So, today we’re going to talk about a slightly more obscure tool: the witch’s ladder. There’s some debate as to whether or not this was a commonly used tool in older European traditions of witchcraft. In the late 1870’s a witch’s ladder, along with a collection of brooms, was found in the attic of a recently deceased woman in Somerset, sparking suspicions of witchcraft. Unfortunately, it’s not actually known whether or not this object was really used in witchcraft or how widespread the use may have been if it was. More on the history of these tools can be found here.
Now, what is a witch’s ladder? It’s a type of knot talisman made by inserting small objects into a length of cord, traditionally rooster feathers and sometimes small bones were used but you can use locks of hair, teeth, beads, sticks, leaves, seashells or pretty much anything that works for your practice.
Originally, it’s thought that they were used to curse but their uses in modern practices are endless. I’ll be making one to protect my house and create easier communication with the Other Realms.
How to Make a Witches Ladder
Ok, to start us off we need a few supplies. There are three main things that I’m using.
First is the cord, feel free to use whatever material you like. When I’m doing work like this I prefer to use regular old kitchen twine. It’s sturdy and not overly processed. You could use yarn, thread, rope, sinew or ribbon as well though.
The second thing that I’ll be using is a couple of small bones, I’m using six because I like working with multiples of three.
Finally, the feathers. These are brown mourning dove feathers; I’m using these as opposed to another type of feather because they’re good for communicating with Spirit and for fostering awareness.
I would like to mention here that while handy in the craft, collecting bones and feathers that you find can be illegal. Most birds are protected species and regardless of whether you found the feathers or ripped them off of the bird yourself, possessing them is illegal. Be sure to check the laws in your area. This problem can usually be solved by writing a letter to the appropriate wildlife officials asking for permission to pick up specific types of bird feathers for a collection. Once written permission is obtained it only has to be kept with the feathers to avoid any ramifications. Of course, if you’re not going to be waving about rare bird feathers in the town square this is probably unnecessary.
As I said, you can replace bones or feathers with whatever you like. Use Barbie arms if that’s what floats your boat. I usually use nine items in mine and the traditional number would be thirteen but feel free to adjust this to fit your needs.
Another optional material would be a metal ring, you can tie the ladder to this and use that to hang it from a hook on the ceiling or something if you like. I’ll just be using a thumbtack.
As always prep yourself and your workspace however you prefer. Cast a circle, take a ritual bath, light some incense, maybe put on some music. Consecrate your supplies and get to work.
The creation of a witch’s ladder is surprisingly simple and quick. Take your cord and cut three equal lengths. How long you make it is up to you, for example, I like each length to be from the fingertips of my left hand to my heart in length. Tie the ends together, if you are using a metal ring, tie it to the ring; otherwise just an overhand knot on the end does the trick.
Start braiding, for this one I used your typical three-strand braid but you could add and subtract cords and use rope braids, fishtail braids or five strand braids as well. As you braid begin adding in your objects. I don’t do anything special, I just keep braiding as usual while adding my feathers and stuff in between two strands. Here’s a close-up of my ladder partially finished.
I spread mine out semi-evenly along the length of the cord, if you’re a stickler about getting things even then make sure you remember that you’ll lose about a third of the cord length in the process of braiding.
As you add each item to the ladder spend a few moments to state your intention or meditate on the purpose of your spell. I kind of just spend the entire time I’m making the ladder talking to it and telling it what I would like of it. You could also use the traditional nine knot spell if incantations are your thing. I find them too constricting for my practice but for those of you who prefer more ritualized working here it is
“By knot of one, the spell is begun
By knot of two, it cometh true
By knot of three, so mote it be
By knot of four, the open door
By knot of five, it comes alive
By knot of six, the spell is fixed
By knot of seven, it has the power of heaven
By knot of eight, the open gate
By knot of nine, it is mine”
After all of your items are in place you need to finish your cord. You can just tie a knot in it and either trim the excess cord or let it hang there, or you can add something to the end as a sort of weight, bells are a common choice. Feel free to let it charge in the light of the moon or sun if you like.
Once it’s completely done take it and hang it somewhere, I like to have them on my porch but hanging it in your room or kitchen works as well. If the spell is more malicious I’d suggest hiding it away somewhere close to your target instead of hanging it.
Here’s my finished ladder, hanging out on my porch.
A few ideas for uses of these lovely tools:
- Warding magic - Use to create a “Do Not Enter” sign for unfriendly energies. The ladder conveys the meaning that those who would harm are unwelcome.
- Attraction magic - Use it to attract people, familiars, ideas, mindsets, jobs, circumstances, luck, etc. into your life
- Binding the thirteen moons of the year - This is a method used to harness the power of the thirteen full moons of the year, allowing you to perform weather magic and nature magic more easily and opening the doorway to the Other Realms.
- Traveling - Ladders can be used as a gate into the Other Realms. An actual “ladder” for your spirit to climb up into various planes
- Natural magic - You can use items related to the branch of nature that you work with. For me it’s trees but perhaps you work with the ocean, mountains, forests, animals, insects, and so on.
- Wish magic - You can use rolled up slips of paper or pressed leaves and make a ladder with them, writing your wish on each one. As the ladder is slowly destroyed by the elements, your wish comes true.
- Divination - I’ll need to make a full post about this if anyone is interested, it’s a tad complicated
- Worship - You could use a witches ladder as an offering to a deity, perhaps as a nine day devotional where you tie in an offering every day and ending with hanging it on the last day
- Curses - and of course, witches ladders can be used to curse.
As usual, if anyone has any questions or would like me to make a follow up post on anything I’ve mentioned here, let me know!