Rattles are seen as divine gifts; markers of identity; tools of magickal intent and certainly as musical instruments. The rattle has a history of being a predominant instrument in climates that were too moist for skin drums, however they have been found to be a part of the majority of ancient cultures. Most of us remember seeing rattles in our toy boxes as children, or have given them as gifts to the children in our lives. Rattles were originally given to infants as both a toy as well as a protective spirit. Certain traditional Navajo rattles were connected to the Spirits of the Sky by having small holes drilled into the gourd representing constellations. Small gourd rattles are worn on the legs f dancers in Zimbabwe in order to underline the rhythm of the feet in counterpoint to the drums. Ewe women of Ghana, West Africa play gourd rattles called Shekeres accompanying the drummers, and while sitting perform very energetic body movements to show off a stylistic form of playing that I have read is amazing to watch.
The Bella Coola shaman generally had three types of rattles used during soul retrieval ceremonies. One rattle has a carved face on one side; the other side is flat and painted with intricate art. The second rattle was made woven wooden hoops with crossbars from which hang many deer hooves or even puffin beaks. The third rattle, unique to Haida shaman, was a carved wooded double headed dance wand with many attached puffin beaks. Puffins were revered because of their ability to dive and quickly disappear into the underwater cosmic zone, analogous to the shaman slipping into the spirit world.
The Voice of Spirits
Rattles are voices of spirits activating the healing properties and spiritual essences of herbs, beads, stones, as well as being recognized as containers of magickal items. Shamans have long held rattles as Beings of the water. Rattles are water streaming over the body, or rain washing over cleaning and refreshing our physical and energetic selves.
Silence is a teacher. In our dial a day reality there are way too many distractions. Many of us are urban dwellers living with an electronic, white noised filled world. Our rural dwellers, although have the quiet, also have many tasks and responsibilities occupying their mind. Silence is taking the opportunity to sit quietly and listen to the whispers that surround us.
The first part of understanding how to use a rattle is to sit quietly, quieten our mind and focus on the voice of the rattle. We can connect to the voice of the rattle in the Middle World. The language of the rattle is not easily translated by everyone. Some of us will hear our fondest grandparent as the voice our rattle, and some of us will hear stones and peas rattling about in a cylindrical object. Easy answers are not easy to come by. The path of the shaman is patience, awareness, passion and a bit of free license!
When we are walking a path in the woods we decide to head to the left, only to come to very thick underbrush and have to either turn back or find an alternative route. Listening to the voice of the rattle can be a hit or miss path. We learn the language of the rattle, whether it be by using colored string on the trees to remember our way out, or by accessing that natural compass and navigate out with ease.
I had a wonderful horse as a kid; he was a true woods horse. I would often ride him deep into the trees, only to get myself hopelessly lost. In complete and absolute trust I would place the reins down on his neck and he would lead us out. In time I developed confidence and experience that enabled me to find my way out of the trees. When I listen for the voice of a rattle I have complete and absolute trust that it knows how to reach me, but I still get lost in the woods sometimes! When we connect with our Rattle know that it may not be an easy path, but it will still be an experience made with the intent of connecting.
The voice of the rattle is important to be able to connect with when we begin to perform our healings.