Risk and Reward: Flying Ointments

“Blind as a bat, mad as a hatter, red as a beet, hot as hell, dry as a bone, the bowel and bladder lose their tone, and the heart runs alone.” ~ A teaching mnemonic device about the effects of Datura stramonium

Like many young and inexperienced Witches I had a craving for a deep, mystical and powerful spiritual experience, similar to the tales I had heard the Elders in my community share. I wanted something akin to the tall-tales the other young Witches and Pagans told each other when not within earshot of the Elders. I wanted something special, something that would make me special, some great nugget of lore or wisdom that would impress people. I was envious… and a little bored.

My first attempt at working with flying ointment had been something of a disappointment to me, yet also a temptation. Being careful and cautious as I was advised, I had made a very simple and weak blend. Then I rubbed it on a few pulse points before stretching out on a blanket in my living room and trying out a few different breathing exercises. I had a minor visionary experience but not the mind blowing, enlightening Journey across the Hedge that would allow me to “wink wink” with other practitioners who had. However, it was enough to give me a taste of what might be. I felt like a starving man being offered only a single slice of bread. I wanted more.

As a teenager, I had experimented a great deal with hallucinogens. LSD and mushrooms were easier to get my hands on than alcohol or cigarettes in high school. With that experience, I thought I knew what I was doing.

I made a new batch of flying ointment: stronger, better, faster. It was a combination of lard, wormwood, mugwort, “magic” mushrooms and datura. I had done a little cursory researching on the ingredients and the making of ointment. I impatiently waited for the next full Moon, took a few days off work, and prayed for good weather.

I fasted on the day of my planned rite and buzzed around the house and my four acre wooded property with nervous energy, full of anticipation. I choose a spot some twenty yards from my home in a clearing surrounded by birches and spruce. There I laid out my blanket and set up my altar. As the Sun went down I began my ritual, calling upon gods, ancestors and the spirit guides known to me at the time: Owl and Crow. I slathered myself with the stuff, rubbed a dollop upon my tongue, and spread out naked upon my blanket.

I lay scattered in the abyss
Surrounded by a bleak
And terrifying nothingness
The creatures I had trusted
Who naively I had followed
Have torn me apart
And left me in a mess
The shock and horror
Their betrayal
The pain of my dismemberment
Fills my being and all that I am
And then suddenly is forgotten
As I begin to contemplate the blackness
And the fact that though torn asunder
I am still capable of self and thought
I realize that in these pieces
I cannot be more than self and thought
The fear that I will never leave this place
Begins to fill the emptiness around me
I cry out and then I hear myself begging
For release, for a way out of here
A dark figure beyond the black looms
Large and twisting with antlers adorning
He offers me a deal…

A short while later I am slammed back into my body screaming like a newborn babe. I twist and writhe upon my blanket, clutching at it, face down at first but eventually I flounder my way upon my back. My blurred vision clears somewhat and I stare about in gasping horror. The white birches have become finger bones with strips of flesh clinging to them; the spruces loom darkly above menacingly. The Moon and stars in the sky above wheel and spin dizzyingly.

My dogs locked in their run have heard my screaming and now bark and whine, the sound echoing in my ears and my head, making me clutch my ears in pain and fear. They sound as if a pack of coyotes or hyenas are scrabbling at the fence, trying to get through to rend and tear at my flesh, just as my spirits had done to me in That Other Place. Amongst the chaos, noise, and terror, a single thought blooms in my mind and gives me focus: Get this stuff off of me!

Sobbing now I begin to frantically rub the blanket against my skin, trying desperately to remove the offending ointment. The nasty, greasy stuff does not come off easily. It seems to cling to my body, and I weep and whimper at the irrational fear that I would take my skin off with it.

I catch a glimpse of light, streaming from the kitchen window of my home. Somehow I stumble to my feet, but then the ground rushes up at me and then slams into my face. Pain explodes through my consciousness. As adrenaline floods my body, I am awarded a moment of clarity and take it, picking myself up and moving as fast I dare towards my home. By the time I reach the front steps I am crawling again, unable to stop the world from shifting beneath me. It seems to take forever to climb the six steps up the front door and my hand passes through the doorknob three times before I can grasp it to open it.

