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.

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.

It’s All Mine- Ten of My Feral Favourites

Me wearing my Slayer Queen Bib Necklace at my booth at the British Science Fiction Convention.

Me wearing my Slayer Queen Bib Necklace at my booth at the British Science Fiction Convention.

I wear jewellery for sentimental reasons mostly– I have stones I’ve found or been given, talismans of runes, my Thor’s hammer, my Freya/Seidkona.  Many of the things I love to wear were made by someone else whose skill I admire and whose creative energy I would like to connect with– I think I’m a lot like my customers in that way.

I have a long list of dream pieces I would like to make for myself.  Pieces so expensive to make, or so labour intensive, that they would not be practical to offer for sale.  I think this summer I will make one or two during a slow period.  I make very little for myself and maybe I should make more!

I do wear pieces I’ve made.  Sometimes for whatever reason an absolutely gorgeous piece doesn’t sell and I feel justified then in keeping it for myself.  Luckily my litmus test for selling something is– would I love to wear this? Am I dying to keep it? If the answer is yes, I offer it in my shop.

What am I wearing right now?  Well, I’ll tell you.

Boudicca Glasses Chain–This is probably the most practical thing I have ever made, next to my pennanular brooches.  I use this every day. I have two– one for my reading glasses and one for my regular glasses, which I need to take off when doing detail work.  When it is sunny (that’s rare in Yorkshire) I also have one for my sunglasses.

Kitchen Witch’s Pentagram Ring–I made an initial prototype in the raku glaze which I ended up keeping for myself.  Often I will wear a prototype to test out it’s mettle first before making more or offering it as a made to order piece.  Many of these become fast friends and others go to the scrap heap, ready to become something else.  This was a keeper!

rings5Myriad Lozenge Rings— I love making rings with lozenge shaped beads, the prongs at the side framing and binding the stone.  It has become a signature design and I have made countless rings for lovely people all over the world.

In one of my favourite books, A Mirror for Witches by Esther Forbes, Goodie Goochie, the androgynous preparer of the dead, wearings an iron ring on every finger to protect them from malignant spirits.  My rings are mostly copper and silver but I can relate. I started making my own rings because I could never find rings small enough for my fingers, at least ones I really liked.  My favourites are my amethyst, labradorite and web jasper rings.

Harpy Rosary Necklace by Feral Strumpet

Harpy Rosary Necklace by Feral Strumpet

Harpy Rosary Necklace–Here was a little orphan.  This beautiful necklace never found a home.  It is perfection– from its mid century wooden rosary with a slightly reddish tint to the wood, to the little harpy girl that moves up and down on her post like a magical merry-go-round creature.  Maybe I loved it so much that I secretly wished to keep it, because now it’s mine and I wear it all the time!

Floating Castle Rosary.

Floating Castle Rosary.

Floating Castle Rosary Necklace–I have made many of these but again, there was one I paired with a gorgeous 1960s jet and AB finish glass bead rosary.  I think it was waiting for me.  Here you can see one of my early photographs– when I was just starting out and hadn’t learned how to light and edit tiny pieces!

Infinity Chains– These beautifully graceful chains are hella labour-intensive.  I have made them in sterling, brass and copper. They look beautiful worn together, mixing the metals. Because it takes so long to make these I no longer offer them just as plain chains.  Instead I will combine them with crystals, stones and beads to create one of a kind, luxurious pieces.  The plain chains I saved for myself.  I like to wear the clasp in front, sometimes attaching a talisman or charm to one lobe of the S clasp.

Infinity chains in copper, bronze and silver plate

Infinity chains in copper, bronze and silver plate

brooch_sheila-9Sheila-na-Gig Brooch– Another mysterious sleeper. I wear my larger Sheila brooch with my hand knits.  My other simple brooches are my most popular design.  While these brooches are more delicate, I love their graceful curves and the fact that the curl on the ends of the circle keeps the pin on the clasp. I haven’t given up on this design!  I am making more prototypes to offer them again in the future.

The Slayer Queen Bib Necklace

The Slayer Queen Bib Necklace

Mega Slayer Bib Necklace– I feel like this post has turned into the Feral Island of Lost Toys!  I hope it offers some insight into my process.  This slayer bib necklace was another orphan.  I loved it insanely– but no one but me seemed to want to wear it!  My single stake necklaces continued to be best sellers but this OTT version was clearly waiting for me.

The Black Hearted Love Rosary Necklace

Black Hearted Love– This is my signature necklace, the one that started it all.  I was making these before I even started my Etsy shop, almost 4 years ago. I had a red cinnabar one paired with a red bakelite chaplet and a black one paired with a 19th century bog-wood rosary.  I wore them all the time and one day I was sitting in my local medieval drinking hall whinging that I couldn’t find a job, and my friend Emma said why don’t you sell the necklaces you make? The rest is history.

Bat rosary necklace

Bat rosary necklace

Baby Bat Necklace– Another of my best sellers– possibly my first best seller, the one that really took off.  I love layering mine with other longer pieces.  The little fellow is so small, and such good company.

 

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!