Witches on drugs

 F2 Bewitched
Paul Devereux's book "The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia" presents the fascinating story of psychedelic use before the Hoffman/Leary era that we're all familiar with. Devereux travels way back, exploring shamanism, 'shrooms in rock art, the oracle at Delphi, the pre-Incan construction of the Chavín de Huántar temple, etc. In honor of Halloween, the Daily Grail's Greg Taylor, who republished The Long Trip last year, presents an excerpt from the book about possible links between medieval witches and hallucinogenic substances. Special bonus broomstick trivia is after the jump. From The Long Trip:

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A Belgian witch called Claire Goessen confessed in 1603 that she had flown to sabbats several times on a staff smeared with an unguent. In northern France in 1460, five women confessed to receiving a salve from the Devil himself, which they rubbed on their hands and on a small wooden rod they placed between their legs and flew upon "above good towns and woods and waters." Swedish witches in 1669 rode "over churches and high walls" on a beast given to them by the Devil who also issued them with a horn containing a salve with which they anointed themselves. Members of Somerset covens admitted to smearing their foreheads and wrists with a greenish ointment "which smells raw" before their meetings...

...Folklorist Will-Erich Peuckert of Göttingen, for example, mixed an ointment made up of belladonna, henbane and Datura from a seventeenth-century formula and rubbed it on his forehead and armpits, bidding his colleagues to do likewise. They all fell into a twenty-four sleep. "We had wild dreams. Faces danced before my eyes which were at first terrible. Then I suddenly had the sensation of flying for miles through the air. The flight was repeatedly interrupted by great falls. Finally, in the last phase, an image of an orgiastic feast with grotesque sensual excess," Peuckert reported. Harner emphasises the importance of the greased broomstick or similar flying implement, which he suggests served as "an applicator for the atropine-containing plant to the sensitive vaginal membranes as well as providing the suggestion of riding on a steed, a typical illusion of the witches' ride to the Sabbat."

"A characteristic feature of solanaceae psychosis is furthermore that the intoxicated person imagines himself to have been changed into some animal, and the hallucinosis is completed by the sensation of the growing of feathers and hair," Erich Hesse claimed in 1946. In 1658, Giovanni Battista Porta informed that a potion made from henbane, mandrake, thorn apple and belladonna would make a person "believe he was changed into a Bird or Beast." He might "believe himself turned into a Goose, and would eat Grass, and beat the Ground with his Teeth, like a Goose: now and then sing, and endeavor to clap his Wings." Animal transformation is a primary aspect of the hallucinogenic experience, whether it is an American Indian shaman in the Amazon turning into a jaguar, or a Western subject in a psychological experiment.

Witches' Brews (Daily Grail)

The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia (Amazon)