The Witch’s Broom, part II

Birch bundles for making "besoms"--traditional witch brooms. Photo by Colin Grice.


Last week I talked about the handle of the broom, which is usually made of ash. Ash wood represents Yggdrasil, the World-Tree of Germanic lore, and symbolizes nourishment, health and all-around good luck.

The brush part of the broom is traditionally made with birch twigs. Birch is a tree of purification, also associated with death and ancestors. Gentle flagellation with birch twigs is used in some purification rituals to drive pollution out of the body. In old-style Swedish saunas, people emerge from the heat, roll in the snow, then are lightly beaten with birch twigs. The sauna is still used for physical purification, but it was once used for spiritual and emotional cleansing as well.

The broom is used at the very beginning of ritual to cleanse the energies in the area of worship. The broom does not sweep or touch the floor but is held above the head with two hands as the priestess walks the perimeter of the ceremonial space. Since it drives away impure energies, the broom can be used as a guardian for the doorway to a ritual space. The broom may also be used in more aggressive banishing rituals to drive out negativity. Routine purification for ritual preparation is done with feathers or fans, but the broom may be passed over the body in situations requiring more extreme cleansing, such as disease or trauma. The broom was used in purification ceremonies following childbirth back when infant and maternal mortality was higher due to bacterial infections.

The birch twigs are bound to the traditional witch broom with strips of willow bark. White willow bark is a widely used anodyne, from which aspirin was originally synthesized. Willow is sacred to Hecate, a patron goddess of witches, and is associated with water and the moon.

In folklore there are many taboos about brooms. I view these taboos as a reminder of the power of the broom, a power that must be wielded with caution.

Still to come: Marriage and the Broom plus Astral Travel.


Sources:

Campanelli, Pauline. Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1990.

Cooper, D. Jason. Using the Runes. Welllingborough, England: Aquarian Press, 1986.

Grimassi, Raven. Old World Witchcraft: Ancient Ways for Modern Days. San Francisco: Weiser Books, 2011.

Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.

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4 Responses to The Witch’s Broom, part II

  1. H Hwang says:

    “The brush part of the broom is traditionally made with birch twigs. Birch is a tree of purification, also associated with death and ancestors.” Interesting to know. The Birch Tree is the sacred tree that is associated with the ancient primogenitor goddess/mudang (shaman) of Korea… 

    • I am intrigued, but not surprised, to know this.  Across European folk cultures the birch is always a very important tree, so I would guess that it’s important in many places around the world.  I love the birch; it’s one of my favorite trees.

  2. Jamie says:

    Thanks for the good ‘dirt’ on brooms, Hearth. Much beloved tool. 
    Birch=fertility, strength and ‘fire in the heart’.
    Ash=power, magnitude and guardian of children.