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The Besom

The Besom

The besom is the traditional witch’s broom. It’s associated with all kinds of legend and folklore, including the popular notion that witches fly around in the night on a broomstick. In addition to being good for playing Quidditch, the besom is a great addition to your collection of magical tools.

The besom is used for sweeping a ceremonial area out before ritual. A light sweeping not only cleans the physical space, it also clears out negative energies that may have accumulated in the area since the last cleaning. The broom is a purifier, so it is connected to the element of Water in some magical traditions, but others associate it with Air. It is not uncommon to meet witches who have broom collections, and it is fairly easy to make your own besom if you don’t wish to buy one. The traditional magical formula includes a bundle of birch twigs, a staff of ash or oak, and a binding made from willow wands.

Along with the popularity of handfasting ceremonies, there has been a resurgence in interest among Pagans and Wiccans in the idea of a “besom wedding.” This is a ceremony also referred to as “jumping the broom.” Although typically this is seen as a ceremony derived from the slave culture of the American south, there is also evidence that besom weddings took place in some parts of the British Isles.

Artemis, over at WonderWorks, says,

“The first official documentation that records a person flying on a broomstick is from 1453, from a confession by witch Guillaume Edelin. There were earlier recordings of witches flying on different sticks – walking sticks, tree limbs, etc. This probably came from agrarian fertility rites when pagans were riding their besoms (hobby horse style) and jumping with them, to show how high the crops would grow. Ancient besoms have been discovered with hidden compartments in the handle, to hold herbs, oils, and feathers  (items for rituals/spells). Some people say the handles of the besoms were coated with flying ointment.”

The broom is one of those tools that most people have in their home–whether they’re a witch or not! In many rural cultures, the broom has become a source of legend and folklore. Here are just a few of the many beliefs people have about brooms and sweeping.

James Kambos says in Llewellyn’s 2011 Magical Almanac,

“When misfortune was thought to have entered a home, one old German custom was to sweep the home, thus sweeping away any negativity. Each family member would grab a broom and begin sweeping. Starting at the center of the home, they’d sweep outward toward all exterior doors. As they swept, they’d open the front and back doors and sweep out the negativity.”

In the Appalachian region of the United States, many customs were brought over from Scotland, England and Ireland. It is believed that laying a broom across your doorstep will keep witches out of your house. However, be careful–if a girl steps over a broom by accident, she’ll end up becoming a mother before she gets married (this belief may have originated in Yorkshire, as there are similar warnings in that area).

People in parts of China say that a broom should only be used for household chores like sweeping because it is so strongly tied to the household spirits. It shouldn’t be used for playing or whacking people with, because that is offensive to the household entities.

There’s an old tale in the Ozarks that you should never sweep a house while there’s a dead body in it–although one would assume that if there’s a dead body in the house, you’ve got other things on your mind besides housecleaning.

Some African tribes believe that men should leave the house while women are sweeping. The reason? Because if they are accidentally struck by the broom, it could render them impotent–unless they take the broom and bang it on the wall three times (some legends say seven times).

*This information provided by author Patti Wigington via Patt is local to the Columbus, OH area and I had the pleasure of meeting her at last year’s Dayton Pagan Pride Day. Check out her many works on