Clinging to counter and walls I shoo my dogs away, which I see as in the house barking and lunging at me, though in fact they were still outside in their run. Somehow I make it into the bathroom and grab at the faucet like a drowning woman reaching for a life preserver. I am afraid to turn on the hot faucet, paranoid I might burn myself so I turn on the cold shower and climb in, coating myself with shampoo and soap as I try to remove the ointment from my body.

I walked with one foot in each world for three days. I did not return to work for nearly two weeks. My life has never been the same since.

Today you can find flying ointment recipes on websites and in forums, even in books written by authors whose works are aimed mostly at teenagers. People call themselves Hedgewitches with no concept of what the word really means. They mistake it for a solitary Wiccan or a domestic Witch messing about with herbs in her kitchen. They look for flying ointment recipes, and tips on how to smoke salvia divinorum, seeking that short cut to a special mystical experience which they think they deserve. In this culture of instant gratification, the masses no longer want to do the work. They do not feel the need to earn their stripes. They want what they want, and they want it now. Meditation and trance inducing techniques are boring and require patience, time and discipline. Would it not be easier to simply drink a tea, slather some ointment or smoke an herb instead? Of course, many of the folks seek these recipes and tips from complete strangers on the internet, ask for only “safe” recipes, and don’t want to risk something bad happening to them.

You don’t take flying ointment, entheogens or hallucinogens hoping that you will have a grand experience and that nothing negative might happen. If you should choose to work with them, then you must be willing to risk a bad experience. There is always a risk of danger and trauma when you work with such substances, no matter how careful you are and how well you do your research you cannot fully eliminate that risk. If you are not willing to accept that risk, then you stand a very good chance of being traumatized, hospitalized, or forced to face something you may not truly be ready for. If you are not prepared to accept the risk, then do not use these techniques and tools.

***

Some notes on the subject

Flying ointment, green ointment, magic salve and lycanthropic ointment, is a hallucinogenic ointment said to be used by witches in the Early Modern period (first described by Johannes Hartlieb in 1456).

It should be noted the internal administration of most of these plants is extremely dangerous, this point being reflected in their use externally by witches. Many of them are extremely poisonous and the reports of their use by rubbing into specific areas of the body or all over, demonstrates recognition of the lethal properties of these plants if taken internally.

The use of plants to promote a sense of flying, “out of body experience” and the ability to convene with the Spiritual World, is a recurrent theme in many ancient religious practices.

Some common ingredients are:
Almond Oil
Baby fat (preferably the fat of an unbaptized child) har har
Bat's blood
Deadly Nightshade
Foxglove
Henbane
Mandrake
Monkshood
Mugwort
Parsley
Poplar
Poppy
Smallage
Soot
Sweet Flag
Toad excrement
Water Lilies
Wild Celery
Vervain
Yew
Skullcap
Hawthorn berries
Elderberries
Elderflowers

Aconite – (Aconitum anthora): In flying ointments, aconite was used to remove feeling from the limbs. This herb is extremely poisonous; never take internally, not recommended externally.
Belladonna – (Atropa belladonna): Belladonna can be used to create astral visions and projections. Sacred to Hecate, Belladonna is traditionally picked on May Eve (Beltane). It was often given to women in childbirth to ease the pain, and on a sadder note, stealth fully given to witches before they were burned so they would not be aware of the pain.

Cinquefoil – (Potentilla canadensis): One of the uses of cinquefoil is to bring wisdom. It is this aspect that causes it to be used in flying ointments. Cinquefoil has many other magical properties.
Datura – (Datura Strmonium): Used in ancient Greece to aid with Divination, datura, also known as Jimsonweed, was used by South-western Native Americans long prior to that (if anyone knows the Native American name for datura, I would like to know). It is used to bring on visions. Note: some types of this plant are so poisonous they cause skin rashes on contact.

Fly Agaric – (Amanita muscaria): A mushroom that aids in clairvoyance.

Hellebore – (Helleborus niger): Used in ointments to induce astral projection, the smoke of burned hellebore can induce violence.

Hemlock – (Conium maculatum): A very potent poison (remember Socrates?) this is used in flying ointments to aid in driving you out of your body. Hemlock is sacred to Hecate.

Henbane – (Hyoscyamus niger): Used to induce clairvoyance.

As you can see, some are going to make you fly and some are probably chosen for their scent and/or symbolism.

