We warmly welcome Tom Hatsis, author of The Witches’ Ointment, as one of our featured authors for February. Tom’s book reveals the untold history of medieval entheogenic ointments. Examining 15th Century trial records of witches, alchemists, folk healers and heretics and detailing dozens of medieval psychoactive recipes and formulas, Tom explores how medieval fears over medicine women emerged. In his article here, Hatsis examines how the Church transformed folk drug practises, specifically entheogenic ones, into satanic experiences to be feared and its practitioners punished.
Interact with Tom on our AoM forum here.
One of the more complicated aspects of psychedelic history rests in the experiences found among medieval healers, whose practices the Church bastardized as “witchcraft” during the early modern period (roughly 1400-1700 CE). In the early 15th century (specifically the mid-1430s), Church authorities began to debate the practices of people—rural, backwoods kinds of people—who still worshipped pagan deities. This, coupled with earlier efforts to eradicate heresy from these same backwoods areas led to the discovery of a variety of goddess beliefs that spanned Western Europe. Such beliefs would eventually (partially) serve as justification for the mass conflagrations during those most unholy centuries to follow. While the lives and beliefs of far too many of those unfortunate souls consigned to the flames will forever remain lost to us, we happen to know a little bit about a few of them. So let’s focus our gaze upon that most tumultuous 15th century—a time of constant wars, famine, plagues, and the rise of the “witch stereotype” (discussed in a moment)—and meet one of the most famous wonderworkers in all of Italy, Matteuccia di Francesco (d. 1428).
A Little Background
In both the medieval and early modern period traveling preachers acted as the “newscasters” of the day.1 They journeyed from hamlet to village to town to city telling each congregation of the various sins found throughout the land. At a time when long-distance travel was limited to most everyone (besides soldiers, merchants, and, of course, the preachers themselves), these reports provided the only news into what occurred outside a person’s immediate surroundings. These traveling preachers copied these stories into collections called exempla (“moral” or “cautionary tales”) and passed them around to each other to use if they ever need extra material to scare the shit out of their audiences; additionally, a preacher might add their own spin on the template. As such, it can sometimes be difficult to tell where the stories originate or who added (or removed) details. Every sin—from lying to stealing to drunkenness—appears in these stories. Even Joan of Arc’s “sins” appear in a popular work of exemplum of the time.2 Around the early 1400s, some of these preachers began writing about a certain kind of woman as exempla. These women held knowledge of plants found in their immediate environment, their medicinal qualities, as well as magical traditions about them. Latin authors sometimes called these women vetulas expertissimas (“highly expert old women”), but local dialects had different names for them. As one example, in some parts of Germany she was called unholden, which singles her out as a worshiper of the Germanic fertility goddess Holda (or, Holte). The Dominican friar and Papal Inquisitor, Bernard Gui, referred to them as “fairy women” or “witch women.” These fairy women engaged in a most peculiar practice, according to Gui. They would “Collect herbs while genuflecting and facing the East, and singing incantations to their goddess.”3 In one of those preachers’ handbooks, Predigten (Sermons, c. 1425), Johannes Nider (1380 – 1438) wanted to inform his congregation about the First Commandment and the pitfalls of idolatry. Some of those gathered to listen to him speak had fallen ill between his visits. Instead of seeking out trained male physicians, those afflicted with various ailments visited local women physicians—vetulas expertissimas—those like the unholden or the fairy women. Nider castigates anyone who would see one of these local herbalists instead of a university trained doctor. After all, he maintains, sometimes these unholden used their medications on themselves! He mentions an unholden who had a most intriguing spiritual practice: She would climb into a large kneading bowl and rub a soporific ointment over her body while singing magical words. 4 The ointment knocked her into a deep, but lucid dream state, where she had visions of celebrations at Heuberg (“Hay Mountain”).5 And Heuberg was not the only destination for these early modern psychenauts. Among many others, there was also the Brocken (also called Blocksberg or “Broken Mountain”), Monte Sybil (“Sybil Mountain”), and La Note de Benevento (“the ‘Night-Doings’ of Benevento,” which took place around a walnut tree). Once the worshipers arrived at any of these magical locations, they would celebrate the gods of yore with banquets, dancing, and—as Hermann von Sachesheim (1365 – 1458) termed it—“ancient rhyme.”6 “Flying in spirit” (transvection) to any one of these places was, more or less, what we today might call an “entheogenic experience.”7 And in some places, like Sybil Mountain and the walnut tree of Benevento, such activities were overseen by a Goddess.
