Mala beads

Often we use the phrase, "Knock on wood" - and proceed to do just that: knock on a table or a door or whatever wood is handy. Most do not know that the origin of the phrase and practice comes from the rosary. Rosaries in the old days were made of oak wood and were fingered in time of distress or trouble. Thus, holding on to or rubbing the wooden rosary or its wooden crucifix when danger was near became a common way for Christians to deal with hardships and difficulties. The practice slipped into common use as "Knock on wood."

From "A World of Stories" by William Bausch

Prayer beads are used by: Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Catholics among others. The earliest use of prayer beads has been traced to the Hindu faith of India. The purpose of prayer beads in these faiths is basically the same; strung beads help the devotee to count repeated devotional prayers. This custom spread from the East to the Middle East and then Europe. The superstitions associated with source materials used, numbers of beads, and religious legend and lore is unique to each faith. This knowledge came due to traveling missionaries or devotees of the organized faiths. They wrote down what they learned after observing the varied superstitions and ancient traditions of the people groups they encountered.

Often, when religions sought converts, they allowed them to retain some of their pagan ways: ceremonial garb, heathen rituals and traditions; in order to add to their numbers. This led to spiritual pollution.

Hindus: Scholars, having done the historical research, agree prayer beads originated with the Hindu faith. Using beads for devotions dates to the 8th century BC in the cult of Shiva. In India sandstone sculptures, statues ca 185 BC, show Hindus with prayer beads. The names of Hindu gods and prayers are repeated on stringed beads, called mala, separated by larger or different colored beads. Sound familiar?

There are two main branches of Hinduism.

Shivas: pray on the seeds of rudraksha trees unique to Java, an Indonesian island. The rough seeds parallel the rigid life a Shiva worshipper is required to follow. There are 32 to 108 seed beads on a prayer strand mala. Seed sections, 5 or more, are said to represent the faces or personalities of Shiva, god of terrible destruction.

Vishnus: use tulsi, holy basil tree, beads; 108. Devotional beads are important to the Hindu life; sometimes prayed for hours daily. Many Vishnus begin using prayer beads as children.
Vishnu is a god of alleged reincarnations.

Buddhist: Buddhism began as a branch of Hinduism. It evolved in India around 500 BC. Hindu converts kept their traditional use of prayer beads. Buddhist monks always carry a strand of prayer beads, or rosary, usually of 108 beads. Buddhists cite the origin of rosaries as: “Sakyamuni, founder of Buddhism; on a visit to King Vaidunya, is said to have ordered the king to thread 108 seeds of the Bodhi tree onto a string. He was then told to repeat, 2,000 times a day, “hail to the Buddha, the law, and the congregation”, while passing them through his fingers. So the favorite for bead construction in India is wood from the sacred Bodhi tree. The 108 beads match the number of alleged mental conditions or sinful desires a Buddhist must overcome in order to reach nirvana, a state of oneness or universal divine nothingness. Lay people can carry strands of 30 to 40 beads.

Chinese Buddhism: Buddhism reached China in the first century AD. The Buddhist rosary was not popular with the Chinese. They were used most by rulers and hierarchy as a status symbol. They became very elaborate, and were nicknamed court chains.

Korean Buddhism: was introduced at the start of the 4th century AD. Up to the 15th century, Koreans use of rosaries had been broad. The YI dynasty, 1392-1910, banned Buddhism. This ended their prevalence.

Their prayer beads have two large beads, in addition to the 108. One of the two is decorated with a swastika, the occult symbol adopted by the evil Adolf Hitler and others. It is at the beginning of the strand, while a second middle one is plain.

Japanese Buddhism: evolved around the 6th century AD. They were introduced to Buddha and rosary beads, used most for social ceremonial events: weddings, funerals, etc.. A social place for the Japanese, the teahouse, had walls marked by a rosary strand. Most are wooden, having 112 beads.
The name of these prayer beads is Shozoikl Jiu-dsu. The most sought after ones; have been ritually blessed at a temple, over smoking incense, by a monk.

Tibetan Buddhism was received around 800 AD. Tibetan prayer beads may contain coral, shell, ivory, amber, turquoise and other stones. The most treasured beads are made of the bones of dead holy men or lamas. (These bones would be considered official relics honored by some sacrilegious religious groups.) Tibetan rosaries contain 108 beads divided by three large beads. Three large beads divide the whole into 27 bead sections; on the main strand are two smaller strings of beads. These are counter beads, acting as an abacus, counting up to 10,800 prayers.

The end pieces are the djore or thunderbolt (a symbol of witchcraft; you may know of a fictional boy who has one as a mark on his forehead), and the drilbu or bell. These end beads represent Buddha, doctrine and community. Tibetans sometimes attach keys, ancestral beads or other personal objects. Some beads were carved into the details of the shameful activities of temple prostitutes or of skulls. This is appropriate since these practices can lead to a tendency to sin and cause spiritual death.

Eastern religions use one hand to move the beads, thinking to attain a state of oneness, a counterfeit spirituality. This is a way for false spirit guides, or devils to be able to influence people.

Islam:Muslim traders and explorers probably brought the Buddhist prayer bead tradition to Islam. They appear to have adopted the prayer beads from India in the 2nd (Islamic), 9th (Christian) century. Preferred for subhas is clay from the holy cities of Mecca or Medina. Other materials, from expensive precious stones to common wood, are used. A 99 bead strand is made of 33 bead sections broken up by marker beads. The 100th, or lead bead, means the completion of one cycle of devotion. Cords protrude from the leader bead, attached to two beads with a tassel. They believe evil spirits dislike hanging, dangly things, imagining the tassel can guard against evil. The beads represent the ninety-nine names of Allah. The name Allah is said on the 100th bead. The Muslim’s major prayers are the tahmid (god be praised) and tahlit (there is no deity but Allah).

Roman Catholic: European catholics began using prayer beads in the 7th century AD. Gertrude of Nivelles, 626-659 AD; her body was found with a fragment of a rosary in a tomb in Belgium. Twelfth century AD, beads were found in the graves of Norbert in France and Rosalia of Palermo, Sicily. The infamous Lady Godiva, died in 1040 AD at Coventry, England

Orthodox Christian:Prayer Rope used by Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and other Orthodox Christian groups. A series of 33, 50 or 100 knots in a wool or cotton rope, anchored by a cross at one end. Wooden beads or beads of another material often are used as guide markers on the rope.
In the 11th century, church bureaucracy decided rosaries were better used for counting devotions than as superstitious pagan talismans.

Those who were unschooled in the original biblical languages Greek, Chalde, Hebrew, Aramaic; or Latin like the Romans; or were illiterate, unable to read were assigned prayers to memorize and repeat on rosaries.

Rosaries and prayer beads were intended by the Catholic Church hierarchy, cardinals, bishops and priests, for use by the ignorant.

Repeating the prayer is meant to help a person focus on the presence of God and what God is trying to say to him.