Sunday, June 15, 2008

Drum Circles

Most major Pagan events, gatherings, Pride Day celebrations and any other meeting of like-minded people have a drum circle. Sometime it's completely spontaneous, but there are loosely organized groups of people who meet on a regular basis to drum. Pagan gatherings usually have drumming workshops, a vain attempt at teaching rhythm to those who don't have any. You will also likely come across several vendors who are selling a variety of drums. For a few dollars you can get a cheap, flat-sounding plastic drum decorated with a triple moon or the Venus of Willendorf, or you can purchase a handcrafted djembe that costs several hundred dollars. (Djembes are the most popular choice, followed by the bodhran. We'll talk about each of those in turn.)

People get together to drum for various reasons, but for many Pagans, the focus is to raise energy, although the type usually is not specified. At Pagan gatherings, this is likely to take place at night, around a large bonfire. The drummers sit or stand in one place while others are free to move about the circle. Belly dancing is another very popular bonfire activity and dancers are almost always present at such circles.

What is the attraction? Drumming has been used as a spiritual tool by people of various paths. In many shamanic cultures, it is the rhythmic, hypnotic beating of the drum that carries the person into an altered state of being. It's the South American spiritualities that use more colorful methods, such as ayahuasca to achieve a similar state. Those who use drumming to induce a higher consciousness believe that the sound of the drum closely matches the base frequency of the earth itself. Some refer to the sound of the drum as the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

There are a few Pagans who claim to have profoundly spiritual experiences during drum circles, and some dancers have become so involved in what they were doing that have suffered dehydration and nasty sunburn-like injuries. If you're going to attend a drum circle, try to remember to take frequent water breaks, and don't get so damn close to the fire! (Oh, and please don't wear anything with big sleeves. We know how some Pagans like to dress as though they are at the Ren Faire.)

Many Pagans attend drum circles to show off their drumming skills, both real and imagined. Drumming makes all of the nine-to-fivers (and there really are some who do work a "typical" job) feel more in touch with their primitive selves. It gives these modern-day primitives a chance to change out of their mundane costumes and step out of the air-conditioned office (or trailer) and stomp, clap, shout, and make a holy racket until dawn. It's not uncommon to hear 17 rhythms happening at once. Someone will try to establish a beat, but instead of following it, everyone else decides to improvise. This makes it difficult for the dancers to try to out-shimmy each other. It almost makes it impossible to hear anyone sharing a song or a bit of the spoken word, which makes loud, chaotic drumming almost a blessing.

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