Remembering Morwen

Written by Karen Berggren on .

Karen Berggren and Morwen 750px

In honor of Morwen's birthday, (though a couple of days late) I wanted to offer the thoughts and memories of this incredible woman and dear friend that I shared at her funeral. I knew her for almost 30 years, so this is not a short read and I could have gone on, and on.

Remembering Morwen

I met Morwen in June of 1992, when I attended my first Earth Drum Council (EDC) weekend event. It was also my first entry into this vibrant, drum and dance community. I felt compelled to attend when I could’ve sworn the flyer announcing it weeks before began vibrating in my hands. The two friends I’d asked to join me were unable to make it. Normally shy, I felt some deeper urging that propelled me to go alone to this event and walk into this community – completely sight unseen.

Morwen was at the registration table when I arrived and greeted me with a huge hug, her bright blue eyes, beaming smile, and a joyful “Welcome Home!” She was absolutely thrilled to welcome another woman drummer into Earth Drum Council. As I wandered through camp that afternoon, I saw men wearing skirts, (something I’d never seen before) and women, yes, there were women drumming. In that moment, I had the unshakable feeling I had found my people!

If the last 26 years have been any indication, it was Morwen’s warm welcome into the EDC gathering that would seal my fate with the drum, the dance, and this community for the rest of my life.

I began attending Drum and Dance religiously in Harvard Square, and considered it my church where I’d pray and celebrate with many, many others. After about a year of attending D&D and taking a few drum classes, Morwen began encouraging me to step out from the back row and sit up front. I shyly moved up to the front row and drummed there, however, that only satisfied her for a few weeks. Now she began nudging me to solo. OMG!

By this time, there was a group of powerful women drummers regularly at D&D: Imani, Bright Hawk, Spinner, and Joss, and it was heaven to play with them, while Morwen drove the circle on her dun duns in tandem with James and Rodger who were usually by her side.

Morwen was a feminist, though an egalitarian one, if there’s such a thing. She was ALL about Diversity and Inclusion. Back in the early days when more women were taking up the drum, I saw her challenge some of the dismissive attitudes male drummers would give their female counterparts….

Now this usually only happened with male drummers at other gatherings from other communities. For once you entered the EDC gate, you would know very quickly, that Morwen was a powerful advocate for women’s empowerment through the drum, and she was not going to accept any flavor of BS or disrespect from anyone on that!

While Morwen was passionate about diversity and inclusivity, she was also extremely sensitive to cultural appropriation. She wrestled with being a White Jewish woman who was in love with African drums and rhythms, and brought in teachers, black and white, American and African to teach them. She gracefully and respectfully wrestled with this conundrum that resulted in pouring her heart out in one of her many essays: “What’s a White Woman To Do?” in her book, The Universal Heartbeat.

At the Starwood gathering in 1994. she, along with Jimi, managed to tame the early cultural rift between the wild Grouple Dome drummers and EDC camp. You see, EDC was invited to Starwood to offer a counter-point to the Grouple Dome by hosting drum and dance classes with specific songs and rhythms as well as fire circles at night; but the Grouple Dome folks saw our presence differently. To them we were a direct threat and an insult. EDC’s presence alone was viewed as serious shade thrown their way. They were NOT happy and let us know it--in no uncertain terms.

There were some terse initial discussions where Morwen and Jimi attempted to assure the Grouple Dome alphas that EDC recognized and totally respected their free-form, bada bada drumming style in the Dome, a structure built on the land which was a loose construction of severed tree limbs, a collection of deer antlers, and festival bling somehow festooned together. But the Grouple Dome had its place in the grand scheme of things.

In their discussions, Morwen and Jimi invited the Dome folks to come and check out our nightly fire circles and drum classes. Half-way into the week, we were delighted to see that some came and participated in both.

On the last night of that Starwood, a group of us including Morwen and me, Jimi, Warren, Tracy, and Rodger went on down to the Grouple Dome for that final night.

Where there was once some serious side-eye and scowls thrown our way upon our arrival, on this night we were greeted by….a rousing version of Fanga and smiles! They were all beaming at us when we ambled in with our drums!! What a joyous celebration. There was no more us and them, just We. It was such an incredible moment of affection, respect, smiles and delight, I’ll never forget it. Our alliance with the Grouple Dome was forged that week through Morwen and Jimi’s deep commitment to Diversity AND Inclusion.

