Among mestizo shamans in the Upper Amazon, the verb icarar means to sing or whistle an icaro, a magic song, over a person, object, or preparation, in order to give it power; water over which an icaro has been sung or whistled and tobacco smoke blown, for example, is called agua icarada. Another term for the same process is curar, cure; that which has been sung over is said to be curado, cured, in the sense that fish or cement is cured, ripened, made ready for use.
“To cure any object,” says poet César Calvo, “is to provide it with powers, to give it strengths, to endow it with purposes previously ignored by the object, which would not have been placed there originally by habits or from birth.” Calvo calls these imbued powers the cargo, the charge, the way a battery is charged, or a person charged with a mission: “That is why we work so hard at fasting, and why we are so careful about curing plants, stone or water or wood plants, charging them with suitable powers, gathering from the air the suitable icaros, and giving power to those remedies.” Manuel Córdova Ríos, a mestizo shaman, puts it this way: “What good do you think my remedies would be if I didn’t sing to them?”
A shaman can cure objects of just about any sort — a seed necklace, a bracelet of snakeskin, a wristlet made from the labia of a dolphin, a ring, a lock of hair, a handkerchief. Most important, of course, is a medicine; the shaman sings the icaro of the spirits that infuse the healing mixture. Then the object, the medicine operates, Calvo says, “according to the intensity and intention of the charge, to grant life, love, youth, forgetfulness, sexual plenitude, evil spells, or death. The same object, once cured, is capable of resuscitating, healing, making sick, or killing, according to the length of the fast and the direction of the charge.”
I think this lends perspective to discussions about the role of plants and the plant spirits in healing.
With the correct icaros alone, water becomes medicine. Anthropologist Luis Eduardo Luna tells of how don Williams Vásquez deals with difficult childbirth, singing icaros of slimy fish, demulcent and mucilaginous trees, the slippery boa, and the ray, which can give birth in any position. He sings these songs over a glass of water, which is given to the woman to drink. Pablo Amaringo tells of how a patient’s eyes had been harmed by a sorcerer shining a magic flashlight at him. The shaman cured this person by giving him a drink of water over which he had sung icaros and blown tobacco smoke.
Similarly, a menstruating woman had left her wet underwear in a canoe by the riverside; a boa had excreted something living into her underwear and thus implanted the larvae of boas into her womb. The shaman treated her by taking a fruit of the huito, cutting it in half, and scraping some into warm water for the woman to eat. He prepared this abortifacientmedicine “by singing many icaros, blowing on it, and putting in it arcanas” — that is, protective icaros.The icaro calls all the spirits that will cause the medicine to work — the great serpent corimachaco, the multicolored rainbow, the precious stones, the mud of the waters, the laughing falcon, and the tiger; with his icaro he summons the spirits of the pucunucho, pepper, and of the rocoto, hairy pepper — both hot pepper plants with which to stun the boa who, with its own spirit helpers, is supporting the pregnancy.
And again: A man had been poisoned by a woman he had spurned by being given the blood of a black dog. Pablo Amaringo, directed by a spirit who gave him instructions in a dream, put some leaves of lengua sacha in a bowl of water, added three drops of camphor water, three drops of perfume, three drops of the commercial mouthwash timolina; he sang an icaro, blew on the medicine, and then gave it to the young man to drink from the same side of the bowl that Amaringo blew on.
A common way to create pusangas, love charms, is by blowing on an object — soap, perfume, cloth — which is then given, now imbued with power, to the person one desires, causing the person to fall madly in love with the giver. A shaman can also blow on a photograph of the one desired. A shaman once blew his icaros into some perfume, a drop of which was then put on each of several sculptures don Agustin Rivas had made and which he was exhibiting in Lima. “This is for you to sell your art work,” the shaman said. Don Agustin sold nearly all his sculptures, while other artists sold nothing.
Such cured objects can be used for countersorcery as well. Don Emilio Andrade fills a dried toad with tobacco, patiquina, and camphor, sings over it, and places it in the house of a person persecuted by sorcery, to catch the magic darts directed at the owner.