Ointments (also unguents) are grease-based preparations have been used in magical, healing and oracular rites since ancient times. The ancient Egyptians used magical and sacred ointments for numerous purposes, such as embalming mummies and stimulating prophetic dreams. According to the instructions on a third-century magical papyrus, divining dreams could be induced in an elaborate rite, part of which called for the smearing of a magical ointment on the eyes. The ointment was made from the flowers of “the Greek bean,” which could be purchased from a garland seller. The flowers were sealed in a glass container and left for 20 days in a dark and secret place. When the container was opened, it would reveal a phallus and testicles inside. The container was resealed for another 40 days, after which the genitals would become bloody. The ointment made from this was kept on a piece of glass in a pot that was hidden, and was rubbed on the eyes when an answer to a question was desired from one’s dreams.

In folklore, witches were reputed to use ointments— also called sorcerer’s grease—for two purposes: Flying and to kill others. Some ointments also were said to enable witches to shape-shift into animals and birds (see metamorphosis). recipes for ointments have been handed down through the centuries and have been published in magical grimoires. The recipes contain vile ingredients such as baby’s fat and bat’s blood, or bizarre ingredients such as the filings of bells. many also call for herbs and drugs that are toxic and/or hallucinogenic, such as belladonna (the “Devil’s weed”), hemlock, hellebore root, cannabis, hemp, mandrake, henbane and aconite. Such drugs produce dizziness, confusion, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, delirium and hallucinations.

According to lore, witches of old brewed the ointments in their Cauldrons. For flying, they rubbed the ointments on themselves and the brooms, pitchforks, chairs, poles or beanstalks that they used to ride through the air. Some accused witches confessed in trials that they were given magic ointments by the Devil. Five women brought to trial in Arras, France, in 1460 said they had been given such an ointment by Satan, which they rubbed on small poles and “straightway flew where they wished to be, above good towns and woods and waters, and the Devil guided them to that place where they must hold their assembly.”

Legends tell of people who found pots of ointment, rubbed themselves with it and instantly found themselves transported to the scene of wild witch revelries.

While witches often insisted they had indeed flown through the air with the help of their ointments, most Demonologists, as early as the 15th century, believed the effects to be imaginary and not real. In some tests conducted by investigators, a witch rubbed herself down with the ointment and then fell into a deep sleep. Upon awakening, she insisted she had been transported through the air to a Sabbat, when in fact she had been observed not moving for hours. In a tale from 1547, a witch summoned before the Inquisition of Navarre secretly brought along a jar of magic ointment, which she managed to rub on herself. In front of the judges, she turned into a screech owl and flew away.

One recipe published in Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) calls for sium, Acarum vulgare (probably sweet flag), cinquefoil, bat’s blood, oil and Solanum somniferum, combined with fat or lard, which the witches were supposed to rub vigorously into their skin “till they look red and be verie hot, so as the pores may be opened and their flesh soluble and loose.”

Scot also offered another flying recipe, which called for the fat of young children to be boiled in water and combined with “eleoselinum” (probably hemlock), aconite, poplar leaves and soot. Still another recipe called for aconite, poppy juice, foxglove, poplar leaves and cinquefoil, in a base of beeswax, lanoline and almond oil.

Like Demonologists of his time, Scot believed that the ointments affected the brain and did not really enable witches to fly.

In modern times, Dr. Erich-Will Peuckert of the University of Göttingen, West Germany, tested a medieval flying-ointment recipe on himself and a colleague. The ingredients included deadly nightshade, thornapple, henbane, wild celery and parsley in a base of hog’s lard. The ointment caused the two men to fall into a trancelike sleep for 20 hours, during which each had nearly identical dreams of flying through the air to a mountain top and participating in erotic orgies with monsters and Demons. Upon awakening, both men had headaches and felt depressed. Peuckert was impressed with the intense realism of the dreams. In light of his experiment, it is probable that medieval witches who used such ointments believed that they actually had such experiences, which accounts for the similarities in many “confessions.”

The following killing ointment was recorded by Johann Weyer, 16th-century Demonologist:

Hemlock, juice of aconite, Poplar leaves and roots bind tight. Watercress and add to oil Baby’s fat and let it boil. Bat’s blood, belladonna too Will kill off those who bother you.

