Since Halloween and the Day of the Dead are very close to each other, who better to take up the theme of witches' flight than Francisco Goya. Traditionally, witches were believed to use a broom to move through the air and assist the coven in places far from their usual haunts. 

The women accused of witchcraft were women who took care of the home: wives, midwives, servants, etc. And what do these people have in common? A broom! It stands to reason that the broom was a representation of women and thus became the witches' tool. 

Goya, who knew the aspects of witchcraft well, captured the moment when an old witch initiates a young woman into these practises. But he also knew that it was not the broom that gave the witches their flying abilities. 

* Report by Karla Ingleton Darocas. Hons. B. A.  (KarlaDarocas.com)

It was actually a flying ointment that, when rubbed into their bodies, gave them the ability to fly. This cream was a hallucinogenic ointment that had been used by witches in the practise of European witchcraft since at least the 1400s

The ingredients of the flying ointment produced a trance-like state of consciousness when applied to the skin. This alteration of consciousness gave witches visions or the feeling of flying into the sky, visiting distant places and communicating with the spirit world. Sometimes flying ointments were also used to cause a shape change (transformation into the form of an animal). When witches "fly", they are basically astral projecting.

Most recipes for flying ointments contain plants from the nightshade family; you may recognise some or all of them: belladonna, datura, henbane and mandrake. Other traditional herbs for flying ointments are opium poppy, hemlock, aconite and foxglove. Wherever these plants are found, we find witches. 

Our symbiotic relationship with these poisonous plants goes far back in time. Solanaceae contain the alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine. The tropane compounds from the nightshade family can cause heart problems or even heart failure if ingested, among other things. However, they are far less dangerous when used topically, though careful dosing is required to avoid things like permanent blindness and death. The other known constituents of Digitalia, hemlock, aconite (also known as wolfsbane) should never be used in modern ointments as we now know more about them, they are toxic and paralysing.

It is easy to understand why the women who made these folk medicines confessed to the Spanish Inquisition that they were in fact witches after accidentally killing someone. They would do it out of guilt, not conviction. 

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you... if you want to make your own flying oil, you will of course have to mix and boil your herbs with the fat of children dug up from their graves. Good luck!

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Resource Books written by
Karla Ingleton Darocas 
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