An elaborate ointment is described in the Errores Gazariorum:
Take a red-haired man known to be a good Catholic, take off his clothes, tie him down on a bench so that he is unable to move, and then let venomous animals loose on him. When he has expired from their bites and stings, hang the body upside down and place a bowl under his head and mouth. Let the distillations falling from the body be caught in the bowl. Mix these with the fat of a hanged man, the entrails of children, and the bodies of the poisonous creatures that had been used to affect the victim's demise. The uses of the salves and powders so procured are many. By smearing them on sticks or brooms, one renders those objects capable of bearing one aloft, or else one anoints one's own body to the same end.

A classic ointment can be made with vegetable shorting, beeswax or lard and the chosen herbs.

An alternate,which is good for beginners is to make loose incense or smudge stick out of the chosen herbs.

Traditional English Flying Ointment from Erica Jong’s “Witches”:
3 grams annamthol
30 grams betel
50 grams extract of opium
6 grams cinquefoil
15 grams henbane
15 grams belladonna
15 grams hemlock
250 grams cannabis Indica
5 grams canthreidin
Blend with oil of your choice, baby fat, Vaseline, safflower oil, or butter.

If you are on any pharmaceutical medications or have a serious medical condition, are pregnant or nursing, consult your health care provider before ingesting anything that you do not normally ingest, including herbs and over the counter medications. Do not give to Children.

Juniper’s Flying Fire:
One branch or small bundle of each:
Larch
Yew
Sage
Juniper and/or Cedar
Mugwort
If using indoors, burn a small amount in cauldron, if outdoors use a larger amount in the balefire. Once burning, waft the smoke towards you and deeply inhale as you prepare for Soul Flight. This is also a great recipe for incense or a smudge stick.

Juniper’s Flying Tea:
Make a tea of one or more of:
Ginger root
Galangal root
Nutmeg and/or mace
Ginseng
Valerian
Brew the tea, if you have never made it before, use a small amount of ingredients and do not steep over-long. You can always use more and steep longer next time. Drink as part of your ritual. Add honey to taste, mint can also make it a tad more yummy

Beeswax is best.
Lard is certainly traditional.
I would say to not use vegetable or corn oils, they get a smell to them. They are also very heavy not so pleasant on your skin. But they will do in a pinch.
I have used almond oil and safflower oil.

Fresh is best, if using dried then you will need more of the herb. I grind the herbs but not to finely.

Make small amounts as one time usage is best for flying ointments.

You will likely want to dedicate a pan to this purpose. A double boiler works quite well.

The most basic method is to slowly melt your fat or oil and add the herbs. Using a very low heat let it warm and infuse for an hour or more. Then let cool. I do not strain but allow for the bits and pieces to remain in the ointment.
Store in a dark glass jar if possible. Or use while still newly made, this is best.

To begin it is best to apply the ointment to the most sensitive areas first. Such as armpits, genitals, pulse points, under the nose, and chakra points. If after about a half and hour to an hour you feel you need more you can add to other parts of your body.
This takes some practice and experimentation. Depending on the herbs I am using and what I wish to achieve, I may simply apply a small amount in certain areas or slather my entire body.

It is traditional to apply the ointment to a broom or stang handle and insert into the vagina or anus. Do be careful if attempting this.

Adding to scratches and such can speed up the process somewhat but be careful in herb choice. Some are not wound friendly.

I have known some witches to dip their knife in the ointment and cut them selves with the blade. Do be careful if attempting this.

I have known witches to anoint the genitals and then proceed to preform ritual sex as well. Do be careful if attempting this.

One should make the creation of flying ointments as a ritual or magical work. We should be thanking the herbs, blessing the oil, being clear on intent and so forth.

I also apply the ointment as part of the ritual. Often as one of the first steps. Dancing and drumming and such will also aid in the absorption and workings of the ointment.

