It’s a curious thing when you’ve spent years striving to achieve beautiful, symmetrical drums and one comes along that insists on assymetry!
This drum was born yesterday, reindeer hide on a 14inch ash frame with a brass hoop wrapped first in black ribbon, then overlain with green ribbon. She began looking symmetrical but quickly started to ask for an off-centre hoop and has finished quite markedly asymmetrical – but with a beautiful voice already!
She’s drying quietly now but in a few weeks she’ll be painted with a sunburst design – offcentre to match her design.
As Aberdeenshire drops to Level 1 and we’re allowed to gather once more, I have places for shamanic drum birthings again!
These will take place on Sundays, beginning from the 11th July, at my home near Mintlaw, Aberdeenshire; at present I’m willing to take on one or two people at a time. At present I have red deer stag and reindeer hides on hand and a range of different wood frames – oak, ash, willow and birch, in various sizes – are available.
Contact me now to book! Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your choice of date, style and materials so I can confirm availability. I do need a minimum of 2 weeks’ notice, with payment due when I confirm your choice of raw materials and dates. I price these sessions at the cost of your raw materials plus £100 for my time and teaching per person; if you book with a friend there’s a 25% discount available for my time (though the materials cost the same.)
In the summer of 2019, I had to have a couple of trees felled at Cairnorchies, one of which was an elm in the last throes of Dutch Elm Disease. The tree surgeons kindly sliced the trunks up into sections which were possible to woman-handle and left them near the edge of the field. I moved all the small stuff into the woodshed to dry, stacked a lot of the rest to season outside, and built a couple of hugulkultur beds with some of the big pieces.
Some stayed out in the field.
They stayed out all summer and dried in the sun. My mother’s dementia became too severe for her to live alone in the autumn and I had to put everything aside to look after her, culminating in her moving into Cairnorchies with me in late January 2020 – just in time for Covid-19 and Lockdown.
The trunk sections lay out in the weather, in snow and rain, above freezing and below. The horses chewed on them. When I could, I moved some out of the field – but then I saw what the horses were doing. They were hollowing out the soft, rotten centres of the trunk sections. I became fascinated with this and decided to leave them; perhaps the horses were satisfying some obscure mineral requirement? Perhaps they were bored and just wanted to play…. Perhaps the youngsters were teething and it helped ease itchy new teeth and sore gums?
By spring 2021 the horses had hollowed right through some of the sections and, my mother having moved to full-time residential care as her dementia worsened further, I had time to start working with these amazing pieces of timber.
I hauled them out of the field (leaving a few more behind in hopes the horses might work on those, too!) and brought them to the house, putting them off the ground on pallets to dry. There’s still some rotten ‘punk’ wood on the inner side, but the outer sap-wood is hard and sound, very well seasoned. I’ve begun to remove the ‘punk’ to reveal the final shape of the frame-to-be, using hand-chisels to peel out the remaining soft rotten stuff and uncover the beautiful grain and colour of the frames.
I speculate that perhaps, millennia ago, this was how the idea of drum frames came to our ancestors – fallen trunks, hollowed by weather and animals to form natural frames. Perhaps we first drummed directly on the hollow wood, as our cousins the chimpanzees still do when they display, beating standing and fallen trees with fists, feet and length of broken branches? Perhaps we noticed that hollow wood is more resonant than solid, and began to seek out these natural drums?
This is what gave me the name for this very limited series of unique drums.
The Primal Drums.
Each one has been grown over centuries by the elm, then shaped by the tree surgeons’ chainsaw, saprophytic fungi and horses to leave a deep ring of wood. The orphan lambs, Ross and Gregor, have gnawed a little to add their mites, and the dogs have supervised as I’ve started the work to reveal solid, seasoned timber. The skins will probably be roe deer hides – roe are common in the forest and fields here, and would have known the elm throughout the centuries of its life on the edge of the field, so will be the most appropriate for these extraordinary drums.
Watch this space for periodic updates on how the work is going!
I’ve taken a couple of little clips of the bunnies as they’re growing and changing fast at the moment. This is the biggest of them devouring supper at 10.30pm:
And this little snippet was this morning as they were impatiently waiting for breakfast at 8.30am:
Catkin, the middle one by weight, had another respiratory arrest this evening and had to be resuscitated again. I wish he (or she!) wouldn’t keep testing how many lives are available – it’s very hard on my nerves and I don’t think it’s very good for a bunny, either!
