A Very Short History of Beads And Their Symbology

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For eons men and women have been fascinated with beads. Found dating back 38,000 years, beads have been made from pebbles, shells, teeth, claws, clay, glass and more.

The word bead comes from the Anglo Saxon words bidden (to pray) and bede (prayer.) Prayer beads are known world-wide, and help the user recite prayers and keep track of the sequence and number of the prayers. Worry beads, also common around the world, help with decision-making, and keep the hands busy. Beads continue to be used as talismans to protect the wearer against evil, and as amulets to bring wisdom and fortune. 

Used for prayers, protection, worries, money or adornment, beads have been important to us for a very long time. The history of beads is long and rich, and if you would care to read more, a list is offered at the end of this to assist you further in your studies.

Glass was discovered about 3,400 years ago, and since then has become a very important material for the bead-maker, user and wearer.  Lampwork beads are made using a “lamp” (flame) as a heat source for melting the glass. Now lampworkers use torches to heat the glass to a molten state and gather it on a steel rod. Canes of glass are blended, melted and coaxed into the many colors, shapes and designs seen today.

There are a number of symbols used the world over in beads and other objects, and it’s useful to know the meanings of these. Symbolism, too, entails a huge body of work, and books on this subject are listed here as well. Below are a few that will be useful for this workshop.

• Spiral – a symbol of being, knowing or becoming.
• Circle – totality, perfection, unity, eternity. A symbol of completeness that can include ideas of permanence and dynamism.
• Eye – occult 3rd eye, or eye of the heart can mean spiritual perception. Sometimes an eye is painted on an object to protect against the evil eye. Blue is a favorite color for these.
• Dots – are also called eye beads and were used to protect against the evil eye.
• White – purity, innocence, truth, sacred or devine
• Black – loss, absence
• Red – life, strength, vitality, physical nature
• Yellow – intellect, mind
• Green – harmony, sympathy, higher mental plane
• Blue – inspiration, devotion, the spiritual nature

Suggested reading for further study:
• Beads; an Exploration of Bead Traditions Around the World. Janet Coles. Simon & Schuster. ISBN:068483462
• The Universal Bead. Joan Erikson. Norton. ISBN:0393310051
• Dictionary of Symbols. Jack Tresidder. Chronicle. ISBN:081181470X
• The Complete Book of Amulets & Talismans. Megene Gonzalez-Wippler. Llewellyn Publications. ISBN:087542287X

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