I do recommend not using large amounts or very strong ointments with out a partner to watch over you. Unless you are as some folks would say “Hard Core”

Depends on the mixture or how much you covered yourself with. Can be like 30 minutes to hours.
Research any herb you want to put in your salve! Know what it does and what parts to use by looking it up. Botanical.com is good. Cause different herbs have like different effects and you want to choose the right combo. Mixing a herb that makes you excited and hyper with a herb that makes you sleepy is a total waste.
Use like 3 to 6 different herbs. I was told beginners should start with 3 and slowly add. Good idea!
I put mugwort leaves and sticks, poppy seeds and leaves and St Johns' wort flowers and leaves in a mix of half lard and half jojoba oil. I ground them up in a coffee grinder so they were really fine. That way I didnt have to strain the herbs. Cause its stronger to leave the herbs in. I cooked it all on low overnight with a lid on then for like half a day with lid off. Then I stuck it in the basement to cool off. I used like a handful of each herb and made enough to cover myself all over once.
I was very dreamy and my body felt heavy but my spirit wanted to lift away. I danced until I had to lay down and went on a trip to meet a badger and a goat! It lasted a couple of hours and peaked in the middle. It was a day before I felt really normal again.
Mugwort is a good beginner herb cause you will fall asleep before you OD on it.

Trance is putting it lightly. Look dab a little mugwort oil on your pulse pints and burn some sage and you will have a nice, short and sweet little trance.

Slather you body with belladonna and valerian and DEADLY nightshade, going so far as to insert it into yourself and covering your sex organs with it. And what you will experience goes way beyond a fun little trance where you get to chit chat with your spirit guide and look at your body having nappy-time below you.

If something goes wrong, either a bad reaction or a terrifying trip, hopping in the shower and washing it off is not going to do you any good. If you could make it into the shower at all that is.

I’;m going to be straight with you, because I love you guys. This is not a shortcut to some cool out-of-body-experience, this is not an alternative to meditation. People risk their lives doing this shit. This is indeed Hard Core Witchcraft.

I have made the beginner stuff and used it several times. After I finish ranting, maybe I'll post some suggestions. Its really cool and can be very helpful and can also increase your likely hood of setting something on fire by accident but well worth experimenting with. This goes well with such things as mediation, yoga, rattles, dance and other ecstatic techniques.
But its not all that effective on its own. You might as well just smoke a doobie or two lol

I have done the hardcore ointment thing a couple of times. Its personal exactly what happened but I'll tell you some things.
Google “shamanic death” and read it like a horror movie not like an episode of Charmed.

Anyways…

You put things in because they are symbolic not take them out! 

Whether you wander around like a loon really depends, some thing are more likely to make you wander around. Datura for example. Others make you lethargic and tired, like mugwort. Hence, as Dizzy-dear pointed out, is why you really need to research the herbs.

Which to use? Start with what available to you, decide what kind of “trip” or flight you are looking for and go from there.

This is a trial and error process, as everyone reacts differently and there are many variable involved in the making of it, the quality of the herbs, the kind of oils used etc… Start small and grow from there.

Mugwort, sage, yew leaves, parsley, chamomile, nutmeg … that’s a good starter mix.

Watch out for rashes 

Just thought I’d point out, on the subject of pharmaceuticals, that although there are standardized doses, there are no standardized people.  Also, plants contain many complex substances which interact in ways people are only beginning to guess at. This means that the toxins may be either more or less dangerous in plant form than in extracted or synthesized forms. If you look at what’s being sold in the way of health supplements these days there seems to be a great movement toward whole food supplements for the reason that the beneficial vitamins, etc. work better in combination with the rest of the berry, leaf, or whatever than in lab-made form.

More and more people are looking for flying ointments because they are looking for a shortcut. This is so damned wrong. And its so damned not safe.

So please, please be careful out there folks. And remember, stupid is as stupid does

Something you will not find in many Witchcraft 101 styled books is that there is a genuine risk of death involved with these practices.

There are several plants that are used by different shamanic cultures. Two of the most commonly used plants in the New World are peyote and datura. Both are very poisonous, both will cause hallucinations so strong; you can no longer tell what is or is not reality. Properly used, these plants are for Shamans and Shamans-in-training to induce vision quests or very strong, very deep Journeys into the Upper or Lower World. The taking of the plant is usually accompanied by days of meditation, fasting, rituals, wandering in the wilderness etc. A vision quest is often part of one’s initiation in to Shamanism or as a medicine man/woman. It can often be very traumatic, and life changing

If not properly used, these herbs can get you get really, really high. I mean sky-high. A kid I went to high school with dug a datura plant out his grandmother’s yard while on vacation there, and brought it back with him.

