I’ve been making a lot of sets of prayer beads, based on all sorts of formulas. I am totally loving it! The use of a strand of knots or a strand of beads for a counting charm, or for counting prayers is nearly universal. Something small, and in the hand is a common human invention. It has, however, become ubiquitous as a Catholic (which means Universal) rosary. So much that there is a specific style of jewelry called a rosary chain.
Rosaries, and other meditation beads such as malas, become powerful tools in and of themselves, absorbing the emotions and energy of thousands of prayers and mantras said over them over time. Here are some prayer ideas to go with them:
Many folks in heathenry and paganism are loathe to incorporate Christian practices into their own practice, and I can completely understand why. However, as with so many other things, the idea of using a counter to keep track of prayers is much older and more widespread than the Christian practices.
Here I offer some prayers, mantras, and other ideas to go with the use of pagan prayer beads.
I’m kind of partial to the number 9 in my prayer beads. Oðinn hung on the tree for 9 nights, there are 9 worlds in Norse mythology, Heimdall has 9 mothers (along with numerous other occurences of 9 maidens or mothers in folklore), and the so many other ways in which 9 shows up as a mystical and sacred number. It is 3×3, and expresses a rhythm that feels like the rhythm of the earth to me.
Prayer beads may be used to say a mantra at each bead, or as a way to count breaths for meditative practices (among many other uses). For breathing, I enjoy the count of breath in 4, breath out 5. I also like breath in 2, hold for 2, breath out for 3, and hold for 2. The breathing out being 1 beat longer allows for me to completely empty my lungs, leading to deeper breathing and hence deeper, more solid trance states for me. Find a rhythm that works well for you.
A 9 or 10 bead count set lends itself wonderfully to spellcasting and using the traditional 9-knot charm:
By knot of one, the work’s begun,
By knot of two, the aim is true,
By knot of three, my words shall be,
By knot of four, the power’s stored,
By knot of five, the work’s alive,
By knot of six, the work is fixed,
By knot of seven, the truth is given,
By knot of eight, my will is fate,
By knot of nine, the work is mine.
(So mote it be, or other closing for the tenth bead if needed)
You could change the wording from “knot” to “count” or “step” or whatever works for you. When it comes to raising power or meditation, it is pretty personal.
Many prayer beads and rosaries have an introduction section that sticks off the main section. These are usually composed of a charm (in cases of Catholic rosaries this would be the crucifix), 3 or 4 beads or sections to count, and then the connector to the main body of the beads (known as a station on a Catholic rosary). There are many ways to view these beads and use them in your practice.
For sets with 3 lead in beads they may be seen as:
- Maiden, Mother, and Crone
- Mother, Father, and Child of Light
- Land, Sea, and Sky
- Grounding, Centering, and Alignment
- Son, Father, and Sage
- Body, Mind and Spirit or Physical, Mental, and Spiritual
- Gods, Ancestors, and Self/Folk
- and so many more combinations.
Some of the lead ins have 4 beads:
- Earth, Air, Fire, Water
- North, South, East, West
- Inner, Outer, Lower, and Higher Selves
- Home, Family, Work, and Self
- any associations with the four elements
- and many more
And some even have 5 beads:
- Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Spirit
- North, South, East, West, Center
- Opening up the first five chakras
With any of the lead in sections, you may use them for deepening breath work, and inducing opening stages of trance. I personally tend to hang out on these opening beads, repeating my entire breathing and deepening routine on each bead. This gives me a nice, solid trance state from which to work. And later associates in my mind these beads with the idea of a deep stable trance state.
Now, move onto the connector. For some people this may be a place to say a special opening prayer, or set the intent for the work ahead. It may also be seen as something like a guru bead on a mala, something not to be counted or prayed upon. The guru bead is often said to represent one’s teacher(s) both physical and spiritual, and so you allow them to be your doorway and connection, but you do not count on them, as it would be like stepping on them, or using them inappropriately. The important thing is that you find a reason and a meaning behind the action you choose to take. Meditation beads are a tool, and they are there to serve your practice.
Next is the body of the meditation beads. These are usually divided into sections, each with a certain number of beads. Some have 3 sets of 9, 13, or other. Some have 5 sets of 10. And some, like zen malas have a pattern of 7, 14, 66, 14, 7, or some other pattern of beads.
You may have purchased or made your beads with a set form in mind, or simply because they appealed to you. I suggest to start with that you simply work with your beads simply. Go around once, repeating the same thing for each section. After you’ve spent some time handling and working with them, you can begin finding more complex patterns and establishing your own patterns.
More on that in Part Two.