drumming as a path

Starfeather Reflects on Drumming as a Spiritual Practice

Since humans first began to walk on this Earth, people were probably drumming.  On every continent drums and other percussion instruments were created from a variety of materials, depending upon what was at hand.  Every culture had, and still has, some form of drumming.

It’s in our blood.  

Part of our way of being, drumming is not only woven into many cultural expressions but also exists, naturally in Nature Herself. Rhythmic beats are all around us; the sound of the ocean waves breaking on the beach, rolling thunder, the brushing sway of the prairie grasses or the slap of our own hands against our thighs as we sing and feel the music.  It’s something we do – all of us.  

Drumming, singing and chanting unite us at our core.  This is why it feels so great to do; it takes us back to that simple place of being present, fully present to our own inner rhythm and song where we energetically connect with our authentic self and with others . . . without talking.  Our overactive left brain has to take a break and release to the beat of the drum.

Whether one is connected to Irish/Celtic tradition, African, Indian, Siberian, Asian or Native American culture, here in the Pacific Northwest drumming is all around us and practiced at various gatherings, spiritual circles and for shamanic journey experience.  We are blessed to have access to such a multitude of drums used locally: the Acoustic Drum Set we all know from rock bands, the Bass Drum, Conga, Tabla, Bongo, Marching Snare Drum, Djembe, Tambourine, and Hand Drum, to name a few.

Starfeather began her personal journey with the drum when she moved to the Seattle area in 1990.  Until that time, she’d never held a drum in her hand and was only familiar with the mesmerizing tribal sounds of African drumming.  In the early ‘90s in the Northwest however, women’s circles and other drumming circles were blossoming everywhere.  Large gatherings like the Medicine Wheel Gathering lead by Sun Bear were annual events where people drummed, and of course there was, and still are, Seattle’s Northwest Folklife Festival, the Daybreak Star Powwow, and others.  At one of these events, someone placed a hand drum in her hands, and Starfeather immediately felt the connection and the joy of drumming.  It wasn’t long before she wanted a drum of her own.

Handcrafted drums by Starfeather Marcy

Handcrafted drums by Starfeather Marcy

          A  life-long craftsperson, Starfeather sought a teacher to show her how to make her own drum.  And learn she did, taught by two different people; however, for her, something was missing in the experience.  She wanted the making of a drum to be a sacred occasion, a time to be in prayer and present to the process and the materials.  Her experiences with these teachers felt too “workshop-y”, and stressful and challenging.  She longed for a different kind of experience and when she couldn’t find it, the light dawned on the idea that this just might be something she could bring to the table – a new way to make a drum; in ceremony with respect, prayer, and calmness.  And ease.  The process doesn’t have to be so painful and hard, Starfeather thought.

          In 1993 she journeyed to her favorite sacred place on the coast of the Olympic Peninsula, La Push, WA, with some raw materials to hide out for a weekend and figure out how to create a drum with her own lacing pattern.  It worked!  She soon began teaching drum making to others, offering a day of retreat to create a drum in ceremony.  For over the next twenty-five years, Starfeather has been assisting hundreds of people in making their own hand drum and drum beater in gatherings at her home in Edmonds, at Breitenbush Hot Springs in Oregon, on the Big Island, Hawaii, and at Women of Wisdom Conference and EastWest Bookshop in Seattle.

Drums are more than a rhythm instrument, they are a medicine tool.  To a healing practitioner, medicine person or shaman, a drum is an ally.  It is an alive companion that assists in the sacred work of healing, cleansing, and spiritual ritual or shamanic journey.  The hand drum in the Native Northwest coastal style is usually made with a cedar or maple tree rim and covered with animal rawhide: deer, elk, buffalo or other animal skin.  It’s played with a beater, a stick padded at one end: as one hand holds the drum at the center of the back, the other hand strikes the rhythm of sound with the beater. 

        Drumming has been called everything from mesmerizing, exciting to centering and calming . . . and it is all these things and more.  It takes you home to your heart and allows you to connect to your authentic voice, and, perhaps, even to chant the sounds of your ancestors as naturally as a deep breath.  

         Playing the simple heartbeat rhythm – da-dum pause, da-dum pause – helps us to calm down and be centered.  To connect with the Earth.  To come into balance. This is a healing and prayerful experience effortlessly available to everyone, with no need to “know how to play” an instrument.  It’s easy and satisfying.

Drum from the Ivory Coast, By Daderot - Own work, 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3

Drum from the Ivory Coast, By Daderot - Own work, 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3

In our American culture, we are led to believe that music is for entertainment and to be done by the few and the gifted.  Not so, says Starfeather.  Her own experience of being kicked out of the school choir in sixth grade for singing off-key was a shaming it took her years to get over.  Now she often sings or chants while drumming and has found it to be an act of empowerment, as well as fun.  “I do sing off key sometimes, and I really don’t care.  That’s not what it’s about for me,” she says.  “I love to belt out a song that speaks of my love for the Earth, or generate chants from my soul that are connected with something ancient within me.” 

In our efforts to recover our feminine power, being able to speak our truth out loud from our hearts is an important part of our remembering who we are.  Our women’s voice, collectively and individually, is an important part of our reclamation. For too long, we have stepped back and not spoken up.  The drum is a tool to assist us.  Like lifting weights to gain muscular strength, drumming exercises the muscle of empowerment.

Making your own drum is very fulfilling and often thought of as birthing.  It’s a piece of work to create a drum, but it's so rewarding.  The bond between you and this instrument is made and sealed in a very special relationship and primitive way that lasts a lifetime.  An ally and helper, your drum becomes good medicine as you work together.  The Spirit of the drum as well as the sound of the drum create wholeness.

Check Starfeather’s Event Calendar on this website for a listing of upcoming drum making ceremonies and dates for Drumming our Prayers, a drumming circle she facilitates.

Matías Ávalo Buenos Aires, Argentina [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Matías Ávalo Buenos Aires, Argentina [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]