In the Middle Ages, the wolf became a symbol of evil. Hysteria about werewolves broke out all over Europe. Thousands of people were accused of being werewolves and many were tortured and executed.
The magic salve is frequently mentioned in witch and were-wolf trials. It is supposed to be a strong hallucinogenic. When rubbed over the body, it is absorbed into the bloodstream and causes effects similar to LSD.
A person under the salve’s effect could imagine that he was an animal or that he could fly on a broomstick.
One recipe includes the following ingredients :
- fat from disinterred children
- poplar leaves
- soot or cowbane
- sweet flag
- bat’s blood
- deadly nightshade
Other sources mentioned ingredients such as narcotics: Solanum somniferum , aconite, hyoscyamus, belladonna, opium, acorus vulgaris, sium. These were boiled down with oil, or the fat of little children who were murdered for that purpose. The blood of a bat was added, but its effects could have been nil. To these may have been added other foreign narcotics, the names of which have not transpired.
The following passage is from the charming Golden Ass of Apuleius; it proves that salves were extensively used by witches for the purpose of transformation, even in his day:–
“Fotis showed me a crack in the door, and bade me look through it, upon which I looked and saw Pamphile first divest herself of all her garments, and then, having unlocked a chest, take from it several little boxes, and open one of the latter, which contained a certain ointment. Rubbing this ointment a good while previously between the palms of her hands, she anointed her whole body, from the very nails of her toes to the hair on the crown of her head, and when she was anointed all over, she whispered many magic words to a lamp, as if she were talking to it. Then she began to move her arms, first with tremulous jerks, and afterwards by a gentle undulating motion, till a glittering, downy surface by degrees overspread her body, feathers and strong quills burst forth suddenly, her nose became a hard crooked beak, her toes changed to curved talons, and Pamphile was no longer Pamphile, but it was an owl I saw before me. And now, uttering a harsh, querulous scream, leaping from the ground by little and little, in order to try her powers, and presently poising herself aloft on her pinions, she stretched forth her wings on either Side to their full extent, and flew straight away.
“Having now been actually a witness of the performance of the magical art, and of the metamorphosis of Pamphile, I remained for some time in a stupefied state of astonishment. . . . At last, after I had rubbed my eyes some time, had recovered a little from the amazement and abstraction of mind, and begun to feel a consciousness of the reality of things about me, I took hold of the hand of Fotis and said,–‘Sweet damsel, bring me, I beseech thee, a portion of the ointment with which thy mistress hath just now anointed, and when thou hast made me a bird, I will be thy slave, and even wait upon thee like a winged Cupid.’ Accordingly she crept gently into the apartment, quickly returned with the box of ointment, hastily placed it in my hands, and then immediately departed.
“Elated to an extraordinary degree at the sight of the precious treasure, I kissed the box several times successively; and uttering repeated aspirations in hopes of a prosperous flight, I stripped off my clothes as quick as possible, dipped my fingers greedily into the box, and having thence extracted a good large lump of ointment, rubbed it all over my body and limbs. When I was thoroughly anointed, I swung my arms up and down, in imitation of the movement of a bird’s pinions, and continued to do so a little while, when instead of any perceptible token of feathers or wings making their appearance, my own thin skin, alas! grew into a hard leathern hide, covered with bristly hair, my fingers and toes disappeared, the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet became four solid hoofs, and from the end of my spine a long tail projected. My face was enormous, my mouth wide, my nostrils gaping, my lips pendulous, and I had a pair of immoderately long, rough, hairy ears. In short, when I came to contemplate my transformation to its full extent, I found that, instead of a bird, I had become — an ASS.”
[APULEIUS, Sir George Head’s translation, bk. iii.]