Fatty Lumpkin is the biggest, now hovering around 120g, while the smallest is fairly solidly into the low-to-mid-70g range. There’s another in the mid-to-high 70s, then Catkin around mid-to-high 80s and another who’s just wavering back and forth between high 90s and low 100s.
Having had a couple of scares with Catkin drowning himself, not to mention Lumpkin’s habit of sucking milk down until he’s so spherical he can hardly move, I’m now rationing their meals. Not more than 7ml per bunny per meal – though they’re staying on 3 meals until the two little ones are solidly in the high 80s and gaining faster.
They’re still far from certain to survive but they’re sticking at it well for now!
In other news, don’t forget there are spaces available for drum birthings the first and last weekends in November! I will also have drum workshops in Shropshire in early May next year, and another in October, if you don’t want to come up to beautiful Aberdeenshire to birth your drum!
These two workshops will also give you the option of joining the additional experiential workshop Riding the Shaman’s Horse for the day after the drum birthing – more details on my website, http://www.beansidhedrumcraft.co.uk. Just drop me an email for any enquiries, or to book a place!
The 6 surviving rabbit kits are making progress; they’re now all sucking properly on the bottle and gaining weight, all eyes are open and they’re starting to nibble a little dried grass. I chose the dried grass rather than fresh grass or hay as I think it’s probably the least likely to carry any harmful pathogens – it’s been dried and then sealed in plastic for at least six weeks, since I know I bought it then, while fresh grass obviously has all sorts of critters scampering about on it and the hay has been stored in a barn with, again, wildlife scampering about on it. The horses find the grass very palatable – more so than grass, in fact – and apparently the bunnies think it’s fine, too.
They’re big enough now to climb out of their box – in fact I was greeted this morning by a little white bunny sitting on the floor waiting for me when I went to feed them! – so tomorrow I’ll be picking up a new (germ-free!) cage for them and they’ll have more room to run around as they grow, but still be securely confined away from dangerous things like opening doors and places they can get stuck in (I retrieved two from under a set of shelves yesterday!) It’ll also enable me to put a treat ball down with a few rabbit pellets in it, for them to learn to push it around, and they’ll get a water bottle to explore (they will start to drink water soon, as well as milk) and a container of dried grass so they can eat a little solid food between meals. They’ll still need their milk at regular intervals for some weeks to come; at the moment 3 meals a day seems to suit them but they’ll go down to two meals next week, probably, and then sit at that until they’re really well established on solids. After that I’ll drop to one meal a day until they’re 8 weeks, and then finish weaning by progressively diluting the milk until they’re just drinking water, at which point they’ll probably have given up and switched entirely to solids by themselves.
It’s still a far from certain path to success but there is a slightly better glimmer of light through the trees now they’re starting to nibble solids! Fingers remain crossed for a few more weeks, however.
Dancer Horse met strangers yesterday – a couple of my mother’s old friends came round – and she behaved perfectly. She came over to say hello very gently and politely, and gave each of them a little nuzzle before going back to her hay. Her progress towards being a equine therapist continues beautifully!
In other news, I have a couple of dates (covid permitting, of course) for drum birthings in November – 7th and 21st – so drop me a line if you’d like to make a drum here at the Croft!
A quick post just to record the next stage in the sword re-furb.
It’s traditional in Chinese sword craft to use solid-coloured tassels, but then I’m not a Chinese sword warrior, I’m a British shaman!
In terms of elemental affiliations, the Sword is usually considered to be Fire, but when you think about it, it takes all four elements to create a sword. Iron ore is rock, which is Earth. That ore is then smelted and hammered into metal while red-hot, so there’s Fire. The finished blade is quenched in water to temper the metal, giving the correct degree of flexibility and rigidity – too rigid and the blade is brittle, breaks in use. Too flexible and your blade bends instead of cutting. Finally, the sword is sharpened and in use it is swung, cutting through the Air.
Accordingly, I’ve included all four elements in the colour scheme of the tassel, though slightly weighted towards Fire in the thread count – reds for Fire, yellows for Air, black and brown for Earth and greens for Water – with red artificial sinew for the main loop, giving strength and resistance to abrasion as it moves against the hard wood of the hilt, then embroidery silks to make the tassel proper, light and with a beautiful drape and flow.
Work on my sword re-furb is progressing slowly as thread-wrapping a sword hilt is a tediously slow process requiring concentration to avoid crossing your threads as you wrap!
Keeping your concentration on something as finicky as this is something that needs frequent breaks, and it also serves as very good meditation time, since you can be letting something stew in the back of your mind (in the cauldron, as we like to say!) while watching what your hands are doing.
