The Shamanic Drum – Michael Drake

The Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming
Michael Drake
Talking Drum Publications, 1991
100 pages

If you’re not a fan of core shamanism, you probably won’t like this book. It’s heavily based on material from Harner’s The Way of the Shaman and derivative works. I tried to keep in mind that when it was written back in 1991, there wasn’t nearly as much practical information on neoshamanism as there is now, and most of it was core shamanism. There is a revised edition as of 2002, which has more material; however, as I have not read that edition yet. So be aware that this review is for the original edition.

That being said, I have some things I like about this book, and some things I’m not so crazy about.

    Likes

–Drake definitely knows his drums. His information on drum care is spot-on. This bit of practical information is quite valuable if this is your first book on drumming.
–He also has obviously done practical work; this is a book based on experience, not just a bit of theorizing and making things up to fill the pages. If the things I dislike below don’t particularly bother you, you may find this to be an excellent text to work from, as it covers everything from the cosmonology of the drum, to different drumming rites and practices you can engage in.
–Endnotes! There are Endnotes! Which means you can see where Drake got some of his third-party information. While he doesn’t provide endnotes for every bit of information that didn’t come from his head, what is there gives you a decent idea of his source material.
–There’s a good deal of environmentally-friendly information in this book, so it’s not all about the humans. It’s a healthy reminder of the good things this material can be used for, and I applaud it.

    Dislikes

–The book treats journeying as though it were safe: “Remember that nothing can harm you on your journeys without your permission” (p. 42)
–Chakras are mixed in, without the explanation that they are specifically from Hinduism, not any shamanic culture (this is very common in New Age writings, unfortunately). The same goes for other New Age concepts that are mixed in with the material.
–Native American cultures are given the “noble savage” treatment: “We are drawn to Native American teachings because they are so pure and harmonious…When your heartbeat is one with the Earth’s, you may begin to look, feel and act much like traditional Native Americans, for they too resonate with her” (p. 77) There are also several generalizations about “shamanic cultures” throughout the book that are not particularly universal, and some of which have a very Western approach.

My biases being what they are, I do admit that as a concise guide to core shamanic drumming, this one’s pretty good. I’m split about 50-50 on my likes and dislikes. Again, I haven’t seen the newer edition, so you may want to give that one a try; some of the issues above may or may not have been addressed (for example, the new edition has an appendix on the American Indian Religious Freedom Act). On the other hand, if the new book is just an expansion of the same general material, you may want to keep this review in mind. If I get ahold of the new edition, I’ll give it a separate review.

Two and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Talisman Magick Workbook – Kala and Ketz Pajeon – August BBBR

The Talisman Magick Workbook
Kala and Ketz Pajeon
Citadel Press, 1992
244 pages

This month’s Bargain Bin Book Review is a handbook on creating magical talismans using combinations of existing symbols from cultures and practices around the world. There is theoretical discussion of talismans and the individual symbols, as well as extensive information on correspondences. In short, it should in theory contain everything you need to get started on talisman magic. But let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

I give the authors kudos for addressing the worry that they’re giving powerful tools into the hands of anyone who wants them, and therefore are responsible for other peoples’ actions. I think they handled this concept very well, and present the information in a well-balanced manner that all but the most misguided of practitioners should understand. I’m not particularly sure what in this book would be considered particularly offensive; it primarily deals with fairly common symbol sets such as zodiacal astrology, the I Ching, Norse runes, and the Tarot. Still, there will always be magical busybodies worrying themselves over what their neighbors are doing.

The information on the symbols themselves is pretty standard, though a few of their sources aren’t so great–for example, they draw on Ralph Blum (among others) for rune information. Given that the book was written in 1992, when there was a lot less source material, it’s forgivable–however, be aware that there may be inaccurate information from these sources. If you’re going to study these symbols and systems beyond the talisman magic explained in this book, make sure you refer to other source material.

Where I actually see the most potential value for this book is for Chaos magicians wanting to indulge in a bit of paradigmal piracy, and others who aren’t too concerned about in-depth study of the systems drawn on. If you want a quick “plug it in, charge it up, and let it go” bit of magic, this will be a good single text to work from. However, if you’re more type-A about historical and factual accuracy, you’ll at the very least want to supplement this text, and if potential inaccuracies really bother you, you may just want to pass it by altogether. It’s a good practical text and it accomplishes the goal it was made for, though.

Three and a half pawprints out of five.

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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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Facing North Reviews

For those who don’t know, I’ve been a reviewer with Facing North from its inception. Webmistress and author Lisa McSherry started it as an online database of reviews of esoteric texts; while I’ve shared some of my reviews from here over there, I also have some that are unique to that site. Here are the links to what I have there at this point:

The Druid Magic Handbook by John Michael Greer
Your Altar by Sandra Kynes
Wisdom Walk by Sage Bennett
Pagan Prayer Beads by John Michael Greer and Clare Vaughn
The Bitch, the Crone and the Harlot by Susan Schacterle
Creativity for Life by Eric Maisel, Ph.D.
When Fear Falls Away by Jan Frazier
Circle, Coven and Grove by Deborah Blake
Moon Days by Cassie Primo Steele

I strongly suggest checking out Facing North, as well as the other reviewers I have linked on the left sidebar.

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