About The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo
The artist Pablo Amaringo (1938 - 2009) was first introduced to the world outside of Peru with the 1991 publication of the book; Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman. Recognized as one of the world's great visionary artists, Pablo Amaringo was renowned for his intricate, colourful paintings inspired by his shamanic visions. He was a master communicator of the ayahuasca experience. He was entirely self-taught, and able to paint with meticulous botanical precision the Amazonian landscapes and the essential mythic content of his visions. This book depicted the visions that he had received during his years of practice as an ayahuasquero. The paintings capture the spirits, sub-aquatic cities, celestial realms, extra-terrestrial beings of great wisdom, sorcerers in battle with shamans, all revealed to him by ayahuasca.
April 2011 sees the publication of a new book of Pablo's work, titled The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo, which is a collaboration between Pablo, Howard G Charing, and Peter Cloudsley. Howard had the inspiration for the book in a moment of serendipity during an ayahuasca ceremony in January 2007 in the Peruvian Amazon, "my visions that night were filled with the vivid colours and motifs of Pablo's work, and then in what I can only describe as a neon coloured flash of electricity, the message appeared to do a book on Pablo's work. The following day I was still filled with this 'electricity' from the ayahuasca session, and then I knew with certainty that this book would happen. I discussed the idea with Peter as he and I had been working since the 1990's organising ayahuasca and plant medicine retreats in the Amazon. We decided to visit Pablo in Pucallpa (we had known Pablo and collected his work for many years) and discuss this with him. When we spoke of it, Pablo's face immediately lit up, and then with great enthusiasm we embarked on the book".
Pablo's paintings themselves are imbued with a supernatural quality as he regards them as physically manifested ícaros . Pablo chanted ícaros whilst he painted into them as though they were medicine. He explains in the book: "I chant ícaros when I paint, so if ever a person wishes to receive teaching or healing, they should cover the painting with a cloth for two or three months. On the day they remove the cover, they should prepare themselves by bathing and meditating. When it is uncovered they will receive the power and knowledge of the ícaros that were sung into it."
In 1988 Pablo founded the Usko Ayar Amazonian School of Art in Pucallpa, dedicated to depicting and preserving the ways of life and indigenous knowledge of the Amazon. The work of the school has been tremendously influential and created what we now call 'New Amazonian Art'. Steve Beyer writes in his contribution to the new book of Pablo's work, "I think it is fair to say that the surge of foreigners seeking out ayahuasqueros in the Amazon, beginning in the mid-1990s, was driven in large part by Pablo's extraordinary paintings. Indeed, as depictions of ayahuasca experiences have grown normative, it may be that in addition to the experience prescribing the art, the art is prescribing the experience".
Another contributor to the book, the well-known visionary artist Robert Venosa says of Pablo's work, "The high mission of art, through its illusions, is to foreshadow higher states of reality, and no one did this better in the depiction of the ayahuascan worlds than Pablo".
The book was a complex project, which required cataloguing and having the paintings professional photographed. At a later stage we migrated to using digital scanning technology. Pablo provided us with hundreds of pages of his personal notes and journals, and we held many meetings with Pablo in Pucallpa to explore the multi faceted, allegorical, and mythic qualities of the paintings. In these meetings with Pablo we were amazed at his vast eclectic knowledge and we also enjoyed his personal anecdotes, his spiritual wisdom and gentle humility. This was also a joyful experience for Pablo, as he notes in his introduction to the book, "This book is very different from my first book, because I have felt much freer to express myself in it. For the former book everything was written down from the beginning and we gave it an academic appearance so that it would be taken more seriously, or at least recognized as a piece of anthropology. Eighteen years ago, one did not expect to get much credence for subjective experiences, and my fears of being misinterpreted or criticised for not being Catholic were greater. Now I can afford to be quite open about personal matters and I hope this new book will enchant and fascinate readers. I have told my personal stories behind the visions and my experiences with Amazonian people and folklore. All of this should provide guidance to people following the way of plant knowledge and ayahuasca-to live life more creatively and take more care of the earth".
We were privileged to have important contributions to the book, by Dennis McKenna, Robert Venosa, Jan Kounen, Graham Hancock, Steve Beyer, and Jeremy Narby. Their contributions are in the section 'Memories and Legacy'. The book also contains a delightful biography of Pablo that was recorded in a series of interviews between Pablo and Peter, in which Pablo shares his personal story with many captivating anecdotes.
Sometimes his explanations played intriguingly with ambiguities and hinted at the ineffable. At times we struggled with Pablo's interviews and they challenged us not to arbitrate too much on what might be meaningful or otherwise. In Unicornio Dorado, for example, he contrasts the Western rational path to the wisdom of the indigenous way, which, he said, is faster. He had tried both routes and believed that ultimately both were needed if our spirituality was to evolve sufficiently to lift humanity out of the crisis in which we find ourselves.
One of the most gratifying and important aspects of the book for us was that we were documenting oral knowledge that otherwise would have been lost. In the book there is much material about plants; their medicinal and shamanic properties, and the traditional ways of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.
Some of the stories that Pablo told about his grandfather and great uncle who were both formidable paleros were fascinating. These stories challenge our notion of reality as they traverse the boundary of the everyday and the supernatural worlds. For example in the painting titled Yacuruna Huasi he relates a personal experience, "When I was a boy I saw my grandfather, Ambrosio Amaringo Vazquez, rescue a person who had been missing for months. He was brought into the house looking half dead followed by several yacuruna. I was not allowed to look, but I was curious so I climbed up to the roof of the house and lifted the palm leaves to look into the room. There I saw the yacurunas with their faces hidden under their sunhats surrounding the rescued man. The padre on the veranda afterwards said it was too late; the man was already transformed into a different shape. He said nothing could be done, the man would have to go back to live with the yacuruna".
