Shamanic Drumming Blog

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Healing Story, Singing Drum

Singing Elk Drum
This is a story about healing. It is also a story about a singing drum. In October 2011, I felt spirit calling me. I felt compelled to travel to the sacred sites that beckoned me. I followed my deepest instincts. I traveled with my drum, medicine bundle, and helping spirits to shamanize the meridian system of her numinous web, which is the planetary counterpart to the acupuncture meridian system of the human body.
Early man discovered these planetary currents called ley lines. In China, they were known as dragon currents. The Aborigines of Australia know them as a line of songs. In England, the Druids referred to the old straight track. Native Americans regarded the energy channels as the serpent power or the great dragons. According to Cherokee mythology, the dragons once followed the will of the great shamans who would invoke them to protect the people and the land.
These energy ley lines contain a two-fold element, a male and female, positive and negative, expanding and reverting breath, resembling two magnetic currents -- the azure dragon and the white tiger. At the intersection points of the planet’s energy web exist holy places, power spots, or acupuncture points. Like acupuncture needles, humans are capable of maintaining the harmonious flow of the planetary energy meridians by making an earth connection at power places.
Many magical things happened during my two month pilgrimage. I soaked in the healing waters of Umpqua, Buckeye, Travertine, Whitmore, and Keough Hot Springs. I camped at Panther Meadows on Mount Shasta. I hiked among the oldest living things on the earth in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
By happenstance, I encountered my dear friend and master drum maker Judith Thomson in Bishop, California. Judith and her husband, Lloyd studied about the healing power of sound with Jonathan Goldman. She studied the healing ways of the Native Americans who live in the states of Oregon and Washington. This included learning how they crafted drums and used their sounds for healing. Judith taught many people across the United States how to make drums and how to use drumming to heal.
Judith and I began facilitating workshops together in 1993. She was called by spirit to teach drum making and I was called to teach shamanic drumming. Unbeknownst to me, Judith had journeyed from her home in Packwood, Washington to facilitate a three-day drum making workshop in Big Pine, California. Upon her request, I helped Judith facilitate her final seminar before retirement and she helped me and twelve other participants birth the most beautiful singing drums I have ever heard.
After the seminar, Judith returned to Packwood and I was asked to stay for a drum blessing and workshop the following weekend after the wet rawhide drums had dried. The drum awakening ceremony was held outside next to Birch Creek. We asked each of the seven powers/directions to bless our drums. We thanked the animal spirits for giving their skins for our drum heads. We thanked the trees for the wooden rims and asked that our drums' hoops be connected to the World Tree which enables all trees to sing our prayers while drumming. Our drums were consecrated and we journeyed to meet our power animals.
The Big Pine seminar was the last time I ever saw Judith alive. She crossed over into the spirit world five months later on March 25, 2012. Judith mentored many drum makers and drum keepers in many communities across the United States and Canada. Her extraordinary passion and tireless devotion to "the way of the drum" has been a wellspring of inspiration for me. Hers was an authentic life well lived and she will be deeply missed.
The singing elk drum that Judith helped me birth at the Big Pine seminar turned out to be the last drum that she ever made. It has a remarkable range of tones and overtones. It is a powerful healing drum, but it is also a "desert drum." I learned this upon my return to my home in Salem, Oregon. In the humid, rainy climate of Western Oregon, the melodic desert drum that Judith and I created together became flat and toneless. It would only sing on the warmest, driest days of the summer. Even then, its voice was sad and melancholy.
For three years I debated whether I should soak the drum to loosen the rawhide, take the drum apart, and tighten the lacing of the drum, or simply return the drum to the Owens Valley. To rebuild a drum is to embark on a path of no return. You must first take stock of the situation and make certain that you have no other options. It should only be done as a last resort, for its effect upon the voice of the drum is unknowable. It should answer a real need and spring from unselfish motives. As Judith put it, "Making a drum is like pulling your heart together and giving birth to a new part of yourself."

Since rebuilding the drum would have irrevocably changed its voice, I chose to return the singing drum to its natal home. Like the adult Salmon that finds its way from the sea to the stream of its birth, I returned Judith's drum to the arid desert of its birth. I departed from Salem on April 16, 2015, retracing the route of my 2011 pilgrimage to Bishop, California. Along the way, I soaked in thermal hot springs, drummed in the earth's oldest living forest, visited an ancient vision quest site, and participated in sweat lodge and pipe ceremonies. The high point of my journey was when I presented Judith's final drum to my friend Marla. She is now the caretaker of this sacred drum. The drum is happy and sings again; it is full of songs.

Judith Thomson at the Big Pine Drum Making Seminar
Song of the Drum

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 drumbeat.
Listen to the heartbeat.
Now you hear the hoof beat.
Now you hear the wing beat.
All are One.

  —Michael Drake

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