During the time leading up to the witchcraft trials in Europe, the bread was made with rye. In a small town where the bread was fresh baked this was just fine, but as Europe began to urbanize and the bread took more time to get from bakery to grocer, the rye bread began to host a mold called “ergot”.
Ergot, in high doses, can be lethal, a fact that led to the rise in popularity of wheat bread. In smaller doses, ergot is a powerful hallucinogenic drug. it became quite popular among those who were inclined towards herbalism and folk cures. Ergot is mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, and turns up in virtually every contemporary writing of the witchcraft age. In particular, it is the inevitable central ingredient in the ointment that witches rubbed their flying broomsticks with.
When ergot is eaten, there was the risk of death, but when absorbed through the thin tissues of the female genitals, the hallucinogenic effects were more pronounced with less ill effects. The modern image of a witch riding a broomstick was inspired by the sight of a woman rubbing herself on the drug coated smooth stick of her broom, writhing in the throes of hallucinations, and no doubt, some intense pleasure as well. To her unsophisticated neighbors, such a sight would have been terrifying. The lack of an equivalent mechanism for men is one reason why “witchcraft” was seen as a predominantly female phenomenon.
However, It was not only accused witches experimenting with this new hallucinogenic. Records from the 14th to the 17th century mention Europeans’ affliction with “dancing mania,” which found groups of people dancing through streets, often speaking nonsense and foaming at the mouth as they did so, until they collapsed from exhaustion. Those who experienced the “mania” would later describe the wild visions that accompanied it. This later led to the discovery of LSD in the 20th century by Albert Hofmann, who was undergoing the study of Ergot.
It later became pharmacological knowledge to produce drug-laden balms called “witch’s brews.” They were distributed as salves with maximum effectiveness. The users of “witch’s brews” were, in a very practical sense, using their ointment-laden broomsticks to get high. They were using their brooms, basically, to “fly.”
In pagan rituals., As a tool, the broom is seen to balance both “masculine energies (the phallic handle) and female energies (the bristles)”. it’s used in many traditions as a method of cleansing or purifying a space. In some cultures, the rite of jumping the broom is considered an important part of a marriage ceremony. Many pagan traditions have the bridal couple, jump across the broom during a Handfasting as a symbol of fertility & to signify the establishment of their new household. Prior to childbirth, women used a broom to sweep the threshold of the home, both for protection and to prepare the way for the new spirit to enter.
Witches use brooms in magick and ritual. The pagan broom or “besom” is used in ritual for cleansing the general circle or ritual area. The besom is sweeping away the psychic dirt, getting the area purified for the ritual at hand. A Witch may begin a ritual by sweeping the area with the magick broom, visualizing the psychic dirt being swept out of the ritual area. The sweeping also helps to get the mind ready for the ritual, quieting the mind and narrowing the focus for the witch.
Many Witches keep a besom by their door, or hanging over their door to protect the home from unwanted outside energies. The besom is a purifier and is related to the element of Water. They have been used by Witches to indicate to other occultists that they were resident, or at work, by placing a besom (broom) outside the door. A besom should always be stood upright when not in use as a sign of respect for the element.
In Love & Light,