In so many ways and so many situations, far too numerous to mention here, I had the honor to experience Morwen’s grace, her determination, and her creative way of thinking outside the box. She and I joined forces in the late 90s and began a weekend intensive called Shake and Wake, where we used rhythm, through drumming and ecstatic dance to shake and wake our authentic selves from their habitual slumber under blankets of ego.

In the early 2000s, Morwen accepted an invitation from Gene Hall and me to join us in In2it, an ecstatic dance and experiential theater group with Amy Anderson and Lucretia Hatfield. We created ecstatic dance events in the New England area and ecstatic dance rituals at Rites of Spring. Gene was the VJ, me the DJ, and Morwen, Amy, and Lucretia handled the center altar, divination table, and interactive art installations around the dance floor perimeter.

Morwen always took special delight in these events which combined her love for ritual, dance, inner work, and music. She dove into every event we offered with her heart, her soul, and her perennial creative spirit.

But the fondest memory I’ll always cherish is the sacred sisterhood we shared and our shamanic work around the drum and the fire. Morwen did ALL kinds of magic on her duns. One of her favorite things in the world was offering rhythmical support on her duns to people doing their work around the fire. One rhythm could be the wind under your wings, light and playful for a dun; another, she’d lay down a twisted little polyrhythm that would ripple through your body driving your feet into the ground for stability.

I’d always play near Morwen, traveling into the mythic world on her rhythms as they merged with the circle and all who were there. I’d dance with healing spirits there, offering my drum, my bell, my rattle, or my feet as a conduit for channeling their energy into the circle.

When all the rhythms sync up and everyone entrains together, when everyone holds an intention for joy, celebration, or for healing--the magic begins. It transports the circle into an ecstatic realm, to the field that Rumi describes--out beyond right and wrong.

Morwen and I would glance at each other in these moments, smiling, knowing we were all channeling this ecstatic, shamanic energy together, drummers, dancers, and chanters, and everyone knew it. Everyone felt it. As drummers, you could watch this ecstatic energy move through the circle scooping up each person in its numinous blissful force as it circulated.

There’s no mistaking when the Holy Note arrives. It empties you of dross and fills you up with golden light. Morwen knew how to call up the Holy Note.

The drum and its vast world of healing, ritual, and celebration, along with the fire circle and the community who gathers around it, have been the most magical, healing, transformational tools in my life. I owe a profound debt of gratitude to Morwen, for ALL of it.

She was, and will always be, a magnificent, graceful, gifted, purposeful force to be reckoned with. While she continues her soul’s work on the other side of the veil, I know she’ll find a kick-ass fire circle in the stars to pound her spirit duns and create a space with her driving, divine rhythms for others to do their soul work, as she always did here.

As she always did for me.

I love you, Morwen.


When All the Drummers Were Women

Written by Lyra Hilliard on .

Lyra Hilliard

Lyra Hilliard reads a story she wrote for the Morwen Two Feathers tribute in Concord, MA on October 20, 2018. Her words were powerful and visual.

I remember when all the drummers were women.*

*That’s not quite right—it was never quite that uniform, but in my mind’s eye when I look back at the benches from twenty years ago, I remember that all the drummers were women.

Twenty years ago, I was pulled in by the drums’ vibrations that shot through the earth, tattooed the soles of my feet, drove my legs to dance for hours. Vibrations from women’s hands flying across taut circles of goat skin wrapped around metal rings fixed atop the wooden vessel of the djembe held between women’s thighs.

I was too shy to look above their thighs to their eyes as I danced, but I’d sneak a peek from across the circle, the front row of benches a wall of fierce, strong, powerful women who could and did move mountains together.

On a mountain together twenty years ago, when the distant sounds of the drums lulled a ten-year-old Donovan and a six-year-old Aidan to sleep across the other end of camp at Rites of Spring, the center of the drummer’s V that Dono and Aidan would eventually earn was led by Imani. Bright Hawk. Su. KB. Joss. Spinner. Samina. Morganne. Jeanette.

And right behind them, standing deep in the center of the V with her djuns, was Morwen.

It’s the low tones of the djuns that shake our bones awake. Djembes are vital, yet djuns drive the bus. And it was Morwen who laid down the dunun path. With her wide eyes and wider smile, she held the heartbeat, drove from deep in the center of the V, made sure that the bottom end that carried our souls was solid.

Twenty years ago, when all the drummers were women, they would push the rhythm tighter and tighter, faster and faster, cooking a cauldron of raw energy like alchemists melting metal until it transformed all of us into something else entirely until we could go no further, we all peaked at once and stopped hard the last djembe slaps echoing off the rocks for an eternal moment dancers falling to the ground spent.

