By Chrissy Rossettie Sakes for Tom Tom Magazine
I first discovered Layne’s work in the late 90’s when I happened upon a copy of “When the Drummers Were Women” in a small bookstore in Chicago. I’d been playing drums for a couple of years, but was just beginning to encounter the kind of sexist condescension that all too often accompanies “drumming while female.” Layne’s book offered a welcome worldview shift, and put a lot into perspective.
“When the Drummers Were Women” examines the history, mythology, and rituals surrounding the world’s oldest drum, the frame drum. But its real accomplishment lies in its unprecedented and insightful portrayal of the drastically changed role of women in religion and society throughout history. Not only because little has ever been written about the significant role of priestesses and female musicians in ancient times, but because in many ways, she was the first to even call into question the historical accuracy of such titles as “Woman with Cake,” for instance, in regard to ancient portrayals of women with frame drums in museums throughout the modern world. The importance of this book cannot be overstated.
Beginning as a series of questions which Layne had had while looking through images of ancient frame drummers (and realizing they were almost all women), the book sought answers: “The archaeological evidence shows plainly that at one time the drummers were women. Who were these women? Why had they been associated with drums for so many thousands of years? Why don’t we know anything about them now? Why don’t women play drums today?” Layne spent more than a decade scouring museums, ruins, and archaeological documents in search of the answers to those questions, and her extensive research resulted in a truly groundbreaking account of the role of women throughout ancient history — a history which has all but been expunged from modern consciousness.
“When the Drummers Were Women” gets to the very core of the enormous cultural shift from the female-centered spirituality of ancient times to the male dominated modern world in a way that many of us had never previously contemplated. Women, who for millennia had held the exalted roles of powerful spiritual leaders and sacred creators of life, were relegated to oppressed and ‘inferior’ subordinates, especially within religious circles. Layne addresses the feelings of great loss that so many modern women experience, having been stripped of such an innate part of their psyches, as well as the hope for reclaiming that sacred feminine birthright through drumming.
I was fortunate enough to attend one of Layne’s final drumming workshops this past June at the Omega institute. We spent the weekend chanting, drumming, and exploring the fascinating history and mythology of the divine feminine archetype. Layne had been sick, and when I told her I hoped she’d feel better soon, I remember her saying something like “Our bodies are so tenuous“ and I began to suspect that the illness she’d been struggling with throughout the workshop was more serious than she’d let on. She entered hospice two weeks later.
Layne spent her final days doing what she did best which was being wildly prolific and incredibly creative. Aside from being an remarkable writer and historian, Layne had also been a world-renowned musician, master frame drummer, filmmaker and teacher. She’d held workshops, classes, and performances around the globe, and spent her final days finishing up several different projects within the vast catalog of her work.
When Layne Redmond passed away on Oct. 28th, 2013 at the age of 61, the world lost a true inspiration. But the strength and beauty of her spirit, her music, and her teachings are sure to reverberate for years to come.