Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Symbolism: The Peace Sign

Having grown up in the 'hippie era', a Peace sign seemed like a good choice for a pendant to hang from the personal prayer bead set I'm creating for myself.  Being an inquisitive person, I decided to look up a bit about the history of the symbol.  What I found out surprised and shocked me!  Being curious, it seems, is not always a good thing.

The internationally recognized symbol for peace was created for the nuclear disarmament movement by Gerald Holtom, a British artist & designer, in 1958.  It is meant to be a representation from the naval code of semaphore for the letters N & D, superimposed on top of each other.  The outer circle represents the concept of 'total' or 'complete' and surrounds the N & D to signify 'Total or Complete Nuclear Disarmanent'.

However, to my chagrin, I found that this same symbol has a very dark past, much older than that.  It was used by Hitler's 3rd Panzer Division from 1941 - 1945 on their regimental badge, seen to the left.  Many Soviet, Polish & Hungarian people, having suffered atrocities under the Nazis, must certainly have struggled with it's use as a way to communicate peace.  The symbol can be found on the tombstones of many of Hitler's SS troops also.

There are numerous associations with Satanism & as a symbol of a 'broken Jew' or 'broken cross' from as early as the first century A.D.  The Emperor Nero, who despised Christians, crucified the Apostle Peter on a cross head downward. Today, heavy metal lyrics & imagery use it to communicate anti-Christian sentiments.  It has been used to support communism & the 'anti-God' movement for many years.  The founder of the Church of Satan depicted it on the backdrop for his altar.

Holtom was horrified when he discovered that the peace symbol had such a long history of hatred & despair.  He tried to encourage it to be turned upside down, as illustrated by the picture on the left. When the peace symbol is inverted the letter "N" becomes the semaphore code for "U" which could mean 'universal' disarmament or  'unilateral' disarmament.

With this unsavoury past, can I still use the 'peace sign' as a symbol of peace & love on my prayer beads?  What's more significant, the history of it or my personal, long standing perception of its meaning?  A perception that has now been tainted.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How to Pray With Beads

No matter what faith or tradition you practice, the use of beads to pray is a journey into mysterious realms, full of contradictions.  You will be traveling by yourself but never be alone. You will go somewhere while sitting perfectly still.  It will be a journey of words conducted in near silence.    You will have gone away, without leaving where you are.  The beads are the journey.  The number & configuration of the beads is not important.  The intention behind them is crucial.  

Learning to pray contemplatively with beads takes practice.  There are a few simple steps that will help put you into the right state of mind....

1.  Find a quiet place where you can be alone & undisturbed.
2.  Sit still for a few moments in silence.
3.  Narrow your circle of attention, only to your breath.
4.  Breathe in & out slowly, lowering your heart rate & calming your body.
5.  Spend a few minutes in quiet reflection.
6.  When you are calm & still, pick up your beads.

You may want to have an icon or picture that induces a peaceful state in front of you.  Don't think about what you're praying about, rather focus on what you're praying for.  Keep the idea of it in your head.  Feel it as you pray.  Thinking will take you out of the mysterious realm of prayer & bring you back to the mundane world of demands & obligations. 

The beads will help you direct your attention to the task.  Rotating the beads between your fingers will anchor you to the words of the prayer.  Your prayers should be deeply felt statements of faith, praise & joy that will keep you emotionally attached to your intention.

Contemplative prayer will not come readily, so be patient with yourself.  It's hard to shut out the noise of everyday life with all its complications.  It won't be easy in the beginning but with time & persistence it will come.  The results will be well worth it.  I promise.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What is an Inukshuk?

The Inukshuk is a familiar sight on the vast Arctic landscape.  These mysterious stone figures come in different forms for a variety of purposes: as a navigational or directional aid; to mark a place of respect or memorial for a beloved person; or where food can be found.

They were built by the Inuit as guideposts to make the easier & safer for those who follow.  It took many hands and the co-operation of the entire group to construct these massive stone structures.  Each stone is a separate entity but each supports the one above and the one below it.  No single piece is any more or less important then the rest. 

The Inukshuk embodies the spirit and persistence of the Inuit who live and flourish in Northern Canada, one of the world's harshest environments.  They symbolize what the focused action of a group, with a concensous of purpose, can achieve.

Finely crafted pewter Inukshuk pendants are now available from Jasper Moon in three different styles....

Stylized Inukshuk, with Gem

Stylized Inukshuk, without Gem

Primitive Inukshuk

Each pendant is hand-cast & individually finished by a Canadian artisan in Ontario.  The photos don't do them justice.  I love them all but still can't decide which one is my favourite.  Which one do you like best?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Weekend Craft Show

I attended a fabulous craft show on the weekend.  It was well organized & executed, professionally staged & advertised.  I spent two days there selling my wares.  Well, I was 'showing' them anyway.  Sales were less than stellar for the second year in a row.  Unfortunately, I had to tell them I will not be back next year.  That makes me sad because I'd really like to do the show again.  It's a nice change from the outdoor events I vend at in late spring, summer & early autumn.  I can't keep losing money on it though, that just doesn't make economic sense. 

