For thousands of years, drums and rattles have been used to communicate,
to accompany dances and to change the consciousness of individuals and
groups. Drumming can rouse soldiers into battle, and soothe an angry
mob. Some shamans referred to a drum as a "horse", since it could carry them to
other states of consciousness, where they could communicate with ancestral and
Many tribal and traditional societies used drums and
rituals and celebrations, to call spirits and to help people directly connect
with the cosmos. Drums had a "voice" and could "talk" through different tempo
and tones. Through drum language people could send and receive messages. In
parts of Africa and India drums were esteemed so highly that they were given
their own throne next to the ruler! In old Hawaii most temples (heiau) had a sacred drum
Vibrations from rhythmic sounds affect brain activity, studies
have shown. Since the dawn of history, shamans have used rhythmic drumming to
attain non-ordinary states of consciousness. A constant rhythm affects
consciousness in specific ways, allowing a shaman to achieve well-defined
altered states of consciousness. This helps meditation, out of body
journeying and ecstatic experiences.
Rhythmic beats seems to pulse through all that lives. The heartbeat
in each of us began before we were born and ends as our bodies
die. This rhythmic pulse can connect us with humanity, with all living things
and with the cosmos.
Coaching Coaching Holidays
In any exploration of shamanic practices, drums and rattles
are essential tools. The use of drumming to effect conscious change is certain,
but the questions concern how to drum, and what size and beat and patterns of
rhythm can induce which states of consciousness and with what consequences.
Studies of brain patterns by researcher Dr. Melinda Maxfield found
that a steady 4.5 Hertz (Hz or cycles per second) for at least 15 minutes can transport shamans into
altered states of consciousness. This 4.5 cycles per second corresponds
to a trance like state of theta brainwave activity.
We experienced similar effects in Buddhist temples in
Katmandu, which can be attained with the constant rhythmic
drone of Tibetan chants, which Buddhist monks use for certain meditations. Other pulsating rhythms
can act in a similar way
and some rhythms, when dominant in the brain, can support unusual experiences.
Although we have experimented with the precise, consistent
(boring) computer generated rhythms, which some claim can target specific states of consciousness, we find that this techno
approach seems to miss the human to human connection. The resulting
altered states are ... not very altered.
Brain frequencies can be described in four general groups,
known as Delta, Theta, Beta and Alpha:
- Delta waves (0-4 Hz). Delta is associated with deep
sleep. In addition, certain frequencies in the delta range may trigger the
release of a growth hormone beneficial for healing and regeneration. This
may be one reason why deep restorative sleep supports healing.
- Theta waves (4-7 Hz). Theta is
more elusive and extraordinary. Also called the twilight state which we
normally only experience fleetingly as we awake from delta, or when drifting
off to sleep. In theta we can better experience lucid, waking dreams, vivid imagery and we are receptive to information beyond our normal awareness. During the Theta state many
people find that they can
comprehend advanced concepts and relationships that are
incomprehensible when in Alpha or Beta states. Theta has also
been identified as the gateway to learning and memory. Theta meditation
increases creativity, enhances learning, reduces stress and awakens
intuition and other extrasensory perception skills. When the brain is in
Theta it appears to balance sodium/potassium ratios which are
responsible for the transport of chemicals through brain cell membranes.
Theta appears to play a role in rejuvenating a fatigued brain.
- Beta waves (13-40 Hz). Beta state is associated
with peak concentration, heightened alertness and visual acuity. Nobel
Prize Winner, Sir Francis Crick and other scientists believe that the
40Hz beta frequency may be key to cognition.
- Alpha waves (7-12 Hz). This is deep
relaxation, but not quite meditation. In Alpha, we can access a creativity that lies below our conscious awareness -
a gateway, an entry point that leads into deeper states of consciousness.
Alpha frequency is also called
the Schumann Resonance, the resonant frequency of the earth's
Even infants who cannot yet speak are affected by music in
ways that alter their consciousness, supporting their happiness or melancholy or
other emotional states.
A frequency range of 4-7 hertz induces theta brain waves, brain wave patterns
that arise during dreaming and deep meditation.
According to Dr. Jeffrey D. Thompson, “Theta brain states are
associated with out of body meditation". In these states, one may
experience seeing the guru, experiencing places of beauty or peace, and
sometimes receiving spiritual insights with associated visions and sounds. These
Theta states are also associated with classic shamanic 'journeying'.
Shamans may use these rhythmic patterns and resulting states
of consciousness and intentionally use specific rhythms to alter brain wave
patterns to experience altered states of consciousness.
This might explain why drumming is used in shamanic rituals. Many stories of
shamanic rituals we often see that the shaman is yawning and sleepy at the
beginning of the ceremony, and also at the end of the ceremony. This is consistent
for people experiencing Theta
activity while awake.
Theta Shopping List
When we escort people into theta consciousness (shamanic
consciousness, or hakalau in Hawaiian) they have many possibilities.
The problem is that it is easy to forget your agenda, and instead goof off into
daydreams, ego trips, playful hallucinations or other mind games.
The possibilities include communicating or connecting with
other-world entities such as
angels, ancestors, demons, power
animals and nature spirits. This is a great time to do exorcism - kicking out
discarnates - or spirit retrieval - finding lost parts of you - IF you can
remain focused and deal calmly with whatever emotional images or traumatic
memories are presented for assimilation. These can be wild rides.
During our dream coaching (we call it Dreamwork), we often
use guided meditations to help people stay on track and to fulfill the
goals that they defined when in ordinary reality.
- Balzer, Marjorie Mandelstam, ed. Shamanic Worlds: Rituals
and Lore of Siberia
and Central Asia Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1997.
- Kenin-Lopsan, Mongush B. Shamanic Songs and Myths of Tuva
Budapest, Hungary. Akademiai Nyomda, 1997.
- Dioszegi, Vilmos and Hoppal, Mihaly, ed. Shamanism in
Budapest, Hungary. Akademiai Kiado, 1996.
- Maxfield, Melinda. “Effects of Rhythmic Drumming on EEG
and Subjective Experience.”
- Thompson, Jeffrey D. “Epsilon, Gamma, HyperGamma, Lambda
Brainwave Activity and Ecstatic States of Consciousness”
- Pilch, J.J. “Music and Trance.” Music Therapy Today
(online) Vol. V, Issue 2
- Kalweit, Holger. Dreamtime & Inner Space
Boston, Massachusetts. Shambhala, 1984
- Rouget, Gilbert. Music and trance: a theory of the
relations between music and possession
University of Chicago Press, IL. 1985
I thought you were just
another therapist - but you were not just. Not even. Not only.
Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 2006-2018
All rights reserved.