Drums and drumming

Drums and drumming – Rhythmic sounds and movements are commonplace in shamanic performance. In Mircea Eliade’s construction of shamanism as “the techniques of ecstasy,” the creation of rhythm is the primary technique that induces ecstasy or the altered states of consciousness that he claims define shamanism. It is certainly true that shamans in many cultures make use of drums and other instruments, along with chanting and movements. Drums may not only be decorated with cosmological symbols but also themselves represent the cosmos and its inhabitants. In addition to their use in achieving trances or other altered states of consciousness, drums might also be aids in divination or in journeying to otherworld locations. Nonetheless, considerable variations exist in the use of drums. Some Siberian shamans use their drums to create not rhythmic but arrhythmic noise. Many neo-shamans following Michael Harner typically utilize a particular drum rhythm that is claimed to induce the desired “shamanic state of consciousness,” but claimants disagree on what that rhythm should be (3–4 beats per second or 4–7 beats per second are common). Techno-shamanic or “rave” “trance dances” often follow the same pattern. At the interface of indigenous and Western practitioners, and in an ironic postcolonial twist, Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies has introduced its own idiosyncratic drumming technique to communities where traditional practices have been lost (for example, in parts of post-Soviet Russia) and the drum may never have been used.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007


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