The Role of Music in a Plant Medicine Ceremony

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Music and Plant Medicine

It is common to hear the words “ikaro” or “Medicine Music” when we talk about plant medicine. Let’s explore what is the role and reason for music in ceremony.

What is Ikaro and Medicine Music

The word “Ikaro” simply means “song”, but it’s not any kind of song. It is used for very particular purposes such as healing, calling upon blessings, and requesting favors. There are three dimensions to it:

  1. Sound: The kind of sound that produces when sang, often using particular melodies and styles of singing.
  2. Energy: An Ikaro is invoking certain energies or spirits to come to support the ceremony.
  3. Semantic: Ikaros are filled with meaning, sometimes telling stories, giving advise or simply calling names of the elements, plants, trees or spirits.

The way the word Ikaro is often used as a generalization, because Ikaro is exclusive for the tradition of the Peruvian jungle, specifically the Shipibo Tribe. Other tribes and traditions have slightly different ways to understand a medicine song.

Nowadays that many of these traditions are becoming somewhat hybrids and non-indigenous people are acting the role of plant medicine facilitators, we have the emergence of what is known as “Medicine Music”. Generally speaking, its music composed to be used in ceremony, the musical style and the lyrics are appropriate for ceremony and perform a role.

What role music performs in ceremony?

  • Invoking: usually, these songs call upon the spirit of the medicine, the presence of the elements, healing energies, or spirit animals.
  • Evoking: We all know how music can evoke deep feelings, in this case when music is combined with the momentum of sensitivity provided by the medicine the musical experience can be immensely deep, allowing emotions, memories, or simply inspiration to float to the surface.
  • Asking for Blessings: The lyrical content may request blessings of health, prosperity, or protection.
  • Sound: Sounds produced by the voice or different instruments can induce states of consciousness that can facilitate or catalyze the healing process.
  • Prayer: This is one of the main purposes of singing in ceremony, this songs are actually musicalized prayers that have a profound effect over the course of the ceremony and the personal experience of the individual.
  • Support for the psychonaut: Music can be a powerful tool to support the journey and experience of the person taking part in the ceremony, often helping the person to stay present, relaxed, and grounded.

Not only for aesthetical reasons

Knowing the function of music in ceremony we can conclude that music is not used only for aesthetics, not just because it sounds nice, but because it has deeper implications. It might be good to mention that not all medicine facilitators use music, some ceremonies are silent, others are somewhat silent, and in others, there is music all the time. The language may vary, the instruments used, and the musical style also may vary. Some medicine people say “music in ceremony is a distraction”, others say “music is most important”. Hence, it really depends on the tradition, the person and the specific intention each person might have. In almost all traditions of the world, we find that music is used as a way to connect to higher forces, to enter into altered states of consciousness, or bring the tribe together, and this is not the exception.

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