Disclaimer: There is so much information out there that it is pretty much impossible to put it in one journal entry. What I have written is what can be seen as one or a few views. The stang has much associated with it historically. I would have had to have written a dissertation to provide all of the detail about the stang.
A stang is a long pole/branch with a forked ending (a traditional fork: i.e. fork in the road). Essentially it is a distaff, which is an Old English yarn spinning tool:
In Scotland, the stang was also used in punishment against men who beat their wives. This was called "Riding the stang" and was and is called by other various names as well: rantipole-riding, skimmington-riding, or just riding. The accused would be tied to a stang and carried around in a village with crowds that taunted him.
To most, the stang represents the world tree, being the upper part (the actual fork) rearches to the Upperworld and the lower part of the branch reaches down into the Underworld: just like the world tree. The leaves and branches reach to the Upperworld while the roots beneath the tree reach down toward the Underworld.
The stang can be seen as a central axis of the earth. Vertically being to the Upperworld and Underworld while horizontally is time (i.e. past, present, future). Being a central vertical axis, one can created a vortex around such a tool by "treading the mill" (and actually, essentially any pole will do!). Treading the mill refers to the technique of a group; each person stands with their hand out toward the center (the stang) and everyone faces forward, watching the back of the person's head that's in front of them. To go to the Underworld, one faces the other hand which is not being a "spoke in the mill" to the ground and vice versa if travelling up. To travel down, one goes in a counterclockwise direction. All the group members walk and breathe in unison. The breathing must be louder than one expects so everyone can hear each other and breathe in unison. If you can't hear, you can't be in unison! Breathing rates must increase in order to create a type of.. confusion in one's mind, which helps each person become easily trance-induced. By doing this ritual of sorts, the group creates energy that creates a vortex to pull the group members' spirits either up or down to go to the Otherworlds. Counterclockwise, as said before, leads to the Underworld, where the souls and ancient wisdom reside.
It is not uncommon to see symbols and a skull on the stang. On my stang, I have various runes of the Elder Futhark such as: Tiwaz (T: Tyr, the sky god) to represent the Upperworld because of the sky god--I may not believe in deities, but I can see how various gods represent things that are common in my practice--Ingwaz to represent Midgard (or the middle world, the physical world), Hagalaz to represent the Underworld and the unconscious, Eihwaz to aid in enlightenment and wisdom, and Algiz for protection while I travel to the Otherworlds. The skull is used as a connection to the dead and animals, but there are many other reasons one may use a skull. For example, the raven, in some traditions, is extremely important as they are connected with spirit flight.
I can't remember the exact source, but I know it was an elder book, particularly from the 18th century, stating that poles for applying flying ointments and other salves on the genitalia (applying these ointments and salves on the genitalia is important for soaking up the ingredients into the blood stream because genitalia has a very high blood supply) were disguised as something else. In this case, a stang was disguised as a distaff for weaving and simple poles were disguised as brooms for the home, which could be seen as one of the many reasons why witches have been told to ride brooms.
☆ Clifton, Chas. Shamanism and Witchcraft. St. Paul, Minn., USA: Llewellyn Publications, 1994. Print.
☆ Thompson, Sue Ellen. Holiday Symbols. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2000. Print.
☆ Treading the Mill Practical Craft Working in Modern Traditional Witchcraft. Capall Bann Pub, 2007. Print.
☆ Wallis, Robert J. Shamans/neo-Shamans: Ecstasy, Alternative Archaeologies, and Contemporary Pagans. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.
☆ Wood, Gail. The Shamanic Witch. Weiser, 2008. Print.
☆ Wright, Elizabeth M. Rustic Speech and Folk Lore. H. Milford, 1913. Print.
☆ Podcast: The Unnamed Path: Treading The Mill