The Broom

Wiccan Rede * Spring 1982 by Merlin Sythove

After dealing with the Athame and the Pentacle in the Summer and Autumn issues of 1981 we will continue this series with the Broom. The Broom is probably the best known tool of all the witches’ weapons. Witches are forever depicted riding brooms, flying on brooms and even today reporters like to take pictures of witches with their brooms for their newspapers. The Broom has a very real evocative power in this sense, calling forth eerie feelings and a sense of magic.

Why would this simple sweeping instrument have these qualities? Why should it be so deeply rooted in our subconscious, in our archetypal world, why does it have these powers?

In this article we will have a look at the various attributions of the Broom and we hope to tear away some of the veils that give it this mysterious aura.

The Broom is obviously an instrument of cleaning, intended to sweep floors. The cleaning purpose gives us already a few clues. The Broom is an instrument of purification, of ritual cleanliness and one of the customs which survives even today is the Spring cleaning. When Spring arrives the house is virtually turned inside out, every little nook and cranny swept, dusted and mopped, in order to rid it of Winters cobwebs. Quite often a similar thing befalls ourselves and we are turned inside out by the flu or a heavy cold. The function of this spring flu is virtually he same: to clean our bodies from all the wastes which have accumulated during the long Winter.

The Broom is still quite often used in ritual cleaning of the Circle, sometimes only before the rituals commence, sometimes as an integral part of some ritual proceeding, as in the self-dedication ritual which was published in the winter issue of 1981.

We have already mentioned it in the previous two articles: the word ‘weapon’ is not to be taken literally when we are dealing with the Craft tools. The Broom, apart from being useful for actually sweeping the Circle, is symbolic of ones own cleanliness, ones own pureness and adds a third aspect to our character when we are working in the Circle. The Athame indicated our thought control, our ability to work with astral images. The Pentacle represented our stating point, our contact with the earth and in a certain sense the Circle as well. The Broom is symbolic of our pure inner Self, the part which is always stark naked in the eyes of the Gods, the part which we cannot hope to hide by fancy clothes and expensive jewellery.

The Broom is one of the best examples of the two-in-one concept which we have already encountered in ‘Beyond the Broomstick’. The Broom consists of the actual brush (female) and the broom’stick’ (male). The pole is the part where the force is applied and the brush then transforms this force into the cleaning action, giving it a particular form-of-manifestation. The Broom is a symbol of unity, the male-and-female-in-one. It is symbolic of the a-sexual part in ourselves, rather than our male or female body, or one of the elemental worlds.

In spite of this two-in-one concept there appear to be quite a few connections between the Broom and the Wand, which if anything is more an elemental weapon, attributed to fire and being of a more male character. The connection with fire and the cleaning and purifying functions fire stand for make this link quite plausible though.

There are still some fragments remaining in mythology, linguistics and folklore which have a connection with the Broom and fire. Harold Bayley, in ‘The Lost Language Of Symbolism’, points out this connection. “Brahma” means whirling, leaping flame and names like Brahms, Bram, but also Brighit and Bridget are connected with Brahma. Bridget is the Irish Goddess of Fire.

Also linked with these names is the broom, or gorse, this prickly bush with its lovely yellow flowers, like drops of light. ‘Gorse’ might be derived from ‘ag or se’, the ‘great golden fire light’. Apparently there is also a connection with the bramble, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Frazer mentions a custom from Bohemia in his ‘Golden Bough’, where people throw blazing brooms (besoms, that is) into the air to show the corn how high it is supposed to grow. Another custom which occasionally is part of a wedding ceremony is the jumping over the fire, or over a broom, in order to ensure happiness and a long life. Again we see that the broom and fire are interchangeable and have a purifying function.

The Wand, the tool which is connected with fire, is an instrument of will-power, which directs the energy towards a particular goal. Legend has it that in the old days the wand was the actual stick of the Broom, its sculptured head hidden in the brush, so that the whole could be passed off as a simple household instrument, without inviting disaster to the owner. Witches supposedly ‘rode’ on brooms or broomsticks, jumping as high as they could in order to show how high the crop was supposed to grow. This explanation is always quoted to explain why witches are always depicted flying on their brooms.

