Witch animals and magic plants

Witch animals and magic plants

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The raven brings death, the cat is the witch's animal, fire salamanders ignite fires, toads enchant with their eyes, vampires turn into bats and out of a mandrake, fertilized with the seed of a hanged man, the little hangman rises. Where do such ideas come from?

The cat - from the goddess to the devil

The European wildcat was regarded by the Germans as a symbol of physical love: Freya, the goddess of sexuality, traveled in a wagon that the wildcats pulled. Freyatag, Friday, was the wedding day, the rolling cats, unmistakable in their lusty munts, fit in with it - and it was precisely this connection to fertility that caused the cats to fail at Christian times. The sexuality of women became the epitome of the work of Satan for the Christian clergy, the cat became his animal. The goddess Freya became the witch, who did her evil deeds in cat form.

The monk Berthold von Regensburg rushed against the cat: “The breath that comes out of her neck is plague; and if she drinks water and a tear falls from her eyes, the tear is spoiled: everyone who drinks from now on experiences death. "

In the 13th century the devil appeared as a black cat with fiery eyes. Blessed Dominic is said to have converted nine women possessed by the devil in 1235. This devil looked like this: “The eyes of this cat looked like those of an ox, yes, they were like a flame; the animal stuck out its tongue, which was half a foot long and resembled a flame; it had a tail almost half the length of an arm and the size of a dog; on the orders of the saint, it slipped through the hole that had been left for the bell rope. “Even today, many believe that black cats have special properties. Biologically this is nonsense.

The English witches allegedly did not keep black, but white-spotted cats. They practiced spell damage through these cats. In 1565, Agnes Waterhouse and her daughter were on trial for witchcraft with Elizabeth Francis. This allegedly demonstrated - a cat. Elizabeth's grandmother would have given her blood to the devil; and she would have given it to him in the form of a white-spotted cat. This animal would have murdered her child and her lover. The grandmother gave the killer Agnes Waterhouse. In turn, the cat would have rushed her husband and killed him - and a neighbor as well. Agnes Waterhouse was executed as a witch.

Cats feel when rain comes and stroke their ears with their paws. Therefore the English believed that they triggered storms and thunderstorms. Agnes Sampson was therefore on trial in court: “The witch took the cat to church, she baptized it and then tied several bones of a killed person to her. She had stolen the bones in the cemetery. The witch then swung onto her broom, took the cat in her arms, and whizzed far out into the sea. There she released the cat, which, in order not to fall into the water, released an appalling storm wind. The storm threatened the city of Leith. "

The Unicorn

The most magical animal of the Middle Ages did not really exist, more precisely - not really. The Greek doctor Ktesias wrote 400 BC. BC from a donkey in the country of India. This animal should have a horn on its purple head. The horn of this unicorn made all poisons harmless, so the Europeans believed in the Middle Ages. Alexander the Great should have ridden on such a unicorn.

There was an animal, everyone was convinced in the Middle Ages: no one saw it, but kings guarded the sinuous horns like gold treasures. After all, they cured epilepsy, fever, and pretty much everything else; a horn held in poison made it boil. The Norwegian crown knew the animal. The unicorns did not roam in distant India, but in the sea off Greenland - more precisely: the narwhals. These whales have a tusk; and the Vikings did business with it. Their colonists in Greenland provided them with tusks from the narwhal, and the supposed miracle horns could be weighed many times over with gold. Ole Worm, a naturalist from Denmark, uncovered the hoax in 1638.

The unicorn should be as strong as an elephant; only a virgin could tame it. A penis symbol on the forehead blossomed the chastity fantasy. But what about the Indian unicorn that supposedly fought the elephant there, a wild beast. Marco Polo already reported about this unicorn and his horn was found in Chinese pharmacies? This unicorn really does exist; and because of its supposedly healing horn, it is on the verge of extinction. It has little to do with the beautiful horse. Rather, the Indian rhinoceros is a colossus. The unicorn may also have its origin in depictions of the ancient Orient, which show antelopes in a side view.

The Hebrew original was also incorrectly translated in the Latin Bible. Unicornis, also seen from the side, is the auroch. Did the ancient cultures breed "unicorns" for religious reasons? If you put the horn trunks together of a calf whose skull has not yet grown together, it will grow one horn - not two. Cattle were the focus of religion in Mesopotamia and Persia; and the magical thinking of Europe has its roots here.

Strigen and goat milker

The owl is a witch - a striga, at least its Latin name is Strix. A striga called the witch-hunters of the early modern age a witch; and they referred to ancient Rome. There were the Strigen demons, who flew into the houses in the shape of birds and sucked out the blood of children at night, but also appeared as women - a stereotype of the later magic damage.

