Bean-Sidhe Drumcraft: with Fiona Dove

Fiona will be doing this workshop later in the year, somewhere out in the wilds but not yet certain where. If you’d like to go on it please contact her for more details at

Well, I’ve just had a magical week discovering a new – or is it really very, very old? – way of birthing drums. In some ways, it isn’t that dissimilar to what you might well know – you get the hide nice and wet, smooth the hoop, paint and gift it as as it asks you to, cut out the circle and the lacing, lace it up, tune it and leave it in a cool place to dry for as long as possible.

But that’s by no means all, not at all.

For a start, the whole process takes three days – if you want some other extras Fiona offers it could take a whole week, we’ll go into that later. Yes, I know, most drum birthers ask you to take a whole day doing it and I completely agree that’s an absolute minimum, but the Bean-Sidhe 3+ day process involves you in a far, far deeper relationship with your drum.

I’ll bet, on most drum-birthings, you didn’t see your hide dry, before it went into the bath to soak; you didn’t see its colours, smell its scent, feel its texture. Doing that, seeing the straight-cured rawhide before anything else is done to it, is quite a revelation. With this drum which Fiona made, the hide was very dark, chocolatey-brown, and the markings on it were amazing, rather like tortoiseshell. ‘That’s because the deer was shedding (like moulting for birds only what animals do). It’s the shedding process that makes those marks happen in the hide.’ Wow! I never knew that! And that was only the first of many wisdom-pearls Fiona was able to drop in throughout the 3-day process. Knowing that, learning that, really increased my awareness of the deer, and her or his hide that s/he’d given for making the drum. I felt I knew that deer a little better. Shedding for animals happens twice a year, spring and autumn, so this deer gave her skin around either the spring or autumn equinox. The times of the two balance points of the year. Hmmm! That also took my awareness to another level.

The hide was stiff, rolled, folded, when we first handled it, tough and again rather like tortoiseshell. We took it up to put it in the bath – nice cold water and nothing but water. It floated at first. We resisted all temptation to tinker with it but went off to do other things.

Alt na Bodachan – the Stream of the Old Man

The first of these other things was to explore water, the whole concept of water, what it is, how it works in the natural world, what it feels like, tastes like, sounds like, smells like. That’s what the hide was experiencing right now, so what could we learn by experiencing water? We learnt a lot, a lot, a whole lot.

Let me say right now the whole experience took place at a lovely hideaway in the woods, on the edge of the mountains in the Scottish Highlands. The valley the hideaway was in was called Coille an Tuathanaich which means “Wood of the People” and the wood is right next door to the Sidhean Mor & Sidhean Beag, meaning the big and little fairy mounds. Woof! Gosh! Well we really were in a magical place. And what a place to birth a drum.

We went out … experienced water in nature,listening, looking, using all our senses and just sitting beside and with the water in several different places. And we made a brew out using the local river water – called Alt na Bodachan, meaning the stream of the Old Man. some of the best tea I’ve tasted in a long time, you see immediately why they use the ocal waters – all the different streams – to make single malt whiskey.

Plodda Falls viewed from Allt na Bodachan, Highlands, Scotland.

This stream, the Old Man, comes down over an amazing 150ft high waterfall. Of course, the fall and the water talk to you, if you have ears to listen and most of us do if we get our everyday habits out of the way. Water sings. Every stream and river has its own song. To borrow a phrase from the Australian native peoples, every stream is a song-line. My own experience, from childhood back in the 1950s, is of being taught to listen to streams, and to sing with them. We did that while we were out, at each place we stopped. And each place was a sacred place, every inch and millimetre of the water is sacred, and its banks and surrounds too.

We also spent time sitting quiet and daydreaming in several places along the banks of the Stream of the Old Man. And every time, the Old Man spoke with us, played with us, showed us things. They weren’t the same things for each of us either so, later, at home by the woodfire, we enjoyed sharing what happened for each of us.

When we got home we visited the hide in the bath again, watched it unfurl in the water. I said when we first saw the hide it was dark and chocolatey-coloured but now, some hours later, it was much lighter. There were still marks and lines and patterns on it but they were much lighter now in tone. The hide was changing, shifting, as it absorbed the water. And then it was time for bed … more dreams. We each went to bed asking to know more about water, and about skin, and how they work together.

When we got up the first thing we went to see how the hide was doing. Loud shouts in our heads of, ‘I’m done! Get me outa here!’ So we did.

Next instalment to follow shortly …


© Elen Sentier & Fiona Dove 2017. All rights reserved.