Amaringo (1938-2009) was a painter from Pucallpa in Peru, whose
paintings are all inspired by his experiences with ayahuasca.
Pablo originally worked as a vegetalista
which is a traditional word for a shaman in Latin America who works
with plants and vegetables to cure physical and spiritual illnesses.
He was also part of the mestizo people
which means “mixed”, since these people identify themselves as
having mixed descent. Although he produced many paintings, he lived
in poverty for a very long time. But then the ethnobotanist Dennis
McKenna (brother of Terence McKenna) travelled to Peru and made the
Western world aware of his work, increasing his recognition, fame and
fortune. McKenna at the time was doing research for his doctoral
thesis on the botany, chemistry and pharmacology of ayahuasca, but at
the time little was known about it.
Thanks to the work of McKenna, we
now know that ayahuasca works by combining a root bark (mimosa
hostilis, for example, which
contains the DMT) with a plant which acts as an MAOI (such as
harmaline, syrian rue or banisteriopsis caapi). If you were to
swallow the root bark by itself, nothing would happen. Your body
produces an enzyme called MAO which makes the DMT inactive when
orally taken, so if you take an MAO inhibitor (MAOI) along with the
DMT, then the mixture becomes orally active. Ayahuasca is thousands
of years old and it’s a mystery how the indigenous people of Peru
found the right combination of plants out of the thousands of species
that exist in the Amazon.
Pablo met McKenna he told him about some of his circumstances, how in
his late thirties he suffered from a serious heart problem and
doctors told him that his life would likely be shortened by decades.
The doctors said there was nothing he could do about it. In
desperation, Pablo sought out a shaman in order to drink ayahuasca,
which the natives consider the most effective medicine. Pablo then
told in detail his experience to McKenna.
He said that during the
session he was encountered by “spirit doctors”. He found himself
in an operating room, surrounded by high-tech machines and doctors in
white coats. The doctors opened his chest and removed his heart,
still beating, all while Pablo watched in terror, convinced that he
was about to die. But the doctors were fixing his heart right in
front of him, then put it back in his chest – after the experience
he never had any further heart problems.
the ayahuasca itself physically healed him is debatable, but it may
have been that the experience was so meaningful and powerful that
some sort of placebo effect was going on. However he was cured, it
was pretty miraculous. Pablo also got another message from the
ayahuasca and that was to become a shaman in order to maintain his
own vitality, as well as the vitality of others.
In the book The
Shaman and Ayahuasca, which
contains Pablo’s last interview before he died, Pablo tells the
interviewer Don Jose Campos (another practising shaman) that crowds
of people came to him every day to be healed. So he drank every day.
The shaman in the ceremony always drinks ayahuasca, along with
everyone else. Pablo would also travel to places like Huanuco, Cuzco
and Iquitos in order to heal people. Pablo says in the interview that
he encountered spirits in every one of his sessions and that he now
believes that everything has its own kind of spirit. The spirits came
in the form of angels, mythological creatures, animals (the jaguar
and snake especially) and princes.
this point Pablo had already been painting, but his paintings were
not based on his ayahuasca experiences, they were just based on every
day sights: native people, family, landscapes, the jungle, animals
etc. Another ayahuasca researcher, Luis Eduardo Luna, who was with
McKenna at the time, suggested that Pablo had a good technique and
that he should try to translate his experiences into paintings. Pablo
was doubtful at first. Luis and Dennis visited Pablo the next morning
to find out that he had been painting all night, trying to capture
his ayahuasca visions. He produced three paintings which, although
they were simple, were completely different from his other paintings.
He seemed to remember details from his experiences even though they
happened years ago and the imagery in the painting seemed to come
from a different universe. Dennis and Luis suggested that Pablo sign
his name of the paintings in order to get his name known. The next
morning Pablo showed Dennis and Luis three more paintings, this time
they were even more colourful and intricate. This began Pablo’s
career as one of the most renowned visionary artists of the 20th
In the years to come, his paintings would continue to become
more sophisticated and detailed, but the source of inspiration was
always the same – the ayahuasca world. Collections of Pablo’s work
and an explanation of the themes involved in them can be found in the
books Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a
Peruvian Shaman and in The
Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo. Common
themes in these paintings seem to be helper beings, snakes, double
helixes, flying saucers, the inside of religious buildings, alien
cities and a psychedelic, neon-coloured jungle. Here are some examples of his paintings: