Shamanic Tools: Drums and Rattles by Jan Engels-Smith

Drums and rattles in journey work

The drum is a primal instrument; it is the sound of a heartbeat. The first thing you hear as a fetus in your mother’s womb is her heartbeat. That sound is imbedded in your cells, in your DNA. The earth has a heartbeat as well, a constant rhythm—7 MHz per second. All of these things are very primal and known all around the world. Drums are typically used to contact spirit or to alter consciousness. And when that drumbeat starts going at a particular rhythm it alters your brainwaves and creates what we call a shamanic state of consciousness, or a place where you are in an altered state and can do a journey. What they are learning now is that you are moving from the left side of the brain to the right side of the brain.

Rattles are also used cross-culturally to shift energy and alter our brainwaves. And, isn’t it interesting that what we give little babies to play and soothe themselves with are rattles. Where did that come from!? It is very ancient and primal.

Drums and rattles are the primary tools that we use in our journey work.

The sound of the drum creates the atmosphere within you to journey. You can journey with other instruments, but we are going to start with the drum. When you are drumming, relax with the drum; really feel the beat, and the rhythm.

When we are journeying with the drum, it is a standard monotone drum beat. But when we are being introduced to the drum and beginning to use it, it is your own beat that wants to come out. We want to encourage that as well; we want to find the voice within ourselves.

You can also learn to use a rattle to journey. There are differences in using rattles and drums—they feel different to your energy system, and they will do different things. Realize that we are experimenting in here. Always do whatever your preference is, when you are doing it on your own. Find things you like best, and stick with it.

Shamanic Drum and Rattle Opening Ceremony

You can use this later in your own practice. It is called a drum or rattle opening ceremony. When we have a new instrument, we want to energetically open it. You can do this privately for yourself, and open it for your own personal use, or when you are in a group, you can open it and have it meet its community.

I have used this method to transfer the energy from one (old) drum to another (new) drum. It is also important to note that if you have a rattle or drum break, you want to be sure to get the power that has been stored in it is transferred.

Drums and rattles used regularly are and become living entities. They have and develop a personality.

For example, I had a horse drum made for a specific activity. I had been using another drum for the same purpose for many, many years. While working with a client, I pick up the new horse drum with the intention of singing the songs intended for this ceremony. They are songs I have been singing for years, but suddenly I can’t remember them! I started drumming, and couldn’t remember the songs! I have sang these songs thousands of times! I looked over at the other drum, the original drum and it said, I am the drum used for this ceremony!!! Oh, I said, OK! I sat my new, very pricey drum down and picked the other drum up, and the songs came to me immediately. I learned my lesson with that one!

Drums and rattles have a lot of power to them, and they continue developing more power as you use them. They are committed to you. As you start building a relationship with them, it is the same as building a relationship with a power ally.

During this journey you are journeying to the world of the drum or the rattle. When you travel there, you will meet the spirit of the instrument. Understand that, just because you have a horse drum, doesn’t mean you will be meeting the spirit of a horse; or if the rattle is made of elk, it doesn’t mean you will meet an elk.

There is a spirit that lives within the instrument, independent of the animal that provided the hide.

During the journey, introduce yourself to the spirit. Ask them if they will be in communion with you, and if they will live in your instrument to provide healing. That way, every time you use it, you are giving and receiving a healing to yourself, whoever you are drumming with and for, and to the world at large. You make a connection and commitment to one another, and then you ask to merge with it. Merging means that it is going to come into you, or you are going to go into it—it doesn’t matter which way.

If you are doing this in a group, everyone has a beater in their right hand; you never let go of your beater. The drum is passed with your left hand, to your neighbor on the left. They take the drum by grabbing the top rim, or take the rattle, and bringing it to their heart to greet it. Then the drum is beat or the rattle is rattled five times. This continues until your instrument returns to you.

Remember, a drum is a living being. Never lay a drum on its face, or leave it in harm’s way.

Drumming Resources: