Creating Shamanic Drums: Symbolism, Rituals, and Connection with the Spirit World

All shamanic drums are made on certain phases of the Moon (depending on what tasks the drum will solve). Before the creation of the drum, a shaman does not take animal meat for three days. The whole process of birth takes place with the coordination of the Spirit Helpers, who help in the process. An important factor is the Shaman's personal inspiration.

The skins are dressed by the Shaman's own hand. A ritual is also performed to send the animal to the heavenly halls. This is done in order for the drum to serve its owner for a long time. Only after that the revitalization of the Horse-Wind drum is performed. If we describe the process, it will look like this. A shaman goes on a journey (out-of-body experience) where he meets the Spirit, which will later enter the drum at the moment of birth.

The animal that a shaman “reanimates” is his alter ego, his most powerful spirit helper; when it enters the shaman, he transforms into a theriomorphic mythical ancestor. In mythical times, every man of a tribe could transform into an animal, that is, everyone could assume the state of his ancestor. Today, such intimate connections with mythical ancestors are available only to shamans.

In shamanic ceremonies, the drum plays a key role. It has many magical functions and complex symbolism. It is necessary for a session because it can carry a shaman to the “Middle of the World” and fly in space, summon and captivate spirits, and the sounds of the drum help the shaman to concentrate and make contact with the spirit world in order to go on a journey.
two shamanic drums
In initiation dreams, future shamans made a mystical journey to the “Middle of the World” to the place where Tengri and the Cosmic Tree are located. In order for the shaman to make the rim of his drum, Tengri allows one branch from the Tree to fall.

This symbolizes the connection between Heaven and Earth through the Tree of the World through the Axis located at the “Center of the World”. Since the hoop of the drum is made of the wood of the Cosmic Tree, the shaman can easily be transported to it and ascend to Heaven by striking the drum. From this point of view, the drum can be identified with the shamanic tree, on which a shaman ascends to Heaven. A shaman can approach the Tree of Peace and climb it by striking a drum or climbing a birch tree

Siberian shamans even have their own personal trees. They are the earthly embodiment of the Cosmic Tree. Trees set with the roots upwards are also used. All these connections between ceremonial birch trees and the shaman show the relationship between the shaman's drum, the World Tree and ascension to Heaven.

The choice of wood from which to make the rim of the drum depends on the spirits. Samoyed shamans take an axe, close their eyes, enter the forest and mark a tree at random. In the morning their companions take wood from this tree for the rim of the drum. The Altai shaman receives information from the spirits about the place where the right tree grows and sends helpers to find wood for the drum. Yakut shamans choose a tree that has been struck by lightning.

In some regions, a shaman collects splinters of the tree, and the tree is sacrificed by smearing it with vodka and blood. Such ritual respect indicates that the tree is transformed by a superhuman revelation and ceases to be ordinary, reincarnating as the Tree of the World.

After the necessary tree is found and the drum is made of it, the ceremony of “reviving the drum” is held. In Altai, a shaman sprinkles the hoop of the drum and the drum begins to tell through the shaman about its life in the forest, its origin and so on. Then the skin of the drum is sprinkled, which also tells about its past life. The animal with the voice of a shaman tells about its parents, its birth and childhood, its whole life up to the moment when the animal was killed by a hunter. The animal's story ends with assurances that it will faithfully serve the shaman. In Tubalars, the shaman revives the animal, inheriting its voice and gait. The revived animal is the second self of the shaman and the strongest spirit-helper. This allows us to understand why during the ritual of “reviving the drum” the shaman tells about the life of the animal: it is the ancestor of the whole tribe.

The drum is usually shaped like an oval. It is made of elk, horse or reindeer skin. The Ostyaks and Samoyeds of Western Siberia do not put drawings on the outside of the drum, while the Tungus depict birds, snakes, and other animals. Since the drum is used as a shuttle on which the shaman crosses the sea in his travels, the symbol of solid earth is depicted on the drum. In the center of the drum are depicted eight double lines, which symbolize the pillars that support the Earth above the Sea. Yakuts depict, in addition to people and animals, mysterious signs drawn in black and red paint. Also drawings on the skin of the drum are characteristic of the Laplanders and Tatar tribes. They are very diverse, but the most significant symbols are the Tree of the World, the Moon, the Sun, and the Rainbow.

On the inner side of the drum there is an iron or wooden vertical handle with which a shaman holds the drum in his left hand. On the horizontal bars or wooden crossbars there is a huge amount of tinkling metal, bells, rattles, iron images of spirits and animals, miniature weapons (bow, arrows and knife). Each item fulfills a different role in the preparation and realization of the spiritual journey.

The drum represents a microcosm with three spheres: Heaven, Earth and the Lower World. It is used to see the tools that help the shaman to pass through all levels and establish a connection with the lower and upper worlds. Along with the Tree of the World, the drum depicts a rainbow, and sometimes a bridge on which a shaman passes from one world to another.

The symbolism of the ecstatic journey to the Center of the World dominates the images on the drum. The beats of the drum at the beginning of the ceremony, with which a shaman summons the spirits to imprison them in the drum, is a foreplay to this journey. This is why the drum is called the “shamanic horse”.

The horse on the drum is depicted by Altaic shamans. They believe that when a shaman strikes the drum, he rides his horse to Heaven. Buryats also have a similar phenomenon. Their drum is made of horse skin and it is this animal that it symbolizes. The drum of the Soyot shaman is called khamyn at, which literally translates to “the shaman's horse”. In the case when the drum is made of goat skin, it is called “shaman's goat” by the Karagas and Soyots. In Mongols the shaman's drum is called “black deer”.

All these representations and symbols, personifying the flight, horseback riding and speed of shamans, are images of shamanic trance, in which a journey to places inaccessible to ordinary people is made.

Depending on which zone on the drum is struck, a Shaman can come into contact with the corresponding world. Some shamans have a system of rhythms aimed at activating various human energy centers.
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