The End of Old Universe

First Lot of Books by Carlos Castaneda


You are not Your Physical Body; You are Not the Physical Matter: You are White Sun Energy !

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Carlos Castaneda "Separate Reality"

Carlos Castaneda "The Journey to Ixtlan"




Carlos Castaneda"Separate Reality"



Second book in the series.
Index:
Introduction...............................................................................3
Part 1:The Preliminaries of “Seeing”
Chapter 1...................................................................................12
Chapter 2...................................................................................15
Chapter 3...................................................................................25
Chapter 4...................................................................................32
Chapter 5...................................................................................42
Chapter 6...................................................................................49
Part 2: Task of “Seeing”
Chapter 7...................................................................................58
Chapter 8...................................................................................66
Chapter 9...................................................................................69
Chapter 10.................................................................................75
Chapter 11.................................................................................80
Chapter 12.................................................................................88
Chapter 13.................................................................................95
Chapter 14.................................................................................104
Chapter 15.................................................................................114
Chapter 16.................................................................................118
Chapter 17.................................................................................127
Epilogue....................................................................................135
2
Carlos Castaneda
“Separate Reality”
Scanned by Ovix (controlledfolly@gmail.com)
Introduction
Ten years ago I had the fortune of meeting a Yaqui Indian from northwestern Mexico. I call him "don Juan."
In Spanish, don is an appellative used to denote respect. I made don Juan's acquaintance under the most fortuitous circumstances. I was sitting with Bill, a friend of mine, in a bus depot in a border town in Arizona. We were very quiet. In the late afternoon the summer heat seemed unbearable. Suddenly he leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder.
"There's the man I told you about," he said in a low voice.
He nodded casually toward the entrance. An old man had just walked in.
"What did you tell me about him?" I asked.
"He's the Indian that knows about peyote. Remember?"
I remembered that Bill and I had once driven all day looking for the house of an "eccentric" Mexican Indian who lived in the area. We did not find the man's house and I had the feeling that the Indians whom we had asked for directions had deliberately misled us. Bill had told me that the man was a "yerbero," a person who gathers and sells medicinal herbs, and that he knew a great deal about the hallucinogenic cactus, peyote. He had also said that it would be worth my while to meet him. Bill was my guide in the Southwest while I was collecting information and specimens of medicinal plants used by the Indians of the area.
Bill got up and went to greet the man. The Indian was of medium height. His hair was white and short, and grew a bit over his ears, accentuating the roundness of his head.
He was very dark; the deep wrinkles cm his face gave him the appearance of age, yet his body seemed to be strong and fit. I watched him for a moment. He moved around with a nimbleness that I would have thought impossible for an old man.
Bill signaled me to join them.
"He's a nice guy," Bill said to me. "But I can't understand him. His Spanish is weird, full of rural colloquialisms, I suppose."
The old man looked at Bill and smiled. And Bill, who speaks only a few words of Spanish, made up an absurd phrase in that language. He looked at me as if asking whether he was making sense, but I did not know what he had had in mind; he then smiled shyly and walked away. The old man looked at me and began laughing.
I explained to him that my friend sometimes forgot that he did not speak Spanish.
"I think he also forgot to introduce us," I said, and I told him my name.
"And I am Juan Matus, at your service," he said.
We shook hands and remained quiet for some time. I broke the silence and told him about my enterprise. I told him that I was looking for any kind of information on plants, especially peyote. I talked compulsively for a long time, and although I was almost totally ignorant on the subject, I said I knew a great deal about peyote. I thought that if I boasted about my knowledge he would become interested in talking to me. But he did not say anything. He listened patiently. Then he nodded slowly and peered at me. His eyes seemed to shine with a light of their own. I avoided his gaze. I felt embarrassed. I had the certainty that at that moment he knew I was talking nonsense.
"Come to my house some time," he finally said, taking his eyes away from me. "Perhaps we could talk there with more ease."
I did not know what else to say. I felt uneasy. After a while Bill came back into the room. He recognized my discomfort and did not say a word. We sat in tight silence for some time. Then the old man got up. His bus had come. He said goodbye.
"It didn't go too well, did it?" Bill asked.
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"No."
"Did you ask him about plants?"
"I did. But I think I goofed."
"I told you, he's very eccentric. The Indians around here know him, yet they never mention him. And that's something."
"He said I could come to his house, though."
"He was bullshitting you. Sure, you can go to his house, but what does it mean? He'll never tell you anything.
If you ever ask him anything he'll clam up as if you were an idiot talking nonsense."
Bill said convincingly that he had encountered people like him before, people who gave the impression of knowing a great deal. In his judgment, he said, such people were not worth the trouble, because sooner or later one could obtain the same information from someone else who did not play hard to get. He said that he had neither patience nor time for old fogies, and that it was possible that the old man was only presenting himself as being knowledgeable about herbs, when in reality he knew as little as the next man.
Bill went on talking but I was not listening. My mind kept on wondering about the old Indian. He knew I had been bluffing. I remembered his eyes. They had actually shone.
I went back to see him a couple of months later, not so much as a student of anthropology interested in medicinal plants but as a person with an inexplicable curiosity. The way he had looked at me was an unprecedented event in my life. I wanted to know what was involved in that look, it became almost an obsession with me. I pondered it and the more I thought about it the more unusual it seemed to be.
Don Juan and I became friends, and for a year I paid innumerable visits. I found his manner very reassuring I his sense of humor superb; but above all I felt there a silent consistency about his acts, a consistency which was thoroughly baffling to me. I felt a strange delight in his presence and at the same time I experienced a strange discomfort. His mere company forced me to make a tremendous reevaluation of my models of behavior. I had been reared, perhaps like everyone else, to have a readiness to accept man as an essentially weak and fallible creature. What impressed me about don Juan was the fact that he did not make a point of being weak and helpless, and just being around him insured an unfavorable comparison between his way of behaving and mine.
Perhaps one of the most impressive statements he made to me at that time was concerned with our inherent difference. Prior to one of my visits I had been feeling quite unhappy about the total course of my life and about a number of pressing personal conflicts that I had. When I arrived at his house I felt moody and nervous.
We were talking about my interest in knowledge; but, as usual, we were on two different tracks. I was referring to academic knowledge that transcends experience, while he was talking about direct knowledge of the world.
"Do you know anything about the world around you?" he asked.
"I know all kinds of things," I said.
"I mean do you ever feel the world around you?"
"I feel as much of the world around me as I can."
"That's not enough. You must feel everything, otherwise the world loses its sense."
I voiced the classical argument that I did not have to taste the soup in order to know the recipe, nor did I have to get an electric shock in order to know about electricity.
"You make it sound stupid," he said. "The way I see it, you want to cling to your arguments, despite the fact that they bring nothing to you; you want to remain the same even at the cost of your well-being."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I am talking about the fact that you're not complete. You have no peace."
That statement annoyed me. I felt offended. I thought he was certainly not qualified to pass judgment on my acts or my personality.
"You're plagued with problems," he said. "Why?"
"I am only a man, don Juan," I said peevishly.
I made that statement in the same vein my father used to make it. Whenever he said he was only a man he
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implicitly meant he was weak and helpless and his statement, like mine, was filled with an ultimate sense of despair.
Don Juan peered at me as he had done the first day we met.
"You think about yourself too much," he said and smiled. "And that gives you a strange fatigue that makes you shut off the world around you and cling to your arguments. Therefore, all you have is problems. I'm only a man too, but I don't mean that the way you do."
"How do you mean it?"
"I've vanquished my problems. Too bad my life is so short that I can't grab onto all the things I would like to.
But that is not an issue; it's only a pity."
I liked the tone of his statement. There was no despair or self-pity in it.
In 1961, a year after our first meeting, don Juan disclosed to me that he had a secret knowledge of medicinal plants. He told me he was a "brujo." The Spanish word brujo can be rendered in English as sorcerer, medicine man, curer. From that point on the relation between us changed; I became his apprentice and for the next four years he endeavored to teach me the mysteries of sorcery. I have written about that apprenticeship in The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.
Our conversations were conducted in Spanish, and thanks to don Juan's superb command of that language I obtained detailed explanations of the intricate means of his system of beliefs. I have referred to that complex and well-systematized body of knowledge as sorcery and to him as a sorcerer because those categories he himself used in informal conversations. In the context of more serious elucidations, however, he could use the terms "knowledge" to categorize sorcery and "man of knowledge" or "one who knows" to categorize a sorcerer.
In order to teach and corroborate his knowledge don Juan used three well-known psychotropic plants: peyote, Lophophora williamasii; jimson weed, Datura inoxia; and a species of mushroom which belongs to the genus Psylocebe. Through the separate ingestion of each of these hallucinogens he produced in me, as his apprentice, some peculiar states of distorted perception, or altered consciousness, which I have called "states of nonordinary reality." I have used the word "reality" because it was a major premise in don Juan's system of beliefs that the states of consciousness produced by the ingestion of any of those three plants were not hallucinations, but concrete, although unordinary, aspects of the reality of everyday life. Don Juan behaved toward these states of nonordinary reality not "as if" they were real but "as" real.
To classify these plants as hallucinogens and the states they produced as nonordinary reality is, of course, my own device. Don Juan understood and explained the plants as being vehicles that would conduct or lead a man to certain impersonal forces or "powers" and the states they produced as being the "meetings" that a sorcerer had to have with those "powers" in order to gain control over them.
He called peyote "Mescalito" and he explained it as being a benevolent teacher and protector of men.
Mescalito taught the "right way to live." Peyote was usually ingested at gatherings of sorcerers called "mitotes,"
where the participants would gather specifically to seek a lesson on the right way to live.
Don Juan considered the jimson weed and the mushrooms to be powers of a different sort. He called them "allies" and said that they were capable of being manipulated; a sorcerer, in fact, drew his strength from manipulating an ally. Of the two, don Juan preferred the mushroom. He maintained that the power contained in the mushroom was his personal ally and he called it "smoke" or "little smoke."
Don Juan's procedure to utilize the mushrooms was to let them dry into a fine powder inside a small gourd.
He kept the gourd sealed for a year and then mixed the fine powder with five other dry plants and produced a mixture for smoking in a pipe.
In order to become a man of knowledge one had to "meet" with the ally as many times as possible; one had to become familiar with it. This premise implied, of course, that one had to smoke the hallucinogenic mixture quite often. The process of "smoking" consisted of ingesting the fine mushroom powder, which did not incinerate, and inhaling the smoke of the other five plants that made up the mixture. Don Juan explained the profound effects that the mushrooms had on one's perceptual capacities as the "ally removing one's body."
Don Juan's method of teaching required an extraordinary effort on the part of the apprentice. In fact, the
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degree of participation and involvement needed was so strenuous that by the end of 1965 I had to withdraw from the apprenticeship. I can say now, with the perspective of the five years that have elapsed, that at that time don Juan's teachings had begun to pose a serious threat to my "idea of the world." I had begun to lose the certainty, which all of us have, that the reality of everyday life is something we can take for granted.
At the time of my withdrawal I was convinced that my decision was final; I did not want to see don Juan ever again. However, in April of 1968 an early copy of my book was made available to me and I felt compelled to show it to him. I paid him a visit. Our link of teacher-apprentice was mysteriously reestablished, and I can say that on that occasion I began a second cycle of apprenticeship, very different from the first. My fear was not as acute as it had been in the past. The total mood of don Juan's teachings was more relaxed. He laughed and also made me laugh a great deal. There seemed to be a deliberate intent on his part to minimize seriousness in general.
He clowned during the truly crucial moments of this second cycle, and thus helped me to overcome experiences which could easily have become obsessive. His premise was that a light and amenable disposition was needed in order to withstand the impact and the strangeness of the knowledge he was teaching me.
"The reason you got scared and quit is because you felt too damn important," he said, explaining my previous withdrawal. "Feeling important makes one heavy, clumsy, and vain. To be a man of knowledge one needs to be light and fluid."
Don Juan's particular interest in his second cycle of apprenticeship was to teach me to "see." Apparently in his system of knowledge there was the possibility of making a semantic difference between "seeing" and "looking" as two distinct manners of perceiving. "Looking" referred to the ordinary way in which we are accustomed to perceive the world, while "seeing" entailed a very complex process by virtue of which a man of knowledge allegedly perceives the "essence" of the things of the world.
In order to present the intricacies of this learning process in a readable form I have condensed long passages of questions and answers, and thus I have edited my original field notes. It is my belief, however, that at this point my presentation cannot possibly detract from the meaning of don Juan's teachings. The editing was aimed at making my notes flow, as conversation flows, so they would have the impact I desired; that is to say, I wanted by means of a reportage to communicate to the reader the drama and directness of the field situation. Each section I have set as a chapter was a session with don Juan. As a rule, he always concluded each of our sessions on an abrupt note; thus the dramatic tone of the ending of each chapter is not a literary device of my own, it was a device proper of don Juan's oral tradition. It seemed to be a mnemonic device that helped me to retain the dramatic quality and importance of the lessons.
Certain explanations are needed, however, to make my reportage cogent, since its clarity depends on the elucidation of a number of key concepts or key units that I want to emphasize. This choice of emphasis is congruous with my interest in social science. It is perfectly possible that another person with a different set of goals and expectations would single out concepts entirely different from those I have chosen myself.
During the second cycle of apprenticeship don Juan made a point of assuring me that the use of the smoking mixture was the indispensable prerequisite to "seeing." Therefore I had to use it as often as possible.
"Only the smoke can give you the necessary speed to catch a glimpse of that fleeting world," he said.
With the aid of the psychotropic mixture, he produced in me a series of states of nonordinary reality. The main feature of such states, in relation to what don Juan seemed to be doing, was a condition of "inapplicability."
What I perceived in those states of altered consciousness was incomprehensible and impossible to interpret by means of our everyday mode of understanding the world. In other words, the condition of inapplicability entailed the cessation of the pertinence of my world view.
Don Juan used this condition of inapplicability of the states of nonordinary reality in order to introduce a series of preconceived, new "units of meaning." Units of meaning were all the single elements pertinent to the knowledge don Juan was striving to teach me. I have called them units of meaning because they were the basic conglomerate of sensory data and their interpretations on which more complex meaning was constructed. One example of such a unit is the way in which the physiological effect of the psychotropic mixture was understood.
It produced a numbness and loss of motor control that was interpreted in don Juan's system as an act performed
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by the smoke, which in this case was the ally, in order "to remove the body of the practitioner."
Units of meaning were grouped together in a specific way, and each block thus created formed what I have called a "sensible interpretation." Obviously there has to be an endless number of possible sensible interpretations that are pertinent to sorcery that a sorcerer must learn to make. In our day-to-day life we are confronted with an endless number of sensible interpretations pertinent to it. A simple example could be the no longer deliberate interpretation, which we make scores of times every day, of the structure we call "room." It is obvious that we have learned to interpret the structure we call room in terms of room; thus room is a sensible interpretation because it requires that at the time we make it we are cognizant, in one way or another, of all the elements that enter into its composition. A system of sensible interpretation is, in other words, the process by virtue of which a practitioner is cognizant of all the units of meaning necessary to make assumptions, deductions, predictions, etc., about all the situations pertinent to his activity.
By "practitioner" I mean a participant who has an adequate knowledge of all, or nearly all, the units of meaning involved in his particular system of sensible interpretation. Don Juan was a practitioner; that is, he was a sorcerer who knew all the steps of his sorcery.
As a practitioner he attempted to make his system of sensible interpretation accessible to me. Such an accessibility, in this case, was equivalent to a process of re-socialization in which new ways of interpreting perceptual data were learned.
I was the "stranger," the one who lacked the capacity to make intelligent and congruous interpretations of the units of meaning proper to sorcery.
Don Juan's task, as a practitioner making his system accessible to me, was to disarrange a particular certainty which I share with everyone else, the certainty that our "common-sense" views of the world are final. Through the use of psychotropic plants, and through well-directed contacts between the alien system and myself, he succeeded in pointing out to me that my view of the world cannot be final because it is only an interpretation.
For the American Indian, perhaps for thousands of years, the vague phenomenon we call sorcery has been a serious bona fide practice, comparable to that of our science. Our difficulty in understanding it stems, no doubt, from the alien units of meaning with which it deals.
Don Juan had once told me that a man of knowledge had predilections. I asked him to explain his statement.
"My predilection is to see," he said.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I like to see" he said, "because only by seeing can a man of knowledge know."
"What kind of things do you see?"
"Everything."
"But I also see everything and I'm not a man of knowledge."
"No. You don't see.
"I think I do."
"I tell you, you don't."
"What makes you say that, don Juan?"
"You only look at the surface of things."
"Do you mean that every man of knowledge actually sees through everything he looks at?"
"No. That's not what I mean. I said that a man of knowledge has his own predilections; mine is just to see and to know; others do other things."
"What other things, for example?"
"Take Sacateca, he's a man of knowledge and his predilection is dancing. So he dances and knows."
"Is the predilection of a man of knowledge something he does in order to know?"
"Yes, that is correct."
"But how could dancing help Sacateca to know?"
"One can say that Sacateca dances with all he has."
"Does he dance like I dance? I mean like dancing?"
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"Let's say that he dances like I see and not like you may dance."
"Does he also see the way you see?"
"Yes, but he also dances."
"How does Sacateca dance?"
"It's hard to explain that. It is a peculiar way of dancing he does when he wants to know. But all I can say about it is that, unless you understand the ways of a man who knows, it is impossible to talk about dancing or seeing."
"Have you seen him doing his dancing?"
"Yes. However, it is not possible for everyone who looks at his dancing to see that it is his peculiar way of knowing."
I knew Sacateca, or at least I knew who he was. We had met and once I had bought him a beer. He was very polite and told me I should feel free to stop at his house anytime I wanted to. I toyed for a long time with the idea of visiting him but I did not tell don Juan. On the afternoon of May 14, 1962, I drove up to Sacateca's house; he had given me directions how to get there and I had no trouble finding it. It was on a corner and had a fence all around it. The gate was closed. I walked around it to see if I could peek inside the house. It appeared to be deserted.
"Don Elias," I called out loud. The chickens got frightened and scattered about cackling furiously. A small dog came to the fence. I expected it to bark at me; instead, it just sat there looking at me. I called out once again and the chickens had another burst of cackling.
An old woman came out of the house. I asked her to call don Elias.
"He's not here," she said.
"Where can I find him?"
"He's in the fields."
"Where in the fields?"
"I don't know. Come back in the late afternoon. Hell be here around five."
"Are you don Elias wife?"
"Yes, I'm his wife," she said and smiled.
I tried to ask her about Sacateca but she excused herself and said that she did not speak Spanish well. I got into my car and drove away.
I returned to the house around six o'clock. I drove to the door and yelled Sacateca's name. This time he came out of the house. I turned on my tape recorder, which in its brown leather case looked like a camera hanging from my shoulder. He seemed to recognize me.
"Oh, it's you," he said, smiling. "How's Juan?"
"He's fine. But how are you, don Elias?"
He did not answer. He seemed to be nervous. Overtly he was very composed, but I felt that he was ill at ease.
"Has Juan sent you here on some sort of errand?"
"No. I came here by myself."
"What in the world for?"
His question seemed to betray very bona fide surprise.
"I just wanted to talk to you," I said, hoping to sound as casual as possible. "Don Juan has told me marvelous things about you and I got curious and wanted to ask you a few questions."
Sacateca was standing in front of me. His body was lean and wiry. He was wearing khaki pants and shirt. His eyes were half-closed; he seemed to be sleepy or perhaps drunk. His mouth was open a bit and his lower lip hung. I noticed that he was breathing deeply and seemed to be almost snoring. The thought came to me that Sacateca was undoubtedly plastered out of his mind. But that thought seemed to be very incongruous because only a few minutes before, when he came out of his house, he had been very alert and aware of my presence.
"What do you want to talk about?" he finally said.
His voice was tired; it was as though his words dragged after each other. I felt very uneasy. It was as if his
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tiredness was contagious and pulling me.
"Nothing in particular," I answered. "I just came to chat with you in a friendly way. You once asked me to come to your house."
''Yes, I did, but it's not the same now."
"Why isn't it the same?"
"Don't you talk with Juan?"
"Yes, I do."
"Then what do you want with me?"
"I thought maybe I could ask you some questions?"
"Ask Juan. Isn't he teaching you?"
"He is, but just the same I would like to ask you about what he is teaching me, and have your opinion. This way I'll be able to know what to do."
"Why do you want to do that? Don't you trust Juan?"
"I do."
"Then why don't you ask him to tell you what you want to know?"
"I do. And he tells me. But if you could also tell me about what don Juan is teaching me, perhaps I will understand better."
"Juan can tell you everything. He alone can do that. Don't you understand that?"
"I do, but then I'd like to talk with people like you, don Elias. One does not find a man of knowledge every day."
"Juan is a man of knowledge."
"I know that."
"Then why are you talking to me?"
"I said I came to be friends,"
"No, you didn't. There is something else about you this time."
I wanted to explain myself and all I could do was mumble incoherently. Sacateca did not say anything. He seemed to listen attentively. His eyes were half-closed again but I felt he was peering at me. He nodded almost imperceptibly. Then his lids opened and I saw his eyes. He seemed to be looking past me. He casually tapped the floor with the tip of his right foot, just behind his left heel. His legs were slightly arched; his arms were limp against his sides. Then he lifted his-right arm; his hand was open with the palm turned perpendicular to the ground; his fingers were extended and pointing toward me. He let his hand wobble a couple of times before he brought it to my face level. He held it in that position for an instant and then he said a few words to me. His voice was very clear, yet the words dragged.
After a moment he dropped his hand to his side and remained motionless, taking a strange position. He was standing, resting on the ball of his left foot. His right foot was crossed behind the heel of the left foot and he was tapping the floor rhythmically and gently with the tip of his right foot I felt an unwarranted apprehension, a form of restlessness. My thoughts seemed to be dissociated. I was thinking unrelated nonsensical thoughts that had nothing to do with what was going on. I noticed my discomfort and tried to steer my thoughts back to the situation at hand, but I couldn't in spite of a great struggle. It was as if some force was keeping me from concentrating or thinking relevant thoughts.
Sacateca had not said a word, and I didn't know what else to say or do. Quite automatically, I turned around and left.
Later on I felt compelled to tell don Juan about my encounter with Sacateca. Don Juan roared with laughter.
"What really took place there?" I asked.
"Sacateca danced!" don Juan said. "He saw you, then he danced."
"What did he do to me? I felt very cold and dizzy."
"He apparently didn't like you and stopped you by tossing a word at you."
"How could he possibly do that?" I exclaimed incredulously.
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"Very simple; he stopped you with his will."
"What did you say?"
"He stopped you with his will!"
The explanation did not suffice. His statements sounded like gibberish to me. I tried to probe him further, but he could not explain the event to my satisfaction.
Obviously that event or any event that occurred within this alien system of sensible interpretation could be explained or understood only in terms of the units of meaning proper to that system. This work is, therefore, a reportage and should be read as a reportage. The system I recorded was incomprehensible to me, thus the pretense to anything other than reporting about it would be misleading and impertinent. In this respect I have adopted the phenomenological method and have striven to deal with sorcery solely as phenomena that were presented to me. I, as the perceiver, recorded what I perceived, and at the moment of recording I endeavored to suspend judgment.
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Part 1
The Preliminaries of “Seeing”
11
1
April 2.1968
Don Juan looked at me for a moment and did not seem at all surprised to see me, even though it had been more than two years since I last visited him. He put his hand on my shoulder and smiled gently and said that I looked different, that I was getting fat and soft.
I had brought him a copy of my book. Without any preliminaries I took it out of my brief case and handed it to him.
"It's a book about you, don Juan," I said.
He took it and flipped through the pages as if they were a deck of cards. He liked the green color on the dust jacket and the height of the book. He felt the cover with his palms, turned it around a couple of times, and then handed it back to me. I felt a great surge of pride.
"I want you to keep it," I said.
He shook his head with a silent laugh.
"I better not," he said, and then added with a broad "You know what we do with paper in Mexico."
I laughed. I thought his touch of irony was beautiful.
We where sitting on a bench in the park of a small town in the mountainous area of central Mexico. I had absolutely no way of letting him know about my intention of paying him a visit, but I was certain I was going to find him, and I did. I waited only a short while in that town before don Juan came down from the mountains and I found him at the market, at the stand of one of his friends.
Don Juan told me, matter-of-factly, that I was there just in time to take him back to Sonora, and we sat in the park to wait for a friend of his, a Mazatec Indian with whom he lived.
We waited about three hours. We talked about different unimportant things, and toward the end of the day, right before his friend came, I related to him some events I had witnessed a few days before.
During my trip to see him my car broke down in the outskirts of a city and I had to stay in town for three days while it was being repaired. There was a motel across the street from the auto shop, but the outskirts of towns are always depressing for me, so I took lodgings in a modern eight-story hotel in the center of town.
The bellboy told me that the hotel had a restaurant, and when I came down to eat I found that there were tables out on the sidewalk. It was a rather handsome arrangement set on the street corner under some low brick arches of modern lines. It was cool outside and there were empty tables, yet I preferred to sit in the stuffy indoors. I had noticed upon entering that a group of shoeshine boys were sitting on the curb in front of the restaurant, and I was certain they would have hounded me had I taken one of the outside tables.
From where I was seated I could see the group of boys through the glass window. A couple of young men took a table and the boys flocked around them, asking to shine their shoes. The young men refused and I was amazed to see that the boys did not insist and went back to sit on the curb. After a while three men in business suits got up and left and the boys ran to their table and began eating the leftovers; in a matter of seconds the plates were clean. The same thing happened with leftovers on all the other tables.
I noticed that the children were quite orderly; if they spilled water they sponged it up with their own shoeshine cloths. I also noticed the thoroughness of their scavenging procedures. They even ate the ice cubes left in the glasses of water and the lemon slices from the tea, peel and all. There was absolutely nothing that they wasted.
In the course of the time I stayed in the hotel I found out that there was an agreement between the children and the manager of the restaurant; the boys were allowed to hang around the premises to make some money from the customers and were also allowed to eat the leftovers, provided that they did not harass anybody and did not break anything. There were eleven in all, ranging in age from five to twelve; the oldest, however, was kept a distance from the rest of the group. They deliberately ostracized him, taunting him with a singsong that he already had pubic hair and was too old to be among them.
