The Adventures of a Wiccan Prison Chaplain
Rota Scala, a Witches Ladder
It seems to me that the Witches Ladder is one of those unique and valuable, yet greatly under-appreciated bits of craft lore that has fallen to the wayside of contemporary Witchcraft. If you're not familiar with the term, there's a good article you can read here on Wikipedia that will give you the background and basic gist on the ladder. And if you Google it (images) you'll find a wide variety of ladders, made in many different ways and used for many different types of craftwork. Like much of modern day Witchcraft, people have taken an old idea and done something new it, and so have I.
But there are certain challenges that arise from this type of new growth within the Craft. There are so many of us taking old bits like the Witches Ladder, reclaiming it, remodeling it or recreating it. But we're not renaming it. As a result, all these neat new and original creations like prayer beads are being labeled as "Witches Ladders" and sold on Etsy. Make no mistake, I'm not criticizing the idea of "Witch Ladder Prayer Beads," in fact, I love the idea. I am however, trying to point out the confusion this form of appropriation and re-association can create.
For this reason, among others, we call our Witches Ladder a "Scala," which is Latin for ladder or staircase. We have several different kinds of Scala in our tradition, and today I'd like to share with you the Rota Scala or the "Wheel [of the year] Ladder." Much like the traditional Witches Ladder, the Rota Scala is a length of rope or cord. We prefer twisted manila rope, it's made from an organic fiber and usually consists of three strands woven together. While organic over synthetic is a common Pagan preference, there is a special significance to the three strand braid within our tradition. It represents Tela, the inherent spiritual interconnection between all things. Like an umbilical cord, Tela is our connection to the world and all things therein contained. This interconnection forms a "web," the very definition of the Latin word, Tela.
The purpose of the Rota Scala is twofold; it functions as a prayer tie and wheel of the year calendar at the same time. Traditionally a Witches Ladder is marked by knots, another old school form of spell-craft. Depending on the type and thickness of your Scala, knots may not be the best way to go as they tend to kink up you ladder in a way that's not atheistically pleasing. So for this particular Scala I like to use larges wooden beads. Although there are eight Sabbats in our wheel of the year, we use nine knots or beads. The first and last (top and bottom) beads represent Yule; the death and rebirth of the sun, the beginning and end of the annual solar cycle.
First, we loop the top end in on itself, braiding the individual strands back into the rope and sliding a wooden bead over that area to hold it together and fasten it into place. After that we add the remaining eight beads. Speaking from experience, it can be a bit tricky to get your beads spaced out just right. But once you've gotten it all worked out, your first Scala can be used as a template for future ones. The length of your Scala should be relative to its use, the more people and/or the frequency of its use, the more room you want, therefore the more rope you're going to need. For example; we host bi-monthly community rituals, so there are many people sharing a single community tie so that Scala always needs to be at least four feet long.
The next step is to make prayer ties. I recommend basic fabric. One of the most simple and cost effective ways to do this is to use bandanas. They come in a wide variety of colors and designs, and are readily available just about everywhere. I cut them in half, and then cut those halves into strips about an inch and a half wide, and six to eight inches long. Given the time and opportunity you can write prayers or spells on them, draw Sigils, Runes or employ many other methods of expression. Many people, including myself, simply charge the cloth with intention and knot it.
We start at the bottom of the Scala and work our way up the wheel of the year. The first bead represents Yule, the second is Imbolc, then Ostara, etc. So, we attached our prayer ties to the spaces between the beads as we progress though the year. As I write this we are between Imbolc and Ostara, therefore on Imbolc we began to attach our ties between the second and third (from the bottom) beads. We do this by twisting a small segment of rope in opposite directions with each hand, this untwists the braid allowing us to slip our prayer cloth between two strands of the braid. Some people tend to just tie their cloth around the outside of the Scala, but sliding it through allows the full length of the cloth tie to hang which creates a very pleasant looking effect, and previous ties can easily be adjusted as needed.
One of our primary activities as Pagans is practicing rites to attune ourselves with the rhythms and cycles of nature. The Rota Scala is a ritual tool we can use in three of the Great Labors of Witchcraft; observation, adoration and incantation. It's a Witches calender that allows us to mark and track the turning of the Great Wheel, it enhances our sense of connection to those rhythms and cycles, and enables us to express ourselves turn-by-turn through prayer and spell-craft.
Thank you Lord and Lady for the Wheel of the Year, Volvitur In Rota, "On Turns the Wheel."
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