Written by Peter Nash on 06 August 2010
There are numerous ways of working practical magic in Wicca, some highly ritualised and complicated, others very simple. Probably one of the most popular in the craft today is cord magic, not least because it is a very powerful method of working in a coven environment, but also it is easily adapted for use by the lone spell worker.
The cord as a magical tool certainly has its own characteristics and symbolism, it is particularly suitable for spells that involve for example binding and/or grounding; and certainly they generate an energy of their own, and are particularly useful for spells where other forms of magic may be inappropriate such as banishing spells. In the binding of the initiate in the first-degree initiation, the cords represent the restriction of the womb before the candidate is symbolically reborn, furthermore the blindfold represents the darkness therein. Powerful symbolism indeed!
In my parent coven, the main method of working cord magic was that after the power had been raised and everyone had fallen to the ground to welcome it and show respect, the assembled coven would then sit around the perimeter of the circle man/woman alternately as far as possible. Each brother or sister present would then name the petition. This would continue, with the invocation being repeated over and over again, faster and faster until the High Priestess decided that enough power had been raised, and all would release their end of the cord so that the cords would then collapse in a bundle in the centre of the circle whilst the coven concentrated on the power being discharged into the astral sphere and the universe. The cords were then gathered up and placed on the altar with the knots still intact; these were not undone until just before the next circle.
One advantage of this type of cord magic is that it is easily adapted for use by the solitary practitioner, with this mode the lone worker simply holds the cord at each end in each hand and ties the knots him/herself, but the method is essentially the same; the knots being tied not just as an aid to concentration, but to represent the accumulated power summoned and gathered together. The other main method of cord magic is by the use of the so-called Witches’ Ladder, more of which later.
Another variation of cord working in a coven context was that sometimes the High Priestess may lie beneath the wheel of cords as the coven worked, with the hub of the cords wrapped round her athame which then acted as a sort of lightning conductor. The will of the High Priestess then directed the power raised, amplified by the efforts of the rest of the group. This style of working however should only be attempted by an experienced coven as there can be side effects; indeed headaches, nausea, dizziness and extreme fatigue have all been reported, presumably the result of the energy not being directed properly or by a psychic overload of the mental, psychic and etheric bodies. Clearly a very experienced High Priestess is required as well as a skilled coven working completely in tune psychically with one another and in perfect harmony. Great care must be taken to ensure that the power is directed accurately and that no “residue” as it were remains.
Cords may also be used in the celebration of the Sabbats, where the coven may again gather around the perimeter of the circle; man-to-woman, with a witch of the opposite sex holding each end of the cord. Here the spokes created by the cords represent the wheel of the year. If the coven then performs a ritual or spiral dance, the symbolism of the working is further amplified. This form of sympathetic cord magic I feel is particularly potent at the solar festivals, i.e. the equinoxes and the solstices. I have even seen the cords released at the conclusion of the raising of the power so that the cords then fell into the burning cauldron on a bonfire. This was at Yule, and obviously the sacrificed cords represented the death of the Sun at this time of year. A new set off cords were then produced to represent his simultaneous rebirth during the remainder of the ceremony.
To return to the Solitary Practitioner; there is a very old method of cord working known as the “Witches’ Ladder” (mentioned earlier). The traditional length of cord for this mode of working is 18 inches, however any multiple of 3 may be used. Similarly any colour of cord may be employed, although red, white, or blue is traditional. Gold, however is a good general purpose colour. To begin, sit quiet in a contemplative / meditative state of mind. You must then visualise very strongly the end result of what you are trying to achieve. (First class visualisation and concentration skills are an absolute must for any practitioner of the craft or any magical discipline at all for that matter.)
Next, take the cord in hand and recite a rune, preferably self-composed, as this will have more power and meaning to the spell worker. A typical example would be something like:
“By the knot of one, the spell’s begun…
by the knot of two, it cometh true…
by the knot of three, my will shall be…
by the knot of four, the power is more…
by the knot of five, my spell’s alive…
by the knot of six, the energies mix…
by the knot of seven, the stars of heaven…
by the spell of eight, the power of fate…
by the power of nine, the (name object of spell) is mine!”
The first knot is tied in the centre of the cord, the next two are tied in the left and right ends respectively with the remaining knots tied in between, on the left and right sides of the centre knot alternately. This method of working is therefore very similar to the mode of solo cord magic previously described, the chief difference being that more knots are used and in a specific pattern , and there is greater emphasis on a verbal spell recited in conjunction with it.
Having completed the knots, the operator then concentrates hard on the object to be accomplished before letting the cords go, again imagining the power dispersing in all directions into the universe, charged and ready to bring about the desired result.
Once the ladder spell is completed you may either put the cord safe if you intend to use it again or return it to the elements by burning it, burying it, throwing it into running water in the same direction that the water is flowing or abandoning it on a hilltop or other high place. This should be done after one full lunar phase.
If the spell is successful before the end of the lunar month, you may undo the knots within the circle, say a prayer of thanks to the gods and pass the cords through the elements once again to neutralise the cord so that it is ready to be used again.
If however the spell has not produced a result, undo one knot each day for nine days, again concentrating on your intent coming to pass. Sailors are believed to have used a spell similar to the Witches’ Ladder many years ago to try and raise winds of sufficient force and correct direction to aid their journey. Cord magic may even be one of the oldest forms of magic to be practiced at all; it seems that prehistoric man may have used a form of sympathetic magic to bind clay models of animals, thus symbolising them being ensnared in traps. Legend has it that a form of Witches’ Ladder was used by wives to inflict impotence on faithless husbands. But one of the first recorded historical accounts of cord magic is from Burchard, Bishop of Worms in the Rhineland of Germany who observed peasants placing knotted ropes in the branches of trees in order to divert harmful influences away from their cattle.
To return to the modern craft, however, many covens keep several sets of cords for practical magic purposes; some kabbalistically inclined groups keep cords corresponding to the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life for use in appropriate invocations. Furthermore binding parts of the body with cords restricts blood flow and alters consciousness which can lead to the opening of the third eye for clairvoyance and possibly even astral projection. Great care must be taken however for if the binding is too tight physical damage can occur.
Some witches wear a cord around the waist during coven meetings with the colour then denoting rank within the craft; e.g. white for first-degree; red for second-degree and blue for third-degree. Although there are reasons for each colour being assigned to a particular degree it would not be appropriate for me to reveal them here.
Cord magic can then be seen to be a simple and yet highly effective form of magic and indeed meditation on the cords in relation to colour can provide much food for thought and insight. The cord also links matter to spirit, the material world to the realm of the gods, and it binds not just the material base of the craft but the four elements and the four points of the compass.