Sunday, August 21, 2011

Drums and Rattles.

Lately I’ve received a few e-mails and letters from people asking questions about drums and rattles. I don’t think I’ve written a blog on this topic yet. JB wrote in his e-mail: “I often read that Drums are connected to Shamanism and often the tool of choice for Shamans. How do Shamans use drums differently than anyone else who’s in Shamanism?” I thought it was a great question.

For starters, one of the reasons why a drum is an interesting tool in Shamanism is because it can mimic a heartbeat and induce a state of trance. A rapid heartbeat can trigger nervousness, excitement and even aggression. A very slow heartbeat can help in relaxation, sleep and dreaming. Every rhythm can inspire an emotion and can bring about the memory of a past experience or a parallel reality. In Shamanic circles the drum can be instrumental in healing, teaching, ceremony or ritual, expansion of consciousness as well as dreaming and journeying.

Almost a decade ago I participated in a Mohawk naming ceremony. During the ceremony a group of eight people standing in the position of the 8 winds played the drums while dreamer initiates accompanied individuals in the dreaming in hope to receive their Spirit name. The tempo was quite fast (maybe 4 beats a second); which is usually the beat when attempting to induce a trance. I remember cringing at the sound at first because it was too loud. After a minute or two all I could hear is my own heart hunting this drumbeat and so it felt. It’s as if my legs were running and following the sound. Just when I expected it the least I was caught by an Eagle and was flying up to the sky. It was the most incredible rush. There were a few more details to the dream and to the experience; but what I found most interesting was how the drumbeat had literally led the way to this phenomenon.

My son is a musician (a drummer) and we’ve always had music in the house (piano, guitar, base, flute, violin etc….). We love to explore sound and the instruments, which produce it. There is no instrument that can have an effect on the heart like the drum does. I’ve often drifted into trance like spaces while listening to music; but each time I’ve participated in shamanic or First Nation ceremonies or journeys where drums were used, I’ve literally lost complete contact with what we call “the real world” and lived phenomenal experiences.

Like AT once said: “People use drugs to get this kind of buz….”

It is true that it makes a difference who is using the drum. It doesn’t mean because you participate in a drum or shamanic circle that you’ll experience the supernatural. One of our students once expressed that “it took her several years of practice to reach a state of altered consciousness.”

She said: “I thought all I needed was to practice the instrument; but realized I needed to practice presence, perseverance, patience and surrender more so than technique to produce the right tempo.”
When I was 23 years old and started working with a drum I had a dream. I saw myself resting against a tree. I had a drum on my lap. I started to play a slow tempo and soon I saw myself levitate. Up to this point I had been holding my breath. As soon as I let it go and exhaled the tree swallowed me whole. I became a small little creature the size of a fairy and I travelled through the sap of the tree. I climbed to the top of the branches until I felt a pull. Again I stopped breathing for a moment and as soon as I exhaled I was vacuumed down into the roots where I stayed for a while. Soon I was drifting back to the waking and wondered for years what this dream could have possibly been telling me….

In 1998, at the age of 33 I met EC who took me under her wing. One of the first lessons she taught me was that “all Spirits of Nature make sounds.” I don’t believe it takes a Shaman to hear these sounds; but it does take a Shaman to be able to communicate with these Spirits and work with them. In a previous blog (can’t recall the title or the date – sorry!!) I mentioned how trees make a clucking sound when they are young (10 to 15 years old) and can literally produce melody once they reach maturity (50+ years). EC and I would spend hours sitting by the St-John River without uttering a single word. At first I thought it was about learning the Mystery of Silence; but with time and practice I came to hear what she seemed to hear so easily and naturally (and so I thought). I could hear the stone-beings talk and the whispers of the Sprit of the River itself. Sometimes it spoke in soothing tones and other times it was angry and even dangerous.

I’ve seen many Shamans or/and Medicine People use rattles to call out demons, ghosts or shadowy entities, which have attached themselves or possessed humans. The instrument just like the rattle of a snake seems to send the message: “Reveal yourself or I’ll attack.” Rattles were given to children to protect them and keep them safe from dangerous or evil entities. I always find it interesting that many of our traditions hide shamanic or pagan beliefs.

Amongst eastern First Nation People only men used drums. With the arrival of Christianity the drum was literally taken away from the people and banned. It was illegal until the mid 1980’s to practice Native Spirituality. It was women who brought the drum back to the men and pushed for a revival of the Old Religion. Because of this, the men invited the women to drum alongside them. Today, both men and women are allowed to use drums. The drums, which have more of a high pitch are often called “women’s drums”; and the lower pitch drums are called “men’s drums.” The drums, which are found at pow-wows encircled by singers, are called “mother drums.”

