What is the symbolic meaning of the walking stick or staff in "Young Goodman Brown"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The old traveler who comes for Goodman Brown is a figure of ambiguity in Nathaniel Hawthorne's story "Young Goodman Brown."  For, he resembles the grandfather of Goodman Brown, as well as a demonic figure.  His walking staff suggests the staffs of the Egyptian magicians of the Old Testament who mocked Moses as they appeared to turn their staffs into snakes:

...his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent.  This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light.

When Goody Cloyse appears on the path, the traveler stays on the path, and Brown hides lest she see him.  As she approaches, the traveler touches her with his staff which "seemed the serpent's tail" and Goody screams, "The devil!" 

When Goody expresses her haste to attend the witch-meeting,he traveler performs a similar trick:  He gives Goody his twisted staff and it changes just as the staffs of the "Egyptian magi" changed.

After young Goodman Brown reaches the forest and he observes  the pink ribbons wafting to the ground, he grabs them and cries "My Faith is gone!....Come, devil; for to thee is this world given." Having lost his faith [double entendre], Goodman invokes the devil and now grasps his staff, going forth and "seem[ing] to fly" he continues on the forest path, "...rushing onward with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil," all the while he "brandishes his staff" with frenzied gestures.

For the most part, the staff represents not the religious staff of Christ, but the serpent of the devil.  The traveler, the devil, is described as "he of the serpentine staff," Goody Cloyse travels with the snakelike staff of the traveler and seems to fly above as a witch while Goodman Brown holds a staff and seems to fly with it. 

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Young Goodman Brown

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