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Ancient History

Why Are Witches Portrayed Riding Broomsticks? A Psychedelic Theory

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While watching one of my favorite Halloween movies last night, Hocus Pocus, I started wondering why witches are always portrayed riding broomsticks. Is this randomness? Or based on some historical fact? My research led me to the strangest and most unexpected theory: Witches riding broomsticks might actually be related to bread, specifically rye bread, and the hallucinogenic fungus that grows on it called Ergot.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, much of bread made in Europe was made with rye. The fungus ergot that grows on rye bread can be lethal in high doses, and yet in lower doses it can produce vivid hallucinations and was thought to be responsible for the ‘dancing mania‘ reported through Europe from the 14th to 17th centuries, where people danced in the streets speaking gibberish and foaming at the mouth until they eventually passed out. Ergot has been used for centuries as a hallucinogen, and in the 20th century Albert Hoffman synthesized it to create LSD.

Perhaps the quest for the psychedelic experience is just part of human nature, as accounts indicate that people have used hallucinogenic substances called tropane alkaloids derived from plants for hundreds of years, including those made by Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade), Hyoscyamus niger (henbane), Mandragora officinarum (mandrake), and Datura stramonium (jimsonweed), which may have had effects similar to contemporary psychedelics like cannabis and LSD.

According to pharmacology professor David Kroll, “salves” “ointments” and even “witches brews” were concocted using these hallucinogenic plants, possibly for sorcery and witchcraft (or possibly, just to get people buzzed). Indeed, it has been theorized the ‘witches brews’ of yore may have been nothing more than pharmacological concoctions designed to help the body better metabolize hallucinogenic substances.

So what does this have to do with broomsticks?

Well, these old-school psychonauts were smart enough to realize that orally ingesting the liquid form of these tropane alkaloid extractions could lead to all kinds of unpleasant side effects such as nausea, vomiting and skin irritations. But the  side-effects could be avoided by absorbing the compound directly through the skin’s mucous membranes, bypassing the rapid metabolism of the liver and the intestinal discomfort that followed.

And what were the most effective mucous membranes for absorbing these psychedelic ointments? You guessed it: The armpits, and the genitals.

So, these crafty day trippers (or maybe night trippers?) borrowed a simple home tool which they could cover with their psychedelic balms for maximum absorption into the armpits and genitals: The broom, as detailed in this photograph of a witch, her ointment, and her broomstick, from M. J. Harner’s Hallucinogens and Shamanism, via Alastair McIntosh:

broomstick

Professor Kroll sites some early writings detailing the anointment of oils to a broomstick before use, including the 1324 investigation of the case of Lady Alice Kyteler:

“In rifleing the closet of the ladie, they found a pipe of oyntment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin.”

And from the fifteenth-century records of Jordanes de Bergamo:

But the vulgar believe, and the witches confess, that on certain days or nights they anoint a staff and ride on it to the appointed place or anoint themselves under the arms and in other hairy places.

But were these ointments truly hallucinogenic in nature? Without digging up some ancient evidence, it is impossible to know for sure.

Still, the concept of “flying” on a broomstick takes on a whole new meaning then when we imagine a woman using a broomstick to rub hallucinogenic ointment into her armpits and vagina. After all, even in modern times, the terms “flying” or getting “high” are often used to describe the psychedelic experience. Professor Kroll reminds us that tropane alkaloid hallucinogens in particular tended to cause sleep, but with dreams that involved flying, “wild rides,” as well as “frenzied dancing.”

Megan Garber also argues in The Atlantic that the broom was chosen as a psychedelic salve application tool over any other household item because of it’s placement in pagan rituals. Specifically, the Witch’s broom is one of the few tools that is seen as a balance of Divine forces. It is both part of masculine energies (the phallic handle) and female energies (the bristles).

Of course, this is all just one big theory, and there is no way to know for sure the true history of the ‘witches brew’ and broomsticks (although conjecture sure is fun!). Still, I can’t deny that the theory is strangely intriguing, and it is certainly interesting to question the traditions and rituals that we so often take for granted.

What do you think about this theory- Is it just a bunch of Hocus Pocus?! (I don’t know if I will ever look at that movie the same way again!)

Have a very HAPPY HALLOWEEN! 🙂

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Kelly Neff is a social psychologist, author and educator who has helped thousands of people learn about health, relationships, love and sexuality. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Georgetown and M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Claremont Graduate University. A professor of psychology since 2007, she has become an innovator in the field of online teaching with her book, Teaching Psychology Online. When she isn’t writing, teaching or doing healing work from her home in Boulder, CO, Dr. Neff travels the globe researching transformational festivals for her upcoming book for the Festival Research Project. She is currently a contributing author to The Mind Unleashed. You can find her daily doses of inspiration and positivity on Facebook and Twitter. Light and Love!

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Ancient History

6 Year Old Finds Fossil In Family Garden That May be 488 Million Years Old

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Children have a natural fascination with rocks, with many of us having spent some days as children standing awe-struck at our museums or science centers looking at dazzling arrays of stones, or learning about the different types that can be found out our local beaches, parks, or hiking trails.

However, none of us managed to make the sort of discovery that one young boy in the U.K. did.

Siddak Singh Jhamat, known as Sid, found a fossil in his garden that dates back millions of years.

Sid found the fossil in his backyard garden in the town of Walsall using a simple fossil-hunting kit he received as a gift, reports the BBC.

