I first met Raven, who is 42, when I was writing a story for Religion News Service about Neo-Pagans who use prayer beads and rosaries as part of their practice. The story eventually ran in the Washington Post and on Beliefnet.com. Raven has been making and selling Pagan prayer beads of many stripes for about three years now at Cauldron Farm, his family farm in Hubbardston, Mass. Raven made his first set for a friend, a former Catholic who missed using a rosary and wanted something more in tune with his Neo-Pagan practice. By his estimate, he has now made over 500 sets, many with wooden beads that he paints himself, and has written many original prayers for them. He makes prayer beads that are tradition-specific, including Wiccan, Norse, Egyptian and Greek prayer beads, and others that are for a specific purpose or event, like healing, a wedding, a birth or a death. Every strand he makes is strung on a strand of wool that he spins and dyes himself from sheep on his farm. He told me he charges just over cost for each strand he makes. “It is more an act of love and an act of devotion,” Raven told me when I interviewed him for the story. “My big thing is that I really want to get Pagans to pray.” I recently contact ed Raven again and asked him some questions about how and why he makes these prayers beads.
KW – How do you go about writing prayers for the prayer beads you make? Where do you seek inspiration?
RK – I pray a little as I look for the right bead, asking the deity in question to give me both the bead that they want and the prayer that they’d like to hear. Usually the prayers just come, smoothly. Then I write them down, after the first set of that type is done. Each set I make is a little different – sometimes a certain “extra” deity pops in and wants to be a strand, for what reason I don’t know, but I go with it.
KW – Why do you spin the cord for your prayer beads? What do you think it adds to the experience of eventual owner of the beads?
RK – Cauldron Farm is a small family homestead. Sustainable living is very much a part of our spiritual beliefs and practices – not that I believe that everyone should homestead, but it’s our way of practical earth-worship. We raise goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, and rabbits, and I have a large herb garden. The wool that I spin for the cords for the wooden beads, every one of which is painted by hand, is sheared off of my sheep and handspun by me.
This farm is more than just sustainability, though. It’s Pagan holy ground. Every part of it is dedicated to the Gods, and we have a labyrinth and a growing stone circle in the back field, and many “god-posts” – wooden poles erected to various deities. By incorporating the wool from my own sheep into the beads, I send a bit of the magic of this place out around the world.
KW – What kind of prayer beads you use in your own personal practice? What do they look like? How often do you use them and what prayers do you say on them?
RK – For myself, I revert to my old set of Horae beads. They were the second set I ever made (the first was for my partner), and I’m sentimental that way. They help me remember my goals and my direction.
KW – Neo-Pagan tradition is not known for a tradition of prayer beads. Yet prayer beads are very popular with many, especially with Wiccans. Why do you think they are so popular with what is generally seen as an eclectic and iconoclastic group?
RK – The majority of Pagans are solitaries, or if they are in a community, it’s all women. They do not usually get regular services, and a lot of folks have trouble saying I am going to sit down for the next ten minutes and pray. They don’t know how to do it. The prayer beads are a quick and easy way to give structure to that.