Prayer beads, rosaries, malas. The idea of prayer beads is a good one. The principle is one that has served humans well since Ur. Repetition. To repeat a phrase, a wish, an affirmation (as we say today) is a way of fixing it into our minds, our unconscious minds and memories. Memory is a precious faculty because it is so close to our unconscious. Indeed, it might be said that it mediates between our consciousness and our unconscious psyche. Consciousness is that center, that point in the Now. It is the present moment and in a sense our consciousness can only ever actually exist in the present moment. Yet, one of the curious things about the human mind, and one that seems to largely set us apart as different from other species of animals, is that our consciousness lives also with the past and the future in mind.
Now, I suppose, as with everything, this varies from person to person. Some people undoubtedly think about the past and future more than others. Some folks worry about the future; some plan. The art of divination was built upon this human tendency — the ability to think about the future and to anticipate. Humans hope. Humans also dread. I do not think there is much evidence of other animals doing this. We cannot really get at the feelings of other animals because they lack language.
Indeed, it is language itself, and curious human accomplishment, that seems to inspire out sense of past, present, and future. Our languages are (often) built around those three verb tenses. We categorize events and experience into those which happened in the past and what is happening in the present moment. Science, by definition almost, aims to predict the future; that is, it aims to document causes and effects which have happened in the past so predictably that we can say with great assurance that the same causes will produce the same results in the future. Scientific observation might have had its birth in astrology and other forms of divination where the same attempt was made to record repeating phenomena and relate them to effects.
But back to malas and prayer beads. I made a mala this morning after breakfast. My lady wife is a great beader and has quite a collection, so I helped myself and made a druid mala of three sets of nine beads. This configuration permits one to pray or make an affirmation 81 times, a mystic number being 9 x 9. Three times around the three sets of beads. I made to of the sets green stones and one white. If I had had some turquoise beads the same size, I would have made it blue, green, white. The colors of the druid order’s three grades, bard, ovate, and druid.
The power of repetition is related to the human power of observation and induction, the scientific method of observing repeated causes and effects and then predicting them. Of course, everyone likes it best when a mathematical formula can be produced to describe causes and effects, but we would be too hasty if we concluded that all causes and effects must conform to such mathematical regularity. I am content that causes sometimes produce effects in strange and unpredictable ways — or partially predictable but not explainable. Astrology and other forms of divination are like that. They deal in qualitative matters, not quantitative, and so cannot be expected to be expressible in mathematics. A different sort of mathematics, or a different symbolic language must be developed to express such formulae.
Having one’s natal sun favorably disposed in Gemini gives one notable powers of language, for example. Purely a qualitative matter and to try to quantify how much gift of the gab one person has would be a bit silly. Besides, Gemini’s aren’t all talkative. Some more introverted types are good writers or communicators in other ways. So, these kind of causes and effects are predictable to a certain degree but not absolute and not simple. The effects may be different from each other with the same cause, and the outcomes good or bad, depending on many other variables.
So, what about prayers? In many religions the idea of prayer is put in terms of a human being beseeching an immortal or omnipotent being. Modern druids sometimes think of prayer this way, offering prayers to Brighid or Manannan or whomever. It is certainly more comforting to feel that various areas of human need and human art are aided by specific persons who have more power and scope that a simple human friend or benefactor. I mean, I suppose I would like to have a human benefactor who sent me a check in the mail every month and cared about what I was doing, encouraged me in my writing and other creative work. But in lieu of that, it is of some comfort to imagine that one has a superhuman benefactor who cares and might send you good fortune or might make you struggle, but only for your own self-improvement. The more helpless we feel in our own lives, the more we are likely to find the idea of gods and goddesses comforting.
Some modern druids take a more humanistic approach, considering prayers to be positive affirmations that will work on the subconscous mind to bring about internal changes in attitude and behavior. Some will go further to suggest that these inward changes to the psyche can then bring about outward changes of circumstance too. For example, if you are depressed and say the affirmation “I will be more cheerful tomorrow” 81 times each night before sleep, in a while that thought will become rooted in your subconscious mind and will sprout and flower and bear fruit. Becoming more cheerful might make you feel like talking to people more and lead to networking and the opportunity to get a better job or meet a mate or whatever. Happiness draws others to us, and is a gift to them, just like a smile, a hug, a kiss, or simply a handshake and saying a friend’s name.
