Yesterday was a spirit bead for me

Many Native American cultures, including my mother’s Anishinabe (Ojibwe) heritage, include a concept called the “spirit bead”. Women would intentionally string a wrong-colored bead into an otherwise perfect pattern as an act of humility — to demonstrate their belief that only God can create something that is perfect.

See if you can spot the bead that's out of place in this Ojibwe (Anishinabe) bandolier bag from the 1930s (photo by Ann Kiefstad for MNArts.org)

My Mom never taught us about this because it’s likely she didn’t know it herself. This and other interesting and potentially meaningful traditions were taken from her mother at the Haskell Boarding School in Kansas. My Mom did teach me a bit about another kind of beads — the ones on a rosary, which are used to keep track of how many times a “prayer” is chanted. For me, those beads were in the category of meaningLESS traditions.

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Religion aside, I think the spirit bead is kind of a cool idea. We all get frustrated when things aren’t exactly the way we want them. Many of us are all too aware of our lack of perfection and get discouraged when trying to do something well. For anyone who has obsessive-compulsive, anal-retentive, control freakish or generally perfectionist tendencies, the act of making a mistake or leaving something undone provides a good opportunity to take a breath and look at the bigger picture.

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Last spring, on my 57th birthday, I decided to do two things — 1. write this blog, and 2. Take a photograph every day and post it to my photo-of-the-day website. The blog has been coming along, some months better than others. The idea behind the photo project was to make sure I stop and notice something every day and preserve a moment in time. I’d shot and posted a photo each day since April 1st (8 months and 2 days) — until yesterday. Some days I barely made it and took a late-evening photo. When I was in the hospital recently, I had 3 days of cell-phone photos in the room. A couple of times, I did a “screen grab” from some video I’d shot that day. But I was pretty proud of the fact that I’d keep it going for so many months without missing a day.

For a variety of reasons, yesterday passed without a photo. It got to be evening and I had to soak my foot (recent surgery). My foot was hurting, it was getting late and I decided to take a day off — make it a spirit bead, so to speak.

While the photo of the day project has been very good for me, I’m glad I did that last night. It reminds me why I’m doing the project in the first place – to stop and notice.

So, if you ever look through my photos, remember that December 3 is the orange bead on the green pattern. Of course no one but me cares or will ever notice it, but that’s perfectly fine.

Well, almost perfectly.

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5 thoughts on “Yesterday was a spirit bead for me

  1. I think I loved today’s post most of all. Been meaning to catch up with you, especially about the foot. Every time I’ve gone to do it, there has been a disruption. And I’m sure you’re tired of explaining it dozens of times. But it’s the weekend now and I’ll try to catch you while you’re vulnerable ;)

  2. Never heard of that before, interesting. I heard of the lost stitch in Persian rugs and the sentiment that only God can create perfection. Is this Tradition you talk of a revisionist Tradition?
    Meegwetch.

  3. Steve, I could very well be wrong about the spirit bead being part of Native cultures and specifically Ojibwe. As you can probably easily tell, I was not raised in a native community and have learned most of what I know about Ojibwe culture as an outsider. I’ve read this bit about the spirit bead in several places and heard it from several people. If it’s not true, then I hope to find that out, too. However, I still like the idea and I know it’s a concept that many societies around the world have a variation of.

    Thanks for writing! I took a quick look at your blog and will now take some time to explore it more. It looks really interesting.

    Meegwetch

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