I've had an interest in prayer beads for a very long time now. Growing up I had several Catholic friends, so the first type of prayer beads I was exposed to was the Catholic rosary. I saw them a few times, delicate strands of beads in a small silk pouch with snap button, usually tucked away in a bedside drawer. At the time I only had a vague idea what they were for. I didn't know that a prayer was said on each bead, that there was a method to praying the rosary.
In my second year of high school I was exploring Shinto-Buddhism (the religion my grandmother was raised), as well as Hinduism. I learned about the mala, beads used to count mantras on (usually 108 beads). I was very interested in using a mala and mantras for meditation, and eventually bought one to use. These were my first prayer beads. Rose quartz beads on metal links, with a Radha-Krishna pendant. I used them to chant the Hare Krishna mantra. I did it often, even keeping the beads in my coat pocket to count silent mantras on the school bus.
It was around this time that I was also taking my first jewelry class. It occurred to me that I knew how this particular mala had been made, and it was a rather simple technique that I could replicate with ease. While I did make some religious jewelry during that time, it wasn't until a few years later that I started to make my own prayer beads.
The first set I made as a Kemetic reconstructionist, even though there was no evidence that prayer beads were used by the ancient Egyptians. I wanted to try a different style from the mala, so I went with a rosary style - a loop with a drop pendant. It was a series of small turquoise beads broken up by larger lapis lazuli and howlite beads. The pendant was an ankh. I used the stand to count the 42 purifications (also known as the negative confession) as well as using the larger beads to pray to Ma'at and my "patrons."
Eventually I made a second set, dedicated to the Goddess Nut. Very simple, blue goldstone (for those unfamiliar with the stone it is a manmade gem, dark blue with silver flecks all through it - looks very much like the night sky), with silver spacer beads. It also ended in a drop pendant style, a small frame which I pasted a picture of Nut in.
That was a few years ago. While I still make use of devotional jewelry, my interest in prayer beads wasn't there any more. Very recently, however, I came across a lotus seed bead mala, and it rekindled my interest. I thought of all sorts of prayer beads I could create, and not just for prayer, but also in various meditation and ritual for different goals.
In the coming weeks, and likely beyond, I'll be posting a bit more on the various uses of prayer beads, as well as how to make your own set. It's not a hard project to take on at all, even for someone with no knowledge of jewelry making, and they can be helpful spiritual aids.