Growing up Catholic, I’ve prayed a rosary or thirty. The experience is meditative and calming. Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam also have rituals involving beads. Beads may have been among the earliest ornaments created by humans. Their colors please the eye; their textures and weight please the hands; their soft clicks please the ears.
During the inescapably visceral experience of pregnancy I felt fully connected to my body for the first time. It seemed the perfect opportunity to try switching my approach to the world: instead of thinking or studying first, I let my burgeoning body teach me to feel and experience before analyzing. I was delighted to incorporate more of the physical into my spiritual practices. Prayer beads became one of my favorite tools.
I have strung beads before, but with these I intended to create an heirloom. I wanted the beads to be made sturdily and professionally. I turned to the artist and witch behind Green Woman Crafts and commissioned exactly what I wanted. She made me a gorgeous set of 108 beads of lapis and pearl. This worked out to be nine sets of ten with nine spacers, and a tail of eight beads with a centerpiece.
I didn’t want the beads relegated for use only during my more formal, sit-before-the-altar daily practices. I wanted to use them frequently – waiting in line, riding in the car, sitting through my prenatal appointments, etc. So even though I had a lot I could have said while praying for my unborn baby, I kept it simple. I started by praying to the Star Goddess on the center bead. Then I worked my way up the tail, asking Her to bless my child. For the next seven sets of beads I said, “Powers of [X], bless my child,” replacing X with the name of each element. I prayed to the Holy Mother on each of the spacer beads. For the last two sets of beads, I asked the Ancestors and Gods of my people to bless my child.
I had terrible nightmares about losing the pregnancy, and the beads became a talisman for my baby’s health: if I could pray for her, I knew that I was using all of my energies to keep her growing and safe. Sometimes I wore them as a necklace, under my clothes. I held them while I labored at home. I prayed the beads while laboring at the hospital. When it became clear that my labor could not continue naturally, I handed the beads to my mother. She went to the chapel and used them in her own way, adding her own energies to them, while doctors rescued my daughter from my body. Later, in the recovery room, I held the beads again and thanked all of the Powers for my baby safe and beautiful in my arms.
When my daughter is older — perhaps when she’s pregnant for the first time, perhaps sooner; I’ll know the right moment — I will give them to her. Until then, I still use those beads to pray for her well-being.
To make beads of your own, begin with your intention in mind. Let that intention inform the number of beads you might choose: for complex prayers, perhaps a string of fewer beads is wise; for simple mantras, the repetition of many beads is key. Consider utilizing a favorite sacred number to decide how many beads to string. Choose beads that delight the senses. Any bead shop will have a dizzying array of choices; allow the colors and shapes that resonate with your personal symbolism to guide you. (I chose blue and white for my colors to evoke the water of the womb and the soft beauty of the pearl growing inside.)
For more ideas, I’ve seen this book (but have not read it): Pagan Prayer Beads by John Michael Greer. Raven Kaldera offers a workshop on the subject. Reclaiming witch Donald Engstrom-Reese wrote a great article that informed my thinking on the matter.
Kira Nuit is a writer, geek, textile artist, witch and mother. She strives to build a simple and fulfilling life that integrates all her parts — which includes figuring out how to provide excellent care for her toddling daughter while also bathing regularly. She writes about it at Earth Mama Prime.