TRANSCRIPT – Icaros, Shaman Songs & Plant Music | Susana Bustos

[EN21] Susana Bustos
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LL: Hello visionary people of EntheoNation. This is Lorna Liana, your host, and in today’s segment, we’re going to talk about the healing power if Icaros. I’m here with Susana Bustos, PhD, who is a psychotherapist, professor and an independent researcher of indigenous and entheogen shamanic traditions of the America’s.
Her main interests revolve around the interphase between western psychotherapy and traditional medicine. The healing potential of non-ordinary states of consciousness and the integration of those states into daily life. Susana lectures and works as a consultant internationally and she also holds a private practice in Berkley, California.
So welcome to the show Susana, thank you so much for joining us.
SB: It’s my pleasure Lorna, thank you for inviting me to be here today.
LL: So I’d love to hear a little bit about your story of how you ended up being a researcher of non-ordinary states of consciousness and indigenous and entheogenic shamanic traditions, because I know you’ve spent a lot of time in Peru. I remember when you were studying with Juan Salazar in Mayantuyacu and I’m sure you’ve learned so much from that time and more. So help us get up to speed in terms of what your journey has been.
SB: Okay, this is a very long answer. So I’m going to try to make it short because if I start, I won’t stop.
LL: It’s a life long journey.
SB: Well, my interests on the healing potential for non-ordinary states of consciousness started maybe like 25 years ago and even more and one of the key components of this journey was my training with Stan Grof and holotropic breathwork and transpersonal psychology in Argentina many years ago. About 18 years ago.
Through that training I got to know a few people who were doing, at that time, work in Peru with some vegetalistas. Some curanderos healers that were using ayahuasca, the psychotropic medicine, but also other plants for healing purposes. I said, “Well I don’t know anything about this, I would like to get to know what this is, this is part of my roots as a Latin American person and I need to know.” So these people came to Chile where I was living at that time and they did a ceremony and they come back to the ceremony that was extremely long and it cracked my heart and my mind open to a degree that it had consequences in my life right away.
Three days later I had kind of a whole pattern of kundalini rising with major seizures that were coming from my spine all the way up in openings of consciousness and that was lasting too long and it was too frequent during the day. Since I had all this training, I could kind of feel what happened in the ceremony with what was happening in my body energetically and also the mental state. So after pursuing healing work of different sorts including holotropic breathwork and body work and energetic work for months, I decided that I needed to hold it differently because things were like stopped at some point and I had a very big blockage at the heart level that time and I couldn’t just overcome it.
So I was working at that time in Chile with drug abuse prevention programs nationally and had heard about Takiwasi, which is this drug abuse for rehabilitation program in Peru, in the area of Tarapoto, Provincia de San Martín and I said, “Well I need to go somewhere where they know how to handle this situation because I just don’t know what else to do.” So I went there because of this condition that opened up very strongly from me. I worked there with this amazing curandero called Don Solón Tello Lozano, who was there at the time and he really helped me through kind of realigning energetically certain things and opening up and he worked a lot with Icaros on me and not with medicine.
He just worked with Icaros and prayers and fanning and blowing smoke on different energetic chakra’s and there was the need to do ceremony too and he was not present because of different reasons but I worked there with people at Takiwasi who were holding ceremony. I had not been able to talk to them about what was happening with me only with Don Solón, for different reasons, you know? I went to that ceremony really scared and I remember that at some point of the ceremony, one of the leaders who was a woman called me forward and she sang and icaro on me.
That was an icaro that’s called Abrete Corazon, that’s now very known in the circles like people sing it in different ways as well, you know? But she’s the one who received that icaro actually and it just was — it really exploded that block that I had and hearing and receiving at that deep level, in other words and the meaning in the way that I needed in order to remove that blockage. It was pivotal in my healing process though it required more work and years actually to compete that process that opened up with that trigger back in Chile.
So since that experience, I started going through the jungle like every year to do my own work and also to start kind of seeing how these medicines were applied and used with incredible results also for drug abuse rehabilitation. I also seeing the challenges because it’s not just that easy. It’s involves a whole system to support the process of addiction treatment. It’s not just the medicine, it’s much larger in support required. But in all these different methods and practices, the Icaros was always present.
