A Special Set of Special Purpose Prayer Beads

I did a series on prayer beads awhile back, and one of those posts discussed the use of Special Purpose Beads. I received an email from a reader recently about how she had used that information, and loved the creativity and purpose so much I got her permission – and photographs! – to share here.

This reader (who wishes to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her “Anne”) has very high anxiety levels, especially in crowds and other social situations. She thought beads sounded like something simple that would help her calm down when her anxiety peaked.

This is what she came up with:

Necklace 1

Isn’t that pretty?

Materials

The materials were carefully chosen. Most of the beads are hematite, chosen for their grounding and stabilizing properties. She used a total of 27 hematite beads, divided into 3 sets of 9. She also used 3 amethyst beads, chosen for their associations with calmness and tranquility. The 45 silver spacer beads were chosen primarily for color and size, but also to again reference the number 9, or 3×3. Anne visualizes a tree when she grounds, so the 6 bead caps she uses around the amethyst beads support that. Each cap is made up of 5 leaves in a star shape, giving a total of 30 leaves. Everything reduces to 3 or a multiple of 3.

A close up of the bead caps surrounding the amethyst.

A close up of the bead caps surrounding the amethyst.

Because she wants to have it available at all times she made her special purpose beads into a set she can wear as a necklace. She chose an owl-shaped magnetic clasp to finish everything off. The owl is both part of her visualization and sacred to Blodeuwedd, the goddess Anne works with.

Process

Before ever using the beads Anne dedicated them to Blodeuwedd, asking for Her help with managing anxiety and returning to a state of calm focus. Then she started wearing them.

When she feels her anxiety beginning to mount she finds a private place, ranging from a quiet corner to a bathroom stall, and removes the beads from her neck. After she refastens the clasp she holds them in her hands.

Anne has a hard time remembering words when she’s anxious, so the first set doesn’t require any. Instead, she simply takes a deep breath for each bead in the first set. That’s nine deep, calming, slow, rhythmic breaths to help her settle. If nine isn’t enough she’ll go through all three sets with deep breaths, then start the cycle over again until she feels calm enough to continue.

When reaching the first amethyst bead she strongly visualizes her grounding tree.

On the second set of hematite beads she does her tree-based grounding visualization while saying “My tree is deeply rooted” for every bead as she grounds.

The tree that she visualizes for grounding has a hollow in the trunk. When she reaches the second amethyst bead she focuses her visualization on that hollow, because she visualizes the next step – centering – as the owl that lives in the hollow opening its eyes.

On the third set of hematite beads she says “My owl is awake and aware” for every bead as she centers.

Another view.

Another view.

On the final amethyst bead, she visualizes the owl’s eyes glowing, to show she is completely centered and protected by her tree.

The clasp is also part of the process. She holds it while taking three deep cleansing breaths to gently end the session.

Then she does an assessment. If she feels ok she stops there. If she’s still overly anxious or shaky, however, she repeats the cycle until she feels more balanced.

Commentary

Personally, I love the way Anne uses her beads as a grounding and centering aid when stressed. It gives her something solid to hold on to, simple sentences to focus on, and a guide to visualizations that bring her back to her center. Everything was well thought out and works beautifully together to support the specific use she has for the set. Just gorgeous!

Here is Anne, wearing her beautiful and functional creation.

Here is Anne, wearing her beautiful and functional creation.

Thanks so much for sharing your vision with us, Anne!

Beads on a String – Special Purpose Beads

This is the third in a three part series. In this post I cover user of beads beyond the devotional. The first post went into basic history and construction tips. The second post covered the creation and use of my personal devotional beads, so people wanting to make their own could see one person’s process from beginning to end. I highly recommend reading the other posts before this one.  

A set of beads on a string can be more than a way to count. When using beads in creative ways I like to call them “special purpose beads”. Others call them things like “witch’s ladders”. Whatever the name, they can be incredibly handy tools.

There are a ton of applications for special purpose beads. I’ve included a few uses with specific examples, along with some tips on approach. Please, feel free to play with these ideas and see what you come up with. This list is in no way definitive, so be creative!

Spell Work – The Witch’s Ladder

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This is a traditionally made witch’s ladder. Note the three colors of cording used, and the variety of beads.

For those who don’t know, cord magick is… a method of magick using cords. Sometimes it really is that easy. It can get super flowery and flouncy if desired, but at its core it’s one of the basic ways of doing any kind of spell work.

