Drumming at the Edge of Magic – Mickey Hart

Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion
Mickey Hart with Jay Stevens
Marper Collins, 1990
263 pages

I have a bit of a history with this book. I first bought a copy and read it over half a decade ago, then for some inexplicable reason decided to sell it. Now that I’ve been doing more drumming, I got the urge to read it again, so I managed to track down a copy. What absolutely amazes me is how much of the book I remember, even having read it so long ago. It must have struck me deeply back then, and it’s understandable why.

This isn’t just a story about the history of the drum. Nor is it only a story about Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead. It’s a combination of those, and more. We learn about where drums came from, and we surmise about what the effects of those early percussionists must have been. We see where this instrument captivated Hart from an early age, and wonder at the amazing creations that resulted. We explore the altered states of consciousness the drum evokes, with Joseph Campbell, Alla Rakha, and the Siberian shamans as our guides. From blues and jazz to African talking drums and the bullroarers found worldwide, we are introduced to percussionists of all stripes, spots and plaids.

Between Hart and Stevens, the writing is phenomenal. Rather than following a strictly linear progression, it snakes like Hart’s Anaconda of index cards through pages upon pages of storytelling and factoids. However, it all meshes well together, rather than coming across as stilted or confused. It’s nonlinear, and it works beautifully. There’s just the right mix of personal testimonial, anecdotes, and hard facts.

Anyone who drums, dances, or otherwise is involved with music; anyone who works with altered states of consciousness, whether in shamanic practice or otherwise; anyone who wants to see what makes a rock and roll drummer tick; and anyone who wants a damned good story that’s all true, needs to read this book.

Five pawprints out of five.

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Gaia Calling – Kim Bold

Gaia Calling: Spirit Animal Stories and Gaia Calling: Spirit Animal Music set
Kim Bold
Fifth Mesa Creations, 2006
113 pages

Note: This review was originally written for newWitch magazine in 2006 and appeared in a 2007 issue.

Kim Bold offers a lovely combination of creative writing and music in this set of one book and two CDs. Influenced by the Gaia Theory, the idea that the Earth is a conscious living being, Bold offers up stories and music inspired by spiritual conversations between Gaia and a number of animals from around the world.

The book contains six tales about such animals as Beaver, Giraffe and Panda. In the tradition of world folklore each tale contains a lesson about human behavior through animal fables. They’re simply written and convey their messages in an easy to understand format. The dialogue can be a little silly; in fact, the stories read more like something written for children than adults.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The CD that is sold separately from the book, Spirit Animal Music, accompanies the stories quite nicely. Each track is written to match each story, and makes a nice background to a read-aloud. I could definitely see children, pagan and otherwise, really enjoying getting to hear these stories with Bold’s beautiful musical compositions creating additional depth to the words and actions of the animals.

Speaking of the music, Bold is quite an accomplished artist in that respect as well. The Spirit Animal Music CD weaves her flutes along with assorted percussion and keyboard accents. Even purchased alone it would make an excellent relaxing soundtrack to a meditation or to calm the ambience of a workspace.

Similar music also creates the background to the CD which comes with the book, Meeting Your Spirit Animal. This is a pretty standard totem animal meditation which first relaxes the listener, then guides hir through a cave and into an alternate reality where s/he can meet hir animal. It’s longer, running nearly a half an hour, a third of which is preparation. Some people may find this to be too long, but the meditation itself is quite effective, so you might skip ahead to a couple minutes before it begins if you don’t need as much prep time.

The book only dedicates a couple of pages at the back of the book to practical animal totem work, then makes a recommendation of five books for further reading, including Andrews’ acclaimed Animal Speak, and the popular but culturally appropriative Medicine Cards by Sams and Carson. The basic message is that you need to determine for yourself what your animal is telling you. This is fine if you have some familiarity with totemism, but a brand new beginner may be a little lost without additional 101 information. It might have been better to package the Spirit Animal Music CD with the book, and save the Meeting Your Spirit Animal CD for a new book. I’d love to see Bold come out with a more practical guide to animal magic based on her unique view of animal spirits, provided she could avoid falling into the “just another totem animal dictionary” trap.

Four pawprints out of five.

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