Pagan Prayer Beads

Donald L. Engstrom-Reese

© 2012

    Some of the earliest artifacts found that may be interpreted as holding sacred function are beads. These objects include such styles as sculptural medallions, disks, lozenges and small rounds made of stone, bone, shell or clay. These ancients still have living descendants. Some of us may know of current uses of sacred beads through our connections to Hinduism and Buddhist (the Japa mala) Islam (the misbaḥah), and Christianity (the Rosary). Yet, many of us have no living relationship with the powers and pleasures of prayer beads. Nevertheless, this way of prayer continues to quietly call out to us.

    I first ran across the use of prayer beads in the contemporary American Pagan community quite by chance. One afternoon in the early 1990’s, at a small Pagan gathering (The Earth Conclave), while sitting with my friend Helen on the west porch of the main lodge, I noticed her strikingly beautiful necklace. It looked as if she was just quietly sitting while looking at the beads as she moved them one at a time through her fingers.

    ‘What a beautiful necklace!’ I said.

    ‘This isn’t a necklace, Donald. These are my prayer beads.’ Helen responded.

    Helen had made herself a set of prayer beads dedicated to the beloveds in her life. Each bead represented someone, living or dead. When she came to that person’s bead Helen simply prayed for them in what ever words came that day for that individual. I was intrigued and inspired.

    This was an idea that held great potential. It seemed like a spiritual technique that could fully embrace the sensual beauty, pleasure and power of a truly integrated life, weaving together spirit, energy and matter.  Thus, I began an intense period focused on all aspects of what I named, ‘Pagan Prayer Beads’.

    My first set of beads was dedicated to my daily practice, built  around the idea of creating a basic Witchy circle; casting, calling, engaging with body of the working, and devoking. I do admit that this first time I went a bit over board. This first set was over 24 foot long and took at least an hour and a half to recite. And frankly, wearing it around my neck was a workout in and of itself. Needless to say, something a little bit more practical was called for. It was with a two foot version for my daily prayer beads that I began to understand the basic construction of a functional PPB (Pagan Prayer Bead) set.

    Here are some of the basics as I now understand them.

Basic Prayer Bead Construction

The Beads

    1. How do I chose beads? Sometimes beads come to me when I have no specific prayer in mind. They may be simply beautiful and/or hold some kind of power that calls to me. At other times, beads make themselves known to me as I am looking for individual beads or sets of beads to hold specific prayer-poems. I have found beads in many different places; in bead shops, at bead shows, in junk stores, while walking along a river beach, at yard sales, and while digging up my garden soil.  Feres and friends who know that I am working on a certain project have given me beads to support that intension. Some folks simply give me beads because they know that I love beads. There have also been special times when I commission beads for a particular PPB project. But in all cases, it feels that the beads and I choose each other.

    2. Any durable bead at least the size of the tip of one’s middle finger is appropriate for a PPB set. It is good to have beads that are comfortable in one’s fingers. It is a good thing for you to consider each of the beads beautiful, significant, and/or wonder filled. Materials that I have used include; glass, stone, wood, plastic, bone and metal.

    3. I use spacer beads, usually rounds 6 - 8 mm, to make room for my fingers to comfortably hold, recite, and then move on through the PPB set one bead at a time.

    4. I also use a number of the same kind of bead to function as the repeater bead, such as all white rounds, all green fish, or black acorns, etc. These beads hold the repeating verse that weaves the prayer-poem into a whole. The repeater beads also functionally take us deeper into the Mysteries through rhythmic repetition.

The Prayer/Spell Poem

    A few points to remember when writing your prayer/spell poem:

    1. What is the intention for your prayer beads? State your declaration of intention as clearly as you can. It is a very good thing to find a significant bead to hold the overall intent of the set.

    2. Write in your own authentic voice. It is always a good thing when doing this work, to remember that a Witch’s words are words of power.

