The History of Women’s Drumming Empowerment at Earth Drum Council

Written by Hollis Taylor on .

DiversiTree The Divinely Inspired Publication for Inclusive Spirituality

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Earth Drum Council (EDC), is a community that Morwen and Jimi Two Feathers hold close to their heart and where their roots run deep.

They began EDC as an opportunity for the Earth Spirit community, the northeast Pagan Community, to learn new rhythms together in an intentional, sacred space to support personal and communal transformation. Back in the early 90’s, this type of drum circle wasn’t easily available like it is now all over the country. The original idea was to go deeper into the drumming experience as a collective and afterwards to explore community-building through the council experience of a talking circle.

A drum and dance circle in Boston had been happening regularly since the late 80’s when Morwen and Jimi Two Feathers were given the reins and asked to bring their leadership to the drum and the fire circle. A fire circle is a drum circle that happens outside around a bonfire at night.

Jimi Two Feathers studied under the Wampanoag elders where he learned about sweat lodges, smudging and non-violent communication. Together with Morwen’s communication and facilitation training, they helped form the fire circle community in the Northeast. The community celebrated how drumming helped them get past their left brains and instead get in touch with their hearts and delve deeply into themselves.

When Morwen and Jimi began to facilitate, the fire circle changed from drummers sitting in a circle staring at and straining to hear each other, to what we see today in typical fire circle set-ups: a “V” seating formation for drummers so that they can see, hear and communicate with each other more easily.

In 1990, Jimi met Imani White, a well known spiritual drummer, songwriter and musician from North Carolina. She was one of the first female drum teachers to arrive in Boston. Her classes and subsequent drum circles were a significant part of the women’s empowerment movement in drumming. Soon after, other women drummers like Abigail “Spinner” McBride, Joss Price, Bright Hawk and Karen Berggren (KB) arrived, attended EDC events and helped shape and contribute to the women’s drumming empowerment movement.

At the time, African drummers were not known for taking women seriously as drummers and often would block them from soloing. Also, during this period it was hard to find women to teach drumming. When Jimi met Imani that changed, and she was invited to teach at many events over the years sponsored by EDC.

When women first started to drum, EDC supported their female drummers by ensuring that there was at least one strong woman teaching and facilitating at their gatherings. They made room for women by lifting up the ones that showed up and welcoming the ones that visited occasionally. EDC celebrated them. The women drummers also formed strong bonds among themselves, which helped other less-experienced women drummers feel more comfortable. They made space for women away from men to drum together, to help strengthen the bond among the women drummers. The lesbian culture of the area supported this women’s drumming movement by attending the events. The example created by all of these women helped inspire younger and older women to pick up a drum.

For years, EDC thrived with the support and participation of strong female drummers and excellent female percussionists; all seeming to find themselves in the northeast at the same time. “Unlike anything else in the area,” said Morwen, “EDC helped many of our well-known strong female spiritual drummers find their wings.”

Now, it is widely recognized that the drum as the vehicle and the dance as an active form of prayer leads to transformational states of consciousness; and when done together in a circle, it often leads to forming strong bonds and the foundations of a fire circle community. For many in this community, fire circles changed their lives, connected them to community, and gave them a deeper experience they would never forget.

The work of Earth Drum Council focuses on drumming as a tool for community-building, cultural awareness and personal growth. Drumming and dancing have played similar roles in cultures all over the world: celebration, communication, marking rites of passage, invoking religious ecstasy and healing. EDC strives to create a space where many different drum and dance traditions can be experienced, respecting the integrity of each culture while acknowledging that all are related in the human heartbeat. In that acknowledgment is the seed of a new culture, one that honors all regardless of race, gender or sex, and integrates mind, body, heart and spirit. The intention of EDC’s fire circles has always been to create opportunities for all people, from all walks of life in order to positively change their lives. Even in Morwen’s own personal healing journey, she gives credit to the rhythms of the drums and the community as a whole.

Earth Drum Council has been around for 26 years. The first 15 years were steady with bi-annual EDC events and twice-monthly drum and dance evenings in Cambridge, MA. About ten years ago, EDC took a break from hosting their events, but have resumed drum and dance evenings in Concord, MA. Over the years, many people have asked for a reunion weekend, which was accomplished in September 2015. Most of the group in attendance were part of the original core group of women drummers and percussionists that regularly attended EDC events in the 90’s, including Morwen, Olympia, KB and world-traveler, Bright Hawk.

Workshops were taught by Bright Hawk and Alice Heller, another long-time EDC participant and facilitator, who taught an African dance class. There was also a fire circle that included many female drummers. EDC ends its events with a closing circle to share moments of gratitude and unity. The EDC community has helped lift up many of the female drummers who are now inspiring others around the world to experience rhythm in a transformational way.


Earth Magic Boogie

on .

This is an essay originally written in 2005
and published in Gaian Voices. It is still relevant 10 years later.

earth magic boogie

A few weeks ago, the local city daily newspaper ran an article about drumming. Titled “How They Beat Stress,” the article was full of information about the relaxing, stress-reducing effects of drumming, and touched upon a host of health benefits connected to this activity. Readers were encouraged to consider drumming as a tool for increasing their personal well-being, much like regular exercise or yoga classes. They were even told about Earth Drum Council.

