The Drum: Drumming from the Heart

The drum is the heartbeat of Mother Earth. The animal who provided the hide did so with intention and purpose. In the drum the spirit of the animal nation lives. The honor and respect you show the drum also honors the four-legged, the winged ones, the crawlers and the bugs. The birch tree who contributed the wood for the frame did so with intention and purpose. In the drum the spirit of the plant nation lives. The honor and respect you show the drum honors the trees, bushes, flowers, and grasses. The stone in the heart of the drum asked to be a part of the drum so that you would remember the stone nation. The honor and respect you show the drum is honor and respect for the rocks, the soil, the waters and the air.

When you drum, prayers from the Web of Life are sent to the Star Web connecting Mother Earth and Father Sky. The purpose of the stone in the handgrip is so that you can hold in your hand the spirit of the foundation of the Web of Life, the First Order of Being, upon which all other beings depend for their life. The plant nation—the trees, the grasses and flowers—receive their life from the rocks, the waters and the air. Plants are the Second Order Of Being in the Web of Life upon which the animal nation depends. The Third Order of Being gives its own flesh so that the younger brother, the human can live. These are the Four Orders of Being in the Web of Life, each interwoven with the other, interconnected in the One.

As beautiful as the drum is, it is not a decorative object. Your drum is as alive as you are. It feels the cold and the heat, the damp and the dry. Care for it. Touch it with love and respect. It will last for many generations if treated with care. Protect your drum from extremes of temperature and humidity. High humidity will dull the tone. Extreme low humidity can tighten the hide giving a higher tone. It can even split or crack the drumhead. Wrap you drum in insulating layers for protection and keep it in a safe place. You can keep it in a bag specially made for it.

There are many ways to use the drum for sending prayers, for connecting with the Star Web; it also allows you to receive power, wisdom and healing energy. As you discover your natural heritage of power and wisdom, the drum can be used to remove blockages of energy flow, can wash away residues of hurt and pain, and can lift you into other worlds. Learn the power of deep passion, the carrier wave of love.

Your drum can teach you to listen to the whisper of the spirit wind in your heart. Some people call this meditation, but it is simply connecting with Mother Earth and Father Sky, the Star Web, the Grandmothers and Grandfathers who are the spirit-keepers of the four directions, and most importantly, with the Great Mystery that lies within you. These are the Seven Directions.

Before you use your drum you might wish to prepare it with a cleansing Sage Ceremony and Prayers to the Seven Directions. Smudging with sage and other aromatic plant materials has been used since ancient times by many people as a ceremony of cleansing and purification—among pre-Christian Druids and Essenes as well as Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, among Hindus and Buddhists as well as Cherokee and Lakota. Called “incense” in some traditions, it can be made of a variety of fragrant plant materials. Native Americans have used their local plants or obtained more exotic materials through trade with the tribes of other regions. Among the plants they used for smudge are tobacco, sweetgrass, calamus, red willow bark, red osier dogwood, cedar needles and sage. (This is not culinary sage of the genus Salvia. Rather it is one of the species of the genus Artemisia, which includes the landscape perennials, silver mound and silver king, as well as sagebrush and mugwort.)

The sage is dried and, with cotton string, tied it into bundles as thick as our hands can hold. Four colors of string are combined to honor the four directions—red for the east, yellow for the south, black for the west, and white for the north.

You can ignite the bundle on one end, put out the flame and use it as a smoking wand, or you can crumble sage from the bundle and place it in a shell or pottery container to smolder. Some prefer a large shell (although some people believe that the shell has water energy which impairs the fire energy of the smudge), others use an earthenware bowl or a hollowed rock. You will need something to fan the embers to keep them burning. In some traditions it is considered disrespectful to blow upon the smudge with your breath. You can use your hand to sweep air into the embers, but a feather, feather fan or wing is much more effective. To light the smudge or to reignite it, you will also need matches or perhaps a lighter.

