“Broomsticks, Broads, and Bad Beliefs”

Broomsticks, Broads, and Bad Beliefs”

#MindOfMarlar is written by Darren Marlar, host of Weird Darkness

I’m heading off to join Team Edward!

The moment someone mentions the word “witch”, most people picture either an ex-girlfriend, or… more likely, a wart-nosed, ugly woman zooming through the night sky on a broomstick, cackling maniacally (then again, maybe that does describe your girlfriend – there’s no accounting for taste) and as the witch flies through the air she leaves a trail of green fog and cat hair behind her. Or a trail of sparkles if you watched “Bewitched” on TV in the 60s. But as much as Elizabeth Montgomery was pleasant to look at, I am of the same opinion about witches as I am vampires… they should not sparkle.

Where is global warming when you need it?!!

The image of the witch (the non-girlfriend version) is iconic – and the whole idea of witches is even more old and wrinkled than the ghastly gals themselves. (If anyone was ever in need of a lifetime supply of Oil of Olay… am I right, ladies?) We likely had ancestors living in caves blaming witches for stuff. “Ogg in other village discover fire? Witchcraft! Burn him at stake; but make sure he give you recipe to make fire first!

We know there are texts from the 1400s covering the subject of witches, studied by serious-looking theologians, church inquisitors, and other official types sporting beards, sitting around flipping through the pages, scratching their balding heads and beer bellies, and debating if witches were really zooming around on brooms or if they were just really good at special effects. And if they were zipping around, “We must put a stop to that! Flying? Men are supposed to the cool stuff first! We even have the Wright Bros scheduled on the calendar for 450 years from now! Off with their heads!

Stupid witches.

“Le Champion des Dames” by Martin Le Franc, 1451

The first known picture of a flying witch shows up in a 1451 manuscript called “Le Champion des Dames” (“The Defender of Ladies”), by a French poet named Martin Le Franc. Spoiler alert: no capes, no pointy hats, no crooked noses, no green skin… they aren’t even wearing black in the art piece. But they are riding brooms and walking sticks. Rather than what we picture nowadays, Le Franc’s witches were depicted as regular, non-fancy feminine folk, dressed like your average medieval housekeeper… riding on a broom. Because, you know, witches have womanly chores to do. You can’t conquer the world in the name of Satan with a dusty floor now, can you?

The whole idea of witches flying went viral on WitchTok-TikTok… or what they called it back then in the 15th century: town gossip. The word spread amongst the community, then neighboring towns, and so on. The rumor was that witches were able to fly the friendly skies, jetting off to their Satanic sabbaths on broomsticks, thanks to some magical ointment. (This is before we combined the broom and magical ointment and came up with the Swiffer Wet Jet. Oooh… jet-powered broomstick, that’d be cool.) They were gathering in huge groups called covens for secret devil-worshipping meetups… which has since been replaced by meeting to discuss the latest book recommendation from Oprah Winfrey.

In these secret meetings, the witches would plot the downfall of Christian society, probably complain about their husbands, exchange delicious recipes featuring children freshly-stuffed with candy from your confectionary cottage, and share new spells they learned from their online witchery course at www.Slytherin.edu. These witches were even said to fly into the mountains to gather ice for hailstorms, which is where we get the phrase “colder than a witch’s… uh… booby.” Maybe. I don’t know, but I am claiming that as true.

Everything you need to know about witches but were afraid to ask, for fear of being turned into a frog!

Other old “Witchcraft For Dummies” books noted that witches flew around those mountaintops not on brooms, but on chairs. And honestly, if you had the choice, why would you not turn in your broom for a recliner? The broom might be more aerodynamic, sure… but the La-Z-Boy leaves fewer splinters in the nether-regions.

Most people, however, never really believed the whole “witches flying” thing. Even our buddy Martin Le Franc, who painted them that way, was skeptical about it. He bluntly said anyone who believed witches could fly lacked “common sense.” Which would’ve been fine if he had stopped talking there – but his own common sense came into question when he kept talking and said that, unlike females, male magicians actually can conjure demons and practice ancient magic. Obviously gender equality had not reached the realm of the supernatural yet in the 1400s. I hear even today female quidditch players still only get paid 70-cents for every dollar the male players make. Maybe. I don’t know, but I am claiming that as true.

But most people weren’t believing either gender was flitting the firmament. They were like, “Witches flying? Seriously? If that was true, wouldn’t they fly somewhere they won’t get their britches burned for their beliefs? Or at least fly away from England to a place with better weather; all this rain and fog is depressing!

Actually, some believed the women were being tricked into just thinking they were flying. In the 900s A.D., church law said women claiming to ride at night with the pagan goddess Diana were actually just dreaming. The church declared this “flight” to be nothing more than illusions cooked up by demons. Their punishment? Priests had to preach against these pagan heretics! So, basically, they got a stern talking-to. That sounds pretty tame, but if you’ve ever been to a 10thcentury church service, you might prefer being burned at the stake – it’d be a lot easier to bear. You get the flames of Hell either way; at least burning at the stake would put you out of your misery faster.

I’m tripping the flight, fantastic!

But what about the witchy women themselves – did THEY say they could soar on sticks? Did they karaoke to R. Kelly, singing “I Believe I Can Fly?” (Talk about someone who needs burning at the stake!) Did women accused of witchcraft really insist they were zooming around like medieval Sanderson Sisters? Scholars have had a field day with this question, speculating that the magical ointments these witches supposedly used to give them the ability to fly, were actually hallucinogens. So… Granny tripping out on psychedelic magic mushrooms and suddenly believing she’s the Red Baron of broomsticks.

But even though many folks were not swept up (pun intended) into believing in broomstick aviation, authorities were still super freaked out about it nonetheless. They figured, “Hey, imaginary or not, these witches are kinda weird! Soon they’ll want to have freedom of religion… then freedom of speech… where does it stop? We cannot allow the creation of a ‘Hells Kitchen: Cauldron Wars’ or aThe Real House-Witches of Orange County!’

Tell me you wouldn’t watch this.

Even though the witch-hunting craze finally fizzled out in the 18th century—at least in Europe and North America—the image of witches flying on brooms stuck around. It’s like the ultimate Halloween costume that never goes out of style. Although you’d think they would at least update the look over the years – maybe fly around on a Swiffer Wet Jet.. or a Shop-Vac. (Or does that idea… suck?)

The truth of the matter is that the whole idea of witches flying was just a byproduct of people’s overactive imaginations, judgmental biases, and fear of those things they didn’t understand. They dreamed up a nonsensical concept about a group that made them uncomfortable, freaked out about it, and then decided to condemn that group that made them uncomfortable. Or to put it another way…

Let’s create a problem where there isn’t a problem, and then let’s freak out about that problem and make everyone else freak out about that problem too so we can cause problems for people we consider problematic!

Talk about flying off the handle.

(Source: The Conversation)

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