Shamanic Drumming Blog

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Cosmology of the Drum

An excerpt from the book The Shamanic Drum by Michael Drake

Humans have always looked beyond the factual world of ordinary reality for something solid on which to ground their lives. The models of the mystery of life have always been based on the myths of an immemorial imagination. "Mythological cosmologies do not correspond to the world of gross facts, but are functions of dreams and visions," writes the late Joseph Campbell, one of the great mythologists of the twentieth century. Dreams and visions have always been, and will always be, the creative forces that shape cosmology. It is an inherent product of the psyche, a symbolic language of metaphysics recognized by shamans and seers. The personal vision of the shaman becomes the collective vision of the group.

Mythological cosmology is evocative rather than referential. It is not science or history, but rather symbolism that serves as a catalyst of spiritual well-being. Like the beat of the shaman's drum, it disengages the individual from the integrating component of ordinary thinking consciousness and invokes the mysteries of the imagination and intuition. The realm of cosmology and the domain of shamanic trance are one and the same.

Cosmologically, the drum depicts a microcosm of the universe, as well as the vehicle of travel. Carried away on the sound of the drum, the shaman's spirit is said to ride on the animal whose hide is stretched over the drum frame. The frame of the shaman's drum is invariably round, symbolizing the circle of life. In the shaman's world, all aspects of life, energy, and the cosmos spiral in circles. The plants, the animals, the minerals, and the elemental forces of nature all exist within the circle. All creatures walk the circumference of the wheel of life, experiencing birth, life, and death. After completing a cycle of learning on the sacred wheel, each one returns to the source, the Great Mystery at the center of the circle.

The cosmology of the drum, as well as that of shamanism itself, represents the worldview of Paleolithic hunting societies. The archetypal symbolism developed from a reciprocal relationship that existed between animals hunted and the tribal cultures dependent for sustenance on their offering themselves. The totemic animals or animal archetypes of vision are themselves great teachers and shamans as well as man's co-descendants from the mythical paradise. The totemic animals gave to humans the rites to be performed whenever game animals were slain so that their spirits would return to the source for rebirth. The hunt itself was a rite of sacrifice. When the rites were properly performed and recognition thus given to the order of nature, then harmony with nature was maintained and a food supply assured.

The mythic cosmology of hunting-shamanic cultures served a dual function. It not only engaged the individual both emotionally and intellectually in the local tribe, but also served as a means of disengaging from this local system in order to experience the "Great Mystery." The emphasis was on the individual, of breaking free and discovering one's own uniqueness in order to bring something new back to the group.

The cosmology of the shaman's drum is one of disengagement from the rigid patterns that suppress the manifestations of individualism. Through the beat of the drum, a sense of the original source is evoked, along with the forces of the universe which have been suppressed in the subliminal abyss of the unconscious for thousands of years. The drum, as a microcosm, becomes a tool for effecting changes in the macrocosm. It enables us to participate directly in the work of encountering and transforming our inner structure, which mirrors our culture. Structure determines how energy will flow, where it will be directed, and what new forms and structures will be created. Through the transformation of our inner landscapes, we transform the external landscapes. We create new forms, new structures that are not based on hierarchy, estrangement, and exploitation. We renew the sacred hoop of harmony and balance. This is the work of the shaman -- of myth making.

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