Карлос Кастанеда. Сила безмолвия (engl)
Carlos Castaneda "The Power Of Silence"
My books are a true account of a teaching method that don Juan Matus, a
Mexican Indian sorcerer, used in order to help me understand the sorcerers'
world. In this sense, my books are the account of an on-going process which
becomes more clear to me as time goes by.
It takes years of training to teach us to deal intelligently with the
world of everyday life. Our schooling - whether In plain reasoning or formal
topics - is rigorous, because the knowledge we are trying to impart is very
complex. The same criteria apply to the sorcerers' world: their schooling,
which relies on oral instruction and the manipulation of awareness, although
different from ours, is just as rigorous, because their knowledge is as, or
perhaps more, complex
At various times don Juan attempted to name his knowledge for my
benefit. He felt that the most appropriate name was nagualism, but that the
term was too obscure. Calling it simply "knowledge" made it too vague, and
to call it "witchcraft" was debasing. "The mastery of intent" was too
abstract, and "the search for total freedom" too long and metaphorical.
Finally, because he was unable to find a more appropriate name, he called it
"sorcery," although he admitted it was not really accurate.
Over the years, he had given me different definitions of sorcery, but
he had always maintained that definitions change as knowledge increases.
Toward the end of my apprenticeship, I felt I was in a position to
appreciate a clearer definition, so I asked him once more.
"From where the average man stands," don Juan said, "sorcery is
nonsense or an ominous mystery beyond his reach. And he is right - not
because this is an absolute fact, but because the average man lacks the
energy to deal with sorcery."
He stopped for a moment before he continued. "Human beings are born
with a finite amount of energy," don Juan said, "an energy that is
systematically deployed, beginning at the moment of birth, in order that it
may be used most advantageously by the modality of the time."
"What do you mean by the modality of the time?" I asked.
"The modality of the time is the precise bundle of energy fields being
perceived," he answered. "I believe man's perception has changed through the
ages. The actual time decides the mode; the time decides which precise
bundle of energy fields, out of an incalculable number, are to be used. And
handling the modality of the time - those few, selected energy fields -
takes all our available energy, leaving us nothing that would help us use
any of the other energy fields."
He urged me with a subtle movement of his eyebrows to consider all
"This is what I mean when I say that the average man lacks the energy
needed to deal with sorcery," he went on. "If he uses only the energy he
has, he can't perceive the worlds sorcerers do. To perceive them, sorcerers
need to use a cluster of energy fields not ordinarily used. Naturally, if
the average man is to perceive those worlds and understand sorcerers'
perception he must use the same cluster they have used. And this is just not
possible, because all his energy is already deployed."
He paused as if searching for the appropriate words to make his point.
"Think of it this way," he proceeded. "It isn't that as time goes by
you're learning sorcery; rather, what you're learning is to save energy. And
this energy will enable you to handle some of the energy fields which are
inaccessible to you now. And that is sorcery: the ability to use energy
fields that are not employed in perceiving the ordinary world we know.
Sorcery is a state of awareness. Sorcery is the ability to perceive
something which ordinary perception cannot.
"Everything I've put you through," don Juan went on, "each of the
things I've shown you was only a device to convince you that there's more to
us than meets the eye.
We don't need anyone to teach us sorcery, because there is really
nothing to learn. What we need is a teacher to convince us that there is
incalculable power at our fingertips. What a strange paradox! Every warrior
on the path of knowledge thinks, at one time or another, that he's learning
sorcery, but all he's doing is allowing himself to be convinced of the power
hidden in his being, and that he can reach it."
"Is that what you're doing, don Juan - convincing me?"
"Exactly. I'm trying to convince you that you can reach that power. I
went through the same thing. And I was as hard to convince as you are."
"Once we have reached it, what exactly do we do with it, don Juan?"
"Nothing. Once we have reached it, it will, by itself, make use of
energy fields which are available to us but inaccessible. And that, as I
have said, is sorcery. We begin then to see - that is, to perceive -
something else; not as imagination, but as real and concrete. And then we
begin to know without having to use words. And what any of us does with that
increased perception, with that silent knowledge, depends on our own
On another occasion, he gave me another kind of explanation. We were
discussing an unrelated topic when he abruptly changed the subject and began
to tell me a joke. He laughed and, very gently, patted my back between the
shoulder blades, as if he were shy and it was too forward of him to touch
me. He chuckled at my nervous reaction.
"You're skittish," he said teasingly, and slapped my back with greater
My ears buzzed. For an instant I lost my breath. It felt us though he
had hurt my lungs. Every breath brought me great discomfort. Yet, after I
had coughed and choked a few times, my nasal passages opened and I found
taking deep, soothing breaths. I had such a feeling of well-being that
I was not even annoyed at him for his blow, which had been hard as well as
Then don Juan began a most remarkable explanation. Clearly and
concisely, he gave me a different and more precise definition of sorcery.
I had entered into a wondrous state of awareness! I had such clarity of
mind that I was able to comprehend and assimilate everything don Juan was
saying. He said that in the universe there is an unmeasurable, indescribable
force which sorcerers call intent, and that absolutely everything that
exists in the entire cosmos is attached to intent by a connecting link.
Sorcerers, or warriors, as he called them, were concerned with discussing,
understanding, and employing that connecting link. They were especially
concerned with cleaning it of the numbing effects brought about by the
ordinary concerns of their everyday lives. Sorcery at this level could be
defined as the procedure of cleaning one's connecting link to intent. Don
Juan stressed that this "cleaning procedure" was extremely difficult to
understand, or to learn to perform. Sorcerers, therefore, divided their
instruction into two categories. One was instruction for the everyday-life
state of awareness, in which the cleaning process was presented in a
disguised fashion. The other was instruction for the states of heightened
awareness, such as the one I was presently experiencing, in which sorcerers
obtained knowledge directly from intent, without the distracting
intervention of spoken language.
Don Juan explained that by using heightened awareness over thousands of
years of painful struggle, sorcerers had gained specific insights into
intent; and that they had passed these nuggets of direct knowledge on from
generation to generation to the present. He said that the task of sorcery is
to take this seemingly incomprehensible knowledge and make it understandable
by the standards of awareness of everyday life.
Then he explained the role of the guide in the lives of sorcerers. He
said that a guide is called "the nagual," and that the nagual is a man or a
woman with extraordinary energy, a teacher who has sobriety, endurance,
stability; someone seers see as a luminous sphere having four compartments,
as if four luminous balls have been compressed together. Because of their
extraordinary energy, naguals are intermediaries. Their energy allows them
to channel peace, harmony, laughter, and knowledge directly from the source,
from intent, and transmit them to their companions. Naguals are responsible
for supplying what sorcerers call "the minimal chance": the awareness of
one's connection with intent.
I told him that my mind was grasping everything he was telling me, that
the only part of his explanation still unclear to me was why two sets of
teachings were needed. I could understand everything he was saying about his
world easily, and yet he had described the process of understanding as very
"You will need a lifetime to remember the insights you've had today,"
he said, "because most of them were silent knowledge. A few moments from now
you will have forgotten them. That's one of the unfathomable mysteries of
Don Juan then made me shift levels of consciousness by striking me on
my left side, at the edge of my ribcage.
Instantly I lost my extraordinary clarity of mind and could not
remember having ever had it. ...
Don Juan himself set me the task of writing about the premises of
sorcery. Once, very casually in the early stages
of my apprenticeship, he suggested that I write a book in order to make
use of the notes I had always taken. I had accumulated reams of notes and
never considered what to do with them. I argued that the suggestion was
absurd because I was not a writer.
"Of course, you're not a writer," he said, "so you will have to use
sorcery. First, you must visualize your experiences as if you were reliving
them, and then you must see the text in your dreaming. For you, writing
should not be a literary exercise, but rather an exercise in sorcery."
I have written in that manner about the premises of sorcery just as don
Juan explained them to me, within the context of his teaching.
In his teaching scheme, which was developed by sorcerers of ancient
times, there were two categories of instruction. One was called "teachings
for the right side," carried out in the ordinary state of awareness. The
other was called "teachings for the left side," put into practice solely in
states of heightened awareness.
These two categories allowed teachers to school their apprentices
toward three areas of expertise: the mastery of awareness, the art of
stalking, and the mastery of intent.
These three areas of expertise are the three riddles sorcerers
encounter in their search for knowledge.
The mastery of awareness is the riddle of the mind; the perplexity
sorcerers experience when they recognize the astounding mystery and scope of
awareness and perception.
The art of stalking is the riddle of the heart; the puzzlement
sorcerers feel upon becoming aware of two things: first that the world
appears to us to be unalterably objective and factual, because of
peculiarities of our awareness and perception; second, that if different
peculiarities of perception come into play, the very things about the world
that seem so unalterably objective and factual change. The mastery of intent
is the riddle of the spirit, or the paradox of the abstract - sorcerers'
thoughts and actions projected beyond our human condition.
Don Juan's instruction on the art of stalking and the mastery of intent
depended upon his instruction on the mastery of awareness, which was the
cornerstone of his teachings, and which consist of the following basic
1. The universe is an infinite agglomeration of energy fields,
resembling threads of light.
2. These energy fields, called the Eagle's emanations, radiate from a
source of inconceivable proportions metaphorically called the Eagle.
3. Human beings are also composed of an incalculable number of the same
threadlike energy fields. These Eagle's emanations form an encased
agglomeration that manifests itself as a ball of light the size of the
person's body with the arms extended laterally, like a giant luminous egg.
4. Only a very small group of the energy fields inside this luminous
ball are lit up by a point of intense brilliance located on the ball's
5. Perception occurs when the energy fields in that small group
immediately surrounding the point of brilliance extend their light to
illuminate identical energy fields outside the ball. Since the only energy
fields perceivable are those lit by the point of brilliance, that point is
named "the point where perception is assembled" or simply "the assemblage
6. The assemblage point can be moved from its usual position on the
surface of the luminous ball to another position on the surface, or into the
interior. Since the brilliance of the assemblage point can light up whatever
energy field it comes in contact with, when it moves to a new position it
immediately brightens up new energy fields, making them perceivable. This
perception is known as seeing.
7. When the assemblage point shifts, it makes possible the perception
of an entirely different world - as objective and factual as the one we
normally perceive. Sorcerers go into that other world to get energy, power,
solutions to general and particular problems, or to face the unimaginable.
8. Intent is the pervasive force that causes us to perceive. We do not
become aware because we perceive; rather, we perceive as a result of the
pressure and intrusion of intent.
9. The aim of sorcerers is to reach a state of total awareness in order
to experience all the possibilities of perception available to man. This
state of awareness even implies an alternative way of dying.
A level of practical knowledge was included as part of teaching the
mastery of awareness. On that practical level don Juan taught the procedures
necessary to move the assemblage point. The two great systems devised by the
sorcerer seers of ancient times to accomplish this were: dreaming, the
control and utilization of dreams; and stalking, the control of behavior.
Moving one's assemblage point was an essential maneuver that every
sorcerer had to learn. Some of them, the naguals, also learned to perform it
for others. They were able to dislodge the assemblage point from its
customary position by delivering a hard slap directly to the assemblage
point. This blow, which was experienced as a smack on the right shoulder
blade - although the body was never touched - resulted in a state of
In compliance with his tradition, it was exclusively in these states of
heightened awareness that don Juan carried
out the most important and dramatic part of his teachings: the
instructions for the left side. Because of the extraordinary quality of
these states, don Juan demanded that I not discuss them with others until we
had concluded everything in the sorcerers' teaching scheme. That demand was
not difficult for me to accept. In those unique states of awareness my
capabilities for understanding the instruction were unbelievably enhanced,
but at the same time my capabilities for describing or even remembering it
were impaired. I could function in those states with proficiency and
assuredness, but I could not recollect anything about them once I returned
to my normal consciousness.
It took me years to be able to make the crucial conversion of my
enhanced awareness into plain memory. My reason and common sense delayed
this moment because they were colliding head-on with the preposterous,
unthinkable reality of heightened awareness and direct knowledge. For years
the resulting cognitive disarrangement forced me to avoid the issue by not
thinking about it.
Whatever I have written about my sorcery apprenticeship, up to now, has
been a recounting of how don Juan taught me the mastery of awareness. I have
not yet described the art of stalking or the mastery of intent.
Don Juan taught me their principles and applications with the help of
two of his companions: a sorcerer named Vicente Medrano and another named
Silvio Manuel, but whatever I learned from them still remains clouded in
what Don Juan called the intricacies of heightened awareness. Until now it
has been impossible for me to write or even to think coherently about the
art of stalking and the mastery of intent. My mistake has been to regard
them as subjects for normal memory and recollection. They are, but at the
mime time they are not. In order to resolve this contradiction, I have not
pursued the subjects directly - a virtual impossibility - but have dealt
with them indirectly through the concluding topic of don Juan's instruction:
the stories of the sorcerers of the past.
He recounted these stories to make evident what he called the abstract
cores of his lessons. But I was incapable of grasping the nature of the
abstract cores despite his comprehensive explanations, which, I know now,
were intended more to open my mind than to explain anything in a rational
manner. His way of talking made me believe for many years that his
explanations of the abstract cores were like academic dissertations; and all
I was able to do, under these circumstances, was to take his explanations as
given. They became part of my tacit acceptance of his teachings, but without
the thorough assessment on my part that was essential to understanding them.
Don Juan presented three sets of six abstract cores each, arranged in
an increasing level of complexity. I have dealt here with the first set,
which is composed of the following: the manifestations of the spirit, the
knock of the spirit, the trickery of the spirit, the descent of the spirit,
the requirements of intent, and handling intent.
THE MANIFESTATIONS OF THE SPIRIT
The First Abstract Core
Don Juan, whenever it was pertinent, used to tell me brief stories
about the sorcerers of his lineage, especially his teacher, the nagual
Julian. They were not really stories, but rather descriptions of the way
those sorcerers behaved and of aspects of their personalities. These
accounts were each designed to shed light on a specific topic in my
I had heard the same stories from the other fifteen members of don
Juan's group of sorcerers, but none of these accounts had been able to give
me a clear picture of the people they described. Since I had no way of
persuading don Juan to give me more details about those sorcerers, I had
resigned myself to the idea of never knowing about them in any depth.
One afternoon, in the mountains of southern Mexico, don Juan, after
having explained to me more about the intricacies of the mastery of
awareness, made a statement that completely baffled me.
"I think it's time for us to talk about the sorcerers of our past," he
Don Juan explained that it was necessary that I begin drawing
conclusions based on a systematic view of the past,
conclusions about both the world of daily affairs and the sorcerers'
"Sorcerers are vitally concerned with their past," he said. "But I
don't mean their personal past. For sorcerers their past is what other
sorcerers in bygone days have done. And what we are now going to do is
examine that past.
"The average man also examines the past. But it's mostly his personal
past he examines, and he does so for personal reasons. Sorcerers do quite
the opposite; they consult their past in order to obtain a point of
"But isn't that what everyone does? Look at the past to get a point of
"No!" he answered emphatically. "The average man measures himself
against the past, whether his personal past or the past knowledge of his
time, in order to find justifications for his present or future behavior, or
to establish a model for himself. Only sorcerers genuinely seek a point of
reference in their past."
"Perhaps, don Juan, things would be clear to me if you tell me what a
point of reference for a sorcerer is."
"For sorcerers, establishing a point of reference means getting a
chance to examine intent" he replied. "Which is exactly the aim of this
final topic of instruction. And nothing can give sorcerers a better view of
intent than examining stories of other sorcerers battling to understand the
He explained that as they examined their past, the sorcerers of his
lineage took careful notice of the basic abstract order of their knowledge.
"In sorcery there are twenty-one abstract cores," don Juan went on.
"And then, based on those abstract cores, there are scores of sorcery
stories about the naguals of our lineage battling to understand the spirit.
It's time to tell you the abstract cores and the sorcery stories."
I waited for don Juan to begin telling me the stories, but he changed
the subject and went back to explaining awareness.
"Wait a minute," I protested. "What about the sorcery stories? Aren't
you going to tell them to me?"
"Of course I am," he said. "But they are not stories that one can tell
as if they were tales. You've got to think your way through them and then
rethink them - relive them, so to speak."
There was a long silence. I became very cautious and was afraid that if
I persisted in asking him again to tell me the stories, I could be
committing myself to something I might later regret. But my curiosity was
greater than my good sense.
"Well, let's get on with them," I croaked.
Don Juan, obviously catching the gist of my thoughts, smiled
maliciously. He stood and signaled me to follow. We had been sitting on some
dry rocks at the bottom of a gully. It was mid-afternoon. The sky was dark
and cloudy. Low, almost-black rain clouds hovered above the peaks to the
east. In comparison, the high clouds made the sky seem clear to the south.
Earlier it had rained heavily, but then the rain seemed to have retreated to
a hiding place, leaving behind only a threat.
I should have been chilled to the bone, for it was very cold. But I was
warm. As I clutched a rock don Juan had given me to hold, I realized that
this sensation of being warm in nearly freezing weather was familiar to me,
yet it amazed me each time. Whenever I seemed about to freeze, don Juan
would give me a branch to hold, or a stone, or he would put a bunch of
leaves under my shirt, on the tip of my sternum, and that would be
sufficient to raise my body temperature.
I had tried unsuccessfully to recreate, by myself, the effect of his
ministrations. He told me it was not the ministrations but his inner silence
that kept me warm, and the branches or stones or leaves were merely devices
to trap my attention and maintain it in focus.
Moving quickly, we climbed the steep west side of a mountain until we
reached a rock ledge at the very top. We were in the foothills of a higher
range of mountains. From the rock ledge I could see that fog had begun to
move onto the south end of the valley floor below us. Low, wispy clouds
seemed to be closing in on us, too, sliding down from the black-green, high
mountain peaks to the west. After the rain, under the dark cloudy sky the
valley and the mountains to the east and south appeared covered in a mantle
of black-green silence.
"This is the ideal place to have a talk," don Juan said, sitting on the
rock floor of a concealed shallow cave.
The cave was perfect for the two of us to sit side by side. Our heads
were nearly touching the roof and our backs fitted snugly against the curved
surface of the rock wall. It was as if the cave had been carved deliberately
to accommodate two persons of our size.
I noticed another strange feature of the cave: when I stood on the
ledge, I could see the entire valley and the mountain ranges to the east and
south, but when I sat down, I was boxed in by the rocks. Yet the ledge was
at the level of the cave floor, and flat.
I was about to point this strange effect out to don Juan, but he
"This cave is man-made," he said. "The ledge is slanted but the eye
doesn't register the incline."
"Who made this cave, don Juan?"
"The ancient sorcerers. Perhaps thousands of years ago. And one of the
peculiarities of this cave is that animals and insects and even people stay
away from it. The ancient sorcerers seem to have infused it with an ominous
charge that makes every living thing feel ill at ease."
But strangely I felt irrationally secure and happy there. A sensation
of physical contentment made my entire body tingle. I actually felt the most
agreeable, the most delectable, sensation in my stomach. It was as if my
nerves were being tickled.
"I don't feel ill at ease," I commented.
"Neither do I," he said. "Which only means that you and I aren't that
far temperamentally from those old sorcerers of the past; something which
worries me no end."
I was afraid to pursue that subject any further, so I waited for him to
"The first sorcery story I am going to tell you is called 'The
Manifestations of the Spirit,' " don Juan began, "but don't let the title
mystify you. The manifestations of the spirit is only the first abstract
core around which the first sorcery story is built.
"That first abstract core is a story in itself," he went on. "The story
says that once upon a time there was a man, an average man without any
special attributes. He was, like everyone else, a conduit for the spirit.
And by virtue of that, like everyone else, he was part of the spirit, part
of the abstract. But he didn't know it. The world kept him so busy that he
had neither the time nor the inclination really to examine the matter.
"The spirit tried, uselessly, to reveal their connection. Using an
inner voice, the spirit disclosed its secrets, but the man was incapable of
understanding the revelations. Naturally, he heard the inner voice, but he
believed it to be his own feelings he was feeling and his own thoughts he
"'The spirit, in order to shake him out of his slumber, gave him three
signs, three successive manifestations. The
spirit physically crossed the man's path in the most obvious manner.
But the man was oblivious to anything but his self-concern."
Don Juan stopped and looked at me as he did whenever he was waiting for
my comments and questions. I had nothing to say. I did not understand the
point he was trying to make.
"I've just told you the first abstract core," he continued. "The only
other thing I could add is that because of the man's absolute unwillingness
to understand, the spirit was forced to use trickery. And trickery became
the essence of the sorcerers' path. But that is another story."
Don Juan explained that sorcerers understood this abstract core to be a
blueprint for events, or a recurrent pattern that appeared every time intent
was giving an indication of something meaningful. Abstract cores, then, were
blueprints of complete chains of events.
He assured me that by means beyond comprehension, every detail of every
abstract core reoccurred to every apprentice nagual. He further assured me
that he had helped intent to involve me in all the abstract cores of sorcery
in the same manner that his benefactor, the nagual Julian and all the
naguals before him, had involved their apprentices. The process by which
each apprentice nagual encountered the abstract cores created a series of
accounts woven around those abstract cores incorporating the particular
details of each apprentice's personality and circumstances.
He said, for example, that I had my own story about the manifestations
of the spirit, he had his, his benefactor had his own, so had the nagual
that preceded him, and so on, and so forth.
"What is my story about the manifestations of the spirit?" I asked,
"If any warrior is aware of his stories it's you," he replied. "After
all, you've been writing about them for years. But you didn't notice the
abstract cores because you are a practical man. You do everything only for
the purpose of enhancing your practicality. Although you handled your
stories to exhaustion you had no idea that there was an abstract core in
them. Everything I've done appears to you, therefore, as an often-whimsical
practical activity: teaching sorcery to a reluctant and, most of the time,
stupid, apprentice. As long as you see it in those terms, the abstract cores
will elude you."
"You must forgive me, don Juan," I said, "but your statements are very
confusing. What are you saying?"
"I'm trying to introduce the sorcery stories as a subject," he replied.
"I've never talked to you specifically about this topic because
traditionally it's left hidden. It is the spirit's last artifice. It is said
that when the apprentice understands the abstract cores it's like the
placing of the stone that caps and seals a pyramid."
It was getting dark and it looked as though it was about to rain again.
I worried that if the wind blew from east to west while it was raining, we
were going to get soaked in that cave. I was sure don Juan was aware of
that, but he seemed to ignore it.
"It won't rain again until tomorrow morning," he said.
Hearing my inner thoughts being answered made me jump involuntarily and
hit the top of my head on the cave roof. It was a thud that sounded worse
than it felt.
Don Juan held his sides laughing. After a while my head really began to
hurt and I had to massage it.
"Your company is as enjoyable to me as mine must have been to my
benefactor," he said and began to laugh again.
We were quiet for a few minutes. The silence around me was ominous. I
fancied that I could hear the rustling of the low clouds as they descended
on us from the higher mountains. Then I realized that what I was hearing was
the soft wind. From my position in the shallow cave, it sounded like the
whispering of human voices.
"I had the incredible good luck to be taught by two naguals," don Juan
said and broke the mesmeric grip the wind had on me at that moment. "One
was, of course, my benefactor, the nagual Julian, and the other was his
benefactor, the nagual Elias. My case was unique."
"Why was your case unique?" I asked.
"Because for generations naguals have gathered their apprentices years
after their own teachers have left the world," he explained. "Except my
benefactor. I became the nagual Julian's apprentice eight years before his
benefactor left the world. I had eight years' grace. It was the luckiest
thing that could have happened to me, for I had the opportunity to be taught
by two opposite temperaments. It was like being reared by a powerful father
and an even more powerful grandfather who don't see eye to eye. In such a
contest, the grandfather always wins. So I'm properly the product of the
nagual Elfas's teachings. I was closer to him not only in temperament but
also in looks. I'd say that I owe him my fine tuning. However, the bulk of
the work that went into turning me from a miserable being into an impeccable
warrior I owe to my benefactor, the nagual Julian."
"What was the nagual Julian like physically?" I asked.
"Do you know that to this day it's hard for me to visualize him?" don
Juan said. "I know that sounds absurd, but depending on his needs or the
circumstances, he could be either young or old, handsome or homely, effete
and weak or strong and virile, fat or slender, of medium height or extremely
"Do you mean he was an actor acting out different roles with the aid of
"No, there were no props involved and he was not merely an actor. He
was, of course, a great actor in his own right, but that is different. The
point is that he was capable of transforming himself and becoming all those
diametrically opposed persons. Being a great actor enabled him to portray
all the minute peculiarities of behavior that made each specific being real.
Let us say that he was at ease in every change of being. As you are at ease
in every change of clothes."
Eagerly, I asked don Juan to tell me more about his benefactor's
transformations. He said that someone taught him how to elicit those
transformations, but that to explain any further would force him to overlap
into different stories.
"What did the nagual Julian look like when he wasn't transforming
himself?" I asked.
"Let's say that before he became a nagual he was very slim and
muscular," don Juan said. "His hair was black, thick, and wavy. He had a
long, fine nose, strong big white teeth, an oval face, strong jaw, and shiny
dark-brown eyes. He was about five feet eight inches tall. He was not Indian
or even a brown Mexican, but he was not Anglo white either. In fact, his
complexion seemed to be like no one else's, especially in his later years
when his ever-changing complexion shifted constantly from dark to very light
and back again to dark. When I first met him he was a light-brown old man,
then as time went by, he became a light-skinned young man, perhaps only a
few years older than me. I was twenty at that time.
"But if the changes of his outer appearance were astonishing," don Juan
went on, "the changes of mood and behavior that accompanied each
transformation were even more astonishing. For example, when he was a fat
young man, he was jolly and sensual. When he was a skinny old man, he was
petty and vindictive. When he was a fat old man, he was the greatest
imbecile there was."
"Was he ever himself?" I asked.
"Not the way I am myself," he replied. "Since I'm not interested in
transformation I am always the same. But he was not like me at all." Don
Juan looked at me as if he were assessing my inner strength. He smiled,
shook his head from side to side and broke into a belly laugh.
"What's so funny, don Juan?" I asked.
"The fact is that you're still too prudish and stiff to appreciate
fully the nature of my benefactor's transformations and their total scope,"
he said. "I only hope that when I tell you about them you don't become
For some reason I suddenly became quite uncomfortable and had to change
"Why are the naguals called 'benefactors' and not simply teachers?" I
"Calling a nagual a benefactor is a gesture his apprentices make," don
Juan said. "A nagual creates an overwhelming feeling of gratitude in his
disciples. After all, a nagual molds them and guides them through
I remarked that to teach was in my opinion the greatest, most
altruistic act anyone could perform for another.
"For you, teaching is talking about patterns," he said. "For a
sorcerer, to teach is what a nagual does for his apprentices. For them he
taps the prevailing force in the universe: intent - the force that changes
and reorders things or keeps them as they are. The nagual formulates, then
guides the consequences that that force can have on his disciples. Without
the nagual's molding intent there would be no awe, no wonder for them. And
his apprentices, instead of embarking on a magical journey of discovery,
would only be learning a trade: healer, sorcerer, diviner, charlatan, or
"Can you explain intent to me?" I asked.
"The only way to know intent" he replied, "is to know it directly
through a living connection that exists between intent and all sentient
beings. Sorcerers call intent the indescribable, the spirit, the abstract,
the nagual. I would prefer to call it nagual, but it overlaps with the name
for the leader, the benefactor, who is also called nagual, so I have opted
for calling it the spirit, intent, the abstract."
Don Juan stopped abruptly and recommended that I keep quiet and think
about what he had told me. By then it was very dark. The silence was so
profound that instead of lulling me into a restful state, it agitated me. I
could not maintain order in my thoughts. I tried to focus my attention on
the story he had told me, but instead I thought of everything else, until
finally I fell asleep.
The Impeccability Of The Nagual Elias
I had no way of telling how long I slept in that cave. Don Juan's voice
startled me and I awoke. He was saying that the first sorcery story
concerning the manifestations of the spirit was an account of the
relationship between intent and the nagual. It was the story of how the
spirit set up a lure for the nagual, a prospective disciple, and of how the
nagual had to evaluate the lure before making his decision either to accept
or reject it. It was very dark in the cave, and the small space was
confining. Ordinarily an area of that size would have made me
claustrophobic, but the cave kept soothing me, dispelling my feelings of
annoyance. Also, something in the configuration of the cave absorbed the
echoes of don Juan's words.
Don Juan explained that every act performed by sorcerers, especially by
the naguals, was either performed as a way to strengthen their link with
intent or as a response triggered by the link itself. Sorcerers, and
specifically the naguals, therefore had to be actively and permanently on
the lookout for manifestations of the spirit. Such manifestations were
called gestures of the spirit or, more simply, indications or omens.
He repeated a story he had already told me; the story of how he had met
his benefactor, the nagual Julian.
Don Juan had been cajoled by two crooked men to take a job on an
isolated hacienda. One of the men, the foreman of the hacienda, simply took
possession of don Juan and in effect made him a slave.
Desperate and with no other course of action, don Juan escaped. The
violent foreman chased him and caught him on a country road where he shot
don Juan in the chest and left him for dead.
Don Juan was lying unconscious in the road, bleeding to death, when the
nagual Julian came along. Using his healer's knowledge, he stopped the
bleeding, took don Juan, who was still unconscious, home and cured him.
The indications the spirit gave the nagual Julian about don Juan were,
first, a small cyclone that lifted a cone of dust on the road a couple of
yards from where he lay. The second omen was the thought which had crossed
the nagual Julian's mind an instant before he had heard the report of the
gun a few yards away: that it was time to have an apprentice nagual. Moments
later, the spirit gave him the third omen, when he ran to take cover and
instead collided with the gunman, putting him to flight, perhaps preventing
him from shooting don Juan a second time. A collision with someone was the
type of blunder which no sorcerer, much less a nagual, should ever make.
The nagual Julian immediately evaluated the opportunity. When he saw
don Juan he understood the reason for the spirit's manifestation: here was a
double man, a perfect candidate to be his apprentice nagual.
This brought up a nagging rational concern for me. I wanted to know if
sorcerers could interpret an omen erroneously. Don Juan replied that
although my question sounded perfectly legitimate, it was inapplicable, like
the majority of my questions, because I asked them based on my experiences
in the world of everyday life. Thus they were always about tested
procedures, steps to be followed, and rules of meticulousness, but had
nothing to do with the premises of sorcery. He pointed out that the flaw in
my reasoning was that I always failed to include my experiences in the
I argued that very few of my experiences in the sorcerers' world had
continuity, and therefore I could not make use of those experiences in my
present day-to-day life. Very few times, and only when I was in states of
profound heightened awareness, had I remembered everything. At the level of
heightened awareness I usually reached, the only experience that had
continuity between past and present was that of knowing him.
He responded cuttingly that I was perfectly capable of engaging in
sorcerers' reasonings because I had experienced the sorcery premises in my
normal state of awareness. In a more mellow tone he added that heightened
awareness did not reveal everything until the whole edifice of sorcery
knowledge was completed.
Then he answered my question about whether or not sorcerers could
misinterpret omens. He explained that when a sorcerer interpreted an omen he
knew its exact meaning without having any notion of how he knew it. This was
one of the bewildering effects of the connecting link with intent. Sorcerers
had a sense of knowing things directly. How sure they were depended on the
strength and clarity of their connecting link.
He said that the feeling everyone knows as "intuition" is the
activation of our link with intent. And since sorcerers deliberately pursue
the understanding and strengthening of that link, it could be said that they
intuit everything unerringly and accurately. Reading omens is commonplace
for sorcerers - mistakes happen only when personal feelings intervene and
cloud the sorcerers' connecting link with intent. Otherwise their direct
knowledge is totally accurate and functional.
We remained quiet for a while.
All of a sudden he said, "I am going to tell you a story about the
nagual Elias and the manifestation of the spirit. The spirit manifests
itself to a sorcerer, especially to a nagual, at every turn. However, this
is not the entire truth. The entire truth is that the spirit reveals itself
to everyone with the same intensity and consistency, but only sorcerers, and
naguals in particular, are attuned to such revelations."
Don Juan began his story. He said that the nagual Elias had been riding
his horse to the city one day, taking him through a shortcut by some
cornfields when suddenly his horse shied, frightened by the low, fast sweep
of a falcon that missed the nagual's straw hat by only a few inches. The
nagual immediately dismounted and began to look around. He saw a strange
young man among the tall, dry cornstalks. The man was dressed in an
expensive dark suit and appeared alien there. The nagual Elias was used to
the sight of peasants or landowners in the fields, but he had never seen an
elegantly dressed city man moving through the fields with apparent disregard
for his expensive shoes and clothes.
The nagual tethered his horse and walked toward the young man. He
recognized the flight of the falcon, as well as the man's apparel, as
obvious manifestations of the spirit which he could not disregard. He got
very close to the young man and saw what was going on. The man was chasing a
peasant woman who was running a few yards ahead of him, dodging and laughing
The contradiction was quite apparent to the nagual. The two people
cavorting in the cornfield did not belong together. The nagual thought that
the man must be the landowner's son and the woman a servant in the house. He
felt embarrassed to be observing them and was about to turn and leave when
the falcon again swept over the cornfield and this time brushed the young
man's head. The falcon alarmed the couple and they stopped and looked up,
trying to anticipate another sweep. The nagual noticed that the man was thin
and handsome, and had haunting, restless eyes.
Then the couple became bored watching for the falcon, and returned to
their play. The man caught the woman, embraced her and gently laid her on
the ground. But instead of trying to make love to her, as the nagual assumed
he would do next, he removed his own clothes and paraded naked in front of
She did not shyly close her eyes or scream with embarrassment or
fright. She giggled, mesmerized by the prancing naked man, who moved around
her like a satyr, making lewd gestures and laughing. Finally, apparently
overpowered by the sight, she uttered a wild cry, rose, and threw herself
into the young man's arms.
Don Juan said that die nagual Elias confessed to him that the
indications of the spirit on that occasion had been most baffling. It was
clearly evident that the man was insane. Otherwise, knowing how protective
peasants were of their women, he would not have considered seducing a young
peasant woman in broad daylight a few yards from the road - and naked to
Don Juan broke into a laugh and told me that in those days to take off
one's clothes and engage in a sexual act in broad daylight in such a place
meant one had to be either insane or blessed by the spirit. He added that
what the man had done might not seem remarkable nowadays. But then, nearly a
hundred years ago, people were infinitely more inhibited.
All of this convinced the nagual Elias from the moment he laid eyes on
the man that he was both insane and blessed by the spirit. He worried that
peasants might happen by, become enraged and lynch the man on the spot. But
no one did. It felt to the nagual as if time had been suspended.
When the man finished making love, he put on his clothes, took out a
handkerchief, meticulously dusted his shoes and, all the while making wild
promises to the girl, went on his way. The nagual Elias followed him. In
fact, he followed him for several days and found out that his name was
Julian and that he was an actor.
Subsequently the nagual saw him on the stage often enough to realize
that the actor had a great deal of charisma. The audience, especially the
women, loved him. And he had no scruples about making use of his charismatic
gifts to seduce female admirers. As the nagual followed the actor, he was
able to witness his seduction technique more than once. It entailed showing
himself naked to his adoring fans as soon as he got them alone, then waiting
until the women, stunned by his display, surrendered. The technique seemed
extremely effective for him. The nagual had to admit that the actor was a
great success, except on one count. He was mortally ill. The nagual had seen
the black shadow of death that followed him everywhere.
Don Juan explained again something he had told me years before - that
our death was a black spot right behind the left shoulder. He said that
sorcerers knew when a person was close to dying because they could see the
dark spot, which became a moving shadow the exact size and shape of the
person to whom it belonged.
As he recognized the imminent presence of death the nagual was plunged
into a numbing perplexity. He wondered why the spirit was singling out such
a sick person. He had been taught that in a natural state replacement, not
repair, prevailed. And the nagual doubted that he had the ability or the
strength to heal this young man, or resist the black shadow of his death. He
even doubted if he would be able to discover why the spirit had involved him
in a display of such obvious waste.
The nagual could do nothing but stay with the actor, follow him around,
and wait for the opportunity to see in greater depth. Don Juan explained
that a nagual's first reaction, upon being faced with the manifestations of
the spirit, is to see the persons involved. The nagual Elias had been
meticulous about seeing the man the moment he laid eyes on him. He had also
seen the peasant woman who was part of the spirit's manifestation, but he
had seen nothing that, in his judgment, could have warranted the spirit's
In the course of witnessing another seduction, however, the nagual's
ability to see took on a new depth. This time
the actor's adoring fan was the daughter of a rich landowner. And from
the start she was in complete control. The nagual found out about their
rendezvous because he overheard her daring the actor to meet her the next
day. The nagual was hiding across the street at dawn when the young woman
left her house, and instead of going to early mass she went to join the
actor. The actor was waiting for her and she coaxed him into following her
to the open fields. He appeared to hesitate, but she taunted him and would
not allow him to withdraw.
As the nagual watched them sneaking away, he had an absolute conviction
that something was going to happen on that day which neither of the players
was anticipating. He saw that the actor's black shadow had grown to almost
twice his height. The nagual deduced from the mysterious hard look in the
young woman's eyes that she too had felt the black shadow of death at an
intuitive level. The actor seemed preoccupied. He did not laugh as he had on
They walked quite a distance. At one point, they spotted the nagual
following them, but he instantly pretended to be working the land, a peasant
who belonged there. That made the couple relax and allowed the nagual to
Then the moment came when the actor tossed off his clothes and showed
himself to the girl. But instead of swooning and falling into his arms as
his other conquests had, this girl began to hit him. She kicked and punched
him mercilessly and stepped on his bare toes, making him cry out with pain.
The nagual knew the man had not threatened or harmed the young woman.
He had not laid a finger on her. She was the only one fighting. He was
merely trying to parry the blows, and persistently, but without enthusiasm,
trying to entice her by showing her his genitals.
The nagual was filled with both revulsion and admiration. He could
perceive that the actor was an irredeemable libertine, but he could also
perceive equally easily that there was something unique, although revolting,
about him. It baffled the nagual to see that the man's connecting link with
the spirit was extraordinarily clear.
Finally the attack ended. The woman stopped beating the actor. But
then, instead of running away, she surrendered, lay down and told the actor
he could now have his way with her.
The nagual observed that the man was so exhausted he was practically
unconscious. Yet despite his fatigue he went right ahead and consummated his
The nagual was laughing and pondering that useless man's great stamina
and determination when the woman screamed and the actor began to gasp. The
nagual saw how the black shadow struck the actor. It went like a dagger,
with pinpoint accuracy into his gap.
Don Juan made a digression at this point to elaborate on something he
had explained before: he had described the gap, an opening in our luminous
shell at the height of the navel, where the force of death ceaselessly
struck. What don Juan now explained was that when death hit healthy beings
it was with a ball-like blow - like the punch of a fist. But when beings
were dying, death struck them with a dagger-like thrust.
Thus the nagual Elias knew without any question that the actor was as
good as dead, and his death automatically finished his own interest in the
spirit's designs. There were no designs left; death had leveled everything.
He rose from his hiding place and started to leave when something made
him hesitate. It was the young woman's calmness. She was nonchalantly
putting on the few pieces of clothing she had taken off and was whistling
tunelessly as if nothing had happened.
And then the nagual saw that in relaxing to accept the presence of
death, the man's body had released a protecting veil and revealed his true
nature. He was a double man of tremendous resources, capable of creating a
screen for protection or disguise - a natural sorcerer and a perfect
candidate for a nagual apprentice, had it not been for the black shadow of
The nagual was completely taken aback by that sight. He now understood
the designs of the spirit, but failed to comprehend how such a useless man
could fit in the sorcerers' scheme of things.
The woman in the meantime had stood up and without so much as a glance
at the man, whose body was contorting with death spasms, walked away.
The nagual then saw her luminosity and realized that her extreme
aggressiveness was the result of an enormous flow of superfluous energy. He
became convinced that if she did not put that energy to sober use, it would
get the best of her and there was no telling what misfortunes it would cause
As the nagual watched the unconcern with which she walked away, he
realized that the spirit had given him another manifestation. He needed to
be calm, nonchalant. He needed to act as if he had nothing to lose and
intervene for the hell of it. In true nagual fashion he decided to tackle
the impossible, with no one except the spirit as witness.
Don Juan commented that it took incidents like this to test whether a
nagual is the real thing or a fake. Naguals make decisions. With no regard
for the consequences they take action or choose not to. Imposters ponder and
become paralyzed. The nagual Elias* having made his decision, walked calmly
to the side of the dying man and did the first thing his body, not his mind,
compelled him to do: he struck the man's assemblage point to cause him to
enter into heightened awareness. He struck him frantically again and again
until his assemblage point moved. Aided by the force of death itself, the
nagual's blows sent the man's assemblage point to a place where death no
longer mattered, and there he stopped dying.
By the time the actor was breathing again, the nagual had become aware
of the magnitude of his responsibility. If the man was to fend off the force
of his death, it would be necessary for him to remain in deep heightened
awareness until death had been repelled. The man's advanced physical
deterioration meant he could not be moved from the spot or he would
instantly die. The nagual did the only thing possible under the
circumstances: he built a shack around the body. There, for three months he
nursed the totally immobilized man.
My rational thoughts took over, and instead of just listening, I wanted
to know how the nagual Elias could build a shack on someone else's land. I
was aware of the rural peoples' passion about land ownership and its
accompanying feelings of territoriality.
