Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux holy man featured in the book Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt, details the sacred cultural use of drums from his perspective: “Since the drum is often the only instrument used in our sacred rites, I should perhaps tell you here why it is especially sacred and important to us. It is because the round form of the drum represents the whole universe, and its steady strong beat is the pulse, the heart, throbbing at the center of the universe. It is the voice of Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit), and this sound stirs us and helps us to understand the mystery and power of all things.”
Heartbeat Drum Sounds
The first sounds we become aware of while still in our mother’s womb are the beating of her heart and the rhythm of her breath.
In a Heartbeat Drum Sounds session I use my sacred drum as a guide to help clients release any stuck or stagnant energy. Stuck energy can manifest physically, emotionally, or spiritually and cause pain in each of these areas. The rhythmic beat of the sacred drum eases my clients into a state of relaxation. Breathing slows. The heartbeat drum sounds begin to match their own heartbeat gradually moving them to the “in between” space of awareness and dreams. This is where the subconscious is able to bring about healing. Each person responds differently as the messages “heard” are personal to them.
“Rhythm is the soul of life.
The whole universe revolves in rhythm.
Everything and every human action
revolves in rhythm.”
– Babatunde Olatunji
Women and the Sacred Drum
There was a time in our history when the primary percussionists and drummers were women. The first named drummer in history was a Mesopotamian priestess named Lipushiau. She lived in the city-state of Ur in 2380 BC, which at that time had conquered all the surrounding city-states. She was the spiritual, financial and administrative head of the Ekishnugal, the most important temple in Ur dedicated to the moon god, Nanna-Suen. Her emblem of office was the balag-di, a small round frame drum used to lead liturgical chanting.
Layne Redmond was an integral influence for women stepping back into the ritual of drumming once again. Using a frame drum and teaching how to play with variations of hand movements similar to the ancient ways she was encouraging and inspirational.
Native Sacred Drum Today
Today, for Native people accustomed to their traditional tribal culture, the sound that emanates from the beat of a drum is distinct and unmistakable. The drum is revered by tribal peoples to the point that many view their drum as a relative, signified by terms within tribal languages that refer to drums as “grandfather.” Drums are used in nearly every aspect of Native culture, from births to funerals. Every tribe, and even clans within tribes, have their own sets of rules when it comes to how the materials for drums are gathered, who has the right to prepare a drum, and what types of behavior are allowed and not allowed near a drum. There is also a ceremonial protocol and prayers offered during the drums’ preparation to ensure that drums emit positive energy to all those who are honored to hear its power.
~Harlan McKosato is a citizen of the Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma.
Bridge Between the Human and Spirit World:
The Power of the Shaman’s Sacred Drum
Shamans are professional trance travelers, handling communication between this world and the spirit world. Across many cultures they come as healers, psychics, specialists in non-ordinary states of consciousness, clairvoyance and out-of-body travel; they lobby the higher powers to assure a good hunt, as well as diagnose and cure the sick and assist the dying in their transition to the spirit world. A shaman typically needs three things: power songs to summon his spirit allies, spirit allies to guide him to the World Tree, and a drum to ride there. The shaman uses incantation, drums, rattles made of membranes, wood and metal, or gourds wrapped with beads to change human brainwave functions. There are many techniques of the shaman. The one thing they all have in common is their ability to create trance. A shaman drives the trance and travels to deep sacred space, to cure a disease or foretell the next harvest’s conditions. -Smithsonian Folkways