BoneIn subsistence cultures where nothing is wasted, animal bone—from yak, camel, or other beasts of burden—is used for ornamentation, both secular and ritualistic. Bone beads, often strung with a few precious pieces of coral or amber, are a traditional material for malas in the Himalaya. At the monasteries, one might encounter a devout practitioner with a mala made from bones of a holy monk or revered lama.

Bone beads remind us that life is fleeting. For the same reason, some malas contain tiny skulls carved from animal bone. Macabre? No more so than the Mexican Dia de los Muertes (Day of the Dead), a celebration of beloved ancestors, or our Halloween, which precedes the Christian All Souls' Day.

Dharma Beads: Making and Using Your Own Buddhist Malas
Joanna Arettam (2000) Journey Editions; Tuttle Publishing