In 1886, whilst repairing an old house in Somerset, England, in the roof space was found half a dozen broomsticks, an old chair, and what is now considered the first recorded find of a Witches' Ladder. It was a length of braided cord, looped at one end for handing, with many cockerel feathers threaded through the braid.
There have been many theories as to its purpose, the most popular at the time, and in the subsequent years, was that these ladders were for nefarious reasons, ranging from taking milk unseen from the neighbours' cows, to causing deaths. Later theories were more benevolent, with the ladders storing healing magick and wishes.
All of these theories are pure supposition, there has been no historical evidence to the use of a witches' ladder, or that they were used at all by witches! Anthropologists likened their use to objects used in folk stories from Scotland to Italy.
Nowadays, the Witches' Ladders are used to bind magickal intent. They also come in various different guises, some are braided, some are knotted, but all share the common theme of natural cord and feathers. Some braid three cords together, and weave nine feathers in, evenly spaced, chanting whilst the ladder is created so lock in the magickal intent. Other are knotted twine, tying the feathers in place. Many use specific coloured cord, corresponding to magickal intent. The number of knots or feathers can be different too.
My ladders have evolved from the braiding technique, using a little bit of hedge-witchery. I cut nine pieces of natural twine, about the length of my arm from shoulder to finger tip. No need for measuring tape here! I braid together three sets of three lengths, and then I braid these three lengths together, all the while I will be chanting words specific to my intent.
The number three is a powerful number in witchcraft, and in fact in many of the world's spiritual systems.Mind, body and spirit; earth, sea and sky; Maiden, Mother and Crone; God, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Celts saw the number three in this way, and three times three being that much more powerful. It is from the Celts that witchcraft gains much of it's practices.
I use colour magick in my ladders, using colours that correspond to my magickal intent. Like green for prosperity, yellow for happiness, red for love and blue for healing. I use a mixture of feathers, beads and charms, three feathers, three beads/buttons and three charms, three times three. I tie these into the ladder after I have finished braiding mainly because of the practicalities of construction. Not only is it extremely fiddly and awkward to evenly space nine trinkets whilst braiding, but many of the beads and charms don't have big enough holes for the twine to go through! Hedgewitchery is all about practicalities, there is nothing magickal about struggling and needing two pairs of hands. So, the feathers are threaded through the braid, but the beads and charms I tie on using cotton thread, knotted three times. Of course, all the while, with each charm, bead or feather, I am chanting my intent.
Love and hugs
The image shown is of the Kitchen Witch Love Witches Ladder