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Why do witches ride on broomsticks

Why do witches ride on broomsticks
Ask anyone to draw a picture of a witch, and the result will probably look like a not so pretty woman with a hat riding through the air on a broomstick. But why this strange form of transportation. Why not a big black steed or a scruffy mule? Where does the link between witches and broomsticks come from?

The answer to this question depends on the audience. If you are asked this question by a child, you can always give the child-friendly version, in which the broomstick is seen as a symbol for the woman as a housewife. Women took care of the household, they raised children, cooked food and kept the house tidy. One of the most important tools of this job is … the broomstick. When people started accusing women of being a witch, the broom was seen as a secret tool of the witch, because almost every woman owned a broomstick.

Okay, so far the G-rated - and not so convincing version. What about the grown-up version?

According to this explanation the symbol of the broomstick might very well be related to the use of drugs. For ages, drugs such as alcohol, magic mushrooms or cannabis have been used by mankind to experience ‘divine’ experiences

But how does this relate to witches?

An answer to this question can be found in the book “The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft” by Michael J. Harner. Harner notes that whenever witch practices are mentioned in medieval writings, they often involve the consumption of drugs. In order to have visions witches often used hallucinogenic drugs.

And this is where it becomes interesting, because witches did not roll joints or inject themselves in order to experience the effects of these drugs. No, the typical way of taking these drugs was in the form of an ointment, applied to the skin to obtain the desired effect. The most effective place possible are mucous membranes. Where can these mucous membranes be found? Well in places like the nasal cavity, but also in a woman’s vagina. How is the ointment applied to one’s vagina. You could use your fingers, but in those times, doctors and drug users commonly lathered the ointment on a thin stick. And where could such narrow poles be found in your everyday household at that time? You’ve guessed it: a broomstick.

Harner supports his claim with some interesting quotes delivered onto us from medieval times: Here is one taken from a witchcraft investigation in 1323: “In rifleing the closet of the ladie, they found a Pipe of oyntment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon the which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin.” And this one from 1470: “But the vulgar believe, and the witches confess, that on certain days or nights they anoint a staff and ride on it to the appointed place or anoint themselves under the arms and in other hairy places.“

So, even though there exist other theories for the association between witches and broomsticks, there is substantial evidence dating from that period to support Harner’s claim. It certainly contributed. It will certainly make you think twice the next time you see a picture of a witch riding a broomstick.
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