A Ramble Through Broom Lore

by Jj Starwalker

Autumn always seems to conjure up myth and folklore. Something about the coming of the dark seasons of the year pulls at our very center. In the old olden days, there was often reason for apprehension. Did we have enough food and fodder laid by? Would we be safe from dangers, seen and unseen, that stalked the landscape under the cover of the long nights? Is it any wonder that common household objects took on the guise of tools for protection and also became touchstones to associate with–and even convict–community women who were distrusted and eventually accused of witchcraft?

As a modern-day witch, I love the old lore and often build on it in my modern practice, thought not every bit of history is useful. Did you know that the first forks were used in the middle of the Byzantine Empire, but they were not generally accepted for a long time because of their resemblance to a devil’s pitchfork?

The cauldron was a common household item in the days when most cooking was done over an open fire or at the hearth. Like the broom, everyone had one. Although associated with witches, unlike brooms, they are no long ubiquitous.

The broom likely began as a bunch of twigs or leafy branches, held in the hand for sweeping. Whatever local twigs or reeds that were available would have been used, even after the addition of binding and a handle. It is alleged that Benjamin Franklin introduced broom corn, the material from which natural commercial brooms are still made, to the United States in 1725. Most modern brooms are clamped and sewn flat for the purpose of efficient sweeping but there are also brooms with a long handle and a round brush, more commonly called a besom. I met my first one in use in an antique shop as a “corner broom.”  This style is often associated with witches, perhaps because they are less common and viewed as quaint?

The lore of of the lowly broom in modern-day myth seems as vast as their numbers.

For me, a broom–regardless of form–is most likely to be a device for cleansing my space as I physically clean it. Most magic, you see, is in the thoughts and intent of the practitioner. The same broom can simply sweep up dog hair and bits of organic matter from my sorting and cleaning the garden offerings I brought in this afternoon, and then, with a different mindset, send any negative energies flying out the back door as I sweep each room from one end of my house to the open door. For this process, my focus is on sending bad thoughts and negativity ahead, to be banished over the threshold with the last sweep and latching of the door.

Some aspects of broom lore can have practical consequences. I was taught to stand my brooms always on their handle, with the bristles up, the opposite of the way many folks stand them. The magical purpose is “to keep the luck from running out” and down the bristles, but it also has a very beneficial effect of making the broom last much longer. Brooms that stand the other way end up with the bristles getting curved, which does not allow them to sweep nearly as well. Keeping the luck in prolongs the life of the broom and means I have to buy a new one less often.

And speaking of new brooms, one should never move an old broom to a new home. Whether changing house or apartment, whether the experience at the former home was good or bad, whether the broom was new or not, the lore says to replace it. I have wondered about this, having moved many times at one point in my life, especially when the old situation was “good” in the sense that it was comfortable and fit me well. Why, I wondered, did I not want to carry that energy forward? What I was told, by that still, small voice, was “ what fits one situation will not fit another.” So a new broom it was!

Using a broom to encourage an unwanted guest, or one overstaying their welcome to depart, and to bar their return is a common theme. A strong use of intent is implied as you sweep “their room” towards the door. There are other traditions one can follow afterward, using blends of herbs infused in the water with which you wash the floor after sweeping, to add extra energy to the work. In these days, with carpeted rooms, I would make the “washing” solution minus cleaning potion, and spritz the carpet moving from the far side of the room towards the door, same and you would sweep. And yes, using the broom and the infusion symbolically after vacuuming to clean also works!

Standing of a broom by the front door to bar negativity is a common belief. I recently read that, if you are visiting someone and you have to step over a broom in their home, or outside the home, this means they not a good housekeeper. I think that goes without saying, don’t you?

photo credit: Neal E. Johnson, Unsplash