The icaro may be defined as a “air or force charged with positive energy” – i.e. with healing power – that all curanderos (i.e. shamanic healers) store inside their body, and are used to pull out the negative energy from the body of a patient. The icaros are magical songs or melodies – either whistled or sang – that the spirit of the teacher plants with which one (usually the shaman) has dieted, have taught him or her. The longer the diet, the more the icaros (specific to the plants dieted) that may be learnt.
They have the power to heal (there are, for instance, specific icaros that cure from snake-bite), to direct, structure, protect and clarify the vision during Ayahuasca ceremonies but can also be used for other purposes, for instance to communicate with the spirit-world or for more earthly ends, like winning the love of a woman. The huarmi icaros (from the Quechua huarmi = woman) belong to this latter category and are learnt by “dieting” the perfume. In our collection of icaros songs on CD – recorded in a time span of over 10 years – we have presented the beautiful icaro del perfume, sang in Quechua by Capanahua shaman don Ruperto, which belongs to the category of the huarmi icaros. Some icaros are truly hunting and enchanting melodies that reveal their other-worldly nature.
They can also be transmitted from a Maestro to a disciple. In this case it is believed they would be less powerful than those learnt directly from the plant-spirits. Every plant has its own icaro, and – conversely – every curandero has his own idiom, the icaro, with which he communicates with the spirits of the plants. When a vegetalista performs a healing he firstly calls upon the spirit of the plants of the medicina, by singing their related icaros, or he charges his magical phlegm with medicina, and began the cure afterwards.” Icaros may be received by dieting with many teacher plants and trees. Thus we have – for instance – the icaro del tabaco, the icaro del ajo sacha, the icaro del chiric sanango – and many other different ones.
To another category belong the icaros de la piedra learnt through the dieting of the encantos – or special healing stones. The spirit of each encanto with which a curandero is learning, can also teach its own specific icaro, which is mainly used for spiritual protection. There are also icaros related to the spirits of the elements, such as the icaro del viento, sang to call upon the spirits of the wind. The singing of the icaros is probably the most exquisite way for a shaman to communicate with the spirits, being them from the plant, animal or human realm. Icaros such as the one of the Ayaruna (from the Quechua aya = spirit, dead and runa = people) are sang to summon the spirit of dead vegetalistas believed to reside in the underwater world, for help during a cure. The most powerful icaros are believed to be those sang in Indian tongue (especially Quechua), whilst those sang in Spanish are sometimes regarded as less effective (together with those learnt directly from a Maestro, rather than from the plant-spirits) though it is very common to find icaros presenting both the native and the Spanish tongue.
The gift of icaros is not necessarily linked to the condition of shaman (or vegetalista, we use here the two terms as synonymous) and there are people who, despite having received icaros from the plant-spirits, are not shamans (nor make any claim as such). We may say that all vegetalistas possess icaros, but not everyone who possess an icaro is a vegetalista. The power and knowledge of a vegetalista is measured by the number of icaros he possess, since each and every single one of them has been acquired during the ‘diet’ with plants.
A more in depth coverage of icaros is in the booklet accompanying our latest Icaros CD, ‘‘Icaros: Shipibo Spirit Songs”.