One variation of this is called a “witch’s ladder”. It’s a bit fancier than basic cord magick, so I figured it deserved some coverage here.

It’s made using 3 cords of equal length: one white, one red, and one black. (These are the colors that correspond to the Triple Goddess concept. Feel free to use colors that correspond to the intended purpose instead.) You’ll also need 9 “shineys” – beads, feathers, charms, anything that both fits the working and can be knotted into a braid.

Tie the cords all together at one end and start to braid them. Every inch or so, slide a bead onto a strand and continue braiding. If you like, instead of braiding you can simply knot the threads together in front of and behind every shiny bit to keep it secure.

This is a standard cord magick poem/spell that is usually said while the knots are done or the beads are added:

By knot of one, the spell’s begun.
By knot of two, these words are true.
By knot of three, it comes to be.
By knot of four, power in store.
By knot of five, this spell’s alive.
By knot of six, this spell is fixed.
By knot of seven, the answer’s given.
By knot of eight, it’s up to fate.
By knot of nine, the thing is mine.

Because the memorized poem is standardized (mostly – there are variations around), and because it can be used for any purpose, the practitioner gets the benefit of memorized chants while avoiding a lot of the prep work. In basic cord magick the poem is not usually repeated, but if you’re going to fancy it up anyway…

I’m a big believer in repetition and charging, so it doesn’t feel like “enough” without it. When I do cord magick (which is admittedly rare) I tend to make 3 sets of knots for a total of 27, going through the poem 3 times. I start off with a big knot where I state my purpose. Then I do one set, make another purpose knot, do another set, make another purpose knot, then do a final set with a final purpose knot. That gives me a total of four purpose knots, which to my mind numerologically “anchors” my working. That also brings the total number of knots up to 31, or 3+1, which is another 4 to anchor.

I go through the whole strand every night for 3 or 9 nights (depending on issue severity), running the knots through my fingers and charging them as I go. Once I’m through with the series I tend to burn the cord, releasing all that energy into the universe at once (and if that’s your plan, wooden beads and charms are the way to go). Other options are to bury the cord, toss it in running water, sew it into a poppet, or do anything else that corresponds with the intended purpose.

Uniting People from a Distance – The Scattered Working Group

The Sacred Cauldron

Exclusively online groups are becoming more and more commonplace – this is one of the ritual sites used by the Sacred Cauldron group in SecondLife.

Human beings crave touch. It grounds us, supports intimacy, and unites us with each other. One of the hardest things for anyone to handle when trying to maintain relationships at a distance is that lack of contact. Phones and computers can only go so far. Beads can be a beautiful bridge between a voice and a touch.

Let’s say you’re a member of a group – a working devotional group, a group working for a cause, a support group, anything – that for whatever reason works apart. There’s no way to share physical contact when you’re communicating solely with Skype or phone calls or emails or whatever. But each member holding something identical to what other members of the group are holding? Saying the same words the other members are saying? All going to that same mental headspace of meditative listening and experience? That can unite a group at a whole new level.

The idea is simple. Have the group, together, design a set of beads using the tips provided in the first post of this series. Members can choose to standardize materials, sizes, etc as well as design. Ordering supplies from the same website is one way to do that. Another approach is to have one person make them all and mail them out. Or have each member make one, then exchange it with other members so that everyone has a set made by someone else. The more uniform the experience, the more the experience can unify.

Write affirmations that suit the purpose: support for each member, for the general purpose of the group, for peace and healing, whatever. Make them simple and formulaic to improve memorization. Then do them all together. Options for that include using them to open and/or close working meetings, doing them individually as part of a daily practice, doing them when engaging in the purpose of the group… lots of potential here!

Community Experiences – Raising Energy with Litanies

The meditative headspace that occurs when using beads can be very potent when reached and maintained simultaneously by a group. This technique is great for people sharing an experience, especially experiences with a clear purpose. It really shines when used for Sabbats or deity honorings.

Working with a group is tricky, though, especially a group that’s not used to working together. One of my personal rules when dealing with groups is that the possible complexity is directly inverse to the number of people present. In other words, the more people you have the simpler the event has to be. Simplify even more when the group is larger than about 6 and/or when the group consists of people with different experience and/or discipline levels. Memorization is usually doomed to failure, and trying to attain it shatters the headspace before it’s even reached.

