Prayer beads in various forms have been a part of nearly all religions, across many cultures, and throughout history. The Ancient Norse were no exception, and excavations have unearthed numerous examples of beaded strands, with a wide range of materials – glass, shell, rocks and gemstones, pearls, and precious metals. Bead sizes and materials can vary on each strand, and sometimes amulets and charms were added, whether magical, protective, religious, or simply decorative.
The use and meaning of these common grave goods have been lost, but with so many examples of prayer beads in other cultures, parallels can be drawn, and we can re-create their use in ways that are meaningful to modern Heathens. Hell, prayer is such a personal thing, with wide-ranging practices even amongst individuals of the same religion, that it’s not difficult to imagine that each ancient bead strand was symbolic in a unique way to its owner. There may be no unifying use or universal purpose to ancient beads, unlike prayer beads today, which have sometimes evolved common uses over thousands of years.
The Number 9
In re-creating prayer beads for myself, I adapted a Buddhist mala that I have used for many years. Instead of the 109 beads of the original mala, I reduced the number of beads to 81, a symbolic number to the Norse, being nine groups of nine beads.
The number nine has special meaning in Ancient Norse mythology. There are nine worlds connected by the world tree. Many Ancient Norse gathered at the temple at Uppsala every nine years, where they feasted for nine days and sacrificed nine of each animal (including nine men.) Freyr waits nine nights to meet his future bride, Gerð. The magical ring, Draupnir, drops replicas of itself every ninth night. Heimdallr has nine mothers. Njörð and Skaði spend nine nights in each other’s homes in order to settle their disagreement about where to live. This list continues on and on!
I’m not crazy fussy, so 81 beads of a single stone was fine for me. This is petrified wood.
Prayers beads can of course be used for any prayer practice, but I wanted this one to be specifically dedicated to Freyr, so I chose a harvest-gold coloured floss. I hand-knotted between each bead to make the strand. Yes, my fingers hurt. A LOT.
The beads are really awesome, though. Petrified wood has a huge variation in colour and pattern, and the stone has a very grounding, earthy feel. In New Age crystal weirdo circles (shush, New Agers – I’m still sort of one of you) petrified wood is thought to be for all sorts of ancestor-centred energies, and helps release worries. It’s especially good at helping you to get done what you can, and to hell with the rest! It’s also great because it’s actual prehistoric fossilized wood … which just blows my mind. Fossils are effing amazing.
My second strand is dedicated to Ullr, and consists of 81 hand-knotted labradorite beads.
Aside from reminding me solidly of the Northern Lights, labradorite in New Agey circles is attributed with the energies of strength, perseverance, clarity, patience, and perfect timing. It’s also a stone that is considered a sacred “Star People” stone, and I can’t think of anything more appropriate for Ullr, the god of all things Northern, and sports of focus and precision.
When it came time to create prayer bead strands for other people, I decided to make them a bit easier to count by adding contrasting beads for every ninth bead. If you’re a visual person, this helps you to keep track of where you are in a prayer sequence, or helps you keep count of repetitive prayers or affirmations. Buddhist, Hindu, and Catholic prayer beads all employ versions of this little trick, also using beads of different sizes or extra knots for those who like to feel their way around.
The beads are symbolic to each deity in various ways, including colour, energy, and sometimes the stone’s location of origin. From the top-down, the strands in the above image are intended for:
– Týr – red jasper with tiger eye
– Thor – tiger eye with red jasper
– Freya – carnelian with pyrite
– Freyr (as Lord of fertility) – orange calcite with pyrite
– Baldr – citrine with angelite
– Idunn – jade with rhodonite
– Freyr (as Lord of abundance) – green aventurine with pyrite
– Njörð – aquamarine with pyrite
– Frigga – amazonite with apatite
– Bragi – blue chalcedony with sodalite
– Óðinn – sodalite with garnet
– Heimdallr – amethyst with prehnite
– Skaði – howlite with aquamarine
Variations are personal and infinite! Another variation I’ve made is Catholic rosary-inspired. These next bead strands were made for my partner, who finds his Christian roots comforting and inspiring.
Now, before I get going, I can just hear the screaming from the internet peanut gallery about using Christian ideas in any form. To you I say get over it already. The Norse didn’t have a problem with Christianity, no one is forcing you to go back to it if you converted to Heathenism, and I (and Norse culture in general) feel it is very important to honour your roots. Moving on.
This strand is seven groups of nine beads, separated with three beads for counting spacers for a total of 81 beads, and I’ve included a bronze ring at the end to hang a pendant – in this case, a Celtic sun wheel in bronze.
This prayer bead strand is dedicated to Baldr, and it’s made with amber, citrine, and angelite. Amber is traditionally one of Freya’s stones, but in this case it was over-ruled in favour of the overwhelming majority of other cultures who consider amber to be solidified sunlight. Citrine is the New Age stone of pure joy, and angelite is considered a high vibration stone for communing with very high-level etheric management!
Beads in Practice
All prayer beads are strung for just that – prayers. The ways you can use them for this are varied, and as personal as you want to make it.
A single prayer, affirmation, or meditation can be repeated for each bead. Turn the bead over in your fingers and recite the prayer aloud or meditate on it silently. The beads serve as a physical anchor for your body, leaving your mind free to focus with stronger intent. The more you repeat this, the more your brain learns to recognize this practice as its time to slip into a higher state, and it will happen for you more easily.
In a meditative state, your affirmations and prayers are stronger, more focused, and more empowering. Spacer beads are there in case you need to take a break and keep your place on the strand, or they serve as places where your meditation changes.
For instance, with beads grouped into nines, you can dedicate each series of nine to a specific god, principle, or purpose. The first nine beads might represent the nine realms. The next might be the nine nights of feasting and sacrifice. The third set of nine might be three beads each for Baldr, Höðr, and Nanna (or Óðin, Frigga, and Thor, etc.) and so on.
I’ll develop prayers for each strand as I work through them, but for now, I hope this helps plant a seed of inspiration for you and your own prayer beads!