Keys to the Hidden Door: Part II

Keys and Spiritism

Even the name “skeleton key” makes it hard to ignore the connection between this former household essential and the beyond.  Although the name came simply from the shape resembling that of a hollow skull on a bony frame, skeleton keys seem to have an inherent ghostly quality and inspire thoughts of séances, mediums, and hauntings.  Granted, a part of this is due to the fact that skeleton keys have fallen out of use over the last century and remain as keepsakes from a bygone time, but it is the purpose of the key that holds its power.  The skeleton key was the one master key that could unlock all doors in a household.  By extension, it is not hard to imagine their potency as a symbol in breaking through barriers and passage through liminal zones.

As antiques, skeleton keys make for nice channel points for relating to the past, our ancestors, and ghosts in the home.  Not surprisingly, there is a wealth of folklore about keys and keyholes relating to spirits and ghosts.  A few select examples include:

  1. Spirits come through the keyhole and blow out lamps.
  2. If there is a ghost in the house and you see it, take a door key and throw at the ghost and then it cannot harm you.
  3. When a person dies who has sinned a little during his life, he should be buried with a key in his pocket so that he can open the gates to heaven with little trouble.

In this season, when the veil is thin, it might be nice to set up an altar with a skeleton key and some ferns (a plant that also aides in opening doors).

As part of my Hunter’s Moon ritual this year, I did a variation on the key candle from Part I, with remarkable results.  In case it inspires some ideas for you, here is how it went!

I started with a small, plain white votive candle
that had been dressed with oil
and my own intentions.

Before beginning, I had selected a particular key for this ritual.  Holding it over the flame, I meditated on obtaining access to my desired outcome.  (Be careful during this phase — remember the key is metal, so the handle can get very hot!  Put it down on stone or glass periodically if it gets too hot.)

When the key was sufficiently warm and I felt it humming with the intended energy, I pushed the key with steady motion into the side of the candle, as though sliding it slowly into a lock.

To my utter astonishment, as I pressed the singing iron against the white candle, a sudden rush of midnight black streamed down the candle like free flowing blood and pooled on the table beneath.

Overcoming my surprise, I quickly realized this was caused by the liquidized molten wax being instantly colored by the soot that had accumulated on the key from the smoke and flame of the candle, creating a river of pure black wax.

I continued to press the key forward into the candle, occasionally removing it for reheating.  Once the key had reached about the middle of the candle (but just before the wick), I began turning to the right, being careful to turn it back to its normal axis before removing it, thus creating a mold inside the candle conformed precisely to the shape of my chosen key.

After letting both parts cool, I now have a lock-and-key candle for all of my key spell needs!  So whether I’m working through an emotional block, working towards that shiny new apartment, or catching up with great-great-great-great-great aunt Mila, I can simply light the candle, turn the key, and away we go.

My dad always told me that if I played with fire I would wet the bed.

I decided it was worth the risk.



Keys to the Hidden Door: Part I

For our final installments in this cycle of posts about keys, let’s consider keys in the misty realm of dreams, knowing, secrecy and spiritism!

Keys in Dreams

Now, depending on who you ask, you will get 10,000 different answers for what it means to dream about any given thing.  The folklore collections, for instance, yielded two interpretations: to dream of a key means success, or dream of a key, and you will discover a secret.  Gustavus Hindman Miller’s 1901 dream guide provides the following interpretations of key dreams for ladies: keys denote unexpected changes; if lost, unpleasant adventures; if found, domestic peace or brisk turns to business.  If broken, the key bodes separation through death or jealousy, and lost options.  If a girl should dream of a lost key to a “personal ornament” means quarrels with a lover and distress; if given away, poor judgment in conversation and a bad reputation.

In addition, this turn-of-the-20th-century guide dictates that to dream of unlocking a door points to a new lover, perhaps one in which you have misplaced confidence, and locking a door indicates successful selection of a husband!  One I found particularly unique, is that a dream of being unable to find a keyhole means that you will unconsciously injure a friend.  I’m kind of proud of Gustavus for not automatically jumping from this dream image to an analogy of a failed sexual encounter!