Overseen by a Goddess …. in a highly patriarchal society.
The Satanic Witch Stereotype
Around the early 1400s, some theologians (but certainly not all) had decided that the practices of vetulas or fairy women reeked of a new concept: “Satanic witchcraft” (Vaudrie in vulgar French8), a fantastic demonological veneer that they riveted onto the practices of wise-women. We can actually approximate a time this construct emerged: 1435 – 1445. In those days “witches” were comprised of both women and men. In fact, before 1300 the majority of people executed by the Church for magic in Western Europe were men.9 It was only by the late 15th and early 16th centuries that the satanic witch became exclusively a woman. By that time she had several attributes to her credit. A brief passage from my book, The Witches’ Ointment, addresses all the aspects of the satanic witch stereotype:
A woman, alone at night, pulls an ointment jar from a chest hidden beneath her bed. Opening the container, she scoops a handful of a foul-smelling goop—the witches’ ointment, lamiarum unguenta—into her palm. She turns to an ordinary broom in the shadows of the corner. Grasping it, she smears the long wooden handle with her witches’ ointment, destroying the freshly woven spider webs that now trail her fingertips. Straddling the oily broomstick, she is instantly lifted out the window into the ethers to join scores of other women who have similarly anointed implements, soaring alongside demons that fill out the aerial entourage. As they glide over rooftops and clouds, dotting the moon in their wake, all are careful not to mention the name of God or Christ lest they plunge to their deaths. They are traveling to a faraway meadow leagues beyond the watchful eyes of the clergy and their neighbors where they will join others already assembled, reveling and worshipping Satan: this meeting called the Sabbat. Should any newcomer wish to join Satan’s congregation she must pay homage to him by renouncing her Christian faith and trampling a large cross conveniently placed before her feet. Finally, she must solidify her devotion by planting the obscene kiss, the osculum infame, on the Devil’s derriere. Now a full member of the sect, she will join the others in a fine banquet of murdered child’s flesh. They will feast heartily only to discover that the food lacks all taste and oddly leaves the diners still hungry. Afterward, she will engage in such wicked debauches as dancing and fornicating with demons. Satan had conspired to rule the world and conscripted gullible witches to help carry out his nefarious plans. He would eventually send his flock away, but not before instructing them in the art of maleficia (or “evil magic”), which include preparing ointments and potions from the remains of dead children. These mixtures could be used to inflict harm or death on the populace, raise storms and disease, and stir hatred among pious Christians.
All the elements of the satanic witch stereotype are present in that short passage:
First: The satanic witch has the power of flight. This provided a convenient explanation for theologians who had never actually seen a Sabbat take place; nor had they ever seen hundreds of women walking or riding horseback to get to one.
Second: The satanic witch has made a pact with the Devil. For theologians, this was the most nerve-wracking, because the pact, as they saw it, was unbreakable. And since it was unbreakable, there was only one thing to do with an accused witch. The pact was completed in two parts. First, the witch must trample and defecate on a cross. Now she can fully offer her soul to Satan without pretenses, by literally kissing his ass.
Third: Satanic Witches ate the flesh of children. It was a warning to parents not to trust their pediatric care with women healers.
Fourth: The Satanic witch would dance and fornicate with demons. This was, of course, to show that there was nothing more depraved than the sexual desires of women … as written by men.
Fifth: Satan would teach the witch the art of maleficia. Such practices like causing sterility in men and infertility in women; killing livestock; raising storms; stealing or ruining crops—essentially maleficia was magic used against people and society.
And finally, six, six, sixth: the ointments that the satanic witch used both for flight and for other magical acts were said to contain the remains of murdered children.
