This interview is about Pablo Amaringo and his beautiful art that were inspired through Ayahuasca. Howard G. Charing gives us insight on his life and paintings in this interview in a unique perspective that only he could provide. As well as detailed descriptions of the ceremonies and experiences revolving around Ayahuasca. This interview is a walk between worlds and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have. Presenting.
1. Could you please tell us how you got involved with Pablo and the creation of this wonderful book The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo?
View slideshow: Howard G. Charing on ‘The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo’
Howard: My colleague and co-author Peter Cloudsley and I had known Pablo for many years, and it was always a special thrill to visit Pablo at his home in Pucallpa and look in wonder at his beautiful work. We did some ad-hoc interviews with him which were published, and we made notes about his about his paintings but the actual inspiration to work with Pablo on a major project such as this book came out of the blue – it came suddenly during an Ayahuasca ceremony at Mishana in the Peruvian Amazon. My visions that night were of the vivid creations, motifs, and forms of Pablo’s paintings. The ceremony culminated in what I can only describe as a lightning flash and a powerful message from the Ayahuasca to work with Pablo on a book of his new paintings.
The following day, I discussed the idea with Peter—he and I had worked together, since the 1990s, organizing ayahuasca and plant diet retreats in the Amazon, and we decided to visit Pablo in Pucallpa at the earliest opportunity, which was in February 2007, to discuss the idea of doing a book with him. When we told him about the idea, Pablo’s face immediately lit up with enthusiasm and there and then, we agreed to collaborate on this book.
All in all, this was a complex project. We formed a detailed plan, the first step of which was to catalogue and have all of Pablo’s available paintings and sketches professionally photographed and later digitally scanned. Pablo gave us hundreds of pages of his notes and journals, which he had kept in his house. We had many meetings with Pablo to discuss and explore the multifaceted qualities of his paintings. Each session generated new questions, which necessitated further trips to Pucallpa before we were in a position to complete the narratives that accompany the paintings themselves.
2. With written contributions by Graham Hancock, Jeremy Narby, Robert Venosa, Dennis McKenna, Stephan Beyer, and Jan Kounen. Would you tell us about some of the content added by these fellow journeymen and women and the central theme they outline about Pablo’s life and vision?
Howard: We were really delighted and honoured by their contribution to the book. Each of them had a different perspective about the importance and influence of Pablo’s work, as well as some personal anecdotes. When we approached them to write a contribution, they were all happy to do this despite their busy work schedules. Dennis McKenna’s contribution covered his early encounters in the 1980’s with Pablo that ultimately led to Pablo’s book ‘Ayahuasca Visions – The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman’ in collaboration with Eduardo Luna. That book had an enormous impact when it was published in 1991. Pablo’s stunning visual portrayal of the magical domain of Ayahuasca generated a huge interest in the hitherto little known mythological, spiritual, and shamanic world of the Amazon. It opened this mysterious world to the West, and it had an incredible influence both from an ‘art’ and an anthropological perspective. Talking about Pablo’s art depicting the amazingly rich mythological texture and content of the Amazonian peoples, reminds me that some years back I was on a bus in Iquitos with a group of young missionaries wearing their uniform white shirts and ties and I started to talk to them about what they were doing and so on, and one of them replied ‘We are here to teach the local people beliefs as they don’t have any’. It was an arrogant and ignorant statement bordering on the ludicrous, but clearly they were not acquainted with Pablo’s work, as if they had maybe they would have to adjust their view.
The interest generated by this book also paved the way for the founding of Pablo’s school for art ‘Usko Ayar’ that created a distinct style that we know as Neo-Amazonian Art, reaching a global audience and into the commercial art market through international exhibitions.
