Brooms - Tools of Witchcraft

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Tools of Witchcraft

Brooms represent the perfect union of male and female energies: the stick represents the male force plunged into and attached to the female straw. Himalayan shrines display sacred images of the phallus and vulva crafted from stone, usually designed so that the phallus fits snugly into the vulva without falling off or rolling out. They may be separated or unified by attaching and detaching. Some, the most sacred, are natural rock formations but others were created by talented artisans.

The broom may be understood as a similar symbol but one that may be spontaneously crafted by anyone. All you have to do is attach straw to a branch or stick. The primitive broom is an incredibly simple device, child’s play; no artisan is required to craft that kind of broom although modern artisans, woodcarvers, do create beautiful ritual brooms for witches that qualify as works of art.

According to Rhiannon Ryall, author of West Country Wicca (Phoenix Publishing, 1989), her journal of pre-Gardnerian Wicca, “broom” was old English country slang for women’s genitals. “Riding the broom” thus was slang for intercourse, and “Riding the witch’s broom” a reference to ritual copulation.

Although brooms are now associated with housecleaning, they may originally have been invented for magical and spiritual rites. The act of sweeping was a ritual act: the chore remained after the spiritual aspects were suppressed or forgotten. Depending on direction, sweeping over a threshold manipulates energy in or out, inviting or repelling.

In ancient Greece and Anatolia, brooms were the professional emblem of midwifery, similar to modern pawnbrokers’ balls. Midwives once did more than just deliver the baby; they were expected to magically supervise the birthing chamber, keeping it free from malevolent spirits and negative spiritual debris. The midwife was expected to provide protection to mother and child: magical protection rituals often incorporated sweeping, especially sweeping over the vulnerable thresholds.

The broom was among the sacred attributes of Hecate, Matron of Midwives and Witches. In recent years, the broom has evolved into an emblem of witchcraft. They are displayed as a badge of pride as well as a device to memorialize the Burning Times. As a bumper sticker proclaims, “My other car is a broomstick!”

Brooms were also used in agricultural fertility rites: women danced on brooms, men on pitchforks.

Brooms are men’s tools, too, although generally without the long broomstick. Herne, Faunus, and other horned gods carry short brooms, usually switches or whisks made from branches, especially birch branches. Whether this broom was intended to represent male or female genitalia is subject to debate. In Europe, Santa Claus’ dark helpers, like Krampus, usually carry this type of switch or broom. (Older images of Santa Claus sometimes depict him wielding a whip.)

This birch whisk remains a popular tool in the sauna and Russian bathhouse and may also derive from shamanic roots.

Of course, the most famous thing witches do with brooms is ride them. Another theory regarding the origin of brooms is that they are a shamanic tool for soul-journeying. The witch’s broom may have originated as a shamanic spirit horse. A hobbyhorse is essentially a broomstick with a horse’s head instead of a broom head.

In many witchcraft traditions, a broom alone is insufficient for flight: incantations and especially flying ointments may also be necessary components. The connection of the broom with soul-journeying may not be merely metaphoric. It is widely believed that the broomstick was a traditional tool used for topical applications of witches’ flying ointments. (See page 693, Flying Ointments.)

In Mexico and Central America, brooms and the act of sweeping are symbolic of ritual purification. Central Mexican codices display grass brooms placed beside crossroads, the traditional place for depositing spiritually dangerous or potentially contaminating items.

The broom is the emblem of the Aztec midwife-witch goddess Tlazolteotl as surely as it is that of her Eurasian counterpart, Hecate.

Purification and protection are closely linked: brooms are also used for protective magic. The footprints one leaves behind are believed particularly vulnerable to malevolent magic; someone who wishes you harm can do so via your footprints. An old spell suggests dragging a broom behind you to sweep away your traces; this way, no enemies can work on your footprints. (And indeed, the broom will sweep away footprints and without prints, no malevolent foot-track magic can be worked either.)

Baba Yaga performs similar actions: she flies in a mortar and steers with her pestle, but she uses a broom to sweep away her traces. (Russia had a strong tradition of foot-track magic.)

In Spanish witchcraft, brooms are used in love spells, sometimes dressed up as women. (There are legends of witches who could make these brooms dance!) A similar living witch’s broom entertains an elderly woman in Chris van Allsburg’s illustrated children’s book The Widow’s Broom (Houghton Mifflin, 1992).

Jumping the broomstick once indicated a marriage unsanctioned by the Church. It was a British folk custom and used by Romany. Slaves in the former British colonies were married by jumping the broomstick. The tradition has regained popularity among African-Americans as well as in Wiccan and Neo-Pagan handfastings.

It is considered unlucky to step over a broom. (The antidote is to step back over it backwards, as if rewinding a video.) Other traditions suggest that a broom leaned against or across a door keeps enemies away. They will be unable to cross your threshold and enter. A broom placed across a doorway at night allegedly keeps witches, ghosts, and spirits away.

See also BOTANICALS: Birch; CALENDAR: Easter; DIVINE WITCH: Hecate, Tlazolteotl; HORNED ONE: Herne, Krampus, Santa Claus; PLACES: Bathhouse.