Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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The Fly in the Ointment

In 1547 a woman haled before the Inquisition at Navarre to answer charges of witchcraft managed to outwit her captors and escape.

She had secreted her jar of unguent on her person. Before the incredulous eyes of her judges, she transformed into a screech owl and flew away through a window.

The story is not difficult to understand. The active alkaloids of flying ointment are toxic when taken internally. There is escape and escape.

A number of writers from the period of the Great Persecution record recipes for the witch's “lifting balm.” Although it is unclear to what degree this merely reflects the common Latin-speaking intellectual culture of the time—a close study of recipes might well reveal a stemma of influence—it seems relatively clear that the folk traditions of Early Modern Europe knew of an intoxicating solanaceous ointment. As Carlo Ginzburg has observed, the witch trials, in spite of their international nature, sometimes offer access to aspects of local folk culture that otherwise go unrecorded.


My own experiences of the "green grease" suggest a rather different scenario from that of the “Electric kool-aid acid trip” that many researchers propose. At the concentrations present in the recipe given to me at my initiation, the grease produces not hallucination but, used in judicious combination with ritual and other intoxicants, an extra little kick over into ecstatic state.

The definitive modern study of the chemical intricacies of the ointment is German biochemist Alexander Kuklin's How Do Witches Fly?: A Practical Approach to Nocturnal Flights, a must-read for anyone interested in this aspect of the Old Lore.

Those who inquire into the Old Mysteries of the Green One know him for a dangerous god. For gods' sakes, be smart.

Remember the witch of Navarre.


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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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