Don Juan admitted that he had asked the same question himself. And the
nagual Elias had said that the spirit itself had made it possible. This was
the case with everything a nagual undertook, providing he followed the
The first thing the nagual Elias did, when the actor was breathing
again, was to run after the young woman. She was an important part of the
spirit's manifestation. He caught up with her not too far from the spot
where the actor lay barely alive. Rather than talking to her about the man's
plight and trying to convince her to help him, he again assumed total
responsibility for his actions and jumped on her like a lion, striking her
assemblage point a mighty blow. Both she and the actor were capable of
sustaining life or death blows. Her assemblage point moved, but began to
shift erratically once it was loose.
The nagual carried the young woman to where the actor lay. Then he
spent the entire day trying to keep her from losing her mind and the man
from losing his life. . When he was fairly certain he had a degree of
control he went to the woman's father and told him that lightning must have
struck his daughter and made her temporarily mad. He took the father to
where she lay and said that the young man, whoever he was, had taken the
whole charge of the lightning with his body, thus saving the girl from
certain death, but injuring himself to the point that he could not be moved.
The grateful father helped the nagual build the shack for the man who
had saved his daughter. And in three months the nagual accomplished the
impossible. He healed the young man.
When the time came for the nagual to leave, his sense of responsibility
and his duty required him both to warn the young woman about her excess
energy and the injurious consequences it would have on her life and well
being, and to ask her to join the sorcerers' world, as that would be the
only defense against her self-destructive strength.
The woman did not respond. And the nagual Elias was obliged to tell her
what every nagual has said to a prospective apprentice throughout the ages:
that sorcerers speak of sorcery as a magical, mysterious bird which has
paused in its flight for a moment in order to give man hope and purpose;
that sorcerers live under the wing of that bird, which they call the bird of
wisdom, the bird of freedom; that they nourish it with their dedication and
impeccability. He told her that sorcerers knew the flight of the bird of
freedom was always a straight line, since it had no way of making a loop, no
way of circling back and returning; and that the bird of freedom could do
only two things, take sorcerers along, or leave them behind.
The nagual Elias could not talk to the young actor, who was still
mortally ill, in the same way. The young man did not have much of a choice.
Still, the nagual told him that if he wanted to be cured, he would have to
follow the nagual unconditionally. The actor accepted the terms instantly.
The day the nagual Elias and the actor started back home, the young
woman was waiting silently at the edge of town. She carried no suitcases,
not even a basket. She seemed to have come merely to see them off. The
nagual kept walking without looking at her, but the actor, being carried on
a stretcher, strained to say goodbye to her. She laughed and wordlessly
merged into the nagual's party. She had no doubts and no problem about
leaving everything behind. She had understood perfectly that there was no
second chance for her, that the bird of freedom either took sorcerers along
or left them behind.
Don Juan commented that that was not surprising. The force of the
nagual's personality was always so overwhelming that he was practically
irresistible, and the nagual Elias had affected those two people deeply. He
had had three months of daily interaction to accustom them to his
consistency, his detachment, his objectivity. They had become enchanted by
his sobriety and, above all, by his total dedication to them. Through his
example and his actions, the nagual Elfas had given them a sustained view of
the sorcerers' world: supportive and nurturing, yet utterly demanding. It
was a world that admitted very few mistakes.
Don Juan reminded me then of something he had repeated to me often but
which I had always managed not to think about. He said that I should not
forget, even for an instant, that the bird of freedom had very little
patience with indecision, and when it flew away, it never returned.
The chilling resonance of his voice made the surroundings, which only a
second before had been peacefully dark, burst with immediacy. Don Juan
summoned the peaceful darkness back as fast as he had summoned urgency. He
punched me lightly on the arm. "That woman was so powerful that she could
dance circles around anyone," he said. "Her name was Talia."
THE KNOCK OF THE SPIRIT
We returned to don Juan's house in the early hours of the morning. It
took us a long time to climb down the mountain, mainly because I was afraid
of stumbling into a precipice in the dark, and don Juan had to keep stopping
to catch the breath he lost laughing at me.
I was dead tired, but I could not fall asleep. Before noon, it began to
rain. The sound of the heavy downpour on the tile roof, instead of making me
feel drowsy, removed every trace of sleepiness.
I got up and went to look for don Juan. I found him dozing in a chair.
The moment I approached him he was wide-awake. I said good morning.
"You seem to be having no trouble falling asleep," I commented.
"When you have been afraid or upset, don't lie down to sleep," he said
without looking at me. "Sleep sitting up on a soft chair as I'm doing."
He had suggested once that if I wanted to give my body healing rest I
should take long naps, lying on my stomach with my face turned to the left
and my feet over the foot of the bed. In order to avoid being cold, he
put a soft pillow over my shoulders, away from my neck, and wear heavy
socks, or just leave my shoes on.
When I first heard his suggestion, I thought he was being funny, but
later changed my mind. Sleeping in that position helped me rest
extraordinarily well. When I commented on the surprising results, he advised
that I follow his suggestions to the letter without bothering to believe or
I suggested to don Juan that he might have told me the night before
about the sleeping in a sitting position. I explained to him that the cause
of my sleeplessness, besides my extreme fatigue, was a strange concern about
what he had told me in the sorcerer's cave.
"Cut it out!" he exclaimed. "You've seen and heard infinitely more
distressing things without losing a moment's sleep. Something else is
For a moment I thought he meant I was not being truthful with him about
my real preoccupation. I began to explain, but he kept talking as if I had
"You stated categorically last night that the cave didn't make you feel
ill at ease," he said. "Well, it obviously did. Last night I didn't pursue
the subject of the cave any further because I was waiting to observe your
Don Juan explained that the cave had been designed by sorcerers in
ancient times to serve as a catalyst. Its shape had been carefully
constructed to accommodate two people as two fields of energy. The theory of
the sorcerers was that the nature of the rock and the manner in which it had
been carved allowed the two bodies, the two luminous balls, to intertwine
"I took you to that cave on purpose," he continued, "not because I like
the place - I don't - but because it was created as an instrument to push
the apprentice deep into heightened awareness. But unfortunately, as it
helps, it also obscures issues. The ancient sorcerers were not given to
thought. They leaned toward action."
"You always say that your benefactor was like that," I said.
"That's my own exaggeration," he answered, "very much like when I say
you're a fool. My benefactor was a modern nagual, involved in the pursuit of
freedom, but he leaned toward action instead of thoughts. You're a modern
nagual, involved in the same quest, but you lean heavily toward the
aberrations of reason."
He must have thought his comparison was very funny; his laughter echoed
in the empty room.
When I brought the conversation back to the subject of the cave, he
pretended not to hear me. I knew he was pretending because of the glint in
his eyes and the way he smiled.
"Last night, I deliberately told you the first abstract core," he said,
"in the hope that by reflecting on the way I have acted with you over the
years you'll get an idea about the other cores. You've been with me for a
long time so you know me very well. During every minute of our association I
have tried to adjust my actions and thoughts to the patterns of the abstract
"The nagual Elias's story is another matter. Although it seems to be a
story about people, it is really a story about intent. Intent creates
edifices before us and invites us to enter them. This is the way sorcerers
understand what is happening around them."
Don Juan reminded me that I had always insisted on trying to discover
the underlying order in everything he said to me. I thought he was
criticizing me for my attempt to turn whatever he was teaching me into a
social science problem. I began to tell him that my outlook had changed
under his influence. He stopped me and smiled.
"You really don't think too well," he said and sighed. "I want you to
understand the underlying order of what I teach you. My objection is to what
you think is the underlying order. To you, it means secret procedures or a
hidden consistency. To me, it means two things: both the edifice that intent
manufactures in the blink of an eye and places in front of us to enter, and
the signs it gives us so we won't get lost once we are inside.
"As you can see, the story of the nagual Elias was more than merely an
account of the sequential details that made up the event," he went on.
"Underneath all that was the edifice of intent. And the story was meant to
give you an idea of what the naguals of the past were like, so that you
would recognize how they acted in order to adjust their thoughts and actions
to the edifices of intent"
There was a prolonged silence. I did not have anything to say. Rather
than let the conversation die, I said the first thing that came into my
mind. I said that from the stories I had heard about the nagual Elfas I had
formed a very positive opinion of him. I liked the nagual Elfas, but for
unknown reasons, everything don Juan had told me about the nagual Julian
The mere mention of my discomfort delighted don Juan beyond measure. He
had to stand up from his chair lest he choke on his laughter. He put his arm
on my shoulder and said that we either loved or hated those who were
reflections of ourselves.
Again a silly self-consciousness prevented me from asking him what he
meant. Don Juan kept on laughing, obviously aware of my mood. He finally
commented that the nagual Julian was like a child whose sobriety and
moderation came always from without. He had no inner discipline beyond his
training as an apprentice in sorcery.
I had an irrational urge to defend myself. I told don Juan that my
discipline came from within me.
"Of course," he said patronizingly. "You just can't expect to be
exactly like him." And began to laugh again.
Sometimes don Juan exasperated me so that I was ready to yell. But my
mood did not last. It dissipated so rapidly that another concern began to
loom. I asked don Juan if it Was possible that I had entered into heightened
awareness Without being conscious of it? Or maybe I had remained in it for
"At this stage you enter into heightened awareness all by yourself," he
said. "Heightened awareness is a mystery Only for our reason. In practice,
it's very simple. As with everything else, we complicate matters by trying
to make the immensity that surrounds us reasonable."
He remarked that I should be thinking about the abstract core he had
given me instead of arguing uselessly about my person.
I told him that I had been thinking about it all morning and had come
to realize that the metaphorical theme of the story was the manifestations
of the spirit. What I could not discern, however, was the abstract core he
about. It had to be something unstated.
"I repeat," he said, as if he were a schoolteacher drilling his
students, "the Manifestations of the Spirit is the name for the first
abstract core in the sorcery stories. Obviously, what sorcerers recognize as
an abstract core is something that bypasses you at this moment. That part
Which escapes you sorcerers know as the edifice of intent, or the silent
voice of the spirit, or the ulterior arrangement of the abstract."
I said I understood ulterior to mean something not Overtly revealed, as
in "ulterior motive." And he replied that in this case ulterior meant more;
it meant knowledge without words, outside our immediate comprehension -
especially mine. He allowed that the comprehension he was referring to was
merely beyond my aptitudes of the moment, not beyond my ultimate
possibilities for understanding.
"If the abstract cores are beyond my comprehension what's the point of
talking about them?" I asked.
"The rule says that the abstract cores and the sorcery stories must be
told at this point," he replied. "And some day the ulterior arrangement of
the abstract, which is knowledge without words or the edifice of intent
inherent in the stories, will be revealed to you by the stories themselves."
I still did not understand.
"The ulterior arrangement of the abstract is not merely the order in
which the abstract cores were presented to you," he explained, "or what they
have in common either, nor even the web that joins them. Rather it's to know
the abstract directly, without the intervention of language."
He scrutinized me in silence from head to toe with the obvious purpose
of seeing me.
"It's not evident to you yet," he declared.
He made a gesture of impatience, even short temper, as though he were
annoyed at my slowness. And that worried me. Don Juan was not given to
expressions of psychological displeasure.
"It has nothing to do with you or your actions," he said when I asked
if he was angry or disappointed with me. "It was a thought that crossed my
mind the moment I saw you. There is a feature in your luminous being that
the old sorcerers would have given anything to have."
"Tell me what it is," I demanded.
"I'll remind you of this some other time," he said.
"Meanwhile, let's continue with the element that propels us: the
abstract. The element without which there could be no warrior's path, nor
any warriors in search of knowledge."
He said that the difficulties I was experiencing were nothing new to
him. He himself had gone through agonies in order to understand the ulterior
order of the abstract. And had it not been for the helping hand of the
nagual Elias, he would have wound up just like his benefactor, all action
and very little understanding.
"What was the nagual Elias like?" I asked, to change the subject.
"He was not like his disciple at all," don Juan said. "He was an
Indian. Very dark and massive. He had rough features, big mouth, strong
nose, small black eyes, thick black hair with no gray in it. He was shorter
than the nagual Julian and had big hands and feet. He was very humble and
very wise, but he had no flare. Compared with my benefactor, he was dull.
Always all by himself, pondering questions. The nagual Julian used to joke
that his teacher imparted wisdom by the ton. Behind his back he used to call
him the nagual Tonnage.
"I never saw the reason for his jokes," don Juan went on. "To me the
nagual Elias was like a breath of fresh air. He would patiently explain
everything to me. Very much as I explain things to you, but perhaps with a
bit more of something. I wouldn't call it compassion, but rather, empathy.
Warriors are incapable of feeling compassion because they no longer feel
sorry for themselves. Without the driving force of self-pity, compassion is
"Are you saying, don Juan, that a warrior is all for himself?"
"In a way, yes. For a warrior everything begins and ends with himself.
However, his contact with the abstract causes him to overcome his feeling of
self-importance. Then the self becomes abstract and impersonal.
"The nagual Elias felt that our lives and our personalities were quite
similar," don Juan continued. "For this reason, he felt obliged to help me.
I don't feel that similarity with you, so I suppose I regard you very much
the way the nagual Julian used to regard me."
Don Juan said that the nagual Elias took him under his wing from the
very first day he arrived at his benefactor's house to start his
apprenticeship and began to explain what was taking place in his training,
regardless of whether don Juan was capable of understanding. His urge to
help don Juan was so intense that he practically held him prisoner. He
protected him in this manner from the nagual Julian's harsh onslaughts.
"At the beginning, I used to stay at the nagual Elfas's house all the
time," don Juan continued. "And I loved it. In my benefactor's house I was
always on the lookout, on guard, afraid of what he was going to do to me
next. But in the Nagual Elias's home I felt confident, at ease.
"My benefactor used to press me mercilessly. And I couldn't figure out
why he was pressuring me so hard. I thought that the man was plain crazy."
Don Juan said that the nagual Elias was an Indian from the state of
Oaxaca, who had been taught by another nagual named Rosendo, who came from
the same area. Don Juan described the nagual Elias as being a very
conservative man who cherished his privacy. And yet he was a famous healer
and sorcerer, not only in Oaxaca, but in all of southern Mexico.
Nonetheless, in spite of his occupation and notoriety, he lived in complete
isolation at the opposite end of the country, in northern Mexico.
Don Juan stopped talking. Raising his eyebrows, he fixed me with a
questioning look. But all I wanted was for him to continue his story.
"Every single time I think you should ask questions, you don't," he
said. "I'm sure you heard me say that the nagual Elias was a famous sorcerer
who dealt with people daily in southern Mexico, and at the same time he was
a hermit in northern Mexico. Doesn't that arouse your curiosity?"
I felt abysmally stupid. I told him that the thought had crossed my
mind, as he was telling me those facts, that the man must have had terrible
Don Juan laughed, and, since he had made me aware of the question, I
asked how it had been possible for the nagual Elias to be in two places at
"Dreaming is a sorcerer's jet plane," he said. The nagual Elias was a
dreamer as my benefactor was a stalker. He was able to create and project
what sorcerers know as the dreaming body, or the Other, and to be in two
distant places at the same time. With his dreaming body, he could carry on
his business as a sorcerer, and with his natural self be a recluse."
I remarked that it amazed me that I could accept so easily the premise
that the nagual Elias had the ability to project a solid three-dimensional
image of himself, and yet could not for the life of me understand the
explanations about the abstract cores.
Don Juan said that I could accept the idea of the nagual Elfas's dual
life because the spirit was making final adjustments in my capacity for
awareness. And I exploded into a barrage of protests at the obscurity of his
"It isn't obscure," he said. "It's a statement of fact. You could say
that it's an incomprehensible fact for the moment, but the moment will
Before I could reply, he began to talk again about the nagual Elias. He
said that the nagual Elias had a very inquisitive mind and could work well
with his hands. In his journeys as a dreamer he saw many objects, which he
copied in wood and forged iron. Don Juan assured me that some of those
models were of a haunting, exquisite beauty.
"What kind of objects were the originals?" I asked.
"There's no way of knowing," don Juan said. "You've got to consider
that because he was an Indian the nagual Elias went into his dreaming
journeys the way a wild animal prowls for food. An animal never shows up at
a site when there are signs of activity. He comes only when no one is
around. The nagual Elias, as a solitary dreamer, visited, let's say, the
junkyard of infinity, when no one was around - and copied whatever he saw,
but never knew what those things were used for, or their source."
Again, I had no trouble accepting what he was saying. The idea did not
appear to me farfetched in any way. I was about to comment when he
interrupted me with a gesture of his eyebrows. He then continued his account
about the nagual Elias.
"Visiting him was for me the ultimate treat," he said, "and
simultaneously, a source of strange guilt. I used to get bored to death
there. Not because die nagual Elfas was boring, but because the nagual
Julian had no peers and he spoiled anyone for life."
"But I thought you were confident and at ease in the nagual Elias's
house," I said.
"I was, and that was the source of my guilt and my imagined problem.
Like you, I loved to torment myself. I think at the very beginning I found
peace in the nagual Elias's company, but later on, when I understood the
nagual Julian better, I went his way."
He told me that the nagual Elias's house had an open, roofed section in
the front, where he had a forge and a
carpentry bench and tools. The tiled-roof adobe house consisted of a
huge room with a dirt floor where he lived with five women seers, who were
actually his wives. There were also four men, sorcerer-seers of his party
who lived in small houses around the nagual's house. They were all Indians
from different parts of the country who had migrated to northern Mexico.
"The nagual Elias had great respect for sexual energy," don Juan said.
"He believed it has been given to us so we can use it in dreaming. He
believed dreaming had fallen into disuse because it can upset the precarious
mental balance of susceptible people.
"I've taught you dreaming the same way he taught me," he continued. "He
taught me that while we dream the assemblage point moves very gently and
naturally. Mental balance is nothing but the fixing of the assemblage point
on one spot we're accustomed to. If dreams make that point move, and
dreaming is used to control that natural movement, and sexual energy is
needed for dreaming, the result is sometimes disastrous when sexual energy
is dissipated in sex instead of dreaming. Then dreamers move their
assemblage point erratically and lose their minds."
"What are you trying to tell me, don Juan?" I asked because I felt that
the subject of dreaming had not been a natural drift in the conversation.
"You are a dreamer" he said. "If you're not careful with your sexual
energy, you might as well get used to the idea of erratic shifts of your
assemblage point. A moment ago you were bewildered by your reactions. Well,
your assemblage point moves almost erratically, because your sexual energy
is not in balance." I made a stupid and inappropriate comment about the sex
life of adult males.
"Our sexual energy is what governs dreaming," he explained. "The nagual
Elfas taught me - and I taught you - that you either make love with your
sexual energy or you dream with it. There is no other way. The reason I
mention it at all is because you are having great difficulty shifting your
assemblage point to grasp our last topic: the abstract.
"The same thing happened to me," don Juan went on. "It was only when my
sexual energy was freed from the world that everything fit into place. That
is the rule for dreamers. Stalkers are the opposite. My benefactor was, you
could say, a sexual libertine both as an average man and as a nagual."
Don Juan seemed to be on the verge of revealing his benefactor's
doings, but he obviously changed his mind. He shook his head and said that I
was way too stiff for such revelations. I did not insist.
He said that the nagual Elfas had the sobriety that only dreamers
acquired after inconceivable battles with themselves. He used his sobriety
to plunge himself into the task of answering don Juan's questions.
"The nagual Elfas explained that my difficulty in understanding the
spirit was the same as his own," don Juan continued. "He thought there were
two different issues. One, the need to understand indirectly what the spirit
is, and the other, to understand the spirit directly.
"You're having problems with the first. Once you understand what the
spirit is, the second issue will be resolved automatically, and vice versa.
If the spirit speaks to you, using its silent words, you will certainly know
immediately what the spirit is."
He said that the nagual Elfas believed that the difficulty was our
reluctance to accept the idea that knowledge could exist without words to
"But I have no difficulty accepting that," I said.
"Accepting this proposition is not as easy as saying you accept it,"
don Juan said. "The nagual Elfas used to tell me that the whole of humanity
has moved away from the abstract, although at one time we must have been
close to it. It must have been our sustaining force. And then something
happened and pulled us away from the abstract. Now we can't get back to it.
He used to say that it takes years for an apprentice to be able to go back
to the abstract, that is, to know that knowledge and language can exist
independent of each other."
Don Juan repeated that the crux of our difficulty in going back to the
abstract was our refusal to accept that we could know without words or even
I was going to argue that he was talking nonsense when I got the strong
feeling I was missing something and that his point was of crucial importance
to me. He was really trying to tell me something, something I either could
not grasp or which could not be told completely.
"Knowledge and language are separate," he repeated softly.
And I was just about to say, "I know it," as if indeed I knew it, when
I caught myself.
"I told you there is no way to talk about the spirit," he continued,
"because the spirit can only be experienced. Sorcerers try to explain this
condition when they say that the spirit is nothing you can see or feel. But
it's there looming over us always. Sometimes it comes to some of us. Most of
the time it seems indifferent."
I kept quiet. And he continued to explain. He said that the spirit in
many ways was a sort of wild animal. It kept its distance from us until a
moment when something enticed it forward. It was then that the spirit
I raised the point that if the spirit wasn't an entity, or a presence,
and had no essence, how could anyone entice it?
"Your problem," he said, "is that you consider only your own idea of
what's abstract. For instance, the inner essence of man, or the fundamental
principle, are abstracts for you. Or perhaps something a bit less vague,
such as character, volition, courage, dignity, honor. The spirit, of course,
can be described in terms of all of these. And that's what's so confusing -
that it's all these and none of them."
He added that what I considered abstractions were either the opposites
of all the practicalities I could think of or things I had decided did not
have concrete existence.
"Whereas for a sorcerer an abstract is something with no parallel in
the human condition," he said.
"But they're the same thing," I shouted. "Don't you see that we're both
talking about the same thing?"
"We are not," he insisted. "For a sorcerer, the spirit is an abstract
simply because he knows it without words or even thoughts. It's an abstract
because he can't conceive what the spirit is. Yet without the slightest
chance or desire to understand it, a sorcerer handles the spirit. He
recognizes it, beckons it, entices it, becomes familiar with it, and
expresses it with his acts."
I shook my head in despair. I could not see the difference.
"The root of your misconception is that I have used the term 'abstract'
to describe the spirit," he said. "For you, abstracts are words which
describe states of intuition. An example is the word 'spirit,' which doesn't
describe reason or pragmatic experience, and which, of course, is of no use
to you other than to tickle your fancy."
I was furious with don Juan. I called him obstinate and he laughed at
me. He suggested that if I would think about the proposition that knowledge
might be independent of language, without bothering to understand it,
perhaps I could see the light.
"Consider this," he said. "It was not the act of meeting me that
mattered to you. The day I met you, you met the abstract. But since you
couldn't talk about it, you didn't notice it. Sorcerers meet the abstract
without thinking about it or seeing it or touching it or feeling its
I remained quiet because I did not enjoy arguing with him. At times I
considered him to be quite willfully abstruse. But don Juan seemed to be
enjoying himself immensely.
The Last Seduction Of Nagual Julian
It was as cool and quiet in the patio of don Juan's house as in the
cloister of a convent. There were a number of large fruit trees planted
extremely close together, which seemed to regulate the temperature and
absorb all noises. When I first came to his house, I had made critical
remarks about the illogical way the fruit trees had been planted. I would
have given them more space. His answer was that those trees were not his
property, they were free and independent warrior trees that had joined his
party of warriors, and that my comments - which applied to regular trees -
were not relevant. His reply sounded metaphorical to me. What I didn't know
then was that don Juan meant everything he said literally.
Don Juan and I were sitting in cane armchairs facing the fruit trees
now. The trees were all bearing fruit. I commented that it was not only a
beautiful sight but an extremely intriguing one, for it was not the fruit
"There is an interesting story about it," he admitted. "As you know,
these trees are warriors of my party. They are bearing now because all the
members of my party have been talking and expressing feelings about our
definitive journey, here in front of them. And the trees know now that when
we embark on our definitive journey, they will accompany us."
I looked at him, astonished.
"I can't leave them behind," he explained. "They are warriors too. They
have thrown their lot in with the nagual's party. And they know how I feel
about them. The assemblage point of trees is located very low in their
enormous luminous shell, and that permits them to know our feelings, for
instance, the feelings we are having now as we discuss my definitive
I remained quiet, for I did not want to dwell on the subject. Don Juan
spoke and dispelled my mood.
"The second abstract core of the sorcery stories is called the Knock of
the Spirit," he said. "The first core, the Manifestations of the Spirit, is
the edifice that intent builds and places before a sorcerer, then invites
him to enter. It is the edifice of intent seen by a sorcerer. The Knock of
the Spirit is the same edifice seen by the beginner who is invited - or
rather forced - to enter.
"This second abstract core could be a story in itself. The story says
that after the spirit had manifested itself to that man we have talked about
and had gotten no response, the spirit laid a trap for the man. It was a
final subterfuge, not because the man was special, but because the
incomprehensible chain of events of the spirit made that man available at
the very moment that the spirit knocked on the door.
"It goes without saying that whatever the spirit revealed to that man
made no sense to him. In fact, it went against everything the man knew,
everything he was. The man, of course, refused on the spot, and in no
uncertain terms, to have anything to do with the spirit. He wasn't going to
fall for such preposterous nonsense. He knew better. The result was a total
"I can say that this is an idiotic story," he continued. "I can say
that what I've given you is the pacifier for those who are uncomfortable
with the silence of the abstract."
He peered at me for a moment and then smiled.
"You like words," he said accusingly. "The mere idea of silent
knowledge scares you. But stories, no matter how stupid, delight you and
make you feel secure."
His smile was so mischievous that I couldn't help laughing.
Then he reminded me that I had already heard his detailed account of
the first time the spirit had knocked on his door. For a moment I could not
figure out what he was talking about.
"It was not just my benefactor who stumbled upon me as I was dying from
the gunshot," he explained. "The spirit also found me and knocked on my door
that day. My benefactor understood that he was there to be a conduit for the
spirit. Without the spirit's intervention, meeting my benefactor would have
He said that a nagual can be a conduit only after the spirit has
manifested its willingness to be used - either almost imperceptibly or with
outright commands. It was therefore not possible for a nagual to choose his
apprentices according to his own volition, or his own calculations. But once
the- willingness of the spirit was revealed through omens, the nagual spared
no effort to satisfy it.
"After a lifetime of practice," he continued, "sorcerers, naguals in
particular, know if the spirit is inviting them to enter the edifice being
flaunted before them. They have learned to discipline their connecting links
to intent. So they are always forewarned, always know what the spirit has in
store for them."
Don Juan said that progress along the sorcerers' path was, in general,
a drastic process the purpose of which was to bring this connecting link to
order. The average man's connecting link with intent is practically dead,
and sorcerers begin with a link that is useless, because it does not respond
He stressed that in order to revive that link sorcerers needed a
rigorous, fierce purpose - a special state of mind called unbending intent.
Accepting that the nagual was the only being capable of supplying unbending
intent was the most difficult part of the sorcerer's apprenticeship. I
argued that I could not see the difficulty.
"An apprentice is someone who is striving to clear and revive his
connecting link with the spirit," he explained. "Once the link is revived,
he is no longer an apprentice, but until that time, in order to keep going
he needs a fierce purpose, which, of course, he doesn't have. So he allows
the nagual to provide the purpose and to do that he has to relinquish his
individuality. That's the difficult part."
He reminded me of something he had told me often: that volunteers were
not welcome in the sorcerers' world, because they already had a purpose of
their own, which made it particularly hard for them to relinquish their
individuality. If the sorcerers' world demanded ideas and actions contrary
to the volunteers' purpose, the volunteers simply refused to change.
"Reviving an apprentice's link is a nagual's most challenging and
intriguing work," don Juan continued, "and one of his biggest headaches too.
Depending, of course, on the apprentice's personality, the designs of the
spirit are either sublimely simple or the most complex labyrinths."
Don Juan assured me that, although I might have had notions to the
contrary, my apprenticeship had not been as onerous to him as his must have
been to his benefactor. He admitted that I had a modicum of self-discipline
that came in very handy, while he had had none whatever. And his benefactor,
in turn, had had even less.
"The difference is discernible in the manifestations of the spirit," he
continued. "In some cases, they are barely noticeable; in my case, they were
commands. I had been shot. Blood was pouring out of a hole in my chest. My
benefactor had to act with speed and sureness, just as his own benefactor
had for him. Sorcerers know that the more difficult the command is, the more
difficult the disciple turns out to be."
Don Juan explained that one of the most advantageous aspects of his
association with two naguals was that he could hear the same stories from
two opposite points of view. For instance, the story about the nagual Elias
and the manifestations of the spirit, from the apprentice's perspective, was
the story of the spirit's difficult knock on his benefactor's door.
"Everything connected with my benefactor was very difficult," he said
and began to laugh. "When he was twenty-four years old, the spirit didn't
just knock on his door, it nearly banged it down."
He said that the story had really begun years earlier, when his
benefactor had been a handsome adolescent from a good family in Mexico City.
He was wealthy, educated, charming, and had a charismatic personality. Women
fell in love-with him at first sight. But he was already self-indulgent and
undisciplined, lazy about anything that did not give him immediate
Don Juan said that with that personality and his type of upbringing -
he was the only son of a wealthy widow who,
together with his four adoring sisters, doted on him - he could only
behave one way. He indulged in every impropriety he could think of. Even
among his equally self-indulgent friends, he was seen as a moral delinquent
who lived to do anything that the world considered morally wrong.
In the long run, his excesses weakened him physically and he fell
mortally ill with tuberculosis - the dreaded disease of the time. But his
illness, instead of restraining him, 'created a physical condition in which
he felt more sensual than ever. Since he did not have one iota of
self-control, he gave himself over fully to debauchery, and his health
deteriorated until there was no hope.
The saying that it never rains but it pours was certainly true for don
Juan's benefactor then. As his health declined, his mother, who was his only
source of support and the only restraint on him, died. She left him a
sizable inheritance, which should have supported him adequately for life,
but undisciplined as he was, in a few months he had spent every cent. With
no profession or trade to fall back on, he was left to scrounge for a
Without money he no longer had friends; and even the women who once
loved him turned their backs. For the first time in his life, he found
himself confronting a harsh reality. Considering the state of his health, it
should have been the end. But he was resilient. He decided to work for a
His sensual habits, however, could not be changed, and they forced him
to seek work in the only place he felt comfortable: the theater. His
qualifications were that he was a born ham and had spent most of his adult
life in the company of actresses. He joined a theatrical troupe in the
provinces, away from his familiar circle of friends and
acquaintances, and became a very intense actor, the consumptive hero in
religious and morality plays.
Don Juan commented on the strange irony that had always marked his
benefactor's life. There he was, a perfect reprobate, dying as a result of
his dissolute ways and playing the roles of saints and mystics. He even
played Jesus in the Passion Play during Holy Week.
His health lasted through one theatrical tour of the northern states.
Then two things happened in the city of Durango: his life came to an end and
the spirit knocked on his door.
Both his death and the spirit's knock came at the same time - in broad
daylight in the bushes. His death caught him in the act of seducing a young
woman. He was already extremely weak, and that day he overexerted himself.
The young woman, who was vivacious and strong and madly infatuated, had by
promising to make love induced him to walk to a secluded spot miles from
nowhere. And there she had fought him off for hours. When she finally
submitted, he was completely worn out, and coughing so badly that he could
During his last passionate outburst he felt a searing pain in his
shoulder. His chest felt as if it were being ripped apart and a coughing
spell made him retch uncontrollably. Hut his compulsion to seek pleasure
kept him going until his death came in the form of a hemorrhage. It was then
that the spirit made its entry, borne by an Indian who came to his aid.
Earlier he had noticed the Indian following them around, but had not given
him a second thought, absorbed as he was in the seduction.
He saw, as in a dream, the girl. She was not scared nor did she lose
her composure. Quietly and efficiently she put her clothes back on and took
off as fast as a rabbit chased by hounds.
He also saw the Indian rushing to him trying to make him sit up. He
heard him saying idiotic things. He heard him pledging himself to the spirit
and mumbling incomprehensible words in a foreign language. Then the Indian
acted very quickly. Standing behind him, he gave him a smacking blow on the
Very rationally, the dying man deduced that the Indian was trying
either to dislodge the blood clot or to kill him.
As the Indian struck him repeatedly on the back, the dying man became
convinced that the Indian was the woman's lover or husband and was murdering
him. But seeing the intensely brilliant eyes of that Indian, he changed his
mind. He knew that the Indian was simply crazy and was not connected with
the woman. With his last bit of consciousness, he focused his attention on
the man's mumblings. What he was saying was that the power of man was
incalculable, that death existed only because we had intended it since the
moment of our birth, that the intent of death could be suspended by making
the assemblage point change positions.
He then knew that the Indian was totally insane. His situation was so
theatrical - dying at the hands of a crazy Indian mumbling gibberish - that
he vowed he would be a ham actor to the bitter end, and he promised himself
not to die of either the hemorrhaging or the blows, but to die of laughter.
And he laughed until he was dead.
Don Juan remarked that naturally his benefactor could not possibly have
taken the Indian seriously. No one could take such a person seriously,
especially not a prospective apprentice who was not supposed to be
volunteering for the sorcery task.
Don Juan then said that he had given me different versions of what that
sorcery task consisted. He said it would not be presumptuous of him to
disclose that, from the spirit's point of view, the task consisted of
clearing our connecting link with it. The edifice that intent flaunts before
us is, then, a clearinghouse, within which we find not so much the
procedures to clear our connecting link as the silent knowledge that allows
the clearing process to take place. Without that silent knowledge no process
could work, and all we would have would be an indefinite sense of needing
He explained that the events unleashed by sorcerers as a result of
silent knowledge were so simple and yet so abstract that sorcerers had
decided long ago to speak of those events only in symbolic terms. The
manifestations and the knock of the spirit were examples.
Don Juan said that, for instance, a description of what took place
during the initial meeting between a nagual and a prospective apprentice
from the sorcerers' point of view, would be absolutely incomprehensible. It
would be nonsense to explain that the nagual, by virtue of his lifelong
experience, was focusing something we couldn't imagine, his second attention
- the increased awareness gained through sorcery training - on his invisible
connection with some indefinable abstract. He was doing this to emphasize
and clarify someone else's invisible connection with that indefinable
He remarked that each of us was barred from silent knowledge by natural
barriers, specific to each individual; and that the most impregnable of my
barriers was the drive to disguise my complacency as independence.
I challenged him to give me a concrete example. I reminded .him that he
had once warned me that a favorite debating ploy was to raise general
criticisms that could not be supported by concrete examples. Don Juan looked
at me and beamed.
"In the past, I used to give you power plants," he said.
"At first, you went to extremes to convince yourself that what you were
experiencing were hallucinations. Then you wanted them to be special
hallucinations. I remember I made fun of your insistence on calling them
didactic hallucinatory experiences."
He said that my need to prove my illusory independence forced me into a
position where I could not accept what he had told me was happening,
although it was what I silently knew for myself. I knew he was employing
power plants, as the very limited tools they were, to make me enter partial
or temporary states of heightened awareness by moving my assemblage point
away from its habitual location.
"You used your barrier of independence to get you over that
obstruction," he went on. "The same barrier has continued to work to this
day, so you still retain that sense of indefinite anguish, perhaps not so
pronounced. Now the question is, how are you arranging your conclusions so
that your current experiences fit into your scheme of complacency?"
I confessed that the only way I could maintain my independence was not
to think about my experiences at all.
Don Juan's hearty laugh nearly made him fall out of his cane chair. He
stood and walked around to catch his breath. He sat down again and composed
himself. He pushed his chair back and crossed his legs.
He said that we, as average men did not know, nor would we ever know,
that it was something utterly real and functional - our connecting link with
intent - which gave us our hereditary preoccupation with fate. He asserted
that during our active lives we never have the chance to go beyond the level
of mere preoccupation, because since time immemorial the lull of daily
affairs has made us drowsy. It is only when our lives are nearly over that
preoccupation with fate begins to take on a different character. It
begins to make us see through the fog of daily affairs. Unfortunately, this
awakening always comes hand in hand with loss of energy caused by aging,
when we have no more strength left to turn our preoccupation into a
pragmatic and positive discovery. At this point, all there is left is an
amorphous, piercing anguish, a longing for something indescribable, and
simple anger at having missed out.
"I like poems for many reasons," he said. "One reason is that they
catch the mood of warriors and explain what can hardly be explained."
He conceded that poets were keenly aware of our connecting link with
the spirit, but that they were aware of it intuitively, not in the
deliberate, pragmatic way of sorcerers.
"Poets have no firsthand knowledge of the spirit," he went on. "That is
why their poems cannot really hit the center of true gestures for the
spirit. They hit pretty close to it, though."
He picked up one of my poetry books from a chair next to him, a
collection by Juan Ramon Jimenez. He opened it to where he had placed a
marker, handed it to me and signaled me to read.
Is it I who walks tonight in my room or is it the beggar who was
prowling in my garden at nightfall?
I look around and find that everything is the same and it is not the
Was the window open?
Had I not already fallen asleep?
Was not the garden pale green? . . .
The sly was clear and blue . . .
And there are clouds
and it is windy
and the garden is dark and gloomy.
I think that my hair was black . . .
I was dressed in grey . . .
And my hair is grey
and I am wearing black . . .
Is this my gait?
Does this voice, which now resounds in me,
have the rhythms of the voice I used to have?
Am I myself or am I the beggar
who was prowling in my garden
I look around . . .
There are clouds and it is windy . . .
The garden is dark and gloomy . . .
I come and go . . . Is it not true that I had already fallen asleep? My
hair is grey . . . And everything is the same and it is not the same . . .
I reread the poem to myself and I caught the poet's mood of impotence
and bewilderment. I asked don Juan if he felt the same.
"I think the poet senses the pressure of aging and the anxiety that
that realization produces," don Juan said. "But that is only one part of it.
The other part, which interests me, is that the poet, although he never
moves his assemblage point, intuits that something extraordinary is at
stake. He intuits with great certainty that there is some unnamed factor,
awesome because of its simplicity, that is determining our fate."
THE TRICKERY OF THE SPIRIT
Dusting The Link With The Spirit
The sun had not yet risen from behind the eastern peaks, but the day
was already hot. As we reached the first steep slope, a couple of miles
along the road from the outskirts of town, don Juan stopped walking and
moved to the side of the paved highway. He sat down by some huge boulders
that had been dynamited from the face of the mountain when they cut the road
and signaled me to join him. We usually stopped there to talk or rest on our
way to the nearby mountains. Don Juan announced that this trip was going to
be long and that we might be in the mountains for days.
"We are going to talk now about the third abstract core," don Juan
said. "It is called the trickery of the spirit, or the trickery of the
abstract, or stalking oneself, or dusting the link."
I was surprised at the variety of names, but said nothing. I waited for
him to continue his explanation.
"And again, as with the first and second core," he went on, "it could
be a story in itself. The story says that after knocking on the door of that
man we've been talking about, and having no success with him, the spirit
used the only means available: trickery. After all, the spirit had resolved
previous impasses with trickery. It was obvious that if it wanted to make an
impact on this man it had to cajole him. So the spirit began to instruct the
man on the mysteries of Sorcery. And the sorcery apprenticeship became what
it is: a route of artifice and subterfuge.
"The story says that the spirit cajoled the man by making him shift
back and forth between levels of awareness to show him how to save energy
needed to strengthen his connecting link."
Don Juan told me that if we apply his story to a modern netting we had
the case of the nagual, the living conduit of the spirit, repeating the
structure of this abstract core and resorting to artifice and subterfuge in
order to teach.
Suddenly he stood and started to walk toward the mountain range. I
followed him and we started our climb, side by side.
In the very late afternoon we reached the top of the high mountains.
Even at that altitude it was still very warm. All day we had followed a
nearly invisible trail. Finally we reached a small clearing, an ancient
lookout post commanding the north and west.
We sat there and don Juan returned our conversation to the sorcery
stories. He said that now I knew the story of intent manifesting itself to
the nagual Elias and the story of the spirit knocking on the nagual Julian's
door. And I knew how he had met the spirit, and I certainly could not forget
how I had met it. All these stories, he declared, had the same structure;
only the characters differed. Each story was an abstract tragicomedy with
one abstract player, intent, and two human actors, the nagual and his
apprentice. The script was the abstract core.
I thought I had finally understood what he meant, but I could not quite
explain even to myself what it was I understood, nor could I explain it to
don Juan. When I tried to put my thoughts into words I found myself
Don Juan seemed to recognize my state of mind. He suggested that I
relax and listen. He told me his next story was about the process of
bringing an apprentice into the realm of the spirit, a process sorcerers
called the trickery of the spirit, or dusting the connecting link to intent.
"I've already told you the story of how the nagual Julian took me to
his house after I was shot and tended my wound until I recovered," don Juan
continued. "But I didn't tell you how he dusted my link, how he taught me to
"The first thing a nagual does with his prospective apprentice is to
trick him. That is, he gives him a jolt on his connecting link to the
spirit. There are two ways of doing this. One is through seminormal
channels, which I used with you, and the other is by means of outright
sorcery, which my benefactor used on me."
Don Juan again told me the story of how his benefactor had convinced
the people who had gathered at the road that the wounded man was his son.
Then he had paid some men to carry don Juan, unconscious from shock and loss
of blood, to his own house. Don Juan woke there, days later, and found a
kind old man and his fat wife tending his wound.
The old man said his name was Belisario and that his wife was a famous
healer and that both of them were healing his wound. Don Juan told them he
had no money, and Belisario suggested that when he recovered, payment of
some sort could be arranged.