Drums are said to invoke healing properties. I know there’s some research that has been done on the topic; but unfortunately can’t recall the sources. Some scientists believe that by stimulating the heart you can have some strong effects on wellbeing. I’ve read that even our cells respond to sound. Everyone knows how important sound is to a newborn baby. I remember noticing that even in the womb CT could differentiate between my voice and the voice of my husband. There’s no doubt in my mind that sound can literally shape our lives. Our tone of voice for example can make the difference between inspiring our children with self-esteem or making sure they grow up with trust issues and a deep sense of insecurity.

I hold a few different beliefs in relationship to drums.

1. I believe that we should always be gifted a drum. If you want a drum there’s a way of making that happen… ☺
2. I believe that if you are meant to receive a drum you should first receive a dream about a drum. All drums choose their Keepers.
3. I believe that if we are devoted to working with a drum we should at least make one drum in our life. Making a drum helps us learn about how to use a drum.
4. I believe that if we have more than one drum we need to be committed to use all of them regularly. A drum should never be without a sound.
5. I believe that each drum has its own Spirit with no help from anyone; but a Shaman can give a Spirit to a drum and remove the Spirit from a drum.
6. I believe that a Medicine Drum should only be played or touched by the Keeper of this drum. There are stories, which speak of Shamans dying and being buried with their drums.
7. I believe that some drums are meant to teach and guide many people… It is always the drum, which decides where to go and when to go.
8. I believe that a drum maker should never mass-produce drums. He or she should be guided by Spirit in the making of drums.
9. I believe that all drums should be wrapped in red linen; embraced by prayer; and stored in a dark spot.
10. We should always make our own sticks or add a personal touch to the sticks we choose, receive or purchase. The stick leads the drum beat and hence, represents what leads your life and your heart beat.
11. Always smudge your drum before using it for the first time if the maker didn’t previously smudge it.
12. Finally, consider the Spirit of your Drum at all times. Your drum is meant to be more than a tool, it’s also a teacher, a guide and partner.

I have a drum that I only use in matters connected to death. You would be surprised to hear how regularly I use this drum. Death is part of every day living. When I made this drum I thought it would have the Spirit of the Snowy Owl (one of the totems on my personal wheel); but it revealed itself as Butterfly instead. It took me a while to truly connect with the drum and understand how to work with it. Many people believe that they should enjoy from the get-go the presence of the drum they’ve chosen. The truth of the matter is working with a drum is like working with a human partner. It takes time and dedication. There may be chemistry between you and your partner; but it takes effort to make the relationship work and last. You don’t want any of your drums to end up as a decoration on a wall.

As I’m writing this I’m glancing at a drum I inherited almost 15 years ago, which literally hangs on the wall by my bed. It’s huge (24inches in diameter), extremely heavy and beautiful. The problem is it was created “to hang on a prop-wall on a stage.” A First Nation band petitioned a drum maker to make the drum to hang on every stage they played on. The drum was never used. When they broke apart and no longer needed the drum they gave it to a fan and good friend. She in turn hung it in a wigwam she built in her back yard for Moonlodge circles. She as well never used it. The first time I saw the drum I knew that “it had never been played.”

The drum was meant to convey a particular message and basically look good (so to speak). The band members who petitioned the drum wanted the drum to represent their cultural and traditional roots. It was clear that the Spirit of this drum was about representing others whether it be the band, their culture and tradition, or the presence of the First Nation Ancestors. After a few years, I approached the lady who “owned” the drum and offered to exchange one of my drums (which I kept at the time) for this hanging drum. She accepted. ‘Til this day this drum still hangs on a wall: MY WALL. It seemed important to continue to honor and respect its unique Spirit. Obviously it is rare that a drum is created with the objective to hang on a wall and never be played.

I guess there are always exceptions to the rule.

I once had a drum that I used only for gardening. This drum was wonderful for communicating with the little people. It was with the help of this drum that I brought healing to quite a few sick trees. Once I was able to reproduce the sound of this drum through song and do healing work in my garden without the help of the instrument, I gave it away. No use to keep a drum that no longer serves. Drums should always be useful (just like humans and animals). I also have a drum that I use for dreaming. Since I’m a dreamer I often need and use this particular drum. It allows me to connect to my guides, my totems and to the sounds within the dreaming. Given that dreaming is between every inhale and exhale and within everything – I work with this drum most of all.



Emily said...

