How knots are tied into the history of witchcraft

Happy weekend, witches!

Here in California we’re still diligently sheltering in place, so now that I have some free time on Saturday nights, I feel strangely compelled to get a little weird on the weekends like everyone else normally does. So hello, world! Let’s talk about a subject I’ve been doing a lot of research on lately: tying knots. Did you know that the practice of tying knots is (literally) woven into the history of witchcraft throughout many ancient cultures across the world?

I must confess, I have always had a particular affinity for the magic of tying a simple (or complicated) knot. Although I don’t remember where I first heard it, I had learned when I was a child that tying knots can be helpful in magic spells, so have often incorporated it into my personal practice. I’m a hairstylist by day and never cease to be fascinated with braids and knots in hair. And even more personally, I find the art of making rope knots beautiful and fascinating, as in things like rope bondage and, more mildly, macrame. But it wasn’t until I read Max Dashu’s Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion that I realized how deeply rooted knots are in the history of a variety of ancient magical traditions.

From the ancient Egyptians to the Greeks, many cultures have associated the act of tying a knot with a way to control, bind, or release energy. The use of magical knots was so widespread throughout European cultures that at one point they were deemed forbidden by the Christian church. These magical knots were typically used for healing and were called ligaturas. From Dashu’s book: “Ligatura literally means ‘tying,’ though it had become a synonym for ‘amulet,’ from a consecrated knot, or something tied on with one. People tied on horns, animal teeth, horns, or stones – natural objects charged with vital essence. But the cord itself could be ritually endowed with potency, by spinning incantations, knotting, measuring, anointing, smudging or immersing in spring water.”

Occasionally I hear about how knots are sometimes used in a spell to “bind” a person. Binding can mean someone is bound from doing harm or taking a certain action, or it can mean they will be “bound” to someone else. I don’t personally think either of those things are ethical, and on top of that, whenever you put out the intention of binding someone and using your energy to manifest that, you are also energetically binding yourself to that person as well. I’m not about messing with people’s free will or anything, so let’s not do that here.

In modern witchcraft, knots are often used to amplify the power of a spell. I encourage all witchy humans to save scraps of wool, thread, yarn, or rope to use for this purpose. While stating your intention, you can tie a number of knots depending on what the occasion calls for. (One big knot for power, three knots for a charm, seven for luck, ten if an accomplishment or completion is desired.) You can then bury or save the knots somewhere sacred so they preserve the energy charged with your intentions. Tying a knot using a natural fiber such as hair or a blade of grass can add that covetable element of “vital essence,” empowering your intentions with the natural bounty of the earth.

It would be remiss not to point out the sacredness and beauty of rope bondage here. I think although this type of imagery has recently become more embraced by mainstream culture, it still exists somewhere in the public mind as a bit taboo. I would like to offer the alternative perspective that it is the art of creating a beautiful visual effect through a simple medium, charged with the power of intention when applied to a person just as when knots are used in a spell. While true that witches were once tied to the stake to be burned, I think there is great power in taking back this practice for one’s own pleasure. Another recent discovery of mine: self-bondage is totally a thing! I learned to do the tie pictured above from this tutorial. It was a fun personal ritual that definitely felt like a solid dose of self lovery.

So if you’re ~knot~ afraid to give some of these practices a try, why not set aside some time to play around? Har har. You’re… BOUND to have a good time. (Ok, I’m done.) I’ll leave you with some casual plant bondage, courtesy of some yarn and my window:

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