And I kept this, also being a music therapist myself, “What’s the power? What’s in here, in these songs that has this healing potential, along with many other potentials?” The icaros are used for many different purposes including sorcery, right? But when used in a context of healing, how is it that they just can cut through things and get you standing up back on yourself, right?
LL: Yeah, so just to really quickly, what exactly are icaros? If you could just help the audience understand those of you who don’t really I know what that term means.
SB: Icaro is basically the shamanic song that is sung within the Vegetalismo tradition but right now, because of the expansion of Ayahuasca over to, you know, icaros is used as a generic term to refer to those songs that are sung during ayahuasca ceremonies. So there are many speculations about where icaro comes from in terms of a word. It’s speculations like icaro means, comes from the verb icarai, which means to blow smoke in order to heal. That is speculation that Luis Eduardo Luna, an anthropologist, made many years ago.
Now there are other ideas, but there are also some words that come from different traditions that have also that little word of ica or icar, right? That has to do with opening paths clearing out obstacles, opening, giving light to straight line, straightening things in different indigenous languages. We don’t know ethnologically, exactly where it comes from but it has that connotation. The shamanic song that is used, not only in ayahuasca ceremonies within the Vegetalismo tradition but also in other endeavors that are shamanic.
LL: Interesting. So basically then, because was my understanding of icaros were the shamanic songs that are sung during ayahuasca ceremonies but you’re saying that actually those songs have a much wider range of uses?
SB: Yes. That’s correct.
LL: For example, you eluded to sorcery.
SB: Oh yeah.
LL: So how would one encounter those Icaros? Can you give me some examples that would show us that wide range?
SB: Well icaros, traditionally were used for example, you’re going to go to fish and get fish. So you would sing a song, and this is maybe the core of the icaros itself, which is — like the Icaros is the musical manifestation of the essence, the spirit essence of the spiritual essence of a natural element that maybe animal or mineral or plant related or has to do with a particular strength, intelligence and force, even structure that is associated with an actual element.
Shamanically, when we talk about shamatic oriented traditions, we’re talking about a person who acts like a bridge and has been able to connect to this plane and open up the communication with this unseen forces that are part of nature that are supporting our lives in this networked web of life that we live in. They have this contact and one of the ways of calling in those knowledge is in powers is by singing the song that will call that into something.
So when we say like “icarar”, something, a substance for a person or object. It is like the infusion of that power into that object or that person. The power comes with the knowledge and comes with a structure at the same time but it has to do with the intimacy of relationship that the healer or the curandero or the shaman or the [inaudible] has with that natural power.
LL: Interesting. So is it just the shamans that sing icaros or is it really so much a part of the cultural life and traditions of an indigenous community, for example?
SB: Well this is the distinction of what do you call an icaro. We are calling icaros now generically to many things, right? Traditionally, the icaro, traditionally in this tradition particularly, the icaro is used by the shaman and also all of us, and particularly in mestizo traditions, can commune with certain natural forces to the point of where we can also have a song or get a song.
That would bring that in so what I’m saying basically is that we are all able — you know that right? — to get access to this other forces, the thing is said in the shaman, we have a specialist in this who has just devoted his life to making these connections.
LL: Yeah, it’s interesting because one of the things that I notice as a visitor in to the Amazon especially the different countries that I’ve been to where I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with indigenous healers and shamans, it almost seems like the trend is, or the belief is that the more songs the shaman has, the more powerful they are. So I see this in Brazil where some of the shamans that I know just have hundreds and hundreds of songs and people are in awe of all the songs that they continue to receive.
Yeah, I mean it’s a process to record them, it’s another process to even write them down but they’re just overflowing with songs. Is that the case too in the Peruvian side? Are the powerful shamans the ones that typically have the most songs?
SB: Yes, basically the amount of songs that you have is considered one of the resources of power that the shaman has. Also, traditionally, those songs, those icaros that are received in tongues or in languages that are not Spanish or not understandable, are also considered the most powerful because there is this belief and this kind of practical belief basically that this spirit of nature communicate with words and with sounds that are not human like.
LL: Yeah, I’ve noticed that the ayahuasca music I’ve listened to has certain patterns and qualities of sound that are very different than for example peyote songs. I’ve noticed that there are similarities in the kind of tonalities and the sounds that come through the ayahuasca songs I’ve seen in the different countries, which is fascinating too.
