Experienced as the repetitious pounding of a sacred rhythm on a drum, shamanic drumming also known as spiritual drumming, and sacred drumming is seen as a blessed expression of healing, honoring traditions, and spiritual exploration. In this article, we will dive into the different uses and manifestations of this ancient practice.
Shaman Drum History
Before going into the modern usage of drums, let's take a short trip through history. Drumming has stood the test of time. Its ancient use is still carried out to this day. It is the quintessential representation of a living tradition! No one knows who made the first drum or which culture first popularized drumming, but what we know for sure is that drumming is in every culture to some degree. There are over 30 different types and shapes of drums, over one hundred drumming styles, and a multitude of traditional reasons for drumming.
For example, African drumming is traced back to the Mandinka (or Maninke) people located in western Africa at around 1300AD. The style of drumming is normally fast-paced and upbeat and commonly done with more than one drum. Thousands of ancient imageries depict women and men holding or playing the drum in vase artwork, hieroglyphs, and paintings.
Using Drums for Communication
Considered a primitive telephone by today's standards, drums were used to communicate with tribes that were miles away. African drumming was/is seen as a tool to communicate locally among humans and over long distances, to celebrate battles and births, for festivals, to mourn loss and death as well as inspire during religious ceremonies and signal rites of passage. They are played in times of peace, war, planting, and harvesting. Drums have been such a large part of African people's daily experiences for so long that drumming is thought of as pulsing throughout the collective consciousness of the continent.
In many First Nation communities, a King Drum, also known as a POWWOW Drum, was most often positioned in the middle of a circle and beat collectively and in unison. It has a deep bass resonance and was used for dancing, singing, and honoring the ancestors. These drums are used in sacred social gatherings for a variety of traditional reasons depending on the Nation and family in attendance.
Many think of handheld drums for First Nation people. They are commonly used in protests and rallies. You may have seen these drums more over the last year during the marches to bring awareness about the vast number of unmarked graves of children found across Canada and the US in residential schools. These Indigenous children were kidnapped, jailed, neglected, and killed. These handheld drums have been in use for generations. There are Native American shaman drums only used by the shaman. Some of them were used in sweat lodges. Outside of this, Native American drumming was used for similar events as Africans: birth, war, peace, weddings, celebrations, sacred ceremonies, heralding governing events, and announcing royalty, etc.
Five Main Purposes for Spiritual Drumming
There are Celtic drums, Scottish drums, Indian drums, Chinese drums, and more. Nowadays, drumming is mainly used for five main purposes.
- Physical enrichment.
- Praise and worship.
- Musical instruments.
- Spiritual exploration through meditation and shamanism.
Let's dive deeper into each of these.
Shaman Drum Healing
One does not have to be a shaman to use the power of healing drumming. The art of drumming for healing is universal. If someone was sick, the pounding of the drum was thought of as being able to beat the disease out or bad spirits out of them. The vibrational frequency of the drumming sound affects the elements in our bodies. Think of it this way, the Earth itself has a healthy beating resonance and healing drumming is thought to bring someone back into harmony with the natural rhythm of Mother Nature. Our mother's heartbeat is the first sacred pattern our bodies witness as drumming and each mother is connected to Gaia. Our heartbeats carry on this rhythm throughout our lives. When drumming, we are reminding our hearts of the union of all.
Physical Enrichment of Sacred Drumming
Many sensual songs have a beat that awakens the sexual organs. Drumming has been linked to alleviating symptoms such as arthritis. Just from listening, people can be put into a heightened state. Drumming classes for exercise, such as cardio drumming, naturally encourages the body to be in motion and shake out the pounds. Drumming releases endorphins and enkephalins from the brain which are associated with overall feelings of wellness and euphoria. Alpha waves in the brain increase during and after drumming.
Drums for Praise/Worship and as Musical Instruments
I am combining these two into one section because they are almost the same. In both cases, the drum is used to make music but the reason behind it is different. For music, the inner symphony and rhythm are externalized with the repetition of the drumbeat. The musical melody is played for human enjoyment. For praise and worship, a musical rhythm beats to honor deities and/or the Divine.
Spiritual Exploration of Drums through Meditation and Shamanism
The word shaman in today's culture is someone who is spiritually evolved enough to conscientiously guide others in a loving way. The title of shaman has been used for centuries in Indigenous groups. Shamanistic drumming is when the shaman uses a shaman drum to aid the recipient(s) in manifestation, healing, and/or spiritual exploration. It is done for the purpose of taking the soul through an inner journey so that this life is enriched.
Why Spiritual Drumming?
