This simple cleaning tool has been a keystone in the arch of witchcraft and fiction. Witches fly welkin high upon their wooden mount in the ebony sky. Through history some witches confessed to flying on a broomstick. Brooms were a symbol for women in art and literature for a long time. Witches almost always held a broom or had a broom near them in medieval art. Supposedly, brooms are also an extension of a witch’s being. According to the Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie, a witch would put a broom on her bed and say “I lay down this besom in the Devil’s name; let it not stir till I come again.”
Brooms weren’t the only flying machine for the witches in medieval times. Actually pitchforks, shovels and even animals were all solid choices for an itinerant witch of the time. Alice Kyteler, a famous Irish witch, claimed she had a “staff on which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin.” While she never confessed to flying in the air it is reasonable to assume that Alice Kyteler was riding a broomstick or some object. Alice Kyteler avowed to riding a broomstick and eventually other witches would also confess to this. The first male to mention his flight in the skies was Guillaume Edelin who said he rode his broomstick through the heavens. Claudine Boban, a possible witch on trial, was said to have flown out of her chimney and up into the air and it was this statement to give birth to the belief that witches always left their houses through the chimney.
For some citizens that had no part in witchcraft this was an issue. So irate were the residents of Europe, men would fire into the night sky with muskets and pistols shouting “Thy mother is a heathen and damned of God!” Farmers who didn’t own rifles or pistols would stick sickles and bill hooks into the soil to ensure lacerations and a gruesome death upon the witch’s landing. The dusk of the 18th century was the end for the accusations in England. People stopped claiming there was a witch in the sky and being terrified of the mysterious figure at night that soared past the moon on a broom. It’s possible that the guns and sickles worked or it was the statement of Lord Mansfield who said “I know of no law that prohibits flying and that as far as I’m concerned, anyone so inclined was perfectly free to do so.” From the 1800’s it would be another century and a half or so until the witch and her partner in crime, the broomstick, would make a stark revival.