Cauldrons and Flight

The witch mania of the Late Middle Ages spread through communities in two dimensions—it was experienced through real accusations, trials, and executions, and it was consumed visually, through illustrated books, pamphlets, and broadsheets. Printed imagery gripped the public imagination and helped shape popular perceptions of witch attributes, likely reinforcing testimonies that helped condemn the accused. Two of the earliest and most persistent visual markers of witches were the cauldron used to brew up toxic potions and the ability to fly. These two representations served as critical links between the physical harm done by village witches and the physical deviance of demonic witches. Images of women gathered around a cauldron became ubiquitous shorthand for witchcraft, associated with death, infanticide, and storm raising. A witch riding through the air became an established symbol for witchcraft in the 16th century. Witches flew with the aid of forked cooking sticks, brooms, or animals—often goats that represented the devil.

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