Red string bracelets, spotted on Hollywood celebrities who practice Kabbalah, are a ritual artifact, not a fashion statement. And they are not limited to Kabbalah; red strings represent an article of faith in a number of different beliefs. The practice is an ancient one in Central Asia and is shrouded in mythological mist in countries like China. Controversial, as in Kabbalah, or commonly accepted, as in Hindu culture, the ritual of the red string is tied to traditional beliefs.
Kabbalah -- Protective Energy
One of the main texts of the Kabbalah, the Zohar, is thousands of years old. Its roots are in Judaism, but Kabbalah is not a religion. According to Rabbi Yehuda Berg, author of "The Red String Book: The Power of Protection," Kabbalists believe that negative energies can enter people's lives through the "evil eye," which is when someone looks at you with envy and jealousy. Kabbalists' goal is to rid their lives of, protect themselves from and reject negative energy from the evil eye by wearing the bracelet 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To be effective, the string must be wool, dyed red and worn on the left wrist. Additionally, it must be cut from a longer string than was wrapped around the tomb of Rachel, the matriarch of the Bible.
In contrast, some Kabbalists have said red strings are a myth. The Bnei Baruch Kabbalah Education and Research Institute, the largest group of Kabbalists in Israel, asserts that red strings are not a Kabbalah blessing and categorizes the string bracelets, along with holy water and other alleged ritual items, as "...a lucrative commercial invention created in the past two decades."
Hindu Good Will
In Hindu tradition, sacred red string bracelets are known as "kalava" or "mauli," which translates to "above all." Stephen Knapp, author of the ebook "Basic Points About Vedic Culture/Hinduism: A Short Introduction," notes that the kalava is tied onto a man's right wrist and a woman's left wrist at the beginning of a ceremony. It is worn for and symbolizes blessings to the wearer. It also can be used in different rituals of worship -- or puja -- to Hindu deities, and can is a symbol of goodwill when one person offers it to another. The thread is called "raksha" or "rakhi" in a ceremony where a sister ties it onto her brother's wrist. The brother wears it as a sign of his sister's love and wishes for protection.
Tibetan Buddhist Balancing
Red strings are used in Tibetan Buddhist traditional ceremonies that include tying on holy cotton threads. According to an article by Sannyasi Shraddhamurti in the September 2008 newsletter of the Shraddha Yoga Healing Centre, the practice realigns energy and restores natural order as it connects people more closely. Th red string bracelet is rooted in Hindu tradition and part of Buddhist practice for more than 500 years. During the ceremony, a monk chants scripture while lighting candles in a centerpiece tied with colored strings or threads. Participants hold a piece of thread tied to the centerpiece. Afterward, the monk and participants tie the threads onto one another's wrists to signify that the body and soul are firmly tied together. Different thread colors carry different meanings: red represents bravery; white is for friendship; black for sympathy; and yellow for faith.
The Red String of Fate or the Red String of Destiny is a Chinese legend that explains how two people who are destined to be together are connected by an invisible red string. The string is tied around the ankles of the two by the matchmaker deity, Yue Lao, who determines a person's ideal marriage fate. The red string symbolizes soul mates who are destined to marry one day. Although the story of the red thread involves an anklet, the idea has permeated the culture as a concept of spiritual connection and favorable destiny. Red string bracelets are often given as general symbols of blessing and wishes for a successful outcome, in marriage or any new venture.
- "The Red String Book: The Power of Protection"; Yehuda Berg; 2007
- Bnei Baruch Kabbalah Education and Research Institute: 10 Myths About Kabbalah
- The Kabbalah Centre
- Vivien Killilea/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images