Beads on a String – A Sample Devotional Set

This is the second in a three part series. In this post I’ll be covering the creation and use of my devotional beads, so people wanting to make their own can see one person’s process from beginning to end. The first post went into basic history and construction tips. The next will cover special purpose prayer beads, aka witch’s ladders.

When I was struggling to establish my personal devotional practice prayer beads sounded like the perfect solution. At the time I was moving and traveling a great deal, and for a long while even a travel altar was beyond me. Time was also at a premium. With all of that, not using prayer beads seemed kinda self-defeating. I researched, played with ideas, and eventually came up with a set perfectly suited for me and the way I see the world.

The Design Process

Concept

From the beginning of my design process I knew there were a couple of things I wanted to emphasize, and in the end my prayer beads seemed to almost make themselves. Like most projects, the clearer the intent the easier the design.

– I wanted the layout to be at least vaguely Celtic inspired, since that’s the inspiration for most of my cosmology.

– I wanted to be very sure to honor the land spirits, Ancestors, and Gods during my devotions – all three deserve recognition and praise. That combined with the Celtic flavor immediately directed me towards some sort of theme involving the Three Realms. However, since Fire is what brings life to the Realms in my cosmology, I wanted that there too.

– My Lady is also Celtic, and one of Her primary symbols is the spiral. I knew I wanted that imagery to be prominent in whatever I came up with.

– Numerologically the numbers of beads I chose needed to be meaningful. Celts liked threes and nines, and that tends to be how I think too. Since I already had the Three Realms involved, I figured 9 beads for each one would be perfect.

– I wanted to ensure smooth transitions. Celts were very much about the “betweens”, as is my Lady, so I wanted to honor the transition between the Realms as much as I did the Realms themselves.

– It had to be aesthetically pleasing (otherwise my perfectionist self would freak out so much over inconsistencies that I couldn’t use them). They also had to be subdued enough that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed by all the color. I need consistency in my things and tend to prefer a monochrome color scheme with occasional accents.

– At minimum it had to be choker length, so I could wear it if I wished.

I started sketching out various ideas to fit those guidelines. After a couple of different layouts (and a few days of obsession – I admit I have a problem, so that makes it ok *grin*) I had something that felt good enough to go on with.

My design consisted of three Cycles, each associated with a Realm – Land, Sea, and Sky. Fire ties the Realms together and represents the Self, so that’s where I started and ended the series. Each cycle had 9 beads, for a total of 27 between them, which again reduced to 9. There were also 4 transition points, each flanked by 2 beads, which came to a total of 12 beads for each transition – and 12 once again reduced to 3. That also brought in the “foundation” concept with the number 4, as did the total of 40 beads on the strand. My entire cosmology was apparent just by glancing at the design, which is reflected by the number of steps needed to go though the set – 10.

Once I had the sketch in hand, with an idea of what I wanted where, I went to the bead store to check out my options.

Materials

Many people who make prayer beads, especially those with more nature-based faiths, tend to be drawn to natural crystals and stones for prayer beads. However, many stones and crystals give me headaches, so I avoid them when possible. I certainly didn’t want to make that kind of mistake with something I planned to handle quite a bit!

As I mentioned in my last post, I adore glass. I found it particularly apt for this project, so that’s the material I focused on. I’m very tactile, so I wanted beads that felt good in my hands, and I wanted some texture variation for interest. (I find it hard to order this kind of thing online because I need to touch it first.) I must have dithered in the store for over an hour with a bead board before I finally wound up with a combo I liked.

For my prayer beads I selected a mix of round glass beads, faceted glass beads, and pewter findings. I also made sure the colors of the beads matched intent correspondence-wise. The round beads were bracketed by the faceted beads, so I could feel the change with my fingers without having to look at the strand and know when to move to the next set. The pewter findings brought in spiral imagery that I found evocative for both the necessary transition and my Lady. The final touch was a magnetic clasp in the shape of an egg, giving me a way to put it on, take it off, and still show that the circle had no beginning or end.

