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In Ginzburg's interpretation of the evidence, the benandanti was a "fertility cult" whose members were "defenders of harvests and the fertility of fields".

He furthermore argued that it was only one surviving part of a much wider European tradition of visionary experiences that had its origins in the pre-Christian period, identifying similarities with Livonian werewolf beliefs.

Carlo Ginzburg has compared these spirit assemblies with others reported by similar groups elsewhere in Italy and Sicily, which were also presided over by a goddess-figure who taught magic and divination.

The earliest accounts of the benandanti's journeys, dating from 1575, did not contain any of the elements then associated with the diabolic witches' sabbath; there was no worshipping of the Devil (a figure who was not even present), no renunciation of Christianity, no trampling of crucifixes and no defilement of sacraments.

– were members of a folk tradition in the Friuli region.

The benandanti, who included both males and females, were individuals who believed that they ensured the protection of their community and its crops.

If the men prevailed, the harvest would be plentiful.

The female benandanti performed other sacred tasks.

The men mostly reported flying into the clouds battling against witches to secure fertility for their community; the women more often reported attending great feasts.He went on to reveal more about his benandanti brethren, relating that "on Thursdays during the Ember Days of the year [they] were forced to go with these witches to many places, such as Cormons, in front of the church at Giassìcco, and even into the countryside around Verona," where they "fought, played, leaped about, and rode various animals", as well as taking part in an activity during which "the women beat the men who were with them with sorghum stalks, while the men had only bunches of fennel." Sometimes they go out to one country region and sometimes to another, perhaps to Gradisca or even as far away as Verona, and they appear together jousting and playing games; and ...the men and women who are the evil-doers carry and use the sorgham stalks which grow in the fields, and the men and women who are benandanti use fennel storks; and they go now one day and now another, but always on Thursdays, and ...The spirits of the men would go to the fields to fight evil witches (malandanti).The benandanti men fought with fennel stalks, while the witches were armed with sorghum stalks (sorghum was used for witches' brooms, and the "brooms' sorghum" was one of the most current type of sorghum).

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Ginzburg noted that whether the benandanti were themselves witches or not was an area of confusion in the earliest records.