Here’s a novel theory: Medieval witches didn’t actually fly around the countryside on broomsticks. They smeared sticks with hallucinogenic salves, straddled them naked, and the mucus membranes of their labia absorbed the potions. After that, it sure felt like flying. So goes the theory in new book “The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia”:
A Belgian witch called Claire Goessen confessed in 1603 that she had flown to sabbats several times on a staff smeared with an unguent. In northern France in 1460, five women confessed to receiving a salve from the Devil himself, which they rubbed on their hands and on a small wooden rod they placed between their legs and flew upon “above good towns and woods and waters.” ... Harner emphasises the importance of the greased broomstick or similar flying implement, which he suggests served as “an applicator for the atropine-containing plant to the sensitive vaginal membranes as well as providing the suggestion of riding on a steed, a typical illusion of the witches’ ride to the Sabbat.
In a word: awesome. [BoingBoing]