Litanies, also known as calls and responses, are a way to vastly simplify while still taking advantage of the extra energy available in a group. One person calls out a series of phrases or sentences addressing the agreed-upon purpose. All the attendees respond to everything in the series with the same short phrase. Attendees get all the benefits of repetition, all that meditative headspace, in addition to the joy of sharing in the group experience, without the need for lengthy memorization.

The rhythm of the litany gives the meditative headspace a boost too. It’s easy to sink into, and hearing everyone around you saying and doing the same thing you are can reinforce the experience. Since everyone is doing it, litanies can also help unite strangers into a group very quickly.

Energy is raised higher and faster than is usually possible solo, so be prepared for that. Much of that energy will naturally funnel into the beads. That can be useful later, either by collecting energy for one mass release at a later time, or allowing participants to take that energy home and revisit that headspace later.

The first step is to design a set of beads that suits the tone, correspondences, and purpose of the event in question. The design should be something simple and easy to reproduce. Materials-wise, I suggest going for something inexpensive and durable. Wood and/or knotted cords of a natural material do well for these. Plastic can work too, especially if we’re talking wet or rough conditions. Consider ensuring that the number of beads used is a number sacred to the deity/person or a multiple of such a number.

For this example we are honoring the Greek goddess Aphrodite.

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A child assists Aphrodite with Her toilette on this medallion dating from between 300-200 BCE.

Checking out correspondences I find that the number 6 is associated with Her. With that in mind I would use 36 beads, or 6 x 6. Further correspondences lead me to colors and images I can use in the beads.

Once the beads are designed it’s time to write the litany. I love using a list of epithets for litany-based deity honorings. An epithet is a word or phrase that describes a deity’s qualities. Aphrodite is associated with a huge number of epithets, so my first stop when writing a litany would be to check those out. If I couldn’t find a full 36 traditional epithets I would fill in the rest of the space with ones based on stories and impressions of Her.  Here’s a sample:

Call: All hail the daughter of Zeus!
Response: Aphrodite, we honor You!
Call: All hail the Mother of Desire!
Response: Aphrodite, we honor You!
Call: All hail the Foam-Born!
Response: Aphrodite, we honor You!
Call: All hail the Shining One!
Response: Aphrodite, we honor You!

The Caller would go through the entire list of epithets – perhaps more than once – while attendees responded and moved their beads. All the while the energy they raised would flow into the strands they held. The only one who has to worry about what comes next is the person doing the Calling. All the Response people can focus exclusively on the honoring and energy raising parts.

There are a couple of ways to handle all that energy when it’s ready:

– Keep doing this, round and around, until the energy peaks (just like a cone of power). At a pre-arranged signal, all the attendees throw their beads into a central fire simultaneously, releasing all of the energy gathered as an offering to Her.

– Attendees take the strands home, to place on their altars as a devotional tool to honor Her privately or request Her blessings.

– Honoring could be done over the next 6 days privately to intensify a connection before the beads were burned or, considering the goddess in question, tossed into the sea for Her.

There are of course many other applications of this technique out there too. So be creative!

Exploring Sacred Texts – The Song of Amergin

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“Seven Tines”, inspired by the Song of Amergin.

For those of us lucky enough to have source material to work with, beads make excellent tools for exploring the deeper and more symbolic meanings of certain texts.

Irish literature has graced us with “The Song of Amergin”, a poem of rich imagery and power. Some say it holds the elements of the Celtic view of creation within it. Others believe it’s a guide to shape-shifting. And still others think it’s simply the boasting of a powerful sorcerer at the height of his successes.

Whichever you go with, special purpose beads are a definite way to explore it.

First, here is the whole Song:

I am a stag of seven tines,
I am a flood across a plain,
I am a wind on a deep lake,
I am a tear the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk above the cliff,
I am a thorn beneath the nail,
I am a wonder among flowers,
I am a wizard – who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

I am a spear that roars for blood,
I am a salmon in a pool,
I am a lure from paradise,
I am a hill where poets walk,
I am a boar ruthless and red,
I am a breaker threatening doom,
I am a tide that drags to death,
I am an infant – who but I
Peeps from the unhewn dolmen arch?

 I am the womb of every holt,
I am the blaze on every hill,
I am the queen of every hive,
I am the shield for every head,
I am the tomb of every hope.

There so much here to work with! Here’s one way to tackle it.

