findings from ancient tomb in Italy

New findings from ancient tomb in Italy
UPI - August 5, 2010
ROME, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- A royal tomb in an Etruscan necropolis in central Italy has yielded fresh archaeological finds during a summer dig, researchers say.

Tarquinia, one of the richest Etruscan sites in the Lazio region of Italy, is home to dozens of tombs, but researchers were only recently given permission to excavate the "Queen's Tomb" in detail, ANSA reported.

Dating to the mid-seventh century B.C., the crypt is thought to have been a royal burial site although no remains have ever been found.

Researchers uncovering the crypt say they are finding images and decorations found in other contemporary cultures, suggesting the ancient city had much wider links with the outside world than previously thought.

Archaeologists believe the royal tomb was created by a team of foreign architects and craftsmen, strong evidence of a solid network of ties and trade with other civilizations, they said.

The necropolis of Tarquinia contains 6,000 graves cut into the rock but has won worldwide fame for its painted tombs.

Nearly 200 crypts at the site are decorated with frescos in the early Etruscan and Greek style.

Considered one of the most important galleries of ancient art, the Tarquinia necropolis has been on UNESCO's world heritage list since 2004.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Scritobini: Dawn of Europe

The Scritobini were a particularly barbaric tribe in ancient Scandinavia. "Scritobini" was the name which the Romans called them. Here "Scritobini" is used in part, to represent the first inhabitants of the region, or at least going back to the last Ice Age.

Book I, Chaper V

The Scritobini, for thus that nation is called, are neighbors to this place. They are not without snow even in the summer time, and since they do not differ in nature from wild beasts themselves, they feed only upon the raw flesh of wild animals from whose shaggy skins also they fit garments for themselves. [1] They deduce the etymology of their name [2] according to their barbarous language from jumping.

For by making use of leaps and bounds they pursue wild beasts very skillfully with a piece of wood bent in the likeness of a bow. Among them there is an animal not very unlike a stag, [3] from whose hide, while it was rough with hairs, I saw a coat fitted in the manner of a tunic down to the knees, such as the aforesaid Scritobini use, as has been related.

In these places about the summer solstice, a very bright light is seen for some days, even in the night time, and the days are much longer there than elsewhere, just as, on the other hand, about the winter solstice, although the light of day is present, yet the sun is not seen there and the days are shorter than anywhere else and the nights too are longer, and this is because the further we turn from the sun the nearer the sun itself appears to the earth and the longer the shadows grow.

[1] What is said about the Scritobini (or Scridefinni) can be traced to one and the same source as the account of Thule given in Procopius' Gothic War, II, 13, or of Scandza in Jordanes' Gothic History, 3; see Zeuss, 684.
[2] Perhaps from schreitcii, " to stride," or some kindred word.
[3] A reindeer (Waitz).

[Music: 'House of 1000 Corpses' by Rob Zombie]

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ancient Etruria II: Civilization without empire


"In the eight century BC, time of westward expansion, Phoenicians going west, Greeks going west, founding colonies. When the Greeks sailed into Italy, they found something they didn't expect. An advanced civilization already there." --Professor Richard E. Prior, Ancient Historian, Furman University, South Carolina, from the documentary 'Rome: Power & Glory'

As has been stated here before, the perception is that Rome more-or-less came from the Greeks. The truth is a lot different. As the above quote reflects, the Etruscans were trendsetters on thier own. That doesn't mean that, in many ways, the Greeks weren't the forerunners of what later became Western civilization. However, in most areas of human endeavor, the Etruscans were the equal to the Greeks. They apparently were not looking to expand, as they already were in a virtual Garden of Eden. They were not sea faring people. They conducted a lot of land trading, with the north mostly, it appears.

After the Romans shattered the Etruscans, as the victors always do, they rewrote the history. Until fairly recently, the Etruscans didn't even exist in the history books. Now we know that the Romans took Etruscan technology and began to form their plan for an empire. They leveled the vast majority of what had been Etruscan.

