Chapter Twenty Three – Black Bear Drum

‘No one can understand the sounds of a drum without understanding both drum and drummer.’

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

Magical drums do seem to want to enter the world through my hands and another drum, this time from the far north of Europe made itself known to me. In a dream I saw many Sami people lined up before me, just looking at me. They are the last indigenous people of Europe and they make some of the most beautiful drums in the world. The drums are oval in shape and always decorated with many symbols representing a map into the cosmological world of the shaman, the noaide. In another dream I met a Sami boy who wanted to make a drum. We walked up a very steep hill together until we came to a music shop. I brought him in and the people there were very happy to see him and they went away to make a drum together. In a journey I saw six noaide, they held their drums in front of them like shields, I could see the complex designs on all of them. I began to sense something ‘Sami’ was coming through and finally the drum revealed itself in a most beautiful dream. In the dream, I was walking with a friend in a picturesque village. Ahead of us was a lovely white cottage overlooking a clear blue sea. I knew that magical people had lived in the cottage in the past and that it was a special location, I said to my friend, this is the perfect place for me. We crossed a small bridge next to the cottage and began to look for any signs with information about its history. My friend called me over, he had found two glass cabinets. The one on the left contained a book with writing in gorgeous ancient magical calligraphy. The one on the right contained an image of a serpent dragon spiralling upwards. I said to my friend, that’s kundalini! Then I found myself sitting down cross-legged with an oval Sami drum floating in the air in front of me. It just emanated magic. I was looking at the drum from the back; I could see beautiful silver grey fur with subtle hints of glowing turquoise. It was decorated with huge bear claws. Then within the dream I received a vision of brown bears and black bears that used to roam the artic regions in ancient times. Then the drum began to play and it was the sweetest sounding drum in the whole world. Three crows and an eagle flew above me. Two days later I dreamed of the drum in a cave, it shone like the moon. On the floor of the cave was an ancient Irish horn made of gold, it was beautifully decorated with Celtic designs. Below the drum I could see the skin of a black bear, once again the drum began to play. I felt very strongly that this was to be a black bear drum but I was confused because in the first vision I was shown black and brown bears. After some research however I discovered that the species called the Black Bear has a slightly misleading name, as they can be brown as well.

That the bears in my vision inhabited the artic is significant in that the word ‘artic’ derives from the Indo-European word for bear. I discovered that the bear played a significant role in the culture of the Sami and many other polar peoples. The Sami call the bear ‘ìsaivoî’, which means sacred, and half of the seventy or so surviving drums have bears painted on them.

A few days later in a vision I saw myself cutting a skin for the drum. Then the drum was struck three times and the bear arrived, it was big and very black, further confirming the species to me. That night I had an extraordinary experience. Lying in bed I felt a membrane pressing down on me. As I moved my face forward I could feel my face pressing into it, that it was malleable. Something told me I should push harder and I felt my face push through it, then my spirit arms were tearing at it and I literally ripped myself through into another dimension. It was like something out of the Matrix movie, if anyone had seen this from the other side they would have been seriously freaked out. In fact, I could hardly believe I was doing this myself! In the caves of Peche Merle near my home there are prehistoric shamanic rock paintings. Some of these are simply hands. The great scholar Graham Hancock posited that perhaps these hands actually represent something pressing into the cave from an outside dimension. Based on this experience I think he may be on to something with this idea. In this new dimension there appeared before me a ladder made of silver light, which I began to climb. I realised I was climbing the ladder of my DNA. The effort was strenuous, and my spirit body felt sore. Upon leaving the ladder I saw something small flying in the distance. I followed and saw many little lights flying. They flew like a swarm of insects, they noticed me and came all around me. Each one was made of light but within each, were different colours. One came very close to me and at this point I came back to normal consciousness. The next night as I lay in bed I could see a tube of blue light ascending from my third eye up into the universe, inside it I could see the kundalini cobra swimming. Then I felt the membrane pressing on me again. I pushed with my face and went through. Above me was a great bear, it roared, displaying its impressive teeth. Then its aspect became kind and I found myself floating under the bear in a sort of vortex, spirits of all kinds were flying past me. Both these experiences were exhilarating but exhausting and posed many questions. One thing that occurred to me was that if I was capable of pushing through into another dimension, then certainly things from the other side could push through into this one, which further confirmed my suspicions that ET’s and UFO’s travel in this way.

