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Why Do Witches Ride Brooms? The History Behind the Legend

October 19, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

From pagan fertility rituals to hallucinogenic herbs, the story of witches and brooms is a wild ride.

The evil green-skinned witch flying on her magic broomstick may be a Halloween icon—and a well-worn stereotype. But the actual history behind how

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By the time of Edelin’s “confession,” the idea of witches riding around on broomsticks was already well established. The earliest known image of witches on brooms dates to 1451, when two illustrations appeared in the French poet Martin Le Franc’s manuscript Le Champion des Dames (The Defender of Ladies). In the two drawings, one woman soars through the air on a broom; the other flies aboard a plain white stick. Both wear head scarves that identify them as Waldensians, members of a Christian sect founded in the 12th century who were branded as heretics by the Catholic Church, partly because they allowed women to become priests.

WATCH: Ancient Mysteries: Dark History of Witches on HISTORY Vault

Flying Witches Linked to Pagan Ritual?

Anthropologist Robin Skelton suggests the association between witches and brooms may have roots in a pagan fertility ritual, in which rural farmers would leap and dance astride poles, pitchforks or brooms in the light of the full moon to encourage the growth of their crops. This “broomstick dance,” she writes, became confused with common accounts of witches flying through the night on their way to orgies and other illicit meetings.

Illustrations of witches on broomsticks, c. 1440.

Broomsticks were also thought to be the perfect vehicles for the special ointments and salves that witches brewed up to give themselves the ability to fly, among other depraved activities. In 1324, when the wealthy Irish widow Lady Alice Kyteler was tried for sorcery and heresy, investigators reported that in searching Kyteler’s house, they found “a pipe of ointment, wherewith she greased a staffe, upon which she ambled and galloped through thicke and thin.”

Pharmacologist David Kroll writes in Forbes that alleged witches in the Middle Ages were thought to concoct their brews from such plants as Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade), Hyoscyamus niger (henbane), Mandragora officinarum (mandrake) and Datura stramonium (jimsonweed), all of which would have produced hallucinogenic chemicals known as tropane alkaloids.

According to some historical accounts, rather than ingest these mind-altering substances by eating or drinking, which would have caused intestinal distress, witches chose …read more

Source: HISTORY

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