Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

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

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Kitchen Witch Dolls: Modern Household Icons

My great-grandmother, whose father immigrated from Norway when he was around nine years old and whose mother was a third-generation German American, had a kitchen witch that was passed down to my mom, her granddaughter. Unfortunately, it was lost over time, but my mom remembers that it wore a long, red dress and perched on a straw broom. This is the traditional form of the kitchen witch: a long dress, usually a kerchief tied around its head rather than a witch hat, often a characteristic long nose on a friendly face, riding upon a miniature broom (or a wooden spoon!)

Over time, craftspeople have branched away from this traditional form, creating kitchen witches that reflect the various interests and needs of contemporary cooks. This is typical for folk traditions: to remain relevant, they transform over time, taking on new elements and meanings. One thing has remained the same, however: they are always friendly, always helpful, always good luck.

The Mysterious History of the Kitchen Witch

Kitchen witch dolls have a shrouded history. No one seems to know for certain when or where they first appeared. Some say Scandinavia; some say Germany. My great-grandmother was born and grew up in Minnesota, among other Scandinavian and German Americans like her family, so this would make sense.

However, the oldest record we (may) have of a kitchen witch is from the last will and testament of an English yeoman, John Crogington, written in October 1597 in Shropshire. In his will, he bequeathed to his son John “one witche ?? in the kytchyn.” However, given the lack of standardization in English spelling at the time, it’s hard to say for certain that Crogington was in fact referring to what we know as a kitchen witch. Wych or witch can also indicate a tree or bush with flexible branches (as in the wych elm or witch hazel). The question marks in the transcript suggest that there is a word missing – perhaps an object that the adjective “witche” was describing. So we remain in the realm of uncertainty.

Kitchen Witch Folklore

Whether the kitchen witch doll is an old or new folk object, quite a bit of folklore surrounds it. It’s universally agreed that the kitchen witch infuses the kitchen with good luck and wards off bad spirits. The doll inspires “productivity and safety in the kitchen” while counteracting “ill-will directed to the home” (Curtin).

Various sources attribute such gifts from the kitchen witch doll as:

  • Ensuring ideal mixtures of spices and other ingredients
  • Helping cakes bake and rise
  • Preventing foods and coffee from burning
  • Preventing milk from souring
  • Preventing pots from boiling over
  • Preventing sauces from spilling

For these reasons, the kitchen witch doll serves much the same functions as ancient spirits of the home and hearth – the drac, the alf, the penates, the kobold, and so on.

Icon in a Place of Power

The kitchen is traditionally the spiritual center of the home, the original location of the hearth and the place in which the family communes and is sustained. It’s a powerful, almost alchemical place, where raw elements are brought together and transformed into something new and life-giving. The kitchen witch, then, is a kind of icon, effigy, or poppet for the guardian spirit of the home that watches over, guides, and guards the household – somewhat like the corn dolly.

Whether the kitchen witch doll’s folklore is ancient or more modern is somewhat irrelevant. Folklore belongs to folks, everyday people who identify and congeal powers related to various objects, places, and phenomena. True, time increases the power of folklore, but it all starts somewhere – in the souls of the people who bear and feed them.

 

Additional Resources

Adkins, Rhonda. “Rhonda.” The Kitchen Witch.
      http://www.thekitchenwitchblog.com/about/.

Greenawalt, Judy. Kitchen Witch Maker.
      http://doggychild.tripod.com/kitchenwitchmaker/.

“Kitchen Witches.” LunaFae Creations.
      http://home.earthlink.net/~lunafaeart/id2.html.

Image: My own modern, handmade kitchen witch doll, made of muslin with an oak and pine straw broom, at home in my kitchen.

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The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, spirit worker and traveler, guided by both philosophical Taoism and Germanic and Slavic folk traditions. 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 is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  

Comments

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Saturday, 03 November 2018

    I remember a little kitchen witch over the sink in my parents house. I think one of my sisters got it after my mother died, but I'm not sure.

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