After three days of watching them go like vultures after the most meager of leftovers I became despondent, and I left that city feeling that there was no hope for those children whose world was already molded by their
12
day-after-day struggle for crumbs.
"Do you feel sorry for them?" don Juan exclaimed in a questioning tone.
"I certainly do," I said.
"Why?"
"Because I'm concerned with the well-being of my fellow men. Those are children and their world is ugly and cheap."
"Wait! Wait! How can you say that their world is ugly and cheap?" don Juan said, mocking my statement.
"You think that you're better off, don't you?"
I said I did; and he asked me why; and I told him that in comparison to those children's world mine was infinitely more varied and rich in experiences and in opportunities for personal satisfaction and development.
Don Juan's laughter was friendly and genuine. He said that I was not careful with what I was saying, that I had no way of knowing about the richness and the opportunities in the world of those children.
I thought don Juan was being stubborn. I really thought he was taking the opposite view just to annoy me. I sincerely believed that those children did not have the slightest chance for any intellectual growth.
I argued my point for a while longer and then don Juan asked me bluntly, "Didn't you once tell me that in your opinion man's greatest accomplishment was to become a man of knowledge?"
I had said that, and I repeated again that in my opinion to become a man of knowledge was one of the greatest intellectual accomplishments.
"Do you think that your very rich world would ever help you to become a man of knowledge?" don Juan asked with slight sarcasm.
I did not answer and he then worded the same question in a different manner, a thing I always do to him when I think he does not understand.
"In other words," he said, smiling broadly, obviously aware that I was cognizant of his ploy, "can your freedom and opportunities help you to become a man of knowledge?"
"No!" I said emphatically.
"Then how could you feel sorry for those children?" he said seriously. "Any of them could become a man of knowledge. All the men of knowledge I know were kids like those you saw eating leftovers and licking the tables."
Don Juan's argument gave me an uncomfortable sensation. I had not felt sorry for those underprivileged children because they did not have enough to eat, but because in my terms their world had already condemned them to be intellectually inadequate. And yet in don Juan's terms any of them could achieve what I believed to be the epitome of man's intellectual accomplishment, the goal of becoming a man of knowledge. My reason for pitying them was incongruous. Don Juan had nailed me neatly.
"Perhaps you're right," I said. "But how can one avoid the desire, the genuine desire, to help our fellow men?"
"How do you think one can help them?"
"By alleviating their burden. The least one can do for our fellow men is to try to change them. You yourself are involved in doing that. Aren't you?"
"No. I'm not. I don't know what to change or why to change anything in my fellow men."
"What about me, don Juan? Weren't you teaching me so I could change?"
"No. I'm not trying to change you. It may happen that one day you may become a man of knowledge—there's no way to know that—but that will not change you. Some day perhaps you'll be able to see men in another mode and then you'll realize that there's no way to change anything about them."
"What's this other mode of seeing men, don Juan?"
"Men look different when you see. The little smoke will help you to see men as fibers of light"
"Fibers of light?"
"Yes. Fibers, like white cobwebs. Very fine threads that circulate from the head to the navel. Thus a man looks like an egg of circulating fibers. And his arms and legs are like luminous bristles, bursting out in all direc-
13
tions."
"Is that the way everyone looks?"
"Everyone. Besides, every man is in touch with everything else, not through his hands, though, but through a bunch of long fibers that shoot out from the center of his abdomen. Those fibers join a man to his surroundings;
they keep his balance; they give him stability. So, as you may see some day, a man is a luminous egg whether he's a beggar or a king and there's no way to change anything; or rather, what could be changed in that luminous egg? What?"
14
2
My visit to don Juan started a new cycle. I had no trouble falling back again into my old pattern of enjoying his sense of drama and his humor and his patience with me. I definitely felt that I had to visit him more often. Not to see don Juan was indeed a great loss for me; besides, I had something of particular interest that I wanted to discuss with him.
After I had finished the book about his teachings I began to reexamine the field notes I had not used. I had discarded a great deal of data because my emphasis had been on the states of nonordinary reality. Rehashing my old notes I had come to the conclusion that a skillful sorcerer could bring forth the most specialized range of perception in his apprentice by simply "manipulating social cues." My whole argument about the nature of these manipulatory procedures rested on the assumption that a leader was needed to bring forth the necessary range of perception. I took as a specific test case the sorcerer's peyote meetings. I contended that in those meetings sorcerers reached an agreement about the nature of reality without any overt exchange of words or signs, and my conclusion was that a very sophisticated code was employed by the participants to arrive at such an agreement. I had constructed a complex system to explain the code and procedures, so I went back to see don Juan to ask his personal opinion and advice about my work.
May 21,1968
Nothing out of the ordinary happened during my trip to see don Juan. The temperature in the desert was over a hundred degrees and was quite uncomfortable. The heat subsided in the late afternoon and by the tune I arrived at his house, in the early evening, there was a cool breeze. I was not very tired, so we sat in his room and talked, I felt comfortable and relaxed, and we talked for hours. It was not a conversation that I would have liked to record;
I was not really trying to make great sense or trying to draw great meaning; we talked about the weather, the crops, his grandson, the Yaqui Indians, the Mexican government. I told don Juan how much I enjoyed the exquisite sensation of talking in the dark. He said that my statement was consistent with my talkative nature; that it was easy for me to like chattering in the darkness because talking was the only thing I could do at that time, while sitting around. I argued that it was more than the mere act of talking that I enjoyed. I said that I relished the soothing warmth of the darkness around us. He asked me what I did at home when it was dark. I said that invariably I would turn on the lights or I would go out into the lighted streets until it was time to go to sleep.
"Oh!" he said incredulously. "I thought you had learned to use the darkness."
"What can you use it for?" I asked.
He said the darkness—and he called it "The darkness of the day"—was the best time to "see." He stressed the word "see" with a peculiar inflection. I wanted to know what he meant by that, but he said it was too late to go into it then.
May 22,1968
As soon as I woke up in the morning, and without any preliminaries, I told don Juan that I had constructed a system to explain what took place at a peyote meeting, a mitote, I took my notes and read to him what I had done. He listened patiently while I struggled to elucidate my schemata.
I said that I believed a covert leader was necessary in order to cue the participants so they could arrive at any pertinent agreement. I pointed out that people attend a mitote to seek the presence of Mescalito and his lessons about the right way to live; and that those persons never exchange a word or a gesture among them, yet they agree about the presence of Mescalito and his specific lesson. At least that was what they purportedly did in the mitotes I had attended; they agreed that Mescalito had appeared to them individually and had given them a lesson. In my personal experience I had found that the form of the individual visit of Mescalito and his consequent lesson were strikingly homogeneous, although varying in content from person to person. I could not explain this homogeneity except as a result of a subtle and complex system of cueing.
It took me close to two hours to read and explain to don Juan the scheme I had constructed. I ended my talk by begging him to tell me in his own words what were the exact procedures for reaching agreement.
When I had finished he frowned. I thought he must have found my explanation challenging; he appeared to
15
be involved in deep deliberation. After a reasonable silence I asked him what he thought about my idea.
My question made him suddenly turn his frown into a smile and then into roaring laughter. I tried to laugh too and asked nervously what was so funny.
"You're deranged!" he exclaimed. "Why should anyone be bothered with cueing at such an important time as a mitote? Do you think one ever fools around with Mescalito?"
I thought for a moment that he was being evasive; he was not really answering my question.
"Why should anyone cue?" don Juan asked stubbornly. "You have been in mitotes. You should know that no one told you how to feel, or what to do, no one except Mescalito himself."
I insisted that such an explanation was not possible and begged him again to tell me how the agreement was reached.
"I know why you have come," don Juan said in a mysterious tone. "I can't help you in your endeavor because there is no system of cueing."
"But how can all those persons agree about Mescalito's presence?"
''They agree because they see" don Juan said dramatically, and then added casually, "Why don't you attend another mitote and see for yourself?"
I felt that was a trap. I did not say anything, but put my notes away. He did not insist.
A while later he asked me to drive him to the house of one of his friends. We spent most of the day there.
During the course of a conversation his friend John asked me what bad become of my interest in peyote. John had provided the peyote buttons for my first experience nearly eight years before. I did not know what to say to him. Don Juan came to my aid and told John I was doing fine.
On our way back to don Juan's house I felt obliged to make a comment about John's question and I said, among other things, that I had no intention of learning any more about peyote, because it required a kind of courage I did not have; and that I had really meant it when I said I had quit. Don Juan smiled and did not say anything. I kept on talking until we got to the house.
We sat on the clean area in front of the door. It was a warm, clear day, but there was enough of a breeze in the late afternoon to make it pleasant.
"Why do you have to push so hard?" don Juan said suddenly. "How many years now have you been saying that you don't want to learn any more?"
"Three."
"Why are you so vehement about it?"
"I feel that I'm betraying you, don Juan. I think that's why I'm always talking about it."
"You're not betraying me."
"I have failed you. I have run away. I feel I am defeated."
"You do what you can. Besides, you haven't been defeated yet. What I have to teach you is very hard. I, for instance, found it perhaps even harder than you."
"But you kept at it, don Juan. My case is different. I gave up and I have come to see you not because I want to learn, but only because I wanted to ask you to clarify a point in my work."
Don Juan looked at me for a moment and then he looked away.
"You ought to let the smoke guide you again," he said forcefully.
"No, don Juan, I can't use your smoke any more. I think I have exhausted myself."
"You haven't begun."
"I am too afraid."
"So you're afraid. There is nothing new about being afraid. Don't think about your fear. Think about the wonders of seeing!"
"I sincerely wish I could think about those wonders, but I can't. When I think of your smoke I feel a sort of darkness coming upon me. It is as if there were no more people on the earth, no one to turn to. Your smoke has shown me the ultimate of loneliness, don Juan."
"That's not true. Take me, for example. The smoke is my ally and I don't feel such a loneliness."
16
"But you're different; you've conquered your fear."
Don Juan patted me gently on the shoulder.
"You're not afraid," he said softly. His voice carried a strange accusation.
"Am I lying about my fear, don Juan?"
"I'm not concerned with lies," he said severely. "I'm concerned with something else. The reason you don't want to learn is not because you're afraid. It's something else."
I vehemently urged him to tell me what it was. I pleaded with him, but he did not say anything; he just shook his head as if he could not believe I did not know it.
I told him that perhaps it was inertia which kept me from learning. He wanted to know the meaning of the word "inertia." I read to him from my dictionary: "The tendency of matter to remain at rest if at rest, or, if moving, to keep moving in the same direction, unless affected by some outside force."
" 'Unless affected by some outside force,'" he repeated. "That's about the best word you've found. I've told you already, only a crackpot would undertake the task of becoming a man of knowledge of his own accord. a sober-headed man has to be tricked into doing it."
"I'm sure there must be scores of people who would gladly undertake the task," I said.
"Yes, but those don't count. They are usually cracked. They are like gourds that look fine from the outside and yet they would leak the minute you put pressure on them, the minute you filled them with water.
"I had to trick you into learning once, tine same way my benefactor tricked me. Otherwise you wouldn't have learned as much as you did. Perhaps it's time to trick you again."
The tricking to which he was referring was one of the most crucial points of my apprenticeship. It had taken place years before, yet in my mind it was as vivid as if it had just happened. Through very artful manipulations don Juan had once forced me into a direct and terrifying confrontation with a woman reputed to be a sorceress.
The clash resulted in a profound animosity on her part Don Juan exploited my fear of the woman as motivation to continue with the apprenticeship, claiming that I had to learn more about sorcery in order to protect myself against her magical onslaughts. The end results of his "tricking" were so convincing that I sincerely felt I had no other recourse than to learn as much as possible if I wanted to stay alive.
"If you're planning to scare me again with that woman I simply won't come back any more," I said.
Don Juan's laughter was very joyous.
"Don't worry," he said reassuringly. "Tricks with fear won't work with you any more. You're no longer afraid. But if it is needed, you can be tricked wherever you are; you don't have to be around here for that."
He put his arms behind his head and lay down to sleep. I worked on my notes until he woke up a couple of hours later; it was almost dark then. Noticing that I was writing, he sat up straight and, smiling, asked me if I had written myself out of my problem.
May 23,1968
We were talking about Oaxaca. I told don Juan that once I had arrived in the city on a day when the market was open, a day when scores of Indians from all over the area flock to town to sell food and all kinds of trinkets.
I mentioned that I was particularly interested in a man who was selling medicinal plants. He carried a wooden kit in which he kept a number of small jars with dry, shredded plants, and he stood in the middle of the street holding one jar, yelling a very peculiar singsong.
"I bring here," he would say, "for fleas, flies, mosquitoes, and lice.
"Also for pigs, horses, goats, and cows.
"I have here for all the maladies of man.
"The mumps, the measles, rheumatism, and gout "I bring here for the heart, the liver, the stomach, and the loin.
"Come near, ladies and gentlemen.
"I bring here for fleas, flies, mosquitoes, and lice."
I had listened to him for a long time. His format consisted of enumerating a long list of man's diseases for which he claimed to have a cure; the device he used to give rhythm to his singsong was to pause after naming a
17
set of four.
Don Juan said that he also used to sell herbs in the market in Oaxaca when he was young. He said he still remembered his selling pitch and he yelled it for me. He said that he and his friend Vicente used to make concoctions.
"Those concoctions were really good," don Juan said. "My friend Vicente used to make great extracts of plants."
I told don Juan that once during one of my trips to Mexico I had met his friend Vicente. Don Juan seemed to be surprised and wanted to know more about it.
I was driving through Durango at that time and remembered that don Juan had once told me I should pay a visit to his friend, who lived there. I looked for him and found him, and talked to him for a while. Before I left he gave me a sack with some plants and a series of instructions for replanting one of them.
I stopped on my way to the town of Aguas Calientes. I made sure there were no people around. For at least ten minutes I had been watching the road and surrounding areas. There had not been any houses in sight, nor cattle grazing alongside the road. I stopped on the top of a small hill; from there I could see the road ahead and behind me. It was deserted in both directions as far into the distance as I could see. I waited for a few minutes to orient myself and to remember don Vicente's instructions. I took one of the plants, walked into a field of cacti on the east side of the road, and planted it as don Vicente had instructed me. I had with me a bottle of mineral water with which I intended to sprinkle the plant. I tried to open it by hitting the cap with the small iron bar I had used as a digging stick, but the bottle exploded and a glass sliver nicked my upper lip and made it bleed.
I walked back to my car to get another bottle of mineral water. As I was getting it out of my trunk a man driving a VW station wagon stopped and asked me if I needed help. I said that everything was all right and he drove away. I returned to water the plant and then I started back toward my car. When I was perhaps a hundred feet away I heard some voices. I hurried down a slope onto the highway and found three Mexicans at the car, two men and one woman. One of the men was sitting on the front bumper. He was perhaps in his late thirties, of medium height, with black curly hair. He was carrying a bundle on his back and was wearing old slacks and a worn-out pinkish shirt. His shoes were untied and perhaps too big for his feet; they seemed to be loose and uncomfortable. He was sweating profusely.
The other man was standing about twenty feet away from the car. He was small-boned and shorter than the other man, and his hair was straight and combed backwards. He carried a smaller bundle and was older, perhaps in his late forties. His clothes were in better condition. He had on a dark blue jacket, light blue slacks, and black shoes. He was not perspiring at all and seemed aloof, uninterested.
The woman appeared to be also in her forties. She was fat and had a very dark complexion. She wore black Capris, a white sweater, and black, pointed shoes. She did not carry a bundle, but was holding a portable transistor radio. She seemed to be very tired and her face was covered with beads of perspiration.
When I approached them the younger man and the woman accosted me. They wanted a ride. I told them I did not have any space in my car. I showed them that the back seat was loaded to capacity and there was really no room left. The man suggested that if I drove slow they could go perched on the back bumper, or lying across the front fender. I thought the idea was preposterous. Yet there was such an urgency in their plea that I felt very sad and ill at ease. I gave them some money for their bus fare.
The younger man took the bills and thanked me, but the older man turned his back disdainfully.
"I want transportation," he said. "I'm not interested in money."
Then he turned to me. "Can't you give us some food or water?" he asked.
I really had nothing to give them. They stood there looking at me for a moment and then they began to walk away.
I got into my car and tried to start the motor. The heat was very intense and the motor seemed to be flooded.
The younger man stopped when he heard the starter grinding and came back and stood behind my car ready to push it. I felt a tremendous apprehension. I was actually panting desperately. The motor finally ignited and I zoomed away.
18
After I had finished relating this, don Juan remained pensive for a long while.
"Why haven't you told me this before?" he said without looking at me.
I did not know what to say. I shrugged my shoulders and told him that I never thought it was important.
"It's damn important!" he said. "Vicente is a first-rate sorcerer. He gave you something to plant because he had his reasons; and if you encountered three people who seemed to have popped out of nowhere right after you had planted it, there was a reason for that too; but only a fool like you would disregard the incident and think it wasn't important."
He wanted to know exactly what had taken place when I paid don Vicente the visit.
I told him that I was driving across town and passed by the market; I got the idea then of looking for don Vicente. I walked into the market and went to the section for medicinal herbs. There were three stands in a row but they were run by three fat women. I walked to the end of the aisle and found another stand around the corner.
There I saw a thin, small-boned, white-haired man. He was at that moment selling a birdcage to a woman.
I waited around until he was by himself and then I asked him if he knew Vicente Medrano. He looked at me without answering.
"What do you want with that Vicente Medrano?" he finally said.
I told him I had come to pay him a visit on behalf of his friend, and gave him don Juan's name. The old man looked at me for an instant and then he said he was Vicente Medrano and was at my service. He asked me to sit down. He seemed to be pleased, very relaxed, and genuinely friendly. I told him about my friendship with don Juan, I felt that there was an immediate bond of sympathy between us. He told me he had known don Juan since they were in their twenties. Don Vicente had only words of praise for don Juan. Toward the end of our conversation he said in a vibrant tone: "Juan is a true man of knowledge. I myself have dwelled only briefly with plant powers. I was always interested in their curative properties; I have even collected botany books, which I sold only recently."
He remained silent for a moment; he rubbed his chin a couple of times. He seemed to be searching for a proper word.
"You may say that I am only a man of lyric knowledge," he said. "I'm not like Juan, my Indian brother."
Don Vicente was silent again for another moment. His eyes were glassy and were staring at the floor by my left side.
Then he turned to me and said almost in a whisper, "Oh, how high soars my Indian brother!"
Don Vicente got up. It seemed that our conversation was finished.
If anyone else had made a statement about an Indian brother I would have taken it for a cheap cliche. Don Vicente's tone, however, was so sincere and his eyes were so clear that he enraptured me with the image of his Indian brother soaring so high. And I believed he meant what he had said.
"Lyric knowledge, my eye!" don Juan exclaimed after I had recounted the whole story. "Vicente is a brujo.
Why did you go to see him?"
I reminded him that he himself had asked me to visit don Vicente, "That's absurd!" he exclaimed dramatically. "I said to you, some day, when you know how to see, you should pay a visit to my friend Vicente; that's what I said. Apparently you were not listening."
I argued that I could find no harm in having met don Vicente, that I was charmed by his manners and his kindness.
Don Juan shook his head from side to side and in a half-kidding tone expressed his bewilderment at what he called my "baffling good luck," He said that my visiting don Vicente was like walking into a lion's den armed with a twig. Don Juan seemed to be agitated, yet I could not see any reason for his concern. Don Vicente was a beautiful man. He seemed so frail; his strangely haunting eyes made him look almost ethereal. I asked don Juan how a beautiful person like that could be dangerous.
"You're a damn fool," he said and looked stern for a moment "He won't cause you any harm by himself. But knowledge is power, and once a man embarks on the road of knowledge he's no longer liable for what may happen to those who come in contact with him. You should have paid him a visit when you knew enough to
19
defend yourself; not from him, but from the power he has harnessed, which, by the way, is not his or anybody else's. Upon hearing that you were my friend, Vicente assumed that you knew how to protect yourself and then made you a gift. He apparently liked you and must have made you a great gift, and you chucked it. What a pity!"
May 24,1968
I had been pestering don Juan all day to tell me about don Vicente's gift. I had pointed out to him in various ways that he had to consider our differences; I said that what was self-explanatory for him might be totally incomprehensible for me.
"How many plants did he give you?" he finally asked, I said four, but I actually could not remember. Then don Juan wanted to know exactly what had taken place after I left don Vicente and before I stopped on the side of the road. But I could not remember either.
"The number of plants is important and so is the order of events," he said. "How can I tell you what his gift was if you don't remember what happened?"
I struggled unsuccessfully to visualize the sequence of events.
"If you would remember everything that happened," he said, "I could at least tell you how you chucked your gift."
Don Juan seemed to be very disturbed. He urged me impatiently to recollect, but my memory was almost a total blank.
"What do you think I did wrong, don Juan?" I said, just to continue the conversation.
"Everything."
"But I followed don Vicente's instructions to the letter."
"So what? Don't you understand that to follow his instructions was meaningless?"
"Why?"
"Because those instructions were designed for someone who could see, not for an idiot who got out with his life just by sheer luck. You went to see Vicente without preparation. He liked you and gave you a gift. And that gift could easily have cost you your life."
"But why did he give me something so serious? If he's a sorcerer he should've known that I don't know anything."
"No, he couldn't have seen that. You look as though you know, but you don't know much really."
I said I was sincerely convinced that I had never misrepresented myself, at least not deliberately.
"I didn't mean that," he said. "If you were putting on airs Vicente could've seen through you. This is something worse than putting on airs. When I see you, you look to me as if you know a great deal, and yet I myself know that you don't."
"What do I seem to know, don Juan?"
"Secrets of power, of course; a brujo's knowledge. So when Vicente saw you he made you a gift and you acted toward it the way a dog acts toward food when his belly is full. A dog pisses on food when he doesn't want to eat any more, so other dogs won't eat it. You did that on the gift. Now we'll never know what really took place.
You have lost a great deal. What a waste!"
He was quiet for some time; then he shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
"It's useless to complain," he said, "and yet it's so difficult not to. Gifts of power happen so rarely in one's life; they are unique and precious. Take me, for instance; nobody has ever made me such a gift. There are few people, to my knowledge, who ever had one. To waste something so unique is a shame."
"I see what you mean, don Juan," I said. "Is there anything I can do now to salvage the gift?"
He laughed and repeated several times, "To salvage the gift."
"That sounds nice," he said. "I like that. Yet there isn't anything one can do to salvage your gift."
May 25,1968
Don Juan spent nearly all his time today showing me how to assemble trapping devices for small animals.
We had been cutting and cleaning branches nearly all morning. There were many questions in my mind. I had to talk to him while we worked, but he had made a joke and said that of the two of us only I could move my hands and my mouth at the same time. We finally sat down to rest and I blurted out a question.
"What's it like to see, don Juan?"
"You have to learn to see in order to know that. I can't tell you."
"Is it a secret I shouldn't know?"
"No. It's just that I can't describe it."
"Why?"
"It wouldn't make sense to you."
"Try me, don Juan. Maybe it'll make sense to me."
"No. You must do it yourself. Once you learn, you can see every single thing in the world in a different way."
"Then, don Juan, you don't see the world in the usual way any more."
"I see both ways. When I want to look at the world I see it the way you do. Then when I want to see it I look at it the way I know and I perceive it in a different way."

page 43 (like in the paper book)
"Do things look consistently the same every time you see them?"
"Things don't change. You change your way of looking, that's all"
"I mean, don Juan, that if you see, for instance, the same tree, does it remain the same every time you see it?"
"No. It changes and yet it's the same."
"But if the same tree changes every time you see it, your seeing may be a mere illusion."
He laughed and did not answer for some time, but seemed to be thinking. Finally he said: "Whenever you look at things you don't see them. You just look at them, I suppose, to make sure, that something is there. Since you're not concerned with Seeing, things look very much the same every time you look at them. When you learn to See, on the other hand, a thing is never the same every time you see it, and yet it is the same. I told you, for instance, that a human is like an egg. Every time 
I see the same human I see an egg, yet it is not the same egg."
"But you won't be able to recognize anything, since nothing is the same; so what's the advantage of learning to see?"
"You can tell things apart. You can see them for what they really are."
"Don't I see things as they really are?"
"No. Your eyes have learned only to look. Take, for example, the three people you encountered, the three Mexicans. You have described them in detail, and even told me what clothes they wore. And that only proved to me, that you didn't See them at all. If you were capable of Seeing, you would have known on the spot, that they were not people."
"They were not people? What were they?"
"They were not people, that's all."
"But that's impossible. They were just like you and me."
"No, they were not. I'm sure of it." I asked him if they were ghosts, spirits, or the souls of dead people. His reply was, that he did not know what ghosts, spirits, and souls were. I translated for him the Webster's New World Dictionary definition of the word ghosts:
44
 "The supposed disembodied spirit of a dead person, conceived of as appearing to the living as a pale, shadowy apparition." And then the definition of spirit: "A supernatural being, especially one thought of... as a ghost, or as inhabiting a certain region, being of a certain (good or evil) character."
He said they could perhaps be called spirits, although the definition I had read was not quite adequate to describe them.
"Are they guardians of some sort?" I asked.
"No. They don't guard anything."
"Are they overseers? Are they watching over us?"
"They are forces, neither good nor bad, just forces that a brujo (a man of knowledge) learns to harness."
"Are they the allies, don Juan?"
"Yes, they are the allies of a man of knowledge."
This was the first time in eight years of our association, that don Juan had come close to defining an "ally." I must have asked him to do so dozens of times. He usually disregarded my question, saying that I knew what an ally was and that it was stupid to voice what I already knew. Don Juan's direct statement about the nature of an ally was a novelty and I was compelled to probe him.
"You told me the allies were in the plants," I said, "in the jimson weed and in the mushrooms."
"I've never told you that," he said with great conviction. "You always jump to your own conclusions."
"But I wrote it down in my notes, don Juan."
"You may write whatever you want, but don't tell me I said that."
I reminded him, that he had at first told me his benefactor's ally was the jimson weed and his own ally was the little smoke; and that he had later clarified it by saying, that the ally was contained in each plant.
