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Monday, October 25, 2010

Can witches really fly on brooms?

Our question for this Magical Monday. 

According to folklore, the Devil himself installed every new witch a broom and flying ointment, a concoction often including hallucinogenic and/or toxic ingredients. If the witch was inside a house, she supposedly flew up the chimney.

Legend tells witches flew their brooms to Sabbats, seasonal celebrations which included the great festivals of Walpurgis Night/Beltane (May 1st) and Samhain (October 31st). They often carried along demons or their familiars in the shapes of animals. They often flew from the Sabbat celebration to the nearby sea for a storm raising, using their collective magic to bring a tempest.

On these occasions, novice witches were sometimes seen falling from their brooms. On festival nights townspeople often laid out hooks and scythes to kill those who fell off. People rang church bells which were capable of grounding brooms.

Artwork of the 16th and 17th centuries showed a variety of “riding” techniques. The position of the twigs changed over time. Initially, the twig faggot was held down, so the witch could fly upward into the sky, sweeping away her trail. This is the typical portrayal in contemporary art. However, in the 17th century, artists represented witches’ flights with the faggot upward, so a candle could be balanced upon it to light the way.

There are many origins for the association of witches and brooms. Following pagan fertility rites, witches rode brooms, poles, and pitchforks like hobby horses in field dances. Other lore stated witches were afraid of horses and chose brooms instead. The custom of putting a broom outside a house to indicate a woman was away may have given rise to this legend. 

If you see a novice witch fall off her broom this Samhain, will you help her back astride? 

Reference: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Wicca, Rosemary Ellen Guiley
Art: IrreFou (top)

9 comments:

Roseanne Dowell said...

Very interesting legend. I didn't know this about witches. See you learn something new every day.

Jim Hartley said...

Legend or no, flying broomsticks provide a good plot element in some stories. I have used them several times. In "Magic Is Faster Than Light," due out in May from MuseItUp, I have a squad of 80 or 90 broomsticks flown in outer space by witches in spacesuits to assist a spaceship in landing. In another story, witches are doing something necessary but illegal, and the use of cars for transport would be too easily traceable by the police, so they use broomsticks. I will admit I didn't give much thought to whether the twigs were on the front or back.

Rachel Firasek said...

I love this post and know a few witches that I plan on forwarding this link too, they'll get a kick out of this. Thanks for the spirit and legend.
Rachel Firasek

Heather Haven said...

What a great blog! And love the pictures. Never knew about putting the broom outside the door to indiate the lady of the house was gone. Now you'd put her briefcase.

Marsha A. Moore said...

I love digging up all sorts of magical folklore -- one of my interests.

Jim, I will have to read your book. It sounds very fun!

Roseanne and Heather -- thanks for coming by. Glad you enjoyed the pictures. I thought they were cool too!

Rachel, I'd be curious what "real" witches would think/know. I don't profess to know wicca, just have a passion for old magical legends.

Marva Dasef said...

I had studied the use of brooms by witches since I have a witch trilogy. Yes, brooms can be used. However, in my second book I give my heroine an ultralight. Much more practical for long-distance travel.

Marsha A. Moore said...

An ultralight sounds fast and fun! :)

Tahlia said...

I love the picy.

Marsha A. Moore said...

Thanks, Tahlia! Glad you stopped by.