Sacred Strand, Prayer Beads, Rosary, Mala, Misbahah, Subha, Tasbih, Tespih..
If we look at the world traditions at their best, we discover a distillation of wisdom of the human race.
Sacred Strands are a universal practice, found in cultures across the world. As a ritual tool, they seem to answer some fundamental human needs for prayer and meditation.
If you are interested in arranging a Sacred Strand Workshop or Presentation for yourself or your community, please contact me in the form below.
Read on below the forms for more information, reference material, and links.
Introduction to Sacred Strands
There is something soothing and centering about running beads through your fingers – so much so that the practice of praying or meditating with beads is almost universal throughout the ages, across cultures and bridging or linking various faiths. This universality, combined with the variety of practice and presentation, has inspired my adaptation of the term Sacred Strand practice. I use the term Sacred Strand practice very consciously; to communicate from the outset the universality of the practice, rather than relegating it to a particular religious paradigm or discipline. As soon as the terms Rosary or Mala are used there are connotations, denotations and implications which are both positive and negative depending upon the personal or cultural experience of the individual. In this introduction, I will give a brief overview and acknowledgement of those whose work has inspired me and directed me to where I am now in my practice.
Being raised Catholic, the Rosary was a practice I observed regularly, and whilst the recitation of the various mysteries failed to stir my soul, I was endlessly fascinated by the beads, their colours and textures, and the feeling of running them through my fingers. I developed my own path and researched and learnt as much as I could about pagan ritual and practice – I found some references to “Witches Ladders” but no clear outline as to what exactly they were. I neglected to give any thought to alternatives in terms of a Sacred Strand practice, even when I first encountered the Buddhist Mala or the Hari Krishna Mala. I still liked them, I was still fascinated by the beads, the texture and the feeling, but failed to incorporate any form of Sacred Strand path-work into my own practice.
Then I experienced a year where Hekate, manifest with Kali, drew me into her fierce and soul rendering embrace. Events in a twelve month period weighed in upon me to the point where I was drowning in grief, feeling despair dragging through my spirit like thousands of fish-hooks. Searching for a context to place my grief – something that worked with my own particular eclectic solitary path – I found “The Pagan Book of Living & Dying” by Starhawk, M. Masha Nightmare and the Reclaiming Collective
There, on page 40, I found my life line back from the ‘Slough of Despond’ in which I was mired.
It was Donald L. Engstrom-Reese‘s wonderful Mourning Beads; and through them, I was able to be reborn, for truly, I have not been the same person since. I have changed them, adjusted them to suit me, but I honour him for gifting me with the daily prayer/meditation that has re-birthed me: “I dare to dwell in beauty, harmony and delight, I dare to see with clear eyes and an open heart.”
Serendipitously, an Australian magazine published at that time called “Witchcraft” ran an article on “Element Beads”(4) which I also took to heart. The combination of the two facilitated my healing, and gradually awakened a slow burning passion and commitment in me for the Sacred Strand practice.
Fast forward another five years into 2007 – listening to the ABC radio national program “In the Spirit of Things”, I heard about the Parliament of the World’s Religions – and the 2009 Parliament was in my home town, Melbourne, Australia. It sounded fascinating, and I mentally filed it away as a date to remember. By this stage, in addition to working full time, I was studying psychology, and began to see the potential for utilising the Sacred Strand practice in counselling, although that was something that I was not free to explore in my very ‘rats & stats’ based course. Again, the psychological application of the Sacred Strand practice has not been extensively explored or empirically measured. I have found one fascinating reference in an article written by a clinical psychologist in Jerusalem: The use of prayer beads in psychotherapy
In 2008, I also embarked upon a celebrant course, and in training, discussed the design of the Mourning Beads and the potential for Marriage/Commitment Beads – at the same course I met a gentleman who described himself as a professional theologian, and who encouraged me to make a submission to present at the 2009 Parliament. Giving the matter some thought, it seemed obvious to me that my submission would be about Sacred Strand work.
So, I constructed a submission, and then, not hearing anything by July 2009, dismissed the idea from my mind, deciding that the Parliament would obviously have much more interesting submissions then mine, and concentrated on the normal life events; university, a new job, the end of a long term relationship, the beginning of another… of course, I was facilitating these changes with some beads designed to adjust to transformations.. Then, in the midst of training – I was notified that I had been accepted to present in a panel format. So in the December, I found myself as one of five Australian Pagans, sharing my perception of paganism in Australia, and a little of the Sacred Strand practice… it was a surprising success.. Spiritual practitioners, both local and international, seemed to be both captured, inspired and intrigued by my very brief overview. Unfortunately, as is often the case with conferences – everyone is enthused, takes a business card and then fails to follow up for any further dialogue, counselling or workshops, lol!
