Across all time and in every culture, persons of power have traveled to alternate realities on the vibrations of a journey drum.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A new drum that turns weakness into strength

Ever wonder how to turn a weakness into a strength? This story of turning weakness into strength is about the making of a new frame drum from Journey Oracle.

The blacktail deer hide came from a old hunter here on Cortes Island, whose eyesight and steady hands are failing.  The skin had a number of fleshing cuts but as these did not go through the hide, I took a chance calculated on experience that the finished drum would be alright.

The drum made up beautifully--the skin laying just right on the frame, which did not warp .  Yet after the drum dried these two stretch marks appeared in the drum rim.

I had tied an interlacement pattern in the back of this drum that represents the 8-fold path of the Buddha's teaching: a way to gain enlightenment through right effort, mindfulness and concentration.
So here was the drum's first teaching about strength and weakness.  The weakness in the drum rim has its balancing strength built right in: strengthen weakness with mindful attention.  The person who will own this drum will have to pay attention to keeping the drum away from extremes in temperature so the stretch marks do not become tears.  And in spiritual practice and life--sustained attention is strength.

I decided to paint this shamanic drum and began looking for who was looking back at me.  Soon I saw this remarkable bird.  At first I thought it was an eagle but it became what Martin Prechtel would call "a never before seen thing."  The shaman bird.

When I paint a drum I look for a story.  Only rarely does a single creature or person appear without being in relationship.  And so I kept looking.

I saw a figure of an old woman.  This is the drum's second teaching about strength and weakness. Most of us think that being old is being susceptible to weakness. But she is holding a smoking bowl in her hand.  Making an offering.  Offering the wisdom of experience is a strength, yet stories from elders, how they make or do something, can seem sometimes as wispy as smoke.


But look who is coming to listen.  See what the offering of wisdom through the experience of mindful attention can bring.


14" BC spruce wood frame
Blacktail deer hide
cedar withe, smoke-tanned doeskin
raw earth pigments

View this drum in my Etsy webstore. 

For more information or to contact Kristen email 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A life journey frame drum

This is a frame drum for the development of wisdom on the life journey.  

The 14” Spruce wood frame is covered with a blacktail deer hide from Cortes Island.  This drum has the clear strong voice of youth.  The skin was from a young deer with few scars and blemishes. A creature that gives the strength of its life journey to your sacred drumming.

The cedar withie ring is filled with an 8-fold path interlacement pattern.

Since ancient times an interlacement pattern has been considered a magical charm because the endless line drew the eye around and around the figure without any breaks or “gates” through which negative forces might enter.  Thus such a pattern could become a yantra for meditation or used to induce a trance.

The magical properties of this pattern includes the twelve small triangles (the zodiacal twelve), and the central diamond around which the apexes of four larger triangles interlock.  Thus the design not only references the 8 steps of the Buddhist Noble Path which are right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.   It also contains the mystic threes and fours.

Learn more about my drums and how I became a drum-maker by visiting my Journey Oracle website. This drum is available for purchase in my Etsy webstore.  If you are interested in a conversation with me about a painting for this drum, or if you are interested in ordering a custom-made frame drum, email me at 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A new shamanic drum from an old wisdom

This is the drum made from the hide that I was going to throw away.

In another post I told the story of talking to nature, and how I thought this skin was too thick and old until I listened to a Pileated Woodpecker who said "This is a good drum."

You can hear the beautiful deep voice that has come from this old Shaman deer by clicking on this youtube link.

How many times do we all think to discard something because it isn't quite to our specifications? The rolled aluminum hoop that that I use as a mold for this 17" hoop of British Columbia Spruce wood is cracked and so this shamanic frame drum is not quite round.

Yet the cedar withie that holds the drum head around the frame, and secures the voice of the drum, is from the strongest part of the tree.

The interlacement pattern on the reverse is a double 7 pointed star wrapped with doeskin. This unusual design is made of a continuous length of thong.  This  pattern is considered magical protection because there are no "gates" or breaks in the continuous line through which difficult energies can enter.

So the next time you are wondering what to keep and what to throw away...go outside, pause to clear your mind of its tumbling conversation, and ask nature what is good.  A bird just might fly by with the answer.

This drum of ancient wisdom in available in my Etsy webstore.  Or for more information contact Kristen at

Friday, July 8, 2016

How to buy the best drum for shamanic drumming

I have been building frame drums for shamanic drumming since 1989 and I have learned a few tips for how to buy the best frame drum.  There are three things to look at when buying a frame or hoop drum: tension, balance and whole attention.  Here are examples of each from my newest drum.

A visibly even tension is perhaps the most important factor to consider.  Deer hide is like fabric--it has a bias. The skin from the sides of the animal is thinner and more stretchy than the skin along the backbone.  This means that if the hide is stretched the same amount over the hoop, the hoop will bow or warp when the skin dries because the different amounts of tension in the skin were not taken into account.

The first thing I want to do when a new drum is dry is this--to look across the drum's face and see a flat playing surface. In an odd way that is good advice for much of life, to obtain an even result sometimes one must at first be intentionally uneven.

