I have posted previously about the use of knots and, by extension cords, in the past where I concentrated on the use of cords in witchcraft, beyond their use as a spell component, and their symbolism in a broad sense. In this post will look very broadly at the way cords are used in various witchcraft traditions.
Their most significant role is as a symbol of initiation and indicator of level and rank. Although I am not a member of any close group/coven or tradition and as such I can only refer to the various groups which provide outer court information as well as information which is widely avalible in books and on the Internet.
Initiation and Elevation are significant occasions for members of initiatory witchcraft traditions and cords play an important role in this process.
Everything about them, from their length and colour to any adornment they may have, signifies something about the tradition and initiate. The cord is presented upon each initiation and elevation and carried with the initiate to each ritual they attend.
At 9 feet (3×3) the cord is used to establish the circumference of the magical circle ahead of ritual and as such some traditions hold that it is a tool and should not be worn. More often the cord is worn as a belt or girdle, a discreet mark of rank amongst fellow initiates.
Colour is also an important element to the significance of the cord, being another discreet way to identify level and rank/role within the tradition. What colours are used to signify what will vary between traditions.
The knotting of the Cord is also a practice within traditions. The number of knots used and what they represent will vary between traditions .
They may represent the number of rituals that have been attended in the first turning of the year since initiation or even the number that must be attended between elevation. In either case the knot will not be tied untill the occasion has taken place. Knots representing life cycles, tradition deities or station within the Coven will be tied on one occasion and will not alter until such time as the position of the individual does.
Lets look at some significant numbers
8 – five and three representing the five stages of life and the triune lunar Goddess. Found within the Clan of Tubal Cain. Can also represent the Lesser and Greater Sabbats.
9 – 3×3 The number of the Goddess
13 – tradition number of a Witches Coven and the number of full moons within a lunar cycle.
As said before the cord is symbolic of the ties between people as well as between our prenatal existence and birth or life and death. The cutting of cords and forging of new ones can be used symbolically to transition from one life state to another or free ourselves of unhealthy connections and build new ones.
The cord is the halter which draws the initiate on in to the Coven and in suplication to its leaders. In a sense it is a position of submission. The cord could easily be used to kill the initiate, in a ritual action similar to those prehistoric bog bodies of Britain and Ireland.
By extension cords also represent our connection to Fate, and in some traditions the surender of oneself to Fate (although this should not be confused with blind acceptance of whatever comes your way). The three Fates of Ancient Greece, or Norns of Norse tradition, are the weavers of Fate. They are the spinners that form the thread, the yard stick that and measures the its length and the knife that brings the end.
Garters are not just a phenomenon of the middle ages, Paleolithic cave art found in eastern Spain appears to showsl a sorcerer performing in a ritual while wearing nothing but a pair of garters just below his knees. The traditional dress of Morris dancers consists of garters, usually red, although one traditional dance is known as the Green Garter.
Within Witchcraft the Garter is a ceremonial item associated with Covens and groups and is taken to be a mark of rank amongst Witches. The Garter is worn by the high priestess or whatever title is ascribed to the female leader of the Coven and denotes rank amongst fellow Witches. Colour and adornment may vary but the most commonly described Witches Garters are made of green leather lined with blue silk adorned by a large silver buckle, representing the Coven over which she rules. Where she has more than one coven under her authority the large buckle represents the central coven with smaller buckles or other silver adornments representing the others.
Traditionally it is worn on the left leg, just above the knee fastened either by the buckle or by ribbons/cords.
Red garters were traditionally worn by a witchcraft coven Summoner, the member of the Coven who would go out and inform fellow Witches of the date, time and location of up coming meetings. The red garters signified to others that he was coming with a genuine message from the Coven leader, an important token when wanting to hid ones activities from the authorities.
There is a particular question that a Witch may ask of the Garter and that is;
“Where does the witch wear the garter?”
The answer given, at least by EJ Jones in Witchcraft, a Tradition Renewed is
“Around their neck.”
