Thursday, September 29, 2016

Making a drum is a ritual of respect

Every part of the process of making a drum is an opportunity to create a ritual of respect for the tools, the materials, the processes that make the finished drum a sacred companion. 

I first met this phrase, Rituals of Respect when I read Inge Bolin’s book with this title.  The understanding that “respect for others is the central and most significant element of all thought and action” has guided all parts of my drum making. Here are some of my rituals of respect.

An old tool is an elder.  Keeping everything in good order is respectful of the decades of use pitted into a polished surface and held in a split handle.

There is no garbage.  Giving what isn't used back to nature shows respect to all the parts of the tree or deer, rather than just to the parts that will become the drum.


Details matter.  If the wooden frame has sharp edges the dried drum skin will 'buzz' where it crosses the rim.  Sanding an even bevel shows respect to the hoop for how it is being asked to support the drum's voice.

Treat everything with the same attention.  When I prepare a skin, I clean all the way to the edges, even though I probably will not involve these in the drumhead.  All the skin mattered to the deer, so it is respectful for me to work everything the same.

Make the drum that is in the hide.  Matching the size of the drum to the size of the deer is respectful of using as much as possible of the deer's sacrifice.

When others want to see what you are doing, make sure they have a special place to sit.  It is respectful to treat everyone who comes as an honored guest.

Every part, and every part between the part, is whole.  Every part is nested inside a larger part, and in turn has smaller parts within it.  This elegance of inter-dependency is worthy of respectful attention.

Beckon spirit to appear, rather than imposing a spiritual view. Then when the spirits appear, the respect will flow back through the maker of the drum and on to the one who plays it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Life lessons from nature

I love to write about going to Nature School.  Equally as much as I value the spirits and forces in nature who guide my Journey Oracle readings.

Here are four life lessons from the wild creatures and places who are my teachers.  Each lesson at first may sound peculiar, but I am sure you will find its deeper meaning as soon as you go outside.  I am illustrating these lessons with my acrylic paintings, whose images are often the final exam showing that I have understood the teaching.

Everything needs a house and food to eat.

We all need a home where we can be sheltered from what makes us too cold and too hot.  We all need to rest in a safe place, and have food that nourishes us.  We all need to sustain that which defines us.

Even the stones, which so many humans do not think of as alive, need stability and moderation where their eon-spanning lifetimes might unfold in peace.

Being out of phase is dangerous.

We all need to be living according to our nature. The predator is tuned to notice the creature who is behaving "out of phase," that is, out of its true nature.

When the deer places each hoof separately so that not even the scent of a crushed flower betrays the dappled secret of the deer's presence to the wolf, then the deer is living according to its nature.

Never show off.

For every intention and its action there is a goodness of fit.  Too much is still too much--even of a good thing.

While we are enthralled of our moment, we can never be certain who is watching.  And someone is always watching.

There is no word for "it."

Nature has no generic words for its wild creatures and places.  There are no trees or ponds.  There is this particular tree with its special name.  "The-one-with-leaves-moving-like-green-lightening" when the light is shining at just this angle.

 There is this particular watery place whose name is Face-wearing-patterns-of-gold.

Thinking in abstract categories about the myriad beings that share the earth with us reflects a flawed grasp of the power of names.  As indigenous people have always known, the Mystery can only be repeated--in story, song and sacred drama--it can never be labeled or explained.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Knowing what to keep and what to throw away

This is the drum made from the hide that I was going to throw away.

In another post I told the story of talking to nature, and how I thought this skin was too thick and old until I listened to a Pileated Woodpecker who said "This is a good drum."

You can hear the beautiful deep voice that has come from this old Shaman deer by clicking on this youtube link.

How many times do we all think to discard something because it isn't quite to our specifications? The rolled aluminum hoop that that I use as a mold for this 17" hoop of British Columbia Spruce wood is cracked and so this shamanic frame drum is not quite round.

Yet the cedar withie that holds the drum head around the frame, and secures the voice of the drum, is from the strongest part of the tree.

The interlacement pattern on the reverse is a double 7 pointed star wrapped with doeskin. This unusual design is made of a continuous length of thong.  This  pattern is considered magical protection because there are no "gates" or breaks in the continuous line through which difficult energies can enter.

So the next time you are wondering what to keep and what to throw away...go outside, pause to clear your mind of its tumbling conversation, and ask nature what is good.  A bird just might fly by with the answer.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Should I take pictures at a ritual?

I do not take pictures at a shamanic ritual.  But what is a shamanic ritual?  Not the beautiful gatherings of people to celebrate those human moments of birth and joining together and passing away.  Nor the gatherings of spontaneous joy or sorrow about the conditions in our loves and lives that draw us to each other.

A shamanic ritual, as I learned from studying with Martin Prechtel, are those times when we gather to feed the Holy, to feed the good food of our effort to the other-than-human creatures in the alternate realities--the spirit world.

The Holy is Nature in all its guises.  If humans are present to receive our gifts, they are not humans who dance to the same rhythms as we do.

The Holy in nature do not eat the objects of our ritual actions.  They eat the effort it takes to make those ritual actions.  When we take pictures of the result of those actions--the altars and pipe ceremonies and spirit fires--we keep the energy, our effort, of that action from dispersing and therefore feeding the other side.  The camera makes frozen what should move.

Think of creating a beautiful feast.  We do not know the creatures who may come, or what their needs might exactly be, and so we make food from the art of song, dance and gesture that will nourish all beings.

But then in our innocence, or selfishness, we sit at the table ourselves.  We want the beautiful arrangement of stones, the soaring flames and curling smoke to feed our memory.  And so with a camera or cell phone we stop the feast from being eaten, from being metabolized by time into something useful that keeps the spirit world from starving.  

And we do not know who we have made hungry.  

When next you are at a ritual, ask yourself, "Who is this for?" Who is coming to eat this great feast of color and moment and sound?  Who, and what, has been invited?  If the gathering is not primarily for the humans, then offer your effort in a delicious eloquence of  dance and song, but keep the memories only only in your heart.

These art images are from my painted shamanic drums.  I hope you have enjoyed their view into those realities where we are meant to serve, and not to be, the guests of honor.