The greatest artist is nature. Deep in the dark recesses of the earth and sea, far from the sights and sounds of our surface world, nature creates her masterpieces, sculpting and painting in her dark, silent workshop.
In this geological studio, fossils and gems are fashioned in myriad shapes and colours... rare beauties that may never see the light of day. Millions of years may pass in their formation, but for nature, time is not of the essence.
Her palette includes the brightest corals, the most brilliant jades, the softest shades of amber, the sky-blue of turquoise, the mysterious black of yusuri1, the multicoloured veins of agate, the iridescence play of mother of pearl, and the innumerable earth tones of jasper.
A beguiling world of beauty manifests itself before our eyes with every komboloi crafted from these natural treasures.
The ubiquitous ‘classic’ komboloi with its perfectly rounded beads, whether large or small, long ago became part of our everyday culture - even for those who never took any special interest in it.
Through creativity and skill, man makes an aesthetic contribution to nature’s works, often resulting in objects of extraordinary beauty. When natural materials are rather simple or even dull, the hand patiently refines and embellishes them - often creating a work of art. With imagination, ingenuity, and intricate craftsmanship, worry beads may also be made from wood, fruit, horn or animal bones. These materials, which make little impression in their own right, are transformed by hand carving and engraving.
Still other komboloi are made with beads embellished with delicate embroidery made of genuine silver ‘thread’ resembling lace. Turquoise, amber, or lapis lazuli is sometimes added to enhance their appearance providing the additional colour they initially lack. Countless varieties of these carved or ‘embroidered’ beads are used in the creation of myriad komboloi - some of which are veritable masterpieces.
Amber beads are said to sing the sweetest song. Light and gentle in the hand, the amber komboloi needs only to be caressed to whisper to us of its captivating history and soothe us with melodic companionship.
Beyond the sweetness of its ‘voice’, amber is said to have the added advantage of radiating energy with the power to relax the nerves and rid one, if only temporarily, of anxiety. Due to its colour, warmth, and electric properties, amber has a reputation for being a protective, even magical substance.
Amber has been known and revered as a precious material from ancient times. An amber charm decorated with four human figures was found in Denmark dating to 7,000 BCE. Even older than this is an amber pebble dating to the Palaeolithic Era discovered in the Cresswell Crags in southwest England.
ΔIt is no accident that in the Odyssey Homer himself places amber alongside gold to indicate its importance to the ancient Greeks. He notes its great value and that it is worthy of a powerful ruler like Eurymachus, the mythological king of the Thessalian Phlegyans.
To Eurymachus they brought an elaborate chain,
of amber and gold, which shone like the sun.
Homer's Odyssey, Rhapsody S
(From the Greek translation by Argyris Eftalioti)
It is said the komboloi is a balm to the soul and has the power to console us when we are filled with sadness or longing... if only because it’s rhythmic movements and sounds have a direct effect on our thoughts – distracting our minds from heartache.
Does this mean that worry beads are a magic charm and cure-all? Have we found the secret to happiness so easily? Perhaps, to a certain extent... for what is longing but a negative disposition towards adversity and affliction? What can dispel such a mood better than positive energy?
...and so, no big deal, no longing eats away at me here.
So long - that is, dear lads, that my black komboloi is near
‘The Black Komboloi’ by D. Eustathiou
Certainly the muse of popular folk songs inspires lyrics with profound truths such as that conveyed so simply and with so few words in Efstathiou's Zeibekiko11 song ‘The Black Komboloi’. Of course, in reality, no problem can be solved by a few beads. Yet one's disposition towards problems can change with its companionship, the music it makes, and the consoling awareness we feel in our hands. When confronted with the everyday vexations that challenge us there is solace to be found in the komboloi.
Thus, no one disputes the calming effects of the komboloi. Many psychiatrists would even agree that the repetitive motion of ‘playing’ with worry beads works as an unconventional antidepressant and stress-reliever and provides comfort in times of anxiety, suffering or even simply boredom.
It is similar to a human presence which we likewise see, hear, and touch. It is a warm and tangible companion in solitary hours of reverie when our mind wanders and we are reflective or lonely, or during moments of contemplation.
Besides amber, all the various materials that are made into beads have a soulful, calming effect and open new intriguing and enchanting chapters in the book of the komboloi. There are shells and corals and mother-of-pearl from the sea, the myriad multicoloured stones of the earth, as well as substances derived from the natural world such as seeds, wood, bone and horn.
«...and her light was like unto a stone most precious,
even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.»
Ebony, for example, is famous for its pitch black colour which polishes to a remarkable lustre. For thousands of years ancient Egyptian artisans revered ebony and used it in the creation of many masterpieces. It is exceptionally hard and dense and has the peculiar quality of not floating because it’s heavier than water.
The natural threads gave way to ugly chains, leather or nylon, while the rich silk tassel, the founda, often disappears altogether. These changes are indeed significant, but not altogether negative. For even in this lamentable environment inundated with cheap goods and fabricated materials that flood the market, today the tender melody, distinctive ‘feel’, and lasting beauty of genuine worry beads becomes all the more evident by way of contrast.
Authentic honey coloured amber, black yusuri from the depths of the sea, the worn and aged kahraman, the stones and gems made into beads of jade, jasper, and agate, crafted by the masterful hand of nature are values which will always remain constant.