The Ethics of Hide Drums

The question I get most often from people interested in my Shamanic Drums and my Shamanic Drum Birthing workshops is regarding the hides: Where do the hides come from? Has a deer been killed just for this drum? These are important questions to ask, and it is important to think about your ethical standpoint on this. I would like to share with you my own.


Over the past few years of working with hides in birthing the shamanic drums, and especially during the long, arduous days of cleaning up and preparing the fresh hides, I have considered the ethical questions relating to making and working with hide drums. It is not an issue I have breezed over. I have also, over the years, received a couple of emails from people urging me to stop making hide drums and switch to (what they would consider) eco-friendly alternatives.


For these people and for anyone considering the ethics of making and using hide drums, here are my thoughts on this.


Killing for a drum


Firstly, none of the deer or horses are killed specifically for their hide to make your drum. You can relax, there. The hides are all sourced from wild culled stag or from privately owned horses, where the hides are otherwise discarded as waste products. In the interest of honouring the spirit of the animal and not wasting any part of its body, by birthing a drum from its hide, you give it new life as a sacred medicine tool which will be loved and cared for and which will share its wisdom and healing with so many.


Don’t forget the Hoop


From an animistic point of view, seeing everything as being spirit, the tree that gave the wood for the hoop is valued in the same way. The hoop is often, sadly, overlooked in these discussions, and it is forgotten that a tree felled is also a life taken. As such, it is ensured that they are responsibly sourced in respect of the tree that gave of itself to provide the wood that became this shamanic drum hoop.


So what about plastic drums?


As I mentioned earlier, I have been told that I should be using a synthetic drum, where the drum head is made out plastic rather than hide, as then an animal does not have to die to make it. On ethical grounds, I prefer not to use a plastic drum where I can avoid it; on a practical level, sometimes playing a plastic drum can be advantageous (playing in the rain), but it is far from the eco-friendly alternative.


There are three points that need be considered here.

(A) As already explained, the animal is not killed for the hide – animals are killed for food or culled as part of countryside management methods, and rather than leaving these hides to rot, the hides are used in honour of the animal to create a sacred medicine tool.

(B) Once again, the tree that gave of itself for the hoop has been forgotten. Synthetic drums also use wooden hoops and, from an animistic point of view, should be considered in the same way as the hide- if it is wrong to kill the animal, why is it acceptable to kill the tree?

(C) There is a devastating amount of damage caused to the environment and suffering to wildlife as a result of the mining for oil, from which the plastic drumheads are made.


While many choose a synthetic drum for personal and practical reasons, these plastic drum heads or plastic laced drums are not eco-friendly alternatives nor can they claim to be made from ethically sourced materials.


Shamanic Drum Birthing and Transformation


“We move through a world of life and death.” When we consider the world around us, we can see these cycles of life and death all the time. We are involved in those cycles. The animals and trees are involved in those cycles. They are natural.


Just as the deer has taken from the plants to feed itself, and as the tree has taken from the air and soil to feed itself, so too is the deer and tree one day taken. We cannot stop or prevent this cycle; it is something that we must accept.


What we can do however is live in gratitude and with respect for everything around us and, in the birthing of the drums, honour the animal and the tree that has been taken and that is now able to be reborn as a sacred medicine tool that will be loved and bring healing to many.


It is an important question and an important discussion to have, and I am happy every time someone asks me about the ethics of hide drums. In giving time to thinking about it, I believe you gain a greater respect for your drum, a greater respect for your role in birthing the drum as an agent of transformation, and a greater respect for the cycles of life of which you are a part.


I hope this response is useful to those who ask this question about the hides and the ethics of these drums. Please put any comments or questions in the comments box below and I will be happy to answer them.


Blessings and best wishes, JW.