Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This Carnelian Mala and What Inspired It

Carnelian is a form of chalcedony primarily found in India and secondarily in South America. Carnelian is a stone with roots in antiquity, prized and coveted by noble classes, buried with the wealthy. Carnelian can be seen in the workmanship of the ancient Egyptians, as crude beads through out Africa and was traded far and wide and still is today. Carnelian is a giver of energy aiding in vitality and protection from bad vibrations. Used as a talisman against poverty, worn to calm anger and maintain sense of humor carnelian has had many uses by many people for centuries.

The ancient historic use of carnelian has intrigued me for years. Seeing bits of the red/orange stone in Egyptian artifacts, beads that have been traded since long before the Roman Empire and intricate carvings from the orient and Asia only add to the allure of using the stone today. The inspiration for this style of mala comes from the Chinese Imperial Court of centuries ago.

Ornate malas were the style for many years in the court. Inspired by the ritual malas produced by the Tibetans with side counters and ornamental guru and marker beads. These malas were used to keep track of the repetitions of mantras. The ritual use of the mala in court life never became as popular as wearing ornate malas made with exotic stones. These malas not only would have anywhere from 2 to 4 side counters hanging from near the side marker beads but also have a long and ornate pendant that would hang down the wearers back. Along with carnelian, jades and serpentines, rose quartz and other stones were used in making these malas.

I used carnelian for this mala because of how its ancient history speaks to the present and offers us a deeper awareness of ourselves through the knowledge of the past. This piece is strung with 108 beads for counting, in the Tibetan tradition, and can be used for ritual, however is ornate enough to be an elegant piece of jewelry. Combining the elements of the lotus flower (the carved bone marker beads), the ultimate symbol of enlightenment as the lotus grows from stagnant and fowl waters to open as spectacular and wonderfully fragrant flower to the element of the butterfly (carved serpentine pendant) a symbol of freedom and non harming as its life is spent on the wind feeding on nectar. Each element of this mala has purpose and meaning.

The intention of this mala is aid in bringing balance in the modern world. This mala has an abundance of feminine energy for balance in an aggressive world.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Who will you honor on the Day of the Dead?

The Day of the Dead is a celebration of life! It is a celebration of our lives and the lives of the loved ones and ancestors that have passed before us. In preparation for the Day graves sites and altars are cleaned up and decorated. Feats are prepared, usually featuring favorite foods and dinks of those who have passed before us. On the Day of the Dead feasts and parties are held at the gravesides of the relatives and loved ones. Food and drink are offered to the spirits of the dead and candles lit to light the darkness and help everyone see their way.

This Day of the Dead we will be having a celebration at Conspire Gallery, 5th Street and Roosevelt in downtown Phoenix. The date is still being determined at this writing. However I am busily creating pieces so you can get your Dead on! The jewelry will be laden with carved bone and wood skulls. To some these skulls are seemingly morbid, but I prefer to see the skulls as representations of our ancestors looking out for us; their ever and eternal presence in our lives and hearts.

I‘ve created a necklace that has incorporated bone and wood skulls with glass beads and lava. I see the lava as grounding and transforming as it comes from deep in the ground, enters in this plain in molten form and crystallizes into rock. Combined with the skulls you have your ancestors watching over your transformation from hot molten liquid to a perfectly crystallized enlightened being. Additionally I’ve made several sets of earrings with skulls. One pair features three successively smaller skulls hang from one another. These look like a Tantric crown upside down. Another has one of my favorite carved bone skulls, they are elongated and remind me of Tiki statues. A couple of bracelet and malas have been made mixing bone skulls with carnelian, horn and wood. With the celebrations coming up at the beginning of November I will be busy with these skull creations.

Monday, August 3, 2009


People have had a desire to adorn themselves since standing upright. These adornments have taken on many form through the centuries, one that seems to have existed since the beginning is the use of beads. Loosely defined a bead is any object with a hole either natural or drilled by man used for decoration. These decorations have communicated status, memberships, achievements, uniqueness and more. The history is fascinating spanning some 50,000 years. Of course the materials used are as varied as the materials available in the world. Shell, stone, wood, bone and seeds have been used since the beginning of recorded history. Over the centuries glass came into use crudely at first with more sophisticated techniques developing over time.

The intricacies of the technical developments in bead making intertwined with the ever larger historic trading arenas, the copies and knock offs created to compete and trade with other markets, political, social and religious influences all have a hand in shaping the history of beads.

Earliest beads were most likely found, objects with a natural hole that were strung and worn. The development of putting a hole in an object wouldn’t be far behind. Seeds, shell, wood, bone and stone were all used early on in bead making. Early stone beads were crudely shaped and roughly polished. In modern times more sophisticated techniques developed bringing us to today’s precise computer controlled laser faceted stones.

Beads are made virtually everywhere these days and from nearly every material imaginable from natural to synthetic. An ever-increasing variety of stones are discovered as mining operations continue throughout the world and new techniques with glass increase the variety and scope of beads available.

Some beads from collection are shown below:

Above and below - African River Amber – Named because it is collected in riverbeds. Turned up after rains. The amber is dry, brittle and flakey.

Above and below - Millefiore African Trade Beads – These colorful beads are made by fusing rods of colored glass together then slicing and manipulating the hot glass into various patterns. These beads were produced in Venice from the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s. The Venetian glass business was formidable producing a couple of million pounds of beads a year in the late 1700’s to 6 million pounds being produced annually by the late 1800’s.

Above - African Cast Bronze Rings – These rings are sand cast in Africa from a bronze mixture. These were stitched to garments or strung together and worn.

Below - Plastic Discs – These disc beads are made from discarded plastics and used as adornment in some regions of Africa.

Glass Coral India – The beads on this necklace are glass made to look like coral. This piece is from northern India.

Above - Decorated and Carved Conch Shell Beads - Found in the Himalayan Mountains these beads were decorated and probably used as counter and guru beads on a mala.

Below - Conch Shell Mala Beads – Found in the Himalayan Mountains these beads are made from conch shell and were used in malas. They are worn white and smooth from use.

Above - Carved Yak Bone Skull Mala – Yak bone is carved into skull beads to make this Tantric mala or rosary of skulls. The beads on this mala show the years of handling while reciting mantras.

Below - Copper Beads – Hand made in Africa from sheets of copper.

Above - Czech Wedding Beads – These beads were made in the 1920’s and traded in Africa. They are still worn ceremonially in Mali. These beads are molded as you can see the seams along the sides. Some beads have a textural design, usually an angular art deco geometric pattern.

Below - Quartz donuts – These quartz donuts are crudely fashioned with primitive hand tools from Africa.

Above - Ostrich Shell Beads - Hand made in Africa from the shells of ostrich eggs

Below - Bodi Seed Tibetan Mala – Seeds from the Bodi tree, a tree considered sacred to Hindus and Buddhists are drilled and used for beads in a mala or rosary. This mala is from pre-Chinese invasion of Tibet.