In general, I shy away from prescriptive dream dictionaries, and instead I find it helpful when deciphering a particular dream image to do some free association on what that image evokes in my mind and memory.  It also sometimes helps to imagine that each element of my dream represents some aspect of my own self.

Another thing to keep in mind with dream interpretation as with anything is context.  Context, context, context.  If in your dream you lose a key, and you wake with feelings of anxiety, perhaps this signifies fears of loss of security, or fears of exposure, for example.  If you throw a key away carelessly in your dream, maybe you are ready to give up your secrets and liberate yourself.  If you find a key, maybe it means just that — you will find the key to a waking puzzle.  I find that there is a lot of crossover between the magical aspects of an object and its dream symbology — once you start looking at one, the other begins to seem much more intuitive.

One last hint from the folklore annals:  “A door key placed upside down near your bed will banish bad dreams and produce peaceful sleep.”  How handy!  A nice little witchy and easily-acquired dream catcher.

Keys, Secrecy and Revelation

Just as keys can be used for both opening and closing locks, they can also represent equally either the binding or loosing of power, people, and even information.  Say you have a feeling that you’re ready to leave behind, but you just can’t seem to let it go.  Ever had the feeling of wanting to lock something away and bury the key?  Try doing just that!  Well, at least you can infuse a key with the power of putting that feeling away and bury the key.  This might also be a good spell against gossip, or for keeping someone quiet.  Be careful, though, because when (not if… when) that key gets un-buried , you’ll have to be prepared for the consequences.

Tied to the power of secrecy, and well-known from our dealings with keys in love, the key is a striking symbol of trust.  But it is also a harbinger of tests and temptation.  Think back to the story of La Barbe Bleue, in which the terrible Bluebeard entrusts his young bride with all the keys of his household, granting her total access to every wondrous room but one.  This room carries the grisly remains of Bluebeard’s former wives who failed this test, and when the key is dropped in their blood by the horrified young bride, no matter how hard she scrubs, the key reveals the truth of her betrayal.

If you are trying to fight temptation, try using a key to overcome your weakness.  Imagine the key like Bluebeard’s key, and practice carrying it without giving in to its seductions.  Over time, start envisioning that same key as an instrument of agency — by the end, you carry the key to your own willpower, and it will remain as an emblem of your strength, having overcome your undesired impulses.

On the other side of the coin, say you’re having trouble obtaining information that you seek, and you want to do some magical work to help you break through the barriers.  (Looking for personal insight?  Wondering if it’s really love?  Combating writer’s block??)  Try making an unlocking candle to light while you visualize a positive outcome.  This couldn’t be easier.  Find a candle that you like, preferably with a smooth surface, and a relatively flat key that strikes your fancy.  Press the key into the side of the candle, either up or down, depending on your intentions and using your instincts.

Dress or cleanse the candle, or take any other steps that you feel will lend power to your goal.  Then 1, 2, 3, LIGHT!

…et voilà!  Fiat lux!

Think of it as turning on the light as practice while you work to turn on the bulb above your head.



Keys, Understanding and Prophecy

As a symbol of opening the ways to knowledge, keys can also unlock the way to enlightenment, initiation, and even shamanic death/rebirth.  (For inspiration, read MacDonald’s “The Golden Key” or Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden”!)  There is so much more to be said about this, but that is perhaps too deep a topic for this series.

Not surprisingly, keys turn up in many folkloric bits of prophecy and methods of divination.  Let’s highlight a few, shall we?

  1. If a wife’s keys persist in getting rusty, it is a sign that some friend is saving money for her.  [Arrow’s note: hmm… I really don’t know what to make of this one.  Leave a comment if you have some insight!]
  2. If you hand a pregnant woman a key and she picks it up by the hook end, she will have a boy.  If she picks it up by the end that goes in the door, the child will be a girl.
  3. Or: Tie a rusty key on a string and suspend it over the abdomen of the mother while she is lying down.  When the key stops swinging, if it’s parallel to the length of the mother’s body, the baby is a boy.  If the key stops crosswise, the baby is a girl.  [What is it about rusty keys?]

This last bit makes me think a key might make a delightful pendulum, if you’re into pendulum divination.

And finally, a series of practices with keys and Bibles:

If a key is placed on an open Bible, and a certain verse repeated, the key will turn.

