Thursday, July 1, 2021

Mala of Two Ways

Maybe you already have heard me repeat: the word mala means "garland" or "wreath" - and so does the word "rosary". Originally these items were all for remembrance and reverence, and later came to be used as “prayer” beads, or objects of contemplation. They are not part of any one religion. They are common to all cultures that feel Spirit in the physical world, and are used by all who call energy for inspiration or meditation. These talismans, objects of protective magic and remembrance are used not for decoration, but for contemplation and protection of a space or a person within the space where they hang or are displayed. Three strands emerge from the "bridge bead" - a straight yoke made of earthy clay from Belgium, fashioned like the ancients fashioned their clay, and incised with little toolmarks. Many of my malas start from these bridge beads from my old friend Steph, who teaches and makes sculpture near Brussels, and whose bead shop is called "Vlad the Bat's Attic." This is a garland of choices, of decisions, of two sides. The center strand holds the mala's focal: a two-headed zombie, who stands on the boundary between Death and Life. Above the zombie sits a knucklebone, used in ancient goodness to cast lots that decided the fate of the Inquisitor, then the scarab beetle who generates life out of detritus, then the bead of the tree of life, spun from recycled African glass. An urn bead made by a Welsh bead artist sits at the top of the central strand. On the left, a black cat bead, very old, from Bohemia, sitting on an African bone game piece balanced on a rustic green tribal bead symbolizing the living Earth. Below a fiery sun bead, also Bohemian, rides on the back of a jet Navajo raven, who sees and knows all. On the right strand: first comes a Buddhist prayer bead made by a monk who works the clay by hand and smears it with a touch of gold leaf to symbolize the precious tinge that is part of the most humble of us. Next, a Chinese cat of ivory carved bone keeps his secrets from the spiral bird talisman, a fired porcelain artwork from an artist who lives in Minnesota on land still reserved by Chippewas. At the bottom, a magic eye bead from an artist in Michigan no longer selling her work. All over the world, people have painted "eyes" on objects to protect themselves from the "evil Eye" - bad fortune, fate or jealousy. I've had this bead for many years. Some of the elements of this piece are the product of old manufacturing processes, over a hundred years old (like the pressed glass Cat, the bone carved cat, and the recycled African green glass beads). Others are new, and made by makers I know and love - the woman artists from all over the world who made these beads with their own talented hands are friends and long-time mentors of mine.

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