The Witches' Ointment: The Secret History of Psychedelic Magic
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An exploration of the historical origins of the “witches’ ointment” and medieval hallucinogenic drug practices based on the earliest sources
• Details how early modern theologians demonized psychedelic folk magic into “witches’ ointments”
• Shares dozens of psychoactive formulas and recipes gleaned from rare manuscripts from university collections all over the world as well as the practices and magical incantations necessary for their preparation
• Examines the practices of medieval witches like Matteuccia di Francisco, who used hallucinogenic drugs in her love potions and herbal preparations
In the medieval period preparations with hallucinogenic herbs were part of the practice of veneficium, or poison magic. This collection of magical arts used poisons, herbs, and rituals to bewitch, heal, prophesy, infect, and murder. In the form of psyche-magical ointments, poison magic could trigger powerful hallucinations and surrealistic dreams that enabled direct experience of the Divine. Smeared on the skin, these entheogenic ointments were said to enable witches to commune with various local goddesses, bastardized by the Church as trips to the Sabbat--clandestine meetings with Satan to learn magic and participate in demonic orgies.
Examining trial records and the pharmacopoeia of witches, alchemists, folk healers, and heretics of the 15th century, Thomas Hatsis details how a range of ideas from folk drugs to ecclesiastical fears over medicine women merged to form the classical “witch” stereotype and what history has called the “witches’ ointment.” He shares dozens of psychoactive formulas and recipes gleaned from rare manuscripts from university collections from all over the world as well as the practices and magical incantations necessary for their preparation. He explores the connections between witches’ ointments and spells for shape shifting, spirit travel, and bewitching magic. He examines the practices of some Renaissance magicians, who inhaled powerful drugs to communicate with spirits, and of Italian folk-witches, such as Matteuccia di Francisco, who used hallucinogenic drugs in her love potions and herbal preparations, and Finicella, who used drug ointments to imagine herself transformed into a cat.
Exploring the untold history of the witches’ ointment and medieval hallucinogen use, Hatsis reveals how the Church transformed folk drug practices, specifically entheogenic ones, into satanic experiences.
while reciting, “Ointment, ointment, bring me to the Night-Doings at Benevento, over water, over wind, over all bad weather.”62 After anointing themselves, the witches were prepped for the main event. They continued chanting—this time to invoke the devil: “Oh Lucibel, demon of hell, after you were released you changed your name and have the name of Great Lucifer, come to me or send me one of your servants.” Lucifer complied and sent demons in the form of black goats to carry the witches away to
Trotula of Salerno (ca. eleventh– twelfth centuries). A poplar ointment (unguentum populeon) used for “an acute fever and for those who are unable to sleep” is to be rubbed on the “temples and pulse points and the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.” The unguent contained henbane, red poppy, mandrake, deadly nightshade (discussed later in this chapter), and pig fat.29 Similar actions can be taken with rambunctious children: wine infused with mandrake or dwarf elder “works in a wonderful
depending on your point of view) ignored the use of drugs, similar arguments were made about Satan’s ability to enter weak minds. Weyer’s adoption of that theory gave credence to a demonological belvedere.34 Additionally, this new cadre of demonologists living at the end of the sixteenth century had all the literature from the fifteenth to review for their rebuttals. The earliest counteroffensive comes from Grand Judge of St. Claude Henry Boguet (1550–1619), as outlined in his Discours exécrable
are mentioned specifically in the 81 BCE law of the Roman general Sulla.36 Therefore, the confusion arises not because we are ignorant of the drugs used, but rather because classical authors used the word venenum in conjunction with a spectrum of drug effects: fatal poisoning, sleep inducing, madness causing, love stimulating, magic making, and medicating (recall that Theôris’s pharmaka could cure, drive insane, or kill). The Lex Cornelia de Maiestate, a Roman law passed by Sulla during his
Last Days, 182, 199. 134. Laertius, Lives and Opinions, 72–73. 135. Pliny, Natural History, 242. 136. Ibid., 192. 137. Ibid., 242. 138. Wellcome, “Anaesthetics,” 22. 139. Goffe, “Wine of the Condemned,” 501. 140. Quoted in Withington, Medical History, 209. 141. Juvin and Desmonts, “Ancestors of Inhalational Anesthesia,” 267. 142. Quoted in Goffe, “Wine of the Condemned,” 501: “Opium, succus morellae, hyoscyami, cicutae . . .” 143. Pollington, Leechcraft, 201. 144. Ibid., 227. 145.