AskDefine | Define besom

Dictionary Definition

besom n : a broom made of twigs tied together on a long handle

User Contributed Dictionary



Old English besma, from West Germanic *besmon. Cognates include German besen and Dutch bezem.


SAMPA /bi:"z@m/


  1. A broom made from a bundle of twigs tied onto a shaft.

See also


  1. archaic poetic To sweep.
    • 1954, Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood'', page 13,
      Now, in her iceberg-white, holily laundered crinoline nightgown, under virtuous polar sheets, in her spruced and scoured dust-defying bedroom in trig and trim Bay View, a house for paying guests at the top of the town, Mrs Ogmore-Prichard widow, twice, of Mr Ogmore, linolium, retired, and Mr Prichard, failed bookmaker, who maddened by besoming, swabbing and scrubbing, the voice of the vacuum-cleaner and the fume of polish, ironically swallowed disinfectant...

Extensive Definition

Besom brooms are traditionally made of twigs tied to a larger pole and are the broom traditionally associated with witches. As a result of its construction, the besom is rounded instead of flat. The bristles can be made of many materials including, but not limited to straw, herbs, or twigs. Supposedly, an upward pointed besom (bristles up), especially over or near a doorway, will help protect the house from evil spirits or negative energies.

Wiccan tool

A besom is one of the tools used in Wicca. A traditional Wiccan besom is an ash stave handle with bristles made from birch twigs. These twigs are tied on using thin pieces of willow wood. It is used to cleanse the ritual area before circle casting.


As a tool, the besom is usually thought of as masculine in nature due to its phallic shape and symbolism. However the besom's components are of both masculine and feminine orientation. The handle, an ash stave, is masculine in nature while the birch used for the bristles is thought of as feminine in nature.
The besom is an important part of Wiccan handfasting ceremonies in some traditions. The couple jumps over the besom during the ceremony. Alternatively, the couple may jump over a small bonfire.


The use of the besom as a tool in witchcraft might have begun when there was much fear and hatred toward witches. A broomstick was a common household item and therefore could not be used as evidence that a person was a witch. Today, Wiccans that are still "in the broom closet" might use a similar excuse to avoid suspicion.


Language origins

There is a reference to besoms in the book, "Burning Lights," by Bella Chagall (Bella Rosenfeld), with illustrations by her famous husband, Marc Chagall. She refers to besoms as a switch used in a women's bath house, perhaps in some treatment of women's backs.
'Besom' is also a common Scottish expression, a noun used to describe 'playful' little girls "dinnae pu' ya brother's hair, ya wee besom" or a woman of low moral standing, a hussy.
'Besom is also pronounced in the same way as the Dutch word 'bezem' (meaning 'broom').

Language connection between witch and besom broom

Spanish Roots: The Spanish word for 'Witch' is 'bruja'. This is a derivative of a Latin word, 'strux', which was the name of a bird. 'Strux' converted to 'brux' and later to 'bruja' in Spanish and 'bruixa' in Catalonian.
Arabic Origins: Arabic words center around roots and they have no vowels - the root of the Arabic equivalent of bruja is BRSH and can mean different things when different vowels are contained.
BaRSH = Datura stramonium (thorn apple), an hallucinogenic plant. YBRUH = root of the mandrake (Syriac loanword), pronounced YaBRUUHH. Both of these contain alkaloids. Both were reputed to have been used by witches, to induce visions, sensations of flying, and in rituals. M-BRSHa = a brush, broom, scraper (Syrian dialect), pronounced MiBRSHA.

Besom brooms and "flying"

The generally accepted theory about the origins of witches and flying with their brooms is based in a ritual involving a psychoactive drug trip. The witches would prepare a flying ointment to aid them in their journey. There are many recipes for this ointment all having a base of either Atropa belladonna or Mandragora officinarum, both highly psychoactive drugs producing visions and encouraging astral projection. The ointment was rubbed all over the body using the broom with a personal account given by one witch who described the act of rubbing the ointment on her hands and feet which gave a sensation of flying.
Witches mounted broomsticks and would leap around the fields, smeared with the flying ointment, to "teach" the crops how high to grow. The ointment would give them imaginary "trips" so they thought they flew distances.

External links


besom in German: Hexenbesen (Mythologie)
besom in French: Balai magique
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