I have been deeply immersed in research on the history of drumming, and how it was used for the pregnancy, birth and postpartum journey. I’ve not been able to find much, apart from Layne Redmond’s book, When The Women Were Drummers, and a couple of blog posts and scholarly articles. So little has been written on the topic that the blog post I wrote two weeks ago about the science of drumming and how it helps support the birth process, is now coming up first when I search for the topic online!

We have no recollection of our shamanic and wise women roots, because Western women’s wisdom and authority have been systematically suppressed, devalued and marginalised AND shamanism has also been actively destroyed.

I’m going to cover the 2 separate topics: the erasure of women’s wisdom, and the erasure of shamanism, then finish by joining them.

The erasure of women’s wisdom

This happened in 3 separate waves.

First, around 5000 years BC, the beginning of the patriarchy saw the removal of the spiritual roles and power of women. Layne Redmond in her book, When the Women Were Drummers, explains that:

The rituals of the earliest known religions evolved around the beat of frame drums. These regions were founded on the worship of female deities…Women became the first technicians of the sacred, performing religious functions we would today associate with the clergy….Sacred drumming was one of their primary skills.

“Priestesses of the Goddess were skilled technicians in its (the frame drum) uses. They knew which rhythms quickened the life in freshly planted seeds; which facilitated childbirth; and which induced the ecstatic trance of spiritual transcendence. Guided by drumbeats, these sacred drummers could alter their consciousness at will, travelling through the three worlds of the Goddess: the heavens, the earth and the underworld”

With the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles to settled farming communities, property ownership and inheritance became important, leading to the consolidation of power within male lineages, instead of the previous matrilineal system. This shift marked a turning point in societal organisation, as men gained control over land, resources, and social structures, while women’s roles were increasingly confined to domestic and reproductive spheres.

Secondly, during the witch hunts that took place in Europe (and America) from around 1400 to 1800, countless women were accused of practicing witchcraft and subsequently persecuted, leading to their torture and execution. Many of these women were healers, midwives, or possessed knowledge about herbal remedies and folk medicine. I assume that they may have been drummers amongst them too. The persecution of witches was, in part, an attempt to undermine women’s traditional roles as spiritual leaders, as well as to exert control over their bodies and reproductive capacities. The witch hunts resulted in the murder of between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousand women in Europe alone, creating a void in that knowledge.

Thirdly, from around the 18th and 19th century, the rise of the scientific and medical fields further contributed to the side-lining of women’s wisdom. As these disciplines became professionalised, women were excluded from formal education and professional opportunities. This exclusion limited their ability to participate in scientific and medical advancements and denied society the benefit of their unique perspectives and expertise.

The systematic exclusion of women from the medical field and science, and in particular childbirth, was done deliberately, with the portraying of wise women such as midwives and healers as unsafe, and dirty, and ignorant (so that male doctors could keep the lucrative business of birth for themselves alone-see the books Birth, A History By Tina Cassidy, and The Birth house by Ami MacKay).

The erasure of shamanism in Europe

The history of shamanic drumming in Europe is rich and varied, spanning back thousands of years. Various European cultures, such as the Celtic, Viking, Germanic, and Sámi people, practised shamanism, which involved connecting with the spiritual realms through drumming, chanting, and other rituals. Shamans, known by different names in different cultures (e.g., druids, seidhr practitioners), used drums as a tool for trance induction and journeying to commune with spirits, seek guidance, and perform healing ceremonies to accompany life and death.

With the spread of Christianity across Europe, shamanic traditions and practices were suppressed and demonised as pagan or heretical. Shamanic drumming, along with other shamanic rituals, faced persecution and was actively discouraged by religious authorities. Many indigenous cultures had their spiritual practices suppressed, and knowledge of shamanic drumming was lost or went underground.

In her book, Les Esprits de la Steppe, Shaman and researcher Corinne Sombrun (the founder of the Trance Science Research institute), explains that Russia made practising shamanism illegal in Mongolia as little back in time as the late 1960s. Shaman’s drums were destroyed and the shamans sent to prison. Some, however, carried on practising in secret.

In Europe too, remnants of shamanic traditions persisted in some regions, particularly in remote areas. In the northern parts of Europe, such as Lapland and Siberia, the Sámi people continued their shamanic practices, including drumming..

In the late 20th century, there was a resurgence of interest in shamanic practices and spirituality in Europe. Influenced by a growing recognition of the value of indigenous knowledge, shamanic drumming began to experience a revival. Today, shamanic drumming circles and workshops can be found in various European countries, providing individuals with a means to explore altered states of consciousness, connect with their inner selves, and tap into spiritual dimensions. This revival often draws inspiration from both indigenous European traditions and broader shamanic practices worldwide.

“Women often feel that, along with a portion of their history, they’re missing a part of their psyche. They have lost access to important regions of their minds. Until they can reclaim those parts of themselves, they are not whole” Layne Redmond

Joining back the two threads

There is a part of these two threads that is still going on today in the Western world, in the attempt at destroying anything seen as “not scientific” or “not evidence based”. For instance, when something hasn’t been published about, it is assumed not to be effective (which is ridiculous because lack of evidence is not the same as proof of a lack of effectiveness). Our culture reveres science like a religion, and in some aspects our scientific or medical world behaves like a mediaeval church. Rupert Sheldrake explains this in his banned TED talk.

If this seems far-fetched to you, did you know that today in the UK, there are charitable organisations (which I won’t name because I don’t want to give them traffic), whose sole purpose is to destroy all forms of healing and traditional medicine that they consider to be pseudoscience. They target osteopathy, homeopathy, aromatherapy, reiki, the list goes on and on. Such an organisation successfully prevented osteopaths from saying that they can treat any condition for which the published evidence isn’t solid enough (for example, they are no longer allowed to say that they can treat colic). One such organisation managed to get a job offer post for a Reiki healer inside an NHS clinic removed.

Similarly, modern maternity care behaves in accordance with patriarchy, where the “experts” hold the power, and the pregnant woman is seen as ignorant (and potentially dangerous), and where when a conflict arises between rigid maternity guidelines (not themselves based on any solid evidence ironically) and women’s wishes, this usually results in coercive behaviour on the part of health professionals. As a doula I have witnessed this often, in particular with the rise of induction of labour, and women being coerced to consent to induction (without being counselled on any of the risks of the intervention) by using the threat of their baby dying. 

As Dr Rachel Reed explains in her book, Reclaiming Childbirth As A Rite of Passage,  where ancestral knowledge aimed at protecting pregnant women against the environment, the current system aims to protect the baby against its mother. 

The reason I feel so strongly that drumming needs to be re-introduced to women and birth is because it can help us tune back into our intuitive wisdom. Bringing back drumming as a support tool during pregnancy and birth is not only an important part of bringing back our lost knowledge, but a powerful way for women to be able to be able reclaim their power and stand up to the “experts”.

“So often women feel disconnected from their babies and their own bodies and this process helps work toward healing or dealing with whatever it is that blocks that connection.  Shamanic journeying during pregnancy offers great preparation for labour and birth as both are best approached from a similar altered state of consciousness.” Jane Hardwicke Collings



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