Why do I make drums?
To communicate with the other than human world,
the spirit world.

Communicate:  communicare, to impart, share, lit., to make common.
To give or exchange information, signals, or messages in any way,
as by talk, gesture, writing, etc.


 When I first receive a hide, I spend time gathering information
from  the messages of his life:
the animal’s size and thickness of skin,
the scars and infestations suffered, the beauty nourished.


Every part, and every part between the part, is communication.


It is important to me to make the drum in the hide,
and not fit the hide to the drum.
The size of the drum will shape the voice of spirit who is speaking:
the layering of tones, the harmonics, the timbre.


Somehow I came to understand, decades ago when I first started making drums, that the fastening on the reverse of the drum was the drum maker’s signature.  Before I made my first drum, I was shown to fasten the thongs holding the drumhead with a ring.  This happened during a shamanic workshop in 1986 when a stranger journeyed to his helpers on my behalf, and they sent this message, “to build her own drum, she will find what she needs under a pine tree on a windy, stormy day.” Months later, when my partner and I paused from canoeing on a  windy day in Nova Scotia, our dog pulled a broken lobster trap from under a pine tree.  I saw the openings at each end were fastened with rings made from withies.  Suddenly  I remembered the communication from the shamanic journey , and ever since I have made this ring my signature.


But I do not take without asking.  Communication is a shared experience.  I ask the cedar tree three times for a limb to become a ring for my drum, and if on the third request, the answer is yes and the ring is made, I take all the bark shavings back to the tree.  I learned as a student of Martin Prechtel that there is no garbage in nature.


When I build a drum, I communicate with the magic of numbers.  I do not plan how many holes will be punched, nor how many thongs will thread around the rim to make an even spacing. Every number has meaning and I let the drum show me its power. When each drum’s series of numbers is revealed, this adds  layers of insight to the conversation.


I fill the inside of the cedar withy with an interlacement pattern from my heritage.  Because I understand this ring is how I have been shown to build drums, I add an honouring of my ancestors in its design.   My background is English, Scots and Irish, and these interlacement patterns were used by Medieval magicians because they were constructed with a single unbroken line.   The pattern was understood to be protective because it offered no knots, or “gates” for evil spirits to enter.

I wrap the interlacement design with sailor’s hitching, both for comfort when holding the drum, and because I have sea captains on my family tree.  Sailors worked such knot designs as “charms against drowning,” and in shamanic work as well as life, there are many ways to drown.


The copper snake is small in this reality, yet a reminder of a very special conversation with the other than human world. I was driving, when I noticed a dead snake along the side of the road.  I had been puzzling how to correct a flaw in my recently made drum.  The ring was not strong enough to hold the drying skin, and pulled apart from the tension.  The ring could not be rejoined, and the drum was ruined. I always stop to move snakes off the road into the kindness of grass and warm stones, which I did.  To my surprise, after I laid the snake on a large rock, it opened its mouth wide, opened its eyes, and curled into a ring.  It stayed in that shape for a few moments, then slid into the shadowy grass.

Not dead.  Not ruined.
Stabilize the next drum by anchoring the ring with a snake.
Every drum I build is held secure by a snake, with eyes that can see.



There are so many conversations in each part of the drum’s assemblage.  The running thong, that makes a flower design around the perimeter of the hide,  was learned from Mi’kmaq elders, who required I endure a terrific amount of teasing before I was an acceptable student. The lacings that attach to the ring are made like cedar rope, learned from Hillary Stewart,  a teacher, archeologist, and fellow artist of hand-work.


Upon returning from a trip to the Canadian sub-Artic, a student gave me a small jar of Makwa Pimedi (“white gold”)   bear grease.  I condition the skins of my drums with this remarkable oil, and as the little jar is almost empty, this  conversation will soon transform.


And yet, for all these messages going forth and then back between the worlds, the most precious communications are the drum paintings.  I do not choose what I am going to paint, but rather I gaze into the skin until something appears. First I look for eyes. Mostly I rub raw earth pigments into the areas surrounding the image I see, instead of painting the image directly.  Many of the details inside the creatures are created by patterns on the drum surface, and not by me.


I believe the image is being sent by the spirit world when the creature is somehow “in relationship.”  This might be a gesture, the presence of other creatures, an atmosphere, an expression.   The first thing I saw in this drum skin was a paw pulling back a rim of cloud, of fog, like a veil being lifted.  I immediately remembered my discovery, years ago, that Armageddon literally means “lifts the veil.”  I started calling this drum Lifts the Veil, as I discovered the image of a cross fox. Such a different painting style was asked for, since the pigment filled the figure, rather than surrounded it.   And I found and  painted the eyes last instead of first.  I kept trying to make the expression majestic, or mysterious, or something besides what I saw.  But no.


The expression is so pleading, is it asking for me
to enter into this narrow span of blue?
Or showing that this is the destination of calamity?


This post was inspired by the book, Start With Why, by Simon Sinek.
All the descriptions presented here are about
HOW I hold myself accountable
to WHY I make drums.
WHAT you see is my answer:
to communicate with spirit.