Reindeer on Ash

Having more or less settled into our new home at Cairnorchies Croft, today was a big day – time to birth the first drum here! I put a Reindeer hide to soak last night and prepared a 16″ Ash hoop, giving the edges a final polish with fine sandpaper followed by a light coat of bee’s wax, rubbed well in, to make sure they’re properly smooth and won’t damage the hide that goes over them.

I actually think Reindeer works better with Birch, metaphysically, since both are denizens of the Boreal Forests, but this reindeer hide wanted to be on a 16″ Ash hoop. Who am I to argue?

As the only female deer with antlers, as well as a member of the relict Ice Age fauna once native to the UK (though this hide came from Scandinavia), there are all sorts of spiritual correspondences at work with Reindeer. As a female deer with antlers, Reindeer has strong connections to Elen of the Ways, one of the oldest British goddesses and always depicted as a woman with antlers, or an antlered female deer. Some sources say reindeer became extinct in Britain shortly after the last Ice Age, around 8,000 years ago, others claim Vikings hunted them in the 1300’s – either way, there’s only one herd of free-ranging reindeer in the UK now and they roam the Cairngorm Mountains, not far from me. This is a herd established in 1952 by the reintroduction of 29 Scandinavian-born reindeer to the Cairngorm Plateau, where they’ve thrived ever since. Some of the males are kept behind fences and can be visited by tourists – even hand-fed and stroked – but the females and youngsters, along with the breeding males, live as a feral herd, wandering the National Park as they choose.

Ash is a tree that also has strong spiritual connections. According to the Northern Traditions the World Tree, Yggdrasil, is an Ash, and true to its name Ash is a tree that burns clean and hot, though it’s also a wood of amazing versatility, providing tool handles, carriage wheels, excellent charcoal – once used for tattoos, since it’s (allegedly) the only wood charcoal that never causes infections! – and is both fast-growing and easy to work. Ash is also connected with Gwydion in British lore, Gwydion being the Master Magician of Britain.


Reindeer hide is a lovely pale cream in colour, which goes well with the pale colour of ash wood. It’s quite quick to soak and correspondingly quick to dry out again, too, so I like to work swiftly with this elusive and fast-moving creature! Rather than the metal-hoop style, this one is a Native American style drum, with the lacing cut from the same hide that makes the drum head and nothing but the hide and the hoop involved. At the moment, of course, there’s a certain in-progress feel about the newly born drum, because I use clothes pegs to keep the hide tidy on the back of the drum until it dries enough to hold its  shape better.


With this style, there are 12 holes in the hide and 12 spokes to the lacing, gathered into 4 groups of 3 to recall the 4 seasons, each of 3 months, and the four-armed cross in the centre also acts as a reminder of the 4 elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water.

This lovely little drum is drying now, completing the next stage of her birthing in dry, cool conditions out of direct sunlight, being turned gently each day to ensure she dries evenly. In a day or two the clothes pegs will come off and in about 3 weeks, she’ll be ready to share her voice with the world.


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