Book review: Universal Heartbeat

Genre: Music
Title: Universal Heartbeat:  Drumming, Spirit and Community
Author: Morwen Two Feathers

universal-coverOverview: This collection of essays by one of the progenitors of the community drumming movement presents author Morwen Two Feathers’ views on the values and pitfalls of ecstatic drumming. Along the way, she explores thorny issues of cultural appropriation as well as the deeper benefits of participating in group drumming. Two Feathers and her husband, Jimi, founded the Earth Drum Council and ran it for decades. In short, this is a woman who knows what she’s talking about, and it would be worth your time to pay attention.

Buried in the back are the parts that I found most valuable: guidance on the council model of making decisions, as well as clearly-defined guidelines for drum and fire circles. That much of this guidance feels like common sense doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be laid out in writing; on the contrary, this is how to preserve it for people who don’t get it intuitively. I discovered several nuances that I had always seen but never observed, like not standing between the drummers and the fire. Keep moving like a planet: the closer the orbit, the faster the dance.

This is one person’s perspective on drumming, but such a perspective Morwen Two Feathers has! She has learned from some of the best, and that doesn’t just include how to hit the drum on the head, either. No, Two Feathers has absorbed wisdom about indigenous cultures and how members of the overculture can honor their practices; she has learned about the science and mysticism associated with drumming and applied it to her life; she has served as a leader in this movement and through her experience the reader can gain a more subtle and profound understanding of how all these pieces fit together.

Quibbles: If only words were enough to describe the power of the drum, this book would be a masterpiece. Even so, Two Feathers does a phenomenal job.

Quirks: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am an anti-capitalist. Morwen Two Feathers capitalizes far more words than I ever would. I would say that if e.e. cummings is 0 and SHOUTING is 100, Two Feathers is around a 70 to my 23. For example, I’ll grudgingly accept Neopagan, but she goes for Neo-Pagan. I’m fine with western civilization, but Two Feathers calls for Western Civilization. (It’s possible that the quirk in question here is actually mine.)

Title: Universal Heartbeat:  Drumming, Spirit and Community
Author: Morwen Two Feathers
Publisher: Twin Star
ISBN: 978-0-9817193-1-3

On Kenny Klein

Word is circulating quickly that musician and writer Kenny Klein has gotten himself into some trouble.  How Pagans react will be telling in understanding how we view community.

There is no question that participating in the types of activities that Klein has allegedly admitted to are illegal with good reason.  Protecting our most vulnerable, those who are unable to protect themselves, is perhaps the most important value any community can uphold.

I do not know Klein personally, I am not a member of the Blue Star or any Wiccan tradition, and I know little about his specific faith community.  But I do know that it — as well as the broader Pagan sphere — is a religious community.  Where the secular world writes laws to define what actions should result in consequences, it is the realm of religion to explore motivation, intent, and how those actions impact the relationship with whatever divine or natural forces that religion holds sacred.

Should someone be cast out and shunned for possessing child pornography?  Some traditions would say yes without hesitation, others would counsel for healing, and many more might not have an answer to the question.  How does the answer change if the crime is sexual conduct with a child?  Non-sexual physical abuse?  Mental torment?  Murder?

There are no cut-and-dried answers to these and many other questions, at least not ones that can be universally applied to all Pagan religions.  But one thing that I believe should apply to is this:

How outsiders perceive Paganism should not be a factor.

The Roman Catholic Church made some really bad decisions that look like they were driven by public-relations concerns, when their only concern should have been how to protect children.  Public relations should never be a factor in religious decisions, unless that’s actually part of the doctrine or practice of the faith.  There will be a growing blog tizzy about the Klein story, as we process our emotions and release them.  That’s understandable and needed.  But we don’t need to make decisions in our religions that are based on public perception.  Yes, a real Pagan did that, which makes it all the more important that Pagans don’t change how the address it just because there will be media scrutiny.  I, for one, hope that there can be healing for all those involved in these incidents, including Klein himself.

Tea is for Pagans who haven’t tried the velvet cake

Maybe one of the unintended benefits of these Pagan tea times is realizing that our drinks are a metaphor for our community.  Tonight I had the pleasure of sitting down — in person, no less — with Sannion and Galina.  They had dinner.  I had dessert.  It was tea time, but two of us had coffee.  Aren’t we all just lonely truckers sidling up to the diner counter that is the universe?

I feel very fortunate that two people knowledgeable in my areas of interest are living close enough that I can actually take time out of my day to see them in person.  Practicing apart together and sharing ritual via Skype each have their place, but it would be nice to do something in person more than once or twice a year.

So what did I learn?  That Sannion is quite an approachable conversationalist, despite how often his blog goes over my head.  That Galina may yet have her students diagramming sentences in ancient Greek, if they’re not careful.  That Galina’s recommendations for dessert should always be heeded, and that Sannion has been given every opportunity to reacquaint himself with Eastern winters by moving back this way this year.

I completely understand how frustrating it can be to read or hear language the excludes the experience of polytheists, but like Sannion, I think it’s healthy that our community has matured to the point where it can have debates over relatively fine points like these.  While I also get where Galina is coming from when she says that this really isn’t a single community, I’m not quite ready to throw the towel in yet.  I never would have found my own way to Hellenic polytheism without the broader Pagan community, and if nothing else, I hope that the easy flow from one to the other will continue to benefit all of us.

We also touched on Ron Paul, and speculated about the reactions if I incorporate him into a blog post.  And no, this one doesn’t count.  Stay tuned if you want to see if I do it or not.

Pagan Tea Time redux

This is my second open call to join me for some Pagan tea.  I have completed the process of migrating my blog from Blogger (owned by Google, which tries harder every day to stalk me wherever I go online) to WordPress, and unlike all the other posts I have written, that one didn’t make it over.  So allow me to show how awesome WordPress by showing off one of its features, the contact form:

Drawing of two people in ancient Greek style sharing a beverage

Let’s have a conversation face to face, or at least voice to voice.

Of course, I am also going to find out what happens if I try to put a contact form and an image next to each other, which could be a terrible mess.  Or a brilliant layout.  I have never taken “preview” all that seriously; publish or perish, I say, and let the gods sort ’em out.