Don Juan said that he was thoroughly confused, which was nothing new to
him. He was just a muscular, reckless twenty-year-old Indian, with no
brains, no formal education, and a terrible temper. He had no conception of
gratitude. He thought it was very kind of the old man and his wife to have
helped him, but his intention was to wait for his wound to heal and then
simply vanish in the middle of the night.
When he had recovered enough and was ready to flee, old Belisario took
him into a room and in trembling whispers disclosed that the house where
they were staying belonged to a monstrous man who was holding him and his
wife prisoner. He asked don Juan to help them to regain their freedom, to
escape from their captor and tormentor. Before don Juan could reply, a
monstrous fish-faced man right out of a horror tale burst into the room, as
if he had been listening behind the door. He was greenish-gray, had only one
unblinking eye in the middle of his forehead, and was as big as a door. He
lurched at don Juan, hissing like a serpent, ready to tear him apart, and
frightened him so greatly that he fainted.
"His way of giving me a jolt on my connecting link with the spirit was
masterful." Don Juan laughed. "My benefactor, of course, had shifted me into
heightened awareness prior to the monster's entrance, so that what I
actually saw as a monstrous man was what sorcerers call an inorganic being,
a formless energy field."
Don Juan said that he knew countless cases in which his benefactor's
devilishness created hilariously embarrassing situations for all his
apprentices, especially for don Juan himself, whose seriousness and
stiffness made him the perfect subject for his benefactor's didactic jokes.
He added as an afterthought that it went without saying that these jokes
entertained his benefactor immensely.
"If you think I laugh at you - which I do - it's nothing compared with
how he laughed at me," don Juan continued. "My devilish benefactor had
learned to weep to hide his laughter. You just can't imagine how he used to
cry when I first began my apprenticeship."
Continuing with his story, don Juan stated that his life was never the
same after the shock of seeing that monstrous man. His benefactor made sure
of it. Don Juan explained that once a nagual has introduced his prospective
disciple, especially his nagual disciple, to trickery he must struggle to
assure his compliance. This compliance could be of two different kinds.
Either the prospective disciple is so disciplined and tuned that only his
decision to join the nagual is needed, as had been the case with young
Talfa. Or the prospective disciple is someone with little or no discipline,
in which case a nagual has to expend time and a great deal of labor to
convince his disciple.
In don Juan's case, because he was a wild young peasant without a
thought in his head, the process of reeling him in took bizarre turns.
Soon after the first jolt, his benefactor gave him a second one by
showing don Juan his ability to transform himself. One day his benefactor
became a young man. Don Juan was incapable of conceiving of this
transformation as anything but an example of a consummate actor's art. "How
did he accomplish those changes?" I asked. "He was both a magician and an
artist," don Juan replied. "His magic was that he transformed himself by
moving his assemblage point into the position that would bring on whatever
particular change he desired. And his art was the perfection of his
"I don't quite understand what you're telling me," I said. Don Juan
said that perception is the hinge for everything man is or does, and that
perception is ruled by the location of the assemblage point. Therefore, if
that point changes positions, man's perception of the world changes
accordingly. The sorcerer who knew exactly where to place his assemblage
point could become anything he wanted.
"The nagual Julian's proficiency in moving his assemblage point was so
magnificent that he could elicit the subtlest transformations," don Juan
continued. "When a sorcerer becomes a crow, for instance, it is definitely a
great accomplishment. But it entails a vast and therefore a gross shift of
the assemblage point. However, moving it to the position of a fat man, or an
old man, requires the minutest shift and the keenest knowledge of human
"I'd rather avoid thinking or talking about those things as facts," I
Don Juan laughed as if I had said the funniest thing imaginable.
"Was there a reason for your benefactor's transformations?" I asked.
"Or was he just amusing himself?"
"Don't be stupid. Warriors don't do anything just to amuse themselves,"
he replied. "His transformations were strategical. They were dictated by
need, like his transformation from old to young. Now and then there were
funny consequences, but that's another matter."
I reminded him that I had asked before how his benefactor learned those
transformations. He had told me then that his benefactor had a teacher, but
would not tell me who.
"That very mysterious sorcerer who is our ward taught him," don Juan
"What mysterious sorcerer is that?" I asked.
"The death defier," he said and looked at me questioningly.
For all the sorcerers of don Juan's party the death defier was a most
vivid character. According to them, the death defier was a sorcerer of
ancient times. He had succeeded in surviving to the present day by
manipulating his assemblage point, making it move in specific ways to
specific locations within his total energy field. Such maneuvers had
permitted his awareness and life force to persist.
Don Juan had told me about the agreement that the seers of his lineage
had entered into with the death defier centuries before. He made gifts to
them in exchange for vital energy. Because of this agreement, they
considered him their ward and called him "the tenant."
Don Juan had explained that sorcerers of ancient times were expert at
making the assemblage point move. In doing so they had discovered
extraordinary things about perception, but they had also discovered how easy
it was to get lost in aberration. The death defier's situation was for don
Juan a classic example of an aberration.
Don Juan used to repeat every chance he could that if the assemblage
point was pushed by someone who not only saw it but also had enough energy
to move it, it slid, within the luminous ball, to whatever location the
pusher directed. Its brilliance was enough to light up the threadlike energy
fields it touched. The resulting perception of the world was as complete as,
but not the same as, our normal perception of everyday life, therefore,
sobriety was crucial to dealing with the moving of the assemblage point.
Continuing his story, don Juan said that he quickly became accustomed
to thinking of the old man who had saved his life as really a young man
masquerading as old. But one day the young man was again the old Belisario
don Juan had first met. He and the woman don Juan thought was his wife
packed their bags, and two smiling men with a team of mules appeared out of
Don Juan laughed, savoring his story. He said that while the muleteers
packed the mules, Belisario pulled him aside and pointed out that he and his
wife were again disguised.
He was again an old man, and his beautiful wife was a fat irascible
"I was so young and stupid that only the obvious had value for me," don
Juan continued. "Just a couple of days before, I had seen his incredible
transformation from a feeble man in his seventies to a vigorous young man in
his mid-twenties, and I took his word that old age was just a disguise. His
wife had also changed from a sour, fat Indian to a beautiful slender young
woman. The woman, of course, hadn't transformed herself the way my
benefactor had. He had simply changed the woman. Of course, I could have
seen everything at that time, but wisdom always comes to us painfully and in
Don Juan said that the old man assured him that his wound was healed
although he did not feel quite well yet. He then embraced don Juan and in a
truly sad voice whispered, "the monster has liked you so much that he has
released me and my wife from bondage and taken you as his sole servant."
"I would have laughed at him," don Juan went on, "had it not been for a
deep animal growling and a frightening rattle that came from the monster's
Don Juan's eyes were shining with inner delight. I wanted to remain
serious, but could not help laughing.
Belisario, aware of don Juan's fright, apologized profusely for the
twist of fate that had liberated him and imprisoned don Juan. He clicked his
tongue in disgust and cursed the monster. He had tears in his eyes when he
listed all the chores the monster wanted done daily. And when don Juan
protested, he confided, in low tones, that there was no way to escape,
because the monster's knowledge of witchcraft was unequaled.
Don Juan asked Belisario to recommend some line of action. And
Belisario went into a long explanation about plans of action being
appropriate only if one were dealing with average human beings. In the human
context, we can plan and plot and, depending on luck, plus our cunning and
dedication, can succeed. But in the face of the unknown, specifically don
Juan's situation, the only hope of survival was to acquiesce and understand.
Belisario confessed to don Juan in a barely audible murmur that to make
sure the monster never came after him, he was going to the state of Durango
to learn sorcery. He asked don Juan if he, too, would consider learning
sorcery. And don Juan, horrified at the thought, said that he would have
nothing to do with witches.
Don Juan held his sides laughing and admitted that he enjoyed thinking
about how his benefactor must have relished their interplay. Especially when
he himself, in a frenzy of fear and passion, rejected the bona fide
invitation to learn sorcery, saying, "I am an Indian. I was born to hate and
Belisario exchanged looks with his wife and his body began to convulse.
Don Juan realized he was weeping silently, obviously hurt by the rejection.
His wife had to prop him up until he regained his composure.
As Belisario and his wife were walking away, he turned and gave don
Juan one more piece of advice. He said that the monster abhorred women, and
don Juan should be on the lookout for a male replacement on the off chance
that the monster would like him enough to switch slaves. But he should not
raise his hopes, because it was going to be years before he could even leave
the house. The monster liked to make sure his slaves were loyal or at least
obedient. Don Juan could stand it no longer. He broke down, began to weep,
and told Belisario that no one was going to enslave him. He could always
kill himself. The old man was very moved by don Juan's outburst and
confessed that he had had the same idea, but, alas, the monster was able to
read his thoughts and had prevented him from taking his own life every time
he had tried.
Belisario made another offer to take don Juan with him to Durango to
learn sorcery. He said it was the only possible solution. And don Juan told
him his solution was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Belisario began to weep loudly and embraced don Juan. He cursed the
moment he had saved the other man's life and swore that he had no idea they
would trade places. He blew his nose, and looking at don Juan with burning
eyes, said, "Disguise is the only way to survive. If you don't behave
properly, the monster can steal your soul and turn you into an idiot who
does his chores, and nothing more. Too bad I don't have time to teach you
acting." Then he wept even more.
Don Juan, choking with tears asked him to describe how he could
disguise himself. Belisario confided that the monster had terrible eyesight,
and recommended that don Juan experiment with various clothes that suited
his fancy. He had, after all, years ahead of him to try different disguises.
He embraced don Juan at the door, weeping openly. His wife touched don
Juan's hand shyly. And then they were gone.
"Never in my life, before or after, have I felt such terror and
despair," don Juan said. "The monster rattled things inside the house as if
he were waiting impatiently for me. I sat down by the door and whined like a
dog in pain. Then I vomited from sheer fear."
Don Juan sat for hours incapable of moving. He dared not leave, nor did
he dare go inside. It was no exaggeration to say that he was actually about
to die when he saw Belisario waving his arms, frantically trying to catch
attention from the other side of the street. Just seeing him again gave
don Juan instantaneous relief. Belisario was squatting by the sidewalk
watching the house. He signaled don Juan to stay put.
After an excruciatingly long time, Belisario crawled a few feet on his
hands and knees toward don Juan, then squatted again, totally immobile.
Crawling in that fashion, he advanced until he was at don Juan's side. It
took him hours. A lot of people had passed by, but no one seemed to have
noticed don Juan's despair or the old man's actions. When the two of them
were side by side, Belisario whispered that he had not felt right leaving
don Juan like a dog tied to a post. His wife had objected, but he had
returned to attempt to rescue him. After all, it was thanks to don Juan that
he had gained his freedom.
He asked don Juan in a commanding whisper whether he was ready and
willing to do anything to escape this. And don Juan assured him that he
would do anything. In the most surreptitious manner, Belisario handed don
Juan a bundle of clothes. Then he outlined his plan. Don Juan was to go to
the area of the house farthest from the monster's rooms and slowly change
his clothes, taking off one item of clothing at a time, starting with his
hat, leaving the shoes for last. Then he was to put all his clothes on a
wooden frame, a mannequin-like structure he was to build, efficiently and
quickly, as soon as he was inside the house. The next step of the plan was
for don Juan to put on the only disguise that could fool the monster: the
clothes in the
Don Juan ran into the house and got everything ready. He built a
scarecrow-like frame with poles he found in the back of the house, took off
his clothes and put them on it. But when he opened the bundle he got the
surprise of his life. The bundle consisted of women's clothes!
"I felt stupid and lost," don Juan said, "and was just about to put my
own clothes back on when I heard the inhuman growls of that monstrous man. I
had been reared to despise women, to believe their only function was to take
care of men. Putting on women's clothes to me was tantamount to becoming a
woman. But my fear of the monster was so intense that I closed my eyes and
put on the damned clothes."
I looked at don Juan, imagining him in women's clothes. It was an image
so utterly ridiculous that against my will I broke into a belly laugh.
Don Juan said that when old Belisario, waiting for him across the
street, saw don Juan in disguise, he began to weep uncontrollably. Weeping,
he guided don Juan to the outskirts of town where his wife was waiting with
the two muleteers. One of them very daringly asked Belisario if he was
stealing the weird girl to sell her to a whorehouse. The old man wept so
hard he seemed on the verge of fainting. 'he young muleteers did not know
what to do, but Belisario's wife, instead of commiserating, began to scream
with laughter. And don Juan could not understand why.
The party began to move in the dark. They took little-t raveled trails
and moved steadily north. Belisario did not speak much. He seemed to be
frightened and expecting trouble. His wife fought with him all the time and
complained that they had thrown away their chance for freedom by taking don
Juan along. Belisario gave her strict orders not to mention it again for
fear the muleteers would discover that don Juan was in disguise. He
cautioned don Juan that because he did not know how to behave convincingly
like a woman, he should act as if he were a girl who was a little touched in
Within a few days don Juan's fear subsided a great deal. In fact, he
became so confident that he could not even
remember having been afraid. If it had not been for the clothes he was
wearing, he could have imagined the whole experience had been a bad dream.
Wearing women's clothes under those conditions, entailed, of course, a
series of drastic changes. Belisario's wife coached don Juan, with true
seriousness, in every aspect of being a woman. Don Juan helped her cook,
wash clothes, gather firewood. Belisario shaved don Juan's head and put a
strong-smelling medicine on it, and told the muleteers that the girl had had
an infestation of lice. Don Juan said that since he was still a beardless
youth it was not really difficult to pass as a woman. But he felt disgusted
with himself, and with all those people, and, above all, with his fate. To
end up wearing women's clothes and doing women's chores was more than he
One day he had enough. The muleteers were the final straw. They
expected and demanded that this strange girl wait on them hand and foot. Don
Juan said that he also had to be on permanent guard, because they would make
I felt compelled to ask a question.
"Were the muleteers in cahoots with your benefactor? I asked. .
"No," he replied and began to laugh uproariously. "They were just two
nice people who had fallen temporarily under his spell. He had hired their
mules to carry medicinal plants and told them that he would pay handsomely
if they would help him kidnap a young woman."
The scope of the nagual Julian's actions staggered my imagination. I
pictured don Juan fending off sexual advances and hollered with laughter.
Don Juan continued his account. He said that he told the old man
sternly that the masquerade had lasted long enough, the men were making
sexual advances. Belisario nonchalantly advised him to be more
understanding, because men will be men, and began to weep again, completely
baffling don Juan, who found himself furiously defending women.
He was so passionate about the plight of women that he scared himself.
He told Belisario that he was going to end up in worse shape than he would
have, had he stayed as the monster's slave.
Don Juan's turmoil increased when the old man wept uncontrollably and
mumbled inanities: life was sweet, the little price one had to pay for it
was a joke, the monster would devour don Juan's soul and not even allow him
to kill himself. "Flirt with the muleteers," he advised don Juan in a
conciliatory tone and manner. "They are primitive peasants. All they want is
to play, so push them back when they shove you. Let them touch your leg.
What do you care?" And again, he wept unrestrainedly. Don Juan asked him why
he wept like that. "Because you are perfect for all this," he said and his
body twisted with the force of his sobbing.
Don Juan thanked him for his good feelings and for all the trouble he
was taking on his account. He told Belisario he now felt safe and wanted to
"The art of stalking is learning all the quirks of your disguise,"
Belisario said, paying no attention to what don Juan was telling him. "And
it is to learn them so well no one will know you are disguised. For that you
need to be ruthless, cunning, patient, and sweet."
Don Juan had no idea what Belisario was talking about. Rather than
finding out, he asked him for some men's clothes. Belisario was very
understanding. He gave don Juan some old clothes and a few pesos. He
promised don Juan that his disguise would always be there in case he needed
it, and pressed him vehemently to come to Durango with him to learn sorcery
and free himself from the monster for good. Don Juan said no and thanked
him. So Belisario bid him goodbye and patted him on the back repeatedly and
with considerable force.
Don Juan changed his clothes and asked Belisario for directions. He
answered that if don Juan followed the trail north, sooner or later he would
reach the next town. He said that the two of them might even cross paths
again since they were all going in the same general direction - away from
Don Juan took off as fast as he could, free at last. He must have
walked four or five miles before he found signs of people. He knew that a
town was nearby and thought that perhaps he could get work there until he
decided where he was going. He sat down to rest for a moment, anticipating
the normal difficulties a stranger would find in a small out-of-the-way
town, when from the corner of his eye he saw a movement in the bushes by the
mule trail. He felt someone was watching him. He became so thoroughly
terrified that he jumped up and started to run in the direction of the town;
the monster jumped at him lurching out to grab his neck. He missed by an
inch. Don Juan screamed as he had never screamed before, but still had
enough self-control to turn and run back in the direction from which he
While don Juan ran for his life, the monster pursued him, crashing
through the bushes only a few feet away. Don Juan said that it was the most
frightening sound he had ever heard. Finally he saw the mules moving slowly
in the distance, and he yelled for help.
Belisario recognized don Juan and ran toward him displaying overt
terror. He threw the bundle of women's clothes at don Juan shouting, "Run
like a woman, you fool."
Don Juan admitted that he did not know how he had the presence of mind
to run like a woman, but he did it. The monster stopped chasing him. And
Belisario told him to change quickly while he held the monster at bay.
Don Juan joined Belisario's wife and the smiling muleteers without
looking at anybody. They doubled back and took other trails. Nobody spoke
for days; then Belisario gave him daily lessons. He told don Juan that
Indian women were practical and went directly to the heart of things, but
that they were also very shy, and that when challenged they showed the
physical signs of fright in shifty eyes, tight mouths, and enlarged
nostrils. All these signs were accompanied by a fearful stubbornness,
followed by shy laughter.
He made don Juan practice his womanly behavior skills in every town
they passed through. And don Juan honestly believed he was teaching him to
be an actor. But Belisario insisted that he was teaching him the art of
stalking. He told don Juan that stalking was an art applicable to
everything, and that there were four steps to learning it: ruthlessness,
cunning, patience, and sweetness.
I felt compelled to interrupt his account once more.
"But isn't stalking taught in deep, heightened awareness?" I asked.
"Of course," he replied with a grin. "But you have to understand that
for some men wearing women's clothes is the door into heightened awareness.
In fact, such means are more effective than pushing the assemblage point,
but are very difficult to arrange."
Don Juan said that his benefactor drilled him daily in the four moods
of stalking and insisted that don Juan understand that ruthlessness should
not be harshness, cunning should not be cruelty, patience should not be
negligence, and sweetness should not be foolishness.
He taught him that these four steps had to be practiced and perfected
until they were so smooth they were unnoticeable. He believed women to be
natural stalkers. And his conviction was so strong he maintained that only
in a woman's disguise could any man really learn the art of stalking.
"I went with him to every market in every town we passed and haggled
with everyone," don Juan went on. "My benefactor used to stay to one side
watching me. 'Be ruthless but charming,' he used to say. 'Be cunning but
nice. Be patient but active. Be sweet but lethal. Only women can do it. If a
man acts this way he's being prissy.' "
And as if to make sure don Juan stayed in line, the monstrous man
appeared from time to time. Don Juan caught sight of him, roaming the
countryside. He would see him most often after Belisario gave him a vigorous
back massage, supposedly to alleviate a sharp nervous pain in his neck. Don
Juan laughed and said that he had no idea he was being manipulated into
"It took us one month to reach the city of Durango," don Juan said. "In
that month, I had a brief sample of the four moods of stalking. It really
didn't change me much, but it gave me a chance to have an inkling of what
being a woman was like."
The Four Moods Of Stalking
Don Juan said that I should sit there at that ancient lookout post and
use the pull of the earth to move my assemblage point and recall other
states of heightened awareness in which he had taught me stalking.
"In the past few days, I have mentioned many times the four moods of
stalking," he went on. "I have mentioned ruthlessness, cunning, patience,
and sweetness, with the hope that you might remember what I taught you about
them. It would be wonderful if you could use these four moods as the ushers
to bring you into a total recollection."
He kept quiet for what seemed an inordinately long moment. Then he made
a statement which should not have surprised me, but did. He said he had
taught me the four moods of stalking in northern Mexico with the help of
Vicerite Medrano and Silvio Manuel. He did not elaborate but let his
statement sink in. I tried to remember but finally gave up and wanted to
shout that I could not remember something that never happened.
As I was struggling to voice my protest, anxious thoughts began to
cross my mind. I knew don Juan had not said what he had just to annoy me. As
I always did when asked to remember heightened awareness, I became
obsessively conscious that there was really no continuity to the events I
had experienced under his guidance. Those events were not strung together as
the events in my daily life were, in a linear sequence. It was perfectly
possible he was right. In don Juan's world, I had no business being certain
I tried to voice my doubts but he refused to listen and urged me to
recollect. .By then it was quite dark. It had gotten windy, but I did not
feel the cold. Don Juan had given me a flat rock to place on my sternum. My
awareness was keenly tuned to everything around. I felt an abrupt pull,
which was neither external nor internal, but rather the sensation of a
sustained tugging at an unidentifiable part of myself. Suddenly I began to
remember with shattering clarity a meeting I had had years before. I
remembered events and people so vividly that it frightened me. I felt a
I told all this to don Juan, who did not seem impressed or concerned.
He urged me not to give in to. mental or physical fear. My recollection was
so phenomenal that it was as if I were reliving the experience. Don Juan
kept quiet. He did not even look at me. I felt numbed. The sensation of
numbness passed slowly.
I repeated the same things I always said to don Juan when I remembered
an event with no linear existence.
"How can this be, don Juan? How could I have forgotten all this?"
And he reaffirmed the same things he always did.
"This type of remembering or forgetting has nothing to do with normal
memory," he assured me. "It has to do with the movement of the assemblage
He affirmed that although I possessed total knowledge of what intent
is, I did not command that knowledge yet. Knowing what intent is means that
one can, at any time, explain that knowledge or use it. A nagual by the
force of his position is obliged to command his knowledge in this manner.
"What did you recollect?" he asked me.
"The first time you told me about the four moods of stalking," I said.
Some process, inexplicable in terms of my usual awareness of the world,
had released a memory which a minute before had not existed. And I
recollected an entire sequence of events that had happened many years
Just as I was leaving don Juan's house in Sonora, he had asked me to
meet him the following week around noon, across the U.S. border, in Nogales,
Arizona, in the Greyhound bus depot.
I arrived about an hour early. He was standing by the door. I greeted
him. He did not answer but hurriedly pulled me aside and whispered that I
should take my hands out of my pockets. I was dumbfounded. He did not give
me time to respond, but said that my fly was open, and it was shamefully
evident that I was sexually aroused.
The speed with which I rushed to cover myself was phenomenal. By the
time I realized it was a crude joke we were on the street. Don Juan was
laughing, slapping me on the back repeatedly and forcefully, as if he were
just celebrating the joke. Suddenly I found myself in a state of heightened
We walked into a coffee shop and sat down. My mind was so clear I
wanted to look at everything, see the essence of things.
"Don't waste energy!" don Juan commanded in a stern voice. "I brought
you here to discover if you can eat when your assemblage point has moved.
Don't try to do more than that."
But then a man sat down at the table in front of me, and all my
attention became trapped by him.
"Move your eyes in circles," don Juan commanded. "Don't look at that
I found it impossible to stop watching the man. I felt irritated by don
"What do you see?" I heard don Juan ask.
I was seeing a luminous cocoon made of transparent wings which were
folded over the cocoon itself. The wings unfolded, fluttered for an instant,
peeled off, fell, and were replaced by new wings, which repeated the same
Don Juan boldly turned my chair until I was facing the wall.
"What a waste," he said in a loud sigh, after I described what I had
seen. "You have exhausted nearly all your
energy. Restrain yourself. A warrior needs focus. Who gives a damn
about wings on a luminous cocoon?"
He said that heightened awareness was like a springboard. From it one
could jump into infinity. He stressed, over and over, that when the
assemblage point was dislodged, it either became lodged again at a position
very near its customary one or continued moving on into infinity.
"People have no idea of the strange power we carry within ourselves,"
he went on. "At this moment, for instance, you have the means to reach
infinity. If you continue with your needless behavior, you may succeed in
pushing your assemblage point beyond a certain threshold, from which there
is no return."
I understood the peril he was talking about, or rather I had the bodily
sensation that I was standing on the brink of an abyss, and that if I leaned
forward I would fall into it.
"Your assemblage point moved to heightened awareness," he continued,
"because I have lent you my energy."
We ate in silence, very simple food. Don Juan did not allow me to drink
coffee or tea.
"While you are using my energy," he said, "you're not in your own time.
You are in mine. I drink water."
As we were walking back to my car I felt a bit nauseous. I staggered
and almost lost my (balance. It was a sensation similar to that of walking
while wearing glasses for the first time.
"Get hold of yourself," don Juan said, smiling. "Where we're going,
you'll need to be extremely precise."
He told me to drive across the international border into the twin city
of Nogales, Mexico. While I was driving, he gave me directions: which street
to take, when to make right or left hand turns, how fast to go.
"I know this area," I said quite peeved. "Tell me where you want to go
and I'll take you there. Like a taxi driver."
"O.K.," he said. "Take me to 1573 Heavenward Avenue."
I did not know Heavenward Avenue, or if such a street really existed.
In fact, I had the suspicion he had just concocted a name to embarrass me. I
kept silent. There was a mocking glint in his shiny eyes.
"Egomania is a real tyrant," he said. "We must work ceaselessly to
He continued to tell me how to drive. Finally he asked me to stop in
front of a one-story, light-beige house on a corner lot, in a well-to-do
There was something about the house that immediately caught my eye: a
thick layer of ocher gravel all around it. The solid street door, the window
sashes, and the house trim were all painted ocher, like the gravel. All the
visible windows had closed Venetian blinds. To all appearances it was a
typical suburban middle-class dwelling.
We got out of the car. Don Juan led the way. He did not knock or open
the door with a key, but when we got to it, the door opened silently on
oiled hinges - all by itself, as far as I could detect.
Don Juan quickly entered. He did not invite me in. I just followed him.
I was curious to see who had opened the door from the inside, but there was
no one there.
The interior of the house was very soothing. There were no pictures on
the smooth, scrupulously clean walls. There were no lamps or book shelves
either. A golden yellow tile floor contrasted most pleasingly with the
off-white color of the walls. We were in a small and narrow hall that opened
into a spacious living room with a high ceiling and a brick fireplace. Half
the room was completely empty, but next to the fireplace was a semicircle of
expensive furniture: two large beige couches in the middle, flanked by two
armchairs covered in fabric of the same color. There was a heavy, round,
solid oak coffee table in the center. Judging from what I was seeing around
the house, the people who lived there appeared to be well off, but frugal.
And they obviously liked to sit around the fire.
Two men, perhaps in their mid-fifties, sat in the armchairs. They stood
when we entered. One of them was Indian, the other Latin American. Don Juan
introduced me first to the Indian, who was nearer to me.
"This is Silvio Manuel," don Juan said to me. "He's the most powerful
and dangerous sorcerer of my party, and the most mysterious too."
Silvio Manuel's features were out of a Mayan fresco. His complexion was
pale, almost yellow. I thought he looked Chinese. His eyes were slanted, but
without the epicanthic fold. They were big, black, and brilliant. He was
beardless. His hair was jet-black with specks of gray in it. He had high
cheekbones and full lips. He was perhaps five feet seven, thin, wiry, and he
wore a yellow sport shirt, brown slacks, and a thin beige jacket. Judging
from his clothes and general mannerisms, he seemed to be Mexican-American.
I smiled and extended my hand to Silvio Manuel, but he did not take it.
He nodded perfunctorily.
"And this is Vicente Medrano," don Juan said, turning to the other man.
"He's the most knowledgeable and the oldest of my companions. He is oldest
not in terms of age, but because he was my benefactor's first disciple."
Vicente nodded just as perfunctorily as Silvio Manuel had, and also did
not say a word.
He was a bit taller than Silvio Manuel, but just as lean. He had a
pinkish complexion and a neatly trimmed beard and mustache. His features
were almost delicate: a thin, beautifully chiseled nose, a small mouth, thin
lips. Bushy, dark eyebrows contrasted with his graying beard and hair. His
eyes were brown and also brilliant and laughed in spite of his frowning
He was conservatively dressed in a greenish seersucker suit and
open-collared sport shirt. He too seemed to be Mexican-American. I guessed
him to be the owner of the house.
In contrast, don Juan looked like an Indian peon. His straw hat, his
worn-out shoes, his old khaki pants and plaid shirt were those of a gardener
or a handyman.
The impression I had, upon seeing all three of them together, was that
don Juan was in disguise. The military image came to me that don Juan was
the commanding officer of a clandestine operation, an officer who, no matter
how hard he tried, could not hide his years of command.
I also had the feeling that they must all have been around the same
age, although don Juan looked much older than the other two, yet seemed
"I think you already know that Carlos is by far the biggest indulger I
have ever met," don Juan told them with a most serious expression. "Bigger
even than our benefactor. I assure you that if there is someone who takes
indulging seriously, this is the man."
I laughed, but no one else did. The two men observed me with a strange
glint in their eyes.
"For sure you'll make a memorable trio," don Juan continued. "The
oldest and most knowledgeable, the most dangerous and powerful, and the most
They still did not laugh. They scrutinized me until I became
self-conscious. Then Vicente broke the silence.
"I don't know why you brought him inside the house," he said in a dry,
cutting tone. "He's of little use to us. Put him out in the backyard."
"And tie him," Silvio Manuel added. Don Juan turned to me. "Come on,"
he said in a soft voice and pointed with a quick sideways movement of his
head to the back of the house.
It was more than obvious that the two men did not like me. I did not
know what to say. I was definitely angry and hurt, but those feelings were
somehow deflected by my state of heightened awareness.
We walked into the backyard. Don Juan casually picked up a leather rope
and twirled it around my neck with tremendous speed. His movements were so
fast and so nimble that an instant later, before I could realize what was
happening, I was tied at the neck, like a dog, to one of the two
cinder-block columns supporting the heavy roof over the back porch.
Don Juan shook his head from side to side in a gesture of resignation
or disbelief and went back into the house as I began to yell at him to untie
me. The rope was so tight around my neck it prevented me from screaming as
loud as I would have liked.
I could not believe what was taking place. Containing my anger, I tried
to undo the knot at my neck. It was so compact that the leather strands
seemed glued together. I hurt my nails trying to pull them apart.
I had an attack of uncontrollable wrath and growled like an impotent
animal. Then I grabbed the rope, twisted it around my forearms, and bracing
my feet against the cinder-block column, pulled. But the leather was too
tough for the strength of my muscles. I felt humiliated and scared. Fear
brought me a moment of sobriety. I knew I had let don Juan's false aura of
reasonableness deceive me. I assessed my situation as objectively as I could
and saw no way to escape except by cutting the leather rope. I frantically
began to rub it against the sharp corner of the
cinder-block column. I thought that if I could rip the rope before any
of the men came to the back, I had a chance to run to my car and take off,
never to return.
I puffed and sweated and rubbed the rope until I had nearly worn it
through. Then I braced one foot against the column, wrapped the rope around
my forearms again, and pulled it desperately until it snapped, throwing me
back into the house.
As I crashed backward through the open door, don Juan, Vicente, and
Silvio Manuel were standing in the middle of the room, applauding.
"What a dramatic reentry," Vicente said, helping me up. "You fooled me.
I didn't think you were capable of such explosions."
Don Juan came to me and snapped the knot open, freeing my neck from the
piece of rope around it.
I was shaking with fear, exertion, and anger. In a faltering voice, I
asked don Juan why he was tormenting me like this. The three of them laughed
and at that moment seemed the farthest thing from threatening.
"We wanted to test you and find out what sort of a man you really are,"
don Juan said.
He led me to one of the couches and politely offered me n seat. Vicente
and Silvio Manuel sat in the armchairs, don Juan sat facing me on the other
I laughed nervously but was no longer apprehensive about my situation,
nor about don Juan and his friends. All "three regarded me with frank
curiosity. Vicente could not stop smiling, although he seemed to be trying
desperately to appear serious. Silvio Manuel shook his head rhythmically as
he stared at me. His eyes were unfocused but fixed on me.
"We tied you down," don Juan went on, "because we wanted to know
whether you are sweet or patient or ruthless or cunning. We found out you
are none of those things. Rather you're a king-sized indulger, just as I had
"If you hadn't indulged in being violent, you would certainly have
noticed that the formidable knot in the rope around your neck was a fake. It
snaps. Vicente designed that knot to fool his friends."
"You tore the rope violently. You're certainly not sweet," Silvio
They were all quiet for a moment, then began to laugh.
"You're neither ruthless nor cunning," don Juan went on. "If you were,
you would easily have snapped open both knots and run away with a valuable
leather rope. You're not patient either. If you were, you would have whined
and cried until you realized that there was a pair of clippers by the wall
with which you could have cut the rope in two seconds and saved yourself all
the agony and exertion.
"You can't be taught, then, to be violent or obtuse. You already are
that. But you can learn to be ruthless, cunning, patient, and sweet."
Don Juan explained to me that ruthlessness, cunning, patience, and
sweetness were the essence of stalking. They were the basics that with all
their ramifications had to be taught in careful, meticulous steps.
He was definitely addressing me, but he talked looking at Vicente and
Silvio Manuel, who listened with utmost attention and shook their heads in
agreement from time to time.
He stressed repeatedly that teaching stalking was one of the most
difficult things sorcerers did. And he insisted that no matter what they
themselves did to teach me stalking, and no matter what I believed to the
contrary, it was impeccability which dictated their acts. "Rest assured we
know what we're doing. Our benefactor, the nagual Julian, saw to it," don
Juan said, and all three of them broke into such uproarious laughter that I
felt quite uncomfortable. I did not know what to think.
Don Juan reiterated that a very important point to consider was that,
to an onlooker, the behavior of sorcerers might appear malicious, when in
reality their behavior was always impeccable.
"How can you tell the difference, if you're at the receiving end?" I
"Malicious acts are performed by people for personal gain," he said.
"Sorcerers, though, have an ulterior purpose for their acts, which has
nothing to do with personal gain. The fact that they enjoy their acts does
not count as gain. Rather, it is a condition of their character. The average
man acts only if there is the chance for profit. Warriors say they act not
for profit but for the spirit."
I thought about it. Acting without considering gain was truly an alien
concept. I had been reared to invest and to hope for some kind of reward for
everything I did.
Don Juan must have taken my silence and thoughtfulness as skepticism.
He laughed and looked at his two companions.
"Take the four of us, as an example," he went on. "You, yourself,
believe that you're investing in this situation and eventually you are going
to profit from it. If you get angry with us, or if we disappoint you, you
may resort to malicious acts to get even with us. We, on the contrary, have
no thought of personal gain. Our acts are dictated by impeccability - we
can't be angry or disillusioned with you."
Don Juan smiled and told me that from the moment we had met at the bus
depot that day, everything he had done to me, although it might not have
seemed so, was dictated by impeccability. He explained that he needed to get
into an unguarded position to help me enter heightened awareness. It
was to that end that he had told me my fly was open.
"It was a way of jolting you," he said with a grin. "We are crude
Indians, so all our jolts are somehow primitive. The more sophisticated the
warrior, the greater his finesse and elaboration of his jolts. But I have to
admit we got a big kick out of our crudeness, especially when we tied you at
the neck like a dog."
The three of them grinned and then laughed quietly as if there was
someone else inside the house whom they did not want to disturb.
In a very low voice don Juan said that because I was in a state of
heightened awareness, I could understand more readily what he was going to
tell me about the two masteries: stalking and intent. He called them the
crowning glory of sorcerers old and new, the very thing sorcerers were
concerned with today, just as sorcerers had been thousands of years before.
He asserted that stalking was the beginning, and that before anything could
be attempted on the warrior's path, warriors must learn to stalk; next they
must learn to intend, and only then could they move their assemblage point
I knew exactly what he was talking about. I knew, without knowing how,
what moving the assemblage point could accomplish. But I did not have the
words to explain what I knew. I tried repeatedly to voice my knowledge to
them. They laughed at my failures and coaxed me to try again.
"How would you like it if I articulate it for you?" don Juan asked. "I
might be able to find the very words you want to use but can't."
From his look, I decided he was seriously asking my permission. I found
the situation so incongruous that I began to laugh.
Don Juan, displaying great patience, asked me again, and I got another
attack of laughter. Their look of surprise and concern told me my reaction
was incomprehensible to them. Don Juan got up and announced that I was too
tired and it was time for me to return to the world of ordinary affairs.
"Wait, wait," I pleaded. "I am all right. I just find it funny that you
should be asking me to give you permission."
"I have to ask your permission," don Juan said, "because you're the
only one who can allow the words pent up inside you to be tapped. I think I
made the mistake of assuming you understand more than you do. Words are
tremendously powerful and important and are the magical property of whoever
"Sorcerers have a rule of thumb: they say that the deeper the
assemblage point moves, the greater the feeling that one has knowledge and
no words to explain it. Sometimes the assemblage point of average persons
can move without a known cause and without their being aware of it, except
that they become tongue-tied, confused, and evasive."
Vicente interrupted and suggested I stay with them a while longer. Don
Juan agreed and turned to face me.
"The very first principle of stalking is that a warrior stalks
himself," he said. "He stalks himself ruthlessly, cunningly, patiently, and
I wanted to laugh, but he did not give me time. Very succinctly he
defined stalking as the art of using behavior in novel ways for specific
purposes. He said that normal human behavior in the world of everyday life
was routine. Any behavior that broke from routine caused an unusual effect
on our total being. That unusual effect was what sorcerers sought, because
it was cumulative.
He explained that the sorcerer seers of ancient times, through their
seeing, had first noticed that unusual behavior produced a tremor in the
assemblage point. They soon discovered that if unusual behavior was
practiced systematically and directed wisely, it eventually forced the
assemblage point to move.
"The real challenge for those sorcerer seers," don Juan went on, "was
finding a system of behavior that was neither petty nor capricious, but that
combined the morality and the sense of beauty which differentiates sorcerer
seers from plain witches."
He stopped talking, and they all looked at me as if searching for signs
of fatigue in my eyes or face.
"Anyone who succeeds in moving his assemblage point to a new position
is a sorcerer," don Juan continued. "And from that new position, he can do
all kinds of good and bad things to his fellow men. Being a sorcerer,
therefore, can be like being a cobbler or a baker. The quest of sorcerer
seers is to go beyond that stand. And to do that, they need morality and
He said that for sorcerers stalking was the foundation on which
everything else they did was built.
"Some sorcerers object to the term stalking," he went on, "but the name
came about because it entails surreptitious behavior.
"It's also called the art of stealth, but that term is equally
unfortunate. We ourselves, because of our nonmilitant temperament, call it
the art of controlled folly. You can call it anything you wish. We, however,
will continue with the term stalking since it's so easy to say stalker and,
as my benefactor used to say, so awkward to say controlled folly maker."
At the mention of their benefactor, they laughed like children.
I understood him perfectly. I had no questions or doubts. If anything,
I had the feeling that I needed to hold onto every word don Juan was saying
to anchor myself. Otherwise my thoughts would have run ahead of him. Х
I noticed that my eyes were fixed on the movement of his lips as my
ears were fixed on the sound of his words. Hut once I realized this, I could
no longer follow him. My concentration was broken. Don Juan continued
I was not listening. I was wondering about the inconceivable
possibility of living permanently in heightened awareness. I asked myself
what would the survival value be? Would one be able to assess situations
better? Be quicker than the average man, or perhaps more intelligent?
Don Juan suddenly stopped talking and asked me what I was thinking
"Ah, you're so very practical," he commented after I had told him my
reveries. "I thought that in heightened awareness your temperament was going
to be more artistic, more mystical."
Don Juan turned to Vicente and asked him to answer my question. Vicente
cleared his throat and dried his hands by rubbing them against his thighs.
He gave the clear impression of suffering from stage fright. I felt sorry
for him. My thoughts began to spin. And when I heard him stammering, an
image burst into my mind - the image I had always had of my father's
timidity, his fear of people. But before I had time to surrender myself to
that image, Vicente's eyes flared with some strange inner luminosity. He
made a comically serious face at me and then spoke with authority and it
"To answer your question," he said, "there is no survival value in
heightened awareness; otherwise the whole human race would be there. They
are safe from that, though, because it's so hard to get into it. There is
the remote possibility that an average man might enter into such a
state. If he does, he ordinarily succeeds in confusing himself, sometimes
The three of them exploded with laughter. "Sorcerers say that
heightened awareness is the portal of intent" don Juan said. "And they use
it as such. Think about it."
I was staring at each of them in turn. My mouth was open, and I felt
that if I kept it open I would be able to understand the riddle eventually.
I closed my eyes and the answer came to me. I felt it. I did not think it.
But I could not put it into words, no matter how hard I tried.
"There, there," don Juan said, "you've gotten another sorcerer's answer
all by yourself, but you still don't have enough energy to flatten it and
turn it into words."
The sensation I was experiencing was more than just that of being
unable to voice my thoughts; it was like reliving something I had forgotten
ages ago: not to know what I felt because I had not yet learned to speak,
and therefore lacked the resources to translate my feelings into thoughts.
"Thinking and saying exactly what you want to say requires untold
amounts of energy," don Juan said and broke into my feelings.
The force of my reverie had been so intense it had made me forget what
had started it. I stared dumbfounded at don Juan and confessed I had no idea
what they or I had said or done just a moment before. I remembered the
incident of the leather rope and what don Juan had told me immediately
afterward, but I could not recall the feeling that had flooded me just
"You're going the wrong way," don Juan said. "You're trying to remember
thoughts the way you normally do, but this is a different situation. A
second ago you had an overwhelming feeling that you knew something very
Such feelings cannot be recollected by using memory. You have to recall
them by intending them back."
