Witches are always closely related with brooms. The image of a witch flying around on her broomstick is very iconic of Halloween, but where did this legend originate?
One proposed explanation has its roots in a pagan ritual where people danced astride poles, pitchforks, and brooms in their fields, jumping as high as they could to entice their crops to grow to that height. “Anyone observing the leaping broomstick dance of witches at the full moon,” says anthropologist Robin Skelton, “could be expected to think of flying.”
Another explanation is that the broomsticks and the potions that witches brewed in their cauldrons are linked, and the former was a tool for delivering the latter.
During the witch panics of the Middle Ages, authorities confiscated various brews, ointments, and salves from people accused of witchcraft and sorcery. In the early 1500s, physician Andres Laguna described one such substance that was taken from the home of an accused witch as “a pot full of [a] certain green ointment … composed of soporific herbs such as hemlock, nightshade, henbane, and mandrake.”
The local constable was a friend of Laguna’s, so the doctor was able to obtain some of the ointment to experiment with. His first test subject was the executioner’s wife, whom he anointed “head to foot” with the green stuff.
“No sooner did I anoint her than she opened her eyes wide like a rabbit, and soon they looked like those of a cooked hare when she fell into such a profound sleep that I thought I should never be able to awake her,” Laguna wrote. “However … after the lapse of thirty-six hours, I restored her to her senses and sanity.”