Morwen would eventually protest these releases, advocate for softer transitions— “we’re dropping the dancers!” she’d say. Others agreed. We moved away from that. I never minded being dropped.

Because I wasn’t. We exhausted ourselves. But dropped? At a sacred all-night fire circle with these women? Not a chance in hell.

When all the drummers were women, they modeled how to create sacred space, how to build and sustain a potent container, how to step up and hold those who needed holding, how to step back and create space for those who needed to be seen, how to create a zone of radical safety, a vehicle for transformation, a portal for people to journey beyond themselves into their mythic selves, their highest visions, their deepest dream states.

People danced and tranced themselves out of the circle entirely. No matter. Sylvia would go there with you and lead you back when it was time. People snapped, crackled, and popped, convulsed, caterwauled, burst open in ways that could be terrifying to witness. No matter. Imani would run towards exploding spiritual and energetic matter and catch it all, reshape it and the explodee, ritualize the ordeal right then and there.

I see this work continue in the more than capable hands of Brighid, Tess, Kat, many more.

When all the drummers were women, they were also all guardians of that ritual space. KB stood with a bell and a serene smile, a pillar of strength and grace. We were—are—always safe with KB in circle.

Su’s eyes were everywhere, even as Spirit moved through her body and she moved the whole circle through her shekere. Joss would work the perimeter with shakers, slyly sneak in some Trickster energy right when she knew I’d be looking. Katlyn would float through the outer perimeter, dancing incense off her fingers. Allison would crawl out of the belly of the earth, her skin caked in mud, and tend the fire while Earil cackled with god.

I see us held by a range of guardians like Tiffany, Rachel, Anne, Artemis, Brandy, Diane.

Spinner, of course, would find the exact chant to bring in at that exact moment.
Hermione would emerge in the soft early gray light to give the Fellowship.
Countless women would dance with the fire for hours: Samina, Spindarella, Shara, Shakti.

I hear the perfect words come in through Luna, Emily, Julie, Dawn.
I see women continue to dance the fire for hours: Anya, Lela, Asherah, Maura, Talia, Rox.

When all the drummers were women, Morwen would hold down the djuns, as Lisa does now, as Giovanna does now. And when blue o’clock came, Imani would bring out her hang, and then Bright Hawk got one, and then Morwen did, and now Amanda blesses us with that beautiful sound.

I’m not naming every woman who contributes heart and soul to our fire circles; there are too many to name, and I only have a few minutes of your time.

And while I’m only naming women right now, brothers: forgive me. Of course you were there, too. Of course you are part of this origin story. Know that this is all coming from a woman who loves, honors, and respects the men in our community with a love that is as fierce as the full force of that front row of benches when all the drummers were women.

Right here right now, I’m celebrating the powerful women in this community who have showed us how many different ways power can show up, how power can be seen—or not—how power can be worked with safely, how it can be shaped, how it can be wielded. How much we all benefit when we don’t run from our power but own it, share it, do good work with it, empower others to cultivate their own power.

That’s what I learned from these women when all of the women were drummers.
That’s what I learned from Morwen.
That’s what Morwen did for so many years: brought people together, created and sustained communities upon communities, brought women to the drum, helped shape the sacred all-night fire circle as we know it.

I learned from Morwen that it is the prolonged drumming, the entrainment, that allows us to do what we do, to go where we go. It’s the power of the group playing and listening together that fuels the fire, feeds the dancers, takes us places we can’t access anywhere else. It’s what we all do together that makes this magic possible.

At 19, 20, 21, I was forged by a sacred fire circle where all of the drummers were women. I don’t want all of the drummers to be women. We’d be losing quite a lot. I wouldn’t mind seeing some more women drummers, however.

And at a recent fire, a young MacKenzie stepped into the circle, first on the benches, with her djembe, and then on the perimeter, singing her heart out: We are opening up in sweet surrender to the luminous love light of the one. And then Let the way be open. Her eyes were shining, a reflection of the beauty that the fire illuminates in all of us.

Let us continue to let the way be open. Let us continue to build community, empower each other, listen to each other, love each other, bring the drum to women—and to men—for the next 20, 30, 40 years.

Let us continue Morwen’s work.

