When I first start painting a drum, I look for the form, however slight, of a creature already in the skin.  Sometimes it is time, or someone else’s inquiry, that is the spark that lights the fire of recognition.  This drum waited many months, and then a request for a custom drum–and suddenly–there were bird wings.  My only painting gesture at this point is the light V of lines in the lower right.


This drum had some potential weakness in its making, in the form of several fleshing cuts on its reverse, that could have caused the drum skin to crack when drying.  Once I saw the wings, I understood these marks were the tail.  This is an important insight, because for me, any strong marks in the skin must be part of the creatures I see, or I am not seeing the right creatures.


And then the bird came faint but clear on the drumhead.  I felt compelled to edge the bird entirely in blue, rather than the black iron oxide pigment I usually use to find the shapes.  Until I came to the feet and discovered a snake.


Do you know the shaman bird?
I might.  Just a little.

Many years ago I was told, or found out, just one characteristic. The Shaman bird cannot fly backwards.  So what does that mean?  I understood in this way.  If I am in the alternate realities, or in the other-than-human realms, and I am shown something to know or do and I say no, I will be left at that level of knowing or doing.  The bird, the good work, will keep going and not come back for me.

So why is this the shaman bird?  Because if the drum or its work is disrespected, I believe that tail will crack, and although such stress tears can be repaired, the drum’s voice would never have the same full original vibration.

But who is the snake?

Again, for me, the clues are in the colours, the posture, and in the way it is in relationship with the bird.  Red is often associated with the earth plane and blue the spirit realms.  The bird is not grasping the snake as if it were going to be dinner, but clearly is holding it with one set of claws wrapped around, and the other foot supporting the weight.  The bird is carrying the snake.  Just as I feel we are carried by the Mystery in the space between what we do not yet know, and what we have just forgotten.   Carried beyond our judgement and delusion to something greater.


The snake is alert, watchful, willing.
Willing to say yes. Willing to keep going.

May the voice not crack.
May I be the snake.