The not so long history of the flying witch


From a particularly scary Tom and Jerry episode to Sabrina the Teenage Witch and countless other movies, the flying witch entered step by the into the pop culture. But how it all began?

Illustration from Martin Le Franc’s ‘Le Champion des Dames’ (1451)(Bibliothèque nationale de France/Wikimedia Commons)

The first depiction of a witch on a broomstick however happened more than 500 years ago (in 1451) when an illustration appeared in the margins of Martin Le Franc’s manuscript of “The Champion of Women”. The little drawing showed two women, one flying a stick and the other a broom that seemed to accompany a poem that praised witchcraft and women.

In those times the broom was both a symbol of emancipation from housework by flying from everyday duties and a sign of sexual freedom because of their phallic aspect. These being said, the Catholic Church was outraged especially after it found out that women were accepted as priestess in the Waldensian Evangelical Church.

Albert Joseph Penot, “Départ pour le Sabbat” (1910) /Wikimedia Commons

Later, in 1453, Guillaume Edelin was the first to write about flying witches on broomsticks and just three years after that the hallucinogenic ointment became the norm in the flying on a broom industry 🙂 . People thought that by using a flying ointment created by the witch or the devil, a human could fly on a broomstick.
During Renaissance, witches were depicted more and more in art in the paintings of Albrecht Dürer and Hans Baldung that portraited them naked. At the same time at the end of the 19th century the flying witch lost its sexual appeal and became the good witch that brought gift to the children in the Mediterranean area.

Nowadays folklorist believe believe people in the Middle Ages often consumed a mix of belladonna, Datura and henbane and believed they could fly. Hence the next fragment in the book “The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia” (2008) by Paul Devereux.

“We had wild dreams. Faces danced before my eyes which were at first terrible. Then I suddenly had the sensation of flying for miles through the air. The flight was repeatedly interrupted by great falls. Finally, in the last phase, an image of an orgiastic feast with grotesque sensual excess.”