"No. That's not correct," he said, frowning. "My ally is the little smoke, but that doesn't mean, that my ally is in the smoking mixture, or in the mushrooms, or in my pipe. They all have to be put together to get me to the ally, and that ally I call little smoke for reasons of my own."
45
Don Juan said that the three people I had seen, whom he called "those who are not people"—los que no son gente—were in reality don Vicente's allies. I reminded him that he had established, that the difference between an ally and Mescalito was that an ally could not be seen, while one could easily see Mescalito.
We involved ourselves in a long discussion then. He said, that he had established the idea, that an ally could not be seen because an ally adopted any form. When I pointed out, that he had once also said that Mescalito adopted any form, don Juan dropped the whole conversation, saying that the "seeing" to which he was referring was not like ordinary "looking at things" and that my confusion stemmed from my insistence on talking. Hours later don Juan himself started back again on the topic of the allies. I had felt he was somehow annoyed by my questions so I had not pressed him any further. He was showing me then how to make a trap for rabbits; I had to hold a long stick and bend it as far as possible so he could tie a string around the ends. The stick was fairly thin but still demanded considerable strength to bend. My head and arms were shivering with the exertion and I was nearly exhausted when he finally tied the string. We sat down and began to talk. 
He said it was obvious to him, that I could not comprehend anything, unless I talked about it, and that he did not mind my questions and was going to tell me about the allies.
"The ally is not in the smoke," he said. "The smoke takes you to where the ally is, and when you become one with the ally you don't ever have to smoke again. From then on you can summon your ally at will and make him do anything you want.
The allies are neither good nor evil, but are put to use by the sorcerers for whatever purpose they see fit. I like the little smoke as an ally, because it doesn't demand much of me. It's constant and fair."
"How does an ally look to you, don Juan? Those three people I saw, for instance, who looked like ordinary people to me; how would they look to you?"
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"They would look like ordinary people."
"Then how can you tell them apart from real people?"
"Real people look like luminous eggs when you see them. Non-people always look like people. That's what I meant when I said you cannot see an ally. The allies take different forms. They look like dogs, coyotes, birds, even tumbleweeds, or anything else. The only difference is, that when you See them, they look just like what they're pretending to be. Everything has its own way of being, when you see. Just like men look like eggs, other things look like something else, but the allies can be seen only in the form they are portraying. That form is good enough to fool the eyes, our eyes, that is. A dog is never fooled, neither is a crow."



"Why would they want to fool us?"
"I think we are all clowns. We fool ourselves. The allies just take the outward appearance of whatever is around and then we take them for what they are not. It is not their fault that we have taught our eyes only to look at things."
"I'm not clear about their function, don Juan. What do allies do in the world?"
"This is like asking me what we men do in the world. I really don't know. We are here, that's all. And the allies are here like us; and maybe they have been here before us."
"What do you mean before us, don Juan?"
"We men have not always been here."
"Do you mean here in this country or here in the world?"
We involved ourselves in another long argument at this point. Don Juan said, that for him there was only the world, the place where he put his feet. I asked him how he knew that we had not always been in the world.
"Very simple," he said. "We men know very little about the world. A coyote knows much more than we do.
A coyote is hardly ever fooled by the world's appearance."
"How come we can catch them and kill them?" I asked. "If they are not fooled by appearances how come
they die so easily?"
Don Juan stared at me until I became embarrassed.
"We may trap or poison or shoot a coyote," he said. "Any way we do it a coyote is an easy prey for us
because he is not familiar with man's machinations.
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If the coyote survived, however, you could rest assured that
we'd never catch up with him again. A good hunter knows that and never sets his trap twice on the same spot,
because if a coyote dies in a trap, every coyote can see his death, which lingers on, and thus they will avoid the
trap or even the general area where it was set. We, on the other hand, never see death, which lingers on the spot
where one of our fellow men has died; we may suspect it, but we never see it."
"Can a coyote see an ally?"
"Certainly."
"How does an ally look to a coyote?"
"I would have to be a coyote to know that. I can tell you, however, that to a crow it looks like a pointed hat. Round and wide at the bottom, ending in a long point. Some of them shine, but the majority are dull and appearto be very heavy. They resemble a dripping piece of cloth. They are foreboding shapes."
"How do they look to you when you see them, don Juan?"
"I've told you already; they look like whatever they're pretending to be. They take any shape or size that suits them. They could be shaped like a pebble or a mountain."
"Do they talk, or laugh, or make any noise?"
"In the company of men they behave like men. In the company of animals they behave like animals. Animals are usually afraid of them; however, if they are accustomed to seeing the allies, they leave them alone. We ourselves do something similar. We have scores of allies among us, but we don't bother them. Since our eyes can only look at things, we don't notice them."
"Do you mean that some of the people I see in the street are not really people?" I asked, truly bewildered by his statement.
"Some of them are not," he said emphatically. His statement seemed preposterous to me, yet I could not seriously conceive of don Juan's making such a remark purely for effect I told him it sounded like a science-fiction tale about beings from another planet. He said he did not care how it sounded, but some people in the streets were not people.
"Why must you think, that every person in a moving crowd is a human being?" he asked with an air of utmost seriousness. 
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I really could not explain why, except, that I was habituated to believe, that as an act of sheer faith on my part.
He went on to say how much he liked to watch busy places with a lot of people, and how he would sometimes see a crowd of men, who looked like eggs, and among the mass of egg-like creatures he would spot one, who looked just tike a person.
"It's very enjoyable to do that," he said, laughing, "or at least it's enjoyable for me. I like to sit in parks and bus depots and watch. Sometimes I can spot an ally right away; at other times I can see only real people. Once I saw two allies sitting in a bus, side by side. That's the only time in my life I have seen two together."
"Did it have a special significance for you to see two of them?"
"Certainly. Anything they do is significant. From their actions a brujo can sometimes draw his power. Even if a brujo does not have an ally of his own, as long as he knows how to see, he can handle power by watching the acts of the allies. 
My benefactor taught me to do that, and for years before I had my own ally I watched for allies 
among crowds of people and every time I saw one it taught me something. You found three together. What a magnificent lesson you wasted."
He did not say anything else until we finished assembling the rabbit trap. Then he turned to me and said suddenly, as if he had just remembered it, that another important thing about the allies was that if one found two of them they were always two of the same kind. The two allies he saw were two men, he said; and since I had seen two men and one woman he concluded, that my experience was even more unusual.
I asked if the allies portray children; if the children could be of the same or of different sex; if the allies portrayed people of different races; if they could portray a family composed of a man, a woman, and a child; and finally I asked him if he had ever seen an ally driving a car or a bus. Don Juan did not answer at all. He smiled and let me do the talking. When he heard my last question he burst out laughing and said that I was being careless with my questions, 
49
that it would have been more appropriate to ask if he had ever seen an ally driving a motor vehicle.
"You don't want to forget the motorcycles, do you?" he said with a mischievous glint in his eye. I thought his making fun of my question was funny and lighthearted and I laughed with him. Then he explained, that the allies could not take the lead or act upon anything directly; they could, however, act upon man in an indirect way. Don Juan said that coming in contact with an ally was dangerous because the ally was capable of bringing out the worst in a person. The apprenticeship was long and arduous, he said, because one had to reduce to a minimum all that was unnecessary in one's life, in order to withstand the impact of such an encounter. Don Juan said that his benefactor, when he first came in contact with an ally, was driven to burn himself and was scarred as if a mountain lion had mauled him. In his own case, he said, an ally pushed him into a pile of burning wood, and he burned himself a little on the knee and shoulder blade, but the scars disappeared in
time, when he became one with the ally.
On June 10, 1968, I started on a long journey with don Juan to participate in a mitote. I had been waiting for this opportunity for months, yet I was not really sure I wanted to go. I thought my hesitation was due to my fear that at a peyote meeting I would have to ingest peyote, and I had no intention whatsoever of doing that. I had repeatedly expressed those feelings to don Juan. He laughed patiently at first, but finally he firmly stated that he did not want to hear one more thing about my fear.
As far as I was concerned, a mitote was ideal ground for me to verify the schemata I had constructed. For one thing, I had never completely abandoned the idea that a covert leader was necessary at such a meeting in order to insure agreement among the participants. Somehow I had the feeling that don Juan had discarded my idea for reasons of his own, since he deemed it more efficacious to explain everything that took place at a mitote in terms of "seeing." I thought that my interest in finding a suitable explanation in my own terms was not in accordance with what he himself wanted me to do; therefore he had to discard my rationale, as he was accustomed to doing with whatever did not conform to his system.
Right before we started on the journey don Juan eased my apprehension about having to ingest peyote by telling me that I was attending the meeting only to watch. I felt elated. At that tune I was almost certain I was going to discover the covert procedure by which the participants arrive at an agreement.
It was late afternoon when we left; the sun was almost on the horizon; I felt it on my neck and wished I had a Venetian blind in the rear window of my car. From the top of a hill I could see down into a huge valley; the road was like a black ribbon laid flat over the ground, up and down innumerable hills. I followed it with my eyes for a moment before we began descending; it ran due south until it disappeared over a range of low mountains in the distance.
Don Juan sat quietly, looking straight ahead. We had not said a word for a long time. It was uncomfortably warm inside the car. I had opened all the windows, but that did not help because it was an extremely hot day. I felt very annoyed and restless. I began to complain about the heat.
Don Juan frowned and looked at me quizzically.
"It's hot all over Mexico this time of the year," he said. "There is nothing one can do about it."
I did not look at him, but I knew he was gazing at me. The car picked up speed going down the slope. I vaguely saw a highway sign, Vado—dip. When I actually saw the dip I was going quite fast, and although I did slow down, we still felt the impact and bobbed up and down on the seats. I reduced the speed considerably; we were going through an area where livestock grazed freely on the sides of the road, an area where the carcass of a horse or a cow run down by a car was a common sight. At a certain point I had to stop completely and let some horses cross the highway. I was getting more restless and annoyed. I told don Juan that it was the heat; I said that I had always disliked the heat since my childhood, because every summer I used to feel suffocated and I could hardly breathe.
"You're not a child now," he said.
"The heat still suffocates me."
"Well, hunger used to suffocate me when I was a child," he said softly. "To be very hungry was the only thing I knew as a child, and I used to swell up until I could not breathe either. But that was when I was a child. I cannot suffocate now, neither can I swell like a toad when I am hungry."
I didn't know what to say. I felt I was getting myself into an untenable position and soon I would have to defend a point I really didn't care to defend. The heat was not that bad. What disturbed me was the prospect of driving for over a thousand miles to our destination. I felt annoyed at the thought of having to exert myself.
"Let's stop and get something to eat," I said. "Maybe it won't be so hot once the sun goes down."
Don Juan looked at me, smiling, and said that there were not any clean towns for a long stretch and that he had understood my policy was not to eat from the stands on the roadside.
"Don't you fear diarrhea any more?" he asked.
I knew he was being sarcastic, yet he kept an inquisitive and at the same time serious look on his face.
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"The way you act," he said, "one would think that diarrhea is lurking out there, waiting for you to step out of the car to jump you. You're in a terrible fix; if you escape the heat, diarrhea will eventually get you."
Don Juan's tone was so serious that I began to laugh. Then we drove in silence for a long time. When we arrived at a highway stop for trucks called Los Vidrios— Glass—it was already quite dark.
Don Juan shouted from the car, "What do you have to eat today?"
"Pork meat," a woman shouted back from inside.
"I hope for your sake that the pig was run down on the road today," don Juan said to me, laughing.
We got out of the car. The road was flanked on both sides by ranges of low mountains that seemed to be the solidified lava of some gigantic volcanic eruption. In the darkness the black, jagged peaks were silhouetted against the sky like huge menacing walls of glass slivers.
While we ate I told don Juan that I could see the reason why the place was called Glass. I said that to me the name was obviously due to the glass-sliver shape of the mountains.
Don Juan said in a convincing tone that the place was called Los Vidrios because a truck loaded with glass had overturned on that spot and the glass shreds were left lying around the road for years.
I felt he was being facetious and asked him to tell me if that was the real reason.
"Why don't you ask someone here?" he said.
I asked a man who was sitting at a table next to ours; he said apologetically that he didn't know. I went into the kitchen and asked the women there if they knew, but they all said they didn't; that the place was just called Glass.
"I believe I'm right," don Juan said in a low voice. "Mexicans are not given to noticing things around them.
I'm sure they can't see the glass mountains, but they surely can leave a mountain of glass shreds lying around for years."
We both found the image funny and laughed.
When we had finished eating don Juan asked me how I felt. I told him fine, but I really felt somewhat queasy. Don Juan gave me a steadfast look and seemed to detect my feeling of discomfort.
"Once you decided to come to Mexico you should have put all your petty fears away," he said very sternly.
"Your decision to come should have vanquished them. You came because you wanted to come. That's the warrior's way. I have told you time and time again, the most effective way to live is as a warrior. Worry and think before you make any decision, but once you make it, be on your way free from worries or thoughts; there will be a million other decisions still awaiting you. That's the warrior's way."
"I believe I do that, don Juan, at least some of the time. It's very hard to keep on reminding myself, though."
"A warrior thinks of his death when things become unclear."
"That's even harder, don Juan. For most people death is very vague and remote. We never think of it."
"Why not?"
"Why should we?"
"Very simple," he said. "Because the idea of death is the only thing that tempers our spirit."
By the time we left Los Vidrios it was so dark that the jagged silhouette of the mountains had emerged into the darkness of the sky. We drove in silence for more than an hour. I felt tired. It was as though I didn't want to talk because there was nothing to talk about. The traffic was minimal. Few cars passed by from the opposite direction. It seemed as if we were the only people going south on the highway. I thought that was strange and I kept on looking in the rear-view mirror to see if there were other cars coming from behind, but there were none.
After a while I stopped looking for cars and began to dwell again on the prospect of our trip. Then I noticed that my headlights seemed extremely bright in contrast with the darkness all around and I looked again in the rear-view mirror. I saw a bright glare first and then two points of light that seemed to have emerged from the ground. They were the headlights of a car on a hilltop in the distance behind us. They remained visible for a while, then they disappeared into the darkness as if they had been scooped away; after a moment they appeared on another hilltop, and then they disappeared again. I followed their appearances and disappearances in the mirror for a long time. At one point it occurred to me that the car was gaining on us. It was definitely closing in.
26
The lights were bigger and brighter. I deliberately stepped on the gas pedal. I had a sensation of uneasiness. Don Juan seemed to notice my concern, or perhaps he was only noticing that I was speeding up. He looked at me first, then he turned around and looked at the distant headlights.
He asked me if there was something wrong with me. I told him that I had not seen any cars behind us for hours and that suddenly I had noticed the lights of a car that seemed to be gaining on us all the time.
He chuckled and asked me if I really thought it was a car. I told him that it had to be a car and he said that my concern revealed to him that, somehow, I must have felt that whatever was behind us was something more than a mere car. I insisted that I thought it was just another car on the highway, or perhaps a truck.
"What else can it be?" I said loudly.
Don Juan's probing had put me on edge.
He turned and looked straight at me, then he nodded slowly, as if measuring what he was going to say.
"Those are the lights on the head of death," he said softly. "Death puts them on like a hat and then shoots off on a gallop. Those are the lights of death on the gallop gaining on us, getting closer and closer."
A chill ran up my back. After a while I looked in the rear-view mirror again, but the lights were not there any more.
I told don Juan that the car must have stopped or turned off the road. He did not look back; he just stretched his arms and yawned.
"No," he said. "Death never stops. Sometimes it turns off its lights, that's all."
We arrived in northeastern Mexico June 13. Two old Indian women, who looked alike and seemed to be sisters, and four girls were gathered at the door of a small adobe house. There was a hut behind the house and a dilapidated barn that had only part of its roof and one wall left. The women were apparently waiting for us; they must have spotted my car by the dust it raised on the dirt road after I left the paved highway a couple of miles away. The house was in a deep valley, and viewed from the door the highway looked like a long scar high up on the side of the green hills.
Don Juan got out of the car and talked with the old women for a moment. They pointed to some wooden stools in front of the door. Don Juan signaled me to come over and sit down. One of the old women sat with us;
the rest went inside the house. Two of the girls remained by the door, examining me with curiosity. I waved at them; they giggled and ran inside. After a few minutes two young men came over and greeted don Juan. They did not speak to me or even look at me. They talked to don Juan briefly; then he got up and all of us, including the women, Walked to another house, perhaps half a mile away.
We met there with another group of people. Don Juan went inside but told me to stay by the door. I looked in and saw an old Indian man around don Juan's age sitting on a wooden stool.
It was not quite dark. A group of young Indian men and women were standing quietly around an old truck parked in front of the house. I talked to them in Spanish but they deliberately avoided answering me; the women giggled every time I said something and the men smiled politely and turned their eyes away. It was as if they did not understand me, yet I was sure all of them spoke Spanish because I had heard them talking among themselves.
After a while don Juan and the other old man came out and got into the truck and sat next to the driver. That appeared to be a signal for everyone to climb onto the flatbed of the truck. There were no side railings, and when the truck began to move we all hung onto a long rope that was tied to some hooks on the chassis.
The truck moved slowly on the dirt road. At one point, on a very steep slope, it stopped and everybody jumped down and walked behind it; then two young men hopped onto the flatbed again and sat on the edge without using the rope. The women laughed and encouraged them to maintain their precarious position. Don Juan and the old man, who was referred to as don Silvio, walked together and did not seem to be concerned with the young men's histrionics. When the road leveled off everybody got on the track again.
We rode for about an hour. The floor was extremely hard and uncomfortable, so I stood up and held onto the roof of the cab and rode that way until we stopped in front of a group of shacks. There were more people there; it was very dark by then and I could see only a few of them in the dim, yellowish light of a kerosene lantern that hung by an open door.
27
Everybody got off the truck and mingled with the people in the houses. Don Juan told me again to stay outside. I leaned against the front fender of the truck and after a minute or two I was joined by three young men. I had met one of them four years before at a previous mitote. He embraced me by grabbing my forearms.
"You're fine," he whispered to me in Spanish.
We stayed very quietly by the truck. It was a warm, windy night. I could hear the soft rumble of a stream close by. My friend asked me in a whisper if I had any cigarettes. I passed a pack around. By the glow of the cigarettes I looked at my watch. It was nine o'clock.
A group of people emerged from inside the house soon afterwards and the three young men walked away.
Don Juan came over to me and told me that he had explained my presence to everybody's satisfaction and that I was welcome to come and serve water at the mitote. He said we would be going right away.
A group of ten women and eleven men left the house. The man heading the party was rather husky; he was per-haps in his mid-fifties. They called him "Mocho," a nickname which means "cropped." He moved with brisk, firm steps. He carried a kerosene lantern and waved it from side to side as he walked. At first I thought he was moving it at random, but then I discovered that he waved the lantern to mark an obstacle or a difficult pass on the road. We walked for over an hour. The women chatted and laughed softly from time to time. Don Juan and the other old man were at the head of the line; I was at the very tail end of it. I kept my eyes down on the road, trying to see where I was walking.
It had been four years since don Juan and I had been in the hills at night, and I had lost a great deal of physical prowess. I kept stumbling and involuntarily kicking small rocks. My knees did not have any flexibility;
the road seemed to come up at me when I encountered a high spot, or it seemed to give in under me when I hit a low spot. I was the noisiest walker and that made me into an unwilling clown. Someone in the group said, "Woo," every time I stumbled and everyone laughed. At one point, one of the rocks I kicked hit a woman's heel and she said out loud, to everyone's delight, "Give a candle to that poor boy!" But the final mortification was when I tripped and had to hold onto the person in front of me; he nearly lost his balance with my weight on him and let out a deliberate scream that was out of all proportion. Everyone laughed so hard that the whole group had to stop for a while.
At a certain moment the man who was leading jerked his lantern up and down. It seemed that was the sign we had arrived at our destination. There was a dark silhouette of a low house to my right, a short distance away.
Everyone in the group scrambled in different directions. I looked for don Juan. It was difficult to find him in the darkness. I stumbled noisily for a while before noticing that he was sitting on a rock.
He again told me that my duty was to bring water for the men who were going to participate. He had taught me the procedure years before. I remembered every detail of it but he insisted on refreshing my memory and showed me again how to do it.
Afterwards we walked to the back of the house where all the men had gathered. They had built a fire. There was a cleared area covered with straw mats perhaps fifteen feet away from the fire. Mocho, the man who had led us, sat on a mat first; I noticed that the upper edge of his left ear was missing, which accounted for his nickname.
Don Silvio sat to his right and don Juan to his left. Mocho was sitting facing the fire. A young man advanced toward him and placed a flat basket with peyote buttons in front of him; then the young man sat down between Mocho and don Silvio. Another young man carried two small baskets and placed them next to the peyote buttons and then sat between Mocho and don Juan. Then two other young men flanked don Silvio and don Juan, closing a circle of seven persons. The women remained inside the house. Two young men were in charge of keeping the fire burning all night, and one teenager and I kept the water that was going to be given to the seven participants after their all-night ritual. The boy and I sat by a rock. The fire and the receptacle with water were opposite each other and at an equal distance from the circle of participants.
Mocho, the headman, sang his peyote song; his eyes were closed; his body bobbed up and down. It was a very long song. I did not understand the language. Then all of them, one by one, sang their peyote songs. They did not seem to follow any preconceived order. They apparently sang whenever they felt like doing it. Then Mocho held the basket with peyote buttons, took two of them, and placed it back again in the center of the circle;
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don Silvio was nest and then don Juan. The four young men, who seemed to be a separate unit, took two peyote buttons each, following a counter-clockwise direction.
Each of the seven participants sang and ate two peyote buttons four consecutive times, then they passed the other two baskets, which contained dried fruit and meat.
They repeated this cycle at various times during the night, yet I could not detect any underlying order to their individual movements. They did not speak to one another; they seemed rather to be by themselves and to themselves. I did not see any of them, not even once, paying attention to what the other men were doing.
Before daybreak they got up and the young man and I gave them water. Afterwards I walked around to orient myself. The house was a one-room shack, a low adobe construction with a thatched roof. The scenery that surrounded it was quite oppressive. The shack was located in a harsh plain with mixed vegetation. Shrubs and cacti grew together, but there were no trees at all. I did not feel like venturing beyond the house.
The women left during the morning. The men moved silently in the area immediately surrounding the house.
Around midday all of us sat down again in the same order we had sat the night before. A basket with pieces of dried meat cut to the same size as a peyote button was passed around. Some of the men sang their peyote songs.
After an hour or so all of them stood up and went off in different directions.
The women had left a pot of gruel for the fire and water attendants. I ate some of it and then I slept most of the afternoon.
After dark the young men in charge of the fire built another one and the cycle of intaking peyote buttons began again. It followed roughly the same order as the preceding night, ending at daybreak.
During the course of the night I struggled to observe and record every single movement performed by each of the seven participants, in hopes of discovering the slightest form of a detectable system of verbal or nonverbal communication among them. There was nothing in their actions, however, that revealed an underlying system.
In the early evening the cycle of intaking peyote was renewed. By morning I knew that I had completely failed to find clues that would point out the covert leader, or to discover any form of covert communication among them or any traces of their system of agreement. For the rest of the day I sat by myself and tried to arrange my notes.
When the men gathered again for the fourth night I knew somehow that this was to be the last meeting. Nobody had mentioned anything about it to me, yet I knew they would disband the next day. I sat by the water again and everyone else resumed his position in the order that had already been established.
The behavior of the seven men in the circle was a replica of what I had observed during the three previous nights. I became absorbed in their movements as I had done before. I wanted to record everything they did, every movement, every utterance, every gesture.
At a certain moment I heard a sort of beep in my ear; it was a common sort of buzzing in the ear and I did not pay attention to it. The beep became louder, yet it was still within the range of my ordinary bodily sensations. I remembered dividing my attention between watching the men and listening to the buzzing I was hearing. Then, at a given instant, the faces of the men seemed to become brighter; it was as if a light had been turned on. But it was not quite like an electric light, or a lantern, or the reflection of the fire on their faces. It was rather an iridescence;
a pink luminosity, very tenuous, yet detectable from where I was. The buzzing seemed to increase. I looked at the teenage boy who was with me but he had fallen asleep.
The pink luminosity became more noticeable by then. I looked at don Juan; his eyes were closed; so were don Silvio's and so were Mocho's. I could not see the eyes of the four younger men because two of them were bent forward and the other two had their backs turned to me.
I became even more involved in watching. Yet I had not fully realized that I was actually hearing a buzzing and was actually seeing a pinkish glow hovering over the men. After a moment I became aware that the tenuous pink light and the buzzing were very steady, I had a moment of intense bewilderment and then a thought crossed my mind, a thought that had nothing to do with the scene I was witnessing, nor with the purpose I had in mind for being there. I remembered something my mother had told me once when I was a child. The thought was distracting and very inappropriate; I tried to discard it and involve myself again in my assiduous watching, but I 29
could not do it. The thought recurred; it was stronger, more demanding, and then I clearly heard my mother's voice calling me. I heard the shuffling of her slippers and then her laughter. I turned around looking for her; I conceived that I was going to be transported in time by some sort of hallucination or mirage and I was going to see her, but I saw only the boy sleeping beside me. To see him jolted me and I experienced a brief moment of ease, of sobriety.
I looked again at the group of men. They had not changed their positions at all. However, the luminosity was gone, and so was the buzzing in my ears. I felt relieved. I thought that the hallucination of hearing my mother's voice was over. Her voice had been so clear and vivid. I said to myself over and over that for an instant the voice had almost trapped me. I noticed vaguely that don Juan was looking at me, but that did not matter. It was the memory of my mother's voice calling me that was mesmerizing. I struggled desperately to think about something else. And then I heard her voice again, as clearly as if she had been behind me. She called my name. I turned quickly, but all I saw was the dark silhouette of the shack and the shrubs beyond it.