One boy, Nathan, who drank the tea they made of it, wandered around downtown for hours, thinking his girlfriend was with him the whole time, only she had gone home hours before. He wandered into someone’s house, thinking it was a friend’s home, and they called the police.

A girl, Lucy, thought she was in a hospital, watching two people, whom she thought were her cousins, (though she has none) have sex. She was actually at the party house; we watched her dance around the house chanting “I’m dancing around the IV pole!”

Not the sort of thing you should be playing with. This is something that could cause you to wander into traffic and get run over.

There is also the concern that you might be allergic to a certain plant. Even if you have never had an allergic reaction in your life if you have never used a plant, whether internally or externally, you might just get a rather unpleasant surprise. Do a patch test before you use a plant for the first time; rub a tiny amount on the inside of your elbow and wait 24 hours. The first time you ingest a plant, take a very small amount and wait 24 hours.

What entheogens are you talking about that trash your organs and body? I personally was talking about natural entheogens taken as is from nature, not the more dangerous recreational drugs used today. I do NOT see a place for those types of drugs to be used in spirituality in any way shape or form. I prefer natural entheogens who’s only side effects are the likelihood of vomiting up your lunch. I agree with consulting an expert however as many of the entheogens historically associated with witchcraft are also very deadly ones: datura, belladonna, henbane, morning glory… one tiny bit over the proper dose and you die instead of trip. Best to avoid those unless you seriously, seriously know what you’re doing.

Bad “trip” on an entheogen? Yeah, it happens.

Common sense tells us not to do anything magical when one is going through a hellish period in life. The protocols just give the nasty adventure a place to intensify.
A lot of people don’t have common sense. They become victims of their imbalances, delving deeper into them.

Those entheogens? Everything that goes into a body has to eventually get processed out of the body mechanically, either through the liver or one’s kidneys
which means, even if everything goes fine emotionally one could be trashing out one’s liver or kidney’s (and heart or lungs or pancreas, what ever. It all adds up.) in the process.

The untrained experts? They don’t have to live in your body after you’ve wrecked your liver or kidneys and/or other major organs.

Traditionally one must fast for a period of days and purge one’s body of all waste – drinking only water. This is usually followed by a ritual bath, asking for the blessing of the gods and/or spirits, and then the ingesting of the entheogen in the ritual space – which can be a temple, a safe place in the woods, or a dark room in your home. Historically this was usually done alone with one aid to interfere if anything goes wrong. But there are also many historical records of shamans ingesting entheogens in public as many of their healing and journeying workings were public performances.

My personal rules are not to take a new entheogen around people I do not trust, not to take entheogens with entire groups of people – there must always be at least one person who isn’t high to watch over the rest, and not to take entheogens before normal rituals as they are for trance and journeywork only. It is not okay to be high when circling with others.

Good entheogens for flying include psybocilin mushrooms and fly agaric (which must be properly prepared before ingested) as they make you feel light and floaty and release you from your body, you no longer feel your body and are able to fly. For divine inspiration or communing with spirits marijuana and salvia are useful in small quantities as they remove the barrier between the conscious and subconscious allowing you to see, hear and receive things you normally would ignore in your average mental state. Salvia is a tricky one though and can take multiple times before it works at all and the trips vary per person much like marijuana as well. Signs of allergy to entheogens (not food allergies), include paranoia, extreme anxiety and worry, bad nightmarish hallucinations, and extreme fear. If you experience any of these, do not take that entheogen again as the effects may only worsen the more you take it.

Always read up on a drug very very well before you attempt to use it for the first time, find out what a proper beginner’s dosage is and how to prepare the drug properly and use it in ritual properly and respectfully to gain the best experience possible from the entheogen. For good information I recommend Richard Allen Miller’s The Magical and Ritual Use of Herbs, Dale Pendell’s Pharmako/Poeia series, Plant Spirit Healing by Pam Montgomery, and Plant Spirit Shamanism by Ross Heaven and Howard G. Charing.

How you react to others can depend on the journey you have. Also the circumstances of taking them.

I do suggest having a partner to watch you from a discreet place such as the next room or out of the light of the fire.

