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Archive for the ‘Prayer Beads of the World’ Category

I had the good fortune to visit two of my best friends in Austin, Tex the weekend before last and while my one friend, Chris, was working, my other friend, Lisa, and I hit the bead stores. Lisa is one of the most talented beaded jewelry designers I know and specializes in Japanese beading. You can see her blog here and her Etsy store here. Check ’em out.

Front room at Bead It

Front room at Bead It

One of the stores that Lisa and I went to is called Bead It and is located in South Austin – which, when Lisa, Chris and I went to school at the University of Texas was kinda a place you didn’t want to be in after dark. Here’s my main memory of that neighborhood – a buddy convinced me to go see our first X-rated movie there. Actually, my only X-rated movie. Yeesh.

But now, that part of town is hot and happenin’ and has all kinds of cool stores and boutiques – not the kind you need a million bucks to buy anything in, but the kind that remind you that Austin is still weird, still a bit on the wild side, still a place where you can get away from the strip mall mentality of much of the rest of the country. Bead It is the perfect embodiment of that.

Lisa and I were not looking for prayer beads, or prayer bead materials – which is probably

Zoe, the great sales associate

Zoe, the great sales associate

why we found one of the coolest rosaries I have ever seen. It seems that one of Bead It’s specialties is vintage beads, and there in the front case was a rosary, probably from the 1950’s or a bit earlier, that had directions written on each Our Father bead! Each Our Father Bead was three-sided – like a little Toblerone bar – reminding you of each mystery you should prayer for on a given day. It was like a 3-D rosary map! Very cool! Here’s a BIG picture. Click on it to see the whole thing:

Mapped out rosary

Mapped out rosary

They also had a small case of Tibetan pendants blessed by monks! Pretty cool, huh?

Tibetan prayer beads

Tibetan prayer beads
Rosary window

Rosary window

The store is in an old house and it was extremely fun to wander from room to room and dip through all the treats and treasures – some vintage, some not. They also have a great classroom, and while they do not have a rosary or prayer bead making class, they did have a rather fabulous display of rosaries in their window.

I also noticed that they had a really good collection of crosses and other pendants that would work well for prayer beads and rosaries. Some of the crosses I had never seen before – and I have seen a lot of crosses!

If you go to Austin, definitely check out this fine, funky store. Make a set of prayer beads or a rosary from vintage glass. We were helped by a lovely, young knowledgeable girl named Zoe, and Pake, the manager, or Sarah (the owner?) can also help you out. I plan to visit my friends in Austin again before the end of the year – I hope – and I am going back for sure. I just might have to have that vintage rosary.

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Today – April 16, 2009 – The News Hour with Jim Lehrer did a long feature story on Bead For Life. Some of you may remember that I held a Bead For Life party in my home last year and between sales there and among my friends and husband’s co-workers, we raised over $1,000 for this organization that benefits Ugandan women. The founder prefers “empowerment” to “charity” and after watching the segment, I can see why. They have helped so many people rise out of poverty, and many of them have now purchased houses built by Bead For Life, paying for them with beads! You can watch the segment on the NewsHour’s website, above.

The feature was excellent and I highly recommend you watch it. Then consider holding your own Bead For Life party, or just order a bag of paper beads from them from which to make a set of prayer beads. You can read entry I wrote about an Anglican rosary I made with my Bead For Life beads here, with pictures.

I want to ask everyone’s patience over the next two weeks, as my husband and I are frantically getting ready for a month-long trip to Italy (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). My time for blogging between now and when we go may be limited, as I also have to finish up a bunch of work before we can go. Oh, and clean my house. Drat. My husband has some work in Italy and a conference and I am tagging along. Once there, I will blog from all of the places we visit – Turin (as in “The Shroud of”), Trent (as in the “The Council of”), Venice (as in “The Merchant of”), the Cinque Terra (I got nothin’ here), Florence (as in “A Room with a View” of), Siena (as in the Crayola crayon “Burnt Siena”) and, lastly, Rome (as in . . . . “There’s no place like . . . “). I will take prayer beads, use prayer beads, seek out prayer beads and otherwise just have a darned good time. I like religion, so you can bet I’ll be blogging about some great places of faith.

