Ghost beads

Ghost beads, also known as spirit beads

Ghost beads, also known as spirit beads, juniper berries, or cedar beads, are a type of jewelry with deep cultural significance, particularly among the Navajo people. These beads are traditionally made from juniper berries that have been hollowed out by small animals like squirrels or chipmunks. The animals eat the fruit inside the berries, leaving behind a hollow shell that artisans then use to create jewelry.

Cultural Significance

Ghost beads are believed to offer protection and ward off negative energy, evil spirits, and nightmares. They symbolize the interconnection between the earth, trees, animals, and humans, bringing about peace, harmony, and safety to the wearer. Historically, the Navajo people used juniper berries medicinally and in rituals to protect against new diseases brought by Europeans and to keep spirits happy when entering ruins. They also smeared juniper ashes on their skin for protection when venturing out in the dark and sprinkled ashes around their beds for extra protection from evil spirits.

Creation Process

The process of making ghost beads involves nature and human craftsmanship. After the berries fall to the ground, animals like squirrels and chipmunks eat the fruit inside, leaving a hollow shell. Artisans then make a hole in the other end of the berry to string them into jewelry. This natural process makes each bead unique and highly valued for its intricate design and natural origin.

Uses and Availability

Ghost beads are used in various types of jewelry, including necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and chokers. They can be worn or hung in places like bedrooms, offices, or vehicles to bring peace and harmony. These beads are available for purchase from various sources, including specialized Navajo jewelry stores, online marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon, and specific websites dedicated to traditional Navajo crafts

Ghost Beads Jewelry
Ghost Beads Jewelry

The Making of Ghost Beads Jewelry

Materials and Tools

Creating ghost beads jewelry requires a few essential materials and tools:

  • Juniper Berries: The primary material for ghost beads.
  • Needle and Thread: For stringing the beads together.
  • Beading Awl: To hollow out the berries.
  • Additional Beads: Sometimes, other beads made from turquoise, shell, or glass are added for decorative purposes.

Step-by-Step Process

  1. Harvesting the Berries: Juniper berries are collected from the juniper tree. It is important to gather berries that are mature and have naturally fallen to the ground.
  2. Drying the Berries: The berries are dried to harden them, making them easier to work with.
  3. Hollowing Out: Using a beading awl, the berries are carefully hollowed out to create a hole for stringing.
  4. Stringing the Beads: The hollowed berries are strung together using a needle and thread. Additional decorative beads can be added to enhance the design.
  5. Finishing Touches: The ends of the thread are secured, and the jewelry is inspected for quality and durability.

Symbolism and Spiritual Meaning

Protection and Healing

Ghost beads are believed to offer protection against evil spirits and negative energies. They are often worn as amulets or talismans to safeguard the wearer. Additionally, the juniper tree itself is associated with healing properties, and the beads are thought to promote physical and emotional well-being.

Connection to Nature

The use of natural materials in ghost beads jewelry underscores the deep connection between Native American cultures and the natural world. The beads serve as a reminder of the importance of living in harmony with nature and respecting the environment.

Spiritual Guidance

In many Native American traditions, ghost beads are seen as conduits for spiritual guidance. They are used in meditation and prayer, helping individuals to connect with their ancestors and the spiritual realm.

Contemporary Relevance

Modern Designs

While traditional ghost beads jewelry remains popular, contemporary designs have also emerged. Modern artisans often incorporate new materials and techniques, blending traditional craftsmanship with contemporary aesthetics. This fusion has broadened the appeal of ghost beads jewelry, attracting a diverse audience.

Cultural Preservation

The continued creation and wearing of ghost beads jewelry play a crucial role in preserving Native American cultural heritage. By maintaining these traditions, communities can pass down their history, values, and beliefs to future generations.

Ethical Considerations

When purchasing ghost beads jewelry, it is important to consider the ethical implications. Supporting Native American artisans and ensuring that the jewelry is made using sustainable practices helps to honor the cultural significance of ghost beads and promote fair trade.

How to Wear and Care for Ghost Beads Jewelry
How to Wear and Care for Ghost Beads Jewelry

How to Wear and Care for Ghost Beads Jewelry

Styling Tips

Ghost beads jewelry can be worn in various ways to complement different outfits and occasions:

  • Casual Wear: Pair a ghost beads necklace with a simple blouse or dress for a touch of natural elegance.
  • Formal Events: Choose a more elaborate piece with additional decorative beads to make a statement at formal gatherings.
  • Layering: Combine multiple ghost beads necklaces of varying lengths for a bohemian look.

Maintenance and Care

To ensure the longevity of ghost beads jewelry, proper care is essential:

  • Avoid Moisture : Keep the jewelry dry to prevent the beads from becoming soft or moldy.
  • Clean Gently : Use a soft cloth to gently clean the beads. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials.
  • Store Safely : Store the jewelry in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight.

The Future of Ghost Beads Jewelry

Innovations in Design

As interest in ghost beads jewelry continues to grow, artisans are exploring new design possibilities. Innovations in materials, such as the use of recycled or eco-friendly components, are being integrated into traditional designs. This not only enhances the aesthetic appeal but also aligns with contemporary values of sustainability and environmental consciousness.

Educational Initiatives

Efforts to educate the public about the cultural significance of ghost beads are also on the rise. Workshops, exhibitions, and online platforms are being used to share the history and meaning of ghost beads jewelry with a wider audience. These initiatives help to foster appreciation and respect for Native American traditions.

Global Influence

The beauty and symbolism of ghost beads jewelry have transcended cultural boundaries, gaining popularity worldwide. This global influence has led to collaborations between Native American artisans and international designers, resulting in unique and culturally rich creations.


Ghost beads jewelry is more than just an accessory; it is a profound expression of cultural heritage, spirituality, and artistry. Rooted in the traditions of Native American tribes, particularly the Navajo, ghost beads carry deep meanings of protection, healing, and connection to nature. As contemporary designs emerge and global interest grows, the timeless tradition of ghost beads jewelry continues to thrive, preserving its cultural significance for future generations.

By understanding and appreciating the history and symbolism of ghost beads, we can honor the rich cultural heritage they represent and support the artisans who keep these traditions alive. Whether worn for their beauty, spiritual significance, or cultural value, ghost beads jewelry remains a cherished and meaningful adornment.