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Monday, January 17, 2011

MIPC: Witch's Flying Ointment

Jane had gone up the little half-flight of stairs to where the bedrooms were in this split-level, and now returned with a linen hand-towel folded to hold some delicate treasures. Her aura was the incandescent purple of Siberian iris, and pulsed in excitement.  “Last night,” she said, “I was so upset and angry about all this I couldn’t sleep and finally got up and rubbed myself all over with aconite and Noxema hand cream, with just a little bit of that find gray ash [soot] you get after you put the oven on automatic cleaner, and flew to the Lenox Place.”

Jane, this is so thrilling!” Sukie cried. “Suppose [the cat] had smelled you?” “A dab of Ivory detergent in the ointment quite kills the scent, I find,” Jane said, displeased by the interruption.

© 1984,  pages 239-240

A Scene from Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Commentary:  The Witch’s Flying Ointment, as it has been called, is a mysterious substance that witches were believed to smear themselves with in order to achieve the ability to fly. According to legend, the witch would smear herself with the ointment and then fly up the chimney to the Sabbat where she would meet her coven and/or The Devil.  There are varying opinions on whether the ointment was applied to the entire body or to certain parts such as the head, armpits, and genitals. In some cases, it was believed that witches even smear the handles of their brooms with the substance. The naked witch would then straddle her broom and fly off to the Sabbat.

Some sources claim that simply smearing one’s self with the ointment isn’t enough to achieve the power to fly, but that the witch had to utter a magickal incantation to initiate their journey. A common incantation, which originates in Scottish folklore, and given by Isobel Gowdie during her trial goes:

Horse and haddock, horse and go,
horse and pellattis, ho! ho!”

Recipes for the ointment, which has been described as dark or black and foul smelling, often included dangerous herbs such as belladonna, aconite, mandrake, hemlocke, and hellebore. Today, we know these herbs to be psychoactive or cardio-active. Belladonna is known to cause delirium, aconite can produce an irregular heartbeat, and mandrake can cause the sensation of falling. In addition, some recipes also call for the blood of certain animals such as bats, as well as the fat of an un-baptized child. The latter was a crucial ingredient used in the recipe by the Warlock in the 1989 movie of the same name.

The question remains, did the ointment physically transport the witch off to the Sabbat or was the experience a journey of the mind? Given the toxic nature of the ingredients, it is likely that that ointment made the user delirious enough to believe that they were flying. Some occultists believe that the ointment made the user susceptible to auto-suggestion and freed the spirit for astral-projection, a state in which the astral body temporarily leaves the physical body.

Today, modern witches generally concede that these formulas were dangerous and did not and will not grant witches the ability to fly around like Peter Pan. Instead, today’s modern witches often use meditation, lucid-dreaming, visualization techniques, astral-projection and self-hypnosis to duplicate the shamanic journeys of their ancestor witches. 

Carolina Dean 


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