SB: Yeah, and this is also changing. The exposure that people working down there have right now to other types of music, especially because of globalization and also this interest of westerners of going down, also bringing their own songs into, for example ayahuasca ceremonies, has been also changing like the traditional patterns that we could see kind of on a more consistent basis 20 or 30 years ago.
So I’ve seen, for example in my maester I have seen and in other maesters — I’m just thinking of about somebody who just passed away, also an old curandero — how their own icaros are incorporating melodies and structures that are a little bit different and what I remember and I even have recorded years ago.
LL: Yeah, one of the phenomena that I’ve been noticing in Brazil is, well there is this renaissance of indigenous culture that has been really sparked by the interest of westerners in ayahuasca. So there’s a lot more movement that is happening in like the region. For example, I spent the most amount of time in the state of Akri. Many of this villages, they’re very hard to get to, it’s like days, and days of travel on these rivers.
This villages are receiving more visitors than they ever have before and then also some of the indigenous leaders are getting to travel around Brazil to lead ceremonies and also internationally. So the inter-cultural connections are really adding a very interesting evolution to the traditional indigenous culture in that — so it’s interesting, one of the shamans who I worked with to create an album of his music, the album is called Transformando Tradición, which is transforming tradition. So we’re seeing this evolution of tradition into kind of like more modern flavor.
For example, one thing that we’re seeing with the tribes is that with the advent of the guitar, a lot of the shamans are taking their old ancestral songs and then adding guitar chords to the words and then it just becomes a totally different song that everyone can sing to and like the Brazilians from outside the region just love it and these songs are even kind of like making their way around the major cities of Brazil and internationally. I have this one song that I recorded on YouTube that has 70,000 YouTube views already and it’s got to be mostly people trying to learn how to actually sing the song itself too.
So that’s an interesting phenomenon in one hand. Then in just greater Brazil, we’re also seeing the different ayahuasca churches and evolution of the music that the churches create or produce. We’ve got like the Santo Daime Church and some very Judeo-Christian type of hymns that are sung in the churches, but then we’ve got this other groups that are incorporating Hindu music, African music. It works really well actually. It’s beautiful.
SB: Right. That is obviously a phenomena I have seen happening in Peru. Especially in the past 10, 12 years with all this westerners going down there, there are centers that are using Hindu music and Buddhist practices with ayahuasca and they incorporate also Buddhist mantras, songs during the ceremonies and there is a very known ayahuascero in the area of Tarapoto who is an accomplished musician and he uses a lot of Andean instruments you know? Some quenas and some zampoñas, these wind music instruments in his ceremonies and charangos and other things, right? It’s just very powerful for people who are in ceremony to see and hear all these subtleties and the connection that brings from other realms as well.
I would want to just bring up this theory by Martin Dobkin de Rios and Katz, like that was maybe thought of in the 70’s, I don’t remember exactly. But it’s a very brief article where she says that in their understanding, the icaros work as a jungle gym for children, just like trying to make an analogy in that it provides with culturally shaped patterns that the mind and the organism, under the influence of ayahuasca for example, offers to the person who is listening so that you can just like kind of climb the patterns, climb the ways that are necessary for your healing or for whatever you’re working through at that moment by holding this possibilities, right?
They emphasize that the icaros are culturally shaped pathways basically that you can hold on to and that would, if you follow that understanding, we would say, “Well, 30 years ago there was not much exposure maybe as it is right now to all this worldwide music possibilities as it is right now.” So the culture itself is changing and it has been, I always say, shamans must survive like the amount of millennia that it has just because of its ability to incorporate new things instead of getting broken down at its core because it’s toward it, right?
It’s very flexible in that way. It incorporates every time new material and it makes it its’ own, right? So maybe it’s expanding, I don’t know. I tend to have a more traditional kind of engagement with this in my vision but I’m totally kind of in awe with what’s happening also around and observing where are these practices going to evolve? So just observing.
