When most people think of witches, what more iconic (albeit laughable) image is there than a warty old hag flying across the face of the full moon on a crookedy old broomstick? Where did that stereotype come from, anyway?
The story goes that, back in the Middle Ages, witches made “flying ointments” using hallucinogenic herbs such as mandrake and belladonna. They would smear the stuff on their bodies (possibly applying it with broom plant fibres), then run around fields mounted on their broomsticks, jumping up and down to “teach” the crops how high to grow. The psychoactive drugs would enter their bloodstream and produce a feeling of flying.
Besom (BEE zum) is just another word for the household broomstick, which was traditionally made with broomcorn stems or birch twigs lashed by thin willow withies to a stave (handle) of ash, hazel or hawthorn. All of these plants had symbolic or sacred significance, and modern-day pagans have adopted the besom for ritual cleansing of a space or readying a circle for casting. In handfasting ceremonies, an ancient Celtic tradition, couples join hands and jump over a broom to celebrate fertility, sexuality and the unification of male (ash, and the handle’s shape) and female (birch, and the triangular shape of the bristles).
Besoms are seen as protective symbols to be placed standing upright outside a door. Smaller versions can be hung in other parts of the house as a blessing. They are used to sweep prosperity in – always through the front door – and negative influences out through the back door. Usually this is done symbolically, with the end of the broom held a few inches off the ground. I’ve even seen a Pinterest article showing how to make paintbrush besoms from twigs and herbs!
I spent yesterday afternoon making up several small besoms, each a little different. They don’t cost much to make. I already had almost everything I needed from foraging outdoors and from my crafting; I purchased the fresh herbs from the grocery store and will use them for cooking later.
The method is pretty straightforward. Although I like to keep my crafts as natural as possible, I did use a glue gun on the twig and pine needle besoms; for the others, I used a twist tie to keep the stems in place while I was arranging and tying them.
The besoms shown here are 6 to 9 inches long. Of course you can make yours any length you want, including full size, but they won’t hold up to actual use. Real broom-making is quite a skill and art. If you’re interested in functional broomsticks, see this wonderful tutorial from craft broom maker, Shawn Hoefer.
• Small branch or wooden dowel for the handle, cut to desired length
• Bristle material: twigs, shrub stems, herb sprigs, raffia, straw, pine needles, etc., cut to desired length, either all the same or slightly different lengths for a rustic look
• String to tie on the bristles and for a hanging loop: household or baker’s string, twine, raffia, jute, hemp, embroidery cotton, ribbon or wire
• Scissors, utility knife or pruning shears
• Twist tie or rubber band
• Drill or Dremel™ tool, or eye hook (both optional)
• Hot glue gun (optional)
• Sturdy needle (optional)
• Optional adornments: woodburning tool, markers or paint to decorate handle; crystals or beads; pentacle, etc.
If you’ll be hanging the besom, drill a small hole through the stave (handle) about ¼ inch from the top. (Alternatively, screw an eye hook into the flat top end.) • Cut a handful of bristles to length, either all the same or varied for a more rustic look. • Arrange bristles around the bottom inch or so of the handle, laying them side by side as flat as possible. Make sure to cover enough stave so you can wrap string a few times around to secure the bristles. • Use a twist tie or elastic band to hold them down temporarily as you work, or hot glue in place. • Tie a long piece of string tightly around the bristles and thread free end onto needle. • Pulling tightly as you go, wrap string around bristles several times until they feel secure. If desired, use the needle to thread under existing loops for extra security. • Tie off the string with a knot and trim, tucking the end under some of the loops or hot-gluing it down for a neater look. • Trim the bristle ends into desired shape. • You may wish to decorate the handle or add other embellishments; for my twig besom, I woodburned a bindrune using a pyrography tool.
For the pine needle besom, I laid the needle clusters (they usually come off the tree in bundles of 2 or more, depending on the species) with the sharp ends pointing to the handle’s top, and the clustered end (where needles are attached to each other) flush with the stave bottom – this is where I added tiny dabs of hot glue. I wrapped the bristles a couple of times with string, then gently bent the needles back over themselves and the string toward the stave bottom. Fresher needles will flex; some will break. Holding them in place temporarily with a twist tie, I did the finally wrapping and tying off with the same piece of string, which I brought up through the bristles to the outside.
I had fun making these besoms. They smelled lovely as I was working with them, and each has its own character. I might hang one from the mirror in my car; the besoms made with rosemary and sage are a cute way to dry the herbs for later use!