The Temple of the Way of Light

Every living thing has patterns. In the Shipibo cosmo-vision, the universe is made from sound. When the patterns are broken there is illness. Negative spirits place bad patterns on people, too. Our job is to fix the patterns or take bad patterns away. We work in a different world where we can see the problems and how to heal them. Most people cannot see in this world.


The designs come from our ancestors and the plant spirits. When we drink ayahuasca, we see the patterns in our mareacion (the effect of the medicine) and hear the songs of the plants (ikaros). The designs are the medicine and the songs of the plants. The plant spirits teach them to us and show us how to heal illnesses and how to help people.


Shipibo designs come from seeing the sacred healing energies that come from the plants. They can be seen as the codes of the ikaros that express their healing energies and are seen by the Onanya healers in their visions. The patterns on their art are external two dimensional manifestations of these energies. The Onanya weave these geometric designs into the bodies of their patients to bring order and harmony and to reconfigure the patients’ energy bodies. The patterns correlate to a variety of different senses. The Onanya “see the songs” and “hear the designs” at the same time in a phenomenon known as synesthesia, the blending of the senses. These design energies come from the plants singing in ceremony and from their dietas. The plant doctors’ ikaros work through the Onanya penetrating the patient’s energy body to heal and protect it.


Some illnesses come from harmful designs that have been picked up by the patient. The Onanya work to pull off the bad patterns, brushing and blowing them away from the body of the patient.  Negative spirits also sometimes try to interfere with the healing process by singing their own harmful songs, so the Onanya must work to fight off these negative spirits in ceremony whilst cleaning the patient.

The Onanya use healing odors, colognes made from various medicinal plants, such as mapacho, a native tobacco used to clean negative energies and transmit positive energies. Through the use of these healing odors, the Onanya places the intricate geometric patterns of the ikaros onto their patients. Due to the nature of the work against negative spirits and their persistence to interfere in the healing process, multiple treatments are needed before a cure can be completed.


When a patient is cured, the energetic body of the patient is covered with the designs that you see in the textiles.  At the end of a course of treatment (i.e. a workshop), the Onanya then cover the patient’s body with different ikaros called arkana’s. Arkana means protection and they are used to seal the other healing designs that have been laid into the energy body providing a protection coating, a form of spiritual armor to protect against further negative energies being picked up externally.


Ikaros are medicine from the plants. They heal people. The plants have healing power which comes out of them in the patterns. We see and hear the songs when we drink ayahuasca. The song is the most important medicine of the plants. We wear the designs on our clothing as they protect us. If you have the designs on your walls they will protect your house. The designs represent the sound of the ikaros. We see the designs in our visions. They come into our thoughts. We see and hear the ikaros. The designs are the ikaros.

The Temple of the Way of Light is a Shipibo shamanic healing center rooted in the healing traditions of Shipibo healers (Onanya). We bring guests from around the world together with the Onanya to work with plant medicines in a safe, caring, sustainable and spiritual environment, and seek to create a mutual relationship of respect and transformation, both spiritual and social. Through their healing journeys at the Temple in a setting where sharing and community are at the heart of the process, guests are empowered to return to their lives with a much greater awareness of the transformative possibilities of cooperation and communication, within their own families, organizations and communities, and across cultural boundaries.


Many threats which face the Shipibo people and their traditional culture. Encroachment on their ancestral lands by loggers and oil companies, both legal and illegal, is an ever-growing problem, as it is in so much of the Amazon region. Their ancient healing practices are also increasingly threatened by the coming of Western medicine and by missionary activity which renounce the use of traditional shamanic healing practices. Perhaps even more grave is the societal impact of western influences through unguided media outlets such as radio, television and internet.

Design weaves by the Shipibo Maestras from the Temple of the Way of Light

Photos by Carlos Nunez and Matthew Watherston

Special thanks to Dakini Becca and Matthew Watherston for their extra support with this feature article.