Rattles have been used by shamanic practitioners from the very beginning. Of two most well known percussion instruments utilized by shamanic practitioners the rattle is utilized in the way a magician flourishes a wand. The rattle is what summons, calls and attracts the attention of the Spirits and guides them in the sacred work that we perform.
Rattles can take on a variety of forms and shape, and they can be made from a variety of materials–including wood, animal hides and sometimes plastics.
In shamanism, we believe everything has a Spirit, and every can be worked with on the spiritual levels and Spirit World. Thus, it’s not uncommon to find shamanic practitioners in a pinch utilize medicine bottles as quick substitutes to their rattles. What is important are two things.
The first, the Spirit itself. If you are able to connect and communicate with the Spirit, anything that can be turned into a rattle (including a simple Tylenol or aspirin bottle) can be utilized. What counts are not necessarily the contents of the rattle, but the Spirit. With that said, there are many cultural practices and religious groups who have very intricate rattles with their own rules and protocols. For the sake of Core Shamanism and Neoshamanism, in general, what is most important is the Spirit itself. Therefor, if you are able to connect with the Spirit then little else matters in achieving altered states of consciousness.
The second aspect to the rattle is the sound. Does it have a nice sound to you? If it does, the percussion aspect of the rattle will help propel you into your journeys. If a rattle is capable of altering your state of consciousness to get the desired result, then that simply put is shamanism in a nutshell.
It’s not uncommon to see rattles used in conjunction with drums to help propel journeys. I tend to utilize rattles when I have no assistant for drumming (and I don’t want to use a recording for whatever reasons). It allows me to have one hand free to utilize in shamanic healing and journey work to retrieve the necessary soul part or guardian spirit for an individual.
Rattles, however, are more often then not utilized to summon the attention of our helping spirits. They are often used by rattling in the four directions (or more) to entice our helping spirits into our spaces by aligning and connecting with the Directions and our spirits in general.
In healing, rattles are often used as signals to the drummer and the community when a journey is beginning and ending. They are often used to direct and seal healing energy to specific areas or the entirety of a person.
They are often used to help align people to specific energies and Spirits (more commonly their helping spirits if they are unable to do it for themselves) and more often then not they are used to help set the rhythm and speed of the Circle at large.
To wield a rattle is to hold the power of the Spirits in your hand. Make sure you use that power wisely.