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Why Do Witches Fly On Broomsticks?

witches on a broomstick


Why Do Witches Fly On Broomsticks?

The depiction of a witch riding a broomstick goes back a long way. It’s become a bit of an iconic image. It reminds us of Halloween and thanks to the Wizard of Oz, scared the pants off of us when we were children. But what’s the origin of the association of broomsticks and witches?

Well, there is a simple answer you might want to tell a child if they ask, and then there is the R-rated version.

The G-rated answer is that a witch’s broomstick was originally a symbol of female domesticity. Back in those days, most women were responsible raising children, cooking, cleaning, and upkeep of their home. They didn’t have vacuum cleaners but they always had their trusty broomstick close at hand. When people began claiming others were witches, brooms were often thought of as a “disguised tool of the trade” since nearly every woman had one nearby or in her possession.

What’s the R-rated version?

The more detailed, and R-rated version involves drugs and some pretty graphic imagery.ancient drug

Humans have been altering their consciousness since the first person accidentally left some juice out to ferment into alcohol, accidentally ate psychoactive mushrooms or decided to bite into a poppy plant. Many of these people would have mystical visions, out of body experiences or even think they’re conversing with a God. It’s likely a primary source of many early “religious revelations”. Even an ardent atheist may think he’s talking directly to God if dosed with enough jimsonweed, magic mushrooms, or belladonna which were readily available throughout most of human history.

So what does this have to do with witches?

Michael J. Harner explains how in his book “The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft”. He states that if you browse through the works of medieval and Renaissance writers, you will find countless instances in which witch based hallucinations follow a potent hit of hallucinogenic drugs.

Medieval Witch Burning

Medieval Witch Burning

How were these drugs administered? Typically in the form of an ointment. Where was this ointment applied? To the skin, of course, but in the most effective place possible; the mucous membranes. Where can you find mucous membranes? In a woman’s vagina, among other places. How would one apply ointment to one’s vagina? Fingers are an option but the most common way for a typical doctor or drug abusers in those times was to lather the ointment on a narrow pole. And where might one find such a pole in the average peasant household? A broomstick.

In Harner’s thesis, he includes some interesting quotes. 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.

While not the sole reason for association, there is a fair amount of evidence and written anecdotes from that period to support a claim that it certainly contributed. It will certainly make you think twice the next time you see a picture of a witch riding a broomstick.

“Man, Myth and Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural” 1970, edited by Richard Cavendish.
The Medical Origins of the European Witch Craze: A Hypothesis
“Murder, Magic, and Medicine” Oxford University Press 2000, J. Mann ISBN-10: 0198507445
“The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft” Harner, Michael J., ed. 1973. Library of Congress: 72-92292. p. 128-50
Photos are available under a Creative Commons Attribution license by Wikicommons.



  1. xX_Rand_Xx

    May 7, 2011 at 3:25 am

    Now that’s interesting.

    • guruofATHENS

      May 7, 2011 at 3:29 am

      replace interesting with awesome

  2. GoBucks

    May 7, 2011 at 3:32 am

    This gives new meaning to the phrase, “A stick up your ***”.

  3. Joel84

    May 7, 2011 at 3:35 am

    Shared this on facebook, my aunt always dresses her daughter up as a witch for Halloween. I doubt she’ll be doing that this year.

  4. harry's vaj

    October 22, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    That explains why harry potter rode a broomstick

  5. aWitch

    February 2, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Actually, a broomstick/broom is used to “purify” an area meant for rituals. As for European witchcraft, which was NOT the first witches; Drug use is common but that does not mean ALL witches use it. Was this written based on historical facts or other religious assumption?

  6. Jessica74

    February 5, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Actually, it’s believed that the image of a witch on a broomstick came from a farming tradition. It’s believed that when grain was planted they would hop around on the brooms to show grain how high to grow. It was like a prayer.

  7. Doc

    September 26, 2016 at 5:14 am

    Sorry but you are ALL wrong – it’s from a Celtic ritual of marriage where the bride and groom jumped over the broomstick as a blessing for fertility and yes, drugs have been, and probably always will be, a thing for which humans will do, just because drugs have a bad name now doesn’t mean it was always this way, Coca-Cola’s original ingredient was Cocaine which was only changed in the early 1900’s, Opium was a prime ingredient in MANY different “treatments” – morphine and opium are still available right over the counter WITHOUT a prescription today, kaylene and morphine for example, and Gee’s Linctus contains opium, Herion is – and always has been – available on prescription as Diamorphine, Heroin, which was the BRAND NAME coming from the word Heroine or a female hero because when it was first discovered they (stupidly) thought it would have no addictive qualities thereby helping to treat the millions of people then addicted to morphine – hence the brand name Heroin(e). The point is that drugs have played a major role in history, whether or not you want to believe it, it’s true – the Celtic ritual would have been distorted over the years in part by drug use and in part by the “Christian” church (sorry, but it’s another fact, but for another day), for example, the idea of Santa’s flying reindeer was in part due to the reindeer of that area often eating hallucinogenic mushrooms which would be passed through their urine, the people of that time would drink the reindeer urine, usually with fermented fruits or berries thereby increasing the potency and that’s where “flying” reindeer came from, this is no different than that!

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