The "witch's broom"

As Webster points out, the besom is a broom. However, as the word "broom" nowadays covers all sorts of long-handled household brushes, a more accurate definition is called for. The traditional besom is made with a hazel handle (although sometimes ash, rowan or oak are used) and birch twigs.

They are excellent, and I know many gardeners who use nothing else for sweeping leaves, and they are also a common symbol of the traditional witch, with some reason - the besom was as common in older households as a vacuum cleaner is today.

Making a traditional besom

First, gather together a handful of thick birch twigs and trim the broad ends with a hatchet or handbill to a length of about three feet (1 metre). Lay a second handful of thinner twigs down on the floor and wrap them around the core of thicker twigs. Tie the bundle together as tightly as possible. Traditionally, strippings of willow bark were used to bind the besom, but stout string or wire are more frequently used these days.

The handle is made from a straight pole of seasoned wood (see the excellent broomstick for the various woods used) with the bark still on it (a length of about 4½ feet, or 1.25 metres). The top of the pole is whittled until round, and the bottom sharpened to a point with the axe. The final stage is assembly. The besom bundle should be held tightly, in a wide vice or similar clamping mechanism, and the pole hammered into place. The result of this work is the familiar besom, as illustrated, and there is no finer tool for sweeping autumn leaves or garden rubbish off lawns and paths.

Of course, the besom has other connotations - it is one item traditionally associated with witchcraft, and in particular, is one of the things supposedly required for a witch to fly. One company is even making besoms for sale to Harry Potter fans. Whatever use you put it to, it is a guarantee that a well-made besom will last a very, very long time. I bought one from a Medieval Market some years ago, and it is still doing sterling service!

                        
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www.woodlandcraftcentre.co.uk/
Encyclopædia Britannica

Be"som (?), n. [OE. besme, besum, AS. besma; akin to D. bezem, OHG pesamo, G. besen; of uncertain origin.]

A brush of twigs for sweeping; a broom; anything which sweeps away or destroys.

[Archaic or Fig.]

I will sweep it with the besom of destruction. Isa. xiv. 23.

The housemaid with her besom. W. Irving.

 

© Webster 1913.


Be"som, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Besomed (#).]

To sweep, as with a besom.

[Archaic or Poetic]

Cowper.

Rolls back all Greece, and besoms wide the plain. Barlow.

 

© Webster 1913.

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