Up and Away and Through the Keyhole



Keyhole Witching
“Up, and away, and through the keyhole I go;
Fly into the night, or to hell down below”

Quarantine continues and there's not much left to do... except torment one's enemies in their nightmares.  After-all, I'm sure I'm not the only person spending more time sleeping than normal while stuck inside.  But then, I don't waste my sleep or my dreams, I enjoy a healthy passion for flight.  And there's a million ways to fly, and yeah sometimes they involve a grease, oil or ointment- or some kind of devilish magic in the wood.  But sometimes, it's a leap of spirit, over hills and through wood, under door cracks and through keyholes...

The spirit that passes through the keyhole may be on his way to the sabbat, or, on her way to torment a love.  They may arrive to ride an enemy in his dreams, or transform him into a steed who will be run ragged into the night.  She may simply wish to enter a closed space inconspicuously, as a spirit, as a specter, as a beetle, moth or gnat, as a dream, as a mean-spirited thought or an erotic desire.  Witches have many methods and motivations for their magical (mis)deed and as witches are want to do, they often achieve this by passing through a liminal space.  After all, it is through the in between that spirits pass between destinations.

The symbolism of the keyhole as a liminal passage, a portal by which the practitioner may send their spirit to torment, exalt or simply wander, is a deeply rooted one in my opinion, it speaks to our deepest insecurities, worries, childhood fears and genuine concerns regarding our safety at the most vulnerable of times- in the night, in the dark, in our own beds where we lose consciousness 8 hours a day.  That little hole in your door is a vulnerable place, especially a keyhole you can see right through; it is a passage between places that is situated within a boundary and that thin separation is a dangerous place.  Even though we know the physical limitations of the door that separates rooms, or marks the boundary between outside and inside the home, it didn't change how some of our ancestors worried.

Keys and Keyholes, what a wonderfully popular symbolism in magical practice.   The Witch Queen is often depicted with keys; in particular, Hekate is associated with keys, doorways and witches altogether, something she’s gained world renown for.  The strength of that connection isn't lost on we modern witches, especially those who are league with Hekate in some form; the key is a magical tool akin to a wand, akin to a will.  Keys can personify movement, travel (in the mundane or sacred worlds), protection from things that lie beyond boundaries, protection from doorways that need closing. It is a popular tool for every occasion, even divination, but the keyhole itself doesn't get a lot of love in terms of magical use these days.

It is the uncanny passage way, an omen of mystery, fear and even death.  The portal that is the keyhole, this metal contraption (typically associated with apotropaic features) that helps guide the key, it is the highway for spirits and has long been associated with magic, but more specifically- with witchery and haunts. Boo-hags, mara, succubae, Nightmares and Nightmare-men, blood-drinkers, witches and all kinds of magical practitioner uses.  Between the many cultures that came to the Americas, there was an overlapping magical mare mythology that magnified the nocturnal fears transmitted between people back when the world was still full of mystery.

