All about brooms

Posted by ESC on January 25, 2002 at

In Reply to: All about brooms posted by ESC on January 25, 2002

: : : To have your feet brushed by a broom, would cause you to go to jail??
: : : If a broom falls over, saying that you will never remarry???
: : : Would like to find out more of this broom talk of the past
: : : Thanks

: : Re the falling broom and remarriage, though I've never heard of this observation, this must be in some way connected with the old custom of jumping over a broom hand-in-hand with one's intended, an act which signified marriage... mustn't it?

: These first two entries are from a book about superstitions common on the British Isles:
: BESOM "The early household besom, or broom, was made from the broom-plant or from birch-twigs or heather, and shared some of the traditional lore attaching to these plants. It was also regarded as an essentially feminine tool, and was sometimes used as an image or symbol of the woman of the house. If she wished to indicate that she was away from home, she set a besom outside the house-door, or thrust it up the chimney with twigs showing above the roof.

: That witches rode to Sabbats upon broomsticks was a very common belief at one time. They were supposed to anoint their bodies with a salve given to them by the Devil, and thereafter to be able to fly through the air upon a variety of sticks or stems, including broomsticks. The choice of the latter as a likely means of transport is probably due to the fertility associations of the broom-plants, and also perhaps to the female connexion of the besom, though male witches were thought to ride in this way as well as women. In some confessions recorded at the trials, we hear of sticks being used for ritual purposes, but there is little evidence that the witches ever did much more than straddle them, or leap about with them between their legs. Dame Alice Kyteler, the Irish witch of 1323, had a greased staff on which she 'ambled and gallopped through thick and thin'; but no one seems to have suggested that she ever flew upon it. The same uncertainly exists in other instances of supposed flight, and in any case, the broomstick as such is mentioned only occasionally, ragwort-stems, straws, cornstalks, and other things being quite as often used.

: The besom, or broomstick wedding is now usually associated with gypsies, but at one time it seems to have been known in Wales amongst people who were not gypsies. A birch-broom was set aslant across the open door, either that of the bride's home or that of the cottage in which the couple were to live. The young man leapt over it into the house, and the girl then did the same. Care had to be taken not to touch the doorpost or the broom, or to move the latter accidentally, otherwise the ceremony was void. It had to be performed in the presence of witnesses, and one person, chosen for his standing and importance in the community, acted as officiant. Such a marriage was considered quite valid, however strongly the clergy might condemn it. It could, however, be broken without difficulty if, during the first twelve months, the besom was replaced in the doorway, and the dissatisfied partner jumped backwards over it from the house into the open air. The same conditions applied here as at the wedding. There had to be witnesses, and the person jumping had to avoid touching the broom or doorpost as he or she leapt. If the rite was properly performed, both parties were considered free to marry again.

: They gypsy wedding was slightly different. A broom-branch was laid on the ground in the open, and the bride and groom jumped backwards and forwards over it, holding hands as they did so. A rush ring was then placed on the girl's finger, to be replaced later by a gold ring brought from the joint earnings of the couple. There was also another form in which an ordinary besom was held by the father of the bride, or of the groom, with its bushy end resting on the ground, and first the young man and then the girl leapt over it in turn.

: In North Wales today it is sometimes said that someon