The besom, or broom, is one of the main ritual tools of the witch and is sacred to both the Goddess and God. The God – through its symbolic phallic shape, the Goddess – through its three-piece makeup, the shaft, the bristles and the binding cord, three being the triform aspect of the Goddess. While besom and broom are two names used interchangeably, there is a small difference in their definition. The brush of a besom is usually made of twigs and is, therefore, more rounded in shape, whereas the brush of a broom is primarily made of straw, which is flatter in shape.
Traditionally a besom was made from three different kinds of wood, Ash for the shaft, Birch twigs for the bristles and Willow strands for the binding cord. Ash is protective and has command over the four elements, Birch is purifying and draws spirits to one’s service, while Willow is sacred to the Goddess and binds them all together. In modern witchcraft today, while the traditional besom still takes pride of place, other woods are used for special purposes: Oak for added power and protection, Pine for luck and health, Redwood for longevity, Maple for love and money, Walnut for health and wisdom, and Cinnamon for spirituality.
Magically, a besom is used for a variety of purposes, but more generally they are used to purify and protect. In ritual, they are used to cleanse sacred space before magick is performed by visually sweeping away negative energies and astral build up. Before casting the circle, the Priest or Priestess will walk clockwise (deosil) around the circle space, and hold the besom a few inches off the ground sweep outward from the center while chanting the Besom Chant:
“Besom, besom, sacred broom
Sweep out darkness, sweep out gloom
Rid this sacred hallowed ground
Of demons, imps and hell bent hounds;
Then set ye down on Her green earth
By running stream or Mistress’ hearth,
Till called once more on Sabbath night
To cleanse once more this sacred site.”
Sweeping the area with a besom can be done in addition to or in place of incense, to purify ritual space, and is often used for such when rituals are conducted in smoke-free areas. When not being used in ritual, place your magical besom by the door to protect the home from evil spirits and negative energies. When standing a besom, always place the bristles up, with the shaft on the floor. This not only makes the bristles last longer, it will also bring you good luck. Another old custom was to place a besom outside the door, this as an indication to other witches that the occupants are out, or working, and didn’t wish to be disturbed.
To make your own traditional besom you will need the following:
A length of Ash approximately 4ft long and about 1in
thick for the shaft.
Birch twigs (about 1-2 ft. in length) to act as the bristles.
Several strands of Willow for binding the bristles to the
end of the shaft.
A pair of Scissors.
Water and salt.
Soak the Birch twigs and Willow strands overnight in warm lightly salted water (to make them pliable) and allow them to dry slightly before using. They need to be damp and pliable before binding them to the Ash shaft. Arrange the twigs alongside the shaft about 3-6 inches from the bottom, larger twigs form the center of the brush with shorter ones around the outside, then bind them with the Willow strands. Be sure to tie them very securely. Use as many layers of twigs as you like depending on how full you want the brush to be. Leave overnight to dry.
Whether you make your own besom in the traditional way “as above,” or purchase a ready made one, you may then wish to decorate is it with a magickal name or other meaningful symbols or sigils. Once decorated, the besom should then be consecrated ready for use in your magickal workings. To do this anoint the besom with oil while reciting the following chant:
“Besom of birch and willow tied,
Be my companion and my guide.
On ashen shaft by moonlight pale
My spirit rides the windy gale
To magickal realms beyond both space and time.
To magickal lands, my soul will sail.
In the company of the crone, I’ll ride
This besom of birch with willow tied
So do I consecrate this magickal tree.
As I will it, so mote it be.”
Once consecrated for use in the magick circle, it should not be used for any other purpose. When making a besom for normal household usage, it can still be magically charged for that use. On one side of the shaft (from the bristles traveling upwards) carve the following words while visualizing your intent: “I sweep out evil and poverty.” On the opposite side of the shaft (from the top traveling down to the bristles, carve “I sweep in money and luck.” When sweeping, visualize the same intent, but sweep towards the fireplace if you have one. If not sweep in any direction except towards the front door, so as not sweep out and lose your good luck.
Myths and Folklore
Most people identify the besom with the old wedding ceremonies performed by Gypsies and early American slaves when couples “Jumped the Broom” to cross the threshold of their new homes ensuring fertility, domestic harmony, and longevity. This custom continues today in modern handfasting rituals when as part of the ceremony, the bridal couple will jump across a decorated besom as confirmation of their commitment to each other. Should the marriage not work, or end in divorce, jumping the broom backward will break that commitment.
The age-old image of witches flying around on broomsticks casting baneful spells is believed to have come from old fertility rites associated with nature and agricultural. As part of the seasonal Spring rites to aid the growth of newly planted crops, women from local villages would gather around fields with their besoms. Placed between their legs as they circled the field, much like riding on a hobby horse, the idea was the higher they leaped, the higher the crop would grow.
In renaissance times, according to the demonologists, the Devil himself presented brooms and flying ointment to newly initiated witches so they could fly to the Sabbats. Often they carried with them familiars in the shape of demons or animals. They were also said to fly across fields blasting their neighbor’s crops or ride out to sea in order to rise up storms. However, such concocted myths were generally forced from the poor tortured victims of the persecutions, and should not be taken seriously.
Other Magickal Uses
Placing a broom across a doorway allows your departed friends and family to speak to you if they so choose. As long as the broom remains, they can communicate freely. To bring rain, stand outside and swing a broom in the air over your head. If lightning blows your way put a broom on your porch to act as a lightening rod. Electricity and lightning are thought to be attracted to brooms. Another way to safeguard a house against lightning strikes is to cross a spade and a broom outside the main entrance.
A besom placed under the bed or beneath the pillows at night, will protect the sleeper from nightmares and ensure a peacefully sleep. Similarly, it is not wise to leave a bed empty for too long. If you are going away for any length of time, place a besom in your bed, laying the bristles on the pillow. This will guard the bed against evil spirits until you return.
Two crossed besoms hung on a wall or the back of a door will protect the house from unwanted influences. With the exception of those used exclusively for magickal purposes, moving an old besom into a new house will result in bad luck.