Brooms are everywhere this time of the year. Black ones. Orange ones. Black and orange. Brooms with lightening bolts on the handle. You name it and you can likely find it on a besom. Other than the pointy hat, few other things identify witches as well, witches other than this universal accessory. Brooms have played an integral part in modern witchcraft and occult history. In fact, it would be hard to locate a circle anywhere this time of the year where a broom wasn’t somewhere to be found. It’s not just for sweeping the front porch anymore, at least not these.
As I said, brooms come in all sizes, shapes, textures, and patterns. Traditionally brooms were created from an ash or hazel (depending upon which was readily available in the area), sometimes willow, and birch branches or an herb called…you guessed it!….broom. Broom in it’s natural habitat of England, Scotland, parts of Asia, and warmer climates of Europe, has many uses, making brooms is just one. This bitter tasting herb grows as a shrub and can be used as both a toxin and a medicine. As an herbal treatment for bladder and kidney problems, and as a diuretic broom is used in conjunction with other herbs usually as an infusion over the course of a week or two until it is ready to be mixed into a potion. Unlike most herbs, this one is better taken with alcohol as it is very bitter and has an unpleasant scent after it dries and is boiled down.
The herb itself is very tall almost three feet high, woody with long tangling twig like stems, and grows in unlikely places. The rougher the terrain the happier this particular herb is. In fact, it will grow on rocky mountains in poor soil with little rainfall. This made it ideal for using as a tool or utensil for cleaning as well as magick.
Constructing brooms (besom) is pretty simple really. All that is needed is a long stave of either hazel, ash, or willow, willow twine, and long twiggy broom. The broom is connected to the stave with the willow twine and voila a besom is born! Of course the use of said besom isn’t always so simple.
Besoms were used, and still are, to clean the space for circle, to sweep away stagnant energy, as a protective barrier, to welcome guests, as a marital fertility aid (jumping the broom), and in some cases as a form of circle casting itself. Besoms placed near doorways welcome guests and ward away negative spirits. Sweeping the doorway, porch, and front of the home prevented energy from gathering and remaining there to cause problems later. In some cultures, sweeping of one’s feet meant the person in question would either get pregnant, go to jail, or get married. In other cultures it’s a way of removing the last bits of energy after shaking it loose with the besom.
Other lore regarding the besom include never sweeping with a broom while a deceased family member is in the home. A broom that suddenly falls from a door way announces company on the way. Brooms placed over the door protects against fairies and imps. Never bring old brooms into a new home and never burn a broom. Both are very bad luck.
The Welsh gypsy practice of jumping the broom is said to bring the newly wedded couple good fortune and many children. In parts of Africa sweeping over a man’s feet is said to bring on impotence. Of course, one can’t mention brooms without the practice of riding one.
The Dark Ages brought mountains of superstition regarding witches and devils. One is said to be the consort of the other and riding a broom was a reward for carrying out the devil’s work on Earth. I strongly suspect that should a Witch be able to actually get a broom to sweep his or her floor on its own, much less fly, there would be mass conversions. Certainly modern television witches have no problem twinkling their noses to a spotless home. However, Dark Age witches probably used a salve called flying ointment which was used to dress the broom for ritual use. This ointment consisted of a fatty base in which essential oils and herbs were mixed and then used to dress the broom from tip of the stave to the joining of the herb. Herbs such as wolfsbane, hemlock, henbane, and Nightshade were used and still are as a basis for charging these brooms. Charging is the practice of imparting energy onto an object so it become personal and receptive to the individual’s will. The first mention of flying ointments in conjunction with brooms and their use could be as early as the mid 1400’s.
The besom itself is a work of symbolism. It represents the union of the God and Goddess, a holy marriage, that revitalizes the Earth. Brooms may be created on May Day (Beltane, Belteanne, Beltaine, Cetsamhain), but not purchased on this day. To do so is said to sweep away friends and family and prevent visitors from returning.
Today modern witches still use the besom as an altar adornment, to sweep away negative or stale energy, and to recharge the energy in a space. They are used to cast circle, to mark the barriers of a circle, cleanse and consecrate the circle, and to prepare for smudging. Non-witches also use the broom to scent their homes, adorn their doors, and decorate their homes. It’s unlikely any of us witchy folk will be saving gas and riding our brooms any time soon, but the tradition and lore still live on.
Working tools are those of which you will want or need to be able to practice your Craft for Rituals, Sabbats, and other magical workings that are dedicated to your tradition. I will be giving you examples of different tools that are used in many different Paths and what you can use in place of the more expensive versions of them.
The Athame is mainly used for directing energy in magical Rites. This can be used for creating circles, calling the corners, even for adding salt to water. The Athame is associated with fire and the masculine aspect so this can also be used to represent the God on your altar.
