Category Archives: Shaman Drums & Other Helpers

Articles about shaman drums and related shamanic helpers

Survivor Drum’s Story

survivor drum on its drum stand

Thanks to all of you who have written, called, posted and otherwise commented on the Survivor Drum following its debut a week ago. You have touched my heart, and based on your expressions, this lovely drum and its hard-earned right to exist touched your hearts. Several asked that I post the story I read in the audio file on the site, so here it is, edited and shortened a bit.

Reflections On The Survivor Drum

What? What is this mysterious thing called life? That we often despise but fight mightily to hold on to? That we disregard so easily but embrace so passionately? That we generally identify as existing only in flesh, devoid of spirit or soulful connection? Oh, we know, we know the answer.

We know.

This Lightning Drum is a quintessential symbol of shamanism and of defiance against the odds. Of hope when there is none. Of beauty where it counts.

It is well known, though not necessarily universal, that people called to shamanism walk a tortured path. Fires of adversity forge healers. Suffering spurs awakening. A shaman is known to be a “wounded healer.”

It is sometimes true of shamanic drums, too.

This drum typifies it all, beginning with its apparent death from a powerful lightning bolt, but ending with its birth as a sacred healer. The transformation was not easy – they seldom are—as it once believed itself to be one thing, but found its true identity after a fiery initiation.

By the time I discovered the ragged remains of the hickory tree blasted by lightning, it had suffered years of assault from ice storms, insects, worms and birds that had cracked, scratched and eaten away some of its pitching bark and pithy wood. There were no branches or smaller limbs on the ground, a sure sign they had already crumbled back into the earth on that wind and weather scarred West Virginia mountaintop that was a part of my family’s farm.

My friend Eddie, a veteran logger and tree trimmer for over 30 years, and I could easily tell what had happened as we saw it sagging in a small clearing in the forest. I knew he had questions about why I had asked him along to look at a ruined tree, and then particularly why I had asked him to hold back while I went ahead to be alone with it. After a few minutes I waved him forward and he dutifully yanked his chainsaw to life and downed the skeletal hickory with one swift buzzing cut and a series of quick slices to make a few dozen cookies. That’s what wood turners call cross sections cut from trees, often used to make bowls and other beautiful implements.

Not this tree, though. The wood wasn’t strong enough to withstand a lathe. In fact, for most purposes, it appeared useless. Dead.

Later, at the bottom of the mountain, Eddie helped me empty the small load of cookies into the barn before we sat in the old milk house for a cup of coffee. “Why cut that old dead tree, then block it?” he asked.

“I hope to help some of them turn into drums,” I answered, adding, “if they want to.”

He leaned toward me a little. “Is that why you talked to the tree before we cut it?” The tone of his voice suggested no incredulity, for he had no doubt talked with trees too in the past.

“Yes, I was asking the tree’s permission to cut it down, and when it agreed, I said a prayer for it and offered some tobacco to honor it.”

“Nice,” he said. “Nice the old tree will survive in this way.”

Months later and after they had dried, it was time for the cookies to undergo triage. I’ve written a lot about this sacred process over the years, but it’s a period during which each precious being embraces the vexing questions of existence. For me, it’s a humbling, often sad, often exhilarating exercise as they teach me about the Great Wheel while I remove rotted wood, dirt and debris from their wounded bodies.

With this collective family of a few dozen, only about six chose to serve as healing helpers, while the others preferred to be taken back to the site of their original mother tree where they could return into the Earth. Their choices inspire, either way, because they, like all of life, can continue on a while longer in their present form, or freely give their essence to the eventual rise of newness on the turning of the Great Wheel.

I’ve experienced this beautiful practice many times over the years with several trees and their offspring. But there is always a moment when I experience such great joy with the ones who remain. It’s the same as hearing of someone who narrowly escaped death and who fought against the odds, whether knowingly or through the intrinsic power of life itself. Survivors.

Though it’s been several years and my memories are no longer crystal clear, I recall making four or five drums from the bunch. But one, the sixth, somehow resisted. Its shell was too weak to become a drum, but it had such a strong spirit. It would not give up.

Later, and almost as an oversight I packed it with some other things when I moved to Kentucky. It lingered in the old box for two years, but even when I discovered it one idle day and started fiddling with it, it resisted. This occurred again and again over five or six more years. I repeatedly tried my best to help it, but I failed. A new crack would form, or the frame would fracture. And finally, when failing at one last try over a year ago, I again sat it aside for a later time when I could give it a respectable burial.

Then it happened.

Six weeks ago I was walking alongside a shelf in the shop and the drum called to me. “Ready.” Just like that.

And this time, it was ready. So we started together to mend its broken heart in a new way. Both of us simply gave up resisting anymore. We entered into a blissful union with Spirit. The scarred drum and the wounded healer were joined at last. And in no time the drum was singing.


You will note in the photographs on the TVD Site of the bottom of the drum a curious feature. While the outside bark has long fallen away, there is an interesting dark brown inner circle of hard bark-like growth circumscribing the entire drum. (I’ve drawn an arrow pointing to it in one photo.) It is as tough as nails. And that’s the key to understanding this drum, shamanism and perhaps even life itself. There is an inner core in each of us, just like

in the drum. It is as tough as steel. It is the beautiful stubbornness that each of us carries, the desire to endure. To live, despite the odds. To stand fast, to hold to life and in service to life.

This little drum holds to that like a champion. It is a survivor.


finished powwow drum
A finished drum, and a sacred ally.

