Transcript of Disc II, Chapter II: Drums
© 2013 Max Dashu

Mahadeo Drummer
In many countries, shamans journey with the hand drum, here played by a woman in the Mahadeo hills of India.

Jomon Drum
Drums are a part of ceremony in so many cultures. On this very ancient Japanese drum a woman with a spiral diadem is dancing—or flying

Yangshao drum
The Chinese made clay drums too, like this Yangshao drum painted with mask and fish, 7000 years ago.

Banshan drum
A yellow clay drum from Banshan was painted with rolling spirals; others at Dawenkou had four-lobed petals.

Funnel Beaker culture
Clay drums from neolithic Germany were incised with symbols and patterns [Funnel Beaker (Trichterbecher) culture, 4000 to 3000 bce]

Folkton Drums
In northern England, ancestor faces were carved into the Folkton Drums about forty centuries ago.

In southern Peru, the Nazca painted bulbous drums with birds, cat-beings, and snakes.

Ceramic drums were also played in Nicoya, Costa Rica—this one a jaguar playing an ocarina.

Jabal Ghuvayn drummer
An Arabian woman drums with a stick, as incense smolders behind her, on a sandstone relief at Jabal Ghuvayn.

Sumeria, ca. 2900 bce
In ancient Iraq, many clay figurines depict women holding a frame drum against their bodies.

Ur, 2nd millennium bce
Akkadian and Babylonian temple dancers and musicians were known as qadishtum, holy women,  ishtaritu, kalmashitu, and many other titles.

Syrian drummer
The very ancient cultural pattern of temple women is found across southwest Asia, in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.

Syrian drummer 2
Even in late antiquity, Syrian priestesses were selected from women who exceled as chanters of sacred litanies

Archaeology shows us women like this Phoenician drummer, but little is known about their ceremonies,  or their lives [figures like this were also found in northern Israel]

Cappadocian drummer
Greek sources give tantalizing glimpses of shamanic dancers and drummers in Anatolia. The entranced Cappadocian priestesses of Castabala walked on burning coals. In the Taurus mountains, the black-robed votaries of Ma whirled with unbound hair, struck themselves with blades, and prophesied.

The Nimrud ivories, finely carved by northern Canaanite artists, show women in processions, playing drums, flutes and clappers

Nimrud ivory
They are shown embedded in Nature, among animals and flowering plants

Miriam the Prophetess
The Hebrew Bible testifies to women’s sacred drumming: “Then Miriam the prophetess took the drum in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dancing.”

Miriam's Drum
This passage in Exodus 15:20 connects Miriam’s drumming with her status as a prophetess -- though the scribes took pains to de-legitimize her

Miriam with cymbals
with a story of divine punishment visited on her for daring to disagree with her brother Moses [Byzantine MS]

Kemetic Drummers
From very ancient times, Kemetic women drummed and danced in the temples of Egypt

Drummers to Uadjet
Stone reliefs show them celebrating festivals and temple ceremonies, wearing special headdresses, handling snakes as they dance. [inscription is to the serpent goddess Uadjet, circa 1100 bce]

Cairo Museum relief
They come in procession before Hathor, or Isis, sounding their drums beside heavily laden offering tables.

Besit, goddess of the small-people at the Nile headwaters, dances and drums in a Nubian ostrich-feather headdress

Carthaginian drummer
Women drummers are found across North Africa in Carthage, Tunisia

and other Phoenician-influenced cultures in Spain and in Sicily, reflecting women’s ceremony over a vast area and timespan.

Strong Greek influence is also visible in this Mediterranean melting pot.

Two Greek dancers
In the ancient Greek world, the drumbeat throbbed at the heart of the Women’s Mysteries of Demeter, Rhea, Artemis, and Hecate.

Snakey maenads
The maenads were famed for roaming the wilderness chanting and drumming, with snakes wrapped around their heads, entranced.

Snake drum
In The Bacchae, the chorus chants that the Dionysiac drum originated “in ritual worship of the mother goddess.”

