The Magic of the Besom
Through the power of the besom, we learn that there is freedom through magic. The besom is an ordinary household tool found in nearly every home, yet many have bred much spiritual significance into it over time. Perhaps this is because when it's hard to find magic nearby, besoms are often readily available.
For women, trapped in a menial existence that didn’t stimulate them, the besom gave their spirit flight. As for the Romani people, whose chains were oppression and persecution, the besom was a pathway to a new life and chance at happiness. And for those in literal chains – the Africans enslaved in America -- the besom provided an opportunity to celebrate love amid unbearable heartache.
Freedom is something all seek but very few find. Our habits and circumstances trap us; even our mind ensnares us when it falls prey to destructive thoughts and emotions. Desperation to break our chains often doesn’t seem to translate into whether or not we succeed in finding liberation.
But perhaps our grasp on freedom is closer than we realize. Maybe it’s that soft tune you hum to yourself that helps your escape the monotony at work. Or perhaps it’s the scent of lilac perfume lingering on the letters your love sends you that allow you to escape your prison cell and fly to their side.
Freedom is being able to fly among the clouds with your feet planted firmly on the ground. The limits of your vision dictate what will bind you. Likewise, the unopen doors in your mind are what will keep you in shackles. Therefore, always strive for the openness of thought and clarity of vision, and you will always be free. And if these clues are still not enough to help you find it, well, grab your broom.
The Flying Witch
The famous depiction of witches flying on broomsticks isn’t just a Halloween fabrication. It is a symbol arising from the Middle Ages. Back then witches, equipped with their besoms and aided by a powerful “flying ointment,” would prance around open fields at night. Through their flight, they hoped to “teach the crops how high to grow.”
Or at least they envisioned themselves doing as much. The truth, however, might prove otherwise.
But for starters, what was this powerful flying ointment that enabled them to defy the laws of gravity and turn a household object into a levitation device? It was a tincture including herbs such as mandragora, belladonna, henbane, thornapple, and sometimes even wolfsbane.
You may recognize these herbs to be members of the highly toxic, potently hallucinogenic Nightshade family. Additionally, wolfsbane and henbane create a sensation that feels like flying once introduced into the body.
So were these witches literally flying over fields of grain or simply experiencing a flight of fancy? Most likely the latter. Due to these herbs' potency, it’s likely that witches envisioned themselves flying over fields on their besoms under cover of night. Meanwhile, their body lay wholly immobilized in a death-like trance induced by the herbs that incubated their visions.
The Besom and Spiritual Flight
Spiritual flight is an essential part of a witch's toolkit. It is how you glimpse the mysteries of the universe, access true magic, and commune with entities and energies that do not reside in the temporal realm.
In this regard, the besom is uniquely accordant with this type of travel. This is because it acts as a portal between realms, worlds, and lives. It is a means to escape the monotony of the material world.
Flight of the Housewife
In the Middle Ages, the besom was the ticket out of the monotony of everyday life that women experienced. During that time, a woman's day subsisted of waiting on her husband, taking care of the household chores, and doing yard work.
However, the besom, a tool that no doubt every woman had in her home and was well acquainted with, was her means of escaping the drudgery. Some speculate that women would use the besom to apply the psychotropics to sensitive areas and "get high."
However, evidence of such a claim may come from biased sources. Much of the anecdotes that would support these claims come from clergy and inquisitors. Similarly, these are the very same people who would torture suspected witches, coercing them to confess to magical "crimes" they did not commit.
Regardless, the besom has connections to how women would apply the hallucinogens that granted them flight. Besides, can you blame them? The quest for freedom has been central to women's struggle for eons. If through their besom, they found a magic that released them from their oppressive bonds, all the power to them.
The Besom and Fertility
The witches' flight over their crops wasn't done simply as a pastime. In actuality, the goal was to encourage a fertile crop and bountiful harvest. They performed this act to inspire the crop to grow high enough to touch the sky.
In this way, and many others, besoms have become linked to the magic of fertility. The besom's handle typically consists of birch wood, frequently used to furnish babies' cradles. The type of wood is more than just a functional choice, as birch wood provides protective energies that extend to the young babe.
Ancient Roman midwives would also use the besom to sweep away negative energies threatening a newborn child. Many see these wise women, ever mindful of how unseen influences can work to corrupt the environment of a vulnerable child, as the antecedent to witches.
"Besom" derives from the Old English word besema, which means woman. Likewise, if you notice that it sounds quite like the word "bosom," that is because they share the same root. The connection evokes the imagery of a woman comforting a young child in her warm bosom—the culmination of fertility magic.