Hearing my name caused me the most profound anguish. I whined involuntarily. I felt cold and very lonely and I began to weep. At that moment I had the sensation that I needed someone to care for me. I turned my head to look at don Juan; he was staring at me. I did not want to see him so I closed my eyes. And then I saw my mother. It was not the thought of my mother, the way I think of her ordinarily. This was a clear vision of her, standing by me. I felt desperate. I was trembling and wanted to escape. The vision of my mother was too disturbing, too alien to what I was pursuing in that peyote meeting. There was apparently no conscious way to avoid it. Perhaps I could have opened my eyes if I really wanted the vision to vanish, but instead I examined it in detail. My examination was more than merely looking at her; it was a compulsive scrutiny and assessment. a very peculiar feeling enveloped me as if it were an outside force, and I suddenly felt the horrendous burden of my mother's love. When I heard my name I was torn apart; the memory of my mother filled me with anguish and melancholy, but when I examined her I knew that I had never liked her. This was a shocking realization.
Thoughts and images came to me as an avalanche. The vision of my mother must have vanished in the meantime;
it was no longer important. I was no longer interested in what the Indians were doing either. In fact I had forgotten the mitote. I was absorbed in a series of extraordinary thoughts, extraordinary because they were more than thoughts; these were complete units of feeling that were emotional certainties, indisputable evidences about the nature of my relationship with my mother.
At a certain moment these extraordinary thoughts ceased to come. I noticed that they had lost their fluidity and their quality of being complete units of feeling. I had begun to think about other things. My mind was rambling. I thought of other members of my immediate family, but there were no images to accompany my thoughts. Then I looked at don Juan. He was standing; the rest of the men were also standing, and then they all walked toward the water. I moved aside and nudged the boy who was still asleep.
I related to don Juan the sequence of my astounding vision almost as soon as he got into my car. He laughed with great delight and said that my vision was a sign, an omen as important as my first experience with Mescalito.
I remembered that don Juan had interpreted the reactions I had when I first ingested peyote as an allimportant omen; in fact he decided to teach me his knowledge because of it.
Don Juan said that during the last night of the mitote Mescalito had hovered over me so obviously that everyone was forced to turn toward me, and that was why he was staring at me when I looked at him.
I wanted to hear his interpretation of my vision, but he did not want to talk about it. He said that whatever I had experienced was nonsense in comparison to the omen.
Don Juan kept on talking about Mescalito's light hovering over me and how everyone had seen it.
"That was really something," he said. "I couldn't possibly ask for a better omen."
Don Juan and I were obviously on two different avenues of thought. He was concerned with the importance of the events he had interpreted as an omen and I was obsessed with the details of the vision I had had.
"I don't care about omens," I said. "I want to know what happened to me."
He frowned as if he were upset and remained very stiff and quiet for a moment. Then he looked at me. His
30
tone was very forceful. He said that the only important issue was that Mescalito had been very gentle with me, had engulfed me with his light and had given me a lesson with no other effort on my part than being around.
31
4
On September 4, 1968, I went to Sonora to visit don Juan. Following a request he had made during my previous visit to him, I stopped on the way, in Hermosillo, to buy him a noncommercial tequila called bacanora. His request seemed very odd to me at the time, since I knew he disliked drinking, but I bought four bottles and put them in a box along with other things I had brought for him.
"Why, you got four bottles!" he said, laughing, when he opened the box. "I asked you to buy me one. I believe you thought the bacanora was for me, but it's for my grandson Lucio, and you have to give it to him as though it's a personal gift of your own."
I had met don Juan's grandson two years before; he was twenty-eight years old then. He was very tall, over six feet, and was always extravagantly well dressed for his means and in comparison to his peers. While the majority of Yaquis wear khakis and Levis, straw hats, and homemade sandals called guaraches, Lucio's outfit was an expensive black leather jacket with frills of turquoise beads, a Texan cowboy hat, and a pair of boots that were monogrammed and hand decorated.
Lucio was delighted to receive the liquor and immediately took the bottles inside his house, apparently to put them away. Don Juan made a casual comment that one should never hoard liquor and drink alone. Lucio said he was not really hoarding, but was putting it away until that evening, at which time he was going to invite his friends to drink with him.
That evening around seven o'clock I returned to Lucio's place. It was dark. I made out the vague silhouette of two people standing under a small tree; it was Lucio and one of his friends, who were waiting for me and guided me to the house with a flashlight.
Lucio's house was a flimsy, two-room, dirt-floor, wattle-and-daub construction. It was perhaps twenty feet long and supported by relatively thin beams of the mesquite tree. It had, as all the houses of the Yaquis have, a flat, thatched roof and a nine-foot-wide ramada, which is a sort of awning over the entire front part of the house.
A ramada roof is never thatched; it is made of branches arranged in a loose fashion, giving enough shade and yet permitting the cooling breeze to circulate freely.
As I entered the house I turned on my tope recorder, which I kept inside my brief case. Lucio introduced me to his friends. There were eight men inside the house, including don Juan. They were sitting casually around the center of the room under the bright light of a gasoline lantern that hung from a beam, Don Juan was sitting on a box. I sat facing him at the end of a six-foot bench made with a thick wooden beam nailed on two prongs planted in the ground.
Don Juan had placed his hat on the floor beside him. The light of the gasoline lantern made his short white hair look more brilliantly white. I looked at his face; the light had also enhanced the deep wrinkles on his neck and forehead, and made him look darker and older.
I looked at the other men; under the greenish-white light of the gasoline lantern all of them looked tired and old.
Lucio addressed the whole group in Spanish and said in a loud voice that we were going to drink one bottle of bacanora that I had brought for him from Hermosillo. He went into the other room, brought out a bottle, uncorked it, and gave it to me along with a small tin cup. I poured a very small amount into the cup and drank it.
The bacanora seemed to be more fragrant and more dense than regular tequila, and stronger too. It made me cough. I passed the bottle and everyone poured himself a small drink, everyone except don Juan; he just took the bottle and placed it in front of Lucio, who was at the end of the line.
All of them made lively comments about the rich flavor of that particular bottle, and all of them agreed that the liquor must have come from the high mountains of Chihuahua.
The bottle went around a second time. The men smacked their lips, repeated their statements of praise, and engaged themselves in a lively discussion about the noticeable differences between the tequila made around Guadalajara and that made at a high altitude in Chihuahua.
During the second time around don Juan again did not drink and I poured only a dab for myself, but the rest
32
of them filled the cup to the brim. The bottle went around once more and was finished.
"Get the other bottles, Lucio," don Juan said.
Lucio seemed to vacillate, and don Juan quite casualty explained to the others that I had brought four bottles for Lucio.
Benigno, a young man of Lucio's age, looked at the brief case that I had placed inconspicuously behind me and asked if I was a tequila salesman. Don Juan answered that I was not, and that I had really come to Sonora to see him.
"Carlos is learning about Mescalito, and I'm teaching him," don Juan said.
All of them looked at me and smiled politely. Bajea, the woodcutter, a small, thin man with sharp features, looked at me fixedly for a moment and then said that the storekeeper had accused me of being a spy from an American company that was planning to do mining in the Yaqui land. They all reacted as if they were indignant at such an accusation. Besides, they all resented the storekeeper, who was a Mexican, or a Yori as the Yaquis say.
Lucio went into the other room and returned with another bottle of bacanora. He opened it, poured himself a large drink, and then passed it around. The conversation drifted to the probabilities of the American company coming to Sonora and its possible effect on the Yaquis. The bottle went back to Lucio. He lifted it and looked at its contents to see how much was left.
"Tell him not to worry," don Juan whispered to me. "Tell him you'll bring him more next time you come around."
I leaned over to Lucio and assured him that on my next visit I was going to bring him at least half a dozen bottles.
At one moment the topics of conversation seemed to wane away.
Don Juan turned to me and said loudly, "Why don't you tell the guys here about your encounters with Mescalito?
I think that'll be much more interesting than this idle chat about what will happen if the American company comes to Sonora."
"Is Mescalito peyote, Grandpa?" Lucio asked curiously.
"Some people call it that way," don Juan said dryly. "I prefer to call it Mescalito."
"That confounded thing causes madness," said Genaro, a tall, husky, middle-aged man.
"I think it's stupid to say that Mescalito causes madness," don Juan said softly. "Because if that were the case, Carlos would be in a strait-jacket this very moment instead of being here talking to you. He has taken it and look at him. He is fine."
Bajea smiled and replied shyly, "Who can tell?" and everybody laughed.
"Look at me then," don Juan said. "I've known Mescalito nearly all my life and it has never hurt me."
The men did not laugh, but it was obvious that they were not taking him seriously.
"On the other hand," don Juan went on, "it's true that Mescalito drives people crazy, as you said, but that's only when they come to him without knowing what they're doing."
Esquere, an old man who seemed to be don Juan's age, chuckled softly as he shook his head from side to side.
"What do you mean by 'knowing,' Juan?" he asked. "The last time I saw you, you were saying the same thing."
"People go really crazy when they take that peyote stuff," Genaro continued. "I've seen the Huichol Indians eating it. They acted as if they had rabies. They frothed and puked and pissed all over the place. You could get epilepsy from taking that confounded thing. That's what Mr. Salas, the government engineer, told me once. And epilepsy is for life, you know."
"That's being worse than animals," Bajea added solemnly.
"You saw only what you wanted to see about the Huichol Indians, Genaro," don Juan said. "For one thing, you never took the trouble of finding out from them what it's like to get acquainted with Mescalito. Mescalito has never made anyone epileptic, to my knowledge. The government engineer is a Yori and I doubt that a Yori knows anything about it. You really don't think that all the thousands of people who know Mescalito are crazy,
33
do you?"
"They must be crazy, or pretty nearly so, to do a thing like that," answered Genaro.
"But if all those thousands of people were crazy at the same time who would do their work? How would they manage to survive?" don Juan asked.
"Macario, who comes from the 'other side'"—the U.S.A.—"told me that whoever takes it there is marked for life," Esquere said.
"Macario is lying if he says that," don Juan said. "I'm sure he doesn't know what he's talking about."
"He really tells too many lies," said Benigno.
"Who's Macario?" I asked.
"He's a Yaqui Indian who lives here," Lucio said. "He says he's from Arizona and that he was in Europe during the war. He tells all kinds of stories."
"He says he was a colonel!" Benigno said.
Everyone laughed and the conversation shifted for a while to Macario's unbelievable tales, but don Juan returned again to the topic of Mescalito.
"If all of you know that Macario is a liar, how can you believe him when he talks about Mescalito?"
"Do you mean peyote, Grandpa?" Lucio asked, as if he were really struggling to make sense out of the term.
"God damn it! Yes!"
Don Juan's tone was sharp and abrupt. Lucio recoiled involuntarily, and for a moment I felt they were all afraid. Then don Juan smiled broadly and continued in a mild tone.
"Don't you fellows see that Macario doesn't know what he's talking about? Don't you see that in order to talk about Mescalito one has to know?"
"There you go again," Esquere said. "What the hell is this knowledge? You are worse than Macario. At least he says what's on his mind, whether he knows it or not. For years I've been listening to you say we have to know.
What do we have to know?"
"Don Juan says there is a spirit in peyote," Benigno said.
"I have seen peyote in the field, but I have never seen spirits or anything of the sort," Bajea added.
"Mescalito is like a spirit, perhaps," don Juan explained. "But whatever he is doesn't become clear until one knows about him. Esquere complains that I have been saying this for years. Well, I have. But it's not my fault that you don't understand. Bajea says that whoever takes it becomes like an animal. Well, I don't see it that way. To me those who think they are above animals live worse than animals. Look at my grandson here. He works without rest. I would say he lives to work, like a mule. And all he does that is not animal-like is to get drunk."
Everybody laughed, Victor, a very young man who seemed to be still in adolescence, laughed in a pitch above everybody else.
Eligio, a young farmer, had not uttered a single word so far. He was sitting on the floor to my right, with his back against some sacks of chemical fertilizer that had been piled inside the house to protect them from the rain.
He was one of Lucio's childhood friends, powerful looking and, although shorter than Lucio, more stocky and better built. Eligio seemed concerned about don Juan's words. Bajea was trying to come back with a comment, but Eligio interrupted him.
"In what way would peyote change all this?" he asked. "It seems to me that a man is born to work all his life, like mules do."
"Mescalito changes everything," don Juan said, "yet we still have to work like everybody else, like mules. I said there was a spirit inside Mescalito because it is something like a spirit which brings about the change in men.
A spirit we can see and can touch, a spirit that changes us, sometimes even against our will."
"Peyote drives you out of your mind," Genaro said, "and then of course you believe you've changed. True?"
"How can it change us?" Eligio insisted.
"He teaches us the right way to live," don Juan said. "He helps and protects those who know him. The life you fellows are leading is no life at all. You don't know the happiness that comes from doing things deliberately.
You don't have a protector!"
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"What do you mean?" Genaro said indignantly. "We certainly have. Our Lord Jesus Christ, and our Mother the Virgin, and the little Virgin of Guadalupe. Aren't they our protectors?"
"Fine bunch of protectors!" don Juan said mockingly. "Have they taught you a better way to live?"
"That's because people don't listen to them," Genaro protested, "and they only pay attention to the devil."
"If they were real protectors they would force you to listen," don Juan said. "If Mescalito becomes your protector you will have to listen whether you Iike it or not, because you can see him and you must take heed of what he says. He will make you approach him with respect. Not the way you fellows are accustomed to approach your protectors."
"What do you mean, Juan?" Esquere asked.
"What I mean is that for you to come to your protectors means that one of you has to play a fiddle, and a dancer has to put on his mask and leggings and rattles and dance, while the rest of you drink. You, Benigno, you were a dancer once, tell us about it."
"I gave it up after three years," Benigno said. "It's hard work."
"Ask Lucio," Esquere said satirically. "He gave it up in one week!"
Everybody laughed except don Juan. Lucio smiled, seemingly embarrassed, and gulped down two huge swallows of bacanora.
"It is not hard, it is stupid," don Juan said. "Ask Valencio, the dancer, if he enjoys dancing. He does not! He got accustomed to it, that's all. I've seen him dance for years, and every time I have, I've seen the same movements badly executed. He takes no pride in his art except when he talks about it. He has no love for it, therefore year after year he repeats the same motions. What was bad about his dancing at the beginning has become fixed.
He cannot see it any longer."
"He was taught to dance that way," Eligio said. "I was also a dancer in the town of Torim. I know you must dance the way they teach you."
"Valencio is not the best dancer anyway," Esquere said. "There are others. How about Sacateca?"
"Sacateca is a man of knowledge, he is not in the same class with you fellows," don Juan said sternly. "He dances because that's the bent of his nature. All I wanted to say was that you, who are not dancers, do not enjoy it. Perhaps if the dances are well performed some of you will get pleasure. Not many of you know that much about dancing, though; therefore you are left with a very lousy piece of joy. This is why you fellows are all drunkards. Look at my grandson here!"
"Cut it out, Grandpa!" Lucio protested.
"He's not lazy or stupid," don Juan went on, "but what else does he do besides drink?"
"He buys leather jackets!" Genaro remarked, and the whole audience roared.
Lucio gulped down more bacanora.
"And how is peyote going to change that?" Eligio asked.
"If Lucio would seek the protector," don Juan said, "his life would be changed. I don't know exactly how, but I am sure it would be different."
"He would stop drinking, is that what you mean?" Eligio insisted.
"Perhaps he would. He needs something else besides tequila to make his life satisfying. And that something, whatever it may be, might be provided by the protector."
"Then peyote must taste very good," Eligio said.
"I didn't say that," don Juan said.
"How in the hell are you going to enjoy it if it doesn't taste good?" Eligio said.
"It makes one enjoy life better," don Juan said. "But if it doesn't taste good, how could it make us enjoy our lives better?" Eligio persisted. "It doesn't make sense,"
"Of course it makes sense," Genaro said with conviction. "Peyote makes you crazy and naturally you think you're having a great time with your life, no matter what you do."
They all laughed again.
"It does make sense," don Juan proceeded, undisturbed, "if you think how little we know and how much
35
there is to see. Booze is what makes people crazy. It blurs the images. Mescalito, on the other hand, sharpens everything. It makes you see so very well. So very well!"
Lucio and Benigno looked at each other and smiled as though they had already heard the story before.
Genaro and Esquere grew more impatient and began to talk at the same time. Victor laughed above all the other voices. The only one interested seemed to be Eligio.
"How can peyote do all that?" he asked.
"In the first place," don Juan explained, "you must want to become acquainted with him, and I think this is by far the most important thing. Then you must be offered to him, and you must meet with him many times before you can say you know him."
"And what happens then?" Eligio asked.
Genaro interrupted. "You crap on the roof with your ass on the ground."
The audience roared.
"What happens next is entirely up to you," don Juan went on without losing his self-control. "You must come to him without fear and, little by little, he will teach you how to live a better life."
There was a long pause. The men seemed to be tired. The bottle was empty. Lucio, with obvious reluctance, opened another.
"Is peyote Carlos' protector too?" Eligio asked in a joking tone.
"I wouldn't know that," don Juan said. "He has taken it three times, so ask him to tell you about it."
They all turned to me curiously and Eligio asked, "Did you really take it?"
"Yes. I did."
It seemed don Juan had won a round with his audience. They were either interested in hearing about my experience or too polite to laugh in my face.
"Didn't it hurt your mouth?" Lucio asked.
"It did. It also tasted terrible."
"Why did you take it, then?" Benigno asked.
I began to explain to them in elaborate terms that for a Western man don Juan's knowledge about peyote was one of the most fascinating things one could find. I said that everything he had said about it was true and that each one of us could verify that truth for ourselves.
I noticed that all of them were smiling as if they were concealing their contempt. I grew very embarrassed. I was aware of my awkwardness in conveying what I really had in mind. I talked for a while longer, but I had lost the impetus and only repeated what don Juan had already said.
Don Juan came to my aid and asked in a reassuring tone, "You were not looking for a protector when you first came to Mescalito, were you?"
I told them that I did not know that Mescalito could be a protector, and that I was moved only by my curiosity and a great desire to know him.
Don Juan reaffirmed that my intentions had been faultless and said that because of it Mescalito had had a beneficial effect on me.
"But it made you puke and piss all over the place, didn't it?" Genaro insisted.
I told him that it had in fact affected me in such a manner. They all laughed with restraint. I felt that they had become even more contemptuous of me. They didn't seem to be interested, except for Eligio, who was gazing at me.
"What did you see?" he asked.
Don Juan urged me to recount for them all or nearly all the salient details of my experiences, so I described the sequence and the form of what I had perceived. When I finished talking Lucio made a comment.
"If peyote is that weird, I'm glad I've never taken it."
"It is just like I said," Genaro said to Bajea. "That thing makes you insane."
"But Carlos is not insane now. How do you account for that?" don Juan asked Genaro.
"How do we know he isn't?" Genaro retorted.
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They all broke out laughing, including don Juan.
"Were you afraid?" Benigno asked.
"I certainly was."
"Why did you do it, then?" Eligio asked.
"He said he wanted to know," Lucio answered for me. "I think Carlos is getting to be like my grandpa. Both have been saying they want to know, but nobody knows what in the hell they want to know."
"It is impossible to explain that knowing," don Juan said to Eligio, "because it is different for every man. The only thing which is common to all of us is that Mescalito reveals his secrets privately to each man. Being aware of how Genaro feels, I don't recommend that he meet Mescalito. Yet in spite of my words or his feelings, Mescalito could have a totally beneficial effect on him. But only he could find out, and that is the knowing I have been talking about."
Don Juan got up. "It's time to go home," he said. "Lucio is drunk and Victor is asleep."
Two days later, on September 6, Lucio, Benigno, and Eligio came over to the house where I was staying to go hunting with me. They remained silent for a while as I kept on writing my notes. Then Benigno laughed politely as a warning that he was going to say something important.
After a preliminary embarrassing silence he laughed again and said, "Lucio here says that he would take peyote."
"Would you really?" I asked.
"Yes. I wouldn't mind it."
Benigno's laughter came in spurts.
"Lucio says he will eat peyote if you buy him a motorcycle."
Lucio and Benigno looked at each other and broke out laughing.
"How much is a motorcycle in the United States?" Lucio asked.
"You could probably get one for a hundred dollars," I said.
"That isn't very much there, is it? You could easily get it for him, couldn't you?" Benigno asked.
"Well, let me ask your grandpa first," I said to Lucio.
"No, no," he protested. "Don't mention it to him. He'll spoil everything. He's a weirdo. And besides, he's too old and feeble-minded and he doesn't know what he's doing."
"He was a real sorcerer once," Benigno added. "I mean a real one. My folks say he was the best. But he took to peyote and became a nobody. Now he's too old."
"And he goes over and over the same crappy stories about peyote," Lucio said.
"That peyote is pure crap," Benigno said. "You know, we tried it once. Lucio got a whole sack of it from his grandpa. One night as we were going to town we chewed it. Son of a bitch! It cut my mouth to shreds. It tasted like hell!"
"Did you swallow it?" I asked.
"We spit it out," Lucio said, "and threw the whole damn sack away."
They both thought the incident was very funny. Eligio, in the meantime, had not said a word. He was withdrawn, as usual. He did not even laugh.
"Would you like to try it, Eligio?" I asked.
"No. Not me. Not even for a motorcycle."
Lucio and Benigno found the statement utterly funny and roared again.
"Nevertheless," Eligio continued, "I must admit that don Juan baffles me."
"My grandfather is too old to know anything," Lucio said with great conviction.
"Yeah, he's too old," Benigno echoed.
I thought the opinion the two young men had of don Juan was childish and unfounded. I felt it was my duty to defend his character and I told them that in my judgment don Juan was then, as he had been in the past, a great sorcerer, perhaps even the greatest of all. I said I felt there was something about him, something truly extraordinary.
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I urged them to remember that he was over seventy years old and yet he was more energetic and stronger than all of us put together. I challenged the young men to prove it to themselves by trying to sneak up on don Juan.
"You just can't sneak up on my grandpa," Lucio said proudly. "He's a brujo."
I reminded them that they had said he was too old and feeble-minded, and that a feeble-minded person does not know what goes on around him. I said that I had marveled at don Juan's alertness time and time again.
"No one can sneak up on a brujo, even if he's old," Benigno said with authority. "They can gang up on him when he's asleep, though. That's what happened to a man named Cevicas. People got tired of his evil sorcery and killed him."
I asked them to give me all the details of that event, but they said it had taken place before their time, or when they were still very young. Eligio added that people secretly believed that Cevicas had been only a fool, and that no one could harm a real sorcerer. I tried to question them further on their opinions about sorcerers.
They did not seem to have much interest in the subject; besides, they were eager to start out and shoot the .22
rifle I had brought.
We were silent for a while as we walked toward the thick chaparral, then Eligio, who was at the head of the line, turned around and said to me, "Perhaps we're the crazy ones. Perhaps don Juan is right. Look at the way we live."
Lucio and Benigno protested. I tried to mediate. I agreed with Eligio and told them that I myself had felt that the way I lived was somehow wrong. Benigno said that I had no business complaining about my life, that I had money and I had a car. I retorted that I could easily say that they themselves were better off because each owned a piece of land. They responded in unison that the owner of their land was the federal bank. I told them that I did not own my car either, that a bank in California owned it, and that my life was only different but not better than theirs. By that time we were already in the dense shrubs.
We did not find any deer or wild boars, but we got three jack rabbits. On our return we stopped at Lucio's house and he announced that his wife was going to make rabbit stew. Benigno went to the store to buy a bottle of tequila and get us some sodas. When we came back don Juan was with him.
"Did you find my grandpa at the store buying beer?" Lucio asked laughing.
"I haven't been invited to this reunion," don Juan said. "I've just dropped by to ask Carlos if he's leaving for Hermosillo."
I told him I was planning to leave the next day, and while we talked Benigno distributed the bottles. Eligio gave his to don Juan, and since among the Yaquis it is deadly impolite to refuse, even as a courtesy, don Juan took it quietly. I gave mine to Eligio, and he was obliged to take it. So Benigno in turn gave me his bottle. But Lucio, who had obviously visualized the entire scheme of Yaqui good manners, had already finished drinking his soda. He turned to Benigno, who had a pathetic look on his face, and said, laughing, "They've screwed you out of your bottle."
Don Juan said he never drank soda and placed his bottle in Benigno's hands. We sat under the ramada in silence.
Eligio seemed to be nervous. He fidgeted with the brim of his hat.
"I've been thinking about what you said the other night," he said to don Juan. "How can peyote change our life? How?"
Don Juan did not answer. He stared fixedly at Eligio for a moment and then began to sing in Yaqui. It was not a song proper, but a short recitation. We remained quiet for a long time. Then I asked don Juan to translate the Yaqui words for me.
"That was only for Yaquis," he said matter-of-factly.
I felt dejected. I was sure he had said something of great importance.
"Eligio is an Indian," don Juan finally said to me, "and as an Indian Eligio has nothing. We Indians have nothing. All you see around here belongs to the Yoris. The Yaquis have only their wrath and what the land offers to them freely."
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Nobody uttered a sound for quite some time, then don Juan stood up and said goodbye and walked away. We looked at him until he had disappeared behind a bend of the road. All of us seemed to be nervous. Lucio told us in a disoriented manner that his grandfather had not stayed because he hated rabbit stew. Eligio seemed to be immersed in thoughts. Benigno turned to me and said loudly, "I think the Lord is going to punish you and don Juan for what you're doing."
Lucio began to laugh and Benigno joined him.
"You're clowning, Benigno," Eligio said somberly. "What you've just said isn't worth a damn."
September 15,1968
It was nine o'clock Saturday night. Don Juan sat in front of Eligio in the center of the ramada of Lucio's house. Don Juan placed his sack of peyote buttons between them and sang while rocking his body slightly back and forth. Lucio, Benigno, and I sat five or six feet behind Eligio with our backs against the wall. It was quite dark at first. We had been sitting inside the house under the gasoline lantern waiting for don Juan. He had called us out to the ramada when he arrived and had told us where to sit. After a while my eyes became accustomed to the dark. I could see everyone clearly. I noticed that Eligio seemed to be terrified. His entire body shook; his teeth chattered uncontrollably. He was convulsed with spasmodic jerks of his head and back.
Don Juan spoke to him, telling him not to be afraid, and to trust the protector, and to think of nothing else. He casually took a peyote button, offered it to Eligio, and ordered him to chew it very slowly. Eligio whined like a puppy and recoiled. His breathing was very rapid, it sounded like the whizzing of bellows. He took off his hat and wiped his forehead. He covered his face with his hands. I thought he was crying. It was a very long, tense moment before he regained some control over himself. He sat up straight and, still covering his face with one hand, took the peyote button and began chewing it.