So where did these stereotypes come from and how did they end up attached to the spiritual practices of a minority of wise women? Mostly, they were extensions of the Church’s earlier fights against two other broad groups: heretics and magicians.10 Add to this the Church’s growing fears of folk beliefs, folk magic, and especially folk spiritualities that incorporated pagan holdovers from ancient times. Some of these pagan beliefs dealt with spirit flight (transvection), the conviction that the soul could temporarily detach from the body and join any number of roving hordes of phantasms. A few of these transvection beliefs included the wilde jagd (the “wild ride”), the bona res (“the good society”), the benendanti (“those who walk well”), and the Tregenda (discussed below). In order to understand the satanic witch, and how such a construct served as a reason to execute Matteuccia di Francesco, we have to first look at the matrix of beliefs out of which she evolved—the matrix of beliefs that theologians used to craft her. So we will get to Matteuccia in a moment, but first, we have to Tarantino this article with an abrupt shift to a totally different topic—that of the Church’s fight against medieval heretics. Otherwise, when we do get to Matteuccia and her psychoactive ointments, none of it will make any sense.
Heretics are as old as the Christian faith. A heretic is any person who believes things about Jesus that the Church deems unorthodox. The word itself, heretic, comes from the Greek verb heireisis, which simply means “to choose.” It is the opposite of “orthodox” which means, more or less “right or correct thinking.” The term “heterodox” came to mean “other than right or correcting thinking,” or, more specifically, “choosing to think outside official Church doctrine.”11
During the 1st through 4th centuries CE, Christianity exploded on the Roman cultural scene. But they were still far from accepted by the Roman majority. Various lies spread about them. Felix Minicus records some of the more gruesome slanders. According to the pagan gentry, Christians worshiped the severed head of a donkey, engaged in incestuous orgies, and tricked new initiates into murdering a child sheathed in dough and then drinking the blood of the child, tearing its limbs from its torso and feasting upon them. Minicus sums, “Through this victim, they are bound together; and the fact that they all share knowledge of the crime pledges them all to silence.”12
Those who spoke against Christians in this way knew exactly what they were doing. For this whole idea of sharing a common meal of murder was a well-known slander used against any group believed by the Roman State to comprise insurgents. Such inflammatory charges were even used against pagans. Second-century CE Macedonian writer Polyaenus wrote of a certain “obscure tyrant” from the third century BCE, Apollodorus of Cassandreia, who tried to seize power from the Romans, but not before making his coconspirators swear an oath. Apollodorus killed a child, cooked the viscera into a meal, and shared it with the insurgents: “When they had eaten, and also drunk the victim’s blood, which was dissolved in dark wine, he showed them the corpse and so, through this shared pollution, ensured their loyalty,” Polyaenus recounted. 13
Accusing someone of ingesting the flesh of a sacrificial victim was a sort of stereotype in the ancient world—one that pointed towards conspiratorial insurgency. Such maligning would be cast against anyone—pagan, Christian, or otherwise—who the powers that be deemed a threat to the State.
Christianity spread under the auspices of such vilifications. Nonetheless, different peoples throughout the Roman diaspora adopted the new Christian religion to their earlier beliefs. Some of them had already been employing psychoactives in their ceremonies (i.e., Saturnalia celebrations, The Rites of Eleusis, and those of the Dionysian mysteries among others).14
We have some fairly good evidence that some remote, early forms of Christianity used some kind of entheogenic Eucharist in their rites. And let me be clear here: “heresy,” as a general term has nothing specifically to do with the use of visionary sacraments. In fact, I would argue that the majority of early “heretical” Christian groups did not use psychoactives in their secret ceremonies at all. But there are instances where I think there is very good evidence that they did, which perhaps fueled the creation of the satanic witch stereotype.
Let’s go back in time to Orleans, France, in 1022. We have some rather intriguing accounts of a pious knight named Arefast, who infiltrated a heretical group operating in the area. Their specific beliefs are lost to us, but we do have some chronicles of the trial that scholars believe took their facts from earlier, primary court documents and testimonies. One of these accounts indicates that the heretics told Arefast that instead of needing any Catholic Eucharist, they would share what they called caelesti cibo (“the heavenly food”). Now the thing about this heavenly food … it sounds like they are taking some kind of entheogen.
But you tell me:
“When you are sated from eating the heavenly food you will see angelic visions with us, and sated by that comfort you will be able to go where you will at your leisure. You will desire nothing, for the omnipotent God is the treasure of all wisdom, and the [shine] of those riches will never fade.” 15
This seems to me to be a reference to some kind of entheogenic experience—eating something that causes visions of angels and the ability to travel in the mind (perhaps a medieval form or a medieval understanding of astral projection—transvection).