One thing I have found with using ritual smoke, if you are not a smoker, is often you will wind up interrupting your ritual/meditation coughing off and on for the next little while, as your lungs aren’t used to the irritation of hot smoke. The smell also clings to you. Both are annoying but liveable.

Lots of folks complain about feeling it hard for a few minutes and then being left with a headache. Not sure why, everyone reacts to plants differently.

Starting small is always a good idea of course.

An alternative it to use it as a tea, which is also traditional.

Another alternate is to make loose incense or smudge stick out of the chosen herb(s) and waft the smoke towards you, breathing it in. This usually counteracts the rush and subsequent headache.

Saining (as in to sain) bundles are nice and Celtic, make a large bundle of the herbs (include woody parts, of course) and build a small fire (follow fire safety!) then you can waft smoke, dance around the fire, meditate near the fire etc.

Sometimes you turn out to be allergic to the most surprising things.

If you are on any pharmaceutical medications or have a serious medical condition, are pregnant or nursing, consult your health care provider before ingesting anything that you do not normally ingest, including herbs and over the counter medications.

Do not give to Children. (duh)

One should make the creation of such things as a ritual or magical work. We should be thanking the herbs, blessing the oil, being clear on intent and so forth. (also duh)

I do recommend not using large amounts or very strong recipes with out a partner to watch over you.

People who do this as a magickal or spiritual shortcut often learn the hard way.

I’ve done salvia several times myself. I’m one of the few people who “enjoys” it, if that’s even the right word. It does not make you “feel good” at all. It completely warps the way you experience the reality around you, but is also completely non-toxic and works in a way dissimilar from every other known psychoactive substance. Every single time I did it, was a completely different experience. It doesn’t last very long. But it is extremely powerful. If you can manage to stand up while you’re on it, then you just didn’t get a big enough hit. You can look up experience reports at the website called “Erowid” and see how intense and spiritual some of these experiences are. They go totally beyond words.

Not recommended for anyone not prepared for a shock.

Lucius Apuleius. From Golden Ass, Book III, Chapter Sixteen (160 AD):
“On a day Fotis came running to me in great fear, and said that her mistress, to work her sorceries on such as she loved, intended the night following to transform herself into a bird, and to fly whither she pleased. Wherefore she willed me privily to prepare myself to see the same. And when midnight came she led me softly into a high chamber, and bid me look through the chink of a door: where first I saw how she put off all her garments, and took out of a certain coffer sundry kinds of boxes, of the which she opened one, and tempered the ointment therein with her fingers, and then rubbed her body therewith from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, and when she had spoken privily with her self, having the candle in her hand, she shaked parts of her body, and behold, I perceived a plume of feathers did burgen out, her nose waxed crooked and hard, her nails turned into claws, and so she became an owl. Then she cried and screeched like a bird of that kind, and willing to prove her force, moved her self from the ground by little and little, til at last she flew quite away.”

Abramelin The Mage. From The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin The Mage (1458 AD)
The First Book of Holy Magic, Chapter VI:
“She then gave unto me an unguent…” (Flying Ointment)
“At Lintz I worked with a young woman, who one evening invited me to go with her, assuring me that without any risk she would conduct me to a place where I greatly desired to find myself. I allowed myself to be persuaded by her promises. She then gave unto me an unguent, with which I rubbed the principal pulses of my feet and hands; the which she did also; and at first it appeared to me that I was flying in the air in the place which I wished, and which I had in no way mentioned to her.
I pass over in silence and out of respect, that which I saw, which was admirable, and appearing to myself to have remained there a long while, I felt as if I were just awakening from a profound sleep, and I had great pain in my head and deep melancholy. I turned round and saw that she was seated at my side. She began to recount to me what she had seen, but that which I had seen was entirely different. I was, however, much astonished, because it appeared to me as if I had been really and corporeally in the place, and there in reality to have seen that which had happened.”

Giovan Battista Della Porta. From De Miraculis Rerum Naturalium, Book II, Chapter XXVI (1558 AD)
Lamiarum Unguenta (Witches Unguent):
“Although they mix in a great deal of superstition, it is apparent nonetheless to the observer that these things can result from a natural force. I shall repeat what I have been told by them. By boiling (a certain fat) in a copper vessel, they get rid of its water, thickening what is left after boiling and remains last. Then they store it, and afterwards boil it again before use: with this, they mix

Leave a Reply