Although it is quite likely that the broom was used in fertility rituals (its sexual symbolism is after all more than obvious!) we should be wary of ‘explanations’ which satisfy the rational mind when we are trying to uncover the roots of symbols which have sunk so deep into the unconscious, as the broom has done.

More often than not we will find that beneath the ‘silly’ tale there lie deep truths, provided we are prepared to look really hard and to approach the whole riddle with an open mind. And just as in dealing with fairy-tales and myths, with archetypes we should be prepared to look for explanations which are not logical, because the subconscious itself is not logical, but shows us its knowledge in dreamlike picture form (and we all know how logical dreams are!).

In the course of preparing this article we came across a few clues, which when viewed as pieces of a puzzle, each one contributing one aspect of the answer, will yield a completely different picture of the Broom.

The first clue in the riddle is the fact that witches are always shown whilst flying on their brooms, whilst pictures of witches sweeping the floor are rather rare. This leads us to other clues which are connected with flying, such as the famous ‘flying ointments’ and the flying sensation which is reported by modern day experimenters with these old (and dangerous) recipes.

Also we sometimes dream of flying, or of falling for a long time through a tunnel. These dreams are in some way connected with the ‘witch-on-broom’ archetype.

A second clue is the link between the wand and the broom and fire. The Wands in the Tarot stand for growth and agriculture, for new beginnings, for the unfolding and sprouting of something and as such they have a connection with the etheric world, the world of the forces of life, the ‘force’ behind the ‘form’ of Nature. There are many connections between fire and the sun and both are necessary to life in general. Even today we celebrate the important turning points in the seasonal cycle with bonfires or candles.

Our last clue comes from an article by Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki in Round Merlins Table, autumn 1981:

“For some rare souls a special boon is granted, the ability to pass back and forth across the barriers, the Proud Walkers, the wearers of many colours, those to whom the levels are no barriers”…”In Persia a small bundle of sticks carried in the right hand showed these Magi (something that has come down to us as the besom of the Craft).”
When we view these clues as shreds of a tapestry of which history has not left us much, we see a very different picture from the witch jumping around on a broomstick! Here we see the broom as an astral symbol, signifying that the bearer is a ‘traveller’, somebody who can travel at will between the various planes and with this ability able to help people in ways which are incomprehensible to the ordinary mind. If we realise that some form of clairvoyance and especially the ability to perceive the etheric world was still quite common in the first millennium C.E. we quickly see how it is possible that a perverted form of the witch flying on her broom has found its way into pictorial form.

Not so very long before these pictures originated ‘witches’, or rather initiates, were seen, travelling across the etheric world in their subtle body and quite possibly accompanied by their symbol, the broom.

If one has read something about the etheric world, or had some experience with it, then you will see as well where the ‘familiar’ fits in; the witch changing into a cat or an owl, to take but two of the more famous animals which are sacred to the Goddess.

With the dimming of the clairvoyant powers of man stories of witches flying on brooms became more and more to be taken literally, even to the extent of theorising that witches must be as light as thistledown in order to accomplish such a feat! In Holland we still have the Witches Weighing Scales in Oudewater where these poor people were weighed in order to establish if their weight was ‘in accordance to the natural proportions of the body’, to which extent they received an official parchment which was worth its weight in gold, because it stated officially that you were not a witch. Today you can still have yourself weighed and you still get your official document, signed by the city council! (Undersigned has one.)

The above sheds quite a different light on the Broom as the most evocative of all the witches’ tools and we can see now why it received this important place in popular folklore and our archetypal world. As a tool it has actually few uses in today’s Craft rituals, something which we might try to change. Aside from the broom’s connotations of cleanliness and purification it is a symbol of our purified soul, our Higher Self if you will, and this part of us can still leave the gross physical body and travel through the various planes of existence, although few of us can do this at will and with full consciousness.

The Broom is a symbol to be proud of.