Komboloi Worry Beads

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe. ~Author Unknown

Have you found yourself fretting during this global pandemic?

Wishing you had something to occupy your hands so you wouldn’t constantly stuff your face with food or gnaw your fingernails?

Maybe Komboloi worry beads could be a solution for you.

Komboloi (“come-bo-loy”) is a word that comes from two Greek words for knot and collection.

In essence, they’re Greek worry beads.

Handmade 12 mm Lapis Lazuli Gemstone Komboloi worry beads. Photo thanks to The Beaded Garden, which offers this strand for $99.90.

Now, the Old English word bede means prayer, and people of many religions (including Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists) use beads to worship. As a Catholic and a beader of jewelry, I know firsthand there’s something relaxing about fingering beads, hearing them click against one another, and uttering repetitious prayers.

But Komboloi — though they’re believed to have developed in medieval times as a way for Greek monks to count their prayers — don’t have a religious purpose these days. Instead, their popularity has surged as a means of combating tension and stress.

Komboloi delight the senses and serve as a fashion statement. They symbolize social prestige (some strands are quite expensive, depending on the materials used) and become an heirloom or keepsake. Some people use them as an amulet against bad luck; for others, it’s a reflection of their personality.

There are two ways to “play” with Komboloi — one quiet and the other loud. Both ways take skill to master. It’s said that the rhythmic clicking of bead against bead is what encourages relaxation, while giving the hands something to do.

Komboloi can be made from many types of beads. Amber or coral seem to be preferred, but precious stones, bones, wood, seeds, and other materials can be used.

Each strand consists of an odd number of beads (usually one more than a multiple of four), plus a fixed bead (the “priest”), and a tassel. Many variations on this design exist, and it’s suggested that each individual have his or her own strand rather than sharing, as the beads become symbolic to the person.

Finished Komboloi are available online, in stores, and at craft fairs, but the technique to make them is rather simple and can be found in step-by-step written or video directions. Besides, wouldn’t you want to personalize your strand as to color, length, and type of materials used?

That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent. ~Chinese Proverb

17 thoughts on “Komboloi Worry Beads

  1. I’ve never heard any of this history, but I was given a strand as a remembrance by a young Muslim man in Liberia when I went back for my six week visit in the 80s. I’d met him on the street, and he invited me home to share a meal with his family. After we’d eaten, he offered me the beads — what a wonderful gift, and quite a memory.

    • What a lovely gift, both of this man’s time, presence, and present! From what I’ve read, worry beads are kind of like a fancy fidget spinner. They help you relax, help you focus, and help you break bad habits (like smoking). They’re usually beautiful enough to display as artwork in your home or carry around in your car (though I wouldn’t advise twirling them while you’re driving!) I’m glad my post reminded you of a happy experience!

  2. Debbie, I love the color of the Lapis Lazuli gemstones. They’re so beautiful!

    Yes, I know about worry beads and their benefits. In fact, I have one that was given (made by) a dear friend of mine who makes gemstone jewelry. Mine is made of jade because she knows I love the color green.

    It’s ironic that you posted about beads because I’m currently watching videos made by a woman who is a medical intuitive (Caroline Myss), who by the way, is from Chicago. I’ve been reading her books for years. She’s wonderful. Anyway, she just posted a video on the prayer beads and shared exactly what you did.

    ” people of many religions (including Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists) use beads to worship.”

    She explained that many people think prayer beads are only something that Catholics practice (rosary beads), however, prayer beads are used by many different religions.

    Another GREAT post, my friend! I always learn something, so thank you!

    Later today I will check out the video link you shared.

    Have a wonderful week! X

    • Jade worry beads would be stunning, Ron — you know how much I love green, too! I’m in the process of making some wooden ones for myself (I couldn’t get them finished by the time I wanted to post this, ha!)

      I’m glad you confirmed my research. This is a subject I’ve come across several times during my years of beading jewelry, and it’s one I’ve wanted to delve into a bit deeper for some time. I’ve made oodles of rosaries, both for myself and for others, and I always get great delight in the feel of the beads and their colors.

      Enjoy the week ahead — we finally got a sunny day, yeah! xo

  3. Interesting! I remember in the 70s a fad was a ‘worry stone.’ I guess we had lots to worry about back then, energy being only one issue. Anyway, it was a smallish, polished stone, with an indentation in the top where a person could rub it with their thumb. You kept them in your pocket so you could touch them in times of worry. Do you remember them?

    • Oh, Dawn, I DO remember those worry stones. In fact, I had one that had something uplifting (like the word Peace) on it that I carried for a long time. I’m not sure I could ever learn to twirl Komboloi, but gee, a strand would have come in very helpful during my early years when I bit my fingernails, ha!

  4. I was delighted to see this post, Debbie. It took me back to a time when the company I was leading was having some tough times. I bought enough worry beads for the staff and directed that they be used to clear the mind of worry so that practical solutions could be built. As far as I know everyone used them and sure enough a plan was devised that made all the problems go away. I can say they work. Thanks, Debbie.

  5. Debbie, living in the Middle East I encountered chotki prayer bead strands (much smaller than a rosary.) Orthodox monks and laypeople say the Jesus prayer while moving through the beads (with an Our Father to start it off.) A beautiful beaded chotki hangs next to my icon of Jesus the Teacher in my room (where I see it all the time.) Not sure the difference between a chotki vs. Komboloi?

    • As best as I can tell, the Komboloi has “mutated” from a prayer aid to a fidget device, Virginia. I’ve seen videos of people twirling the Komboloi strands almost mindlessly while easing the worries or cobwebs in their minds. I’ve never seen a chotki before, but research tells me that’s more like a small Rosary and is designed to help the praying person focus on the prayers themselves. Typically, it contains 33 knots, symbolizing Jesus’ 33 years of life on Earth.

      • My chotki is beautifully beaded with 33 emerald/earthy colored beads and 3 vibrant large blue beads between. There’s a small jade-like cross at the bottom. Wish I could send a pic! There’s a deep spirituality that goes with the prayers (I gave two W&M college students chotkis with in depth printouts of how to do it… maybe I can find where it’s hiding on my computer!) I have always loved the Jesus prayer (as huge mercy groupie) and say it throughout the day.

        You have so many talents, Debbie! Have you ever used Job’s Tears seeds as beads? I have several rosaries from special places, but my favorite was handmade with Job’s Tears by monks @ Holy Spirit Monastery in GA.

        Beaded blessings — Virginia

        • Virginia, I had to look up Job’s Tears beads because I’d never seen any. Wow, they’re lovely — no wonder you’re partial to a rosary made from them. Yes, if you can get a picture of that Chotki (and the prayers) that would be splendid!!

  6. What a gorgeous colour those beads are. I do play with beads, though I usually wear them round my neck and play with them while I talk or read. I’ve never tried using them as a kind of proper relaxing aid but I guess unconsciously that’s probably what I’m doing.

    • FF, I do the same thing with the healing beads I wear as bracelets! Every so often during the day, I’ll take them off and rub them or just finger them. Immediate relaxation!

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