CONCORD, Mass. — Renowned drumming leader and coloring book author Morwen Two Feathers, a longtime member of the EarthSpirit community, has died after more than five years of treatment for glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor. She is survived by her husband Jimi, children Kane and Wren, and a legion of others who considered her family.
Two Feathers was born into a family that was Jewish ethnically and spiritually, but developed doubts in the existence of Yahweh as a child, even as her interests in the occult and Arthurian legend blossomed. As she recounted in her book Universal Heartbeat, she discovered feminism, humanism, and “years later a friend in graduate school gave me a tarot deck and introduced the concept of the Goddess. Suddenly everything made sense. All of the mental constructions stepped back and the things I remembered in the woods as a kid came forward.”Her journey into Paganism brought her to Rites of Spring, where she met her future husband, Jimi. It was through him that she caught the passion to drum, and in 1990 they co-founded Earth Drum Council, one of the first groups focused on promoting and teaching African drumming in the United States. She once wrote in a social media post:
Soon I set aside the beater in favor of the pleasure of skin on skin. I was fascinated by the variety of different tones the drum could sing in response to my caress – dark and deep in the center of the skin, sweetly alto near the edge, sharp and high on the rim. I found the note that sounded best, the one this drum was meant to sing, and I focused on producing it consistently, on connecting with the drum the same way and in the same place over and over, in perfect synchronization with the group. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.
In 1998 she became the East Coast organizer for the Taketina process for learning rhythm and music. In Universal Heartbeat, she explored the benefits of ecstatic group drumming and dancing, as well as addressing the pitfalls of cultural appropriation.
When a tumor began growing in her brain, Two Feathers had a shift in her life. Language, once a strength, became challenging at times. However, she rose to that challenge with optimism and grace. Not easily able to find the right word, she began to draw, and then to color. A show of her art was held in a local gallery in early 2015, and the following year she published Auntie Morwen’s Coloring Book from her designs. As she wrote on the book’s web site:
It was a very real and personal process as I learned to use my brain differently. I started out sketching tiny mandalas, which grew more complex as my own healing progressed and the neural network redeveloped.
She also explored other ways to develop neurons, such as with poetry. She wrote:
Can I write a poem
Without the details in words
The feeling in the heart
The vision in my mind
Can I live my life
without details in words
the feeling in the heart
The vision of my mind
Who can feel my heart
Who can see into my mind
Breathe and Know
While expression was sometimes difficult, Two Feathers had no difficulty with comprehension. She wrote once about still knowing the difference between “its” and “it’s” despite her condition, and she was grateful when people were patient with the pauses now part of the conversation. She wrote, “The tumor damaged my speaking and I am practicing all the time. It’s improving, but I don’t know how much or when. I found that rhythm (both drumming and dancing) made a huge difference to my healing. My doctors are amazed that I can speak at all, and I know the rhythm is the reason.”
The speech was sometimes slow, but the brain remained sharp. She wrote, “Now the gap between my thinking and my speaking is even more difficult. I am not complaining, though — I have so much gratitude for my doctors and my family and friends. I just have to remind myself the slow down. But my brain wants to go fast like I used to do. I must find a new way to be myself.”Drumming had long been part of Two Feathers’ spiritual life, and it was part of her spiritual support system throughout her illness. Members of EarthSpirit were wont to gather to chant and drum when she needed surgery, including in the hospital itself. She attended a drumming event only two weeks after her first surgery in March, 2013. In October, 2016, her doctor was reportedly amazed that she had given a Taketina workshop at Twilight Covening; she had another surgery soon thereafter.
“I know that people die every day,” she wrote. “But at this point of my life, many of my friends and family (not to mention many musicians, actors, and writers that I have watched since childhood) are moving towards the end, and me too. I am learning how to be graceful about it.”
Although new tumors did emerge, necessitating more than one surgery, Two Feathers refused to be defined by illness, writing at one point, “Oy. Another tumor, or at least that’s what it looks like. Sadly, I had just felt better, but the brain still wants to make a tumor. . . . Every day they are creating new medications that could eliminate the cancer. . . . I can still drum and play music, and I will!”
Morwen Two Feathers left this world on July 17, 2018, surrounded by loved ones and rhythm. What is remembered, lives.