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 many years of working with hides in birthing the shamanic drums, and especially including 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 and reindeer or from privately owned horses that have died naturally. In all cases the hides are otherwise discarded as waste products.

In the absence of top predators in the wild, such as wolves, bears and lynxes, the wild deer and reindeer populations rise each year to levels that have deleterious effects on the rest of the ecosystem, in terms of  the plantlife that they eat and the other animals that are effected by this. To try and manage this, the imperfect solution that is currently in place is to cull the deer and reindeer, and while the meat does enter the venison trade, the vast majority of the hides are discarded.

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 all those who work with it.


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.

New scientific research is confirming traditional knowledge of the consciousness of plants and how they are aware of their environment, that they can feel the pain of being cut down. My own experience with tree spirits is that there is a fairly strong acceptance of this.

In our drums, each hoop is honoured and thanked for the tree that gave the wood and for the qualities of spirit that it gives to the whole of the drum.


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.

Plastic is not victimless.

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 by these cycles. 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.