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In early medieval representations, witches were often idealized as beautiful women; later they were more often portrayed as naked, sensual creatures or as crones.

The practice of witchcraft in Europe during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance included the use of herbs and mind-altering plants, particularly the Solanaceous species containing the potent alkaloid atropine (belladonna, mandragora, henbane, hemlock, and datura). Small, precise doses of their leaves, berries and roots were useful for a wide variety of medical and physical problems. Particular combinations and dosages resulted in deep sedation with vivid hallucinations, time-and-space distortion, sensations of flying and falling, bizarre visions, and feelings of sexual abandon.

The fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) or toad-stool mushroom and the skin of toads (containing the hallucinogen bufotenine) were also important ingredients in witches' recipes. These preparations were sometimes rubbled into the skin or possibly (this suggested by the broomstick motif) inserted directly into the vagina. The subconscious experiences deriving from these poly drug brews included astral travel to a "sabbat" (communal gathering) and psychic release from religious and sexual repression.

The narrow and restrictive doctrines of the established Christian church, which limited women's participation, may have been indirectly responsible for the flourishing of witchcraft. As many as one million women were tortured or killed during the witch craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

"Compounding the Witches' Unguent" By Hans Baldung, 1514

Text: Shaman Woman, Mainline Lady: Woman's Writings on the Drug Experience. Cynthia Palmer and Michael Horowitz, 1982.

Image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magic_Circle_(Waterhouse_painting)

magic circle, by john william waterhouse, 1886