There was some discussion in the Bacchic Underground about prayer beads, so I hauled out a few sets of my old witch's ladders to show off. I could only find three of them, though I made many more, some for myself, some as gifts, some for sale. All of these are strung, but I also did a number of linked bead sets, rosary-style.
The idea of the witches' ladders is from my Wiccan days. In the Farrars' A Witches' Bible, they discuss a strand of forty beads or knots called a witch's ladder, to be used for prayer, meditation and spells. I decided I wanted something rosary-like that I could use to chant prayers, and set about creating this.
There is one centerpiece, nine large beads, and thirty small beads, for a total of forty. In their original Wiccan use, I would pray on small beads for the blessings of the Maiden, Mother and Crone, or those of the Sun God, Corn God and Horned God. On the large beads, I would name a specific goddess or god whose blessings I wanted. I began and ended on the centerpiece with a prayer of purpose.
These days I use them for anything in three or four parts that I want to repeat. I might pray to Hekate of the Ocean, Hekate of the Earth, and Hekate of Starry Heaven. I might invoke Dionysos to come on bull's hoof, panther's paw and snake's belly. Athena of the Spindle, Athena of the Dyepot, Athena of the Loom, Athena Pantekhne. They can be used to fill many needs. The rhythm is soothing.
The first picture is one in amber and jet (witch's stones, according to the Farrars) with a bone centerpiece, carved with knotwork. Now it hangs with my devotional weaving for Athena, because the thread its strung on was some of my own early spinning. The second is a grapevine of glass beads, with leaves for the small beads and grape clusters for the large ones, and is dedicated to Dionysos. The centerpiece I originally had on it (a tine, and very delicate, glass amphora) broke, and I haven't found another one yet, so there's just a silver ring to hold one. The third is sodalite and freshwater pearls with a dragon centerpiece, dedicated to a water dragon spirit I used to work with. Now it hangs on my Ocean altar.
These were the ones that were easiest to find. Somewhere, there's one for Aphrodites with cloisonné rose beads, one meant for the Serenity Prayer in Swarovski crystal (a gift for a relative). One made of bone beads carved like skulls for Hekate. I made one of seeds and horn for a friend once, fifteen years ago, and he may still use it, for all I know. We've fallen out of touch. I've lost count of all the ones I made.
I'm still very fond of the design, and still make new ones occasionally. I should really make one for the Dead, and a new one for Hekate.