Some Paths have certain distinctions of how this knife should be. Some say that they have to be double-edged, some single-edged, some say dull, some say sharp. I believe that your Athame can be of any shape, size, color, dullness, or sharpness that you are comfortable with. You do not have to purchase an expensive knife. In a pinch you can use a regular knife right out of your kitchen. I found my Athame at a thrift Store many years ago. It is double-edged and dull and is steel with a green on the handle. This knife called to me and I paid all of 50 cents for it. You can use whatever you are comfortable with.
This tool is used for cleaning away negativity from ritual areas and circles as well as at some Handfastings. The Besom is a very powerful fertility symbol. I have 2 small Brooms that I keep near my altar. I purchased these also at thrift stores for around a dollar a piece. I always have my Besoms brush side up to protect it from unwanted energies.
The Bell is not a common tool but it is used in some Paths. You can use this tool to invoke the God or Goddess, to call for the Watchtowers or corners, to ward off negative energies, to welcome positive energies, or even during your Rituals or Rites to signify a beginning or end. It is basically up to you on how you would like to use this tool unless your path already has a use for it. I have a small bell that I purchased at a yard sale for 2 dollars.
These were found in the homes hanging over a freshly lit fire and always had something bubbling in them. They are now made today in many shapes and sizes and are used in Pagan practices with water for scrying and also to build small fires in. I have a small brass Cauldron that sits on my Altar that I use specifically for burning incense in or if I am working on a spell where a fire is involved I can place a small one in there. It is of personal preference as to what size you want or need and even if you need one at all. I found mine again at a thrift store and only paid a few dollars for it.
CHALICE OR CUP
The Chalice is used for libations during Ritual or Rites for holding water, wine, or juice. It is also a symbol for the Goddess and can be used to represent Her on your altar. It can be as grand as a jeweled silver goblet to a regular ordinary juice glass from your kitchen cupboard. I love checking yard sales and thrift store shopping so I love looking for a single wine glass or champagne flute that has a beautiful color or cut to the glass. You can normally purchase something like this from 25 cents to a couple of dollars depending on where you find it.
Most Altars have a Pentacle on them. This can be made of wood, metal, clay, or even a picture of one in a nice dollar store frame. If you are a crafty person you could make one of clay or just purchase a small round piece of wood or metal and paint a Pentacle on this. Not so crafty, find a picture of one that you like and glue it onto a piece of wood, cardboard, metal, or encase it in a frame. Mine was a gift from a fellow Witch who made them.
This is used in some traditions to mark quarter points or to hold banners representing certain elements or symbolic flags. The Staff is also used similarly to the Wand. You can purchase one of these already made or you can make one of your own. If you decide to make one of your own, it is a pretty simple endeavor. I love to be able to take walks in the woods. I find it very relaxing. If you have the opportunity to be able to do this, listen carefully to the wind and the sounds around you. Look around you, on the ground or up in the trees and focus your mind on finding a Staff for yourself. You may find the perfect branch laying on the ground or even a low hanging branch. If you are going to cut it off the tree make sure that you ask the tree for permission first and thank it after. Once you have your perfect Staff you can then clean it up, paint, it, stain it, add cords or ribbons or even gems to it. It is totally up to you on what you want it to be. My Staff was a lonely piece of wood I found on the ground.
The Sword is used in a very similar way as an Athame. It can be used to cast circles and call the four corners, however if you are in a small area it may not be practical to use a Sword. If you do wish to use one, always look around at yard sales, thrift stores and even online to find what you are looking for at a price you can afford. Mine was purchased at a yard sale many years ago for just five dollars.
THURIBLE OR INCENSE BURNER
This can be your Cauldron if you are going to be burning incense on a charcoal or you can purchase an incense stick holder rather inexpensively at a dollar store. Some people prefer to have a censer that hangs on a chain so that they can use the smoke to purify the circle as they walk around it. This again is of your own personal preference. I use stick and cone incense quite a bit so my stick incense holder was purchased at a dollar store and the cone holder (my Buddha) came from a thrift store for three dollars.
The Wand represents Air and Male energy so this can also be used to represent the God on your altar. Wands are used in a very similar fashion as the Athame and Sword. These can be made from glass, copper, silver, or other metals but are usually made of wood. Just as the Staff you can make these yourself by purchasing a dowel from a hardware store or even using a small branch. I have a beautiful piece of driftwood that I found and I decorate it with ribbons and gems for whatever use I need it for. It is always changing and I love having the ability to do that. One little side note to this, if you do not have an Athame, Sword, Wand or Staff you can direct energy just by using your finger. The energy direction has more to do with intent than it does with the actual tool you are using.
This is used for cleansing the area, tools, or space you are working in. It also helps clarify your mind and helps with meditation, not to mention making your home smell nice. Different scents are used for different reasons. The least expensive way to go is to burn sticks. You can find many different varieties and they are usually less expensive than cones or making your own. However, if you are going to burn powdered incense or fresh and you do not have a fire proof container to burn them in, a bucket or old coffee can with sand or salt in it is another inexpensive route to take.
Keep an eye out for part 2 of this article coming soon!