Prayer Beads and Correspondences

I’ve been thinking about what I want to do in late March when my six months are done. I had initially thought about getting my tattoo of the Animal Father (or, rather, the cave painting that he used to connect to me), but the spirits told me to hold off until my actual initiation, which will be determined by them as far as timing, etc.–basically, when they feel I’m ready, and I agree. However, rewarding myself with a shiny object for getting through my six months is perfectly acceptable.

So I’ve been planning on making myself a necklace, one that I’ll wear on a permanent basis. I already have a scrimshaw wolf necklace that I wear constantly except for when I shower, which I wear both for my primary totem, Wolf, and for myself, as well as some more private reasons. However, I wanted to come up with something specifically for therioshamanism to serve as a reminder to me of what it is I’ve gotten myself into. (Plus I fully admit that I like meaningful shiny objects.) I wanted a pendant of the Animal Father; there aren’t very many, but I decided on this one in bronze, with the tree on the right on this page on the reverse side (since Quicksilver Mint sells double-sided medallions, and I can tell you from experience they’re quite nice).

I won’t go into too much detail about the necklace itself, as far as my plans go. However, I decided this week that I wanted the necklace to serve as a set of pagan prayer beads. I’ve been thinking about them since reading Pagan Prayer Beads by Greer and Vaughn a few months ago (and enjoying it quite a bit), though Erynn Rowan Laurie’s Circle of Stones was what first turned me on to the idea. So I’ve been messing around with ideas. I generally don’t put that much thought into design, instead letting my inspiration flow unbridled. However, this is something a little different, so I wanted to come up with something particular.

What I will say is that the necklace will focus on the four directional/elemental totems, with the Animal Father as the pendant. There will be two sets of three beads for each totem, mirroring each other. Each set of three will represent Self, Community, and Environment, though the two sets will each have different angles to them.

One thing that struck me as I was thinking about this was that 3 x 4 = 12, and there are twelve months in the year, and I could potentially assign one combination of meanings to a month, twelve of each in all. And then they would fit in perfectly with the idea that North/Wolf = winter, Hawk/East = spring, etc. Which would mean I would focus on the specific meaning (such as Earth-Self-Wolf in January, Earth-Community-Wolf in February, etc.) for each month, and–

–and what? And hope that my life fit whatever parameters the dictates of the correspondence system I’d set up mandated? Ignore anything that didn’t match with the current month’s meaning? Get hopelessly frustrated with the whole thing?

No, thank you.

One of the things that irritates me about neopaganism (guys, I love you, really I do) is that sometimes things get corresponded to death. What I mean by this is that people sometimes spend so much time worrying about whether the correspondences associated with a particular stone, or totem, or herb, or deity, or whathaveyou (gotta love those whathaveyous) match up with the other things they’re working with that it can get pretty damned complicated. And that’s where I found myself when I was thinking about the necklace. I’ve been a little uncertain about where to draw the line on correspondences, especially since my cosmology is still under construction. This made it pretty clear to me–don’t make correspondences just because you see them. Sure, twelve prayer bead meanings and twelve months match up nicely. But do they really have to?

The associations I have with the four totems and their respective elements and directions have worked very well for me for years. The twelves…well…just felt pretty artificial. I’ve introduced some new concepts into my path in recent time, and they meshed just fine. However, the twelve-concept is like the older brother in the story of the Two Hunchbacks, who, seeing his brother’s success, throws too much into the old ladies’ song.

So maybe not everything I try on for size makes sense to me, so I set it aside. But on the bright side, I do have a better idea of what is important in my personal cosmology.

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13 thoughts on “Prayer Beads and Correspondences

  1. Bleh! I know what you mean. Having a correspondences for the sake of having correspondences is often fruitless. I’m sure there are ceremonial folks out there who really benefit from that style, but I find the emphasis on charts and layering complexity really sucks the life out of magic. I do use correspondence in my practice, but I find that less is more. Same thing with a cosmology. If the map gets too detailed, there is a real pitfall for witch/shaman/magician to confuse it for the actual territory rather than to trust their own experiences.

    There really is a line between have a magical cosmology/structure that helps the practioner structure their magic to effectively tap into the Otherworld AND be lean enough that it does interfere with the practioner’s ability to experience the Otherworld on its own terms, I don’t want my experiences constantly mediated by other people’s experiences and conceptions of what it *should* be. Same thing with correspondences.

