Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming

Book Review: The Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming By Michael Drake (Talking Drum 1991)

This perspective is mostly from the Native American traditions but also the author has a Mongolian teacher-friend and some ideas come from comparative myth as well as academic and new age studies of shamanism and the sacred. This book is mostly about generating visionary experience through drumming. A shamanic cosmology is explored and related to the drum itself and to power animals.

The drum is said to have two halves – whether the two sides of a double-headed drum orperhaps the upper and lower half of a single-headed drum. The higher pitched side (or upper half) is designated to the celestial – or sky realm – ruled by Eagle. The lower pitched side (or lower half) is designated to the lower realm of Mother Earth to which Horse is tethered. Eagle perches on the crown of the head. Energy is drawn from above into the root of being (root chakra) then upper and lower energies join at the heart – this is the bodily pattern given. First the celestial part of the drum is played to draw blessings from the sky world then the low side to integrate the blessings into the being- then again the celestial side is played to offer thanks. The sky realm is associated with knowledge and guidance. The realm under the earth is associated with healing and power. The ceremony begins by smudging – or smoke offerings – with sage, cedar, sweetgrass, or tobacco. Next is centering - then forming an intent. Then the drumming begins.

One may have a specific aim for the journey such as seeking a power animal or seeking guidance about a particular situation. The goal is basically to communicate with Nature for purposes of healing. According to the author and many others we have lost our ability to do this through the split strengthened by our technological dominion over nature. The author believes that the priesthoods developed in Neolithic agricultural societies imposed social dogmas onto Paleolithic nomadic/hunting societies thus suppressing individual interpretations of belief and that our destiny is to get back to the shamanistic ways. I tend to disagree with this although there were certainly changes brought about by the demands of larger communities based on agriculture (and animal domestication which he does not mention). I think what he says is partially true but also great decreases in suffering and discomfort were brought about by agricultural societies. Yes myth and ritual became more complex, human to human communication became more vital more often, and it is likely that the style and intensity of communication with nature changed. I do agree that in general these days the power of the various priesthoods are waning and many are seeking spiritual wisdom beyond the social priesthood models.

The author mentions being on the lookout for signs and synchronicities as evidence that power is being gathered and communication is taking place. There is some discussion of Healing the Earth – through working with telluric and geomantic energies like ley lines and dragon paths. He states that it is now more difficult to tune into the magnetic field of the Earth due to electro-magnetic pollution and interference from other magnetic fields, radio waves, and the many other frequencies of the electro-magnetic spectrum that are packed through the air. Drumming frequencies are mentioned – the human alpha rhythm. The fast drumming 180-200 beats per minute (Eagle beat) for drawing Celestial energy and slower heartbeat rhythm for working with the Earth energies and ideas of harmonic
resonance and tuning into the hidden harmonic overtones of the drum while in trance are covered. There are some examples of visions or journeys and a noting of similar experiences such as traveling through a tunnel to arrive in another realm (not so different from common near-death experiences). The North and South poles of the Earth in some cultures are said to be where the World Tree runs through and the tube or tunnel is sometimes identified with the World Tree which is where different realms intersect.

I plan to use this model at times while drumming in the woods to try to enhance my own communication with nature. The book is illustrated with nice totemic circle drawings by the author’s wife and a few songs and poems related to drum wisdom and journeying. Here is one I like by the author:


My drum has many voices.
My drum tells many stories.
This drum is full of mystery.
This drum is full of dreams.

Listen to the drum beat.
Listen to the heart beat.
Now you hear the hoof beat.
Now you hear the wing beat.
All are One.


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