His father Vish Singh was then able to identify the fossil as a horn corral that dates back 251 to 488 million years with the help of a Facebook fossil group.

“I was just digging for worms and things like pottery and bricks and I just came across this rock which looked a bit like a horn, and thought it could be a tooth or a claw or a horn, but it was actually a piece of coral which is called horn coral,” Sid explained.

“I was really excited about what it really was.”

His father Vish added:

“We were surprised he found something so odd-shaped in the soil… he found a horn coral, and some smaller pieces next to it, then the next day he went digging again and found a congealed block of sand.

“In that there were loads of little molluscs and sea shells, and something called a crinoid, which is like a tentacle of a squid, so it’s quite a prehistoric thing.”

The father believes that the distinctive markings on the fossil make it a Rugosa coral, meaning it could be up to 488 million years old.

“The period that they existed from was between 500 and 251 million years ago, the Paleozoic Era,” Vish said.

“England at the time was part of Pangea, a landmass of continents. England was all underwater as well… that’s quite significant expanse of time.”

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Ancient History

Researchers Find 50,000-Year-Old Frozen Body of Extinct Woolly Rhino in Siberia

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Researchers in Siberia have stumbled upon the 50,000 year-old remains of a rare woolly rhinoceros that was trapped in permafrost.

The remains of the woolly rhino were excavated from the Abyisky district of the Sakha Republic. The rhino was first discovered by a local in Siberia named Alexei Savin, Business Insider reported.

Savvin stumbled upon the remarkable find walking near the Tirekhtyakh River in Yakutia, Siberia last August.

It’s worth noting that this woolly rhino was found close to the site where a previous baby woolly rhino named Sasha was discovered back in the year 2014. Woolly Rhinos were once believed to have been prevalent in Europe, Russia and northern Asia thousands upon thousands of years ago until they ended up extinct.

Paleontologist Albert Protopopov of the Academy of Sciences of the Sakha Republic unveiled that the baby woolly rhino would have been approximately three to four years old when it died presumably from drowning.

The only other woolly rhino thus far that has been discovered in these regions — Sasha — was dated to be from around 34,000 years ago. However, Protopopov suggests that the newly discovered body could be anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 years old.

However, despite the body being there for so long according to Protopopov “among other things, part of the internal organs are preserved, which in the future will make it possible to study in more detail how the species ate and lived.”

Protopopov further added, “Earlier, not even the bone remains of individuals of this age were found, not to mention the preserved carcasses of animals. As a rule, these were either cubs or adults.”

A fellow paleontologist Valery Plotnikov from the Academy of Sciences further adds, “We have learned that woolly rhinoceroses were covered in very thick hair. Previously, we could judge this only from rock paintings discovered in France. Now, judging by the thick coat with the undercoat, we can conclude that the rhinoceroses were fully adapted to the cold climate very much from a young age.”

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Ancient History

Isaac Newton’s Secret “Burnt” Notes Included Theory That Great Pyramids Predicted Apocalypse

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Sir Isaac Newton, one of the most famous scientists of recorded history, left behind a large body of work that is still vital in our understanding of the world today. However, as with many public intellectuals, he also had plenty of work that was never shared with the public, even after his death.

Now, for the first time ever, some of these unpublished notes are being auctioned off, and these notes contain some of his most wild theories, and includes his thoughts on the occult, alchemy, and biblical apocalypse theory. Newton was known to dabble in the more esoteric realms of study, but very little written evidence remains about his specific thoughts on mystical topics.

Some of the remaining manuscript notes are currently being auctioned by Sotheby’s. The notes have been through a lot, and are obviously burned. The auctioneers claim that the notes were damaged in a fire that is believed to have been started by a candle that was accidentally toppled by Newton’s dog, Diamond.

According to the auction listing, “These notes are part of Newton’s astonishingly complex web of interlinking studies – natural philosophy, alchemy, theology – only parts of which he ever believed were appropriate for publication. It is not surprising that he did not publish on alchemy, since secrecy was a widely-held tenet of alchemical research, and Newton’s theological beliefs, if made public, would have cost him (at least) his career.”

The notes currently have a leading bid of £280,000, the equivalent of about $375,000.

In the notes, Newton speaks on some far-out topics that would surprise modern thinkers. For example, Newton’s notes include a theory that ancient Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza predicted the apocalypse. While it is unclear what logic he used to get to his conclusion, the theory began with his study of how the pyramids were designed according to an ancient Egyptian unit of measurement called the royal cubit.

While studying the pyramids and the cubit, Newton believed he developed an insight into sacred geometry, which somehow aligned with the apocalypse predictions in the bible.

“He was trying to find proof for his theory of gravitation, but in addition the ancient Egyptians were thought to have held the secrets of alchemy that have since been lost. Today, these seem disparate areas of study – but they didn’t seem that way to Newton in the 17th century,” Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s manuscript specialist, told The Guardian.

“It’s a wonderful confluence of bringing together Newton and these great objects from classical antiquity which have fascinated people for thousands of years. The papers take you remarkably quickly straight to the heart of a number of the deepest questions Newton was investigating,” Heaton added.

Interest in alchemy and mysticism was not unusual for serious scholars at the time, in fact, it was recognized as a legitimate field of scientific study.

“The idea of science being an alternative to religion is a modern set of thoughts. Newton would not have believed that his scientific work could undermine religious belief. He was not trying to disprove Christianity – this is a man who spent a long time trying to establish the likely time period for the biblical apocalypse. That’s why he was so interested in the pyramids,” Heaton said.

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