    3. Take the time to find/create a style/framework that truly moves and inspires you.

    4. What is the overall rhythm of your piece? How does the rhythm take you  into the Mysteries? Do you wish it to smoothly take you in and back out of your prayers? Do you wish a jubilant, ecstatic rhythm? Do you wish calming, centering rhythm? What rhythm best supports your intention?

    5. What is your repeater line? How does this line feed and empower the whole of the PPB?

    6. It is generally a good thing to have one bead per concept and/or prayer line. In other words, try not to layer so many things onto a bead that the focus is lost. It is good to keep each bead centered on one notion, thereby deeply grounding and focusing your intention in order to fully enlivening and activate its power.

    7. As you gather your beads for a specific PPB project, it is quite helpful to write each line of your prayer/poem on its own envelope. Then, when a bead comes to you for a particular line, you can place it in its own envelope until it is time to string the whole piece together.

    8. Prayer Beads can be designed to be worn as a necklace, opened-ended, or any other format that works best for your purposes/intentions.

    9. It is always a good thing to be creative.

    10. Only you can create your own personal set of Pagan Prayer Beads.

Prayer Bead Layout

1. Intent of the work.

One or more beads that clearly names the intention of the prayer bead set.

2. Introduction of Repeater bead.

The first use of the line that repeats, weaving throughout the prayer/spell poem.

3. Creating the container.

Beads to invite for example, the elemental allies, time, ancestors, Mysterious Ones, etc. I often use a repeater bead between each ally named.

4. The CoreConcept/s.

I often break this part of the work up into rhythmic stanzas of 3 to 8 lines, each stanza separated by a repeater bead.

5. Closing of the prayer.

Often it may be a good idea to find a clear way of ending the prayer, but not always.

6. Last Bead.

I almost always use the first bead and its line as the last bead and line of the prayer. For me, it ties it all neatly together.

Community Pagan Prayer Beads

Many tools for co-creating the cultures of beauty, balance and delight are  actually rather simple and quite doable. A set of prayer beads designed and constructed by a community can be a simple powerful tool in the building and nurturance of the solid foundational and sustainable relationships that any tribal group depends upon.

A community prayer bead set is not made that much differently than individual sets are. The same basic construction and layout can be used. The primary difference, is that it is written by and for the community that will be using it.

A prayer bead committee is often empowered to do much of the basic work:

1. Help to facilitate the creation of the intention of the prayer beads.


2. Help to facilitate the writing of the prayer for the first bead that sets the intent, holds the opening magic, begins the focus of the pray, etc., of the set as fia whole.

3. Help to facilitate the writing of the repeater bead prayer.

4. Gathers the beads and prayers from the larger community.

5. Decides if the prayer bead set needs to be able taken apart and stored in different segments. When a bead set is very long there is a great probability that the beads could be more easily broken and/or hopelessly tangled. When a prayer bead set has more than one segment, I add connectors at each end, like a necklace. This makes them easy to connect and disconnect.

6. Strings the prayer bead set.

7. Helps to develop and implement a custom of caring for the prayer bead set.

   All community members are invited to send beads with their pertinent prayer verse to the committee. It is good to remember that one bead per concept and/or line most often works best. It is also good to remember to use durable beads at least a half inch wide. It is especially helpful when working on community PPBs to have folks write their prayer verse on a envelope along with their name, address, phone number and/or e-mail address. The prayer bead committee may have questions they need to ask as they arrange the poem and string the beads. Seal the bead in the envelope in order that the prayer line and bead not be separated until strung.

    It is also good to remember that more than one person may send a bead honoring something. For instance, perhaps three different folks may send beads honoring the south. That is just fine. It is an expression of the community’s needs, desires, and understandings around that particular thing. It is good to have all three beads and prayer verses honoring the south are included in the prayer.

    Above all, may your community find the shaping and engagement with your PPBs a time of to fully embrace beauty, balance, and delight while joyfully daring to live their lives full awake, aware, and alive!