LL: Yeah, it’s a fascinating observation. I’m really enjoying it myself. So I’m curious to know, based on your research, what is the function, what are the function of Icaros in ayahuasca rituals? I notice that’s a really quite an art when a shaman brings in the Icaros into the work. It almost seems like it’s timed at a certain way or the shaman is very intoned with the energy of the space and then what songs need to come in to place, and of course for me not understanding the words or their meaning, seems very magical but I don’t know what the purpose is or what they mean.  So what do you know about their function?
SB: In Ayahuasca ceremonies, basically the ayahuasqueros is calling, through the first Icaros, those forces that would give a safe container for the ceremony to happen. So he’s setting the pillars of the ceremony, and as I said before, the relationship that he has with certain forces over others related to his own allies to just provide that containers. So normally in the ceremony, the first Icaros are just those that provide their context in the structure at the spiritual level to do the work, right?
Then there are some icaros that are called [para levanter mariason] and [para bajar mariason]. Those are the icaros that help raise the state of — the visionary state in the people that are there. You probably seen like how certain melodies and tonalities and rhythms tend to just put you up there, right? Then, it’s very important also for the person leading to know how to regulate the ascent with the descent, right?
So you don’t want it to get out of control in that way. You want to provide a space for healing and for teachings to happen for people within a contained framework and they are managing that through the icaros as well. There are also some icaros that are for our protection. Normally what we call the Arcana Icaros are used to traditionally arcana Icaros, the shaman may sing during ayahuasca ceremonies to culminate a plant diet process of somebody who is part of the ceremony and install a defence in that body.
LL: That’s fascinating.
SB: Yeah, so energetically, it’s also a gift of the shaman to just install a defense in your body so that you can deal with all this opening that happens at all these many layers, not only psychologically and emotionally but also spiritual and energetically. It’s also, it has its risks, so you need to end this path, develop some tools and some of the tools are given right, are given after some work.
This is also the way that I’ve learned what an arcana is. So it’s not just a — arcanas normally, in my experience and years of work, are not just sung for everybody. There are some also defensive kind of icaros that are used but they are not called arcana in the ceremony, as far as I have studied yet. But you can also use the Icaros for defence in ceremony. You can also use the Icaros for healing purposes in the ceremony, there are certain Icaros that are, some people say that they are for vomiting.
LL: I think so too. I was going to mention it. I’m pretty sure I’ve experienced some of those icaros where I’m listening to the shaman and I feel like the words of the icaros are making their way through my body deep into my intestines and then before you know it, there’s this incontrollable urge to go vomit and then everyone starts vomiting, right?
SB: I would say that part of the healing process, sometimes requires the purging, different levels like from the physical level that is connected to it, at the energetic level, it’s connected to emotional level that it’s like, for me, those are still healing Icaros. It’s kind of a subcategory of the healing Icaros and it’s part of the process of healing when you get to that point. There are also the Icaros that are called the guardami icaros. The guardami icaros are used within ayahuasca ceremonies but also outside kind of traditionally is said to gain the love for woman.
They are also so you can do things like tying up a woman or a man to your own energetic structure, those are like kind of sophisticated magical sorcery kind of things that happen down there. They are real basically, they are practices down there still. But the guardami icaros are also used during ayahuasca ceremonies to enlighten the mood, the energy that is kind of hitting heavy in a ceremony.
So you would bring in songs of certain birds, you would bring songs that have kind of an edge of humor to enlighten the spirit and the mood of the people doing hard work there. Then there are closing Icaros too where you just — not everybody does this in the same way, when we are in shamanistic traditions we are like, we have certain things that are core things that everybody does and then there is a lot of variability depending on the shaman or the ayahuasqueros himself, right?
But there are certain ones that are very clear about like doing closing Icaros and dismissing then those forces that were present during the dance to the participants and doing the work, you just dismiss them and give them thanks and then you close the ceremony. So those are the main functions that come to me right now, off the top of mind, to share with you.
LL: Wow, that seems so different from the Brazilian side of the amazon where I kind of call it the Brazilian sing along because over on the other side of the Andes, we’re looking at largely just the shaman and possibly his attendance that are really leading with the songs and controlling the energy through their icaros, but in Brazil, everybody sings together.
So there may be one person that is the leader that is choosing which song that’s sung, but it’s such a group process where you’ve got your book and everyone’s encouraged to sing along and then it’s like this group prayer so to speak. Yeah, it isn’t so specific like that. So that’s really fascinating.