So if I don’t write before I get to Italy, please understand. But just you wait til I get there!!!!

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All this  reading about Ireland and the many faiths there has given me a major case of wanderlust. Alas, I will not be going anywhere til May when my husband and I are off for a month in Italy (yes, you may hate me) where he has a conference and some other work. So I decided to do something I should have done months ago, but for some reason (hmm, work, house cleaning, needy dog, life in general) just never got around to – sharing with you all the fantastic prayer beads my eldest son Shawn and his girlfriend Cecilia brought back to me from their 5-month trip through Europe, the Middle East and China.

I think one reason it has taken me so long to show these beads here is it just seemed a huge task – they sent back and brought back so many from so many countries! But this morning, I thought, why not just do it in parts? So today, I want tp share with you some prayer beads Shawn brought back from the first six weeks of his trip, which he made with another classmate, through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Egypt. So here goes . . . .

Turkey – Here is a set of Muslim prayer beads, alternately called a subhah or a tasbih, depending on the culture,

Turkish prayer beads

Turkish prayer beads

that came from Istanbul, Turkey. Does anyone know what they are called in Turkey? I am thinking “tasbih.” Along side it, you see an evil-eye bead that he also brought me. I love this collection, because it tells you a lot about the faith and practice of this country – Turkey is still a secular country, but it has a growing religious fundamentalist political party. The people there – mostly Muslims – can be very devout (thus, the subhah), but they are also superstitious (thus the evil eye bead). If you have my book, you can find a description of the history and use of both of these kinds of beads on pages 8-10. I was lucky enough to travel in Istanbul and western Turkey 15 years ago and I remember seeing these blue eyeballs everywhere. Kinda creeped me out. Not this one, tho.

Syria – Shawn went to Syria next, where he had a wonderful time in bazaars and out in the desert, too. I guess he did not find any proper prayer beads, as he brought me these two necklaces. Neat, huh? Look at the arrowhead-like thing on the brown one. I suppose I could use that for a terminal charm.

Syrian beaded necklaces

Syrian beaded necklaces

Jordan – Next came Jordan and three sets of tasbih, each with different and interesting tassels. One

Jordanian prayer beads

Jordanian prayer beads

has coins, one has little metal balls, kind of like bells, and one has little metal drops. I do not know if there is any significance to these kinds of tassels. Anyone know? Also, notice that the prayer beads on the far right – the white ones – have some kind of writing on them. I am sure it is Arabic – anyone know for sure? Can anyone tell us what it says? If you have an Arabic friend, please forward this blog entry to him or her and clue us in. I am dying to know.

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Arabic writing?

Prayer beads from Israel Israel – And here we have the first set of Catholic rosaries of the trip. Both are made from olive wood, very common to Israel, and both have a little window behind the medal that contains something it tells me is “terra Jerusalem” – the soil of Jerusalem. It’s kind of reddish in color. Pretty neat. He also sent two sets of subhah, these both with silk (or silk-like) tassels. Both are made from some kind of hard plastic or resin.

Here’s a picture of the “terra Jerusalem”:"Terra Jerusalem"

“Terra Jerusalem”

Egypt – OOPS. I forgot to photograph Egypt. We’ll have to save that for the next entry.

So, aren’t these very cool? Do any of you readers have rosaries or other forms of prayer beads from this part of the world that you could share a picture of or a story about?

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A couple of days ago, I heard from a new reader of the blog, a woman named Fran who lives in North Carolina and is a member of the Baha’i faith. She came across one of my previous entries on Baha’i prayer beads and sent me a lovely comment, which I posted. In it, she mentioned that though she does not use prayer beads, she does have some favorite Baha’i prayers that she relies on. I wrote to her and asked if she would share some of them that might be suitable for prayer beads of all types. I got a terrific reply:

“I will be happy to share any prayers with you. In my opinion, anyone can pray any of the hundreds of revealed Baha’i prayers whether they call themselves Baha’is or not. ‘Abdu’l Baha (the eldest son of Baha’u’llah, [whose] name means ‘Servant of the Glory’) once said (paraphrasing) that many people may call themselves Baha’is but do not “behave” accordingly while others may not consider themselves Baha’is but in fact, are because of their behavior.

