Prayer Beads

The root word for
bead is "bede", which means "to pray". A circle is a symbol
of connection, life and harmony. Therefore when you think about it, a circlet
of prayer or meditation beads can symbolize our connection to the Divine and
the world around us. The creation, use and donning of prayer beads creates
within us a tangible, tactile method of communication that links us to our
understanding of the Divine, the universal energy often referred to as Goddess
or God.

 Whether they are
Hindu, Muslim or Greek prayer beads have been a counting system for nearly
every religion on early and date back at least nine centuries before the
Christian era. Made in a variety of forms, at one time all 7 and 8 millimeter
beads were made only for use in rosaries and the laws that forbade common folk
from wearing fine silks or trim bled into how beads were used.

In the 12th
century, a small island in the lagoon of Venicecalled Murano, was the primary exporter of  glass beads. Eventually, the Czechs
discovered they were able to produce their own beads for the growing European
market instead of sending buying caravans to the Murano glass factories.

Gold enamel pomander beads
filled with aromatic herbs and roots became popular in the 1500's. These beads
were often bejeweled and shaped in natural openwork forms of hearts and flowers
or lacy balls and filled with sweet cloves, myrrh, musk or sandalwood, all of
which were believed to protect the wearer from plague and other evils by
sweet scent of prayer rising to heaven.

The 1700's gave rise to the
intricate filigree bead and it was well known that that upper Bavaria  became home to 250 families who
produced filigree rosaries. These breathtaking rosaries, also made in Austria created such a stir among the devout over vanity concerns that new laws were
passed outlawing their wear.

The Rosary
Rosaries are
traditionally associated with Roman Catholicism and Greek or Russian Orthodox
traditions because John Calvin vehemently discouraged their use feeling that
the faithful should read and know spiritual text in direct contemplation and
relation with God and shun memorizing rote sets of prayers, fraught with the
ritual and materialism that the rosary symbolized to him.

 The traditional rosary used by Catholics is usually
referred as the Dominican Rosary and is made up of 59 beads. 53 of the beads
are called "Hail Mary" beads because the Hail Mary prayer is prayed
on each of them. The other six beads are "Our Father" beads because the
Our Father prayer is prayed on each of them. The Hail Mary beads are organized
in sets of ten beads, each set of ten called a decade. Each decade is preceded
by one Our Father bead. On each decade one mystery of Christ's life is the
center of meditation. These mysteries are the focal point of the rosary prayer.

 Saint Dominic is
widely believed to have first introduced prayer beads to Christians as they
know them today after he was visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary. Though often
related to Christian prayer beads, the rosary, the term itself is not
Christian. It was Thomas of Contimpre who first called them a rosary, from the
word rosarium, from the Latin, which literally means rose garden. This
is because the earliest prayer beads were strung with rose petals and beads
made of crushed petals to count their prayers.

Not surprisingly,
rosaries probably had their roots in folklore surrounding stones, amulets and
talismans of the times. As an example, coral was thought to guard against
illness and many portraits of Jesus as a child find him wearing a string of
coral beads. Later though, because of such ideas clergy were forbidden to use
rosaries with beads made of coral, quartz or amber. In fact, in many sects,
often the only approved material for clergy rosaries was wood.

Prayer &
Meditation Beads

Regardless of
whether you call them rosaries or prayer or meditation beads, they are simply
an instrument, a focal point to help us pray, remain focused and connect with the Divine, whatever
we understand it to be. We can always feel free to use and pray with them in
any way that helps us make that connection.

When it comes to
your personal set of beads, you are the expert. As with most things of the Creative Spirit, you and you alone know the
"right" way to string them, what energies you may or may not need or
want in your life. Your beads are a personal and learning to trust yourself and
your intuition is an important aspect of creating your prayer beads. Your beads
serve as a reminder to thanks and to ask, to bring sacredness into our lives,
hearts and spirits so allow their design and creation to evolve.

