OCTOBER 28, 2011 9:58AM

Witches on brooms - old-timey sex-toys c/w getting stoned

Rate: 16 Flag



A little something for Halloween, from the always witty and informative proprietor of the Straight Dope.

First there was a discussion of hallucinogens and their possible/probable role in the origin of religions.  (I'd like to add that chemical imbalances in the brain of natural origins, i.e., being crazy, plays its part too.)


If drugs work for religious types, they'll work for pagans, too. That brings us back to witches. Today many scholars assume there never were any actual witches, just a bunch of old crones, simpleminded adolescents, and other unfortunates who became targets of religious paranoia. But a few writers have asked: What if there really were witches? Not, I hasten to say, people who were genuinely in league with the devil, flew on broomsticks, turned into beasts, etc., but rather people who believed they were or did? Moreover, what if the agency of this belief was a drug-induced hallucination?

There, in a nutshell, is the working hypothesis of Michael J. Harner's "The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft" in Hallucinogens and Shamanism (1973). Harner notes that since antiquity many hallucinogenic plants have been known throughout the world, including some species of the potato family (family Solanaceae, genus Datura) such as jimsonweed, devil's-weed, mad apple, etc., as well as potato cousins like mandrake, henbane, and belladonna (deadly nightshade).

Trolling through the works of medieval and Renaissance writers, Harner finds a number of instances in which witchy hallucinations follow a potent hit of drugs. How were these drugs administered? Typically in the form of an ointment. Where was this ointment applied? To the skin, of course, but more effectively to the mucous membranes. Where can one find mucous membranes? In the vagina, among other places. How would one apply ointment to one's vagina? Well, one can always count on one's fingers, I suppose. But you could also use, uh, a pole. And where might one find a pole in the average peasant household? A broomstick. Bingo.

Harner buttresses his thesis with some choice quotes. From a witchcraft investigation in 1324: "In rifleing the closet of the ladie, they found a Pipe of oyntment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon the which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin." Also this from around 1470: "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."

Scant underpinning for a mighty far-fetched theory, you may say, and I won't deny it. Still, gives you something to think about next time you're dressing your daughter for Halloween.

— Cecil Adams


If you're wondering what we neo-witches are doing on the evening of Oct. 31, wonder no further:  NOTHING LIKE THIS, sorry.

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I am reminded of The Teachings of Don Juan series by Carlos Castaneda. After mucho peyote, he became a shaman and could morph into an eagle and fly.
Y'all have heard the theory that Jesus was a mushroom? (If not, Google is your friend.)
It seems that the prevailing theory now in reagrd to the Salem witch trials is that those accused and punished likely ate moldy rye bread. Research back to that time and area have shown the climate was perfect to have developed a particular set of spores which have hallucinogenic properties that then grew in the bread. Peasants ate old food as it's all there was to eat.
Thanks for the research Maid Myriad. Gives a new meaning to ""bedknobs and broomsticks" now, don't it?
Jonathan - not sure whether or not your comment was ironic. But I'll take ratings however I can get 'em.

Miguela - Yup. (Tho there's a theory that ole Carlos didn't even go out into the desert...just sat in his room and conjured Don Juan from good dope.)

Myriad - that's sacreligious!

aka - I've heard that. That and other historical instances inspired the extraction of LSD from said mold (if I've got my stories straight...)
Scarlett - or exhuming an old one...
Wow! I have become obsessed with brooms these last couple of days. I loved this idea. Phallic symbols turn me on. Jesus was a mushroom. I really really believe we are all some sort of mushroom growth that was zapped with lightning and started walking around. woo. Great post.
When I sold vintage underwear I wondered why the crotch was all open..:)
This perspective truly scares me.
Zanelle - and some people are just slime molds. (slime-mold: sounds like one of those old main dishes, green and wiggly, with *things* embedded.)

Linda - and now you know.

Dianne - well, one has to look out for splinters...
"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" So this is where the term "Staff Meeting" originates!
Limb - well now perhaps you won't try to avoid them!
Read a book years ago called "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross" that advanced a somewhat similar theory about the origins of Christianity.

But why'd you have to go destroy my daydreams about what latter day witches get up to?
Boanerges - we modern witches use vacuum cleaners. The vibration adds to the experience.
Hey, a party is a party, no matter what! I too have read this theory. Didn't Margaret Murray's book on witchcraft also bring this up? (a book thought to be mostly infactual).
PS - Happy S'amhain, Myriad!
Now there's a whole new picture in my head when I think of a witch riding a broom . . . not sure how I feel about that, but . . . oh, well.
Owl - you'll have plenty of opportunity in the next few days to find out!
Very interesting idea....And it sounds sort of fun...as long as the broomstick is in good condition and not too splintery! Thanks for some very fascinating information and something to think about....
Upon All Hallow’s Eve I shall be out and about seeking those whom you call witches. I shall, beforehand, generously appoint my staff of life with that ointment given personally to me by the great god K-Y.....

ᴼᴥƪ....Cats; more “familiar” than you ever knew....!

I had the great good fortune to rate this post at a propitious moment - I was thirteenth!

Yes! I had read this somewhere but could not remember the details. Hence going for a ride.
I think a lot of people were high as kites when they wrote parts of the Bible and a lot of Indian myths.

Because, come on...some of that stuff...
I am reminded of anthropologist Marvin Harris's wodnerful essays in his fascinating and thought-provoking book "Cows, Pigs, Witches, and Wars", certainly one of the most stimulating books I have ever read. But where are the promised sex toys??
I am reminded of anthropologist Marvin Harris's wodnerful essays in his fascinating and thought-provoking book "Cows, Pigs, Witches, and Wars", certainly one of the most stimulating books I have ever read. But where are the promised sex toys??
Alysa - much better modern ways of ingesting...

Sky - haha

Snarky - medieval tripping

Zuma - exactly. Plus, as a Wiccan, I am supposed to take an interest in Celtic folklore. Yeegods, I wonder what hallucinogens those guys found in the bush.

Yeah, Donegal, MarvinHarris was very interesting. Tho all I remember at the moment was his theory about why pigs are verboten in the middle-east. Sex toys? Well, broom handle applying ointment, WHEE!---and the witches were reputed to fly off to sex orgies. They weren't necessarily absorbing belladonna etc. in order to find God....unless *he* was the devil, aka Pan.
Very interesting!
Nature has provided some really amazing herbs (trippy too) to aid in expanding our minds. ~R~