Prayer Beads

The concept of prayer beads has been used by many cultures throughout history.  It is a tool of focus for things like reflection, meditation, intent, or to count repetitions of prayers without taking the focus of intent away from the prayer.  They can also be used as physical reminder of the beginning and end of each breath in breathing meditations. The beads work on many levels, both psychological and metaphysical.  They partner with your higher self to carry your intentions, your words to the universe, to lose the conscious self and commune with the spirit self.  Depending on the type of beads used to make the prayer string, they even have energetic properties such as spiritual protection, healing, and balancing.  They are often worn by the user not only to keep them close, but as talismans charged with such properties as mentioned above.

As you work with a set of beads, you begin to imbibe the beads with positive energy, programming them with repetitions of words, spells if you will, engulfing them in the energy of partnership with the bead, your higher self, and the universe. They help you to release stress from daily issues and focus inwardly on positive intentions.  Working with prayer beads can be a very effective relaxation technique and a way to shift mental focus away from anxiety provoking or other negative thought patterns.

To use a prayer bead set you hold it in the right hand and starts at the Guru bead, (the larger three holed bead,) one bead is counted per chant, prayer, intended focus or breath. When you reach the guru bead again you turn the string around and continue chanting in the opposite direction (so you do not cross the bead.) The movement is in itself a tactile meditation. The motions enough of a distraction for the mind to keep it invested in the activity while allowing the true focus to be on the prayer or other intention.

Prayer beads have many terms including rosaries in Catholic traditions or malas in Buddhist traditions.  However, fingering beads during prayer or as a focus point is found in many cultures.  Malas unlike rosaries, often are made up of 108 beads rather than the 59 of a typical rosary.  There are many reasons, for the number 108. (Some beads have 216 which is a double strand or some 54 which is half, wrist malas which are popular in the current modern culture only have 27 which is a quarter, some malas have a little as only 18 beads.)  Here are a few ideas about the number 108:

  • 108 beads on a mala are related to the chakras (the energy points in our body,) there is a belief that there are 108 energy lines connecting to the heart, with one of them believed to be the path to self realization.
  • Some people choose to recite a mantra in Sanskrit, the ancient script of India. Within the Saksrit alphabet there are 54 letters. Each letter has a feminine and masculine version — totaling 108.
  • there are 108 stages on the journey of the human soul, while others associate the possibility of enlightenment with taking only 108 breaths a day, while in deep meditation.
  • In Islam, the number 108 is used to refer to God.
  • In Hinduism, the addition of digits 1+0+8 = 9, the number 9 being related to Brahma, the creator god.
  • The number 108 connects the Sun, Moon, and Earth: The average distance of the Sun and the Moon to Earth is 108 times their respective diameters.
  • The numbers 9 and 12 have much significance in many spiritual traditions: 9 times 12 is 108. Also, 1 plus 8 equals 9. 9 times 12 equals 108.

These are just a few ideas about the meaning of the number 108.  There are many many more and if you begin to research the subject you will be astounded at how often the number is replicated in the universe and throughout our modern life.

Prayer beads can be made from all sorts of materials from wood to gemstones to shell or pearl materials.  Selecting the right material for you depends on what your goals are with the beads in the first place.  Traditionally, Buddhist malas used for general purposes are made from the wood of the Bodhi Tree or the seeds from Rudraksha.  Beads can be made from rattan called by Tibetans, “moon and stars.”  Sometimes they have other names such as lotus seed or root, linden nut.  The beads are a light cream color that darken with age to a deep yellow-brown, they have small holes which are the moons and black dots which are the stars on the outside of the bead.

When praying using pacifying mantras, white colored malas are preferred; using clear crystal, pearl or shells are the usual choice. It is believed that these purify the mind and clear away obstacles like illness, (both mental and physical,) and bad karma.  However, it should be noted that pearls as prayer beads are not practical, the repeated use will wear off their iridescent layer; instead these types are more often used as jewelry than a practical prayer tool.

For prayers or mantras that have a  focused intent on increasing things like life span, wisdom, knowledge, merit,  or anything else you want more of, using beads made from precious metals of  gold, silver, or copper and even the resin, amber for it’s ancient qualities, are a traditional choice.

