Today's post is on Worry Beads, or the kombolói of the Greek and Cypriot culture. I had the pleasure of watching a film featuring the animated use of these beads by men in Greek society. I haven't been able to find the clip to share with you, but you can easily find demonstrations on how to use worry beads on You-Tube. Here's one little clip about a woman buying worry beads and then getting pick-pocketed that's amusing:
Sadly, the Greeks have a lot to worry about these days. But this is a really old tradition. Ancient Greeks realized that the methodical twirling, rhythmic clicking and the distinct feeling of having each marble slip over their fingers could take their mind off their worries and welcome a calm, relaxing serenity. Today, this principal has expanded to include taking one's mind off particularly bad feelings or habits such as overeating and smoking.
The beads are manipulated with one or two hands and used to pass time, most often by men. Unlike the similar prayer beads used in many religious traditions, including the Greek Orthodox komboskini, worry beads have no religious or ceremonial purpose.
Worry beads have several uses in Greek culture, including:
- relaxation, enjoyment, and generally passing the time
- as an amulet, to guard against bad luck
- used by people who wish to limit smoking
- as a mark of power and social prestige. This is especially true in the case of expensive worry beads made of silver or amber.
The beads may be constructed from any type of bead, though amber, amber resin, and coral are preferred, as they are thought to be more pleasant to handle than non-organic materials such as metal or minerals.
Greek worry beads generally have an odd number of beads (often one more than a multiple of four, e.g. (4x4)+1, (5x4)+1, and so on, or a prime number, usually 17, 19 or 23) and usually have a head composed of a fixed bead (παπάς "priest"), a shield (θυρεός) to separate the two threads and help the beads to flow freely, and a tassel (φούντα). Usually the length of worry beads is approximately two palm widths.
Worry beads can be handled in many different ways.
The most common are a quiet method, for indoors, and a noisier method that is acceptable in public places. The most common quiet method is to start at one end of the thread or chain, near the shield, and to pull the thread forward using that hand's thumb and the side of the index finger until one of the beads is reached. Then the cord is tipped so that the bead falls and hits the shield. This is repeated until all the beads have been tipped and then the user starts over.
The second, louder, method is to divide the beads into two groups. On one end is the shield and a small number of the beads. On the other end is the rest of the beads. Where the two threads are empty, that space is laid between the index and middle fingers. The hand should be in a position where the palm is facing the torso. Then the end behind the hand is swung up and forward so that it hits the other beads, making a noise.
The threads are then switched back into the space between the index and middle fingers by holding the threads between the thumb and the side of the index finger. This is repeated rhythmically, creating a louder clicking noise than the quiet method. Another method is to hold all of the worry beads in one hand and roll them against each other, creating soft clicking sounds.
Worry beads can also be used as musical instrument. The sound is emitted using a drinking glass and rubbing with the lip against the worry bead, which is suspended from one button.
It is also a superstition in certain Greek communities that husbands-to-be, on their wedding night, will perform a "Worry bead ritual" involving rapid back and forth movement of all beads. This is meant to ensure sexual fulfilment (συνουσία, synousía), on the wedding night and during the following the honeymoon period.
I found a cool site for buying worry beads if you're interested, and here it is:
If you know more about this subject or about similar rituals in other cultures, please comment here and tell us about it! And if you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy our previous post on Beads of Passion.
Until Next Time,