Witches and Broomsticks

March 2nd, 2010 by John Wolfe

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.)

6 Responses to “Witches and Broomsticks”

  1. autumnforest Says:

    Hee hee…I can’t help thinking of Wendy on Casper the Friendly Ghost (wasn’t that her name?) Well, I remember as a kid these two elderly spinsters who owned an antique shop. They would babysit me when my mom was busy and we were visiting our summer home along the Chesapeake. One of the old ladies used to give me the task of brushing with the broom when someone left the store. I’d go out on the stoop and when they left, I’d brush after them. I asked if they were neat freaks and they laughed. One of them said, “no, if we were, we’d make you brush their feet of when they come in. We’re brushing away their bad energy when they leave. We don’t want it lingering. We chose each antique for its positive energy.” I thought that was strange, but it wasn’t until years later when I studied pagan beliefs and became enamored of it, that I started to use my broom at my doorstep too. Whenever I plan to start a new project, I sweep the house with the broom as if I’m starting new. If someone’s been fighting, I broom as well. I supposed a modern pagan might use a vacuum, but not me. There’s something about the symbolism… Thanks for the cool film. I hadn’t realized how strange that process must be to others. Oh, and the ointment–there was something similar to that using nutmeg which is both a hallucinogen and an aphrodisiac…

  2. Goldie Says:

    Ooooooo I absolutely ADORE that picture image in the first video at the 14 second mark. I want to frame it and hang it in my living room. I don’t see many things that strike my fancy like this but that heart picture and the witch just stole my heart!!

    Interesting information. I’m embarrassed to say this but I never heard of this ointment before. In a similar fashion it reminds me of what peyote’ is for the Native Indians and their “visions” from the great spirits. To this very day we have an event that is coinciding with the above mentioned and that’s of DMT and astral projection….but again to have “visions” or perhaps have an OBE.

    I was not aware of this regarding the witches though. Yes, I agree that even for those people who were not a witch, I’m sure they were quickly labeled if they did anything different and not of the norm from society. If you didn’t fit it at all, “WITCH WITCH WITCH!!!” and then some fools to enforce a law to kill you. John………..LOL, people like you and me wouldn’t have made it to our thirties if we were alive back then ;-) Shoot I’d be lucky to have made it to my teens.

    I really enjoyed this blog entry John. You know what a huge fan I am of your writing anyhow and can never seem to get enough but I always like to see what your going to pull out of your hat. Plus another thing I like about this one is the easy use of the links provided for additional information. THANK YOU. Often websites are packed with so much more than what’s on the surface so thank you for sticking them right in the entry like this.

    Nicely done my dear friend ;-)

  3. John Wolfe Says:

    autumnforest,

    I think her name was Wendy. It’s been a looong time since I’ve seen those old cartoons. Thanks for sharing that great story! I used to burn sage for cleansing purposes and the little lady who owned the metaphysical shop where I’d buy my sage reminds me of the women in your story. She was so awesome! I don’t usually warm up right away to complete strangers. It takes a certain vibe for me to immediately feel comfortable, but I definitely got that vibe from her.

    Thanks for the info on nutmeg. I didn’t know it could be used in a manner similar to the flying ointment. There’s definitely a connection between hallucinogens, arousal and the experience of flying, as it pertains to studying the documented history on what was labeled witchcraft over the last several hundred years. It’s a side of the story you rarely hear about as an adult and definitely not a side that’s taught when you’re in school!

    Goldie,

    It’s interesting you brought up the use of peyote for native tribes as well as modern day use of DMT. As much as we try to deny it or sweep it under the rug, so much of our history has been shaped and built on the use of mind altering substances. While that part of our past is often intentionally covered up or lost, it’s obvious (once you know where to look) that it still shows up throughout other aspects and symbols in our society. Yet, most people don’t even realize it.

    I’m definitely an oddball, ;) so I can always relate to anyone, whether contemporary or historical, who has been judged for being different. Thankfully, I live in a time where it’s a little easier to blend in or at least get by with being vastly different compared to what those poor individuals experienced just a few hundreds years ago.

    Thank you, Goldie, for your response. I always appreciate it.

  4. Pam Morris Says:

    well, THAT was completely fascinating! guess I’m too much of an idiot to have even wondered about the old broomstick but makes total sense. what a shame so many lives were lost during the witchhunts of yesteryear. not surprising, however, as the ignorance and imbecilic behavior of the Christian church continues today–witness the many parents who will not let their children read Harry Potter (devil’s influence), or the car park ‘fall festivals’ where kids can have ‘fun’ going from car to car receiving educational materials, etc., instead of having a ball racing from house to house and yelling “trick r’ treat”! I’ll shut up now–don’t want to get carried away. thanks for a very interesting blog entry!

  5. frightnight Says:

    All of that about witches is news to me. Never heard anything about the ointment or their brooms before. I never questioned it or even gave it a second thought. This was really educational. Thanks.

  6. John Wolfe Says:

    Pam,

    Don’t feel bad, I never wondered about it either. It was from a podcast four years back, when I first heard about the use of brooms and flying ointment many centuries ago, then the light bulb went on.

    The good news — even in the midst of certain groups trying to prevent the traditional celebration of October 31st — Halloween continues getting stronger! No matter what people have tried to do to that awesome holiday, it just keeps on trucking. :D

    Thanks so much for your response. I’m glad you enjoyed the entry.

    frightnight,

    You’re welcome. It’s always my pleasure and I appreciate your feedback.