The day after this, in a dream, I found that the singer Robbie Williams was living with our family. Despite being rich and famous he preferred just hanging out with us. At the end of the dream he gave me a book. I felt the book he gave me was this one, that I was literally being ‘given’ the book which made perfect sense to me as it feels like this book has almost written itself with minimal effort on my part. Then he gave me a cart, the type pulled by horses. I picked it up and walked with it like a horse. Spiritually speaking, as the horse is a metaphor for the drum, I think the dream was telling me to be like a drum, to be a gathering place for spirits, a bridge between worlds, a vessel for healing. I really couldn’t figure out though, the spiritual significance of Robbie Williams. I don’t really listen to much pop music and certainly would not in any way be classed as a Robbie Williams fan. Then it hit me as I remembered his song, Angels. The lyrics are very beautiful, speaking of the comfort of knowing you are watched over by a great loving presence. I had been visited by an angel! Later I dreamed of walking in a garden with my mother. In the middle of the freshly cut lawn I found the wing of an angel.

The next evening I sat down to meditate but straight away the bear came loping along. Then I saw a reindeer and heard someone singing ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’! This got my attention and then a figure standing next to the reindeer launched an arrow into the air. I followed it as it arced high into the sky and landed in front of a spirit shaman that was making a drum. The figure began to stich, showing me the style of stitching that must be used and that this drum must be stitched clockwise. After all this I had quite a detailed impression of how the drum should be and set about gathering the ingredients. The Sami are reindeer herders and their drums are made from this animal. I still had enough left from the hide I’d used to make the Siberian drum and this was nice because the drums would be connected through the same reindeer spirit. I acquired an oval drum hoop, as this is the shape of most Sami drums and also what I was shown in the dream. I also knew that the drum must be trimmed with reindeer fur and be decorated with claws from a black bear. I have to say this caused a bit of a dilemma for me. The type of black bear that would have roamed Europe in times past is what is now known as the Asiatic bear, known in Tibet as the moon bear. Not only are they an endangered species but they are also poached and suffer greatly due to the demands of Chinese medicine, so there was no way I was going to consider obtaining claws from one of these bears. I then considered the black bear from North America where they are not endangered and hunting is legal and controlled. But then I read of a man caught smuggling parts of the animal out of Canada for the Chinese medicine trade and in the end I decided I preferred bear claws to stay on living bears if at all possible! I know it sounds contradictory to have no problem with a reindeer skin but scruples over bear claws but there is a difference. The reindeer came from the Sami as part of their yearly cull. Their survival is completely dependant upon the reindeer and every part of the animal is used. The same cannot be said of the black bear, no one is dependant on the meat and fur of this animal. I do appreciate that some indigenous and other communities live in close proximity to bears and that they may have to be killed if they are a danger but this is not the same as commercial slaughter. Finally, I opted for high quality replica black bear claws. They are resin, made from casts from real claws and hand painted. They are so realistic that they have even fooled customs officials. After ordering the replicas, I was shown in meditation the huge black paws of the bear with its impressive claws, so I think the bear spirit approved. Following this I dreamed of being in a Sami tent with a noaide. I could see a Sami symbol drawn three times round a circle, the circle began to spin, I heard drumming, then woke up. A few nights later I couldn’t sleep, I could feel very strong spiritual energy in me. As soon as I eventually did fall asleep, I left my body; I flew around the room and over Michèle before re-entering. I could see and feel my spirit body during this experience, it was made of thick viscous silver light energy, much like that which I have felt come into me on previous occasions. A while later I dreamed of a black jaguar, an animal with very lunar associations and I realised a big event was soon due, a total eclipse of the sun on the spring equinox by the moon. It seemed no coincidence that the Asiatic black bear is called the moon bear and that the drum in the cave looked like the moon. Michèle said that it was almost as if the bear was emerging from hibernation.

