July 26, 2007
History of the Moment
The glimpses of the infernal world that we get in Salem are highly incredible. The witches say prayers by a tall black man with a high-crowned hat--always with a high-crowned hat. They ride on sticks and poles, sometimes they are on brooms, and sometimes three are on one pole. One relates that a pole carrying two broke, but by holding fast to the one in front of her, the witch got safe to her destination. The witches fondle yellow birds, sucking them between their fingers, and one day a girl cries in meeting that a yellow bird sits on the minister's hat as it hangs on a pin on the pulpit. The witch usually sits on the great crossbeam of the meetinghouse, fondling the yellow bird. One man was seen to nurse two black pigs at his breasts. Sometimes a hog, sometimes a black dog, appears and says, "Serve me." Then the dog or pig "looks like a man," and this man has a yellow bird. Cats naturally abound, white cats and red cats and cats without color.
--Edward Eggleston's "The Transit of Civilzation, excerpted in David Freeman Hawke's "Everyday Life in Early America". I actually found the details in the excerpt to be really creepy, especially the color aspects.
The sticks and poles, sometimes brooms idea makes me think about how these Harry Potter-rich days it's always brooms. But are they always with the brush part backwards?
The Sexy Witch blog claims it's usually brush in back, but offers some counter-examples, including this striking postcard from 1907:
This page monstrous com witch page on brooms claims
At first, the brush end of a broom (or faggot), was pointed downwards so the witch could "sweep her tracks from the sky." Nevertheless, by the end of the 17th century, the reverse was true. Witches often rode with the faggot-end up, with a candle in the faggot to light the way to the Sabbath gathering place.(Also pitchforks were 'popular', especially for guys.)
I wonder if the design of modern aircraft has helped cement the "brush in back" imagery, since it looks like a stabilizing tailfin (or possibly a source of jet propulsion, which provides a somewhat stronger link than a rotating propeller in front.)