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.
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.
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.
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.
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.