Prayer beads are certainly not a requirement. I have some but seldom use them. It is usually when one desires to say a certain prayer many, many times, like say 95 or 100 in some cases, that they use the prayer beads. If I understand correctly, prayer beads that Baha’is use are not used like a rosary might be used. I was never Catholic so I may not have my facts straight about how people use rosaries.

One of my favorite prayers is for tests and difficulties. It is a prayer revealed by the Bab (which in Persian means “The Gate”). It is short yet very sweet.

“Is there any Remover of difficulties save God, say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants and all abide by His bidding.” –The Bab

The more times a prayer is said, the more powerful it is, we are told.

Another prayer I say often is the short healing prayer:

“Thy name is my healing, O my God, and remembrance of Thee is my remedy. Nearness to Thee is my hope, and love for Thee is my companion. Thy mercy to me is my healing and my succor in both this world and the world to come. Thou, verily, art the All-Bountiful, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.” Baha’u’llah

There are two prayers revealed for children but many adults use these, too, because they are easy to memorize and can benefit one regardless of age.

“He is God! O God, my God! Bestow upon me a pure heart, like unto a pearl.”
–‘Abdu’l-Baha

O God, guide me, protect me, make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful.”
–‘Abdu’l-Baha

I hope this is helpful. ”

I thought it was very helpful! Fran also recommended a couple of Baha’i prayer books. I especially loved what she says about it is one’s behavior that makes one a Baha’i or not – and not whether one adopts the label. I think this could – and should – be said of people of any and all faiths: that we shall know them by their deeds, and not by what they call themselves.

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Happy New Year all! I am sorry for the long time, no blog. I have been down with flu this whole week and am now behind in work, housework and everything else. Ugh.

A couple of days ago, I received a very nice comment from a man named Larry Gray in response to my much earlier post on Baha’i Prayer Beads. Here is a bit of what Larry had to say (to see the full comment, go to the original post and scroll down):

“I make prayer beads that are sold in Baha’i bookstores and I send them in “Vahids” [groups of 19, as Baha’i prayer beads have 19 beads] rather than dozens, just to help establish the tradition.

Baha'i Prayer Beads

Baha'i Prayer Beads

As to all [Baha’is] not using prayer beads – it is often that we haven’t established the habit of praying regularly. Baha’i is a gentle religion and we are not threatened with hellfire for not following our traditions. I am getting better as I grow older – hopefully a bit wiser. My knuckle counting friends tell me it is less distracting than beads. I see their point. I have beads made of seeds and seashells and semiprecious sonte and I love to look at and handle them.

I also do a display of prayer beads and prayer aids (tallit shawls, Native American prayer feathers, etc) from all the major religions. It is a visual feast at programs where I present them. It fascinates me how much in common they have.”

I like the fact that Larry seems to see the world’s religions much the way I do – that we all have much more in common than we have that separates us and that the very common use of prayer beads is an example of this. So I asked Larry, who says he was a Catholic before becoming a Baha’i, what he found was both the same and different about the Catholic rosary and Baha’i prayer beads. Here is a portion of his response:

Prayer beads are a fascinating tool in that they are so similar in the various religions, just as the religions themselves are more similar than different. All religions promote prayer, marriage, spirituality, peace, etc. What differs is the culture in which it lives, so marriage ceremonies, for example, are different around the world, but marriage is the same. Repetitive prayer helps us relax and communicate with the inner, spiritual self. The idea behind prayer beads is minimize the need to count prayers, a left brained function, and move into the more spiritual right brain where one is more likely to be moved and inspired.

Catholic (the major Christian sect until the middle ages) has had many styles of prayer beads called c[h]aplets, but by far the most popular has become the rosary. Lore has it that St. Dominic was given the rosary by the Blessed Virgin in a vision. Rosary comes from the Latin for rose and suggests that one is in a spiritual rose garden when praying the rosary. Other apparitions of Mary, such as at Fatima, also reinforce the importance of the rosary.