I felt a tremendous apprehension. I had not realized until then that I was perhaps as scared as Eligio. My mouth had a dryness similar to that produced by peyote. Eligio chewed the button for a long tune. My tension increased.
I began to whine involuntarily as my respiration became more accelerated.
Don Juan began to chant louder, then he offered another button to Eligio and after Eligio had finished it he offered him dry fruit and told him to chew it very slowly. Eligio got up repeatedly and went to the bushes. At one point he asked for water. Don Juan told him not to drink it but only swish it in his mouth.
Eligio chewed two more buttons and don Juan gave him dry meat.
By the time he had chewed his tenth button I was nearly sick with anxiety.
Suddenly Eligio slumped forward and his forehead hit the ground. He rolled on his left side and jerked convulsively.
I looked at my watch. It was twenty after eleven. Eligio tossed, wobbled, and moaned for over an hour while he lay on the floor.
Don Juan maintained the same position in front of him. His peyote songs were almost a murmur. Benigno, who was sitting to my right, looked inattentive; Lucio, next to him, had slumped on his side and was snoring.
Eligio's body crumpled into a contorted position. He lay on his right side with his front toward me and his hands between his legs. His body gave a powerful jump and he turned on his back with his legs slightly curved.
His left hand waved out and up with an extremely free and elegant motion. His right hand repeated the same pattern, and then both arms alternated in a wavering, slow movement, resembling that of a harpist. The movement became more vigorous by degrees. His arms had a perceptible vibration and went up and down like pistons.
At the same time his hands rotated onward at the wrist and his fingers quivered. It was a beautiful, harmonious, hypnotic sight. I thought his rhythm and muscular control were beyond comparison.
Eligio then rose slowly, as if he were stretching against an enveloping force. His body Shivered. He squatted and then pushed himself up to an erect position. His arms, trunk, and head trembled as if an intermittent electric current were going through them. It was as though a force outside his control was setting him or driving him up.
Don Juan's chanting became very loud. Lucjo and Benigno woke up and looked at the scene uninterestedly for a while and then went back to sleep.
Eligio seemed to be moving up and up. He was apparently climbing. He cupped his hands and seemed to grab onto objects beyond my vision. He pushed himself up and paused to catch his breath.
39
I wanted to see his eyes and moved closer to him, but don Juan gave me a fierce look and I recoiled to my place.
Then Eligio jumped. It was a final, formidable leap. He had apparently reached his goal. He puffed and sobbed with the exertion. He seemed to be holding onto a ledge. But something was overtaking him. He shrieked desperately. His grip faltered and he began to fall. His body arched backward and was convulsed from head to toe with the most beautiful, coordinated ripple. The ripple went through him perhaps a hundred times before his body collapsed like a lifeless burlap sack.
After a while he extended his arms in front of him as though he was protecting his face. His legs stretched out backward as he lay on his chest; they were arched a few inches above the ground, giving his body the very appearance of sliding or flying at an incredible speed. His head was arched as far back as possible, his arms locked over his eyes, shielding them. I could feel the wind hissing around him. I gasped and gave a loud involuntary shriek. Lucio and Benigno woke and looked at Eligio curiously.
"If you promise to buy me a motorcycle I will chew it now," Lucio said loudly.
I looked at don Juan. He made an imperative gesture with his head.
"Son of a bitch!" Lucio mumbled, and went back to sleep.
Eligio stood up and began walking. He took a couple of steps toward me and stopped. I could see him smiling with a beatific expression. He tried to whistle. There was no clear sound yet it had harmony. It was a tune. It had only a couple of bars, which he repeated over and over. After a while the whistling was distinctly audible, and then it became a sharp melody. Eligio mumbled unintelligible words. The words seemed to be the lyrics to the tune. He repeated it for hours. A very simple song, repetitious, monotonous, and yet strangely beautiful.
Eligio seemed to be looking at something while he sang. At one moment he got very close to me. I saw his eyes in the semidarkness. They were glassy, transfixed. He smiled and giggled. He walked and sat down and walked again, groaning and sighing.
Suddenly something seemed to have pushed him from behind. His body arched in the middle as though moved by a direct force. At one instant Eligio was balanced on the tips of his toes, making nearly a complete circle, his hands touching the ground. He dropped to the ground again, softly, on his back, and extended his whole length, acquiring a strange rigidity.
He whimpered and groaned for a whale, then began to snore. Don Juan covered him with some burlap sacks.
It was 5:35 A.M.
Lucio and Benigno had fallen asleep shoulder to shoulder with their backs against the wall. Don Juan and I sat quietly for a very long time. He seemed to be tired. I broke the silence and asked him about Eligio. He told me that Eligio's encounter with Mescalito had been exceptionally successful; Mescalito had taught him a song the first time they met and that was indeed extraordinary.
I asked him why he had not let Lucio take some for a motorcycle. He said that Mescalito would have killed Lucio if he had approached him under such conditions. Don Juan admitted that he had prepared everything carefully to convince his grandson; he told me that he had counted on my friendship with Lucio as the central part of his strategy. He said that Lucio had always been his great concern, and that at one time they had lived together and were very close, but Lucio became gravely ill when he was seven and don Juan's son, a devout Catholic, made a vow to the Virgin of Guadalupe that Lucio would join a sacred dancing society if his life were spared. Lucio recovered and was forced to carry out the promise. He lasted one week as an apprentice, and then made up his mind to break the vow. He thought he would have to die as a result of it, braced himself, and for a whole day he waited for death to come. Everybody made fun of the boy and the incident was never forgotten.
Don Juan did not speak for a long time. He seemed to have become engulfed by thoughts.
"My setup was for Lucio," he said, "and I found Eligio instead. I knew it was useless, but when we like someone we should properly insist, as though it were possible to remake men. Lucio had courage when he was a little boy and then he lost it along the way."
"Can you bewitch him, don Juan?"
40
"Bewitch him? For what?"
"So he will change and regain his courage."
"You don't bewitch for courage. Courage is something personal. Bewitching is for rendering people harmless or sick or dumb. You don't bewitch to make warriors. To be a warrior you have to be crystal clear, like Eligio.
There you have a man of courage!"
Eligio snored peacefully under the burlap sacks. It was already daylight. The sky was impeccably blue. There were no clouds in sight.
"I would give anything in this world," I said, "to know about Eligio's journey. Would you mind if I asked him to tell me?"
"You should not under any circumstances ask him to do that!"
"Why not? I tell you about my experiences."
"That's different. It is not your inclination to keep things to yourself. Eligio is an Indian. His journey is all he has. I wish it had been Lucio."
"Isn't there anything you can do, don Juan?"
"No. Unfortunately there is no way to make bones for a jellyfish. It was only my folly."
The sun came out. Its light blurred my tired eyes.
"You've told me time and time again, don Juan, that a sorcerer cannot have follies. I've never thought you could have any."
Don Juan looked at me piercingly. He got up, glanced at Eligio and then at Lucio. He tucked his hat on his head, patting it on its top.
"It's possible to insist, to properly insist, even though we know that what we're doing is useless," he said, smiling, "But we must know first that our acts are useless and yet we must proceed as if we didn't know it. That's a sorcerer's controlled folly."
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5
I returned to don Juan's house on October 3, 1968, for the sole purpose of asking him about the events surrounding Eligio's initiation. An almost endless stream of questions had occurred to me while rereading the account of what took place then. I was after very precise explanations so I made a list of questions beforehand, carefully choosing the most appropriate words.
I began by asking him: "Did I see that night, don Juan?"
"You almost did."
"Did you see that I was seeing Eligio's movements?"
"Yes. I saw that Mescalito was allowing you to see part of Eligio's lesson, otherwise you would've been looking at a man sitting there, or perhaps lying there. During the last mitote you did not notice that the men were doing anything, did you?"
At the last mitote I had not noticed any of the men performing movements out of the ordinary. I told him I could safely say that all I had recorded in my notes was that some of them got up and went to the bushes more often than others.
"But you nearly saw Eligio's entire lesson," don Juan went on. "Think about that. Do you understand now how generous Mescalito is with you? Mescalito has never been so gentle with anyone, to my knowledge. Not anyone. And yet you have no regard for his generosity. How can you turn your back on him so bluntly? Or perhaps I should say, in exchange for what are you turning your back on Mescalito?"
I felt that don Juan was cornering me again. I was unable to answer his question. I had always believed I had quit the apprenticeship in order to save myself, yet I had no idea from what I was saving myself, or for what. I wanted to change the direction of our conversation quickly, and to that end I abandoned my intention to carry on with all my precalculated questions and brought out my most important query.
"I wonder if you could tell me more about your controlled folly," I said.
"What do you want to know about it?"
"Please tell me, don Juan, what exactly is controlled folly?"
Don Juan laughed loudly and made a smacking sound by slapping his thigh with the hollow of his hand.
"This is controlled folly!" he said, and laughed and slapped his thigh again.
"What do you mean ... ?"
"I am happy that you finally asked me about my controlled folly after so many years, and yet it wouldn't have mattered to me in the least if you had never asked. Yet I have chosen to feel happy, as if I cared, that you asked, as if it would matter that I care. That is controlled folly!"
We both laughed very loudly. I hugged him. I found his explanation delightful although I did not quite understand it.
We were sitting, as usual, in the area right in front of the door of his house. It was mid-morning. Don Juan had a pile of seeds in front of him and was picking the debris from them. I had offered to help him but he had turned me down; he said the seeds were a gift for one of his friends in central Mexico and I did not have enough power to touch them.
"With whom do you exercise controlled folly, don Juan?" I asked after a long silence.
He chuckled.
"With everybody!" he exclaimed, smiling.
"When do you choose to exercise it, then?"
"Every single time I act."
I felt I needed to recapitulate at that point and I asked him if controlled folly meant that his acts were never sincere but were only the acts of an actor.
"My acts are sincere," he said, "but they are only the acts of an actor."
"Then everything you do must be controlled folly!" I said truly surprised.
"Yes, everything," he said.
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"But it can't be true," I protested, "that every one of your acts is only controlled folly."
"Why not?" he replied with a mysterious look.
"That would mean that nothing matters to you and you don't really care about anything or anybody. Take me, for example. Do you mean that you don't care whether or not I become a man of knowledge, or whether I live, or die, or do anything?"
"True! I don't. You are like Lucio, or everybody else in my life, my controlled folly."
I experienced a peculiar feeling of emptiness. Obviously there was no reason in the world why don Juan had to care about me, but on the other hand I had almost the certainty that he cared about me personally; I thought it could not be otherwise, since he had always given me his undivided attention during every moment I had spent with him. It occurred to me that perhaps don Juan was just saying that because he was annoyed with me. After all, I had quit his teachings.
"I have the feeling we are not talking about the same thing," I said. "I shouldn't have used myself as an example.
What I meant to say was that there must be something in the world you care about in a way that is not controlled folly. I don't think it is possible to go on living if nothing really matters to us."
"That applies to you" he said. "Things matter to you. You asked me about my controlled folly and I told you that everything I do in regard to myself and my fellow men is folly, because nothing matters."
"My point is, don Juan, that if nothing matters to you, how can you go on living?"
He laughed and after a moment's pause, in which he seemed to deliberate whether or not to answer, he got up and went to the back of his house. I followed him.
"Wait, wait, don Juan." I said. "I really want to know; you must explain to me what you mean."
"Perhaps it's not possible to explain," he said. "Certain things in your life matter to you because they're important; your acts are certainly important to you, but for me, not a single thing is important any longer, neither my acts nor the acts of any of my fellow men. I go on living, though, because I have my will. Because I have tempered my will throughout my life until it's neat and wholesome and now it doesn't matter to me that nothing matters. My will controls the folly of my life."
He squatted and ran his fingers on some herbs that he had put to dry in the sun on a big piece of burlap.
I was bewildered. Never would I have anticipated the direction that my query had taken. After a long pause I thought of a good point. I told him that in my opinion some of the acts of my fellow men were of supreme importance.
I pointed out that a nuclear war was definitely the most dramatic example of such an act. I said that for me destroying life on the face of the earth was an act of staggering enormity.
"You believe that because you're thinking. You're thinking about life," don Juan said with a glint in his eyes.
"You're not seeing."
"Would I feel differently if I could see?" I asked.
"Once a man learns to see he finds himself alone in the world with nothing but folly," don Juan said cryptically.
He paused for a moment and looked at me as if he wanted to judge the effect of his words.
"Your acts, as well as the acts of your fellow men in general, appear to be important to you because you have learned to think they are important."
He used the word "learned" with such a peculiar inflection that it forced me to ask what he meant by it.
He stopped handling his plants and looked at me.
"We learn to think about everything," he said, "and then we train our eyes to look as we think about the things we look at. We look at ourselves already thinking that we are important. And therefore we've got to feel important! But then when a man learns to see, he realizes that he can no longer think about the things he looks at, and if he cannot think about what he looks at everything becomes unimportant."
Don Juan must have noticed my puzzled look and repeated his statements three times, as if to make me understand them. What he said sounded to me like gibberish at first, but upon thinking about it, his words loomed more like a sophisticated statement about some facet of perception.
I tried to think of a good question that would make him clarify his point, but I could not think of anything.
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All of a sudden I felt exhausted and could not formulate my thoughts clearly.
Don Juan seemed to notice my fatigue and patted me gently.
"Clean these plants here," he said, "and then shred them carefully into this jar."
He handed me a large coffee jar and left.
He returned to his house hours later, in the late afternoon. I had finished shredding his plants and had plenty of time to write my notes. I wanted to ask him some questions right off, but he was not in any mood to answer me. He said he was famished and had to fix his food first. He lit a fire in his earthen stove and set up a pot with bone-broth stock. He looked in the bag of groceries I had brought and took some vegetables, sliced them into small pieces, and dumped them into the pot. Then he lay on his mat, kicked off his sandals, and told me to sit closer to the stove so I could feed the fire.
It was almost dark; from where I sat I could see the sky to the west. The edges of some thick cloud formations were tinted with a deep buff, while the center of the clouds remained almost black.
I was going to make a comment on how beautiful the clouds were, but he spoke first.
"Fluffy edges and a thick core," he said, pointing at the clouds.
His statement was so perfectly apropos that it made me jump.
"I was just going to tell you about the clouds," I said.
"Then I beat you to it," he said, and laughed with childlike abandon.
I asked him if he was in a mood to answer some questions.
"What do you want to know?" he replied.
"What you told me this afternoon about controlled folly has disturbed me very much," I said. "I really cannot understand what you meant."
"Of course you cannot understand it," he said. "You are trying to think about it, and what I said does not fit with your thoughts."
"I'm trying to think about it," I said, "because that's the only way I personally can understand anything. For example, don Juan, do you mean that once a man learns to see, everything in the whole world is worthless?"
"I didn't say worthless. I said unimportant. Everything is equal and therefore unimportant. For example, there is no way for me to say that my acts are more important than yours, or that one thing is more essential than another, therefore all things are equal and by being equal they are unimportant."
I asked him if his statements were a pronouncement that what he had called "seeing" was in effect a "better way" than merely "looking at things." He said that the eyes of man could perform both functions, but neither of them was better than the other; however, to train the eyes only to look was, in his opinion, an unnecessary loss.
"For instance, we need to look with our eyes to laugh," he said, "because only when we look at things can we catch the funny edge of the world. On the other hand, when our eyes see, everything is so equal that nothing is funny."
"Do you mean, don Juan, that a man who sees cannot ever laugh?'
He remained silent for some time.
"Perhaps there are men of knowledge who never laugh," he said. "I don't know any of them, though. Those I know see and also look, so they laugh."
"Would a man of knowledge cry as well?"
"I suppose so. Our eyes look so we may laugh, or cry, or rejoice, or be sad, or be happy. I personally don't like to be sad, so whenever I witness something that would ordinarily make me sad, I simply shift my eyes and see it instead of looking at it. But when I encounter something funny I look and I laugh."
"But then, don Juan, your laughter is real and not controlled folly."
Don Juan stared at me for a moment.
"I talk to you because you make me laugh," he said. "You remind me of some bushy-tailed rats of the desert that get caught when they stick their tails in holes trying to scare other rats away in order to steal their food. You get caught in your own questions. Watch out! Sometimes those rats yank their tails off trying to pull themselves free."
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I found his comparison funny and I laughed. Don Juan had once shown me some small rodents with bushy tails that looked like fat squirrels; the image of one of those chubby rats yanking its tail off was sad and at the same time morbidly funny.
"My laughter, as well as everything I do, is real," he said, "but it also is controlled folly because it is useless;
it changes nothing and yet I still do it."
"But as I understand it, don Juan, your laughter is not useless. It makes you happy."
"No! I am happy because I choose to look at things that make me happy and then my eyes catch their funny edge and I laugh. I have said this to you countless times. One must always choose the path with heart in order to be at one's best, perhaps so one can always laugh."
I interpreted what he had said as meaning that crying was inferior to laughter, or at least perhaps an act that weakened us. He asserted that there was no intrinsic difference and that both were unimportant; he said, however, that his preference was laughter, because laughter made his body feel better than crying.
At that point I suggested that if one has a preference there is no equality; if he preferred laughing to crying, the former was indeed more important.
He stubbornly maintained that his preference did not mean they were not equal; and I insisted that our argument could be logically stretched to saying that if things were supposed to be so equal why not also choose death?
"Many men of knowledge do that," he said. "One day they may simply disappear. People may think that they have been ambushed and killed because of their doings. They choose to die because it doesn't matter to them. On the other hand, I choose to live, and to laugh, not because it matters, but because that choice is the bent of my nature.
The reason I say I choose is because I see, but it isn't that I choose to live; my will makes me go on living in spite of anything I may see.
"You don't understand me now because of your habit of thinking as you look and thinking as you think."
This statement intrigued me very much. I asked him to explain what he meant by it.
He repeated the same construct various times, as if giving himself time to arrange it in different terms, and then delivered his point, saying that by "thinking" he meant the constant idea that we have of everything in the world. He said that "seeing" dispelled that habit and until I learned to "see" I could not really understand what he meant.
"But if nothing matters, don Juan, why should it matter that I learn to see?"
"I told you once that our lot as men is to learn, for good or bad," he said. "I have learned to see and I tell you that nothing really matters; now it is your turn; perhaps some day you will see and you will know then whether things matter or not. For me nothing matters, but perhaps for you everything will. You should know by now that a man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting, nor by thinking about what he will think when he has finished acting. A man of knowledge chooses a patlh with heart and follows it; and then he looks and rejoices and laughs; and then he sees and knows. He knows that his life will be over altogether too soon; he knows that he, as well as everybody else, is not going anywhere; he knows, because he sees, that nothing is more important than anything else. In other words, a man of knowledge has no honor, no dignity, no family, no name, no country, but only life to be lived, and under these circumstances his only tie to his fellow men is his controlled folly. Thus a man of knowledge endeavors, and sweats, and puffs, and if one looks at him he is just like any ordinary man, except that the folly of has life is under control. Nothing being more important than anything else, a man of knowledge chooses any act, and acts it out as if it matters to him. His controlled folly makes him say that what he does matters and makes him act as if it did, and yet he knows that it doesn't; so when he fulfills his acts he retreats in peace, and whether his acts were good or bad, or worked or didn't, is in no way part of his concern.
"A man of knowledge may choose, on the other hand, to remain totally impassive and never act, and behave as if to be impassive really matters to him; he will be rightfully true at that too, because that would also be his controlled folly."
I involved myself at this point in a very complicated effort to explain to don Juan that I was interested in
45
knowing what would motivate a man of knowledge to act in a particular way in spite of the fact that he knew nothing mattered.
He chuckled softly before answering.
"You think about your acts," he said. "Therefore you have to believe your acts are as important as you think they are, when in reality nothing of what one does is important. Nothing! But then if nothing really matters, as you asked me, how can I go on living? It would be simple to die; that's what you say and believe, because you're thinking about life, just as you're thinking now what seeing would be like. You wanted me to describe it to you so you could begin to think about it, the way you do with everything else. In the case of seeing, however, thinking is not the issue at all, so I cannot tell you what it is like to see. Now you want me to describe the reasons for my controlled folly and I can only tell you that controlled folly is very much like seeing; it is something you cannot think about."
He yawned. He lay on his back and stretched his arms and legs. His bones made a cracking sound.
"You have been away too long," he said. "You think too much."
He got up and walked into the thick chaparral at the side of the house. I fed the fire to keep the pot boiling. I was going to light a kerosene lantern but the semidarkness was very soothing. The fire from the stove, which supplied enough light to write, also created a reddish glow all around me. I put my notes on the ground and lay down. I felt tired. Out of the whole conversation with don Juan the only poignant thing in my mind was that he did not care about me; it disturbed me immensely. Over a period of years I had put my trust in him. Had I not had complete confidence in him I would have been paralyzed with fear at the prospect of learning his knowledge; the premise on which I had based my trust was the idea that he cared about me personally; actually I had always been afraid of him, but I had kept my fear in check because I trusted him. When he removed that basis I had nothing to fall back on and I felt helpless.
A very strange anxiety possessed me. I became extremely agitated and began pacing up and down in front of the stove. Don Juan was taking a long time. I waited for him impatiently.
He returned a while later; he sat down again in front of the fire and I blurted out my fears. I told him that I worried because I was incapable of changing directions in midstream; I explained to him that together with the trust I had in him, I had also learned to respect and to regard his way of life as being intrinsically more rational, or at least more functional, than mine. I said that his words had plunged me into a terrible conflict because they entailed my having to change my feelings. To illustrate my point I told don Juan the story of an old man of my culture, a very wealthy, conservative lawyer who lived his life convinced that he upheld the truth. In the early thirties, with the advent of the New Deal, he found himself passionately involved in the political drama of that time. He was categorically sure that change was deleterious to the country, and out of devotion to his way of life and the conviction that he was right, he vowed to fight what he thought to be a political evil. But the tide of the time was too strong, it overpowered him. He struggled for ten years against it in the political arena and in the realm of his personal life; then the Second World War sealed his efforts into total defeat. His political and ideological downfall resulted in a profound bitterness; he became a self-exile for twenty-five years. When I met him he was eighty-four years old and had come back to his home town to spend his last years in a home for the aged. It seemed inconceivable to me that he had lived that long, considering the way he had squandered his life in bitterness and self-pity. Somehow he found my company amenable and we used to talk at great length. The last time I saw him he had concluded our conversation with the following: "I have had time to turn around and examine my life. The issues of my time are today only a story; not even an interesting one. Perhaps I threw away years of my life chasing something that never existed. I've had the feeling lately that I believed in something farcical. It wasn't worth my while. I think I know that. However, I can't retrieve the forty years I've lost."
I told don Juan that my conflict arose from the doubts into which his words about controlled folly had thrown me.
"If nothing really matters," I said, "upon becoming a man of knowledge one would find oneself, perforce, as empty as my friend and in no better position."
"That's not so," don Juan said cuttingly. "Your friend is lonely because he will die without seeing. In his life
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he just grew old and now he must have more self-pity than ever before. He feels he threw away forty years because he was after victories and found only defeats. He'll never know that to be victorious and to be defeated are equal.
"So now you're afraid of me because I've told you that you're equal to everything else. You're being childish.
Our lot as men is to learn and one goes to knowledge as one goes to war; I have told you this countless times.
One goes to knowledge or to war with fear, with respect, aware that one is going to war, and with absolute confidence in oneself. Put your trust in yourself, not in me.
"And so you're afraid of the emptiness of your friend's life. But there's no emptiness in the life of a man of knowledge, I tell you. Everything is filled to the brim."
Don Juan stood up and extended his arms as if feeling things in the air.
"Everything is filled to the brim," he repeated, "and everything is equal. I'm not like your friend who just grew old. When I tell you that nothing matters I don't mean it the way he does. For him, his struggle was not worth his while, because he was defeated; for me there is no victory, or defeat, or emptiness. Everything is filled to the brim and everything is equal and my struggle was worth my while.
"In order to become a man of knowledge one must be a warrior, not a whimpering child. One must strive without giving up, without a complaint, without flinching, until one sees, only to realize then that nothing matters."
Don Juan stirred the pot with a wooden spoon. The food was ready. He took the pot off the fire and placed it on an adobe rectangular block, which he had built against the wall and which he used as a shelf or a table. With his foot he shoved two small boxes that served as comfortable chairs, especially if one sat with his back against the supporting beams of the wall. He signaled me to sit down and then he poured a bowl of soup. He smiled; his eyes were shining as if he were truly enjoying my presence. He pushed the bowl gently toward me. There was such a warmth and kindness in his gesture that it seemed to be an appeal to restore my trust in him. I felt idiotic; I tried to disrupt my mood by looking for my spoon, but I couldn't find it. The soup was too hot to be drunk directly from the bowl, and while it cooled off I asked don Juan if controlled folly meant that a man of knowledge could not like anybody any more.
He stopped eating and laughed.
"You're too concerned with liking people or with being liked yourself," he said. "A man of knowledge likes, that's all. He likes whatever or whoever he wants, but he uses his controlled folly to be unconcerned about it. The opposite of what you are doing now. To like people or to be liked by people is not all one can do as a man."
He stared at me for a moment with his head tilted a little to one side.
"Think about that," he said.
"There is one more thing I want to ask, don Juan. You said that we need to look with our eyes to laugh, but I believe we laugh because we think. Take a blind man, he also laughs."
"No," he said. "Blind men don't laugh. Their bodies jerk a little with the ripple of laughter. They have never looked at the funny edge of the world and have to imagine it. Their laughter is not roaring."
We did not speak any more. I had a sensation of well-being, of happiness. We ate in silence; then don Juan began to laugh. I was using a dry twig to spoon the vegetables into my mouth.
October 4,1968
At a certain moment today I asked don Juan if he minded talking a bit more about "seeing." He seemed to deliberate for an instant, then he smiled and said that I was again involved in my usual routine, trying to talk instead of doing.
"If you want to see you have to let the smoke guide you," he said emphatically. "I won't talk about this any more."
I was helping him clean some dry herbs. We worked in complete silence for a long time. When I am forced into a prolonged silence I always feel apprehensive, especially around don Juan. At a given moment I brought up a question to him in a sort of compulsive, almost belligerent outburst.