Hi Lisa!
I find this topic very synchronistic. A couple of days ago I thought how amazing it is the sound of a drum and how it travels. I was sitting by the water, having walked by 3 people who were setting up their drums by the trees earlier on. So from a distance I listened to them drumming. I dont have very much experience with drums but I have an admiration for them. I know I'd like to make one some day. I remember how I fell into dreaming so quickly to the sound of a drum at the last Gathering. I found it hard not to fall into dreaming. When the time is right I welcome a drum to find me.

I think about how we are guided into dreaming with a drum.. and often how we can simply go into dreaming by ourselves also, and how important it is to ease back to waking reality.. I know from experience being pulled back too suddenly, or aggressively can be a shock, when your heart moves from a slow beat to a rapid beat very quickly. It feels traumatic.

Great topic!

Rose said...

Drumming in this way is not part of our community heritage in the UK in quite the same way as it is for you I guess. Sometimes you see samba bands or steel drum bands but I don't know anyone in the flesh who drums shamanically. I have brought a drumming CD but as yet have had little luck with it. What is your opinion on CDs? Do you know people who have been successful with them? Or is it just that the timing of me and CD has not come together quite right?

Lisa F. Tardiff said...


You don't need a CD...
All you need is to start with a heart beat.
Then play with the rhythm.
Eventually you'll get the hang of it.
You may want to connect with others who have been drumming for a while. They'll teach you some beats and play along with you. A drum circle also helps.


Michelle said...

I wanted to know because the drum has a spirit does it have its own name? I remember when I recieved my drum I had dreams of the person who made the drum its origins...I know learning about my drum is and has been an amazing experience...I think when a drum calls to you it comes at the right time its part of the journey to recieveing and on taking care of it as it takes care of you...Loved this topic!

Lisa F. Tardiff said...


If it has its own Spirit why not its own name?
My drums don't have names and to be honest -- after 2 decades of talking to Spirit --- names aren't often shared! You seem to have to ask and probe to get a name.

If your drums are giving names or if you need a name to better connect to your drum(s) then go for it. Why not? There is power in words and in names.


Anonymous said...

Greetings Lisa!
I see that you say Drums were outlawed until the mid 1980's. This is in Canada I believe? I live in the U.S. & was wondering if you have any idea if Drums were ever outlawed in my country. I know, for instance, that children were taken from their families and sent to "schools" to learn the English tongue here in the U.S., their native language was denied them in an attempt to eradicate it. Time was when these stories would enrage me, but I now just feel sad. This is progress, however, because the anger to which I am sometimes susceptible freezes me & overwhelms me. Until I can learn to manage it in smaller doses, it is preferable not to indulge in that 'all consuming' state.
It is wonderful to hear of people reasserting their Indigenous culture and bringing their language back, while there are still elders who speak it. Joy!
However, When I see the way Europeans came to our land and practiced this 'intellectual genocide' it's not something I am likely to feel good about! Oh dear, I hope that wasn't TMI! (chuckle)
Also, My rattle is my longtime companion. Have you any more info on rattles? My family, on my Mother's side, is no stranger to the spirit world!
Thank-You for sharing your knowledge of these beautiful traditions.
Enlightenment is Cuel!
My little Anole ('chameleon') is telling me I should sign off using the French version of my name, lol.

Lisa F. Tardiff said...


Native Spirituality was outlawed both in Canada and the U.S. I can't tell you when the law was modified in the U.S. I know that here in Canada it was 1986.

My great-grand-mother was Onondagan from Massachusetts. Of what I was able to uncover -- U.S. or Canadian First Nation People were treated pretty much the same way.

The information you share is amazingly synchronic. I was sharing these exact same stories with a young student of mine tonight. He's part Arabic and Cree. He had one perspective of First Nation history while I had another. Mine resembles yours....

Physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual genocide --- that's the way I see it. And it's still going on.

As for Rattles -- I'll see what I can do to get you more information. As far as I know they were and are still used to work with shadow, deamons, negative energy. They are great for healing and journeying.

Thank you for sharing.
Your story was moving.


Lili said...

I was wondering as I purchased my drum what the difference is with not being gifted it? I did dream about the Dragon beforehand. My dream is still vivid to me. I would like to know how to dream again so vividly with the Dragon.


Wheelkeeper said...

Thanks for this blog Lisa/
I was wondering how it affects your drum when you get someone else to paint on it? The drum I have was painted by R. and I have been having trouble connecting with it. You said that it was because of R's energy on it. I am looking forward to getting a new drum and will bring this one with me. I am not sure what we will do with it but that will be determined later....

Have other people had this problem with their drums before that you know of?


Lili said...

