Besoms and broomsticks. I love them; their iconic, symbolic nature shrouded in age old belief and superstition. Those seemingly ordinary, everyday household items tucked away in a cupboard somewhere. Something that most of us posses. Yet, the archetypal image conjured up when thinking of a witch is the image of a witch riding upon a broom in a sky lit by the moon.
Besides being used to “take to the skies” what is it about this innocent bit of household paraphernalia that attracts so much folklore and superstition? Why has it become imbued with such magical associations? It is after all an exceedingly useful tool that does its job very well and yet, there remains a strong link between this household object and folklore tradition. If so drawn to, how then, can we use them as something more than simply to sweep the floors?
It’s design may be perceived as phallic in that the handle may be seen to represent that of the God/the Horned One/Cernunnos while the brush may symbolically represent the Goddess. The two together therefore represent the union of the two polarities, thus attaining to balance and unification in harmony. This lends itself to being of use in fertility magic.
This may also explain some of the besoms associations with marriage and handfasting celebrations. Traditionally the newly weds would join hands to leap over a besom to signify their joining and to bring blessings upon their sacred vows to one another. In Wales it was traditional for the newly weds to leap over a broom placed in the doorway of their home. If pregnancy followed it is easy to understand some of the phallic associations that sprung up around this tool!
The concept of the besom as a symbol of union helps to illuminate why it can serve a significant role in magical workings associated with pagan spirituality, particularly witchcraft. Using it signifies the marriage of masculine and feminine, honouring the omnipotent forces within nature of birth, creation and death.
It’s main function to clear and cleanse a space can also be of particular importance when seeking to undertake casting a circle for magical workings. The besom broom may be used to clear the space deosil (clockwise/sunwise) where the rites will be undertaken, sweeping away any negative psychic energy and inviting in positive, uplifting energy in keeping with the practical work that is to be carried out for the highest good. This sweeping not only helps to cleanse a space ritualistically; it also helps to prepare ones mind for the work to be carried out in the realm of the higher consciousness.
Due to it’s protective qualities (greatly enhanced by the materials used to make the broom), when the space has been cleared, the broom may then be placed within the circle (never leave it outside) in the north east corner. This ensures protection whilst working within the magical boundaries of the circle.
Incidentally, everyday sweeping can be utilised as a form of mindfulness served alongside intention. When carried out with a conscious participation and active intention to clear and cleanse a space in our homes, we are setting the intention that only harmony and good will is invited into our living space whilst discord and unwanted residual energy is cleared away. It is worthy to note that when sweeping, do not sweep the dirt out of the front door or else you risk sweeping away all your luck.
The material that the besom broom is traditionally made from is also of particular importance, especially if we wish to use the broom in magical undertaking and not just for daily household chores. In folklore, only one broom should inhabit a household but for the purposes of magical workings it can be useful to keep your practical broom separate to your consecrated, dedicated tool.
The handle of a besom is traditionally made from Ash, a tree strongly associated with masculinity and summer. In Norse myth, the Ash tree is known as Yggdrasil, the world tree. The world tree stretches across the realms of the known universe linking the upper realm, middle earth, and the lower realms and so the Ash tree may be seen to be the crux of creation, holding all things upright and steady. In the Celtic Tree Calendar, the Ash is known as Nuin (Noo-in) and is connected to the month of March, a time when the earth is waking once more and the Goddess walks in her guise as maiden.
The traditional material for the brush is birch twigs. Birch, known as Beith in the tree calendar and also as the Lady of the Woods, is a tree sacred to the Goddess. Birch signifies new beginnings (this tree is a key species at recolonizing areas in a transformation back to woodland) as well as purification and it harbours strong protective abilities making it an excellent material in the creation of a magical tool.
The masculine Ash and the feminine Birch also reinforce the besoms strong associations with fertility and unification.
Holding it all together, willow withies are traditionally used; collected when the tree is still pliable in early spring in order to gather and tie the birch twigs about the staff. Willows are regarded as trees of enchantment and they have strong associations to the element of water. Willow also carries strong healing and protective qualities; very useful in magical workings.
The besom is a significantly symbolic tool, steeped in folklore and tradition. Welcome one into your home and it is as though they hold a presence all their own. They should be treated as an extended member of your family; left in the corner and forgotten about they can become lonely. By placing a besom as near to the door as possible ensures only good will and friendship to pass through and keeps unwanted, harmful visitors and energy at bay.
It is imperative to ensure that the broom is placed with the brush upwards. Practically, this extends the working life of the instrument whilst also ensuring that good luck is called forth. Should you ever move home, although a little sad (I feel quite attached to my broom) one should not move into a new house having brought with them their old broom. To do so will ensure discord and bad luck. Instead, send ahead of you a new broom and a loaf of bread and ensure that they enter the new dwelling first. One shall then have good luck and happiness in their new abode.
Some sources suggest burning an old broom should you ever depart to a new home. To me this is almost unthinkable as at times I’m sure I can feel the focus of my broom, standing quietly in the corner, fully upon me. However, this concept makes sense in that it clears the house of any residual energy for new occupants whilst also ensuring that any entities or psychic energy bound up in the broom are transformed and transmuted.
I read somewhere once (although it was so long ago that I apologise for forgetting the source) that should you ever leave you home for any length of time – to visit family, to travel for work or to go on holiday for example, in order to protect your home from unwanted guests (of an ethereal nature) whilst you are away that it is worth placing your besom safely tucked up in your bed so as to give the appearance of your still being present within the dwelling. This concept is slightly contradicted by the suggestion that it is deemed bad luck to place a broom propped up against a bed. I will leave this suggestion to your own conclusions!
Birch besoms are also powerful tools in weather magic. Suffering from a lack of rain? (Bear in mind that back when our knowledge and interaction of the natural world and her powerful forces was very different to our present day understanding, this could be devastating to survival if the harvest was poor due to drought) then get outdoors with your besom and swing it clockwise above you to call in the rain. There are various chants that can be said with this action, some found amongst the myriad of pagan and wiccan websites and books or you can of course be creative and write your own. But a note of caution here – when working with the natural elements and forces of nature, be mindful that nature can be unpredictable and exceptionally wild so you may end up with more rain than you bargained for!
There is a wealth of folklore surrounding this intriguing household object. Too much to mention here. One thing I would recommend is that if you feel drawn to the besom and invite one into you home, spend time getting to know it. Consecrate your broom. Talk to it. Acknowledge and respect it’s presence. If you feel inclined to do so, by all means make your own besom. The materials mentioned above are traditional but by no means feel restricted to “having to use them”. Make your besom out of the woods and herbs you feel strongly drawn to. It’s all about intention when undertaking magical and ritual work ultimately.
And, as mentioned in previous posts, magical work, connecting to the Goddess and the natural world and ones own spirituality are deeply personal undertakings that cannot ultimately be defined by any one text or tradition.
References and further reading
Besom and Lore, 2017 http://www.andorshop.webs.com/besomlore.htm
Crowley V 1996 Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Millenium, Thorsons, London
Druid Tree Lore 2017 http://www.druidry.org
Hopman E.E 2008 A Druids Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine, Destiny Books, Vermont
Paterson J. M 1998 A Tree in Your Pocket, Thorsons, London
The Witches Besom 2017 http://www.themodernpagan.net/?p=751