Now she is everywhere
Now she is everything


How I get involved with EarthSpirit and my relationship with Jimi

Written by Morwen Two Feathers on .

morwen Jimi story 750px

Last week, several people asked me about how I get involved with EarthSpirit and my relationship with Jimi. It turns out that I wrote about it, long ago. I hope you enjoy it!

The beginning

Come, sit down and let me tell you a story. Now, when Jimi tells this story, it begins, “When I first saw Morwen, I knew she was the one.” But that’s not how my story begins. Granted, when I met Jimi it changed everything, but I didn’t know it at the time. I had no clue that the path that was opening before me would take me so far from the world I had known and into the realm of my wildest dreams. I only knew that I had met an intriguing character, unlike anyone I’d ever known.

It wasn’t just the shoulder-length brown dreadlocks, caramel complexion and aqua green eyes, or the colorful tie-dye shirts. It wasn’t the’57 Chevy panel truck he was driving, or the kinetic energy exuding from his small wiry frame. It was what came out of his mouth when he talked that fascinated me, the stories of his adventures and experiences in an alternative world I hadn’t even known existed, and his visions of a future world based on living lightly on the land and intentional community.

At that point I thought I had already come a long way from my fairly ordinary Jewish middle-class roots. I grew up in suburban Connecticut, the oldest daughter of liberal parents whose love was both abundant and unconditional. I was well-educated and well adjusted, albeit with an artistic temperament and a passion to make the world a better place that bordered on radicalism. I was still in my teens when I rejected Jehovah as the ruler of the Universe, although I continued to enjoy my family’s Jewish ethnic traditions. A long agnostic phase supported by academic studies in psychology and sociology was followed by a connection with Goddess spirituality. Since childhood, though, my closest connection to Spirit was in nature, and ultimately that became the foundation of my spiritual practice.

I had moved a hundred miles from the place where three generations of my family had settled, and after years of walking a solitary earth-based spiritual path had discovered a community of pagans in the Boston area. It was 1988 and this was my third time attending Rites of Spring, the EarthSpirit community’s annual gathering.

So there I was at Rites of Spring listening to this peculiar fellow talk about one exciting thing after another. Rainbow gatherings. Traveling on a hippie bus, camping in national parks. Living in a community house with a dozen other people. Dance as a spiritual practice. I didn’t know how hard he was trying to impress me. He was doing a good job.

I was married at the time, to a man I’d been with for over a decade who was not interested in attending Rites of Spring. Even though I was unhappy and quickly growing apart from him, I was committed to my commitment and still believed I could follow my new path of Neo-Paganism and stay in my marriage. So I was oblivious of Jimi’s interest in me, even as I was hanging on his every word. As far as I was concerned, it was the ideas that were seductive, not the man. I left the gathering at the end of the weekend and went home to my husband, head spinning and full of ideas about creating community and a different way of being in the world.

In the following summer, I received a postcard and a brief visit from Jimi, and then there were many months of silence until it was time for another Rites of Spring. During that year, I realized that peace in my marriage was dependent on my not expressing my dreams and desires or instigating change in any way. More and more my inner world became separated from the motions of my everyday life. Mostly I tried to ignore this increasing tension, but as Rites ’89 approached I found myself wondering if Jimi would be there, and looking forward to seeing him. I couldn’t wait to continue our conversation, and get affirmation of the part of myself that wanted to change the world.

When I finally saw him and saw the way he was looking at me, I remember thinking, “My life could be really different.” I still did not have a clue, even then, how very different it would be!

Driving home from that Rites of Spring in 1989, I knew my marriage was over, and it took only three months to dismantle the life I had spent fifteen years constructing. In what I later saw as the first in a long series of blessings fortuitously arranged on my behalf by the Universe, a friend had stopped by two weeks before Rites to tell me that he and his wife were looking for a housemate in Concord, Mass, where they had recently moved. After Rites I realized that Concord, 20 miles outside of Boston, was on the way to where Jimi was living. When I went to see the house I found a large pond in the back yard and a commuter train to my Boston job just a five minute walk away. Not knowing anything else about the place, I signed a lease and began to move my stuff. I ended up living in that house for more than twenty years. (now almost 30 years! still there).

In the first few months, though, everything was changing very quickly. Jimi’s presence in my life created a veritable whirlwind, often verging on chaos. He came and went at all hours, and often had car trouble that prevented him from being on time. Although he still had his little cabin in the woods an hour west of Concord, there was no heat or plumbing there and he was at my house so much that first year my housemates wanted him to pay rent. Soon after we got together, at my request he gave up his work driving tour buses that kept him on the road for half the year, and I found myself supporting him and coaching his quest for right livelihood. This was not easy, as years of living an alternative lifestyle – keeping odd hours, espousing unconventional political beliefs, participating in an underground barter economy – had rendered him unfit for standard employment. A 9-5 job? Not bloody likely.

