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Observations placeholder

Ogotommeli - Drums



Type of Spiritual Experience


Drums have especial significance in many cultures because they can be used to invoke spiritual experience.  Repetitive beating sounds produce trance states, but drums are also used to record spiritual truths.  Siberian, Sami and Inuit peoples used drums to record the layout of the Egg and their experiences.  The Dogon peoples to a large extent did much the same.

The symbol of the hourglass and the drum can be  combined to good effect to produce a drum in an hourglass shape.  The drum here  is also used to show the weaving symbolism – the threads of creation ……….

I have put two separate observations together here because they are related, but it does make the symbol list rather long and complex

A description of the experience

Conversations with Ogotommeli (An Introduction to Dogon Religious ideas) – Professor Marcel Griaule

The most important of all drums, he said, was the armpit drum…

It consists of two hemispherical wooden cups connected through their centres by a slender cylinder.  It is like an hourglass with a very long neck.  With this instrument tucked between his left arm and armpit, the drummer, by pressing on the hollow structure of thin wood, can tighten or relax the tension on the skins and so modify the tone.

‘The Nummo [creator spirits] made it.  He made a picture of it with his fingers, as children do today in games with string’.

Holding his hands apart, he passed a thread ten times round each of the four fingers, but not the thumb.  He thus had forty loops on each hand, making eighty threads in all, which, he pointed out, was also the number of teeth in each of his jaws.  The palms of his hands represented the skins of the drum and thus to play on the drum was symbolically to play on the hands of the Nummo.  ……………

Conversations with Ogotommeli (An Introduction to Dogon Religious ideas) – Professor Marcel Griaule

Holding before him the web of threads which represented a weft, the spirit with his tongue interlaced then with a kind of endless chain made of a thin strip of copper.  He coiled this in a spiral of eighty turns, and throughout the process he spoke as he had done when teaching the art of weaving.  But what he said was new.  It was the third Word, which he was revealing to men……..

For the technique of making a drum was similar to the technique of weaving; and the bodkin with which the craftsman pierces the edge of the skins to thread the tension cord through is a symbol of the shuttle and of the Nummo’s tongue.  Beating the drum is also a form of weaving.  The blows of the drumstick make the sound leap from one skin to the other inside the cylinder as the shuttle and its thread pass from one hand to the other in the warp.

‘But why the copper spirals?  Ordinary drums do not have these’

‘The drum with the copper winding is easier for the Nummo to hear.  It is reserved for the chieftainship of the Aru.  Ordinary people do not have it.  Moreover it is not played except on rare occasions’.

‘As for the copper spiral, it is the channel for the sound, which is to say, for the Word.  Beating the skin animates the copper and the Word which the Nummo took through the interlacing of the tension thread and the metal band.  From the copper the sound passes to the drum; it then returns to the copper strip, and from there reverberates in the ears of the spirit, which are already alerted because the skins represent them.  But the drum was not intended merely to link men with the Nummo.  It taught them the new Word, complete and clear, of the new age'.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

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