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.

The First Four Months: Adventures of an Etsy Seller

Flower Face, Blodeuwedd Rosary Necklace by Feral Strumpet on Etsy

I found myself in a little village in North Yorkshire, after living in London for six years. My fledgling career as a massage therapist suddenly stalled as all my clients were still in London and I knew no one and had no way to build up the business again through word-of-mouth. After working for myself as a therapist I knew I couldn’t work in an office again. Could I start another business and would it be viable? What lessons could I bring from my massage practice to a new venture?

I had long been an Etsy shopper. Whenever I needed anything I would check Etsy first, preferring to buy from an individual maker. Plus, artisans on Etsy usually had unique and wonderful solutions and options. I began to think, what if I sold things I made on Etsy? Friends had often commented that I should sell the jewelry made, but I thought no one would pay me for such things.

I was wrong! It is four months into this journey and already Etsy has helped me make my first mortgage payment. I have found not only a wonderful customer base of friends, internet acquaintances and most amazingly, strangers who have found my shop. But I have also been surrounded by supportive fellow-makers and shop owners. When you wake up in the morning and set up your tasks for they day, they form a kind of virtual team, giving you high fives and thumbs up with messages and “likes” as well as team discussions. They also pose a constant source of inspiration when you see what they’ve been up to. Working alone in my little studio can get lonely and isolating, so having these creative fellows about has made a huge difference.

Four months is a bit of an arbitrary anniversary, except that listings on Etsy go in four month cycles. Everything I listed from that first cycle, save one necklace, has sold. I’ve celebrated by reassessing my business plan and goals for the shop. I’ve gotten serious and invested in branded packaging as well as rethinking things like sales and ongoing promotions (Look for a brand new sale section in the shop coming soon!) Also, I bought a new tool– a Xuron needle nose pliers to replace my little pliers I’ve had for the last quarter of a century. My old pliers were giving out, giving me blisters and the spring was totally gone.

But they had sentimental value. I bought them at the Laguna Beach Bead shop, back in high school. The shop owner (I believe her name is Peggy) was the first person to teach me how to make jewelry. She did it for free, and always took an interest in what I was making. My teen years were difficult– I don’t know if she knew how much she helped me by giving me these skills and being present in my life in that way. This is another reason why local businesses are worth supporting over mega stores! Would I have known someone like her if the only shops left where Michaels and HobbyCraft? I like to think I’m keeping the cycle going on Etsy, building the micro economy and making beautiful things.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me thus far– here’s to the next leg of the adventure!