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Drum Circles

Drum Circles, also known as Drum Frenzies, are unique to Pagan culture.  In ancient times they served as ritual and celebration.  Modern times have not changed this all that much.  Today, Pagans gather and drum as a combination of celebration and social gathering.

The celebratory aspect of the drumming circle is the acknowledgement of the warmer seasons that allow us to gather outside on summer nights.  Even today, many Drum Frenzies start with the creation of Sacred Space, to remind all those present that this is more than just a party.

To the Outsider, a party is exactly what the Drum Frenzy looks like.  Mainstream society thinks that spiritual gatherings must be dour and solemn.  People look at the ecstatic drumming and dancing, especially if the dancing is Skyclad, and assume that it’s nothing more than a wild party.

Trance Drumming

Yes, it is as much fun as it looks, but there is more to it than just an orgiastic gathering.  Drumming, both for the drummers and the dancers, can induce a state of trance.  As a drummer, I can tell you that once the beat is set, it doesn’t take a lot of brain power to play the rhythm.  Instead, your mind sort of shuts down, you stop thinking about when to hit the drum.

Your hands continue to hit the beat they have been keeping, but you enter a meditative state.  While in this trance state, you are unaware of anything that may happen around you.  All you are aware of is the beat.  You become the beat.

This state of being is hard to describe to someone who doesn’t play an instrument, or dance.  I have had this same thing happen while playing guitar.  If you are playing a piece that you know forward and backward, when you can play without thinking about what you’re doing, you can find your hands, feet, and body moving without conscious thought or effort.

This is trance music, and anyone listening would hear you playing the best you ever have.  Because you aren’t giving conscious thought to what you are doing, everything flows from the subconscious.  Your conscious mind goes on a break.  You enter that same state where you perform magick.

Dancers enter this same trance state when they stop thinking about how to move with the beat, and relax into the dance.  Drummers and dancers both tend to close their eyes, and...leave.  The drumming can be fast or slow, loud or quiet.  It’s not how or what you play, it’s the repetitive rhythm that causes the trance.

While in this state, the Witch can do many things.  Some solve problems, coming up with solutions to issues that may be bothering them, or others.  Others travel both in space and time.  I know this sounds hard to believe, but the mind really is capable of doing the impossible.

Most people, when they go to their first Drum Circle, wonder how everyone can stand to play the same beat for what seems like hours on end.  The answer is that they are unaware of time, when they are in the trance.  Even in the trance, there are slight variations that happen, and slowly over time, the beat does change.

It’s really hard to explain something that must be experienced, in order to be understood.  I can talk about the trance, and the spiritual awakening that happens when you drum or dance, but unless you’ve actually experienced it, you really can’t understand it.  This is where the social aspect of the Drum Circle comes in.

The Frenzy

One of the things that happens frequently through the night, is the frenzy.  After playing a beat for twenty or thirty minutes or longer, the drummers will sometimes begin to speed up.  

This increase in tempo just sort of happens.  Rarely does it happen because someone decides to speed up.  The increase in speed happens because while drumming or dancing, you and everyone else who is participating, is raising energy.

Drumming is one of the most effective forms for energy raising, and is sometimes used in ritual for just that purpose.  When dancing or drumming, you become connected to everyone else within the Circle.  You share energy between the individuals of the Circle.

Because there tend to be a lot of Priests and Priestesses drumming and dancing, they can feel this energy as it begins to peak.  You always want to do something with the energy that you raise, and the natural thing to do in a Drum Circle, is to go faster.

The tempo starts to move faster, very slowly at first.  It's really only perceptible to those drumming or dancing.  You find yourself just a hair behind the beat at some point, so you adjust to keep up.  Everyone else does the same. 

This gradual speeding of the tempo continues, and may even plateau for several minutes, one or more times as the energy builds.  This is a natural consequence of feeling the flow of energy that is around you.

Eventually, the tempo begins to speed up, and take on a life of its own.  Both the drummers and the dancers begin to whip around at break-neck speed, moveing faster and faster.  The drummers keep the beat the same, just playing faster and faster, untill they can't do it anymore.

The dancers dance faster and faster, fairly running around the fire.  Eventually, the energy builds so high, the drumming gets so fast that no one can continue the beat, and the drummers simply pound their drums in a drum roll.

The energy is released, and all becomes quiet...until the next beat starts.

Social Circles

Most people are afraid to try drumming.  They think that all the drummers are perfect, and have been playing for years, and they find it intimidating to pick up a drum.  Drums are loud by nature, and the new drummer thinks that any mistake they make will be heard by everyone.

Other, quieter, instruments can be found at Drum Circles.  Sometimes you’ll hear a flute or two playing softly in the background.  Most of the time though, you’ll find more percussive variations.  For instance, bells, or claves will punctuate the night.

didgeridooOne of the primitive instruments that is making a strong showing at Drum Circles lately, is the didgeridoo. This Aboriginal instrument from Australia is nothing more than a hollow tube that is blown into like a trumpet.  It makes a low, undulating hum that can be heard clearly under the drums.  A good didge player, using circular breathing, can play continuously through a drum set, punctuating every once in a while with high chirps for variation.

Some people (especially guys) are afraid to dance.  They fear that they’ll look foolish.  I’ve heard some describe themselves as looking like “an Epileptic on meth” when they dance.  Since the dancers are in the center of the circle, they are afraid everyone will see them. 

So the social aspect of the Drum Circle comes to be.  For a lot of people, gatherings such as Drum Circles are the only time they can be around other Witches and Pagans.  Different Drum Circles attract different people, so you can find yourself in a completely different crowd at each of them.

Seeing old friends and meeting new ones is an inevitable part of the Drum Circle. We are social creatures, and crave the company of others.  At any given Drum Circle, you will find people who spend the entire evening watching and talking. 

Drink, especially homemade mead can be found in abundance at a Drum Circle.  It’s a chance for the brewers to show off their latest experiments, and get opinions about how it tastes.  After all, when you have a gathering of diverse people, you get a good cross section of community opinion.

Drum Circles will run for several hours, depending on location and time of year.  There can be as few as three or four, to several hundred people in attendence.  I have been part of Drum Circles at large Pagan Festivals, that had three or four hundred people, with 30 drummers playing for upwards of 100 dancers working their way around the large fire.

Some Drum Circles are more structured, some more frenzied, and others that are set up specifically for trance drumming and dancing.  Each one is different, if you go to one, and it doesn't appeal to you, try another.  Some group is bound to have something you like.

Also, if you go to a Drum Circle, you should try to participate.  There are usually extra drums, or other instruments available to play.  Events like this are fun to watch, but they are a lot more fun to be an active part of.  Who knows, you may discover a hidden talent for drumming or dancing.

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