Owls were always magical, and ambivalent - birds of wisdom and knowledge, sensuality and healing. An eagle owl led through the night with the Teutons of Odin. But the owl also brought the epidemics; she announced death; and she worked as a scout for the witches. Ovid already believed that owls kill children; and the Banshee, the Irish banshee, screams in the voice of the barn owl.

The "Kuwitt" of the little owl was understood by the people of early modern times as "come with". So he called the dying to lead their souls to the devil. Sexually self-conscious women grew an “owl dress”. But this was not only understood negatively: the Palatinate owl feathers sewed into the wedding dress to promote fertility.

Owls' natural abilities promoted superstition: owls fly at night - and they fly silently. Their eyes intensify the smallest amounts of light so that they see perfectly on moonlit nights. The big eyes are facing forward - just like humans. They cannot move owls; instead, they turn their heads up to 270 degrees. Barn owls also live in places where ghosts and witches also go around: in cemeteries and ruins. To this day, farmers have nailed them to barn doors.

The goat milker also found its way into the belief in witches. The insectivore, also called the night swallow, is nocturnal like the owls. It flies very quickly and you can only see a shadow whizzing past. As an eerie animal, it was just as suitable as an owl and bat. He still bears his witch's name to this day, because people believed that he sucked the milk from the udders of the goats, sheep and cattle at night, more precisely: the witch turned into such a bird to steal the milk in this way.

The black hen

Chickens were widespread in magic - probably because they were everywhere. If a black hen laid an egg without yolk, it could be used to witch. Because such an egg was created by sex with a snake. The housewife threw the egg over the roof so that witches and devils could not damage the house.

The Raven

Ravens and crows are among the smartest birds. You plan and remember experiences; they put on mock hiding places to deceive their black relatives; they put nuts on traffic lights so the cars can crack them. To make matters worse, they are also black. No wonder that they were considered magic birds.

In ancient times, they were viewed as futurists. The Raven "wheezed", the future looked raven black for the Romans. The raven also feeds on carrion. That brought him close to the necromancer. In Germany, a raven on the roof of a dying man announced that his soul was damned. The Germanic Skalds were considered death birds, but the god of death was also Odin; the ravens were dark, but not evil. Hugin - think, and Munin - remember, know distinguished the ravens, and the Vikings carried tame ravens with them on their ships.

Ravens were considered evidence of witchcraft. In 1656 Anna Thony was on trial as a witch. A raven, who would have sat on her shoulder, proved her guilt. The poor woman was tortured and beheaded.

Plague, hunger and war: the early modern period was a time of despair. The people and rulers longed to find the “cause” of evil. The "clever" raven was an obvious choice. Raven swarms accompanied the grim reaper, they flew ahead of the plague; they nest on the Galgenberg, where the witches also meet, and a "Rabenaas" was a rotting corpse.

The devilish snake

Dragons are hybrid beings that combine the skills and body parts of reptiles, birds and mammals. Most of them are predators. Chinese dragons, for example, have elements of the snake, carp, beef, deer antlers and tiger paws. European dragons combine snake bodies with bat wings. In both Europe and Asia, the body is covered with scales like a reptile. The heads are reminiscent of crocodiles, snakes, wolves or big cats. Some dragons have wings, the Chinese dragons fly without such aids, some have six legs, others four, others only two. Dragons spew fire or trigger tidal waves. European dragons often have a forked tongue and poisonous breath.

The animal that shapes the dragon the most is the snake. Many dragons can hardly be distinguished from serpents distorted into monstrousness. In Europe, this is even evident in the root word. The dragons of ancient Greece are mostly a kind of snakes, according to Python in Delphi. The strangler Python is named after him, not the other way around. The many heads and necks of the Hydra are also snakes. These dragons often guard treasures, in caves and underground.

In Christianity, the snake is the lowest animal, doomed to crawl on its belly. The snake is a symbol of the devil; Even if the dragon is given various attributes of the “ugly” in Christian representations, such as bat wings and frog eyes, these remain variants of the snake theme. An important Christian myth, that of Saint George who defeats the dragon, shows the struggle between good and evil, God and the Devil.

There are no large strangle snakes in Europe and the model can be seen in the venomous snakes, the adder, the aspis viper, the mountain otter and allied species. Venomous snakes are common in the hot Mediterranean, where the term dragon comes from. Their way of life allows conclusions to be drawn about the dragon myth: dragons live in caves and guard hidden treasures; Snakes also hide in caves, crevices, under roots etc. There are too many in the stiffness of winter; Adjusters form so-called snake knots.

