The Witches' Ointment: The Secret History of Psychedelic Magic by Thomas Hatsis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Modern witchcraft is replete with legends of witches and warlock flying through the nighttime sky enroute to a Witches Sabbat. THey would fly an any number of assorted items ranging from their spouse to animals and finally broomstick. One of the key features of this legend is the uswe of flying ointment . The witch would smear this ointment on her broomstick or anoint herself with it then would fly to Blocksburg to join the devil in his revel. Usually it was kissing hs buttocks and swearing allegiance to his design.
This book carefully examines the phenomena of the Flying ointment. Going all the way back to Greco Roman times an ointment of sorts was used in Apollius's "The Ass" where in an unwitting hero is given an ointment and is changed into a donkey. Healers in Europe would have specially made philters to help for others to fall in love. Other preparation wre used as poison and insanity inducing agents. WItches at first could be charged and penalized if the agents would kill someone or make them mad. On the whole history does not alway mention flying ointment in connection to witches. Witches could be charged with using their chemicals for negative consequences.
Inquisitors often added things to the suspected withces story like flying in the air and the devils sabbat, the witch would agree to it only under torture. Some factors could be pulled from traditional legend or folkways. One of those is flying to witches sabbat. THe flying train lead by a deity on certain times of the year derives from earlier European legend. In Southern Europe the Goddess Diana would lead a wild procession through the sky picking up people to join her. In the North it was the Goddess Holda. Some thought that demons were part of hewr cavalcade and others thought the Devil was mimicking the Goddess to lure gullible women.
Witches were also accused of kidnapping children and eating their fat and blood. The witch was also alleged to fly at night in spirit form and seduce men. During the seduction they would either drink his blood or drain his energy the precedence was set with the so called Lamia who were female demons who seduced men and drank babies bloood. THe witch was the strix owl who flew about doing such things. Strega was an Italian name for witch.
THe Christian Church was power hungry and despised any competing ideologies. One of the Christian tactics was to bash the witches by accusing them of having orgies, drinking human blood and doing all sort off fowl magic. THis persecution had a precedence. Back in the day the Romans were very antagonistic towards Christianity, they spread these exact same epithets against them. The Catholic Church also despised rival Christian sects like the Waldensians and others who found CHrist or God through means other than the Catholic Church.
Later on the use of flying ointment would be associated with all of these activities. THe accusation were that the witches would boil down baby fat and throw in such foul items as animal parts and poisonous herbs. At first this did not feature in the inquisition but it would come up later. Such ointments may have been used outside the witchcraft community for such maladies as headache, insomnia etc. Besides shamans would use ethneogen to access higher states of being. THey would often intercede on behalf of the community sometime even fighting negative spiritual entities.
THe effect and usage of the ointment has been subject to debate. What ingredient were in it? Did witches really fly? Was it a hallucination ?
At first flying through the night and shapeshifting was not really associated with flying ointment. Later on it came ot be associated with them especially as the inquisition motored through entire populations. THe ointment became associated with witchcraft even it became a crime to use it.
As the Victorian Era neared fferent theorist came to the conclusion that the flying ointment only gave the illusion of flying. It effected the mind. Not all church oficials liked this but word was getting out. Many scholars would experiment with flying ointment and yes they had the experiencen of flying but in reality all they did was fall into a deep sleep or stupor.
Flying ointment did not contain baby fat or any other foul elements.. In fact iot contained slonaceous herbs like henbane, mandrake root, hellebore, belladona and damona stratura. Opium was contained sometimes as well.
In the end it boils down to a spiritual experience inside the witches head.
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