Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

An exploration of the old spirits, symbols, customs, and crafts of the home.

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The Cunning Wife

The Cunning Wife

The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, spirit worker and traveler, guided by both philosophical Taoism and Germanic and Slavic folk traditions. Her written work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information in ways that are accessible and relevant. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  
Silence Before Dawn: Folk Magic, Darkness, and the Taboo Against Speaking

Imagine waking in the hour before dawn, rising in the cool darkness -- no electricity, no gaslights, just the stars and what's left of the moon, and perhaps a candle to light your room. You pull on your clothes, no sound but that of your feet shuffling and the ruffling of fabric. You put on your shoes and grab a bucket and head out in the darkness. You walk down the road, the air chilled and moist. If you pass someone, you nod your head but don't dare to speak. Their footsteps shuffle away, and the scent of cold earth and dew fills your nostrils as you continue on your way. Soon, you hear the faint trickling of a creek. You come to the edge of it, and the faint light glints on the ripples as you dip your bucket down into the freezing water. You pull it up again, and it's heavier than before. The faint light glints silver on that, too, almost as if you've captured some of the stars in it. Then you head home, the water sloshing softly in the bucket, and still you don't speak until dawn breaks on the horizon.

 

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Stones, Bones, and Blood: Rituals to Prevent a House Fire

If you’re familiar with household folklore and traditions, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a lot of concern about housefires. While fire was a necessary element for survival – keeping warm, cooking food, boiling water to make it safe to drink and clean wounds with – it was also a hazard, especially in homes made of wood and thatch. Lightning could strike during a storm, and the roof would be set ablaze. An accident or malfunction could happen in the hearth, and the house would be consumed from within. Loss of a home spelled disaster, just as it does today, although fire codes and emergency response units have reduced risks for many of us.

Fiery Gods and Devils

Many household spirits were associated with fire. The German kobold is one example. Kobolds, like alps, were often described as fiery spirits that dwelled near or within the stove and, if they were treated poorly, could cause housefires in vengeance. Feeding the kobold regularly, refraining from speaking ill of him, and keeping the house clean and tidy were good ways to keep him happy and supportive of the household.

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Edible Luck: German Traditional Foods for the New Year

As with any holiday celebration, food plays an important role in New Year's Eve and Day traditions around the world. Many people eat pomegranates, that sacred fruit of Persephone associated with rebirth. In Spain, since the turn of the 20th century, it's been the tradition to eat twelve grapes -- one for each month of the coming year and for each toll of the midnight bell. In Charleston, SC (and across the American South), hoppin' john is considered good luck -- the beans symbolize coins -- a tradition originating in African American culture. While waiting for the New Year's ball to drop, my family has always shared a platter of crackers, summer sausage and ham, and a variety of cheeses with champagne for the adults and sparkling grape juice for the kids (we always called it Kinderwein, thanks to our time living in Germany and our partially German American roots).

In addition to pork and ham, Germans also make and eat Glückschwein, marzipan confections in the shape of pigs. The Germanic veneration of pigs goes back a long way to pre-Christian times. Remember that boars are associated with Freyr and Freya -- the golden-bristled Gullinbursti and the disguised lover Hildisvini, respectively. That tradition continues today -- pigs are lucky animals in German culture, symbolizing wealth and health. The term Glückschwein means just that: "lucky pig."

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  • Tyger
    Tyger says #
    I grew up in Switzerland. On New Year's Eve at the dinner-and-dance clubs, they used to bring a baby pig at midnight and let every
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    Thanks for sharing these traditions! I remember the pigs with clover from parts of Germany, too. The piglet tradition is new to me
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Greens were supposed to represent folding money, but dad would always turn the heat up to high and scorch them. The kitchen stank
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    Sounds like you're from the Carolinas! I love those food traditions. Thanks for sharing!
Liquid Glow: A Brief History and Myths Surrounding Mulled Wine

Mulled wine is a staple beverage throughout Europe during the winter season. I remember Christmas shopping in Wϋrzburg as a kid and passing by vendors selling the beverage, the blend of cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, and other spices wafting through the crisp, cold air.

Mulled wine has a long history, dating back to at least as far as the 2nd or 3rd century BCE, when the Greeks and Romans would boil wine, then add honey and spices to the concentrated beverage. They called it by a variety of names, including mulsum, rapa, carenum, and defrutum (Fosbroke).

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Kitchen Witch Dolls: Modern Household Icons

My great-grandmother, whose father immigrated from Norway when he was around nine years old and whose mother was a third-generation German American, had a kitchen witch that was passed down to my mom, her granddaughter. Unfortunately, it was lost over time, but my mom remembers that it wore a long, red dress and perched on a straw broom. This is the traditional form of the kitchen witch: a long dress, usually a kerchief tied around its head rather than a witch hat, often a characteristic long nose on a friendly face, riding upon a miniature broom (or a wooden spoon!)

Over time, craftspeople have branched away from this traditional form, creating kitchen witches that reflect the various interests and needs of contemporary cooks. This is typical for folk traditions: to remain relevant, they transform over time, taking on new elements and meanings. One thing has remained the same, however: they are always friendly, always helpful, always good luck.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I remember a little kitchen witch over the sink in my parents house. I think one of my sisters got it after my mother died, but I
Alfablot: Honoring the Spirits of the Earth and the Dead

“‘Do not come any farther in, wretched fellow’, said the woman; ‘I fear the wrath of Óðinn; we are heathen.’ The disagreeable female, who drove me away like a wolf without hesitation, said they were holding a sacrifice to the elves inside her farmhouse.” (“Austrfararvísur”)

Feast of Spirits

The Alfablot is an ancient Norse holiday celebrated around this time of year, the end of the harvest and the start of the winter season. As for many other peoples across the world, offerings to the spirits were in order during seasonal shifts, especially when advancing into the most challenging season.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Having read Journey to Ixilan by Castaneda and Supernatural by Graham Hancock I am inclined to view the Elves as primarily the spi

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Storm-Warding Charms and Rituals

Florence is pounding at the coastline of the Carolinas as I write. If you’ve been watching meteorologists’ predictions this past week, you’ll have noticed how frequently and wildly projections of her path have changed. She is a massive, powerful, and unpredictable force. Storms like Florence remind us of Mother Nature’s terrible power and that, in spite of all our cunning and advanced technology, we cannot control her; we remain subject to her, a small part of the greater tapestry of teeming, whirling life.

My neighbors’ parents live in Charleston and have come to stay with them to escape the worst of the storm. But even here, some 300 miles from the Virginia coast and buffeted by the ancient Appalachian peaks, we’re still anticipating winds up to 35 miles per hour and three to five inches of rain – nothing compared to our easterly neighbors, but a shock nonetheless for a region that doesn’t often see hurricanes. And, considering how our valley is predisposed to flooding and has already received quite a bit of rain in the past week, we’re all more than a little nervous, wondering how Florence will treat us when she arrives at our doorstep. It’s the subject of every half-overheard conversation I pass by. I can feel it coming – the sky is a mass of mottled gray; the winds are cooler and more persistent; there’s a tension in the air itself, as if every tree and bird and beast is bracing itself for the impact.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I live in Colonial Heights a town south of Richmond. Florence turned south and will miss most of Virginia. I did no storm wardin
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    That's great! I love hearing about others' rituals and traditions. At the time I was writing this post, it did look like Florence

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