"How does a man of knowledge exercise controlled folly when it comes to the death of a person he loves?" I
47
asked.
Don Juan was taken aback by my question and looked at me quizzically.
"Take your grandson Lucio," I said. "Would your acts be controlled folly at the time of his death?"
"Take my son Eulalio, that's a better example," don Juan replied calmly. "He was crushed by rocks while working in the construction of the Pan-American Highway. My acts toward him at the moment of his death were controlled folly. When I came down to the blasting area he was almost dead, but his body was so strong that it kept on moving and kicking. I stood in front of him and told the boys in the road crew not to move him any more;
they obeyed me and stood there surrounding my son, looking at his mangled body. I stood there too, but I did not look. I shifted my eyes so I would see his personal life disintegrating, expanding uncontrollably beyond its limits, like a fog of crystals, because that is the way life and death mix and expand. That is what I did at the time of my son's death. That's all one could ever do, and that is controlled folly. Had I looked at him I would have watched him becoming immobile and I would have felt a cry inside of me, because never again would I look at his fine figure pacing the earth. I saw his death instead, and there was no sadness, no feeling. His death was equal to everything else." Don Juan was quiet for a moment. He seemed to be sad, but then he smiled and tapped my head.
"So you may say that when it comes to the death of a person I love, my controlled folly is to shift my eyes."
I thought about the people I love myself and a terribly oppressive wave of self-pity enveloped me.
"Lucky you, don Juan," I said. "You can shift your eyes, while I can only look."
He found my statement funny and laughed.
"Lucky, bull!" -he said. "It's hard work."
We both laughed. After a long silence I began probing him again, perhaps only to dispel my own sadness.
"If I have understood you correctly then, don Juan," I said, "the only acts in the life of a man of knowledge which are not controlled folly are those he performs with his ally or with Mescalito. Isn't that right?"
"That's right," he said, chuckling. "My ally and Mescalito are not on a par with us human beings. My controlled folly applies only to myself and to the acts I perform while in the company of my fellow men."
"However, it is a logical possibility," I said, "to think that a man of knowledge may also regard his acts with his ally or with Mescalito as controlled folly, true?"
He stared at me for a moment.
"You're thinking again," he said. "A man of knowledge doesn't think, therefore he cannot encounter that possibility. Take me, for example. I say that my controlled folly applies to the acts I performed while in the company of my fellow men; I say that because I can see my fellow men. However, I cannot see through my ally and that makes it incomprehensible to me, so how could I control my folly if I don't see through it? With my ally or with Mescalito I am only a man who knows how to see and finds that he's baffled by what he sees; a man who knows that he'll never understand all that is around him.
"Take your case, for instance. It doesn't matter to me whether you become a man of knowledge or not;
however, it matters to Mescalito. Obviously it matters to him or he wouldn't take so many steps to show his concern about you. I can notice his concern and I act toward it, yet his reasons are incomprehensible to me."
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6
Just as we were getting into my car to start on a trip to central Mexico, on October 5, 1968, don Juan stopped me.
"I have told you before," he said with a serious expression, "that one should never reveal the name nor the whereabouts of a sorcerer. I believe you understood that you should never reveal my name nor the place where my body is. Now I am going to ask you to do the same with a friend of mine, a friend you will call Genaro. We are going to his house; we will spend some time there."
I assured don Juan that I had never betrayed his confidence.
"I know that," he said without changing his serious expression. "Yet I am concerned with your becoming thoughtless."
I protested and don Juan said his aim was only to remind me that every time one was careless in matters of sorcery, one was playing with an imminent and senseless death that could be averted by being thoughtful and aware.
"We will not touch upon this matter any longer," he said. "Once we leave my house we will not mention Genaro, nor will we think about him. I want you to put your thoughts in order now. When you meet him you must be clear and have no doubts in your mind."
"What kinds of doubts are you referring to, don Juan?"
"Any kinds of doubts whatever. When you meet him you ought to be crystal clear. He will see you!"
His strange admonitions made me very apprehensive. I mentioned that perhaps I should not meet his friend at all but only drive to the vicinity of his friend's house and leave him there.
"What I've told you was only a precaution," he said. "You've met one sorcerer already, Vicente, and he nearly killed you. Watch out this time!"
After we arrived in central Mexico it took us two days to walk from where I left my car to his friend's house, a little shack perched on the side of a mountain. Don Juan's friend was at the door, as if he had been waiting for us. I recognized him immediately. I had already made his acquaintance, although very briefly, when I brought my book to don Juan. I had not really looked at him at that time, except in a glancing fashion, so I had had the feeling he was as old as don Juan. As he stood at the door of his house, however, I noticed that he was definitely younger. He was perhaps in his early sixties. He was shorter than don Juan and slimmer, very dark and wiry. His hair was thick and graying and a bit long; it ran over his ears and forehead. His face was round and hard. A very prominent nose made him look like a bird of prey with small dark eyes.
He talked to don Juan first. Don Juan nodded affirmatively. They conversed briefly. They were not speaking Spanish so I did not understand what they were saying. Then don Genaro turned to me.
"You're welcome to my humble little shack," he said apologetically in Spanish.
His words were a polite formula I had heard before in various rural areas of Mexico. Yet as he said the words he laughed joyously for no overt reason, and I knew he was exercising his controlled folly. He did not care in the least that his house was a shack. I liked don Genaro very much.
For the next two days we went into the mountains to collect plants. Don Juan, don Genaro, and I left each day at the crack of dawn. The two old men went together to some specific but unidentified part of the mountains and left me alone in one area of the woods. I had an exquisite feeling there. I did not notice the passage of time, nor was I apprehensive at staying alone; the extraordinary experience I had both days was an uncanny capacity to concentrate on the delicate task of finding the specific plants don Juan had entrusted me to collect.
We returned to the house in the late afternoon and both days I was so tired that I fell asleep immediately.
The third day, however, was different. The three of us worked together, and don Juan asked don Genaro to teach me how to select certain plants. We returned around noon and the two old men sat for hours in front of the house, in complete silence, as if they were in a state of trance. Yet they were not asleep. I walked around them a couple of times; don Juan followed my movements with his eyes, and so did don Genaro.
"You must talk to the plants before you pick them," don Juan said. He dropped his words casually and
49
repeated his statement three times, as if to catch my attention. Nobody had said a word until he spoke.
"In order to see the plants you must talk to them personally," he went on. "You must get to know them individually; then the plants can tell you anything you care to know about them."
It was late in the afternoon. Don Juan was sitting on a flat rock facing the western mountains; don Genaro was sitting by him on a straw mat with his face toward the north. Bon Juan had told me, the first day we were there, that those were their "positions" and that I had to sit on the ground at any place opposite to both of them.
He added that while we sat in those positions I had to keep my face toward the southeast and look at them only in brief glances.
"Yes, that's the way it is with plants, isn't it?" don Juan said and turned to don Genaro, who agreed with an affirmative gesture.
I told him that the reason I had not followed his instructions was because I felt a little stupid talking to plants.
"You fail to understand that a sorcerer is not joking," he said severely. "When a sorcerer attempts to see, he attempts to gain power."
Don Genaro was staring at me. I was taking notes and that seemed to baffle him. He smiled at me, shook his head, and said something to don Juan. Don Juan shrugged his shoulders. To see me writing must have been quite odd for don Genaro. Don Juan was, I suppose, habituated to my taking notes, and the fact that I wrote while he spoke was no longer odd to him; he could carry on talking without appearing to notice my acts. Don Genaro, however, kept on laughing, and I had to stop writing in order not to disrupt the mood of the conversation.
Don Juan affirmed again that a sorcerer's acts were not to be taken as jokes because a sorcerer played with death at every turn of the way. Then he proceeded to relate to don Genaro the story of how one night I had looked at the lights of death following me during one of our trips. The story proved to be utterly funny; don Genaro rolled on the ground laughing.
Don Juan apologized to me and said that his friend was given to explosions of laughter. I glanced at don Genaro, who I thought was still rolling on the ground, and saw him performing a most unusual act. He was standing on his head without the aid of his arms or hands, and his legs were crossed as if he were sitting. The sight was so incongruous that it made me jump. When I realized he was doing something almost impossible, from the point of view of body mechanics, he had gone back again to a normal sitting position. Don Juan, however, seemed to be cognizant of what was involved and celebrated don Genaro's performance with roaring laughter.
Don Genaro seemed to have noticed my confusion; he clapped his hands a couple of times and rolled on the ground again; apparently he wanted me to watch him. What had at first appeared to be rolling on the ground was actually leaning over in a sitting position, and touching the ground with his head. He seemingly attained his illogical posture by gaining momentum, leaning over several times, until the inertia carried his body to a vertical stand, so that for an instant he "sat on his head."
When their laughter subsided don Juan continued talking; his tone was very severe. I shifted the position of my body in order to be at ease and give him all my attention. He did not smile at all, as he usually does, especially when I try to pay deliberate attention to what he is saying. Don Genaro kept looking at me as if he were expecting me to start writing again, but I did not take notes any more. Don Juan's words were a reprimand for not talking to the plants I had collected, as he had always told me to do. He said the plants I had killed could also have killed me; he said he was sure they would, sooner or later, make me get ill. He added that if I became ill as a result of hurting plants, I would, however, slough it off and believe I had only a touch of the flu.
The two of them had another moment of mirth, then don Juan became serious again and said that if I did not think of my death, my entire life would be only a personal chaos. He looked very stern.
"What else can a man have, except his life and his death?" he said to me.
At that point I felt it was indispensable to take notes and I began writing again. Don Genaro stared at me and smiled. Then he tilted his head back a little and opened his nostrils. He apparently had remarkable control over the muscles operating his nostrils, because they opened up to perhaps twice their normal size.
What was most comical about his clowning was not so much his gestures as his own reactions to them. After
50
he enlarged his nostrils he tumbled down, laughing, and worked his body again into the same, strange, sitting-onhis-
head, upside-down posture.
Don Juan laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks. I felt a bit embarrassed and laughed nervously.
"Genaro doesn't like writing," don Juan said as an explanation.
I put my notes away, but don Genaro assured me that it was all right to write, because he did not really mind it. I gathered my notes again and began writing. He repeated the same hilarious motions and both of them had the same reactions again.
Don Juan looked at me, still laughing, and said that his friend was portraying me; that my tendency was to open my nostrils whenever I wrote; and that don Genaro thought that trying to become a sorcerer by taking notes was as absurd as sitting on one's head and thus he had made up the ludicrous posture of resting the weight of his sitting body on his head.
"Perhaps you don't think it's funny," don Juan said, "but only Genaro can work his way up to sitting on his head, and only you can think of learning to be a sorcerer by writing your way up."
They both had another explosion of laughter and don Genaro repeated his incredible movement.
I liked him. There was so much grace and directness in his acts.
"My apologies, don Genaro," I said, pointing to the writing pad.
"It's all right," he said and chuckled again.
I could not write any more. They went on talking for a very long time about how plants could actually kill and how sorcerers used plants in that capacity. Both of them kept staring at me while they talked, as if they expected me to write.
"Carlos is like a horse that doesn't like to be saddled," don Juan said. "You have to be very slow with him.
You scared him and now he won't write."
Don Genaro expanded his nostrils and said in a mocking plea, frowning and puckering his mouth.
"Come on, Carlitos, write! Write until your thumb falls off."
Don Juan stood up, stretching his arms and arching his back. In spite of his advanced age his body seemed to be powerful and limber. He went to the bushes at the side of the house and I was left alone with don Genaro. He looked at me and I moved my eyes away because he made me feel embarrassed.
"Don't tell me you're not even going to look at me?" he said with a most hilarious intonation.
He opened his nostrils and made them quiver; then he stood up and repeated don Juan's movements, arching his back and stretching his arms but with his body contorted into a most ludicrous position; it was truly an indescribable gesture that combined an exquisite sense of pantomime and a sense of the ridiculous. It enthralled me. It was a masterful caricature of don Juan.
Don Juan came back at that moment and caught the gesture and obviously the meaning also. He sat down chuckling.
"Which direction is the wind?" don Genaro asked casually.
Don Juan pointed to the west with a movement of his head.
"I'd better go where the wind blows," don Genaro said with a serious expression.
He then turned and shook his finger at me.
"And don't you pay any attention if you hear strange noises," he said. "When Genaro shits the mountains tremble."
He leaped into the bushes and a moment later I heard a very strange noise, a deep, unearthly rumble. I did not know what to make of it. I looked at don Juan for a clue but he was doubled over with laughter.
October 17,1968
I don't remember what prompted don Genaro to tell me about the arrangement of the "other world," as he called it. He said that a master sorcerer was an eagle, or rather that he could make himself into an eagle. On the other hand, an evil sorcerer was a "tecolote," an owl. Don Genaro said that an evil sorcerer was a child of the night and for such a man the most useful animals were the mountain lion or other wild cats, or the night birds, especially the owl. He said that the "brujos liricos," lyric sorcerers, meaning the dilettante sorcerers, preferred
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other animals—a crow, for example. Don Juan laughed; he had been listening in silence.
Don Genaro turned to him and said, "That's true, you know that, Juan."
Then he said that a master sorcerer could take his disciple on a journey with him and actually pass through the ten layers of the other world. The master, provided that he was an eagle, could start at the very bottom layer and then go through each successive world until he reached the top. Evil sorcerers and dilettantes could at best, be said, go through only three layers.
Don Genaro gave a description of what those steps were by saying, "You start at the very bottom and then your teacher takes you with him in his flight and soon, boom! You go through the first layer. Then a little while later, boom! You go through the second; and boom! You go through the third..."
Don Genaro took me through ten booms to the last layer of the world. When he had finished talking don Juan looked at me and smiled knowingly.
"Talking is not Genaro's predilection," he said, "but if you care to get a lesson, he will teach you about the equilibrium of things."
Don Genaro nodded affirmatively; he puckered up his mouth and closed his eyelids halfway. I thought his gesture was delightful. Don Genaro stood up and so did don Juan. "All right," don Genaro said. "Let's go, then.
We could go and wait for Nestor and Pablito. They're through now. On Thursdays they're through early."
Both of them got into my car; don Juan sat in the front. I did not ask them anything but simply started the engine. Don Juan directed me to a place he said was Nestor's home; don Genaro went into the house and a while later came out with Nestor and Pablito, two young men who were his apprentices. They all got in my car and don Juan told me to take the road toward the western mountains.
We left my car on the side of the dirt road and walked along the bank of a river, which was perhaps fifteen or twenty feet across, to a waterfall that was visible from where I had parked. It was late afternoon. The scenery was quite impressive. Directly above us there was a huge, dark, bluish cloud that looked like a floating roof; it had a well-defined edge and was shaped like an enormous half-circle. To the west, on the high mountains of the Cordillera Central, the rain seemed to be descending on the slopes. It looked like a whitish curtain falling on the green peaks. To the east there was the long, deep valley; there were only scattered clouds over the valley and the sun was shining there. The contrast between the two areas was magnificent. We stopped at the bottom of the waterfall; it was perhaps a hundred and fifty feet high; the roar was very loud.
Don Genaro fastened a belt around his waist. He had at least seven items hanging from it. They looked like small gourds. He took off his hat and let it hang on his back from a cord tied around his neck. He put on a headband that he took from a pouch made of a thick wool fabric. The headband was also made of wool of various colors; a sharp yellow was the most prominent of them. He inserted three feathers in the headband. They seemed to be eagle feathers. I noticed that the places where he had inserted them were not symmetrical. One feather was above the back curve of his right ear, the other was a few inches to the front, and the third was over his left temple. Then he took off his sandals, hooked or tied them to the waist of his trousers, and fastened his belt over his poncho. The belt seemed to be made of woven strips of leather. I could not see whether he tied it or buckled it. Don Genaro walked toward the waterfall.
Don Juan manipulated a round rock into a steady position and-sat down on it. The other two young men did the same with some rocks and sat down to his left. Don Juan pointed to the place next to him, on his right side, and told me to bring a rock and sit by him".
"We must make a line here," he said, showing me that the three were sitting in a row.
By then don Genaro had reached the very bottom of the waterfall and had begun climbing a trail on the right side of it. From where we were sitting the trail looked fairly steep. There were a lot of shrubs he used as railings.
At one moment he seemed to lose his footing and almost slid down, as if the dirt were slippery. A moment later the same thing happened and the thought crossed my mind that perhaps don Genaro was too old to be climbing. I saw him slipping and stumbling several times before he reached the spot where the trail ended.
I experienced a sort of apprehension when he began to climb tihe rocks. I could not figure out what he was going to do.
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"What's he doing?" I asked don Juan in a whisper.
Don Juan did not look at me.
"Obviously he's climbing," he said.
Don Juan was looking straight at don Genaro. His gaze was fixed. His eyelids were half-closed. He was sitting very erect with his hands resting between his legs, on the edge of the rock.
I leaned over a little bit to see the two young men. Don Juan made an imperative gesture with his hand to make me get back in line. I retreated immediately. I had only a glimpse of the young men. They seemed to be as attentive as he was.
Don Juan made another gesture with his hand and pointed to the direction of the waterfall.
I looked again. Don Genaro had climbed quite a way on the rocky wall. At the moment I looked he was perched on a ledge, inching his way slowly to circumvent a huge boulder. His arms were spread, as if he were embracing the rock. He moved slowly toward his right and suddenly he lost his footing. I gasped involuntarily.
For a moment his whole body hung in the air. I was sure he was going to fall but he did not. His right hand had grabbed onto something and very agilely his feet went back on the ledge again. But before he moved on he turned to us and looked. It was only a glance. There was, however, such a stylization to the movement of turning his head that I began to wonder. I remembered then that he had done the same thing, turning to look at us, every time he slipped. I had thought that don Genaro must have felt embarrassed by his clumsiness and turned to see if we were looking.
He climbed a bit more toward the top, suffered another loss of footing, and hung perilously on the overhanging rock face. This time he was supported by his left hand. When he regained his balance he turned and looked at us again. He slipped twice more before he reached the top. From where we were sitting, the crest of the waterfall seemed to be twenty to twenty-five feet across.
Don Genaro stood motionless for a moment. I wanted to ask don Juan what don Genaro was going to do up there, but don Juan seemed to be so absorbed in watching that I did not dare disturb him.
Suddenly don Genaro jumped onto the water. It was such a thoroughly unexpected action that I felt a vacuum in the pit of my stomach. It was a magnificent, outlandish leap. For a second I had the clear sensation that I had seen a series of superimposed images of his body making an elliptical flight to the middle of the stream.
When my surprise receded I noticed that he had landed on a rock on the edge of the fall, a rock which was hardly visible from where we were sitting.
He stayed perched there for a long time. He seemed to be fighting the power of the onrushing water. Twice he hung over the precipice and I could not determine what he was clinging to. He gained his balance and squatted on the rock. Then he leaped again, like a tiger. I could barely see the next rock where he landed; it was like a small cone on the very edge of tine fall.
He remained there almost ten minutes. He was motionless. His immobility was so impressive to me that I was shivering. I wanted to get up and walk around. Don Juan noticed my nervousness and told me imperatively to be calm.
Don Genaro's stillness plunged me into an extraordinary and mysterious terror. I felt that if he remained perched there any longer I could not control myself.
Suddenly he jumped again, this time all the way to the other bank of the waterfall. He landed on his feet and hands, like a feline. He remained in a squat position for a moment, then he stood up and looked across the fall, to the other side, and then down at us. He stayed dead still looking at us. His hands were clasped at his sides, as if he were holding onto an unseen railing.
There was something truly exquisite about his posture; his body seemed so nimble, so frail. I thought that don Genaro with his headband and feathers, his dark poncho and his bare feet was the most beautiful human being I had ever seen.
He threw his arms up suddenly, lifted his head, and flipped his body swiftly in a sort of lateral somersault to his left. The boulder where he had been standing was round and when he jumped he disappeared behind it.
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Huge drops of rain began to fall at that moment. Don Juan got up and so did the two young men. Their movement was so abrupt that it confused me. Don Genaro's masterful feat had thrown me into a state of profound emotional excitement. I felt he was a consummate artist and I wanted to see him right then to applaud him.
I strained to look on the left side of the waterfall to see if he was coming down, but he was not. I insisted on knowing what had happened to him. Don Juan did not answer.
"We better hurry out of here," he said. "It's a real downpour. We have to take Nestor and Pablito to their house and then we'll have to start on our trip back."
"I didn't even say goodbye to don Genaro," I complained.
"He already said goodbye to you," don Juan answered harshly.
He peered at me for an instant and then softened his frown and smiled.
"He has also wished you well," he said. "He felt happy with you."
"But aren't we going to wait for him?"
"No!" don Juan said sharply, "Let him be, wherever he is. Perhaps he is an eagle flying to the other world, or perhaps he has died up there. It doesn't matter now."
October 23,1968
Don Juan casually mentioned that he was going to make another trip to central Mexico in the near future.
"Are you going to visit don Genaro?" I asked.
"Perhaps," he said without looking at me.
"He's all right, isn't he, don Juan? I mean nothing bad happened to him up there on top of the waterfall, did it?"
"Nothing happened to him; he is sturdy."
We talked about his projected trip for a while and then I said I had enjoyed don Genaro's company and his jokes. He laughed and said that don Genaro was truly like a child. There was a long pause; I struggled in my mind to find an opening line to ask about his lesson. Don Juan looked at me and said in a mischievous tone:
"You're dying to ask me about Genaro's lesson, aren't you?"
I laughed with embarrassment. I had been obsessed with everything that took place at the waterfall. I had been hashing and rehashing all the details I could remember and my conclusions were that I had witnessed an incredible feat of physical prowess. I thought don Genaro was beyond doubt a peerless master of equilibrium;
every single movement he had performed was highly ritualized and, needless to say, must have had some inextricable, symbolic meaning.
"Yes," I said. "I admit I'm dying to know what his lesson was."
"Let me tell you something," don Juan said. "It was a waste of time for you. His lesson was for someone who can see. Pablito and Nestro got the gist of it, although they don't see very well. But you, you went there to look. I told Genaro that you are a very strange plugged-up fool and that perhaps you'd get unplugged with his lesson, but you didn't. It doesn't matter, though. Seeing is very difficult.
"I didn't want you to speak to Genaro afterwards, so we had to leave. Too bad. Yet it would have been worse to stay. Genaro risked a great deal to show you something magnificent. Too bad you can't see."
"Perhaps, don Juan, if you tell me what the lesson was I may find out that I really saw."
Don Juan doubled up with laughter.
"Your best feature is asking questions," he said.
He was apparently going to drop the subject again. We were sitting, as usual, in the area in front of his house;
he suddenly got up and walked inside. I trailed behind him and insisted on describing to him what I had seen. I faithfully followed the sequence of events as I remembered it. Don Juan kept on smiling while I spoke. When I had finished he shook his head.
"Seeing is very difficult," he said.
I begged him to explain his statement "Seeing is not a matter of talk," he said imperatively.
Obviously he was not going to tell me anything more, so I gave up and left the house to run some errands for
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him.
When I returned it was already dark; we had something to eat and afterwards we walked out to the ramada;
we had no sooner sat down than don Juan began to talk about don Genaro's lesson. He did not give me any time to prepare myself for it. I did have my notes with me, but it was too dark to write and I did not want to alter the flow of his talk by going inside the house for the kerosene lantern.
He said that don Genaro, being a master of balance, could perform very complex and difficult movements.
Sitting on his head was one of such movements and with it he had attempted to show me that it was impossible to "see" while I took notes. The action of sitting on his head without the aid of his hands was, at best, a freakish stunt that lasted only an instant. In don Genaro's opinion, writing about "seeing" was the same; that is, it was a precarious maneuver, as odd and as unnecessary as sitting on one's head.
Don Juan peered at me in the dark and in a very dramatic tone said that while don Genaro was horsing around, sitting on his head, I was on the very verge of "seeing." Don Genaro noticed it and repeated his maneuvers over and over, to no avail, because I had lost the thread right away.
Don Juan said that afterwards don Genaro, moved by his personal liking for me, attempted in a very dramatic way to bring me back to that verge of "seeing." After very careful deliberation he decided to show me a feat of equilibrium by crossing the waterfall. He felt that the waterfall was like the edge on which I was standing and was confident I could also make it across. Don Juan then explained don Genaro's feat. He said that he had already told me that human beings were, for those who "saw," luminous beings composed of something like fibers of light, which rotated from the front to the back and maintained the appearance of an egg. He said that he had also told me that the most astonishing part of the egg-like creatures was a set of long fibers that came out of the area around the navel; don Juan said that those fibers were of the uttermost importance in the life of a man. Those fibers were the secret of don Genaio's balance and his lesson had nothing to do with acrobatic jumps across the waterfall. His feat of equilibrium was in the way he used those "tentacle-like" fibers.
Don Juan dropped the subject as suddenly as he had started it and began to talk about something thoroughly unrelated.
October 24,1968
I cornered don Juan and told him I intuitively felt that I was never going to get another lesson in equilibrium and that he had to explain to me all the pertinent details, which I would otherwise never discover by myself. Don Juan said I was right, in so far as knowing that don Genaro would never give me another lesson.
"What else do you want to know?" he asked.
"What are those tentacle-like fibers, don Juan?"
"They are the tentacles that come out of a man's body which are apparent to any sorcerer who sees. Sorcerers act toward people in accordance to the way they see their tentacles. Weak persons have very short, almost invisible fibers; strong persons have bright, long ones. Genaro's, for instance, are so bright that they resemble thickness. You can tell from the fibers if a person is healthy, or if he is sick, or if he is mean, or kind, or treaoherous. You can also tell from the fibers if a person can see. Here is a baffling problem. When Genaro saw you he knew, just like my friend Vicente did, that you could see; when I see you I see that you can see and yet I know myself that you can't. How baffling! Genaro couldn't get over that. I told him that you were a strange fool. I think he wanted to see that for himself and took you to the waterfall."
"Why do you think I give the impression I can see?"
Don Juan did not answer me. He remained silent for a long time. I did not want to ask him anything else.
Finally he spoke to me and said that he knew why but did not know how to explain it.
