Garter

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Garter

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A garter is worn by a Witch Queen, or Queen of the Sabbat, as a symbol of rank. Her other accompanying symbol is a silver crown, typically a band of silver with a silver crescent moon at the front. Traditionally, the garter is made of green leather (often snake skin) with a blue silk lining. There is one large, silver buckle on the garter, representing the Queen's own coven, with additional, smaller, silver buckles for each of the other covens under her jurisdiction. It is worn on the left leg, just above the knee.

Garters have always had a special significance. Cave art in eastern Spain that dates to the Paleolithic period shows a naked sorcerer performing in a ritual while wearing nothing but a pair of garters just below his knees. The traditional dress of Morris dancers includes garters, usually red.

Red garters were always worn by a Witchcraft coven Messenger. At the time of the persecutions, he would be sent out by the Priestess to advise members on meeting days and times. The red garters indicated to others that he was authentic.

Pennethorne Hughes mentions that when a tortured witch was likely to give away others, he or she might be murdered in jail by the other witches to prevent additional arrests and tortures. To show that the killing had been done under those circumstances, a garter would be left tied loosely around the victim's throat. Such a potential informant would be known as a "warlock," meaning traitor. The case of John Stewart of Irving in 1618 is one such example. John Reid, of Renfrewshire in 1696, is another. A number of legends and folk tales have a garter as the leitmotif.

The Witch Garter is found in English history as being related to the formation of the Order of the Garter. This order is Great Britain's highest and most ancient order of knighthood. The most common story states that the countess of Salisbury was dancing with King Edward III at a court function. As they danced, the countess's garter dropped to the ground. The king picked it up and, to save her embarrassment, put it on his own leg with the words, "Honi soit qui mal y pense" ("Shame be to him who thinks evil of it."). He went on to form the Order of the Garter, with that phrase as its motto. The exact date for the founding of the order is unknown, since the records have perished, but it is given variously as 1344 or 1350. The most likely date, however, seems to be 1348.

Margaret Alice Murray points out that it took more than a dropped garter to embarrass a lady in the fourteenth century, even a lady of the court. However, if the garter dropped was a ritual one, indicating that its owner was in fact a leader of the Old Religion, then there would be very real embarrassment, especially since there were high dignitaries of the Christian Church present on the occasion. Edward's action, therefore, was very smart thinking, for in placing the garter on his own leg he not only saved face for the countess but also, in effect, proclaimed himself willing to be a leader of the Pagan population as well as the Christian. This was an adroit move considering that a high proportion of his subjects were still Pagan at that time.

Murray is mystified by Edward's words but, if considered as referring to the Old Religion itself, rather than the action or the garter, then they make admirable sense. Edward then went on to form the Order of the Garter with twenty-four knights, himself, and the Prince of Wales—a total of twenty-six, or the number of two traditional covens. As Chief of the Order, the king wore a blue velvet mantle powdered over with 168 miniature garters. Together with the one on his leg, that made 169, or thirteen times thirteen.