Friday, February 11, 2011

What are Komboloi?

Komboloi or Greek worry beads are an instrument of relaxation and stress management.  Like most Greek folk art, the history of komboloi is confused. Some claim that they are a 20th century addition to mainland Greek culture, arriving only seventy or eighty years ago and quickly achieving fashionable status among all classes.

It is believed that they have a more ancient history though and are a mimicry of Turkish prayer bead strands, adopted by persecuted Greeks to mock their captors in the 11th - 13th centuries AD. Still another theory suggests that the Turkish conquerors forbade their Greek subjects to shake hands, and the beads were introduced as a way of reminding Greeks to not shake hands. Others assert that they are derived from the knotted prayer strands (komboskini) used by Greek Orthodox monks. As the word komboloi means 'group of knots', this may be the true origin.

Until recently, komboloi were the only used by men, and were rarely seen in the hands of women. But now, as they go beyond cultural tradition they have become a fashion accessory, with both men and women carrying them.  Beautifully crafted strands are appearing in fine jewelry stores, and older strands are becoming prized collector items.

Traditionally, worry beads have a multiple of 4 plus 1 beads, so 17, 21 or 25 beads, with one larger 'shield' bead and are usually, but not always, adorned with a tassel. They can be strung on leather, string, or fine metal chain. Although they can be made of any type of bead, organic beads like amber or coral thought to be more pleasant to handle than non-organic materials such as glass, metal or minerals.

Please understand that worry beads do not have any intrinsic religious significance. Whatever their original purpose was, today they are simply a fidget toy of Greek origin, so pull them out when you are waiting in line, travelling on an airplane, anxious about something, or stressed out & need to relax.  Fiddle away the stress, anxiety and boredom.  Doesn't that feel better?

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