witch riding a broomstick - bristles in front or in back?

The traditional representation of a witch on a broomstick has always been, in my experience, with the broom bristles facing the back. For one example see the Slug Signorino illustration accompanying this straight dope column:
What’s the deal with witches and broomsticks? (03-Sep-1999)

However, I read today in a Reuters “Oddly Enough” news item
Witches Upset by Broomstick Style
that a high priest of British White Witches is claiming that broomsticks should be ridden the other way round (brush part in the front), and that this is demonstrated in 16th and 17th century woodcuts.
What do SDMB members say?
P.S. The gist of the Reuters article is that, since Warner Bros. is showing in the new Harry Potter movie people riding broomsticks with the brush part at the back, Kevin Carlon, a coven member in Sussex, is wishing for the film to do badly at the box office until the studio admits its mistake. Mr. Carlyon claims to have three broomsticks but ``The CAA (Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority) won’t give me permission to fly.’’

According to the Museum of Witchcraft, 16th and 17th century woodcuts differed, with the bulk of English woodcuts showing the handle forward, as we see it today, while continental woodcuts tended to have it to the rear, although somebody didn’t proofread that paragraph for typos very well.

I would guess that for a modern viewer more familiar with aircraft, having the bristles to the rear seems more aerodynamic somehow. A couple centuries ago, probably neither way around particularly suggested itself as “right”.

The broom bristles hide the jet engine, so the bristles go in the back.

I don’t have a handy on-line cite for this, but given the context of the time and the recipes on making a flying steed to take you to a Sabbat, the reason the bristles would’ve faced forward is because that is the head of the “hobbyhorse”. You weren’t making a flying broomstick, you were making a broomstick into a magical horse.

I think the original source was one of Colin Wilkerson’s books, plus several other references that don’t immediately leap to mind. Whatever book it was, suggested that you could do the same with the appropriate unguents, a bundle of ragweed, and the incantation “Horse and hattock, away!”


On a slightly related note, when what few recipes for the “flying ointment” exist were analyzed, there were heavy hallucinogenic components, such as belladonna and psilocybin. Or psilocybin analogues. No wonder you thought you were flying!

As a resident of the Salem, MA metropolitan area (if it can be called that) I can tell you definitively that the city logo is DEFINETLY bristles back.

It may be that in the past, when witches were making magical horses out of their broomsticks, bristles-forward would’ve been the way to go. Now, however, with changes in the times and technology, bristles must face backwards in order to maximize the aerodynamics necessary for flight in today’s fast-paced world of witchery. Especially when playing Quidditch, as speed and maneuverability are extremely important, and the disrupted airflow of the uneven bristles would have a major effect on your handling and performance.

I saw an recent exchange of letters in the Daily Telegraph (July 4/5), where first a ‘white witch’ claimed the Harry Potter book / film had got broomstick flying the wrong way round.

The next day there was an excellent reply from a retired Royal Air Force pilot, with some explanation about how the broomstick needed it’s centre of mass in front of it’s centre of gravity to fly properly.

Also I do **not **believe the CAA has ever responded to a man asking permission to fly a broomstick!

It’s working. I already don’t feel like seeing it.

Maybe said High Priest should run some tests and see which way brooms fly best.

First of all, there’s a bunch of High Whatsits running around claiming to be the One True Witch Whatever :rolleyes: but the truth is that “witchcraft” is disorganized religion (and that’s just limiting it to the religious and quasi-religious types). There is no One Absolute Authority in this realm, so it’s typical there’s a number of groups claiming differing things.

Moving right along, it might be more accurate to say there’s more than one way to launch your broom. There’s the “hobby horse” approach, where one converts it into a magical steed and therefore the bristle bunch becomes the “head”. Then there’s the “aircraft” approach, which, in the days before aircraft probably had bristles-behind to smooth out any incriminating footprints on the way to the gathering place for the coven. Then there’s the “perverse” concept, where whichever way the you’re expected to ride the broom you do it in reverse, either because you’re a witch and you’re supposed to be contrary or to undo something (like lifting a curse). Then there’s the “sex toy” version which, um, well, you certainly wouldn’t approach that bristles-first, and you don’t normally see illustrated because that would be X-rated, but it would certainly qualify as “riding the broom” :eek:

Anyhoo, as far as actually flying the broom - I know here in the United States it could be flown under Federal Aviation Regulation Part 103 as an ultralight. I’m not too sure about Britain, though, their rules being somewhat different.