Flashback to drum triage over the years…

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Aho & Namaste,

Inspirational, Dutiful, The Survivor Lightning Drum

Enter the warrior healer Survivor Drum.

a new drum from Thunder Valley Drums, the Survivor Drum

That name persisted even after I declared not in an earlier post. I am corrected.

The Survivor Lightning Drum was born from a young hickory tree struck by lightning years ago, and, indeed, its name and its story are now its mission as a warrior healer medicine drum.

Here’s a video. And if you have more interest, you can follow this link to its homepage.

Aho & Namaste,


This will be the first year ever that I will have made more than one Lightning Drum. And just as with the others, this drum has quite a mysterious story to tell, beginning with its mere survival. You see, this drum dates back more than 10 years on an isolated West Virginia hilltop where Father Sky often meets Mother Earth for passionate embrace and the birth of a Lightning Child.

No, that is not this drum’s name. Nor did it choose the name Survivor Drum, though it well could have done so, given its tenacious character when many others perished beside it. For certain, though, it is the last of its kind.

I will tell you more about it when it’s introduced in a few weeks. For now, below is a photo of its drum stand in progress on my workbench. Like the drum itself, the stand reflects the strong character of a survivor. It is made from recovered fence posts that are 100 years old.

new lightning drum drum stand

See the new drum in November!

Aho & Namaste,

A Man With a Lightning Stick, And How To Find and Use Your Own

andy with lightning stick
UK friend and fellow seeker Andy poses with his Lightning Stick.

Every year or so good friend Andy over in the United Kingdom sends along a photo to let us know how he’s doing. This time he is displaying the Lightning Stick he obtained a few years ago. I remember it well, as it came from a farm where I used to live, and where one night I happened to see a wide arc of lightning hit a cherry tree on the hill behind my house. Next day I gathered the energized sticks and added them to the bundle which I carried for years. Most of those wonderful sticks are now in the hands of healers here and there around the globe.

If you know of a lightning-struck tree where you live, perhaps you could make a Lightning Stick of your own. I sure encourage you to explore this idea.

First, go to the tree and sense whether you feel drawn to one of the precious sticks that has fallen from it. If so, smudge around the tree, if you are familiar with that ceremony, then pick up the stick and be with it a while. Sit next to or lean against the tree and still your mind. Then, holding the stick, close your eyes and open your senses to any sensations. (This could take some time, or even perhaps a few more visits.)

If, at some point, you sense an energy in the stick, chances are that you are at the edge of a path which may open for you and on which you may discover some latent healing gifts. Perhaps you can take the stick along with you, after asking for the tree’s permission. But whether you recover the stick or not, be sure to leave a gift for the the tree in return, a pinch of tobacco, some bird seed, herbs, something of value to you and the Earth. From there, you can learn to shape and use the healing ally stick in many ways.

Now, I know that this may all sound rather obtuse if you aren’t familiar with shamanism, but if nothing else, it is sure a wonderful exercise in connecting with Nature in a unique, deep and reverent way. I am certain too that you won’t look at lightning-struck trees the same after that, either.

To help understand a bit more about this, I’ve written a short e-Book about Lightning Sticks, which you can download for free. Look for the link on this page of the Thunder Valley Drums Website. You can read even more by poking around the site a little, as I’m discovering more and more, largely from many anthropological books written in the 1920’s and since about how the ancient peoples relied on lightning tools, beginning with the shamanic cultures in North Asia (Siberia, Mongolia, and such), and spreading down into Celtic lands and into North America, among others. I’ll be adding more to the site and probably to the book over time, including a bibliography. Even if you are an accomplished healer, I think you’ll be surprised how knowledge of this kind can open new ways to enhance your practice…and your connection with Spirit.

Meanwhile I want to thank Andy for the photo. Good to see you again, my friend!

Aho & Namaste,

A Drum Buyer’s Thoughts & Photo of Her New Hummingbird Drum

medicine drum with Hummingbird painting
A healer’s medicine drum.

What a thrill to receive photos from a wonderful customer! Luanne, a Reiki practitioner and healer from Pennsylvania, sent along a shot of her new Hummingbird Drum.

It’s easy to see Glenn Lewis’s masterful touch with the painting of a Hummingbird amid beautiful flowers. The Hummer has always been a special symbol and friend, according to Luanne. And she liked the drum’s sound, too. Here are a few emails from her, the first having to do with the drum’s arrival, and the second recounting the special smudging ceremony she performed with it. Note that she also references her receipt of a Lightning Necklace in the package too :

Greetings, Bob:)
My Drum Partner has arrived home, safe and sound!!! Your saying that he is BEAUTIFUL is an understatement!!! I am in awe of your and Glenn’s talent. Thank you both from the bottom of my heart:) His energy is powerful! So is the energy from the necklace! They are both resting now and acclimating to their new environment. We have already bonded and are looking forward to doing energy work together.

Love, light, peace and blessings,

Here’s her second email from a day or two later:

My Drum Partner was well rested by this evening, so I used your lovely package of herbs and sweetgrass for the blessing ceremony. I attached the lightening-struck wood with emeralds, as I found this a sweet touch. Thank you:) I must say that the sound is melodious and deep. I feel the vibration in my heart and soul! We are true partners and I have you and Glenn to thank. Please accept my deepest regards. I am in awe yet again!

It fills my heart. Thank YOU, Luanne!

Aho & Namaste,