SB: Yeah, it’s very different and I think it’s, that’s the diversity that we have also in this entheogenic world, working with ayahuasca. When you see like the Tucano people for example, Columbia. right? They also have the indigenous traditional ways are like, “Okay, all the men are just they’re dancing and then pounding their stakes on the floor and they are singing together and they are just expressing themselves and here in Vegetalismo, you’re supposed not to express yourself. You are supposed to just like sit straight and work inside.
So that is the value of what also in the UDV for example, the União do Vegetal is called the concentration state. So it’s the value of being in such a state of focus on the work that you are just like channeling working, digesting, metabolizing, whatever you need inside yourself and not externalizing it, right?
LL: It’s like a meditation.
SB: It’s a deep meditation, yeah. It’s a deep meditation. So it’s not valued, this self-expression, as it is in other cultures that we’re the only legitimacies and their own healing consequences that way.
LL: So I’m curious to know about how Icaros are learned and received? This has been a bit of a — so I’ve been so intrigued by this and I’ve had a number of conversations with the people who have received songs on the Brazilian side, they’re referred to as receiving songs from the Astral, receiving songs from the spirit world and they come to people in a number of different ways. Sometimes, I spoke to this one musician who has many songs and he’ll describe it as — well sometimes he’ll get the entire song, the words and the melody all at once.
Or sometimes over period of a few weeks, he’ll start to hear the melody and he’ll work it out musically on his guitar and then the words come. But what I find really fascinating is that in the ayahuasca culture of Brazil, people have a practice over a culture, gosh there’s a phenomena. That’s probably a better word, a phenomena of receiving songs that are part of a set.
That whole set of songs will be part of an hinário or a hymnal where it’s like a series of songs that seem to have a similar theme or message as well as melody and then people that have received many hinário, there are some padriños and madriños of the Santo Diame Church that have books and books of hymnals and their songs, they will say that they know when the last song is in that hinário is complete and then it’s time for a new one.
Sometimes I’ve spoken to people that just have received this songs spontaneously so one man who’s songs I recorded was telling me that he was in the middle of a work and the padriño made this announcement of allowing celestial music to come through, come through your body and then as soon as he was done with that speech and there was a pause, my friend Chiago opened his mouth and the song came out, like he had never ever sung it before, look melody, word, being totally complete and he just sang in that space.
So I’m curious to know on the Peruvian side, what have you seen with regards to learning and receiving songs and can anyone sing icaros?
SB: Of course anybody can sing icaros. The thing is, what’s the effect that your song is going to have? And that again, in that tradition, it has to do and I always stress that, and that’s my understanding, the level of intimacy that you have been able to develop with that force you are using, right? There are times where forces and ceremonies just use you.
I also have experienced myself, like this being taken by a song and I just like have to sing and I am singing something totally like impossible to stop, but it’s totally taking me and I don’t have any choice, it’s just like I am taken by something that is like much larger than myself in that moment and then forget it. I haven’t been able to remember that later, that icaros later, right? It’s just the power of the presence, full presence of being taken and just like singing it through.
I have heard many descriptions of people who leave ceremonies in Peru with that type of characteristic. So you’re taken, you have to sing that and then you just lose it. It might come in other ceremony again or not, right? The main point in the Vegetalismo in the way that it was traditionally and it’s still going but again, there a lot of changes is that in order for you to commune with the power of something, you have to ingest it in your body.
There is a process of ingestion and kind of accommodation of that power within you. So in order for you to be able to manage and effectively afterwards, as an ayahuasqueros. Like many of us can do plant diets for example and we are doing that in one way or another.  But it’s very different to be like in a training to become an ayahuasqueros for example or curandero than to be a receiving healing only and being a patent and recovery of something for example.
The reason I’m saying this is that the main way in this mestizo tradition to receive icaros is through the process of plant dieting or mineral dieting or whatever else you’re just ingesting in your body. This process of plant dieting means that in the process of apprenticing, you go to Guatambu, a small structure in the middle of the jungle in isolation and you consume — you’re isolated, you’re restricted both food. You just eat very simple, normally plantain and rice and that’s it and you drink water and you drink a brew of the plant or the plants that you’re communing with, depending on the strength for the plant, once, twice or three times per day, sometimes you have to skip a day depends on the strength of the plant and how it works in the organism and what happens during the plant process is that there is like a micro deterioration of toxins that are not only in the body, you tend to sweat a lot, you are eating without salt and stuff.
