Bongos, djembes, frame drums, damroos, bodhrans, full five piece kits… they all seem to have the same effect. They draw people to them, wide eyed and grinning, eager to start beating a rhythm. Or trying to ;).
It’s wonderful to see how simple percussion instruments can bring people together, raise the vibration, breed happiness… but sometimes, just sometimes, people can be a little too eager.
When it comes to shamanism, the rules are a little different. Shamanic drums are medicine pieces. Often, their owners (or guardians… one can never really OWN a medicine object!) have spent time connecting with the spirit of the drum, and that drum will have a specific purpose. In shamanic terms, the drum is probably the most important tool – it helps us to access the other realms, yet acts as a physical anchor to consensus reality; we ‘ride’ the beat of the drum into the dreamtime – that’s why the drum is sometimes referred to as the Shaman’s Horse.
It’s important to understand that medicine pieces should never be touched without the guardian’s consent, and it’s not about ‘ownership’ or ego, it’s about energy. Sometimes it’s okay to add your energy to the mix, and sometimes the energy of a medicine piece needs to be kept as pure and untouched as possible, which is why you should always check before grabbing – no matter how strong the pull – and always respect the answer you’re given.
Drums are no different… which can present a few problems when unwitting muggles (thank you J K Rowling) lunge enthusiastically towards your precious instrument with the intent of banging away with gusto!
As a general rule, shamanic drums are used to call in our spirit helpers; they’ve often been used specifically for this purpose, so when the drum beat starts, our allies from beyond the veil will probably start coming to the fore. Imagine their surprise when they arrive, only to find little Johnny from down the road with his sticky fingers all over your drumstick!
I experienced this myself a few years ago when my then next door neighbour asked if I’d bring my elk skin shamanic drum over to show his friends. My neighbour was actually quite open to other worldly goings on and always interested to hear about all things shamanic, so I foolishly anticipated that his pals would have a similar mindset. I still kick myself to this day about allowing one of them to hold my drum when they asked so politely… I certainly didn’t expect him to start banging away with gusto whilst bellowing some bizarre pseudo-tribal chant interspersed with the odd snippet of laughter. Oh, how proud he seemed to be as he puffed out his chest and unwittingly belittled the energy of my medicine drum! It took an awful lot of smudging, humility and journey work to get the energies back where they needed to be after that but, luckily, I have pretty understanding spirit helpers!
The lesson, of course, is to always treat your shamanic drum with the utmost respect, as you would any other sacred medicine object. My neighbour’s friend didn’t know any better – he meant no harm and, I’m sure, would be mortified if he’d realised how insulting his actions could have been. His ignorance, though, was no excuse – the buck lay, quite firmly, with me. As guardian of my medicine drum, it was up to me to ensure ‘she’ was respected and cared for, and it was up to me to choose who was allowed to handle her. I’ve never made the same mistake since!
So, here’s some basic advice for guardians of medicine drums… if you have any advice of your own to add, please do leave me a post at the end of this blog.
- Get to know the spirit of your drum, find out what it needs from you – some need ‘feeding’ (sometimes with milk, or even a drop of blood), some need to be wrapped in cloth, some need oiling regularly, some like to be played often, others not.
- Ask “what can I do for you?” and be willing to hear the answer.
- Always treat your drum with love, care and deep respect.
- Never place your drum face down.
- Never beat your drum in anger.
- Never ‘jam’ with your drum outside of ceremony or the dreamtime (unless it’s asked that of you). Rocking along to MTV isn’t usually an appropriate activity for shamanic drums!
- Cleanse your drum regularly – smudging is perfect for this. It may sound obvious, but don’t be tempted to wash your drum in water – particularly if it has a rawhide head!
- Keep your drum in a safe, dry space. Skin drums can suffer and lose resonance if their home is too damp, or split if too hot.
- Remember, at the heart of shamanism is animism – everything is alive, everything has an energy, and your drum is one of your truest companions.
Until next time, walk in truth and beauty,
PS: How do you work with your drum? We’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts. Leave us a post below. 🙂