By Ana Vice
The history, folklore, and magick behind the witch’s besom – and how to make your own.
The vision of witches flying on broomsticks beneath a moonlit sky is an enchanting one. Besom brooms (aka witch’s besom or witch’s broom) come in various shapes and sizes, and often are synonymous with female liberation and the witch archetype. But both masculine and feminine qualities are apparent within the besom: The masculine aspect is attributed to the handle, while the feminine is attributed to the bristles.
A besom is said to be linked with the elements air (flight and spirits) and water (cleansing and purification) making it a great uncrossing tool to clear negative energies and bad juju from the home. It can be utilized for sweeping a ceremonial or sacred space before or after a ritual and also for opening or closing a magical circle. Bristles in an upward orientation ward off evil and bring good luck.
Besoms have been used for centuries and were even mentioned in the Old Testament (Isaiah 14:23). Celtic peoples associated the besom broom with the Fae (Faeries); Some believed that the Fae would direct a witch to a good tree in order to obtain wood for their besom. Besoms are also commonplace during handfasting rituals.
There are different ways of making besoms if you don't want to purchase one. One way is to use birch twigs (or brush corn), ash (alternatively use cedar, hazel, or oak) wood for the handle, and a binding made from willow or heavy twine. According to the Chicago Botanic Garden, Benjamin Franklin is “credited with first bringing broomcorn to the United States,” which became a useful alternative to twigs when making besom bristles. In the 1700s non-magickal besoms were used regularly and even written about in popular culture. In Scotland, Robert Burns wrote a poem that was made into the song “Broom Besoms” and William Purvis wrote “Buy Broom Buzzems” which became popular in the late 18th century. In England, broom making was done by besom squires, but people made their own brooms, too.
The first documented person to use a besom broom was Guillaume Edelin in 1453 AD (CE). It was rumored that Guillaume called himself a witch. Artwork from 15th century Europe depicts witches flying on brooms and later woodcuts in A History of Witches and Wizards 1720 AD (CE), as well. Since witches have long endured persecution, the besom became a way of keeping treasures and secrets hidden. Wands, herbs, and vials containing potions could be put safely in the besom’s bristles. It has been reported that some larger besoms even had hidden compartments. Others believe that spirits could be temporarily kept in a witch’s besom.
The use of flying ointments and brooms led to the concept of a “witch in flight.” Flying ointments often had ingredients that were hallucinogenic, so a witch could use visualization techniques to imagine flight and go on a spiritual journey or change their state of awareness. Johannes Hartlieb, a 15th century Bavarian physician, wrote a compendium on herbs called the Puch Aller Verpoten Kunst, Ungelaubens und der Zaubrey that contains the oldest known description of witches' flying ointment.
One of the most feared, yet respected witches found in Slavic and Russian folklore is the crone Baba Yaga. She is well-known and is said to hold Goddess attributes and power over the elements: earth, fire, water, and air. As she flies through the air inside her mortar, she wields a pestle in one hand and a broom to sweep the path behind her in the other. Crows and owls fly by her side. She appears as a crone and has been said to eat children, but also act as a spiritual guide to those who were courageous and clever enough to ask her in the correct way. Powerful and wise, she has been said to guard the doorway to the Otherworld and control the passage of the dead back and forth across its borders. Some believe she has power over life and death.
These days the besom broom has been revived in films like Bedknobs and Broomsticks with Angela Lansbury and stories like the Harry Potter book series (where the Nimbus 2000 was all the rage). Today besoms are sold at gardening supply stores, occult shops, and markets. Cinnamon besoms can be bought from Trader Joe’s and other kinds from Amazon or Etsy.
Here’s What You Need To Create Your Own…
Making Your Besom Broom
Want to read more about the art of spiritual cleansing? Check out this story on ways to smudge your home without the use of sage.