You tend to sweat a lot and there is a lot of dreams that come also as a way of kind of emptying yourself out of the normal chattering and stuff and emotionally too just like feel how the body, after a few days starts kind of opening and relaxing to new states of wellbeing. Depends on what you’re dieting the process varies, right? This is basically like structure of the process to a point that I call being transparent, becoming transparent to the environment. You basically start being part of the jungle.
The traditional say that when the process of dieting is successful one in your process of apprenticeship then the plant will grant you an icaros, which is that the plant is going to tell you, “You have done a good job and this is the way that you can call me back to use me, to bring me to you.” Descriptions of how people receive this icaros during diet processes are many but a few of them, “I was lying on my hammock on my eighth day of dieting and I was just hearing something, you know? As if there was somebody in the back, a very tiny voice, in the back of my head but I could barely move. So I couldn’t really see it, and it was singing something and it made me sing that thing until I — and repeated and repeated until I got the words and I got the melody.”
Normally they get first the melody, this is in the reports that I have been able to gather and then later, first the melody and then the words start kind of coming in and then old curanderos says the genie of the plant, the genie of the plant is tiny and he’s the one who is singing that and repeats until I get it. There is a very interesting thing that happens, which is like I have seen that many times, which is like an obsessive quality of that song. So you cannot get that song out of your mind until you learn it, right? It also, during plant diet processes where you are already in what I call like a dream like state.
So you are not in your normal consciousness even if this plants are not entheogenic in nature, right? They provoke a state of mariasion of their own but it’s not psychotropic but it’s different and it’s a combination of everything. Of being in the jungle, in isolation, there is a sense deprivation happening on one hand and on the other hand, you are like overloaded with stimuli. There is a combination of things that kind of make you enter into this state but also in the dream world when you are really dreaming at night, you enter into a type of dream world that it’s very intense, very vivid normally.
Sometimes you have sequences and sequences of dreams that you forget and there are some other that are just like being here, right? So you may also receive songs during the dream state not just there. Sometimes I also have heard, and experienced myself, that it is nature in that dream like state during day time or at night time because he start also sleeping very little that is singing. It’s like a choir of a melody and song that is singing through nature. It’s nature singing.
You can hear it outside of yourself coming from everywhere, right? That’s the way that has been mostly placed by traditional curanderos because you have installed the plant itself, the brew inside your body. You have accomplished a strenuous work, which is to be in isolation from your family, you are just not indulging in anything in that context. You’re just really in a disciplined situation. You need to be disciplined actually and at the same time you just surrender to the process there.
So there is an intimacy that it starts happening where the plant is working you and you’re like getting to know her and as I say, the crowning of that, the premio, the prize, it’s like saying, “Okay, this is it, you can call me this way.” There are also evidently like icaros that come in ceremonies so I have also some stories to tell about like how do they come in ceremonies? And they may come also for other people. I have also like some reports of people telling that they have received this icaros in ceremony, not for them to use but to give to the ayahuasqueros, that was the instruction.
LL: Interesting.
SB: Also, the icaros are not only received in this way they are also transmitted from mentor to apprentice. There is also a lineage in the provincial summit team that is disappearing. I haven’t seen it like in the last 15 years anymore but it was reported to me of installation of the icaros of from the mentor to the apprentice through the singing of the icaro, it’s a procedure where you install the icaros energetically inside the body of the apprentice. That process may last up to three weeks. It’s not just like a onetime thing.
It might last much longer and that is similar if we compare that to the installation of our karna. When I’m talking about the body and the ingestion, I’m talking about your body in this tradition, your body is pivotal, it’s just key in holding the icaros, developing the cauldron of your relationships so that you can use it effectively. So there are, that’s why also it’s important that I bring up this, there are some curanderos who say that it’s not about the reception of icaros that much. It’s about the correct resonance of the voice.
