One of the most common attributes of accused witches was their supposed ability to fly great distances. Although most accused witches seem to have confessed to flying only as a result of being tortured, some appear to have actually believed they were flying. The means of transport varied greatly. These means include:
- On the backs of bewitched human beings “who waited in a trance at the hitching-post till their mistresses were ready to return”
- On brooms, forks, sticks, pitchforks, poles, faggots, or shovels
- On aerial goats
- On the heads of strange animals
- By transforming themselves into screech owls, flying bridled cats or bats
- By means of an unguent or ointment given to them by the Devil.
In each case, the flying object was first anointed with an unguent provided by the Devil. It was said that, because in the past witches were always persecuted and garroted with brooms, the Devil had given them this particular power in order to be able to escape.
It should be noticed that it was first considered as an illusion. Although even Kramer and Sprenger admitted in the Malleus Maleficarum some witches only imagine they are attending the sabbat, they insisted many witches actually were transported bodily. Nevertheless, even a witch who has attended a sabbat only in her imagination “sees what is taking place as reliably as the one whose body is transported”
The Canon Episcopi (dating from the 10th century) refers to Diana as the Goddess that would inspire such flights Herodias and Minerva are also mentioned:
“Some wicked women, perverted by the Devil, seduced by illusions and phantasms of demons [who] believed and profess themselves, in the hours of the night to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of the pagans, and an innumerable multitude of women, and in the silence of the dead of night to traverse great spaces of earth and to obey her commands as of their mistress and to be summoned to her service on certain nights”
In the fifteenth century, feelings of paranoia and emphasis in the witch craze fed the belief witches could fly. It became a heretical offense to deny witches could transport themselves both in body and in spirit.