The molting of the snake linked her to the cycles of life in nature; this could be an indication of why dragons are at the beginning of the order of the world.

The European snakes are not "dragons" in size, but some are "venomous", their venomous bite. If you enlarged them a lot, you created a kite. In Asia, also in China, however, dragon-sized snakes, which take their name from a dragon, live the net and the tiger python. The net python wrestles with the anaconda of South America for the place of the largest living snake. The tiger python is only a little smaller. Adult animals of both species can easily strangle and devour deer, young water buffalo or goats. Even a person would be no problem for their digestive tract in terms of size. Python was probably the model for Asian stories in which dragons pounce on elephants. To develop a kite out of the python, however, requires little exaggeration. At least the descriptions of the dragons of India that strangle animals and humans in the European Middle Ages clearly go back to pythons.

The bat

Bats accompany the witch in superstition and horror film. Alfred Edmund Brehm wrote in “Tierleben”: “The gloomy flock of bats creeps out of all crevices, holes and caves as if they shouldn't show themselves in the light of the sun […]. The more dawn falls, the greater the number of these dark fellows until everyone wakes up in the coming night. "And he grumbled:" With the flight skin of the bat, he eats [the priest] the devil, the greatest freak of morbid madness . "

Fear of the darkness, to which human eyes are not adapted, remains - even with knowledge about bats. Caves that avoid people are a refuge for the bat. For people, they are also cemeteries; Bats are comfortable where people bury their dead. Bats wake up as soon as people dream, in places that also reflect the unconscious.

We learn from Brehm why the bat was a fabulous monster: "The bats' stay in the dark, the mouse-like [...], the flying hands, and the [...] facial expression [convey] something uncanny, [...]. While the good spirits appear with the wings of the dove, [...] demons were designed with the wings of the bat. Lindworm and dragons […] had borrowed their wings from the bat, just as the devil image of the devil with bat wings or the army of evil spirits […] still appear in the form of bats. […] When considering their great benefits […] the bats […] appear as a friendly, invigorating appearance of the quiet landscape. ”Brehm described the appearance of the bats in 1864:“ In terms of their overall formation, they […] match monkeys. "[...]. Her hands are transformed into flight tools, [...] Of all the features [...] the development of the skin is the strangest, because it [...] determines the facial expression and thus becomes the cause that many bat faces have an [...] outrageous appearance. "

According to Brehm, the bat resembled the monkey. Her hands (sic!) Would be flying tools, her skin would look like a monster. We learn about monkeys from Brehm: “Our aversion to the monkeys is based on […] their talent. They resemble humans too much and too little. "

A bat flies as a distorted image of humans in the dark. It is a grotesque image. Bats have their heads up. An animal that resembles a monkey that can see and fly at night caused shivers; an animal similar to humans - but with inhuman abilities.

Magic plants

The cauldron in which Maleficia brews her potions is as much a part of the belief in witches as the ice of the Arctic. Medieval people knew the effects of medicinal and poisonous plants and interpreted them magically. The dose makes the poison, also in the scientific sense - and the boundary between white and black magic, between healing and harming, was permeable.

Magic plants helped against witchcraft. Verbena repelled curses, elder helped against the demons. Evil spirits drove people away with juniper. Garlic, wild garlic, valerian, fennel and dill were weapons against the devils that brought disease. Sage kept them at a distance from the dying. The Gauchheil was considered a remedy for Lyssa and was supposed to drive out the devil. The belladonna (belladonna) was also known as a medicinal herb against rabies. Its roots were excavated on St. John's Day.

Hallucinogenic plants were found both in the allegation that the witches used a flight ointment and in ointments with which werewolves should rub themselves in to transform them. He should become a wolf who put on a wolf skin or rubbed his skin with an ointment made from wolf fat, poppy seeds, Christmas rose or thorn apple.

Psychogenic plants are still widespread in shamanic rituals: the Liane Ayahuasca, the Peyotl cactus with the alkaloid mescaline, thorn apple, tobacco smoke, juniper, sage, rosemary or bogberry are considered teacher plants and the place where spirits live. But they do not have the meaning in shamanic ritual that hippies or Goa techno disciples suspect. Many shamans reject these means of influencing consciousness and get into their condition solely through concentration.

