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.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Keys in luck, success, and love (and baking!) « Wandering Arrow

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