"You think everything in the world is simple to understand," he said, "because everything you do is a routine that is simple to understand. At the waterfall, when you looked at Genaro moving across the water, you believed that he was a master of somersaults, because somersaults was all you could think about. And that is all you will ever believe he did. Yet Genaro never jumped across that water. If he had jumped he would have died. Genaro balanced himself on his superb, bright fibers. He made them long, long enough so that he could, let's say, roll on them across the waterfall. He demonstrated the proper way to make those tentacles long, and how to move them
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with precision.
"Pablito saw nearly all of Genaro's movements. Nestor, on the other hand, saw only the most obvious maneuvers. He missed the delicate details. But you, you saw nothing at all."
"Perhaps if you had told me beforehand, don Juan, what to look for ..."
He interrupted me and said that giving me instructions would only have hindered don Genaro. Had I known what was going to take place, my fibers would have been agitated and would have interfered with don Genaro's.
"If you could see," he said, "it would have been obvious to you, from the first step that Genaro took, that he was not slipping as he went up the side of the waterfall. He was loosening his tentacles. Twice he made them go around boulders and held to the sheer rock like a fly. When he got to the top and was ready to cross the water he focused them onto a small rock in the middle of the stream, and when they were secured there, he let the fibers pull him. Genaro never jumped, therefore he could land on the slippery surfaces of small boulders at the very edge of the water. His fibers were at all times neatly wrapped around every rock he used.
"He did not stay on the first boulder very long, because he had the rest of his fibers tied onto another one, even smaller, at the place where the onrush of water was the greatest. His tentacles pulled him again and he landed on it. That was the most outstanding thing he did. The surface was too small for a man to hold onto; and the onrush of the water would have washed his body over the precipice had he not had some of his fibers still focused on the first rock.
"He stayed in that second position for a long time, because he had to draw out his tentacles again and send them across to the other side of the fall. When he had them secured he had to release the fibers focused on the first rock. That was very tricky. Perhaps only Genaro could do that. He nearly lost his grip; or maybe he was only fooling us, well never know that for sure. Personally, I really think he nearly lost his grip. I know that, because he became rigid and sent out a magnificent shoot, like a beam of light across the water. I feel that beam alone could have pulled him through. When he got to the other side he stood up and let his fibers glow like a cluster of lights.
That was the one thing he did just for you. If you had been able to see, you would have seen that.
"Genaro stood there looking at you, and then he knew that you had not seen."
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Part 2
The task of “Seeing”
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7
Don Juan was not at his house when I arrived there at midday on November 8, 1968. I had no idea where to look for him, so I sat and waited. For some unknown reason I knew he would soon be home. A short while later don Juan walked into his house. He nodded at me. We exchanged greetings. He seemed to be tired and lay down on his mat. He yawned a couple of times.
The idea of "seeing" had become an obsession with me and I had made up my mind to use his hallucinogenic smoking mixture again. It had been a terribly difficult decision to make, so I still wanted to argue the point a bit further.
"I want to learn to see, don Juan," I said bluntly. "But I really don't want to take anything; I don't want to smoke your mixture. Do you think there is any chance I could learn to see without it?"
He sat up, stared at me for a moment, and lay down again.
"No!" he said. "You will have to use the smoke."
"But you said I was on the verge of seeing with don Genaro."
"I meant that something in you was glowing as though you were really aware of Genaro's doings, but you were just looking. Obviously there is something in you that resembles seeing, but isn't; you're plugged up and only the smoke can help you."
"Why does one have to smoke? Why can't one simply learn to see by oneself? I have a very earnest desire.
Isn't that enough?"
"No, it's not enough. Seeing is not so simple and only the smoke can give you the speed you need to catch a glimpse of that fleeting world. Otherwise you will only look."
"What do you mean by a fleeting world?"
"The world, when you see, is not as you think it is now. It's rather a fleeting world that moves and changes.
One may perhaps learn to apprehend that fleeting world by oneself, but it won't do any good, because the body decays with the stress. With the smoke, on the other hand, one never suffers from exhaustion. The smoke gives the necessary speed to grasp the fleeting movement of the world and at the same time it keeps the body and its strength intact."
"All right!" I said dramatically. "I don't want to beat around the bush any longer. I'll smoke."
He laughed at my display of histrionics.
"Cut it out," he said. "You always hook onto the wrong thing. Now you think that just deciding to let the smoke guide you is going to make you see. There's much more to it. There is always much more to anything."
He became serious for a moment.
"I have been very careful with you, and my acts have been deliberate," he said, "because it is Mescalito's desire that you understand my knowledge. But I know that I won't have time to teach you all I want. I will only have time to put you on the road and trust that you will seek in the same fashion I did. I must admit that you are more indolent and more stubborn than I. You have other views, though, and the direction that your life will take is something I cannot foresee."
His deliberate tone of voice, something in his attitude, summoned up an old feeling in me, a mixture of fear, loneliness, and expectation.
"We'll soon know where you stand," he said cryptically. He did not say anything else. After a while he went outside the house. I followed him and stood in front of him, not knowing whether to sit down or to unload some packages I had brought for him.
"Would it be dangerous?" I asked, just to say something.
"Everything is dangerous," he said.
Don Juan did not seem to be inclined to tell me anything else; he gathered some small bundles that were piled in a corner and put them inside a carrying net. I did not offer to help him because I knew that if he had wished my help he would have asked me. Then he lay down on his straw mat. He told me to relax and rest. I lay down on my mat and tried to sleep but I was not tired; the night before I had stopped at a motel and slept until
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noon, knowing that I had only a three-hour drive to don Juan's place. He was not sleeping either. Although his eyes were closed, I noticed an almost imperceptible, rhythmical movement of his head. The thought occurred to me that he was perhaps chanting to himself.
"Let's eat something," don Juan said suddenly, and his voice made me jump. "You're going to need all your energy. You should be in good shape."
He made some soup, but I wasn't hungry.
The next day, November 9, don Juan let me eat only a morsel of food and told me to rest. I lay around all morning but I could not relax. I had no idea what don Juan had in mind, but, worst of all, I was not certain what I had in mind myself.
We were sitting under his ramada around 3:00 P.M. I was very hungry. I had suggested various times that we should eat, but he had refused.
"You haven't prepared your mixture for three years," he said suddenly. "You'll have to smoke my mixture, so let's say that I have collected it for you. You will need only a bit of it. I will fill the pipe's bowl once. You will smoke all of it and then rest. Then the keeper of the other world will come. You will do nothing but observe it.
Observe how it moves; observe everything it does. Your life may depend on how well you watch."
Don Juan had dropped his instructions so abruptly that I did not know what to say or even what to think. I mumbled incoherently for a moment. I could not organize my thoughts. Finally I asked the first clear thing that came to my mind.
"Who's this guardian?"
Don Juan flatly refused to involve himself in conversation, but I was too nervous to stop talking and I insisted desperately that he tell me about this guardian.
"You'll see it," he said casually. "It guards the other world."
"What world? The world of the dead?"
"It's not the world of the dead or the world of anything. It's just another world. There's no use telling you about it. See it for yourself."
With that don Juan went inside the house. I followed him into his room.
"Wait, wait, don Juan. What are you going to do?" He did not answer. He took his pipe out of a bundle and sat down on a straw mat in the center of the room, looking at me inquisitively. He seemed to be waiting for my consent.
"You're a fool," he said softly. "You're not afraid. You just say you're afraid."
He shook his head slowly from side to side. Then he took the little bag with the smoking mixture and filled the pipe bowl.
"I am afraid, don Juan. I am really afraid."
"No, it's not fear."
I desperately tried to gain time and began a long discussion about the nature of my feelings. I sincerely maintained that I was afraid, but he pointed out that I was not panting, nor was my heart beating faster than usual.
I thought for a while about what he had said. He was wrong; I did have many of the physical changes ordinarily associated with fear, and I was desperate. A sense of impending doom permeated everything around me. My stomach was upset and I was sure I was pale; my hands were sweating profusely; and yet I really thought I was not afraid. I did not have the feeling of fear I had been accustomed to throughout my life. The fear which has always been idiosyncratically mine was not there. I was talking as I paced up and down the room in front of don Juan, who was still sitting on his mat, holding his pipe, and looking at me inquisitively; and upon considering the matter I arrived at the conclusion that what I felt instead of my usual fear was a profound sense of displeasure, a discomfort at the mere thought of the confusion created by the intake of hallucinogenic plants.
Don Juan stared at me for an instant, then he looked past me, squinting as if he were struggling to detect something in the distance.
I kept walking back and forth in front of him until he forcefully told me to sit down and relax. We sat quietly for a few minutes.
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"You don't want to lose your clarity, do you?" he said abruptly.
"That's very right, don Juan," I said.
He laughed with apparent delight.
"Clarity, the second enemy of a man of knowledge, has loomed upon you.
"You're not afraid," he said reassuringly, "but now you hate to lose your clarity, and since you're a fool, you call that fear."
He chuckled.
"Get me some charcoals," he ordered.
His tone was kind and reassuring. I got up automatically and went to the back of the house and gathered some small pieces of burning charcoal from the fire, put them on top of a small stone slab, and returned to the room.
"Come out here to the porch," don Juan called loudly from outside.
He placed a straw mat on the spot where I usually sit. I put the charcoals next to him and he blew on them to activate the fire. I was about to sit down but he stopped me and told me to sit on the right edge of the mat. He then put a piece of charcoal in the pipe and handed it to me. I took it. I was amazed at the silent forcefulness with which don Juan had steered me. I could not think of anything to say. I had no more arguments. I was convinced that I was not afraid, but only unwilling to lose my clarity.
"Puff, puff," he ordered me gently. "Just one bowl this time."
I sucked on the pipe and heard the chirping of the mixture catching on fire. I felt an instantaneous coat of ice inside my mouth and my nose. I took another puff and the coating extended to my chest. When I had taken the last puff I felt that the entire inside of my body was coated with a peculiar sensation of cold warmth.
Don Juan took the pipe away from me and tapped the bowl on his palm to loosen the residue. Then, as he always does, he wet his finger with saliva and rubbed it inside the bowl.
My body was numb, but I could move. I changed positions to sit more comfortably.
"What's going to happen?" I asked.
I had some difficulty vocalizing.
Don Juan very carefully put his pipe inside its sheath and rolled it up in a long piece of cloth. Then he sat up straight, facing me. I felt dizzy; my eyes were closing involuntarily. Don Juan shook me vigorously and ordered me to stay awake. He said I knew very well that if I fell asleep I would die. That jolted me. It occurred to me that don Juan was probably just saying that to keep me awake, but on the other hand, it also occurred to me that he might be right. I opened my eyes as wide as I could and that made don Juan laugh. He said that I had to wait for a while and keep my eyes open all the time and that at a given moment I would be able to see the guardian of the other world.
I felt a very annoying heat all over my body; I tried to change positions, but I could not move any more. I wanted to talk to don Juan; the words seemed to be so deep inside of me that I could not bring them out. Then I tumbled on my left side and found myself looking at don Juan from the floor.
He leaned over and ordered me in a whisper not to look at him but to stare fixedly at a point on my mat which was directly in front of my eyes. He said that I had to look with one eye, my left eye, and that sooner or later I would see the guardian.
I fixed my stare on the spot he had pointed to but I did not see anything. At a certain moment, however, I noticed a gnat flying in front of my eyes. It landed on the mat. I followed its movements. It came very close to me, so close that my visual perception blurred. And then, all of a sudden, I felt as if I had stood up. It was a very puzzling sensation that deserved some pondering, but there was no time for that. I had the total sensation that I was looking straight onward from my usual eye level, and what I saw shook up the last fiber of my being. There is no other way to describe the emotional jolt I experienced. Right there facing me, a short distance away, was a gigantic, monstrous animal. A truly monstrous thing! Never in the wildest fantasies of fiction had I encountered anything like it. I looked at it in complete, utmost bewilderment.
The first thing I really noticed was its size. I thought, for some reason, that it must be close to a hundred feet
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tall. It seemed to be standing erect, although I could not figure out how it stood. Next, I noticed that it had wings, two short, wide wings. At that point I became aware that I insisted on examining the animal as if it were an ordinary sight; that is, I looked at it. However, I could not really look at it in the way I was accustomed to looking. I realized that I was, rather, noticing things about it, as if the picture were becoming more clear as parts were added. Its body was covered with tufts of black hair. It had a long muzzle and was drooling. Its eyes were bulgy and round, like two enormous white balls.
Then it began to beat its wings. It was not the flapping motion of a bird's wings, but a kind of flickering, vibratory tremor. It gained speed and began circling in front of me; it was not flying, but rather skidding with astounding speed and agility, just a few inches above the ground. For a moment I found myself engrossed in watching it move. I thought that its movements were ugly and yet its speed and easiness were superb.
It circled twice in front of me, vibrating its wings, and whatever was drooling out of its mouth flew in all directions. Then it turned around and skidded away at an incredible speed until it disappeared in the distance. I stared fixedly in the direction it had gone because there was nothing else I could do. I had a most peculiar sensation of being incapable of organizing my thoughts coherently. I could not move away. It was as if I were glued to the spot. Then I saw something like a cloud in the distance; an instant later the gigantic beast was circling again at full speed in front of me. Its wings cut closer and closer to my eyes until they hit me. I felt that its wings had actually hit whatever part of me was there. I yelled with all my might in the midst of one of the most excruciating pains I have ever had.
The next thing I knew I was seated on my mat and don Juan was rubbing my forehead. He rubbed my arms and legs with leaves, then he took me to an irrigation ditch behind his house, took off my clothes, and submerged me completely, then pulled me out and submerged me over and over again.
As I lay on the shallow bottom of the irrigation ditch, don Juan pulled up my left foot from time to time and tapped the sole gently. After a while I felt a ticklishness. He noticed it and said that I was all right. I put on my clothes and we returned to his house. I sat down again on my straw mat and tried to talk, but I felt I could not concentrate on what I wanted to say, although my thoughts were very clear. I was amazed to realize how much concentration was necessary to talk. I also noticed that in order to say something I had to stop looking at things. I had the impression that I was entangled at a very deep level and when I wanted to talk I had to surface like a diver; I had to ascend as if pulled by my words. Twice I went as far as clearing my throat in a fashion which was perfectly ordinary. I could have said then whatever I wanted to, but I did not. I preferred to remain at the strange level of silence where I could just look. I had the feeling that I was beginning to tap what don Juan had called "seeing" and that made me very happy.
Afterwards don Juan gave me some soup and tortillas and ordered me to eat. I was able to eat without any trouble and without losing what I thought to be my "power of seeing." I focused my gaze on everything around me. I was convinced I could "see" everything, and yet the world looked the same to the best of my assessment. I struggled to "see" until it was quite dark. I finally got tired and lay down and went to sleep.
I woke up when don Juan covered me with a blanket. I had a headache and I was sick to my stomach. After a while I felt better and slept soundly until the next day.
In the morning I was myself again. I asked don Juan eagerly, "What happened to me?"
Don Juan laughed coyly. "You went to look for the keeper and of course you found it," he said.
"But what was it, don Juan?"
"The guardian, the keeper, the sentry of the other world," don Juan said factually.
I intended to relate to him the details of the portentous and ugly beast, but he disregarded my attempt, saying that my experience was nothing special, that any man could do that.
I told him that the guardian had been such a shock to me that I really had not yet been able to think about it.
Don Juan laughed and made fun of what he called an overdramatic bent of my nature.
"That thing, whatever it was, hurt me," I said. "It was as real as you and I."
"Of course it was real. It caused you pain, didn't it?"
As I recollected my experience I grew more excited. Don Juan told me to calm down. Then he asked me if I
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had really been afraid of it; he stressed the word "really."
"I was petrified," I said. "Never in my life have I experienced such an awesome fright."
"Come on," he said, laughing. "You were not that afraid."
"I swear to you," I said with genuine fervor, "that if I could have moved I would have run hysterically."
He found my statement very funny and roared with laughter.
"What was the point of making me see that monstrosity, don Juan?"
He became serious and gazed at me.
"That was the guardian," he said. "If you want to see you must overcome the guardian."
"But how am I to overcome it, don Juan? It is perhaps a hundred feet tall."
Don Juan laughed so hard that tears rolled down his cheeks.
"Why don't you let me tell you what I saw, so there won't be any misunderstanding?" I said.
"If that makes you happy, go ahead, tell me."
I narrated everything I could remember, but that did not seem to change his mood.
"Still, that's nothing new," he said, smiling.
"But how do you expect me to overcome a thing like that? With what?"
He was silent for quite a while. Then he turned to me and said, "You were not afraid, not really. You were hurt, but you were not afraid."
He reclined against some bundles and put his arms behind his head. I thought he had dropped the subject.
"You know," he said suddenly, looking at the roof of the ramada, "every man can see the guardian. And the guardian is sometimes for some of us an awesome beast as high as the sky. You're lucky; for you it was only a hundred feet tall. And yet its secret is so simple."
He paused for a moment and hummed a Mexican song.
"The guardian of the other world is a gnat," he said slowly, as if he were measuring the effect of his words.
"I beg your pardon."
"The guardian of the other world is a gnat," he repeated. "What you encountered yesterday was a gnat; and that little gnat will keep you away until you overcome it."
For a moment I did not want to believe what don Juan was saying, but upon recollecting the sequence of my vision I had to admit that at a certain moment I was looking at a gnat, and an instant later a sort of mirage had taken place and I was looking at the beast.
"But how could a gnat hurt me, don Juan?" I asked, truly bewildered.
"It was not a gnat when it hurt you," he said, "it was the guardian of the other world. Perhaps some day you will have the courage to overcome it. Not now, though; now it is a hundred-foot-tall drooling beast. But there is no point in talking about it. It's no feat to stand in front of it, so if you want to know more about it, find the guardian again."
Two days later, on November 11, I smoked don Juan's mixture again.
I had asked don Juan to let me smoke once more to find the guardian. I had not asked him on the spur of the moment, but after long deliberation. My curiosity about the guardian was disproportionately greater than my fear, or the discomfort of losing my clarity.
The procedure was the same. Don Juan filled the pipe bowl once and when I had finished the entire contents he cleaned it and put it away.
The effect was markedly slower; when I began to feel a bit dizzy don Juan came to me and, holding my head in his hands, helped me to lie down on my left side. He told me to stretch my legs and relax and then helped me put my right arm in front of my body, at the level of my chest. He turned my hand so the palm was pressing against the mat, and let my weight rest on it. I did not do anything to help or hinder him, for I did not know what be was doing. He sat in front of me and told me not to be concerned with anything. He said that the guardian was going to come, and that I had a ringside seat to see it. He also told me, in a casual way, that the guardian could cause great pain, but that there was one way to avert it. He said that two days before he had made me sit up when he judged I had had enough. He pointed to my right arm and said that he had deliberately put it in that position so
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I could use it as a lever to push myself up whenever I wanted to.
By the time he had finished telling me all that, my body was quite numb. I wanted to call to his attention the fact that it would be impossible for me to push myself up because I had lost control of my muscles. I tried to vocalize the words but I could not. He seemed to have anticipated me, however, and explained that the trick was in the will. He urged me to remember the time, years before, when I had first smoked the mushrooms. On that occasion I had fallen to the ground and sprung up to my feet again by an act of what he called, at that time, my ''will"; I had "thought myself up." He said that was in fact the only possible way to get up.
What he was saying was useless to me because I did not remember what I had really done years before. I had an overwhelming sense of despair and closed my eyes.
Don Juan grabbed me by the hair, shook my head vigorously, and ordered me imperatively not to close my eyes. I not only opened my eyes but I did something I thought was astonishing. I actually said, "I don't know how I got up that time."
I was startled. There was something very monotonous about the rhythm of my voice, but it was plainly my voice, and yet I honestly believed I could not have said that, because a minute before I had been incapable of speaking.
I looked at don Juan. He turned his face to one side and laughed.
"I didn't say that," I said.
And again I was startled by my voice. I felt elated. Speaking under these conditions became an exhilarating process. I wanted to ask don Juan to explain my talking, but I found I was again incapable of uttering one single word. I struggled fiercely to voice my thoughts, but it was useless. I gave up and at that moment, almost involuntarily, I said, "Who's talking, who's talking?"
That question made don Juan laugh so hard that at one point he bobbed on his side.
Apparently it was possible for me to say simple things, as long as I knew exactly what I wanted to say.
"Am I talking? Am I talking?" I asked.
Don Juan told me that if I did not stop horsing around he was going to go out and lie down under the ramada and leave me alone with my clowning.
"It isn't clowning," I said.
I was very serious about that. My thoughts were very clear; my body, however, was numb; I did not feel it. I was not suffocated, as I had once been in the past under similar conditions; I was comfortable because I could not feel anything; I had no control whatever over my voluntary system and yet I could talk. The thought occurred to me that if I could talk I could probably stand up as don Juan had said.
"Up," I said in English, and in a flicker of an eye I was up.
Don Juan shook his head in disbelief and walked out of the house.
"Don Juan!" I called out three times.
He came back.
"Put me down," I said.
"Put yourself down," he said. "You seem to be doing very well."
I said, "Down," and suddenly I lost sight of the room. I could not see anything. After a moment the room and don Juan came back again into my field of vision. I thought that I must have lain down with my face to the ground and he had grabbed me by the hair and lifted my head.
"Thank you," I said in a very slow monotone.
"You are welcome," he replied, mocking my tone of voice, and had another attack of laughter.
Then he took some leaves and began rubbing my arms and feet with them.
"What are you doing?" I asked, "I am rubbing you," he said, imitating my painful monotone.
His body convulsed with laughter. His eyes were shiny and very friendly. I liked him. I felt that don Juan was compassionate and fair and funny. I could not laugh with him, but I would have liked to. Another feeling of ex-
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hilaration invaded me and I laughed; it was such an awful sound that don Juan was taken aback for an instant.
"I better take you to the ditch," he said, "or you're going to kill yourself clowning."
He put me up on my feet and made me walk around the room. Little by little I began to feel my feet, and my legs, and finally my entire body. My ears were bursting with a strange pressure. It was like the sensation of a leg or an arm that has fallen asleep. I felt a tremendous weight on the back of my neck and under the scalp on the top of my head.
Don Juan rushed me to the irrigation ditch at the back of his house; he dumped me there fully clothed. The cold water reduced the pressure and the pain, by degrees, until it was all gone.
I changed my clothes in the house and sat down and I again felt the same kind of aloofness, the same desire to stay quiet. I noticed this time, however, that it was not clarity of mind, or a power to focus; rather, it was a sort of melancholy and a physical fatigue. Finally I fell asleep.
November 12,1968
This morning don Juan and I went to the nearby hills to collect plants. We walked about six miles on extremely rough terrain. I became very tired. We sat down to rest, at my initiative, and he began a conversation, saying that he was pleased with my progress.
"I know now that it was I who talked," I said, "but at the time I could have sworn it was someone else."
"It was you, of course," he said.
"How come I couldn't recognize myself?"
"That's what the little smoke does. One can talk and not notice it; or one can move thousands of miles and not notice that either. That's also how one can go through things. The little smoke removes the body and one is free, like the wind; better than the wind, the wind can be stopped by a rock or a wall or a mountain. The little smoke makes one as free as the air; perhaps even freer, the air can be locked in a tomb and become stale, but with the aid of the little smoke one cannot be stopped or locked in."
Don Juan's words unleashed a mixture of euphoria and doubt. I felt an overwhelming uneasiness, a sensation of undefined guilt.
"Then one can really do all those things, don Juan?"
"What do you think? You would rather think you're crazy, wouldn't you?" he said cuttingly.
"Well, it's easy for you to accept all those things. For me it's impossible."
"It's not easy for me. I don't have any more privileges than you. Those things are equally hard for you or for me or for anyone else to accept."
"But you are at home with all this, don Juan."
"Yes, but it cost me plenty. I had to struggle, perhaps more than you ever will. You have a baffling way of getting everything to work for you. You have no idea how hard I had to toil to do what you did yesterday. You have something that helps you every inch of the way. There is no other possible explanation for the manner in which you learn about the powers. You did it before with Mescalito, now you have done it with the little smoke.
You should concentrate on the fact that you have a great gift, and leave other considerations on the side."
"You make it sound so easy, but it isn't. I'm torn inside."
"You'll be in one piece again soon enough. You have not taken care of your body, for one thing. You're too fat. I didn't want to say anything to you before. One must always let others do what they have to do. You were away for years. I told you that you would come back, though, and you did. The same thing happened to me. I quit for five and a half years."
"Why did you stay away, don Juan?"
"For the same reason you did. I didn't like it."
"Why did you come back?"
"For the same reason you have come back yourself, because there is no other way to live."
That statement had a great impact on me, for I had found myself thinking that perhaps there was no other way to live. I had never voiced this thought to anyone, yet don Juan had surmised it correctly.
After a very long silence I asked him,
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"What did I do yesterday, don Juan?"
"You got up when you wanted to."
"But I don't know how I did that."
"It takes tune to perfect that technique. The important thing, however, is that you know how to do it."
"But I don't. That's the point, I really don't."
"Of course you do."
"Don Juan, I assure you, I swear to you . . ."
He did not let me finish; he got up and walked away.
Later on we talked again about the guardian of the other world.
"If I believe that whatever I have experienced is actually real," I said, "then the guardian is a gigantic creature that can cause unbelievable physical pain; and if I believe that one can actually travel enormous distances by an act of will, then it's logical to conclude that I could also will the monster to disappear. Is that correct?"
"Not exactly," he said. "You cannot will the guardian to disappear. Your will can stop it from harming you, though. Of course if you ever accomplish that, the road is open to you. You can actually go by the guardian and there's nothing that it can do, not even whirl around madly."
"How can I accomplish that?"
"You already know how. All you need now is practice."
I told him that we were having a misunderstanding that stemmed from our differences in perceiving the world. I said that for me to know something meant that I had to be fully aware of what I was doing and that I could repeat what I knew at will, but in this case I was neither aware of what I had done under the influence of the smoke, nor could I repeat it if my life depended on it.
Don Juan looked at me inquisitively. He seemed to be amused by what I was saying. He took off his hat and scratched his temples as he does when he wants to pretend bewilderment.
"You really know how to talk and say nothing, don't you?" he said laughing. "I have told you, you have to have an unbending intent in order to become a man of knowledge. But you seem to have an unbending intent to confuse yourself with riddles. You insist on explaining everything as if the whole world were composed of things that can be explained. Now you are confronted with the guardian and with the problem of moving by using your will. Has it ever occurred to you that only a few things in this world can be explained your way? When I say that the guardian is really blocking your passing and could actually knock the devil out of you, I know what I mean.
