|Shamans of Peru CD by
HOWARD G CHARING
The haunting, plaintive music
of Peruvian shamans was recorded by the Eagle's Wing Centre for Contemporary
Shamanism at ceremonies in the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon rainforest.
Although the chants and icaros
have an organic relationship to the medicine plants and shamanic journeying
of each particular ritual, and are primarily intended as devotional music
for inner-journeying. It is equally possible to listen to the hypnotically
beautiful sounds in their own right and simply enjoy them for their otherworldly
The Shamans of Peru -
Ceremonial Chants, Icaros, and Music
This unique set of recordings
documents a collection of ceremonial chants and Ayahuasca icaros on CD.
Tracks 1-3 San Pedro ceremony
held in Puruchucu, at the head of the Rimac valley. The ruins of this sacred
site or huaca date back to pre-Inca times and have been accurately reconstructed.
Setting the scene for the ceremony, three musicians play replicas of pre-Hispanic
instruments. Alonso del Rio says: ‘while keeping to their original tuning,
we have explored the instruments musical possibilities to give an idea
of what the music could have been like in pre-Colombian times. The melodies
came to us through the ancestral memory evoked through medicinal plants
like San Pedro and Ayahuasca’. Instruments: the ceramic notch flutes of
the Chincha civilization, Nazca panpipes or ‘antaras’ with their special
tuning similar to Oriental scales, and Nazca drums.
The Mesa Nortena is a particular
ceremonial tradition best conserved in the region of ‘Las Huaringas’, high
and remote sacred lakes in the northern Department of Piura. There are
probably only a few good maestros who continue this ancient tradition in
Peru today. The rest simply work with the externalities of the mesa, while
giving their clients minimal doses of the visionary San Pedro cactus. Originally
more importance was given to the medicine, which must be in the organism
of the participants as well as the maestro for the power to flow. The mesa
then served to intensify the power of the plant.
An altered state is needed
to enter the symbolic world of the objects on the mesa (the word refers
to the altar as well as the ceremony itself). The abundance of macerated
plants, perfumes and smells employed in the mesa function to move the feelings
associated with one’s memories. At a deep level, sensations are translated
into vibrations which the medicine brings to consciousness so that associated
hurt and pain can be ‘re-membered’ again and a new attitude can emerge.
singado, or absorption of macerated tobacco juice through the nostrils
involves another power medicine which is used to intensify the San Pedro
at regular intervals. The instruction from the maestro to pour up the left
or right nostril reflects the notion of duality found in shamanic disciplines
all over the world: masculine and feminine, hot and cold, upper world and
earth, expansion and contraction, flowing and stagnant. Illness arises
from one of these polarities loosing equilibrium. The word singado comes
from the Quechua word singa meaning nose and is perhaps an Andean notion
Also audible in the following
two mesas 4- 5 are the clicking of chontas, or black bamboo sticks used
for cleansing people’s auras and the spraying from the maestro and assistants’
mouths, of perfumes and plant macerations over the participants.
The tendency to commercialise
a tradition is inherent in urbanization and seeing things for their utility
and business. For example mesas are sometimes held so that lawyers win
legal battles. Piles of documents are laid on the mesa so that the power
works on them and they win their case. In this way a shamanic ceremony
is degraded to folklore. We can try to reconstruct the original tradition
to how it was in pre-Colombian times and remove the images of Sarita Colonia
and the other saints, crucifixes, photos etc., which have accumulated throughout
the centuries and evolved the mesa into the mestizo tradition which survives
today. Left behind are the ancient stones, magic plant brews and the enchanted
waters of the lakes of Las Huaringas, being the original elements, which
have survived underneath.
Track 4 Mesa with Alejandro
Sanchez. Maestro Sanchez lives in Comas, a distant suburb of Lima which
began in the 1960s as a shanty town. It is surrounded by impressive parched
stony desert hills. The maestro’s house is at the end of a road near the
cemetery and overlooks this immense settlement from where he draws his
clients. Sanchez was born in Sondorillo near the legendary sacred lakes
of Las Huaringas. At age 11, while still at school, he seemed to have perceptions
and to be able foresee things accurately. His astonished teachers thought
he was having hallucinations and called for maestro Florentin Garcia. Later
Alejandro became his apprentice and learned from him the secrets of plants.
The strangeness of these
ceremonies can be seen as part of the ‘trappings’ of rituals in general.
Strangeness serves to trick the rational mind so that it will not interfere
with the subtle processes taking place in the subconscious. When we are
fully awake, things can indeed seem strange… ‘people are strange, when
you’re a stranger…’ as the song by The Doors goes. A part of healing is
recovering the lost gift of perception, the feeling of being alive again.
Track 5 Mesa with Leopoldo
Vilela who was also born near the celebrated Las Huaringas in Radiopampa,
an extremely cold place at 3,500 meters altitude. He was 90 years old and
in very good health at the time of this mesa which was also held in the
ruins of Puruchucu. At three years old he was sent outside to look for
herbs for his mother who was suffering from a stomach ache; there he knew
he would become a curandero. He used to watch his father who was clairvoyant
and assisted people in his community to find their animals when they were
lost. He used tarot cards and looked into bottles of aguardiente (firewater)
with grains of corn of different colours at the bottom
Don Leopoldo improvises sessions
for groups and individuals, which may continue for hours. These are full
of idiosyncrasy, and characterized by warmth, dedication and playfulness,
which is quite touching at times. The seemingly endless sequence of bottles
of tastes and smells and other procedures are often extremely weird while
his inadvertent remarks and caresses on his guitar (of his own manufacture)
often provoke smiles and laughter in all present.