He turned to Silvio Manuel, who had stretched out in the armchair, his
legs under the coffee table. Silvio Manuel looked fixedly at me. His eyes
were black, like two pieces of shiny obsidian. Without moving a muscle, he
let out a piercing birdlike scream.
"Intent!!" he yelled. "Intent!! Intent!
With each scream his voice became more and more inhuman and piercing.
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I felt goose bumps on my skin.
My mind, however, instead of focusing on the fright I was experiencing, went
directly to recollecting the feeling I had had. But before I could savor it
completely, the feeling expanded and burst into something else. And then I
understood not only why heightened awareness was the portal of intent, but I
also understood what intent was. And, above all, I understood that that
knowledge could not be turned into words. That knowledge was there for
everyone. It was there to be felt, to be used, but not to be explained. One
could come into it by changing levels of awareness, therefore, heightened
awareness was an entrance. But even the entrance could not be explained. One
could only make use of it.
There was still another piece of knowledge that came to me that day
without any coaching: that the natural knowledge of intent was available to
anyone, but the command of it belonged to those who probed it.
I was terribly tired by this time, and doubtlessly as a result of that,
my Catholic upbringing came to bear heavily on my reactions. For a moment I
believed that intent was God.
I said as much to don Juan, Vicente and Silvio Manuel. They laughed.
Vicente, still in his professorial tone, said
that it could not possibly be God, because intent was a force that
could not be described, much less represented.
"Don't be presumptuous," don Juan said to me sternly. "Don't try to
speculate on the basis of your first and only trial. Wait until you command
your knowledge, then decide what is what."
Remembering the four moods of stalking exhausted me. The most dramatic
result was a more than ordinary indifference. I would not have cared if I
had dropped dead, nor if don Juan had. I did not care whether we stayed at
that ancient lookout post overnight or started back in the pitch-dark.
Don Juan was very understanding. He guided me by the hand, as if I were
blind, to a massive rock, and helped me sit with my back to it. He
recommended that I let natural sleep return me to a normal state of
THE DESCENT OF THE SPIRIT
Seeing The Spirit
Right after a late lunch, while we were still at the table, don Juan
announced that the two of us were going to spend the night in the sorcerers'
cave and that we had to be on our way. He said that it was imperative that I
sit there again, in total darkness, to allow the rock formation and the
sorcerers' intent to move my assemblage point.
I started to get up from my chair, but he stopped me. He said that
there was something he wanted to explain to me first. He stretched out,
putting his feet on the seat of a chair, then leaned back into a relaxed,
"As I see you in greater detail," don Juan said, "I notice more and
more how similar you and my benefactor are."
I felt so threatened that I did not let him continue. I told him that I
could not imagine what those similarities were, hut if there were any - a
possibility I did not consider reassuring - I would appreciate it if he told
me about them, to give me a chance to correct or avoid them.
Don Juan laughed until tears were rolling down his cheeks.
"One of the similarities is that when you act, you act very well," he
said, "but when you think, you always trip
yourself up. My benefactor was like that. He didn't think too well."
I was just about to defend myself, to say there was nothing wrong with
my thinking, when I caught a glint of mischievousness in his eyes. I stopped
cold. Don Juan noticed my shift and laughed with a note of surprise. He must
have been anticipating the opposite.
"What I mean, for instance, is that you only have problems
understanding the spirit when you think about it," he went on with a chiding
smile. "But when you act, the spirit easily reveals itself to you. My
benefactor was that way.
"Before we leave for the cave, I am going to tell you a story about my
benefactor and the fourth abstract core.
"Sorcerers believe that until the very moment of the spirit's descent,
any of us could walk away from the spirit; but not afterwards."
Don Juan deliberately stopped to urge me, with a movement of his
eyebrows, to consider what he was telling me.
"The fourth abstract core is the full brunt of the spirit's descent,"
he went on. "The fourth abstract core is an act of revelation. The spirit
reveals itself to us. Sorcerers describe it as the spirit lying in ambush
and then descending on us, its prey. Sorcerers say that the spirit's descent
is always shrouded. It happens and yet it seems not to have happened at
I became very nervous. Don Juan's tone of voice was giving me the
feeling that he was preparing to spring something on me at any moment.
He asked me if I remembered the moment the spirit descended on me,
sealing my permanent allegiance to the abstract.
I had no idea what he was talking about.
"There is a threshold that once crossed permits no retreat," he said.
"Ordinarily, from the moment the spirit knocks, it is years before an
apprentice reaches that threshold. Sometimes, though, the threshold is
reached almost immediately. My benefactor's case is an example."
Don Juan said every sorcerer should have a clear memory of crossing
that threshold so he could remind himself of the new state of his perceptual
potential. He explained that one did not have to be an apprentice of sorcery
to reach this threshold, and that the only difference between an average man
and a sorcerer, in such cases, is what each emphasizes. A sorcerer
emphasizes crossing this threshold and uses the memory of it as a point of
reference. An average man does not cross the threshold and does his best to
forget all about it.
I told him that I did not agree with his point, because I could not
accept that there was only one threshold to cross.
Don Juan looked heavenward in dismay and shook his head in a joking
gesture of despair. I proceeded with my argument, not to disagree with him,
but to clarify things in my mind. Yet I quickly lost my impetus. Suddenly I
had the feeling I was sliding through a tunnel.
"Sorcerers say that the fourth abstract core happens when the spirit
cuts our chains of self-reflection," he said. "Cutting our chains is
marvelous, but also very undesirible, for nobody wants to be free."
The sensation of sliding through a tunnel persisted for a .moment
longer, and then everything became clear to me. And 1 began to laugh.
Strange insights pent up inside me Were exploding into laughter.
Don Juan seemed to be reading my mind as if it were a book.
"What a strange feeling: to realize that everything we think,
everything we say depends on the position of the assemblage point," he
And that was exactly what I had been thinking and laughing about.
"I know that at this moment your assemblage point has shifted," he went
on, "and you have understood the secret of our chains. They imprison us, but
by keeping us pinned down on our comfortable spot of self-reflection, they
defend us from the onslaughts of the unknown."
I was having one of those extraordinary moments in which everything
about the sorcerers' world was crystal .clear. I understood everything.
"Once our chains are cut," don Juan continued, "we are no longer bound
by the concerns of the daily world. We are still in the daily world, but we
don't belong there anymore. In order to belong we must share the concerns of
people, and without chains we can't."
Don Juan said that the nagual Elias had explained to him that what
distinguishes normal people is that we share a metaphorical dagger: the
concerns of our self-reflection. With this dagger, we cut ourselves and
bleed; and the job of our chains of self-reflection is to give us the
feeling that we are bleeding together, that we are sharing something
wonderful: our humanity. But if we were to examine it, we would discover
that we are bleeding alone; that we are not sharing anything; that all we
are doing is toying with our manageable, unreal, man-made reflection.
"Sorcerers are no longer in the world of daily affairs," don Juan went
on, "because they are no longer prey to their
Don Juan then began his story about his benefactor and the descent of
the spirit. He said that the story started right after the spirit had
knocked on the young actor's door.
I interrupted don Juan and asked him why he consistently used the terms
"young man" or "young actor" to refer to the nagual Julian.
"At the time of this story, he wasn't the nagual," don Juan replied.
"He was a young actor. In my story, I can't just call him Julian, because to
me he was always the nagual Julian. As a sign of deference for his lifetime
of impeccabitity, we always prefix 'nagual' to a nagual's name."
Don Juan proceeded with his story. He said that the nagual Elias had
stopped the young actor's death by making him shift into heightened
awareness, and following hours of struggle, the young actor regained
consciousness. The nagual Elias did not mention his name, but he introduced
himself as a professional healer who had stumbled onto the scene of a
tragedy, where two persons had nearly died. He pointed to the young woman,
Talia, stretched out on the ground. The young man was astonished to see her
lying unconscious next to him. He remembered seeing her as she ran away. It
startled him to hear the old healer explain that doubtlessly God had
punished Talia for her sins by striking her with lightning and making her
lose her mind.
"But how could there be lightning if it's not even raining?" the young
actor asked in a barely audible voice. He was visibly affected when the old
Indian replied that God's ways couldn't be questioned.
Again I interrupted don Juan. I was curious to know if the young woman
really had lost her mind. He reminded me that the nagual Elias delivered a
shattering blow to her assemblage point. He said that she had not lost her
mind, but that as a result of the blow she slipped in and out of heightened
awareness, creating a serious threat to her health. After a gigantic
struggle, however, the nagual Elias helped her to stabilize her assemblage
point and she entered permanently into heightened awareness.
Don Juan commented that women are capable of such a master stroke: they
can permanently maintain a new position of their assemblage point. And Talia
was peerless. As soon as her chains were broken, she immediately understood
everything and complied with the nagual's designs.
Don Juan, recounting his story, said that the nagual Elias - who was
not only a superb dreamer, but also a superb stalker - had seen that the
young actor was spoiled and conceited, but only seemed to be hard and
calloused. The nagual knew that if he brought forth the idea of God, sin,
and retribution, the actor's religious beliefs would make his cynical
Upon hearing about God's punishment, the actor's facade began to
crumble. He started to express remorse, but the nagual cut him short and
forcefully stressed that when death was so near, feelings of guilt no longer
The young actor listened attentively, but, although he felt very ill,
he did not believe that he was in danger of dying. He thought that his
weakness and fainting had been brought on by his loss of blood.
As if he had read the young actor's mind, the nagual explained to him
that those optimistic thoughts were out of place, that his hemorrhaging
would have been fatal had it not been for the plug that he, as a healer, had
"When I struck your back, I put in a plug to stop the draining of your
life force," the nagual said to the skeptical young actor. "Without that
restraint, the unavoidable process of your death would continue. If you
don't believe me, I'll prove it to you by removing the plug with another
As he spoke, the nagual Elias tapped the young actor on his right side
by his ribcage. In a moment the young man was retching and choking. Blood
.poured out of his mouth as he coughed uncontrollably. Another tap on his
back stopped the agonizing pain and retching. But it did not stop his fear,
and he passed out.
"I can control your death for the time being," the nagual said when the
young actor regained consciousness. "How long I can control it depends on
you, on how faithfully you acquiesce to everything I tell you to do."
The nagual said that the first requirements of the young man were total
immobility and silence. If he did not want his plug to come out, the nagual
added, he had to behave as if he had lost his powers of motion and speech. A
single twitch or a single utterance would be enough to restart his dying.
The young actor was not accustomed to complying with suggestions or
demands. He felt a surge of anger. As he started to voice his protest, the
burning pain and convulsions started up again.
"Stay with it, and I will cure you," the nagual said. "Act like the
weak, rotten imbecile you are, and you will die."
The actor, a proud young man, was numbed by the insult. Nobody had ever
called him a weak, rotten imbecile. He wanted to express his fury, but his
pain was so severe that he could not react to the indignity.
"If you want me to ease your pain, you must obey me blindly," the
nagual said with frightening coldness. "Signal me with a nod. But know now
that the moment you change your mind and act like the shameful moron you
are, I'll immediately pull the plug and leave you to die."
With his last bit of strength the actor nodded his assent. The nagual
tapped him on his back and his pain vanished. But along with the searing
pain, something else vanished: the fog in his mind. And then the young actor
knew everything without understanding anything. The nagual introduced
himself again. He told him that his name was Elias, and that he was the
nagual. And the actor knew what it all meant.
The nagual Elias then shifted his attention to the semiconscious Talfa.
He put his mouth to her left ear and whispered commands to her in order to
make her assemblage point stop its erratic shifting. He soothed her fear by
telling her, in whispers, stories of sorcerers who had gone through the same
thing she was experiencing. When she was fairly calm, he introduced himself
as the nagual Elias, a sorcerer; and then he attempted with her the most
difficult thing in sorcery: moving the assemblage point beyond the sphere of
the world we know.
Don Juan remarked that seasoned sorcerers are capable of moving beyond
the world we know, but that inexperienced persons are not. The nagual Elias
always maintained that ordinarily he would not have dreamed of attempting
such a feat, but on that day something other than his knowledge or his
volition was making him act. Yet the maneuver worked. Talia moved beyond the
world we know and came safely back.
Then the nagual Elias had another insight. He sat between the two
people stretched out on the ground - the actor was naked, covered only by
the nagual Elfas's riding coat - and reviewed their situation. He told them
they had both, by the force of circumstances, fallen into a trap set by the
spirit itself. He, the nagual, was the active part of that trap, because by
encountering them under the conditions he had, he had been forced to become
their temporary protector and to engage his knowledge of sorcery in order to
help them. As their temporary protector it was his duty to warn them that
they were about to reach a unique threshold; and that it was up to them,
both individually and together, to attain that threshold by entering a mood
of abandon but not recklessness; a mood of caring but not indulgence. He did
not want to say more for fear of confusing them or influencing their
decision. He felt that if they were to cross that threshold, it had to be
with minimal help from him.
The nagual then left them alone in that isolated spot and went to the
city to arrange for medicinal herbs, mats, and blankets to be brought to
them. His idea was that in solitude they would attain and cross that
For a long time the two young people lay next to each other, immersed
in their own thoughts. The fact that their assemblage points had shifted
meant that they could think in greater depth than ordinarily, but it also
meant that they worried, pondered, and were afraid in equally greater depth.
Since Talfa could talk and was a bit stronger, she broke their silence;
she asked the young actor if he was afraid. He nodded affirmatively. She
felt a great compassion for him and took off a shawl she was wearing to put
over his shoulders, and she held his hand.
The young man did not dare voice -what he felt. His fear that his pain
would recur if he spoke -was too great and too vivid. He wanted to apologize
to her; to tell her that his only regret was having hurt her, and that it
did not matter that he was going to die - for he knew with certainty that he
was not going to survive the day.
Talia's thoughts were on the same subject. She said that she too had
only one regret: that she had fought him hard enough to bring on his death.
She was very peaceful now, a feeling which, agitated as she always was and
driven by her great strength, was unfamiliar to her. She told him that her
death was very near, too, and that she was glad it all would end that day.
The young actor, hearing his own thoughts being spoken by Talia, felt a
chill. A surge of energy came to him then and made him sit up. He was not in
pain, nor was he coughing. He took in great gulps of air, something he had
no memory of having done before. He took the girl's hand and they began to
talk without vocalizing.
Don Juan said it was at that instant that the spirit came to them. And
they saw. They were deeply Catholic, and what they saw was a vision of
heaven, where everything was alive, bathed in light. They saw a world of
When the nagual returned, they were exhausted, although not injured.
Talia was unconscious, but the young man had managed to remain aware by a
supreme effort of self-control. He insisted on whispering something in the
"We saw heaven," he whispered, tears rolling down his cheeks.
"You saw more than that," the nagual Elfas retorted. "You saw the
Don Juan said that since the spirit's descent is always shrouded,
naturally, Talia and the young actor could not hold onto their vision. They
soon forgot it, as anyone would. The uniqueness of their experience was
that, without any training and without being aware of it, they had dreamed
together and had seen the spirit. For them to have achieved this with such
ease was quite out of the ordinary.
"Those two were really the most remarkable beings I have ever met," don
I, naturally, wanted to know more about them. But don Juan would not
indulge me. He said that this was all there was about his benefactor and the
fourth abstract core.
He seemed to remember something he was not telling me and laughed
uproariously. Then he patted me on the back and told me it was time to set
out for the cave.
When we got to the rock ledge it was almost dark. Don Juan sat down
hurriedly, in the same position as the first time. He was to my right,
touching me with his shoulder. He immediately seemed to enter into a deep
state of relaxation, which pulled me into total immobility and silence. I
could not even hear his breathing. I closed my eyes, and he nudged me to
warn me to keep them open.
By the time it became completely dark, an immense fatigue had begun to"
make my eyes sore and itchy. Finally I gave up my resistance and was pulled
into the deepest, blackest sleep I have ever had. Yet I was not totally
asleep. I could feel the thick blackness around me. I had an entirely
physical sensation of wading through blackness. Then it suddenly became
reddish, then orange, then glaring white, like a terribly strong neon light.
Gradually I focused my vision until I saw I was still sitting in the same
position with don Juan - but no longer in the cave. We were on a mountaintop
looking down over exquisite flatlands with mountains in the distance. This
beautiful prairie was bathed in a glow that, like rays of light, emanated
from the land itself. Wherever I looked, I saw familiar features: rocks,
hills, rivers, forests, canyons, enhanced and transformed by their inner
vibration, their inner glow. This glow that was so pleasing to my eyes also
tingled out of my very being.
"Your assemblage point has moved," don Juan seemed to say to me.
The words had no sound; nevertheless I knew what he had just said to
me. My rational reaction was to try to explain to myself that I had no doubt
heard him as I would have if he had been talking in a vacuum, probably
because my ears had been temporarily affected by what was transpiring.
"Your ears are fine. We are in a different realm of awareness," don
Juan again seemed to say to me.
I could not speak. I felt the lethargy of deep sleep preventing me from
saying a word, yet I was as alert as I could be.
"What's happening?" I thought.
"The cave made your assemblage point move," don Juan thought, and I
heard his thoughts as if they were my own words, voiced to myself.
I sensed a command that was not expressed in thoughts. Something
ordered me to look again at the prairie.
As I stared at the wondrous sight, filaments of light began to radiate
from everything on that prairie. At first it was like the explosion of an
infinite number of short fibers, then the fibers became long threadlike
strands of luminosity bundled together into beams of vibrating light that
reached infinity. There was really no way for me to make sense of what I was
seeing, or to describe it, except as filaments of vibrating light. The
filaments were not intermingled or entwined. Although they sprang, and
continued to spring, in every direction, each one was separate, and yet all
of them were inextricably bundled together.
"You are seeing the Eagle's emanations and the force that keeps them
apart and bundles them together," don Juan thought.
The instant I caught his thought the filaments of light seemed to
consume all my energy. Fatigue overwhelmed me. It erased my vision and
plunged me into darkness.
When I became aware of myself again, there was something so familiar
around me, although I could not tell what it was, that I believed myself to
be back in a normal state of awareness. Don Juan was asleep beside me, his
shoulder against mine.
Then I realized that the darkness around us was so intense that I could
not even see my hands. I speculated that fog must have covered the ledge and
filled the cave. Or perhaps it was the wispy low clouds that descended every
rainy night from the higher mountains like a silent avalanche. Yet in spite
of the total blackness, somehow I saw that don Juan had opened his eyes
immediately after I became aware, although he did not look at me. Instantly
I realized that seeing him was not a consequence of light on my retina. It
was, rather, a bodily sense.
I became so engrossed in observing don Juan without my eyes that I was
not paying attention to what he was telling me. Finally he stopped talking
and turned his face to me as if to look me in the eye.
He coughed a couple of times to clear his throat and started to talk in
a very low voice. He said that his benefactor used to come to the cave quite
often, both with him and with his other disciples, but more often by
himself. In that cave his benefactor saw the same prairie we had just seen,
a vision that gave him the idea of describing the spirit as the flow of
Don Juan repeated that his benefactor was not a good thinker. Had he
been, he would have realized in an instant that what he had seen and
described as the flow of things was intent, the force that permeates
everything. Don Juan added that if his benefactor ever became aware of the
nature of his seeing he didn't reveal it. And he, himself, had the idea that
his benefactor never knew it. Instead, his benefactor believed that he had
seen the flow of things, which was the absolute truth, but not the way he
Don Juan was so emphatic about this that I wanted to ask him what the
difference was, but I could not speak. My throat seemed frozen. We sat there
in complete silence and immobility for hours. Yet I did not experience any
discomfort. My muscles did not get tired, my legs did not fall asleep, my
back did not ache.
When he began to talk again, I did not even notice the transition, and
I readily abandoned myself to listening to his voice. It was a melodic,
rhythmical sound that emerged from the total blackness that surrounded me.
He said that at that very moment I was not in my normal state of
awareness nor was I in heightened awareness. I was suspended in a lull, in
the blackness of nonperception. My assemblage point had moved away from
perceiving the daily world, but it had not moved enough to reach and light a
totally new bundle of energy fields. Properly speaking, I was caught between
two perceptual possibilities. This in-between state, this lull of perception
had been reached through the influence of the cave, which was itself guided
by the intent of the sorcerers who carved it.
Don Juan asked me to pay close attention to what he was going to say
next. He said that thousands of years ago, by means of seeing, sorcerers
became aware that the earth was sentient and that its awareness could affect
the awareness of humans. They tried to find a way to use the earth's
influence on human awareness and they discovered that certain caves were
most effective. Don Juan said that the search for caves became nearly
full-time work for those sorcerers, and that through their endeavors they
were able to discover a variety of uses for a variety of cave
configurations. He added that out of all that work the only result pertinent
to us was this particular cave and its capacity to move the assemblage point
until it reached a lull of perception.
As don Juan spoke, I had the unsettling sensation that something was
clearing in my mind. Something was funneling my awareness into a long narrow
channel. All the superfluous half-thoughts and feelings of my normal
awareness were being squeezed out.
Don Juan was thoroughly aware of what was happening to me. I heard his
soft chuckle of satisfaction. He said that now we could talk more easily and
our conversation would have more depth.
I remembered at that moment scores of things he had explained to me
before. For instance, I knew that I was
dreaming. I was actually sound asleep yet I was totally aware of myself
through my second attention - the counterpart of my normal attentiveness. I
was certain I was asleep because of a bodily sensation plus a rational
deduction based on statements that don Juan had made in the past. I had just
seen the Eagle's emanations, and don Juan had said that it was impossible
for sorcerers to have a sustained view of the Eagle's emanations in any way
except in dreaming, therefore I had to be dreaming.
Don Juan had explained that the universe is made up of energy fields
which defy description or scrutiny. He had said that they resembled
filaments of ordinary light, except that light is lifeless compared to the
Eagle's emanations, which exude awareness. I had never, until this night,
been able to see them in a sustained manner, and indeed they were made out
of a light that was alive. Don Juan had maintained in the past that my
knowledge and control of intent were not adequate to withstand the impact of
that sight. He had explained that normal perception occurs when intent,
which is pure energy, lights up a portion of the luminous filaments inside
our cocoon, and at the same time brightens a long extension of the same
luminous filaments extending into infinity outside our cocoon. Extraordinary
perception, seeing, occurs when by the force of intent, a different cluster
of energy fields energizes and lights up. He had said that when a crucial
number of energy fields are lit up inside the luminous cocoon, a sorcerer is
able to see the energy fields themselves.
On another occasion don Juan had recounted the rational thinking of the
early sorcerers. He told me that, through their seeing, they realized that
awareness took place when the energy fields inside our luminous cocoon were
aligned with the same energy fields outside. And they believed they had
discovered alignment as the source of awareness.
Upon close examination, however, it became evident that what they had
called alignment of the Eagle's emanations did not entirely explain what
they were seeing. They had noticed that only a very small portion of the
total number of luminous filaments inside the cocoon was energized while the
rest remained unaltered. Seeing these few filaments energized had created a
false discovery. The filaments did not need to be aligned to be lit up,
because the ones inside our cocoon were the same as those outside. Whatever
energized them was definitely an independent force. They felt they could not
continue to call it awareness, as they had, because awareness was the glow
of the energy fields being lit up. So the force that lit up the fields was
Don Juan had said that when their seeing became still more
sophisticated and effective, they realized that will was the force that kept
the Eagle's emanations separated and was not only responsible for our
awareness, but also for everything in the universe. They saw that this force
had total consciousness and that it sprang from the very fields of energy
that made the universe. They decided then that intent was a more appropriate
name for it than will. In the long run, however, die name proved
disadvantageous, because it does not describe its overwhelming importance
nor the living connection it has with everything in the universe.
Don Juan had asserted that our great collective flaw is that we live
our lives completely disregarding that connection. The busyness of our
lives, our relentless interests, concerns, hopes, frustrations, and fears
take precedence, and on a day-to-day basis we are unaware of being linked to
Don Juan had stated his belief that the Christian idea of being cast
out from the Garden of Eden sounded to him like an allegory for losing our
silent knowledge, our knowledge of intent. Sorcery, then, was a going back
to the beginning, a return to paradise.
We stayed seated in the cave in total silence, perhaps for hours, or
perhaps it was only a few instants. Suddenly don Juan began to talk, and the
unexpected sound of his voice jarred me. I did not catch what he said. I
cleared my throat to ask him to repeat what he had said, and that act
brought me completely out of my reflectiveness. I quickly realized that the
darkness around me was no longer impenetrable. I could speak now. I felt I
was back in my normal state of awareness.
In a calm voice don Juan told me that for the very first time in my
life I had seen the spirit, the force that sustains the universe. He
emphasized that intent is not something one might use or command or move in
any way - nevertheless, one could use it, command it, or move it as one
desires. This contradiction, he said, is the essence of sorcery. To fail to
understand it had brought generations of sorcerers unimaginable pain and
sorrow. Modern-day naguals, in an effort to avoid paying this exorbitant
price in pain, had developed a code of behavior called the warrior's way, or
the impeccable action, which prepared sorcerers by enhancing their sobriety
Don Juan explained that at one time in the remote past, sorcerers were
deeply interested in the general connecting link that intent has with
everything. And by focusing their second attention on that link, they
acquired not only direct knowledge but also the ability to manipulate that
knowledge and perform astounding deeds. They did not acquire, however, the
soundness of mind needed to manage all that power.
So in a judicious mood, sorcerers decided to focus their second
attention solely on the connecting link of creatures who have awareness.
This included the entire range of existing organic beings as well as the
entire range of what sorcerers call inorganic beings, or allies, which they
described as entities with awareness, but no life as we understand life.
This solution was not successful either, because it, too, failed to bring
In their next reduction, sorcerers focused their attention exclusively
on the link that connects human beings with intent. The end result was very
much as before.
Then, sorcerers sought a final reduction. Each sorcerer would be
concerned solely with his individual connection. But this proved to be
Don Juan said that although there were remarkable differences among
those four areas of interest, one was as corrupting as another. So in the
end sorcerers concerned themselves exclusively with the capacity that their
individual connecting link with intent had to set them free to light the
fire from within.
He asserted that all modern-day sorcerers have to struggle fiercely to
gain soundness of mind. A nagual has to struggle especially hard because he
has more strength, a greater command over the energy fields that determine
perception, and more training in and familiarity with the intricacies of
silent knowledge, which is nothing but direct contact with intent.
Examined in this way, sorcery becomes an attempt to reestablish our
knowledge of intent and regain use of it without succumbing to it. And the
abstract cores of the sorcery stories are shades of realization, degrees of
our being aware of intent.
I understood don Juan's explanation with perfect clarity. But the more
I understood and the clearer his statements became, the greater my sense of
loss and despondency. At one moment I sincerely considered ending my life
right there. I felt I was damned. Nearly in tears, I told don Juan that
there was no point in his continuing his explanation, for I knew that I was
about to lose my clarity of mind, and that when I reverted to my normal
state of awareness I would have no memory of having seen or heard anything.
My mundane consciousness would impose its lifelong habit of repetition and
the reasonable predictability of its logic. That was why I felt damned. I
told him that I resented my fate.
Don Juan responded that even in heightened awareness I thrived on
repetition, and that periodically I would insist on boring him by describing
my attacks of feeling worthless. He said that if I had to go under it should
be fighting, not apologizing or feeling sorry for myself, and that it did
not matter what our specific fate was as long as we faced it with ultimate
His words made me feel blissfully happy. I repeated over and over,
tears streaming down my cheeks, that I agreed with him. There was such
profound happiness in me I suspected my nerves were getting out of hand. I
called upon all my forces to stop this and I felt the sobering effect of my
mental brakes. But as this happened, my clarity of mind began to diffuse. I
silently fought - trying to be both less sober and less nervous. Don Juan
did not make a sound and left me alone.
By the time I had reestablished my balance, it was almost dawn. Don
Juan stood, stretched his arms above his head and tensed his muscles, making
his joints crack. He helped me up and commented that I had spent a most
enlightening night: I had experienced what the spirit was and had been able
to summon hidden strength to accomplish something, which on the surface
amounted to calming my nervousness, but at a deeper level it had actually
been a very successful, volitional movement of my assemblage point. He
signaled then that it was time to start on our way back.
THE SOMERSAULT OF THOUGHT
We walked into his house around seven in the morning, in time for
breakfast. I was famished but not tired. We had left the cave to climb down
to the valley at dawn. Don Juan, instead of following the most direct route,
made a long detour that took us along the river. He explained that we had to
collect our wits before we got home.
I answered it was very kind of him to say "our wits" when I was the
only one whose wits were disordered. But he replied that he was acting not
out of kindness but out of warrior's training. A warrior, he said, was on
permanent guard against the roughness of human behavior. A warrior was
magical and ruthless, a maverick with the most refined taste and manners,
whose wordly task was to sharpen, yet disguise, his cutting edges so that no
one would be able to suspect his ruthlessness.
After breakfast I thought it would be wise to get some sleep, but don
Juan contended I had no time to waste. He said that all too soon I would
lose the little clarity I still had, and if I went to sleep I would lose it
"It doesn't take a genius to figure out that there is hardly any way to
talk about intent" he said quickly as he scrutinized me from head to toe.
"But making this statement doesn't mean anything. It is the reason why
sorcerers rely instead on the sorcery stories. And their hope is that
someday the abstract cores of the stories will make sense to the listener."
I understood what he was saying, but I still could not conceive what an
abstract core was or what it was supposed to mean to me. I tried to think
about it. Thoughts barraged me. Images passed rapidly through my mind giving
me no time to think about them. I could not slow them down enough even to
recognize them. Finally anger overpowered me and I slammed my fist on the
Don Juan shook from head to toe, choking with laughter.
"Do what you did last night," he urged me, winking. "Slow yourself
My frustration made me very aggressive. I immediately put forth some
senseless arguments; then I became aware of my error and apologized for my
lack of restraint.
"Don't apologize," he said. "I should tell you that the understanding
you're after is impossible at this time. The abstract cores of the sorcery
stories will say nothing to you now. Later - years later, I mean - they may
make perfect sense to you."
I begged don Juan not to leave me in the dark, to discuss the abstract
cores. It was not at all clear to me what he wanted me to do with them. I
assured him that my present state of heightened awareness could be very
helpful to me in allowing me to understand his discussion. I urged him to
hurry, for I could not guarantee how long this state would last. I told him
that soon I would return to my normal state and would become a bigger idiot
than I was at that moment. I said it half in jest. His laughter told me that
he had taken it as such, but I was deeply affected by my own words. A
tremendous sense of melancholy overtook me.
Don Juan gently took my arm, pulled me to a comfortable armchair, then
sat down facing me. He gazed fixedly into my eyes, and for a moment I was
incapable of breaking the force of his stare.
"Sorcerers constantly stalk themselves," he said in a reassuring voice,
as if trying to calm me with the sound of his voice.
I wanted to say that my nervousness had passed and that it had probably
been caused by my lack of sleep, but he did not allow me to say anything.
He assured me that he had already taught me everything there was to
know about stalking, but I had not yet retrieved my knowledge from the depth
of heightened awareness, where I had it stored. I told him I had the
annoying sensation of being bottled up. I felt there was something locked
inside me, something that made me slam doors and kick tables, something that
frustrated me and made me irascible.
"That sensation of being bottled up is experienced by every human
being," he said. "It is a reminder of our existing connection with intent.
For sorcerers this sensation is even more acute, precisely because their
goal is to sensitize their connecting link until they can make it function
"When the pressure of their connecting link is too great, sorcerers
relieve it by stalking themselves."
"I still don't think I understand what you mean by stalking" I said.
"But at a certain level I think I know exactly what you mean."
"I'll try to help you clarify what you know, then," he said. "Stalking
is a procedure, a very simple one. Stalking is special behavior that follows
certain principles. It is secretive, furtive, deceptive behavior designed to
deliver a jolt. And, when you stalk yourself you jolt yourself, using your
own behavior in a ruthless, cunning way."
He explained that when a sorcerer's awareness became bogged down with
the weight of his perceptual input, which was what was happening to me, the
best, or even perhaps the only, remedy was to use the idea of death to
deliver that stalking jolt.
"The idea of death therefore is of monumental importance in the life of
a sorcerer," don Juan continued. "I have shown you innumerable things about
death to convince you that the knowledge of our impending and unavoidable
end is what gives us sobriety. Our most costly mistake as average men is
indulging in a sense of immortality. It is as though we believe that if we
don't think about death we can protect ourselves from it."
"You must agree, don Juan, not thinking about death certainly protects
us from worrying about it."
"Yes, it serves that purpose," he conceded. "But that purpose is an
unworthy one for average men and a travesty for sorcerers. Without a clear
view of death, there is no order, no sobriety, no beauty. Sorcerers struggle
to gain this crucial insight in order to help them realize at the deepest
possible level that they have no assurance whatsoever their lives will
continue beyond the moment. That realization gives sorcerers the courage to
be patient and yet take action, courage to be acquiescent without being
Don Juan fixed his gaze on me. He smiled and shook his head.
"Yes," he went on. "The idea of death is the only thing that can give
sorcerers courage. Strange, isn't it? It gives sorcerers the courage to be
cunning without being conceited, and above all it gives them courage to be
ruthless without being self-important."
He smiled again and nudged me. I told him I was absolutely terrified by
the idea of my death, that I thought about it constantly, but it certainly
didn't give me courage or spur me to take action. It only made me cynical or
caused me to lapse into moods of profound melancholy.
"Your problem is very simple," he said. "You become easily obsessed. I
have been telling you that sorcerers stalk themselves in order to break the
power of their obsessions. There are many ways of stalking oneself. If you
don't want to use the idea of your death, use the poems you read me to stalk
"I beg your pardon?"
"I have told you that there are many reasons I like poems," he said.
"What I do is stalk myself with them. I deliver a jolt to myself with them.
I listen, and as you read, I shut off my internal dialogue and let my inner
silence gain momentum. Then the combination of the poem and the silence
delivers the jolt."
He explained that poets unconsciously long for the sorcerers' world.
Because they are not sorcerers on the path of knowledge, longing is all they
"Let us see if you can feel what I'm talking about," he said, handing
me a book of poems by Jose Gorostiza.
I opened it at the bookmark and he pointed to the poem he liked.
. . . this incessant stubborn dying,
this living death,
that slays you, oh God,
in your rigorous handiwork,
in the roses, in the stones,
in the indomitable stars
and in the flesh that burns out,
like a bonfire lit by a song,
a hue that hits the eye.
. . . and you, yourself,
perhaps have died eternities of ages out there,
without us knowing about it,
we dregs, crumbs, ashes of you;
you that still are present,
like a star faked by its very light,
an empty light without star
that reaches us,
its infinite catastrophe.
"As I hear the words," don Juan said when I had finished reading, "I
feel that that man is seeing the essence of things and I can see with him. I
don't care what the poem is about. I care only about the feeling the poet's
longing brings me. I borrow his longing, and with it I borrow the beauty.
And marvel at the fact that he, like a true warrior, lavishes it on the
recipients, the beholders, retaining for himself only his longing. This
jolt, this shock of beauty, is stalking."
I was very moved. Don Juan's explanation had touched a strange chord in
"Would you say, don Juan, that death is the only real enemy we have?" I
asked him a moment later.
"No," he said with conviction. "Death is not an enemy, although it
appears to be. Death is not our destroyer, although we think it is."
"What is it, then, if not our destroyer?" I asked.
"Sorcerers say death is the only worthy opponent we have," he replied.
"Death is our challenger. We are born to take that challenge, average men or
sorcerers. Sorcerers know about it; average men do not."
"I personally would say, don Juan, life, not death, is the challenge."
"Life is the process by means of which death challenges us," he said.
"Death is the active force. Life is the arena. And in that arena there are
only two contenders at any time: oneself and death."
"I would think, don Juan, that we human beings are the challengers," I
"Not at all," he retorted. "We are passive. Think about h. If we move,
it's only when we feel the pressure of death. Death sets the pace for our
actions and feelings and pushes us relentlessly until it breaks us and wins
the bout, or else we rise above all possibilities and defeat death.
"Sorcerers defeat death and death acknowledges the defeat by letting
the sorcerers go free, never to be challenged
"Does that mean that sorcerers become immortal?"
"No. It doesn't mean that," he replied. "Death stops challenging them,
"But what does that mean, don Juan?" I asked.
"It means thought has taken a somersault into the inconceivable," he
"What is a somersault of thought into the inconceivable?" I asked,
trying not to sound belligerent. "The problem you and I have is that we do
not share the same meanings."
"You're not being truthful," don Juan interrupted. "You understand what
I mean. For you to demand a rational explanation of 'a somersault of thought
into the inconceivable' is a travesty. You know exactly what it is."
"No, I don't," I said.
And then I realized that I did, or rather, that I intuited what it
meant. There was some part of me that could transcend my rationality and
understand and explain, beyond the level of metaphor, a somersault of
thought into the inconceivable. The trouble was that part of me was not
strong enough to surface at will.
I said as much to don Juan, who laughed and commented that my awareness
was like a yo-yo. Sometimes it rose to a high spot and my command was keen,
while at others it descended and I became a rational moron. But most of the
time it hovered at an unworthy median where I was neither fish nor fowl.
"A somersault of thought into the inconceivable," he explained with an
air of resignation, "is the descent of the spirit; the act of breaking our
perceptual barriers. It is the moment in which man's perception reaches its
limits. Sorcerers practice the art of sending scouts, advance runners, to
probe our perceptual limits. This is another reason I like poems. I take
them as advance runners. But, as I've said to you before, poets don't know
as exactly as sorcerers what those advance runners can accomplish."
In the early evening, don Juan said that we had many things to discuss
and asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I was in a peculiar state of
mind. Earlier I had noticed a strange aloofness in myself that came and
went. At first I thought it was physical fatigue clouding my thoughts. But
my thoughts were crystal clear. So I became convinced that my strange
detachment was a product of my shift to heightened awareness.
We left the house and strolled around the town's plaza. I quickly asked
don Juan about my aloofness before he had a chance to begin on anything
else. He explained it as a shift of energy. He said that as the energy that
was ordinarily used to maintain the fixed position of the assemblage point
became liberated, it focused automatically on that connecting link. He
assured me that there were no techniques or maneuvers for a sorcerer to
learn beforehand to move energy from one place to the other. Rather it was a
matter of an instantaneous shift taking place once a certain level of
proficiency had been attained.
I asked him what the level of proficiency was. Pure understanding, he
replied. In order to attain that instantaneous shift of energy, one needed a
clear connection with intent, and to get a clear connection one needed only
to intend it through pure understanding.
Naturally I wanted him to explain pure understanding. He laughed and
sat down on a bench.
"I'm going to tell you something fundamental about sorcerers and their
acts of sorcery," he went on. "Something about the somersault of their
thought into the inconceivable."
He said that some sorcerers were storytellers. Storytelling for them
was not only the advance runner that probed their perceptual limits but
their path to perfection, to power, to the spirit. He was quiet for a
moment, obviously searching for an appropriate example. Then he reminded me
that the Yaqui Indians had a collection of historical events they called
"the memorable dates." I knew that the memorable dates were oral accounts of
their history as a nation when they waged war against the invaders of their
homeland: the Spaniards first, the Mexicans later. Don Juan, a Yaqui
himself, stated emphatically that the memorable dates were accounts of their
defeats and disintegration.
"So, what would you say," he asked me, "since you are a learned man,
about a sorcerer storyteller's taking an account from the memorable dates -
let's say, for example, the story of Calixto Muni - and changing the ending
so that instead of describing how Calixto Muni was drawn and quartered by
the Spanish executioners, which is what happened, he tells a story of
Calixto Muni the victorious rebel who succeeded in liberating his people?"
I knew the story of Calixto Muni. He was a Yaqui Indian who, according
to the memorable dates, served for many years on a buccaneer ship in the
Caribbean in order to learn war strategy. Then he returned to his native
Sonora, managed to start an uprising against the Spaniards and declared a
war of independence, only to be betrayed, captured, and executed.
Don Juan coaxed me to comment. I told him I would have to assume that
changing the factual account in the manner he was describing would be a
psychological device, a sort of wishful thinking on the sorcerer
storyteller's part. Or perhaps it would be a personal, idiosyncratic way of
alleviating frustration. I added that I would even call such a sorcerer
storyteller a patriot because he was unable to accept bitter defeat.
Don Juan laughed until he was choking.
"But it's not a matter of one sorcerer storyteller," he argued. "They
all do that."
"Then it's a socially sanctioned device to express the wishful thinking
of a whole society," I retorted. "A socially accepted way of releasing
psychological stress collectively."
"Your argument is glib and convincing and reasonable," he commented.
"But because your spirit is dead, you can't see the flaw hi your argument."
He eyed me as if coaxing me to understand what he was saying. I had no
comment, and anything I might have said would have made me sound peevish.
"The sorcerer storyteller who changes the ending of the 'factual'
account," he said, "does it at the direction and under the auspices of the
spirit. Because he can manipulate his elusive connection with intent, he can
actually change things. The sorcerer storyteller signals that he has
intended it by taking off his hat, putting it on the ground, and turning it
a full three hundred and sixty degrees counterclockwise. Under the auspices
of the spirit, that simple act plunges him into the spirit itself. He has
let his thought somersault into the inconceivable."
Don Juan lifted his arm above his head and pointed for an instant to
the sky above the horizon.