Paestum vase painting
These ecstatic ceremonies gave rising to prophecy, healing, and transformation. However, the maenads were increasingly deplored as women out of control, or driven mad by a punishing god.

Quintilliana relief
In 186 bce, Rome launched a ferocious persecution of the ecstatic Bacchanals.

Basque drum
More repression followed, from churchmen who feared the power of shamanic dance, chant, and drumming. But Basque, Sicilian, and Italian women kept the frame drum alive in their festivals and tarantellas.

Coya's Drum
In Peru, the Coyas and mamaconas, Quechua priestesses of the Moon, drummed and chanted in processions and festivals,

Quechua Drum
in planting ceremonies and rituals of the Moon and waters. The Coyas were said to commune with the stones of the earth and have prophetic powers.

Moche drummer
Much earlier, around 100-500 CE, Moche sculptures show medicine women with drums.

Moche drummer 2
They belong to a rich archaeological spectrum of Peruvian female shamans who sound the heartbeat of ceremony.

Moche drummer 3
These were women who journeyed deep and far, across the worlds.

Lena Ceremony
Along the Lena River, old Siberian rock paintings show shamans with frame drums leading ceremonies and processions [here with a pregnant elk -- the bugady enintyn again].

Bashkir shaman
The classic image of a shaman is a Siberian beating a huge drum, dressed in ritual robes heavily adorned with bells, amulets, mirrors, and long leather “snakes”

[I was dubious about the authenticity of the drum design in the 18th century French engraving; but compare with a more recent Evenk drum from eastern Siberia, at right.]

  drum with curved red patterns

Altai drum, 1910
In north and central Asia, and in Samiland, shamans painted their Dreamings and helping spirits within a cosmic matrix of upper, middle, and lower worlds

Tuvan drum
often with water beings deep in the abyss.

Olga, Evenk shaman and chieftain
An old photo shows Olga of the Evenk in full ceremonial regalia [shaman’s coat, knotted leather veil, “snake” streamers, amulet pendants, and medicine bag] with her drum. Siberians speak of the drum as a “horse” that conveys shamans across the worlds.

Dam Maya
Similarly, in Nepal the entranced pande Dam Maya rides on her drum in a spiritual voyage.

Yaka drum
In southern Congo, Yaka banganga, diviners, play wooden slitdrums called Nkookwa Ngo ombu

Yaka drum 2
Nkookwa means matrilineal ancestor, the spirit of a diviner who initiates and inspires the nganga, and Ngo ombu means “primordial Womb.”

Yaka drum 3
The drum represents this womb, is filled with its power, and acts as a bridge between the worlds. Medicines are placed in it, and it speaks to the nganga in dreams

Yaka drum 4
Its spirit-animal is the otter-shrew, a mammal who lives in water and tunnels in the earth. New banganga emulate it  during their initiation ceremony

Vanuatu bamboo drum
Women of Vanuatu, in the southwest Pacific, play similar wooden tube instruments in their festivals.

In India women played many kinds of drums in village and temple ceremony: the mrdangam, dhol, tabla, and damaru.

Konark, Orissa
Many temple sculptures, like this one at Konark, show women dancing while playing double-headed mrdangam. This is the ecstatic and transformative power of ancient ceremony.

Indonesian bronze
These Indian-style drums spread to Java, here played by a wisdom dakini [dating to the Buddhist era, early middle ages].

Thai relief rubbing
Thai oral histories remember a queen who used a sacred drum to defend her country against an invading king.

Janggu drum
Korean women have played the hourglass-shaped janggu for the ritual dance of the mudang, for centuries.

Late Zhou drummers
Ancient Chinese bronzes show women playing drums on stands, some 2400 years ago.

and they also resounded gongs hanging from temple roof beams.

Gongs 2
The Wu made offerings and danced among spirit birds, to the music of gongs, drums and flutes.

Women also played bronze gongs hung from the rafters in Kalimantan – the island of Borneo, with its rich traditions of female dukun.



Woman Shaman: the Ancients © 2013 Max Dashu

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