Baha’is, whose original culture comes out of the Moslem [Muslim] traditions also started out with 99 beads, but were soon given a set of 95 beads divided into five sets of nineteen beads each. Nineteen is the number of original believers named “Letters of the Living,” similar to Christian apostles. Nineteen of something, including these prayers is called a Vahid, named for the last member of the Letters of the Living. Baha’is recite the chant “Allah’u-Abha (God is Most Glorious) on each bead usually first thing in the morning. Interestingly, some Baha’is don’t need prayer beads. They find them distracting. Instead, they count on their knuckles and the tips of the fingers, adding up to nineteen.

You asked about the differences between Baha’i prayers and the Catholic rosary. The rosary has different prayers, ten of this, one of that, etc. One must think about where one is in the scheme of the beads, but is does give a pleasant musical rhythm to the process. Baha’i prayers are the same chant on all the beads, this being a more calming and less thoughtful and rhythmic experience. Needless to say, neither is better than the other, just different.

I must tell you, I have made and sold prayer beads for years, mostly Baha’i, some rosaries and others. Over the years, I have added a small strand of five beads onto the end of the ninety-five. The reason is that sometimes we chant some prayers in multiples of 100 and can use the extra beads to keep even. It has become popular with some other Baha’i bead makers as well, but darned if it doesn’t look a bit more like a rosary! I also sometimes say a slightly different prayer on each of the nineteenth beads. “You can take the boy out of the Catholic Church but you can’t take the church out of the boy.”

Thanks so much for this, Larry.If any of you live in Maine, you might go and see Larry present a talk on prayer beads this Sunday (MY BIRTHDAY!!!) for the Bahai’s of Eliot, Maine. BRRRRRR!!!!

Anyone else out there have something to say about two different prayer bead traditions that they have personal experience with? How are they the same and different? How has your experience with one informed your experience of the other?


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winter-solstice-stonehengeToday is the winter solstice – the shortest day (and longest night) of the year. I have been thinking a lot about light and dark in the last couple of months. I think the doom and gloom of the general news – the continuing wars, the sinking economy, the bombings in Mumbai, the layoffs of many friends, etc. – has made me focus too much on the bleak side of life and I want to make a choice towards the light. And I don’t have to look far for inspiration at this time of year when so many religions focus on the light. Jews commemorate Hannukah, the Festival of Lights, at this time, lighting one candle on the menorah every night for eight nights. Pagans, too, have long celebrated the birth of sun at the midwinter solstice, in a festival they call Yule. And Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, their light of the world, at this time, too.yule-log

So on this darkest day of the year, I want to share with you some prayers from several faith traditions that focus on rebirth, light, life and the renewal we all seek and hope for at this time of year. I hope there is something here for every form of prayer bead – the traditional Catholic rosary, the new Anglican rosary, the various pagan prayer beads and the malas of the Eastern traditions.

[Try this one on the Anglican rosary – say the first line on the Cruciform beads and the rest on the Weeks beads]

God of all creation,

of bare forest and low northern skies,

of paths unknown and never to be taken,

of bramble, sparrow and damp, dark earth.

We thank you for loss, for the breaking of the dimming year,

We thank you for light, even in its seeming midwinter failing,

We thank you for life, for its hope and resistance,

Like a seed dying and living.

Rachel Mann


A Midwinter Prayer [This would be great for a Catholic rosary – say the first two lines on the Our Father beads and the rest on the decades beads]

From the rising of the midwinter sun to its setting,

Scatter the darkness with the light of your love, O Shining One.

Make me short on mean thoughts, long on offers words of comfort.

Make me short on being driven, long on paying attention.

Make me short on focusing only on my own, long on looking beyond.

Make me short on obsessive lists, long on spontaneous acts of kindness,

Make me short on mindless activity, long on time to reflect.

Make me short on tradition as a habit, long on rediscovery and re-owning.

Make me short on rushing a tiring, long on walking and wondering.

Make me short on false, festive jollity, long on stilling and rooted joy.

Make me short on guilt, long on being merciful to myself.

Make me short on being overwhelmed, long on peaceableness as I set forth this day.