"Because his pure understanding is an advance runner probing that
immensity out there," don Juan went on, "the sorcerer storyteller knows
without a shadow of doubt that somewhere, somehow, in that infinity, at this
very moment the spirit has descended. Calixto Muni is victorious. He has
delivered his people. His goal has transcended his person."
Moving The Assemblage Point
A couple of days later, don Juan and I made a trip to the mountains.
Halfway up the foothills we sat down to rest. Earlier that day, don Juan had
decided to find an appropriate setting in which to explain some intricate
aspects of the mastery of awareness. Usually he preferred to go to the
closer western range of mountains. This time, however, he chose the eastern
peaks. They were much higher and farther away. To me they seemed more
ominous, darker, and more massive. But I could not tell whether this
impression was my own or if I had somehow absorbed don Juan's feelings about
I opened my backpack. The women seers from don Juan's group had
prepared it for me and I discovered that they had packed some cheese. I
experienced a moment of annoyance, because while I liked cheese, it did not
agree with me. Yet I was incapable of refusing it whenever it was made
Don Juan had pointed this out as a true weakness and had made fun of
me. I was embarrassed at first but found that when I did not have cheese
around I did not miss it. The problem was that the practical jokers in don
Juan's group always packed a big chunk of cheese for me, which, of course, I
always ended up eating.
"Finish it in one sitting," don Juan advised me with a mischievous
glint in his eyes. "That way you won't have to worry about it anymore."
Perhaps influenced by his suggestion, I had the most intense desire to
devour the whole chunk. Don Juan laughed so much I suspected that once again
he had schemed with his group to set me up.
In a more serious mood, he suggested that we spend the night there in
the foothills and take a day or two to reach the higher peaks. I agreed.
Don Juan casually asked me if I had recalled anything about the four
moods of stalking. I admitted that I had tried, but that my memory had
"Don't you remember my teaching you the nature of ruthlessness?" he
asked. "Ruthlessness, the opposite of self-pity?"
I could not remember. Don Juan appeared to be considering what to say
next. Then he stopped. The corners of his mouth dropped in a gesture of sham
impotence. He shrugged his shoulders, stood up and quickly walked a short
distance to a small level spot on top of a hill.
"All sorcerers are ruthless," he said, as we sat down on the flat
ground. "But you know this. We have discussed this concept at length."
After a long silence, he said that we were going to continue discussing
the abstract cores of the sorcery stories, but that he intended to talk less
and less about them because the time was approaching when it would be up to
me to discover them and allow them to reveal their meaning.
"As I have already told you," he said, "the fourth abstract core of the
sorcery stories is called the descent of the spirit, or being moved by
intent. The story says that hi order to let the mysteries of sorcery reveal
themselves to the man we've been talking about, it was necessary for the
spirit to descend on that man. The spirit chose a moment when the man was
distracted, unguarded, and, showing no pity, the spirit let its presence by
itself move the man's assemblage point to a specific position. This spot was
known to sorcerers from then on as the place of no pity. Ruthlessness
became, in this way, the first principle of sorcery.
"The first principle should not be confused with the first effect of
sorcery apprenticeship, which is the shift between normal and heightened
"I don't understand what you are trying to tell me," I complained.
"What I want to say is that, to all appearances, having the assemblage
point shift is the first thing that actually happens to a sorcery
apprentice," he replied. "So, it is only natural for an apprentice to assume
that this is the first principle of sorcery. But it is not. Ruthlessness is
the first principle of sorcery. But we have discussed this before. Now I am
only trying to help you remember."
I could honestly have said that I had no idea what he was talking
about, but I also had the strange sensation that I did. "Bring back the
recollection of the first time I taught you ruthlessness," he urged.
"Recollecting has to do with moving the assemblage point."
He waited a moment to see whether I was following his suggestion. Since
it was obvious that I could not, he continued his explanation. He said that,
mysterious as the shift into heightened awareness was, all that one needed
to accomplish it was the presence of the spirit.
I remarked that his statements that day either were extremely obscure
or I was terribly dense, because I could not follow his line of thought at
all. He replied firmly that my confusion was unimportant and insisted that
the only thing of real importance was that I understand that the mere
contact with the spirit could bring about any movement of the assemblage
"I've told you the nagual is the conduit of the spirit," he went on.
"Since he spends a lifetime impeccably redefining his connecting link with
intent, and since he has more energy than the average man, he can let the
spirit express itself through him. So, the first thing the sorcerer
apprentice experiences is a shift in his level of awareness, a shift brought
about simply by the presence of the nagual. And what I want you to know is
that there really is no procedure involved hi making the assemblage point
move. The spirit touches the apprentice and his assemblage point moves. It
is as simple as that."
I told him that his assertions were disturbing because they
contradicted what I had painfully learned to accept through personal
experience: that heightened awareness was feasible as a sophisticated,
although inexplicable, maneuver performed by don Juan by means of which he
manipulated my perception. Throughout the years of our association, he had
time after time made me enter into heightened awareness by striking me on my
back. I pointed out this contradiction.
He replied that striking my back was more a trick to trap my attention
and remove doubts from my mind than a bona
ftde maneuver to manipulate my perception. He called it a simple trick,
in keeping with his moderate personality. He commented, not quite as a joke,
that I was lucky he was a plain man, not given to weird behavior. Otherwise,
instead of simple tricks, I would have had to endure bizarre rituals before
he could remove all doubts from my mind, to let the spirit move my
"What we need to do to allow magic to get hold of us is to banish doubt
from our minds," he said. "Once doubts are banished, anything is possible."
He reminded me of an event I had witnessed some months before in Mexico
City, which I had found to be incomprehensible until he had explained it,
using the sorcerers' paradigm.
What I had witnessed was a surgical operation performed by a famous
psychic healer. A friend of mine was the patient. The healer was a woman who
entered a very dramatic trance to operate on him.
I was able to observe that, using a kitchen knife, she cut his
abdominal cavity open in the umbilical region, detached his diseased liver,
washed it in a bucket of alcohol, put it back in and closed the bloodless
opening with just the pressure of her hands.
There had been a number of people in the semidark room, witnesses to
the operation. Some of them seemed to be interested observers like myself.
The others seemed to be the healer's helpers.
After the operation, I talked briefly to three of the observers. They
all agreed that they had witnessed the same events I had. When I talked to
my friend, the patient, he reported that he had felt the operation as a
pain in his stomach and a burning sensation on his right side.
I had narrated all of this to don Juan and I had even ventured a
cynical explanation. I had told him that the semidarkness of the room, in my
opinion, lent itself perfectly to all kinds of sleight of hand, which could
have accounted for the sight of the internal organs being pulled out of the
abdominal cavity and washed in alcohol. The emotional shock caused by the
healer's dramatic trance - which I also considered trickery - helped to
create an atmosphere of almost religious faith.
Don Juan immediately pointed out that this was a cynical opinion, not a
cynical explanation, because it did not explain the fact that my friend had
really gotten well. Don Juan had then proposed an alternative view based on
sorcerers' knowledge. He had explained that the event hinged on the salient
fact that the healer was capable of moving the assemblage point of the exact
number of people in her audience. The only trickery involved - if one could
call it trickery - was that the number of people present in the room could
not exceed the number she could handle.
Her dramatic trance and the accompanying histrionics were, according to
him, either well-thought-out devices the healer used to trap the attention
of those present or unconscious maneuvers dictated by the spirit itself.
Whichever, they were the most appropriate means whereby the healer could
foster the unity of thought needed to remove doubt from the minds of those
present and force them into heightened awareness.
When she cut the body open with a kitchen knife and removed the
internal organs it was not, don Juan had stressed, sleight of hand. These
were bona fide events, which, by virtue of taking place in heightened
awareness, were outside the realm of everyday judgment.
I had asked don Juan how the healer could manage to move the assemblage
points of those people without touching them. His reply had been that the
healer's power, a gift or a stupendous accomplishment, was to serve as a
conduit for the spirit. It was the spirit, he had said, and not the healer,
which had moved those assemblage points.
"I explained to you then, although you didn't understand a word of it,"
don Juan went on, "that the healer's art and power was to remove doubts from
the minds of those present. By doing this, she was able to allow the spirit
to move their assemblage points. Once those points had moved, everything was
possible. They had entered into the realm where miracles are commonplace."
He asserted emphatically that the healer must also have been a
sorceress, and that if I made an effort to remember the operation, I would
remember that she had been ruthless with the people around her, especially
I repeated to him what I could recall of the session. The pitch and
tone of the healer's flat, feminine voice changed dramatically when she
entered a trance into a raspy, deep, male voice. That voice announced that
the spirit of a warrior of pre-Columbian antiquity had possessed the
healer's body. Once the announcement was made, the healer's attitude changed
dramatically. She was possessed. She was obviously absolutely sure of
herself, and she proceeded to operate with total certainty and firmness.
"I prefer the word 'ruthlessness' to 'certainty' and 'firmness,'" don
Juan commented, then continued. "That healer had to be ruthless to create
the proper setting for the spirit's intervention."
He asserted that events difficult to explain, such as that operation,
were really very simple. They were made difficult by our insistence upon
thinking. If we did not think, everything fit into place.
"That is truly absurd, don Juan," I said and really meant it.
I reminded him that he demanded serious thinking of all his
apprentices, and even criticized his own teacher for not being a good
"Of course I insist that everyone around me think clearly," he said.
"And I explain, to anyone who wants to listen, that the only way to think
clearly is to not think at all. I was convinced you understood this
In a loud voice I protested the obscurity of his statements. He laughed
and made fun of my compulsion to defend myself. Then he explained again that
for a sorcerer there were two types of thinking. One was average day-today
thinking, which was ruled by the normal position of his assemblage point. It
was muddled thinking that did not really answer his needs and left great
murkiness in his head. The other was precise thinking. It was functional,
economical, and left very few things unexplained. Don Juan remarked that for
this type of thinking to prevail the assemblage point had to move. Or at
least the day-to-day type thinking had to stop to allow the assemblage point
to shift. Thus the apparent contradiction, which was really no contradiction
"I want you to recall something you have done in the past," he said. "I
want you to recall a special movement of your assemblage point. And to do
this, you have to stop thinking the way you normally think. Then the other,
the type I call clear thinking, will take over and make you recollect."
"But how do I stop thinking?" I asked, although I knew what he was
going to reply.
"By intending the movement of your assemblage point," he said. "Intent
is beckoned with the eyes."
I told don Juan that my mind was shifting back and forth between
moments of tremendous lucidity, when everything was crystal clear, and
lapses into profound mental fatigue during which I could not understand what
he was saying. He tried to put me at ease, explaining that my " instability
was caused by a slight fluctuation of my assemblage point, which had not
stabilized in the new position it had reached some years earlier. The
fluctuation was the result of left-over feelings of self-pity.
"What new position is that, don Juan?" I asked.
"Years ago - and this is what I want you to recollect - your assemblage
point reached the place of no pity," he replied.
"I beg your pardon?" I said.
"The place of no pity is the site of ruthlessness," he said. "But you
know all this. For the time being, though, until you recollect, let's say
that ruthlessness, being a specific position of the assemblage point, is
shown in the eyes of sorcerers. It's like a shimmering film over the eyes.
The eyes of sorcerers are brilliant. The greater the shine, the more
ruthless the sorcerer is. At this moment, your eyes
He explained that when the assemblage point moved to the place of no
pity, the eyes began to shine. The firmer the grip of the assemblage point
on its new position, the more the eyes shone.
"Try to recall what you already know about this," he urged me. He kept
quiet for a moment, then spoke without looking at me.
"Recollecting is not the same as remembering," he continued.
"Remembering is dictated by the day-to-day type of thinking, while
recollecting is dictated by the movement of the assemblage point. A
recapitulation of their lives, which sorcerers do, is the key to moving
their assemblage points. Sorcerers start their recapitulation by thinking,
by remembering the most important acts of their lives. From merely thinking
about them they then move on to actually being at the site of the event.
When they can do that - be at the site of the event - they have successfully
shifted their assemblage point to the precise spot it was when the event
took place. Bringing back the total event by means of shifting the
assemblage point is known as sorcerers' recollection."
He stared at me for an instant as if trying to make sure I was
"Our assemblage points are constantly shifting," he explained,
"imperceptible shifts. Sorcerers believe that in order to make their
assemblage points shift to precise spots we must engage intent. Since there
is no way of knowing what intent is, sorcerers let their eyes beckon it."
"All this is truly incomprehensible to me," I said.
Don Juan put his hands behind his head and lay down on the ground. I
did the same. We remained quiet for a long time. The wind scudded the
clouds. Their movement almost made me feel dizzy. And the dizziness changed
abruptly into a familiar sense of anguish.
Every time I was with don Juan, I felt, especially in moments of rest
and quiet, an overwhelming sensation of despair - a longing for something I
could not describe. When I was alone, or with other people, I was never a
victim of this feeling. Don Juan had explained that what I felt and
interpreted as longing was in fact the sudden movement of my assemblage
When don Juan started to speak, all of a sudden the sound of his voice
jolted me and I sat up.
"You must recollect the first time your eyes shone," he said, "because
that was the first time your assemblage point reached the place of no pity.
Ruthlessness possessed you then. Ruthlessness makes sorcerers' eyes shine,
and that shine beckons intent. Each spot to which their assemblage points
move is indicated by a specific shine of their eyes. Since their eyes have
their own memory, they can call up the recollection of any spot by calling
up the specific shine associated with that spot."
He explained that the reason sorcerers put so much emphasis on the
shine of their eyes and on their gaze is because the eyes are directly
connected to intent. Contradictory as it might sound, the truth is that the
eyes are only superficially connected to the world of everyday life. Their
deeper connection is to the abstract. I could not conceive how my eyes could
store that sort of information, and I said as much. Don Juan's reply was
that man's possibilities are so vast and mysterious that sorcerers, rather
than thinking about them, had chosen to explore them, with no hope of ever
I asked him if an average man's eyes were also affected by intent.
"Of course!" he exclaimed. "You know all this. But you know it at such
a deep level that it is silent knowledge. You haven't sufficient energy to
explain it, even to yourself.
"The average man knows the same thing about his eyes, but he has even
less energy than you. The only advantages sorcerers may have over average
men is that they have stored their energy, which means a more precise,
clearer connecting link with intent. Naturally, it also means they can
recollect at will, using the shine of their eyes to move their assemblage
Don Juan stopped talking and fixed me with his gaze. I clearly felt his
eyes guiding, pushing and pulling something indefinite in me. I could not
break away from his stare. His concentration was so intense it actually
caused a physical sensation in me: I felt as if I were inside a furnace.
And, quite abruptly, I was looking inward. It was a sensation very much like
being in an absentminded reverie, but with the strange accompanying
sensation of an intense awareness of myself and an absence of thoughts.
Supremely aware, I was looking inward, into nothingness.
With a gigantic effort, I pulled myself out of it and stood up.
"What did you do to me, don Juan?"
"Sometimes you are absolutely unbearable," he said. "Your wastefulness
is infuriating. Your assemblage point was just in the most advantageous spot
to recollect anything you wanted, and what did you do? You let it all go, to
ask me what I did to you."
He kept silent for a moment, and then smiled as I sat down again.
"But being annoying is really your greatest asset," he added. "So why
should I complain?"
Both of us broke into a loud laugh. It was a private joke.
Years before, I had been both very moved and very confused by don
Juan's tremendous dedication to helping me. I could not imagine why he
should show me such kindness. It was evident that he did not need me in any
way in his life. He was obviously not investing in me. But I had learned,
through life's painful experiences, that nothing was free; and being unable
to foresee what don Juan's reward would be made me tremendously uneasy.
One day I asked don Juan point-blank, in a very cynical tone, what he
was getting out of our association. I said that I had not been able to
"Nothing you would understand," he replied.
His answer annoyed me. Belligerently I told him I was not stupid, and
he could at least try to explain it to me.
"Well, let me just say that, although you could understand it, you are
certainly not going to like it," he said with the smile he always had when
he was setting me up. "You see, I really want to spare you."
I was hooked, and I insisted that he tell me what he meant.
"Are you sure you want to hear the truth?" he asked, knowing I could
never say no, even if my life depended on it.
"Of course I want to hear whatever it is you're dangling in front of
me," I said cuttingly.
He started to laugh as if at a big joke; the more he laughed, the
greater my annoyance.
"I don't see what's so funny," I said.
"Sometimes the underlying truth shouldn't be tampered with," he said.
"The underlying truth here is like a block at the bottom of a big pile of
things, a cornerstone. If we take a hard look at the bottom block, we might
not like the results. I prefer to avoid that."
He laughed again. His eyes, shining with mischievous-ness, seemed to
invite me to pursue the subject further. And I insisted again that I had to
know what he was talking about. I tried to sound calm but persistent.
"Well, if that is what you want," he said with the air of one who had
been overwhelmed by the request. "First of all, I'd like to say that
everything I do for you is free. You don't have to pay for it. As you know,
I've been impeccable with you. And as you also know, my impeccability with
you is not an investment. I am not grooming you to take care of me when I am
too feeble to look after myself. But I do get something of incalculable
value out of our association, a sort of reward for dealing impeccably with
that bottom block I've mentioned. And what I get is the very thing you are
perhaps not going to understand or like."
He stopped and peered at me, with a devilish glint in his eyes.
"Tell me about it, don Juan!" I exclaimed, irritated with his delaying
"I want you to bear in mind that I am telling you at your insistence,"
he said, still smiling.
He paused again. By then I was fuming.
"If you judge me by my actions with you," he said, "you would have to
admit that I have been a paragon of patience and consistency. But what you
don't know is that to accomplish this I have had to fight for impeccability
as I have never fought before. In order to spend time with you, I have had
to transform myself daily, restraining myself with the most excruciating
Don Juan had been right. I did not like what he said. I tried not to
lose face and made a sarcastic comeback.
"I'm not that bad, don Juan," I said.
My voice sounded surprisingly unnatural to me.
"Oh, yes, you are that bad," he said with a serious expression. "You
are petty, wasteful, opinionated, coercive, short-tempered, conceited. You
are morose, ponderous, and ungrateful. You have an inexhaustible capacity
for self-indulgence. And worst of all, you have an exalted idea of yourself,
with nothing whatever to back it up.
"I could sincerely say that your mere presence makes me feel like
I wanted to get angry. I wanted to protest, to complain that he had no
right to talk to me that way, but I could not utter a single word. I was
crushed. I felt numb.
My expression, upon hearing the bottom truth, must have been something,
for don Juan broke into such gales of laughter I thought he was going to
"I told you you were not going to like it or understand it," he said.
"Warriors' reasons are very simple, but their finesse is extreme. It is a
rare opportunity for a warrior to be given a genuine chance to be impeccable
in spite of his basic feelings. You gave me such a unique chance. The act of
giving freely and impeccably rejuvenates me and renews my wonder. What I get
from our association is indeed of incalculable value to me. I am in your
His eyes were shining, but without mischievousness, as he peered at me.
Don Juan began to explain what he had done.
"I am the nagual, I moved your assemblage point with the shine of my
eyes," he said matter-of-factly. "The nagual's eyes can do that. It's not
difficult. After all, the eyes of all living beings can move someone else's
assemblage point, especially if their eyes are focused on intent. Under
normal conditions, however, people's eyes are focused on the world, looking
for food . . . looking for shelter. . . ."
He nudged my shoulder.
"Looking for love," he added and broke into a loud laugh.
Don Juan constantly teased me about my "looking for love." He never
forgot a naive answer I once gave him when he had asked me what I actively
looked for in life. He had been steering me toward admitting that I did not
clear goal, and he roared with laughter when I said that I was looking
"A good hunter mesmerizes his prey with his eyes," he went on. "With
his gaze he moves the assemblage point of his prey, and yet his eyes are on
the world, looking for food."
I asked him if sorcerers could mesmerize people with their gaze. He
chuckled and said that what I really wanted to know was if I could mesmerize
women with my gaze, in spite of the fact that my eyes were focused on the
world, looking for love. He added, seriously, that the sorcerers' safety
valve was that by the time their eyes were really focused on intent, they
were no longer interested in mesmerizing anyone.
"But, for sorcerers to use the shine of their eyes to move their own or
anyone else's assemblage point," he continued, "they have to be ruthless.
That is, they have to be familiar with that specific position of the
assemblage point called the place of no pity. This is especially true for
He said that each nagual developed a brand of ruthless-ness specific to
him alone. He took my case as an example and said that, because of my
unstable natural configuration, I appeared to seers as a sphere of
luminosity not composed of four balls compressed into one - the usual
structure of a nagual - but as a sphere composed of only three compressed
balls. This configuration made me automatically hide my ruthlessness behind
a mask of indulgence and laxness.
"Naguals are very misleading," don Juan went on. "They always give the
impression of something they are not, and they do it so completely that
everybody, including those who know them best, believe their masquerade."
"I really don't understand how you can say that I am masquerading, don
Juan," I protested.
"You pass yourself off as an indulgent, relaxed man," he id. "You give
the impression of being generous, of having great compassion. And everybody
is convinced of your genuineness. They can even swear that that is the way
"But that is the way I am!" Don Juan doubled up with laughter. The
direction the conversation had taken was not to my ting. I wanted to set the
record straight. I argued vehemently that I was truthful in everything I
did, and challenged him to give me an example of my being otherwise. He said
I compulsively treated people with unwarranted generosity, giving them a
false sense of my ease and openness. And I argued that being open was my
nature. He laughed and retorted that if this were the case, why should be
that I always demanded, without voicing it, that the people I dealt with be
aware I was deceiving them? The roof was that when they failed to be aware
of my ploy and took my pseudo-laxness at face value, I turned on them with
exactly the cold ruthlessness I was trying to mask.
His comments made me feel desperate, because I couldn't argue with
them. I remained quiet. I did not want to show that I was hurt. I was
wondering what to do when e stood and started to walk away. I stopped him by
holding his sleeve. It was an unplanned move on my part which startled me
and made him laugh. He sat down again with a look of surprise on his face.
"I didn't mean to be rude," I said, "but I've got to know more about
this. It upsets me."
"Make your assemblage point move," he urged. "We've discussed
ruthlessness before. Recollect it!"
He eyed me with genuine expectation although he must have seen that I
could not recollect anything, for he continued to talk about the naguals'
patterns of ruthlessness. He said that his own method consisted of
subjecting people to a flurry of coercion and denial, hidden behind sham
understanding and reasonableness.
"What about all the explanations you give me?" I asked. "Aren't they
the result of genuine reasonableness and desire to help me understand?"
"No," he replied. "They are the result of my ruthlessness."
I argued passionately that my own desire to understand was genuine. He
patted me on the shoulder and explained that my desire to understand was
genuine, but my generosity was not. He said that naguals masked their
ruthless-ness automatically, even against their will.
As I listened to his explanation, I had the peculiar sensation in the
back of my mind that at some point we had covered the concept of
"I'm not a rational man," he continued, looking into my eyes. "I only
appear to be because my mask is so effective. What you perceive as
reasonableness is my lack of pity, because that's what ruthlessness is: a
total lack of pity.
"In your case, since you mask your lack of pity with generosity, you
appear at ease, open. But actually you are as generous as I am reasonable.
We are both fakes. We have perfected the art of disguising the fact that we
feel no pity."
He said his benefactor's total lack of pity was masked behind the
facade of an easygoing, practical joker with an irresistible need to poke
fun at anyone with whom he came into contact.
"My benefactor's mask was that of a happy, unruffled man without a care
in the world," don Juan continued. "But underneath all that he was, like all
the naguals, as cold as the arctic wind."
"But you are not cold, don Juan," I said sincerely.
"Of course I am," he insisted. "The effectiveness of my mask is what
gives you the impression of warmth."
He went on to explain that the nagual Elias's mask consisted of a
maddening meticulousness about all details and accuracy, which created the
false impression of attention and thoroughness.
He started to describe the nagual Elias's behavior. As he talked, he
kept watching me. And perhaps because he was observing me so intently, I was
unable to concentrate at all m what he was saying. I made a supreme effort
to gather my thoughts.
He watched me for an instant, then went back to explaining
ruthlessness, but I no longer needed his explanation. I old him that I had
recollected what he wanted me to recollect: the first time my eyes had
shone. Very early in my apprenticeship I had achieved - by myself - a shift
in my level of awareness. My assemblage point reached the position called
the place of no pity.
The Place Of No Pity
Don Juan told me that there was no need to talk about the details of my
recollection, at least not at that moment, because talk was used only to
lead one to recollecting. Once the assemblage point moved, the total
experience was relived. He also told me the best way to assure a complete
recollection was to walk around.
And so both of us stood up; walked very slowly and in silence,
following a trail in those mountains, until I had recollected everything.
We were in the outskirts of Guaymas, in northern Mexico, on a drive
from Nogales, Arizona, when it became evident to me that something was wrong
with don Juan. For the last hour or so he had been unusually quiet and
somber. I did not think anything of it, but then, abruptly, his body
twitched out of control. His chin hit his chest as if his neck muscles could
no longer support the weight of his head.
"Are you getting carsick, don Juan?" I asked, suddenly alarmed.
He did not answer. He was breathing through his mouth.
During the first part of our drive, which had taken several hours, he
had been fine. We had talked a great deal about everything. When we had
stopped in the city of Santa Ana to get gas, he was even doing push-outs
against the roof of the car to loosen up the muscles of his shoulders.
"What's wrong with you, don Juan?" I asked.
I felt pangs of anxiety in my stomach. With his head down, he mumbled
that he wanted to go to a particular restaurant and in a slow, faltering
voice gave me precise directions on how to get there.
I parked my car on a side street, a block from the restaurant. As I
opened the car door on my side, he held onto my arm with an iron grip.
Painfully, and with my help, he dragged himself out of the car, over the
driver's seat. Once he was on the sidewalk, he held onto my shoulders with
both hands to straighten his back. In ominous silence, we shuffled down the
street toward the dilapidated building where the restaurant was.
Don Juan was hanging onto my arm with all his weight. His breathing was
so accelerated and the tremor in his body so alarming that I panicked. I
stumbled and had to brace myself against the wall to keep us both from
falling to the sidewalk. My anxiety was so intense I could not think. I
looked into his eyes. They were dull. They did not have then- usual shine.
We clumsily entered the restaurant and a solicitous waiter rushed over,
as if on cue, to help don Juan.
"How are you feeling today?" he yelled into don Juan's ear.
He practically carried don Juan from the door to a table, seated him,
and then disappeared.
"Does he know you, don Juan?" I asked when we were seated.
Without looking at me, he mumbled something unintelligible. I stood up
and went to the kitchen to look for the busy waiter.
"Do you know the old man I am with?" I asked when I was able to corner
"Of course I know him," he said with the attitude of someone who has
just enough patience to answer one question. "He's the old man who suffers
That statement settled things for me. I knew then that don Juan had
suffered a mild stroke while we were driving. There was nothing I could have
done to avoid it but I felt helpless and apprehensive. The feeling that the
worst had not yet happened made me feel sick to my stomach.
I went back to the table and sat down in silence. Suddenly the same
waiter arrived with two plates of fresh shrimp and two large bowls of
sea-turtle soup. The thought occurred to me that either the restaurant
served only shrimp and sea-turtle soup or don Juan ate the same thing every
time he was here.
The waiter talked so loudly to don Juan he could be heard above the
clatter of customers.
"Hope you like your food!" he yelled. "If you need me, just lift your
arm. I'll come right away."
Don Juan nodded his head affirmatively and the waiter left, after
patting don Juan affectionately on the back.
Don Juan ate voraciously, smiling to himself from time to time. I was
so apprehensive that just the thought of food
made me feel nauseous. But then I reached a familiar threshold of
anxiety, and the more I worried the hungrier
I became. I tried the food and found it incredibly good.
I felt somewhat better after having eaten, but the situation had not
changed, nor had my anxiety diminished.
When don Juan was through eating, he shot his arm straight above his
head. In a moment, the waiter came over and handed me the bill.
I paid him and he helped don Juan stand up. He guided him by the arm
out of the restaurant. The waiter even helped him out to the street and said
goodbye to him effusively.
We walked back to the car in the same laborious way, don Juan leaning
heavily on my arm, panting and stopping to catch his breath every few steps.
The waiter stood in the doorway, as if to make sure I was not going to let
don Juan fall.
Don Juan took two or three full minutes to climb into the car.
"Tell me, what can I do for you, don Juan?" I pleaded.
"Turn the car around," he ordered in a faltering, barely audible voice.
"I want to go to the other side of town, to the store. They know me there,
too. They are my friends."
I told him I had no idea what store he was talking about. He mumbled
incoherently and had a tantrum. He stamped on the floor of the car with both
feet. He pouted and actually drooled on his shirt. Then he seemed to have an
instant of lucidity. I got extremely nervous, watching him struggle to
arrange his thoughts. He finally succeeded in telling me how to get to the
My discomfort was at its peak. I was afraid that the stroke don Juan
had suffered was more serious than I thought. I wanted to be rid of him, to
take him to his family or his friends, but I did not know who they were. I
did not know what else to do. I made a U-turn and drove to the store which
he said was on the other side of town.
I wondered about going back to the restaurant to ask the waiter if he
knew don Juan's family. I hoped someone in the store might know him. The
more I thought about my predicament, the sorrier I felt for myself. Don Juan
was finished. I had a terrible sense of loss, of doom. I was going to miss
him, but my sense of loss was offset by my feeling of annoyance at being
saddled with him at his worst.
I drove around for almost an hour looking for the store. I could not
find it. Don Juan admitted that he might have made a mistake, that the store
might be in a different town. By then I was completely exhausted and had no
idea what to do next.
In my normal state of awareness I always had the strange feeling that I
knew more about him than my reason told me. Now, under the pressure of his
mental deterioration, I was certain, without knowing why, that his friends
were waiting for him somewhere in Mexico, although I did not know where.
My exhaustion was more than physical. It was a combination of worry and
guilt. It worried me that I was stuck with a feeble old man who might, for
all I knew, be mortally ill. And I felt guilty for being so disloyal to him.
I parked my car near the waterfront. It took nearly ten minutes for don
Juan to get out of the car. We walked toward the ocean, but as we got
closer, don Juan shied like a mule and refused to go on. He mumbled that the
water of Guaymas Bay scared him.
He turned around and led me to the main square: a dusty plaza without
even benches. Don Juan sat down on the curb. A street-cleaning truck went
by, rotating its steel brushes, but no water was squirting into them. The
cloud of dust made me cough.
I was so disturbed by my situation that the thought of leaving him
sitting there crossed my mind. I felt embarrassed at having had such a
thought and patted don Juan's back.
"You must make an effort and tell me where I can take you," I said
softly. "Where do you want me to go."
"I want you to go to hell!" he replied in a cracked, raspy voice.
Hearing him speak to me like this, I had the suspicion that don Juan
might not have suffered from a stroke, but some other crippling brain
condition that had made him lose his mind and become violent.
Suddenly he stood up and walked away from me. I noticed how frail he
looked. He had aged in a matter of hours. His natural vigor was gone, and
what I saw before me was a terribly old, weak man.
I rushed to lend him a hand. A wave of immense pity enveloped me. I saw
myself old and weak, barely able to walk. It was intolerable. I was close to
weeping, not for don Juan but for myself. I held his arm and made him a
silent promise that I would look after him, no matter what.
I was lost in a reverie of self-pity when I felt the numbing force of a
slap across my face. Before I recovered from the surprise, don Juan slapped
me again across the back of my neck. He was standing facing me, shivering
with rage. His mouth was half open and shook uncontrollably.
'Who are you?" he yelled in a strained voice.
He turned to a group of onlookers who had immediately gathered.
'I don't know who this man is," he said to them. "Help me. I'm a lonely
old Indian. He's a foreigner and he wants
kill me. They do that to helpless old people, kill them for pleasure."
There was a murmur of disapproval. Various young, husky men looked at
me menacingly. "What are you doing, don Juan?" I asked him in a loud voice.
I wanted to reassure the crowd that I was with him. "I don't know you," don
Juan shouted. "Leave me alone."
He turned to the crowd and asked them to help him. He wanted them to
restrain me until the police came. "Hold him," he insisted. "And someone,
please call the police. They'll know what to do with this man." I had the
image of a Mexican jail. No one would know here I was. The idea that months
would go by before anyone noticed my disappearance made me react with
vicious speed. I kicked the first young man who came close me, then took off
at a panicked run. I knew I was running for my life. Several young men ran
after me. As I raced toward the main street, I realized that in a small city
like Guaymas there were policemen all over the place patrolling on foot.
There were none in sight, and before I ran into one, I entered the first
store in my path. I pretended to be looking for curios.
The young men running after me went by noisily. I conceived a quick
plan: to buy as many things as I could. I as counting on being taken for a
tourist by the people in the store. Then I was going to ask someone to help
me carry the packages to my car. It took me quite a while to select what I
wanted. I paid a young man in the store to help me carry my packages, but as
I got closer to my car, I saw don Juan standing by it, still surrounded by
people. He was talking to a policeman, who was taking notes.
It was useless. My plan had failed. There was no way to get to my car.
I instructed the young man to leave my packages on the sidewalk. I told him
a friend of mine was going to drive by presently to take me to my hotel. He
left and I remained hidden behind the packages I was holding in front of my
face, out of sight of don Juan and the people around him.
I saw the policeman examining my California license plates. And that
completely convinced me I was done for. The accusation of the crazy old man
was too grave. And the fact that I had run away would have only reinforced
my guilt in the eyes of any policeman. Besides, I would not have put it past
the policeman to ignore the truth, just to arrest a foreigner.
I stood in a doorway for perhaps an hour. The policeman left, but the
crowd remained around don Juan, who was shouting and agitatedly moving his
arms. I was too far away to hear what he was saying but I could imagine the
gist of his fast, nervous shouting.
I was in desperate need of another plan. I considered checking into a
hotel and waiting there for a couple of days before venturing out to get my
car. I thought of going back to the store and having them call a taxi. I had
never had to hire a cab in Guaymas and I had no idea if there were any. But
my plan died instantly with the realization that if the police were fairly
competent, and had taken don Juan seriously, they would check the hotels.
Perhaps the policeman had left don Juan in order to do just that.
Another alternative that crossed my mind was to get to the bus station
and catch a bus to any town along the
international border. Or to take any bus leaving Guaymas any direction.
I abandoned the idea immediately. I was sure don Juan had given my name to
the policeman and the police had probably already alerted the bus companies.
My mind plunged into blind panic. I took short breaths calm my nerves.
I noticed then that the crowd around don Juan was beginning to
disperse. The policeman returned with a colleague, and the two of them moved
away, walking slowly toward the end of the street. It was at that point that
I felt sudden uncontrollable urge. It was as if my body were disconnected
from my brain. I walked to my car, carrying the packages. Without even the
slightest trace of fear or concern, I opened the trunk, put the packages
inside, then opened the driver's door.
Don Juan was on the sidewalk, by my car, looking at me absentmindedly.
I stared at him with a thoroughly uncharacteristic coldness. Never in my
life had I had such a feeling. It was not hatred I felt, or even anger. I
was not even annoyed with him. What I felt was not resignation or patience,
either. And it was certainly not kindness. Rather it was a cold
indifference, a frightening lack of pity. At that instant, I could not have
cared less about what happened to don Juan or myself.
Don Juan shook his upper body the way a dog shakes itself dry after a
swim. And then, as if all of it had only been a bad dream, he was again the
man I knew. He quickly turned his jacket inside out. It was a reversible
jacket, beige on one side and black on the other. Now he vas wearing a black
jacket. He threw his straw hat inside :he car and carefully combed his hair.
He pulled his shirt collar over the jacket collar, instantly making himself
look younger. Without saying a word, he helped me put the rest of the
packages in the car.
When the two policemen ran back to us, blowing their whistles, drawn by
the noise of the car doors being opened and closed, don Juan very nimbly
rushed to meet them. He listened to them attentively and assured them they
had. nothing to worry about. He explained that they must have encountered
his father, a feeble old Indian who suffered from brain damage. As he talked
to them, he opened and closed the car doors, as if checking the locks. He
moved the packages from the trunk to the back seat. His agility and youthful
strength were the opposite of the old man's movements of a few minutes ago.
I knew that he was acting for the benefit of the policeman who had seen him
before. If I had been that man, there would have been no doubt in my mind
that I was now seeing the son of the old braindamaged Indian.
Don Juan gave them the name of the restaurant where they knew his
father and then bribed them shamelessly.
I did not bother to say anything to the policemen. There was something
that made me feel hard, cold, efficient, silent.
We got in the car without a word. The policemen did not attempt to ask
me anything. They seemed too tired even to try. We drove away.
"What kind of act did you pull out there, don Juan?" I asked, and the
coldness in my tone surprised me.
"It was the first lesson in ruthlessness," he said.
He remarked that on our way to Guaymas he had warned me about the
impending lesson on ruthlessness.
I confessed that I had not paid attention because I had thought that we
were just making conversation to break the monotony of driving.
"I never just make conversation," he said sternly. "You should know
that by now. What I did this afternoon was to create the proper situation
for you to move your assemblage point to the precise spot where pity
disappears. That spot is known as the place of no pity. "The problem that
sorcerers have to solve," he went on, is that the place of no pity has to be
reached with only minimal help. The nagual sets the scene, but it is the
apprentice who makes his assemblage point move. "Today you just did that. I
helped you, perhaps a bit dramatically, by moving my own assemblage point to
specific position that made me into a feeble and unpredictable old man. I
was not just acting old and feeble. I was old"
The mischievous glint in his eyes told me that he was enjoying the
"It was not absolutely necessary that I do that," he went i. "I could
have directed you to move your assemblage point without the hard tactics,
but I couldn't help myself, nee this event will never be repeated, I wanted
to know whether or not I could act, in some measure, like my own :enefactor.
Believe me, I surprised myself as much as I must have surprised you."
I felt incredibly at ease. I had no problems in accepting hat he was
saying to me, and no questions, because I understood everything without
needing him to explain. He then said something which I already knew, but
could )t verbalize, because I would not have been able to find the
appropriate words to describe it. He said that every-ling sorcerers did was
done as a consequence of a movement of their assemblage points, and that
such movements ere ruled by the amount of energy sorcerers had at their
I mentioned to don Juan that I knew all that and much more. And he
commented that inside every human being was a gigantic, dark lake of silent
knowledge which each of us could intuit. He told me I could intuit it
perhaps with a bit more clarity than the average man because of my
involvement in the warrior's path. He then said that sorcerers were the only
beings on earth who deliberately went beyond the intuitive level by training
themselves to do two transcendental things: first, to conceive the existence
of the assemblage point, and second, to make that assemblage point move.
He emphasized over and over that the most sophisticated knowledge
sorcerers possessed was of our potential as perceiving beings, and the
knowledge that the content of perception depended on the position of the
At that point I began to experience a unique difficulty in
concentrating on what he was saying, not because I was distracted or
fatigued, but because my mind, on its own, had started to play the game of
anticipating his words. It was as if an unknown part of myself were inside
me, trying unsuccessfully to find adequate words to voice a thought. As don
Juan spoke, I felt I could anticipate how he was going to express my own
silent thoughts. I was thrilled to realize his choice of words was always
better than mine could have been. But anticipating his words also diminished
I abruptly pulled over to the side of the road. And right there I had,
for the first time in my life, a clear knowledge of a dualism in me. Two
obviously separate parts were within my being. One was extremely old, at
ease, indifferent. It was heavy, dark, and connected to everything else. It
was the part of me that did not care, because it was equal to anything. It
enjoyed things with no expectation. The other part was light, new, fluffy,
agitated. It was nervous, fast. It cared about itself because it was
insecure and did not enjoy anything, simply because it lacked the capacity
to connect itself to anything. It was alone, on the surface, vulnerable.
That was the part with which I looked at the world.
I deliberately looked around with that part. Everywhere I looked I saw
extensive farmlands. And that insecure, fluffy, and caring part of me got
caught between being proud of the industriousness of man and being sad at
the sight of the magnificent old Sonoran desert turned into an orderly scene
of furrows and domesticated plants.
The old, dark, heavy part of me did not care. And the two parts entered
into a debate. The fluffy part wanted the heavy part to care, and the heavy
part wanted the other one to stop fretting, and to enjoy.
"Why did you stop?" don Juan asked.
His voice produced a reaction, but it would be inaccurate to say that
it was I who reacted. The sound of his voice seemed to solidify the fluffy
part, and suddenly I was recognizably myself.
I described to don Juan the realization I had just had bout my dualism.
As he began to explain it in terms of the position of the assemblage point I
lost my solidity. The fluffy part became as fluffy as it had been when I
first noticed my dualism, and once again I knew what don Juan vas
He said that when the assemblage point moves and reaches the place of
no pity, the position of rationality and common sense becomes weak. The
sensation I was having if an older, dark, silent side was a view of the
antecedents of reason.
"I know exactly what you are saying," I told him. "I know a great
number of things, but I can't speak of what I know. I don't know how to
"I have mentioned this to you already," he said. "What you are
experiencing and call dualism is a view from another position of your
assemblage point. From that position, you can feel the older side of man.
And what the older side of man knows is called silent knowledge. It's a
knowledge that you cannot yet voice."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because in order to voice it, it is necessary for you to have and use
an inordinate amount of energy," he replied. "You don't at this time have
that kind of energy to spare.
"Silent knowledge is something that all of us have," he went on.
"Something that has complete mastery, complete knowledge of everything. But
it cannot think, therefore, it cannot speak of what it knows.