That being the case, I’ve had about 24 hours to cogitate quietly on the nature of swords, while wrapping away diligently (with frequent tea breaks).
The original purpose of a sword is, of course, as a weapon – but I’m not given to swiping at people with mine! It’s the esoteric, magical correlations I’ve been considering. You only have to hold a sword upright in your hand to know it’s a phallic symbol, but beyond that, what is a sword? What does it symbolise?
Swords are a warrior symbol, of course, and the ultimate warrior, the Champion, is the King. Swords and Kingship are intimately tied together, from Arthur and Excalibur (don’t forget that Excalibur is a gift from the Lady of the Lake – that’s an important detail!) to the 6 swords amongst the Crown Jewels of England and the Sword of State amongst the Honours of Scotland, which are used in coronation ceremonies still.
In the Matter of Britain, the medieval Arthurian romance tales that preserve ancient folk tales from the dawn of British history (if not before), one of the defining story-arcs that run through the various tales of Arthur and his knights is that of the Quest for the Holy Grail. In the Matter of Britain, Sir Perceval, one of the best of the Knights of the Round Table, crosses a wasteland, a ruined land, to reach the castle of a maimed king, sometimes called the Fisher King, and while sitting at dinner there the grail appears before the company and Perceval fails to ask a vital question. He gets a second chance to do so after various further adventures and this time gets it right, asking ‘Whom does the Grail serve?’
The answer to this question is the crux of the quest for the Grail, as it restores the health of the maimed king and, with it, that of the land over which he rules. Our source for the Grail Quest is a poem by Chretien de Troyes, who died before finishing his poem – leaving this most vital question unanswered in the text! It is, most appropriately, up to each of us to find our own answer to the question.
To consider the nature of the grail, or cauldron of rebirth, I like to bring to mind two separate but related things. The first is that most famous of cauldrons, the Gundestrup cauldron, and the other is the tale of Bran and Branwen, the Second Branch of the Mabinogion, which has as one of its pivots the Pair Dadeni, the Cauldron of Rebirth.
This is the panel from the Gundestrup Cauldron which reminds me of a goddess popping dead people into a cauldron of rebirth with one hand while lifting live people out with the other.
In the same way, in Bran and Branwen the cauldron is owned by a giant and his wife and can be used to resurrect dead warriors. It is finally put out of action by a live warrior who hides amongst the Irish dead and is put into the cauldron – thus causing it to cease working, though it kills him at the same time.
Cauldrons often figure in Irish and Welsh lore – Ceridwen possesses the Cauldron of Inspiration, from which three drops spit as the boy Gwion Bach is stirring it, and when he licks them off his hand he gains the gift of wisdom. Here rebirth comes into the story, as Ceridwen realises Gwion has ‘stolen’ the gift intended for her ugly son Afaggdu, hunts him down through several shape-shifts and swallows him, after which she gives birth to Gwion as Taliesin, the pre-eminent poet.
Similarly, amongst the Thirteen Treasures (Hallows) of Britain, King Arthur has a cauldron taken from a King of Annwn (the Otherworld) which can boil meat rapidly for a brave man – but refuses to cook meat at all for cowards. This may be the same cauldron that turns up again in the story of Culhwch and Olwen, where Arthur takes it from Ireland rather than Annwn.
The cauldron thus represents the power of rebirth, to renew and regenerate. It is the womb, as the sword is the phallus, and it belongs to the Feminine, the Goddess. Don’t forget that Arthur gets his sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake – a gift from a water goddess, and the container of that water can be considered as a very large natural cauldron!
This brings us to the nature of Kingship – not in the sense of sitting on a throne and giving orders, but in the sense of being Sacred – and Sacrificial. The Sacrificial King is a very old tradition, though still extant in British folklore, thinly disguised in songs like John Barleycorn. To boil this lore down to its most basic form, Sovereignty, the Land, in the form of the goddess’s representative, the Queen, chooses her Champion, her King. He gains his authority through his marriage to her, and when he grows older, less potent or less able to fight, he’s sacrificed and a new, better model is selected.
Returning to the Matter of Britain, the Grail King or Fisher King is described as maimed, and because of his injuries his land is a barren waste. These wounds are in the groin, meaning he’s barren, and this gives us the link between the King and the Land – and also tells us why asking the right question will restore the land, not just the king. As a sacred king, his virility is tied to the fertility of the land. In older versions of the lore, I have no doubt that the knight who asks the correct question doesn’t heal the land but rather is able to slay the maimed king and take his place alongside the Queen as the new King whose youthful vigour and virility are reflected in her – and the land’s – fertility.