I made plenty of changes this year by increasing my product offering and upgrading my presentation. Looking at the photos now, I can see where improvements can still be made. 

Leg risers were added to the tables to lift them six inches higher off the ground making it easier fo customers to look at things without having to bend over but I really need to have longer tablecloths that will hide the bins & boxes underneath.

The character hats made by my friend really pulled the customers in.  That's why I placed them front & centre like that in the first place.  Once people stopped, most at least walked in & looked at the rest of my offerings.

Nice display boxes brought the whole presentation up a notch or two also.  Having products at different heights kept the eyes flowing across the table.

I know that I still have a lot of work to do if I ever hope to break into the indoor craft market in a big way.  I'm open for suggestions.  Please comment if you have any.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Prayer Beads & Lady Godiva?

Lady Godiva was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman in the 11th century A.D. who, according to legend, rode naked through the streets of Coventry in order to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband (Leofric, Earl of Mercia) on his tenants.  Did this actually happen or not?  Scholars are still debating that. 

According to the popular story, Lady Godiva took pity on the people of Coventry, who were suffering grievously under her husband's oppressive taxation.  She appealed again & again to her husband, who obstinately refused to remit the tolls.  At last, weary of her entreaties, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride through the streets of the town.

So, Lady Godiva took him at his word and, after issuing a proclamation that all persons should stay indoors and shut their windows, she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair. Just one person in the town, a tailor ever afterwards known as 'Peeping Tom', disobeyed her proclamation in one of the most famous instances of voyeurism.  In the story, Tom bores a hole in his shutters so that he might see her pass, and is struck blind.  In the end, Lady Godiva's husband keeps his word and abolishes the onerous taxes.

Both Leofric and Godiva were generous benefactors to religious houses. In 1043 Leofric founded and endowed a Benedictine monastery at Coventry on the site of a nunnery destroyed by the Danes in 1016.  In her will (c. 1075), Lady Godiva bequeathed to the monastery she & her husband had founded, “a circlet of gems that she had threaded on a string, in order that by fingering them one by one as she recited her prayers, she might not fall short of the exact number.”  They were to be hung on the statue of 'Our Layde of Coventry' (Virgin Mary) after her death.

Although there are earlier legends regarding St. Anthony and the counting of prayers with pebbles in the 3rd century A.D., as well as, a string of beads preserved in Belgium that is said to have been buried with the saintly Abbess Gertrude (d. 659)....Lady Godiva's will is the first written record to be found in England.  Clearly, the use of beads to count prayers is likely much older than that. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Book Review: Pagan Prayer Beads

Another book that I've found very useful is 'Pagan Prayer Beads: Magic and Meditation With Pagan Rosaries' by John Michael Greer & Clare Vaughn.  Like the book I introduced to you last time, this one contains many similar elements - symbolism, materials available, construction tips, along with suggested uses & rituals.

What I particularly like about this book are the detailed instructions for bead strands to make for specific traditions - Druid Revival, Celtic Reconstructionism and Wicca.  It also contains ideas for designing many 'special purpose' rosaries - for ancestors, individual dieties, memorial beads and much more.  It will certainly get your creative mind & imagination working.

This book is a must-have for anyone interested in designing, making and using prayer beads.  I refer to it often.

November Birthstone: Citrine

The traditional birthstone for November is citrine.  The name citrine comes from an old French word, 'citrin', meaning lemon.  One of the more rare forms of quartz, this gemstone ranges in color from the palest yellow to dark amber.

Perhaps because of its scarcity, there is little mention of citrine used as a gemstone prior to the first century B.C.  The Romans were thought to be the first to wear the yellow quartz, crafting it into highly polished cabochons and set into jewelry.  Citrine became more popular during the Romantic Period, when artisans often favoured these warm colored gems to enhance gold jewelry.

Most citrine is mined in Brazil, but other sources of the quartz are Bolivia and Madagascar.  Almost all citrine that is available on the market today is heat-treated amethyst.  Natural citrine is pale yellow to pale orange, much lighter than the heat-treated material which is dark orange-brown to reddish-brown.  The heat-treated material has a red tint, while natural citrine does not.

Citrine, like all forms of quartz, was believed to have magical powers and was worn as a talisman against evil thoughts and snake venom.  It was also considered to have medicinal properties and was commonly used as a remedy for urinary and kidney ailments.  A gift of citrine is symbolic for hope and strength.  With its sunny brightness, this gemstone is ideal for helping anyone to get through the tough times in life!