Both Graham Hancock and Jeremy Narby included paintings and illustrations by Pablo in their respective books ‘Supernatural’, and ‘The Cosmic Serpent’. Both of these books introduced novel concepts and in my view are in the vanguard of the literature on evolving human consciousness. Pablo’s work was a tremendous inspiration to them both. It was great to have the late Robert Venosa’s contribution to the book. Robert was one of the most celebrated visionary artists in the world, and he offered a wonderful contribution and view point from an artist’s perspective. Jan Kounen’s cinematic work in Blueberry aka Renegade was inspired to a great extent by Pablo’s art. Anybody who has seen the visual effects in that movie (and has drunk Ayahuasca) will understand what I’m talking about. Steve Beyer’s blog ‘Singing to the Plants’ and the subsequent book of the same name has to be one of the most detailed, well researched and authoritative works on Amazonian Shamanism. Also I found Steve’s work to be an important reference source whilst writing the book. Steve wrote an informative and insightful piece for the book which was wonderful.
3. What else can you tell us about Pablo Amaringo’s life and his spiritual perspective and was he what you would consider a shaman?
Howard: Pablo had an extraordinary life, and in the book Peter worked extensively with Pablo in documenting some of his amazing stories and experiences. Pablo was so incredibly talented as an artist that he could paint freehand an exact replica of a banknote. That particular skill actually led him into certain problems with the authorities as you can imagine, and many of these stories are included in the book. So I’ll focus more on Pablo’s spiritual perspective. The first thing that comes to mind is his eclectic knowledge of so many mystical traditions, and a vast wisdom. Pablo defined knowledge in two categories, firstly gnosis (knowledge), and epignosis (above knowledge). He would illustrate this by an example – you can read all the research papers, and literature about Ayahuasca, understand its chemical composition and so on, this is gnosis; but only when you drink Ayahuasca is there the possibility of realisation of this knowledge, or epignosis. Love for him was an example of epignosis.
One of the most gratifying aspects of working with Pablo on the book was that many of the narratives contained not only descriptions, mythological insights of the paintings etc but also an explicit spiritual teaching. He was a practising shaman of a senior grade until the mid 1970’s when he retired due to the sorcery from angry brujos attacking him for healing the people they were harming! I know sorcery is a difficult notion for Westerners to comprehend, but it is real and effective, and in fact is a part of the fabric of life in the Amazon. In his paintings and accompanying narratives in the book Pablo shines light on these practices.
4. Describe his art for his and some of the themes he embraced he literally through Ayahuasca was getting a glimpse of the otherside and sharing it with us on canvas right?
Howard: Pablo was drinking Ayahuasca for many years, and he had perfect recall of his visions, which he painted in meticulous detail. His work is characterised by botanically accurate (and identifiable) depictions of plants and the elements of his visions, the spirit beings, sub-aquatic and subterranean realms, celestial palaces, animals and birds of the rainforest, extra-terrestrial vessels, angels, and the Ayahuasca ceremony often with the shaman engaged in healing their patients. Paintings such as ‘Barco Fantasma’ are a perfect representation of the magical reality present in the Amazonian world.
There are a multitude of themes, for example there was a powerful ecological theme present throughout his work. He said that nature provided all the medicines that we need, and that the destruction of the rainforest would be totally detrimental to humanity. An important part of this is the descriptions of the plants, their medicinal, their ritual and shamanic usage. The ecological theme also included the natural cycles of rain, fertility of plants and the inter-relationship of animals, plants, and humans in a finely tuned balance, sometimes this was expressed allegorically or in mythological terms.
Also the substance of creation, of matter itself, in effect Pablo was describing the Higgs-Boson particles, although he called them espirtones. His work reveals a cosmos constituted of varying densities of vibration from the Earth to the highest celestial realms. In essence Pablo described through his art a vast cosmic plan, in this cosmic vision life exists throughout the universe, there are universes nested within universes and an incalculable number of smaller worlds like the Earth. For Pablo the Supreme Being or God is a term for the totality of the dynamic energy that has always existed, and always will, it is eternal. Pablo was able to access this cosmic vision through drinking Ayahuasca, and this was what he was ultimately embodying through his art.
5. Please tell us about Ayahuasca and its history and the rituals surrounding it and its purpose in your perspective. I have never done it but would love to. I live in Florida in the United States and they still think Marijuana is crack here or something amidst their madness and ignorance. So I am not sure if I will ever have the chance to do it. But I would. Smile.