Mantras or intentions for magnetizing or drawing things to you, are recited using malas made of woods like lotus seed, sandalwood, peach, elm, or rosewood. The most effective in this area is coral, but current environmental bans make it very expensive and rare.  If this is your desired area, certainly using one of the other woods and perhaps mixing the mala with a marker bead of quartz crystal to amplify intent is a more environmentally conscious way to go.

Focuses to calm harmful or negative energies traditionally should be recited using malas made of Rudraksha beads or bone, they have even been made on occasion from human bone, however I am not recommending that in the least.

So now that you have a basic understanding of prayer beads, their history, use and possibilities let’s focus on how to make your own set.


108 (or any other of the number variations) beads of your choice (8mm beads is a nice size, but you can choose any size you like)

3 additional spacer beads

Bead Cord or of the color of your choice (The thickness will depend on the size of your beads. You can also use a monofilament or other stringing material of your choice.)

1 medium-sized stone for the end of the necklace or a guru bead (three holed bead)

A bead board where you can layout your beads

A tassel, (you can use a charm or something else, it’s up to you.)

Crazy Glue
How to Assemble:
This is an unknotted Mala, but you can also make one with knots between each bead.

This style of design is called a Tibetan style Mala.
Cut a length of string (you will need about 1 meter of string or longer if you are using larger beads)
Start threading the beads onto your string.
(It’s  useful to tie something to the end of the string so the beads don’t fall off, or you can wrap it around a clothes pin to hold it in place.)

Thread 27 beads. (Count the beads and double check there is 27.)

Then add a spacer bead.

Repeat 3 more times, totaling four sections of 27 until you have completed your entire 108 beads.

Thread both string ends into your Guru bead or whatever you are using for that bead position and  then add your tassel.

Put a spot of glue to secure the knot in place.


There are many variations of the design of a prayer bead set.

One example is just to string all 108 beads and attach the guru bead at the bottom with the tassel.  This design uses no spacer beads at all and will result in just one stream of consciousness as you pray or recite your mantra or intentions. This is called a 108 bead mala.

Another is to string 21 beads, a spacer, 33 beads, a spacer, 33 beads, a spacer, and 21 beads again and then attach the guru bead and the tassel.  This design is called the mantra mala.

The final one is 7 beads, spacer, 14 beads, spacer, 66 beads, spacer, 14 beads, spacer, 7 beads , Bodhi pendant bead rather than a guru bead, which is very similar and a tassel.  This variation uses four marker or spacer beads rather than the typical 3.  This is called the Zen style Mala.

As you think about the construction of your prayer beads, consider Reiki charging your beads or combining the types of beads with their energetic properties.  You can use marker beads that are carved with symbols or other types of sigils or glyphs. Instead of a tassel you can use another object that has its own power to add to your intention.  Objects like skeleton keys, lockets with spell work, or other type of drops can significantly influence the overall power and intention of a piece.  Think about charging your stones with essences, oils or other energies.  The amount of layering can be quite significant. I recommend that you really think about and plan out the construction of a set of prayer beads.  It can be as simple of a weekend project or as long as several months.  It is entirely your decision.

However you decide to arrange your prayer beads is up to you.  They can be combined with other stones or be of all one type.  As I stated earlier, the materials and style is really up to you based on your intentions and needs.  They are powerful as tools of focused intention, talismans, or even just beautiful jewelry.  They can be worn as necklaces or smaller ones of 27 beads as wrist malas.  It is a lovely way to bring your spiritual practice in to your everyday life.

2016 copyright by Katie Pifer, available at

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5 thoughts on “Prayer Beads

  1. Loves this! The only thing that I have to say besides that is, I think, and I could be wrong, that the Islamic prayer beads have 99 beads for the names of Allah. Great article overall though. I really want to make my own set as I have a few others but not one I made.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, you are correct in terms of the number of names for Allah, and number of beads on their prayer strings, however in Islamic numerology 108 represents God. There are many different numbered prayer strings of beads. Thank you for your comments. 🙂


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