However, when we get to the part of the dossiers that explains what the “heavenly food” was made from—the recipe!—the court reporter tells us that it contains the remains of murdered children. Just like the slanders of yore.
This account is not only important for its entheogenic implications; it carries equal weight showing how the ancient stereotypes of ingesting a murdered child hadn’t changed much since the days when the Roman State cast such aspersions against Christians and others. Only now do we see that the mention of such an appalling ingredient served as a cover for the real entheogen lurking beneath the surface of the “official” story.
When high magic—i.e., astrology, demon invocation, and alchemy, the so-called “learned arts”—first reentered Europe in earnest it was during the rise of the European university, and magic was taught in many university settings. And while ritual magic is not necessarily based around using psychoactive plants to invoke demons or angels, we have very solid evidence that some magicians absolutely swore by those methods. Just a few examples will suffice:
Picatrix, or The Book of the Wise, (c. 11th century) which is largely considered the foundational magical text that kicked off the great rise of mediaeval European magic, features recipes that include cannabis, opium, and solanceous plants like mandrake and henbane.16 With the spread of books like Picatrix among learned practitioners in university settings there formed what one scholar has called a “clerical underworld” of necromancy.17 Indeed, we have reports from Albertus Magnus (c. 1200 – 1280) of necromancers using henbane to conjure demons. I don’t want to make it sound like all demon invocation included some kind of psychoactive—most did not. And all demon invocation—no matter the mode of operation—would soon fall under fire.
The begrudging leniency stemming from square theologians on esoteric professors teaching magic in the classroom changed through the 12th and 13th centuries when the former would start to condemn magic—specifically because of its ties to demon invocation. One of the earliest and loudest voices against invoking demons was the famous theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274). Aquinas felt that the demons were actually in control and deceiving the magician. In doing so, the demons caused the magician to sin, over and over again.
Pope John XXII (1244 – 1334) would promulgate this point in his Super Illius specula (Upon His Watch), wherein he determined that those who practiced magic should be found guilty of heresy.18 This new conjoining of magic with heresy would pass into 1376 with the publication of Nicholas Eymeric’s Directorium Inquisitorum (The Inquisitors’’ Directory, 1376) wherein he would state, “Magicians … [should be] punished according to the laws pertaining to heretics.”19 After passing from heretic to magician in the 13th and 14th centuries, this resolution would soon pass from magician to local healers like Matteuccia di Francesco in the 15th and 16th centuries. By 1540, Alphons a Castro (1495 – 1558), a professor of theology in Salamanca, Spain, could state with authority that “witches … shall be judged as heretics.”20
Matteuccia, The Witch of Todi
Let’s now get back to Matteuccia di Francesco. Matteuccia was a vetulas expertissimas, a fairy woman who specialized in love magic. She would perform abortions, break up marriages, concoct pocula amatoria (“recreational drug potions”), and supply battered wives with magical herbs and spells to use against abusive husbands. That was her public appearance anyway, for which she achieved some degree of fame. Indeed, Matteuccia had flaunted her magic openly for clients in and around the Todi area.
That was until 1426 when one of those itinerant preachers mentioned earlier, Bernardino of Siena (1380 – 1444), made his way to Todi. He had been making the rounds all over Italy—stopping here, preaching there—delivering sermons to large crowds. We might even call him a “celebrity preacher,” on par with modern snake oil salesmen like Joel Osteen. While in Todi, Bernardino tried to use his fame to influence law. In some ways he was successful, drafting a legal code against magic titled De pena de incantatorum et fracturariorum (The Penalties of Incanting and Sorcery). In other ways, his ideas fell flat. For example, Bernardino had beef with a certain obscure belief called the Tregenda (mentioned earlier). The term itself, Tregenda, is most probably a colloquialism of the vulgar Italian term transienda (“transient/ephemeral”). We can get an idea of what was meant by Tregenda from an Italian poet and Dominican Jacopo Passavanti (d. 1357), who presumably inspired Bernardino’s fervor:
“Thus, it is found that demons who take on the appearance of men and women … go by night in company through certain regions … to spread heresy. There are some people, especially women, who go out at night in company with such a Tregenda, and name many men and women in their company; and they say that the mistresses of the horde who lead the others are Herodias, who killed John the Baptist, and the ancient Greek goddess, Diana.” 21
But as influential as Bernardino was, he couldn’t sell such hype to the local authorities, who did not seem to care at all about these practices. They were just weird backwoods beliefs. Who cares? Things like the Tregenda were of no concern to the secular courts; only religious ones. Like the authorities, common people neither cared nor knew much about this Tregenda either. They only knew of weirdoes like Matteuccia di Francesco who flew to the Night Doings around a walnut tree in Benevento.
