The Accidental Shaman: Journeys with Plant Teachers and Other Spirit Allies - Howard G. Charing 2017
The Shape of Sound
The Colors of Infinity: Becoming Cognizant of Bioenergy Fields
Pablo Amaringo describes in his art how shamans use colors, shapes, and sounds, which are all symmetrical patterns of energy. He says, “All movement creates a vibration or sound; even the movement of nonphysical matter has a vibration, an ultrasound that underlies the harmonic structure of physical matter. You can sometimes visually perceive this when in the ayahuasca mareación [visionary trance state]; color and sound are the same and you realize that both are the vibration of matter.”2
Synesthesia is the term used for a sensory experience in which there is a “crossover,” or union, between the senses. Sounds and shapes can have an aroma, for instance, or a color. People who have synesthesia perceive the world in a very different way than the majority. For some reason it is regarded as a neurocognitive disorder. In my view, it is an evolutionary ontogenesis toward an expanded multisensory experience.
I have experienced this union of the senses with entheogens such as ayahuasca and San Pedro (Echinopsis pachanoi), a cactus native to the Andes. The sounds of the shaman’s shacapa (leaf-bundle rattle) and maraca (seed-filled gourd) generate visible colors and patterns—a wonderful sensory experience. At times during an ayahuasca ceremony, when I have been chanting the ícaros (chants learned directly from plants that are sung by shamans during ayahuasca ceremonies), the experience becomes magical. As I am chanting, the sounds form visible geometric patterns, and the patterns form into shapes, creating a visual soundscape. The energy patterns of people are perceptible, and where there is a dissonance in their field, the patterns of the ícaros create a harmony that has a tangible and balancing effect.
Traditional cultures understand that sound is, in effect, audible energy. This is the underlying concept of the art of the Shipibo people of the Upper Amazon, which depicts highly complex geometric patterns (see color plate 5). These patterns represent an all-pervading magical reality that can challenge the Western linguistic heritage and rational mind.
These patterns are more than an expression of the oneness of creation, the interchangeability of light and sound, the union or fusion of perceived opposites; they depict an ongoing dialogue or communion with the spiritual world and the powers of the rainforest. The visionary art of the Shipibo brings this paradigm into a physical form. The ethnologist Angelika Gebhart-Sayer calls this “visual music.”
The people of the Peruvian Amazon include a number of ethnic groups, each with its own language, traditions, and culture. The Shipibo, one of the largest ethnic groups, currently number about twenty thousand and inhabit communities throughout the Ucayali River region. They are highly regarded in the Amazon as masters of ayahuasca.
All the textile painting, embroidery, and artisan crafts are carried out by the women (see color plate 6). From a young age the Shipiba (Shipibo females) are initiated by their mothers and grandmothers into this practice. Teresa Rango, a Shipiba friend who works with me on our Amazon retreats, told me, “When I was a young girl, my mother squeezed drops of the piripiri [a species of Cyperus] berries into my eyes so that I would have the vision for the designs; this is only done once and lasts a lifetime.”3
The intricate Shipibo designs have their origin in the nonmanifest and ineffable spirit world of the rainforest. The designs are representative of the Cosmic Serpent, or Great Mother, an anaconda called Ronin that created the universe (see color plate 7). For the Shipibo the skin of Ronin is a radiating, electrifying vibration of light, color, sound, and movement and is the embodiment of all possible patterns and designs, past, present, and future. The designs that the Shipibo paint are channels or conduits for this multisensorial vibrational fusion of form, light, and sound. Although in our cultural paradigm we consider art to be bound within the border of the material used, to the Shipibo the patterns extend far beyond these borders and permeate the entire world.
In the Shipibo worldview, our state of health (which includes physical and psychological well-being) is dependent on the balance of mind, spirit, and body. If an imbalance occurs, such as through the emotions of envy, hate, or anger, this will generate a negative effect on the health of that person. The shaman reestablishes the balance by chanting the ícaros, the audio code of the geometric patterns of harmony. From the shamanic perspective, there is no difference between the visual and acoustic codes.
A key element in this magical dialogue with the energy that permeates creation and is embedded in the Shipibo designs is the work with ayahuasca by the Shipibo shamans. When the shamans are deep in an ayahuasca trance, the ayahuasca reveals the luminous geometric patterns of energy. These filaments transform into the ícaros. The vocal range of the Shipibo shamans is astonishing; their chants flow from the highest falsetto to a resonating bass sound, and then transform to a gentle, soothing, melodic lullaby. In my personal experience, I have felt that every cell in my body is floating and embraced in a nurturing, all-encompassing vibration, and even the air around me vibrates in acoustic resonance with the ícaro of the maestro. The shaman knows when the healing is complete because the design is clearly distinct in the patient’s body. It can take a few sessions to complete this, and when completed the geometric healing designs are embedded in the patient’s body. This is called an arkana, a field of protective energy (see color plate 8).
In the West, the research by Dr. Hans Jenny has dramatically revealed the spectacular geometric forms created by sound using sand on a vibrational plate. As the sound changes the sand immediately creates different geometric patterns and complex mandalas. Dr. Jenny named this phenomenon cymatics, the study of how sound affects physical matter. On YouTube, you can see videos showing how sound creates beautiful geometric patterns in sand particles and in liquids. These three-dimensional shapes are stunning (see color plate 9).
The hearing range for humans lies between 20 Hz (hertz) and 20 kHz (kilohertz), and as we get older, our hearing range decreases. (The hertz scale measures how many times a second a sound wave is generated.) Police in the United States and the United Kingdom are utilizing high-frequency sound to disperse gatherings of teenagers. The sound is like a disturbing high-pitched mosquito buzzing that is outside the hearing range of older people.
In comparison, dolphins have a hearing range up to 150 kHz. Recent research published by the Dolphin Institute4 suggests that the high-frequency sounds that dolphins produce are a highly evolved form of sonar. The echoes reflected by an object are perceived by the dolphin as an image of the object.
Recent experiments using an anechoic chamber indicate that the vibrational energy of sound is essential for humans. The anechoic chamber was originally developed to measure the sound level of products, for example, automobiles and washing machines. It is built to sustain complete silence, and any sound that is made in the chamber is swallowed up by the acoustic environment. It is a bewildering experience for volunteers sitting in a chamber. Within thirty minutes, subjects become disoriented, find it difficult to maintain their physical balance, and start to hallucinate. So far the record for staying in an anechoic chamber is forty-five minutes.5