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Prayer Beads: The Creation Process

June 28, 2010

There are many lists of  Heathen “noble virtues” in circulation in books, websites and groups. It’s not an ancient practice, but it is an interesting and potentially useful idea as a mindfulness/meditative tool. I first became aware of the idea from its promotion as a more generically Pagan idea in Ar n’Draiocht Fein’s Dedicant Program.

ADF’s list is as follows:

Wisdom: Good judgment, the ability to perceive people and situations correctly, deliberate about and decide on the correct response

Piety: Correct observance of ritual and social traditions; the maintenance of the agreements, (both personal and societal), we humans have with the Gods and Spirits. Keeping the Old Ways, through ceremony and duty

Vision: The ability to broaden one’s perspective to have a greater understanding of our place/role in the cosmos, relating to the past, present and future

Courage: The ability to act appropriately in the face of danger

Integrity: Honor; being trustworthy to oneself and to others, involving oath-keeping, honesty, fairness, respect, self-confidence

Perseverance: Drive; the motivation to pursue goals even when that pursuit becomes difficult

Hospitality: Acting as both a gracious host and an appreciative guest, involving benevolence, friendliness, humor, and the honoring of “a gift for a gift”

Moderation: Cultivating one’s appetites so that one is neither a slave to them nor driven to ill health, (mental or physical), through excess or deficiency

Fertility: Bounty of mind, body and spirit, involving creativity, production of objects, food, works of art, etc., an appreciation of the physical, sensual, nurturing

In its “pre-packaged” form, as it were, I’ve never found the idea terribly compelling; yes, these are all unarguably good things, but what exactly am I supposed to do with the list? The ideas aren’t really thematically connected or focused in any way; I suppose I could work on them sequentially in a pattern, but it just feels like the effort – and hence the results – would be kind of arbitrary and scattershot.

Alternately, the idea of putting together a custom list of inter-related virtues  – ones that I particularly feel the personal need to work on right now – did sound promising. If the qualities could also be linked to the disir, at minimum the disir could be  inspiring role models, and quite possibly they would be willing to act as a valuable resource for emotional support and guidance. The process could help me both develop positive habits of mind and deepen my relationship with the disir, and linking the two intentions together could provide inspiration for the design of a set of prayer beads as a reinforcing focusing tool.

(Ok, I admit, that’s retrospective justification; it was more “Hmm. . . I think what I really need is a list of 9 virtues based on what *I* need to be most mindful of. . . with the support of the disir. . . hey, I could make prayer beads for that!” The version given above has the advantages of being a better exposition of my deeper reasons and a bit less postmodern stream-of-consciousness.)

I thought a bracelet would be a great form for these prayer beads. I happened to be near a bead store not too long after the idea occurred to me, and wandered in to find out if anything called to me.

Yup, numerous things did, and they were definitely not what I would have chosen on my own: a string of bronze-colored freshwater pearls, noticed because they’d been hung up in the “wrong” place; four bone and four wood disc beads, similar in size and shape; an orange/yellow dichroic-style glass bead, with reflective foil inside that made the colors glimmer and flash with movement. (It became very clear to me there was a requirement for as many natural materials as possible; glass was okay as a single highlight, but that was it.)

I ordered a silver and amber key pendant from an online retailer to “anchor” the beads, as it were. That was where things ground for a standstill for a while; the retailer never sent it, and I wound up having to go through the PayPal claims process to get the money back. It took 6-8 weeks to land me right back where I started. (Maybe it wasn’t what the disir wanted.)

There wasn’t really a good alternate key component available that I could find, and I really wanted to construct at least an initial version of the bracelet, so I chose a gold birch leaf pendant (symbolic of the rune Berkana) in the hopes it would be a decent substitute.

It was okay short-term, but not right. The draft also showed that despite my initial concept, a lot more beads were needed and consequently this wasn’t going to be a bracelet after all.

I put the beads aside for a bit to mull over what further materials might be necessary.

A few weeks later I found myself by one of the best bead stores in town with 15-20 minutes to spend before my ride would appear. In I went, and picked up a small gold-plated key charm, a strand of honey jade beads, and a bit of tiger’s eye. That night I made draft 2. It was clearly a step in the right direction, but still lacking.

The next day I returned to that bead store and picked up a single gold knotwork bead, sets of gold cap beads (used to transition from small to large) and small gold spacer beads, some picture jasper and more tiger’s eye. Draft 3 was constructed that night, and it was finally acceptable.

Honestly, the process frightened me a bit, because it clearly was being guided by the disir, not me. In a way that’s incredibly cool and affirming, but that doesn’t remove the eeriness of going to do something the way you’d planned, and a few minutes later undoing your work and redoing it it a much different, much better way that is totally not from inside your own head. It’s a gift, and an honor. . .  and overwhelming.

The finished product, which they appear to be quite pleased by, is a great deal larger, more opulent and more powerful than I was expecting. This is not a tool with which to connect with mellow and indulgent many-times-great grandmas. It’s a connection to proud, strong, forceful women who insist on the best and get it. It’s not a bracelet, it’s a necklace, and it’s been made quite clear to me that I am to wear it on ceremonial occasions because I am a disir too.

I will post pictures soon (I need to restring them on silk or linen, because the rayon beading thread I used for the draft gave out at a festival I attended this past weekend). I will also write about the prayers that go with the beads, which I can finish writing now that I know the details of the finished piece.

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