Spiritual practitioners, but also sick people can get into a kind of "apparent death". The shaman's trance, and the obsession of the voodoo fan, is based on such conditions, reinforced by opium, belladonna, henbane or toadstool. Henbane can lead to rigidity in which the unconscious is alive. Shamans consider their spiritual journey into the world of ancestral spirits to be a passing death. Her body lies motionless while her other self travels the invisible dimension. It is very likely that a basic motif of the Snow White fairy tale is based on such rituals: let's replace the apple that Snow White bites and that she gets from a witch, for example by toadstool and we limit sleep to one day we the little death of the shaman.

The mandrake

We know the mandrake, Mandragora, from Harry Potter as a screaming homunculus. The mandrake root has a human-like shape with a little imagination: two legs and two arms. It was not the sale of the mandrake root, which due to its reminiscent of a human form also gave Hildegard von Bingen magical power, was not the fraud. The trick was to carve roots other than mandrake; "Alraundelberin" means witch or magic woman. The Russians believed that a child would jump out of the roots.

The scholars knew about the effect of the plant. Albertus Magnus wrote about her numbing quality. Hildegard von Bingen saw the inner state of the believer as decisive for the effect: "Which is why man, according to his wishes, is aroused by the Mandragora, as he once did with the idols." Naturalist Conrad Gessner described the nightshade Plant as "herb what the land drivers are talking about". In Italy she was considered the "mistress of all witchcraft".


The poisonous monkshood was the means to kill wolves and dogs. Witches should use them to spell evil and use it to kill their victims. In Poland it was called hell herb, in Germany dead flower or devil herb.

The thorn apple

“Magical” plants were sometimes really poisonous plants, especially the nightshades. The common thorn apple not only triggers hallucinations, it can threaten life. Even today, the popular names refer to his meaning as a magic plant: bedstraw, witchweed and devil's apple.


Henbane should also mix witches into their potions. Toothache herb has an anesthetic effect in small doses. Today it is rare, but was widespread in Europe in the early modern period. It also served to stretch the wine and beer. Freaks claim that the German Beer Purity Law was enacted to get the "bilsen" out of beer. However, there is no evidence of this. Henbane causes waking dreams. Fantasies about witchcraft and intercourse with the devil may have been intensified by this drug.

Witch mushrooms

A mushroom ring is still called a witch circle or witch ring. The toadstool with a red hat and white spots looks impressive - and it creates hallucinations. No wonder that he was considered a witch's mushroom. To date, our pictures of the toadstool are contradictory. Children in the country learn that the toadstool contains deadly poison: White tuber agarics, for example, are much more dangerous.

New Age gurus claim that the church demonized the toadstool because shamans used it to travel to the invisible world. This cannot be proven; However, it can be demonstrated that the toadstool played and still plays an important role in shamanic rituals in Eurasia: Siberian shamans drank the urine of reindeer that had eaten the mushrooms. The toadstool contains muscimol, this active ingredient changes consciousness and creates hallucinations.

Ergot, Claviceps purpurea, is a tube fungus that parasites rye, other grains and grass. Symptoms, ergotism, cramps and paralysis follow eating cereals that the fungus contaminates. Hallucinations are side effects, similar to the horror images of witchcraft. Mass epidemics of the Middle Ages can be explained with ergot. Bread, baked from poisoned flour, claviceps in straw and hay, the bed and the cattle shed - the toadstool was part of everyday life. Like heroin, the fungus works by inhaling. Mowing and threshing distributed the parasite, the villagers inhaled claviceps. Agricultural historians assume that a third of the grain was infested with ergot.

Psychologist Linda Carporael suspects ergot behind the witch hysteria and investigated the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. At that time, eight girls said that they were animals and monsters. They accused locals of bewitching them. Nineteen of the denounced suffered the death penalty. Then the symptoms stopped. Carporael declared the climate at the time of the witch trial to be ideal for the spread of the fungus. Rye, his main host, was the main crop in New England. The girls went crazy in winter after the farmers threshed the grain.

Common names for different mushrooms still indicate today that they were thought to be with witches: witch butter, witch tube and satan mushroom.

The witch researcher Christa Tuczay from Vienna carried out intensive research on drugs in magical ideas of the early modern period: She considers it clear that drug intoxication was incorporated into the ideas of witchcraft. However: "What exactly people ingested cannot be derived from the sources."

Especially positivistic doctors suspect ergot poisoning as the trigger of the witch craze. The “little ice age” of early modern times would have given him excellent conditions. Ergotism does not explain the belief in witches, but it could have been a fire accelerator for mass psychoses associated with the witch craze. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Initial release: Witch animals and magic plants in Karfunkel Codex No. 12/2014

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