The Healing Power of the Curanderos’ Songs or “Icaros”: A Phenomenological Study - Susana Bustos 2004 [School for the Humanities, East-West Psychology California Institute of Integral Studies San Francisco]
Icaro is the generic name given to the songs utilized by the urban “mestizo curanderos” …. of the Peruvian Amazon basin and by some indigenous healers of this region ……… The verb “icarar” employed by the curanderos indicates the ritual act of singing or whistling an icaro on a person, substance, or object, in order to invest it with a specific power or property -protection, healing, cleanness, vigour-, as well as to influence the will or cause harm to a person ….. The icaros are employed in healing contexts –preparation of remedies, healing sessions-, in special activities –fishing or hunting for certain animals, bewitching-, and in ayahuasca rituals, one of the main psychoactive plant-brews used in amazonian curanderismo for diagnosis, healing, divination, and learning purposes. Icaros have been described as the “quintessence of shamanic power”, the curandero’s “healing weapon, the wisdom, the means of his personal energy, the symbol of his power, his heritage to the apprentice” .., including but transcending the healing context. …..
Peruvian mestizo curanderos combine the use of medicinal plants, icaros, tobacco blowing, sucking the sickness, and often massage, baths, diets, and other techniques, in order to address the physical, psychosomatic, and psychosocial healing requests of a … population that still nestles strong indigenous elements ………..They refer to themselves as “vegetalistas”, thus pointing out that their power and medicinal knowledge derive directly from the spirits or “madres” (mothers) of certain plants, also called plant-teachers or “doctores” (doctors), usually psychoactive ………... It is often a tutor-vegetalista who mediates the transmission, protecting the apprentice .. indicating the strict conditions needed to receive the knowledge from the plant-teacher, which comes in the form of visions or dreams. It is in this initiation period, but also after it that the vegetalista receives the icaros from the plants and from the tutor
In the vegetalista cosmology, each animate and inanimate being has icaros, even stones and metals. Luna (1992) identifies six types of icaros according to their function:
- for calling or invoking a person, plant, animal, also mentioned by Katz & De Rios (1971), McLean (1994), and Siskind (1990) among the Sharanahua;
- for protection –icaros arkana-, whether for the curandero or the client, also in De Rios (1971);
- for winning the love of someone –huarmi icaros-;
- for healing and curing, in Luna (1984), Bellier (1986) among the Mai Huna people, Gebhardt-Sayer (1985) among the Shipibo-Conibo people;
- to modify the effect of ayahuasca or other plant teachers, also in De Rios (1971; 2002), Katz & De Rios (1972), Narby, (1998), Presser-Velder (2000);
- for other purposes, for example, to affect the elements.
Icaros in Healing.
The etiology of illnesses among vegetalistas is usually attributed to external causes, like envy, malice, or revenge of people, dead spirits, or the spirits of nature, and is produced by soul-loss, intrusion of pathogenic objects, or breaching of a taboo or group norm……………With respect to the curanderos’ concept of health, Zuluaga affirms that they “recognize the illnesses within a broader criterion than in modern medicine, since not only the body is checked, but also the personal story, the relationships with oneself and with others, the lifestyles, emotions, and desires”. Health does not only refer to the physical realm but also means to be in harmony with the visible and invisible environment. The body seems to be conceived as a mind-body unity, dwelled yet transcended by a spiritual dimension.
Through chanting, the curandero is believed to communicate with the spirits realm, and to mediate the healing.
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