Nocturnal Peregrination


The symbolism of witches and ghosts passing through keyholes to get into the home is widely European in origin, coming to America by way of English, Italian and Dutch folk-magic, well-known Slavic superstition, German fairy-tales among other sources.  Obviously, cultures with home designs that include keyholes would have a good deal of lore about them, but these superstitions and beliefs crossed that thin division and became quickly absorbed into the folklore and magic of many Americans, especially African Americans whose own plethora of post-colonial witching lore shows the clear influence that these keyhole spirits had on black American folk- including tales of conjure men riding their masters at night to punish them for their cruelty.
“Nightmare is caused by the nightmare man, a kind of evil spirit, struggling with one.  It is prevented by placing a sharp knife under the pillow, and stuffing the keyhole with cotton."- Fanny Dickerson Berge, Current Superstitions: Collected from the Oral Tradition of English Speaking Folk [in America]
Witches didn't just come through keyholes, but under doorways, down chimneys, carried inside on bewitched clothing, hidden in your work-boots left outside.  Hags and Nightmares could squeeze through cracks in doors or floorboards, wherever you were, a witch or witch-spirit could follow you if proper precautions weren't taken to prevent them from doing so.  These preventative measures could be as simple turning the key sideways and leaving it in the hole, or clogging the keyhole, or putting out a trap like a blue bottle, sea-glass, scissors under the pillow, a sieve or strainer by the window, a pile of grain or line of beans or rice across the doorway, a horseshoe above or a broomstick below.  Sometimes, not even the most blessed metals or stuffed keyholes could prevent the night-wanderer from entering the home and the body.
“When the witches are coming through the keyhole, they sing; "Skin, don't you know me? Jump out, jump in!" and if you are able to throw pepper and salt on the skin while they are out of it, they cannot get into it again." - C.L. Morrison Daniels, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World
Sometimes it's not even living witches who ride in the night, but witch-spirits, ones that were never human or alive in the first place but who work as witches do by night and by will, by way of powers infernal, celestial and terrestrial. These witches ride their victims like horses in the night, tangling up their hair to make stirrups, knotting their curling-ribbons and making a poor soul weary and withdrawn come morning.  With all these witches and hags and nightmare-men wandering through our doors it's no wonder that there is so much folk magic associated with preventing keyhole witchery.  It is a witch's most basic gift, they say, the power to fly from the body, slip the skin like Randolph’s “Devil’s Daughter”, or leave in a breath.  It is a means of travel, a means of hexing, a means of seduction... it has many uses, the projection of spirit.
"For witches this is law; where they have entered there also they withdraw." Tom P. Cross, Witchcraft in North Carolina
Unlucky women often found themselves accused of these nocturnal flights, in records as early as the 1600- in some ways the folklore of the witch caught traversing keyholes reminds me of those tales of the seal-skin women, or of Japanese celestial maidens, wherein a woman is captured by virtue of her magical object being withheld from her.  In the American witch’s case, this was the skin she shed when she fled her body, or the clothing she dropped (we witches and our naked workings).  Other times, it was disallowing the witch to leave from the keyhole she had entered through, thus catching her in the home. It was as much a danger for the witch to use this portal as it was a gift.

Jump In, Jump Out


“If a man in Denmark wishes to have any communication with the devil, he must walk around the church three times, and on the third, stop and either whistle or cry, "Come Out!" through the keyhole"- C.L. Morrison Daniels, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World
In my work, the keyhole is a traveling tool between points and places.  Some keyholes have sisters, keyholes that belonged on the same door or object, the mirror to the keyhole on the other-side of the door, or two made from the same piece of metal, and these ones are very useful when doing spirit work with a loved-one over long distances; acting as a means of connection and travel between two points.  Sometimes I leave the twin of my keyholes (from the family dresser passed down to me) in the woods to glimpse, in my working and my dreams, what lies there in the wood, or place them in areas where I need contact over distance.

They are also used in divination; during necromantic rituals to invite the dead between worlds, or, in the manner of a planchette on a spirit-board (if summoning is your game), or used to look through on auspicious days for certain signs of love to come (Daniels claims Valentine’s day was a good time for this project) or in haunted places in order to glimpse spirits and fairies on their wanderings.

When using keyholes in magic, it’s important to keep the ones you used purified and protected- I keep mine in an iron box and regularly pass salt through the hole, because you never know if an enemy is going to get all Peeping-Tom on you.  Stuffing the hole with cotton, poplar fluff or any kind of cloth is helpful as well.

One needs to be careful; this tool is an invitation- that’s part of the reason for its many dark associations- it is known to invite tricksters, devils, familiars, demons, spirits and even other witches, some who may not mean you any good.  When working keyhole tricks, it’s probably a good idea to keep in mind that the entire nature of this particular magic is movement between worlds, and unlike the key which proffers a sense of control, direction and desire, the keyhole is independent, unwieldy and stationary; it is only the path, not the guide.

Exalt in the Hag and the Horned One- the witch queen and king of we New World witches, for it is they who rule those dark airy spaces and places in-between and know all the mysteries of your wildest dreams… and nightmares.

Reading of interest...
Fanny Dickerson Berge, 
Current Superstitions: Collected from the Oral Tradition of English Speaking Folk [in America]
Alison Games, Witchcraft in Early North America
C.L. Morrison Daniels, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World
Tom P. Cross, Witchcraft in North Carolina
Frank C. Brown, Collection of North Carolina Folklore
Sally Smith Booth, The Witches of Early America
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