[Music: 'Hazelwood' by Silver On The Tree]


Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Twilight Saga and the Benandanti: Part 6

The Bendandanti werewolves

One of the strangest incidences involving werewolves was that of "Benandanti" (a term roughly translated into 'good walkers,' 'those who go well' or 'good-doers') in northern Italy. In this case the werewolves were men who left their bodies and assumed the shape of wolves. After becoming wolves they descended to the underworld to battle witches.

This case was tried in 1692 in Jurgenburg, Livonia, situated in an area east of the Baltic Sea, steeped in werewolf folklore. It involved an 80-year-old man named Thiess.
Thiess confessed to being a werewolf, saying his nose had been broken by a man named Skeistan, a witch who was dead at the time he had struck Thiess. According to Thiess' testimony Skeistan and other witches was preventing the crops of the area from growing. Their purpose for doing this was so they could carry the grain into hell. To help the crop to continue to grow Thiess with a band of other werewolves descended into hell to fight the witches to recover the grain.

The warring of the werewolves and the witches occurred on three nights of the year: Saint Lucia, Pentecost and Saint John (the seasonal changes). If the werewolves were slow in their descent the witches would bar the gates of hell, and the crops, livestock, and even the fish catch would suffer. As weapons the werewolves carried iron bars while the witches used broom handles. Skeistan broke Theiss' nose with a broom handle wrapped in a horse's tail.

The judges were astounded by such testimony, for they had naturally supposed the werewolves were agents of the Devil. But now they were hearing the werewolves were fighting the Devil. When asked what became of the souls of the werewolves, Thiess said they went to heaven. He insisted werewolves were the "hounds of Gods" who helped mankind by preventing the Devil from carrying off the abundance of the earth. If it were not for them all would suffer. He said there were werewolves in Germany and Russia also fighting witches in their own hells.

Thiess was determined in his confession, denying he had ever signed a pact with the Devil. He refused to see the parish priest who was sent for to chastise him, saying that he was a better man than any priest. He claimed he was neither the first nor the last man to become a werewolf in order to fight witches.
Finally the judges, probably out of desperation, sentenced Thiess to ten lashes for acts of idolatry and superstitious beliefs. A.G.H.

In the Friuli region of Italy, Slavic, Germanic, and Italian traditions combined to form the Benandanti cult. Many Benandanti were followers of Diana.

Carlo Ginzburg, in 'Night Battles' wrote:

'The present research now establishes...the positive existence at a relatively late date (from c. 1570) of a fertility cult whose participants, the Benandanti, represented themsleves as defenders of harvests and the fertility of fields...This belief is tied to a larger complex of traditions (connected, in turn, with the myth of nocturnal gatherings over which female deities...presided)...In the span of a century, as we shall see, the Benandanti were transformed into witches and their nocturnal gatherings, intended to induce fertility, became the devil's sabbat, with the resulting storms and destruction.'

Four times a year, on holidays associated with the planting and harvesting of crops, the Benandanti were called to Gatherings. It was at these Gatherings that the major battles with 'Malandanti '(loosely translates to 'evil-doers) or 'Strigoni' were fought. The Benandanti fought with fennel stalks, the Malandanti with sorghum. It was believed that on certain particular nights the soul of the Benandanti gets out of the body to participate in meetings with other Benandanti .

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Benandanti was the method by which they were chosen. One did not decide to be Benandanti, the calling was forced on certain people as an accident of birth. Women and men born with a 'caul' (inner fetal membrane still covering the body, especially the head) were believed to have mysterious healing powers and the ability to see witches. Cauls were sometimes saved by these Benandanti and worn about their necks as amulets.

Much like the shamen of other cultures, the Benandanti testified they left their bodies at night, (what we call astral projection) sometimes shape shifting into animal form , sometimes riding animals or household tools. While 'out' they performed work which, we now know from modern research, was typical of shamans around the world. They healed and protected people of the village, they kept the paths of the dead from this world to the next secure, and they fought to protect the village from 'Malandanti'.

