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A witch's ladder (also known as rope and feathers, witches' ladder, witches ladder, or witch ladder) is a fetish, in folk magic or witchcraft that is made from knotted cord or hair, that normally constitutes a curse. Charms are knotted or braided with specific magical intention into the cords. The number of knots and nature of charms varies with the intended effect (or "spell").[1]

Contents

The Wellington Witch Ladder

The first recorded witch ladder found was in a home in Wellington, Somerset, and the find was published in the Folklore Journal (Vol 5, No 1 (1887), pp 1-5). Workers found a secret room in the house, a room obviously set up to be a place of practice for witches. In the room was found six broomsticks, an old chair, and a piece of rope, about 5 feet long, and half an inch in thickness, it was composed of three strands and had a loop at one end. Inserted in the rope crossways, were a number of male goose feathers that had been twisted in at the time the rope was made. Old women, when inquired about the rope, stated that it was common with a candle with pins, or an onion with pins.

Charles Godfrey Leland

When Charles Godfrey Leland received news of the Wellington find whilst in Italy, he investigated and found that the witches there used a similar form, called a "witches garland"; the item was made of cord, and contained black hen feathers. The malediction was uttered as each knot was tied in and the item was placed under the victim's bed, to cause the ill fortune (see Part 2, Chapter 5 of Roman Etruscan Remains for more details).

Leland's version differs from that found in Somerset in that the feathers were knotted into the cord rather than braided, and the cord was to have hairs of the victim braided into it. The feathers were plucked from a live black hen one by one and inserted into the knots as they are made in the cord. Leland also claimed that intrinsic to the witch garland was the placing of an image of a hen or cock (made of cotton or similar) next to the garland, upon which a cross of black pins is made. The whole is then hidden in the mattress of the one you are bewitiching. Leland says the curse is lifted by finding the hen & wreath (garland), and throwing the whole lot into running water; the bewitched is then taken into a church whilst a baptism is being carried out, where they must repeat a certain spell before bathing in holy water.

Sabine Baring-Gould's "Curgenven"

Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, included an extensive article on the witch's ladder in his novel "Curgenven" published in 1893. In his account the ladder was made of black wool, with white and brown thread, and at every two inches it was tied around cock's feathers. The maker would weave into it aches and pains and other aliments intended for the victim. The ladder was then thrown to the bottom of Dozmary Pond, located on Bodmin Moor. They believed that as the bubbles rose to the top of the pond, the curse was released.

Witch's ladder types

One example of a modern witch's ladder is a string of 40 beads or a cord with 40 knots. Sometimes feathers, bones, and other trinkets are braided into the string as symbols for a desired spell effect. An earlier version of a witch's ladder consisted of a rope or cord of three, nine, or thirteen knots.

The witch's ladder can be created a section at a time or all at once. Either way, special chants are spoken during the creation process to empower the talisman to do its creator's bidding. According to an article, The Witches' Ladder [1], an example of a witch's ladder chant and knot placement is as follows:

According to the article, "At the tying of the last knot, all the energy is directed into the cord and its knots, with a final visualization of the object of the work. The power has been raised and is now 'stored' in these knots in the cord." This is often referred to as cord magick, knot magick or string magic.

Once finished, the beads or knots of the witch's ladder enable a witch to concentrate on repetitive chants or incantation without having to keep count. This enables the witch to focus will and energy on the desired goal.

Witch's ladder uses

It was believed that witches of old cast a death spell over a person by tying the knots and then hiding the cord, and the only way to undo the spell was to find the secreted cord and untie each knot.[2]

Today, Wiccans and Neo Pagans use witch's ladders primarily in healing, binding, and wish-granting rituals. They can also be used to "bind the thirteen moons of the year," purportedly to allow the witch to better work weather and nature magic, and to open the doorway to the Faery realm.

Knot magick spells are numerous and aim to achieve many different outcomes. The current view held by many Wiccans is seen in this poem by Wiccan poet Enadus:

A knot is not a useless thing
It keeps in place with rope and string
Not all kept is hard or soft
Knots can keep wishes, hope and thoughts
Held by magick knots we make
For life and love not to forsake.

Knot spells have been created for cutting pain, binding love, and traveling safely. The string or cord can be made out of almost any material, but natural fibers such as hair, wool, hemp and cotton are preferred. Although ladders are often created for as part of a specific spell, many wiccans keep a personal ladder. In this case, the knots or beads are used to keep track of repetition in a spell or prayer, similar to Rosary beads.

References

  1. ^ Deanna J. Conway (2001), Wicca: The Complete Craft, The Crossing Press, ISBN 1580910920, http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN1580910920&id=QtsjkP3Xg8QC&pg=RA1-PA132&lpg=RA1-PA132&ots=PC_RFHg1qR&dq=%22Witch%27s+ladder%22&ie=ISO-8859-1&output=html&sig=620TmOiN0ND_0UOUq0BqD1BtqkQ  
  2. ^ Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts On File, 1989 [ISBN 0-8160-2268-2

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