Another enjoyable part, was describing details in the painting narratives that the reader will need to get out their magnifying glasses to discern. We maintained all the original Quechua titles and Spanish subtitles. Quechua is a poetic language often with a 'play' on words and in his paintings the Quechua word pun at times coincided with an accompanying visual pun, these were of course fully explained in the body of the narratives.
Pablo said that "Reading this book requires the reader to be curious, because its meaning will not be understood from a superficial reading. It requires readers to ask why and what the book is trying to teach them. It is my hope that this book will be published in order that people might benefit from what I have learned, and I have faith in its success."
On two occasions in 2008 Pablo suffered acute dengue fever, which severely debilitated him. After this, he never fully regained his strength and vigour. In 2009 he became visibly frail and we knew deep down that he might not make it through to the book's publication.
We felt that he knew this too, because in March of that year he said, "I fear that I will go before I paint all that I have seen. But this is no problem . . . I will finish painting them the next time when I come back."
Ayahuasquero - a specialist in ayahuasca. The term "shaman" is a recent Western import into the Amazon in the past thirty years. In the Amazonian tradition there are many specializations and categories. The traditional generic term would be Vegetalista, which denotes they have received their power from the plant kingdom. There are many subspecialisations of the Vegetalista, for example: Palero - Specialist in the bark, roots, and resins of trees; Perfumero - Specialist in the aromas of plants and flowers;
Ícaros are magical chants that are sung or whistled by shamans during Ayahuasca ceremonies. There are several kinds of ícaros. At the beginning of a ceremony their purpose is to provoke the mareación or visionary trance state, and to render the mind more susceptible for visions to penetrate. The shaman on his plant diet learns the ícaros directly from the plant spirits. Ícaros have great power and influence on the visionary experience of people drinking ayahuasca in a ceremony. Pablo also regarded the ícaro as the sound of the universe-the planets, stars, comets, and supernovas. Everything is created by music, by vibration, by sound. Ícaros are the music of creation.
Steve Beyer, author of Singing to the Plants - A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon.
Introduction by Pablo Amaringo
This book is very different from the first book because I have felt much freer to express myself. When we did Ayahuasca Visions, everything was written down from the beginning, and we gave it an academic appearance so that it would be taken more seriously or at least, recognised as a piece of anthropology.
Eighteen years ago, one did not expect to get much credence for subjective experiences, and my fears of being misinterpreted or criticised for being un-Catholic were greater then. Now I can afford to be quite open about personal matters, and I hope that this new book which I have worked on with Peter and Howard will have an enchantment and fascination for readers.
I have told my personal stories behind the visions and my experieces with Amazonian people and folklore. All this should provide guidance to people following the shamanic way, dieting plants and drinking ayahuasca, to live life more creatively and to care more for the Earth.
The pictures themselves have messages and teachings that train the mind to see what could have happened in the past and what can happen in the future. They open up other ways of seeing, which you could call sacred or divine. I would like my pictures to inspire a different idea of religion which is not given but free.
Each of us has a function in the working of life, starting when we are born, continuing while we grow to our zenith and after that when we decline and die. So I say to people prepare yourself well from an early age, so that when you are older you have something of the shaman in you. You should take into account that when you are old, there may be nobody to help you and you can no longer work. Your mind might work a little but it is difficult to adapt to such a fundamental change in your condition. As you age, a Pandora's Box opens and out come demons of every kind. To survive in the high seas you need to be very balanced otherwise you go over and die from any trivial thing.
The way to do this is by doing good and leaving seeds for others, and this is what this book attempts to do. The best thing you can leave is a seed for others to work with. I am not just a person; I am a spiritual person. I ask the great universal force, which is the rock of perfection - Dios - which I have seen in my ayahuasca visions, and which has always spoken to me. This book should be published successfully for people to benefit from what I have learned, and I have faith in its success. If we doubt, we do not please Dios who is watching and observing the wisdom of everything we do. Without his strength and the strength of the spirits, we would not even be able to speak. Life is a gift given by spirit.
We do not know what this spirit is or what it wants to do with us. We want to change the system to correct all the bad things that are happening in the world, but no one seems to be able to do much good. We need a government of every person's consciousness, yet this is the very thing people fear is coming. I say it will come, not suddenly, from one year to the next, but a change is getting near, in which this book will play a part. Everything should be right about this book, not in the sense of its authority, but being complete: giving, thinking and acting completely.
If we are handing on information, we should try to give the whole picture. Mysteries as well as vicissitudes are also information from which we can discover how to learn. We can learn from dreadful things too: but how? Recognize your mistakes, but do not think of making them when you live. Live with faith; do not consent!
Once I was arriving in Norway by plane and the undercarriage would not unfold, so we circled for forty minutes to burn up fuel before attempting a crash landing. Everyone onboard looked pale and nervous including my nephews and two students who were with me. I was ready to die and told them not to fear; you must not die like an iniquitous person, condemned for doing wicked things. This is why I think well about what I do.
Reading this book requires the reader to be curious, because the meaning will not be understood from superficial reading. It requires the reader to ask why and what the book is trying to teach them.
Pucallpa, Peru 2009