Book Review: The Witches’ Ointment – The Secret History of Psychedelic Magic by Thomas Hatsis

November 1st, 2017

The Witches’ Ointment

The Secret History of Psychedelic Magic

By Thomas Hatsis

This is a fascinating and unique offering! And a book I will definitely recommend to others, especially colleagues and students. It is well-researched and written in a scholarly yet very accessible way.

In this book the author Thomas Hatsis embarks on a quest to research and tell the (until now largely) untold story of a magical substance called “witches’ ointment.” In this book you will also encounter other names for this mysterious concoction.

Along the way he provides a detailed, thought-provoking account of witchcraft, magic and the use of hallucinogenic herbs. This book is underpinned with many footnotes and references to old manuscripts and publications in various languages.

Psycho-magical ointments had many uses, ranging from the dark end of the “magical spectrum” (bewitching, poisoning and murder) to healing, providing pain relief (such as anaesthesia during surgery) and divination or prophecy.

Psychotropic salves and ointments can trigger powerful hallucinations and surrealistic dreams or even facilitate direct experience of other realms and the Divine. (Your own conclusion will depend on your personal interpretation of this material!)

For me personally the most fascinating and valuable part of this book is the candid (well researched) history it provides of both the ancient art we call witchcraft today and the witch trials. Hatsis also describes in great detail (as the process unfolds over several centuries) the role the Church played in reframing the ecstatic experiences certain people have always sought (often using entheogens) into a satanic experience.

This is crucial information because this perception still casts a large shadow over our culture (and our cultural perception of healing and all things magical) until today. A fear of witchcraft and magical remedies (and my own profession: shamanism) lingers. People involved in such things today encounter that shadow (and the misperceptions that go with it) all the time.

This book is honest and scientific. It neither glorifies nor demonises witches ointments or flying ointments (or other magical remedies) It makes a distinction between the real undeniable shadow of this phenomenon (poisoning being an obvious example of these practices – one 21st equivalent would be the use of a date-rape drug) and a “satanic” layer or dimension deliberately imposed by the Church -that some people accused of witchcraft only confessed to because they were tortured (and told that if they confessed they would regain their freedom – which turned out to be a gross deception as most of those people were subsequently executed despite saying what the Inquisitor wanted to hear).

This book explains why witches are associated with broomsticks and toads and also what role village or folk healers played in European culture long before “mainstream medicine’ became accessible or affordable for most people. This book also makes it very clear that certain herbs (and other ingredients such as toads or mushrooms) have always been used in magical work, right from antiquity up to the present time.

This is an important and unique book. It has the power to shift some of our cultural perceptions – assuming enough people read it. Thank you Thomas Hatsis!

Imelda Almqvist, Sweden, 21 October 2017

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About the Author:

Imelda Almqvist’s book Natural Born Shamans: A Spiritual Toolkit For Life (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon in August 2016.  She is based in London,UK and teaches shamanism and sacred art internationally.  She is a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit 2017 as well as on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True.


www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk

https://imeldaalmqvist.wordpress.com/


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