A Guide to Witch’s Beads aka Pagan Prayer Beads or Pagan Rosaries

Catherine wearing the Sacred Heart Rosary necklace with micro-faceted garnets. Hand wrapped, inspired by antique rosary chain.
Catherine wearing the Sacred Heart Rosary necklace with micro-faceted garnets. Hand wrapped, inspired by antique rosary chain.
White Heart Rosary
White Heart Rosary

The use of a strand of beads in prayer is universal across almost all faiths, but is best know in the form of the Catholic rosary.  I have collected rosaries since I was a teenager.  Often I would find them in the street or in thrift shops, or in pieces at swap meets. I have refurbished them and sold them whole again or I have also listened to them– many would like to be something else entirely and perhaps this is why they found their way to me.

The Wellington Witch Ladder, wikipedia commons
The Wellington Witch Ladder, wikipedia commons
Black Hearted Love-- vintage rosary fragments given a new life.
Black Hearted Love– vintage rosary fragments given a new life.

I have always loved them, perhaps because they were the first meditations to the goddess I had ever known, even before I knew there was such a thing as being Pagan or Heathen.

Some pagans have come from a Christian path and may miss certain aspects of those rituals.  A wonderful article about this can be found on Patheos, Retooling the Rosary. The meditative rhythms of the beads reflect the rhythms of the earth.  Pagan prayer beads can use may of these for their structure– the four seasons, the phases of the moon, the 8 Sabats or 13 Esbats, the 24 runes in the Elder Furthark.   I am partial to nines. Odin hung on the tree for 9 days, there are 9 worlds  in the Norse cosmos, the fascinating mathmatical patterns using 9 as well as the many uses of 9 maidens in folklore inform these desgins.

The Hare Bell Witches Beads or Pagan Prayer Beads
The Hare Bell Witches Beads or Pagan Prayer Beads

I have made devotional chains in the past for clients, dedicated to a specific deity or tradition. I welcome the opportunity for this kind of custom work. But even in my secular jewellery, the hand wrapped rosary links I make are very meditative and in some designs take on a devotional feeling as I make them, much like the rhythms of tying a witches ladder.

Traditional ladders used knots with feathers attached. Used in binding spells: for instance,  to bind an illness the knotted cord was worked up and then thrown into a pond or river– presumably the ailments with it. Any research on the subject is bound (ha!) to turn up the use of knot magic in cursing. We must cast a critical eye on the remnants of history left to us by those who wished to distort our traditions.  This work was most likely also used for other benevolent purposes as well as ill.  In modern wicca, the knots are used to seal a working and chanting can be part of it.

Owl and Moon Rosary
Owl and Moon Rosary

A variation on the traditional chant:

Knot one, the work’s begun.
Knot two, my aim is true.
Knot three, it will be.
Knot four, power’s stored.
Knot five, the work’s alive.
Knot six, the work’s fixed.
Knot of seven, the truth given.
Knot eight, will be fate.
Knot nine, the work is mine!

As in prayer and spell work, words are more powerful if you use your own. In my other life as a poet I have been obsessed by the sestina form, a six-stanza poem that ends in a three line envoy. The end words of each line are rotated through the stanzas, as strands in a braid. This form was arguably invented by a 13th century troubadour, Arnaut Daniel, who called it a cledistat, which means “to interlock”.  Here is a wonderful graphic that shows the structure of the sestina as a series of beads or knots on a spiral thread.

By Phil wink - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19446455
By Phil wink – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19446455

I am constantly amazed at the correspondences between creative work.  The same attention to detail that went into writing my sestinas is manifested in my hand wrapped rosary chains.  They are from the heart.

A Cephalopod Talisman

The Octopus Netsuke Necklace

One of my best sellers is the Octopus Netsuke necklace, and after reading this compelling blog post by the fantastic Mark Chabourn, entitled “Bow to Your Tentacled Overlords” about the ability of octopi to learn and use tools even,  I began to realize why.  Despite their incredibly alien strangeness, they are perhaps more like us than anyone first understood.  Through the Eye of an Octopus is another brilliant discussion summary of cephalopod intelligence studies, puzzle solving and even potentially dreaming.

Many of my necklaces are maid with miniature pewter sculptures from Green Girl Studios– their life-like detail and expressive natures make them particularly suitable for talismanic adornments.  The octopus is a prime example– its detail reminiscent of Japanese netsuke.  Combined with Swarovski pearls and crystals, I’ve wanted to make this one a worthy tribute to the tentacled overlords!  (And I bow to the customer who just got married in hers!)

The Octopus Netsuke Necklace