Human beings have an instinctive
awareness of other people’s conscious states of mind. When another person,
a shaman, is authentic and spontaneously creative in the moment, this has
the power to focus the mind, stopping it from verbalizing and rationalizing.
A sense of pure wonder is evoked.
Track 6 Closing calls. The
conch shells or pututus, still used in Andean communities today, are handed
down from the Incas who obtained them from the Caribbean. They are used
for convening meetings and ceremonies.
Tracks 7-9 Shipibo icaros
of Mateus Castro, a shaman living outside Pucullpa in Yarinacocha. The
arts of the Shipibo, especially textile designs, are closely related to
ayahuasca icaros. The words of the chants are symbolic stories telling
of the ability of nature to heal itself. For example the crystalline waters
from a stream wash the unwell person, while coloured flowers attract the
hummingbirds whose delicate wings fan healing energies etc. You might see
such things in your visions but the essence which cures you is perhaps
more likely to be the understanding of what is happening in your life,
allowing inner feelings to unblock so that bitterness and anger con change
to ecstasy and love. To awaken from the ‘illusion of being alive’ is to
experience life itself.
Tracks 10-16 Dona Cotrina
Valles was born in Agua Blanca, Department of San Martin. She apprenticed
herself to a maestro in 1979 and later came to live in Iquitos with her
husband. Today she lives alone with her children. It is very unusual for
a woman to be a shaman in urban situations although they do exist amongst
indigenous peoples. Amongst other limiting beliefs, it is thought that
women break taboos as they are unable to take dieting seriously because
of demands from their husbands and that when they go shopping in the market
they will have contact with menstruating women or people who are mal dormida,
(ie. a person who has been making love all night).
The diet is a vexed question
in the city as the temptations of rich spicy food as well as sex are greater
than in the rainforest. As all shamans will tell you, Dona too, says that
sex is bad. The ‘mother plant’ loves you and if you make love to another
person, you are being unfaithful to her. For this reason it is often said
that Ayahuasca is jealous, and if you do not respect her, she makes you
ill instead of healing you. You will also not be able to see any visions.
The ill effects from not respecting the diet are called cutipa and range
from a sense of trauma and stress to skin problems.
Dona’s chants are sung in
Spanish and Quechua, as also are the chants of Javier Arevalo which follow.
Both Dona and Javier are mestizo shamans, that is to say their ancestors
moved to the Amazon from the Andes, rather than being indigenous to the
Amazon as the Shipibo are. The melodies of mestizo icaros have an Andean
structure and are sung partly in Quechua, a language of the Andes.
Track 17Despacho to Pachamama
in the ruins of Pisaq. A despacho is an offering to the Earth Goddess,
Pachamama, which nurtures all life on earth. The ceremony symbolizes the
reciprocity of nature and speaks back to her saying ‘we understand the
message and we have the same attitude’. The word despacho was mistakenly
translated into Spanish after the Conquest as pago, meaning payment, to
imply a satanic pact with dark forces.
As each participant made
their contribution to the despacho convened by the Shamaness Doris Rivera
Lenz ‘La Gringa’, Kike Pinto, played pre-Colombian instruments. The first
piece is a Harawi from the Department of Cusco played on a quena, or notch
flute, made from the wing bone of a condor. This little melody has been
handed down from Inca times, thanks to its incorporation into Catholic
mass in Colonial times. The second piece is a Haylli from San Pedro de
Castas, Department of Lima, played on a ch’iriqway, or antara (panpipes),
made from condor feathers. The melody also has pre-Hispanic roots and has
survived in a form played on the chirisuya, kind of oboe, of probable Moorish
origin. This track is ended with some calls on the putu, or conch shell.
Kike Pinto is a lifetime
musician and researcher of traditional Andean music. He has recorded several
CDs and is curator of his own Museum of Andean Music in Hatunrumiyoq, Cusco.
Tracks 18-26 Javier Arevalo
comes from Nuevo Progreso, a community of 50 families on the Rio Napo.
Many generations of his family before him were shamans and already at 17
years old he knew this was his future. However when he was 20 his father
died from a virote (poisoned dart in the spiritual world), sent by a jealous
and malicious brujo (sorcerer) in his community. Soon after he began his
two-year retreat in the rainforest with his maestro grandfather, dieting
many plants, later to become his ‘doctors’. During his time in the wilderness
he realised that it was better to leave God to punish the brujo who killed
his father, and he decided to be a healer not a sorcerer.
There are several different
kinds of icaros, at the beginning of the session. Their purpose is to provoke
the mareacion or effects, and, in the words of Javier, ‘to render the mind
susceptible for visions to penetrate, then the curtains can open for the
start of the theatre’. Other Icaros call the spirit of Ayahuasca to open
visions ‘as though exposing the optic nerve to light’. Alternatively, if
the visions are too strong, the same spirit can be made to fly away in
order to bring the person back to normality. There are icaros for calling
the ‘doctors’, or plant spirits, for healing, while other icaros call animal
spirits, which protect and rid patients of spells. Healing icaros may be
for specific conditions like manchare which a child may suffer when it
gets a fright. The spirit of a child is not so fixed in its body as that
of an adult, therefore a small fall can easily cause it to fly. Manchare
is a common reason for taking children to ayahuasca sessions.
Tracks 18 Llamada de mareacion
in which the spirits of various healing plants are called, here the huacapurana,
a tall tree with hard wood, whose bark is used for arthritis. Huacapurana
is also used as an arcana, or spirit to protect the body. Also the remocaspi
whose bark is used to reduce fever and cure malaria.
Howard G. Charing, is an
accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked
some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the
Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist
retreats to the Amazon Rainforest at the dedicated centre located in the
Mishana nature reserve. He is the author of the best selling book, Plant
Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA). Visit his website http://www.shamanism.co.uk