traditional-craft

The fluence: who are the “folk” in “folk magic”?

My mum’s family aren’t witches.  They’re not holders of any ancient mystical “fam-trad” lineage.  (In fact, some are from staunch Scots Presbyterian stock, including the “no dancing on the Sabbath!” variety.)

However, they DID pass down a bunch of stuff - little stories, customs, all that, as any culture does.  (And my gran took it and ran with it, loving and researching folklore all her life, teaching it to me and later enthusiastically joining in seasonal rituals.)

One thing in particular, which I grew up with as completely normal, was something the women of the family did: the soothing called “the fluence”.  Fractious children were calmed by this combination of forehead-stroking and deliberately radiating calming feelings, often with a low humming.  Obviously these things are calming anyway, but someone really good at it - like my gran, rest her - could do it from a distance.

I thought it was just one of those quirky family things.  “You’ve got a headache? Come here, I’ll put the fluence on you.”  “Ugh, X kid is being a monster, better put the fluence on them.”

Later on, however, I learned that this was, in fact, A Thing beyond our family - “putting the influence on someone”, which was, indeed, often abbreviated to “the fluence”.  (Etymonline takes this meaning of “the influence” back to the 1500s, and says it shows up earlier in medieval Latin.)  I’d done it to jasminekor when she was distressed; one time she was reading or watching something historical, and a character accused someone of having put the (negative) fluence on someone, and she sat up and said, “Oh my god, it’s actually a thing! I thought it was just your family!” just as I had.

I’m not telling this story to show what a ~magical mystical folk-craft family~ I come from.  I’m telling it to show that, when we talk about folk magic, we’re not talking about some vague people long ago and far away, but just…us.  (I think Pratchett had something trenchant to say about this, as usual.)  It’s not all stuff gathered by Cecil Williams, it’s not all in books, it didn’t mysteriously stop at some point, it’s just…stuff we do.  

Using the fluence to calm a kid down, for their sake and the sake of everyone in the room who’s having to listen to the screeching - that’s folk magic.  Pointing out a single crow to the person you’re with because it’s bad luck to be the only one who sees a single crow, to turn the bad luck - that’s folk magic.  (I’m told this is a specifically Kentish thing, and I grew up doing it without even really knowing what it was, but to this day I still have the urge to point and say “Crow!” when I see one XD)  

Ditto saluting/touching your hat/spitting at/etc magpies.  (For me: flick your fingers three times, spit three times with your thumb between your forefingers, and if you’re being hardcore, “Away with you evil, away with you ill!”  Tricky when you’re driving XD)  Any ill-luck-turning ‘superstition’ is folk magic.  (Broken something?  Quick, run out and smash a couple of jam-jars, cos these things come in threes!)  Cross your fingers to avoid bad luck (or render a promise powerless).  Rub your wedding ring on your stye to cure it.  Throw salt over your shoulder. “See a pin and pick it up, all that day you’ll have good luck.  See a pin and let it lie, that day you’ll see your luck go by.”  Hang up a horseshoe.  Keep a lock of your baby’s first hair to protect them.  Throw coins in the wishing well.

We do so many of these things without even thinking, and call them “superstition”, while looking for obscure lore from tucked-away corners of the country, poring over accounts of cunningmen and executed witches, and never look at what was done by everyone - what *we still do* - every day, 

This too is folk magic, and we are (still) the folk.

The Witches Ladder

Witches ladders (also known as witch’s ladders) are a type of knot magic that can be used for a wide variety of purposes. They are commonly made by braiding or knotting cords together while incorporating other materials that represent the intention of the creator. Witches ladders can be easily customized for every practitioner and used for nearly any purpose, making them a very versatile and convenient talisman to create. Witches ladders can be used for purposes like attracting or manifesting things, creating a more positive environment, warding off negative entities or energies, protecting yourself or others, or banishing certain behaviors or individuals, just to name a few.

To make a basic witches ladder, you will need:

- Several cords of equal length in colors of your choice

- Whatever materials you choose to weave into the cords (such as feathers, bones, herbs, hair, flowers, seashells, ribbons, beads, hag stones, sticks, crystals, keys, charms, etc.)

