Icaros: Songs of Healing

“For the Shipibo, the Universe is made of song and everything in it has a pattern that can be sung.”

(From the documentary “Woven Songs of the Amazon,” produced and narrated by Anna Stevens.)

Imagine listening to a song that was once your favorite. Maybe you haven’t heard it in years, but it instantly brings back a specific sense of time and place―even smells and feelings. Music has the ability to kindle memories or reconnect us to moments that are still held in our energetic bodies.

We’ve all had that experience, but to the Shipibo, an indigenous community of about 35,000 people in the Pucallpa region of Peru, the power of song goes much more deeply. Songs called icaros are used in shamanic healing ceremonies to connect to Spirit.

What if you could see and touch your favorite song?

Shipibo women use materials from the jungle to create tapestries with intricate geometric patterns representing the songs of the Universe and songs for healing. The Shipibo don’t distinguish between seeing and hearing. They see with their ears and hear with their eyes. So for them, the patterns are visual music.

“The patterns are like a musical notation of the songs but unlike Western written music with notes on a page, the patterns are a rough melody and it is the intention of the song that comes from the design. The words are more spontaneous and are created in the moment.” (“Woven Songs of the Amazon.”)

The shamanic practitioner uses his or her unique songs to transmit energy in order to heal, or as a vehicle for wisdom and power.  An icaro can also be sung directly over an object to “charge” it with a specific property. For example, tobacco (mapacha) and agua florida (a perfumed water) are used as carriers of the icaros, with the icaros being sung into the tobacco and agua florida, and then blown into the person being healed.

In my typical shamanic healing sessions, I invite Spirit to sing through me as a way to open up my clients to connecting with their own essence, or “song.” I also use mapacha, agua florida, and tapestries from the Shipibo that have been charged with healing energy through the use of icaros. I find that singing icaros is a profound way to open the heart and allow my client to receive a deeper healing.

When we connect with our “song” the beautiful pattern of our essence emerges and we are filled with light. In the words of Manuela, the matriarch of the Shipibo community,

“When we sing it makes us happy and healthy, and it makes the earth healthy as well.”

For more information about this powerful tradition, check out “Woven Songs of the Amazon.”