A broom is a cleaning tool consisting of stiff fibers attached to, and roughly parallel to, a cylindrical handle, the broomstick. It is thus a variety of brush with a long handle. It is commonly used in combination with a dustpan.
The word "broom" may derive from branches of broom plants (Genista and others) used for sweeping. The song Buy Broom Buzzems (by William Purvis 1752 - 1832) refers to the broom besom as one type of besom rather than as now the besom itself. Flat brooms, made of broom corn, were invented by Shakers in the 19th century.
One source states that the United States had 303 broom factories by 1839, and that the number peaked at 1,039 in 1919. Most of these were in the Eastern U. S. During the Great Depression, the number of factories declined to 320 in 1939.
Oklahoma became a major center for broom production because broom corn grew especially well there. The Oklahoma Broom Corn Company opened a factory in El Reno, Oklahoma in 1906, a year before statehood. Faced with competition from imported brooms and synthetic bristles, most of the factories closed by the 1960s.
Today, brooms are also commonly made with synthetic bristles. Another common type is the push/pull broom, consisting of a wide brush with short bristles, to which a broomstick is attached at an angle in the center of the brush.
Other uses for brooms
- In baseball, when the home team is close to accomplishing a sweep (having won the first two games of a three-game series or first three games of a four-game series), some fans will bring brooms to the ballpark and brandish them as a way of taunting the visiting team. (Examples: Arkansas vs LSU- 2011; Red Sox v. Yankees—May 13–15, 2011 and June 7–9, 2011)
- In broomball, broomsticks have their heads removed and are used to push a ball into a goal, on an ice surface. The game is similar to hockey, except players do not wear skates.
- During World War II, American submarine crews would hoist a broom onto their boat's fore-truck when returning to port to indicate that they had "swept" the seas clean of enemy shipping. The tradition has been devalued in recent years by submarine crews who fly a broom simply when returning from their boat's shake-down cruise. This tradition no doubt stems from the action of the Dutch admiral Maarten Tromp who tied a broom to his main mast after defeating the British admiral Robert Blake at the Battle of Dungeness in 1652. This has often been interpreted as a message that he would sweep the British from the seas. This story remains unsubstantiated, but may have its origin in the tradition of hoisting a broom as a sign that a ship was for sale, which seems more likely as Tromp had captured two of Blake's ships in the battle. It is also sometimes said that the story of Tromp hoisting a broom was an embellishment on an earlier English joke that Tromp displayed a broom because his ships were useless against the English and he wished to be rid of them. If true, this could be taken as confirmation of the tradition.
Brooms and witchcraft
Brooms have long been connected with witchcraft in Western cultures, almost universally portrayed as medieval-style round brooms and associated with female witches. Despite the association with women, in 1453, the first known case of claiming to have flown on a broomstick is recorded, confessed by the male witch Guillaume Edelin. There are, however, prior records of witches flying on sticks or similar objects, usually that had been first greased with a magical flying ointment.
Anecdotally, the broom served another purpose during periods of persecution. Witches and other magic practitioners would disguise their wands as broom sticks to avoid suspicion. It is also a tradition that brooms have been used by some as receptacles to harbor temporarily a particular spirit.
Today the broom is included in lists of ritual tools in many pagan guide books, where it is often referred to as a besom. A broom is sometimes laid at the opening of some covens' rossets. Representing the Element of Air, brooms are utilized in the purification of areas. They are used to sweep ritual circles clean of negative energy. It is often employed by those allergic to incense, and during rituals practiced in smoke-free areas. It is also a technique associated with "kitchen witches" who use what's on hand to work spells. As a tool of purification, decorative brooms are sometimes hung near doors to clean those entering a house.
Brooms in wider culture
In literature and poetry
- Poets use the broom in metaphor making. In one of Emily Dickinson's poems Mother Nature, Nature ". . .sweeps with many colored brooms, and leaves the shreds behind. . ."
- In many works of fiction, especially fairy tales, broomsticks are depicted as a means of air transport for witches, with the brush usually facing the posterior direction.
- The Harry Potter book series contains magic flying brooms, especially in the context of Quidditch, a fictional sport portrayed in the series. Harry Potter uses the Nimbus 2000, then a Firebolt, to play Quidditch.
- In the Broadway musical Wicked, the protagonist of the story, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, enchants a broomstick at the end of act one during the song "Defying Gravity". At the climax of the number, Elphaba dramatically rises above the stage with the broom in hand.
- In the movie Fantasia, Mickey Mouse, playing The Sorcerer's Apprentice, brings a broom to life to do his chore of filling a well full of water. The broom overdoes its job and when chopped into pieces, each splinter becomes a new broom that flood the room until Yen Sid stops them. This story comes from a poem by Goethe called "Der Zauberlehrling" ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice"). The Disney brooms have had recurring cameos in Disney media, mostly portrayed as janitors, albeit not out of control or causing chaos such as in the original appearance.
- A fictional spaceman's tool and movement aid called a "broomstick" occurs in Islands in the Sky and 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke.
In religious and cultural tradition
- An African American wedding tradition incorporates the use of the broom. The custom is called "jumping the broom". During the years of slavery in the United States, some slave owners would not let their slaves marry in a church ceremony. Instead a broom was placed across a doorway. The bride and groom jumped over it into their new life as a married couple. Today the custom incorporates a broom decorated to the bride's specifications, and it becomes a wedding keepsake.
- In the Bible, Luke 15:8 "The Parable of the Lost Coin", the broom is mentioned: "Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?"
- The Métis people of Canada have broom dancing in their cultural heritage. There are broom dancing exhibitions where people show off their broom dancing skills. The lively broom dance involves fast footwork and jumping.
- Broom can also refer to an object of worship in the Nagroom religion.
- In Jainism, monks and nuns have a little broom with them, in order to gently brush aside ants and small animals, to avoid crushing them. This is an act of non-violence to the small animals.
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- The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. 1988, edited by Peter Kemp
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- Man, Myth and Magic: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural. 1970, edited by Richard Cavendish.
- Dundes, A. (1996) "Jumping the Broom": On the origin and meaning of an African American Wedding Custom. The Journal of American Folklore. 109 (433) p. 324-329. Retrieved on May 19, 2007 from the Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Library at http://www.jstor.org.proxy.library.jhu.edu
- Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research. (2001).
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