This is the doctrine of Masonic charity and Druidic respect. It comes down to love. Loving oneself, one becomes free to love others. But merely being puffed up with ego and self-congratulations is not the same thing as love. If someone walked up to you and patted you on the back and started raving about what a great person you were and how your work was all genius and on and on — well, you might be flattered at first, but you would not jump to the conclusion that such a person loved you. Love is different than flattery. It feels different.
But there is no question that whatever love is, we can project it and cultivate it to produce good things in our lives. Cheerfulness and happiness go hand in hand. External possessions or accomplishments might make you temporarily happy, but they are not the real source of happiness. Indeed, the relationship is often the reverse: a mental attitude of happiness gives one the motivation and joy needed to succeed.
That is why affirmation is so powerful. No matter how bad things are, you can make them a little better by telling yourself to cheer up and stop worrying. That old song from the 80’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” came in for a bit of sneering from the cynics, but it had a good point. Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s like crying. It is an emotional outburst or reaction, but it does not bring about any relief. Sometimes crying does bring relief, but sometimes it just feeds self-pity and sadness in a cycle. Worrying almost always does that. It just perpetuates itself.
These emotions are accompanied by inward talk, the chatter of the mind everyone experiences. It seems to be a part of being human and learning language. The process of language acquisition has the by-product of leaving us with voices in our heads, other subjects besides our ego sitting at the center of consciousness. These other subjects, other persons, Jung linked to certain archetypal images from myth. But, simply put, they are our inner gods and goddesses. Next time you hear someone exclaim “Oh, My God!” think about it. They are invoking their god. It’s exactly correct linguistically and ontologically. Each of us have our own god. Possibly, they are all the same god, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to demonstrate that. Certainly members of the same religion will tend to have shared notions about gods and goddesses (however many they have). Pictures help that. But in the end, we each have to come to grips with our own inner gods and inner demons.
You cannot tell other people what their god is like. That is really a fundamental teaching of modern druidry. Some druids today don’t seem to have grasped that fundamental concept, but the wise ones do. Each person has to come into their own relationship to and understanding of his or her own gods. Call the super-personalities if you like, complexes, invisible friends, the inner child, or what you will.
So, talking to these gods is a matter of talking to ourselves. It is though our own minds, our own imagination, and our own ability to listen, that we can approach the gods. Prayer beads can help this. So long as they do not become simply thoughtless repetition, affirmations will work wonders on the psyche and on one’s life. Mantras are a sort of prayer too, reduced to a simple sound or phrase. I read recently that nineteenth century Hinduists speculated that the mantra AUM was an acronym for Agni, Usha, Mitra, the Vedic god of Light, Dawn, and the morning star, Venus. Three manifestations of light, all suggestive of illumination and dawning enlightenment.
True? Plausible? I do not know. Most things believed by 19th-century writers has come to be seen as pure speculation and wishful thinking. But I just call it creative thinking. Might not be any good to get to what the Hindus and gurus themselves believed, but it is a nice interpretation, poetic, and thought-provoking. Whatever the literal truth, the fact of the matter is, a mantra carries whatever meaning you assign to it. A “Hail Mary” carries whatever meaning you assign to it too. And in some senses, the more fuzzy and illusive a mantra is, the better it can be adapted to your own needs.
The druid mantra “Awen” comes from the Welsh word for inspiration, but means more than that to many druids today. It is Divine inspiration, calling, visionary experience. It might be likened to the Christian Holy Spirit — the breath of inspiration that brings knowledge, intuition, ideas into our consciousness from we know not where. In psychological terms it is the unconscious. In the poetic terms of the Celtic bards, it is the Sea. It is the source of ideas, thoughts, images. The darkness of the sea, impenetrable and deadly (prior to the aqualung anyway) is the source of light, illumination. Ironic? Paradoxical?
Eighty-one affirmations. That’s my prescription. The first step toward action is to make those affirmations. The rest will follow in the fullness of time, as the planted seeds sprout and bear fruit.