I have this theory that we can go through our lives never noticing a particular thing, until one day our receptor for that thing suddenly gets turned on and it jumps into our view – we begin to see it everywhere we look. Not just the thing, but all things related to the thing! It’s been like that for me with prayer flags – since I started exploring them, I seem to find them around every corner. And not just the flags themselves, but the ideas they represent – peace, healing, harmony, community, balance.
Over the next few days, I’m going to be sharing some of what I’ve discovered about Prayer Flags. Today, I’ll talk a little about their history and meaning. Tomorrow, I’ll be back with a short video showing examples of both traditional and contemporary flags, called “gypsy prayer flags.” On Thursday, I’m very excited to welcome my first guest to One January Day! Kate Robertson, The Queen of Creativity, will be here to talk about her experience with healing through prayer flags. Then, I’ll wrap it up on Friday with a video tutorial on how to make Gelli printed prayer flags.
Oddly enough, historians suggest the flags originated from Tibetan war flags and, when the Tibetans found Buddhism, the flags were transformed from “war icons to wind altars.” There’s an irony there that really speaks to me and a glimmer of hope – if the Tibetans can evolve from a warlike culture to a loving and peaceful one, maybe the rest of the world can too!
The flags as we know them today are meant to carry blessings for both the flag “planter” and to the community at large. They’re typically placed outside homes and spiritual places, where the wind can carry their vibrations across the countryside.
There are two types of prayer flags:
Originally the writing and images on prayer flags were painted by hand, one at a time. When woodblock printing came into fashion in China in the 15th century, flag creation became much simpler, allowing designs to be passed down from generation to generation. Flags traditionally have a symbolic image in the center (the flags pictured below feature the wind horse) surrounded by text.
The text is usually made up of invocations, prayers and mantras and the images are typical Buddhist symbols, representing different aspects of an enlightened mind: compassion, fearlessness, protection, harmony, etc. The traditional images include important people, teachers, animals – you might also see flags featuring one of the “eight auspicious symbols”
The 5 colors of the prayer flags represent the 5 basic elements:
It’s believed that balancing these elements externally brings harmony to the environment and balancing the elements internally brings health to the body and the mind.
If you search Etsy or Pinterest for prayer flags, you are likely to encounter many sets of “gypsy prayer flags.” This term was probably born from the idea of “gypsies” being free-spirited and nomadic, traveling on a whim, changing course with the wind. In terms of this project, I think that “gypsy” ideal takes the rules away – your prayer flags can have the appearance and meaning that’s important to YOU. I like the idea of giving a nod to the traditional Tibetan customs and I’ll talk a little more about that tomorrow, but I think my favorite thing is that these can be so individual – you can truly make them your own!! I also love the idea of the flags being sort of a “kind art” offering – less about personal gain and more about general good will. I think most would agree that our planet needs healing more than ever! Global warming, natural disaster, war… I don’t know if I fully believe a prayer flag can bring harmony and healing, but I certainly don’t see any risk in it and it’s sort of a benign way to make an artful offering in the world – something you can do to beautify your own space, while secretly spreading the love to the community at large!
Be sure to come back tomorrow for Part 2 of this series!