The Shaman's Horse
My drum can connect me
to the earth or carry me like a flying horse. Sometimes I send my spirits out,
but other times I must go myself, alone or with the spirits.
―Tania Kobezhikova, Khakass shaman
The shaman’s horse, namely the single-headed frame drum,
originated in Siberia, together with shamanism itself
thousands of years ago. Shamanic drumming is considered one of the oldest
methods for healing and accessing inner wisdom. Practiced cross-culturally,
this technique is strikingly similar the world over. Shamanic drumming uses a
single, repetitive rhythm played at a tempo of three to four beats per second.
Although sounding quite simple and redundant, the unique connection between the
drum and the shaman gives this drumming great power, richness, and depth.
According to Tuvan musicologist Valentina Suzukei, “shamanic
drumming is not monotonous at all. Constant changes in timbre and volume keep
them interesting. The healing quality lies in this variation, which tracks and
directs the patient’s energies. If you don’t listen for timbre, but only for
pitch and rhythm the music is boring, monotonous. But the player’s every
smallest change of mood is reflected in timbre.”
Through the many frequencies and overtones of the drum, the
shaman communes with the normally unseen energies of the spirit world. By
changing and listening to the tones, pitches, and harmonics of the drum, the
shaman is able to send messages to—and receive them from—both the spirit world
and the patient.
The shamanic drum is a time-tested vehicle for healing and self-expression. A shaman may use the drum to address any number of health issues including trauma, addiction, depression, and chronic pain. Additionally, the shamanic techniques of extraction, soul retrieval, and journeying, can all be performed with the drum. According to Mariko Namba Walter and Eva Jane Neumann Fridman, authors of Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture, “The drum is used in a variety of ways in shamanist rituals; it may serve as (1) a rhythm instrument, (2) a divination table, (3) a "speaker” for communicating with the spirits, (4) a spirit-catcher, (5) a spirit boat, (6) a purifying device, (7) the shaman’s mount.“