It is possible that some medicinal ointments, concocted by village wise women and wise men for deadening pain and healing, contained an imbalance of toxic ingredients that proved fatal.

Another kind of ointment supposedly made witches invisible. medieval witches were said to rub themselves down with it before leaving their homes for secret sabbats. The chief ingredient was the herb Vervain, associated with invisibility, which was crushed and steeped overnight in olive oil or lard, then squeezed through a cloth to remove the leaves. Sometimes mint was substituted for vervain.

Gerald B. Gardner, the father of contemporary Witchcraft, said he knew of no 20th-century Witches who used any kind of ointments. Gardner believed medieval witches did use ointments but said such preparations most likely were applied to help keep naked witches warm in outdoor rites or to make them slippery if they were caught, both of which are dubious. Some ointments, he said, contained perfumes that were released in dancing as the skin grew hot.


  • Baroja, Julio Caro. The World of the Witches. 1961. reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.
  • Gardner, Gerald B. Witchcraft Today. London: Rider & Co., 1954, 1956.
  • Remy, Nicolas. Demonolatry. Secaucus, N.J.: University Books, 1974.
  • Scot, Reginald. The Discoverie of Witchcraft. 1886. reprint, Yorkshire, England: E.P. Publishing, Ltd., 1973.


The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca – written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.

Ointments are in Magic and Alchemy, special chemical and/ or herbal salves that effect a transformation, a healing, or a Curse.

During the Witchcraft trials of the Inquisition, witches were believed to rub their bodies with magical ointments that enabled them to fly to their infernal sabbats. Some individuals who claimed to be Werewolves said that they used magical ointments to achieve their Shapeshifting from human to wolf form.

Such ointments most likely contained hallucinogens. Even as early as the 15th century, most demonologists believed the effects of magical ointments to be imaginary and not real. These conclusions were borne out by tests on accused witches whose ointments put them into deep sleeps—although they insisted upon awakening that they had been transported through the air.

In magic, ointments have been used to effect cures or Bewitchment through sympathetic magic. For example, rubbing an ointment on an object owned by a person will have an effect on that person. Magical ointments have many purposes, such as inducing love, causing fear, and causing misfortune, illness, and death. A 16th-century recipe for a killing ointment, written as a Charm, is as follows:

Hemlock, juice of aconite, Poplar leaves and roots bind tight. Watercress and add to oil Baby’s fat and let it boil. Bat’s blood, belladonna too Will kill off those who bother you.

The alchemist Paracelsus advocated a “weapon-salve” treatment that his critics considered to be nothing short of witchcraft. According to Paracelsus, wounds suffered in battle should be treated with a magical ointment applied both to the wound and to the weapon that caused the injury.

Paracelsus’s ointment formula called for two ounces of moss taken from a buried skull, a half-ounce of embalmed human flesh, two ounces of human fat, two drams of linseed oil, and one ounce each of roses and bole armoniack (a type of acidic earth). The physician was to mix all of these ingredients together and add Blood of the patient. The wound would then be cleaned and treated with the ointment. It would be bound with bandages dipped in the patient’s Urine.

Paracelsus also said that the ointment should be smeared on the weapon that caused the injury; it was sympathetic magic to his detractors. Paracelsus said that a mystical process of animal magnetism would draw on the sympathetic life spirit that flowed between wound and weapon.

Paracelsus was defended by the English physician and alchemist Robert Fludd, who said that “the cure is done by the magnetique power of this Salve, caused by the Starres, which by the mediation of the ayre, is carried and adjoyned to the Wound.”

Paracelsus’s ointment was in use for a period of time and then disappeared.

The 17th-century English alchemist SIR Kenelm Digby had a weapon-salve powder remedy. Digby claimed to have been given the secret for it by a Carmelite whom he met in Florence in 1622. The Carmelite had traveled in the East and claimed to learn the secret there. The powder was to be applied to a bandage stained with blood from the wound. The powder was green vitriol (ferrous sulfate). According to Digby, particles of the powder and blood found their way to the wound and healed it. He used this cure to heal a cut on the hand of Welsh author James Howell.


  • Ashley, Leonard R. N. The Amazing World of Superstition, Prophecy, Luck, Magic & Witchcraft. New York: Bell Publishing Company, 1988.
  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. 2d ed. New York: Facts On File Inc., 1999.


The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 2006 by Visionary Living, Inc.