A part of my love affair with Halloween involves going below the surface to find a greater historical understanding of my favorite time of year, not only in the origins of the holiday itself, but also with the components that make up its decor.
One such decoration is the ever so common portrayal of a witch riding her broomstick. Whether it’s in the form of a cutesy cartoon, a decrepit looking old crone, or a sultry, scantily clad, black magic woman, witches are rarely depicted without their accessory for flight.
In the following video, YT user, esotericonlineradio discusses this very subject:
If we look elsewhere online, similar explanations, reflecting the video’s commentary are shared. All point to this “flying ointment” as being a real concoction, primarily composed of herbs, and/or molds, aka hallucinogens. Not all agree on the manner in which this ointment was applied, but they do agree it was not ingested due to either toxicity or because digestion was a poor means for delivery.
If someone was looking for the fastest means available (topically) to shuttle the flying ointment into the bloodstream, then it may not be too far-fetched to envision what esotericonlineradio alluded to in the last 30 seconds of the video. Now, whether or not the broom was employed as a method of aiding in that quick delivery of ointment can’t be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, but it does provide a strong clue about our modern day portrayal of witches and their brooms.
As the ointment took effect, the individual would experience amazing forms of hallucinations, trips, and flights; hence the idea of witches soaring through moonlit skies. Many of these experiences probably took place at night, in isolation, because of harsh judgments. This, no doubt, also led to the modern portrayal of “evil” witches doing so-called ungodly deeds during their nightly gatherings. That’s not to say the people involved in these experiences were even witches; most probably weren’t, but they quickly received the label of witch when their behaviors happened to be witnessed by neighbors, town folks, etc.
Overall, the connection between Halloween witches and their broomsticks probably stems from a variety of old references and practices, but the broom’s use in conjunction with flying ointment seems to be the most commonly discussed.
For more information on why we portray Halloween witches riding on broomsticks, I highly recommend the following articles. A few contain descriptions and very old artwork that some may find explicit, but all are presented in a very respectable manner:
What Really Happened: How Did Witches Come to Ride Brooms? (Contains an interesting collection of witchy artwork and its evolution over the last several hundred years.)
Science Blogs: On the Origin of Witches and Broomsticks
Straight Dope: What’s the Deal With Witches and Broomsticks?
Angelfire — Girls’ Paradise: Do Witches Ride Broomsticks? (This site creates a pop-up, but it should be harmless; just make sure your pop-up blocker is turned on.)