This changed with Bernardino’s arrival in Todi. Unable to convince the authorities to care about transvection, he warned them that those who practiced magic were in league with the devil. He would use this kind of tactic again in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, when he told the crowd gathered to hear his sermon, “Whosoever person knowing a man or a woman who [practiced sorcery], if he did not accuse them, he would be guilty of the selfsame sin.”22 Good Christians can be guilted into anything. And so Matteuccia was arrested.
During her inquest, all the details of both her public and private practices came out. It’s her private ones that matter here though. Apparently, she used her magical ointments to turn herself into a mouse and transvect to the Night-Doings of Benevento. There, it seems, she would join the company of a goddess. Her dossiers even preserve the magical words she sung while oiling up her body: “Ointment, ointment, take me to the walnut tree of Benevento, over water, over wind, over all bad weather.”23
Once arrived at the walnut tree, Matteuccia would join the company of the Goddess. Most unfortunately, we have no idea what such revelries looked like. Some spoke of a golden viper that was worshiped. But this doesn’t come up in Matteuccia’s record. What does come up is a reference to “the Enemy of the human race,” (i.e., Satan), an unholy gloss over some kind of goddess.24 Bernardino may not have changed the law, but he certainly changed public opinion regarding Matteuccia’s magic, transvection to Benevento, and goddess worship. For these crimes, the authorities of Todi executed Matteuccia in 1428.
Well … not exactly.
The trial dossiers make no mention of any goddess, replacing Her name with “The Enemy of the Human Race.” Accordingly, Satan would instruct “deluded” women like Matteuccia to suck the blood out of nursing infants to use for maleficia (or “evil magic”). Instead of worshiping Her with sacred rites, the congregants were worshiping the devil. Here is the witch stereotype in action. Here is why we will never know this particular goddess’s name.
The bastards erased Her from history.
Dear Matteuccia represents one of the first and clearest examples we have in the historical records that show how early modern Church authorities demonized lay-healers by riveting a stereotype—the satanic witch stereotype—over their practices. All the elements of what a satanic witch supposedly did had a precedent in theological condemnations of either heresy or magic. There was no Sabbat; no Satan worship to speak of—just experiences that we today might call “entheogenic” that wound up on the business end of a newly-sharpened demonological theory, which slowly transformed the various goddesses worshiped by common people into one all-encompassing Devil.
The folk magical practices of wise-women like Matteuccia—i.e., transvection, animal transformation, and concocting medical potions—would be swept up into the anti-witch treatises of later theologians, as seen most evidently by the demonologist Jean Vincent, who wrote of them in his Tractatus contra demonum invocatores (A Treatise against Anyone Who Invokes Demons, 1475). Therein, these folk spiritualities receive a satanic veneer:
“Drug witches . . . mix poisonous ingredients into love philters and ointments which disturb people’s minds, transform their bodies, but usually serve only to kill the user. They claim to be transported far away, at night, to demonic Sabbats by the influence of these [same] drugs. The correct deduction, however, [is that] not one of these should be attributed to any natural power belonging to such drugs, but rather to the cunning of a demon. . . . He [the demon] is the true operative cause, whereas these kinds of drugs are the secondary cause.”
Vincent even likens the effects of the ointments to “drinking mandrake bark mixed in wine.”25 His words strike us as a copout—an admission that he knew the plants caused these experiences but attempted to rationalize that natural explanation away with demonological theory. His deduction that the herbs can be used for various reasons—to cause mental disturbances (e.g., feeling like the body is transforming or imagined flight) or biological ones (e.g., to heal, sicken, and especially to cause death)—are all consistent with solanaceous intoxication. Depending on the dose (and one’s expectation) any of these outcomes are possible.
Vincent shows us an important step in the cover-up of these psychoactive substances. By the time of the Malleus Maleficarum (1487), the most misogynist and ghastly of these early witch treatises, the plants will have been written out of the records altogether and replaced with the flesh of boiled children—just like the heretics of old were said to do.