Whilst at the Parliament in 2009, I was fortunate enough to be able to meet & do a workshop with Eleanor Wiley, author, artist and Sacred Strand practitioner. Eleanor was very generous in sharing her perspectives and experiences, about her vision and practice, which she approaches from a 12 step perspective. Eleanor has a much more secular and art based approach to her Sacred Strand practice, but was very encouraging and informative. Eleanor’s work is very accessible and I am in awe of her achievements, both personally and in terms of the Sacred Strand work she has done both at home in the states and abroad with young people in various war affected countries.
Attending the Parliament of the World Religions (PWR) was informative and inspiring… and so the research started in earnest… websites, books, articles, discussions with others, meditation, contemplation – and a growing hunger and fascination. Now, my idea of seminal moments may not be as exciting as those of others, but for me the Parliament of the World Religions was a pivotal point in my Sacred Strand practice. I suddenly realized that my practice was something that was transferable, something of benefit to others, with a long and almost universal history and appeal – and that is something that I hope to share with others, and to inspire others in their own practice and application. It is a flexible and portable practice, and can be as individual as you desire, or can be utilized by a community as a shared practice. Sacred Strands can be created to celebrate a season or a reason, be ongoing or specific, designed for personal use or as a gift – the variations are endless, but the core practice remains the same – the simple act of creating something beautiful and tactile, to mark intent. This ageless act of moving from one bead to the next, running the shapes through the fingers, creating a link with the millions of others whose paths may be different, but in this one act all are connected, via the practice of the Sacred Strand. In the words of Madeleine L’Engle: “To use beads with a prayer, Indian or Muslim or Christian, is to enflesh the words, to make thought tangible” (The Summer of the Great-Grandmother).
I see the act of stringing beads as an act of devotion, in and of itself. I use a mantra for each bead – usually along the lines of “Lord & Lady, Powers that Be, Bless these beads I string for thee”. The string itself can be viewed as a representation of the shining astral cord that connects us to our bodies, or the more metaphysical link that joins us all, and I have a personal preference for circlets – the circle being a shape with no end, which reputedly is the strongest of all shapes, and a one dimensional representation of the world itself, of the womb, of the energy sphere that surrounds every being. The circle also represents sacred space, the world between worlds, and the wheel of the year itself. If viewed from above, a spiral looks like a circle, so this symbolism can be extrapolated to represent or echo the DNA spiral, or can be used in conceptualizing more abstract constructs like Mandelbrot sets, the Golden Mean, evolutionary spirals, string theory, Fibonacci sequences – it is entirely up to the practitioner.
The string may break, with use, over time, even whilst stringing the beads – if this happens, they need to be restrung, just as sometimes we have to stop and rearrange or reconsider, our priorities, our actions, our relationships, our path. The beads are mini-worlds – individuals in their own right, that combine to make a whole – just as individuals make a community, moments make millenniums, ripples make waves. They also may break – just as all beings can break or disintegrate; if this happens, either the singular bead can be replaced, or the set to which it belongs can be changed or replaced entirely – just as a death or a change of another sort can have many repercussions and consequences. In this way, the Sacred Strand practice, to me, encapsulates manifestation and the void, and is an act of border walking in and of itself.
Book / Article References
Black Koltuv, B. (2005). “Amulets, Talismans & Magical Jewellery”. Maine: Nicolas- Hays, Inc.
Erikson, J. M. (1993). “The Universal Bead”. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Henry, G., Marriot, S. (2002). “Beads Of Faith: Pathways to Mediation and Spirituality using Rosaries, Prayer Beads and Sacred Words.” London: Carroll & Brown Publishers Ltd.
Oman Shannon, M. (2001). “The Way We Pray: Prayer Practices From Around the World”. Berkeley, CA: Conari Press.
Spiraldancer; “Pagan Prayer Beads”; WitchCraft, issue 13 (36), FPC Magazines
Sweeney, J.M. (2001). “Praying with Our Hands: 21 Practices of Embodied Prayer from the World’s Spiritual Traditions”. Glasgow, Wild Goose Publications.
Walker Wikstrom, Eric, (2005). “Simply Pray: A Modern Spiritual Practice to Deepen Your Life.” Boston: Skinner House Books.
Wiley, E., & Oman Shannon, M. (2002). “A String and A Prayer: How to Make and Use Prayer Beads”. York Beach, M.E. Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
Winston, K. (2008). “Bead One, Pray Too: A Guide To Making And Using Prayer Beads”. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing.
Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012 Fabienne S. Morgana
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