Witchcraft isn’t something one does, it’s something one is…Magic becomes such an integral part of one’s life; it effortlessly and seamlessly weaves into the everyday and pretty soon the boundary between sacred and mundane vanishes (a good indication that you’re doing something right!). If we look to our forebears for guidance we quickly see that an everyday functional form of magic was pretty much the form! Sure there were grimoires, the common assumption that most old time Witches were illiterate has been widely discredited and I’m sure more fancy magic was occasionally employed. For the most part however you made do with what was at your fingertips, flamboyant tools weren’t affordable and quite frankly I doubt that they got anywhere near as sentimentally attached to ‘stuff’ as we might today. Our ancestors were indeed practical but they were also cautious and ‘every day’ objects were a good means to hide the tools of their arte in plain sight of prying eyes…a humble knife in the kitchen, a simple cooking pot, a copper basin, a mirror and of course the broom.
Fortunately the majority of us no longer live in a society where we need to hide anything (go to any Witchcraft suppliers or Neo Pagan conference if you are in any doubt) so our tools can be as simple or as ornate as we want them to be. As it happens my current besom needed a refurb, it was old, heavy and cumbersome so I have spent the last couple of months making a new and improved besom to hang over my door! Here’s how I did it, I’ll ‘hint’ at a little lore along the way.
If you want a ‘traditional’ besom the three components (Staff, Brush and Binding) are made from Ash, Birch and Willow respectively. These represent the three ‘feminine’ elements of Air, Earth and Water or the 3 F’s (Flax, Fodder and Flags). I suggest folks read some of the Robert Cochrane material to glimpse a deeper understanding of these things.
The first thing to do is collect an Ash staff. The South East of England has been subject to some pretty intense storms this past couple of months so finding a wind fallen Ash staff was not hard for me! But as with all things “ask and you shall receive”…keep your eyes peeled and whether you chose to cut from a living tree or collect dead wood the choice is a completely personal one, all I will say is be respectful when taking anything from nature…and give a little something back (even if your taking ‘dead’ stuff!)
Your next decision is bark left on or bark stripped off? My old broom had the bark left on but its bloomin’ rough and if you are planning to ‘ride’ your broom at any point you may prefer the smoothness a nice stripped and sleak length can offer ! If you are stripping the bark do that as soon as possible. If you are carving the staff with ‘traditional’ male anatomy at the opposite end to the handle then this can also be done at this stage. The staff can be given a rub down with sandpaper and left to dry somewhere ambient and free from temperature and moisture extremes. You can ‘preserve’ and polish the wood with beeswax or boiled linseed when the wood is dry.
Whilst your staff is drying you have plenty of time to gather the material for the brush. As mentioned above Birch is traditional and my brush ended up being pretty much all Birch with some dried Mugwort stems I happen to have. I have seen brooms made from Straw, and brooms made from Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris), brooms made from Heather and even brooms made from (strangely enough) Broom (Cytisus scoparius). Like I said we have the freedom to be creative, it just depends how traditional you want to be (it’s also worth looking back in time to see what was traditionally used in your locality).
This goes for size too. Your broom doesn’t need to be massive, it needn’t be any longer than your arm if you prefer something a little more compact, just keep in mind what you will ultimately be doing with your broom.
Once you have all your brush bits, bunch them all together in your hands (a second pair of hands is sometimes useful). Bunch everything up tight and bind with strong garden twine or a cable tie. This is just temporary to support the material and leave your hands free to finish the broom. Meanwhile have a selection of Willow withes cut (again with thanks) and soaking in water.
With your brush facing away from you on a table or bench you should now be able to thrust the phallic end of your staff into the centre of the brush, you should struggle with this, it’s the tension which will hold your broom together so it needs to be a tight fit.
Once assembled throw the broom around a bit, treat it rough, make sure its sturdy and can withstand everything you are likely to throw at it, look through the brush…can you see the staff? Do you need to redistribute the brush more evenly?
Once you are satisfied you can then bind with the willow withes. Willow shrinks a great deal when it dries so it sometimes pays to dry out soaked willow and then re-soak to prevent extreme shrinkage when it dries again. Bind the willow around tightly and in at least two places for extra support (I like three bindings…for reasons!)
If you wish you can decorate your now completed Besom further with ribbon or such like but what you have now is a fully functioning traditional besom ready for you to clean house, leap over or fly upon! The besom should of course be ceremonially dedicated to the spirits and the craft.
Traditionally the broom was kept by the door, if the brush was up clients would know you were busy advising another towns person, brush down you were open for business. As I am not a ‘working’ man I just keep my broom close at hand…very useful when visitors come and leave all their nastiness behind, and for assisting with the weekly chores. Remember, as simply and seemingly ordinary as it may be the Broom is a powerful magical implement, no matter when you use it or why, use it with purpose and in full awareness…use slow deliberate sweeps, handle it respectfully. Yes it’s only a ‘tool’ easily replaced but repetition breeds power…the longer you have your broom, the more effective it will become and the better it will serve you!