Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

An exploration of the old spirits, symbols, customs, and crafts of the home.

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The Cunning Wife

The Cunning Wife

The Cunning Wife is a writer, wife, mother, and seid-wife. Her written work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information in ways that are accessible and relevant. She also performs various forms of divination as well as crafting magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  

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Protecting the Threshold

Just as a field has a fence or hedge, and every forest an edge, so does every household have a boundary, a liminal space in which, for perhaps no more than a split second, one is neither in nor out. One is in between.

Power lies in these in-between, or liminal, spaces – power that can be benign or malign. Scholar Claude Lecouteux describes the house as a "protective cocoon, one that is sacred and magical" (48). As ancient homes tended to be passed down from generation to generation, it was common for a man (as women often joined the homes of their spouses when they married) to be born in the house in which they lived and to die there. This means that inherited homes were also the places in which one's parents, grandparents, and so on had been born, lived, and died.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • J'Karrah
    J'Karrah says #
    We have two Foo lions who guard our front door (male and female) and an iron dragon who watches the back. We also painted protect
  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    Informative and interesting, Thanks!
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    My parents kept a wreath on the door most of the year. Theirs was just decoration I'm sure but the habit probably grew out of ear
  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife says #
    Thanks for sharing! Very cool that your parents carried on that tradition with their wreath. I'm not very familiar with Jewish or

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Dragon of the Home

It flies above rooftops, snaking down chimneys to steal wealth or sustenance. Sometimes it appears as a bolt of fire. Other times, it takes the form of a small, red-coated man. Still other times, it appears as an animal -- a lizard, serpent, black cat, rooster or chicken. In Occitan and Catalan cultures, it's called drac, a term related to the more familiar dragons ("Drac"). Like dragons, dracs are connected with wealth and fortune, although unlike "wild" dragons, domestic dracs bring these things to the masters and mistresses of their dwelling (albeit, at the expense of their neighbors) (Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology and Magic). It makes its home in chimneys or behind the stove -- hot places, where fire naturally dwells, the center of the home. It is a shape-changing spirit, a trickster, but it is happy to serve its chosen family as long as it is well cared-for.

Wild Spirits

So how do dracs come to be? One tradition states that they are born from a yolkless egg; another claims that they are established in a household through a contract with a devil (The Tradition of Household Spirits 154). In Demons and Spirits of the Land, medievalist scholar of folklore Claude Lecouteux argues that the term "devil" is used in these instances to represent a land spirit:

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  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis says #
    I love this, thank you!!!!!!! —a dragon's granmother and a daughter of dragons.

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Whispering Hearth

The hearth has long been a place of power. We have already explored its position as a place of healing and protection. In many European cultures, it is also traditionally a place for communion with spirits, where offerings are left and knowledge from them can be gained. In Germany, the space between the back of the stove and the wall was called Hölle, “hell” (Lecouteux 70). It’s important to note that the words Hölle and hell originate not in Christianity but from a Proto-Germanic word meaning “a hidden place,” i.e. the underworld (Online Etymology Dictionary). People have long sought out the insight of the dead and other spirits regarding the future, and the hearth or stove was one common site for divination.

 

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Broom Lore for Walpurgisnacht and Other Holidays

Every year in late April, I thoroughly clean my back porch for the first time since the descent into winter. Over the winter and early spring, things tend to collect -- dust, dead bugs, spider webs, tree pollen from early spring. The latter (especially from the pines that surround my house) makes it futile to do this any earlier because all of my hard work -- sweeping, hosing it down, vacuuming, and mopping -- would be nulled a few days later by a thick film of yellow powder. But by mid-spring, everything seems to calm down enough to make the deep cleaning worthwhile, which ends up putting this ritual right before Walpurgisnacht and May Day, which I celebrate to honor my German and Scandinavian roots. I won't go into the history of Walpurgisnacht here because it's already covered on a wealth of websites and books; I'd rather focus on one household tool that has a significant place in the lore of this holiday (especially to me personally): the broom.

Brooms are often featured in many spring holidays. At Easter in Sweden and Finland, the festivities take on a more Halloween- or Carnivale-esque character than in other places, and little girls dress up as Easter witches, wearing kerchiefs on their heads and carrying small brooms in their hands. On Walpurgisnacht, a Wild Hunt of witches and specters rides across the night sky to hold their revels on the Brocken. It's common knowledge that the broom as a flying implement is a development of the magic worker's staff. For hundreds of years, it has served as a symbol of feminine power masked as a common, humble household tool.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Healing Hearth

Continuing with my first post’s examination of the significance of the hearth in a home, we’ll look at the lore regarding the healing and protective powers of the hearth, its fire, and an important hearth implement, the chimney hook. Unless cited otherwise, the information below comes from Claude Lecouteux’s excellent book on household lore, The Tradition of Household Spirits.

Before we can appreciate ancient and medieval European traditions of healing, it’s important to understand what ancient and medieval Europeans believed about the nature of illness. In Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: the Middle Ages, it’s stated that:

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The Lighted Hearth

The hearth. The center of the home, the center of domestic life. For our ancestors, it was where food was made, stories were shared, textiles were crafted and mended. Eminent scholar of medieval traditions and folklore Claude Lecouteux writes: "Hearth is a generic term for designating the place where fire burns. The hearth can mean different things depending on the era and the region; it ranges from the simple fire pit of primitive dwellings to the more modern earthenware and cast-iron stove, and includes the open chimney, the fireplace, the oven, or the furnace" (The Tradition of Household Spirits, 69). So when I refer to the hearth, I mean the place where the fire dwells and provides warmth and sustenance.

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