The broom is the one of those quintessential witchy items that stir the imagination. The earliest cleaning implement known to man, the besom is traditionally made from a staff of hazel with bristles of birch twigs. Every home no matter how rich or poor would have had their own which would have been made, and repaired, by the womenfolk of the house.
The idea of the broom being used to cleanse a space of negative is an ancient one, biblical even. Isaiah 14:23 states “I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the LORD of hosts” and the image of the housewife beating unwanted guests from their front door is an old one in itself. Traditionally you would find a broom standing by the door, bristles pointing down, in order to protect the home from negative spirits.
The traditional besom woods have magical properties and associations with the cleansing and protecting a space. Both hazel and birch are associated with the driving out of negative and protecting the person wielding it. Hazel is also a liminal wood which I will touch upon later.
In addition to being a tool to cleanse the broom has other functions linked to its liminality and duality. It is often involved in handfasting rituals where handfasted partners will leap over the broom. This is because the broom is seen to represent the unification of male (the phallic staff) and female (the feminine brush) energies as well as the liminal moment between married and single life that the ritual itself marks.
The broom is also considered a ‘hidden’ tool from the so called ‘burning times’, with the staff of the broom doubling up as a wand. Some sites seem to claim that there are historic brooms with hidden compartments for storing magical oils, festhers etc. I’m unable to find images or factual references at this point, just a number of blogs and sites repeating the claim. I will treat it with caution, as much as I like the idea and I’m open to bring corrected by evidence it feels a little too convenient to me.
A common image associated with the broom is that of the witch flying upon it through the moonlit night. Historical references from witch trials described instances where ‘Witches’ would faint during trials and spectators would see their souls whip round the court room on their broom. The brooms associations with spirits and the spirit realm place it within the sphere of the element air hence this image of flight. Add to this the association of Hazel with wisdom and the liminal space between this world and the Otherworld and the broom becomes a method of transporting oneself from one state of being to another. The shamanic practice of using deep meditation, ointments, tinctures and herbs to induced a trance state in which out of body experiences is one common to most folk traditions. This combined with the broom as a physically manifestation of the boundary between world’s goes some way to explaining how the two may have become originally linked.
The broom is a powerful magical tool but one perhaps the modern practitioner might shy away from. A full sized broom would have little function in a modern home or garden and would take up quite a bit of space however as a tradition tool for crossing from one realm to another and cleansing space of malign spirits there is nothing more fitting. Fortunately there are miniature ‘ritual’ brooms avaliable from the wonderful Internet which cn be included in altars and rituals without being unwieldy.
I myself have a small cinnamon hand broom which I use in ritual I also have a decorated broom which stands by my door. I involved my eldest daughter in its creation and let her choose the decorations. We ended up using pink and black ribbon, red thread and a key charm I bought in Glastonbury. It was really easy to do, although I cheated and use a child’s Halloween broom rather than a traditional one, and I thought it a nice light activity to involve my daughter in. I then let her chase an onion around the outhouse, which I later buried off the property, to cleanse the area before we propped the broom up in the corner.