You’d think the superstitions surrounding brooms would have lots to do with witches, but that just goes to show that sometimes what we think would be logical just doesn’t apply.
What does our regular source book (see below) say about brooms? As can be expected, there are variations of good luck and bad luck, depending on what you do with it – but, mostly bad luck (what else is new!).
Our first entries speak to buying brooms – yes – buying brooms. There is a curious superstition that it is unlucky to buy brooms in May:
“Brooms bought in May, sweep the family away.” Or put another way “Never buy a brush in May – you’ll sweep one of the family away.” In 1949 a Mr. Cyril Foster proprietor of a village store in Moorswater was quoted as saying: “For the whole month, we never sell a single brush. Women here will consider it is as good as murder to buy one.”
This particular superstition applies to both May and Christmastime as well. In 1953, a young girl is quoted as telling this story: “My great great grandmother thought it unlucky to buy a broom in the twelve days of Christmas. She bought one once and made up her mind that she would not live to see another Christmas day; but she lived many years after that.”
Couldn’t be that serious then, could it…? In 1974 - “My family are demanding to know why I will not buy brushes and brooms during the month of May. My grandmother said it was unlucky, and nothing would induce me to buy them even now, and she has been dead for thirty-four years.” Yes, that was 1974! In 1982, credited only as student, “It is now thought in some places that it is unlucky to purchase brooms or brushes in May. Apparently buying a toothbrush can also fall into this category!”
So, unlucky – yes, but there are other things you can do with brooms to bring on some bad luck. “It is unlucky to sweep a table with a broom”. From the corporal punishment sectors – – (1882) “If a child be whipped with a branch of green broom, he will never grow any more” “I am told of a boy born at Wrenthall whose stunted growth is attributed to his having been beaten with brum’ in early childhood.” Oh good grief!
Oddly, there is only one direct reference to the broom as it would relate to the witch. (1873)”Persons are advised to lay a broom across the doorway when any suspected person is coming in… The witch will make excuse and pass along the road.”
Now, here’s a collection of various superstition bric a brac, as it relates to the broom. (1830) “If you set the broom in a corner, you will surely have strangers come to the house.” (1912) “It is said that if the handle come off the broom when sweeping, the servant will not get her wages.” (That I can see…probably had to pay for the broken broom!) (1923) “You must never rest the sweeping brush on the bristles as it’s very unlucky. If you stick the brush on its handle, it’s very lucky” (I tried this …it’s not so easy to do.)
Now, I like to save the weird ones for last and this is no exception. In this bit of stuff, we learn it can be either a broom or a cow (which these verses refer to as a besom). Yes, that’s right a broom or a cow (because they are so very similar right?) Here we go: “A broom or cow (besom) is thrown after curlers (curling players), when they leave a house; this is shaning then good luck (or breaking the spell of witchcraft).” (1885) “When the men were going to the herring fishing for the first time, one of the women of the house used to throw the besom after them. The same thing was done, when a new net was taken out of the house.” “A woman threw the besom after him (the unsuccessful fisherman). That night a good fishing was made. (What do you think – did they sweep the fish off their feet?)
So that’s the (short) story on brooms – less witchy than we might have suspected, but still related to the good luck bad luck concepts those ancient Great Britainers seemed to love so much. It seems very little was left unassigned as bringing luck, good or bad. Considering some of the darker ages these folks had endured, they probably had to look for something or someone to blame. Our source, once again, is “A Dictionary of Superstitions” Oxford press, edited by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem
Here are some superstions about brooms submitted by our visitors:
Under broom superstitions you listed the superstition, “You must never rest the sweeping brush on the bristles as it’s very unlucky. If you stick the brush on its handle, it’s very lucky” As a broom maker I can give you the origin of this superstition. Before we started making brooms flat, they were round called beasoms). If a besom is left standing on its bristles the weight of the broom will cause the bristles to curve. This makes the broom harder to use and shortens the life of the broom. So brooms were either propped up on the handle or hung from a hook to protect the bristles. Another common broom superstition from, from my childhood home in West Virginia, is if you move to a new house buy a new broom. Bringing the old broom to your new home is believed to bring bad luck. Mark Anderson
It is said that putting a broom behind the main entrance upside down (bristles up) will make unwanted guests want to leave sooner. So whenever someone tells you that they are coming and all you want is to be alone you know what to do.
I can think of a few times when I would have glad put the broom at the front door to keep a few folks away so I could get me work done… Lotsa LLLove, Danielle