People dress up as many things for Halloween–dinosaurs, pirates, cheerleaders–but the most popular getup by far are witch costumes. For years, witch costumes have remained in the top spot more than any other costume. And it’s easy to understand why. You can never go wrong with a classic.
If you’re dressing up as a witch, of course, you have to carry around a broomstick as part of your ensemble. But have you ever wondered why the household object is associated with witches in the first place?
From the beginning, brooms have been linked primarily to women. However, the first witch to confess to riding a broom was actually a man. His name was Guillaume Edelin, and he was a priest from a town near Paris.
In 1453, he publicly criticized the church’s warnings about witches, and as a result, he was arrested and tried for witchcraft. He was tortured into admission, and even after repenting, he spent his life in prison.
The earliest images depicting witches on brooms date back to 1451, so at the time of Edelin’s case, the idea was nothing new. In two illustrations from 1451, one woman can be seen flying through the air atop a broomstick, while the other shows a woman on a plain white stick.
Both wore headscarves and were part of a Christian sect founded in the twelfth century that allowed women to become priests. Because of this, the Catholic Church considered these women to be heretics.
Anthropologists believe that the connection between brooms and witches may have something to do with a pagan fertility ritual. The ritual consisted of rural farmers leaping and dancing on pitchforks, poles, or brooms under a full moon for the purpose of encouraging an abundance of crops.
In addition, broomsticks were thought to be used by witches for applying herbal ointments and salves to the most intimate regions of their bodies.
In 1324, a wealthy widow named Lady Alice Kyteler was tried for witchcraft after authorities found evidence of a “pipe of ointment” in her house that she used to grease a staff, “upon which she ambled and galloped through thick and thin.”