Find a bead or charm that calls each line to your mind: a piece of antler, a swirling blue bead, a large wavy sequin, an amber teardrop. Since there is a definite beginning and end to this piece I’d go with a straight strand instead of a circlet. Carefully select beads one by one, follow the guidelines in the first post regarding spacers and the like, and make a visual representation of the work. You can choose to add a bead between every verse, decide whether the last two lines of the first two verses count as one bead or two, etc.

To use, get comfortable with the beads, the poem if you don’t know it, and a pad of paper.

Go straight through the beads on the first pass to get a feel of the Song in its entirety. You can say each line as you finger the bead, or say something like Song of Amergin, inspire me! as each bead moves.

On the second pass, linger over each bead. Hold the antler piece and repeat “I am a stag of seven tines” over and over while letting your mind dwell on it. What is the significance of a stag? Of the number seven? Of the tines? Of the fact that it’s specifically a stag and not a doe? Write anything interesting down on the pad, and continue to the next bead when you’re ready. Do this until all beads are covered.

On the third pass, think about how each bead relates to the ones around it. The stag leads to the flood – is it the stag’s home that’s being flooded? Does the flood then become a lake the wind can cross? Are the tines mentioned in the first line of the first verse related to the spear mentioned in the first line of the second verse, and If so how? Finalize this pass and write down anything interesting.

For the fourth and final pass, go through it one more time in its entirety to see how the meaning might have changed with the new insights gained through deeper analysis.

Directing Meditation and Checking In – The Nine Noble Virtues

 Beads are a wonderful way to focus and direct meditations. One of the best uses I’ve found for this type of special purpose bead set is checking in with yourself ethically, and something like the Nine Noble Virtues lends itself really well to this.

The Nine Noble Virtues are a set of ethical principles distilled from an examination of surviving Norse source material, specifically the Eddas. They were first codified as the Nine Noble Virtues by a group called the Odinic Rite in the 1970s and are still used today by many following a Norse Reconstructionist or Norse inspired path.

The Nine Noble Virtues are Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self-Reliance, Industriousness, and Perseverance.

For this set of beads get use whatever cording material you like, 36 large-ish unfinished wooden beads in the lightest color you can find, and much smaller wooden beads in red, blue, green, and yellow as spacers.

Using a fine-tipped sharpie or a paint pen on the large beads, make four sets of “Virtue Beads”. Just write the name of the virtue directly on the wood. You can use acrylic over the wood if desired to protect your writing, but it’s not required.

String them in sets. The first set should use red spacers, the second green, the third blue, and the fourth yellow. You can decide if you want them as a strand or a circlet.

When they’re ready to use, sit down with the beads and a pad of paper. Go through the red set and think about how you define each Virtue. What does “Courage” mean to you personally? How have you demonstrated it in the past? Have you allowed Courage to turn into stupidity lately? Write down anything that comes up and proceed through all the Virtues in this fashion.

For the green set, think about all the Virtues in relation to your physical body, your financial security, and the land spirits. Have you been treating your body with honesty and discipline? How have you worked to secure your finances? Have you been hospitable to the local land spirits? Where have you fallen down on the job? Where could you improve things? Write down anything that comes up.

For the blue set, think about all the Virtues in relation to others in your life, both living and dead. Have you been loyal to your loved ones? Have you stuck with them when things got tough? Are those who are close to you showing you the same care and concern you show them? Where have you faltered, and how could you improve? Write down anything that comes up.

For the yellow set, think about the Virtues in relation to the gods. Have you honored Them and showed Them hospitality? Do you depend on Them more than you should? Do you throw your all into your service to Them? Where have you faltered, and how could you improve? Write down anything that comes up.

Finally, set the beads down and look over your notes. Track the trends, make improvements, really use your results as a growth opportunity. Repeat as needed.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the options out there – I had to cut 4 other examples from this post due to length, and I’ve got a whole other post planned for a specific use with lots of variations. Experiment and see how you can start incorporating strands of beads into your daily practice too!

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!

Beads On a String – History and Construction Tips

In this post I’ll be covering prayer beads in general, including a brief history and tips for making your own. In the next post I’ll go into the creation of my personal set of devotional prayer beads, including the specific layout and prayers I use, so readers can follow the process from beginning to end. I’ll use a third post to go into some examples of special-purpose prayer bead sets, aka witch’s ladders.

I was talking to a friend recently about getting back into a devotional practice/headspace after a long absence. He’s having difficulty with it: focusing, making the time, making the space, figuring out what to say and how to say it. I remember how exponentially easier those things became for me when I developed my own set of prayer beads. So – what are prayer beads?

