The History of Women’s Drumming Empowerment at Earth Drum Council
A Writing by Hollis Taylor
Earth Drum Council, (EDC), is a community that Morwen and Jimi Two Feathers hold close to their heart and where their roots run deep. They began EDC as an opportunity for the Earth Spirit community, the northeast Pagan Community, to learn new rhythms together in an intentional, sacred space to support personal and communal transformation. Back in the early 90’s, this type of drum circle wasn’t easily available like it is now all over the country. The original idea was to go deeper into the drumming experience as a collective and afterwards to explore community-building through the council experience of a talking circle.
A drum and dance circle in Boston had been happening regularly since the late 80’s when Morwen and Jimi Two Feathers were given the reins and asked to bring their leadership to the drum and the fire circle. A fire circle is a drum circle that happens outside around a bonfire at night.
Jimi Two Feathers studied under the Wampanoag elders where he learned about sweat lodges, smudging and non-violent communication. Together with Morwen’s communication and facilitation training, they helped form the fire circle community in the Northeast. The community celebrated how drumming helped them get past their left brains and instead get in touch with their hearts and delve deeply into themselves.
When Morwen and Jimi began to facilitate, the fire circle changed from drummers sitting in a circle staring at and straining to hear each other, to what we see today in typical fire circle set-ups: a “V” seating formation for drummers so that they can see, hear and communicate with each other more easily.
In 1990, Jimi met Imani White, a well known spiritual drummer, songwriter and musician from North Carolina. She was one of the first female drum teachers to arrive in Boston. Her classes and subsequent drum circles were a significant part of the women’s empowerment movement in drumming. Soon after, other women drummers like Abigail “Spinner” McBride, Josselyne Price, Bright Hawk and Karen Berggren (KB) arrived, attended EDC events and helped shape and contribute to the women’s drumming empowerment movement.
At the time, African drummers were not known for taking women seriously as drummers and often would block them from soloing. Also, during this period it was hard to find women to teach drumming. When Jimi met Imani that changed, and she was invited to teach at many events over the years sponsored by EDC.
When women first started to drum, EDC supported their female drummers by ensuring that there was at least one strong woman teaching and facilitating at their gatherings. They made room for women by lifting up the ones that showed up and welcoming the ones that visited occasionally. EDC celebrated them. The women drummers also formed strong bonds among themselves, which helped other less-experienced women drummers feel more comfortable. They made space for women away from men to drum together, to help strengthen the bond among the women drummers. The lesbian culture of the area supported this women’s drumming movement by attending the events. The example created by all of these women helped inspire younger and older women to pick up a drum.
For years, EDC thrived with the support and participation of strong female drummers and excellent female percussionists; all seeming to find themselves in the northeast at the same time. “Unlike anything else in the area,” said Morwen, “EDC helped many of our well-known strong female spiritual drummers find their wings.”
Now, it is widely recognized that the drum as the vehicle and the dance as an active form of prayer leads to transformational states of consciousness; and when done together in a circle, it often leads to forming strong bonds and the foundations of a fire circle community. For many in this community, fire circles changed their lives, connected them to community, and gave them a deeper experience they would never forget.