Howard: Ayahuasca is made from the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis Caapi) and the leaf of the Chacruna plant (Psychotria Viridis). The combination (by brewing for hours) of these two plants produces a potent medicine that has the potential to heal our deepest emotional wounds. We can fully relive our painful life experiences and release or purge (a gentler term than vomiting) them from our body and psyche, and in a sense be purified. So essentially I would say that ayahuasca is a medicine that works through our physical and spiritual bodies. Of course having said that, ayahuasca is much more than a medicine, it is an encounter with an ‘other’ and greater consciousness, and has the potential to open a gateway to other realities that co-exist with our physical reality where one can experience the unity, totality, and the sublime nature of creation. It is a formidable and awe-inspiring experience and I need to add the caveat that due to its potency is not suitable for everybody. It is important to follow the rules for example avoiding certain foods, sexual activity, and libidinous thoughts, and to drink in a ceremony with a capable and trusted shaman without any shred of doubt. Historically there is evidence that ayahuasca has been a central part of the spiritual and cultural life of the Amazonian peoples for many hundreds of years. In fact the oldest known object related to ayahuasca is a ceremonial cup hewn from stone found in the Ecuadorian Amazon dated 500 BC to 50 AD. It is in the collection of the Ethnological Museum of the Central University in Quito. This indicates that ayahuasca potions were known and used at least 2,000 years ago.
The origins of this brew are only in legend, but you still have to consider how the indigenous peoples discovered how to prepare the ayahuasca brew by the combination of just two distinct plants (amongst the many thousands of plants in the rainforest). It is a mystery how they knew this, the vine acts as an inhibitor preventing the body enzymes from neutralising the alkaloids present in the chacruna leaves, this chemistry is identical to the MAOI effect that was discovered by Western science in the 1950’s, kind of makes you think…..
6. Experiences with Amazonian people and folklore are shared through out the book. Can you tell us about their life and spiritual belief system?
Howard: As I mentioned earlier, there is a rich textural mythological fabric, in the same way that we in the West have. Our fairy tales are a faint echo of a whisper of this, we have stories of enchanting perfumes, of magical flowers and beanstalks; animals that talk with humans such as Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Bears and so on. If you look under the ‘hood’ of many of our fairy tales there is a body of knowledge about powerful plants that can transport you to another dimension, even if the form has been attenuated and domesticated for consumption. The difference is that in the Amazon these legends have not been domesticated, and seen only as a fantasy. I know shamans who swear that they have encountered magical creatures such as the chullachaqui (the enigmatic hairy jungle dwarf) or the pucabufeo (Amazonian Pink dolphin) taking human form, these magical creatures are depicted by Pablo in the book, and in one of the most fascinating anecdotes by Pablo described in the book, is his encounter with the yacuruna when he was a boy of seven years old (the yacuruna are primordial beings that inhabit the sub-aquatic realms). Also Pablo talks about the awesome exploits of his grandfather and great-uncle both powerful paleros (a specialised and powerful shaman who primarily works with hardwood trees, the resins, the roots, and the barks). These are stories that are described as real, Pablo said about the encounter with the yacuruna, ‘I saw this with my own eyes’.
Many of Pablo’s paintings described the traditions, beliefs and way of life of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. One painting in particular ‘Auca Yachai’ conveys the diverse knowledge of plants, their medicinal properties, and value as a food resource. There is a huge volume of information, ranging from the use of the fibre of the plant tamshi to clean their teeth and prevent decay, plants to heal wounds, and customs surrounding death and burial rites. In fact when I was working on the narrative of this painting, there was so much material I realised that I could write a book just about this painting.
7. Pablo Amaringo was a healer since the age of 10 and a curandero. What is a curandero and what else do we know about Pablo’s childhood?