I thought perhaps my newness to drumming was the cause of my inability to dream with it. I would love to dream with my drum like before.
RP painted on my drum. I wonder now after reading what you have shared whether it is me?

Lisa F. Tardiff said...


Don't worry about your drum...
The idea of "the gift" or "of being chosen" is behind all of our drums whether they are bought or "gifted" to people. For example, our drums are made by Drum Keepers. Each of our Drum Keepers make the drums as a way to give back to the community. They don't get paid for making the drums. All the money made from the sell of our drums is used to buy rings, hide and anything else needed for crafts. So all of our drums -- are connected to the Spirit of the Gift.

Also, G and I worked with you and your drum during one of the Gatherings. The painting on the drum should be another detail that makes you connect to your drum.

I think that both YOU and Mary Rose are having trouble connecting to the IMAGE on the drum because you had expectations which weren't met.... And you are probably picking up on R at some level.

There's a way to work through these issues.... First the image shouldn't distract you from the Spirit of the Drum. What you are feeling and what you are living with the drum will always be better, bigger and more extraordinary than any image you can paint on it.... Learning to detach from the imagery is definitely important in any journey.

Finally, there's no doubt that the DRAGON chose YOU (Leanne). The experience, phenomenon and journey that you did with the drum even before it was painted was incredible. Remember that....

If you have out grown your drum for some reason or another -- we can work with this as well....


Wheelkeeper said...

I must admit that I did have expectations before I got the image painted. I had an image in my mind as to what I wanted, but when Lisa told me she saw something I trusted her and agreed to have it painted. At first, I didn't connect with it, then I journeyed with it and found the connection. It was amazing! The slyph spirit in my drum is a messenger of the earth. This spoke of my connection to Mother Earth and I was thrilled. I put sweetgrass, my raccoon tail and an owl feather on it. Lisa said that the earth likes to feel FULL!

I think Lisa is right, I have just outgrown the drum, because now it does not feel the same anymore. I have changed a lot in the last three years or so since I had it. Still I am really grateful for it. It has a wonderful sound and is the right size for me.

Fishrarr said...

Great insights Lisa,
My first drum came my way after many months, many miles on the road and lots of asking and looking. I had been asking for a drum to come my way for a long time, about a year, then one day a friend showed me a drum she had just gotten after a one week road to Montana, well to say the least I was very impressed. I asked her if she would take me to see the drum makers that she had visited. She said yes, and we started the next day after I got off work, as I had a long weekend and did not have to work for 3 days. We drove most of that night, and over the next two days, to visited a couple of different drum makers, but none of the drums that they had I seen speak to me. It was getting time to head home, but we finally were able to connect with the last drum maker the day she was coming back from a 4 day vision quest. When we got to her house she had other company, but she said come in, took me to a room with about 20 drums in it, she said see if there are any that speak to you. I was over whelmed with so many drums in one place. One by one I slowly checked each one out; I made a pile of about 4 or 5 possible drums. Then I checked each of those drums again, and ended up with one the seemed to be right. When I showed her my choice she said that she knew I was going to choose that one. The story behind it was very interesting, she had not made the drum, but one of her student’s had made the drum three years ago. 20 minutes before I got to her house the student had called and said to sell the drum. That is why she knew I was going to buy it. The drum had been made long before I even asked for a drum to come my way. For many years, that drum travelled thousands of miles with me while I was going to workshops and ceremonies all over Canada and USA; the frame finally broke, from the temperature and moisture changes in airplanes and road travel in every kind of weather, so now it hangs above my bed to travel with me when I dream. Like you say every drum has a place and purpose, just know that, and don’t judge it, travel with it. Tom.

Lili said...

The dream WAS incredible.
Listening to You now and reading your words I am creating a stronger intention to work with and listen to my guide, teacher within my drum. Perhaps I have been too quick to judge myself for being unable to drum correctly.
I will be bringing my drum with me.
I would love to sit and drum with you.
Love Leanne

Lisa F. Tardiff said...


Please bring your drum to the Great Gathering workshop in Montreal. I have no doubt we will have the opportunity to drum together.

When working with a drum from a Shamanic point of view the idea is not to be "a good musician." The emphasis is on "the heart beat." You supposed to connect to a rhythm and invest in it. Eventually it will carry you into the dreaming (a trance state) and allow you to have access to a wealth of knowledge, and guided insights.

Your drum is a powerful tool it's time to honor it and appreciate it completely.


Lili said...

It is definitely coming. You are right!
Something I would like to know, how can I introduce the drum to my children?
They don't have one. I guess, initially we could use any drum right?