Balancing stones to form interesting shapes is fun, and here you will discover the history and use of these "cairn" (pronounced kârn) as well as how to blend the creation of your own stacked rock cairn with the classic "Witch's Knot" spell to focus your energy to any magical, spiritual or mundane purpose. This is a great activity for equinox Sabbats and other times of balance.
Although steeped in old traditions, cairn are not specifically Pagan or even religious. Stacked rocks are used to mark paths, particularly above the tree line at high altitudes where there are no trees to mark or wood to use for signs. Some of these are "official" and created around the world by park rangers and guides. Others are unofficial, overdone and sometimes take up more of the natural landscape than many hikers would prefer.
Cairn no longer need to be restricted to outdoor formations. You will see decorative stacked rocks at spas, meditation centers, temples and churches. You can even make your own altar cairn with tumbled semi-precious stones like the one in the picture. In this example, the seven stones have been chosen to correspond to the seven major chakras.
Outdoor cairn should only be made on private property. When too many people add to established trail marker cairn, or create new trail cairn, it detracts from the natural beauty of the landscape. It can also cause hikers to be misguided and contribute to damaging soil erosion.
But on your own property, cairn can be magically charged to create protection wards, to commemorate special places or occasions, to mark the path to a ritual circle, used as circle markers or even to create a Witch's Ladder.
A “Witch's Ladder” is a classic magical spell of the knot and cord* variety. In this example, I've dragged that old scrap of a spell kicking and screaming and updated it to be a more widely adaptable bit of magic.
The Witch's Ladder is also known as “rope and feathers” or “witches garland” as it is a cord, rope or hair knotted with a magically corresponding number of knots, and each knot often includes a feather, bead or charm. This type of fetish then becomes a sort of talisman and is worn around the neck or waist, hung in the home, buried or stored in a spell box.
Charles Leland (author of Aradia, Gospel of the Witches) claims that these Witch's Ladders were tied with black hen feathers and were often used for bindings and baneful magic. But a Witch's Ladder can be used to bind and focus any magical intent, and the same techniques used to create a ladder can be applied to creating a magickal Cairn.
Also known as the “spell of nine knots” energy is focused with clear intent, and a knot is tied in your cord in the the order below:
(-- 1--- 6 --- 4 --- 7 --- 3 --- 8 --- 5 --- 9 --- 2 –)
As each knot is tied with directed energy and intent, the corresponding line of the spell is chanted. Sometimes each line is repeated three times while knotting before moving to the next knot and corresponding spell's words of power.
By knot of one, the spell's begun,
By knot of two, the spell comes true,
By knot of three, it comes to be,
By knot of four, this power I store,
By knot of five, this spell contrive,
By knot of six, the spell is fixed,
By knot of seven, by earth and heaven,
By knot of eight, the web of Fate,
By knot of nine, the thing is mine!
To undo the spell, the knots are untied in the reverse order, beginning with nine.
You can adapt this spell to Cairn by choosing your rocks and intent, and then stacking them while chanting:
By stone of one, my spell's begun,
By stone of two, my spell comes true,
By stone of three, it comes to be,
By stone of four, this power I store,
By stone of five, my spell is alive,
By stone of six, my spell is fixed,
By stone of seven, power is given,
By stone of eight, my will is great,
By stone of nine, the spell is mine.
If you are using semi-precious stones, practice stacking them before you begin your spell. They can be “slippery” due to their high polish, and selecting flat sided stones will help keep your stack balanced.
Some people use super-glue or epoxy to hold the stones in place. You could do this by adding a dab of glue as the line of the spell is chanted, as you would otherwise tie the knot for a cord ladder.
However, your stones should still balance on one another without the glue before being fixed in place. There are some artists who drill holes through large stones and stack them over a pipe or piece of re-bar. This keeps them from falling over in wind, flood or earthquake, and allows for a wide range of unusual, gravity-defying structures. For this spell, the energy of balance may be important to include for some types of workings, particularly wards and circle markers. Therefore I prefer to “dry stack” my rocks and repair them as necessary if they tumble.
Because cairn are used to mark trails and paths, I have created a cairn spell, adapted from the Witch's Ladder spell, to commemorate and mark my own Pagan Path. This cairn stands near a ritual circle location and helps remind me of my goals with the pulsing energy that softly radiates from it. This is especially helpful when daily mundane life become overwhelming and I feel that I have lost my Pagan Path. It keeps me on track and sure footed.
By stone of one, my path's begun,
By stone of two, I'll make it through,
By stone of three, allow me to see,
By stone of four, past every door,
By stone of five, I'll always thrive,
By stone of six, my footing fixed,
By stone of seven, I'll use what's given,
By stone of eight, I make my fate,
By stone of nine, my path I'll find.
Feel free to use your creativity and intuition to adapt the old Witch's Ladder spell to your needs, weather working with knot and cord magic, or using stones and rocks.
* Knot & Cord Magick: Articles on PaganPath.com refer to all cord magic, knot magic, string magic, and cord magic as “Knot & Cord”. This type of magic is very effective for storing or binding energy to an object. Traditionally created with rope or cord of course, we have several articles like this one explaining how to adapt these extremely effective but limited old relics of spells into more adaptable energy containments.