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.