The shaman’s rattle is a most sacred instrument. The rattle is believed to embody the sacred forces of the cosmos through its sounds, structural features, contents, and connection to the spirit world. The gourd rattle is described as the sound of Creation. The creation stories tell of the first sound, a shimmering sound, which went out in all directions; this was the sound of “the Creator’s thoughts.”
The seeds of the gourd rattle embody the voice of the Creator, since they are the source of newly created life. The seeds within the rattle scatter the illusions of the conscious mind, planting seeds of pure and clear thought.
The various parts of the rattle also symbolize the structures of the world. The handle is the vertical axis that ascends into the Celestial Realm. The Upper World is represented by the rattle’s great head-gourd, which summons spirits. Joining the head of the rattle to the handle symbolizes the joining of masculine and feminine elements in the universe, an act of fertilization that bestows the sound of the instruments creative shamanic power.
From a shamanic perspective, care-taking the rattle and playing it properly during ritual fulfills the destiny of the human spirit – to sustain the order of existence.
The repetitive sound of the rattle, like that of the drum, helps induce trance states. The shaking of rattles creates high-pitched frequencies that complement the low frequencies of drumbeats.
The high tones of rattles resonate in the upper parts of the body and head, stimulating higher frequency nerve pathways in the cerebral cortex. The low tones of drums act primarily on the abdomen, chest, and organs of balance, while stimulating an impulse toward movement and synchronizing the heartbeats of listeners to the heartbeat of the drum and the heartbeat of the universe.