"Sorcerers believe that when man became aware that he knew, and wanted
to be conscious of what he knew, he lost sight of what he knew. This silent
knowledge, which you cannot describe, is, of course, intent - the spirit,
the abstract. Man's error was to want to know it directly, the way he knew
everyday life. The more he wanted, the more ephemeral it became."
"But what does that mean in plain words, don Juan?" I asked.
"It means that man gave up silent knowledge for the world of reason,"
he replied. "The more he clings to the world of reason, the more ephemeral
I started the car and we drove in silence. Don Juan did not attempt to
give me directions or tell me how to drive - a thing he often did in order
to exacerbate my self-importance. I had no clear idea where I was going, yet
something in me knew. I let that part take over.
Very late in the evening we arrived at the big house don Juan's group
of sorcerers had in a rural area of the state of Sinaloa in northwestern
Mexico. The journey seemed to have taken no time at all. I could not
remember the particulars of our drive. All I knew about it was that we had
The house seemed to be empty. There were no signs of people living
there. I knew, however, that don Juan's friends were in the house. I could
feel their presence without actually having to see them.
Don Juan lit some kerosene lanterns and we sat down at a sturdy table.
It seemed that don Juan was getting ready to eat. I was wondering what to
say or do when a woman entered noiselessly and put a large plate of food on
the table. I was not prepared for her entrance, and when she stepped out of
the darkness into the light, as if she had materialized out of nowhere, I
"Don't be scared, it's me, Carmela," she said and disappeared,
swallowed again by the darkness.
I was left with my mouth open in mid-scream. Don Juan laughed so hard
that I knew everybody in the house must have heard him. I half expected them
to come, but no one appeared.
I tried to eat, but I was not hungry. I began to think about the woman.
I did not know her. That is, I could almost identify her, but I could not
quite work my memory of her out of the fog that obscured my thoughts. I
struggled to clear my mind. I felt that it required too much energy and I
Almost as soon as I had stopped thinking about her, I began to
experience a strange, numbing anxiety. At first I believed that the dark,
massive house, and the silence in and around it, were depressing. But then
my anguish rose to incredible proportions, right after I heard the faint
barking of dogs in the distance. For a moment I thought that my body was
going to explode. Don Juan intervened quickly. He jumped to where I was
sitting and pushed my back until it cracked. The pressure on my back brought
me immediate relief.
When I had calmed down, I realized I had lost, together with the
anxiety that had nearly consumed me, the clear sense of knowing everything.
I could no longer anticipate how don Juan was going to articulate what I
Don Juan then started a most peculiar explanation. First he said that
the origin of the anxiety that had overtaken me with the speed of wildfire
was the sudden movement of my assemblage point, caused by Carmela's sudden
appearance, and by my unavoidable effort to move my assemblage point to the
place where I would be able to identify her completely.
He advised me to get used to the idea of recurrent attacks of the same
type of anxiety, because my assemblage point was going to keep moving.
"Any movement of the assemblage point is like dying," he said.
"Everything in us gets disconnected, then reconnected again to a source of
much greater power. That amplification of energy is felt as a killing
"What am I to do when this happens?" I asked.
"Nothing," he said. "Just wait. The outburst of energy will pass.
What's dangerous is not knowing what is happening to you. Once you know,
there is no real danger."
Then he talked about ancient man. He said that ancient man knew, in the
most direct fashion, what to do and how best to do it. But, because he
performed so well, he started to develop a sense of selfness, which gave him
the feeling that he could predict and plan the actions he was used to
performing. And thus the idea of an individual "self appeared; an individual
self which began to dictate the nature and scope of man's actions.
As the feeling of the individual self became stronger, man lost his
natural connection to silent knowledge. Modern man, being heir to that
development, therefore finds himself so hopelessly removed from the source
of everything that all he can do is express his despair in violent and
cynical acts of self-destruction. Don Juan asserted that the reason for
man's cynicism and despair is the bit of silent knowledge left in him, which
does two things: one, it gives man an inkling of his ancient connection to
the source of everything; and two, it makes man feel that without this
connection, he has no hope of peace, of satisfaction, of attainment.
I thought I had caught don Juan in a contradiction. I pointed out to
him that he had once told me that war was he natural state for a warrior,
that peace was an anomaly.
"That's right," he admitted. "But war, for a warrior, doesn't mean acts
of individual or collective stupidity or wanton violence. War, for a
warrior, is the total struggle against that individual self that has
deprived man of his power."
Don Juan said then that it was time for us to talk further about
ruthlessness - the most basic premise of sorcery. He explained that
sorcerers had discovered that any movement )f the assemblage point meant a
movement away from the excessive concern with that individual self which was
the nark of modern man. He went on to say that sorcerers relieved it was the
position of the assemblage point which made modern man a homicidal egotist,
a being totally involved with his self-image. Having lost hope of ever
returning to the source of everything, man sought solace in his selfness.
And, in doing so, he succeeded in fixing his assemblage point in the exact
position to perpetuate his self-mage. It was therefore safe to say that any
movement of :he assemblage point away from its customary position resulted
in a movement away from man's self-reflection and its concomitant:
Don Juan described self-importance as the force generated by man's
self-image. He reiterated that it is that force which keeps the assemblage
point fixed where it is at present. For this reason, the thrust of the
warriors' way is to dethrone self-importance. And everything sorcerers do is
toward accomplishing this goal.
He explained that sorcerers had unmasked self-importance and found that
it is self-pity masquerading as something else.
"It doesn't sound possible, but that is what it is," he said.
"Self-pity is the real enemy and the source of man's misery. Without a
degree of pity for himself, man could not afford to be as self-important as
he is. However, once the force of self-importance is engaged, it develops
its own momentum. And it is this seemingly independent nature of
self-importance which gives it its fake sense of worth."
His explanation, which I would have found incomprehensible under normal
conditions, seemed thoroughly cogent to me. But because of the duality in
me, which still pertained, it appeared a bit simplistic. Don Juan seemed to
have aimed his thoughts and words at a specific target. And I, in my normal
state of awareness, was that target.
He continued his explanation, saying that sorcerers are absolutely
convinced that by moving our assemblage points away from their customary
position we achieve a state of being which could only be called
ruthlessness. Sorcerers knew, by means of their practical actions, that as
soon as their assemblage points move, their self-importance crumbles.
Without the customary position of their assemblage points, their self-image
can no longer be sustained. And without the heavy focus on that self-image,
they lose their self-compassion, and with it their self-importance.
Sorcerers are right, therefore, in saying that self-importance is merely
self-pity in disguise.
He then took my experience of the afternoon and went through it step by
step. He stated that a nagual in his role leader or teacher has to behave in
the most efficient, but the same time most impeccable, way. Since it is not
possible for him to plan the course of his actions rationally, : nagual
always lets the spirit decide his course. For ex-pie, he said he had had no
plans to do what he did until : spirit gave him an indication, very early
that morning die we were having breakfast in Nogales. He urged me recall the
event and tell him what I could remember. I recalled that during breakfast I
got very embarrassed cause don Juan made fun of me. "Think about the
waitress," don Juan urged me. "All I can remember about her is that she was
rude." "But what did she do?" he insisted. "What did she do while she waited
to take our order?" After a moment's pause, I remembered that she was a
hard-looking young woman who threw the menu at me and stood there, almost
touching me, silently demanding that I hurry up and order.
While she waited, impatiently tapping her big foot on e floor, she
pinned her long black hair up on her head. The change was remarkable. She
looked more appealing, more mature. I was frankly taken by the change in
her. In fact, I overlooked her bad manners because of it. "That was the
omen," don Juan said. "Hardness and transformation were the indication of
the spirit." He said that his first act of the day, as a nagual, was to t me
know his intentions. To that end, he told me in very plain language, but in
a surreptitious manner, that he was going to give me a lesson in
ruthlessness. "Do you remember now?" he asked. "I talked to the waitress and
to an old lady at the next table." Guided by him in this fashion, I did
remember don Juan practically flirting with an old lady and the ill-mannered
waitress. He talked to them for a long time while I ate. He told them
idiotically funny stories about graft and corruption in government, and
jokes about farmers in the city. Then he asked the waitress if she was an
American. She said no and laughed at the question. Don Juan said that that
was good, because I was a Mexican-American in search of love. And I might as
well start here, after eating such a good breakfast.
The women laughed. I thought they laughed at my being embarrassed. Don
Juan said to them that, seriously speaking, I had come to Mexico to find a
wife. He asked if they knew of any honest, modest, chaste woman who wanted
to get married and was not too demanding in matters of male beauty. He
referred to himself as my spokesman.
The women were laughing very hard. I was truly chagrined. Don Juan
turned to the waitress and asked her if she would marry me. She said that
she was engaged. It looked to me as though she was taking don Juan
"Why don't you let him speak for himself?" the old lady asked don Juan.
"Because he has a speech impediment," he said. "He stutters horribly."
The waitress said that I had been perfectly normal when I ordered my
"Oh! You're so observant," don Juan said. "Only when he orders food can
he speak like anyone else. I've told him time and time again that if he
wants to learn to speak normally, he has to be ruthless. I brought him here
to give him some lessons in ruthlessness."
"Poor man," the old woman said.
"Well, we'd better get going if we are going to find love for him
today," don Juan said as he stood to leave.
You're serious about this marriage business," the young waitress said
to don Juan.
You bet," he replied. "I'm going to help him get what he needs so he
can cross the border and go to the place of no pity."
I thought don Juan was calling either marriage or the U.S.A. the place
of no pity. I laughed at the metaphor and stuttered horribly for a moment,
which scared the women to death and made don Juan laugh hysterically. It was
imperative that I state my purpose to you then," Juan said, continuing his
explanation. "I did, but it bypassed you completely, as it should have." He
said that from the moment the spirit manifested itself, every step was
carried to its satisfactory completion with absolute ease. And my assemblage
point reached the place of no pity, when, under the stress of his
transformation, it was forced to abandon its customary place of
"The position of self-reflection," don Juan went on, "forces the
assemblage point to assemble a world of sham compassion, but of very real
cruelty and self-centeredness. In that world the only real feelings are
those convenient for one who feels them. 'For a sorcerer, ruthlessness is
not cruelty. Ruthlessness the opposite of self-pity or self-importance.
THE REQUIREMENTS OF INTENT
Breaking The Mirror Of Self-Reflection
We spent a night at the spot where I had recollected my experience in
Guaymas. During that night, because my assemblage point was pliable, don
Juan helped me to reach new positions, which immediately became blurry
The next day I was incapable of remembering what had happened or what I
had perceived; I had, nonetheless, the acute sensation of having had bizarre
experiences. Don Juan agreed that my assemblage point had moved beyond his
expectations, yet he refused to give me even a hint of what I had done. His
only comment had been that some day I would recollect everything.
Around noon, we continued on up the mountains. We walked in silence and
without stopping until late in the afternoon. As we slowly climbed a mildly
steep mountain ridge, don Juan suddenly spoke. I did not understand any of
what he was saying. He repeated it until I realized he wanted to stop on a
wide ledge, visible from where we were. He was telling me that we would be
protected there from the wind by the boulders and large, bushy shrubs.
"Tell me, which spot on the ledge would be the best for s to sit out
all night?" he asked.
Earlier, as we were climbing, I had spotted the almost unnoticeable
ledge. It appeared as a patch of darkness on the face of the mountain. I had
identified it with a very quick glance. Now that don Juan was asking my
opinion, I elected a spot of even greater darkness, one almost black, n the
south side of the ledge. The dark ledge and the almost black spot in it did
not generate any feeling of fear r anxiety. I felt that I liked that ledge.
And I liked its dark pot even more.
"That spot there is very dark, but I like it," I said, when /e reached
He agreed that that was the best place to sit all night. He aid it was
a place with a special level of energy, and that he, too, liked its pleasing
We headed toward some protruding rocks. Don Juan cleared an area by the
boulders and we sat with our backs against them.
I told him that on the one hand I thought it had been a lucky guess on
my part to choose that very spot, but on the other I could not overlook the
fact that I had perceived it with my eyes.
"I wouldn't say that you perceived it exclusively with your eyes," he
said. "It was a bit more complex than that."
"What do you mean by that, don Juan?" I asked.
"I mean that you have possibilities you are not yet aware of," he
replied. "Since you're quite careless, you may think that all of what you
perceive is simply average sensory perception."
He said that if I doubted him, he dared me to go down o the base of the
mountain again and corroborate what he was saying. He predicted that it
would be impossible for me to see the dark ledge merely by looking at it.
I stated vehemently that I had no reason to doubt him. I was not going
to climb down that mountain.
He insisted that we climb down. I thought he was doing it just to tease
me. I got nervous, though, when it occurred to me that he might be serious.
He laughed so hard he choked.
He commented on the fact that all animals could detect, in their
surroundings, areas with special levels of energy. Most animals were
frightened of these spots and avoided them. The exceptions were mountain
lions and coyotes, which lay and even slept on such spots whenever they
happened upon them. But, only sorcerers deliberately sought such spots for
I asked him what the effects were. He said that they gave out
imperceptible jolts of invigorating energy, and he remarked that average men
living in natural settings could find such spots, even though they were not
conscious about having found them nor aware of their effects.
"How do they know they have found them?" I asked.
"They never do," he replied. "Sorcerers watching men travel on foot
trails notice right away that men always become tired and rest right on the
spot with a positive level of energy. If, on the other hand, they are going
through an area with an injurious flow of energy, they become nervous and
rush. If you ask them about it they will tell you they rushed through that
area because they felt energized. But it is the opposite - the only place
that energizes them is the place where they feel tired."
He said that sorcerers are capable of finding such spots by perceiving
with their entire bodies minute surges of energy in their surroundings. The
sorcerers' increased energy, derived from the curtailment of their
self-reflection, allows their senses a greater range of perception.
"I've been trying to make clear to you that the only worthwhile course
of action, whether for sorcerers or average men, is to restrict our
involvement with our self-image," he continued. "What a nagual aims at with
his apprentices is the shattering of their mirror of self-reflection."
He added that each apprentice was an individual case, and that the
nagual had to let the spirit decide about the
"Each of us has a different degree of attachment to his
self-reflection," he went on. "And that attachment is felt as need. For
example, before I started on the path of knowledge, my life was endless
need. And years after the nagual Julian had taken me under his wing, I was
still just as needy, if not more so.
"But there are examples of people, sorcerers or average men, who need
no one. They get peace, harmony, laughter, knowledge, directly from the
spirit. They need no intermediaries. For you and for me, it's different. I'm
your intermediary and the nagual Julian was mine. Intermediaries, besides
providing a minimal chance - the awareness of intent - help shatter people's
mirrors of self-reflection.
"The only concrete help you ever get from me is that I attack your
self-reflection. If it weren't for that, you would be wasting your time.
This is the only real help you've gotten from me."
"You've taught me, don Juan, more than anyone in my entire life," I
"I've taught you all kinds of things in order to trap your attention,"
he said. "You'll swear, though, that that teaching has been the important
part. It hasn't. There is very little value in instruction. Sorcerers
maintain that moving the assemblage point is all that matters. And that
movement, as you well know, depends on increased energy and not on
He then made an incongruous statement. He said that any human being who
would follow a specific and simple sequence of actions can learn to move his
I pointed out that he was contradicting himself. To me, a sequence of
actions meant instructions; it meant procedures.
"In the sorcerers' world there are only contradictions of terms," he
replied. "In practice there are no contradictions. The sequence of actions I
am talking about is one that stems from being aware. To become aware of this
sequence you need a nagual. This is why I've said that the nagual provides a
minimal chance, but that minimal chance is not instruction, like the
instruction you need to learn to operate a machine. The minimal chance
consists of being made aware of the spirit."
He explained that the specific sequence he had in mind called for being
aware that self-importance is the force which keeps the assemblage point
fixed. When self-importance is curtailed, the energy it requires is no
longer expended. That increased energy then serves as the springboard that
launches the assemblage point, automatically and without premeditation, into
an inconceivable journey.
Once the assemblage point has moved, the movement itself entails moving
from self-reflection, and this, in turn, assures a clear connecting link
with the spirit. He commented that, after all, it was self-reflection that
had disconnected man from the spirit in the first place.
"As I have already said to you," don Juan went on, "sorcery is a
journey of return. We return victorious to the spirit, having descended into
hell. And from hell we bring trophies. Understanding is one of our
I told him that his sequence seemed very easy and very simple when he
talked about it, but that when I had tried
to put it into practice I had found it the total antithesis of ease and
"Our difficulty with this simple progression," he said, "is that most
of us are unwilling to accept that we need so little to get on with. We are
geared to expect instruction, teaching, guides, masters. And when we are
told that we need no one, we don't believe it. We become nervous, then
distrustful, and finally angry and disappointed. If we need help, it is not
in methods, but in emphasis. If someone makes us aware that we need to
curtail our self-importance, that help is real.
"Sorcerers say we should need no one to convince us that the world is
infinitely more complex than our wildest fantasies. So, why are we
dependent? Why do we crave someone to guide us when we can do it ourselves?
Big question, eh?"
Don Juan did not say anything else. Obviously, he wanted me to ponder
the question. But I had other worries in my mind. My recollection had
undermined certain foundations that I had believed unshakable, and I
desperately needed him to redefine them. I broke the long silence and voiced
my concern. I told him that I had come to accept that it was possible for me
to forget whole incidents, from beginning to end, if they had taken place in
heightened awareness. Up to that day I had had total recall of anything I
had done under his guidance in my state of normal awareness. Yet, having had
breakfast with him in Nogales had not existed in my mind prior to my
recollecting it. And that event simply must have taken place in the world of
"You are forgetting something essential," he said. "The nagual's
presence is enough to move the assemblage point. I have humored you all
along with the nagual's blow. The blow between the shoulder blades that I
have delivered is
only a pacifier. It serves the purpose of removing your doubts.
Sorcerers use physical contact as a jolt to the body. It doesn't do anything
but give confidence to the apprentice who is being manipulated."
"Then who moves the assemblage point, don Juan?" I asked.
"The spirit does it," he replied in the tone of someone about to lose
He seemed to check himself and smiled and shook his head from side to
side in a gesture of resignation.
"It's hard for me to accept," I said. "My mind is ruled by the
principle of cause and effect."
He had one of his usual attacks of inexplicable laughter - inexplicable
from my point of view, of course. I must have looked annoyed. He put his
hand on my shoulder.
"I laugh like this periodically because you are demented," he said.
"The answer to everything you ask me is staring you right in the eyes and
you don't see it. I think dementia is your curse."
His eyes were so shiny, so utterly crazy and mischievous, that I ended
up laughing myself.
"I have insisted to the point of exhaustion that there are no
procedures in sorcery," he went on. "There are no methods, no steps. The
only thing that matters is the movement of the assemblage point. And no
procedure can cause that. It's an effect that happens all by itself."
He pushed me as if to straighten my shoulders, and then he peered at
me, looking right into my eyes. My attention became riveted to his words.
"Let us see how you figure this out," he said. "I have just said that
the movement of the assemblage point happens by itself. But I have also said
that the nagual's presence moves his apprentice's assemblage point and that
the way the nagual masks his ruthlessness either helps or hinders that
movement. How would you resolve this contradiction?"
I confessed that I had been just about to ask him about the
contradiction, for I had been aware of it, but that I could not even begin
to think of resolving it. I was not a sorcery practitioner.
"What are you, then?" he asked.
"I am a student of anthropology, trying to figure out what sorcerers
do," I said.
My statement was not altogether true, but it was not a lie.
Don Juan laughed uncontrollably
"It's too late for that," he said. "Your assemblage point has moved
already. And it is precisely that movement that makes one a sorcerer."
He stated that what seemed a contradiction was really the two sides of
the same coin. The nagual entices the assemblage point into moving by
helping to destroy the mirror of self-reflection. But that is all the nagual
can do. The actual mover is the spirit, the abstract; something that cannot
be seen or felt; something that does not seem to exist, and yet does. For
this reason, sorcerers report that the assemblage point moves all by itself.
Or they say that the nagual moves it. The nagual, being the conduit of the
abstract, is allowed to express it through his actions.
I looked at don Juan questioningly.
"The nagual moves the assemblage point, and yet it is not he himself
who does the actual moving," don Juan said. "Or perhaps it would be more
appropriate to say that the spirit expresses itself in accordance with the
nagual's impeccability. The spirit can move the assemblage point with the
mere presence of an impeccable nagual."
He said that he had wanted to clarify this point, because, if it was
misunderstood, it led a nagual back to self-importance and thus to his
He changed the subject and said that, because the spirit had no
perceivable essence, sorcerers deal rather with the specific instances and
ways in which they are able to shatter the mirror of self-reflection.
Don Juan noted that in this area it was important to realize the
practical value of the different ways in which the naguals masked their
ruthlessness. He said my mask of generosity, for example, was adequate for
dealing with people on a shallow level, but useless for shattering their
self-reflection because it forced me to demand an almost impossible decision
on their part. I expected them to jump into the sorcerers' world without any
"A decision such as that jump must be prepared for," he went on. "And
in order to prepare for it, any kind of mask for a nagual's ruthlessness
will do, except the mask of generosity."
Perhaps because I desperately wanted to believe that I was truly
generous, his comments on my behavior renewed my terrible sense of guilt. He
assured me that I had nothing to be ashamed of, and that the only
undesirable effect was that my pseudo-generosity did not result in positive
In this regard, he said, although I resembled his benefactor in many
ways, my mask of generosity was too crude, too obvious to be of value to me
as a teacher. A mask of reasonableness, such as his own, however, was very
effective in creating an atmosphere propitious to moving the assemblage
point. His disciples totally believed his pseudo-reasonableness. In fact,
they were so inspired by it that he could easily trick them into exerting
themselves to any degree.
"What happened to you that day in Guaymas was an example of how the
nagual's masked ruthlessness shatters self-reflection," he continued. "My
mask was your downfall. You, like everyone around me, believed my
reasonableness. And, of course, you expected, above all, the continuity of
"When I faced you with not only the senile behavior of a feeble old
man, but with the old man himself, your mind went to extremes in its efforts
to repair my continuity and your self-reflection. And so you told yourself
that I must have suffered a stroke.
"Finally, when it became impossible to believe in the continuity of my
reasonableness, your mirror began to break down. From that point on, the
shift of your assemblage point was just a matter of time. The only thing in
question was whether it was going to reach the place of no pity."
I must have appeared skeptical to don Juan, for he explained that the
world of our self-reflection or of our mind was very flimsy and was held
together by a few key ideas that served as its underlying order. When those
ideas failed, the underlying order ceased to function.
"What are those key ideas, don Juan?" I asked.
"In your case, in that particular instance, as in the case of the
audience of that healer we talked about, continuity was the key idea," he
"What is continuity?" I asked.
"The idea that we are a solid block," he said. "In our minds, what
sustains our world is the certainty that we are unchangeable. We may accept
that our behavior can be modified, that our reactions and opinions can be
modified, but the idea that we are malleable to the point of changing
appearances, to the point of being someone else, is not part of the
underlying order of our self-reflection. Whenever a sorcerer interrupts that
order, the world of reason stops."
I wanted to ask him if breaking an individual's continuity was enough
to cause the assemblage point to move. He seemed to anticipate my question.
He said that that breakage was merely a softener. What helped the assemblage
point move was the nagual's ruthlessness.
He then compared the acts he performed that afternoon in Guaymas with
the actions of the healer we had previously discussed. He said that the
healer had shattered the self-reflection of the people in her audience with
a series of acts for which they had no equivalents in their daily lives -
the dramatic spirit possession, changing voices, cutting the patient's body
open. As soon as the continuity of the idea of themselves was broken, their
assemblage points were ready to be moved.
He reminded me that he had described to me in the past the concept of
stopping the world. He had said that stopping the world was as necessary for
sorcerers as reading and writing was for me. It consisted of introducing a
dissonant element into the fabric of everyday behavior for purposes of
halting the otherwise smooth flow of ordinary events - events which were
catalogued in our minds by our reason.
The dissonant element was called "not-doing," or the opposite of doing.
"Doing" was anything that was part of a whole for which we had a cognitive
account. Not-doing was an element that did not belong in that charted whole.
"Sorcerers, because they are stalkers, understand human behavior to
perfection," he said. They understand, for instance, that human beings are
creatures of inventory. Knowing the ins and outs of a particular inventory
is what makes a man a scholar or an expert in his field.
"Sorcerers know that when an average person's inventory fails, the
person either enlarges his inventory or his world of self-reflection
collapses. The average person is willing to incorporate new items into his
inventory if they don't contradict the inventory's underlying order. But if
the items contradict that order, the person's mind collapses. The inventory
is the mind. Sorcerers count on this when they attempt to break the mirror
He explained that that day he had carefully chosen the props for his
act to break my continuity. He slowly transformed himself until he was
indeed a feeble old man, and then, in order to reinforce the breaking of my
continuity, he took me to a restaurant where they knew him as an old man.
I interrupted him. I had become aware of a contradiction I had not
noticed before. He had said, at the time, that the reason he transformed
himself was that he wanted to know what it was like to be old. The occasion
was propitious and unrepeatable. I had understood that statement as meaning
that he had not been an old man before. Yet at the restaurant they knew him
as the feeble old man who suffered from strokes.
"The nagual's ruthlessness has many aspects," he said. "It's like a
tool that adapts itself to many uses. Ruthlessness is a state of being. It
is a level of intent that the nagual attains.
"The nagual uses it to entice the movement of his own assemblage point
or those of his apprentices. Or he uses it to stalk. I began that day as a
stalker, pretending to be old, and ended up as a genuinely old, feeble man.
My ruthless-ness, controlled by my eyes, made my own assemblage
point move. "Although I had been at the restaurant many times before as
an old, sick man, I had only been stalking, merely playing at being old.
Never before that day had my assemblage point moved to the precise spot of
age and senility." He said that as soon as he had intended to be old, his
eyes lost their shine, and I immediately noticed it. Alarm was written all
over my face. The loss of the shine in his eyes was a consequence of using
his eyes to intend the position of an old man. As his assemblage point
reached that position, he was able to age in appearance, behavior, and
I asked him to clarify the idea of intending with the eyes. I had the
faint notion I understood it, yet I could not formulate even to myself what
"The only way of talking about it is to say that intent is intended
with the eyes," he said. "I know that it is so. Yet, just like you, I can't
pinpoint what it is I know. Sorcerers resolve this particular difficulty by
accepting something extremely obvious: human beings are infinitely more
complex and mysterious than our wildest fantasies."
I insisted that he had not shed any light on the matter.
"All I can say is that the eyes do it," he said cuttingly. "I don't
know how, but they do it. They summon intent with something indefinable that
they have, something in their shine. Sorcerers say that intent is
experienced with the eyes, not with the reason."
He refused to add anything and went back to explaining my recollection.
He said that once his assemblage point had reached the specific position
that made him genuinely old, doubts should have been completely removed from
my mind. But due to the fact that I took pride in being super-rational, I
immediately did my best to explain away his transformation.
"I've told you over and over that being too rational is a handicap," he
said. "Human beings have a very deep sense
of magic. We are part of the mysterious. Rationality is only a veneer
with us. If we scratch that surface, we find a sorcerer underneath. Some of
us, however, have great difficulty getting underneath the surface level;
others do it with total ease. You and I are very alike in this respect - we
both have to sweat blood before we let go of our self-reflection."
I explained to him that, for me, holding onto my rationality had always
been a matter of life or death. Even more so when it came to my experiences
in his world.
He remarked that that day in Guaymas my rationality had been
exceptionally trying for him. From the start he had had to make use of every
device he knew to undermine it. To that end, he began by forcibly putting
his hands on my shoulders and nearly dragging me down with his weight. That
blunt physical maneuver was the first jolt to my body. And this, together
with my fear caused by his lack of continuity, punctured my rationality.
"But puncturing your rationality was not enough," don Juan went on. "I
knew that if your assemblage point was going to reach the place of no pity,
I had to break every vestige of my continuity. That was when I became really
senile and made you run around town, and finally got angry at you and
"You were shocked, but you were on the road to instant recovery when I
gave your mirror of self-image what should have been its final blow. I
yelled bloody murder. I didn't expect you to run away. I had forgotten about
your violent outbursts."
He said that in spite of my on-the-spot recovery tactics, my assemblage
point reached the place of no pity when I became enraged at his senile
behavior. Or perhaps it had been the opposite: I became enraged because my
assemblage point had reached the place of no pity. It did not really matter.
What counted was that my assemblage point did arrive there.
Once it was there, my own behavior changed markedly. I became cold and
calculating and indifferent to my personal safety.
I asked don Juan whether he had seen all this. I did not remember
telling him about it. He replied that to know what I was feeling all he had
to do was introspect and remember his own experience.
He pointed out that my assemblage point became fixed in its new
position when he reverted to his natural self. By then, my conviction about
his normal continuity had suffered such a profound upheaval that continuity
no longer functioned as a cohesive force. And it was at that moment, from
its new position, that my assemblage point allowed me to build another type
of continuity, one which I expressed in terms of a strange, detached
hardness - a hardness that became my normal mode of behavior from then on.
"Continuity is so important in our lives that if it breaks it's always
instantly repaired," he went on. "In the case of sorcerers, however, once
their assemblage points reach the place of no pity, continuity is never the
"Since you are naturally slow, you haven't noticed yet that since that
day in Guaymas you have become, among other things, capable of accepting any
kind of discontinuity at its face value - after a token struggle of your
reason, of course."
His eyes were shining with laughter.
"It was also that day that you acquired your masked ruthlessness," he
went on. "Your mask wasn't as well developed as it is now, of course, but
what you got then was the rudiments of what was to become your mask of
I tried to protest. I did not like the idea of masked ruthlessness, no
matter how he put it.
"Don't use your mask on me," he said, laughing. "Save it for a better
subject: someone who doesn't know you."
He urged me to recollect accurately the moment the mask came to me.
"As soon as you felt that cold fury coming over you," he went on, "you
had to mask it. You didn't joke about it, as my benefactor would have done.
You didn't try to sound reasonable about it, like I would. You didn't
pretend to be intrigued by it, like the nagual Elias would have. Those are
the three nagual's masks I know. What did you do then? You calmly walked to
your car and gave half of your packages away to the guy who was helping you
Until that moment I had not remembered that indeed someone helped me
carry the packages. I told don Juan that I had seen lights dancing before my
face, and I had thought I was seeing them because, driven by my cold fury, I
was on the verge of fainting.
"You were not on the verge of fainting," don Juan answered. "You were
on the verge of entering a dreaming state and seeing the spirit all by
yourself, like Talia and my benefactor."
I said to don Juan that it was not generosity that made me give away
the packages but cold fury. I had to do something to calm myself, and that
was the first thing that occurred to me.
"But that's exactly what I've been telling you. Your generosity is not
genuine," he retorted and began to laugh at my dismay.
The Ticket To Impeccability
It had gotten dark while don Juan was talking about breaking the mirror
of self-reflection. I told him I was thoroughly exhausted, and we should
cancel the rest of the trip and return home, but he maintained that we had
to use every minute of our available time to review the sorcery stories or
recollect by making my assemblage point move as many times as possible.
I was in a complaining mood. I said that a state of deep fatigue such
as mine could only breed uncertainty and lack of conviction.
"Your uncertainty is to be expected," don Juan said matter-of-factly.
"After all, you are dealing with a new type of continuity. It takes time to
get used to it. Warriors spend years in limbo where they are neither average
men nor sorcerers."
"What happens to them in the end?" I asked. "Do they choose sides?"
"No. They have no choice," he replied. "All of them become aware of
what they already are: sorcerers. The difficulty is that the mirror of
self-reflection is extremely powerful and only lets its victims go after a
He stopped talking and seemed lost in thought. His body entered into
the state of rigidity I had seen before whenever he was engaged in what I
characterized as reveries, but which he described as instances in which his
assemblage point had moved and he was able to recollect.
"I'm going to tell you the story of a sorcerer's ticket to
impeccability," he suddenly said after some thirty minutes of total silence.
"I'm going to tell you the story of my death."
He began to recount what had happened to him after his arrival in
Durango still disguised in women's clothes, following his month-long journey
through central Mexico. He said that old Belisario took him directly to a
hacienda to hide from the monstrous man who was chasing him.
As soon as he arrived, don Juan - very daringly in view of his taciturn
nature - introduced himself to everyone in the house. There were seven
beautiful women and a strange unsociable man who did not utter a single
word. Don Juan delighted the lovely women with his rendition of the
monstrous man's efforts to capture him. Above all, they were enchanted with
the disguise which he still wore, and the story that went with it. They
never tired of hearing the details of his trip, and all of them advised him
on how to perfect the knowledge he had acquired during his journey. What
surprised don Juan was their poise and assuredness, which were unbelievable
The seven women were exquisite and they made him feel happy. He liked
them and trusted them. They treated him with respect and consideration. But
something in their eyes told him that under their facades of charm there
existed a terrifying coldness, an aloofness he could never penetrate.
The thought occurred to him that in order for these strong and
beautiful women to be so at ease and to have no regard for formalities, they
had to be loose women. Yet it was obvious to him that they were not.
Don Juan was left alone to roam the property. He was dazzled by the
huge mansion and its grounds. He had never seen anything like it. It was an
old colonial house with a high surrounding wall. Inside were balconies with
flowerpots and patios with enormous fruit trees that provided shade,
privacy, and quiet.
There were large rooms, and on the ground floor airy corridors around
the patios. On the upper floor there were mysterious bedrooms, where don
Juan was not permitted to set foot.
During the following days don Juan was amazed by the profound interest
the women took in his well-being. They did everything for him. They seemed
to hang on his every word. Never before had people been so kind to him. But
also, never before had he felt so solitary. He was always in the company of
the beautiful, strange women, and yet he had never been so alone.
Don Juan believed that his feeling of aloneness came from being unable
to predict the behavior of the women or to know their real feelings. He knew
only what they told him about themselves.
A few days after his arrival, the woman who seemed to be their leader
gave him some brand-new men's clothes and told him that his woman's disguise
was no longer necessary, because whoever the monstrous man might have been,
he was now nowhere in sight. She told him he was free to go whenever he
Don Juan begged to see Belisario, whom he had not seen since the day
they arrived. The woman said that Belisario was gone. He had left word,
however, that don Juan could stay in the house as long as he wanted - but
only if he was in danger.
Don Juan declared he was in mortal danger. During his few days in the
house, he had seen the monster constantly, always sneaking about the
cultivated fields surrounding the house. The woman did not believe him and
told him bluntly that he was a con artist, pretending to see the monster so
they would take him in. She told him their house was not a place to loaf.
She stated they were serious people who worked very hard and could not
afford to keep a freeloader.
Don Juan was insulted. He stomped out of the house, but when he caught
sight of the monster hiding behind the ornamental shrubbery bordering the
walk, his fright immediately replaced his anger.
He rushed back into the house and begged the woman to ;t him stay. He
promised to do peon labor for no wages if e could only remain at the
hacienda. She agreed, with the understanding that don Juan would accept two
conditions: that he not ask any questions, and hat he do exactly as he was
told without requiring any explanations. She warned him that if he broke
these rules as stay at the house would be in jeopardy.
"I stayed in the house really under protest," don Juan continued. "I
did not like to accept her conditions, but I mew that the monster was
outside. In the house I was safe. ! knew that the monstrous man was always
stopped at an invisible boundary that encircled the house, at a distance of
perhaps a hundred yards. Within that circle I was safe. As far as I could
discern, there must have been something about that house that kept the
monstrous man away, and :hat was all I cared about.
"I also realized that when the people of the house were wound me the
monster never appeared."
After a few weeks with no change in his situation, the young man who
don Juan believed had been living in the monster's house disguised as old
Belisario reappeared. He told don Juan that he had just arrived, that his
name was Julian, and that he owned the hacienda.
Don Juan naturally asked him about his disguise. But the young man,
looking him in the eye and without the slightest hesitation, denied
knowledge of any disguise.
"How can you stand here in my own house and talk such rubbish?" he
shouted at don Juan. "What do you take me for?"
"But - you are Belisario, aren't you?" don Juan insisted.
"No," the young man said. "Belisario is an old man. I am Julian and I'm
young. Don't you see?"
Don Juan meekly admitted that he had not been quite convinced that it
was a disguise and immediately realized the absurdity of his statement. If
being old was not a disguise, then it was a transformation, and that was
even more absurd.
Don Juan's confusion increased by the moment. He asked about the
monster and the young man replied that he had no idea what monster he was
talking about. He conceded that don Juan must have been scared by something,
otherwise old Belisario would not have given him sanctuary. But whatever
reason don Juan had for hiding, it was his personal business.
Don Juan was mortified by the coldness of his host's tone and manner.
Risking his anger, don Juan reminded him that they had met. His host replied
that he had never seen him before that day, but that he was honoring
Belisario's wishes as he felt obliged to do.
The young man added that not only was he the owner of the house but
that he was also in charge of every person in that household, including don
Juan, who, by the act of hiding among them, had become a ward of the house.
If don Juan did not like the arrangement, he was free to go and take his
chances with the monster no one else was able to see.
Before he made up his mind one way or another, don Juan judiciously
decided to ask what being a ward of the house involved.
The young man took don Juan to a section of the mansion that was under
construction and said that that part of the house was symbolic of his own
life and actions. It was unfinished. Construction was indeed underway, but
chances were it might never be completed.
"You are one of the elements of that incomplete construction," he said
to don Juan. "Let's say that you are the beam hat will support the roof.
Until we put it in place and put he roof on top of it, we won't know whether
it will support he weight. The master carpenter says it will. I am the
This metaphorical explanation meant nothing to don Juan, who wanted to
know what was expected of him in matters of manual labor.
The young man tried another approach. "I'm a nagual," he explained. "I
bring freedom. I'm the leader of the people in this house. You are in this
house, and because of that you are part of it whether you like or not."
Don Juan looked at him dumbfounded, unable to say anything.
"I am the nagual Julian," his host said, smiling. "Without my
intervention, there is no way to freedom."
Don Juan still did not understand. But he began to wonder about his
safety in light of the man's obviously erratic mind. He was so concerned
with this unexpected development that he was not even curious about the use
of the word nagual. He knew that nagual meant sorcerer, yet he was unable to
take in the total implication of the nagual Julian's words. Or perhaps,
somehow, he understood it perfectly, although his conscious mind did not.
The young man stared at him for a moment and then said that don Juan's
actual job would involve being his personal valet and assistant. There would
be no pay for this, but excellent room and board. From time to time there
would be other small jobs for don Juan, jobs requiring special attention. He
was to be in charge of either doing the jobs himself or seeing that they got
done. For these special services he would be paid small amounts of money
which would be put into an account kept for him by the other members of the
household. Thus, should he ever want to leave, there would be a small amount
of cash to tide him over.
The young man stressed that don Juan should not consider himself a
prisoner, but that if he stayed he would have to work. And still more
important than the work were the three requirements he had to fulfill. He
had to make a serious effort to learn everything the women taught him. His
conduct with all the members of the household must be exemplary, which meant
that he would have to examine his behavior and attitude toward them every
minute of the day. And he was to address the young man, in direct
conversation, as nagual, and when talking of him, to refer to him as the
Don Juan accepted the terms grudgingly. But although he instantly
plunged into his habitual sulkiness and morose-ness, he learned his work
quickly. What he did not understand was what was expected of him in matters
of attitude and behavior. And even though he could not have put his finger
on a concrete instance, he honestly believed that he was being lied to and
As his moroseness got the upper hand, he entered into a permanent sulk
and hardly said a word to anyone.
It was then that the nagual Julian assembled all the members of his
household and explained to them that even though he badly needed an
assistant, he would abide by their decision. If they did not like the morose
and unappealing attitude of his new orderly, they had the right to say so.
If the majority disapproved of don Juan's behavior, the young man would have
to leave and take his chances with whatever was waiting for him outside, be
it a monster or his own fabrication.
The nagual Julian then led them to the front of the house id challenged
don Juan to show them the monstrous man. on Juan pointed him out, but no one
else saw him. Don tan ran frantically from one person to another, insisting
that the monster was there, imploring them to help him. hey ignored his
pleas and called him crazy. It was then that the nagual Julian put don
Juan's fate to vote. The unsociable man did not choose to vote. He shrugged
his shoulders and walked away. All the women spoke out against don Juan's
staying. They argued that he was simply too morose and bad-tempered. During
the heat f the argument, however, the nagual Julian completely changed his
attitude and became don Juan's defender. He suggested that the women might
be misjudging the poor young man, that he was perhaps not crazy at all and
maybe actually did see a monster. He said that perhaps his moroseness was
the result of his worries. And a great fight ensued. Tempers flared, and in
no time the women were yelling at the nagual.
Don Juan heard the argument but was past caring. He new they were going
to throw him out and that the montrous man would certainly capture him and
take him into slavery. In his utter helplessness he began to weep.
His despair and his tears swayed some of the enraged women. The leader
of the women proposed another choice: three-week trial period during which
don Juan's actions and attitude would be evaluated daily by all the women.
She warned don Juan that if there was one single complaint about his
attitude during that time, he would be kicked out for good.
Don Juan recounted how the nagual Julian in a fatherly manner took him
aside and proceeded to drive a wedge of ear into him. He whispered to don
Juan that he knew for a fact that the monster not only existed but was
the property. Nevertheless, because of certain previous agreements with
the women, agreements he could not divulge, he was not permitted to tell the
women what he knew. He urged don Juan to stop demonstrating his stubborn,
morose personality and pretend to be the opposite.
