Spirit beads in jewelry

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You don’t have to look far to find spiritual traditions and meaning attached to beadwork. In fact, an earlier spelling of “bead” was “bede,” meaning “prayer” in Old English, and a bead wasn’t originally a spherical object with a hole but actually a prayer or a request. The transition to its current-day meaning seems to be linked to rosary beads, which in the Catholic tradition help the faithful count their prayers. Other cultures bring us mala beads for meditation, evil eye beads for warding off evil spirits, and mandalas to keep the wearer centered and in tune with the totality of the universe and existence.
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If unintentional mistakes count, there are two Spirit beads in this bracelet, which was designed by Antonio Calles and beaded by me. When you look closely, you see that there is a blue circle around each “X” and there are supposed to be two purple beads between each pair of blue circles. I missed this detail between the first two circles while I was making this and used blue beads instead of purple ones. I spotted the error and followed the pattern correctly after this, but I left the mistake in the finished piece.

The Native American tradition of including a “Spirit bead” in every design is one I admire. Spirit beads are not like totems, which are symbols that act as guides. Rather the Spirit bead is an intentional flaw that is placed in a piece of beadwork. Adding a Spirit bead is an act of humility, reflecting the imperfection of mankind. Apparently, there is a similar tradition in quilting, called “humility blocks.”

In A Primer: The Art of Native American Beadwork, author Z. Susanne Aikman, who is of Eastern Cherokee descent, writes: "Each piece should contain an intentional mistake or Spirit bead. The reason for this is that we are but human and cannot achieve perfection; if we attempt perfection in a piece it could be bad luck. So always remember your Spirit bead."

While I haven’t purposefully set about including a Spirit bead in each of my designs, I do seem to practice the concept, if unintentionally. In other words, I frequently find mistakes in my work. Sometimes I fix them but more and more I’m leaving them in, allowing my imperfections to show. There are two Spirit beads (if I may call them that – they weren’t actually intentional!) in the bracelet shown above. Can you find them?

What do you think of Spirit beads? Do you place them in your work?

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