-from The Celtic Wheel of the Year by Tess Ward

Winter Solstice Prayer [This one works on the decade of a Catholic rosary, or perhaps on a set of pagan prayer beads, or a mala]
Dear God, help me embrace the darkness of this day, knowing that from the very deepest dark comes the brightest Light.
Help me to feel my own darkness, where fear resides inside, within my wounded child who is scared of being on Earth.
With your love, I may use the darkness of nature on this day to hold my wounded child close to my breast, letting her tell me all of her fears.
She will tell me how I scare her; I will ask her to tell me how I abandon her.
I will use this darkness to let her cry; and with her final tear she will begin to sense the Light.
I will use this day to go to the depths of my own dark places because I know you are with me always, and that only by going into the darkness may we see the truth of our Light.
Thank you, God, for giving me life so that I may explore the darkness and the Light.
Thank you for the cycle of creation.
Thank you for my breath, my heart, my body and my mind.
Thank you for the Light of my soul, where, though I sometimes forget, I long to always be.
Winter Solstice Prayer to the Inner Child, by Nancy Swisher
And because Hannukah begins on Sunday, I want to include this prayer said over the lighting of the menorah:
Blessed are You,
Our God, Creator of time and space,
Who enriches our lives with holiness,
Commanding us to kindle the Hannukah lights.
Blessed are You,
Our God, Creator of time and space,
Who performed miracles for our ancestors,
In the days of lng ago. And in this time.
Happy prayers and love to all!
who enriches our lives with holiness,
commanding us to kinkle the Chanukah lights.

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Several months ago, I posted a link here to a great radio story I heard on National Public Radio about Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, a 36-year-old Hare Krishna monk and Hindu chaplain at Columbia University. I loved the story, which was kind of a day-in-the-life feature, and was thrilled when a photo accompanying the story showed Pandit praying with prayer beads.

I sent a link to that post to Pandit in New York, and he sent me a lovely reply and agreed to a phone interview about his prayer beads and how he uses them. We talked last month.

Pandit was born in India and raised in the U.S. in a Hindu family where prayer beads were a part of everyday life. His parents had a temple room – a room dedicated to family prayer and worship – where there were several sets of japa malas – Hindu prayer beads – made from the wood of the neem tree. “It was a very commonplace thing for us,” he said. “There were always a few of them in the temple room and you just pick one up and use it to chant the mantra that you were chanting.”

In the 1990s, Pandit became affiliated with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and became a priest there in 2004. During his time of study and initiation, he was given a mala by his spiritual teacher. Before presenting him with the gift, his teacher first prayed on the beads, chanting with a special intention for Pandit’s own spiritual journey on each of the 108 beads. “This sanctifies them and establishes my relationship with my spiritual teacher,” Pandit said. “I really feel that my spiritual life is protected and guided by him, and when I hold those beads I feel that they are very sacred and special because they were given to me by him on the day I officially made a commitment to a certain kind of spiritual practice.”

Pandit’s mala is made of wood from the tulsi, or tulasi, tree, a tree sacred to Lord Krishna, who Hare Krishna devotees revere as God. To pray, he sits cross-legged on the floor and holds the first bead between the thumb and middle finger of his right hand and recites the Hare Krishna mantra, sometimes called the “maha mantra,” or great mantra, on each bead:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

Hare Rama Hare Rama

Rama Rama Hare Hare

The prayer is taken from one of the Upanishads, a sacred Hindu text, in which the god Brahma describes these 16 names of Krishna as able to destroy evil. You can hear a recording of the Hare Krishna mantra here.

The Hare Krishna mantra is supposed to be prayed out loud, not silently. “Our understanding is that the name of Krishna will enter the ear and purify the heart,” Pandit said. “So that is our meditation, the sound vibration.” Pandit said he chants the mantra softly to himself. “Others may just hear a murmuring, but I am doing it so that I can hear it.”

Pandit prays with his beads for two hours a day everyday, beginning at 5 a.m. He carries his beads everywhere in a small cloth bag that he keeps with him. He prays with the beads everywhere he goes in New York City – on the streets, in the subways and on the buses. “What happens is the hand goes in the bag and they are being fingered in the bag. A separate strand of 16 counter beads hang off the bag and you move a bead after each round.” 108 x 16 = HOW MANY prayers a day.

Pandit said there is an underlying prayer to the chanting of the mantra which he described as “Krishna, please engage me in your service.” “That is the mood in the heart,” Pandit said. “And we are to chant with the intensity of a child crying for its mother.”

Pandit has his own website, http://www.nycpandit.com. I want to thank him for all his time and for sharing these great pictures.

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