Where Did All The Myths About the Besom Come From?
Some authors claim that the oldest known source of witches flying on broomsticks is a manuscript called Le Champion des Dames by Martin Lefranc, 1440. This might be one of the oldest images representing a hag on a broomstick, but it is certainly not the first. A wall painting from the 12th century in Schleswig Cathedral (Germany) shows the Norse deity Frigg riding her staff.
If we really dig a bit deeper into history, we’ll find that from the Roman world there are reports that mention witches flying on broomsticks as well as having used ointments, as early as the first century. They were called Straigae (Barnowl) and the Lamiae from Greek culture had similar characteristics. Later in Roman history, the goddess Diana was the leader of the Wild Hunt:
“It is also not to be omitted that some wicked women, perverted by the Devil, seduced by illusions and phantasm of demons, believe and profess themselves in the hours of the night to ride upon certain beasts with Diana, the goddess of pagans, and an innumerable multitude of women, and in the silence of the dead of the night to traverse great spaces of earth, and to obey her commands as of their mistress, and to be summoned to her service on certain nights”.
Similar beliefs existed in many parts of Europe. From Norse mythology, we know that the army of women, lead by Odin (Wodan), called the Valkyries, was said to ride through the skies on horses, collecting the souls of the dead. In continental Germanic areas, the goddess Holda or Holle was also said to lead the Wild Hunt and is connected to chimneys and witchcraft. Berchta or Perchita, another Germanic goddess, which can be identified with Holda, has similar characteristics.
Again in Celtic Traditions, the Horned God Cernuous, and/or Herne the Hunter was leader of the Wild Hunt and the Scottish Witch Goddess Nineveh was also said to fly through the night with her followers. Eastern Europe sources also have a wealth of folklore about witches flying through the air. So flying through the air, evidently, was a deeply rooted mythological theme, associated with the free roaming of the spirit, the separation of soul and body.