If you want a wish granted, open the Bible to Ruth 1:16-18.  Place a key there, with the top end sticking out.  Tie the Bible firmly closed. Hold it, and repeat over and over the above passages.  If your wish will be granted, the key will turn slowly, even though you try to hold it.

[These passages read: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die, I will be buried.”]

Insert a key in a prayer book.  The key should stick out about an inch or so.  Place two fingers from each hand on each side of the key and say, “Ruth, Ruth, your people will be my people and your God will be my God.  Give me the name (or initials) of the one I’ll marry.”  Then start the alphabet and when the key starts to turn, use that letter for the initial or the name.

As I recall, this practice figures somehow in the novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.  (Not the most trenchant of works, but a time-passer.)  I have never tried it, though, and I am unsure of the relevance of Ruth in these practices.  Why that chapter?  If you have tried this, or if you have any additional information, I’d sure love to hear from you.  Maybe I will try contacting Cory from New World Witchery to see if he has any ideas; he seems like he’d be the one to know!**

The last key and Bible trick for learning the name of your future spouse reminds me a lot of some divinatory games we used to play as kids.  I might have to have a post later on of my favorite slumber party occult games. :)

The next post will be my last installment on keys (at least as part of this cycle), but I will try to end on a spooky note in honor of the crispy creepiness of autumn.




**Update! Cory gave us a lovely shout out on the Divination and Destiny episode of New World Witchery (you can find a link in the Comments).  Thank you, Cory!  I also had a chance to chat about the bible & key method described above with some friends, and we came up with some proposed answers as to why Ruth would be a choice passage for this practice.

One possibility is that the chosen  passage sounds like it might have some oral-formulaic components, which would make it better known and easier to remember and recite.  Another perspective was that the cited statement is one of complete devotion, so it might be used kind of like saying, “If you grant my wish/answer my question, I will devote my life to you,” and a confirmation of utter trust in the outcome.

An idea I had about it being Ruth in particular is that, as far as I’m aware, the book of Ruth is the only book named for a woman besides the book of Esther.  Because the marriage divination games seem to have been practiced more often by young ladies than young men, Ruth would have made a very strong choice of a female figure with biblical power to call upon that was still approachable, where one might feel slightly awkward about beseeching Mary or Queen Esther, for instance, for a direct response in such small matters.

Readers, if you have any other suggestions or insights, please feel free to leave a comment or email me. :)

Keys in luck, success, and love (and baking!)

Today let’s take a look at the use of keys in the areas of luck and success, as well as keys as symbols in love and relationships!

While digging through American folklore collections for references to keys, I found several allusions to the luck brought by carrying a key on your person like a charm.  If one key just doesn’t seem like enough, three keys on a chain are said to bring you health, wealth, and love, much like the Keys of the Granary mentioned in the last post.

I personally think keys make an excellent magical tool for self-assertion, confidence and success.  For instance, think of the expression “carrying the keys” as having a connotation akin to “wearing the pants,” without the gender inequality implications.  If you hold the keys, you are in the driver’s seat.  You are taking charge, starting the engine on your new ventures, and you have the means to unlock any obstacles and access your utmost desires.

Although a key would make an excellent tool or charm for any new venture such as a new job, a new hobby, or a wish for a new car, the key seems to have extra potency when it comes to luck in a new home.  I read that upon entering a new home, one should bring a key for good luck.  The source of this rule failed to specify whether this refers to a spare key to the house itself (certainly a way to avoid bad luck!) or to an additional key carried solely for its symbolic power.  Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong!

Another bit of related lore stated that you can put green leaves in the keyholes upon entering a new house for good luck.  I deeply fancy this idea!  It’s like smokeless smudging.  The green of life brightens all of those little spaces to allow energy to flow through, and cleans out those crannies where negativity can sometimes get stuck.  Each time you stick in your key, imagine you’re stirring up that green energy and dissipating it about the house, like so much spiritual potpourri.  :)

So, if you’re looking to foster some success in new ventures, try sporting a key charm on a necklace, or slip a specially selected key onto your everyday keychain to open up good luck.