I chose chain instead of thread to connect everything together for durability reasons and so my fingers would have a gap between beads. However, I quickly grew to associate the chain with being bound to uphold my side of the prayers said. I’m ok with that.

I also considered usage when I figured out the layout. I wanted to build in time for listening as well as speaking, and time for my headspace to transition. I wanted to see the whole devotional process in my beads. I was able to do that too.

This is what I wound up with:

Apologies – I took the pic with my phone, and my skills with image manipulation are rudimentary at best.

Apologies – I took the pic with my phone, and my skills with image manipulation are rudimentary at best. I start at the Egg and go widdershins (counter-clockwise) around the strand.

Cost-wise I think I spent $15, and a good half of that was on the egg clasp. I personally find it rather elegant, if not as colorful as some.

The Prayers

Once I had my beads it was time to write my prayers.

I had to stomp on myself hard at this stage. I tend to be wordy, and that’s not what I wanted here. I wanted prayers that were easy to remember, short to say, and sounded nice when said at any speed. Wordy was bad.

I also didn’t want to sound like Dr. Seuss (if I’m not truly inspired my poetry tends to suck), so I specifically avoided poetic verse and stuck to prose. I wanted to make sure my language wasn’t overly ornamental, too. That would feel fake, and feeling fake during my devotions would not be helpful.

For ease of memorization I emphasized form and repetition. Each set of prayers is formulaic, with only a few details altering along the way, and I tried to ensure each followed as naturally as possible. That format is found in a lot of Celtic literature too, so that was another way to emphasize the Celtic feel of the piece.

Using the Three Realms Prayer Beads

My prayer beads incorporate both spoken words and visualizations, giving me time to speak and time to be silent as well as smoothing the transition between Cycles. I haven’t seen it done quite this way elsewhere, so I’m going to claim it as unique (until someone corrects me *grin*). I begin holding the egg, Land Cycle up, and as each step progresses I move on to the next bead.

1 ) The Egg – Centering

For some reason I have always found it vastly easier to center before I ground. So that’s what I do here. No prayer, just breathing as I center. It’s the best way for me to transition into a properly meditative headspace, and it takes as long as it takes.

2) First Fire Bead – Grounding

This bead is where I ground. Again, not a prayer here – I visualize all the energy I’ve just centered shooting like a laser to the molten core of the earth, connecting me to the Fire within. I then pull that up through me and visualize it burning away any impurities, cleansing me as it energizes me. I do occasionally break out into a spontaneous chant here, but it’s rare and not part of my normal procedure.

3) First Spiral

Celtic lore makes a big deal about the “betweens”, the places that are both and neither. Each spiral represents one of these between places, as I spiral from one Realm to the next. As the first Fire bead left me at the center of the Earth, I visualize the transition from Fire to Land by spiraling up out of a volcano – the cooling of lava into rock is the first “between” I hit. I emerge onto a lush tropical island. I wander the island forest, enjoying the flowers, tasting the fruit, trailing my hands along the branches. I peer into the canopy and see small creatures darting back and forth. I feel my feet sink into the dirt with every step, and leaves tangle in my hair. Here too I listen, to see if the Land wants to talk to me. Once I am fully present in the Land and all is still, I move on to the first Cycle.

3) The Land

Each Cycle begins with an invocation. After that is a series of 9 beads, each with a one-line prayer that references the invocation. Finally, each Cycle is completed with a repeat of the invocation said at the beginning.

On the first green bead: “Today I honor the Land – flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. Today I honor all the fey, You who give strength and foundation. Today I honor the present moment, eternal and never-ending. Hail to the Land!”

Each black bead: “I honor the Land, and the Land strengthens me.”

Last green bead: “Today I honor the Land – flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. Today I honor all the fey, You who give me strength and foundation. Today I honor the present moment, eternal and never-ending. Hail to the Land!”

