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Years ago a client, Rose, told me about the death of her grandmother and the fighting that ensued in her family when the time came to divvy up her possessions. This sister wanted the jewelry, that one the china, another one demanded her silver. The only thing that Rose wanted was her grandma’s broom and she didn’t know why she was so drawn to it.
“All I know is that Grandma cherished that broom. She had inherited it from her grandmother who was a slave,” she told me. Aha! That broom was the spirit tool of that woman line. It was power that was passed down from one generation to the next. That broom belonged to La Madama.
La Madama is an orisha-like spirit who originated in the Yoruba culture of West Africa and was carried to the New World on the slave ships.
She is one of many archetypal spirits within the pantheon of Caribbean/Latin American Spiritual traditions and is a common figure in the pagan influenced religions of the African Diaspora such as Voudon in Haiti, Candomble in Brazil, Santeria in the Caribbean, as well as the slave folk traditions of the American South.
She represents the female force within the family unit and is also known as “La Negra” or “La Conga,” Historically Her representation is derived from that of the “house slave,” that is, the slave responsible for the caring and well-being of master’s family. With Her big hips and tits, Her hair tied in a scarf, and an apron around Her ample middle, She is the spitting image of the stereotypical Mammy figure.
La Madama manifests as a strong female spirit who fiercely protects Her children. She is a no-nonsense, tough love spirit who doesn’t put up with stupidity or insolence. She is often depicted with Her hands on Her hips in a “Make my day” attitude or holding Her trusty broom, Her spirit tool, which She uses to sweep away problems and troublesome people.
Her power is so strong that she has remained unchanged, a visible and recognizable image in popular culture. She is Aunt Jemima. Or, I should say, Aunt Jemima is La Madama, still nurturing, still strong, still Mama Africa. Aunt Jemima is anything but a racist symbol.
Sweeping is a widely used metaphor in Goddess mythology. Many cultures gave their goddesses brooms to use as spiritual tools to cleanse the world by sweeping away evil, illness and all that would stand in the way of peace and order.
In ancient Rome, the Goddess Devera was the patroness of the brooms used to purify temples in preparation for various worship services, sacrifices, and celebrations.
In pre-Columbian Mexico, the Aztecs worshipped the witch-goddess Tlazolteotl, who was depicted carrying or riding a broom. She was invoked to sweep away the worshippers’ transgressions.
Cihuacoatl, the Aztec Snake Woman, who wields a broom, was honored by the daily sweeping of the household shrine. This sacred ritual commemorated the time that She saved civilization by donning the robes of a warrior and defeating the dark forces of chaos that befell the culture.
Some theories suggest this near-catastrophe may have been an explosion of a star such as the one that created the so-called “Witch’s Broom Nebula.” In many cultures, a broom, whether it is made from straw or feathers, is a symbol of a comet.
In Chinese mythology comets were recognized as “brooms” that swept away one kingdom and introduced a new world order — the same function of the broom in the Mesoamerican rituals.
In China, the broom goddess is Sao Ch’ing Niang Niang. Known as the Lady with the Broom, She lives on the broom star, Sao Chou, and presides over good weather. When rain continues too long, threatening crops, farmers cut out paper images of brooms and paste them on their doors or fences to bring clear weather and sunshine. These images invoke the Lady with the Broom to sweep away the foul weather.
Shitala Mata, the Bengali Goddess of Disease, sweeps away ailments with her broom. She is revered as the Dispeller of Suffering, Her benevolence is sought by countless devotees who seek the purity she provides.
There should be less talk; a preaching point is not a meeting point. What do you do then? Take a broom and clean someone’s house. That says enough.
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta
She Sweeps With Many-Colored Brooms
She sweeps with many-colored brooms,
And leaves the shreds behind;
Oh, housewife in the evening west,
Come back, and dust the pond!
You dropped a purple ravelling in,
You dropped an amber thread;
And now you’ve littered all the East
With duds of emerald!
And still she plies her spotted brooms,
And still the aprons fly,
Till brooms fade softly into stars —
And then I come away.
~ Emily Dickinson
Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to email@example.com.