Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

The Church would naturally object to the existence of a rival religion, as it objected to Jewry and Mohammedanism, but we can imagine that the especial fury with which it attacked this religion was due to the fact that where the Christian Church despised and hated the sexual act, the worshippers of the Horned God elevated it to a sacrament.

It is clear, then, that the witchcraft trials covered at least four entirely different phenomena: (i) the worship of the Horned God; (ii) sexually based hysterias and delusions; (iii) other inexplicable illnesses, such as epilepsy; (iv) actual maleficium, or the performing of magic routines. The common feature in all these was supposedly the use of witchcraft. Actually however, it does not seem to be the case that the worshipper of Cernunnos were normally practitioners of witchcraft Since the Church christened them witches, a number of actual sorceresses may have drifted into their ranks, and there is some evidence of a gradual perversion of the original rite; but there are certainly many cases where maleficium was never in question, Joan of Arc being a well known instance.

However, few were aware of these distinctions, and the two ideas became inextricably confused. We find cases where people are accused of, and even confess to, being present at sabbat when eyewitnesses state that they were in their bed the whole time. Evidently we have to do here not with actual pagan worship, but with an illusion. The witches applied an ointment which was supposed to make it possible to fly through the air; the formula is known and it has been made-up and analysed. (181) It contains atropine and belladonna, which induce beatific visions. Now flying through the air is a stock symbol, in the psychoanalytic interpretation of dreams, for sexual intercourse, and that it had the same connotation here we need scarcely doubt. According to Delassus,

“Martin d’Arles raconte, dans son livre des superstitions, qu’une dame très pieuse se voyait souvent, en songe, chevauchant à travers la campagne avec un homme, qui abusait d’elle, ce qui lui causait une très grande volupté.”

Jahns sees the inference, and comments:

“It thus happened that respectable matrons admitted to their father confessors that ‘they felt as though they had involuntarily ridden by night over field and meadow, and that when their steed leaped over any water it was like someone having intercourse with them in a most voluptuous way’.” He adds, “We have before us, therefore, a direct admission of the connection between the witch-ride and union with Satan.”