Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mr. Peuckert's Flying Ointment

"...Folklorist Will-Erich Peuckert of Göttingen, for example, mixed an ointment made up of belladonna, henbane and Datura from a seventeenth-century formula and rubbed it on his forehead and armpits, bidding his colleagues to do likewise. They all fell into a twenty-four sleep. "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," Peuckert reported. 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."

- excerpt from The Long Trip: A Pre-history of Psychedelia by Paul Devereux.

Will-Erich Peuckert was an unusual man. He lived in Germany during the rise of Adolph Hitler, rising to fame for his books on the lore of European superstitions, magic, and long forgotten folk knowledge. Not very well known in America, he is something of a legend across the big pond. He biggest claim to fame is the extreme detail he paid to the subject matter he dwelled upon.

His literary work and his personality were intertwined to a point not normally seen in the literary world. He knew his subject matter so well, it is said it was almost as if he were writing about himself. His true specialty was the little known realm of herbs and ancient magical formulas. So much so, that he famously tried a few out upon himself, as most notably the ancient Witches' Flying Ointment. Supposedly, he was one of the first to propose the idea that early witches used a psychedelic concoction on their broomstick for the famed flights to the Devil's Sabbat mentioned in the histories of the old European witch trials.

Alas, Mr. Peuckert had a rough time with the Nazis. He wrote books denouncing Nazism, and cleverly masqueraded them within literary works seemingly about other subjects. His books were eventually banned and subjected to burning by the ruling Nazi order. His vast collection of over 35,000 historical and rare manuscripts were destroyed, a loss of staggering proportions to the understanding of ancient history and customs. He ended up fleeing Germany in 1945, with his wife and young son.

His troubles were not over by a long shot. He lost his wife and son, both in separate accidents, and eventually lost his ability to read and write too. In the end, he could only use one finger on his aged and useless hands. A sad end for such a literary, political, and historical genius.

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