What is the effectiveness that your icaros has in a particular situation? The resonance of the voice is built through plant diets. So the healing properties and the healing or whatever other use for the icaros, you have for the Icaros has to deal with that resonance that makes the healing, the whatever, the spirit, the force to slip in to the object, the person, the situation that you’re trying to enter.
LL: That is so fascinating, wow. Gosh, I would love to one day have this opportunity and the space and time to be able to do some plant dieta’s and experience that. I’m curious to know in the Vegetalismo tradition, are these songs mainly for the recipient or can they be shared? So for example, what I see in Brazil is, if one person receives a song, sometimes their friends or their community will get together and everyone will learn that person’s song and sing it together.
Then if they’ve got an hiñario then on the person’s birthday, everyone gets together and sings that person’s hiñario on their birthday in a work. In Vegetalismo, are these songs your personal songs of power? Or can you share them with your community?
SB: It’s very different, we’re talking here about — this is not a community based tradition. So we’re talking about our mestizo tradition that evolved from indigenous knowledge and it’s mixed with Christian elements and with other influences that are over time. So it’s mixed race in that way. Curanderos that were performing all this things in the past and still today tend to be in the outskirts of the cities in the jungle, they have their own chakra there.
They’re kind of fully moved from a real insertion in the community except for some of them that are in settlements. Still working in the jungle or in larger, for example thinking of Chazuta, like there’s an old curandero there living and working for 60, 70 years, he’s still alive, right? He’s part of the community in that way but think of this as not a community based kind of — this is a doctor ,right?
LL: So these songs are your own songs to be used for a particular intention and they’re your personal songs of power essentially?
SB: Exactly. There are a lot of stories too of like the curanderos protecting the songs and even like when you’re in ceremony like not articulating well, the songs. They’re just like singing this songs but kind of like — Right? In a way that it’s not easy to understand because of fear of being robbed and stolen.
LL: Wow, really? Can you steal someone else’s song and would it work so well?
SB: There are stories of like, you know how some traveled long distances to go to a powerful healer to just steal a song that was a powerful song and being able to use it afterwards yourself right? I don’t know, I have heard many of this things, I haven’t talked directly with somebody who has had that of like going and stealing a song or, you know? I think things have been evolving as well.
It’s this seal of shamanic power, the type of — some core songs. In the ayahuasqueros and the curandero may share that with people, may encourage now. Nowadays, it’s much more encouraged too to say, “Okay, learn these songs. You’re learning, it’s okay,” right? Than it was before when, I’m talking about 30 years ago.
LL: So what are some of the effects of this icaros on the mind and body?
SB: Plenty. It depends on how ready also the person is to go and do some certain work. My dissertation focused on intense healing experiences associated to icaros in an ayahuasca ceremony. So where the person really attributed the healing to a particular icaro and the way that the person engaged with that icaro at that particular time of their healing process within the ceremony. So by this I mean that, for example there was somebody that was part of my study that have been going to ceremonies for like two months and listening to the same icaros.
The icaro never had the effect that it had but that night where he felt that the icaro entered and worked in a particular way that totally gave another, a new direction and a new turn to the healing process, right? So I cannot tell you generically because this is situational, it depends on the context, on the process, et cetera, of the person and the relationship of trust with the curandero, the degree of drinking plants also.
The most powerful icaros are those icaros that engage your mind, body, unity into an experience of unity of consciousness. You’re basically feeling at the core level that that song and you are one and you are being moved with the movement that the icaro naturally has at the core level and you can, your sense of who you are, your sense of “I’m Susana doing this thing” or, “I’m Lorna”, it’s out of the way. You’re just locked into the experience of unity between the icaro and yourself and that is experienced not only mentally and emotionally, it’s also experience dat a physical level. You’re just totally one with it and moving as it’s happening.
The visionary component at that time tends to be very symbolical, you just don’t have kind of personal thoughts of connections or insights. It’s just symbolical in nature and you feel as if the icaro is restructuring, it’s kind of doing something in your body that you feel touched by the sounds, you feel most and removed and open and it depends on the person and what the person is working on. Normally when the locking phase kind of gets unlocked finally is when the person starts again we’re coloring back the sense of individual hood.
Slowly, more personal insights and stuff that are coming back to awareness until you just get out of the other side. This is a process and it has also certain things that configure the full experience that happened before to this moment that is just culmination and then what unfolds at least in the people that I have studied, it’s very similar at this structural level of the process and how it unfolds.