In a journey to discover more about the drum I was shown that it needed a solar symbol painted on it and that its front was to be divided into the three worlds. The spirit shaman then picked up the drum and held it in front of me. I could see the Tiger inside the drum, which then expanded into the tunnel and the Tiger ran down it. After this I dreamed of opening our beehive and pouring out a large jar of honey with tiny pieces of beeswax floating in it. The next day in meditation I had once again amrita flowing and I equated this sweet nectar with the honey but I also realised the association between honey and bears and that this must also be incorporated into the drum. The next night I dreamed of a vast cave situated near the top of a mountain. Michèle and I were living in it. With us, also living in the cave, were two bears, one black, one brown. Then we left the cave and walked down to a shoreline where a vast ocean of clear water was gently lapping. I dipped my toe in and it felt wonderful. I wanted to go in but a great train passed between the water and me. It seemed to be of infinite length and all the carriages connected by a cord. I thought how vast this cord must be and realised I was looking at my spine. I felt that although I was dying to plunge into the water a sense of responsibility was holding me back. I was standing on a shore the place where the land meets the water, the meeting point of different worlds. Shamanism involves maintaining balance between the earthly and spiritual realms, as such, shamans are intermediaries, with feet firmly planted in both places. In the Upanishads the seers talk of transcending the Tree of Life but as Eliade points out, the wood of the drum connects the shaman to the Tree of Life and I of course was making a drum. There is a sense that their intimate connection to the tree means that shamans forgo the final enstasis of the yogi and hold back from diving fully into that great ocean of consciousness. As the equinox eclipse approached I continued to sense that the veil between dimensions was very thin. One night I went outside and the sky was stunning, the Tiger appeared above me, a huge feline of light running across Orion over the walnut tree. Above the Tiger a single pearl of blue light appeared. Another night in my dream I found myself singing in Irish. My aunt Mary Brighid, my first spiritual teacher, the woman named after two goddess’s appeared before me, she was glowing as the spirit animals do in my dreams. She was smiling and said, you know you are singing sean nós, don’t you? Sean nós means ‘old style’ in Irish, and spiritually speaking, shamanism is the oldest style of all. She then said, it’s time to go now, and disappeared. Following this in a shamanic state of consciousness I found myself holding Dougal’s lead and I sensed his presence. I felt that Dougal should be free, but a voice said, no, he wants to be with you and then Dougal was there slipping his head happily into his collar. I have to say that these interactions with my mother, my aunt and my dog mean that the dead really don’t seem very ‘dead’ to me at all.

The day before the equinox the reindeer skin that I had ordered arrived. I placed the drum hoop and the bear claws onto its thick luxuriant fur and I could see the drum of my dream becoming close to a reality. I sat next to the skin and parts of the drum and journeyed to see if there was any more the spirits wanted to show me about how it should be made. The Tiger took me to a forest in the far north, we moved at tremendous speed across a snow covered landscape dodging between pine trees. A huge forest god came out of the trees towering above me. On some of the Sami drums in the Upper World portion we see these god figures, even taller than the trees they hold in either hand. This god was very angry at the intrusion and this is not surprising. The forests of Samiland, Sapmi, are incredibly ancient, they have been untouched since the last ice age. In these forests, the Sami have for millennia lived as reindeer herders. In a most humane system, the reindeer graze wild in forests full of trees hanging with lichen. Now logging is beginning to impact the region threatening the Sami way of life and the ecosystem of this primeval landscape. If I was the god of this forest I would be angry too. The god did let me pass and we then came to some people travelling in the forest. One of them showed me a drum. They showed me the handle and they wrapped reindeer fur around it and so now I knew how to incorporate this aspect. Then I saw one eye set in a face of thick black fur watching me, the bear was still making its presence felt. That night I dreamed of a dark haired woman, she came and sat on my bed and kissed me on the mouth for a very long time. I thought of Judee Sill and the kiss being a symbol of the union of opposites within us. In another dream a woman came and sang to me, her beautiful voice was crystalline clear and she sang to me in a strange language. Then she picked up a very big and powerful shamanic drum covered in Sami symbols and I realised she was a noaide and she was singing me a joik, a traditional Sami spirit song. As she played the drum, wonderful harmonics were generated and oscillated towards me. I heard the secret song of the drum that can be heard in the ‘silence’ between the rhythmic beats.

