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© Storm Genevieve Black 2015. All Rights Reserved

First published in Townsville Soul newsletter November 2015

The Besom (or broomstick) has a multitude of symbolic and useful meanings in Witchcraft. It is often used magically to “sweep clean” or “sweep luck” into or out of the house. In the famous words of Doreen Valiente 'If you sweep the house with blossomed broom in may, you will sweep the head of the house away'. A warning that many are still wary of nowadays. While witches do own and use vacuum cleaners for the usual housework, the besom is favoured as a useful as well as symbolic ritual tool. It is impossible to use a vacuum cleaner for any sort of symbolic cleaning.

Traditionally the besom would have been made of an Ash shaft, and Birch brush bound tightly with willow strips, or from a Hazel staff and Oak brush, bound with Birch strips. In Scotland they favoured “Besom sticks” from the Broom plant, for the brush. Today with the craft spreading farther and farther, it can be difficult to stick to the old recipes. In Modern craft the important thing is the broom itself, though if you can make your own, so much the better. The Besom is traditionally made by binding the brush sticks tightly together, before pushing the phallic shaft into the middle of the brush. Producing it this way also holds a symbolic fertility ritual. As we live by the laws of the natural world, fertility is rather high on our priority list. Without it we could not survive. We would have no crops, or meat, no ideas or imagination, Our whole planet would probably look more like Mars or Venus, rather than the fertile Earth we live on, not that anyone would be there to notice. The Besom has always been used by Witches as a symbol of fertility. Jumping the broomstick is a major part of the Handfasting (wedding) ceremony. It is symbolic of the newly joined couple taking the leap from their single lives into their new life together, hopefully to bring children into the world. It is said to be incredibly lucky if the bride is already pregnant at the handfasting. This in turn gives rise to the phrase used when describing an unmarried pregnant woman, who is said to “live over the brush”. The Besom is also used in a form of sympathetic magic. We take our brooms out to the fields and standing astride the besom staff we jump as high as we can to show the crops how high to grow (before you decide I'm totally crazy, I recommend you try it, it's always good for a giggle). It is this ritual that initially gave rise to the description of the old hag flying on her broomstick. In-fact the phrase “to ride the broomstick” has interesting connotations to do with the even older fertility ritual involving a woman’s ability to straddle a shaft, but I'm sure that doesn't need explaining in any more depth here. In the past, some witches have applied a flying ointment to the shaft of their besom. This would induce hallucinations and was said to assist with the witches spiritual workings. There are many recipes for flying ointment available. All involve a host of interesting ingredients including aconite, belladonna, watercress, henbane, boiled baby fat, and bats blood. None of these recipes will work because they all omit any ingredient that can be absorbed through the skin, although aconite and belladonna can be absorbed through the mucus membrane. It is likely that these recipes would once have contained black rye, Toads' milk or a combination of either of these substances. Black rye is the common name for Ergot, the black looking fungus that appears on cereal crops including barley, wheat, and millet and could possibly be held responsible for some of the Witch trials between the 14th-17th Centuries, particularly those in Salem, Massachusetts. Toads milk refers either to the milky secretion exuded by toads when they are frightened or excited, or to a similar milky substance obtained from toadstools. All of these are highly hallucinogenic, and I do not recommend testing them. They can however be absorbed through the skin, so it would make sense for these to be included in the flying ointments that the witches of the past may have applied to the shaft of their besom before riding it. The resulting tales being ones of flying and the feelings of elation or orgasm during the hallucination, which would have taken effect within 15 minutes and lasted for approximately one hour. It is probably best to explain here that modern witches do not use these flying ointments. If they wish to use hallucinogenics they tend to use mushrooms. Some traditional covens do advocate drug use. We however, are more than capable of entering other realms and achieving astral travel without any hallucinogenic assistance.