Counting Prayers

Individual prayers to praise, petition, or simply converse with a deity are foundational to faith. Humans are social creatures by nature and we tend to verbalize – we want to talk to our gods. Prayer is by far the most common way to do that. The more our ancestors wanted to connect with their deity of choice the more they prayed. Eventually devotees noticed awesome things happened when prayers were repeated.

Because repeating a prayer over and over again turns it into a chant.

Chants create a headspace that is incredibly helpful during both devotional work and meditation. This idea of repetition naturally leads to the idea of repeating prayers a pre-determined number of times, the chosen number usually having some sort of spiritual significance. That easily brings in not just the general numerological association of the number in question, but the specific association the chosen number references.

A final flourish on the idea of repetition is to repeat a series of prayers a specified number of times. This can guide the devotee through different areas of focus during their devotions, making even better use of that meditative headspace. It also invites the devotee to include even more associations.

However, every addition to the process makes it that much harder for devotees to reach the headspace that makes all the effort so useful to start with. People had to remember what to say, how many times to say it, and when to change to the next prayer in the series, all while focusing on the meaning behind it all. That didn’t work well. So people got creative and developed ways to count their prayers and track their place in a given series without having to think about it.

Experiments and approaches abounded. People counted fingers, moved pre-counted pebbles around, moved pegs through a series of holes drilled in specially made boards, etc. These techniques were effective to greater or lesser extents, but they all had their issues. They were limited, bulky, inconvenient, some were expensive, and many were frankly unattractive. Another way to count prayers was needed – something small, portable, accessible to everyone, and preferably beautiful.

And so prayer beads were born.

The History of Prayer Beads

Prayer beads have been used for centuries. In fact, the English word “bead” actually comes from the Old English gebed (“prayer”) and the Proto-Germanic bidjan (“to pray, entreat”).

From what we can tell the practice of using prayer beads began in India. The earliest written reference is from the Jain/Jaina (I’ve seen it as both) canon dating from 456 CE, as a device used by Brahman monks. Apparently earlier references can be found in other sources prior to 1700 BCE. The first statue we see with them is one of Shiva dating from the 3rd century CE.

Image

A statue of the Hindu god Shiva holding prayer beads.

From Indian Hindus the practice rather naturally spread to Buddhists, and from there they were carried on trade routes throughout the Islamic nations all the way to Alexandria, where Christians adopted them. Everyone put their own spin on it – changing the beads, the pattern, the prayers, whatever – while keeping the idea of using a string of beads to count and track.

According to one site over two-thirds of the world’s population currently uses prayer beads. That makes it one of the most common spiritual traditions around. The Catholic rosary is probably the type Americans are most familiar with, although rosaries of various types are used by other Christians too. Muslims have a set of prayer beads they call masbaha or subha. Buddhists and Hindus both use sets called japa mala beads, although they have different constructions. Various versions created by Pagans and polytheists from a multitude of paths currently pepper the internet, and a few books have been published on them (see links at the end of this post). Of course people make their own private sets too.

Constructing Your Own Beads

Pagan and polytheistic faiths don’t have a standardized set of prayer beads. There are ideas for suitable sets out there if you want to ease in to things with an example, but I highly recommend that everyone design their own set once they’re comfortable with the idea.

For the most part, when creating your own set the sky’s the limit. If it gets your headspace where it needs to be for your devotional work go for it. I’ve seen charms, beads, and feathers. I’ve seen sets made from heirloom pearls and polyclay, jewels and bones. Whatever works for you works for this.

There are a few ways to go about the process, usually some combination of “plan it all out in advance” or “stand in the middle of a bead store and let inspiration be the guide”. Either way these key points need to be considered.

Layout

A few elements are normally considered with layout. How you decide to approach the process will determine which aspect has more weight, but they all figure in.

1. Intent: What types of prayers are you counting? Devotional uses are the most common, and can range from devotions to a specific deity or pantheon to general devotions to all recognized Powers. Special purpose sets are useful too, and are often called things like “witch’s ladders” instead of prayer beads (even though they’re constructed and used in the same way). My favorites in this line are the ones structured as a tool to further explore the Self. Others are used as memorials (excellent for working through grief or long-term Ancestor work) or to commemorate an event (like an initiation). Pagans and polytheists have a lot of variety to choose from here.