  2. I think part of the issue with correspondences specifically in neopaganism is laziness. It’s understandable with newbies who don’t really know what’s what yet. But I’ve also seen some pretty slavish adherence to what things are *supposed* to be, rather than letting them be what they *are*. It’s not necessarily because the things fit together, but because people want meanings spoon-fed to them. Then they get all perplexed when the spirit, deity, magic, etc. doesn’t work the way they expected.

    Sure, I’m an author. But that doesn’t mean that I’m only associated with writing.

    • “It’s understandable with newbies who don’t really know what’s what yet. But I’ve also seen some pretty slavish adherence to what things are *supposed* to be, rather than letting them be what they *are*. It’s not necessarily because the things fit together, but because people want meanings spoon-fed to them.”

      Wow, that is really hitting it on the noggin, at least it is in my perspective. A lot of people seem to get caught up in the book reading and not in the reality or the experiential part of it.

      I’ve been a bit frustrated by people who are so focused on singing the exact right traditional song for the occasion and are unwilling to create something new that may be better suited for their needs or the needs of the group. Sure, traditional is great and shouldn’t be tossed on the wayside because something shiny and new seems to be better, but to concern yourself so much with the exactness of tradition that it takes away from the intended experience or that a slight alteration is blasphemy and shouldn’t even be considered is a bit overboard in my opinion.

  3. Erynn–Exactly. This is also why I get irritated with the proliferation of animal totem dictionaries. We only can use so many set of correspondences, really, before we lose touch with what we’re trying to connect with, be it a spirit or sacred symbol.

  4. “…people sometimes spend so much time worrying about whether the correspondences associated with a particular stone, or totem, or herb, or deity … match up with the other things they’re working with that it can get pretty damned complicated.”

    “This made it pretty clear to me–don’t make correspondences just because you see them. Sure, twelve prayer bead meanings and twelve months match up nicely. But do they really have to?”

    I like how you pull back from being swallowed into the time consuming uselessness of over reading into things. It is pretty easy to fall into – speaking from experience. It takes a lot to just say, “hold on there, why should I care about all this other stuff. What’s important is what it means to me, not what other people tell me what it means.” It took me a good long time to figure that one out. Glad you were able to too.

    • One thing my partner told me that has helped a lot–the map is not the territory. Our symbol systems are maps, and therefore largely subjective based on what we consider most valuable to highlight. They do not change the reality of what they represent.

  5. I was just reading in “Ritual Craft” by Amber and Azrael K about correspondences. They gave several types: tradition, personal, family, cultural, etc. As a central Texas pagan, I’ve strongly felt that traditional associations and correspondences are lacking. My winter is nicely chilled but never snowy, and it’s the most active part of my year (forget rest!).

    Also, correspondences make me think of Tarot reading books. They’re useful if you’re unsure, unfamiliar, or in a pinch… but once you’re comfy with your deck, you don’t NEED a book to intuite and understand what’s being laid before you in a reading. The same applies to the magical use of herbs, stones, etc… if you let yourself feel them, often you’ll get better “correspondences” directly from the source than you’d ever find in a book!

    Love your posts, by the way. Sometimes I randomly browse a topic (today “Prayer Beads”) just to see what you’ve written before.

    • *nods* A lot of my own totemic work is about making your own correspondences. There’s so much that is personal to us, and the “standard model” only goes so far. I was just in Texas last month to visit family, and if winter were like that here it’d be a very different time for me, too!

      Glad you like what I write here, even the “oldies but goodies” like this one! My path has shifted quite a bit since I wrote this, but thanks for giving me a reason to revisit it.

  6. I just found this tonight, but it couldn’t have happened at a more fortuitous time. I have struggled with over-thinking objects or new things in my path, only recently reaching the point in my life where I can tell myself to “ignore what everyone else says it means” like you mentioned, and focus solely on what it means personally.

    I agree that too many people can get pulled into the gaping maw of self-doubt and the spiraling mass of thoughts that can overtake you if you try too hard to study all the angles of whatever it is that speaks to you. I know I had just written about it on my own blog, and how I have been working to overcome it.

    Thank you for writing this, it helps me whenever I find someone else who gets it, and has me shouting “finally! someone understands!” at my computer screen. I will keep browsing your blog, as i already like how you think. 🙂

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