You can use this ceremony to purify and cleanse people, places and things. Smudging brings an awareness of the sacred and should be performed with sensitivity and respect. As you add each pinch of the smudge mixture to the shell or pot, offer thanks to the Grandmothers and Grandfathers of each of the four directions. The order of honoring might differ from nation to nation. Some start with the east because there Father Sun begins each day. Always the rotation is sun-wise, following the path of the sun (east-south-west-north); then to Mother Earth (down), Father Sun (up) and finally to the Great Mystery within all things (brought to your heart). If you will be using the sage bundle as a wand, then you can offer the entire sage bundle to these Seven Directions.

Bring the smudge together in a mound in the center of the container. After igniting the mixture, fan it until it is smoldering without flame. Once again offer the smoke to the Seven Directions. Cleanse yourself by drawing the smoke over your head, over your heart and over each shoulder. With the help of another, you can be cleansed under each foot, along your legs and back, as well.

Sacred space can be smudged before it is entered by others or at the beginning of the ceremony. Pass though the smoke whatever ceremonial objects you wish to use—the fan, the pipe, your hands, a dream catcher, or your drum and the beater.

Although you might prefer to create a prayer from your own heart, here is a prayer as an example:

Prayer to the Seven Directions

Grandfathers and Grandmothers of the East, each day you bring us new light so that we may grow in wisdom. We have been waiting for the time when your light would shine in the hearts of all people. Then they would remember the Original Instructions that were written in our hearts since the beginning of all things. Now is the time.

Grandmothers and Grandfathers of the South, your warm winds have sent us your love and the abundance from Mother Earth. We have always known that as we follow the Original Instructions we will walk in balance and harmony and all our needs will be met. The power and wisdom of this path is not easily understood when the mind is taught inside boundaries and the heart is closed to sissagwaad, the soft wind of spirit. Open the heart of those who follow the way of the mind.

Grandfathers and Grandmothers of the West, in the darkness of night you have sent us dreams to see deep inside our hearts, to learn how to walk the path of the spirit. We see the beauty that hides behind each moment and discover the Great Mystery that is in us and all things. Help the people of the mind see the power of their dreams. Help them learn from their dreams so that they can remember the Original Instructions.

Grandmothers and Grandfathers of the North, you have brought the cold winds and snows each year to cleanse our Mother Earth. Now the cleansing of the mind has begun. The energies of the stars have shifted into a new focus to end domination and hierarchy. No longer is it possible to live by the mind unless it is guided by the heart. Blow the fresh, clean wind of spirit to sweep away the belief systems that limit our brothers and sisters who are trapped in the way of the mind.

Kee-shay Giidzhii Manidou, you have sent visions and dreams to help us remember Who we are. We have not forgotten the Original Instructions. The stories have now been rediscovered and returned to the people. You have shown that the path of reconciliation and peace is through the heart. Send the light of inspiration to the Ogichidaag‘ who will show others a new way of being.

Gee-mama-nama-kee, you are our Mother, our Source of Life. You have given us our food, our water, air, shelter, and so many beautiful beings who are our Brothers and Sisters. We know we are connected to you and to all other beings in the Web of Life. Many are those who do not know of their connection. They see only with their eyes and their mind. With a narrow focus they see parts of things instead of the energy of love and wholeness. They have forgotten the Original Instructions. As their Mother, you have been patient with them. Extend that patience a little longer so the Ogichidaag‘ can show them a new way.

Great Mystery, we feel your presence in us and in all things. You are the spiral energy of love that connects all, is all. You are the circle of life, the circle way, the Original Instructions. When we are living in our heart, we can soar with the White Eagle to see beyond horizons.

When the drum has been smudged you can beat on it and say this prayer, either in English or Anishinaabemowin, the language of the Anishinabeg:

Midewewewigun, nindo-wiyauh.
I seek the drum.

And then:

N’midewewewigun, manitouwiyauwiwih.
Upon my drum bestow the mystery.

