Thursday, January 19, 2012

Baubles,Beads and Buddha

Created by Amber Paschal of Morning Rain Designs
Pagans love jewelry! And why not? It's fun, and a visually stimulating form of temporary body modification. For some Pagans, jewelry is that "Outward and spiritual sign of an inward and spiritual grace" we keep hearing about.(My wonderful friend Amber is of Native American descent and  the beauty of her heritage is reflected in all of her creations. Visit her at Morning Rain Design's Facebook page for more information.)

I will admit that I love all kinds of  jewelry, but especially earrings because they don't get in my way (although I do take them off before bed). Most of my religiously inspired pieces are made of sterling silver alone or combined with semi-precious stones and beads.

Beads have been known to humans for at least 40,000 years and are  made from fired clay, stones, teeth, wood, shells, glass and organic materials ( think amber which is a resin and jet which is carbonated petrified wood.)They come in all shapes and sizes: round, oblong, conical, flat and asymmetric. Beads are usually created by drilling a hole through them or wrapping them with soft wire to provide a means for attachment. Although the usual application for beads is in jewelry making, they have also been used as monetary currency in some cultures. The legendary Native American Ghost Beads are made from dried juniper berries interspersed with colored glass seed beads. Likewise, the most simple Tibetan  Mala consists of bodhi or lotus seeds. The Rosary originated from the formation of beads made from rose petals heated in water over several days, compressed to remove the liquid and then rolled between the fingers into small balls which were pierced and strung to dry ( sometimes with the addition of a preservative and attar of rose for fragrance). There is a rich religious symbolism in this process: Mary, the mother of Jesus, named the Queen of Heaven, was represented by the rose. Red, and it's derivative color purple, are the colors denoting royalty.The red rose is also symbolic of  blood- the blood of  the mother in childbirth and that spilt as Jesus' ultimate sacrifice. In a much older version of a similar story, Mari is the Mother Goddess of Creation who gives birth to the Divine Child who then sacrifices himself  by spilling his blood onto the Earth which is nourished so that the crops will grown abundantly in order for Life to continue.

Beads are a spiritual tool and a form of adornment when incorporated into necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets  and belts or sashes.Tribal people ritualistically pierce their ears ( and other places) for the induction of beads and metal accoutrements  in celebration of the attainment of puberty or other milestone. Following this, I have done the same: my original ear lobe piercings took place at the age of 15, then I added a third hole in thanksgiving for the recovery from illness of a dear friend; the fourth (at the age of 40) upon the death of one of my spiritual teachers and mentors; and the fifth when I ceased my moon blood. Beads have been used to create fanciful and fabulous patterns and representations of spirits and animals when worked into tapestry ( think Native American and African bead work).

My own favorite 'power' bracelets are made from chips of semi-precious stones, beads and metal and include a simple one of clear quartz, another of square sterling and round hematite beads, and a Tibetan Mala made of moonstone. Included in my eclectic assort of beaded jewelry are earrings with carved abalone beads, jade, malachite, turquoise, wood and composition materials. Each piece has a particular natural energy vibration due to the materials it's made from, and I switch out pieces depending on my mood or the energy I want to acquire and./ or amplify in myself. Beads made of semi-precious stones are excellent for this, e.g., a necklace made of aquamarine -my Pisces birthstone- is particularly good at raising creative vibrations or when I want to think outside the box.

Courtesy Morning Rain Designs
Beads come in all shapes and sizes, and are easy to use to create your own magickal tools beyond just jewelry. Beaded hand grips for ritual knives and staffs, or sewing beads on clothing is not only beautiful, but a useful way to add a bit of energy to the piece. Beads can also be used on altar cloths and wall hangings. One of the most effective ways to utilize beads are by creating strings of prayer beads.

Donald L. Engstrom-Reese's chapter in The Pagan Book of Living and Dying inspired me to create my first set of Pagan prayer beads from common seed beads and those made of Connemara marble that came from a broken Rosary. His description of making a devotional tool to aid in focusing on the various kingdoms of Nature is simple and haunting. That particular set of prayer beads got me through a very difficult period of my life, for which I was grateful to have the routine comfort of a tactile way to connect with the Divine.( Another story with instructions from him appears here: Since then I have been gifted with a beautiful Pagan Rosary and several necklace Malas, all of which have taken on a golden patina from use, both endearing and spiritually strengthening.

Courtesy of
I particularly like using Tibetan-style Malas in my devotional  practice. Besides knowing that I have supported  an artisan from a country with incredible religious, political and economic oppression, I enjoy the historical aspect of the piece and beauty of the  materials. My skull Mala is very similar to the one pictured below, which is made from water buffalo  bone. It may seem macabre to some , but the symbolism of the skull in Tibetan art holds nothing sinister. Rather, the skull it represents the impermanence of  this mortal life and is an assistance in dispelling fear. I find the exposure to this particular symbol very therapeutic, because it reminds me that death is not only enviable, but a part of the cycle of creation. We usually do not fear what is a normal part of our everyday, and so incorporating this powerful image into my life allows me to keep this in perspective. Psychically, it also keeps me connected to the influence of my   ancestors. Anyone who has ever used a Rosary or set of prayer beads intrinsically knows the comfort of repetitive prayer.The familiar feel and click of the beads passing through your fingers lull the user into a state where the brainwaves actually change ( this has been scientifically proven, most notably by a study done using members of  Christian religious orders and Buddhist monks). For those of us who were raised in a faith tradition where public recitation of prayer using  beads to focus know this is an excellent practice to open the mind through the Third Eye.
There  is a psychological draw to our Inner Child through artistic expression.I find the  hands-on approach to using beads deeply satisfying.  More so if I actually make the beads myself from raw bisque (requires kiln firing) or polymer clay ( can easily be cured in a home oven). The beads can be made into any shape desired, then glazed or painted and sealed. It is gratifying to use these particular tools in magickal work for me: they have been created by the release of a creative process, and often made in a near trance state. When I sculpt or engage in other artistic projects, I find that I enter a wonderful state of blissful, somewhat like the fabled 'runner's high' which is due to the release of endorphins. My rational mind tells me this is a biological action, but what is Divine in me tells me differently. Working with the clay mimics the creative process of Goddess.

Several good books on Pagan Prayer Beads have been released in recent years; articles on the internet are also numerous. I personally recommend the excellent Pagan Prayer Beads: Magic and Meditation with Pagan Rosaries by John  Michael Greer and Clare Vaughn, which is relatively inexpensive.( , and Donald L. Engstrom-Reese's descriptive contribution to the Pagan Book of Living and Dying (the text of the accompanying prayer can be found here as a webpage you might like to print as a resource:

 As a rule I use any beads that catch my eye, but my favorites are made from natural materials or the ones I made. Most craft stores have a good selection, and I have found some beautiful antique beads by purchasing old or broken necklaces at yard sales and flea markets.


  1. Great post! I too use Mala within my practise...great for focus and pace! X

  2. Wow! I had no idea there was sooo much information and that much spirituality behind beads! I REALLY enjoyed this post :)

  3. I didn't know that about the rosary beads; how cool!

  4. What a wonderful post! I made my first set of Pagan Prayer Beads after reading that section, too, now I'm wondering where my book got off to.

  5. I've been playing with the idea of prayer beads, and after reading this great post I think I'm inspired. I've been beading for several years now but haven't actually crafted anything in a while. I see a new project in my future!


  6. Love working with beads. I often make prayer beads as gifts. Great post!

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