Derived from the greek word kombos, meaning knot or group of knots. The Komboloi is used to take ones mind away from bad feelings, stress, and to relax the mind and body. Also thought to promote healing, and help cure bad habits by changing ones focus.

Usually, the Komboloi, or Worrry Beads, is made from the highest quality glass beads, semi-precious stones, and occassionally wood.

Like most Greek folk art, the history of komboloi is uncertain. Some claim that they are a recent addition to mainland Greek culture, arriving only seventy or eighty years ago and then achieving a fashionable status. Or that they are mimicry of Turkish prayer bead strands, adopted by persecuted Greeks to mock their captors. Still another theory suggests that the Turkish conquerors forbade their Greek subjects to shake hands, and the beads were introduced as a way of reminding Greeks to keep their hands to themselves. Others assert, probably more rightly, that they are derived from the knotted prayer strands (komboskini) used by Greek Orthodox monks. As the word komboloi means “group of knots”, this may be the true origin.

Until recently, the short strands of komboloi beads were the special province of men, and were rarely seen in the hands of women. Melina Mercouri was an exception, often handling a silver strand in public as she fought for increased recognition of Greece’s cultural heritage. Modern young Greek men would disdain carrying them. But now, as they transcend cultural tradition and become a fashion accessory, both men and women are displaying them. Beautifully crafted strands are appearing in fine jewellery stores, and older strands are becoming prized collector items. Most komboloi are strands of about sixteen to twenty beads, with one bead tied and set off, usually adorned with a tassel. They can be strung on leather, string, or fine metal chain. Less common are - two large beads on a short length of cord, which are bounced back and forth against the hand.

Varieties of Komboloi
The short strands of komboloi beads come in many varieties, from plastic to ceramic, bone, glass, amber, and coral.

Amber is a traditional stone for komboloi, but be aware that reconstituted (mastica), partially real, or imitation amber are all common and have been used for a long time, so age is no guarantee of authenticity.

As komboloi grow in popularity, other versions are popping up. Long strands with big chunky beads are intended as wall decorations. Small strands may end up hanging from rear view mirrors in cars, acting as a new kind of the “donkey beads” which protected the beasts of burden which were the common people’s “cars” of the past. Both the wall decorations and car adornments count on an inherent protective quality in komboloi beads. Some modern strands are made of beads shaped and marked like dice, symbolizing good luck, particularly for gambling or games of chance. Others are made of cobalt-blue eye beads, believed to effectively ward off the evil eye. Perhaps these should be called “no-worry beads”.

Some Greeks are touting the power of komboloi to soothe tensions, reduce blood pressure, and stimulate acupuncture points in the fingers.

The Power of the beads
Tigers eye........Courage
Black & white.....Balance

At the Komboloi Museum, in Nafplion, one can find a great and interesting collection.