Having said that,
we are left with the question of what kinds of beads can be used to make prayer
beads? Just about anything that appeals to you and can be strung can be used in
your prayer beads; from pearls to plastic roses, to real preserved rosebuds.
Vintage necklaces can be disassembled and their beads and bits used.
Semiprecious stones, crystal carved figured and fetishes, trade beads and metal
beads all work well for prayer beads.

Natural elements
such as acorns, chestnuts, cork, olive, peach or apricot pits and eucalyptus,
date or paw paw seeds can all be strung and used in your design. The more
exotic Bodhi and rudraksha seeds have been used for centuries as has sandalwood
for the wonderful scent it leaves on your hands.

Most prayer beads
carry an amulet as a pendant, such as the rosary with its small crucifix, but
small reliquary boxes containing relics, medals of saints and other sacred
images, small icons, tassels to wipe away one's tears, even bells to chase away
bad spirits can be used in place of the pendant or crucifix.



Making Your
Own Set

Making prayer and
meditation beads can become addicting- it's hard to make just one. Keep in mind
that you might want to consider investing in some good tools and materials if
you decide to make them on a regular basis because as with any craft, good
tools make all the difference in your finished pieces. When creating and
crafting things of the Spirit, each piece should be of the highest artistic
beauty and aesthetic quality our hands and hearts can make with the supplies
available to us. Our deities deserve only the very best fruits of our labor and
this ideal should carry into everything we do.

Before you start,
experiment with different designs and combinations, removing and replacing
beads as you go. Sometimes, you may have several different designs on the wire
before you strike something you want to stay with. Keep them all so you don't
lose a design. All you need to do is replace the first combinations with the
final design when you finish the piece. By repeating a sequence of beads you
create an overall rhythm that you won't always see with just a few beads on
your beading wire.


The following
instructions are for a set of meditation beads I recently made for a friend
recovering from alcoholism. The are made with amethyst, glass, crystal and
vintage silver beads with a recovery medallion, charms and found objects of symbolic significance
attached to each loop.

You'll need:

  •   beading wire & needle
  •  crimp beads
  •  Seed beads & assorted sizes of beads that appeal
    to you.
  •  charms, amulets, pendants or found objects that have
    special meaning to you.
  •  bead & crimping pliers
  • masking tape

To  create your prayer beads:

1. Measure
the beading wire out 4 inches longer than your intended finished piece. If you
want your prayer beads to be 18 inches long, then your wire should be 22 inches
long. Place a small piece of masking tape on the end of the wire to keep your
beads from sliding off the wire, if you need to.

2. Make
the first loop by stringing 2 inches of seed beads, your amulets or charms,
then 2 inches more of seed beads. Add 2 crimp beads and run the end of the bead
wire back through to form the loop and squish the crimp beads closed with the
pliers to secure.

3. String
the rest of your larger beads on your main strand until your piece is as long
as you want it to be. Let your mind enjoy the feel and color of the beads and
keep in mid that the stringing itself is a meditative act. You always pray, add
specific intentions, or chant as you add each bead to the string.

4. When
you are done with the main strand and your larger beads have been placed, add
two crimp beads on the wire, then string 2 more inches of seed beads, another
amulet or charm, and the last 2 inches of seed beads.

5. Run
the end of the bead wire through the crimp beads, check to see that you have
about ¼ of an inch slack in your strand for give and flexibility and then crimp
the beads together to secure the strand. Remember to test the strength of crimp
beads by tugging on the loops.

Now that you have
created your first set of meditation or prayer beads, you're ready to use and
pray with them in any way that helps you make that divine connection, or
perhaps you would prefer to place them on your altar and, inspired by the first
set, start to create another.

A String and a
Prayer: How To Make and Use Prayer Beads
by Eleanor Wiley and Maggie (Red Wheel/Reiser, 2002)

The Pagan Book
of Living and Dying
, co-written and
edited by Starhawk , M. Macha Nightmare & The Reclaiming Collective (Harper

A Circle of Stones: Journeys and Meditations for Modern Celts,
by Erynn Rowan Laurie
Productions Inc 1995)

Eleanor Wiley's web site:

Work Shop:


(Originally Published in The Beltane Papers )