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The Universal Drumming

The Universal DrummingbyJonathan Merritt for Sacred Fire magazine

There is a recurring image that often wakes me and returns in my daydreaming. In the place of the gods there is a large central fire, and around the fire, arrayed in ever increasing concentric circles, the gods are drumming. In the innermost circle the great drums of essence, light, darkness, emptiness, fullness and form reverberate into the world. They animate the elements of wind, rain, growth and burning whose drums in turn bring forward
the drums of ocean, mountain, lake, forest, stream, plains and deserts. With their drumming these beings, with heads like mountain peaks and tongues like rivers and vast undulant bodies, cause the spirits of plants and animals to spring forth—fungus, moss and grass, fern, berry and rose, apple, oak and redwood, worm, slug and snail, beetle, butterfly and bee, frog, lizard and turtle, sparrow, crow and eagle, rabbit, bear and lion. Each has its own great drum and drums its beingness into the essence of each individual, down to the ant on the countertop who returns to the nest with a crumb of bread— that crumb itself the center of a thousand drums of the individual life forms that give the crumb presence in the world.

In this vision I see myself down the lineage of humanity drumming the rhythm of my ancestry, mixed as it is, and that rhythm weaving into the rhythm of this suburban neighborhood hillside forest where I live. Somehow I drum beautifully in the mix, my drumming shaped by the drums of all my relations—human, animal, plant, mineral, water, gas—as the rhythms flow through me and from me into the world. And we are all in the presence of the great central fire whose flames leap, dancing ecstatically to the universal drumming.

Fire is the element of transformation and connection. Every cell of our bodies, every molecule of matter is animated by fire. Fire is spirit itself, constantly changing as we ourselves constantly change, living our lives with the weather of emotions flowing through us, eating, excreting, growing, copulating, aging, dying and being eaten. In my vision the bodies of everything are consumed and transformed into essence by the fire. At the same time fire is a constant renewing presence. In most spiritual traditions fire is at the center. Offerings are given to the fire. It carries our prayers and brings back divine wisdom. In the Huichol tradition to which I belong, Grandfather Fire is the first shaman, the source of all ancestral wisdom, the essential connection between everything. It is the fire between us that we call love.

In my vision everything drums beautifully in the presence of this love and expresses its essence in the world. Everything plays its part without hesitation or fear, and the flow is simply magnificent. That flow is the world alive with an infinite richness and depth of diversity, constantly changing as the flames leap in endless variation. Yet it is always the same, full and complete as the energies of creativity, growth, diminishment and death cycle endlessly.

Then something strange happens. In my vision I become enamored with my own drumming and begin adding flourishes, throwing in off-beats and beating my drum more loudly. Pretty soon I can only hear my own drum. Pretty soon I feel cold. I’m far from the fire and all alone. My drumming slows and nearly stops and though I can still hear the distant drums of the world, I can’t seem to find my way back into the flow.

This is the human condition. We are unique among all the beings in that our egos, our individual concerns, desires and fears have the capacity to let us forget our interconnectedness with the rhythms of the world. And so we create tremendous imbalances as we drum too loudly, taking more space, more energy than we need so that the drums of the world recede and we hear only our own drumming. Or, where we have fallen away, they fill in to make up for our lack of rhythm.

We are living in a very cold time, a time of separation, a time when the imbalances that we have created have poisoned the air and land and sea, have caused the drums of many beings to fall silent and have created reactions among the great beings of weather and earth in the forms of cataclysmic storms, droughts and earthquakes and among the subtler beings—viruses, bacteria, fungi and insects—in the forms of plagues and pestilence as they move to restore balance.

The big question is how do we, as humans, regain our rhythm and restore ourselves in the balance of the world? How do we stoke the fire that sputters around us?

In my vision I let go of my chattering ego, I let go of fear and begin to hear the great drum of my heart, that animating center of fire in my body—which really is not even my heart but the heart of the world itself, the wise rhythms of my ancestors pouring through me from the beginning of time—and I begin to feel again that primary connection between myself and all living beings. I hear the vital drumming of diversity, and I feel how every aspect of that diversity nurtures my life. My hands begin to move again. I play my part.

About the author:
Sacred Fire magazine is an initiative of the Sacred Fire Foundation which seeks to help all people re-discover and celebrate the sacred, interconnected nature of life, a perspective held by indigenous peoples and spiritual traditions everywhere which is the source of all personal, cultural and environmental well-being.


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