2.Theme: This is closely related to intent, and one often leads to the other. The theme is the idea you organize your beads around. My advice? Go for one central idea that has a LOT of associations. The Three Realms figure prominently in my personal cosmology, so that’s the theme I went with. A deity-specific theme can include listing names/epithets/associations of one deity or going through a myth or mythic cycle. A pantheon theme can be set up around the birth orders of the deities. Another easy and common theme is the four elements. If you use Tarot you can make a strand that leads you through the Fool’s Journey of the Major Arcana (which is a fabulous example for the self-analysis style). You can do the same thing with the runes. Those are already conveniently broken up into sets of 8 and are a good example of when it makes more sense to use pendants/charms than plain beads on a strand. You can even base a set on a sacred text – good choices here include the Kalevala, the Odyssey, and the Mabinogion. Be open-minded and creative.

3. Strand shape: This consideration is often overlooked. Circlets are common, both for the associations people have with circles and because they can be easily worn if desired. A Y-configuration, like a Catholic rosary, is a variation of that. Malas are usually straight strands and the ends are not connected. My first set of prayer beads was a bracelet made out of memory wire, which forms a spiral instead of a circle. Go with a shape that suits either your theme or the way you want the prayer to proceed.

4. Bead shape: Beads come in a staggering variety of shapes: round, bicones, chips, stars, animals, skulls, eggs, etc. Consider your theme and intent, and if it works feel free to bring some variety in. Personally, I love mixing smooth and faceted beads together, especially if they’re the same size, as it provides visual distinction without becoming overwhelming.

5. Number of beads: Is there a number that’s significant for you? You might want to make a set of prayer beads that has that number of beads, a multiple of that number of beads, or that numerologically reduces to that number. For instance, threes are likely to pop up for those following more Celtic-inspired paths. If that’s you, then 3, 9 (3×3), or 27 (3×9 AND 2+7) could be useful.

– Those with British Traditional backgrounds or working with lunar energy often find the number 13 meaningful.
– Threes can indicate the Triple Goddess/God, if you go with those.
– Those with a Ceremonialist bent might go for fours instead, referencing Greek elements. Fives can figure in here too, if Spirit is included with the other four.
– The numerologically-inclined might come up with a number that isn’t significant of itself, but that supports what they’re hoping to gain from using their beads – praying for harmony could suggest 8 as a significant number.
– If there are a large number of epithets around the deity you’re honoring and you have trouble remembering them all, have one bead represent each one on a strand and write one prayer that covers all of them.
– The number of beads on a memorial strand might relate to the birth date and/or death date of a person being remembered. Etc, etc.

Beads

This is another chance to truly customize your beads, and can have a huge effect on how regularly they’re used. Size and shape are just as important as the materials themselves.

Materials

Historically beads made from stone, metal, wood, ceramic, and crushed flower petals have been used as prayer beads. Polyclay can work for those who want ceramic-esque beads without the investment in special equipment. Ashes can be pressed into clay, added to molten glass before cooling, and can even be melted to make beads.

Knotted cords have a long association with counting prayers. The individual knots count as beads, making this a lovely way to incorporate some knot magick into your set. You can even spin and dye your own cords to use. Writing sigils or short sentences and tucking them into the knots before they’re tightened adds additional significance (if people are interested I can make a tutorial for these). I’d include luceted cords and kumihimo braids in this category too – both techniques give stunning results and make truly unique prayer bead sets.

Many practitioners shy away from plastic beads, but they definitely have their place. They’re sturdy, waterproof, and don’t clink, making them excellent for both children and active soldiers – the US military provides soldiers plastic rosaries to this day.

Think about your theme and layout here, too. If the prayer beads are meant for a deity, then choosing beads somehow associated with that deity might be a good idea. You can pick beads in Their colors, stones or woods sacred to Them, charms that call Them to mind, etc.

Do you like to pray in candlelight? Consider lampwork beads – there’s a foil layer in there that plays prettily with light.

Keep in mind that the beads need to comfortably pass through your fingers. Beads that are way too big or way too small can be distracting. Beads in the 8-10mm size range work well for me. Those with smaller hands or wanting a smaller strand might be more comfortable with smaller beads – 6mm is a common size too, and seed beads are great if you want something tiny. Round beads slip nicely, but other shapes have different textures you might want to incorporate.

Spacers are an important thing to consider. A bunch of beads all pushed together makes it sometimes difficult for your fingers to feel where one bead ends and another begins. It can also put more stress on the threading material, which ups the potential that it’ll break. That’s why pearls on necklaces are separated by knots. This technique is common for malas, too. To deal with this issue you can use knots, specially designed spacers that easily thread on, and/or much smaller beads.

