Why Do Witches Ride Brooms? Origins, and Myths.
The first known appearance of witches using broomsticks in literature dates back to 1451. This depiction appears in two illustrations within the French poet Martin Le Franc's manuscript "Le Champion des Dames" (The Defender of Ladies).
These illustrations show witches flying on broomsticks, with one even holding a spindle, further solidifying the association between witches and flying. While earlier mentions of witches and their supposed abilities exist, the specific use of broomsticks as their mode of transport doesn't appear until this point in history.
The association of witches and broomsticks is a fascinating one, with multiple theories about its origins. Here are some of the most prominent ones:
1. Pagan Rituals:
Some scholars believe that the connection stems from pagan fertility rituals. In these rituals, participants would jump and dance astride objects like brooms, poles, or pitchforks, often under the full moon, to promote crop growth. This "broomstick dance" may have been misinterpreted as witches flying to sabbats or gatherings.
2. Symbolic Meanings:
Brooms were seen as highly symbolic, representing both masculine and feminine energies. The handle was associated with the male, while the bristles symbolized the female. This symbolism could be seen as a representation of balance and fertility. Additionally, brooms were considered essential household tools, reinforcing the image of witches as domestic figures.
3. "Flying Ointment":
This theory suggests that the connection may have a more "practical" origin. Some historians believe that certain women used ointments containing psychoactive substances, like belladonna, to induce hallucinations of flying. They might have applied these ointments to their broomsticks, leading to the association of witches and flying on brooms.
4. Anxiety and Witchcraft Hunts:
As anxieties surrounding witchcraft grew, particularly during the 17th century, the image of witches flying on brooms became more prevalent. This image likely served to demonize and dehumanize women accused of witchcraft. The idea that witches could leave their homes unseen through chimneys added to the fear and suspicion surrounding them.
5. Artistic Representations:
The image of witches on brooms was further solidified through artistic representations in woodcuts, paintings, and later, film and television. These portrayals helped to embed the association in popular culture.
It's important to note that these theories are not mutually exclusive, and the association between witches and brooms likely has multiple contributing factors. The exact origins may remain elusive, but the image continues to hold cultural significance and influence our understanding of witches today.
6. Sexual Purposes
While there are many myths and legends surrounding witches, including their use of broomsticks, the specific claim about witches using brooms for masturbation combined with drugs is not widely supported by historical evidence or folklore. Additionally, fictional portrayals of witches have often explored themes of sexuality and power, which may contribute to the existence of such legends.
It's crucial to approach these stories with a critical lens and recognize that they often reflect cultural anxieties and stereotypes rather than historical reality. Focusing on the positive aspects of witch folklore, such as their connection to nature and healing practices, can be a more enriching and respectful approach.
Figures from history who were accused of witchcraft and may have been associated with brooms in some way:
Guillaume Edelin: A priest who, in 1453, confessed to riding a broomstick after being accused of sorcery. This is considered the first recorded instance of someone linking broomsticks to witchcraft.
Joan of Arc: While not directly linked to brooms, Joan of Arc's trial records mention accusations of her casting spells and flying through the air, possibly contributing to the association of women with magical abilities and flight.
Margaret Murray: An anthropologist who, in the early 20th century, proposed the "witch-cult" hypothesis, suggesting the existence of a pre-Christian European witch-cult. Although widely discredited now, this theory contributed to the popular image of witches as participants in nocturnal gatherings, potentially involving broomstick flight.
In modern witchcraft, brooms are considered a multifaceted tool with various uses and interpretations:
Cleansing and Purification: The broom's traditional function of sweeping is seen as a symbolic act of cleansing negative energy and impurities from a ritual space or personal energy field.
Protection and Banishing: Some view the broom as a tool for banishing unwanted energies, entities, or negativity from their space. The sweeping motion is seen as pushing away negativity, and the broom itself can be placed at doorways or windows as a symbolic barrier.
Elemental Representation: The broom is often associated with the element of Air, representing movement, communication, and intellect. It can be used to invoke or direct air energy in rituals.
Feminine Energy: Historically, brooms were associated with women's domestic work. In modern witchcraft, some practitioners view the broom as a symbol of feminine power, intuition, and wisdom.
Ritual Tool: In some traditions, brooms are used as a ritual tool for various purposes, such as stirring ingredients, casting circles, or marking boundaries.
Symbolic Representation: The broom can represent transformation, new beginnings, and sweeping away the past. It can also symbolize fertility and abundance, due to its association with sweeping away obstacles and making room for growth.
Decoration and Personal Expression: Many witches choose to decorate their brooms with ribbons, crystals, feathers, or other meaningful items. This personalizes the broom and reflects the practitioner's individual beliefs and practices.
Everyday Use: Ultimately, the broom remains a practical tool used for its intended purpose of cleaning. Many modern witches choose to integrate their brooms into their everyday lives, blurring the lines between the mundane and the magical.