"Pretend to be happy and satisfied," he said to don Juan. "If you
don't, the women will kick you out. That prospect alone should be enough to
scare you. Use that fear as a real driving force. It's the only thing you
' Any hesitation or second thoughts that don Juan might have had were
instantly dispelled at the sight of the monstrous man. As the monster waited
impatiently at the invisible line, he seemed aware of how precarious don
Juan's position was. It was as if the monster were ravenously hungry,
anxiously anticipating a feast.
The nagual Julian drove his wedge of fear a bit deeper.
"If I were you," he told don Juan, "I would behave like an angel. I'd
act any way these women want me to, as long as it kept me from that hellish
"Then you do see the monster?" don Juan asked.
"Of course I do," he replied. "And I also see that if you leave, or if
the women kick you out, the monster will capture you and put you in chains.
That will change your attitude for sure. Slaves don't have any choice but to
behave well with their masters. They say that the pain inflicted by a
monster like that is beyond anything."
Don Juan knew that his only hope was to make himself as congenial as he
possibly could. The fear of falling prey to that monstrous man was indeed a
powerful psychological force.
Don Juan told me that by some quirk in his own nature he was boorish
only with the women; he never behaved badly in the presence of the nagual
Julian. For some reason that don Juan could not determine, in his mind the
nagual was not someone he could attempt to affect either consciously or
The other member of the household, the unsociable man, was of no
consequence to don Juan. Don Juan had formed an opinion the moment he met
him, and had discounted him. He thought that the man was weak, indolent, and
overpowered by those beautiful women. Later on, when he was more aware of
the nagual's personality, he knew that the man was definitely overshadowed
by the glitter of the others.
As time passed, the nature of leadership and authority among them
became evident to don Juan. He was surprised and somehow delighted to
realize that no one was better or higher than another. Some of them
performed functions of which the others were incapable, but that did not
make them superior. It simply made them different. However, the ultimate
decision in everything was automatically the nagual Julian's, and he
apparently took great pleasure in expressing his decisions in the form of
bestial jokes he played on everyone.
There was also a mystery woman among them. They referred to her as
Talia, the nagual woman. Nobody told don Juan who she was, or what being the
nagual woman meant. It was made clear to him, however, that one of the seven
women was Talia. They all talked so much about her that don Juan's curiosity
was aroused to tremendous heights. He asked so many questions that the woman
who was the leader of the other women told him that she would teach him to
read and write so that he might make better use of his deductive abilities.
She said that he must learn to write things down rather than committing them
to memory. In this fashion he would accumulate a huge collection of facts
about Talia, facts that he ought to read and study until the truth became
Perhaps anticipating the cynical retort he had in mind, she argued
that, although it might seem an absurd endeavor, finding out who Talia was
was one of the most difficult and rewarding tasks anyone could undertake.
That, she said, was the fun part. She added more seriously that it was
imperative for don Juan to learn basic bookkeeping in order to help the
nagual manage the property.
Immediately she started daily lessons and in one year don Juan had
progressed so rapidly and extensively that he was able to read, write, and
keep account books.
Everything had occurred so smoothly that he did not notice the changes
in himself, the most remarkable of which was a sense of detachment. As far
as he was concerned, he retained his impression that nothing was happening
in the house, simply because he still was unable to identify with the
members of the household. Those people were mirrors that did not yield
"I took refuge in that house for nearly three years," don Juan went on.
"Countless things happened to me during that time, but I didn't think they
were really important. Or at least I had chosen to consider them
unimportant. I was convinced that for three years all I had done was hide,
shake with fear, and work like a mule."
Don Juan laughed and told me that at one point, at the urging of the
nagual Julian, he agreed to learn sorcery so that he might rid himself of
the fear that consumed him each time he saw the monster keeping vigil. But
although the nagual Julian talked to him a great deal, he seemed more
interested in playing jokes on him. So he believed it was fair and accurate
to say that he did not learn anything even loosely related to sorcery,
simply because it was apparent that nobody in that house knew or practiced
One day, however, he found himself walking purposefully, but without
any volition on his part, toward the invisible line that held the monster at
bay. The monstrous man was, of course, watching the house as usual. But that
day, instead of turning back and running to seek shelter inside the house,
don Juan kept walking. An incredible surge of energy made him advance with
no concern for his safety.
A feeling of total detachment allowed him to face the monster that had
terrorized him for so many years. Don Juan expected the monster to lurch out
and grab him by the throat, but that thought no longer created any terror in
him. From a distance of a few inches he stared at the monstrous man for an
instant and then stepped over the line. And the monster did not attack him,
as don Juan had always feared he would, but became blurry. He lost his
definition and turned into a misty whiteness, a barely perceptible patch of
Don Juan advanced toward the fog and it receded as if in fear. He
chased the patch of fog over the fields until he knew there was nothing left
of the monster. He knew then that there had never been one. He could not,
however, explain what he had feared. He had the vague sensation that
although he knew exactly what the monster was, something was preventing him
from thinking about it. He immediately thought that that rascal, the nagual
Julian, knew the truth about what was happening. Don Juan would not have put
it past the nagual Julian to play that kind of trick.
Before confronting him, don Juan gave himself the pleasure of walking
unescorted all over the property. Never before had he been able to do that.
Whenever he had needed to venture beyond that invisible line, he had been
escorted by a member of the household. That had put a serious constraint on
his mobility. The two or three times
he had attempted to walk unescorted, he had found that he risked
annihilation at the hands of the monstrous being.
Filled with a strange vigor, don Juan went into the house, but instead
of celebrating his new freedom-and power, he assembled the entire household
and angrily demanded that they explain their lies. He accused them of making
him work as their slave by playing on his fear of a nonexistent monster.
The women laughed as if he were telling the funniest joke. Only the
nagual Julian seemed contrite, especially when don Juan, his voice cracking
with resentment, described his three years of constant fear. The nagual
Julian broke down and wept openly as don Juan demanded an apology for the
shameful way he had been exploited.
"But we told you the monster didn't exist," one of the women said.
Don Juan glared at the nagual Julian, who cowered meekly.
"He knew the monster existed," don Juan yelled, pointing an accusing
finger at the nagual.
But at the same time he was aware he was talking nonsense, because the
nagual Julian had originally told him that the monster did not exist.
"The monster didn't exist," don Juan corrected himself, shaking with
rage. "It was one of his tricks."
The nagual Julian, weeping uncontrollably, apologized to don Juan,
while the women howled with laughter. Don Juan had never seen them laughing
"You knew all along that there was never any monster. You lied to me,"
he accused the nagual Julian, who, with his head down and his eyes filled
with tears, admitted his guilt.
"I have certainly lied to you," he mumbled. "There was never any
monster. What you saw as a monster was simply a surge of energy. Your fear
made it into a monstrosity."
"You told me that that monster was going to devour me. How could you
have lied to me like that?" don Juan shouted at him.
"Being devoured by that monster was symbolic," the nagual Julian
replied softly. "Your real enemy is your stupidity. You are in mortal danger
of being devoured by that monster now."
Don Juan yelled that he did not have to put up with silly statements.
And he insisted they reassure him there were no longer any restrictions on
his freedom to leave.
"You can go any time you want," the nagual Julian said curtly.
"You mean I can go right now?" don Juan asked.
"Do you want to?" the nagual asked.
"Of course, I want to leave this miserable place and the miserable
bunch of liars who live here," don Juan shouted.
The nagual Julian ordered that don Juan's savings be paid him in full,
and with shining eyes wished him happiness, prosperity, and wisdom.
The women did not want to say goodbye to him. They stared at him until
he lowered his head to avoid their burning eyes.
Don Juan put his money in his pocket and without a backward glance
walked out, glad his ordeal was over. The outside world was a question mark
to him. He yearned for it. Inside that house he had been removed from it. He
was young, strong. He had money in his pocket and a thirst for living.
He left them without saying thank you. His anger, bottled up by his
fear for so long, was finally able to surface. He had even learned to like
them - and now he felt betrayed. He wanted to run as far away from that
place as he could.
In the city, he had his first unpleasant encounter. Traveling was very
difficult and very expensive. He learned that if he wanted to leave the city
at once he would not be able to choose his destination, but would have to
wait for whatever muleteers were willing to take him. A few days later he
left with a reputable muleteer for the port of Mazatldn.
"Although I was only twenty-three years old at the time," don Juan
said, "I felt I had lived a full life. The only thing I had not experienced
was sex. The nagual Julian had told me that it was the fact I had not been
with a woman that gave me my strength and endurance, and that he had little
time left to set things up before the world would catch up with me."
"What did he mean, don Juan?" I asked.
"He meant that I had no idea about the kind of hell I was heading for,"
don Juan replied, "and that he had very little time to set up my barricades,
my silent protectors."
"What's a silent protector, don Juan?" I asked.
"It's a lifesaver," he said. "A silent protector is a surge of
inexplicable energy that comes to a warrior when nothing else works.
"My benefactor knew what direction my life would take once I was no
longer under his influence. So he struggled to give me as many sorcerers'
options as possible. Those sorcerers' options were to be my silent
"What are sorcerers' options?" I asked.
"Positions of the assemblage point," he replied, "the infinite number
of positions which the assemblage point can reach. In each and every one of
those shallow or deep shifts, a sorcerer can strengthen his new continuity."
He reiterated that everything he had experienced either with his
benefactor or while under his guidance had been the result of either a
minute or a considerable shift of his assemblage point. His benefactor had
made him experience countless sorcerers' options, more than the number that
would normally be necessary, because he knew that don Juan's destiny would
be to be called upon to explain what sorcerers were and what they did.
"The effect of those shifts of the assemblage point is cumulative," he
continued. "It weighs on you whether you understand it or not. That
accumulation worked for me, at the end.
"Very soon after I came into contact with the nagual, my point of
assemblage moved so profoundly that I was capable of seeing. I saw an energy
field as a monster. And the point kept on moving until I saw the monster as
what it really was: an energy field. I had succeeded in seeing, and I didn't
know it. I thought I had done nothing, had learned nothing. I was stupid
"You were too young, don Juan," I said. "You couldn't have done
He laughed. He was on the verge of replying, when he seemed to change
his mind. He shrugged his shoulders and went on with his account.
Don Juan said that when he arrived in Mazatlan he was practically a
seasoned muleteer, and was offered a permanent job running a mule train. He
was very satisfied with the arrangements. The idea that he would be making
the trip between Durango and Mazatlan pleased him no end. There were two
things, however, that bothered him: first, that he had not yet been with a
woman, and second, a strong but unexplainable urge to go north. He did not
know why. He knew only that somewhere to the north something was waiting for
him. The feeling persisted so strongly that in the end he was forced to
refuse the security of a permanent job so he could travel north.
His superior strength and a new and unaccountable cunning enabled him
to find jobs even where there were none to be had, as he steadily worked his
way north to the state of Sinaloa. And there his journey ended. He met a
young widow, like himself a Yaqui Indian, who had been the wife of a man to
whom don Juan was indebted.
He attempted to repay his indebtedness by helping the widow and her
children, and without being aware of it, he fell into the role of husband
His new responsibilities put a great burden on him. He lost his freedom
of movement and even his urge to journey farther north. He felt compensated
for that loss, however, by the profound affection he felt for the woman and
"I experienced moments of sublime happiness as a husband and father,"
don Juan said. "But it was at those moments when I first noticed that
something was terribly wrong. I realized that I was losing the feeling of
detachment, the aloofness I had acquired during my time in the nagual
Julian's house. Now I found myself identifying with the people who
Don Juan said that it took about a year of unrelenting abrasion to make
him lose every vestige of the new personality he had acquired at the
nagual's house. He had begun with a profound yet aloof affection for the
woman and her children. This detached affection allowed him to play the role
of husband and father with abandon and gusto. As time went by, his detached
affection turned into a desperate passion that made him lose his
Gone was his feeling of detachment, which was what had given him the
power to love. Without that detachment,
he had only mundane needs, desperation, and hopelessness: the
distinctive features of the world of everyday life. Gone as well was his
enterprise. During his years at the nagual's house, he had acquired a
dynamism that had served him well when he set out on his own.
But the most draining pain was knowing that his physical energy had
waned. Without actually being in ill health, one day he became totally
paralyzed. He did not feel pain. He did not panic. It was as if his body had
understood that he would get the peace and quiet he so desperately needed
only if it ceased to move.
As he lay helpless in bed, he did nothing but think. And he came to
realize that he had failed because he did not have an abstract purpose. He
knew that the people in the nagual's house were extraordinary because they
pursued freedom as their abstract purpose. He did not understand what
freedom was, but he knew that it was the opposite of his own concrete needs.
His lack of an abstract purpose had made him so weak and ineffective
that he was incapable of rescuing his adopted family from their abysmal
poverty. Instead, they had pulled him back to the very misery, sadness, and
despair which he himself had known prior to encountering the nagual.
As he reviewed his life, he became aware that the only time he had not
been poor and had not had concrete needs was during his years with the
nagual. Poverty was the state of being that had reclaimed him when his
concrete needs overpowered him.
For the first time since he had been shot and wounded so many years
before, don Juan fully understood that the nagual Julian was indeed the
nagual, the leader, and his benefactor. He understood what it was his
benefactor had meant when he said to him that there was no freedom without
the nagual's intervention. There was now no doubt in don Juan's mind that
his benefactor and all the members of his benefactor's household were
sorcerers. But what don Juan understood with the most painful clarity was
that he had thrown away his chance to be with them.
When the pressure of his physical helplessness seemed unendurable, his
paralysis ended as mysteriously as it had begun. One day he simply got out
of bed and went to work. But his luck did not get any better. He could
hardly make ends meet.
Another year passed. He did not prosper, but there was one thing in
which he succeeded beyond his expectations: he made a total recapitulation
of his life. He understood then why he loved and could not leave those
children, and why he could not stay with them, and he also understood why he
could neither act one way nor the other.
Don Juan knew that he had reached a complete impasse, and that to die
like a warrior was the only action congruous with what he had learned at his
benefactor's house. So every night, after a frustrating day of hardship and
meaningless toil, he patiently waited for his death to come.
He was so utterly convinced of his end that his wife and her children
waited with him - in a gesture of solidarity, they too wanted to die. All
four sat in perfect immobility, night after night, without fail, and
recapitulated their lives while they waited for death.
Don Juan had admonished them with the same words his benefactor had
used to admonish him.
"Don't wish for it," his benefactor had said. "Just wait until it
comes. Don't try to imagine what death is like. Just l)c there to be caught
in its flow."
The time spent quietly strengthened them mentally, but physically their
emaciated bodies told of their losing battle.
One day, however, don Juan thought his luck was beginning to change. He
found temporary work with a team of farm laborers during the harvest season.
But the spirit had other designs for him. A couple of days after he started
work, someone stole his hat. It was impossible for him to buy a new one, but
he had to have one to work under the scorching sun.
He fashioned a protection of sorts by covering his head with rags and
handfuls of straw. His coworkers began to laugh and taunt him. He ignored
them. Compared to the lives of the three people who depended on his labor,
how he looked had little meaning for him. But the men did not stop. They
yelled and laughed until the foreman, fearing that they would riot, fired
A wild rage overwhelmed don Juan's sense of sobriety and caution. He
knew he had been wronged. The moral right was with him. He let out a
chilling, piercing scream, and grabbed one of the men, and lifted him over
his shoulders, meaning to crack his back. But he thought of those hungry
children. He thought of their disciplined little bodies as they sat with him
night after night awaiting death. He put the man down and walked away.
Don Juan said that he sat down at the edge of the field where the men
were working, and all the despair that had accumulated in him finally
exploded. It was a silent rage, but not against the people around him. He
raged against himself. He raged until all his anger was spent.
"I sat there in view of all those people and began to weep," don Juan
continued. "They looked at me as if I were crazy, which I really was, but I
didn't care. I was beyond caring.
"The foreman felt sorry for me and came over to give a word of advice.
He thought I was weeping for myself. He couldn't have possibly known that I
was weeping for the spirit."
Don Juan said that a silent protector came to him after his rage was
spent. It was in the form of an unaccountable surge of energy that left him
with the clear feeling that his death was imminent. He knew that he was not
going to have time to see his adopted family again. He apologized to them in
a loud voice for not having had the fortitude and wisdom necessary to
deliver them from their hell on earth.
The farm workers continued to laugh and mock him. He vaguely heard
them. Tears swelled in his chest as he addressed and thanked the spirit for
having placed him in the nagual's path, giving him an undeserved chance to
be free. He heard the howls of the uncomprehending men. He heard their
insults and yells as if from within himself. They had the right to ridicule
him. He had been at the portals of eternity and had been unaware of it.
"I understood how right my benefactor had been," don Juan said. "My
stupidity was a monster and it had already devoured me. The instant I had
that thought, I knew that anything I could say or do was useless. I had lost
my chance. Now, I was only clowning for those men. The spirit could not
possibly have cared about my despair. There were too many of us - men with
our own petty private hells, born of our stupidity - for the spirit to pay
"I knelt and faced the southeast. I thanked my benefactor again and
told the spirit I was ashamed. So ashamed. And with my last breath I said
goodbye to a world which could have been wonderful if I had had wisdom. An
immense wave came for me then. I felt it, first. Then I heard it, and
finally I saw it coming for me from the southeast, over the fields. It
overtook me and its blackness covered me. And the light of my life was gone.
My hell had ended. I was finally dead! I was finally free!"
Don Juan's story devastated me. He ignored all my efforts to talk about
it. He said that at another time and in another setting we were going to
discuss it. He demanded instead that we get on with what he had come to do:
elucidate the mastery of awareness.
A couple of days later, as we were coming down from the mountains, he
suddenly began to talk about his story. We had sat down to rest. Actually, I
was the one who had stopped to catch my breath. Don Juan was not even
"The sorcerers' struggle for assuredness is the most dramatic struggle
there is," don Juan said. "It's painful and costly. Many, many times it has
actually cost sorcerers their lives."
He explained that in order for any sorcerer to have complete certainty
about his actions, or about his position in the sorcerers' world, or to be
capable of utilizing intelligently his new continuity, he must invalidate
the continuity of his old life. Only then can his actions have the necessary
assuredness to fortify and balance the tenuous-ness and instability of his
"The sorcerer seers of modern times call this process of invalidation
the ticket to impeccability, or the sorcerers' symbolic but final death,"
don Juan said. "And in that field in Sinaloa, I got my ticket to
impeccability. I died there. The tenuousness of my new continuity cost me my
"But did you die, don Juan, or did you just faint?" I asked, trying not
to sound cynical.
"I died in that field," he said. "I felt my awareness flowing out of me
and heading toward the Eagle. But as I had impeccably recapitulated my life,
the Eagle did not swallow my awareness. The Eagle spat me out. Because my
body was dead in the field, the Eagle did not let me go through to freedom.
It was as if it told me to go back and try again.
"I ascended the heights of blackness and descended again to the light
of the earth. And then I found myself in a shallow grave at the edge of the
field, covered with rocks and dirt."
Don Juan said that he knew instantly what to do. After digging himself
out he rearranged the grave to look as if a body were still there, and
slipped away. He felt strong and determined. He knew that he had to return
to his benefactor's house. But, before he started on his return journey, he
wanted to see his family and explain to them that he was a sorcerer and for
that reason he could not stay with them. He wanted to explain that his
downfall had been not knowing that sorcerers can never make a bridge to join
the people of the world. But, if people desire to do so, they have to make a
bridge to join sorcerers.
"I went home," don Juan continued, "but the house was empty. The
shocked neighbors told me that farm workers had come earlier with the news
that I had dropped dead at work, and my wife and her children had left."
"How long were you dead, don Juan?" I asked.
"A whole day, apparently," he said.
Don Juan's smile played on his lips. His eyes seemed to be made of
shiny obsidian. He was watching my reaction, waiting for my comments.
"What became of your family, don Juan?" I asked.
"Ah, the question of a sensible man," he remarked. "For a moment I
thought you were going to ask me about my death!"
I confessed that I had been about to, but that I knew he was seeing my
question as I formulated it in my mind, and
just to be contrary I asked something else. I did not mean it as a
joke, but it made him laugh.
"My family disappeared that day," he said. "My wife was a survivor. She
had to be, with the conditions we lived under. Since I had been waiting for
my death, she believed I had gotten what I wanted. There was nothing for her
to do there, so she left.
"I missed the children and I consoled myself with the thought that it
wasn't my fate to be with them. However, sorcerers have a peculiar bent.
They live exclusively in the twilight of a feeling best described by the
words 'and yet . . .' When everything is crumbling down around them,
sorcerers accept that the situation is terrible, and then immediately escape
to the twilight of 'and yet. . .'
"I did that with my feelings for those children and the woman. With
great discipline - especially on the part of the oldest boy - they had
recapitulated their lives with me. Only the spirit could decide the outcome
of that affection."
He reminded me that he had taught me how warriors acted in such
situations. They did their utmost, and then, without any remorse or regrets,
they relaxed and let the spirit decide the outcome.
"What was the decision of the spirit, don Juan?" I asked.
He scrutinized me without answering. I knew he was completely aware of
my motive for asking. I had experienced a similar affection and a similar
"The decision of the spirit is another basic core," he said. "Sorcery
stories are built around it. We'll talk about that specific decision when we
get to discussing that basic core.
"Now, wasn't there a question about my death you wanted to ask?"
"If they thought you were dead, why the shallow grave?" I asked. "Why
didn't they dig a real grave and bury you?"
"That's more like you," he said laughing. "I asked the same question
myself and I realized that all those farm workers were pious people. I was a
Christian. Christians arc not buried just like that, nor are they left to
rot like dogs. I think they were waiting for my family to come and claim the
body and give it a proper burial. But my family never came."
"Did you go and look for them, don Juan?" I asked.
"No. Sorcerers never look for anyone," he replied. "And I was a
sorcerer. I had paid with my life for the mistake of not knowing I was a
sorcerer, and that sorcerers never Approach anyone.
"From that day on, I have only accepted the company or the care of
people or warriors who are dead, as I am."
Don Juan said that he went back to his benefactor's house, where all of
them knew instantly what he had discovered. And they treated him as if he
had not left at all.
The nagual Julian commented that because of his peculiar nature don
Juan had taken a long time to die.
"My benefactor told me then that a sorcerer's ticket to freedom was his
death," don Juan went on. "He said that he himself had paid with his life
for that ticket to freedom, as had everyone else in his household. And that
now we were equals in our condition of being dead."
"Am I dead too, don Juan?" I asked.
"You are dead," he said. "The sorcerers' grand trick, however, is to be
aware that they are dead. Their ticket to impeccability must be wrapped in
awareness. In that wrapping, sorcerers say, their ticket is kept in mint
"For sixty years, I've kept mine in mint condition."
The Third Point
Don Juan often took me and the rest of his apprentices on short trips
to the western range nearby. On this occasion we left at dawn, and late in
the afternoon, started back. I chose to walk with don Juan. To be close to
him always soothed and relaxed me; but being with his volatile apprentices
always produced in me the opposite effect: they made me feel very tired.
As we all came down from the mountains, don Juan and I made one stop
before we reached the flatlands. An attack of profound melancholy came upon
me with such speed and strength that all I could do was to sit down. Then,
following don Juan's suggestion, I lay on my stomach, on top of a large
The rest of the apprentices taunted me and continued walking. I heard
their laughter and yelling become faint in the distance. Don Juan urged me
to relax and let my assemblage point, which he said had moved with sudden
speed, settle into its new position.
"Don't fret," he advised me. "In a short while, you'll feel a sort of
tug, or a pat on your back, as if someone has touched you. Then you'll be
The act of lying motionless on the boulder, waiting to feel the pat on
my back, triggered a spontaneous recollection so intense and clear that I
never noticed the pat I was expecting. I was sure, however, that I got it,
because my melancholy indeed vanished instantly.
I quickly described what I was recollecting to don Juan. He suggested I
stay on the boulder and move my assemblage point back to the exact place it
was when I experienced the event that I was recalling.
"Get every detail of it," he warned.
It had happened many years before. Don Juan and I had been at that time
in the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico, in the high desert. I used to
go there with him because it was an area rich in the medicinal herbs he
collected. From an anthropological point of view that area also held a
tremendous interest for me. Archaeologists had found, not too long before,
the remains of what they concluded was a large, prehistoric trading post.
They surmised that the trading post, strategically situated in a natural
pass-way, had been the epicenter of commerce along a trade route which
joined the American Southwest to southern Mexico and Central America.
The few times I had been in that flat, high desert had reinforced my
conviction that archaeologists were right in their conclusions that it was a
natural passkey. I, of course, had lectured don Juan on the influence of
that passway in the prehistoric distribution of cultural traits on the North
American continent. I was deeply interested at that time in explaining
sorcery among the Indians of the American Southwest, Mexico, and Central
America as a system of beliefs which had been transmitted along trade routes
and which had served to create, at a certain abstract level, a sort of
Don Juan, naturally, laughed uproariously every time I expounded my
The event that I recollected had begun in the midafternoon. After don
Juan and I had gathered two small sacks of some extremely rare medicinal
herbs, we took a break and sat down on top of some huge boulders. But before
we headed back to where I had left my car, don Juan insisted on talking
about the art of stalking. He said that the setting was the most adequate
one for explaining its intricacies, but that in order to understand them I
first had to enter into heightened awareness.
I demanded that before he do anything he explain to me again what
heightened awareness really was.
Don Juan, displaying great patience, discussed heightened awareness in
terms of the movement of the assemblage point. As he kept talking, I
realized the facetiousness of my request. I knew everything he was telling
me. I remarked that I did not really need anything explained, and he said
that explanations were never wasted, because they were imprinted in us for
immediate or later use or to help prepare our way to reaching silent
When I asked him to talk about silent knowledge in more detail, he
quickly responded that silent knowledge was a general position of the
assemblage point, that ages ago it had been man's normal position, but that,
for reasons which would be impossible to determine, man's assemblage point
had moved away from that specific location and adopted a new one called
Don Juan remarked that not every human being was a representative of
this new position. The assemblage points of the majority of us were not
placed squarely on the location of reason itself, but in its immediate
vicinity. The same thing had been the case with silent knowledge: not every
human being's assemblage point had been squarely on that location either.
He also said that "the place of no pity," being another position of the
assemblage point, was the forerunner of silent knowledge, and that yet
another position of the assemblage point called "the place of concern," was
the forerunner of reason.
I found nothing obscure about those cryptic remarks. To me they were
self-explanatory. I understood everything he said while I waited for his
usual blow to my shoulder blades to make me enter into heightened awareness.
But the blow never came, and I kept on understanding what he was saying
without really being aware that I understood anything. The feeling of ease,
of taking things for granted, proper to my normal consciousness, remained
with me, and I did not question my capacity to understand.
Don Juan looked at me fixedly and recommended that I lie face down on
top of a round boulder with my arms and legs spread like a frog.
I lay there for about ten minutes, thoroughly relaxed, almost asleep*
until I was jolted out of my slumber by a soft, sustained hissing growl. I
raised my head, looked up, and my hair stood on end. A gigantic, dark jaguar
was squatting or* a boulder, scarcely ten feet from me, right above where
don Juan was sitting. The jaguar, its fangs showing, was glaring straight at
me. He seemed ready to jump on me,
"Don't move!" don Juan ordered me softly. "And don't l
Carlos Castaneda. The Power Of Silence
The Two One-Way Bridges
Don Juan and I were sitting at the table in his kitchen. It was early
morning. We had just returned from the mountains, where we had spent the
night after I had recalled my experience with the jaguar. Recollecting my
split perception had put me in a state of euphoria, which don Juan had
employed, as usual, to plunge me into more sensory experiences that I was
now unable to recall. My euphoria, however, had not waned.
"To discover the possibility of being in two places at once is very
exciting to the mind," he said. "Since our minds are our rationality, and
our rationality is our self-reflection, anything beyond our self-reflection
either appalls us or attracts us, depending on what kind of persons we are."
He looked at me fixedly and then smiled as if he had just found out
"Or it appalls and attracts us in the same measure," he said, "which
seems to be the case with both of us."
I told him that with me it was not a matter of being appalled or
attracted by my experience, but a matter of being frightened by the
immensity of the possibility of split perception.
"I can't say that I don't believe I was in two places at once," I said.
"I can't deny my experience, and yet I think I am so frightened by it that
my mind refuses to accept it as a fact."
"You and I are the type of people who become obsessed by things like
that, and then forget all about them," he remarked and laughed. "You and I
are very much alike."
It was my turn to laugh. I knew he was making fun of me. Yet he
projected such sincerity that I wanted to believe he was being truthful.
I told him that among his apprentices, I was the only one who had
learned not to take his statements of equality with us too seriously. I said
that I had seen him in action, hearing him tell each of his apprentices, in
the most sincere tone, "You and I are such fools. We are so alike!" And I
had been horrified, time and time again, to realize that they believed him.
"You are not like any one of us, don Juan," I said. "You are a mirror
that doesn't reflect our images. You are already beyond our reach."
"What you're witnessing is the result of a lifelong struggle," he said.
"What you see is a sorcerer who has finally learned to follow the designs of
the spirit, but that's all.
"I have described to you, in many ways, the different stages a warrior
passes through along the path of knowledge," he went on. "In terms of his
connection with intent, a warrior goes through four stages. The first is
when he has a rusty, untrustworthy link with intent. The second is when he
succeeds in cleaning it. The third is when he learns to manipulate it. And
the fourth is when he learns to accept the designs of the abstract."
Don Juan maintained that his attainment did not make him intrinsically
different. It only made him more resourceful; thus he was not being
facetious when he said to me or to his other apprentices that he was just
"I understand exactly what you are going through," he continued. "When
I laugh at you, I really laugh at the memory of myself in your shoes. I,
too, held on to the world of everyday life. I held on to it by my
fingernails. Everything told me to let go, but I couldn't. Just like you, I
trusted my mind implicitly, and I had no reason to do so. I was no longer an
"My problem then is your problem today. The momentum of the daily world
carried me, and I kept acting like an average man. I held on desperately to
my flimsy rational Structures. Don't you do the same."
"I don't hold onto any structures; they hold onto me," I said, and that
made him laugh.
I told him I understood him to perfection, but that no matter how hard
I tried I was unable to carry on as a sorcerer should.
He said my disadvantage in the sorcerers' world was my lack of
familiarity with it. In that world I had to relate myself to everything in a
new way, which was infinitely more difficult, because it had very little to
do with my everyday life continuity.
He described the specific problem of sorcerers as twofold. One is the
impossibility of restoring a shattered continuity; the other is the
impossibility of using the continuity dictated by the new position of their
assemblage points. That new continuity is always too tenuous, too unstable,
and does not offer sorcerers the assuredness they need to function as if
they were in the world of everyday life.
"How do sorcerers resolve this problem?" I asked.
"None of us resolves anything," he replied. "The spirit either resolves
it for us or it doesn't. If it does, a sorcerer finds himself acting in the
sorcerers' world, but without knowing how. This is the reason why I have
insisted from the day I found you that impeccability is all that counts. A
sorcerer lives an impeccable life, and that seems to beckon the solution.
Why? No one knows."
Don Juan remained quiet for a moment. And then, as if I had voiced it,
he commented on a thought I was having. I was thinking that impeccability
always made me think of religious morality.
"Impeccability, as I have told you so many times, is not morality," he
said. "It only resembles morality. Impeccability is simply the best use of
our energy level. Naturally, it calls for frugality, thoughtfulness,
simplicity, innocence; and above all, it calls for lack of self-reflection.
All this makes it sound like a manual for monastic life, but it isn't.
"Sorcerers say that in order to command the spirit, and by that they
mean to command the movement of the assem
blage point, one needs energy. The only thing that stores energy for us
is our impeccability."
Don Juan remarked that we do not have to be students of sorcery to move
our assemblage point. Sometimes, due to natural although dramatic
circumstances, such as war, deprivation, stress, fatigue, sorrow,
helplessness, men's assemblage points undergo profound movements. If the men
who found themselves in such circumstances were able to adopt a sorcerer's
ideology, don Juan said, they would be able to maximize that natural
movement with no trouble. And they would seek and find extraordinary things
instead of doing what men do in such circumstances: craving the return to
"When a movement of the assemblage point is maximized," he went on,
"both the average man or the apprentice in sorcery becomes a sorcerer,
because by maximizing that movement, continuity is shattered beyond repair."
"How do you maximize that movement?" I asked.
"By curtailing self-reflection," he replied. "Moving the assemblage
point or breaking one's continuity is not the real difficulty. The real
difficulty is having energy. If one has energy, once the assemblage point
moves, inconceivable things are there for the asking."
Don Juan explained that man's predicament is that he intuits his hidden
resources, but he does not dare use them. This is why sorcerers say that
man's plight is the counterpoint between his stupidity and his ignorance. He
said that man needs now, more so than ever, to be taught new ideas that have
to do exclusively with his inner world - sorcerers' ideas, not social ideas,
ideas pertaining to man facing the unknown, facing his personal death. Now,
more than anything else, he needs to be taught the secrets of the assemblage
With no preliminaries, and without stopping to think, don Juan then
began to tell me a sorcery story. He said that for an entire year he had
been the only young person in the nagual Julian's house. He was so
completely self-centered he had not even noticed when at the beginning of
the second year his benefactor brought three young men and four young women
to live in the house. As far as don Juan was concerned, those seven persons
who arrived one at a time over two or three months were simply servants and
of no importance. One of the young men was even made his assistant.
Don Juan was convinced the nagual Julian had lured and cajoled them
into coming to work for him without wages. And he would have felt sorry for
them had it not been for their blind trust in the nagual Julian and their
sickening attachment to everyone and everything in the household.
His feeling was that they were born slaves and that he had nothing to
say to them. Yet he was obliged to make friends with them and give them
advice, not because he wanted to, but because the nagual demanded it as part
of his work. As they sought his counseling, he was horrified by the
poignancy and drama of their life stories.
He secretly congratulated himself for being better off than they. He
sincerely felt he was smarter than all of them put together. He boasted to
them that he could see through the nagual's maneuvers, although he could not
claim to understand them. And he laughed at their ridiculous attempts to be
helpful. He considered them servile and told them to their faces that they
were being mercilessly exploited by a professional tyrant.
But what enraged him was that the four young women had crushes on the
nagual Julian and would do anything to please him. Don Juan sought solace in
his work and plunged into it to forget his anger, or for hours on end he
would read the books that the nagual Julian had in the house. Reading
became his passion. When he was reading, everyone knew not to bother him,
except the nagual Julian, who took pleasure in never leaving him in peace.
He was always after don Juan to be friends with the young men and women. He
told him repeatedly that all of them, don Juan included, were his sorcery
apprentices. Don Juan was convinced the nagual Julian knew nothing about
sorcery, but he humored him, listening to him without ever believing.
The nagual Julian was unfazed by don Juan's lack of trust. He simply
proceeded as if don Juan believed him, and gathered all the apprentices
together to give them instruction. Periodically he took all of them on
all-night excursions into the local mountains. On most of these excursions
the nagual would leave them by themselves, stranded in those rugged
mountains, with don Juan in charge.
The rationale given for the trips was that in solitude, in the
wilderness, they would discover the spirit. But they never did. At least,
not in any way don Juan could understand. However, the nagual Julian
insisted so strongly on the importance of knowing the spirit that don Juan
became obsessed with knowing what the spirit was.
During one of those nighttime excursions, the nagual Julian urged don
Juan to go after the spirit, even if he didn't understand it.
"Of course, he meant the only thing a nagual could mean: the movement
of the assemblage point," don Juan said. "But he worded it in a way he
believed would make sense to me: go after the spirit.
"I thought he was talking nonsense. At that time I had already formed
my own opinions and beliefs and was convinced that the spirit was what is
known as character, volition, guts, strength. And I believed I didn't have
to go after them. I had them all.
"The nagual Julian insisted that the spirit was indefinable, that one
could not even feel it, much less talk about it. One could only beckon it,
he said, by acknowledging its existence. My retort was very much the same as
yours: one cannot beckon something that does not exist."
Don Juan told me he had argued so much with the nagual that the nagual
finally promised him, in front of his entire household, that in one single
stroke he was going to show him not only what the spirit was, but how to
define it. He also promised to throw an enormous party, even inviting the
neighbors, to celebrate don Juan's lesson.
Don Juan remarked that in those days, before the Mexican Revolution,
the nagual Julian and the seven women of his group passed themselves off as
the wealthy owners of a large hacienda. Nobody ever doubted their image,
especially the nagual Julian's, a rich and handsome landholder who had set
aside his earnest desire to pursue an ecclesiastical career in order to care
for his seven unmarried sisters.
One day, during the rainy season, the nagual Julian announced that as
soon as the rains stopped, he would hold the enormous party he had promised
don Juan. And one Sunday afternoon he took his entire household to the banks
of the river, which was in flood because of the heavy rains. The nagual
Julian rode his horse while don Juan trotted respectfully behind, as was
their custom in case they met any of their neighbors; as far as the
neighbors knew, don Juan was the landlord's personal servant.
The nagual chose for their picnic a site on high ground by the edge of
the river. The women had prepared food and drink. The nagual had even
brought a group of musicians from the town. It was a big party which
included the peons of the hacienda, neighbors, and even passing strangers
that had meandered over to join the fun.
Everybody ate and drank to his heart's content. The nagual danced with
all the women, sang, and recited poetry. He told jokes and, with the help of
some of the women, staged skits to the delight of all.
At a given moment, the nagual Julian asked if any of those present,
especially the apprentices, wanted to share don Juan's lesson. They all
declined. All of them were keenly aware of the nagual's hard tactics. Then
he asked don Juan if he was sure he wanted to find out what the spirit was.
Don Juan could not say no. He simply could not back out. He announced
that he was as ready as he could ever be. The nagual guided him to the edge
of the raging river and made him kneel. The nagual began a long incantation
in which he invoked the power of the wind and the mountains and asked the
power of the river to advise don Juan.
His incantation, meaningful as it might have been, was worded so
irreverently that everyone had to laugh. When he finished, he asked don Juan
to stand up with his eyes closed. Then he took the apprentice in his arms,
as he would a child, and threw him into the rushing waters, shouting, "Don't
hate the river, for heaven's sake!"
Relating this incident sent don Juan into fits of laughter. Perhaps
under other circumstances I, too, might have found it hilarious. This time,
however, the story upset me tremendously.
"You should have seen those people's faces," don Juan continued. "I
caught a glimpse of their dismay as I flew through the air on my way to the
river. No one had anticipated that that devilish nagual would do a thing
Don Juan said he had thought it was the end of his life. He was not a
good swimmer, and as he sank to the bottom of the river he cursed himself
for allowing this to happen to him. He was so angry he did not have time to
panic. All he could think about was his resolve that he was not going to die
in that frigging river, at the hands of that frigging man.
His feet touched bottom and he propelled himself up. It was not a deep
river, but the flood waters had widened it a great deal. The current was
swift, and it pulled him along as he dog-paddled, trying not to let the
rushing waters tumble him around.
The current dragged him a long distance. And while he was being dragged
and trying his best not to succumb, he entered into a strange frame of mind.
He knew his flaw. He was a very angry man and his pent-up anger made him
hate and fight with everyone around. But he could not hate or fight the
river, or be impatient with it, or fret, which were the ways he normally
behaved with everything and everybody in his life. All he could do with the
river was follow its flow.
Don Juan contended that that simple realization and the acquiescence it
engendered tipped the scales, so to speak, and he experienced a free
movement of his assemblage point. Suddenly, without being in any way aware
of what was happening, instead of being pulled by the rushing water, don
Juan felt himself running along the riverbank. He was running so fast that
he had no time to think. A tremendous force was pulling him, making him race
over boulders and fallen trees, as if they were not there.
After he had run in that desperate fashion for quite a while, don Juan
braved a quick look at the reddish, rushing water. And he saw himself being
roughly tumbled by the current. Nothing in his experience had prepared him
such a moment. He knew then, without involving his thought processes,
that he was in two places at once. And in one of them, in the rushing river,
he was helpless.
All his energy went into trying to save himself.
Without thinking about it, he began angling away from the riverbank. It
took all his strength and determination to edge an inch at a time. He felt
as if he were dragging a tree. He moved so slowly that it took him an
eternity to gain a few yards.
The strain was too much for him. Suddenly he was no longer running; he
was falling down a deep well. When he hit the water, the coldness of it made
him scream. And then he was back in the river, being dragged by the current.
His fright upon finding himself back in the rushing water was so intense
that all he could do was to wish with all his might to be safe and sound on
the riverbank. And immediately he was there again, running at breakneck
speed parallel to, but a distance from, the river.
As he ran, he looked at the rushing water and saw himself struggling to
stay afloat. He wanted to yell a command; he wanted to order himself to swim
at an angle, but he had no voice. His anguish for the part of him that was
in the water was overwhelming. It served as a bridge between the two Juan
Matuses. He was instantly back in the water, swimming at an angle toward the
The incredible sensation of alternating between two places was enough
to eradicate his fear. He no longer cared about his fate. He alternated
freely between swimming in the river and racing on the bank. But whichever
he was doing, he consistently moved toward his left, racing away from the
river or paddling to the left shore.
He came out on the left side of the river about five miles downstream.
He had to wait there, sheltering in the shrubs, for over a week. He was
waiting for the waters to subside so he could wade across, but he was also
waiting until his fright wore off and he was whole again.
Don Juan said that what had happened was that the strong, sustained
emotion of fighting for his life had caused his assemblage point to move
squarely to the place of silent knowledge. Because he had never paid any
attention to what the nagual Julian told him about the assemblage point, he
had no idea what was happening to him. He was frightened at the thought that
he might never be normal again. But as he explored his split perception, he
discovered its practical side and found he liked it. He was double for days.
