By Michael Drake, Sacred Hoop Magazine, Spring 2003, Issue 40
Indigenous cultures have been practicing community percussion for thousands of years. Now people all over the world are taking up drumming in astounding numbers. At a grass roots level, small community drum circles are springing up. While some drum circles are content to jam and make a lot of rhythmic noise, others prefer to explore shamanic drumming.
Shamanic drumming is a time-honoured method of healing and helping others. Shamanic drum circles provide the opportunity for people of like mind to unite for the attainment of a shared objective. There is power in drumming alone, but that power recombines and multiplies on many simultaneous levels in a group of drummers. The drums draw individual energies together, unifying them into a consolidated force. Synchronized drumming is the most effective, so individuals should alternate the responsibility of setting the tempo and leading the group. The basic steps that I describe here I have found most effective.
1: Form a Circle
Simply join together, forming a circle. By creating a circle, you are structuring an energy pattern that will contain, focus, and amplify the power generated by drumming.
2: Cleanse the Space
Next, you should smudge the space and all participants. Smudging cleanses the mind and environment in preparation for spiritual or inner work. The sacred smoke dispels any stagnant or unwanted energy and opens the energy channels of your body. Sage, cedar, and sweetgrass are traditionally used for smudging, but any dried herb is acceptable. Light the herbs in a fire-resistant receptacle and then blow out the flames. Then use a feather or your hands to draw the smoke over your heart, throat, and face to purify the body, mind, and spirit. Next, smudge your drum by passing it through the smoke. The drummers can then smudge themselves and their drums by passing a smudge bowl clockwise around the circle. Conclude the smudging by thanking the plant whose body made the cleansing possible.
3: Call to the Directions
At this point, you may wish to invoke the powers of the Four Directions. This is an ancient shamanic rite practiced cross-culturally to access and honor the powers of creation. The facilitator can lead the group in this process. I like to have the participants stand and face each Direction in unison. Rotate clockwise, facing first the East, then South, then West, then North, inviting each Direction to participate and assist in the ceremony. If you wish, you can include Father Sky above and Mother Earth below as the Fifth and Sixth Directions.
4: Form Your Intent
Having invoked the Four Directions, it is important to form the group’s collective intention—what you desire or expect to accomplish. Intent is a kind of decision making that directs the focus of our attention. It is through our attention that we influence and direct the aspects of our experience and the world around us.
5: Prayer Round
The next step is to commence the first or prayer round of drumming. All participants should focus their attention on the group intention or goal during this round of drumming. It is the responsibility of the facilitator to set the tempo. A steady, metronome-like pattern with precisely regular intervals, at around three beats per second, is the most effective. This rapid ‘eagle-beat’ creates the sensation of inner movement, which, if you allow it, will carry you along. It is projective in nature and carries your intention, prayers, and awareness into the spirit world that underlies and sustains our physical reality.
6: Finding Unison
The time-frame for this varies from ceremony to ceremony. It is best to trust your intuition in this process. When leading a group, I move the beater around the drumhead until I find the sweet spot and my drum begins to sing and hum. Eventually, I can hear the sound of my drum moving around the circle, resonating through each person’s drum. The drums begin to sing in unison and the experience is indescribable. I sense that each person is connected to the spirit world. I try to hold this energy dynamic for as long as possible. This climactic phase eventually wanes and the drums start doing their own thing again. This is usually the point where I signal the end of the first round of drumming with four thundering beats.
7: Healing Round
Once the group intention has been introduced, commence the second or healing round by drumming the pulsating lub-dub, lub-dub of a heartbeat rhythm. Stroke a steady heartbeat rhythm at around two beats per second. This magnetic pulse draws power from the spirit world into the drum circle. Each participant should clear his or her mind of everything. You must surrender all attachment to the desired outcome to achieve success. It is best to close your eyes and focus on the sound of the drums. Let the drums do the healing. The drums will shape available energy into a powerful vortex that will spiral out into the fibers of Mother Earth’s web. When you feel the power ebbing, signal the end of the healing round with four booming beats.
8: Giving Thanks
Commence the final or thank you round of drumming with the even cadence of the eagle-beat. Sustain a tempo of three beats per second for one to five minutes. Participants should give thanks for the needs met and the needs they are asking to be met.
9: Closing the Circle
Finally, signal the end of the drumming with four resounding beats. It is important to conclude the drumming circle by rotating counter clockwise, thanking each of the Directions for their participation and assistance. This counter clockwise movement will close the energy vortex and signal that the sacred time of focus is ended.
I have found these basic steps to be very effective in a myriad of situations. Feel free, however, to adapt them to serve your own needs. Rhythm is a very personal thing. Experiment with different tempos and rhythms. My intention is to provide a foundation upon which the reader can then build.
Michael Drake is a nationally recognized writer, rhythmist, and shamanist. He is the author of The Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming and I Ching: The Tao of Drumming. Michael’s journey into rhythm began under the tutelage of Mongolian shaman Jade Wah’oo Grigori. For the past 15 years he has been facilitating drum circles and workshops nationwide. To learn more, visit Michael’s web site at: TalkingDrumPub