The 'doers of good' retained their anti-witchcraft stance until around the year 1610. Shortly afterward, they came under persecution by the Inquisition, and were identified as witches. They maintained that they were an army for Christ in the war against evil. As a result the local beliefs underwent a profound transformation, and by 1640 the Benandanti themselves were acknowledging that they were in fact 'witches'.



Friday, August 13, 2010

The Twilight Saga and the Benandanti: Part 5

Night Battles: How the Benandanti Fought Witches During the Sabbath

Daniil Leiderman - - September 10, 2007

We have learned to dismiss the Inquisition, to view its cases, its hundreds of years of history as a self-fulfilling prophesy gone terribly wrong. People driven by faith or greed or a bit of both, sought witches and found them. Scores and scores of women and men were imprisoned, tortured and in some cases killed, apparently for their own good. History has rejected the Inquisition's legacy, it values and self-validations.

We dismiss the Inquisition's trials and evidence and are quite right to do so-confession obtained under torture is hardly dependable. And yet it is certain that not every case began and ended with torture, and at times even the inquisitors were at odds about a certain potential heretic. Such is the case of the benandanti of the Friuli (north-eastern) region of Italy. Anthropologist Carlo Ginzberg's book Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries presents the benandanti through the inquisitor's records and trial data, just as the inquisitors met them.

Who are the Benandanti?

The benandanti were of peasant stock, poor and largely illiterate, they spoke almost exclusively the friuli dialect, and at times had trouble communicating with their judges. However several statements reappear throughout the entire length of Ginzberg's study. All benandanti insist they were chosen by being born with a caul.

Superstition ascribed an unusual destiny for children born with a caul, a piece of the amniotic sac on their head. This was true throughout Europe and even the Middle East, however the specifics of the superstition; whether it was a good or bad omen, tended to vary from region to region. For several defendants in Ginzberg's study, the caul was a lifetime protective talisman worn in a pouch around the neck. It was the caul that identified a potential benandante to his or her recruiters.

After the age of approximately twenty each benandanti said another benandanti came to them during the night and led them out, riding cocks or goats beyond the village and into the woods. On the way the benandanti would drink wine from their neighbor's casks, invisible and flying. All benandanti insisted their bodies were left behind on their journeys.

Battles Between Benandanti and Witches

In the woods the spirits of the benandanti would meet the witches in the throes of their Sabbath. The witches would dance, fornicate and defile Christian images. Sometimes the devil lead them, at times a warlock, the witches would serve either. The benandanti would wait, lead by a captain (several separate trials record benandanti from different villages describing the same leader), or a glowing angel, and then they would meet the witches in battle and beat them with flannel stalks.

If the witches won, evil triumphed - crops withered, children and animals died. If the benandanti won, good triumphed for a season - fields were fertile, storms rare, children healthy. Such rites happened four times a year, once before every season.

Each benandanti insisted to his inquisitor that they served Jesus Christ and the Church. One can see the trouble such statements would have given the inquisitor.

The Church's Reactions to Benandanti

The benandanti are by definition acting beyond the Church yet claim to be for the Church, they witness the Devil's Sabbath but do not partake, they know the witches in their region by sight but do not reveal them-they act beyond the paradigm. As such the inquisitors did not immediately reach for the rack and the fire.

Initially the benandanti were released, and the same was true of the next batch of benandanti arrested later in the 16th century. Each new generation of inquisitor seemed to inevitably run up against the benandanti, interrogate, try and give up, handing out, at best, a sentence of mild heresy punishable by paying penance and temporary banishment from the town or region. However, the attention the cult received lead to its decline. The public became aware of the benandanti's claim of their supposed power over the spells of witches.

