Sieve to Tar, Sistrum to Jingles

In Ages Long Past

In the Levant area (now Israel and  Palestine),  10,000 years ago, people who had been hunters, gatherers and herders moved into the safety of the Judean hills and settled there in small villages. It was the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age.  People became agriculturalists, residing in one place, in small groups, each cultivating crops and gardens, and raising a few animals within a limited area.  While the valleys were marked with tribal warfare and lively trade among the peoples,  life in the hills was comfortably routine, tranquil and rural for the most part.

The man in the family spent his days heaving rocks into terraces for  crops on the barren, stoney Galilean hills and piling rocks into walls for a home and for a defense. He sowed and tended precious seeds from last year. Always one anxious eye was on the horizon, for an enemy. What or who would it be next? Rain? Drought? Plague? Marauders? Warring tribes? And he watched each terrace and, indeed,  each sprout for signs of disease.

Model of an Iron Age house , The Semitic Museum at Harvard University (Copyright Permission sought)


The woman was the technician of the household, and of her family's life. She remained, most of the time, in the home and village, supporting the man and birthing their offspring. She cooked and cleaned and rolled up the beds. She  sheared her small flock, carded the fleece and turned it into fabrics for the family's clothes and blankets. 

She made clay and worked it into enough bowls and pots for eating, for cooking and for storing the harvested grains, wine and olive oil after she crushed the olives on the press.  She made her family's daily beer -far safer to drink than the waters nearby. She educated their children who had survived infancy and their earliest years. She tended the olive and fig trees and the grape vines in the garden. She was the family's  physician, always searching out new plants, growing herbs, drying and storing them, ready for the medical needs of the family. And she worked in the family's fields whenever she could.

Each time someone was giving birth in their village she was there, drumming with the rest of the women, easing each new human being into life and guiding each mother through the dangerous delivery process. She gathered with the women when someone died and drumming to help the departed one transition into the life beyond and to comfort those grieving the loss. 

She met with the other women to drum their men into battle, prayerfully pleading that each man would have the strength and courage needed and so bring victory to the village. And the women drummed again, this time joyously, to welcome the men home again from battle -those men who returned.

She and the women gathered joyfully at the village threshing floor to sieve the grain from each of the three harvests each year. How she loved the sounds of the grains falling back down as the women rhythmically raised and lowered their sieves! How she rejoiced at the sight of the chaff blowing away: they would have bread this season! And how she smiled while watching all the young daughters, each so eager to play the tar as well as their mother and thus be allowed to join the women's drum circle.

 
Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing.
— Exodus 15:20 NRSV
Miriam,  Baptisero, Florence, Italy

Miriam,  Baptisero, Florence, Italy

Yet, life  was so harsh. The hills yielded poor crops most years. Attacking tribes meant the village was always on guard. Weather played havoc with the fragile crops, with the health of their few goats and sheep, and with every event of village life and with every battle. Life or death: it was very simple. Everyone, including each child, needed to do their part, day after day.

Yet, there was 'the' alcove in the wall of her home, the alcove where she reverently placed her precious figurine, and her images of the 'divine.'  In the alcove, too, lay the offerings of her prayers of mere hours ago. Now, as darkness fell, she brought a little wine, some olive oil and a precious piece of today's bread for the Holy One.

And she drummed there by her alcove -to thank and to intercede, to invoke and to praise God. "Heal this child," "bring our men home," "send rain," "ease the heat ." She prayed and drummed as long as she could, every day at the alcove and sometimes in her beloved garden. The family's life and the village's and her own inner peace came from those few precious moments each day. 

And when you and I listen deeply, we can hear her: Doum, Ka, taka.....for we are all one.

 

 

Early Christian Drumming

6,000 years ago isolated villages had evolved into urban living. The roles of women slowly began  to shift -significantly.  From a village on a hill, Rome became a kingdom, a republic and then an empire. Into this rich soil, the seeds of the earliest Christian Church were planted and flourished in time around the entire Mediterranean Sea.  

