18

After hearing "flying brooms", everyone thinks about Harry Potter first. But, I don't give J.K.Rowling credit for this because I encountered flying brooms when I was kid in the 90s before she created the Potterverse. Flying broomsticks were used by witches in many magazines and comics.
So, I would like to know the real origin of flying brooms.

Clarification:
I want to know first documented work (canon/movie/comics/novel) which introduced flying brooms to normal world. That's why I involved credit around J.K.Rowling.

  • 7
    The clarification makes it kind of impossible, since brooms were used in folklore and widespread belief before they were used in stories. Both of the answers so far make references to real world references to witches and broms that go back centuries and they were part of accepted belief way before they were used in fiction. – Tango Feb 4 '12 at 15:43
  • For some reason, I first think of Hocus Pocus... – Izkata Feb 5 '12 at 1:15
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    For the record, not "everyone" thinks about Harry Potter first. Some of us are old enough that we pre-date HP... – Ghotir Nov 14 '16 at 21:21
  • I guess Broom-Hilda is the most famous example from the comics. – user14111 Jun 1 '18 at 22:14
19

Probably the work you are looking for is the Malleus Maleficarum, written in 1486. This work was used as the definitive work on how to detect and deal with witches. Previously, the position was that witches did not exist, and it was heresy to believe in them; but by the time of this work the contra-viewpoint - that witches did exist and it was heresy not to believe in them - became official doctrine in the Catholic Church.

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...

Source (pdf page 219 of this English translation)

  • Great... And, thanks for the PDF too. – Lobo Feb 4 '12 at 19:34
8

I don't have a direct source for most of this, so it could be made up, but I had a friend who used to live in this area who was a Pagan. I don't mean a neo-Pagan or a 20th (or 21st) century Wiccan. I mean he was really into the old ways and studied up on them. I asked him about this and he said that it was originally ceremonial. There was a ceremony Pagans would use for cleansing the ground and marking it off to keep evil spirits out, and this involved hold the broom between their legs, which would look like they were riding it, and walking and kind of hopping around the area they were cleansing, basically defining a perimeter to their "clean" ground.

There's a good chance that it was only the women who did the hopping with the broom between their legs, since it's a phallic symbol, and it may have also been a fertility ritual, so the ritual very likely had a sexual/reproductive element to it. (Especially since the idea was to make the ground ready for crops and planting.)

I wish I could state this authoritatively, but I only have his word to go on. I will say that he really got into researching the "old ways" and being able to "educate" modern Pagans and to show some of them that they really knew very little of the traditions he had been studying.

This also comes close to what the article on flying ointment says when it mentions that "It was said that witches were able to fly to the Sabbath on their brooms with help of the ointment." But it also goes on to say, "Likely the riding of the broom has a different origin."


Since you're referencing Harry Potter, I'll include the explanation from that universe as well:

According to the Harry Potter wiki, the earlier magickers (I'm tired of typing out witches and wizards) did not know of spells to make themselves fly, but they could make objects fly. According to the article on brooms, they could make objects fly, but not humans.

The problem was, that even then, they knew muggles would be jealous of their abilities and that it was best not to let them know of the ability to fly. That meant whatever object they used to fly needed to be something that could be kept in their house, that was easily accessible, but that would look completely innocent to visitors.

And a broomstick was one of the few items that would be present in every house, that had a reason for being in the house, and could be ridden on (even if it wasn't comfortable).

So magickers found it easy to just use brooms for flight.

  • Your answer is targeting "Why were brooms used?".. unable to find origin of brooms.. – Lobo Feb 4 '12 at 10:26
  • See my clarification update.. – Lobo Feb 4 '12 at 10:30
7

The first known account, according to Wikipedia, was a claim in 1453 from a male witch Guillaume Edeli. This is a historical account, which of course can't be verified, but the person claimed to have done it. It was later used in fiction relating to witches/wizards.

It has been around in movies for some time, and has seemed to be common lore, even before JK Rowling introduced it in Harry Potter. Just to give you an idea, the concept was included in the Wizard of Oz, the movie being released in 1939. I can't trace it back any further, but it's sufficient to say it was common place for at least a century, if not more, but probably back to the middle ages.

  • See my clarification update.. – Lobo Feb 4 '12 at 10:30
  • @SachinShekhar: Updated with a bit more from common lore, but it seems to stem from the account I mentioned, from everything I can tell... – PearsonArtPhoto Feb 4 '12 at 12:38
  • The original book, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", doesn't mention brooms. The 1939 movie, of course, has the Wicked Witch riding a broom. I don't know whether any of the several earlier Wizard of Oz movies have brooms. – Keith Thompson Feb 5 '12 at 2:54
  • @KeithThompson: Good call. Will have to change it a bit... – PearsonArtPhoto Feb 5 '12 at 4:25
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    The concept in fiction is significantly older than Wizard of Oz. It was definitely used in Russian books before 20th century – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 18 '12 at 23:08
2

Whilst the Malleus Maleficarum may be the origin of the idea, I think you are trying to find the first accepted use of it in entertainment - correct me if I am wrong. In which you need look no further than Mary Poppins or The Wizard of Oz for obvious prior art, and I am sure there are many, many more.

  • Wizard of Oz, as Pearsonartphoto's answer says. – Keith Thompson Feb 5 '12 at 2:45
  • Ah yes, brain fart, that's what I meant :) – stuffe Feb 5 '12 at 11:14
  • You can edit your answer if you like. – Keith Thompson Feb 5 '12 at 23:47
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    You mean The Wizard of Oz (1939 movie)? Does The Wizard of Oz (1925 movie) have a flying broom? Does the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Are these excluded from "entertainment"? – GEdgar Mar 16 '15 at 21:39
-1

According to Michael Pollen: “Witches and sorcerers cultivated plants with the power to "cast spells" -- in our vocabulary, "psychoactive" plants. Their potion recipes called for such things as datura, opium poppies, belladona, hashish, fly-agaric mushrooms (Amanita muscaria), and the skin of toads (which can contain DMT, a powerful hallucinogen). These ingredients would be combined in a hempseed-oil-based "flying ointment" that the witches would then administer vaginally using a special dildo. This was the "broomstick" by which these women were said to travel. (119)” Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World

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