This vital integration between Masculine and Feminine has not been evident in European culture for some centuries, but undoubtedly it was more widely known and understood once, as it’s still evident and explicit in other traditions – Hinduism, for example, explicitly links Shiva with Shakti, lingam with yoni, and in the yin-yang symbol, the taichiju, there is a seed of black within the white half, and a seed of white within the black half. Masculine and Feminine are equal and opposite, complements, and each needs the other to make the whole.
This brings us to another concept, which is the nature of healing, because the word ‘heal’ in English is derived from Proto-Germanic ‘heiljan’ and, earlier still, Proto-Indo-European ‘kailo’, all of which mean ‘to make whole’.
It’s also worthwhile, at this point, reminding ourselves that the bodies we wear in this life are only physical – and in the same way the gender we wear, whether male or female, has no meaning to the Soul, which goes on from life to life, passing through male and female, human and other animals. Each of us expresses varying degrees of masculinity and femininity in every life but there is always a balance, however deeply we bury the complement or not in each life. Perhaps this is why shamans, across many cultures worldwide and as far back in time as we know, have a tendency to be more gender-fluid or gender non-conforming than the general population amongst whom they live. Certainly within my own training I was required to explore and integrate these elements within my own soul – King and Sovereignty, Masculine and Feminine, Light and Shadow – as part of my self-healing. I have memories, echoes, from other lives in which I’ve been male or non-human, rather than the human female body I wear in this life, and these, too, are part of my Wholeness.
Magically, then, to bring this meditative ramble to a conclusion, the Sword represents Kingship and Masculinity, and with the representation of Femininity and Sovereignty, the Cauldron (or grail) it is half of a pair of healing tools. Accordingly, since I’m spending time and effort on my Sword, I’m also making a point of devoting some time to sitting-with my Cauldron, continuing the process of integration and self-healing. Learning doesn’t stop when an apprentice shaman reaches initiation – the Wheel of the Seasons is also a spiral through time and we revisit the Lore repeatedly, seeking to go higher up and further in each time. The process of giving time and consideration to the physical tools of the trade – whether wrapping new thread around the sword hilt or polishing the inside of my big singing bowl (my cauldron) – is also an opportunity to cogitate on the Lore and to ask, what is there within me, now, that could usefully be sacrificed and replaced with an improved version? And what do I need to integrate within myself, to continue self-healing, to work towards wholeness?
‘It’ being the process of crafting a sacred or ritual item, that is – in this case, my sword has suddenly decided it needs an overhaul.
I crafted my sword some 20 odd years ago so it’s looking a bit worn these days, admittedly – it’s a Tai Chi sword made from white oak, but I gilded the whole caboodle with silver leaf and painted some runes on, then wrapped the grip in silver thread (which actually works very well to give a comfortable, non-slip grip). Since then we’ve done a fair number of space clearings, an exorcism or two and countless circles and boundary walks, so the silver leaf is rubbing off here and there, the paint’s tired and chipped in places… so fair enough, it’s probably a good call to give the sword a make-over.
We began this morning with a thorough clean. I unwound the silver thread from the hilts, wire brushed the paint and silver leaf off the hilts and then sanded it perfectly clean, buffed the blade down hard to ensure there’s no loose leaf left on it, and then wiped it down with surgical spirit to make sure there’s no grease.
After that it was a coat of copper acrylic paint on the hilts (I’ll re-gild the blade in a couple of days), then sand smooth once it was dry and apply a second coat. They’re now drying thoroughly overnight and I’ll sand it down again and give it a third coat in the morning. I don’t yet know what colour thread is required for the grip, and this time I need to make a fancy silk tassel for the hilts as well. I have managed to talk the sword out of wanting a crystal set into the pommel – I think! – as that would be quite a major remodelling job!
Here the sword is, drying quietly in the workroom.
That thing it’s hanging in is not a custom shamanic sword stand – it’s a Japanese braid loom called a marudai – one of two from my mother’s house which I’ve moved up to the croft. Whether I’ll keep one or both I don’t know but at least they don’t take up the amount of space her floor and table weaving looms do! Those will have to be extensively photographed and then dismantled for storage in the barn until they can be sold.
In the meantime, the tall marudai is just perfect for storing a sword in, admittedly!
