The Shipibo-Conibo are an indigenous peoples who live along the Ucayali River in the Amazon Rainforest in Peru. The Shipibo are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Peruvian Amazon. They are highly regarded in the Amazon as being masters of Ayahuasca, and many aspiring shamans and Ayahuasqueros from the region study with the Shipibo to learn their language, chants, and plant medicine knowledge.
The Shipibo believe that our state of health (which includes physical and psychological) is dependent on the balanced union between mind, spirit and body. If an imbalance in this occurs such as through emotions of envy, hate, anger, this will generate a negative effect on the health of that person. The shaman will re-establish the balance by chanting the icaros which are the geometric patterns of harmony made manifest in sound into the body of the person. The shaman in effect transforms the visual code into an acoustic code. A key element in this magical dialogue with the energy which permeates creation and is embedded in the Shipibo designs is the work with ayahuasca by the Shipibo shamans or muraya.
In the deep ayahuasca trance, the ayahuasca reveals to the shaman the luminous geometric patterns of energy. These filaments drift towards the mouth of the shaman where it metamorphoses into a chant or icaro. The icaro is a conduit for the patterns of creation which then permeate the body of the shaman’s patient bringing harmony in the form of the geometric patterns which re-balances the patient’s body. The vocal range of the Shipibo shaman’s when they chant the icaros astonishing, they can range from the highest falsetto one moment to a sound which resembles a thumping pile driver, and then to a gentle soothing melodic lullaby. Speaking personally of my experience with this, is a feeling that every cell in my body is floating and embraced in a nurturing all-encompassing vibration, even the air around me is vibrating in acoustic resonance with the icaro of the maestro. The shaman knows when the healing is complete as the design is clearly distinct in the patient’s body. It make take a few sessions to complete this, and when completed the geometric healing designs are embedded in the patient’s body, this is called an Arkana. This internal patterning is deemed to be permanent and to protect a person’s spirit.
Last night in a thunderstorm i tried ayahuasca for the first time. The lead up to the event had me pretty nervous, in as much as i didn’t know what to expect. My previous experience didn’t seem to count as anything in regard to knowing – this was going to be something entirely new. So i was to wait until 9 o’clock when the electricity was due to go off. The shaman was already at the lodge, and when the light went, i was to go to meet him. The rain was torrential and blue lightning would light the sky from time to time. I went through the rain and was met by my guide who introduced me to the shaman. I only had one question for him which was could i smoke through the experience. He said yes and he even seemed to suggest it was advantageous. So I lit a mupacho, or jungle cigarette, and it was at that point the cup was offered, the first bowl of ayahuasca. He explained that if i needed more he would give me another half bowl. So the ceremony got underway. Punctuated by the sound of heavy rain and occasional lightning illuminating the sky. It was like something out of a horror movie – the shaman who was chanting almost continually was silhouetted every time there was lightning to reveal his new position either standing over me or sitting down on his stool a little way in front of me. The ayahuasca gurgled and rumbled in my stomach like a mirror to the thunder and lightning going on outside. I had prayed to the vine, to the mother, for protection and guidance and now the effect was waiting dormant lying in my stomach. My mind was quiet but in a strange way, arrogant thoughts seemed to emerge rising deep from within. As much as I detest the idea of arrogance, i could not stop these thoughts rising to the surface. So I decided to not try and stop the thought process and instead try to surrender to it. After a period of time, the shaman asked me if it was having an effect to which I responded, no. He then gave me another half cup of ayahuasca and i sat to wait. It took another half hour for the effect to grip me. Part of the arrogant thought process was about whether i was going to throw up or not, and even whether the ayahuasca was going to have an effect. Then suddenly it gripped me, rising from my gut to my head i was then gripped by the trip. The shaman continued to chant and shake his leaves which sounded like a rattle, singing his shaman songs and whistling a tune more or less continually. Just at the point, i had decided that I was probably not going to throw up – a gut retching feeling came up from my stomach and i heaved up everything that was in my gut. The vomiting lasted for some minutes, the most violent guttural vomit i had ever experienced. It was like a demon in my stomach was being exorcised. I finished and lay back down, to where I had been. I lay on my stomach to experience the trip, which continued. Then after about another half hour, the shaman said something to my guide and he informed me that we would continue for another few moments but could i walk, because they wanted me to return to my room. The experience had last for two hours but now with the shaman standing over me again, seemingly not to wanting to stop the proceedings, my guide came in from the side and helped me up. At this point, it was probably the strangest experience. We had been sat in darkness throughout the whole experience but now with the lights on i could see amazing traces off my guide. It was as if, he was leaving his spirit behind through movement. Everything i then noticed had the same effect. I staggered back to my room, helped by my guide and sat on my bed. It wasn’t too long before I needed to sleep, so climbed into my mosquito net and slept peacefully through the night.