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Shamanic Tools: Making our Own

Shamanic Tools:
Making our Own

There are many ways we gather our 'tools' over time, and for shamanic practitioners, these are often objects from the natural world that have come to us, gifted from the Earth, her trees, or any of her many aspects. This is a short photo story that I hope, will encourage practitioners to listen to the call to make their own.

There is a deep relationship that builds between a shamanic practitioner and the tools she or he works with. When we realize that something in nature has been placed in our path as a gift and when we recognize this as one of our tools, either fully formed or ready to be formed with our work, we have truly been gifted, and we honor the Earth, the tree, the mountain or being that gave it to us.

It is also considered especially important when we have been gifted with a tool by another person. I can recall such a gift prior to my heading out on a shamanic retreat. I was gifted a stone. When receiving it, there was nothing particularly special about the stone that I could see, however, somehow both the person giving it to me and I as well, knew that it was important. Neither one of us had any conscious knowledge that I would need exactly such a stone for an important initiation that again, neither of us knew, that I was about to face.

However, one of the dearest and most ancient ways of gathering our tools is to construct them ourselves. By working with the material in our hands, we develop an intimate relationship with the rattle, drum, feather or other tool that is coming into being, for we are working quite literally, 'hand-in-hand' with the spirit of the drum, rattle, feather or whatever.

Our shamanic tools are as much a part of the 'team' as is the shaman and the spirit world. It is a real partnership where the helping spirits, the tool, and the skill of the shaman all come together allowing the practitioner to slip into the 'hollow bone' of shamanic state of consciousness that allows the healing or information to come through.

Shamanic tool-making can become a course in itself, yet here, perhaps it is sufficient to just share part of the experience and thoughts of one practitioner, Jim, who kindly sent me some photos of his project of gathering and then constructing his tools. Jim is beginning an extraordinary relationship with what he has made, and it is illuminating to follow how his instincts led the way. Jim demonstrates that making our tools is within our reach.

When Jim’s story begins, he was doing a shamanic practice of ‘listening’ to nature, and allowing himself to be led towards something that would be meaningful to him. Jim describes,

“I… began walking... until I felt the need to walk over to a tree. The first thing I noticed about the tree was that someone had carved the letter “W” into it.”

“I told brother Tree I was very sorry that someone had done this and asked what he had to teach me. The response I heard/felt was 'heal wounds'.”

“I took a step back and, at my feet, was a section of tree limb that told me it was to be the beater handle for my new drum. I thanked Tree and picked it up. Suddenly, the raindrops started hitting me directly on my head and face and I sensed the sky was crying. I stood in the healing rain for about 20 minutes and felt a release from deep within me. I took the limb home to let it dry. Friday evening I decided to work on my beater handle and it was then that I noticed the limb has a “W” pattern in it as well!"

"The end of the limb photo is not the greatest but I think you will be able to make out the 'W' in it.
.. My initial thought on the 'W' is that it both stands for 'wound' and is a wound to Tree. However, there certainly may be more to it, or something completely different."

"... the smudge/medicine feather... I made with the limb found at the wounded tree. The feathers I used in my fan are from the sweetgrass turkey variety and the photo does not do it justice."

“I am very pleased. As with all my tools I want to use naturally available items, so I used a corn cob for the fan handle and wrapped it in lace. The beater is the limb with sheep wool and a piece of deer skin held in place with braided sinew.”

Actually, Jim sent a couple of other photos, one at the start of making his drum,

and the other, at the end!

Let nature gift you with the tools that you use and then thank her wholeheartedly and show your appreciation and honor by treating them in the sacred manner they deserve. When your friends and colleagues gift you with tools, realize these are especially important when they come to you this way.

Keep in mind that making our own tools is not something that only the artistic or super-creative can do, for the outline and form of a tool with a simple, rough-hewn face as beautiful as any with artistic embellishment. Consider making your own tools. With every stitch of a thread, every winding of a lace, and every tug, hew, pound, pull or wrap, we forge a relationship with a partner whose help is just as important as any practice, chant, or ritual.

Our tools are one of our closest partners. Thank you, Jim, for this not-so-small encouragement for us to remember the old ways...