Don’t forget the possibilities of the threading material! This is especially true if the threading material will be visible, like with knot spacers. There are so many materials and colors that can be used for threading that it can really make a difference in your project, and it’s a great way to pull in more associations.

Don’t limit yourself to beads, either. Consider charms and other types of findings. Feathers, specific animals, talismans, etc can all be used if they work for you. Just remember that too much variation can snap you out of a contemplative headspace, so do your best to make the transitions between things work for the design of your piece.

Cost

Perhaps the most basic consideration is cost. A strand of prayer beads made from rare pearls would likely be stunningly gorgeous. However, if you’d don’t happen to have thousands of dollars lying around it’s a bit out of reach. Unsurprisingly pearls, precious metals, and precious stones are the most expensive beads you can use. Semi-precious stones come next, and while still pricier than other options are more reasonable than gold and gems. Those who prefer to use natural materials, and materials with specific associations, often love these. Stone beads are available in abundance, too.

Next comes glass. I adore glass. It’s the workhorse of prayer beads, in my opinion. Very cost effective, comes in a wide variety of sizes, colors and shapes, and durable. I also like the idea that glass is made from Earth melted by Fire and cooled by Air that still flows like Water. Hits all of my buttons, and I rarely pay more than $20 for enough to make a gorgeous set. You can also find base metal findings like clasps in this price range. Lampwork beads are usually in the high end of the glass bead range.

Plastic, wooden, and bone beads are probably the cheapest way to go. Wooden beads give you the opportunity to stain or paint them whatever color you want, use sacred woods, and even use them as a canvas for paint or wood-burning specific designs. The customization options make this a great option if you can’t find anything pre-made you like that’s in your price range. Bone can vary from incredibly inexpensive – on par with wooden beads – all the way up to the prices of semi-precious stones, so if you’re interested in those shop around.

Knots are a special material subset. You can use any thread or cord you like, so cost can range between negligible (embroidery floss is less than $1 a hank) to moderate (silk). If you go with techniques like luceting and kumihimo you also have some special equipment to add in – but once you have it it’s yours.

I’ve included a few examples below, with bead sources and additional references at the end.

This blends elemental associations with the Triple Goddess. The form is obviously inspired by the Catholic rosary. This can be a good thing – I’ve found that those who grew up Catholic and have fond memories of it often find this form comforting, even if the prayers have changed. However, this may be considered cultural appropriation, so be careful with the choice you make.

This set is designed specifically to honor the goddess Freyja. Note the handmade pendant and the variations among all the beads used.

This frankly gorgeous example uses Triple Goddess imagery, along with charms and specially-shaped beads. The silver spacers break the beads up and bring in more goddess-associated color, while making the four sets of two beads without a spacer stand out more.

Here we have a set designed for Lilith, and the creator then found that they suited any of the “dark” goddesses. Note the three sets of three beads, adding up to 9 total, with a goddess image on one side and a pentacle on the other. This is also the shortest strand I’m showing. Personally I think longer is better, as it’s the repetition that is so effective, but to each their own!

This is a fabulous example of a special purpose set. Each of the bone beads is inscribed with a rune, and each of the three sets uses a different color bead as spacers.

Sources

Want to make your own? Here are some sources for supplies.

Shipwreck BeadsThe largest bead supplier in the US. I always find gorgeousness here.

ArtbeadsAnother fabulous bead supplier.

Silver EnchantmentsTHE source for pendants and beads with religious or magickal themes. Goddess images, animals, ritual tools, Celtic knots, etc can all be found here, and the prices are very reasonable.

Michael’sWhen I need basic beads in a hurry this is generally where I go. I find the selection superior to other box-style craft stores.

References

Want more info? Try these books out.

Pagan Prayer Beads: Magic and Meditation with Pagan Rosaries by John Michael Greer and Clare Vaughn
A nice, simple overview of prayer beads specifically for Pagans and polytheists. Lots of layouts are provided, as well as a basic how-to-bead section. The most specific and thorough I’ve found for the whole process.

A Circle of Stones by Erynn Rowan Laurie
This one is written particularly for those into Celtic Reconstructionism, which considering the author is not surprising. Keep that in mind if deciding to use this as a reference. It’s available on Amazon as linked above, or you can purchase the ebook at the author’s website.