rosaries, chaplets, malas, and prayer beads (subtitled, something to offend just about everyone)

A customer writes to ask how folks use voodoo rosaries – are you supposed to just pray a regular rosary with them, like with Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be?

Now, as far as I know, there was no such thing as specifically voodoo rosaries before I started making them.  I started making them because I wanted some and couldn’t find such a thing.  There are voodoo rosaries out there now, besides mine, from sellers who have apparently been inspired by my work, and I choose to take this as flattering.  But I bring all this up because, as these are something of an innovation, there is definitely no "one true way" to "say" or use a voodoo rosary.

This is a rosary I made with the "regular" number and sets of beads – five "decades" (groups of ten), separated by "pater beads" (so called because you often say the Our Father, aka the Pater Noster, on them).    In the center of this one is a brass medal, from which hangs a pater bead, three more smaller beads, another pater bead, and a cross, as is traditional.

The way to pray this kind of rosary traditionally is as follows:
– on the Cross, you say the Apostle’s Creed (some folks say this on the first large bead instead)
– moving up to the first Pater bead, say an Our Father
– say a Hail Mary on each of the next three smaller beads
– say a Glory Be (aka the Doxology) on the next Pater bead (some folks announce the specific Mystery they’re praying at this point.  Some say another Our Father.)
– moving on to the "rosary proper," the decades, each decade consists of an Our Father, one Hail Mary for each small bead, and a Glory Be after the Hail Marys.
– you can finish with a Hail Holy Queen, the so-called Rosary Prayer, the Fatima prayer, or use any number of other modifications if you’re concentrating on a specific mystery of the Rosary or on specific intentions, like praying for the Holy Father or for priests).

In general, it’s an Our Father on large beads, a Hail Mary on small beads, and a Glory Be after a set of Hail Marys.  I don’t have time to get into the various mysteries right now, nor the variations for different novenas, but if anybody cares I can do that another time.  But to say the whole, entire, complete "rosary," you actually have to go around the beads three times.  However, I have been praying the rosary for well over thirty years, and I’ve found that God and the Blessed Mother do not care about minor variations, with all apologies to purists.  And it’s quite common for people to focus on one mystery at a time and just go around once.

In addition to this type of regular or Marian rosary, there are lots of rosaries that have different sets, groups, and numbers of beads, and different prayers associated with them.  These types of prayer beads are technically called chaplets, as are the prayers associated with them.  There’s even more variation with these than there is with the Marian rosary. 

The above is an example of another type of rosary that differs from the first type I mentioned. This is a memento mori rosary, or a rosary for the dead (technically a chaplet).  Chaplets for the Dead usually have four decades of ten beads each, plus five more beads (the one pictured above skips the five beads, for aesthetic reasons – the rosary was so large and long that by the time I got done making the decades, I thought adding the rest of the beads would be too unwieldy and make it uncomfortably heavy).  On this one, you begin and end with a De Profundis or an Our Father and Hail Mary.  On the pater beads you say "eternal rest grant unto him, and let perpetual light shine upon him, and may he rest in peace."  On the small beads, you say "Sweet heart of Mary, be my salvation."  There are some variations with prayers and concluding prayers here as well. 

Some chaplets look much less like rosaries than the above.  For instance, here’s a St. Dymphna chaplet.

This is made of three sets of five beads, one set each of red, green, and white.  It has a medal of St. Dymphna on one end and a cross on the other.  It also has a clasp, since a lot of folks who buy these like to wear them as bracelets.  Often chaplets for St. Dympha will have two additional beads (this one doesn’t).  In that case, you would say an Our Father on the first bead, a Hail Mary on the second, and then on each of the 15 beads you’d say a Glory Be.  People often say their intentions at the beginning or end of the chaplet.

As you can see, the use of prayer beads is far from a "one single right way to do things" situation.

Now for some rosaries created specifically for practitioners of voodoo. (At this point in my blog post I’ve bored or offended non-Christians with all the rosary talk, offended or enraged strict Roman Catholics with my commentary, and possibly puzzled non-Catholic Christians who don’t get what all this bead business is about.  Now I’m getting all geared up for some hate mail with this next bit).

This is a Legba rosary.  You can’t really tell from the picture, but it has sets of beads in various numbers and colors and separated by various types and colors.  I made this one based more on aesthetics than with a set of prayers in mind, as there isn’t really any series of prayers asociated wtih a Legba rosary.  But hopefully from reading the above descriptions, you get an idea of how you might decide what to say at each bead if you choose to use a piece like this to "count prayers." (Many people don’t, instead treating their voodoo rosaries as spiritual jewelry and/or altar pieces or offerings).  

For instance, there’s a yanvalou song for Legba that goes like this:

Papa Legba makout la lan do-ou
Se oun mem ki lan baye
Ouvri chimen yan pou mwen
Papa Legba inosan nayv-o
O Legba si, o Legba sè
Nou prale yèwe

If I were using these beads to work with Legba, I might break this song up into parts, maybe saying a bit on each smaller bead and then treating the larger "pater" beads as a sort of chorus where I’d repeat "Ouvri chimen yan pou mwen" [open the way for me].  I might start the whole cycle at the medal, with a traditional greeting to Legba, then at the large bead say or sing "ouvri chimen yan pou mwen," and then on the smaller beads say "Se oun mem ki lan baye" [you are the one at the gate].  As each set of beads is separated by a different type of pater bead, though, you could repeate a line of the song once for each small bead, say the "open the way" line at the large bead, and then for the next set of small beads repeat the next line of the song.  You could substitute any short, heartfelt bit of your own making as well, instead of memorizing the Kreyol, and you could start or end the prayers or songs with a specific petition as well.

And just so I can have a shot at upsetting yet another demographic, I’ll share my Kali beads with you guys – these are my personal beads, custom-made me for me in appropriate color, stone, and number sets, several years ago, as part of a forty-day nyasa rite I did.

For forty days as part of this intense work, I said mantra on these beads, intoning at each one a short mantra and making my way around.  Mala beads generally have 108 beads, and mantra is said at each one, until you arrive at the larger "guru" or summit bead, at which point you’ve completed one cycle.

So anyway, here are some ideas for you guys who want to use voodoo rosaries for prayers or petitions.  For more ramblings on rosaries and prayer beads, including hoodoo rosaries and some quotations from + Michael Bertiaux, check out this post and this post.

P.S.  I’m just kidding about posting this to upset people, by the way.  I hope it’s informative for those of you who don’t come from a background that uses prayer or mala beads, and I do honestly hope it’s more educational and inspiring than offensive.  

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