Sylvia Sky, astrologer, Tarot reader, and gemstone enthusiast, is a widely published author of books and articles about spiritual matters.
What Is a Witches' Ladder?
A witches’ ladder is simple to make and use. It is hope and faith made visible. Creating a witches’ ladder is a good way to “do something” when under stress or when needing some hope or structure in the midst of chaos. It has power one time only and for just one purpose that you choose.
All you need is some twine or string, some “charms” such as beads or feathers, and dexterity, because you will be doing braiding or knotting. What is a witches' ladder, where did it come from, what does it do? Let’s find out.
The Fame and Origins of the "Witches' Ladder"
The first witches’ ladder was discovered in an attic in England in 1878. The men demolishing the house found in the attic, along with broomsticks, a strange five-foot length of twine with feathers and quills braided in. They sold this to an antiques specialist, telling him it was a “witches’ ladder” and used by the house's former occupant, an old woman, to cast spells on her neighbors. The broomsticks were shown as evidence that she had been a witch.
The specialist immediately wrote this up as an exciting new finding and published the news along with a drawing of it. This caused a sensation in the press. Locals then wrote in to say that this type of weightless, feathery object, cheap and easy to make, was hung in country vegetable gardens. Its twisting in the wind helped scare away marauding deer. It was nothing more than the humblest form of scarecrow.
Eventually the specialist realized the men had fooled him. But the "witches' ladder" concept inspired a memorable passage in the novel Curgenven, published in 1893, featuring a witch creating a witches’ ladder using the hair of her intended victim. The English-speaking public and the press remembered this vivid scene, and a new piece of folklore was born and broadcast.
How to Make a Witches' Ladder
Witches’ ladders are so popular today they are available readymade at occult-supply stores, or from Etsy.com. Experienced users will however tell you that pre-made witches’ ladders might be useful for prayer or as an aid to serenity, the way a rosary or Tibetan prayer beads are, but to energize and empower them, they must be made by hand, the creator filling every knot and bead with intentions, and each ladder can be used only once.
- Take three pieces of natural, preferably organic twine, each between four and six feet long, stack them and loop the middle around your big toe or a broom handle. This will form the loop the ladder can hang from.
- Begin braiding or twisting the twine, remembering to add knots regularly along the way. Very simple knots are okay. The number of knots is up to you, although instructions variously say to make three knots, nine, 12, 13, or 40. The length of the original witches’ ladder is 1.5 meters, or five feet.
- Along with these knots, braid in or attach charms that have meaning to you. They might be stone or crystal beads of certain symbolic colors, feathers, seeds, bones, bells, or little metallic charms. Use strands of hair if making a witches' ladder to help or honor a friend, and weave in a gift tag with his or her name on it; names are powerful. The feathers should be natural, preferably taken from a live hen, either solid black or solid white, but use what’s available.
- What truly matters is your focus and intent as your witches’ ladder comes together. Some makers chant their intention or desire. Active sound waves help stir the universe.
- End the ladder with a knot and a spoken dedication.
Chant for a Classic Nine-Knot Ladder
By knot of one, the spell’s begun
By knot of two, it cometh true
By knot of three, so mote it be
By knot of four, this power I store
By knot of five, the spell’s alive
By knot of six, this spell I fix
By knot of seven, events I’ll leaven
By knot of eight, it will be fate
By knot of nine, what’s done is mine.
Infusing the Ladder With Powers
While making your ladder you will think about knots, about how many types there are, how civilization depends on strong and useful knots. Your knotting links you with all humanity.
The creative art of weaving is associated with women, so goddess power is supposedly summoned as you twist, braid, or weave. Among people who practice the "old ways," you might hear a man called a “weaver,” a woman a “webster." Using natural materials honors the unfailing power and generosity of Mother Earth.
The result will not look like a typical ladder but like a length of twine with trinkets strung or wedged into it.
A witches’ ladder is a type of “fetish,” meaning a material object infused with invisible power. Fetishes are not for pagans only. If you believe your cross pendant or Celtic love-knot ring or grandmother's locket protects you or keeps your loved one close, you are wearing a fetish. Fetishes express your individuality and show you are a person of faith.
After you have made a witches’ ladder it will seem as if they are everywhere. At some weddings the bride braids a "God knot" from three satin cords, believing that act will strengthen the marriage.
Although most often made of twine (sometimes dyed), witches' ladders can be made of ribbon, yarn, or the luxurious satiny rope used to hold draperies.
What to Do After the Ladder Has Served You
After finishing and dedicating your witches’ ladder, hang it somewhere in the open and forget it. You have done all you can to infuse it with hopes and wishes. Now let it act for you. Allow the universe to operate in its own way, on its own schedule. Do not wear a witches’ ladder or show it off and explain it to friends. It is a sacred item, not a fashion statement or a bolster to your occult street cred.
When your desire has been granted, the classic way to let go of a witches’ ladder that has completed its task is to drop it into moving water, such as a river.
Anyone who creates a witches’ ladder weaving in a hateful "curse " risks the Wiccan “rule of three” that says any evil you wish on people boomerangs back to you at three times the strength.
It takes imagination to believe a witches’ ladder made in half an hour can carry a curse or evil spell. But if you think it does, break the spell as the old-time novel advises: Drop it into a body of water, where the splash breaks the curse or releases the spell-bound person or being.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Sylvia Sky