According to their testimony the benandanti can cajole and threaten witches into reversing their spells or hexes, particularly the ones that cause disease to children. Inevitably some unethical people, who may or may not have been benandanti began to charge the parents of sick children for the lifting of the witches' curse on their child. On the one hand this made the benandanti seem opportunistic and devaluated their "goodness" in the eyes of the populace leading to a more direct association between them and the witches they claimed to oppose. Furthermore, the benandanti's "cure" would more often that not involve the denunciation of the "culprit" usually a family member, as the witch causing the trouble.

At times the benandante would name a couple, or even a dozen of local women as witches, and ascribe to them the most vile of acts. The local inquisitors would be forced to investigate if only to stop a lynch mob. Clearly such provocations made the benandanti seem like fanatics bent on disrupting the social order to both the populace and the church hierarchy.

In the end the problem of how to condemn the benandanti as heretics became academic. Changing popular beliefs tainted by two centuries of prosecution, and inquisitors more willing to use torture produced a crop of benandanti whose beliefs had clearly eroded. These benandanti might recall some part of the night battles, but no longer insisted on their separation from the witches, instead admitting under pressure to also cavorting with Satan and spitting on the cross.

Ginzberg traces the decline of the benandanti's beliefs into the 17th century where the cult appears to disappear altogether after several leaders are convicted of misleading the populace and thievery rather than religious reasons. However, the benandanti are not interesting because they challenged the understanding of the inquisitor, but because they challenge ours just as much.

Explanations for the Benandanti's Abilities

Any rational person would be at a loss to explain the sense of community the benandanti convey-for instance benandanti in different villages describe the same meeting place, or even name their leader-and the fact that this community claims to meet in spirit only, given that the Inquisition's own investigation all but rules out actual cult gatherings.

Ginzberg puts forward several theories-epilepsy, hallucinogens, and others, but it is obvious to him and to us that they are insufficient. Indeed who has heard of epileptics who suffer a fit only on certain days of the year, at midnight, with accompanying visions? Or hallucinogens that change your consciousness so as you experience a particular ritual event again and again, to the complete exclusion of your actual sight and hearing? Moreover, even the most outlandish drug cannot account for multiple benandanti who have never met in person claiming that their captain is red-headed, or being able to name the witches in other villages in the region.

One story reveals the gap between the benandanti and our own limits of understanding tells of a benandante woman accused of practicing necromancy. When the inquisitors asks her if it is true that on a certain date she taught a certain local woman how to see the spirits of the dead, the accused tearfully replies that she did not teach the local woman anything, but that the woman came to her looking for help, because she saw ghosts but wanted to stop seeing them. The accused witch told the local woman that she had no choice in the matter, since these things were up to God, and she should simply learn to live with it, as the accused had. We see here the earnest conviction of a peasant woman, who for lack of education, or for fear of the church tells what she believes to be the truth.

Indeed when the benandanti lie, it is fairly obvious-after giving detailed descriptions of the gathering at one interrogation, the accused would suddenly claim to have forgotten, or never heard of the benandanti at the next, one accused simply agreed with anything said by the inquisitors including contradictory statements-he was released when this was noticed. In the necromancer's case the inquisitors decided the woman wasn't a witch, but was guilty of mild heresy and banished her for three years. We would have put both her and the local woman that asked for her help in the mental hospital for schizophrenia. It is arguable which is the better "cure".

But therein lies the significance of Ginzberg's work-we cannot simply discount the rather simple confessions of these people, there is a tradition and a stable set of images, but they are at odds with all rational explanations. Furthermore Ginzberg sites a number of similar European cults, whose believers run the gamut from nearly identical to the benandante, to werewolves that battle the hounds of Satan, and even stranger groups.

Indeed, faced with so many cults we find ourselves in the position of the inquisitors, doing our best to conform these people to our paradigm, to our reason, and find them slipping away into the irrational night.

About the Author

Daniil Leiderman is completing his studies in the fields of art history and comparative literature at New York University. He is a Russian emigre and a practicing pagan.


Carlo Ginzburg's "Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries", Penguin Books 1985


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Alberto da Giussano and Barbarossa - Part VIII: Company of Death

This is a part eight of the Barbarossa series from last fall, during the release of the Italian movie 'Barbarossa'. This movie may be available for download at a few pay movie downloading sites, but it would probably be better to just wait probably two more months for the DVD. Let us know if you find a good source in the meantime.

