Pass The Witch's Broomstick

For any ladie who loves her oyntment


The Puritans were narcs and squares, we all know this. Since they killed…pretty much everyone out of paranoia and fear, we ended up with a lot more of their literature than we’ll ever need, and our perspective as Americans tends to be skewed. But generally speaking, if the Puritans were about it, it was most likely a bad idea. And if there was something that they thought was bad, guess what? It was probably good!* Or at least fine.

Take witches for instance, history’s horny crones. Out in the woods, studying up on homeopathic remedies, finding wild things to do with herbs. For ages, we’ve assumed that mythical witches rode broomsticks for all the symbolism—brooms are domestic and phallic, so if a woman can wield the power of both, she must be pretty threatening and cool. But according to Atlas Obscura, there was a more practical explanation for the image too: vagina drugs.

Sex, Drugs, and Broomsticks: The Origins of the Iconic Witch

European women have a centuries-long tradition of cultivating home-grown hallucinogens. Ingredients vary, but across the board people seemed to be able to agree that witches were making something they dubbed “flying ointment”:

In medieval Europe there were a number of hallucinogenic plants in fairly easy supply. First among these was the rye mold containing ergot fungi. With effects on humans similar to LSD, ergot was a powerful hallucinogen. Among other readily accessible hallucinogenic plants were henbane, deadly nightshade, mandrake, and, according to Johann Weyer in his 1563 Praestigiis Daemonum, these were all principal ingredients in any witch’s “flying ointment.”

There was a problem with drinking flying ointment, though: it was gross. It would make you nauseous and pukey while you were waiting for it to take effect, so the ladies improvised.

Much in the same way that dropping hallucinogens into your eyeballs or putting them into your sweet little anus will get you high more quickly, the resting vagina is another great avenue of chemical absorption. This wasn’t lost on the foremothers:

…among the other ways to ingest a hallucinogenic drug besides swallowing it is through the mucous membranes, such as under the armpits, through the anus, or for women, through the mucous membranes of their vaginas. And how might such a ointment be best applied to those delicate mucous membranes? From the 15th 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.”

One fourteenth-century investigation of a suspected witch yielded this amazing description, clearly penned by a hater.

“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.”

So when the townsfolk might have observed a woman “riding” around on her “broom” she was actually just “getting high” in her “free time.”

And if your family forces you to commute across the Atlantic Ocean on a wooden boat (where you survive both scurvy and the common cold over the course of two seasick months), all so you can move to Massachusetts and become a corn farmer (when you’re not bearing Josiah’s eight children—five of which will be stillborn), you should at least be getting stoned on a Wednesday night in October. You’ve earned it.

*you don’t have to go to school now, I covered it all