The introduction to this special issue on witches’ imagined flight briefly traces the historiography of flight from classical antiquity into the early modern period. Witch-flight derives from a confluence of several traditions: literary depictions of metamorphosis, folkloric nightmares of child-stealing lamiae, and medieval beliefs about women who travel with Diana or similar pagan goddesses. The canon Episcopi condemned this last belief in the 10th century, but in the 15th century demonologists came to combine it with new stereotypes of a communal, diabolical witch-cult. In the early modern period, the flying witch became a “prerogative instance,” a borderline case through which to argue about the nature of reality in ways often entirely independent of the trials or confessions of accused witches.


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