Sunday, April 3, 2016

How to become a drum maker, or my shaman drum teachers

My drums taught me how to become a drum maker.  My first drum was built twice because the hoop warped and became like an egg.  My first lesson was "do not make a crippled voice.  Either give spirit a voice or let your effort die trying." You can see the original drum head line inside the drum rim.

My second drum taught me how to paint images by gazing into the dried skin until I could say, "Oh, it's you." The creatures were coaxed into appearing in this reality by dusting raw earth pigments into their forms, but mostly into the shadows around the forms. 

Initially I painted the backs of my drums as well as the front by reaching through the cedar withe holding ring.


Even though the holdfast at the back of the drum has evolved over the years to contain unique interlacement patterns without a painting, the cedar withe and the copper snake remain my signature.

One of my most constant lessons from my shaman drum teachers is "don't give up."  Before this goat skin became a drum, it was grabbed by a neighborhood dog who was busy trying to swallow it while I was equally busy trying to retrieve it.  You can see how the sewn up tears in the skin at the bottom of the drum became the claws of the jackel.

This profound image came to the most damaged deer skin I have ever received.  A plastic bag of hide was left at my front gate.  The skin was green with decay and covered in maggots.  Apparently the deer had been dragged from the woods because long gravel burns marked the lower portion.  I thought to make a small part into a painting surface, and so stretched it on an old hoop only to give a flat surface to work with.  When dry the drum had a beautiful voice, and this image was already mostly present in the skin.  Only the bear's face and the woman's figure were added by me. 

Sometimes the lesson is about how is drum is not always a drum--like when it is a rattle instead.  This drum was made for a ceremony in which all the participants had to wear skirts...even the drum.  The swishing sound of the bead skirt became the voice of spirit. 

Rarely a drum will have such a big lesson that the echos of its meaning continue for years.  This drum was made of elk from a single hide that provided this skin, plus 4 other skins for smaller medicine drums, all made by a circle of women who had worked together for many years.  The drum was then committed to be sold to someone with a powerful connection to its spirit. 

But then one of the women of the circle died.  And a larger voice than human desire came forward to be heard.  The drum was from the center of the hide.  And from one of my favorite Journey Oracle cards I remembered this question, "Will the rim hold if the center falls out?"