The couple seated next to us was young, urban, and Hispanic. Apparently, this is important to note, as the guy was wearing rosary beads as a necklace. My partner, who is also Hispanic, informed me that it has become a common practice among young guys to wear these as jewelry. My immediate reaction was one of disgust.
Why? Well, as I told my partner, I think it’s a bit sacrilegious and disturbing when sacred things are secularized. It seems to me that this is just the latest in a quickly growing and tragic trend towards losing touch with the divine. It’s not that I’m against wearing signs and symbols as jewelry. That’s what they’re for. Sigils and talismans and amulets are just as much a part of magic as anything else, and their use in jewelry is as ancient an art as any.
But, rosary beads. They’re not a sign or symbol or sigil or rune. They’re a tool. They evolved from Indian Yogic prayer beads and are used to keep up with the number of times one has said a prayer, mantra, etc. To use them, the practitioner goes around the string of beads, holding each one in their fingers and repeats their prayer or mantra. They’re much older than the Catholic faith, and are a tool for powerful mystic workings and meditation.
Prayer beads are not a necklace.
Wearing a mystical tool that is specifically made for working by the hands is like wearing your cauldron as a hat or slicing up a sandwich with your athame. These are tools that are dedicated to the Gods, and while they may not necessarily have to be expensive, they should always be special and reserved. They should be something that inspires and energizes you when you pick them up.
Sure, the argument can be made that they’re your tools, it’s your personal path, and if you want to drink Mountain Dew out of your chalice while eating a pizza off your pentacle and nibbling on a wedge of cheese you’ve skewered on the end of your wand that’s completely your business. And, that’s fine…to an extent. It’s not doing anything to me or my path, but what’s it doing to you?
No, really, think about it. Sure, maybe the first time you threw on the prayer beads you took a moment to thank your higher power. Perhaps you solemnly asked for protection or veneration or whatever. You might have even pondered the divine for a minute or seven. Then, however, came the second time and the tenth time and the thirty-second time and eventually you’re just throwing on the necklace you always wear with your black hoodie and backwards-turned hat. It’s another piece of jewelry that you own.
It’s like when you say a word over and over again so quickly that it sort of loses its meaning. Go ahead. Try it. Say ‘fork.’ Now say it 20 times in a row. (Stop with the dirty thoughts. The word is FORK!) To me, and this might just be because of my strangeness, when you do this the word just becomes a repetition of sound. When you say a word, especially a nice, concrete noun like ‘fork,’ your brain brings up an image of a fork. But, when you say it over and over again…no picture. Your mind loses focus on the definition, the recall of what that word is supposed to inspire in you.
When we normalize the sacred, when we integrate it so fully into our lives that its original purpose is forgotten to memory, then we lose touch with that bit of divinity the object once inspired in us. And it’s not that I’m saying we shouldn’t wear the icons we consider sacred, but I’m saying that if the purpose of that object is not necessarily to be jewelry, then don’t make it so.
Our altars, however large or small, should be places where, for however much time you can spare, one can consider the divinity within each of us and commune with our higher power(s). Our mystical, sacred tools should be special enough that we only use them to fulfill the purposes of spiritual practice.
And, yes, those tools can be things like kitchen knives if you’re a kitchen witch or a garden spade if you’re a hedgewitch. But, again, the tools have a reserved purpose. The garden spade doesn’t double as a cereal spoon. (Though, that might be due to impracticality more than convenience or the spade's inherent holiness.)
But, back to PF Changs and the young man with the rosary beads. Does he care? Probably not. Does it hurt me or my personal path if he wears them on his neck or uses them as a sex toy? No. However, I see it as a cautionary sign that we are losing something in our modern society. We’re losing the joy, the mystery, the experience of having that sacred experience that comes when we lose ourselves in the original purpose of such things. We are replacing the repetition of mantra with the repetition of matching the black rosary beads with the black belt we’re wearing. We’re actively forgetting our collective history and wiping away the beauty of our myriad cultures.
So, wear your signs, sigils, talismans, etc. Remember, though, that when you do, you’re wearing more than a shiny piece of quartz or a unique design carved on a piece of bone. You’re wearing history, power, and a piece of revealed divinity. Give a nod of thanks to the Gods when you do so, and let’s put the sacred back into our current culture. Though, you can still do so fashionably.
Stay classy Neo-Pagans!
Love and Lyte,