4 17th-century women over a fire, AI generated

Mad in Pursuit Notebook

The dZi Bead: Making of a Good Luck Charm

(#189 Agate Necklace, from Tibet via Paris and across the Andes)


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We were flying over the Andes in a tiny twin-engine airplane. I played with the beads on my necklace as I gazed south toward Cotopaxi, a grand snowcapped volcano. Below us, beneath the scattered clouds, the mountains were green and rumpled, like a sleeping animal.

We were flying from Quito to Coca for an off-season adventure in the Amazon jungle along the Rio Napo. It was December 12, 1998.

The prospect of taking a small plane over the Andes rattled me. We'd all heard of the "Miracle of the Andes"—-the 1972 crash-landing, where 29 Uruguayan rugby players survived the bitter cold for two months only by resorting to cannibalism.

I might note that my Uncle Bob Barrett died in a fiery plane crash in the Rockies in 1942.

The anxious mind jumps around for a mental pacifier.


During the nineties, I had become an avid bead collector. Beads were prized not only as adornment, but also for their symbolic power to bring good luck (as a talisman) or to ward off catastrophe (as an amulet). As I booked the flight over the Andes, I remembered another plane crash and the power of the dZi (pronounced zee) bead.

In 1994, a China Air flight from Taipei, Taiwan, crashed just seconds before it was supposed to land at the Nagoya Airport in Japan. 264 of the 271 people aboard were killed. One of the survivors, a Mr. Chen, speculated during a television interview that he may well have survived because he was wearing a "nine-eyed" dZi bead amulet. ("The Legends of DZi Beads")

I'd heard that Mr. Chen's claim sparked a boom in the dZi bead trade. Classic dZi beads come from Tibet. They are not made, but found scattered across the land "dropped from heaven." There has never been a time in the past 1300 years that the Tibetans did not consider these patterned agates sacred and magical. The ancient process for etching the lines and circles ("eyes") into the agate is still mysterious.

And I owned a dZi bead!

Let me backtrack a little. Eight months before our Ecuador trip, Z and I spent a week in Paris. We haunted the Left Bank shops for treasure. At Argiles Arts Primitifs on Rue Guénégaud we found it. Z bought a couple of cast-bronze bead necklaces from the Ashanti and Baule peoples of Ghana. I found some strings of ancient beads excavated in Afghanistan. As we were leaving the shop, I spotted another necklace. A mix of chunky agates labeled "Afghanistan." But the center bead was a dZi.

If dZis were as valuable and powerful as the lore had it, the necklace was underpriced. But I had already overspent, so we left.

However, obsession got the better of me. After lunch and a bottle of wine, we headed back to Argiles. I must have tipped my hand when I first noticed the dZi. There was the necklace, in the window, at double the price. I prepared for some bargaining.

Luckily, the shopkeeper was happy to give it to us at the original price.

I had my dZi!


Eight months later, I would decide to wear the necklace when we flew over the Andes.

Of course, we arrived in Coca without mishap. But you know what? I needed to wear that necklace on every air flight I took from then on. Mexico a couple times, Italy, back to Ecuador, then Ireland.

The dZi bead necklace became my special amulet, my good luck charm. Funny how those things happen. Did I really think it protected me or had it simply become part of the pleasant ritual of travel prep? I think my necklace was really less an amulet and more a memory collector. This is what jewelry should do—collect memories.

1 Nov 2023.




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Books from Mad in Pursuit and Susan Barrett Price: KITTY'S PEOPLE: the Irish Family Saga about the Rise of a Generous Woman (2022)| HEADLONG: Over the Edge in Pakistan and China (2018) | THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) | TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) | PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008). Available at Amazon.