So let’s review our stereotype of the Satanic Witch and where her attributes come from:
Her alleged consorting with demons comes from the realm of high magic.
Her supposed appetite for the flesh of children (and their use in magical ointments) comes from old stereotypes about heretics.
Her fornication with demons clearly stems from a misogynist condemnation of female sexuality.
Likewise, Satan teaching the art of maleficia to witches served as an explanation as to how illiterate, ignorant women could be so powerful.
Finally, her knowledge of psychoactive herbs and mushrooms, animal transformations, transvection, and Goddess Worship all come from the realms of folk beliefs and spirituality.
And that is how medieval theologians turned the practices of the psychedelic witch into a Satanic Conspiracy.
11 Franco Mormando, The Preacher’s Demons, 4.
22 Johannes Nider, Formicarius, Book II Chp. IV. 1475 Edition on hold at Beinecke Library, Yale University.
33 Gui in Hansen, Quellen (1901) 48; “… de collection herbarum flexis genibus versa facie ad orientum cum oration dominica.”
44 Hansen, Quellen und untersuchungen, 437: “ … salb machent und enweg farent.”
55 Ibid., “Höwberg.”
66 Quoted in Philip Stephan Barto, Tannhäuser and the Mountain of Venus (facsimile, 2010), 19–20.
77 Though, technically I would classify it more as a “somnitheogenic” experience, meaning “to generate divinity in dreams.” See Hatsis, Psychedelic Mystery Traditions (2018), 9.
88 This is an interesting term, as it loosely translates to “Waldensian Witches.” The Waldensians were a group deemed heretical for their beliefs. We see a clear coupling of heresy with folk magic.
99 Before the early modern period, witch trials were often carried out by local villagers (sometimes to the admonition of Church authorities); see Cohn (1993), 213-14.
1010 See Norman Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons (1993).
1111 Many kinds of heresies existed in both the ancient and medieval worlds. So even though they are often labeled under the umbrella term “heresy” they all had very different belief systems. For ease and flow, I will move forward using the word heretic; I just wanted to make that distinction.
1212 Cohen (1993), 1.
1313 (Cohn, 6-7)
1414 For Saturnalia, see Lucian, Lucian, Vol. 6, 113; for The Rites of Eleusis, see Hatsis, Psychedelic Mystery Traditions, 55-57, cf Brian Muraresku, The Immortality Key; For the Dionysian Mysteries see Chris Bennett, “The Cannabis-Infused Wine of Dionysus?
1515 Martin Bouquet et al., “Acts of the Council in Orléans,” in Recueil des historiens (1760), 536; “Deinde caelesti cibo pastus, interna satietate recreatus, videbis persaepe nobiscum visiones angelicas, quarum solatio sultus, cum eis quovis locorum sine mora vel difficultate, cum volueris, ire poteris; nihilque tibi deerit; quia Deus omnium tibi comes nunquam deerit, in quo sapientiae thesauri, atque divitiarum consistent.”
1616 Chris Bennett, Liber 420 (2018), 182-84.
1717 Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (2005), 18.
1818 See Hatsis, The Witches’ Ointment, 157.
1919 Kors and Peters, Witchcraft in Europe, 122.
2020 Hansen, 344; “De lamiss et strigibus, an sint haeretici censendi.”
2121 Jacopo Passavanti, Lo Specchio della vera penitenza (F.L. Polidori, 1856): “Cosi si truova [“truova” is a medieval Italian spelling for the modern verb “trovare,” meaning “to find” – in English we speak of a “treasure trove” or “found treasure”] ch’ e’ dimonii prendendo similitudine d’ uomini e di femmine … vanno si notte in ischiera per certe contrade … per seminare questo errore [errore, or “heresy” is a Latin loan word; read eresia for modern Italian] … alcune persone, e spezialmente femminie, che dicono di se medesime ch’elle vanno di notte in brigata con questa Tregenda, e compitano per nome molte di loro compagnia; e dicono che le donne della torma che guidano l’altre sono Erodia che fece uccidere san Giovanni Batosta, e la Diana antica dea de’ Greci.”
2222 Orlandi, Saint Bernardine of Siena, 166.
2323 Domenico Mammoli, “Record of the Trial” (1972), 210: “Unguento, unguento mandame a la note de Benivento, supra acqua et supra ad uento et supra ad omne maltempo.” These are, to my knowledge, the earliest recorded magical words used in conjunction with a psyche-magical ointment that historians have available for critique and debate.
