Besome Weddings - Jumping the Broom

Date: Fri, 17 Aug 2001 From: sindach


I have always suspected this custom came from Wales! I have read about what was called the ‘besom wedding’, an unofficial custom that was considered quite lawful in parts of Wales until recent times. A birch besom was placed aslant in the open doorway of the house, with its head on the doorstep and the top of its handle on the door-post. First a young man jumped over it, then his bride, in the presence of witnesses. If either touched or knocked it in any way, the marriage was not recognised. In this kind of marriage, a woman kept her own home and did not become the property of her husband. It was a partnership, “cyd-fydio,” rather than an ownership. A child of the marriage was considered to be legitimate. If the couple decided to divorce, they simply jumped back over the broomstick again, but this could only be done in the first year of marriage. If a child had come, it was the father’s responsibility.  Mischievous boys played with this symbolism by placing a birch broom over a doorstep before an unmarried lady went out of the house. This was supposed to make her pregnant before marriage! As late as the 1920s in Surrey, a conversation was recorded wherein a man whose wife was away said jokingly to a young woman: “I shall be putting the broom out of my chimney if she stays away much longer. Will you come in and do for me?”

Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2001 From: sindach

While looking in vain for references to my last post on broomstick weddings, I came across the following in “Welsh Folklore” by T. Gwynn Jones, Methuen and Co., London: 1930, and I quote it because it raises a number of points of interest - at least it does for me! – especially the allusion with the story of Math and a possible druid connection:

Another term for unlegalized unions, found in all parts of Wales, is priodas coes ysgub, priodas coes ysgubell, broom-stick wedding. It is not without significance, perhaps in this connection, that besoms in Wales are made of broom as well as birch, and that the go-between in Breton is called “bas-valan”, “he of the broom-staff.” The association of birch with love in Welsh poetry and lore is also of significance, and one wonders whether the element llath, “wand, staff” in the term llathlud in the Welsh Law, may refer to the practice of stepping over a rod, especially as a bent rod is a chastity test in the tale of Math. A Caernarvonshire custom, for which no source is given, is thus described: “When the parents consented to a marriage, the oldest man in the district was called, and the young couple was asked to leap over the besom, made of oak branches, which the old people called ysgub dderwydd. It would be interesting to know whether any “old people” still remember the practice, and whether “ysgub dderwydd”, “druid’s besom” is anything but a late improvement upon ysgub dderw, “oak besom,” which, in any case, would be useless for the ordinary purpose of a besom.”