After a wonderful introduction to Mongolia, covered in our Part 1 post, our oldest son was ready to focus on an area of interest to present on at our monthly Culture Club homeschool cooperative. In past years’ learning about Mongolia, his interests veered toward the incredible dinosaur discoveries of Roy Andrew Chapman and team (see book recommendation in the Part 1 post). But this year, he chose to focus on the Mongolian Prayer Wheel.
What’s that? Read on to learn about this fascinating prayer tool, if you will. Plus, use objects around the house to create your own! The step-by-step craft instructions follow the prayer wheel intro:
MONGOLIAN PRAYER WHEEL
Our oldest tender sapling found the Mongolian prayer wheel interesting from several perspectives: its design, its spiritual significance, its history, and its recent rebirth as a sign of the revival of Mongolian culture following decades of repression. Here are some of the points he enjoyed learning and sharing with the thirty other children who had each been studying Mongolia on their own:
- The prayer wheel is a tool used by Buddhists for praying. It is spun to send prayers out into the universe, cleanse the soul, and aid in one’s compassion. Traditionally, the user says this enclosed prayer or mantra out loud or silently to themselves: “Om Mani Padme Hum”
- Buddhism first came to Mongolia in the 3rd century B.C., was widely promoted during the reigns of Chinggis Khan and especially Kublai Khan, and was firmly established by the 16th century.
- The prayer wheel is a decorated cylinder of wood or metal, inside of which is a long paper with a prayer written many times on it. The scroll can be 20 meters or yards long! The largest prayer wheels may also contain volumes of sacred texts inside.
- The larger prayer wheels are mounted inside of Buddhist temples. Two brief videos of prayer wheels in use in a temple setting can be found here and here. (Be warned: we found these are quite mesmerizing for big and little ones alike and long spans of time might be spent watching these.)
- Smaller, portable prayer wheels – hand prayer wheels – are used by individuals, who typically spin the wheel in the morning and evening, but may even carry them with them throughout the day to offer prayers periodically.
- There are other kinds of prayer wheels too, even electric, solar powered, and digital ones!
- The rise in the use of the prayer wheel (reintroduction in many ways) in Mongolian culture is symbolic of Mongolian efforts to rebuild their culture and faith following the communist era.
Our son also created a hand prayer wheel craft for his presentation. With the help of his six-year-old brother and the inspiration of the above picture, he used recycled art materials (love how sustainable this craft is!) and the following steps that we made up to create it.
HAND PRAYER WHEEL CRAFT
Materials You Will Need
- a cardboard cylindrical salt container
- a dowel, roughly 12 inches or 30 cm long
- box cutter or sharp knife
- 2 rubber bands
- aluminum foil
- paint, hot glue gun, and craft “gems” (optional)
1) Decide on a prayer to enclose. It can be the traditional Buddhist prayer shared above (“Om Mani Padme Hum”) or a brief one of your choosing.
2) Create your prayer scroll. Print the prayer (or write it out) however many times you want to. Lay it out on the page in landscape view, with the words on just one line ideally. Copy and paste it down the page, so the prayer repeats several times, leaving room to cut them apart. Then print out as many pages as you want. Cut the papers so each strip contains the prayer printed on it one time. Now tape them all together so they form a long scroll.
3) Tape one end of the long scroll near, but at least 1/2″ below, the top of the dowel and then roll it around around the dowel. Leave the other end of the prayer scroll loose. We temporarily wrapped a rubber band around the rolled up scroll so it wouldn’t unravel while we prepared the next step.
4) Cut an opening at the top and bottom of the salt container to fit the dowel through. Make one of those openings a “door” to fit the dowel with scroll through. Insert the dowel into the salt container. Position it so that the top of the dowel sticks out of the top hole, with the door closed. Tape up the door and wrap rubber bands around the dowel just outside the top and bottom holes of the salt container.
5) Decorate your prayer wheel by wrapping it with aluminum foil. You can use a dull object to press designs into the foil, paint it, shape additional pieces of foil and hot glue gun them or plastic “gems” onto the main foil to create rope details and such, etc. The dowel can be painted or covered in foil, too. You can also attach a string and weight to look like the one in the picture of the original prayer wheel above. My son kept his final creation simple, as you can see here:
One of the highlights for the kids was realizing just how long a 20-feet strip of paper with prayers on it was. And then rolling it up, having their two-year-old brother unroll it, repeat. 🙂
I loved seeing how the kids enjoyed learning about another culture’s and Faith’s approach to prayer and spirituality. They observed and then engaged with the common threads and unique emanations of humanity’s communication with the Divine through this exploration and craft.
Plus, they used a stick for something spiritual! How refreshing with all the boy energy in our home! 🙂
Please share pictures and tips to improve the craft if you make the Mongolian Hand Prayer Wheel!
Stay tuned for our Mongolian food discoveries in Part 3.