A broom is a cleaning tool consisting of stiff fibres attached to, and roughly parallel to, a cylindrical handle, the broomstick. In the context of witchcraft, "broomstick" is likely to refer to the broom as a whole. A smaller whisk broom or brush is sometimes called a duster.
An old form of broom was the besom, which was made simply of twigs tied to a handle, and was relatively inefficient as a cleaning implement. Flat brooms, made of broom corn, were invented by Shakers in the 19th century. Today, they are also commonly made with synthetic bristles. Another common type is the push broom, consisting of a wide brush with short bristles, to which a broomstick is attached at an angle.
Other uses for brooms
- Brooms are sometimes put to punitive use, such as a caning or a birching.
- In baseball, when the home team is close to accomplishing a sweep (having won the first two games of a three-game series or first three games of a four-game series), some fans will bring brooms to the ballpark and brandish them as a way of taunting the visiting team.
- Because of their similarities to fighting staves, broomsticks may be used as weapons by those trained in staff martial arts techniques.
- Many navies around the world have a tradition of lashing a broom to the mast or highest antenna or tower on their ships when they are returning to port after successful missions. This is a sign that there has been a "clean sweep" of the seas.
- There have been numerous reports of individuals being sexually assaulted by their attacker with a broom. This is known as broomrape. Death from these attacks have been reported.
Brooms and witchcraft
Brooms have long been connected with witchcraft, almost universally portrayed as medieval-style round brooms and associated with female witches
. Despite the association with women, in 1453
, the first known case of claiming to have flown on a broomstick is recorded, confessed by the male witch Guillaume Edelin. There are, however, prior records of witches flying on sticks or similar objects, usually that had been first greased with a magical flying ointment
Anecdotally, the broom served another purpose during periods of persecution. Witches and other magic practitioners would disguise their wands as broom sticks to avoid suspicion. It is also a tradition that brooms have been used by some as receptacles to harbor temporarily a particular spirit.
Today the broom is included in lists of ritual tools in many pagan guide books, where it is often referred to as a besom. A broom is sometimes laid at the opening of some covens' rossets. Representing the Element of Air, brooms are utilized in the purification of areas. They are used to sweep ritual circles clean of negative energy. The High priestess or High priest walks clockwise, traces the cast circle and sweeps with the broom a few inches off the ground. This practice can be used in addition to or in place of incense to purify a ritual space. It is often employed by those allergic to incense, and during rituals practiced in smoke-free areas. It is also a technique associated with "kitchen witches" who use what's on hand to work spells.
As a tool of purification, decorative brooms are sometimes hung near doors to cleanse those entering a house.
Brooms in wider culture
In literature and poetry
- Poets use the broom in metaphor making. In one of Emily Dickinson's poems Mother Nature, Nature ". . .sweeps with many colored brooms, and leaves the shreds behind. . ."
- In many works of fiction, especially fairy tales, broomsticks are depicted as a means of air transport for witches, with the brush usually facing the posterior direction.
- The Harry Potter book series depicts magical flying brooms, especially in the context of Quidditch, a fictional sport portrayed in the series.
- In the Broadway musical Wicked, the protaganist of the story, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, enchants a broomstick at the end of act one during the song "Defying Gravity." At the climax of the number, Elphaba dramatically rises above the stage with the broom in hand.
- In the movie Fantasia, Mickey Mouse, playing The Sorcerer's Apprentice, brings a broom to life to do his chore of filling a well full of water. The broom overdoes its job and when chopped into pieces, each splinter becomes a new broom that flood the room until Yen Sid stops them. The brooms have had recurring cameos in Disney media, mostly portrayed as janitors, albeit not out of control or causing chaos such as in the original appearance.
- A fictional spaceman's tool and movement aid called a "broomstick" occurs in Islands in the Sky and 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke.
In religious and cultural tradition
- An African American wedding tradition incorporates the use of the broom. The custom is called "jumping the broom." During the years of slavery in the United States, some slave owners would not let their slaves marry in a church ceremony. Instead a broom was placed across a doorway. The bride and groom jumped over it into their new life as a married couple. Today the custom incorporates a broom decorated to the bride's specifications, and it becomes a wedding keepsake.
- Brooms in India have a 2 foot stick.
- In the Bible, Luke 15:8 "The Parable of the Lost Coin", the broom is used as a symbol for women's work. "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?"
- The Métis people of Canada have broom dancing in their cultural heritage. There are broom dancing exhibitions where people show off their broom dancing skills. The lively broom dance involves fast footwork and jumping.
- Dundes, A. (1996) "Jumping the Broom": On the origin and meaning of an African American Wedding Custom. The Journal of American Folklore. 109 (433) p.324-329. Retrieved on May 19, 2007 from the Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Library at http://www.jstor.org.proxy.library.jhu.edu
- Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research. (2001).
- from The Virtual Museum of Metis History and Culture Broom Dance, Metisfest 2001. Retrieved on May 18, 2007.