Monster Monday: Witches of Benevento

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Witches of Benevento.

Medieval illustration of a witches' sabbath
Medieval illustration of a witches’ sabbath

Benevento is a city in the Campania region of Italy, and there have been stories of witchcraft there going back to the thirteenth century. According to the legends there is a particular walnut tree that is the focus of the occult activity in the area. The witches, called janaras locally, appear as normal women during the day, but at night they apply an unguent on themselves and recite a magic spell that allows them to fly. They fly to the walnut tree to perform rituals and dances, and from there they fly off to cause harm. In some version of the legend, there is a particular bridge where they launch themselves into the air.

They can enter into a house through the crack beneath the front door, and cause illness and abortions. They brush against people in their sleep and press down on their chests. Sometimes they braid the manes of horses and ride them, causing them to be exhausted in the morning. In some stories, they are said to kidnap newborns.

Protection against the witches include scattering salt in front of the door or placing a broom by the door. A witch trying to enter the house will be compelled to count the grains of salt or the bristles of the broom, a task that will take until sunrise, when the witch has to leave.

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