The Spell Casting Room by Jennifer Murphy
Created by Charles H. Trapolin


Ariadne's Clew AKA The Spell Casting Room

There is an old pagan tradition of tying knots as a spell-casting tool. This kind of magic was used mostly by women and sailers, who were known to "tie up the winds" by tying knots in hair, thread or ship ropes (This could be very useful at Burning Man :-)) Women, the traditional spinners and weavers, also did love spells, and cured disease with their knot magic. The magic of cords and knots goes way back, probably to the 1st umbilical cord.

This interactive installation uses knot magic and the metaphors of the Greek myth of Ariadne and the maze. Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, helps her lover, the hero Theseus find his way into the maze by giving him a clew - a ball of thread (this is where our modern word "clue" comes from). Many men had lost their way and their lives in the maze before him, but the magic clew unwinds itself and leads him to the center of the maze where he slays the monster Minotaur. He then winds it back up to find his way back out. The story is an age-old metaphor for each of us descending into our personal darkness, confronting our fears, and then finding our way back into the light again reborn. Since the maze at Burning Man this year represents the life stage of reflection and decision I think it will be a great place for this piece.

So, how does this actually work? It's very simple. Strung across the wall are ropes, one above the other, and hanging from the ropes are hundreds of colorful strips of fabric, about 3 feet long, so it looks like giant fringe. Instructions are posted, explaining that one first meditates on something they want to create or release in their lives (for example: a new, more creative career, or healing for their relationship, or the ending of some self-destructive habit). They then recite a simple rhyming spell (adapted from a very old knot magic rhyme) as they tie 9 knots in one of the strips of fabric:

Knot of one, the spell's begun
Knot of two, my will is true
Knot of three, the thing will be
Knot of four, forevermore
Knot of five, the spell's alive
Knot of six, the spell is fixed
Knot of seven, in earth and heaven
Knot of eight, it's sealed by fate
Knot of nine, the thing is mine

The knotted strip is left hanging and the participant makes his/her way on through the maze. No spiritual affiliation or belief is needed. It works through clarifying a need or desire and taking a simple action to draw it toward you. On Saturday I will collect the ropes full of tied strips and put them in the Man to be burned. This will conclude the piece by releasing the spells in a powerful way.