For one last home-y application of the key in luck: when baking a mince or other sort of pie, make the cut-outs of the top crust with a thimble and crimp the edges with an old-fashioned key.  Evidently the superstition behind this practice has been forgotten, but it is thought to bring good luck as well.  Besides, it sounds rather fun. ^-^  When you’re out at the antique store, keep an eye out for different types of old keys so you can use the handles for various styles of pie crust edges.  Be sure to wash them well first.  (*Tip!*  I also read on a cooking forum that once you have made the cut-outs in the top crust with your thimble and covered your pie with it, the holes will have gotten slightly larger, and you can place the small leftover circles back inside the holes for a decorative design, while the gaps still allow steam to escape.  Clever!)

Now, any good folksy witch worth her salt knows that where you find good luck you also find bad.  (Everything with the power to heal has the power to poison, non?)  So let’s take a moment to acknowledge the role of keys in bad luck and bad omens.  Culled from Ms. Arrow’s giant reams of numbered folkloric bits of wisdom:

  1. Put your keys on the table, and trouble will come.
  2. Don’t put a key on a table, or there will be an argument.
  3. Do not look through a keyhole, for you will see the devil.

Yikes!  Okay, kids.  So keys + table = no-no, and don’t go looking through any keyholes (unless, of course, you have a stye, or in case you really *want* to see the devil, in which case, go for it).  I suspect the first two of these three come from the likelihood that keys on a table will promptly be moved, misplaced, or buried and lost, prompting an argument over where your damn keys have gone and who last saw them.  As for the third, well — let’s just say the author of that little maxim probably was doing something behind closed doors that they didn’t want you to witness!


Now onto the good stuff


It’s perhaps not such a stretch to imagine that keys make excellent symbols for use in spells about love and relationships.  How often have you heard expressions alluding to someone having the “key to your heart”?  (If you suddenly have that magnificent keyboard riff from Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” running through your mind, you are a wanderer after my own heart.)

Madonna, helpfully, emphasizes the very sexual symbolism of the key-and-lock scenario that should not be overlooked.  This instantly reminds me of the cover of my dog-eared copy of Pierre Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, featuring the steamy and controversial 18th century Fragonard masterpiece, “Le Verrou”:

The Bolt

All trashy romans-à-lettres aside, keys make for a striking metaphorical summation of the difficulty and joy of relationships, sexual or platonic.  It takes trust to give up the security we use to guard our hearts, and once we do, we invest much in our reliance on the keyholder.  Say you are hoping to “get in good” with someone, and a honey jar is on your list of tactics.  Try charging a key with the energy to represent the key to that person’s good will, and put it in the jar with your other goodies.  A key charm would also make for a touching and, if you choose, provocative gift for a close friend or lover.  Put a small key in a sachet with some sensual herbs and oils, and voilà, you have yourself a mojo mojo bag.

Alternately, if you’re looking to guard your heart from someone who pursues it, try hiding or burying a key, or locking away a written charm of protection in a small box and carrying the key with you at all times.  If you’re trying to learn to open your heart, create a ritual in which you repeatedly open a small lock to get comfortable with the feeling, and if you’re seeking, hang the key in your window for potential suitors to notice.

A special note to those dreaming of lots of little shoes:  Garlic placed in the keyhole of a bride and groom on the door to their honeymoon suite will guarantee immediate pregnancy.  (“Guarantee” was the word choice of the folklorist; I take no responsibility for the failure OR success of this little gem.)  Um… use with caution.  And only with serious consideration, and unreserved consent from the happy couple.

There you have it!  Up next in our key cycle: keys in spiritism, secrecy and revelation!  That’s a lot to cover, so maybe we will split it into two additional posts.  Either way, I hope you join me as we continue to wander through the magical potential of the everyday utensil the key. Until the next post, I wish you happy wanderings and much success in your endeavors.  Now go find a key you like and get lucky!


The Keys to it All

Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to mull over exactly what was inside that iron chest unlocked by the tiny golden key, I think it’s finally time to take a closer look at the key itself: its folklore, its myths, its symbolism, and some of its magical uses!  Most of us use keys everyday, but we don’t always think about how much power — of many different kinds — keys can represent, and how we can use them in ways more subtle and fantastic than just locking and unlocking our doors.