Balance is the second critical factor.  When the back of the drum is uneven in its construction, it is likely that the voice of the drum will also be uneven. By this I mean the drum's playing surface will have dead spots and areas of reduced harmonics.

This tying technique, which results in a flower-like pattern, is a Passamaquoddy design I learned when I made my first drums while living in Nova Scotia.  It is easy to see that the entire drum is balanced if the flower petals are equal in size and shape.

The third factor I call whole attention.  Every part of the drum, and every part between the part, is whole.  Every part deserves the same level of attention.

When the knot work the wraps the hand hold in the back of the drum is even in tension and well balanced in the thickness of the doeskin thong used, then the finished result will be firm and durable.

Of course the best indicator of a good frame drum for shamanic drumming is the sound of the drum. The voice should be layered with a good range of overtones and bass tones. The drone of the drum voice is the tone that continues after each strike with the beater.  This tone  is called "the good horse" and its continuous sound is used to propel the drummer into the spirit world on a shamanic journey. The "finish" of the voice should be long and even so that a drone continues from one strike of the drumstick to the next.  If the voice "falls off" between strikes, creating a brief pause between beats, then the skin is too thick or the stretch is too tight.  

You can listen to my drums being played with a felt beater on my Journey Oracle website, and hear the subtle blending of tension, balance, size and stretch in the drum's voices.  This youtube movie of a new drum demonstrates one of the finest drones I have ever stretched in a frame drum.

The drum being played was made as a celebration of Death.  You can purchase this drum in my Etsy webstore. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Frame drum to celebrate Death

This is a drum to die for.

What an idea for our time.  To celebrate death as an opening to new beginnings.  And yet we each do this every day, every moment.  Nothing can be born without a dying.  Every death is a cause of something new to appear.

This new drum from the Journey Oracle is a celebration of death as a doorway. Death is the doorway.

This beautiful blacktail deer on Cortes Island died and so this drum could be born.  So our spiritual practice could have a voice.  This is not bad.  This is normal.  We all die.  We all have a voice that will become another voice. 

Like fractals in Nature—a nonlinear pattern that repeats itself—the handhold of this drum repeats the pattern of the opening in the deer’s hide.  This polished circle of Australian moonstone is a celebration of the space inside the stone. 

It is not the material that surrounds a hole that is so much important.  It is the space inside that is being outlined for us to see.  This opening.  Held in a spider’s web of possibility.  So fragile and yet strong enough to hold a new beginning that is worth the dying for.

This drum is available through my Etsy webstore.  Click on this link to enjoy more stories about how I became a drum maker,  You can hear this drum being played with a felted drumstick by clicking on this youtube link.  This is one of the finest shamanic journey drones I have ever stretched in a frame drum. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A drum for the Wise Child

This new drum from the Journey Oracle comes with quite a story.  As I worked on the hide it became known to me as the "wise child" because the hide is very thin and small with only one deep scratch on the otherwise unblemished surface.

A young deer without physical scars or a thick skin from a long life. Yet the skin is deeply patterned and marked with shapes and shadows--like oracle cards of stories waiting to be told.

I tied the back with the interlacement pattern of the magic hexagram.

The hexagram was popular with medieval magicians.  However, its usual form consisted of two triangles that were interlaced but entirely separate from each other.

This version of the six-sided hexagram is tied in such a way that the thong makes an unbroken line, which means that no negative energies can stick because there are no knots, or "gates," through which spiritual dangers can enter.


Some drums do not ask to be painted because the surface of the skin is already so marked with flickering images.

To choose one would be to diminish all the others that are also speaking.  Like only letting one voice be heard in a story-telling circle of wise children.

To purchase this drum, go to my Etsy webstore.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mother Bear drum from Journey Oracle

Who doesn't like winter comfort?  Keeping warm in the embrace of what loves us, while the snow feathers down and stars sparkle like ice chips in the winter sky.  This new drum from the Journey Oracle is painted with just a few strokes of black iron oxide, cobalt blue and titanium zircon silicate raw earth pigments.

 The mother bear's head was always in my view, even as the drum was drying.   Her eye seemed to watch me from the first stiffening of the Cortes Island blacktail deer hide.

I thought I was going to paint a strong male bear striding across the frame drum surface.  As soon as I made out the bear's head I spent some time researching Ursa Major, the Great Beat constellation that contains the Big Dipper, one of the most recognized patterns in the night sky.

It was in honor of the great bear that I tied a double Pentacle into the back of the drum, thinking this was a drum for the stars.  This complicated pattern of over and under weaving became even more intricate when the hitching was added with smoke tanned leather.

Imagine my surprise when the little cub appeared.

The bear is the Oracle of winter in our Canadian north.  Heralding its onset by withdrawing into warm darkness to bring forth new life.  Appearing in the first spring thaw with new energy to nurture and protect.

As we approach the heart of Winter on February 2nd, may we all be warm and safe as we nurture new energy and projects for the coming spring.

You can listen to this 17" frame drum being played with a felted drumstick by clicking on this youtube link:  

If this is your drum please go to my webstore for purchase and shipping information.