He could be thoroughly one or the other. Or he could be both at the same
time. When he was both, things became fuzzy and neither being was effective,
so he abandoned that alternative. But being one or the other opened up
inconceivable possibilities for him.
While he recuperated in the bushes, he established that one of his
beings was more flexible than the other and could cover distances in the
blink of an eye and find food or the best place to hide. It was this being
that once went to the nagual's house to see if they were worrying about him.
He heard the young people crying for him, and that was certainly a
surprise. He would have gone on watching them indefinitely, since he adored
the idea of finding out what they thought of him, but the nagual Julian
caught him and put an end to it.
That was the only time he had been truly afraid of the nagual. Don Juan
heard the nagual telling him to stop his nonsense. He appeared suddenly, a
jet black, bell-shaped object of immense weight and strength. He grabbed don
Juan. Don Juan did not know how the nagual was grabbing him, but it hurt in
a most unsettling way. It was a sharp nervous pain he felt in his stomach
"I was instantly back on the riverbank," don Juan said, laughing. "I
got up, waded the recently subsided river, and started to walk home."
He paused then asked me what I thought of his story. And I told him
that it had appalled me.
"You could have drowned in that river," I said, almost shouting. "What
a brutal thing to do to you. The nagual Julian must have been crazy!"
"Wait a minute," don Juan protested. "The nagual Julian was devilish,
but not crazy. He did what he had to do in his role as nagual and teacher.
It's true that I could have died. But that's a risk we all have to take. You
yourself could have been easily eaten by the jaguar, or could have died from
any of the things I have made you do. The nagual Julian was bold and
commanding and tackled everything directly. No beating around the bush with
him, no mincing words."
I insisted that valuable as the lesson might have been, it still
appeared to me that the nagual Julian's methods were bizarre and excessive.
I admitted to don Juan that everything I had heard about the nagual Julian
had bothered me I so much I had formed a most negative picture of him.
"I think you're afraid that one of these days I'm going to | throw you
into the river or make you wear women's clothes," he said and began to
laugh. "That's why you don't approve of the nagual Julian."
I admitted that he was right, and he assured me that he had no
intentions of imitating his benefactor's methods, because they did not work
for him. He was, he said, as ruthless but not as practical as the nagual
"At that time," don Juan continued, "I didn't appreciate his art, and I
certainly didn't like what he did to me, but now, whenever I think about it,
I admire him all the more for his superb and direct way of placing me in the
position of silent knowledge."
Don Juan said that because of the enormity of his experience, he had
totally forgotten the monstrous man. He walked unescorted almost to the door
of the nagual Julian's house, then changed his mind and went instead to the
nagual Elfas's place, seeking solace. And the nagual Elfas explained to him
the deep consistency of the nagual Julian's actions.
The nagual Elfas could hardly contain his excitement when he heard don
Juan's story. In a fervent tone he explained to don Juan that his benefactor
was a supreme stalker, always after practicalities. His endless quest was
for pragmatic views and solutions. His behavior that day at the river had
been a masterpiece of stalking. He had manipulated and affected everyone.
Even the river seemed to be at his command.
The nagual Elfas maintained that while don Juan was being carried by
the current, fighting for his life, the river helped him understand what the
spirit was. And thanks to that understanding, don Juan had the opportunity
to enter directly into silent knowledge.
Don Juan said that because he was a callow youth he listened to the
nagual Elfas without understanding a word, but was moved with sincere
admiration for the nagual's intensity.
First, the nagual Elfas explained to don Juan that sound and the
meaning of words were of supreme importance to stalkers. Words were used by
them as keys to open anything that was closed. Stalkers, therefore, had to
state their aim before attempting to achieve it. But they could not reveal
their true aim at the outset, so they had to word things carefully to
conceal the main thrust.
The nagual Elfas called this act waking up intent. He explained to don
Juan that the nagual Julian woke up intent by affirming emphatically in
front of his entire household that he was going to show don Juan, in one
stroke, what the spirit was and how to define it. This was completely
nonsensical because the nagual Julian knew there was no way to define the
spirit. What he was really trying to do was, of course, to place don Juan in
the position of silent knowledge.
After making the statement which concealed his true aim, the nagual
Julian gathered as many people as he could, thus making them both his
witting and unwitting accomplices. All of them knew about his stated goal,
but not a single one knew what he really had in mind.
The nagual Elfas's belief that his explanation would shake don Juan out
of his impossible stand of total rebelliousness and indifference was
completely wrong. Yet the nagual patiently continued to explain to him that
while he had been fighting the current in the river he had reached the third
The old nagual explained that the position of silent knowledge was
called the third point because in order to get to it one had to pass the
second point, the place of no pity.
He said that don Juan's assemblage point had acquired sufficient
fluidity for him to be double, which had allowed him to be in both the place
of reason and in the place of silent knowledge, either alternately or at the
The nagual told don Juan that his accomplishment was magnificent. He
even hugged don Juan as if he were a child. And he could not stop talking
about how don Juan, in spite of not knowing anything - or maybe because of
not knowing anything - had transferred his total energy from one place to
the other. Which meant to the nagual that don Juan's assemblage point had a
most propitious, natural fluidity.
He said to don Juan that every human being had a capacity for that
fluidity. For most of us, however, it was stored away and we never used it,
except on rare occasions which were brought about by sorcerers, such as the
experience he had just had, or by dramatic natural circumstances, such as a
Don Juan listened, mesmerized by the sound of the old nagual's voice.
When he paid attention, he could follow anything the man said, which was
something he had never been able to do with the nagual Julian.
The old nagual went on to explain that humanity was on the first point,
reason, but that not every human being's assemblage point was squarely on
the position of reason. Those who were on the spot itself were the true
leaders of mankind. Most of the time they were unknown people whose genius
was the exercising of their reason.
The nagual said there had been another time, when mankind had been on
the third point, which, of course, had been the first point then. But after
that, mankind moved to the place of reason.
When silent knowledge was the first point the same condition prevailed.
Not every human being's assemblage point was squarely on that position
either. This meant that the true leaders of mankind had always been the few
human beings whose assemblage points happened to be either on the exact
point of reason or of silent knowledge. The rest of humanity, the old nagual
told don Juan, was merely the audience. In our day, they were the lovers of
reason. In the past, they had been the lovers of silent knowledge. They were
the ones who had admired and sung odes to the heroes of either position.
The nagual stated that mankind had spent the longer part of its history
in the position of silent knowledge, and that this explained our great
longing for it.
Don Juan asked the old nagual what exactly the nagual Julian was doing
to him. His question sounded more mature and intelligent than what he really
meant. The nagual Elias answered it in terms totally unintelligible to don
Juan at that time. He said that the nagual Julian was coaching don Juan,
enticing his assemblage point to the position of reason, so he could be a
thinker rather than merely part of an unsophisticated but emotionally
charged audience that loved the orderly works of reason. At the same time,
the nagual was coaching don Juan to be a true abstract sorcerer instead of
merely part of a morbid and ignorant audience of lovers of the unknown.
The nagual Elias assured don Juan that only a human being who was a
paragon of reason could move his assemblage point easily and be a paragon of
silent knowledge. He said that only those who were squarely in either
position could see the other position clearly, and that that had been the
way the age of reason came to being. The position of reason was clearly seen
from the position of silent knowledge.
The old nagual told don Juan that the one-way bridge from silent
knowledge to reason was called "concern." That is, the concern that true men
of silent knowledge had about the source of what they knew. And the other
one-way bridge, from reason to silent knowledge, was called "pure
understanding." That is, the recognition that told the man of reason that
reason was only one island in an endless sea of islands.
The nagual added that a human being who had both oneway bridges working
was a sorcerer in direct contact with the spirit, the vital force that made
both positions possible. He pointed oat to don Juan that everything the
nagual Julian had done that day at the river had been a show, not for a
human audience, but for the spirit, the force that was watching him. He
pranced and frolicked with abandon and entertained everybody, especially the
power he was addressing.
Don Juan said that the nagual Elias assured him that the spirit only
listened when the speaker speaks in gestures. And gestures do not mean signs
or body movements, but acts of true abandon, acts of largesse, of humor. As
a gesture for the spirit, sorcerers bring out the best of themselves and
silently offer it to the abstract.
Don Juan wanted us to make one more trip to the mountains before I went
home, but we never made it. Instead, he asked me to drive him to the city.
He needed to see some people there.
On the way he talked about every subject but intent. It was a welcome
In the afternoon, after he had taken care of his business, we sat on
his favorite bench in the plaza. The place was deserted. I was very tired
and sleepy. But then, quite unexpectedly, I perked up. My mind became
Don Juan immediately noticed the change and laughed at my gesture of
surprise. He picked a thought right out of my mind; or perhaps it was I who
picked that thought out of his.
"If you think about life in terms of hours instead of years, our lives
are immensely long," he said. "Even if you think in terms of days, life is
That was exactly what I had been thinking.
He told me that sorcerers counted their lives in hours, and that in one
hour it was possible for a sorcerer to live the equivalent in intensity of a
normal life. This intensity is an advantage when it comes to storing
information in the movement of the assemblage point.
I demanded that he explain this to me in more detail. A long time
before, because it was so cumbersome to take notes on conversations, he had
recommended that I keep all the information I obtained about the sorcerers'
world neatly arranged, not on paper nor in my mind, but in the movement of
my assemblage point.
"The assemblage point, with even the most minute shifting, creates
totally isolated islands of perception," don Juan said. "Information, in the
form of experiences in the complexity of awareness can be stored there."
"But how can information be stored in something so vague?" I asked.
"The mind is equally vague, and still you trust it because you are
familiar with it," he retorted. "You don't yet have the same familiarity
with the movement of the assemblage point, but it is just about the same."
"What I mean is, how is information stored?" I insisted.
"The information is stored in the experience itself," he explained.
"Later, when a sorcerer moves his assemblage point to the exact spot where
it was, he relives the total experience. This sorcerers' recollection is the
way to get back all the information stored in the movement of die assemblage
"Intensity is an automatic result of the movement of the assemblage
point," he continued. "For instance, you are living these moments more
intensely than you ordinarily would, so, properly speaking, you are storing
intensity. Some day you'll relive this moment by making your assemblage
point return to the precise spot where it is now. That is the way sorcerers
I told don Juan that the intense recollections I had had in the past
few days had just happened to me, without any special mental process I was
"How can one deliberately manage to recollect?" I asked.
"Intensity, being an aspect of intent, is connected naturally to the
shine of the sorcerers' eyes," he explained. "In order to recall those
isolated islands of perception sorcerers need only intend the particular
shine of their eyes associated with whichever spot they want to return to.
But I have already explained that."
I must have looked perplexed. Don Juan regarded me with a serious
expression. I opened my mouth two or three times to ask him questions, but
could not formulate my thoughts.
"Because his intensity rate is greater than normal," don Juan said, "in
a few hours a sorcerer can live the equivalent of a normal lifetime. His
assemblage point, by shifting to an unfamiliar position, takes in more
energy than usual. That extra flow of energy is called intensity."
I understood what he was saying with perfect clarity, and my
rationality staggered under the impact of the tremendous implication.
Don Juan fixed me with his stare and then warned me to beware of a
reaction which typically afflicted sorcerers - a frustrating desire to
explain the sorcery experience in cogent, well-reasoned terms.
"The sorcerers' experience is so outlandish," don Juan went on, "that
sorcerers consider it an intellectual exercise, and use it to stalk
themselves with. Their trump card as stalkers, though, is that they remain
keenly aware that we are perceivers and that perception has more
possibilities than the mind can conceive."
As my only comment I voiced my apprehension about the outlandish
possibilities of human awareness.
"In order to protect themselves from that immensity," don Juan said,
"sorcerers learn to maintain a perfect blend of ruthlessness, cunning,
patience, and sweetness. These four bases are inextricably bound together.
Sorcerers cultivate them by intending them. These bases are, naturally,
positions of the assemblage point."
He went on to say that every act performed by any sorcerer was by
definition governed by these four principles. So, properly speaking, every
sorcerer's every action is deliberate in thought and realization, and has
the specific blend of the four foundations of stalking.
"Sorcerers use the four moods of stalking as guides," he continued.
"These are four different frames of mind, four different brands of intensity
that sorcerers can use to induce their assemblage points to move to specific
He seemed suddenly annoyed. I asked if it was my insistence on
speculating that was bothering him.
"I am just considering how our rationality puts us between a rock and a
hard place," he said. "Our tendency is to ponder, to question, to find out.
And there is no way to do that from within the discipline of sorcery.
Sorcery is the act of reaching the place of silent knowledge, and silent
knowledge can't be reasoned out. It can only be experienced."
He smiled, his eyes shining like two spots of light. He said that
sorcerers, in an effort to protect themselves from the overwhelming effect
of silent knowledge, developed the art of stalking. Stalking moves the
assemblage point minutely but steadily, thus giving sorcerers time and
therefore the possibility of buttressing themselves.
"Within the art of stalking," don Juan continued, "there is a technique
which sorcerers use a great deal: controlled
folly. Sorcerers claim that controlled folly is the only way they have
of dealing with themselves - in their state of expanded awareness and
perception - and with everybody and everything in the world of daily
Don Juan had explained controlled folly as the art of controlled
deception or the art of pretending to be thoroughly immersed in the action
at hand - pretending so well no one could tell it from the real thing.
Controlled folly is not an outright deception, he had told me, but a
sophisticated, artistic way of being separated from everything while
remaining an integral part of everything.
"Controlled folly is an art," don Juan continued. "A very bothersome
art, and a difficult one to learn. Many sorcerers don't have the stomach for
it, not because there is anything inherently wrong with the art, but because
it takes a lot of energy to exercise it."
Don Juan admitted that he practiced it conscientiously, although he was
not particularly fond of doing so, perhaps because his benefactor had been
so adept at it. Or, perhaps it was because his personality - which he said
was basically devious and petty - simply did not have the agility needed to
practice controlled folly.
I looked at him with surprise. He stopped talking and fixed me with his
"By the time we come to sorcery, our personality is already formed," he
said, and shrugged his shoulders to signify resignation, "and all we can do
is practice controlled folly and laugh at ourselves."
I had a surge of empathy and assured him that to me he was not in any
way petty or devious.
"But that's my basic personality," he insisted.
And I insisted that it was not.
"Stalkers who practice controlled folly believe that, in matters of
personality, the entire human race falls into three categories," he said,
and smiled the way he always did when he was setting me up.
"That's absurd," I protested. "Human behavior is too complex to be
categorized so simply."
"Stalkers say that we are not so complex as we think we are," he said,
"and that we all belong to one of three categories."
I laughed out of nervousness. Ordinarily I would have taken such a
statement as a joke, but this time, because my mind was extremely clear and
my thoughts were poignant, I felt he was indeed serious.
"Are you serious?" I asked, as politely as I could.
"Completely serious," he replied, and began to laugh.
His laughter relaxed me a little. And he continued explaining the
stalkers' system of classification. He said that people in the first class
are the perfect secretaries, assistants, companions. They have a very fluid
personality, but their fluidity is not nourishing. They are, however,
serviceable, concerned, totally domestic, resourceful within limits,
humorous, well-mannered, sweet, delicate. In other words, they are the
nicest people one could find, but they have one huge flaw: they can't
function alone. They are always in need of someone to direct them. With
direction, no matter how strained or antagonistic that direction might be,
they are stupendous. By themselves, they perish.
People in the second class are not nice at all. They are petty,
vindictive, envious, jealous, self-centered. They talk exclusively about
themselves and usually demand that people conform to their standards. They
always take the initiative even though they are not comfortable with it.
They are thoroughly ill at ease in every situation and never relax. They are
insecure and are never pleased; the more insecure they become the nastier
they are. Their fatal flaw is that they would kill to be leaders.
In the third category are people who are neither nice nor nasty. They
serve no one, nor do they impose themselves on anyone. Rather they are
indifferent. They have an exalted idea about themselves derived solely from
daydreams and wishful thinking. If they are extraordinary at anything, it is
at waiting for things to happen. They are waiting to be discovered and
conquered and have a marvelous facility for creating the illusion that they
have great things in abeyance, which they always promise to deliver but
never do because, in fact, they do not have such resources.
Don Juan said that he himself definitely belonged to the second class.
He then asked me to classify myself and I became rattled. Don Juan was
practically on the ground, bent over with laughter.
He urged me again to classify myself, and reluctantly I suggested I
might be a combination of the three.
"Don't give me that combination nonsense," he said, still laughing. "We
are simple beings, each of us is one of the three types. And as far as I am
concerned, you belong to the second class. Stalkers call them farts."
I began to protest that his scheme of classification was demeaning. But
I stopped myself just as I was about to go into a long tirade. Instead I
commented that if it were true that there are only three types of
personalities, all of us are trapped in one of those three categories for
life with no hope of change or redemption.
He agreed that that was exactly the case. Except that one avenue for
redemption remained. Sorcerers had long ago learned that only our personal
self-reflection fell into one of the categories.
"The trouble with us is that we take ourselves seriously," he said.
"Whichever category our self-image falls into only matters because of our
self-importance. If we weren't self-important, it wouldn't matter at all
which category we fell into.
"I'll always be a fart," he continued, his body shaking with laughter.
"And so will you. But now I am a fart who doesn't take himself seriously,
while you still do."
I was indignant. I wanted to argue with him, but could not muster the
energy for it.
In the empty plaza, the reverberation of his laughter was eerie.
He changed the subject then and reeled off the basic cores he had
discussed with me: the manifestations of the spirit, the knock of the
spirit, the trickery of the spirit, the descent of the spirit, the
requirement of intent, and handling intent. He repeated them as if he were
giving my memory a chance to retain them fully. And then, he succinctly
highlighted everything he had told me about them. It was as if he were
deliberately making me store all that information in the intensity of that
I remarked that the basic cores were still a mystery to me. I felt very
apprehensive about my ability to understand them. He was giving me the
impression that he was about to dismiss the topic, and I had not grasped its
meaning at all.
I insisted that I had to ask him more questions about the abstract
He seemed to assess what I was saying, then he quietly nodded his head.
"This topic was also very difficult for me," he said. "And I, too,
asked many questions. I was perhaps a tinge more self-centered than you. And
very nasty. Nagging was the only way I knew of asking questions. You
yourself are rather a belligerent inquisitor. At the end, of course, you and
I are equally annoying, but for different reasons."
There was only one more thing don Juan added to our discussion of the
basic cores before he changed the subject: that they revealed themselves
extremely slowly, erratically advancing and retreating.
"I can't repeat often enough that every man whose assemblage point
moves can move it further," he began. "And the only reason we need a teacher
is to spur us on mercilessly. Otherwise our natural reaction is to stop to
congratulate ourselves for having covered so much ground."
He said that we were both good examples of our odious tendency to go
easy on ourselves. His benefactor, fortunately, being the stupendous stalker
he was, had not spared him.
Don Juan said that in the course of their nighttime journeys in the
wilderness, the nagual Julian had lectured him extensively on the nature of
self-importance and the movement of the assemblage point. For the nagual
Julian, self-importance was a monster that had three thousand heads. And one
could face up to it and destroy it in any of three ways. The first way was
to sever each head one at a time; the second was to reach that mysterious
state of being called the place of no pity, which destroyed self-importance
by slowly starving it; and the third was to pay for the instantaneous
annihilation of the three-thousand-headed monster with one's symbolic death.
The nagual Julian recommended the third alternative. But he told don
Juan that he could consider himself fortunate if he got the chance to
choose. For it was the spirit that usually determined which way the sorcerer
was to go, and it was the duty of the sorcerer to follow.
Don Juan said that, as he had guided me, his benefactor guided him to
cut off the three thousand heads of self-importance, one by one, but that
the results had been quite different. While I had responded very well, he
had not responded at all.
"Mine was a peculiar condition," he went on. "From the moment my
benefactor saw me lying on the road with a bullet hole in my chest, he knew
I was the new nagual. He acted accordingly and moved my assemblage point as
soon as my health permitted it. And I saw with great ease a field of energy
in the form of that monstrous man. But this accomplishment, instead of
helping as it was supposed to, hindered any further movement of my
assemblage point. And while the assemblage points of the other apprentices
moved steadily, mine remained fixed at the level of being able to see the
"But didn't your benefactor tell you what was going on?" I asked, truly
baffled by the unnecessary complication.
"My benefactor didn't believe in handing down knowledge," don Juan
said. "He thought that knowledge imparted that way lacked effectiveness. It
was never there when one needed it. On the other hand, if knowledge was only
insinuated, the person who was interested would devise ways to claim that
Don Juan said that the difference between his method of teaching and
his benefactor's was that he himself believed one should have the freedom to
choose. His benefactor did not.
"Didn't your benefactor's teacher, the nagual Elias, tell you what was
happening?" I insisted.
"He tried," don Juan said, and sighed, "but I was truly impossible. I
knew everything. I just let the two men talk my ear off and never listened
to a thing they were saying."
In order to deal with that impasse, the nagual Julian decided to force
don Juan to accomplish once again, but in a different way, a free movement
of his assemblage point.
I interrupted him to ask whether this had happened before or after his
experience at the river. Don Juan's stories did not have the chronological
order I would have liked.
"This happened several months afterward," he replied. "And don't you
think for an instant that because I experienced that split perception I was
really changed; that I was wiser or more sober. Nothing of the sort.
"Consider what happens to you," he went on. "I have not only broken
your continuity time and time again, I have ripped it to shreds, and look at
you; you still act as if you were intact. That is a supreme accomplishment
of magic, of intending.
"I was the same. For a while, I would reel under the impact of what I
was experiencing and then I would forget and tie up the severed ends as if
nothing had happened. That was why my benefactor believed that we can only
really change if we die."
Returning to his story, don Juan said that the nagual used Tulio, the
unsociable member of his household, to deliver a new shattering blow to his
Don Juan said that all the apprentices, including himself, had never
been in total agreement about anything except that Tulio was a contemptibly
arrogant little man. They hated Tulio because he either avoided them or
snubbed them. He treated them all with such disdain that they felt like
dirt. They were all convinced that Tulio never spoke to them because he had
nothing to say; and that his most salient feature, his arrogant aloofness,
was a cover for his timidity.
Yet in spite of his unpleasant personality, to the chagrin of all the
apprentices, Tulio had undue influence on the household - especially on the
nagual Julian, who seemed to dote on him.
One morning the nagual Julian sent all the apprentices on a day-long
errand to the city. The only person left in the house, besides the older
members of the household, was don Juan.
Around midday the nagual Julian headed for his study to do his daily
bookkeeping. As he was going in, he casually asked don Juan to help him with
Don Juan began to look through the receipts and soon realized that to
continue he needed some information that Tulio, the overseer of the
property, had, and had forgotten to note down.
The nagual Julian was definitely angry at Tulio's oversight, which
pleased don Juan. The nagual impatiently ordered don Juan to find Tulio, who
was out in the fields supervising the workers, and ask him to come to the
Don Juan, gloating at the idea of annoying Tulio, ran half a mile to
the fields, accompanied, of course, by a field hand to protect him from the
monstrous man. He found Tulio supervising the workers from a distance, as
always. Don Juan had noticed that Tulio hated to come into direct contact
with people and always watched them from afar.
In a harsh voice and with an exaggeratedly imperious manner, don Juan
demanded that Tulio accompany him to the house because the nagual required
his services. Tulio, his voice barely audible, replied that he was too busy
at the moment, but that in about an hour he would be free to come.
Don Juan insisted, knowing that Tulio would not bother to argue with
him and would simply dismiss him with a turn of his head. He was shocked
when Tulio began to yell obscenities at him. The scene was so out of
character for Tulio that even the farm workers stopped their labor and
looked at one another questioningly. Don Juan was sure they had never heard
Tulio raise his voice, much less yell improprieties. His own surprise was so
great that he
laughed nervously, which made Tulio extremely angry. He even hurled a
rock at the frightened don Juan, who fled.
Don Juan and his bodyguard immediately ran back to the house. At the
front door they found Tulio. He was quietly talking and laughing with some
of the women. As was his custom, he turned his head away, ignoring don Juan.
Don Juan began angrily to chastise him for socializing there when the nagual
wanted him in his study. Tulio and the women looked at don Juan as if he had
But Tulio was not his usual self that day. Instantly he yelled at don
Juan to shut his damned mouth and mind his own damned business. He blatantly
accused don Juan of trying to put him in a bad light with the nagual Julian.
The women showed their dismay by gasping loudly and looking
disapprovingly at don Juan. They tried to calm Tulio. Don Juan ordered Tulio
to go to the nagual's study and explain the accounts. Tulio told him to go
Don Juan was shaking with anger. The simple task of asking for the
accounts had turned into a nightmare. He controlled his temper. The women
were watching him intently, which angered him all over again. In a silent
rage he ran to the nagual's study. Tulio and the women went back to talking
and laughing quietly as though they were celebrating a private joke.
Don Juan's surprise was total when he entered the study and found Tulio
sitting at the nagual's desk absorbed in his bookkeeping. Don Juan made a
supreme effort and controlled his anger. He smiled at Tulio. He no longer
had the need to confront Tulio. He had suddenly understood that the nagual
Julian was using Tulio to test him, to see if he would lose his temper. He
would not give him that satisfaction.
Without looking up from his accounts, Tulio said that if don Juan was
looking for the nagual, he would probably find him at the other end of the
Don Juan raced to the other end of the house to find the nagual Julian
walking slowly around the patio with Tulio at his side. The nagual appeared
to be engrossed in his conversation with Tulio. Tulio gently nudged the
nagual's sleeve and said in a low voice that his assistant was there.
The nagual matter-of-factly explained to don Juan everything about the
account they had been working on. It was a long, detailed, and thorough
explanation. He said then that all don Juan had to do was to bring the
account book from the study so that they could make the entry and have Tulio
Don Juan could not understand what was happening. The detailed
explanation and the nagual's matter-of-fact tone had brought everything into
the realm of mundane affairs. Tulio impatiently ordered don Juan to hurry up
and fetch the book, because he was busy. He was needed somewhere else.
By now don Juan had resigned himself to being a clown. He knew that the
nagual was up to something; he had that strange look in his eyes which don
Juan always associated with his beastly jokes. Besides, Tulio had talked
more that day than he had in the entire two years don Juan had been in the
Without uttering a word, don Juan went back to the study. And as he had
expected, Tulio had gotten there first. He was sitting on the corner of the
desk, waiting for don Juan, impatiently tapping the floor with the hard heel
of his boot. He held out the ledger don Juan was after, gave it to him, and
told him to be on his way.
Despite being prepared, don Juan was astonished. He stared at the man,
who became angry and abusive. Don
Juan had to struggle not to explode. He kept saying to himself that all
this was merely a test of his attitude. He had visions of being thrown out
of the house if he failed the test.
In the midst of his turmoil, he was still able to wonder about the
speed with which Tulio managed always to be one jump ahead of him.
Don Juan certainly anticipated that Tulio would be waiting with the
nagual. Still, when he saw him there, although he was not surprised, he was
incredulous. He had raced through the house, following the shortest route.
There was no way that Tulio could run faster than he. Furthermore, if Tulio
had run, he would have had to run right alongside don Juan.
The nagual Julian took the account book from don Juan with an air of
indifference. He made the entry; Tulio signed it. Then they continued
talking about the account, disregarding don Juan, whose eyes were fixed on
Tulio. Don Juan wanted to figure out what kind of test they were putting him
through. It had to be a test of his attitude, he thought. After all, in that
house, his attitude had always been the issue.
The nagual dismissed don Juan, saying he wanted to be alone with Tulio
to discuss business. Don Juan immediately went looking for the women to find
out what they would say about this strange situation. He had gone ten feet
when he encountered two of the women and Tulio. The three of them were
caught up in a most animated conversation. He saw them before they had seen
him, so he ran back to the nagual. Tulio was there, talking with the nagual.
An incredible suspicion entered don Juan's mind. He ran to the study;
Tulio was immersed in his bookkeeping and did not even acknowledge don Juan.
Don Juan asked him what was going on. Tulio was his usual self this time: he
did not answer or look at don Juan.
Don Juan had at that moment another inconceivable thought. He ran to
the stable, saddled two horses and asked his morning bodyguard to accompany
him again. They galloped to the place where they had seen Tulio earlier. He
was exactly where they had left him. He did not speak to don Juan. He
shrugged his shoulders and turned his head when don Juan questioned him.
Don Juan and his companion galloped back to the house. He left the man
to care for the horses and rushed into the house. Tulio was lunching with
the women. And Tulio was also talking to the nagual. And Tulio was also
working on the books.
Don Juan sat down and felt the cold sweat of fear. He knew that the
nagual Julian was testing him with one of his horrible jokes. He reasoned
that he had three courses of action. He could behave as if nothing out of
the ordinary was happening; he could figure out the test himself; or, since
the nagual had engraved in his mind that he was there to explain anything
don Juan wanted, he could confront the nagual and ask for clarification.
He decided to ask. He went to the nagual and asked him to explain what
was being done to him. The nagual was alone then, still working on his
accounts. He put the ledger aside and smiled at don Juan. He said that the
twenty-one not-doings he had taught don Juan to perform were the tools that
could sever the three thousand heads of self-importance, but that those
tools had not been effective with don Juan at all. Thus, he was trying the
second method for destroying self-importance which meant putting don Juan
into the state of being called the place of no pity.
Don Juan was convinced then that the nagual Julian was utterly mad.
Hearing him talk about not-doings or about
monsters with three thousand heads or about places of no pity, don Juan
felt almost sorry for him.
The nagual Julian very calmly asked don Juan to go to the storage shed
in the back of the house and ask Tulio to come out.
Don Juan sighed and did his best not to burst out laughing. The
nagual's methods were too obvious. Don Juan knew that the nagual wanted to
continue the test, using Tulio.
Don Juan stopped his narration and asked me what I thought about
Tulio's behavior. I said that, guided by what I knew about the sorcerers'
world, I would say that Tulio was a sorcerer and somehow he was moving his
own assemblage point in a very sophisticated manner to give don Juan the
impression that he was in four places at the same time.
"So what do you think I found in the shed?" don Juan asked with a big
"I would say either you found Tulio or you didn't find anybody," I
"But if either of these had happened, there would have been no shock to
my continuity," don Juan said.
I tried to imagine bizarre things and I proposed that perhaps he found
Tulio's dreaming body. I reminded don Juan that he himself had done
something similar to me with one of the members of his party of sorcerers.
"No," don Juan retorted. "What I found was a joke that has no
equivalent in reality. And yet it was not bizarre; it was not out of this
world. What do you think it was?"
I told don Juan I hated riddles. I said that with all the bizarre
things he had made me experience, the only things I could conceive would be
more bizarreness, and since that was ruled out, I gave up guessing.
"When I went into that shed I was prepared to find that Tulio was
hiding," don Juan said. "I was sure that the next part of the test was going
to be an infuriating game of hide-and-seek. Tulio was going to drive me
crazy hiding inside that shed.
"But nothing I had prepared myself for happened. I walked into that
shed and found four Tulios."
"What do you mean, four Tulios?" I asked.
"There were four men in that shed," don Juan replied. "And all of them
were Tulio. Can you imagine my surprise? All of them were sitting in the
same position, their legs crossed and pressed tightly together. They were
waiting for me. I looked at them and ran away screaming.
"My benefactor held me down on the ground outside the door. And then,
truly horrified, I saw how the four Tulios came out of the shed and advanced
toward me. I screamed and screamed while the Tulios pecked me with their
hard fingers, like huge birds attacking. I screamed until I felt something
give in me and I entered a state of superb indifference. Never in all my
life had I felt something so extraordinary. I brushed off the Tulios and got
up. They had just been tickling me. I went directly to the nagual and asked
him to explain the four men to me."
What the nagual Julian explained to don Juan was that those four men
were the paragons of stalking. Their names had been invented by their
teacher, the nagual Elias, who, as an exercise in controlled folly, had
taken the Spanish numerals uno, dos, tres, cuatro, added them to the name of
Tulio, and obtained in that manner the names Tuliuno, Tuliodo, Tulitre, and
The nagual Julian introduced each in turn to don Juan. The four men
were standing in a row. Don Juan faced each of them and nodded, and each
nodded to him. The nagual said the four men were stalkers of such
extraordinary talent, as don Juan had just corroborated, that praise was
meaningless. The Tulios were the nagual Elias's triumph; they were the
essence of unobtrusiveness. They were such magnificent stalkers that, for
all practical purposes, only one of them existed. Although people saw and
dealt with them daily, nobody outside the members of the household knew that
there were four Tulios.
Don Juan understood with perfect clarity everything the nagual Julian
was saying about the men. Because of his unusual clarity, he knew he had
reached the place of no pity. And he understood, all by himself, that the
place of no pity was a position of the assemblage point, a position which
rendered self-pity inoperative. But don Juan also knew that his insight and
wisdom were extremely transitory. Unavoidably, his assemblage point would
return to its point of departure.
When the nagual asked don Juan if he had any questions, he realized
that he would be better off paying close attention to the nagual's
explanation than speculating about his own foresightedness.
Don Juan wanted to know how the Tulios created the impression that
there was only one person. He was extremely curious, because observing them
together he realized they were not really that alike. They wore the same
clothes. They were about the same size, age, and configuration. But that was
the extent of their similarity. And yet, even as he watched them he could
have sworn that there was only one Tulio.
The nagual Julian explained that the human eye was trained to focus
only on the most salient features of anything, and that those salient
features were known beforehand. Thus, the stalkers' art was to create an
impression by presenting the features they chose, features they knew the
eyes of the onlooker were bound to notice. By artfully reinforcing certain
impressions, stalkers were able to create on the part of the onlooker an
unchallengeable conviction as to what their eyes had perceived.
The nagual Julian said that when don Juan first arrived dressed in his
woman's clothes, the women of his party were delighted and laughed openly.
But the man with them, who happened to be Tulitre, immediately provided don
Juan with the first Tulio impression. He half turned away to hide his face,
shrugged his shoulders disdainfully, as if all of it was boring to him, and
walked away - to laugh his head off in private - while the women helped to
consolidate that first impression by acting apprehensive, almost annoyed, at
the unsociability of the man.
From that moment on, any Tulio who was around don Juan reinforced that
impression and further perfected it until don Juan's eye could not catch
anything except what was being fed to him.
Tuliuno spoke then and said that it had taken them about three months
of very careful and consistent actions to have don Juan blind to anything
except what he was guided to expect. After three months, his blindness was
so pronounced that the Tulios were no longer even careful. They acted normal
in the house. They even ceased wearing identical clothes, and don Juan did
not notice the difference.
When other apprentices were brought into the house, however, the Tulios
had to start all over again. This time the challenge was hard, because there
were many apprentices and they were sharp.
Don Juan asked Tuliuno about Tulio's appearance. Tuliuno answered that
the nagual Elfas maintained appearance was the essence of controlled folly,
and stalkers created appearance by intending them, rather than by producing
them with the aid of props. Props created artificial appearances that looked
false to the eye. In this respect, intending appearances was exclusively an
exercise for stalkers.
Tulitre spoke next. He said appearances were solicited from the spirit.
Appearances were asked, were forcefully called on; they were never invented
rationally. Tulio's appearance had to be called from the spirit. And to
facilitate that the nagual Elias put all four of them together into a very
small, out-of-the-way storage room, and there the spirit spoke to them. The
spirit told them that first they had to intend their homogeneity. After four
weeks of total isolation, homogeneity came to them.
The nagual Elias said that intent had fused them together and that they
had acquired the certainty that their individuality would go undetected. Now
they had to call up the appearance that would be perceived by the onlooker.
And they got busy, calling intent for the Tulios' appearance don Juan had
seen. They had to work very hard to perfect it. They focused, under the
direction of their teacher, on all the details that would make it perfect.
The four Tulios gave don Juan a demonstration of Tulio's most salient
features. These were: very forceful gestures of disdain and arrogance;
abrupt turns of the face to the right as if in anger; twists of their upper
bodies as if to hide part of the face with the left shoulder; angry sweeps
of a hand over the eyes as if to brush hair off the forehead; and the gait
of an agile but impatient person who is too nervous to decide which way to
Don Juan said that those details of behavior and dozens of others had
made Tulio an unforgettable character. In fact, he was so unforgettable that
in order/to project Tulio on don Juan and the other apprentices as if on a
screen, any of the four men needed only to insinuate a feature, and don Juan
and the apprentices would automatically supply the rest.
Don Juan said that because of the tremendous consistency of the input,
Tulio was for him and the others the
essence of a disgusting man. But at the same time, if they searched
deep inside themselves, they would have acknowledged that Tulio was
haunting. He was nimble, mysterious, and gave, wittingly or unwittingly, the
impression of being a shadow.
Don Juan asked Tuliuno how they had called intent. Tuliuno explained
that stalkers called intent loudly. Usually intent was called from within a
small, dark, isolated room. A candle was placed on a black table with the
flame just a few inches before the eyes; then the word intent was voiced
slowly, enunciated clearly and deliberately as many times as one felt was
needed. The pitch of the voice rose or fell without any thought.
Tuliuno stressed that the indispensable part of the act of calling
intent was a total concentration on what was intended. In their case, the
concentration was on their homogeneity and on Tulio's appearance. After they
had been fused by intent, it still took them a couple of years to build up
the certainty that their homogeneity and Tulio's appearance would be
realities to the onlookers.
I asked don Juan what he thought of their way of calling intent. And he
said that his benefactor, like the nagual Elias, was a bit more given to
ritual than he himself was, therefore, they preferred paraphernalia such as
candles, dark closets, and black tables.
I casually remarked that I was terribly attracted to ritual behavior,
myself. Ritual seemed to me essential in focusing one's attention. Don Juan
took my remark seriously. He said he had seen that my body, as an energy
field, had a feature which he knew all the sorcerers of ancient times had
had and avidly sought in others: a bright area in the lower right side of
the luminous cocoon. That brightness was associated with resourcefulness and
a bent toward morbidity. The dark sorcerers of those times took pleasure in
harnessing that coveted feature and attaching it to man's dark side.
"Then there is an evil side to man," I said jubilantly. "You always
deny it. You always say that evil doesn't exist, that only power exists."
I surprised myself with this outburst. In one instant, all my Catholic
background was brought to bear on me and the Prince of Darkness loomed
larger than life.
Don Juan laughed until he was coughing.
"Of course, there is a dark side to us," he said. "We kill wantonly,
don't we? We burn people in the name of God. We destroy ourselves; we
obliterate life on this planet; we destroy the earth. And then we dress in
robes and the Lord speaks directly to us. And what does the Lord tell us? He
says that we should be good boys or he is going to punish us. The Lord has
been threatening us for centuries and it doesn't make any difference. Not
because we are evil, but because we are dumb. Man has a dark side, yes, and
it's called stupidity."
I did not say anything else, but silently I applauded and thought with
pleasure that don Juan was a masterful debater. Once again he was turning my
words back on me.
After a moment's pause, don Juan explained that in the same measure
that ritual forced the average man to construct huge churches that were
monuments to self-importance, ritual also forced sorcerers to construct
edifices of morbidity and obsession. As a result, it was the duty of every
nagual to guide awareness so it would fly toward the abstract, free of liens
"What do you mean, don Juan, by liens and mortgages?" I asked.
"Ritual can trap our attention better than anything I can think of," he
said, "but it also demands a very high price.
That high price is morbidity; and morbidity could have the heaviest
liens and mortgages on our awareness."
Don Juan said that human awareness was like an immense haunted house.
The awareness of everyday life was like being sealed in one room of that
immense house for life. We entered the room through a magical opening:
birth. And we exited through another such magical opening: death.
Sorcerers, however, were capable of finding still another opening and
could leave that sealed room while still alive. A superb attainment. But
their astounding accomplishment was that when they escaped from that sealed
room they chose freedom. They chose to leave that immense, haunted house
entirely instead of getting lost in other parts of it.
Morbidity was the antithesis of the surge of energy awareness needed to
reach freedom. Morbidity made sorcerers lose their way and become trapped in
the intricate, dark byways of the unknown.
I asked don Juan if there was any morbidity in the Tulios.
"Strangeness is not morbidity" he replied. "The Tulios were performers
who were being coached by the spirit itself."
"What was the nagual Elias's reason for training the Tulios as he did?"
Don Juan peered at me and laughed loudly. At that instant the lights of
the plaza were turned on. He got up from his favorite bench and rubbed it
with the palm of his hand, as if it were a pet.
"Freedom," he said. "He wanted their freedom from perceptual
convention. And he taught them to be artists. Stalking is an art. For a
sorcerer, since he's not a patron or a seller of art, the only thing of
importance about a work of art is that it can be accomplished."
We stood by the bench, watching the evening strollers milling around.
The story of the four Tulios had left me with a sense of foreboding. Don
Juan suggested that I return home; the long drive to L.A., he said, would
give my assemblage point a respite from all the moving it had done in the
past few days.
"The nagual's company is very tiring," he went on. "It produces a
strange fatigue; it could even be injurious."
I assured him that I was not tired at all, and that his company was
anything but injurious to me. In fact, his company affected me like a
narcotic - I couldn't do without it. This sounded as if I were flattering
him, but I really meant what I said.
We strolled around the plaza three or four times in complete silence.
"Go home and think about the basic cores of the sorcery stories," don
Juan said with a note of finality in his voice. "Or rather, don't think
about them, but make your assemblage point move toward the place of silent
knowledge. Moving the assemblage point is everything, but it means nothing
if it's not a sober, controlled movement. So, close the door of
self-reflection. Be impeccable and you'll have the energy to reach the place
of silent knowledge."
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