Howard: Curandero means healer which is the main role of a shaman. Nomenclature is complex in these respects; the term “shaman,” or in Peru chaman, 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 sub-specialisations of the vegetalista, for example: Palero – a curandero who works with the bark, roots, and resins of trees; Perfumero – specialist in the perfumes of plants and flowers; Ayahuasquero – a Specialist in ayahuasca; Chontero – a curandero who works with chonta (magical darts). And there are many more categories of a curandero / shaman.
In the book we have documented Pablo’s life story in detail – a fascinating story and we included many early photos of him. It is clear that Pablo always had close connection to spirit and experienced life as magical. Conventional religion per se never had meaning for him; he could access the soul of the world directly through nature where he came to understand that there was a divine creative consciousness that permeated and held the world in place. Many of his paintings illustrate this theme. Pablo drank ayahuasca for the first time when he was ten with his grandfather. His first vision was of mermaids in the water under a renaco tree, he still painted this vision well into his later years.
8. Please tell us about the art shared in the book of Pablo’s illustrations and how many and what else we can see represented there of his creations?
Howard: In the book we have forty eight colour plates of Pablo’s work that richly illustrate the mythological, mystical, and spiritual world of the Amazon. His paintings have evolved in texture and detail since his earlier work as per his first book. In the new book Pablo explains in his introduction that he felt much freer to express himself now and be open about his experiences, as before he was concerned about being misinterpreted and criticised for being heretical by the Catholic Church.
It’s important to mention that Pablo’s paintings are imbued with power and are far more than two-dimensional images, and are also intended for meditation and contemplation. Whilst he painted he would also chant his icaros, and he would say “If you concentrate and meditate on the paintings you will receive this spiritual energy”. Pablo discusses the purpose of his work in his introduction.
9. What can you tell us about you being the director of the Eagle’s Wing Centre for Contemporary Shamanism and what exactly this organization represents?
Howard: That’s kind of an old chapter in my life; I worked closely with Leo Rutherford who established Eagle’s Wing in the 1980’s in the UK. He saw that the revival of interest in ancient and indigenous cultures reflected the movement started in the 1960’s towards self-development, an awakening spiritual awareness and a more communal way of living. The work of Eagle’s Wing is to introduce that knowledge and awareness to people as a way to heal ourselves and by extension the world so to speak, to quote the Dalai Lama ‘World Peace begins with Inner Peace’ which is absolutely valid. For the past 5 years I’ve been nomadic but have recently settled in the beautiful city of Brasov set in the Carpathian Mountains in the Transylvanian region of Romania. I continue to work holding shamanic workshops, individual healing sessions and gatherings here.
10. Would you tell us about Pablo’s passing in death and his legacy before you depart and what else are you up to in the future and do you have any links you can share with us and any other parting words? Thank you.
Howard: Peter and I were very aware and concerned about Pablo’s declining health, in 2008 he twice suffered acute dengue fever that seriously debilitated him, and in 2009 he became visibly frail. I knew deep down that he might not make it through to the publication of the book. I also think that he knew that too, as he said to me in March 2009 “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”. We knew that this book would be his testament as a visionary, sage, and artist. Pablo died in November 2009, I attended the wake and funeral in Pucallpa, it was a sad time, but also at the wake many people came together to speak about their memories of him, how he influenced them, graced their lives and to celebrate his work and life.
His legacy lives with his art, his visions, the Usko Ayar School, and the many young people that he has helped over the years. The school was not only about art, but also included spiritual and ecological teachings, the school was very important to Pablo to share his wisdom and knowledge with children and young people, to help them perceive the world through different eyes.
Pablo’s work has been on exhibition worldwide, the last major exhibition was at the ACA Galleries in New York in 2011. Peter and I have put together a website with has all the paintings featured in the book, as well as interviews, features, and photo galleries of Pablo through the years. You can also order high quality reproductions of Pablo’s paintings through the website www.ayahuascavisions.com
A link to my blog;
To conclude, Pablo was a Master in the true meaning of the term. Just being with him was an enlightening experience, and I feel ever so privileged to have known Pablo as a friend and teacher. The book that Peter and
I wrote was a real labour of love to honour the beautiful man Pablo Amaringo. I also would like to acknowledge the people at Inner Traditions who produced a superb quality hard cover book that gives justice to Pablo’s visions.
