I once asked don Rómulo Magin about his awareness of the spirits when not drinking ayahuasca. Don Rómulo said that he is constantly aware of being surrounded by the spirits, but he sees them roughly, vaguely; drinking ayahuasca, he said, is “like putting on glasses.” Doña María Tuesta agrees; ayahuasca makes the spirits bien claro, really clear. When don Roberto Acho smokes mapacho and concentrates, he says, he sees the plant spirits; he sees them now because he has seen them before, when drinking ayahuasca, but he does not see them as clearly. Most important, though, he hears them, clearly, speaking in his ear, instructing him — heal like this, they say, suck there, sing this icaro, make such-and-such a medicine — just as if they were standing next to him, just as, he says, you and I are talking right now. When he drinks ayahuasca, he both hears and sees the spirits clearly.
And, just as some shamans say that the spirits are always present, but are brought into focus by ayahuasca, some say that the songs of the plant spirits are always present, and ayahuasca brings them into audibility. Thus, don Carlos Perez Shuma says that the icaros are like radio waves: “Once you turn on the radio, you can pick them up.” Or the songs are like prerecorded tapes. “It’s like a tape recorder,” don Carlos says. “You put it there, you turn it on, and already it starts singing…. You start singing along with it.”
This reminds me of what Joan of Arc says to the Dauphin in George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan:
CHARLES: Oh, your voices, your voices. Why don’t the voices
come to me? I am king, not you.
JOAN: They do come to you; but you do not hear them.
So: we are always surrounded by the spirits and their music. We see them sometimes, at the edges of our vision. Their music is pura sonida, pure sound, the language of the plants, reflected in the silbando, the whispered singing of the shaman, and in the susurration of the shacapa, the leaf-bundle rattle. We can learn to listen for their music in the singing of the stars.