I am the owner of two rosaries – okay, I borrowed one. The older is actually my father’s, who got it from his grandmother. It’s a beautiful pewter (I think) piece with a Miraculous Medal and the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary on the reverse – a wonderful, classic rosary that inspires a feeling of awe when you hold it. The individual beads are somewhat blackened, as if tarnished by the hands that gripped them in devout, prayerful meditation every day. It could easily be over a hundred years old, possibly even carried over from Ireland by my immigrant great-grandparents, and I am honored to have it.
The second one is definitely from Ireland – I know because we bought it there! I was in Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin, a beautiful church with an old stone bridge connecting it to a neat little exhibit with lots of interesting stuff pertaining to Irish and Viking medieval history. I knew that I didn’t want to leave Ireland without buying a rosary to compliment the one I already had, although I didn’t particularly know what to buy or where. While we were in the little gift area at the front of the cathedral, my grandmother approached me with a box in hand – it contained a beautiful mother-of-pearl rosary with an ornate, fleur-de-lis-tipped crucifix.
She said she was buying it for me. My grandmother is not very religious, although I imagine she would classify herself as Catholic, but she does have a deep sense of the spiritual that I don’t argue with. Psychic ability in older people tends to wear the trappings of Christianity, especially if they grew up religious, and when she said she was buying me that rosary, I knew that was the rosary I was meant to have. She had that look. Not all of you will understand what I mean by that, but those of you with deeply intuitive family members know exactly what ‘that look’ is. In any case, when I stepped back out onto the grassy courtyard of the cathedral covered with surprisingly tame and pretty pigeons, it was with a mother-of-pearl rosary in hand.
Those of you who know me relatively well know that although I am a practicing Pagan, I have a very deep and profound respect for the Catholic faith. I don’t agree with everything they teach, but I see the Virgin Mary as a figure of great strength and grace, and get the same heavy, solemn feeling from the ringing of the bell during the rite of transubstantiation as I do from an act of magic or a Sabbat ritual.
Some people will fault me for that, or think it’s a strange feeling for a Pagan to have, particularly one that was not raised Catholic, but I have my reasons, as do we all.
I’m writing about beads because I was Googling (Googling – it’s a word now) pentagram necklaces. Not because I need another one – I love the one I have! But the leather cord was getting worn, and it seems easier to buy another necklace entirely than to find a cheap length of leather cord that’s the right thickness and softness. While I was searching, I found this:
They’re being marketed as a Pagan Prayer and Meditation Rosary. The first thing I thought was that the word ‘rosary’ seemed a bit out of place in that context, and the second was ‘How do you pray a Pagan rosary?’
I know how to pray the Catholic one – mostly. It’s mostly a repetition of prayers, starting with the Sign of the Cross and Apostle’s Creed, an Our Father, then a marathon of multiple Hail Marys with an intermittent Glory Be. There are other prayers at certain times, but the purpose of praying the rosary isn’t to mindlessly repeat words. For each section of beads, the faithful are meant to meditate on a certain Mystery of the Catholic faith. Just like Pagan Mysteries, a Catholic Mystery is any concept that one cannot understand by having it explained to them – it must be meditated on, or experienced – it takes a profound and deeply spiritual event to truly understand a Mystery. The word in itself is a Mystery – I can’t explain it very well in words, either! Ask a priest.
The point is, the Rosary uses words to put the faithful into a state of mind that best facilitates meditation – in the case of the Catholic, this meditation is on a Mystery related to the life of Jesus Christ.
So as pretty as it is… what the hell am I supposed to do with Pagan prayer beads?
We don’t have set prayers, unless you count things like Inkubus Sukkubus’ Goddess Chant, or the famous command given by Aradia to the Italian Witches in Leland’s “Aradia, Gospel of the Witches.” We have Mysteries, but they are many and personal to each of us. We don’t have a Pope to tell us what to say – we only have ourselves.
Pagans are a self-reliant bunch in general. Without a leadership or a holy book, we tend to borrow traditions from our Pagan ancestors (or other people’s ancestors!) and create our own. We tend to be guided by the Gods and Goddesses of ancient times, the concept of duality, the turning of the seasons and the cycle of life in general. What we do tends toward an environmental theme, and although Wicca, my particular branch of Paganism, is quite new, the concept that we believe in is one of the world’s most ancient. With that in mind, can Pagans use prayer beads effectively? Sure we can – with a little creativity!
We can compile our own prayers for our beads – I have seen prayer beads organized around the Elements, with four elemental-colored sections, and beads for the Triple Goddess, where each bead is a prayer to the Maiden, Mother, or Crone. If you’re creative and can write your own prayers/borrow someone else’s, you can create a prayer necklace for just about anything. Ultimately, it will come down to the same thing – using the cadence of words and the texture of the beads to focus our minds on an idea. Praying with beads can inspire us, calm us, or guide us when we need answers. Sometimes we just need to clear our heads – quiet, structured meditative prayer can do just that.
I’d love to hear what others think about praying with beads outside of Christianity. How do Buddhists and Hindus do it? How can Pagans integrate that practice into their own religion? Can beads be used in a secular way? If you’re artistic, I dare you to make your own set! If you have prayers, affirmations, or mantras you’d like to repeat, why not try doing so on a necklace? Call it peer-pressure, but everyone else does it, so why can’t we?