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Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Shaman's Drumstick

Drums are an essential part of shamanic work; we use them for journeying, healing and celebration, both for ourselves and for the community. Additionally, the shamanic techniques of divination, extraction and soul retrieval and can all be performed with the drum. It can be used as a spirit boat and carry souls inside it during soul retrievals. The drum may serve as a purifying tool, a spirit-catcher or the shaman's mount.

The drumstick or beater is also a significant shamanic tool and has a powerful spirit and sound of its own. The best drumsticks are made of strong hardwood with a padded, leather covered head. They are usually decorated with fur, feathers, bead work or engraved with sacred symbols. Different beaters work better with different drums to bring out the tone qualities. By using different parts of the drumstick to play on different parts of the drum, different timbres can be produced for transmitting different meanings. There are hard beaters, semi-hard beaters, soft beaters, and rattle beaters, which are simply beaters with a rawhide or gourd rattle attached to the base of the handle opposite the head. The clicking of the rattle adds not only an interesting sound effect, but also produces an offbeat, which adds a new dimension to the sonic experience.

Furthermore, the shaman's drumstick has certain uses independent of the drum. In Tuva (southern Siberia), the rattle beater or orba, with its spoon-shaped head covered with animal fur and metal rings attached for rattling, is in part for practicing divination and drawing the attention of the spirits. The snare sounds associated with metal, stone and bone rattlers attached to beaters and drum frames are described as "spirit voices." When Tuvan drums were being confiscated and destroyed during the times of Soviet repression, some shamans used only their orba for rituals.

Among the Altaians of Siberia, shamans use the orba to invoke helping spirits, collect them into the drum and purify sacred space for ritual. According to M. A. Czaplicka, author of Shamanism in Siberia (2007, p. 171), when the shaman summons the spirits, "His tambourine sounds louder and louder, and he staggers under the burden of the vast number of spirit-protectors collected in it. Now he purifies the host, hostess, their children, and relatives by embracing them in such a way that the tambourine with the spirits collected in it touches the breast and the drumstick the back of each. This is done after he has scraped from the back of the host with the drum-stick all that is unclean, for the back is the seat of the soul."

Thus, drumsticks and drums are used in a variety of ways in shamanic rituals. The first step in learning how to work with these shamanic tools is to connect with the spirits of the instruments. By journeying to connect with the spirits, each shamanic practitioner can find out what a particular drum or drumstick is best suited for, such as divination, journeying, extracting, etc. When you meet the spirit of the instrument, it may teach you some special ways you can use it for your shamanic work that you did not know before. It may have a specific name, purpose or type of energy. Be open to the possibilities.

If the initial communication with the spirit of the instrument is not very clear, that's OK. Journeys like this can be repeated a number of times, in fact it is a good thing to do just to develop an ongoing relationship. You can journey to connect with the spirits of your instruments as often as you like. To learn more, read "Waking the Drum."

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