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|The meanings and construction of the ubiquitous Northern necklaces.|
Necklaces are worn by all men and women, and all children once they are added to an age-set. Infants may 'play' with necklaces of soft wool.
In general, each side of the necklace has 2-3 spaces, with one center space between them. Some are asymmetrical, but some wearers may prefer to adjust things for symmetry, and may even carve or trade for replacement beads solely for better arrangement of their necklace.
Dangling off of the necklace as they fit are honors beads and child beads.
Right Necklace Spaces:
The bearers right side of the necklace is history and background.
~Furthest right is age-set bead(s) - all members of an age-set would wear the same or very similar beads here. Failure to wear this would indicate you were breaking ties with your age-set, which would be a very rare and antisocial sort of thing to do. Someone who was moved between age-sets would normally use the beads for the age-set that they 'graduate' with, but they may also wear their original age-set bead in memorial if they were the last survivor of them. They may wear both together, if it's not too crowded, or wear one in a memorial/mentor place.
At this space, you may also wear (in parallel) any honors you received as a child, and a bead that represents, to you, your "home village". This may be the village you were born in, or spent most of your childhood. If you moved a lot, or felt no close ties, you may not wear this at all, or you may just wear the bead of wherever you are now. The villages are codified by material. Itadesh beads are made of shell or ocean-source items. Itrelir beads are made of ceramic. Itakith beads are made of ancient plastic (which translates to 'ancient bone') or natural bone. You may see beads made of these materials elsewhere without the village connotation, but when worn here, they indicate which village the wearer is claiming as their home village. They may be carved in a variety of different shapes, and may have glyphs on them.
~The next space(s) over would be a memorial/mentor/parent space. Any event or person may have a bead here. If you wanted to remind yourself of that time you learned not to surprise a snowy from behind, you may wear a bead that looks like a flattened foot, or it might be a parent (or close mentor)'s bead, or a bead from the occupation you gave up to be a raiser with your new children. It may also be someone else you had a close relationship with growing up. This may take 1 or 2 spaces, and may have more than one loop.
~The affection bead space. A woman wears a bead given to her by the man she is sharing her bed with that month. She does not have to spend that entire month with him, but may not bed another man during that time. A man may wear a bead in this space if he is being exclusive to a woman for that month, as gifted to him by her. It is not common for a man to be exclusive (by choice!), so usually this space is blank on a man. It is a frequent, though not required, practice for a man and woman to exchange beads, even though the man may or may not put his gift bead on his necklace.
A blank on either a man or a woman indicates that they are open to the idea of partnership, if not actively looking. A knot indicates that they are not looking, and it would be very rude to flirt with them.
A dark crimson bead of some natural material is worn during a woman's menstrual cycle. During her menstral cycle, because pregnancy is still a risk, a woman may sleep with the man to whom she gave her month previously if and only if she plans to also give her next month to him. If she plans to change partners, she is off-limits for that time!
A special 'cage' bead is worn if a woman is pregnant. Because miscarriage is not uncommon, and a pregnancy might unknowingly terminate and be replaced if a woman is sexually active, she may only continue sleeping with the father of the child she is carrying for the first three months. After that, she has the freedom to sleep with whomever she wishes.
A 'promise dangle' may be worn by a woman who plans her months in advance, tied to the central space with the 'upcoming' bead dangling down. Children sometimes wear these as boyfriend/girlfriend games.
Left Necklace Spaces:
Wearer's left side of the necklace represents more current events.
~Closest to the affection bead are friendship spots - best friends, current mentors, close family or even a very special snowy go here. Someone with a quirky sense of humor might wear a bead representing a loved tool or even their favorite food here. Some might wear a whole row of tiny beads, or one bead with a bunch of glyphs on it, or they may wear nothing here at all. This can take 1 or 2 spaces and may have several loops.
~Next would be occupation. Some choices would be obvious - a fiber worker would probably have a fiber bead. A ranger who works with snowies might have part of a hoof or horn or something carved like either. Some may be more obscure, but should have some connection with their usual job. A jack-of-all-trades type may have a few here in parallel. Rangers carve a glyph shaped like a roof (^) somewhere on the bead of choice for their occupation, representing the shelter that they give up when they are out of the village. This takes 1 space.
Honor beads are denoted from child beads by the fact that they loop back up to another space on the necklace (never the same space). These would be beads gifted by the Elders, rewards for exceptional bravery, heroics or some other kind of unusual support for the village.
Child beads dangle from anywhere they fit (except at the central location), loose at the bottom. Grandchildren are added to the dangle that represents their parent, separated by a knot. In the case of 'too many' beads, counting beads may be used, with simple, small round beads in color combinations indicating numbers. (Most people will choose to show off every single child or grandchild, however!) Beads representing children are divided by type - all male children are represented by ceramic, plastic or stone, all female children are represented by bone, antler, hoof or wood (once living things). Very long dangles may be looped casually back through the necklace to keep them from being in the way, but would not be tied there.
Particularly noxious or dangerous tasks may require that the necklace be taken off, but these things are relatively rare; necklaces are otherwise worn at all times. They are taken off to replace affection beads, and would need to be completely re-strung every year at least.
Beads with importance can also be worn elsewhere, on bracelets or beaded onto personal clothing. Some people keep them in pouches, and they serve much as photographs do in our society as keepsakes and memories.
All Related Articles:
Beads in Northern Culture: Beads are a central cultural artifact of the snow-unicorn riders, with uses and meanings that go beyond the necklace each northerner wears.
Snow-unicorn Riders: A description of the practices and beliefs of the people who live in the northern-most reaches of Torn World.