Trance Dance

What Possesses the Shaman’s Rattle?

By: Aernoudt Knecht

On a sunny day in October, I wade my way through a field. The grasses and herbs form such a thick layer that it is like an ocean in which I move slowly. A few weeks ago there were still thousands of flowers in full splendor. They are now withered and dried up. A sound grabs my attention. My perception sharpens. Something rustles in the vegetation. The sound is so refined, and at the same time so penetrating, that it seems to come straight from heaven. It evokes a magical atmosphere. I stop. As my heart speeds up and my breath deepens, I prick up my ears… Everything stills.

As soon as I get moving again I hear it again. The vibration spreads. I get goosebumps. The land comes alive and begins to breathe. After a while I discover that the sound is created when I move against a certain plant. They are the remains of where those flowers once stood. Now dried seed pods hang from the stems and as soon as they start moving there is an enchanting sound: Shhhhhhhrrrr…..!

That afternoon I stay in the field for a while and make music, wading through the vegetation. As a child I enjoy the enchanting atmosphere and myself as a wizard. This is how it must have been in prehistoric times, when people began to consciously discover sounds. No complex instruments that are difficult to make and play, but sounds that come straight from nature. Playful and simple. Pure.

Drum & Rattle

Shamanic Rattle

I like to work with live instruments as much as possible when accompanying a trance dance. Shamans often work with sound and say that the world is made of vibrations. With the vibrations of their instruments they bring about ripples of creation in the song of existence (see also article Sound and Creation). The most famous instrument with which they do this is the drum. The pulse and appearance of the drum makes an impression of course. Over the years I also collected an impressive collection of drums, some of them homemade.

The rattle or rattle is another fascinating shamanic instrument, but it is less well known than the drum. Yet a rattle made of a simple fruit can be called the mother of all sound instruments. A rattle made of gourd, as I make them, is a natural product that is easy to manufacture. It is a handy instrument, easy to play, and also easy to store in a pouch or take with you on a trip. Unlike the drum, the ratchet is also very resistant to weather influences and, for example, never needs to be tuned.

Instrument of Power

The sound of a rattle or rattle is exciting, invigorating and uplifting. The vibration stimulates and transforms. A rattle makes something tingle, something sparkle. Even years of stuck energy can be released and transformed with a few simple vibrations of a shaman’s ratchet. In the right hands, a ratchet can be a real instrument of power, evoking a sacred or magical atmosphere, setting energy in motion, directing processes, and undertaking trance journeys.

Sometimes things go wrong with you. I remember very well the first time the rhythm of a rattle ran with me. I had been given a gourd rattle from Rudie Tegelaers, and played with it at home during a meditation. After experimenting for a while, more and more soul came into my playing, and there were moments when the instrument played me, instead of the other way around. It was a wonderful experience.

Circle of Life

Making a Shamanic Rattle

It’s great to make a power object or instrument yourself. For example, I made my own djembe, from a massive tree trunk, and a doun, a shamanic framedrum, and in the meantime I’ve learned to make rattles from . When you make an instrument yourself, your hands have an inspiring power. You breathe life into it yourself, animating not only the rattle and the relationship you have with it, but the whole web of resonating relationships. In this way your ratchet becomes an instrument of force.

I am inspired to honor the cycle of life when I make rattles and to use only compostable and recyclable materials. That is not always easy, but in the meantime I have found my way and everything I use, up to and including the content, glue and paint, is made from sustainable natural products. My ratchets are therefore 100% ‘cradle to cradle’.

I love the circle of life. I want to participate! And unconsciously, that late summer day in October, I of course already play my part. Because, as I make music and the afternoon progresses, I scatter thousands of seeds. In this way I help ensure that this field will be full of flowers again next summer. I also collect some seed pods, to take them to other places. And so it will have been for millennia because, as Terence McKenna also told us, “Animals are but the invention of plants, to disperse seeds.”

Aernoudt Knecht

Text & Photo’s by: Aernoudt Knecht

© 2011

first published in Dutch