This is in part an allusion to the tradition that, when a Witch was taken by authorities and at risk of torture or likely to reveal the details of the Coven, they would be murdered in jail. Whether it was death by strangulation or some other means a garter would be tied around their throat to signify why the killing was carried out.
Evans is also referring here to the cord and it’s use in initiation as a halter and ritual garotte as discussed above.
Most of what I have referenced above comes to us from History and (America) Folk Tradition. The references to Garters seems to focus on the years of persecution during the various witchcraft trials and it seems to me that the gaudy green and silver or bright red garters were a shade too flamboyant to be practical. I mean really, who hoiks up their skirts to flash a bright red garter as identification when a discreet hand gesture or sign and coubtersign droped in conversation would do? The very nature of the garters described above would be anathema to the Puritans; bright, gaudy, expensive. What better propaganda to have against the Witch?
That being said garters are mentioned by GB Gardener in his fictional work High Magic’s Aid, particularly in regard to the Summoners red garter, and in Witchcraft, a Tradition Renewed. It is not entirely possible to discount them as existing within a living tradition as a mark of authority within a coven setting (ie in private ritual), in fact for groups that operate skyclad it is a simple way to identify ones role without the parifinalia getting in the way of ritual movement, indeed it could add to it with a flash of colour and silver as Witches dance but I highly doubt that they would be used for identification out in the wider world. It would certainly give the phrase ‘flashing old hornie’ a new meaning.
On the Order of the Garter
The Order of the Garter is Britain’s highest and most oldest order of knighthood and one which commonly gets brought up in discussions about Witches Garters. I am every the slave to convention however it comes with a twist.
The Order was established by King Edward III sometime between 1344 and 1350 and was Edwards second attempt at building a knighthood along the lines of Arthurian legend. The first and much larger first attempt being represent by the Round Table building found in the grounds of Windsor by Time Team in 2006. In comparison the Order of the Garter was far smaller, consisting of twenty-six knights including the monarch and their successor.
The foundation of the Order is shrouded by legend but the accepted tale tells of how the countess of Salisbury was dancing with King Edward III at a court function and as the danced her garter fell to the ground. The king picked it up and, to save her embarrassment, put it on his own leg with the words, “Honi soit qui mal y pense” (french for “Shame be to him who thinks evil of it.”) This phrase came to be the slogan associated with the Order of the Garter and is taken as a statement of chivalry and honour.
Margaret Alice Murray suggests that the the only way a 14th century woman could be embarrassed by the dropping of her garter would be if the garter in question was one tied to the practice of Witchcraft. Its appearance would mark her for a practitioner of the Craft and such things could bring down even the highest woman of court, particularly given how many high churchmen would have beenin attendance. Given this Murray praises Edward for his quick thinking in not only saving the Countess but for presenting himself as a leader of those still practicing the Craft at the time.
Personally I feel Murray is building castles in the sky, in this case on the basis of the numerology of the Order and the reoccurrence of the number 13.
Again with the numbers
26 members = 2×13
The Garter of the Chief of the Order = 168 tiny garters plus one on his leg equalling 169 garters on his person= 13×13.
Whilst the tale of the Countess of Salisbury is compelling it is only a tale and one lacking historical credibility. Even if it took place the six year window means that the Countess coule be either Joan, the Fair Maid of Kent or Elizabeth de Mohun.
This is all very murky but my point; almost nothing is known about Elizabeth de Mohun and from what is known about the Fair Maid there is no hint of Witchcraft in her history. We know from the experience of later high ladies accused of Witchcraft, such as Eleanor Cobham and Jacquetta of Luxembourg (aka the Lady Rivers), that such accusation stick and haunt until death even after the charges were dropped. Joan, we know, went on to marry Edward the Black Prince and it is unlikely that this would have been possible if there was even a hint of Witchcraft about her. Joan, to out it mildly, was not well liked and few eould have shed a tear to see her fall however she is well documented and there is no record of accusation. Elizabeth on the other hand is unremarkable in the record, existing solely in reference to her father, husband and later son.
Something as sensational as Witchcraft would undoubtedly left its mark and whilst absence of evidence is not evidence of absence it is a pretty shaky start.