Optional but helpful:

- Tape

- A ruler

Some other ideas: You can incorporate pieces of paper with sigils drawn on them, drawstring bags filled with herbs or crystals, or personal symbolic items that have been made from clay or another material. If you are making a witches ladder for an individual, you may wish to include a taglock (a personal item that is strongly associated with the target) to further bond the person to the talisman. Taglocks may include hair, jewelry, etc. Depending on your practice, you may wish to incorporate numerology into your witches ladder by using a specific number of knots, number of cords, or number of items used.

For my witches ladder, I used thick dark green yarn, twine, seashells, goose feathers, ribbon, a pine cone, and a sand dollar. I chose to arrange my goose feathers with the smallest ones at the top and the largest ones at the bottom. I also decided to make a double witches ladder purely for aesthetic reasons, but you can stick to one or make as many as you want.

Creating the witches ladder

1. Start by gathering your materials and getting your cords ready to knot or braid. It may help to tie the cords together on one end and tape the knotted end to a table or another surface. I found that doing so helps to prevent the cords from getting tangled in the process and it helps maintain a nice tension while braiding.

2. As you braid or knot your cords, begin adding your chosen materials. You may wish to recite something or chant as you are doing this, but it is not necessary. Depending on how many items you are using, you may wish to space them out evenly. For this, a ruler may come in handy. In my own experience, I have found that certain materials such as feathers, herbs, flowers, and certain bones can be difficult to braid around. It may be helpful to braid the cords first and then insert your objects into the braid later on.

3. Continue braiding or knotting until you have made your witches ladder as long as you would like it. To finish your witches ladder, you may choose to simply tie off the cords, or you may choose to add something extra to the end. I chose to add a pine cone and ribbon to one of my witches ladders, and a sand dollar to the other. Finish off your witches ladder however you see fit.

4. Hang your witches ladder. You may wish to hang it near a doorway in your home, near your bed, or even outside. The best location for your talisman will depend on both it’s intended purpose and your personal preference. If you have cats or other mischievous pets, it may be a good idea to hang your witches ladder up high or out of their reach.

-theowloracle

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The nature of the witch is eternally bound to the other, we realise that no archetypal self identifies the witch; the witch transgresses the limits that define the self, making this transgression the liturgy by which he or she gains access to the world of spirits. At the same time, by becoming other the witch transcends the very concept of other, becoming something completely different, permeating all the worlds apprehended by men. By overcoming the duality between self and other we become the eternal one. This one is the center of our being, our spirit and the axis mundi.
—  Francis Ashwood, The Liturgy of Taboo; Serpent Songs: An Anthology of Traditional Craft

Our Mother of Midnight: the Queen of Elphame…

‘I bequeath unto you, my Children, the Keys to the Kingdom, whose gates are numerous; yet only found between moments, the lock known as Oblivion and the key called Surrender. And the Darkness shall be your guide…’

Text & Image © Patrick J. Larabee

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Mahogany Series | Sarah Croft + James Bennett

A young design duo looking to craft beautiful objects using honest materials. Both from New Zealand currently plying their trade in Europe. Learning different disciplines but also creating bespoke pieces for clients. Both designer oversee the different projects from concept, development and final design using a background in product design, interior design, photography, graphic design using emerging and traditional manufacturing process.

The Black Lord of the Witches, the Dark God of the two Horns, is the archetypal initiator-psychopomp who separates the subtle essence of the soul from the coarse material image of the body and who grants the extasis of night-transvection in the ‘living death’ of magical trance. When darkness covers the world and all are asleep in their beds, he is the dark-robed Master who summons forth the Wise to go out of themselves, riding on the turbulent storms and tempests over brake and thicket, ditch and dale to the realms beyond. As the Great Sorcerer and Lord of the Dead, the Horned One enables such translations into the spirit and opens the Devil’s Road to the High Sabbat.
—  Nigel Jackson, Masks of Misrule