Company of Death (Wikipedia)

The Company of Death is the name used in the historical literature of English language for two related chosen tactical corps, two selected bands of warriors, entrusted to guarantee the cohesiveness and efficiency in battle of both the Milanese and Lombard League's militias through their bound by oath to the defence of the Milanese Carroccio, the wagon on which the standard of the Lombard allies stood.

They fought in the Battle of Legnano (29 May 1176) against the imperial army of Frederick I Barbarossa Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, in his 5th Italian Campaign, and were determinant in his decisive defeat.

The two corps who formed the Company of Death were the Company of the Carroccio, an infantry unit of 300 men, and the real and effective Company of Death, a cavalry unit of 900 men, commanded according to tradition by Alberto da Giussano.

The Company of the Carroccio

The Company of the Carroccio, was an infantry unit of 300 men, all of them young volunteers (forming a societas) and Milanese, sworn by oath to die in defence of the Milanese Carroccio. They fought as phalanx in a Sheltron formation around their "Sacred wagon", armed with a large shield and a lanzalonga.

The Knights of Death

The Company of Death, also known in some sources till the late 19th century as the Knights of Death, is the name of a temporary military association of medieval knights (a temporary societas), not historically well documented, which according to tradition was organized and equipped by a leader known as Alberto da Giussano. It had a great importance during the Battle of Legnano (29 May 1176) where it defended the Carroccio of the Lombard League against the imperial army of Frederick I Barbarossa.

The company was assembled in haste, depriving the Lombard infantry of the valuable support of enough heavy cavalry, "horse" were recruited by Alberto da Giussano around Brescia, and in other eastern areas of Lombardy that had contributed less in infantry and trails to the League. The knights would not be understood in the medieval and romantic sense, but as mere "mounted on horseback" or also "light cavalry." They were very probably particularly cruel and fierce "professional, or semi-professional, fighters," apt at wreaking havoc in the enemy ranks.

According to Milanese chronicler Galvano Fiamma it was composed of 900 men at arms but other sources and modern scholars reduce that number to 300 or, more probably, 500.

According to tradition they wore a sort of dark suit (black and gray, cut vertically) connected at the sides, to cover the armour, with probably the symbol of the skull on the traditional small pointed wooden shields.

Their motto or battle cry could have been, accordingly to poorly documented but reliable sources, "Ambroeus!" (Which is however in stark contrast with the origin of many of them, allegedly Brescia).

As a demonstation of the Company's rapid formation and specific use and role during the Battle of Legnano, after the battle there is no further information about its continued existence.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Children of Godan IV: Life along the Danube

Children of Godan IV: Life along the Danube

After peace is made with the Romans and Avars, the Langobard tribe experiences a brief period peace as they reside along the Danube River.

Danube River
The Danube (pronounced DAN-ewb in English) is the longest river in the European Union and Europe's second longest river after the Volga.

The river originates in the Black Forest in Germany as the much smaller Brigach and Breg rivers which join at the German town Donaueschingen, after which it is known as the Danube and flows eastwards for a distance of some 2850 km (1771 miles), passing through four Central and Eastern European capitals, before emptying into the Black Sea via the Danube Delta in Romania and Ukraine.

Known to history as one of the long-standing frontiers of the Roman Empire, the river flows through—or forms a part of the borders of—ten countries: Germany (7.5%), Austria (10.3%), Slovakia (5.8%), Hungary (11.7%), Croatia (4.5%), Serbia (10.3%), Bulgaria (5.2%), Moldova (0.017%), Ukraine (3.8%) and Romania (28.9%).

[Music: 'The Night Visits' by Dutch Ramblers; from 'Folk Spirit' CD which is distributed by Odinic Rite Media:

From the OR website:

Also available from, either the CD or individual songs:

Sample music from the CD: