A Tragic Anecdote

A handsome man, who was perhaps a bit too fond of wine, courted and married a young, childless widow. All seemed well, for the farm was prosperous. Yet, on one certain night, he noticed that his new wife was very insistent that he drink a cup of spiced wine just before bed.

Suspicious of his wife's strange behavior, he only pretended to drink this potion, and feigned sleep. She departed and did not return until just before Aurora brought back the day at cock's crow.

He immediately suspected she might be dallying with some swain on her nocturnal prowling. Her husband awaited her return, and then surprised her and questioned her thoroughly.

At first, she denied traveling anywhere. At last, she admitted to attending the treguneda della buone streghe, a gathering of witches beneath a walnut tree.

She explained: "In an hour I come and in an hour I return. There I drink, feast, dance, and praise the Fata. My mistress, Regina della streghe grants vitality, beauty, and wealth to her witches, the streghe. Why do you think our affairs continue to prosper when you are such a drunken sot?"

Under his probing, she described the banquet of delicious meats, bread, fruits, and wines.

Upon hearing her description, he began pestering her to take him with her next time. She was reluctant to do so. Yet he persisted, saying he doubted her word and would have her named as an adultress.

Finally she agreed and said, "You must promise not to give offense to La Regina, such as mentioning the God of the Catholic Church."

He agreed.

Thus, on the appointed night, they left out the door and she brought two goats. She told him, "We will ride a good wind tonight. Do as I do and repeat after me."

The woman sat upon the goat and said:

"Over wind and over sea
Take me to old Benevento's walnut tree."
She rode on the back of the beast, up into the air.

The man hopped aboard the goat, clasped the animal's fur tightly and repeated:

"Over wind and over sea
Take me to old Benevento's walnut tree."
He was carried with such quickness and lightness that his mind was turned all around. Yet in a little space, he found himself through the vast night, arriving under a large walnut tree among an assembly of witches. A beautiful woman, pale as the moon, sat upon a dias. All the streghe, or witches, knelt and proclaimed her their mistress, offering homage customary for a queen. During the sound of many pleasant instruments, the assembly requested gifts of good fortune while giving adoration and honor, draining their goblets and casting dry goods into the brazier before the dias.

This solemnity completed, they began the dance, which was both strange and wonderful, with high leaps and kicks.

The man was heavy-footed in the dance. So he contented himself with many cups of wine.

Then the tables were set out. The banquet was begun and food was brought out to gratify their appetites. Yet the man, who was quite drunk now, found the food unpalatable and demanded salt loudly. After much beligerance, some salt, which had not been offered into the brazier, was found and brought to him.

When it, at last, arrived, he called out, "Christ be praised, here comes the salt!"

At that point, it seemed as thought the whole company suddenly vanished.

He awoke alone and cold in an empty field. No walnut tree was in sight. He was a hundred miles from home and nowhere near Benevento, Campania either.

Feeling very surly about having been abandoned by his wife, the man denounced her as a witch upon his return home. Sadly, she was arrested, and burned at the stake by the inquisition. The fate of the man is not recorded. It is not known if he drank himself to death out of remorse or remarried and lived in comfort with a new wife.

Myth's Notes

This story is retold from an anecdote recorded by Paulus Grillandus in his Tractus de Hereticis et Sortilegiis, written in the sixteenth century. I have treated it as a folktale. There is no proof that the story was based on any factual account and may have no more reality than any other folktale. I therefore have taken the liberty to flesh out the narrative a bit. I borrowed information from Calvino's Italian folktale, The Haughty Prince, Calvino #102. J. B. Andrews, Neapolitan Witchcraft, 1897, also refers to a similar chant. The elements from other folklore I have included are the Italian witches flying upon the backs of he-goats to the faerie mountain of Benevento.

If the story has any basis in fact--that is, if a woman was burned by the inquisition on such an account by her husband, it's possible that either he dreamed the entire witch meeting in a drunken stupor, during which he wandered off and got lost somewhere, or he concocted the entire story to rid himself of a rich wife while holding onto her possessions.

In either case, the story remains a tragedy to modern eyes. For factual information on Benevento, please see The Two Beneventos.

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