A Witch’s Ladder is a charm or talisman that is constructed from of a length of braided cord with magickal objects and feathers woven or knotted into it. The original use of the charm is unknown, but over time it’s been integrated into modern Witchcraft. At the time of its discovery, it was equated to much older item known as a Witches Garland, which were used by Witch’s from Italy to cast a death curse. The Garland consisted of a knotted cord with black chicken feathers caught in the knots. It was buried in earth, and as the cord decayed, the cursed person would waste away until finally perishing. This connection gave the Witch’s Ladder an immediate and dangerous reputation among the English. Another, and more current belief was that it was used as a counting device for repetitive chanting during spell-work; similar to how rosary beads are used by Catholics in reciting their repetitive prayers. This “counter” would be seen as very valuable as it allowed the Witch to focus more of their energies on spells or chants instead of trying to keep track of the number of iterations each line was spoken.
There are only a few examples of old Witch’s Ladders. At the time of this piece, the oldest known and original specimen dates back to 1878. It was discovered in an old house in Wellington, Somerset, in Southwest England. Workers discovered the object hanging in a secluded attic while the structure itself was being razed. The cord was about five feet long with cock feathers inserted through the cord at equal position lengths and a hanging loop at one end. Adjacent to the hung cord was a stool and six brooms. The woman who had owned the house was always suspected of being a Witch. These superstitious workers proclaimed the find to be objects used by a Witch; thus “proving” the suspicions of the locals. It was decided that the brooms were used for flying, the stool for sitting, and the cord would serve as a rope (or ladder) to allow her and other Witches to cross the roof. The latter understanding was concluded since there was no other way to access this particular attic space other than from outside the home, from the rooftop. It has been known as a Witch’s Ladder ever since.
Since the initial discovery, modern day pagans and Witches have added meaning to the Witch’s Ladder and it has morphed into a tool for meditation and spell-casting and more. It’s possible to make different Ladder’s for different uses, such as for protection or wish granting. The original construction of feathers and cord has been augmented to include bones, shells, amulets, and other magickal items. Additionally, more spiritual meaning has been added using different colors of feathers and the color of the three cords. Another variant of the original construction has emerged but instead of feathers, numbered groups of beads are the main part of the design making it into a sort of pagan prayer-bead strand. Also, the cord material has been broadened with varying lengths of ribbon, rope, or twine, depending on the intention of the person making it.
There are several lists of what the particular feather colors mean when added to this charm. I’ve compiled my own list, which is by no means all-inclusive. Usually there are nine feathers included in the Witch’s Ladder and if you are a purist, and it’s best to use feathers that are found in the wild or given to you by another person. If that person is a Witch, it’s even better. Never use feathers that are harvested or plucked from a living creature, nor any from a deceased carcass; both are considered to be detracting.
Red for strength, good fortune in life, & physical vitality
Blue for acute mental abilities, peace, and protection
White for purity, hope, spiritually, peace, and moon blessings
Yellow for alertness, financial gain and prosperity
Green for growth, health, and fertility
Brown for grounding, stability and respect from your peers
Black for mystical wisdom
Orange for success, energy, and attraction of others
Iridescent Black for mystical insight
Mixed Black and White for protection and union
Barred Black, Gray or White for hope, balance and harmony
Feathers with “eyes” such as peacock for protection against the “evil eye” and inner clairvoyant vision
Black, White, and Blue mixed for a desire to change something
The Witch’s Ladder construction is a two-part process. One part is purely about the actual mechanics surrounding putting the charm together while the other is about infusing the piece with magickal energy. The items each person chooses to add to their Ladder are personal and should be tied to their intentions. It’s recommended that everything be purified and consecrated prior to assembly.
The mechanics of the Witch’s Ladder are not difficult. Start with three equal lengths of ribbon, rope, twine, cord, or even hair. At the minimum they should be three feet long and at the maximum nine feet long. The colors of the cords are not specific to anyone but the maker. Some Wicca practitioners use wool cords of white, red, and black as those are significant colors.
Tie all three together at one end, or you can tie them to an iron, copper, or other metal ring to aid in the hanging process. Start your braiding and weave your feathers and other items in carefully so as to keep it from coming apart. Some people like to tie a knot at the spot a feather in woven in to ensure it stays firmly anchored. The very act of tying a knot serves to bind energy to the cord. The very end should be the spot for the best or most powerful of your charms. Many people tie a silver pentagram, tree of life, or symbol of the Goddess at the very end to “seal the deal,” so to speak.
The magickal energy part of the construction is basically the casting of a simple spell. You can create your own chant or rite as well; as long as you have your goal firmly fixed in mind and you can visualize your intentions. Look deeper than just on the surface. If you’re casting a love spell, don’t just look at the person you desire, but further and deeper; your life with them, your children, growing old together, and the love you will share. Seeing the accomplished goal will focus your magick; giving it direction to flow and work in your favor.
The most common chant used when making a Witch’s Ladder is:
By knot of one, the spell’s begun.
By knot of two, the magic comes true.
By knot of three, so it shall be.
By knot of four, this power is stored.
By knot of five, my will shall drive.
By knot of six, the spell I fix.
By knot of seven, the future I leaven.
By knot of eight, my will be fate.
By knot of nine, what is done is mine.
Some people say the chant as they are weaving or tying their Witch’s Ladder. An alternative method is to finish the entire piece except for the final knot or feather and hold each knot in succession saying the charm and then tie the ninth knot or add the last feather as you say the last line. Remember that there is no “textbook” way to make this charm; it’s mostly about directing energy into the Witch’s Ladder to be held and used in completion of its intent.
Once you’ve completed the process and said your chants, prayers or other magickal words, be certain to seal the charm. Forcefully and with conviction tie the end charm in place and state aloud, “So Mote It Be!” After that you can hang the Witch’s Ladder someplace significant, but not on display for the world to see. It’s not a decoration. If you’ve created it for a specific purpose, burn or bury the Ladder once the magick has been obtained.
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