Howard G. Charing
Brief Summary of Paintings
Ondas de la Ayahuasca – Waves of Ayahuasca
At the top of the picture the sun radiates brilliant waves. As the source of all life on earth, the sun represents the blessings of the divine celestial pattern, the ultimate source of all life in the universe which we call God. Ayahuasca is one of the most remarkable gifts from the plant realm as it contains chemicals identical to the neurotransmitters found in the human brain. When you drink ayahuasca the sensory neurons which transmit messages inside the brain are enhanced so that a person can receive wisdom and knowledge. The shamans in the ceremony are curing a man suffering from mental illness caused by an imbalance in his pituitary gland and hypothalamus.
Jehua Supai – Espiritus Sublimes
Here you see a sumiruna, a great maestro and man of esoteric knowledge who can transform his physical body into pure spirit. He is surrounded by a magnificent aguajal: a wet area where aguaje palms grow. An aguajal is a temple of nature, a beautiful sacred grove where the spirits like to gather. He calls the yana puyurunas, spirit people of black clouds whose faces appear in the sky above him. They teach how to heal using the wind, the mist and the dew. They can heal illnesses arising from problems of love or separation and also legal problems.
Encanto Rumi – The Enchanted Rock
This stone is forged in space and brought down to earth when summoned by the sumiruna (the highest grade of shaman) for initiating his disciples in voyaging to other galaxies. The sumirunas below are learning how to receive spiritual fire and how to withstand extreme conditions which they will experience on their lone voyages. The eagle represents the sublime beauty of the stone, the jaguar its magnetic power and the bull its soul. Above you see the puya runas (cloud people) and the guacamayo runa: people with the head of a guacamayo and the body of a man.
Auca Yachai – Sabiduria Indigena
This picture conveys the diverse knowledge that Amazonian people have of plants including both medicinal properties and their value as a food resource. This has accumulated over centuries through communion with plant spirits, drinking ayahuasca and dieting. By chanting the icaro of the correct plant, the shaman summons the appropriate wisdom for healing his patient. Many Indian healing practices are little known. In the lower part of the picture they are learning how to divine using pipe smoke. In it they see everything, whether things are well at home or if anybody wants to harm you.
Unai Shipash – Musas del Tiempo y Espacio
The muses of time can be seen in the upper sphere and the accompanying muses of space in the lower sphere. The two divinities in yellow are virtudes (virtues), they represent elevated qualities of love, compassion and kindness. The muses in the lower sphere watch over the entire biosphere from the ozone layer down to the depths of the ocean. Time and space appears united to us, and we are a part of them, but an alternate time and space also exists beyond our everyday experience which we can perceive through the eye of ayahuasca.
Manuel Huaya was a great sumiruna who travelled about in his boat healing people everywhere using ayahuasca and medicinal plants. He inhabited a world of great masters from Atlantis and China, and lived with the fairies, sylphs and muses who guarded the forests, rivers and plants.
Manuel Huaya transformed a huge anaconda into the phantom boat you see here with two huge eyes and a steel horn on its forehead, like a rhino, for defending itself from danger. It has several floors, each representing a level of life’s evolution, at the same time a level of social hierarchy.
Angeles Avatares – Espirito Personificado
This painting depicts the transcendent nature of the gravitational forces which control the rotational, orbital and the swaying movements of the Earth. Avatar angels are the guardians of the earth: cherubim which reside at its four corners. As in antiquity, the indigenous people of the Amazon see natural forces as having a spiritual personification. In the painting these angels are aligned with the four directions, North, South, East and West. The fuchsia angels are in the west, the yellow to the east, the green to the south and the blue to the north.
Thanks to publisher Inner Traditions for providing this guest for the interview.
Jeffery Pritchett is the host of The Church Of Mabus Show bringing you high strange stories from professionals in the carousel of fields surrounding the paranormal.