Brooms Out of the Closet: The Omnipresence of Brooms Through Culture and History


Brooms have been around for a long, long time. You might have heard of them. They’re used for general cleaning purposes, bristly though they be. We have closets devoted to them, professionals of all classes who utilize them, and it can easily be assumed that they are located in the majority of living spaces worldwide. At any given moment somebody is sweeping with a broom. Recently, I challenged myself to think of a “common knowledge” between all peoples. I spent a long time considering various ideas and objects. When my thoughts landed on the broomstick I was, naturally, swept away.

What makes a broom so useful and such a likely candidate for my idea of  “common knowledge?” Aside from the practical cleaning purposes of your everyday average broomstick, the broom is likely to be found in fairy tale and fantasy. Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, Hocus Pocus and many other mainstream films have incorporated the use of brooms in this fantastical sense. Though the silver screen has given us many examples of the more modern fantastical uses of brooms, short stories and other works of fiction have a long history with brooms as well.

To bridge the gap between what is real and what is less real, I present to you the Malleus Maleficarum (I can’t help but read this as “Male Male.”) The year is 1487 and the German Catholic Church believes that witches are a problem that need to be dealt with. The Malleus Maleficarum was created with the sole purpose of aiding and advancing the persecution of witches. This work of… general blasphemy of nature reads thus:

Now the following is their method of being transported. They take the unguent which, as we have said, they make at the devil’s instruction from the limbs of children, particularly of those whom they have killed before baptism, and anoint with it a chair or a broomstick; whereupon they are immediately carried up into the air, either by day or by night, and either visibly or, if they wish, invisibly…

That escalated quickly! The Malleus Maleficarum seems to be the most evil book of all evils.  It’s hard to quell the anti-feminist inferno present in 1400’s Germany.

Brooms in literature aren’t always bad. J.K. Rowling made billions proving just that. Despite the potterverse being so prevalent in my generation, there are a multitude of other fictional stories which haven’t yet been swept under the rug.  Elizabeth Gargano’s essay Broomsticks Flying in Cirlces discusses the effective role of storytelling and fantasy in the lives of our youth. Specifically, Gargano uses Eleanor Estes’ “The Witch Family” to examine the real life boundaries between, well, real and imaginary life.

Ultimately, the novel implies, such a form of narrative play can enrich both the tale and the teller, allowing children to transform themselves through the fictions they create.

Brooms have a spiritual meaning as well. Jaina Dharma (Jainism) is a religion that values the life of every being. Every last one. From the smallest mite to the largest whale to the even larger Humbaba. Sometimes, in the case of the mite, these beings are just to small to be avoided naturally. That is where the broom comes in handy.

Jain monks and nuns represent the ideal of Jainism. These men and women try to separate themselves from the everyday world. They are not allowed to kill any living creature. They carry brooms to sweep all surfaces to avoid crushing insects accidentally.

Suppose, though, that you were as lively as the Métis people of Canada! And you also enjoyed dusting off the mediocrity with the occasional Broom Dancing.

That escalated quickly!



Rare Manuscript Unveiled at University of Alberta

Click to access 2-4-article-broomsticks-flying-in-circles.pdf

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