Chapter Twenty: Azazello's Cream
Here is the note that Margarita leaves for her husband in this chapter: “Forgive me and forget me as quickly as you can. I am leaving you forever. Don’t look for me, it will be useless. Misery and unhappiness have turned me into a witch. It is time for me to go. Farewell, Margarita.”
The poignancy of this sad letter of separation can once again be read as Bulgakov’s way of drawing attention to the intolerable misery of Soviet life. Even with all the material comforts that Moscow could offer, the absence of love in Margarita’s marriage, on top of the oppressive culture of communism, has twisted her into a dangerous mentality.
Her illicit affair with the Master led to her mind partly snapping when he vanished without trace. Such severe trauma, for both the imprisoned and their loved ones, happened to millions of innocent people under Stalin. At least for Margarita, the devil has told her that her beloved is alive, which is more than millions of relatives of those sent to the Gulag ever heard.
Azazello, Satan’s sidekick named after the evil Biblical angel Azaziel, has given Margarita a solid gold box of ointment. Once she rubs it in all over her body she turns invisible and is able to fly with a broom. This is a version of the folk story of the bewitching ointment. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_ointment
says “Flying ointment, also known as witches' flying ointment, green ointment, magic salve and lycanthropic ointment, is a hallucinogenic ointment said to have been used by witches in the practice of European witchcraft from at least as early as the Early Modern period, when detailed recipes for such preparations were first recorded.” The wiki mentions Margarita, in a list of eight examples of flying ointment from literature.
Bulgakov appears to be using witchcraft as a symbol of traditional Russian culture, as a way that ordinary people can find some freedom from the surveillance state, some continuity with the transgressive indigenous elements of civil society, and a way to subvert the near-complete banning of religion by the totalitarian Bolshevik regime. The Witches' Ointment: The Secret History of Psychedelic Magic
details how early modern theologians demonized psychedelic folk magic. There is a continuity between the Witch Crazes and Stalin’s purges, between the extreme intolerance of the Christendom Church and the Communist Party.