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The Medicine Drum: Make or Buy?

I am often asked “is it better to make my own Medicine Drum, or just buy one?”

As many of you know, I have been holding medicine drum making ceremonies for many years now, teaching the way of my lineage.

I have learned that every person is different in this world. Some people prefer to make their own Drum and others prefer to buy. There is no right or wrong way with how you do things.

Making your own Medicine drum can be challenging and it isn’t for everyone. I made my first one in 1983 and had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

I was invited to a gathering out in Toowoomba for four days with some Lakota elders who were visiting Australia at that time. I just happened to be there and they asked me to join in. Let me tell you, I thought that day would never end! I was all thumbs and no fingers not really knowing how to do it and I kept tying everything in knots.

Those elders just kept shaking their heads at me. I think I even undid my work three times because of all my mistakes.

But, I persisted and, in the end, even though I was the last person to finish, I came away with a 15” Kangaroo Drum – it was a good feeling.

About 18 months after I made that drum, I met Greywolf, who

was an Inupiet man (Eskimo man ) from Alaska.

Greywolf had come to Australia to share some wisdom and we met when we were both attending a gathering in Brisbane. When he had finished at the gathering, he pulled myself and a sister aside and said he wanted to teach us how to make Medicine Drums in his lineage.

He sat the two of us down over the next three days and showed us the way that he made Medicine Drums.

After that, my Drum sister and I would get together to make more Drums. Mostly, we were happy to give them away as they were pretty rough, but it was encouraging to know that people still wanted them anyway.

We persisted in making them, and of course, we started to get better and better. Greywolf came back to Australia about a year later and saw how we were making the Drums. He was really pleased with us and he sat us down again and proceeded to teach us about his lineage; where the weave of the Drum came from, what each string meant in the weaving of the Drum, Drum care and etiquette, and the story of how the Drum came into being.

It was an amazing experience to receive those gifts of his Medicine Drum teachings. We learned that his way of stringing and making the Drum was unique to his lineage and that there are over 500 different ways it can be done in North America. My Drum sister and I knew that we had been gifted something special when he chose us to receive his teachings.

Since that time, I have made many, many Drums both here and in other parts of the world. Shamanic Earth Medicine has sent the Drums all over the world to people who have requested them.

I have also continued to pass down the lineage of my teachers with Medicine Drum making Ceremonies and retreats. There are many beautiful and funny stories from those times.

By far the funniest story I can think of was when a young couple wanted to make a Drum together.

What happened wasn’t actually funny at the time, but I still remember it clearly to this day, and the lessons within are obvious.

As I said, the couple wanted to make a Drum together, and I’d told them that it wasn’t a good idea and that it would be best to make one each. They were adamant though, that they wanted to make one together.

There were about nine people in that ceremony with eight Drums

being made. It all started well with everyone getting their materials and hides. At first, this couple started happily and were sharing with the group, telling everyone that they had just gotten engaged and were making the Drum between them for their engagement gift to each other.

I tried a few more times to see if they would do one each but they insisted on one Drum between them.

So, we started to work on the Drums, stringing them together, and the young guy shared with his fiancé that he already knew how to make the Drum. He started to race ahead of everyone.

Then, he came to find that he was moving down the wrong path of stringing the Drum – he had to undo it all and then start again.

The young woman was getting a little upset with her partner and began telling him to wait for me to show them what to do next. But, just as before, he already knew what to do and off he went ahead of everyone, only to find out he was going down the wrong track again.

We worked out what was going on with their Drum and fixed the problem, but then, for a third time he did his own thing and raced ahead.

The young woman got angry with him then, and they started yelling at each other. I pulled them both aside and said that this is one of the reasons I suggested they make one Drum each. I said that if they didn’t settle, I would have to ask them to leave and come back another time.

So, the couple settled down for a little while and I thought we were going to make it, but once again he went off on his merry way, ahead of the group.

The next thing you know, she was yelling at him again and then he retaliated and then they were at war! I pulled them aside and said that they would have to come back and complete their Drum privately with me another time.

Well, the young woman took off her engagement ring and threw it at him! Then she gathered up her stuff, walked to the car and jumped in and drove away. The guy was left standing there, embarrassed. He collected his things, went out to the road and started walking. I never saw either of them again.

There are a lot of morals to that story and to this day when I look back, it is one of the most memorable Drum Making Ceremonies I have ever done.

By the way, everyone else in the group that day ended up making amazing Drums.

The reason I chose to share that story is because we never quite know what is going to come with a Drum making Ceremony and what is going to come up through the process. Each one has its own special alchemy that creates a unique and individual journey for the participant. They are amazing journeys to experience and if I had a choice to make or buy, I would always make a Drum, hands down.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about purchasing a Medicine Drum if this is all your circumstances will allow. Buying a Drum is better than not having one at all. If you would like to buy one for your own practice, these are the things you could ask about first:

· How long has the Drum Maker been making Drums?

· Where did the Drum Maker acquire their skills from?

· Does the Drum have a lineage associated with it?

· Is it a hoop Drum or is it a Medicine Drum?

· Are the materials ethically sourced, especially the hides?

· Does the Drum have a blessing with it?

· If purchasing online, have you seen the quality of their products in person before?

However, if you feel the calling to make a Medicine Drum, do take the time to do it - most people see it as a life changing experience. And it’s not just about overcoming the challenges of learning something new, making your own Drum is also about the journey of birthing a Sacred Medicine Tool that can be used for the rest of your life.

There is so much Alchemy involved in the elements of making a Drum. There is the physical element - the place the ceremony is held, the hoop you use; the medicine of the hide (we use Goat, Kangaroo and Deer); and the sinew or rawhide used to string the Drum.

Then, there is the Alchemy in the non-material elements such as the teachers and helpers, the respect and honour of the teachings to make the Drum, the ceremonies that accompany the teachings and in the mix of people with whom you create your Drum. When you bring all of this together, it is possible to create a powerful Medicine tool.

I have witnessed people move through so many emotions and feelings as they have made their Drums. I highly recommend going through the process - It changed my life profoundly and continues to do so.

Bless and Aho!


Womble’ Mahtu

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