And if I’ve written in passion,Live, Julia! what was I writingbut my own pledge to myselfwhere the love of women is rooted?And what was I invokingbut the matrices we weaveweb upon web, delicate raftersflung in audacity to the prairie skies(from “For Julia in Nebraska,” in A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far)Adrienne Rich, the poet whose work exemplified the journey of twentieth century feminists to find an authentic individual and collective voice, died March 27th at 82. Her groundbreaking collection, The Dream of a Common Language, spoke to the soul of the emerging vision of women’s poetry. Her nonfiction work, Of Women Born took on the sentimentalized and trivialized subject of motherhood and examined it as a central influence on women’s lives and perspective.I did not know Rich, although I heard her perform many times. I chatted briefly with her once after a reading, and I recognized her occasionally in San Francisco or Santa Cruz – too shy to go up and speak to her, though she seemed open and approachable. Rich did not exude any air of self-importance, despite being recognized and celebrated as a gifted writer from an early age. Rich did, however, convey a sense that we – each of us women – were vitally important.The salient experience of being female in Western patriarchy is one of unimportance. Our thoughts, our feelings, our needs, our hopes, what we do, what we say, what happens to us – all are uninteresting, unimportant and irrelevant. If we sound shrill at times – to men, to other women, even to ourselves – it’s because we always feel like we’re never being heard.And Rich wrote as if she heard us. Rich could make the word “we” seem not like a conglomeration of unnamed entities but a symbiotic web of nourishment. She carried the conviction of our central, vital, incontrovertible importance. Not in spite of being women, but because.Rich was not, however, an unwavering source of upliftment. There was too much pain in her work. She suffered most of her life with arthritis, yet the pain that came through her work was an emotional one, almost an impersonal one, the pain of humanity and especially of women. It was too much to take in heavy doses, and I found myself drifting away from Rich’s poetry – and then being pulled back occasionally to the strength of that conviction: that our deeds, our experiences and our dreams are vital to the continuity of history – and to all that lies ahead.
Spring Equinox comes on March 20th this year. I count the holiday as the day when the sun first rises in the sign of Aries. I saw an advertisement on an occult website recently urging people to buy now and be ready for the solstice. That would be quite a head start indeed: Summer Solstice is June 21st. Remember, equinoxes are equal; solstices are solar extremes.Spring Equinox is the celebration of the youth in all of us. In one way of looking at things, we are born, we mature, we grow steadily older until we become decrepit (but wise), and then we die. In another view, we are born, we mature, we grow old, we become young again, we grow old, and then we are young again.Featured spring goddess this year is the lovely Norse Idunn, who keeps the gods of Asgard forever young with the magic red berries she keeps in a special box. There is debate over what kind of berries these are. Some call them “Idunn’s apples.” Others say they come from the Rowan tree. Still others believe they are the same berries women pluck from the tree on the Hill of Healing to aid childbirth. Myself, I think they are cherry cordials.To regain a sense of newness, wonder and enthusiasm, include some red sweets in your spring ritual. They could be red jelly beans or strawberries or raspberries–just about anything red besides pomegranates, which are a death fruit. Ask Idunn to bless your berries with the spirit of youth. Idunn is a generous goddess, so share your magic berries with others as well as partaking of them yourself.
Helen Hwang and others at the Mago Circle have been sharing ideas about the sacred broom, and I felt inspired to do a bit of research regarding the use of this magical tool in Western witchcraft. Quickly pulling books off my shelf, I soon had a pile of information that was far too extensive for a blog post. I think I’ll stay with this topic for a few weeks, however, and approach a piece of the subject each week from a different perspective.The first thing that we have to grapple with when we talk about the broom as a magical tool is that the sacred broom is not really a broom, not in the way it is commonly understood as a utensil for sweeping debris off the floor. So what is it? Is it the act of sweeping that makes the broom magical? Is it a cleaning application in the realm of etheric energies? Is it some quality in the materials sewn into the part that sweeps? Is it some quality in the handle? Does it relate to the broom’s relationship to the house? As we will see, all of these things play into the magical power of the broom.When we talk about witches riding their brooms, the cliched expression is “riding on their broomsticks.” Yet we don’t ordinarily refer to the handle of the broom in other contexts. For example, if I wanted someone to pass a broom to me, I would say, “hand me the broom,” not “hand me the broomstick.” Magically speaking, the stick in broomstick warrants examination.In Witchcraft for Tomorrow Gardnerian priestess Doreen Valiente says,
The wand is the magical weapon of invocation; but among witches it sometimes took the form of the riding pole, upon which they performed the traditional jumping dance to make the crops grow tall. This dance was probably the origin of the idea that witches used broomsticks or staffs to fly through the air upon….To dance over the ground with a pole or staff between the legs is an obvious phallic gesture of the old fertility rites. Hence the end of the riding pole was often carved in the shape of a phallus. This, however, marked the staff as an obvious magical object, an adjunct of the Old Religion that was dangerous to have leaning against one’s cottage wall in the times of persecution. So the phallic riding pole had its carved end disguised with a bunch of twigs and became the witch’s broomstick.
Despite (or because of) its phallic symbolism, the broom is traditionally a woman’s magical tool, although Radmir Ristic in Balkan Traditional Witchcraft says there was at one time a type of broom associated with threshing that men used. The type of wood used in the handle influences the magic. Ash, the World Tree in Germanic lore, is the most common traditional wood, but there are no hard and fast rules here.The broom in the photograph is my own broom. It is a handmade broom given to me as a gift. Instead of a phallic tip, there is the face of a bearded man carved into the handle. The wood is mesquite, which is the tree witches in the Sonora Desert commonly use for magical implements. It is a medium sized, thorny tree with hard wood and very tiny leaves. The flowers, like the wood, are highly aromatic and attract legions of bees. The honey has a strong distinctive flavor. Mesquite produces pods that can be ground into flour or boiled to make a sweet thick beverage. Since the mesquite tree produces sweet abundance in a tough environment, it brings a life-giving, sustaining quality to the broom magic, similar to the wood from the World Tree.My next installment of this series will discuss the “sweepy” part of the broom.SourcesRistic, Radomir. Balkan Traditional Witchcraft. Translated by Michael C. Carter, Jr. Los Angeles: Pendraig Publishers, 2009.Valiente, Doreen. Witchcraft for Tomorrow. Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing, 1987.