Researching is a big portion of the writer´s work. To me, ninety percent of the excitement of writing a novel comes from the research. You never know what life or fate is about to bring you for the good of your work. It keeps me in permanent learning of unexpected and extraordinary things.
As part of the research for the current novel I am working on, I have collected some documented testimonies of women accused of witchcraft. The persecutions against women accused of witchcraft began in the early Middle Ages and, in some few cases, they went on beyond the Renaissance. The trials took place in several parts of Europe with its own characteristics, ranging from total brutality to the imposition of rationality over superstition.
No matter if the processes against these women happened in France, Scotland, Italy or Spain they share some common details. One of those ubiquitous particularities is the so-called Flight of the Witches. One way to see The Flight of the Witches would be the following: The accused woman tells that, after applying certain "ointments" on her skin, her spirit leaves her body. Then, her spirit scapes through the door hole or through some window slot to fly freely on the air crossing towns and fields, until the spirit joins other souls in the sabbath where they share their passion among satanic worshiping.
These women could or not have been influenced by some drugs included in their "ointments". The hallucinogenic substances could have come from other sources or other means. The use of drugs to explain difficult to believe testimonies comes naturally to our minds as the most reasonable option. There are people who even speculate if these testimonies were real or not. How many women repeated the same testimony they heard before in order to make their imprisoning less miserable? We'll never know. This argument doesn´t work very well when we try to understand why women from remote and isolated villages in the mountains of Spain or Hungary came out with the same testimony in the days that these villages could hardly have some, if any, communication within their own surrounding areas. Unless... we are in front of a geographic independent phenomenon, right?
So far, disclosing my ignorance, nothing that I have read in books, articles, and essays, suggest any remotely plausible explanation for the ubiquity of the same testimony throughout Medieval Europe. This problem remained as such from the start of my research on witchcraft over the Middle Ages.
A couple of weeks ago, something happened though. The week in question was one of the first ones characterized by the social distancing imposed by the coronavirus in March of 2020. On a well known social network, a friend of mine posted an image. Inside of this image, one could read:
"Today I want to give permission to the soul to escape from my cornered body, to fly through the door hole; I'm going to let her fly to your corners and give you a hug, a kiss, and whisper in your ear that everything will be fine. (I stay home but my soul will visit you)"
I was astonished. I am sure that you all too can see that I saw: the Flight of the Witches in a poem.
Two days later, my girlfriend was telling me a story of her own life. At some point, she acquired some audio material to help her to relax. Supposedly, she was getting hypnotized by the voice coming from a DVD. Occasionally, during a hypnotic session, she felt her "self" abandoning her body on the bed, levitating up to the hight of the ceiling and leaving the room. At this moment, I began to feel the excitement as a tickling in my spine and I let her go on. She said that she instructed her mother not to move her lying body while the hypnotic session was taking place. My girlfriend feared that if her "empty" body was moved in any way, her spirit would not be able to return to it.
I was speechless!!!! Guess what? The Middle Ages women who confessed to experiencing the Flight of the Witches had exactly the same fear. What´s more, witch hunters recommended putting something between the immobile lips to prevent the return of the witch to her body and make her wandering forever as a ghost.
I immediately remembered something that used to happened to my ex-wife. She used to have these nightmares in which she saw her "self" getting separated from her body and levitating over it. When that happened, she screamed really loudly. I had to talk to her softly until she calmed down "bringing her spirit to her body" again.
Notice that the poem, the experience of my girlfriend and the nightmares of my ex are not related to the use of any drug. If my girlfriend and ex would be called to a court to confess her experience, their testimonies would have been difficult to believe and they would sound like the Middle Ages witches.
Hence, I state this as a hypothesis: wouldn´t it be possible that the Flight of the Witches resides in our subconscious mind as a sort of Jungian archetype which is part of our collective unconscious? Do the separation of soul and body, its emotions and fears, go beyond the Middle Age witch-hunting and belong to all of us in all the ages and soils of Humankind?