The traditional companion of the witches was the enchanted broomstick, used for their wild and unholy flights through the night and probably to some distant Witches’ Sabbat. This is one of the first images you get to see as a child and this was doubtlessly believed by the prominent rulers of Europe. The number of
actual confessions of witches doing so is remarkably small. Usually confessions state that they went to the Sabbat on foot or on horseback.
Legends of witches flying on brooms goes back as far as the beginning of the Common Era. The earliest known confession of a Witch flying on a broom was in 1453, when Guillaume Edelin of St. Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, stated that he had done so. In 1563, Martin Tulouff of Guernsey said to have seen his aged
mother straddle a broomstick and whisk up the chimney and out of the house on it, saying “Go in the name of the Devil and Lucifer over rocks and thorns”. In 1598 Claudine Boban and her mother, witches of the province of Franche-Comt, in eastern France, also spoke of flying up the chimney of a stick. The belief of
flying off though the chimney became firmly embedded in popular tradition, although only a few people ever mentioned doing so. It has been suggested that this idea was connected with the old custom of pushing a broom up the chimney to indicate the absence of the housewife. The Germanic Goddess Holda or Holle is also connected with the chimney.
Other indications that lead to the popular belief that witches actually flew on broomsticks can be found in an old custom of dancing with a broom between the legs, leaping high in the air. In Reginald Scot’s book, The Discoverie of Witchcraft, published in 1584, we find a similar description:
“At these magical assemblies, the witches never failed to dance; and in their dance they sing these words, ‘Har, har, divell divell, dance here dance here, plaie here plaie here, Sabbath, Sabbath’. And whiles they sing and dance, ever one hath a broom in her hand, and holdeth it up aloft.” Scot quoted these descriptions of Witch rites from a French demonologist, Jean Bodin, who made observations of a kind of jumping dance, riding on staffs. These customs might have contributed to the popular picture of broomstick-riding witches through the air.
In 1665, from the confession of Julian Cox, one of the Somerset coven, mentioned “that one evening she walks out about a Mile from her own House and there came riding towards her three persons upon three Broom-staves, born up about a years and a half from the ground. Two of them she formerly knew, which was a Witch and a Wizard”.