Bede Beads

Prayer beads were devised to help people to keep track of repetitive devotions. They enabled one to pray while doing routine jobs and between activities. In the very earliest times, prayers were marked by dropping little pebbles one by one on the ground.

About 500 years before Christ, people tied knots in strings. Primitive forms of prayer beads were made of fruit pits, dried berries, pieces of bone, and hardened clay. Stringing cranberries for decorating Yule trees may be a prayer bead holdover. The wealthy, of course, used precious stones and jewels. Ostentation never goes out of style.

The most ancient Indo-European religion still practiced, Hinduism, uses prayer beads. Hindu prayer beads are considered by many to be the oldest prayer beads in the world. The japamala (muttering chaplet) is first mentioned in the Atharvaveda of about 800 BC. Hindu prayer beads have 109 beads: 108 for the names of the gods and a "mother" or "guru" bead that marks the starting place. These beads are made from Rudraksha, the dried fruit of Elaeocarpus Ganitrus.

Curiously enough, the Catholic rosary was developed in Germany - not the Middle East. I wonder how many Catholics know that the Bible itself, in Matthew 6:7, explicitly condemns counting prayers as a pagan practice. It seems pretty clear (to me, anyway) that repeating prayers has a solid Heathen foundation.

With these traditions in mind, I set out to develop a system for Heathens to use the runes in meditation and prayer: but I couldn't bring myself to call it a "rune rosary", and "Heathen prayer beads" sounds too generic. Hence the name: Bede Beads. The word "bed" means "prayer" in Anglo-Saxon, and became "bede" in Middle English. It's the origin of the modern word "bead" - which is another huge hint that this is an ancient practice.

Beads are very useful for aiding in meditation, in prayer and even in memorization. While my creations are runic in nature and designed around the Elder Futhark, one could obviously use beads in other ways to offer Heathen prayer. Sets of 33 or 29 beads for the Anglo-Frisian Futhorc, or following the Hindu tradition a strand of beads that represents the major Aesir and Vanir. One could do the Nine Worlds and Nine Noble Virtues, even the catalogue of dwarves from the Poetic Edda.

Their use is limited only by your imagination: I've even noted that the smaller runic "chaplet" (pictured above) makes a nice Yule tree ornament!

Using Bede Beads

First off, a note on the materials I use. The beads themselves are wooden: appropriately enough, the wood used is ash. They are imported from Germany are 8mm in diameter. The mother bead is Baltic amber, and the divider beads are Dominican amber (only because I couldn't find a reliable source of lighter Baltic amber beads). The thread is waxed linen.

Bede beads can be made in several sizes. The smallest (and most useful, to my mind) is the 27 bead "chaplet". This has 3 sets of 8 wooden beads in two colors, two dividing amber beads and a mother bead between the sets. I have also made larger necklaces, consisting of sets of 24 wooden beads in two colors with amber separators between each set and a mother bead. The 72 bead set makes a rather small woman's necklace: to get around a male head takes at least 96 beads and more probably 120. One can also replace the mother bead with a Thor's Hammer or other medallion if desired.

Regardless of size, using the beads is the same. First you must choose (and memorize) a prayer or phrase for the mother bead. I use the opening prayer from the Lay of Sigdrifa:

Hail the Day, Hail the Sons of Day!
Hail Night and the Daughters of Night!
Turn your gentle gaze to us; grant us
your blessings in our battles.

Hail the Gods, Hail the Goddesses!
Hail the All-Giving earth!
Wisdom and lore as long as we live,
grant us, and healing hands.

Use whatever language you're comfortable with for this: I repeat it in modern English translation as above, but if you know the Old Norse, go for it! When saying the individual rune names, however, I find it most effective to use Old Norse. Grasp the strand in either hand and place the thumb and index finger on the larger "mother bead". Repeat the initial prayer. I'll often say the name of the next aett on the separator beads as I reach each one, so initially I add "The Aett of Freyr", then for the next separator "The Aett of Odin" and finally "The Aett of Tyr".

You can then finger the beads in turn, working sunwise or widdershins. I usually work sunwise, and so it's easier to use my right hand to hold the strand. While fingering the beads, repeat the rune name and visualize the rune itself, meditating on it's meaning.

Alternately, you can repeat a verse from one of the rune poems while working the bead. On a chaplet, you'll know when you reach the end of the aett, as you'll finger the larger, separator bead. If you're using a longer strand, the separators are placed between each iteration of the futhark itself. Name the aett or repeat whatever prayer you've chosen for the separator beads if desired and move on.

That's all there is to it. Depending on your speed, your meditative state and the prayers you choose, the whole process can take as little as 30 seconds or as long as several minutes.

It's amazing the resonance that just repeating the futhark in this manner can create: very relaxing, and very conductive to reflection.

I originally made these beads as Yuletide gifts for my kinsmen and friends, but if anybody out there wants one, drop me line and I'll see if I can get one to you: I could build and ship a small chaplet for about $10, or I'd be happy to pass on the names of my suppliers if you can't find the materials locally, and you can build you own!

00:00 /Asatru | 4 comments | permanent link