The Besom and the God and Goddess
Traditionally, besoms are composed of a hazel handle and brush fashioned from birch twig. Respectively, these two materials align with masculine and feminine energies. The handle itself evokes rather phallic imagery, while the bristles call to mind the hair that protects a woman’s vagina.
With the myriad connections to the masculine and the feminine, it is standard to abstract the besom’s symbolism to the God and Goddess. And while this archetype has long existed in Pagan religions, the Wiccan tradition has further solidified the concept in the modern-day.
The interplay between the God and Goddess begets all life and creation. The fertility of the land relies on the delicate balance between the divine masculine and feminine. Theirs is a dance of opposites that weave together seamlessly. Their waltz is the rubric upon which the magic of reality springs forth.
Without the Sun God, the seeds within the Earth Goddess’ womb will not grow. The Goddess conceives all life, but not without the spark of inspiration from the Horned God. The Moon Goddess rises so that the Sun can rest, and likewise, without the Sun’s light, the Moon cannot glow. The power of their divine interactions is what makes the universe become, function, and unfurl.
Similarly, the facets of the besom rely on each other to become a functioning whole. The stave without its strands is no more than a stick, and the brush without its stave has no mooring or fortitude. Together, they become a unified whole that cleanses both the spiritual plane and the terrestrial realm.
How to Cleanse with the Besom
We ritually use the besom in spiritual practice to cleanse an area of unwanted energy. Unlike a household broom that you use to sweep and clean the floors of your abode physically, the besom is strictly for spiritual cleansing. It is typical to perform this ritual before the arrival of spring and summer or to cleanse a space you use for magical practice.
When you employ the besom in this regard, hold it a couple of inches off the ground, avoiding contact with the floor. According to Scottish folklore, it is tradition to sweep in a clockwise direction, or deasil – considered the “prosperous course.” In doing so, you are sweeping out all the old, stagnant energies and making way for enjoyable, uplifting energy.
Sweeping counterclockwise, or widdershins is seen as unfavorable by that same folklore. However, in the Wiccan tradition, moving counterclockwise has the functional application of banishing negative spirits that may plague your abode. It’s important to note that cleansing effectively “resets” the energies of an area. On the other hand, banishing intends to remove negative entities, and malicious spirits you sense are corrupting the space.
Afterward, consider placing a besom above your door, bristles pointing up to further protect your home and your hard work. Moreover, once you’ve broken in the besom, don’t forget to make a wish. There’s a good chance your wish might just come true.
Personalizing Your Besom
You can personalize your besom by giving it a name in a special ceremony. Additionally, it is custom to tie colored ribbons around the handle to represent different blessings you would like to attract. For instance, you can add pink or red for love or green and yellow to attract more wealth. You can also add herbs to your besom, like lavender for peace or eucalyptus for purification. Likewise, consider adding bells as the tinkling of the bells helps to clear the energy.
Jumping the Besom
You will find the besom at the threshold between the old life and the new. It is a demarcation line that ends the life of solitude and begins a life of companionship. The besom is the brush that “sweeps away” all the markings and stagnation of living in loneliness. And in its stead, the besom helps usher in the refreshing winds of love and togetherness.
The custom of “jumping the broom” is a prominent part of Wiccan handfasting ceremonies in the modern era. Wiccans perform this as a tribute to the British Isles, the origin of the custom. Conceived by the Romani people of Wales in the 18th century, the tradition was born out of a necessity to signify the momentous occasion of starting a new life through marriage.
Unfortunately, the law did not recognize the validity of a Romani marriage. Therefore, the Romani would “jump the broom” together to create a way for the world to acknowledge their nuptials. And curiously enough, if there were need for a divorce, the couple would jump the besom backward to annul the marriage.
As irony would have it, the people of the British Isles used the practice to protect against the very people paying homage to the tradition now. They considered witchcraft an active threat to espousal, and there was a belief that a union of two hearts would be prey for maligned witches. Whether or not this was true, a newlywed Romani couple would jump the broom to defy the “evil” of witchcraft.
Likewise, the besom would be placed at the door of the bride and groom’s marital chambers. Furthermore, they deemed anyone who could not cross the broom a witch. Nowadays, the tradition is practically dissociated from its former symbolism.
Jumping the broom in the African American Community
The act of jumping the broom at marriage isn’t only a tradition of the Romani people and the Wiccan community. The African American community partakes in this custom as well. During slavery, the law did not legally recognize slave marriages. As a result, slaves would jump the broom as part of their marriage ceremony.
However, there is controversy surrounding the practice, as some see it reclaiming African American heritage. In contrast, others see it as a relic of slavery that should remain in the past.
Some African-Americans include the tradition in their wedding out of respect for their less fortunate ancestors. While for others, the practice carries a painful stigma and reminder of a tragic period in African-American history.