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Archive for August 5th, 2008

Step inside Mill Valley, Calif.’s Beads of Marin and it won’t take you long to notice that there is something spiritual going on here. Maybe it’s the lingering odor of sage, burnt that morning to dispel any lingering negative energy. Maybe it’s the dozens of Hindu and Buddhist malas that adorn the walls. Or, maybe it’s the low altar placed along a wall of exposed brick that holds the signs and symbols sacred to many religious traditions – drawings of Hindu gods and goddesses, a photo of the Dalai Lama, a brass Egyptian ankh, a statue of the Buddha and a small figure of Kuan Yin.

In fact, every morning before opening her store on Locust Street, owner Batel Libes takes a moment to light a Native American smudge stick and ring a Buddhist begging bowl. Only then does she open the door. “It cleanses the air, the energy,” Batel says. “It is something that makes me feel good, and at the end of the process it makes me feel ‘Ahhh!'” Here is a picture of the altar.

But even if you never looked up at the walls or down at the altar, you’d soon suspect something spiritual was afoot. There are more religious and spiritually-oriented beads in Batel’s store than I have ever seen under one roof. In fact, there is an entire table of beads and pendants Batel steers customers to when they want to make prayer beads, amulets, healing jewelry or other spiritually oriented things.

“Why so many? Because the community likes it,” Batel says as she leads me to the table and I try – almost successfully – to keep my eyes from popping out of my head. “That’s the business answer – because it sells. But the real reason? Because it is me.”

Indeed, Batel describes herself to me as something of a spiritual hodgepodge. Her name is Hebrew for “daughter of God” and she tells me that she is Jewish, with influences from the both the Conservative and Renewal branches of Judaism, but then lets drop that she also incorporates some New Age and Buddhist practices on her spiritual journey. And for good measure, she rules no one else’s religious preferences out. “I believe we are all striving to reach the same place, but there are different ways to get there,” she tells me, a carnelian Buddha pendant framed in silver twinkling around her neck.

For the next hour, I walk around Beads of Marin in a kind of prayer-bead feeding frenzy. I try to take pictures of everything that I thought would make good Catholic rosaries, Anglican prayer beads, Buddhist and Hindu malas, Islamic subhah and other forms of prayer beads. Here is a shot of the prayer bead table . . .

And here’s a shot of some freshwater pearl crosses . . .

Next is one is of some great Kuan Yin beads:

Next is a Goddess bead which Batel commissioned:

And an ivory goddess bead.

And here’s something new to me: Morrocan women’s amulets:

I sense a fertility theme!

But there are also lots of more traditional prayer bead beads – rudraksha strands, crosses, stars, etc.

Part of Batel’s spiritual philosophy is to run an ecologically and economically responsible business, She routinely vets all of her vendors, making sure their ivory products pre-date the ivory ban, that their bone products come from animals not killed for the purpose of harvesting their bones and that their shell products are collected responsibly. She hopes customers will shun the “big box” craft and bead stores, both the bricks-and-mortar- type and the online kind, because they are not always so careful. She suggests bead consumers check the track records of any business before they throw their money at them, something she says can be accomplished by Googling “human rights” and “animal rights” and the name of the retail or wholesale venue.

She also wants consumers to know that when they shop with a local, indie bead store they are giving back to their own community by supporting a local business owner and his or her employees. She is a member of the Local Bead Store Alliance, a trade association of 57 indie bead stores and their owners that are working to educate bead consumers about the benefits of shopping small and local. “It is a battle that bead store owners have everyday and a lot of us are going under,” she said.

Beads of Marin does not have an online store, but Batel said she’d do her best to satisfy anyone who calls or emails about anything they see in this blogpost. I bought one of the round carnelian beads etched with a Buddha’s head and lotus, and one of the mermaids that is grasping a pearl. I also bought a quarter-sized carnelian disk that has a goat – my zodiac sign – etched into it. I hope to use all of these as terminal charms or invitatory beads and will post the finished products when I do!

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