When I initially planned this series of blogs I only intended to talk about five of the most common tools of the Craft, however I couldn’t leave out the cord. In many ways it’s worked out rather well. Five tools have been discussed, The Stang taking centre, with the Cup, Blade, Stone and Cloak taking up cardinal positions around it. And now the cord finally takes it position as the entire circumference of our mighty circle, uniting and binding.
As it happens perhaps one of the most practical uses of ones cord is as a compass so in that respect the cord is indeed that principle which unites and encompasses all …the circumference, the zero and dare I say it, even ‘Truth’?!?!
Many traditions across the globe make use of cords whether as single use items for casting or a permanent feature of their ritual ‘furniture,’ there are a hundred and one uses which would take forever to discuss so I am going to focus on my cord and how I use it in my craft. I am not however going to dwell too long on the uses of cords in magic; I plan to write about that in the very near future as (as providence would have it) I have just taken up the craft of spinning.
My cord has been fashioned and is used as suggested by Roy Bowers (aka Robert Cochrane). Let’s see what he says about the cord specifically in one of his letters to Bill Gray:
“This is the feminine tree and should have five and three knots with a noose at one end. Traditionally it should be comprised of many materials, but hemp will do…It represents the feminine aspects of the knife amongst other things and the noose is a traditional sign of subjection to Hecate as the end and beginning of life”
My cord has been fashioned, not from hemp rope (not that easy to come by here in decent lengths), but a length of white cotton rope. Some suggest the cord should at least start out being as long as the witch is tall, some traditions say the cord’s length should be the summation of the circumference of the head, the chest and the hips; the so – called ‘measure’ of the witch. All well and good but go with whatever is practical.
The cord should, as quoted above, have 5 + 3 knots (note it is specifically not 8) with a hangman’s noose at “the end” and the Monkey’s paw at “the beginning” (elsewhere in his writings RC in fact specifies tassels at the end instead of the monkey paw and only 7 knots!). Furthermore It isn’t clear whether the monkeys paw and noose are included in the 3 and 5 so I would say go with instinct…as long as you know that’s the main thing!
This is a somewhat sombre and morbid end of the cord and is in fact the first knot (also known as the Hangman’s knot) I added (purely for the sake of ease) and is the means whereby I wear the cord i.e. around my neck with noose tightened slightly and monkey paw hanging free (this is why the length should be practical, you don’t want to be tripping over it).
The Noose, as a symbol is clear…it is a symbol of death and the means whereby one is released from the mortal coil. It is the fate of every physical being in this universe to eventually die so the noose represents our bondage to fate, as RC puts it represents our “subjection” to Fate. Therefore the cord represents our final destination…our goal, for not only are all folks subject or slave to Fate’s desire, we are also devoted to our ultimate goal of Fate’s defeat. In his book “Western Inner Workings” Bill Gray discusses the sacrifice of the King in which he says:
“Later He was bound in position with cord, which is one reason why the cord became a sacred symbol in The Tradition. It should remind people of the dedication they owe to divinity”
Remember too that Odin who ‘hung’ himself from Yggdrasil in sacrifice, bear all this in mind when you create yours and each time you slip it over your head for it is our devotion and dedication which binds us to our path.
The Monkey Paw
Now to the flip side. If one end of the cord is associated with death (or the freedom from life depending on how you wish to view it) then the other side represents birth, or our connection with life…all life. It is in fact the naval string or umbilical cord….the beginning. However it is only when the umbilical cord is severed that we are released from our Mother into the world as self-sustaining individuals and thus become subject to the will of fate, yet it must be so in order to accomplish…in a nutshell, life and death are partners, you can’t have one without the other, both are necessary!
It is here we start to see the similarities between the Cord and the Blade for both the Cord and Blade represent both death and life, both implements can inflict either. For example whilst the cord represents life in its guise as naval string, so too does the knife, as it is the knife which severs the naval string releasing the infant upon his own path, his own destiny. Individually all tools represent something, but further meditation on the inter relationship with each of the tools can reveal a complex dynamic and I highly recommend this undertaking. It will reveal a whole depth of knowledge, especially relating to RC’s riddle (see Implements of art part V)
The Monkey paw represents life, it is what anchors us, grounds us and it is clear that RC draws upon his work on the river barges here because the monkey paw (sometimes called the monkey fist) is in fact a knot used to weigh down the tether line so when its thrown to the dock it travels much further in a straight line and a boat can be easily pulled in. Whether this knot is still in use on boats today I do not know however in terms of our ritual cord it’s interesting to note that this knot hangs down…again acting as an anchor tethering us to the earth just as the umbilical cord tethers us to our birth mothers and provides sustenance.
I have found it beneficial to tie a small round stone or glass marble into the knot which makes tying the knot easier and provides more weight. You can also choose a special stone or amulet to add that something extra. Interestingly Monkey fist knots may also be crafted independently and hung around the home as protective amulets, I made one out of some old washed up fishing rope during my last trip to Cornwall and it hangs in our home for that very purpose…they even look quite attractive but be warned it’s a tough knot to crack and you will need patience and practise.
3 + 5
The 5 is the ‘round of life’ the pentagram with each knot representing birth, life, maturity, death and rest / repose. For this reason I chose to incorporate the monkey paw as the first of these knots. As I said above the Monkey paw represents the umbilical cord, the naval string so to me it makes perfect sense to consider this the ‘birth’ knot. Four other knots then rise from it forming a ladder effect ascending ‘knot by knot’ towards our end point…the noose, secured tightly round our necks. Anyone with knowledge of the kabbalah and middle pillar will begin to see a whole raft of additional symbolism in this one device.
The final three knots are slightly bigger on my cord as to me they represent the sisters of Night, the triple face of Fate. They represent the three Fs – Flags, Flax and Fodder and I tied them bigger because what they represent is bigger “for none is as great as The Goddess”
So there you have my interpretation / construction of a ‘Cochranian’ Cord. But what the hell do you do with it now? Here are just a few ideas…
- As I have already mentioned the cord can be used as a means to trace a circumference of you working space. Slip the noose over the stang (or something) and there you have a makeshift compass. Alternatively you could hold the noose in your hand and whirl the monkey first about your head and a circular motion, much like a Bullroarer…an effective way of conjuring the spirits and crafting sacred space.
- The cord may also act as a form of girdle or belt. If it’s long enough the cord can be worn around the waist and tightened by feeding the monkey paw through the noose creating a slip knot. Tools such as the blade can then be hung from the cord for easy access.
- RC refers to the cord being used as a kind of rosary where the knots are used as an aid to counting the repetitions of ones prayers or chants etc instead of the beads of a more traditional rosary…I have used the cord for this very purpose to great effect in conjunction with verses such as the Sangreal Prayer.
- As an aid to meditation, the noose when tightened around certain parts of the body can produce some interesting results…just remember to be safe, you are not attempting to cut off blood supply, strangle or amputate any body part, just a gentle squeezing pressure applied to certain areas is sufficient…experiment around pulse points in particular.
- Frequently, I take full advantage of the cords attribute of ‘binding’ and whenever I create or hallow an implement I often use the cord to literally and symbolically ‘bind’ the object to myself or my desire.
Remember…as with all the tools in the Witches armoury, the Cord has many uses and to quote RC once more “most of which will come with intuition”
‘The Robert Cochrane Letters’ by Robert Cochrane with E. J. Jones. Edited by Michael Holward. Capall Bann Publishing.
‘Western Inner Workings’ by William G Gray. Weiser Books
Massive thanks to Matt Baldwin-Ives for allowing me to use his photographic image ‘Cords’ www.milescross.co.uk