Tag Archives: pendant

Buddhist Amulets, Tsa Tsa

6 Jun

Buddhist Amulets – Tsa-tsa

Buddha Amulet - Tsa Tsa

Any traveller venturing into remote areas where Buddhism is practiced will certainly come across examples of clay tablets deposited within stupas, holy caves and monastery alters. These clay tablets are known as tsa-tsa and are believed to have originated in India. In Eastern India tsa-tsa dating from the 8th century have been found in Buddhist ruins.

Clay Tsa Tsa Buddha Amulets placed at sacred site.

Tsa-tsa are clay impressions made with a metal mold containing the hollowed, reversed image of a deity or sacred symbol. The stamped images are dried in the sun and in some cases fired into hardness. In many cases the amulets may be empowered by engraving a mantra on the back. The reverent method by which these amulets are produced ensures that each one is transformed into a receptacle for sacred power.

Tsa-tsa were traditionally created in connection with pilgrimages to sacred places. Travelers carried metal molds with them to sacred sites and upon arrival would collect holy clay to make the tablets reciting mantras while they worked. This activity was considered a meritorious action which generated an abundant dose of auspiciousness for the creator and his family. Sometimes a pilgrim would stay in a place for weeks pressing an auspicious number of amulets. Some of these would usually be left at the site as offerings. Others would be kept or shared as sacred objects.

Clay Tsa Tsa Buddha Amulets placed at sacred site

Tsa-tsa traditionally played an important role in funeral practices. After a person passed away a ceremony was performed which might have lasted several weeks. A lama would read from sacred text in front of an effigy of the deceased. At the conclusion of the readings the paper print representing the deceased would be burned in a final ceremony, mixed with clay and a number of tsa-tsa would be created by a relative or close friend. These amulets would have been deposited at the gates of a monastery or left under the ledges of a sacred site. Funeral tsa-tsa would not have been kept in the home.

Clay Buddha Tsa Tsa Amulet Pendant in Brass Setting

The use of tsa-tsa is not confined to areas of Tibetan influence only. In southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Burma tsa-tsa are extremely valued as amulets and often worn around the neck.

Clay Buddha Tsa Tsa Amulet Pendant

These amulets are still being produced in the traditional clay form as well as in cast metal. The clay amulets are often placed in cases or frames for protection.

I am not a Buddhist, but I wear a small amulet frequently.  The jewelry I personally wear is always simple and always has a spiritual element whether it is outwardly evident or not.  I’ll choose a stone that resonates with me, an antique piece whose history speaks to me, or an amulet such as these.  In our busy lives it is important to have something that reminds us to be grateful and to see the beauty in every person and every moment.


Parts of this post are extracted from “Juan Li: Images of Earth and Water, The Tsa Tsa Votive Tablets of Tibet

Haida Gwaii – Argillite Art

29 May

Haida People

It is unclear how the first people arrived on the the archipelago formerly called the Queen Charlotte Islands; but what is certain is that possibly as far back as 13,000 years ago, a group of people inhabited these Islands and developed a culture made rich by the abundance of the land and sea. These people became the Haida.  They are a linguistically distinct group, and they have a complex class and rank system consisting of two main clans: Eagles and Ravens.

Haida Gwaii MapIn 1787 the islands were surveyed by Captain George Dixon, an English explorer.  They were named the Queen Charlotte Islands after one of his ships.  In 2010 the name was officially changed to recognize the history of the Haida people.  Haida Gwaii means “land of the people”.

The Haida are widely known for their art and architecture, both of which traditionally focused on the creative embellishment of wood. They decorated utilitarian objects with depictions of supernatural and other beings in a highly conventionalized style. They also produced elaborate totem poles with carved and painted crests.

Haida Gwaii art on building and totemHaida Art

Haida art stems from Haida life, past and present.  Haida art is the visual companion to Haida language, both of which are born from their connection to the lands, waters and supernatural beings of Haida Gwaii.  Whether painted, carved, tattooed, woven or appliqued the “art of the clan” signifies lineage, rank and history.


Haida artists have been carving with the Argillite found on Haida Gwaii for several hundred years.  Argillite is a fine-grained sedimentary rock composed predominantly of hardened clay particles.  Haida argillite may also be referred to as “black slate”.  It is found near Skidegate on Slatechuck Mountain on one of the Islands of Haida Gwaii located off the northwest coast of British Columbia, Canada.

The Argillite quarry is very difficult to get to and its exact location is a heavily guarded secret.  Only the Haida people have the right to use the Argillite found at Slatechuck Creek.  Haida Argillite does not contain quartz or feldspar and that, along with its highly complex matrix make it different from other Argillites found around the world.

