The idea was born in a little log cabin, in the middle of a pine forest.
Eight of us came together, and in that setting, we became a family. We had found each other, and that weekend we were there to find and connect to something far greater than we could ever imagine. Our teacher, a Lakota Medicine Woman (who is also a Pipe Carrier), spoke about the tree people, and the land and the ancient spirits that all of us could feel and see around us. Inside that portal, two days felt like two years.
A fellow student showed us how to make the rattles in the traditional way. We gathered sticks fallen from the trees that watched over us – these would be the handles. We cut and soaked elk hide and used sinew to stitch the rattle head together and attach it to the wooden base. Beads, shells and bells were used as adornments. Then we filled it with dried beans and found objects like stones and acorns, bringing the music to life. Tobacco, sage, dried lavender and prayers were offered. We knew we were not alone.
I was resistant and uninterested at first. I did not want to travel all the way into the mountains to make a craft project – how naive I can be! Funny how what we resist most can be the very thing we are meant to do, something that brings us the most joy. Because as clichéd as it sounds, in the moment of making my first rattle, I felt like I’d waited my entire life to sit in that cabin, with that group, forming that magical, ancient instrument with my own hands.
When we sat down to begin the project, some force inside that tiny wooden cabin came to life – like we had all been there before, and were back again to complete a cycle, or maybe to begin a new one.
I was completely overcome with the beauty, simplicity and history of the rattle. The sum of its parts – each so individually important: the tree that gave its tiny limb, the elk that gave its skin, the bird that gave its feathers, the ocean that gave its shells, the earth that gave its stones.
The bulbous head of the rattle is achieved by filling the sewn elk hide with compacted sand and then setting it in the sun to dry. You are supposed to leave it alone so that it can harden into a perfect shape. My friend told me to leave it alone. I could not leave it alone.
I kept touching it, picking it up, feeling it. What was this ancient instrument? And with each gentle touch, a little more sand escaped. The end result was an instrument with a ‘mistaken’ shape – instead of having a round head like everyone else’s, my rattle formed itself into a heart.
And so the idea of the Love Rattle was born, or perhaps it was shown to me, directing me where I was supposed to go.
Within a week of returning home, I’d purchased my own entire elk hide, beads of every color, semi-precious stones, shells and bells to adorn all of the rattles I wanted to give away as gifts. Before I left the woods I collected dozens of sticks on the forest floor to be used for handles. Asking for permission from mother nature to remove something from such sacred land, I could feel the trees delighted that I was going to use their tiny cast off limbs to make music back in the city.
The process of making the rattles is time consuming and hard on the hands; sometimes puncturing the skin and leaving finger tips numb for days. But I love every step of it: thinking of the recipient and choosing the right handle, cutting out the hide, soaking it overnight, sewing it together, filling it with sand and letting it dry in my garden in the afternoon sun, finishing the rattle with colorful adornments and feathers, filling it with rice, love and prayers, bringing it to life.
So many people have asked if they are for sale – they are not. They are a gift from the heart, my heart. They are a tangible piece of something that moves through me, from one source to another. No two look alike, and each heart head dries to a slightly unique shape, though they are all cut from the same template.
Recipients have called them everything from magic wands to talismans. And for those who understand their power, they know they are so much more than just the sum of a wooden stick, some hide and a few beads. They come from deep within the forest, from a time and place that existed very long ago, that is reaching out to us again now.