4) The Second Spiral

I continue to listen as I visualize wandering my forest some more until I make it to the beach, the next of the “between” spaces. I walk along the shore, feeling the water on my feet and the sand between my toes. I hear the gurgle of the waves and the cries of gulls. I see crabs run at the waterline, and birds diving into the surf. I feel the sea breeze in my hair and smell salt in the air. When I’m ready I wade into the surf until my feet don’t touch the bottom, bobbing up and down in the gentle swell of the water. I just absorb the feel here, listening for any messages from the Sea. I look out at the water surrounding me and know it surrounds the world, connecting me with everything else out there, just as the blood in my veins connects me to every other person who has ever been alive. I linger here until I feel that connection, that sense of history. Once I feel that, and I hear no more messages, I move on to the second Cycle.

5) The Sea

First Blue Bead: “Today I honor the Sea – blood of my blood, heart of my heart. Today I honor all the Ancestors, You who give me a history and a name! Today I honor every heartbeat back to the beginning of time. Hail to the Sea!”

Each black bead: “I honor the Sea, and the Sea supports me.”

Last Blue Bead: “Today I honor the Sea – blood of my blood, heart of my heart. Today I honor all the Ancestors, You who give me a history and a name! Today I honor every heartbeat back to the beginning of time. Hail to the Sea!”

6) The Third Spiral

I start swimming for the horizon. The Ninth Wave, where the Sea meets the Sky, is the next “between” point of the journey. I feel the ocean bearing me forth until I reach another golden shore, emerging from the Sea into the Sky. I now stand in the realm of the Gods. I feel the winds around me, swirling and drying me. I see the sun glinting off of the clouds, and birds and butterflies swooping and diving everywhere. I see all the cities of man below me, from a distance, and see how much more I can see from this height. I feel a sense of welcome, and Purpose, and peace. I aimlessly wander here until I become a vessel for Purpose and my vision is clear, listening for any messages I may hear. When all is well I move on to the third Cycle.

7) The Sky

The First Clear Bead: “Today I honor the Sky – mind of my mind, soul of my soul. Today I honor all the Gods, You who give me a purpose and a voice! Today I honor the future, ever-spiraling out from the Center. Hail to the Sky!”

Each black bead: “I honor the Sky, and the Sky guides me.”

The Last Clear Bead: “Today I honor the Sky – mind of my mind, soul of my soul. Today I honor all the Gods, You who give me a purpose and a voice! Today I honor the future, ever-spiraling out from the Center. Hail to the Sky!”

8) The Fourth Spiral

This spiral is the transition from Sky back to Fire. I fly upwards through the stars until I merge with the Sun. Since I now think in terms of correspondences (thanks, early magickal training!) the Fire of the Sun is like the Fire of the Earth, and both are the Fire of my soul – so flying into the Sun returns me to my Self.

9) The Last Fire Bead – Releasing the Ground

I bring my attention back to my body, making sure my energy level is still good. I often linger here to do an overall check of my body’s energy in general. When all is well I release my ground.

10) The Egg – Centering

Now that my ground is released I’ve come back to the Egg. The beginning and the end, untapped potential, the start of a new journey. I take the time to regulate my energy and maintain my center. When that’s complete I open my eyes – the series is complete.

For a final bit of numerology I decided on full strand repetition. If I’m in a hurry I’ll go through the Cycles just once. If I have time, I’ll go through the beads 3 or even 9 times – again inviting those numerological associations. If I go past 9 repetitions I cease keeping count and allow myself to just fall into the rhythm, but I set an alarm for a number of minutes or hours that echo the 3s and 9s.

Final Thoughts

The rewards I’ve achieved by working with prayer beads are far greater than I’d ever hoped for. They became a devotional tool and a travel altar combined, one I could slip in my pocket or wear around my neck. As soon as the prayers were memorized my devotions began having a much greater effect, and I found it easier to carry my centered, calm mindset beyond the devotional session. Wearing them around my neck also works as a reminder to be mindful, to make every act an act of devotion, and to pay attention to what’s going on around me. They’ve even become a talisman of sorts, so charged with focused devotional energy that just holding them makes it easier for me to calm and focus.

Overall, they are the single altar tool I would grab if there was a fire in the middle of the night, and they are the single thing I own it would grieve me to lose. So yeah – pretty happy with them!

Click here for the next in the series!

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