The rhythm of the beat is known to keep one present and bypass the ego in order to be a vibrational guide into someone's psyche, soul or to connect with ancestors and deities. Drumming is used as a sincere way of getting the attention of the Divine so it will connect and grant mystical experiences such as communication with spirits. This could be done with a tribal spirit drum. Tribal spirit drumming is usually done with the purpose of bringing in ancestors or escorting the souls of the deceased into the afterlife. Why? The resonance of the heart is love and the heartbeat signals this love with its rhythm! The heart's energy of love is what mediums tap into to build a bridge to the other side. Played for the emotional level, drums also help us mourn.
What is a Shamanic Drumming Circle?
Traditionally, a shamanic drumming circle is a sacred social gathering and spiritual drumming is done during a sacred social for religious or spiritual purposes. When doing this in a group it reminds us of how we are all connected and in rhythm with one another. The shaman (spiritually clever person) beats the drum during the gathering and might have others join in who keep in pace with the tone the shaman sets. The drumming has the rhythmic tone of the drummer's intention that the listeners embody.
Regarded as a living entity, the drum is viewed simultaneously as a spiritual guardian and a creativity device. Additionally, many Indigenous groups believed that their drums had the power to wield the elements of weather. Lightning and thunder were thought of as being inside drums and could affect the physical world through rain, etc. Drums signify the heartbeat of Mother Nature and thus by being in harmony with Gaia's rhythm, we heal and manifest. Again, you do not have to be a shaman to use drums for healing, but many shamans do.
What is a Shamanic Drum?
It is decorated usually by the shaman or made specifically for the shaman. It may be blessed and used religiously in the rituals they perform. What is the shaman drum history? This isn't completely clear, but we know that many shamans pass down their drums to the shamans in training or created their own drums. Animal hides such as goat, elk, deer, cow, moose, horse, and buffalo were thought of as incorporating animal medicine and thus used in making drums. Many drums are in round or in bowl form, but some are in egg and oval shapes. Spherical sacred geometry was historically used when making drums. Drums were decorated with depictions of elements, Gods/ Goddesses, animals, healing plants, the sun, and stars, cultural symbols, people, weapons, hunting artifacts, tools, and transportation such as canoes, homes, and other creative inspiration.
Can You Become a Shaman and Facilitate Drumming?
Yes! You would have to have the willingness to be a traveler of dimensions and realms. Shaman journey through the physical world and into the spirit world and then bring back messages and spiritual knowledge from the other side. Shamans connect with their drums through intention and ritual. The drum would become an instrument of your soul and an extension of your body. You can anoint it with oils and smoke cleanses and meditate with it to imbue it with your intentions. Some carry it with them wherever they go including sleeping with it.
How Do You Perform Shamanic Drumming?
There are numerous ways depending on culture and shaman. A straightforward process to start with is to hold the drum in your hands. Feel the vibration and breathe yourself into it with your intention as you simultaneously witness it breathing itself into you. Hold or lie down and place the drum over your heart. Visualize your healing energy towards it and it also beaming love. Listen. When ready, allow the seeds of a rhythm to implant in your body and externalize it by beginning to drum. To induce an amplified state of consciousness (also known as conscious trance) that creates a catalyst to explore a wide range of spiritual dimensions and connections. You merge with the beat. Allow yourself to loosen and move/sway with the beat. Any thoughts of "I don't have rhythm," let them fall away. It is an innate, human quality to have natural rhythm. You're awakening and honoring your rhythm as you drum. Do this process for as long as you like and take notes after. Each drum has its unique voice that one can listen to and learn from.
Personal Experiences with Sacred Drumming
My childhood experience of drumming first started in the church under religious dogma but later on, I attended a non-denominational gathering where the lead speaker used a handheld drum to lull us into a meditative state and journey to the akashic records. This personal adult experience started in 2009 when I was invited to attend an event marketed as a guided meditation with shamanistic drumming. It was a shamanic drumming circle and active meditation. Someone asked what is a shaman drum? She, the shaman who called herself a sacred drummer, showed it and explained how the rhythm of the drum can calm the mind and naturally transport one's consciousness. She said: The sound gives your mind something to focus on so you can journey inward. It drowns out the ego." She used a shamanic hand drum. It wasn't a fancy rhythm; it was slow and repetitive. The words spoken in the meditation were in between the beating of the drum. I notice that my entire body relaxed, and I was more present. I was able to surrender and allow the experience to happen without the pressure of needing anything. The experience of being more conscientious was in itself the experience. Having no need for anything more, just satiated me. It was beautiful. I have also attended drumming circles where I used a drum and I couldn't help but giggle. It was a juicy experience of Divine connection.
Shamanic Drumming – A Living Tradition
Shuttling one's consciousness into different realms is an act of self-love. May that love and your inner shaman meet and collide creating such marvelous sparks that it reveals your sacred self, transforms you, and lights up your world. Shamanic drumming is the collective heartbeat of our soul family. It is the pulse and heartbeat of a community. A living tradition we all can continue that serves as a forever reference to an ancient way of life. A faith tradition guided by the soul and empowered by the Divine. In a nutshell that is shamanic drumming.