LL: So this is for someone singing the icaro or for someone listening to it?
SB: Listening to it.
LL: Interesting.
SB: So I’m talking about healing experiences of people participating in ceremonies and attributing their healing process to an icaro that they are listening within the ceremony. I know that we could talk about…
LL: I know.
SB: Because it’s very subtle, it’s very complex in that way. It’s not easy to be able to express the complexity of how all the factors are put together to generate this experience that basically what I can tell you is that the icaro, when it’s working, it just gets to a level of attaching. Some people talk about like the cellular level, like the restoring of the cells in some way.
LL: Restructuring of the cells?
SB: Of the cells. So it’s still experienced very physically at that level but very fundamentally physically through all the other stages of yourself.
LL: Wow, that’s very complex and very subtle and I understand the difficulty of describing this, having been in ceremony and experiencing the music as a participant and also in my unlimited experience singing as well, which has its own phenomena. I found that it’s really hard to use your ego to sing ayahuasca songs in a ceremony. It’s like the song let’s itself known to you as to when it wants to be sung.
You can’t just choose the song, it doesn’t fit the energy of the moment, it’s not the right song. So the right song has a tendency to come through when it’s supposed to come through and some of this songs really can have a lot of power. Just to sing the song and to carry that song will take a lot of your energy and once you’re done with it, it’s like, it was an intense experience to hold that song and then once it was sung it will not be sung again through the course of that night.
SB: That’s ideally right? The Vegetalismo tradition, the ayahuasqueros tend to say, “It’s not me who choose what song has to be sung. It’s just get different queues that tell me, this is what you have to sing because it’s not me who is directing the healing that’s happening, it’s these forces that are wanting to do it, and I’m just like orchestrating but I’m not directing.”
That’s ideally, and there are also like especially with the coming — this whole change that is happening in the traditions, you know? Everybody wants to sing ceremony. What a wonder to be able to sing, right? Then bring your own songs that you learn here and there and then Robert and I bring groups to the Amazon like once per year and I have heard so many times like people that bring down there, like how painful it could be to be hearing an icaro that it’s not matching the energy that is happening, right? For your inner experience as well. That’s also develop through sensitivity and in participating long enough to just like restrain your own purpose to just like express yourself, right? Listen deeper. I think that that listening is key in this world.
LL: Yeah, I know in Brazil, I often see that they reserve the community, sharing of songs till the very end of the ceremony. So after most of the medicine has kind of abated the energy of the evening has abated and it tends to be a lot easier, kind of like on the overall vibe and more open. Yeah, I can understand too sometimes some people that are beautiful musicians and amazing singers and others that are not.
SB: Even if you are an amazing, beautiful musician and singer and you sing something that is not like in sync with what is happening there, it might be creating this friction in the inner experience of the people?
LL: Interesting. Wow, this has been a fascinating conversation, thank you so much for sharing all your really deep insight into this fascinating world that so few people know about. I’d love to leave you with the last question. Have you received your own ayahuasca icaros?
SB: I have received icaros.
LL: You have. Through plant dieta’s primarily? Or during the course of the ayahuasca work?
SB: Both.
LL: Okay. And what have those songs done for you in terms of your awakening or conscious evolution?
SB: Wow, what a question. I think that the most — just what comes to me is like I just feel so humbled. When you, in this work, you know when you really  acknowledge that there is an otherness that are we are in this network, in this web of life where there are sentiences that are there available and sustaining your path, I don’t know, and the path of all of us.
I think I just humble myself more. It’s kind of like I am in awe and kind of reposition my self-importance in the acknowledgement of the intelligences that surround us that love us, that support us, that are there. That’s the main thing that comes to me when you ask that question.
LL: Thank you so much for being with us today. How can we best stay in touch with you Susana?
SB: You could go to our website with Robert Tindall. That’s called and my contact info is there and hopefully soon I will also — I’m working on a website that also shares what I offer in terms of private practice and work. So that would be but it’s to come.
LL: All right, thank you so much and you have a beautiful day.
SB: Thank you Lorna.
LL: Buh-bye.
SB: Thank you for all this time. Bye!