She stopped by the doorway and pondered. How wonderful that her Rome was such an important city . Its Empire now circled the entire Mediterranean Sea, stretching north to Britain, and east to Assyria. Roads connected so many cities with beautiful public buildings just like those in Rome! A common culture linked her with all the peoples. The Emperor had  brought stability and order to the city. Travel was -usually- safe. Commerce brought new items, visitors and ideas to her city. Her husband and son were now in Corinth, purchasing more purple dye and new foods to sell here. She needn't worry about them! They had made that trip so many  times already.     

A Pompeian Interior by Luigi Bazzani. ©.Dahesh Museum of Art, 1996.24.  Used with permission.

She gazed lovingly around her beautiful home and checked that all was ready. Their slaves had swept and cleaned every inch. The mural of the shepherd and sheep was finally completed on the far wall.  Cushions were out; the flat bread and embossed ewer of fine wine were there. And there was their copy of the letter to the Philippians from Paul, not  in the readied room but safe within the folds of her elegant robe. Soon all of them would be gathered here! Their Christian faith was one of the many accepted new religions! We will thank our Heavenly Father for the holy vine of David known through Jesus. We will have the readings and hymns. And we will have such a breaking and pouring this night! We will be with the Risen One in heaven as on earth again, here,  in this very room.

Ancient sistrum -used to keep a steady pulse for the women drumming and replaced today with jingles

Ancient sistrum -used to keep a steady pulse for the women drumming and replaced today with jingles

 

Funny, she mused,  rumour has it  that some of the  men were talking of moving worship into larger  buildings! Why would they want  that? Jesus gathered with his disciples in an upper room, in a house -  not in the Jerusalem temple nor in any of their synagogues! Worse yet, a rumour was spreading that sacred drumming would not be allowed in their buildings! "Fine," she said aloud, "they think our drums are Egyptian and pagan! Let them have their big buildings and ceremonies! We will pour wine, break bread simply - as He did, and pray and sing tonight with Jesus. And we will drum with Mary, with Deborah, with all the women at the Temple and even with Miriam and  the women at the Sea. Let them have their solemn building! Tonight, Judith plays the sistrum!  Our drumming will be as women have done forever and so joyously  at the great Temple. We will be  loyal to Christ and worship as he did. We must. Or we fail the very Son of God! With a shiver of fear, she took up her drum and gently played its soothing pattern: Doum Kah taka ...

And when you and I listen deeply, we can hear the women in her worship service as they drummed that night: Doum, Ka, taka.....for we are all one.

 

Recovering Our Frame Drum

The rest, as they say, 'is history.'  Layne's text, "When the Drummers Were Women," includes examples of the 'rulings' of the church fathers who wished to ensure that there would be no women frame drummers in Christian worship. One church father, Jerome, went so far as to say that a virgin should not even know what a musical instrument is and that no one should ever hear a woman sing.  Women were even forbidden to take any part in the congregational responses during the liturgy by the 4th century.

At first, this unfolding of events and banishing of the drum may seems like a profound loss in Christian worship history. But, for Christians, resurrection is fact! The church fathers said 'no' to their drumming, but, the Holy Spirit said 'yes' and inspired religious artists for centuries to safeguard Biblical drumming -until today. On church sanctuary walls and throughout art museums, watch for a woman or angel playing a tambourine next time you travel.

When you and I listen deeply, we can hear the drum's pulse: Doum, Kah, taka.....because we are all one.

Thanks be to God!

Commonly referred to as a tambourine, this Lotus drum is actually  'a frame drum with jingles.'  Sometime between 200 BCE and 200 CE, humanity learned to insert the jingles of the sistrum into the frame of the tar. What frame drummers  play on this drum cannot be played on even a high quality orchestral tambourine.   And here is one fine example of reclaiming the ancient sistrum: http://www.hathorsystrum.com/

Commonly referred to as a tambourine, this Lotus drum is actually  'a frame drum with jingles.'  Sometime between 200 BCE and 200 CE, humanity learned to insert the jingles of the sistrum into the frame of the tar. What frame drummers  play on this drum cannot be played on even a high quality orchestral tambourine.

 

And here is one fine example of reclaiming the ancient sistrum: http://www.hathorsystrum.com/