And yes, witches can TOO fly - but most of us use airplanes and helicoptors these days because we’ve kept up with the times, dontcha know :smiley:

(my husband read this over my shoulder as I was typing and had something to say about how he rides “his” Broomstick, but I’m not sure I want to share that with ya’ll)

If that site is correct, then the english witches have no reason to dispute the accuracy of the Harry Potter movie, since young Harry lives in England. Thank you to those of you who proposed the “hobby horse” explanation, that seems a reasonable way to justify the depiction of “brush forward” flying. (Disregarding of course the “bristles hiding jet engines” proposal by SPOOFE - no self-respecting witch will use jet engines I’m sure).

All in all, I think minty green’s approach is the best - empirical evidence is what we need here.

[Edited by Arnold Winkelried on 07-10-2001 at 01:56 PM]

Of course, this being the Straight Dope, I also had to go read Federal Aviation Regulation Part 103. A broomstick would seem to be allowed in that category (quoting from regulation):

§ 103.1 Applicability.
This part prescribes rules governing the operation of ultralight vehicles in the United States. For the purposes of this part, an ultralight vehicle is a vehicle that:[list=A][li] Is used or intended to be used for manned operation in the air by a single occupant;[/li][li] Is used or intended to be used for recreation or sport purposes only;[/li][li] Does not have any U.S. or foreign airworthiness certificate; and[/li][li] If unpowered, weighs less than 155 pounds; or[/li][li] If powered:[/li][ol]
[li] Weighs less than 254 pounds empty weight, excluding floats and safety devices which are intended for deployment in a potentially catastrophic situation;[/li][li] Has a fuel capacity not exceeding 5 U.S. gallons;[/li][li] Is not capable of more than 55 knots calibrated airspeed at full power in level flight; and[/li][li] Has a power-off stall speed which does not exceed 24 knots calibrated airspeed.[/li][/ol]

Back in the days when the British empire was the major force of the world Witches rode with the bristles facing foward, but with the decline of the empire the withces started experminting with bristles in the back and side saddle. The breakthrough came in the budding country of the US. And with extensive windtunnel testing, the bristle to the rear was adopted by the witches in the US. Unfortunately the British witches still fly their broomsticks the other way around. So if you are an americian witch travelling to the UK, Do Not make yourself look like an ass by flying the wrong way. It’s also dangerous.

When you’re playing horsey on a broom, you ride it with the bristle end up (to be the horsey’s head). Horsey is played strictly on the ground.

Witches ride the opposite way – with the bristles in back, to act as a rudder and minimize turbulence in flight. This also lowers the chances they’ll be confused with kids playing horsey. (Plus, as SPOOFE kindly pointed out, the bristles hide the jet engine. [whine]They DO use jet engines, Arnold! Reeeeeally, they DOOOOO![/whine]) If the bristles were in the front, it would look like a witch riding a poorly constructed cannard, which we all know isn’t the case.

The real question is, are the bristles held parallel or perpendicular to the horizon?

As a direct descendant of a woman executed for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 (Sarah Averill Wilde) I can definitively state that the tradition handed down in our family is for the bristles to be in the back. I hope this satisfies.

In “The Day After Judgement” by James Blish, the sorcerer takes one flight on a broomstick. This involves invoking a demon. The ritual involves a candle partially made from human fat. He puts he candle on top of the bristles, lights the candle, and flies with the bristles and candle in front. The flight lasts until the candle (magically shielded from the wind) is used up.

I don’t know about the broomsticks, but the witches themselves tend to have the bristles in the front.

[sub]at least I hope they do, although I’ve seen pix of women on whom the preponderance of bristliness, front-to-back, was pretty much anyone’s guess. Bleagh.[/sub]

Actually, the “sidesaddle” experiments were begun in the US by Elizabeth Montgomery, a newer dominant force in the world having apparently decided that straddling was unseemly within their sterile realm.

Of course not–we’ve used ramjets ever since we learned to adapt the magick windshields into dynamic ramscoops. :smiley:

Cheffie, I can guarantee that male witches fly handle-forward most of the time. :wink:

Slaps Head: That’s why I have never gotten the damn thing to work!

Just a minute:
.Whoo Hoo! I’m outa here.