Witchcraft Medicine:

Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants


by Claudia Muller-Ebeling, Christian Ratsch, and Wolf-Dieter Storl


ISBN 0-89281-971-5

Inner Traditions

272 pages, 8 x 10

Includes three 8-page color inserts and 

158 b&w illustrations





PAGE 102

"The weird sisters, hand in hand,
Posters of the sea and land,
Thus do go, about, about,
Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,
And thrice again, to make up nine,
Peace, the charm's wound up."

Macbeth, (Act 1, Scene3)


Invocations and Incense

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), whose name was perhaps a pseudonym of Francis Bacon's, demonstrated in his dramas that he not only had a good knowledge of medicinal plants, witches herbs, and poisonous plants, but was also familiar with the ancient art of invocation (Tabor, 1970). The magical incantation of the three witches who prophesy the future in Macbeth draws on archaic material. Hecate even appears in Macbeth after the three witches invoke her. Hecate was invoked as the most important goddess in many invocations (magical papyri) of late antiquity.

She was also known by the names Artemis-Hecate and Isis-Hecate. Usually she was invoked for love magic (philtra) and was often connected to the dogs, even Cerberus. Medea is also invoked in the place of Hecate in the magical papyri ( Luck, 1990, 50, 129ff).

Invocations are connected with incense. The burning of incense opens the ritual. The incense creates a sacred space and is at the same time food of the gods-a means to entice them. With the invocation a deity or a helping spirit (daimon, parhedros) could be made serviceable. With their help one can receive healing, prophecy, or black magic. A magical papyrus indicates this recipe for a cursing ritual (diabole) : " The NN brings you, dear goddess, a horrifying incense offering: colorful goat fat, and blood, and refuse, the corpse juices of a dead virgin, the heart of one who died too soon." (Graf, 1996, 163)..........


Ingredients of the Witches Brew

The three witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth, who fell under the protection of Hecate, prepared a "charmed cauldron" whose ingredients  are precisely listed (act 4, scene1). In the kettle, which is surrounded by elf spirits, the first witch placed the first ingredient, a toad. (129) The second witch added more ingredients :

Fillet of a fenny snake
In the cauldron boil and bake :
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing

The third witch had even more to offer :

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravined salt-sea shark,
Root of the
hemlock,  digged  i'th' dark;
Liver  of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat, and slips of yew,
Slivered in the moon's eclipse;
Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe,
Ditch-delivered by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab,

For the finale, Pavian's blood is added. Unfortunately, Shakespeare does not reveal how the witches' gruel is used.

In this recipe two plants are named directly henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)130 and poison hemlock (Conium maculatum, Cicuta virosa ). The other ingredients seem to be parts of animals, but these designations were probably secret or ritual names of plants.The rat's blood is called 'slips of yew,' and wolf's teeth is a folk name for ergot (Golowin,1973: 42). The author, who dabbled in herbalism and alchemy, probably did not write down a general recipe for the witches' potion, but preserved for eternity a preparation of ingredients whose names were kept secret (cf. Tabor,190). These plants belong to the pharmacologically active ingredients of the witches' drink.

129. Toads were in use in the Middle Ages for love magic (Meyer ,1884:263)

130. Shakespeare also reveals his knowledge of henbane and its medicinal effects in Hamlet (cf. Tabor,1970)

* In the German translation of Macbeth's henbane is used in place of howlet's wing. (Trans.)


From The History of Life and Death by Francis Bacon

27. The use tobacco has immensely increased in our time. It affects men with a kind of secret pleasure, so that persons once accustomed to it can scarce leave it . It tends no doubt to relieve the body, and remove weariness; and its virtue is commonly thought to lie in this, that it opens the passages and draws off the humours. But it may be more properly referred to as the condensation of the spirits; for it is a kind of henbane, and manifestly affects the head, as all opiates do.

29. Simple opiates, which are likewise called narcotics and stupefactives, are opium itself, which is the juice of the poppy, the plant and seed of the poppy, henbane, mandragora, hem-lock, tobacco, and nightshade.

From Francis Bacon's Sylva Sylvarum: 724

Drunken men are taken with a plain defect, or destitution in voluntary motion. They reel; they tremble; they cannot stand or speak strongly. The cause is, for that the spirits of the wine oppress the spirits animal, and occupy the place where they are, and so make them weak to move. And therefore drunken men are apt to fall asleep: and opiates, and stupefactives, as poppy, henbane, hemlock, &c., induce a kind of drunkenness, by the grossness of their vapour. Besides, they rob the spirits of the animal of their matter, whereby they are nourished: for the spirits of the wine prey upon it as well as they: and so they make the spirits less supple and apt to move.

Sylva Sylvarum: 903

It is worthy the observing, that both in ancient and late times, as in the Thesslian witches, and the meetings of witches that have been recorded by so many late confessions, the great wonders which they tell, of carrying in the air, transforming themselves into their bodies, &c., are still reported to be wrought, not by incantations or ceremonies, but by ointments, and anointing themselves all over. This may justly move a man to think that these fables are the effects of imagination: for it is certain that ointments do all, if they be laid on any thing thick, by stopping of the pores, shut in the vapours, and send them to the head extremely. And for the particular ingredients of those magical ointments, it is like they are opiate and soporiferous.


Francis Bacon (1561-1626), one of the founders of modern science, notes that the 'imaginings' (i.e. hallucinations) of both the ancient witches of Thessaly in northern Greece and their later European counterparts were caused not by incantations or ceremonies but by ointments which are 'opiate and soporiferous'.

He said that these were such 'potent medicines' that if they were taken internally the result would be fatal. He also recognized that only some of the ingredients were actually psychoactive. According to Bacon, the 'soporiferous medicines' included henbane, hemlock, mandrake, moon shade, tobacco, opium, saffron and poplar leaves.

Special Thanks to Robert Fowler for providing the citings from Bacon's works.


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