Ayahuasca Icaros of the Shipibo

Shipibo Geometric Designs

Shipibo Geometric Designs
Photo by Howard G Charing

Ícaro: The word ícaro comes from the Quechua word icarai, meaning “to blow.” Ícaros are magical chants that are sung or whistled by shamans during Ayahuasca ceremonies. There are several kinds of ícaros. At the beginning of a ceremony their purpose is to provoke the mareación or visionary trance state, and to render the mind more susceptible for visions to penetrate. The shaman on his plant diet learns the ícaros directly from the plant spirits.

Ícaros have great power and influence on the visionary experience of people drinking ayahuasca in a ceremony. Pablo Amaringo also regarded the ícaro as the sound of the universe—the planets, stars, comets,and supernovas. He said that everything is created by music, by vibration, by sound. Ícaros are the music of creation (source: The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo).

On a personal note, I recall one night time Ayahuasca ceremony in the 1990’s with a Shipibo Shaman (Mateus Castro), held in a small clearing in the Amazon rainforest. It was a beautiful clear night, there was no moon, and the sky was filled with hundreds of thousands of glistening stars; just looking up at the sky made my head swim. We were surrounded by trees and bushes, but could only discern their shapes and silhouettes. It felt as if I was in nature’s primordial theatre. When I had drank the Ayahuasca, the shaman started to chant his Icaros, and within a few minutes, there was the song of birds, fireflies flitting everywhere, the jungle around us was responding to the chants of the shaman. It was an exquisite experience, and the following day, when I discussed the opening experience, with the birds and insects appearing when he sang the first Icaro, he replied, “the first chant was to summon and ask the birds, and the insects for their protection”.

Shipibo Geometric Designs

Shipibo Geometric Designs
photo: Howard G Charing

There are several different kinds of icaros, at the beginning of the session. Their purpose is to invoke the mareacion or effects, other Icaros call the spirit of Ayahuasca to open visions ‘as though exposing the optic nerve to light’.

There are icaros for calling the ‘doctors’, or plant spirits, for healing, while other icaros call animal spirits, which protect and rid patients of spells. Healing icaros may be for specific conditions like ‘manchare’ which a child may suffer when it gets a fright.

The arts of the Shipibo, especially textile designs, are closely related to Ayahuasca icaros. The words of the chants are symbolic stories telling of the ability of nature to heal itself. For example the crystalline waters from a stream wash, cleanse, and purify a person who is unwell, while coloured flowers attract the hummingbirds whose delicate wings fan healing energies.

Here are five Shipibo Icaros;

By Shipibo Shaman Benjamin Ochavano (recorded 2002 by Peter Cloudsley & Howard G Charing)

By Shipibo Shaman Guillermo Arevalo (recorded 2003 by Peter Cloudsley & Howard G Charing)

By Shipibo Shaman Enrique Lopez (recorded 2006 by Peter Cloudsley & Howard G Charing)

By Shipibo Shaman Leoncio Garcia (recorded 2005 by Peter Cloudsley & Howard G Charing)

By Shipibo Shaman Mateus Castro (recorded 1999 by Peter Cloudsley & Howard G Charing)

The chant with Mateus Castro is part of the ‘Shamans of Peru’ album, which can be downloaded on the web.

Sounds of the Rainforest: The Amazon Rainforest when the sun sets;  the jungle becomes alive with a rich tapestry of sounds. If you listen carefully you can hear in the background Ayahuasca Icaros being chanted by Shipibo Shaman Enrique Lopez during an Ayahuasca Ceremony. Recorded 2008 Part 1

Like this post? Please share on Facebook – Thanks. 

Leoncio Garcia - Shipibo Shaman

Leoncio Garcia - Shipibo Shaman

Enrique Lopez - Shipibo Shaman

Enrique Lopez - Shipibo Shaman

Guillermo Arevalo Shipibo Shaman

Guillermo Arevalo preparing plant diet.

Benjamin Ochavano preparing Ayahuasca