Sonic Witchcraft


Shamanic drumming – the percussionist’s perspective

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“Shamanic drumming” became increasingly “in vogue” in the West in the last years. Different kinds of drumming indeed produce very beneficial effects on the mind and body, playing percussion / drums also trains your whole body, affects breathing, coordination, flexibility, strength, multi-tasking skills, etc.
There is a lot of current research going on, quite some also published online.

Along with the useful ideas and facts, you will find a lot of misconceptions and superstitions or even dogmas – “prescriptions – how to…”
All good, as long it doesn’t turn into cultural appropriation or selling of the snake oil. The negative impact on the indigenous culture is too often ignored by the eager to explore Westerners.

You can find many advice how to use the drum for “inner journeying” or “shamanic journeying” as it is mostly called, but stay open minded and observe if and how it differs from or affects the original indigenous practices. You don’t need to follow “core shamanic” principles of travelling with the drum. You can construct your own (completely contemporary and culture non-specific) method. Not relating it with any indigenous practice at all.

There is also no need to follow any superstition regarding the instruments – the approach varies – in some cultures you cannot use another’s drum, some don’t allow to share it, others do, some build their own drum, others use whatever is given to them, etc. Everyone can build a personal relationship with the drum of course, like every sincere musician does, but for your special “mind journey” purposes you can even do your own little personal ritual, consecrating the drum, personalising it if you feel so (adding ornaments, decorations, etc.).

Don’t pretend you are something else, don’t mimic the culture specific rituals, but use the drum as a useful tool that it is.

Those are my personal guidelines that I follow from the start and also for any aspiring “shaman drummer”… I don’t call it that of course, because it became such an abused word (and words have the power – not only in some “esoteric” way, but they convey how you relate to things and position your mind in the world – translate/describe the otherwise ambiguous world for you).

There are certain ways how to approach drumming – the steady beat is a powerful “meditative” trigger (different speeds produce different effects, synchronise (“entrain”) your brain differently; you can focus on the pulse and explore the overtones by hitting the drum differently and in various spots, you can shift accents around – try the fun of omitting the first beat, accenting the second beat, or the third, make longer patterns, asymmetrical grooves, keep the underlying pulse, but variate the melody with accents, explore the position of the drum, move around, make tempo variations, slow down, speed up, etc. Your musical and “witchcraft” intuition will develop to play for the desired effect.

When you drum for others explore the positions around the body, moving in space, etc. Be playful, explore!

For advanced stages of trance inducing you cannot just follow a book or a blog post, you have to try things out and/or have some guidance from a more experienced drummer, because when you write it down it becomes unnecessary complex, but when you play, it is rather simple… apart of training the coordination, speed, stamina, etc. which all takes time and practice.

A very important aspect of drumming for “health” and “inner journeys” – “trance works” as I would call it – is imagination – fantasy and visualisations. In some traditions (Mongolian, Tuvan, Siberian – different tribes from those areas, etc.) they travel to the three worlds, and have specific ideas about the journeys. If you are not part of those cultures or trained by an authentic indigenous drummer/shaman don’t parrot those ideas – they become watered down and misrepresented.

You can go on an “open journey” – just play the drum as a contemporary citizen that you are at the moment (but such an archaic and complex beast inside the unimaginably complex Universe in your larger “definition”), set your intention – what you want to achieve with your personal ritual and let things unfold… Your imagery will be partly culture related, but can also be “trans-personal”… You can meet animals, spirits, see wild imaginative lands, etc. , don’t engage the rational mind then – everything is allowed in fantasy, imagination, journey… follow the ideas, guides, visions, explore… Listen to them, learn! It doesn’t matter if it is your hidden subconscious voice or some real elf speaking to you, try to figure out how that information or feeling helps you, how you and others can use it! Try to bring something beneficial for the community and yourself from the experience. It is very likely that you will experience at some point a deeper empathy and connection with your surroundings, people, gratitude for the Earth, etc. Make that feeling work in your everyday, don’t just tell the experience (the feeling will fade), but integrate it in your everyday life – your integrity, honesty!

Make sure in advance that you feel safe though – “set and setting” is very important! In different traditions they use different methods to make a “safe space” – you can cleanse and demarcate your space with some smoke (just don’t pretend it is a smudging ceremony that most know nothing about and pisses off the indigenous that use that ritual in their culture) and move (dance, rotate, wave, whatever is Yours) around to set the boundaries – this is also work with imagination, setting fantasy and intent in motion. You set physical boundaries, that affect your mind! You can orient yourself, so you know the position of the sky at the start of the journey, your physical position (you can loose the perception of space and time in the process and it is useful to set those coordinates to not be too confused – WHEN the experience is that strong).

After the journey if is useful to engage the mind again, to not let the simplistic and cultural appropriation ideas ruin the purity of your experience, that was uniquely yours. It is your psyche, connected with everything, with the unfathomable Universe. We should really remain humble, respect some rules that govern the interaction among people (cultural and social sensitivity, respect, etc.), but let our minds free at the same time. Also don’t just bash the Western culture, science, etc. Academic arrogance and intellectual zealotry are present among some people, but not all the science is materialistically “close minded” and more and more strictly “rational” people are aware of the fact that what we can grasp with reason is not the whole of human experience and reality. In fact, I know of many much deeper thinkers among the scientific community, more open to explore and more honest than many “neo-shamanic / spiritual” crowd. They are right to oppose and question the validity of too many foolish claims from many “spiritual seekers”.

Just breathe, dance, sing, drum with some guts and intent and you will experience real “magic”!

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