2424 Jansen, Andrews, and Drell, Medieval Italy: Texts in Translation, 210–11.
2525 Vincent in Hansen, Quellen, 230: “Venenis igitur utuntur venefici pariter et poculis quibusdam atque unguentis, quibus humanas mentes perturbant, corpora alterant et plerumque homines interficiunt. Horam eciam venenorum virtute per noctes se dicunt ad sabbata longe remota demonum portari. Que tanem singular recte iudicanti naturali non sunt virtuti alicui talium venenorum attribuenda, sed magis fallaci astucie demonis, qui huismodi unguentorum linitionibus aut poculorum exhaustionibus ex pacto cum primis huius damnatu artis inventoribus expresse inito assistit et illa, que virtute predictorum fieri creduntur, ipse demon applicando active passivis operator, qui causa principalis est et effective, huismodi vero venena per maleficis adhibita causa sunt, sine qua non fierent ista.”
3 thoughts on “Psychedelic Witchcraft and the Satanic Conspiracy”
Somewhere along the line, the observation was made that the hallucinogenic compounds, hyoscine in particular — also known as scopolamine — could be absorbed through sweat glands in the armpit or via the mucus membranes of the rectum or vaginal area. As compared to eating the plants or drinking their extracts, axial, rectal and vaginal routes of administration also bypassed the first cycle of rapid metabolism by the liver (and severe intestinal discomfort).
Just how did the alleged witches apply said ointments? According to Mann, the earliest clue comes from a 1324 investigation of the case of Lady Alice Kyteler:
“In rifleing the closet of the ladie, they found a pipe of oyntment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin.”
And from the fifteenth-century records of Jordanes de Bergamo:
“But the vulgar believe, and the witches confess, that on certain days or nights they anoint a staff and ride on it to the appointed place or anoint themselves under the arms and in other hairy places.”
These passages account for why so many of the pictures of the time depict partially clothed or naked witches “astride their broomsticks,” as shown in the woodcut image featured here.
I’ve heard that too 🙂
I am familiar with your two quotes above, as they are most often used to demonstrate this claim. They began with Michael Harner back in the early 1970s (and were later repeated in “Plants of the Gods” by Hofmann and Schultes to similar effect).
It’s a very popular idea (one I used to believe myself), but I haven’t found much evidence for it.
For example, that passage you quoted from Dame Kyteler’s trial record doesn’t appear in the original court dossiers dating to 1324, the year of the trial. The quote you provided originates in a book titled “The Chronicles of Ireland,” written by Raphael Hollingshead, published in 1577 (over 250 years after the trial). Where Hollingshead got the idea is anyone’s guess, but it can’t be counted as reliable. Sadly, there isn’t a clear historical path (to say nothing of even evidentiary breadcrumbs), from Dame Kyteler’s trial to Hollingshead inserting the idea into the historical record 250 years later.
With the quote from Bergamo – there are very important aspects to the original quote that do not appear in your reproduction of it above. The full quote reads: “… or they [push the ointment] under their nails, the mouth, ear, or under their hairy areas or underarms.” The issue here is twofold: first, the quote (as you present it) leaves out all the other non-masturbatory human crevices (nails, mouth, and ear) in which witches were said to apply the ointment.
Second, Bergamo never says that “witches” masturbated with the staffs in the first place. There is an important “or” (“vel” in Latin) that gets overlooked in the original quote. Bergamo doesn’t say that witches masturbate with the brooms. He says they rub the ointments on the brooms *or* (“vel”) they insert it under their nails, or in their mouth, ears, or in their vaginas.
What Bergamo’s quote does show is that women were certainly rubbing these entheogenic ointments into their nether regions, only they were using their fingers (not a broom) to do so. In fact, I didn’t find a single source that mentions masturbating with entheogenic-ointment covered brooms (and the two usually presented, the ones you presented above, do not pan out under close scrutiny). But there is a lot evidence for entheogenic-ointment covered fingers 🙂
I find it interesting that Maria Sabina referred to psilocybin mushrooms as “children” or “saint children”.
“From the moment the foreigners arrived to search for God, the saint children lost their purity,”
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