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Witches Flying Ointment

Flying ointment or salve is a potentially hallucinogenic and highly toxic blend of plants in a fatty base that appears in folklore, fiction and books relating to witch hunting dating back to the middle ages. There’s still quite a bit of debate amongst folklorists and researchers on whether such ointments actually existed, if they actually contained the toxic and hallucinogenic plants often associated with them and whether they are one of the sources of the myth of the witch flying on a broom (the theory being that witches would craft mind-altering flying ointment, apply it on a broom stick and “ride” it in order to “fly”, in a combination of sexual stimulation, trance state and possibly vivid dreams and visions of flying).

One such description of the unholy recipe was given by Francis Bacon: “the fat of children digged out of their graves, of juices of smallage, wolfe-bane, and cinque foil, mingled with the meal of fine wheat.” The specific recipe varies but the intent remains pretty consistent: to conjure visions and dreams and give the witch the sensation of flying or travelling to the sabbath.

The plants commonly associated with this type of salve are the following: wolfsbane, henbane, hemlock, parsley (which had a reputation of being a devilish plant back then) and wild celery. During victorian times, authors embellished the story and recipe of the flying ointment, adding to it new ingredients like mandrake, thornapple, soot from chimneys, blood from small animals and more.

Whether these ingredients were associated with witchcraft (and the flying ointments by association) because they were toxic and dangerous or because of their actual use in a witchcraft practice is almost impossible to know for sure, but the folklore is still fascinating in it’s own rights. We of course have to acknowledge how it was used by the church to persecute healers and cunning folk during the multiple witch hunts that swept through Europe and America, portraying these people as witches working with plants associated with death or the devil.

More reading on the subject:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_ointment
https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/229401822.pdf
https://www.corvusgreenwood.com/about-flying-ointments/

Last modified on 2024-05-08, published on 2022-04-27