My husband Jimi and I, co-founders of Earth Drum Council, have been organizing a monthly drum and dance circle in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the last 14 years. [Now in 2015, Drum and Dance happens in Concord, MA.] This is an open, public event where anyone can walk in, and over these years we have seen many, many people come and go. They come for many reasons: curiosity, chance exposure, because a friend suggested or insisted, sometimes because they read an article. Some check it out once and never come back. Those who stay, who return again and again, discover that while drumming is indeed relaxing and fun, it also taps into something deeper. They discover the magic of rhythm.

What do I mean by magic? There are a lot of definitions of magic out there ranging from “the art of illusion” to “action of the supernatural,” but to me, magic is a simple principle arising from the acknowledgment that there are more levels of reality than we commonly sense. Once we understand that there are multiple levels of reality and that they are interconnected, we can begin to expand our perceptual abilities and learn to work with the subtle energies that weave the levels together, thereby learning to manifest vision from the unseen world into the world of shared perceptual reality. That, my friends, is magic.

I’ve found rhythm, both drumming and body-based rhythmic stimulation such as dance or the Taketina rhythm method, to be a reliable way to access the realm of consciousness that perceives beyond the ordinary. Drumming itself alters consciousness and weaves a web of energy as it brings the body’s systems into synchronization. This insight is utilized by the field of music therapy, which has embraced rhythm-based therapy and drumming as a healing modality.

The effect of rhythm on the individual human is amplified in ensemble, as drummers entrain to a common pulse. When a group of drummers is “locked in,” there is an individual sensation of being carried by the group, of being merged with a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In my experience this sense of being carried frees the mind to expand and deepen its awareness. Add a little creative visualization to the mix, and soon you find that you can ride the rhythm anywhere you like.

At the social level, the repeated experience of group rhythmic synchronization leads to bonding, and the formation of community and tribe. I’ve watched this happen over and over again, as people who barely know each other are transformed by the experience of drumming and dancing together from a random collection of individuals into a self-defined community.

It’s possible to have this experience indoors, with attention to creating a safe container for people to express themselves rhythmically; indeed, we do this regularly at Drum and Dance. But something really special happens when we gather outdoors around a fire, with the Earth under our feet and the Sky above. Now Nature is a participant in the circle and we dance not just with each other but with the rhythms of the fire, the wind, the trees and rocks that witness, the creatures that receive us into their world, the heavenly bodies that move across the sky. In this space, which we call the Fire Circle, the deepest magic happens – the kind of magic that has the power to change not just our lives, but the very world.

Many people who love Gaia are distressed by the political landscape in the U.S. and around the world, and alarmed at events taking place in our country that have eaten away at hard-earned gains in social justice and environmental protection, not to mention civil liberties. When we gather around the fire to do our rhythm magic, when we claim that this experience can change the world, are we escaping into fantasy? I don’t think so. The feeling of connection that is generated by drumming and dancing together is real, and in cities and towns throughout the country (and around the world), communities have formed and are sustained by these Fire Circle gatherings.

On a basic level, those community members support each other’s work, share values, and work actively towards a cultural paradigm shift. These are the Cultural Creatives who make real change in many practical ways by taking home the lessons of the Fire Circle and applying them in their lives.

On another level – well, I believe in magic. I see that energy generated by the entrainment of joyous, harmonious community rhythm-making is infused with the intention of the circle. That energy ripples out and, because everything is connected, changes the world. Of course this is true of everything we do. But how much more impact has it when we focus our intention and energy in a group? Rhythm is the most powerful method I know of focusing group intention. As a tool for Earth Magic, its effects reach far beyond relieving stress. Try it and see!


Intentions Around the Fire Circle

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Intentions around a fire circle

It seems to me that there are two different sets of intentions around the fire circle.

One is shamanic and ecstatic, and the engine is rhythm. The other is creative and artistic, and the inspiration is music and poetry. Both types work around the fire. Both work with Transformation, albeit different paths. The African drum orchestra (jembe, dundun, bells and shakers), lends itself to the trance/dance and can be a powerful change agent, when held with skilled drummers in a community setting.

Beginning in 1990 in New England, there was a group developing a fire circle tradition that involved a few hours of hard-driving rhythms and ecstatic dance, followed by a few hours of sweet, quieter music, singing and sharing. Ten years later at FireDance, these two things were separated. A small group decided that they wanted to create a fire circle space “to optimize seating and instrumentation” for quiet instruments and voices. That is, specifically, to exclude jembes and dunduns. However, in my view, the issue was/is not the instruments; it is the intention. When you say there are no “loud” drums, that means no trance journeying, no “popping,” no ecstatic dancing. It is a preference for artistic expression.

Ten years later (i.e., twenty+ years since 1990), many different Fire Circle gatherings have developed around the country, with their roots in the Sacred Fire Circle that began in New England in the 1990s. I have loved to visit many of them, and to experience the various ways that people create the Fire Circle. I enjoy the chance see many people shine their light. But I do prefer the shamanic style of Fire Circle, with a place for me to offer my gift to the community, which is to play my drums with my drum brothers and sisters, in service to the dancers and their journeys. One of my favorite things is to look around the drum pit to see certain people drumming together, knowing how to carry the rhythm, holding the whole circle. I still hold the memories of the days when some of us were a team, memories in shining colors. My fondest wish is to have that experience as much as possible, with as many as possible, sharing the same intentions.

Do you know of any more shamanic-style Fire Circle events?
I’m thinking about where to go this summer…