What Is A Witch Ladder?

What Is A Witch Ladder?

25th April 2014

Ladders are a common piece of kit and most households will have one somewhere.  They are a great help to us in reaching as high as we need to when we’re doing jobs around the house and garden.  However, how many of us are familiar with the abstract concept of ladders?  We all know that ladders are used for access – to high cupboards, ceilings, roofs and treetops.  We use ladders when tidying, decorating and gardening to reach the places that we would otherwise not be able to.  However, what about using the term ladder in other walks of life – such as the witch ladder.

A witch ladder (also known as rope and feathers) is a folk magic fetish that’s used as a spell.  It’s made from knotted cord or hair (for greater potency) and has a number of charms knotted into it, each of which has specific magical intentions.  The first record of a witch ladder was when one was discovered in a house in Wellington, Somerset in 1878.  This one incorporated a rope with feathers woven into it, six brooms and an armchair!  It was found during the demolition of the house in question in the space that separated the roof from the upper rooms and was totally inaccessible from the inside of the house.

This witch ladder caused quite a stir and antiquarians began searching for similar items.  In Italy it was discovered that these witch ladders were known as witches’ garlands and were made from cord and black hen feathers.  The hen feathers were knotted into the cord with a spell being uttered for each and then the contraption was hidden inside a victim’s mattress to cause ill fortune.  The curse could only be lifted when the garland was discovered and thrown into running water.  The bewitched victim would then be taken to a church where a baptism was being done and had to repeat a spell before being bathed in holy water.

More modern versions of the witch ladder are made up of a string of 40 beads or a cord with 40 knots in it.  Feathers, bones and trinkets are often braided into the cord as symbols for spells.  These modern versions are more reminiscent of the worry beads (or komboloi) that you often see in Greece, where all men carry these beads to fiddle with as they sit and sip their coffee in the coffee houses.  Unlike prayer beads, these komboloi have no religious significance but are used to relax or as a mark of social prestige.  Although it’s quite possible to purchase a komboloi at quite a reasonable price, some of them come with quite hefty price tags, often costing thousands of Euros.

There are specific methods of handling these worry beads – with a quiet style for indoors and a noisier style that is acceptable in public places.  A Greek superstition is that a husband to be should perform a worry bead ritual on his wedding night that involves rapid back and forth movement of all the beads.