The preserving shrine is nature and what is preserved in it.
The preserving shrine is memory and what is preserved in it.
– Irish Brehon law
My magical heart-sister, Isar Danu, was the first who ever told me about Reclaiming Witchcamps back in the mid-90s, when she started attending them. Officially called “Summer Intensives,” they were (and are) retreats for Reclaiming tradition Witches and other Pagans who are seeking ways to connect in community to each other, as well as to spend a week or so in total immersion, in magical sacred space.
It sounded terrific, but it was not until 2003 that I finally was able to attend. It was one of the best choices I have ever made and the gifts I have received from those experiences have continued to be treasures in my life ever since.
The basic format is that in the mornings, we split into smaller groups and choose a workshop-style path, which we commit to for the entire week. Later during the day, there are other optional activities, recreation, and affinity groups. Every night, there is a big, camp-wide ritual that centers on the story/myth/theme for that year’s camp. Juicy, wonderful, deep stuff.
In my first year, I made the momentous decision to sign up for a path called, Practical Spell Work, taught by Donald Engstrom (his married name now is Engstrom-Reese). I could spend several days telling stories about Donald, a brilliant, funny, scary-powerful priestess of Beauty, Balance and Delight. When Donald prays to our Gods and Goddesses, the hairs on your neck will stand up!
In our path, which (thankfully!) turned out to be NOTHING like any sort of spell recipe junk you find on the mass market, one of our activities was to make Pagan Prayer Beads. Donald had been making and working with his prayer beads for many years when he taught this workshop, and credits his friend Helen for teaching it to him in the early ‘90s.
(In 2007, a book by this name, by John Michael Greer appeared on the market. I do not know if their paths ever crossed, or if his book acknowledges Donald (or Helen), but I would hope so. If not, I will concede that adaptations of widespread and ancient ideas transcend belonging to any original creator.)
At any rate, I am going into this much detail about the lineage because I want to make sure you know that I did not dream this up myself. I give full acknowledgment and honor to dearest Donald, and I hope that you will become curious about this amazing man, and visit his website and blog.
In the coming days, I will be writing a lot about the intention and practice of working with prayer beads and how you can make your own. And together we will journey with each of my own beads, as we gather to give thanks in this blessed harvest season.
For today, I leave you with these thoughts from Donald (slightly edited):
Some of the earliest artifacts found and interpreted as holding sacred function are bead-like objects, including everything from sculptural medallions to small rounds made of stone, bone or clay. Some of us have known of the current use of sacred beads through our connections to Buddhism (the Japa mala) and Christianity (the Rosary).
Yet, many of us have no living relationship with the powers and pleasures of prayer beads…This [seems to me] like an idea that holds great potential. It seems like a spiritual technique that embraces the sensual beauty, pleasure and power of a truly integrated life, weaving together spirit, energy and matter.
Indeed, for the past seven years, I have found it to be so. I hope it will for each of you, too.