I thought it would be nice to have a post about the shamans drum in tradition. I don't use traditional drum myself, I use music (at the moment "Second Nature" by the "Young Gods") or my lovely drum-machine, but I'm interested in traditional drum design, use and meaning. So I will start it off with a text about Siberian Drum, specifically Soyot and Karagasy, wich are Siberian Mountain Tribes if I'm correct. The text is from "Tracing Shamans in Siberia" by Vilmos Dioszegi (1960, published and printed in 1968 in the Netherlands by Anthropological Publications, Oosterhout). Here it is:
"The son of a deceased shaman revealed to me that when the shaman is flying, he is in fact riding, mounted on his drum, up in the air. His father had been gallopping, mounted upon his drum, the same way as if he had been mounted upon the back of a maral-deer. He rode that way because his drum had been lined with the skin of a maral-deer.
"The fact that the drum represents an animal to mount to the shaman, had already been indicated by the description of the initiation ceremony, at which--as they themselves put it--they 'train' the drum, or in other words, they break it in. I found out from the chants of the Karagasy shaman, Bolhoyev, that while shamanizing, they call the drum white horse or reindeer bull. The denominations of each part also prove that the drum represents an animal, more specifically, an animal for riding. The Soyots, for instance, call the different parts of the drum: ears, jaw-bones, upper rib and lower rib of the horse. The Karagasy drum also has ears, lungs, heart and veins.
"The two crossbeams supporting the drum from the inside are called by both peoples breast strap and breeching stay. These two parts are essential for saddling an animal, because they hold the saddle. The shaman's horse, namely the drum, was also equipped with reins, necessary for directing it. Both the Karagasys and the Soyots were talking in identical terms about the gallops, while mounted on the drum.
"The shamans said: they could ride their drums like any saddle-animal. If they were shamanizing without a drum, they were going on foot. If they had a drum, they were riding. When they were beating the drum with the drumstick, they were whipping their horse. Those who rode mounted upon their drums, could ride fast to faraway places. It was because of the riding, that the skin that was stretched over the rim, had to be well chosen.
"The skin of an animal in its prime is best for the drum. The drum is the saddle-animal of the shaman, therefore neither an old, nor a young animal serves for this purpose. If the animal is too young, it tires too quickly. If it is old, it does not move fast enough. The length of the period during which the shaman may use his drum was determined exactly by this concept of mounting the drum like a saddle-animal.
"'Not all drums are apt for the same length of time. Everything depends,' Kokuyev, the shaman, told me once, 'upon the age of the animal whose skin had been tightened over the drum. The beasts only run well up to their seventh or ninth year. Therefore, the drum might not be used for more years than those, which would remain after killing the animal until it would have reached its seventh or ninth year. After that, the skin fastened on the rim must be renewed. I also had two drums,' continued Kokuyev, 'because the first, made of the skin of a stag, was good only for three years.'"
~Aron, The Netherlands
The information on the drum is quite interesting and is consistant with the way I was taught. We generally use a two-headed drum and refer to the sides as the red horse and the black horse. The drum stick is the whip or crop. Other than that, though, we do not name the parts.
We never think of ourselves as riding a drum, but riding a horse. However, to have a drum does not mean a person has a Horse. People without Horse would not say they ride Horse. Horse is a medicine or you could say a relationship with the spirit of Horse such that the Horse will let you (your spirit) ride him and will take you where you want to go.
There are two ways that I know of that a person receives Horse--this medicine. One is that it is extended (or loaned) by a person that carries that medicine (Horse in this case). The other is that Horse spirit chooses to come into relationship with the person seeking. You can seek Horse, but Horse must choose. I have seen people seek Horse but never get chosen.
We can tell whether a person has received Horse, but it is not appropriate to be specific. When a person has Horse in their drum, they can do things much more easily, faster and effectively than with the drum alone. A journey that might take an hour or hours can be done in seconds or minutes.
This is some of what I know of drum and Horse.
Thanks Nicholas sharing that. I have a few questions about what you wrote, you don't have to answer.
The two sides represent:
- two different horses?
- two aspects of one horse?
- two directions for one horse?
- all of the above and more?
I have "learned" Native American tradition only through books, this is the first time I communicate with a human being about it. My most loved one is Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm. If I look at the colors in its light, I see black being the west--the Looks-Within place and red symbolizing fire, representing the Living Spirit of the People. Much more can be said but leave it at this basic meaning. Does this have any relevance to the drum you describe?
I can also imagine it as the earth with it's fire core with all the associations and symbolism one can come up with, underworld, spirit world, etc.
Is this two sided drum always red and black horse, because someone can be without horse? Is it a basic thing? It seems to me that if a person doesn't have a horse, that person doesn't have a drum or if the person would have a drum, it wouldn't be a horse drum.
Anyways, thanks for sharing.
Two aspects of one Horse. He is black when we are riding in the underworld and red when riding in the celestial.
To my knowledge, this information on the drum is not specifically or necessarily Native American. My shaman teacher was Mongolian American and learned his ways from a Native American man as well as through his family. I never asked where the Horse knowledge came from.
No, the directions are a different thing.
If a person does not have Horse, they would maybe say the "red side" and the "black side" of the drum. Personally, I do not refer to my drum as a horse, but as a drum. I say that Horse lives within my drum. I think this helps to clarify things. However, I then offer confusion by saying that Horse lives in the stars, and I call him from his starry pasture before I can ride him. This type of dichotomy is typical of shamanism--where something is in two places at once.
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