material memory of an epistemicide?
about this contribution
The concept of epistemicide—Boaventura de Sousa Santos created the idea, while Sueli Carneiro examined its links to white supremacy—describes the systematic eradication of “Third World” knowledge by Western science. Epistemicide and genocide are two fundamental and inseparable elements of the colonial process. Europe has not been spared such a disaster: witch-hunting also decimated complex knowledge systems.
Witches’ flying ointment—often cited in European witchcraft trials—was a preparation intended for application to the mucous membranes of the rectum or vagina to generate altered states of consciousness.
In the scientific debates around this ointment, a number of authors discredit the presence of pre-Christian shamanic cultures in 15th-century Europe (Clifton 2019, Ostling 2016). Historians and botanists confirm that Datura—native to the Americas, whose name comes from the Sanskrit dhattūra and whose flower is associated with Shiva—is listed in many ointment recipes, and so could not have been used in Europe before the colonization of Abya Yala (Geeta 2016, Hatsis 2015). However, Indian, Arabic, Persian, and Andalusian sources confirm the hypothesis that this plant arrived on other continents before colonization. But the academic world seems to struggle when it comes to conducting transdisciplinary research that takes non-Eurocentric sources into account, in contrast to the well-documented , as we found through our research process–arrival of the sweet potato before the colonization of Abya Yala (Brand 1971, Roulier 2013). The fact that there is no ritual continuity in the use of these plants in contemporary European culture does not prove the absence of such practices, but opens up a field to be redefined, one strewn with taboos, silences, and secrets, producers of ignorance. Datura is just one example of shamanic plants and practices that have been “discredited.” A history of knowledge manipulation: from ritual use, it has been reduced to toxic or ornamental functions.
As part of my arts and sciences thesis, we developed a “flying ointment” at the Genialis biotech company in Henrichemont, France. This company is committed to, among other things, a more ecological chemistry, which retains the organoleptic properties (sensory stimuli) of active ingredients and improves the preparations’ bioavailability (absorption type). In making emulsions, surfactants are replaced by movement and high and low sound frequencies. The combined physical force of sound and movement transforms matter, embracing dimensions that are both esoteric and scientific.
Developed in collaboration with chemists Nicolas Poupard and Aurélie Amilien, our cream is a non-hallucinogenic update of witches’ ointment. It is a preparation for vaginal dryness, neglected mucous membranes, the neovaginas of trans women, those dried out by menopause, chemotherapy, drugs, hormone treatments, and so on. These are all issues that the pharmaceutical industry addresses only by considering them as related to sexual intercourse, proposing only lubricants. A cream to break the silence that pathologizes our pleasure. Taking into consideration microcirculation problems—similar to those that contribute to erectile dysfunction—our cream contains plants that improve the microcirculatory system, such as yarrow and myrtle, regenerating plants such as the Damask rose, and so-called “female” aphrodisiacs, which—coincidentally?—are the most expensive spices on the planet: saffron and vanilla. Local plants thus enter into synergy those from all over the world.
Line by line, the plants tell of their instrumentalization and oblivion. In a forest on the brink of catastrophe, ”flying ointment” rises from the ashes to bring past knowledge back to life. Reminiscent of a psychedelic universe, the contribution draws attention to buried, feminized knowledge at the center of our bodies.
author: aniara rodado
media design: Camille Olympie
editorial mediation: Julie Sauret
scientific support: Genialis Biotech, Nicolas Poupard, Aurélie Amilien
financial support: Chaire arts et sciences
acknowledgments: Antre-peaux, Eric Noulette, Alexis Abfayer and Isabelle Carlier
references and rights
illustration rights and references
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“Flying Ointment” was presented in an installation alongside a DIY alkaloid extractor made from datura seeds. It was also part of a performative test carried out by 21 people suffering from vaginal dryness, in accordance with cosmetics-industry protocols and including a somatic dimension. It was also offered to the public in the choreographic installation Against Witch Washing.
bibliography and references
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Rodado, Aniara. 2023. “Flying ointment: material memory of an epistemicide?”.able journal: https://able-journal.org/en/flying-ointment
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