There are images, even behaviors, we sometimes experience on a superficial level that often have deeper, more spiritual origins. An example of this is a witch flying on a broom. Let’s take a brief stroll back in time to explore two aspects of one question. Why would a witch ride a broom? And, why would she ride a broom?
Throughout human history, plants have been used for medicinal and spiritual purposes. During the middle ages in Europe, an ointment with hallucinogenic effects was present and in use by those still worshiping the ancient gods of the Old World. Witches were part of this group and they used a hallucinogenic compound to create transcendent spiritual experiences.
There was a problem though. The agent had severe gastrointestinal side effects if taken orally. Eventually, it was discovered that if the ointment was absorbed under the arms through sweat glands or vaginally, the side effects were significantly reduced. You know where this is going, right? Yes, witches eventually began to rub the ointment on a broom stick – sliding it along their pussies or inserting the hard, thick staff inside them. Sorry, I do write about sex 90% of the time.
The effect of this hallucinogen was to induce the sensation of flight. The broom gave flight to witches and that is why they are often depicted in flight, “riding” a broom. Their depiction as naked or partially clothed also supports this method of administration. As odd as this sounds, it seems like a plausible explanation for the “riding” part of my inquiry. Still, there must have been other tools available to administer the ointment. Why did witches choose a broom?
The answer to this dates back to the ancient Celts. The Celts were among the early tribes of central and western Europe, Ireland, and Britain. As the Roman Empire battled to conquer these tribes, the Celts resisted both military and spiritual conquest. Ultimately, Rome conquered and controlled most of western Europe (though uprisings were frequent) for centuries. However, by 500 AD Rome’s western empire was collapsing under the continued assault of these “Barbarian” tribes. The city of Rome itself was captured by Germanic tribes in 476 AD. After that, 500 – 1000 AD, Europe descended into the Dark Ages – notable for the disappearance of Rome’s influence in western Europe.
While the Roman Empire had been an ever-present military and cultural force in western Europe from ~ 300 BC to 500 AD, it wasn’t necessarily driving European spirituality. Christianity didn’t become the official religion of Rome until 380 AD and was, instead, spread by missionaries prior to Rome becoming the Holy Roman Empire. During the final centuries of Roman control and into the Dark Ages, the traditional gods of the Celts and other “barbarian” tribes continued to be worshipped publicly and privately among western Europeans along with Christianity. Some tribes (such as the Vikings) worshipped the Norse gods and goddesses well into the 12th century before converting to Christianity.
The reason I bring this up is because the spiritual path of the early Europeans (including the Romans and Hellenistic Greeks) is complicated. Sometimes, it seems as if people think Jesus was born and that was when all time began – nothing existed before or after. In reality, gods of the Old World existed and were worshipped for thousands and thousands of years before Jesus and even for many centuries after by Europeans. The religious conversion wasn’t as instantaneous as flipping on the light switch for a new religion and flipping it off for an older religion. Spiritual traditions lingered and were often blended with the new.
The broom frequently depicted in images of witches is one example of spiritual significance to the Celts that lingered. They associated it with Faeries and other spirits of the forest. Celtic lore includes tales of witches entering the forest and being guided by Faeries to the perfect tree to secure a staff for her broom. The Faeries involvement ensured the spiritual properties of the broom.
Still, of all things, why the broom? The broom was symbolic of home to the Celts and represented the divine balance of of masculine energies (the phallic handle) and female energies (the bristles). It was often placed at doorways to ward off undesirable spirts. As I think about my own broom, it is also near one of the doors to my home. It makes me wonder if this is a utilitarian placement on my part or if it something passed down through generations and now simply an ingrained behavior? Certainly, the spiritual meaning has vanished, but there is my broom…near the back door.
In traditional Celtic marriages, said to still be in use today, a broom is ceremoniously placed behind the couple being married. It creates a doorway or wall that separates the couple from the world outside and negative energy. The staff (masculine) is placed behind the bride and the bristles (feminine) are placed behind the groom – this balances the couple’s energy. The space is now considered sacred and keeps unwanted spirits at a distance. After the ceremony, the couple steps beyond the broom to the outer world as newlyweds.
Okay, at this point, I think my curiosity is satisfied. I have learned enough to appreciate that brooms once had spiritual meaning to my ancestors. I’m not sure the link is perfectly linear in my mind, but it is good enough to link brooms as a potentially spiritual shaft for witches and satisfy my curiosity about why witches of the middle ages once rode them.