The next morning Michèle and I sat under the oak tree with our drums. Michèle drummed and I meditated as the eclipse progressed. After drumming, Michèle stood up and turned to thank the oak tree. As she did, at that very moment, two herons flew above us. Herons are solitary animals and it is extremely rare to see two together. To see two herons on a vernal equinox during a solar eclipse at the start of a new moon was a very magical experience. I felt they were like Michèle and I, on our great spiritual journey together.

Shortly before I was to make the drum the giant sloth returned in a dream. I found myself in a pet shop looking at a giant sloth. As I watched it stood up and shape-shifted into an incredibly tall sloth-man. Next I saw the sloth-man no longer confined in the shop but outside and free. He was receiving some papers as if he was graduating in some way. Next to him sitting on a chair was a man. He was completely engulfed in orange spiritual fire. I was aware that in some way he was responsible for preventing the graduation of the sloth-man up to this point. He was aware of this and asked to see the papers. Reading the papers he completely accepted the purification of the fire. I was aware throughout this that the sloth-man was me and also, that the man in the fire was an aspect of myself, and also that I was the witnessing consciousness of all this. The man in the fire had up to this point been holding back a very ancient shamanic part of me but was now accepting of his obliteration. I sensed no heat from the fire, spiritual fire is of a different quality, there was no pain. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna says, the yogis’ way must be the way of fire. Like the Cathars that walked willingly into the flames at Montségur, we must never fear the spiritual fire of kundalini that burns away all that holds us back, all that we are not.

The day before I was to make the drum a golden light appeared to me in meditation. From this light came a queue of figures that began to enter my heart. There were so many and when the last one entered the Tiger was there, it had been guiding them into me. I lay down and my chest was filled with delicious warmth and I understood that these were soul parts returning to me. With aspects of me having been burned away and with others having returned I now felt ready to make drum.

Having seen the drum in the cave with the bearskin, I decided to re-enact this by making the drum by a cave I knew in the forest. Sitting quietly in amongst the trees on the reindeer skin, I stitched the hide to the hoop which I had painted sky blue. The skin had been soaking in well water in which I had placed amanita muscaria soaked in honey. The mushroom had been making its presence felt, and I knew it wanted to be included as the Sami and the reindeer both have a relationship with it. The honey was for the bee element and the association with bears. When I’d completed the stitching I hung the black bear claws inside the drum with strips of rawhide. Then I cut a length of reindeer fur and wrapped it around the handle as I’d been shown and suddenly the drum of my dream vision was before me. It was exactly as I’d seen it; it just emanated sacredness and power. For the beater, the symbolic heart of the drum, I attached a small roe deer antler to a handle of white wood and I tied this to the drum, as is the Sami custom. The antler was one of the pair that Dougal had brought me, the other had mysteriously disappeared. This reminded me of the dream vision I’d had before going to ayahuasca and it seemed right to name the beater, the One Antlered Stag. So the Black Bear Drum met the One Antlered Stag and the three of us sat together outside the cave in the forest.

Not long after I finished this drum, our new puppy came into our lives, another Leonberger, Duncan, born of Isis. We fell instantly in love with him and him with us. For the first few days he behaved like a perfectly normal puppy, playing, romping around and generally getting into all sorts of trouble. Then, he began to vomit and have diarrhoea, started to sleep a lot and stopped eating completely. He didn’t respond to any treatment and ate nothing for five days. We were beside ourselves with worry and couldn’t believe we might lose another dog. Eventually the vet discovered he had parvovirus. This should not have been possible as he had been vaccinated against it but it turned out that the breeder had been incompetent and had got the vaccination done too late. In fact he already had the virus when he was vaccinated and we had been given a seriously ill puppy. Parvovirus is potentially deadly and two of Duncan’s sisters died. Usually death occurs in the first two days and if the puppy makes it through this there is a chance. By the time we discovered Duncan had parvovirus he had in fact already got through this critical period and after one night at the vet for treatment he was home and back to his normal rascally self. He was a very big puppy, even for a Leonberger, eleven kilos at two months, and although he lost a lot of weight during the sickness, it is testament to what a strong dog he is that he pulled through.

