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Beads As Amulets and in Voodoo

Amulets (to ward off evil) and talismans (to bring power) are both charms. They are an important class of beads.

Sometimes the popular media show them in action. The PBS Spiritual India filmed a young girl instructed to wear a coral bead on a red string to bring her a good marriage. The Learning Channel's Voodoo* Secrets showed the wearing of many beads by Voodoo priests, casting spells with a bone amulet and divination with shell beads.

A talisman is in the movie La Bamba. An old Mexican shaman gives Ritchie Valens (right) one to hang around his neck and tells him it will preserve him from plane accidents, which he fears. He wears it religiously, but on Christmas Day 1958 in a fight with his brother Bob it is pulled off. Ritchie, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) died in a plane crash on 4 February 1959. We mourn their loss.
But at least we still have Lou Diamond Phillips
(a Filipino-American with two master's degrees).

The connection between beads and magic often demonizes them in the media. A "Tales from the Darkside" episode involving Voodoo* figured beads prominently - being worn, used for a beaded curtain and tossed to tell fortunes.

The movie The Believers focuses around the Santeria cult, the Cuban form of Voodoo. An "amulet" of crudely conceived shells protects the boy they want to sacrifice. The cult members themselves wear black beads.

Poltergeist III is another movie that revolves around beads. The featured amulet is what is popularly called a "squash blossom," a silver and turquoise necklace used in the American Southwest. Although often thought of as a Native American design, it was introduced through Mexico early in the 1800s and the pendants are derived from a pomegranate rather than the flower of a squash plant.

Whoa! Voodoo, magic, amulets... and they're all just beads.

*Voodoo (various spellings) is as widely misunderstood as it is feared. It is formal a religion in Togo and Benin, West Africa. From this region -- the "Slave Coast" -- many slaves came to America. It was thus transferred to the New World, where it merged with similar African-based religions. There are several forms in different countries, such as Santeria in Cuba and Cadomblé and Macumba in Brazil. Voodoo is a healing religion. Its bad reputation comes from misuse and bad press.

Haiti, the only black state in the Western Hemisphere, was ceded by Spain to France in 1697. The French brought in slaves and the colony was prosperous. Inspired by the French Revolution the slaves revolted and it became the second independent country in the New World. Napoleon failed to retake it, but the freedom fighter, Toussaint Louverture, died in a French jail. Voodoo plays an important social and political role there, where the Duvaliers abused it.

Beads are important to Voodoo, but no one has studied them in detail. It is an ongoing project of mine.

Note: one or more images on this page may be copyrighted. I believe their use is covered by the "fair use" clause (Section 107) of the U.S. Copyright Law. If any copyright holder informs me in writing that the use is not fair, I shall remove the image in question.


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