Jumping the Broom: Besom Weddings
Along with the popularity of handfasting ceremonies, there has been a resurgence in interest among Pagans and Wiccans in the idea of a “besom wedding”. This is a ceremony also referred to as “jumping the broom”. Although typically this is seen as a ceremony derived from the slave culture of the American south, there is also evidence that besom weddings took place in some parts of the British Isles.
In some areas of Wales, a couple could be married by placing a birch broom at an angle across the doorway. The groom jumped over it first, followed by his bride. If neither of them knocked it out of place, the wedding was a go. If the broom fell down, it was considered that the marriage was doomed to failure, and the whole thing was called off. If the couple decided they were unhappy within the first year of marriage, they could divorce by jumping back out the door, over the broom. More information on this can be found in T. Gwynn Jones’ 1930 publication, Welsh Folklore.
During the early days of the American south, when slavery was still a legal institution, slaves were not legally allowed to marry one another. Instead, a ceremony was held where the couple would jump over a broom in front of witnesses, either together or separately. No one is really sure where the tradition originated. Danita Rountree Green, author of Broom Jumping: A Celebration of Love, suggests the practice came from Ghana, but she also says there’s no hard proof of the custom existing there.
Once African-Americans were legally allowed to marry in the United States, the tradition of broom-jumping virtually disappeared — after all, it was no longer needed. However, there has been a resurgence in popularity, due in no small part to the miniseries Roots.
Some gay and lesbian couples have adopted the symbolic broom-jumping today, since they are not legally able to marry in many places.
The late scholar and folklorist Alan Dundes makes the argument that the tradition of jumping a broom originated among England’s Rom, or gypsy, population. Dundes also points out that the broom is highly symbolic, saying, “the symbolic significance of the ritual to be the ‘stepping over’ as a metaphor for sexual intercourse. If a woman’s jumping over a broomstick produces a child, one could reasonably assume that the broomstick has phallic properties*.”
* “Jumping the Broom”: A Further Consideration of the Origins of an African American Wedding Custom, by C. W. Sullivan III, The Journal of American Folklore
Author: Patti Wigington
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