The modern Witches Ladder is a combination of knot, feather and color magick. Practiced by both Wiccan and Witchcraft traditions using various symbol-isms depending on the practitioner’s individual beliefs.
Recorded ancestry of the Witches Ladder can be dated back to Somerset, England 1878 when a string of rope and feathers was found in an attic alongside several brooms and a chair. The workers who found the feathered rope dubbed it a “witches ladder”. In 1887, Dr. Abraham Colles published an article on the ladder with his research findings as to the use of the witches ladder and its ties to witchcraft. That same year, Anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor, submitted the witches ladder to British Association for the Advancement of Science in Manchester in hopes of proving its ties to witchcraft. During his talk, two men stood up to protest its association to witchcraft stating it was a sewel and is used to “turn back deer while hunting”. Over the next few years, several fiction novels were written that referenced witches ladders being associated to “black” witchcraft although actual ties to white, black or otherwise have never been proven. 24 years later, Anna Tyler, wife of Edward Tyler, donated the ladder to the Pit Rivers Museum with a note:
“The “witches’ ladder” came from here (Wellington). An old woman, said to be a witch, died, this was found in an attic, & sent to my Husband. It was described as made of “stag’s” (cock’s) feathers, & was thought to be used for getting away the milk from the neighbours’ cows – nothing was said about flying or climbing up. There is a novel called “The Witch Ladder” by E. Tyler in which the ladder is coiled up in the roof to cause some one’s death.”
Even though, Tyler was unable to prove in a court the “witches ladder” was indeed used in witchcraft. He was equally unable to prove that it was not.
Many (but not all) Witches Ladder spells are Wiccan in nature and require 3 strings of 3 yards each corresponding to a Cingulum or witches cord which is traditionally 9 feet in length and used in circle casting, ritual and knot magick. Knotted in Feathers, charms, herbs and talismans are selected based on their correspondence to the ladders intent.
For the modern Witch, the chosen magick incorporated into her ladder rests entirely upon herself and can not be done wrong so long as it harm none.