This was a very stressful time and the spirits were very compassionate to me, they knew I too needed healing. In a dream I found myself in bed, in the beautiful gardens of a spiritual retreat. A woman came to me, she was European, in her fifties with short grey hair. This unremarkable appearance concealed a truly magical healer. She placed a single finger on one of my vertebrae and this brought me into shamanic consciousness. Then she sent healing energy up my spine, which spread throughout my entire body in waves of love. Another day, I heard a voice say, what do you want?’ I replied, the best for all beings seen and unseen in all worlds known and unknown. A noaide then appeared, he was made of golden light, on his drum was a zigzag snake and he carried a bow and arrow. He brought me to a shaman I know, Dawn Dancing Otter, she was seven feet tall. She touched my cheek, and said, you have cried so many tears. I touched my face and found it was streaked wet and that I had indeed been crying but had not realised it. She then enveloped me in a hug of pure love that felt wonderful. She placed her forehead on mine, and a spider web vortex of light opened, spinning sun-wise, as our third eyes merged into each other. When it finished I felt amazing and she just stood there looking down at me smiling. After this I began to dream of bears. First, the black bear of the drum came to me, he opened his arms and we hugged. Then I dreamed I saw him walking into a vortex of light, he disappeared through it as it exploded into all the colours of the rainbow. After this I saw the polar bear, reared up on two legs, a rainbow passing through him. I discovered that the skin of a polar bear is actually black and that this ‘white’ bear, is in fact also a black bear.

I was very grateful for these comforting and supportive spirit communications and I was sure that the spirits had played a role in Duncan’s recovery, as he had not really received any proper medical treatment. In fact, I had taken a great journey to seek healing for him. I went down the tunnel and a monumental stone entrance was before me. Through this I could see the snow capped mountains of the Lower World. Waiting for me was a group of tigers. I went through and they surrounded me, like bodyguards. Nothing dared come near us as we travelled through the snow to a forest. There, we met Sami noaide, who performed healing ceremonies for Duncan. After Duncan recovered I did a ceremony giving thanks to the spirits, it was then that the Wild People came but I will talk about this in the following chapter.

One night I dreamed Michèle had taken me to a shamanism workshop. I had my black bear drum with me as we entered a large house. I put the drum on the floor, sat on it and zoomed off at high speed. We entered a room where a European shaman was waiting. He took my drum, made some adjustments to it, then said, let’s do some cleaning. He then burned exquisite smelling herbs in a metal container and walked around the room smudging and throat singing at the same time. Then I saw another shaman, he was Mongolian and dressed in blue silk. He was performing ritual actions as the other shaman moved through the room. Looking around I saw that the walls were covered in shelves, which were full of hundreds of toy animals and dolls, like ongons. I then realized that they were alive, they were moving and handing candles and other ceremonial items to the shaman. Suddenly, I came into shamanic consciousness and I understood that these were all my shamanic helper spirits. They surrounded me, vibrating and chittering with excitement.

It seems strange that these drums should choose me to bring them into the world. I’m very conscious of cultural misappropriation and am very aware that an Irishman making a Sami drum might be viewed in this context. All I can think of is that in the same way that ayahuasca has now irreversibly pushed beyond her cultural and geographic boundaries, the same can be said of the drums. The first sense that awakens in the womb is sound, the first sound the fetus hears is the drumming of the mothers heartbeat. Sacred drums literally re-connect us to the Mother. The spiritual potential for positive change contained within these drums is just as real as that in ayahuasca and as such the universe is bringing them out into the wider world. The word mantra means ‘mind tool’ and the mantras of the Vedas are said to have been divinely revealed. I sense the same with shamanic drums, that they are revealed by Spirit, as tools to be made, for the spiritual enrichment of the world.

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