And to Ishpiming, All That Is:

M’gwech, Giidji manidou
Thanks, Great Spirit

Finally, an acknowledgement of the gift:

Kikinowautchi-beegaudae
It is so.

Your drum has been opened as a carrier of your prayers and petitions to the Great Mystery. Other songs can be found in Ojibway Ceremonies by Basil Johnston from Bison Books (1990).

How the drum was brought to the Anishinabeg is told by Edward Benton-Banai in the Mishomis Book: the Voice of the Ojibway (1988) by Indian Country Communications, Inc. The original drum was the water drum, mi-tig-wa-tik’ day-way-gun, and contained water to represent the First Order of Being.

In our drum this is replaced by the stone set in the handgrip to avoid the humidity that would otherwise soften the drumhead. Later, the Anishinabeg added stones to the exterior ties of their drum. The hide of the deer, wawashkesh’shee, gave peace and gentleness to the drum, as well as speed and agility to the drumbeat.

One of the ceremonial uses of the Drum is healing.

Another way to use the drum is to create a buzzing sound with each beat. Medicine men would often place inside the drum a stick with lots of smaller sticks pressing lightly against the back of the drumhead. The multiple tones and harmonics are supposed to elicit healing. You can place the fingernail of your forefinger against the backside of the drumhead so that as you drum you will create a buzz. Unlike the medicine drum, you can withdraw your fingernail from the backside of the drumhead and use a normal beat. You can also use the tip of your finger to create a stop to a beat. Or you can use the fingernail of your forefinger to scratch on the backside of the drumhead. In using and combining all of these drumming techniques, you have a diverse “vocabulary” of sounds that can be used as needed. If your fingers are long enough you might even be able to use both your thumb and forefinger giving you two variations on the backside of the drumhead as well as the multitude of variations with the beater on the front of the drumhead. Your virtuosity is not limited to a change of volume and rhythms.

You will also find it very dramatic and powerful to strike the drumhead hard with the beater and hold the beater firmly against the drumhead. It’s almost like an explosion and reverberates with a rising, ringing overtone. Used with a crescendo of volume and rhythm, you can punctuate the finale of a sequence or, followed with quieter drumming and nuanced rhythms, you can create a symphony in percussion.

The drum can also be used for meditation and shamanic traveling. A constant, steady beat of the drum can alter consciousness

So listen to the truth in your heart. Don’t get locked into any rigid ritual. That’s a head thing, a mind thing. Don’t misunderstand: the mind is good, but the intuition, listening to the soft wind of spirit in the heart, is an awesome source of wisdom beyond anything of which the mind is capable

Care for Your Drum

The more you rub, handle and play your drum, the more your natural body oils penetrate the hide, thus lengthening its life and enriching it. For this reason, it is traditional to not play another person’s drum.

You should also oil your drum with neat’s-foot oil every few months in areas of most stress. Apply directly to the hide on the back, around the holes where the lace meets the wood

CAUTION!!! NEVER LEAVE YOUR DRUM IN A CAR, NEAR A VENT OR ANY HEAT SOURCE, OR WHERE THERE ARE SUDDEN CHANGES IN TEMPERATURE. DOING SO MAY CAUSE THE HIDE TO CRACK!!!

ADJUSTING THE TONE OF YOUR DRUM

TONE TOO HIGH?
Add moisture (mist front and back using water and a spritzer, or take into the bathroom when you shower) Or put it in a plastic bag with a damp cloth for an hour or two, longer if needed.

TONE TOO DEEP?
Add heat (put in sun or next to heat source briefly, or use a hair dryer). Not too much. Don’t overdo this.

TONE FLAT AND DRUM RIPPLED?
Add heat as above (this is the extreme end of too deep — do not worry — tone will return as it dries!)

NATURAL HIDE DRUMS ARE VERY RESPONSIVE TO HEAT AND MOISTURE!!! ADJUST WITH CARE.