One of my first starting places for ideas on the magical associations of just about anything is the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols by Jean C. Cooper.  Ms. Cooper describes the key as “an axial symbol which includes all powers of opening and closing, binding and loosing.  The key also denotes liberation, knowledge, the mysteries, initiation.”

From these short phrases alone we can distill many uses for keys: in opening and closing doors and boundaries; binding and loosing power, forces, and information; unlocking hidden knowledge and accessing previously forbidden realms.  In The Book of Talismans, Amulets and Zodiacal Gems by William Thomas and Kate Pavitt, the three Keys of the Granary are worn for love, wealth and happiness, so we can imagine some uses for keys with those goals in mind.

For other sources of inspiration for my own personal practice, I also turn to myth and folk stories.  Once again, Cooper references keys in Graeco-Roman mythology as an attribute of Hecate (in this case, Hecate Klêidouchos “Keeper of the Keys”), and also of Persephone (as mistress of the Other World) and Cybele/Kubileya (earth goddess of walls and fortresses).  In addition to the Grimm’s Golden Key story posted earlier, the key features prominently in other stories such as Blue Beard, The Secret Garden, and The Golden Key by George MacDonald, some of which we’ll discuss later.

It’s helpful to remember that various kinds of keys can evoke different uses.  A car key might inspire different feelings in you than a skeleton key, for instance.  A car key might be a great choice if you’re doing a spell for wealth, control, or expediency, but a skeleton key fits the bill when working with ancestors and spirit guides.  If you can find them, according to Cooper, silver keys represent temporal power, whereas gold keys represent spiritual power.  I personally tend to favor skeleton keys, since I feel a strong pull towards the past in my own practice (and they just look so witchy!).  Another nice feature of skeleton keys is that they are designed as a master key to unlock all doors in a building, so they make excellent tools for all kinds of workings.

Let’s take a look at some of these uses, shall we?  To start us off on this little wander, let’s examine the role of keys in health and protection.  Here is a list of some American folk remedies that make use of keys to combat various physical ailments.  (For variety, and just because I found them interesting ^-^, I have also included some folklore surrounding keyholes.)

  1. To cure a headache, drop a cold key down your back.  A similar method, tying a key on a piece of string and letting it go down your back, can also be used to stop nervous hiccoughs.
  2. Another folk remedy posits that a headache sufferer possesses evil spirits.  To be rid of them (performed on behalf of someone else), make a mixture of oil and vinegar, drop a key in it and say magic words while the person is lying down.
  3. A church door key pressed in the hand of an epileptic will relieve his convulsions.
  4. If you think you are getting a stye, look through a keyhole with the affected eye, and it will disappear.
  5. Many remedies using keys are listed to stop a nosebleed:  Place a door key on the back of your neck; put a cold key on your nose; dangle one to several keys down the center of your back next to your skin; try a bunch of keys and a pinch of salt at the back of your neck.  Some references specify that the key must be made of brass.
  6. A certain source stated that her mother could stop bleeding by putting some of the blood on a rag and sticking it in a keyhole while she repeated certain words.

If only we knew what those words were!  But I’m sure you can come up with something.

The cures above can help protect you from physical symptoms, but keys can also be used as protection against otherworldly dangers.  For instance:

  1. Wear a gold key to deflect the evil eye.
  2. Keep a key in a baby’s cradle to lock the baby home, so the fairies cannot steal it.*
  3. If you make a silver key and put it in a keyhole, harmful witches cannot enter through that passage.

*A word of friendly reminder and caution: please use common sense and do not put a small key of any kind with a baby at any time.  These bits of folklore are more for inspiration than direct instruction.  A good alternative would be to find a large plush key that is baby-safe, or paint a stencil of a key on the crib to keep your baby safe.

When it comes to health and protection, why use keys?  It makes sense to me that keys would be a good tool to counteract bleeding, as a way of binding and shutting tight the “doors” that have opened in the body that are allowing the blood to escape.  Keys are a representation of security in general.  If you want to keep something safe, you can say you keep it “under lock & key.”  Why not try hanging a key from the ceilings or window sills of your home for symbolic protection?

Up next time: Keys for Luck and Success!  Until then, stay healthy and safe, and don’t forget your keys.