It was believed in medieval times that the wonders performed
by witches such as changing themselves into animals or
being transported through the air (i.e., transvection) were accomplished
by anointing themselves with a potent salve. As
ointments had been used in the ancient world as a means of inducing
visions, many believe that a similar ointment may account
for the hallucinations the witches may have experienced.
At the beginning of the fifteenth century, a trial was held
near Bern, Switzerland, where the accused were said to have
drained the juices of stolen children to make an ointment for
flying. The Witches Hammer stated that the flying ointment was
made at the devils instruction from the limbs of children,
particularly of those whom they have killed before baptism.
Francis Bacon stated The ointment, that witches use, is reported
to be made of the fat of children, digged out of their graves;
of the juices of smallage, wolfebane, and cinque foil, mingled with
the meal of fine wheat but I suppose that the soporiferous medicines
are likest to do it, which are hen-bane, hemlock, mandrake,
moonshade, tobacco, opium, saffron, poplar leaves, etc.
Other recipes that have been handed down as flying ointments
for witches include the following 1) Parsley, water of aconite,
poplar leaves and soot 2) Water parsnip, sweet flag,
cinquefoil, bats blood, deadly nightshade and oil 3) Babys fat,
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Ointment, Witches
juice of water parsnip, aconite, cinquefoil, deadly nightshade
It should be noted that such poisonous drugs as aconite,
hemlock, and belladonna, absorbed through the skin, would
probably cause mental confusion, dizziness, irregular heart action,
and shortness of breath. These effects might give the sensation
of flying through the air, although witchcraft authorities
during the great witch hunts have claimed that witches did actually
travel in the air.
Krammer, Heinrich, and James Sprenger. The Malleus Maleficarum
(Witches Hammer). Translated by Montague Summers,
1928. Reprint, New York Dover Publications, 1971.
Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology.
New York Crown Publishers, 1959.
Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca,
N.Y. Cornell University Press, 1972