DZi (pronounced "zee") is the Tibetan word for a unique bead. Prized by collectors, practicing Buddhists, and many countries throughout the Himalayas, these rare ancient beads have a rich history in lore and mysticism.
They were believed to have originated around 2700 B.C., an era in Tibet that used to practice the Bon religion where shamanism and sorcery were present. However, it is unclear as to the exact origin, time of manufacture, or even how long they have been in existence. Since Tibetan culture prevents any archaeological expeditions on their land, many details are vague.
Among the many myths and legends that follow the dZi, the main belief is that the gods created them. Their theoretically divine origin rendered the dZi to be precious and powerful talismans. They bring luck, ward off evil, and protect the wearer from physical harm. Once a dZi is chosen, most Tibetans will not let go of it because it may cause bad luck if they were to get rid of it. In addition, the rarity of the bead makes them as valuable as diamonds. To rid of them would be foolish.
Another valuable aspect of the dZi is the way in which each were designed. Physical evidence shows that the designs were not etched into the surface with tools, but with chemical treatments. Thus, intricate and unique patterns are of great value, commanding high prices and are difficult to come by. Some universally recognized patterns are circles, squares, waves, and stripes.
The purity of the beads is the most important factor in choosing dZi beads. Colors need to be strong and in good contrast; the design etched in a desirable pattern; and the bead should be in symmetrical shape. In Tibetan culture, if a bead is just slightly blemished, they are thrown to the ground, where it is believed the bead manifested as insects.
One known legend states that dZi beads were once insects that crawled like worms on the ground. However, the moment it is touched by a human hand it would be petrified and turned into a bead. The story tells of a man who once saw one of these insects. He threw his hat over it to capture it. When he removed the hat, the insect had become petrified and a dZi lay in its place.
Another legend says that the dZi originated from a mountain in Tibet. In ancient times, a stream was said to flow down its slopes. One day a wicked woman cast the evil eye upon the mountain and the flow immediately stopped. Today, characteristic brown and white striped designs are seen on some dZi beads, like a stream frozen in place.
In modern times, new dZi beads are being made in China and Taiwan. Although these are obviously not created by the hands of gods, they are etched agates designed the same way as the ancient dZi beads.