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“In rifleing the closet of the ladie, they found a pipe of oyntement, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin, when and in what manner she listed.”

— Proceedings Against Dame Alice Kyteler, Prosecuted for Sorcery, 1324

Also known as witches’ flying ointment, HEXENSALBE was a hallucinogenic salve used in witchcraft in the middle ages. It was a mixture of extremely poisonous ingredients but the exact formula is not known, and several occultist scholars have died trying to recreate it. Among the most mentioned ingredients are the deadly nightshade Belladonna, Angelica Archangelica, Hemlock and human baby fat.

The drug produced an ecstatic trance with a powerful sensation of flying, images of otherworldly creatures and a primal sexual hunger. These hallucinations are at the core of the mythology of witches, where they fly to the sabbath at Blåkulla or Brocken to have sex with the devil and other witches in unholy rites. In the eyes of the medieval church this was more than illusions, the drug created a link to the devil so he could bring the spirit of the witch into his domain, so while her body may remain in the physical world, she was still guilty of fornicating with satan.

So, the image of witches flying can be traced back to the use of HEXENSALBE, but why on a broomstick? The ointment was so poisonous that eating it would be directly fatal, instead it was applied to other soft membranes of the body, armpits and more commonly the genitals. Because of the erotic effects of the high, the salve would often be rubbed directly onto a phallic object like the end of a staff or a broomstick. And so, the witch did not ride the broomstick like we picture her today. She actually -really- rode it. There are records from the 1200’s and forward where women have been found naked in a delirious trance, pleasuring themselves with the spicy devil’s dildo.

Given which aspects of the HEXENSALBE story have influenced the modern perception of witches, and what has been suppressed, it would seem that the one thing even more terrifying than witches or devils is female sexuality.