Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

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

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Broom Lore for Walpurgisnacht and Other Holidays

Every year in late April, I thoroughly clean my back porch for the first time since the descent into winter. Over the winter and early spring, things tend to collect -- dust, dead bugs, spider webs, tree pollen from early spring. The latter (especially from the pines that surround my house) makes it futile to do this any earlier because all of my hard work -- sweeping, hosing it down, vacuuming, and mopping -- would be nulled a few days later by a thick film of yellow powder. But by mid-spring, everything seems to calm down enough to make the deep cleaning worthwhile, which ends up putting this ritual right before Walpurgisnacht and May Day, which I celebrate to honor my German and Scandinavian roots. I won't go into the history of Walpurgisnacht here because it's already covered on a wealth of websites and books; I'd rather focus on one household tool that has a significant place in the lore of this holiday (especially to me personally): the broom.

Brooms are often featured in many spring holidays. At Easter in Sweden and Finland, the festivities take on a more Halloween- or Carnivale-esque character than in other places, and little girls dress up as Easter witches, wearing kerchiefs on their heads and carrying small brooms in their hands. On Walpurgisnacht, a Wild Hunt of witches and specters rides across the night sky to hold their revels on the Brocken. It's common knowledge that the broom as a flying implement is a development of the magic worker's staff. For hundreds of years, it has served as a symbol of feminine power masked as a common, humble household tool.

Spiritworking and Protection

In her book Night of the Witches, Linda Raedisch mentions several bits of broom lore, such as a taboo against taking "an old broom into a new house," which implies a connection between household spirits and brooms, similar to that of the chimney hook (82). Similarly, Benjamin Thorpe writes in Northern Mythology, volume 3, of a troublesome Niss (aka nisse or tomte in Scandinavia) in Neumünster, Germany, that traveled from home to home with a family by stowing away in the household broom (56). With this kind of association, it follows that household magic could be accomplished with it. One example: a cunning man's wife in Kaseburg (Polish: Karsibór) reputedly lodged a broom in a chink in a wall, hung a pail from it, and "milked" it to steal milk from a neighbor -- that is, until she was discovered by her husband, who'd been hired by the neighbor to identify the cause of his cows' milk drying up (78).

Paradoxically, Thorpe also cites several examples of brooms used in protection magic against witches and supernatural beings:

  • "brooms bound during the Twelfths will protect against witchcraft" (151)
  • setting a broom bristles-up near or in the doorway will prevent witches from entering the house (22) -- a tradition also cited by Claude Lecouteux in The Tradition of Household Spirits (53) and Raedisch (82)
  • when dwarves steal a child and leave a changeling in its place, the cradle should be overturned without touching the changeling and "with an old broom it should be swept out at the door" to compel the dwarves to bring the human child back home (Thorpe 157)
  • setting an ax and broom "crosswise on the threshold of the yard-gate" will help grazing livestock find their way back to their yard and stall without help, as well as protect them against witchcraft (175)

Weather-making and Healing

Brooms can also be used in weather magic. For example, powerful witches might shake a wet broom above their heads to summon a storm (Raedisch 42, 56, 82). For seafarers, one might burn a broom at sea to conjure a wind to fill the sails -- an act that would otherwise bring bad luck (82). Or, if there is a wind but it blows contrary to your desired direction, you might throw an old broom between your ship and a nearby passing ship to change the direction in your favor (and, unfortunately, against the favor of the other ship) (Thorpe 183).

Finally, brooms were used in healing magic. To help an amputated limb heal, a "charmer" would take a twig from a broom and use it to press the wound together, then wrap the twig in the bloody linen that was used to soak up the blood. After laying it in a dry place, the charmer would finish the ritual by proclaiming: "The wounds of our Lord Christ, / they are not bound, / but these wounds, / they are bound," followed by an invocation of the Trinity (Thorpe 162).

Whether you celebrate Walpurgisnacht and May Day, Beltane, or another holiday at this time, if part of your celebrations include cleansing/protection, weather magic, or healing, you might consider employing a broom -- a regular old broom will do well, as it did for our ancestors -- in your workings.

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Works Cited

Lecouteux, Claude. The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices. Inner Traditions, 2013.

Raedisch, Linda. Night of the Witches: Folklore, Traditions & Recipes for Celebrating Walpurgis Night. Llewellyn, 2011.

Thorpe, Benjamin. Northern Mythology: Popular Traditions and Superstitions of Scandinavia, Northern Germany, and the Netherlands. Vol. 3. Lumley, 1852.

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The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, spirit worker and traveler, and folk magic practitioner guided by both philosophical Taoism and Germanic 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.  

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