Ayahuasca ceremonies and icaros


Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) is plant which is central to South American shamanism and body of native medicinal and mythological knowledge. Ayahuasca is potion of ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and leaves of chacruna (Psychotria viridis). These two plants are boiled by shaman for several hours together under strict conditions (like diet, smoking of tobacco, singing icaros, no other people around) and final potion is thick brown liquid – ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca has been traditionally used for many purposes not only healing, for example for visions of game for hunt, for gathering information, to visit mythic landscapes, to speak with ancestors and tribal gods, for learning about other plants , dangers and jungle life. For this reason it is important to charge ayahuasca potion with good icaros, medicinal songs which charge the whole potion with medicinal powers, love and protection.


Shaman use various icaros, medicinal songs which means “songs that fly” which they learn by mercy of mothers of plants which they drink during their long periods of diets in utter solitude in jungle. When plants and mothers of plants see that shaman is ready, they give him medicine powers to heal and special song – the icaro. When shaman sing the icaro he calls the medicinal and protective powers of plant mothers and spirits of plant mothers and calls them into the ceremony or directly into the body and soul of his patients. To become shaman means very rigorous training (5-7 years), many long plant diets (many months) in utter solitude in jungle, strict discipline, vocation and love in the heart. Plants also put shaman through many tests, so he have to prove he is ready to use his powers only for good purposes. When plants see shaman is ready, they give him such a gift as icaros. Icaros not only the songs they are intelligent beings or spirits with body made of sound who traverses spiritual and physical world in order to deliver healing, wisdom, love and spread its own influence of realm of magic horizon.

There are many icaros: for healing, for purging, for calming effect of ayahuasca, to intensify visions and mareación (dizziness) of ayahuasca, for protection, for defense, for cleansing, for extracting of bad spirits and illness from body.

Shamans are smoking tobacco (mapacho – Nicotiniana rustica) for attracting the good medicine spirits, for protection of place and patients and for healing . Tobacco is another central plant for shamanism and requires rigorous training before shaman can start to absorb its medicinal powers and wisdom. It works as carrier of energy and medicine so when shaman sing icaros and blow tobacco smoke, he is charging patient with good healing medicine until illness goes away.

Ayahuasca ceremonies

Traditionally there has been many ways how to do ayahuasca ceremonies. There were ayahuasca ceremonies for tribe to solve day to day problems and for learning from Mother of Jungle herself. And to speak with ancestors or tribal gods.

There were also separate ayahuasca ceremonies for healing the sick people. Very often it was only shaman who drank the ayahuasca and performed healing with icaros and blowing of tobacco smoke (soplo). Only seriously sick people drank ayahuasca too, or tribal members brave enough to withstand all what ayahuasca was ready to bring on. In certain tribes for example women were excluded from ayahuasca ceremonies but now the times are changing.

Before 150-200 years ayahuasca was unknown to outside world, residing only in rainforest with her people. Through rubber boom, mestizos (descendants of white conquistadors and native people, now major society) get in contact with natives in deep jungle and their tradition and they met various uses of ayahuasca. After long period of time mestizo tradition of Ayahuasca was born and it is called Vegetalismo. Eduardo Luna was anthropologist who was first to introduce ayahuasca to outside world in 1986 in his pioneer book: Vegetalismo: Shamanism Among the Mestizo Population of the Peruvian Amazon. From that time numbers of people interested in ayahuasca has been rising. Vegetalismo tradition is more centered on medicinal aspect of ayahuasca, for healing the sickness, for resolving social conflicts and to bring good luck. Mestizos lives in urban settlements which has different customs, law order, societal norms, education and work opportunities than native people, yet Vegetalismo brings to mestizo people guidiance and medicine from native and jungle world and cultural-mythological landscape.

In the ceremonies we experience communion with Nature which is outside and also inside of us because we are part of it. Nature knows for many hundreds millions of years how to evolve and live within Herself so through a trust we can reach this communion, this connection . She also teaches a trust, love and endurance as basical principle the Life thrives on. Because with love and trust everything grow, outside and inside of us. What we can learn in ceremonies ? I will write what can be said because amazonian plants are great mystery beside what can be described. Through amazon plant teachers Nature speaks herself, she brings joy of this web of life, free breath of happiness of living but also life challenges we have to face. She also purge the disease from our bodies and souls, she make us face what need to be faced and for this we need to approach with acceptance, courage and trust. She also likes interactions so what you will ask she will respond. You can see a lot of things in visions but what is important is this connection full of life and love. She favours few things among all others – she want us to be honest with ourselves, to have a discipline and feel love in our life. To be able to love yourself means a lot for people around you and also for Nature because this is way she can teach more and more and spread her magic horizon in this world.

Ayahuasca ceremonies are conducted at night, usually in the maloca, which is wooden ceremonial house.

Shaman give each participant plant bath before to calm down, relax, for protection and for attuning for plant spirits. After that people sit in circle in maloca and shaman usually sit in front of the door on the other side of maloca. He prepares and protect maloca with his tobacco, his songs and various incense. Then he goes in circle and starts to give protection to each participant with tobacco smoke and sometimes agua de florida (perfumed water). Then he prepares ayahuasca medicine with icaros and his tobacco and start to give a proper dose for each participants. After that candle light is put down and he starts to work with his leaf rattle (chacapa) and does a rhythmic sounds which permeates whole maloca and bodies and souls of people along with his singing of icaros. These songs navigates and guides in the realm of visions and it is important to sense them through all your body and not just with ears. Effect of ayahuasca comes after one hour or 90 minutes and it is very individual. For some people it brings very vivid and colorful visions, for some people it is just physical. Ayahuasca can cause various effects like purging, diarrhea, yawning, sense of fever or cold, shaking of body, movement of body. It is good to go with flow of process and do not resist or fight its effects. Anytime you can ask for help our facilitators by calling on them, or by knocking on the floor and they will come to help you or guide you to toilets and back to your place. If necessary shaman can come and do personal healing with tobacco and songs for your so a block can be released and medicine starts to work or he can calm down effect of medicine. After one and half hour after start of ceremony shaman will ask people one by one if they feel effect of medicine and they can drink another dose. If you do not feel medicine it is good to drink second dose, if you feel it and want to go deeper you should trust your gut feelings if to do so.

During ceremony you are always under protection of facilitators and medicine of shaman. You can ask ayahuasca any question, and she will respond so be careful and ready for what do you ask. She is both gentle and strict, very loving and very powerful.

Ayahuasca give us what we need not just what we want, because if we would insist only for what we want, we will not make progress in things we really need. For that reason it is very important to be acceptive for things she give us even if they are difficult. Trust her, not just with your mind, but with your heart and whole body. Ayahuasca teaches a lot of somatic wisdom which dwells in every cell of our bodies. She teaches love and compassion, but also responsibility and power to walk our own path. She also needs love, through our own healed hearts and lives.

Ceremony last about 4 hours and after ceremony candle is light on and shaman goes to give protection for each person with tobacco smoke which seal and balance energy. After that he closes ceremony. People who would like to stay in maloca can do so, others can go to their cabins or dining room to get some food and drink. If you will need assistance due to difficult walking or dizziness you can always ask facilitators to help you. If you will need assistance due to continuing process with medicine, shaman will help you in maloca. Effect of ayahuasca usually goes down after four hours but can continue gently or more strongly even after. Next day after breakfast all group will have sharing circle with shaman where you can share your experiences with other people, and hear other peoples stories which can be very beneficial. You can ask personal consultations with shaman if you would like to talk in private.