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flying ointment

material memory of an epistemicide?

aniara rodado - November 09, 2023

the original language of this article is French

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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

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.

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aniara rodado, Crème pour voler, 2023. Media design: Camille Olympie. Reproduced with permission in 2023.

bibliography and references

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Clifton, Chas S. 2019. “Witches Still Fly: Or Do They? Traditional Witches, Wiccans, and Flying Ointment.” In Magic and Witchery in the Modern West. Edited by Shai Feraro and Ethan Doyle White, 223–243. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Penicka, Sarah. 2004. “Caveat Anoynter!: A Study of Flying Ointments and their Plants.” In The Dark Side: Proceedings of the Seventh Australian and International Religion, Literature, and the Arts Conference, 2002. Edited by Christopher Hartney and Andrew McGarrity. Sydney: RLA Press.

Ostling, Michael. 2016. “Babyfat and Belladonna: Witches’ Ointment and the Contestation of Reality.” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, vol. 11 (no. 1): 30–72.

Hatsis, Thomas. 2015. The Witches’ Ointment: The Secret History of Psychedelic Magic. Rochester, NY: Park Street Press.

Geeta, R and Waleed Gharaibeh. 2007. “Historical evidence for a pre-Columbian presence of Datura in the Old World and implications for a first millennium transfer from the New World.” Journal of Biosciences 32 (no. 3): 32.

Rhodes, Tim, Magdalena Harris, Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín, and Kari Lancaster. 2021. “Ecologies of drug war and more-than-human health: The case of a chemical at war with a plant.” International Journal of Drug Policy 89.

Cencin, Alessandra. 2018. “Les différentes versions de la ‘découverte’ du clitoris par Helen O’Connell (1998-2005).” Genre, sexualité & société. Special issue no. 3.

Waetjen, Elaine, Sybil Crawford, Po-Yin Chang, Barbara Reed, Rachel Hess, Nancy E. AvisSioban D. HarlowGail A GreendaleSheila A Dugan, and Ellen B Gold. 2018. “Study of Womenʼs Health Across the Nation (SWAN). Factors associated with developing vaginal dryness symptoms in women transitioning through menopause: a longitudinal study.” Menopause 25 (10): 1094–1104. PMID:29916947; PMCID:PMC6136974

Brand, Donald. 1971. “The Sweet Potato: An Exercise in Methodology.” In Man Across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts. Edited by Carroll Riley, Charles Kelley, Campbell Pennington, and Robert Rands, 343–365. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Vasconcelos, Danilo de Almeida, Melania M. Amorim, Lorena Carneiro de Macêdo, Eujessika Katielly Rodrigues Silva, José Roberto da Silva, Jr., João Guilherme Bezerra Alves. 2016. “Effects of Strength Training on Microcirculation, Muscle Performance and Functional Independence in Elderly Women [3A].” Obstetrics & Gynecology 127: 12S.

Roullier, Caroline, Laure Benoit, Doyle McKey, and Vincent Lebot. 2013. “ Historical collections reveal patterns of diffusion of sweet potato in Oceania obscured by modern plant movements and recombination.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 1 10.

Simon, James. 2016. “Non-Hormonal Treatment of Perimenopausal and Menopausal Climacteric Symptoms [1A].” Obstetrics & Gynecology 127: 12S. DOI:

Federici, Silvia. 2004. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia.

Rodado, Aniara. 2022. “Conjurer les épistemicides: Alliances plantes, sorcières, machines.” PhD thesis, École Polytechnique.

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Rodado, Aniara. 2023. “Flying ointment: material memory of an epistemicide?”.able journal:

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