The popularity of fidget spinners inspires us to make the case for the komboloi, aka Greek worry beads
A great-uncle of mine who just passed away was rarely spotted without his worry beads aka komboloi. Interestingly, it was at the makaria after his funeral that I first spotted what is apparently now a huge fad among kids in the U.S.: fidget spinners. Have you seen one of these?
Strange looking, indeed. This fad of a toy has reached viral proportions. And while marketed as a toy, some retailers are making such robust claims as to the fidget spinners’ ability to help treat and manage PTSD, ADHD and anxiety.
Whether these claims are true or not, there’s something to be said for the calming effects of having something to toy with. Enter worry beads, henceforth to be refered to solely as the komboloi.
After spending time with my own mala beads for meditation, I found myself thinking of their similarities to the komboloi. There’s a resemblance in how they’re strung. With both, you likely pass the beads through the fingers until you reach a point where an extra bead is strung that keeps the final two from meeting. Given all the Eastern influences in Orthodoxy, something that isn’t discussed enough, IMO, I began to suspect that there’s more to this whole mala + komboloi connection. (I can’t personally speak to rosaries or any other prayer beads… but you get the point.)
A glance at the etymology of the komboloi drives this point home. The word “kombos” means knot, while “leo” means “to say,” meaning, according to one source, “in each knot, I say a prayer.” If you’re familiar at all with mala beads, this suddenly sounds very familiar. One way Buddhists (and many non-identifying meditators) use malas is in a similar way. As they move each bead during meditation, a mantra is repeated. If you’re unfamiliar with mantras, that’s a topic for another day, but we can sum it up to say that a mantra is “is a sacred utterance, a numinous sound, a syllable, word or phonemes, or group of words in Sanskrit believed by practitioners to have psychological and spiritual powers.” To the western mind that sounds a lot like a prayer, no? Aka, a lot like the intended use of a komboloi.
TBH, I’ve thought about getting a komboloi for some time, given my own nervous tendencies. While most of the people you see using them are elderly Greek men, and usually at a cafe engaged in activity that is rather un prayer-like (aka cards), I propose it’s time for their revival.
These are a hallmark of old time Greek culture, but in today’s mad world, we could use some analog stress relief.
So, I want to hear from you, who makes kombolois (Greek worry beads) that you love? Would you carry one, or do you need to be a bearded Greek man over the age of 65? All I know is I won’t be trying finger/fidget spinners anytime soon.
Unsure about worry beads? What about Greek beach towels? Read about our favorites here.