In the meantime, I was still working at my 9-5 job in the city, and my commute had expanded from a short subway ride to an hour on the train each way. I enjoyed my work as executive director of a small nonprofit, but the dissonance between the life I had and the one I wanted began to build.

That fall, a couple of months after I had launched my new life, I was on to lead a clan at the 4th Twilight Covening, an autumn spiritual retreat organized by EarthSpirit. Jimi decided to attend Twilight for the first time and joined the Hare Clan, focused on drumming. I knew that he had been playing congas for some years, part of a loose-knit group that had been gathering to play on the Cambridge Commons on Sunday afternoons since the ‘70s, and that he had recently taken up African drums. I was glad that he was getting to do his thing while I was doing mine.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Each heartbeat an eternity, a lifetime flying by in the space of a single breath. Bones and flesh and skin of my hand stroking and coaxing sound from the skin and flesh of animal and tree. Skin on skin, resonating in the chest of the world, touch on touch, breath after breath, pulse answering pulse, vibration rippling out, and out, and in, and out, passing around and through each thing, each body, subtly and outrageously rocking each one into resonance, changing everything it touches. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The world cracks open and my heart spills out upon the earth, diaphanous and pulsing. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

I hadn’t come to this event to drum. Honestly, I didn’t know what the big deal was about drumming. It was obviously not as interesting as real music. I was there to lead a small group on the art of creating ritual, but my new lover of just a few months was a part of another group that was gathered around a fire with the intention of drumming a heartbeat through the night until dawn. My own group had finished our evening activities and had gone off to bed. With my own bed empty and nothing else to do, I decided to sit by the fire for a while and listen.

As I approached the glowing fire spitting sparks to the sky, I felt rather than heard the low monotonous thump-thump, thump-thump. I drew closer and saw a dozen or so people, each holding a different size or shape drum. The variety of instruments did not make the rhythm any more interesting. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The boredom I felt was reflected in the faces of the people playing, which were quite unlike the lively, engaged faces I was used to when playing music with others. In the flickering light, these people seemed spaced out, disconnected. No one looked me in the eye, but nevertheless they made room for me to sit down, and someone handed me a drum and a padded beater.

I’d never held a drum before and I looked at it curiously. Crudely made from a sawed-off section of wooden cable spool, it was a fairly ugly thing, about a foot in diameter and a foot long. Some sort of animal skin was stretched over both ends and laced together with strips of rawhide. A rawhide strap was attached to one side. I quickly figured out that if I rested the drum against my body it would only speak with a muffled “thmp, thmp,” but if I held it up by the strap it resonated with a warm tone that belied its homely appearance. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Soon I set aside the beater in favor of the pleasure of skin on skin. I was fascinated by the variety of different tones the drum could sing in response to my caress – dark and deep in the center of the skin, sweetly alto near the edge, sharp and high on the rim. I found the note that sounded best, the one this drum was meant to sing, and I focused on producing it consistently, on connecting with the drum the same way and in the same place over and over, in perfect synchronization with the group. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Beating hands, beating heart, pulsing, throbbing, silent sobbing, porous edges, open, open, pouring spirit into bodily cauldrons, palpitating secret places, the body of the drum my body, its heartbeat answering my own, animal and tree and human woven together in rhythmic dance. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Someone added wood to the fire. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The stars shone over us, circling slowly in their wheel.

After a while I roused myself, put down the drum, scooped my tender and diaphanous heart back into my chest, and went to bed so that I could be reasonably coherent to lead my own group in the morning. I was shocked to discover that what I thought had been a half hour of drumming had in fact been several hours.

I was never the same again after that. I found myself thinking about it for the rest of the weekend. On the way home I listened to Jimi with more than a little envy as he enthused about his experience with the Hare Clan. I’d had a fine time with my clan, but the memory of slipping into timelessness by way of the drum pushed everything else into the background. I’d been seeking altered states of consciousness in ritual for years, and I’d just gotten the first clue about a reliable vehicle for getting there.


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

Written by Hollis Taylor on .

DiversiTree The Divinely Inspired Publication for Inclusive Spirituality

doorway portrait

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…