I’ll post an update once the job’s further along.
In the meantime I’ve been working out what I can do by way of opening up for drum birthing and workshops again, now I’m not shielding my mother, and I’m planning on branching out slightly with an Etsy shop for staffs, wands, drums, runes and ogham!
I’ve written about this drum before – the journey from beginning to making and now, finally, to enlivening has been a lengthy one this time! – but today I brought her in from ‘the cold’ of the workshop in the barn, where she’s been drying and tightening quietly by herself since I finished crafting her on the 2nd August and she’s been enlivened in her first playing.
She’s quite an unconventional drum in some ways! The hoop is 18 inch oval oak and the hide is boar hide, both traditional enough – and very complimentary, since wild boar live in oak forests! – and the decoration inside the hoop was sketched in pencil, pyrographed and then highlighted here and there with acrylic paint (there’s more pyrography on the outside of the hoop but it’s hidden under the hide – intentionally! Some things are private between me and a drum I’ve crafted so we keep our secrets to ourselves). Normally I use part of the hide to make the stringing that tensions the hide on the drum, and the reason for that is that because they’re made from the same material, they dry and contract at the same rate and with the same force, providing balance and minimising the wear on the hide and stringing through the drum’s life.
The Wheel of the Year didn’t want that. She wanted to be strung with rainbow-coloured paracord – a synthetic woven cord, as non-traditional as you can get. I didn’t even know rainbow-coloured paracord was ‘A Thing’ until I got my instructions and started looking! Stringing the drum at the beginning of the month was quite a tense (sorry) job for me as I had no idea how the hide would react as it dried and tightened against a non-stretchable synthetic cordage with no give… but it’s worked beautifully! I’m thrilled with her voice today, she’s pure and bright and rings out clearly.
The paracord also looks stunning.
As you can see she’s strung Native American style, with twelve holes in the hide, one for each month, and then the stringing further tensioned by being bound into four groups of three, representing the four seasons of the year.
The face of the drum is completely plain – whether she’ll want more decoration in the future I don’t yet know. In a sense, a shamanic drum is never completely ‘finished’ – they have lives of their own and evolve over time as their human partners do.
Here she is being enlivened this evening amongst my varied animal companions here at the Croft:
Due to changes in my personal life, I’m once more ‘open’ for teaching and crafting to commission, so if there’s anything you want by way of a drum, healing and/or some runes, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line or comment!
A talisman is a magical item, something created to attract good luck or to embody particular spirit forces. Bindrunes fall under this heading, but so also do some other items I craft from time to time.
On occasion, as I’m beach-combing with the dogs or just walking in the woods and forest around my home, I come across something that calls out to me, wanting to be incorporated into a talisman. I bring these things home and work with them as a shaman as well as a crafter, asking them what they want to be and why, then I craft a unique piece of artwork for them and enliven them, inviting the informing spirit to become an indwelling spirit within the crafted item.
I never know what form the finished piece will take until we’re done and the spirit is in residence because the process of creation involves an ongoing dialogue with both the craft materials and the inspiring spirit.
Most of these talismans are not meant to stay with me, and I offer them for sale or, sometimes, gift them to friends and colleagues who are meant to have them. This is one that stayed with me.
I’ve always had horses in my life since I was a small child, and I have a very strong relationship with the Welsh goddess Rhiannon, who is a horse goddess. I was beach combing with my dogs in Wales many years ago when I found this horse pedal bone, the bone that’s inside the hoof, on a beach in Carmarthenshire called Morfa Bychan, which was very close to my home at the time. I used glass beads in the three sacred colours of the British Old Ways, red, white and black, to craft this necklace; each colour corresponds to one aspect of the Maiden-Mother-Crone triad and also with the Three Cauldrons that hold Life, Wisdom and Vocation.
The string runs through the two holes in the bone formed by the major blood vessels which feed the inside of the hoof in life, and the silver crescent formed across the front of the bone calls on the power of the moon, which all goddesses and women share in British tradition. Smaller beads protect the string and bone from wearing on each other in use, and the larger tassel at the back counterweights the weight of the bone and its tassel, making the whole necklace balanced and comfortable to wear.
Appropriately, the background to this photo is my 18 inch horsehide drum, Thunderhoof, decorated with stylised lightning and hoof prints, which you can just see creeping in round the edges. This is, interestingly, the drum my four horses react to most positively when I drum for them – they like all the drums, but Thunderhoof is their favourite.
Here’s Thunderhoof again – this time on my altar during a ritual.