Wings and Brooms
There is a popular quotation traveling around the internet that goes something like this. “Women are all born angels, and when someone breaks our wings we simply continue to fly....on a broomstick.....Be warned ~ we are flexible like that.” This quotation runs up my spine every time I see it. So here’s my rant about it.
I understand that the general population uses the term “angel” generically to describe people who are nice and sweet. I also know that people use “witch” to describe women who are not so nice. I often tell people this – don’t use the “W” word when you mean the “B” word. They don’t mean the same thing.
This quotation seems to say that women are all basically nice. If people hurt us we will stay strong, but become less nice. That’s not a bad message, although I am not sure it is true. Not all women are inherently nice, any more than all men are nice. And not all people respond to hurt by becoming less nice.
I see a lot of my Pagan friends posting this quotation, and I have to wonder why. What I see in this statement is just as offensive as it is erroneous.
I see the implication that angels, which are an Abrahamic construct, are pleasant, and those who “fly on broomsticks” are much less pleasant.
I understand this is just supposed to be a cute, funny thing – not worthy of my deep introspection or offense. But there was a time when people who responded poorly to racist jokes were told to get a sense of humor.
I really believe that if Pagans tolerate and propagate stereotypes that promote witches as bad, even in jest, we deserve what we get in terms of discrimination and misunderstanding.
I remember a joke from when I worked for the National Womens’ Political Caucus.
Q. How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. That’s not funny!
It is hard to find the right balance when it comes to humor. On one hand, I don’t want to be “that woman,” the person the light bulb joke is portraying. On the other hand, at a time when real discrimination happens every day and misunderstanding is rampant, I want to speak out.
Angels are thought to be spiritual beings who act as helpers to humans. It is impossible to know if angels actually exist, although many of us believe they do. There are living humans who identify themselves as witches. We don’t actually fly on broomsticks, although many of us use brooms (besoms) as magickal tools. There is no question that we actually exist.
There are some interesting historical theories about how the image of the witch on the broomstick emerged. Some people say early Pagans would straddle the brooms and jump to show the crops how high to grow. Others say witches would tie broom straw around a priapic wand to disguise it.
There has been so much fabrication of “Pagan history” that it is hard to know what is actually true. What is true today is that some modern Pagans do refer to themselves as witches, and some use a broom in ritual.
There is nothing about witches using a broomstick that suggests behavior that is unkind, not nice, or less than angelic, so to speak. There is absolutely no reason to warn people against those who “fly on a broomstick.” Witches are not dangerous. The irony is that, in the Bible, angels are portrayed as absolutely dangerous.
Witches do not use broomsticks in response to being hurt. We use broomsticks to clear and create sacred space.
It is good for women to affirm our power, and to affirm that we will always have power, no matter how others may try to disempower us. I would like to see us find a way to say this without disparaging the witches around us.
Most of us avoid “ugly witch” costumes at Halloween/Samhain. To me, this internet meme is the verbal equivalent of the “ugly witch” costume.