The following are excerpts from the book Tawantinsuyo 5.0 by Alonso del Rio. I first heard about Alonso from my friend and teacher, Maestro Abraham, who told me that Alonso had helped him greatly when he made his own pilgrimage to the medicine world of South America some 19+ years ago.
Maestro Alonso del Rio first drank ayahuasca in 1979; spent 13 continuous years in the Amazon undergoing shamanic plant dietas while apprenticed to Shipibo Onaya (healer) Benito Arevelo; then moved to Lima where he conducted his own ceremonies for the next 10 years. He is now based in the Sacred Valley of Peru and has more than 41 years of full-time experience working with this sacred medicine.
What role do sacred songs —icaros— play in a [ayahuasca] ceremony? I will speak about them first. They are the traditional songs that ayahuasca healers use in their ceremonies. There are various types. There are icaros to call the spirits of plants, to call protector spirits; also to invoke the spirit of an animal, vegetal or mineral, or any entity of nature. Some come just from human inspiration whereas others are truly the sound expression of the spirit they represent. These are without doubt the most powerful ones.
But the true power lies more in the relationship between the healer and his song than in the icaro itself. Icaros reveal themselves almost always during ‘dietas’ and they demand a high price in effort, austerities or fasts in order for them to have true power or capacity to heal.
Repeating the icaro of any master makes no sense if it was not obtained correctly in the first place — with proper permission — and second, if the person did not ‘diet’ adequately.
Another very important thing is to understand that even if all the requisites are met, the main thing is the state of consciousness one sings from. This is essential for me. To sing a sacred song — even if it is ‘correctly’ performed — will not have the same effect if sang from an ordinary state of consciousness or from another state of expanded consciousness. The where, the when and the why always have to be respected.
Music is essential in the type of ceremonies I do. During the first hour when the first effects of the medicine start, it is mainly the beginners who experience their own inner chaos. Without the help of the music this state would be almost unmanageable. Music plays a role of ordering, it proposes an equilibrium, a harmony that when it is correctly directed it moves opening a path and giving solution to those very intense moments.
The songs I use in ceremonies are poems that invite us to reflect on life and our path, touching very deep emotions in participants. The distance between each note is not something arbitrary; it also represents the exact distance that exists between different vibratory levels. Even though this is not all, it is very important to sing in tune because tuning represents the respect for the exact distance and this brings harmony.
Out of tune represents chaos. When singing in a ceremony surrounded by people hyper sensitized by the medicine, we are not only transmitting a song but all our life, all our clarity or our confusion, our truth or our lie. Because of the levels of sensitiveness we work with it is a very delicate matter.
‘Dieta’ It is part of the traditional training of any ayahuasquero apprentice and also a part of the whole healing process in the Amazonian medical system. It basically consists of abstaining from certain foods and substances during a period of time. Mainly one has to stop eating salt and sugar in all its forms, also fruits or substances that contain any kind of oil. No fruit of any kind. No use of any kind of soap, detergent or chemical and preferably be in a secluded place where there is no contact with people except for the person in charge of taking care of us and feeding us.
Traditionally, in the jungle we would just eat boiled or grilled green plantain, rice, oats, toasted corn, some kinds of fish and wild birds. For the most part this is the treatment every curandero ends up prescribing when the sickness cannot be managed only with songs —icaros—.
The time this type of dieta can last depends on how grave the sickness is and of how much time we need to reestablish our energy, and it also depends on which kind of plants we take during the dieta because there are plants or preparations that require long dietas of three months and others that require short dietas of one week.
One of the most frequent stories told by curanderos is that they did not start on the path of medicine by choice but because a very serious sickness made them decide to diet for long periods of time to recover their health. And in this way they gradually entered the world of plants, receiving the teachings and knowledge that plants brought. When they finished healing themselves, they realized they have walked half of the way to become curanderos. They say that in ancient times people were not lazy like nowadays and curanderos dieted for many consecutive years achieving great knowledge and powers.
Obviously during this time there cannot be any sexual activity, including in dreams. Moreover, dreams are considered a part of reality. Everything that happens during the time of dieta is considered real and important. In a dream, you cannot accept any food or activity that are not allowed.
Much of the knowledge one can obtain during a dieta —the use of plants or healing techniques— comes in dreams.
There are plants that demand an exchange of magnetic charges and energies. Major magnetic charges attract minor ones. We are permanently attracted by a numberless of desires —it is not the moment to judge whether they are good or bad. We are simply attracted by everything our senses perceive. Yielding to the desires discharges us constantly and drains our magnetic charge. Within this state we cannot attract anything good. We walk through life being attracted to countless stimuli —the great science of marketing— and this prevents us, with our scarce energy, from keeping the course we have outlined for our life.
On the contrary the dieta, by temporary closing the door to the satisfaction of all desire, allows us to recover and increment the magnetic charge without having to go out searching for anything, only letting everything come to our encounter: health, love, prosperity.