Haida Symbolism

In Northwest Coast Native culture there are ancient traditional legends in which the world of man and the animals is closely linked.  Native Indian tribes across North America have creation stories, which tell of the human-like qualities of the animals.

Haida Carved Argillite Bear PendantBear symbolizes strength, family, vitality, courage and health.  Known as the Protector of the animal kingdom Bear is the most powerful coastal animal.

Haida Argillite Carved Eagle PendantEagle is king of birds and is revered for his beauty and regal nature.  He is the most respected of all birds and signifies peace, spirituality and friendship.  Eagle is recognizable by its hooked beak.

Haida Carved Argillite Orca PendantOrca symbolizes family, longevity, harmony, travel and protection.  Orca is said to protect those who travel away from home and lead them back when the time comes.

Haida Carved Argillite Raven PendantRaven is the transformer, trickster and creator. Known in legends as the one who released the sun, moon, and stars; discovered man in a clamshell; brought the salmon and the water; and taught man how to fish and hunt.  Raven symbolizes creation, knowledge and truth.

Haida Carved Argillite Salmon PendantSalmon are honoured and celebrated by all coastal peoples.  They serve as a powerful symbol of regeneration, self-sacrifice and perseverance.

Haida Argillite Carved Seal PendantSeal represents wealth and plenty and is an important family crest. It is a favourite theme of northern bowl carvers, probably because it was an important source of oil and its meat and blubber were significant foods at feasts.

Haida Argillite Carved Wolf PendantWolf represents loyalty, strong family ties, good communication, education, understanding and intelligence.  Of all land animals the Wolf is believed to have the strongest supernatural powers and is the most accomplished hunter.

The above Haida carved Argillite pendants are available for sale: Sunstones Gems & Jewelry

Nyaminyami – The Legend of the Zambezi River God

20 May
Nyaminyami Zambezi River God Pendant

Nyaminyami, Zambezi River God Pendant

The Zambezi is the fourth longest river in Africa and the largest river that flows into the Indian Ocean from Africa.  With a length of over 2500 kilometers, the river flows from Zambia, through eastern Angola, along the eastern border of Namibia, across the northern border of Botswana, along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe finally crossing through Mozambique and emptying into the Indian Ocean.

The people of the BaTonga tribe of Zimbabwe lived in the Zambezi River Valley for many centuries.  Despite existing in a flood plain, the Batonga people learned to live with the river relying on the fertile soil, plentiful water and food sources that the Zambezi provided.

BaTonga legends told of a dragon-like creature with a snake’s torso and the head of a fish, which they called Nyaminyami.  This creature was said to live in the river and control life in and on the waters of the Zambezi.  Nyaminyami is said to reside under a rock in the Zambezi River, protecting both the river from damage and the resident Batonga people from harm.

Nyaminyami Zambezi River

Zambezi River

In the 1950’s work began on a hydro-electric dam in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi River Basin between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The BaTonga people were told to leave their homes and move away from the river to avoid the flood that the dam would cause.  Reluctantly they allowed themselves to be resettled higher up the bank, but they believed Nyaminyami would never allow the dam to be built and eventually, when the project failed, they would move back to their homes.

In 1957, when the dam was well on its way to completion, Nyaminyami struck. The worst floods ever known on the Zambezi washed away much of the partly built dam and the heavy equipment, killing many of the workers.  After the disaster, flow patterns of the river were studied to ascertain whether there was a likelihood of another flood and it was agreed a flood of comparable intensity would only occur once every thousand years.

The very next rainy season, however, brought further floods even worse than the previous year. Nyaminyami had struck again, destroying the coffer dam, the access bridge and parts of the main wall.  The project survived however, and the great river was eventually controlled. In 1960 the generators were switched on and have been supplying electricity to Zimbabwe and Zambia ever since.

The BaTonga still live on the shores of Lake Kariba, and many still believe that one day Nyaminyami will fulfill his promise and they will be able to return to their homes on the banks of the river.

Nyaminyami Zambezi River God Pendant

Nyaminyami, Zambezi River God Pendant

Amulets depicting Nyaminyami, the Zambezi River God are believed to offer protection both on and off the water and are sought out by adventurists and fishermen visiting the Zambezi River.  Recently the legend of Nyaminyami was featured on an episode of “River Monsters” on Discovery.  Fisherman/Adventurer Jeremy Wade goes after a Giant Vundu underneath the Kariba Dam.  Watch video.

The pendants shown here are hand carved in African Verdite stone and Bone and are available for purchase on my website: sunstonesbeads.ca
These pieces are purchased directly from the carver in Zimbabwe who supports his family with his art.

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