Ladders, Knots and Rosaries

(Recent travel and work away from home mean that I have not yet completed the projects that I wanted to go with this post, but I don’t want to delay it any longer so more photos will follow at a later date).

There is power in repetition, the Ancients knew it, and took advantage of the power raising and consciousness-altering qualities of pairing a repetitive physical act with a chant or song. As a woman in the old days would spend most of her time on household necessities including preparing fibre and spinning, weaving, and processing it into cloth, these actions became linked to chants, and these actions and chants were used by the Cunning to form spells. Thanks to the 18th and 19th century folklorists, we have large collections of these chants preserved in places such as Carmina Gadelica, The Silver Bough, the Manx Scrapbooks and others; carding songs, spinning and weaving songs, waulking songs, songs for sewing, as well as songs relating to animal husbandry tasks and to the planting and processing of grain. These songs would be sung, either alone or by groups of women as they worked through their daylight hours, the rhythms of motion and sound weaving an hypnotic state that would last for hours, making the tedium of the workday endurable and supporting a much richer visionary life than most modern folks can possibly relate to.

As social structures and economies changed, fewer of these activities were part of the everyday life of Cunningfolk, and repetitive chanting became more tied to ritual dancing and to specifically magickal physical activities – activities that were done on particular ritual occasions as appropriate or as need arose. Work with cords, knots, clay, beads, coins and other objects replaced the mundane activities of the household, but the combination of rhythmic motion and chant still wove a spell to alter consciousness and raise the power. This combination of physical act and repetition of word or sound was found to be essential; action or word alone on its own did not have as powerful an effect. Each repetition of the act was enforced by the word, each repetition of the word was realized in the act.

Knot spells are as old as magick, from the three knot spell to bind and release the winds, to the nine knotted witches’ spell cord, to the knots that take the measure of the witch, to forty knots and beyond. Not all knot magic was done with thread or cord; on the Isle of Mann, the winds were bound by knots in a linen belt, and the knots had to be untied in a specific way in order for the spell to work. These knot spells were invariably tied to specific magickal ends and were usually made new for each spell that was cast. However, as mentioned at the outset, there is power in repetition and this is the crux of the work. Repeated use of the same object in these rites would imbue the object with a power over and above that of the individual spell, and so the knotted cord gave rise to the Rosarie.

The Rosarie is nearly universal in its religious application. I use the term ‘rosarie’,  to include all types of prayer-counting strands, not just the Roman Catholic ones. This device for enumerating repetitions of prayers is one of the few things shared by both Abrahamic and Indo-European traditions. The specific number of beads or knots varies depending on the tradition; forty in rosaries of both Witches and Catholics, ninety-nine in Muslim and one hundred-and-eight in the malas of the Buddhist and Vedic traditions. Because of the repetitive nature of its use, the open-ended strand of the Measure or Ladder was bound into a circle, facilitating endless rounds of chanting and containing the power raised within its sacred shape.

The beads that comprise the rosarie may be made of symbolically significant materials: bone, wood, seeds, amber, semi-precious minerals, metals, according to use and inspiration of the individual, and now that we witches don’t have to spend our days in tedious physical labour it seems appropriate to adopt the method of the contemplative traditions and quietly and mindfully finger our beads. Repetition of a chant appropriate to the work will set it in the subconscious while fingering the beads will link them to the operator and associate them with the magickal state of mind. Repetition of a purely sonic chant without conscious meaning will occupy the mind and alter the consciousness of the chanter. Once power has moved through something, it becomes a more effective conduit for it to continue doing the same, and the rosarie will take on a life and energy of its own. Each bead or knot becomes a nexus of power and counting the round treads a path through the circle, be it a starry path, an earthly one or one of tooth and bone.

Living minimally, in close quarters with brothers and sisters of clay and away from home quite often means that I travel without ritual tools. I have found my rosarie to be a valuable companion on my path, particularly in the absence of my covine and have made several, appropriate for diverse practices.

3 Responses to “Ladders, Knots and Rosaries”

  1. Wonderful words of wisdom – I have been pondering upon the making of a rosary for some time now and I find this inspires me further.

    Thank you

  2. Thistle Says:

    Great post. You made me curious though. Why does a witches rosary have forty beads?

    • I’ve been told a few reasons. Mathematically and Magically we work in a base ten system – the numbers from zero to nine embody all the potentials in the universe, so anything multiplied by ten has the qualities of that number, plus 0-9. Four corresponds to earth, which is where we want to materialize our work and intent, so 4×10.
      Four and zero also represent the conjunction of the four elements with the circle – infinity.
      40 is a magickal number in many esoteric systems, being the sum of several other magickal numbers and in the Traditional Craft, it is considered the minimal perfect offering to the Old Ones.

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