News / witchcraft

Hedgeriders, Soul Flight and a not-so-literal Brocken

The Flying Ointment Necklace, inspired by an old hedge-rider’s recipe.

Flying Ointment, the poisonous balm that aided witches in flight, has many recipes.  Modern ones might not get you there, as the most potent and potentially lethal ingredients will have been omitted.  In this necklace, however,  I’ve included three of the most dangerous.  Datura, henbane and nighshade are represented with Czech glass flowers and the  beautifully detailed little Queen stands in for the beeswax vehicle.   Soot is often mentioned as an ingredient– hence the black colourway of the piece.  I’ve included the skulls because if the recipes for flying ointment teach us anything, it’s that witches were skilled poisoners as well as herbalists, and the nuanced proportions of ingredients in the ointment could either aid in soul flight, alleviate the pain of childbirth or other woes through “twilight sleep”, or of course, kill you. 

One of the oldest recorded accounts of the use of flying ointment is from the 2nd century in Apuleius’ delightful Golden Ass. There are also recipes mentioned in Margaret Murray’s exhaustive (and exhausting) Witch Cult in Western Europe, which modern day witches can only read critically, trying to decipher the truth through the lens of these “confessions” often elicited under torture. Much of the evidence we have left to us from our powerful female ancestors is weighted with such distortions.  Perhaps by flying ourselves to visit them, through soul-flight and meditation, we might know a better truth. Often witches are depicted flying in groups, communing– there are few solitaries where flight is concerned!  So were such ancestral Sabbats the ultimate destination of their night flights as well? Did they also meet with those who’d come before, not at a literal Brocken but somewhere else beyond this time and space?

This necklace was made to honour the hedge riders of the past who risked everything for wisdom and the healing of others.

(Image above of witches concocting flying ointment before the sabbat by Hans Baldung Grien, 1514 from PotShot)

For a more in-depth treatment of this subject online, see Sarah Ann Lawless’ Blog.

 

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Happy Birthday, Doctor Dee

Today is the birthday of Doctor Dee, court magician and mathematician to Queen Elizabeth the I.  My ambivalent fascination with Doctor Dee can be traced back to a single object– his scrying mirror in the cabinet of curiosities that is the Enlightenment Hall of the British Museum. During my monthly pilgrimages to the British Museum, I would always pay a visit to this most seductive of objects, displayed beside a crystal ball and a pair of Enochian tablets– tools to decode the angelic language dee and Edward Kelley thought would be the key to communing with angels.

 

 

 

His angelic conversations were always conducted with Christian piety, perhaps sparing him from the witch trials rampant at the time. He had hoped the angels could help heal the very real spiritual rift left from the dissolution of the Catholic church and the new Church of England.
 
We are left to wonder just what kind of magician was Dr. Dee? The newly revealed circle of skulls at his feet in the painting above– and that they were once painted over– speaks to this ambivalence. He was perhaps foremost a librarian– his library was the largest in England.  After six years abroad, advising monarchs in Central Europe, Dee returned to London to find his home and library vandalised and ransacked.  He was an imperialist, one of the early architects of the colonisation of America.  Perhaps its no wonder that this power object, his “devil’s mirror” was Aztec obsidian imported to England in the early 1500s. The coloniser and colonised are wedded in the deepest ways, but I digress.

Was the mirror even Dee’s? We only have Horace Walpole’s word on this. Fiction is often closer to the truth, and the stories we have inherited have already given shape to a shifting past.  In the iconic portrait of Dr. Dee, he seems to be contained in a round wonder cabinet, his black cap resembling his “devil’s mirror”, a black nimbus framing his head. His pointed beard, like the finger of a planchette aimed into the dark, asks us to decipher some secret at his heart.

 

Terry Pratchett, that true bard of the English soul, got it right– here we have a wizard of the Unseen University– and I, a Granny Weatherwax wanna be, staring into the dark glass.

 

The Scrying Mirror Necklace (and above, the Scrying Mirror Chandelier Earrings) available at Feralstrumpet.co.uk

 

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