When I say that one can move by one's will, I also know what I mean. I wanted to teach you, little by little, how to move, but then I realized that you know how to do it even though you say you don't."
"But I really don't know how," I protested.
"You do, you fool," he said sternly, and then smiled. "It reminds me of the time when someone put that kid Julio on a harvesting machine; he knew how to run it although he had never done it before."
"I know what you mean, don Juan; however, I still feel that I could not do it again, because I am not sure of what I did."
"A phony sorcerer tries to explain everything in the world with explanations he is not sure about," he said, "and so everything is witchcraft. But then you're no better. You also want to explain everything your way but you're not sure of your explanations either."
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8
Don Juan asked me abruptly if I was planning to leave for home during the weekend. I said I intended to leave Monday morning. We were sitting under his ramada around midday on Saturday, January 18, 1969, taking a rest after a long walk in the nearby hills. Don Juan got up and went into the house. A few moments later he called me inside. He was sitting in the middle of his room and had placed my straw mat in front of his. He motioned me to sit down and without saying a word he unwrapped his pipe, took it out of its sheath, filled its bowl with his smoking mixture, and lit it. He had even brought into his room a clay tray filled with small charcoals.
He did not ask me whether I was willing to smoke. He just handed me the pipe and told me to puff. I did not hesitate. Don Juan had apparently assessed my mood correctly; my overwhelming curiosity about the guardian must have been obvious to him. I did not need any coaxing and eagerly smoked the entire bowl.
The reactions I had were identical to those I had had before. Don Juan also proceeded in very much the same manner. This time, however, instead of helping me to do it, he just told me to prop my right arm on the mat and lie down on my left side. He suggested that I should make a fist if that would give me a better leverage.
I did make a fist with my right hand, because I found it was easier than turning my palm against the floor while lying with my weight on it I was not sleepy; I felt very warm for a while, then I lost all feeling.
Don Juan lay down on his side facing me; his right forearm rested on his elbow and propped his head up like a pillow. Everything was perfectly placid, even my body, which by then lacked tactile sensations. I felt very content.
"It's nice," I said.
Don Juan got up hurriedly.
"Don't you dare start with this crap," he said forcefully. "Don't talk. You'll waste every bit of energy talking, and then the guardian will mash you down, like you would smash a gnat."
He must have thought that his simile was funny because he began to laugh, but he stopped suddenly.
"Don't talk, please don't talk," he said with a serious look on his face.
"I wasn't about to say anything," I said, and I really did not want to say that.
Don Juan got up. I saw him walking away toward the back of his house. A moment later I noticed that a gnat had landed on my mat and that filled me with a kind of anxiety I had never experienced before. It was a mixture of elation, anguish, and fear. I was totally aware that something transcendental was about to unfold in front of me; a gnat who guarded the other world. It was a ludicrous thought; I felt like laughing out loud, but then I realized that my elation was distracting me and I was going to miss a transition period I wanted to clarify. In my previous attempt to see the guardian I had looked at the gnat first with my left eye, and then I felt that I had stood up and looked at it with both eyes, but I was not aware how that transition had occurred.
I saw the gnat whirling around on the mat in front of my face and realized that I was looking at it with both eyes. It came very close; at a given moment I could not see it with both eyes any longer and shifted the view to my left eye, which was level with the ground. The instant I changed focus I also felt that I had straightened my body to a fully vertical position and I was looking at an unbelievably enormous animal. It was brilliantly black.
Its front was covered with long, black, insidious hair, which looked like spikes coming through the cracks of some slick, shiny scales. The hair was actually arranged in tufts. Its body was massive, thick and round. Its wings were wide and short in comparison to the length of its body. It had two white, bulging eyes and a long muzzle.
This time it looked more like an alligator. It seemed to have long ears, or perhaps horns, and it was drooling.
I strained myself to fix my gaze on it and then became fully aware that I could not look at it in the same way I ordinarily look at things. I had a strange thought; looking at the guardian's body I felt that every single part of it was independently alive, as the eyes of men are alive. I realized then for the first tune in my life that the eyes were the only part of a man that could show, to me, whether or not he was alive. The guardian, on the other hand, had a "million eyes."
I thought this was a remarkable finding. Before this experience I had speculated on the similes that could
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describe the "distortions" that rendered a gnat as a gigantic beast; and I had thought that a good simile was "as if looking at an insect through the magnifying lens of a microscope." But that was not so. Apparently viewing the guardian was much more complex than looking at a magnified insect.
The guardian began to whirl in front of me. At one moment it stopped and I felt it was looking at me. I noticed then that it made no sound. The dance of the guardian was silent. The awesomeness was in its appearance: its bulging eyes; its horrendous mouth; its drooling; its insidious hair; and above all its incredible size. I watched very closely the way it moved its wings, how it made them vibrate without sound. I watched how it skidded over the ground like a monumental ice skater.
Looking at that nightmarish creature in front of me, I actually felt elated. I really believed I had discovered the secret of overpowering it. I thought the guardian was only a moving picture on a silent screen; it could not harm me; it only looked terrifying.
The guardian was standing still, facing me; suddenly it fluttered its wings and turned around. Its back looked like brilliantly colored armor; its shine was dazzling but the hue was nauseating; it was my unfavorable color.
The guardian remained with its back turned to me for a while and then, fluttering its wings, again skidded out of sight.
I was confronted with a very strange dilemma. I honestly believed that I had overpowered it by realizing that it presented only a picture of wrath. My belief was perhaps due to don Juan's insistence that I knew more than I was willing to admit. At any rate, I felt I had overcome the guardian and the path was free. Yet I did not know how to proceed. Don Juan had not told me what to do in such a case. I tried to turn and look behind me, but I was unable to move. However, I could see very well over the major part of a 180-degree range in front of my eyes.
And what I saw was a cloudy, pale-yellow horizon; it seemed gaseous. A sort of lemon hue uniformly covered all I could see. It seemed that I was on a plateau filled with vapors of sulphur. Suddenly the guardian appeared again at a point on the horizon. It made a wide circle before stopping in front of me; its mouth was wide open, like a huge cavern; it had no teeth. It vibrated its wings for an instant and then it charged at me. It actually charged at me like a bull, and with its gigantic wings it swung at my eyes. I screamed with pain and then I flew up, or rather I felt I had ejected myself up, and went soaring beyond the guardian, beyond the yellowish plateau, into another world, the world of men, and I found myself standing in the middle ofdon Juan's room.

January 19,1969
"I really thought I had overpowered the guardian," I said to don Juan.
"You must be kidding," he said.
Don Juan had not spoken one word to me since the day before and I did not mind it I had been immersed in a sort of reverie and again I had felt that if I looked intently I would be able to "see." But I did not see anything that was different. Not talking, however, had relaxed me tremendously.
Don Juan asked me to recount the sequence of my experience, and what particularly interested him was the hue I had seen on the guardian's back. Don Juan sighed and seemed to be really concerned.
"You were lucky that the color was on the guardian's back," he said with a serious face. "Had it been on the front part of its body, or worse yet, on its head, you would be dead by now. You must not try to see the guardian ever again. It's not your temperament to cross that plain; yet I was convinced that you could go through it. But let's not talk about it any more. This was only one of a variety of roads."
I detected an unaccustomed heaviness in don Juan's tone.
"What will happen to me if I try to see the guardian again?"
"The guardian will take you away," he said, "It will pick you up in its mouth and carry you into that plain and leave you there forever. It is obvious that the guardian knew that it is not your temperament and warned you to stay away.”
"How do you think the guardian knew that?"
Don Juan gave me a long, steadfast look. He tried to say something, but gave up as though he was unable to find the right words.
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"I always fall for your questions," he said, smiling.
"You were not really thinking when you asked me that, were you?"
I protested and reaffirmed that it puzzled me that the guardian knew my temperament.
Don Juan had a strange glint in his eye when he said, "And you had not even mentioned anything about your temperament to the guardian, had you?"
His tone was so comically serious that we both laughed. After a while, however, he said that the guardian, being the keeper, the watchman of that world, knew many secrets that a brujo was entitled to share.
"That's one way a brujo gets to see" he said. "But that will not be your domain, so there is no point in talking about it."
"Is smoking the only way to see the guardian?" I asked.
"No. You could also see it without it. There are scores of people who could do that. I prefer the smoke because it is more effective and less dangerous to oneself. If you try to see the guardian without the aid of the smoke, chances are that you may delay in getting out of its way. In your case, for instance, it is obvious that the guardian was warning you when it turned its back so you would look at your enemy color. Then it went away;
but when it came back you were still there, so it charged at you. You were prepared, however, and jumped. The little smoke gave you the protection you needed; had you gone into that world without its aid you wouldn't have been able to extricate yourself from the guardian's grip."
"Why not?"
"Your movements would have been too slow. To survive in that world you need to be as fast as lightning. It was my mistake to leave the room, but I didn't want you to talk any more. You are a blabbermouth, so you talk even against your desire. Had I been there with you I would've pulled your head up. You jumped up by yourself, which was even better; however, I would rather not run a risk like that; the guardian is not something you can fool around with."
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9
For three months don Juan systematically avoided talking about the guardian. I paid him four visits during these months; he involved me in running errands for him every time, and when I had performed the errands he simply told me to go home. On April 24, 1969, the fourth time I was at his house, I finally confronted him after we had eaten dinner and were sitting next to his earthen stove. I told him that he was doing something incongruous to me; I was ready to learn and yet he did not even want me around. I had had to struggle very hard to overcome my aversion to using his hallucinogenic mushrooms and I felt, as he had said himself, that I had no time to lose.
Don Juan patiently listened to my complaints.
"You're too weak," he said. "You hurry when you should wait, but you wait when you should hurry. You think too much. Now you think that there is no time to waste. A while back you thought you didn't want to smoke any more. Your life is too damn loose; you're not tight enough to meet the little smoke. I am responsible for you and I don't want you to die like a goddamn fool."
I felt embarrassed.
"What can I do, don Juan? I'm very impatient."
"Live like a warrior! I've told you already, a warrior takes responsibility for his acts; for the most trivial of his acts. You act out your thoughts and that's wrong. You failed with the guardian because of your thoughts."
"How did I fail, don Juan?"
"You think about everything. You thought about the guardian and thus you couldn't overcome it.
"First you must live like a warrior. I think you understand that very well."
I wanted to interject something in my defense, but he gestured with his hand to be quiet.
"Your life is fairly tight," he continued. "In fact, your life is tighter than Pablito's or Nestor's, Genaro's apprentices, and yet they see and you don't. Your life is tighter than Eligio's and he'll probably see before you do.
This baffles me. Even Genaro cannot get over that. You've faithfully carried out everything I have told you to do.
Everything that my benefactor taught me, in the first stage of learning, I have passed on to you. The rule is right, the steps cannot be changed. You have done everything one has to do and yet you don't see; but to those who see, like Genaro, you appear as though you see. I rely on that and I am fooled. You always turn around and behave like an idiot who doesn't see, which of course is right for you."
Don Juan's words distressed me profoundly. I don't know why but I was close to tears. I began to talk about my childhood and a wave of self-pity enveloped me. Don Juan stared at me for a brief moment and then moved his eyes away. It was a penetrating glance. I felt he had actually grabbed me with his eyes. I had the sensation of two fingers gently clasping me and I acknowledged a weird agitation, an itching, a pleasant despair in the area of my solar plexus. I became aware of my abdominal region. I sensed its heat. I could not speak coherently any more and I mumbled, then stopped talking altogether.
"Perhaps it's the promise," don Juan said after a long pause.
"I beg your pardon."
"A promise you once made, long ago."
"What promise?"
"Maybe you can tell me that. You do remember it, don't you?"
"I don't."
"You promised something very important once. I thought that perhaps your promise was keeping you from seeing."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"I'm talking about a promise you made! You must remember it."
"If you know what the promise was, why don't you tell me, don Juan?"
"No. It won't do any good to tell you."
"Was it a promise I made to myself?"
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For a moment I thought he might be referring to my resolution to quit the apprenticeship.
"No. This is something that took place a long time ago," he said.
I laughed because I was certain don Juan was playing some sort of game with me. I felt mischievous. I had a sensation of elation at the idea that I could fool don Juan, who, I was convinced, knew as little as I did about the alleged promise. I was sure he was fishing in the dark and trying to improvise. The idea of humoring him delighted me.
"Was it something I promised to my grandpa?"
"No," he said, and his eyes glittered. "Neither was it something you promised to your little grandma."
The ludicrous intonation he gave to the word "grandma" made me laugh. I thought don Juan was setting some sort of trap for me, but I was willing to play the game to the end. I began enumerating all the possible individuals to whom I could have promised something of great importance. He said no to each. Then he steered the conversation to my childhood.
"Why was your childhood sad?" he asked with a serious expression.
I told him that my childhood had not really been sad, but perhaps a bit difficult.
"Everybody feels that way," he said, looking at me again. "I too was very unhappy and afraid when I was a child. To be an Indian is hard, very hard. But the memory of that time no longer has meaning for me, beyond that it was hard. I had ceased to think about the hardship of my life even before I had learned to see."
"I don't think about my childhood either," I said.
"Why does it make you sad, then? Why do you want to weep?"
"I don't know. Perhaps when I think of myself as a child I feel sorry for myself and for all my fellow men. I feel helpless and sad."
He looked at me fixedly and again my abdominal region registered the weird sensation of two gentle fingers clasping it. I moved my eyes away and then glanced back at him. He was looking into the distance, past me; his eyes were foggy, out of focus.
"It was a promise of your childhood," he said after a moment's silence.
"What did I promise?"
He did not answer. His eyes were closed. I smiled involuntarily; I knew he was feeling his way in the dark;
however, I had lost some of my original impetus to humor him.
"I was a skinny child," he went on, "and I was always afraid."
"So was I," I said.
"What I remember the most is the terror and sadness that fell upon me when the Mexican soldiers killed my mother," he said softly, as if the memory was still painful. "She was a poor and humble Indian. Perhaps it was better that her life was over then. I wanted to be killed with her, because I was a child. But the soldiers picked me up and beat me. When I grabbed onto my mother's body they hit my fingers with a horsewhip and broke them. I didn't feel any pain, but I couldn't grasp any more, and then they dragged me away."
He stopped talking. His eyes were still closed and I could detect a very slight tremor in his lips. A profound sadness began to overtake me. Images of my own childhood started to flood my mind.
"How old were you, don Juan?" I asked, just to offset the sadness in me.
"Maybe seven. That was the time of the great Yaqui wars. The Mexican soldiers came upon us unexpectedly while my mother was cooking some food. She was a helpless woman. They killed her for no reason at all. It doesn't make any difference that she died that way, not really, and yet for me it does. I cannot tell myself why, though; it just does. I thought they had killed my father too, but they hadn't. He was wounded. Later on they put us in a tram like cattle and closed the door. For days they kept us there in the dark, like animals. They kept us alive with bits of food they threw into the wagon from time to time.
"My father died of his wounds in that wagon. He became delirious with pain and fever and went on telling me that I had to survive. He kept on telling me that until the very last moment of his life.
"The people took care of me; they gave me food; an old woman curer fixed the broken bones of my hand.
And as you can see, I lived. Life has been neither good nor bad to me; life has been hard. Life is hard and for a
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child it is sometimes horror itself."
We did not speak for a very long time. Perhaps an hour went by in complete silence. I had very confusing feelings. I was somewhat dejected and yet I could not tell why. I experienced a sense of remorse. A while before I had been willing to humor don Juan, but he had suddenly turned the tables with his direct account. It had been simple and concise and had produced a strange feeling in me. The idea of a child undergoing pain had always been a touchy subject for me. In an instant my feelings of empathy for don Juan gave way to a sensation of disgust with myself. I had actually taken notes, as if don Juan's life were merely a clinical case. I was on the verge of ripping up my notes when don Juan poked my calf with his toe to attract my attention. He said he was "seeing" a light of violence around me and wondered whether I was going to start beating him. His laughter was a delightful break. He said that I was given to outbursts of violent behavior but that I was not really mean and that most of the time the violence was against myself.
"You're right, don Juan," I said.
"Of course," he said, laughing.
He urged me to talk about my childhood. I began to tell him about my years of fear and loneliness and got involved in describing to him what I thought to be my overwhelming struggle to survive and maintain my spirit.
He laughed at the metaphor of "maintaining my spirit."
I talked for a long time. He listened with a serious expression. Then, at a given moment his eyes "clasped"
me again and I stopped talking. After a moment's pause he said that nobody had ever humiliated me and that was the reason I was not really mean.
"You haven't been defeated yet," he said. He repeated the statement four or five times so I felt obliged to ask him what he meant by that. He explained that to be defeated was a condition of life which was unavoidable. Men were either victorious or defeated and, depending on that, they became persecutors or victims. These two conditions were prevalent as long as one did not "see"; "seeing" dispelled the illusion of victory, or defeat, or suffering. He added that I should learn to "see" while I was victorious to avoid ever having the memory of being humiliated.
I protested that I was not and had never been victorious at anything; and that my life was, if anything, a defeat. He laughed and threw his hat on the floor.
"If your life is such a defeat, step on my hat," he dared me in jest.
I sincerely argued my point. Don Juan became serious. His eyes squinted to a fine slit. He said that I thought my life was a defeat for reasons other than defeat itself. Then in a very quick and thoroughly unexpected manner he took my head in his hands by placing his palms against my temples. His eyes became fierce as he looked into mine. Out of fright I took an involuntary deep breath through my mouth. He let my head go and reclined against the wall, still gazing at me. He had performed his movements with such a speed that by the time he had relaxed and reclined comfortably against the wall, I was still in the middle of my deep breath. I felt dizzy, ill at ease.
"I see a little boy crying," don Juan said after a pause.
He repeated it various times as if I did not understand. I had the feeling he was talking about me as a little boy crying, so I did not really pay attention to it.
"Hey!" he said, demanding my full concentration. "I see a little boy crying."
I asked him if that boy was me. He said no. Then I asked him if it was a vision of my life or just a memory of his own life. He did not answer.
"I see a little boy," he continued saying. "And he is crying and crying."
"Is he a boy I know?" I asked.
"Yes."
"Is he my little boy?"
"No."
"Is he crying now?"
"He's crying now," he said with conviction.
I thought don Juan was having a vision of someone I knew who was a little boy and who was at that very
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moment crying. I voiced the names of all the children I knew, but he said those children were irrelevant to my promise and the child who was crying was very important to it.
Don Juan's statements seemed to be incongruous. He had said that I had promised something to someone during my childhood, and that the child who was crying at that very moment was important to my promise. I told him he was not making sense. He calmly repeated that he "saw" a little boy crying at that moment, and that the little boy was hurt.
I seriously struggled to fit his statements into some sort of orderly pattern, but I could not relate them to anything I was aware of.
"I give up," I said, "because I can't remember making an important promise to anybody, least of all to a child."
He squinted his eyes again and said that this particular child who was crying at that precise moment was a child of my childhood.
"He was a child during my childhood and is still crying now?" I asked.
"He is a child crying now," he insisted.
"Do you realize what you're saying, don Juan?"
"I do."
"It doesn't make sense. How can he be a child now if he was one when I was a child myself?"
"He's a child and he's crying now," he said stubbornly.
"Explain it to me, don Juan."
"No. You must explain it to me."
For the life of me I could not fathom what he was referring to.
"He's crying! He's crying!" don Juan kept on saying in a mesmerizing tone. "And he's hugging you now. He's hurt! He's hurt! And he's looking at you. Do you feel his eyes? He's kneeling and hugging you. He's younger than you. He has come running to you. But his arm is broken. Do you feel his arm? That little boy has a nose that looks like a button. Yes! That's a button nose."
My ears began to buzz and I lost the sensation of being at don Juan's house. The words "button nose"
plunged me at once into a scene out of my childhood. I knew a button-nose boy! Don Juan had edged his way into one of the most recondite places of my life. I knew then the promise he was talking about. I had a sensation of elation, of despair, of awe for don Juan and his splendid maneuver. How in the devil did he know about the button-nose boy of my childhood? I became so agitated by the memory don Juan had evoked in me that my power to remember took me back to a time when I was eight years old. My mother had left two years before and I had spent the most hellish years of my life circulating among my mother's sisters, who served as dutiful mother surrogates and took care of me a couple of months at a time. Each of my aunts had a large family, and no matter how careful and protective the aunts were toward me, I had twenty-two cousins to contend with. Their cruelty was sometimes truly bizarre. I felt then that I was surrounded by enemies, and in the excruciating years that followed I waged a desperate and sordid war. Finally, through means I still do not know to this day, I succeeded in subduing all my cousins. I was indeed victorious. I had no more competitors who counted. However, I did not know that, nor did I know how to stop my war, which logically was extended to the school grounds.
The classrooms of the rural school where I went were mixed and the first and third grades were separated only by a space between the desks. It was there that I met a little boy with a flat nose, who was teased with the nickname "Button-nose." He was a first-grader. I used to pick on him haphazardly, not really intending to. But he seemed to like me in spite of everything I did to him. He used to follow me around and even kept the secret that I was responsible for some of the pranks that baffled the principal. And yet I still teased him. One day I deliberately toppled over a heavy standing blackboard; it fell on him; the desk in which he was sitting absorbed some of the impact, but still the blow broke his collarbone. He fell down. I helped him up and saw the pain and fright in his eyes as he looked at me and held onto me. The shock of seeing him in pain, with a mangled arm, was more than I could bear. For years I had viciously battled against my cousins and I had won; I had vanquished my foes; I had felt good and powerful up to the moment when the sight of the button-nose little boy crying demolished my
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victories. Right there I quit the battle. In whatever way I was capable of, I made a resolution not to win ever again. I thought his arm would have to be cut off, and I promised that if the little boy was cured I would never again be victorious. I gave up my victories for him. That was the way I understood it then.
Don Juan had opened a festered sore in my life. I felt dizzy, overwhelmed. A well of unmitigated sadness beckoned me and I succumbed to it. I felt the weight of my acts on me. The memory of that little button-nose boy, whose name was Joaquin, produced in me such a vivid anguish that I wept. I told don Juan of my sadness for that boy who never had anything, that little Joaquin who did not have money to go to a doctor and whose arm never set properly. And all I had to give him were my childish victories. I felt so ashamed.
"Be in peace, you funny bird," don Juan said imperatively. "You gave enough. Your victories were strong and they were yours. You gave enough. Now you must change your promise."
"How do I change it? Do I just say so?"
"A promise like that cannot be changed by just saying so. Perhaps very soon you'll be able to know what to do about changing it. Then perhaps you'll even get to see."
"Can you give me any suggestions, don Juan?"
"You must wait patiently, knowing that you're waiting, and knowing what you're waiting for. That is the warrior's way. And if it is a matter of fulfilling your promise then you must be aware that you are fulfilling it.
Then a time will come when your waiting will be over and you will no longer have to honor your promise. There is nothing you can do for that little boy's life. Only he could cancel that act."
"But how can he?"
"By learning to reduce his wants to nothing. As long as he thinks that he was a victim, his life will be hell.
And as long as you think the same your promise will be valid. What makes us unhappy is to want. Yet if we would learn to cut our wants to nothing, the smallest thing we'd get would be a true gift. Be in peace, you made a good gift to Joaquin. To be poor or wanting is only a thought; and so is to hate, or to be hungry, or to be in pain."
"I cannot truly believe that, don Juan. How could hunger and pain be only thoughts?"
"They are only thoughts for me now. That's all I know. I have accomplished that feat. The power to do that is all we have, mind you, to oppose the forces of our lives; without that power we are dregs, dust in the wind."
"I have no doubt that you have done it, don Juan, but how can a simple man like myself or little Joaquin accomplish that?"
"It is up to us as single individuals to oppose the forces of our lives. I have said this to you countless times:
Only a warrior can survive. A warrior knows that he is waiting and what he is waiting for; and while he waits he wants nothing and thus whatever little thing he gets is more than he can take. If he needs to eat he finds a way, because he is not hungry; if something hurts his body he finds a way to stop it, because he is not in pain. To be hungry or to be in pain means that the man has abandoned himself and is no longer a warrior; and the forces of his hunger and pain will destroy him."
I wanted to go on arguing my point, but I stopped because I realized that by arguing I was making a barrier to protect myself from the devastating force of don Juan's superb feat which had touched me so deeply and with such a power. How did he know? I thought that perhaps I had told him the story of the button-nose boy during one of my deep states of nonordinary reality. I did not recollect telling him, but my not remembering under such conditions was understandable.
"How did you know about my promise, don Juan?"
"I saw it."
"Did you see it when I had taken Mescalito, or when I had smoked your mixture?"
"I saw it now. Today."
"Did you see the whole thing?"
"There you go again. I've told you, there's no point in talking about what seeing is like. It is nothing."
I did not pursue the point any longer. Emotionally I was convinced.
"I also made a vow once," don Juan said suddenly. The sound of his voice made me jump. "I promised my father that I would live to destroy his assassins. I carried that promise with me for years. Now the promise is
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changed. I'm no longer interested in destroying anybody. I don't hate the Mexicans. I don't hate anyone. I have learned that the countless paths one traverses in one's life are all equal. Oppressors and oppressed meet at the end, and the only thing that prevails is that life was altogether too short for both. Today I feel sad not because my mother and father died the way they did; I feel sad because they were Indians. They lived like Indians and died like Indians and never knew that they were, before anything else, men."
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10
I went back to visit don Juan on May 30, 1969, and bluntly told him that I wanted to take another crack at "seeing." He shook his head negatively and laughed, and I felt compelled to protest. He told me I had to be patient and the time was not right, but I doggedly insisted I was ready.
He did not seem annoyed with my nagging requests. He tried, nevertheless, to change the subject. I did not let go and asked him to advise me what to do in order to overcome my impatience.
"You must act like a warrior," he said.
"How?"
"One learns to act like a warrior by acting, not by talking."
"You said that a warrior thinks about his death. I do that all the time; obviously that isn't enough."
He seemed to have an outburst of impatience and made a smacking sound with his lips. I told him that I had not meant to make him angry and that if he did not need me there at his house, I was ready to go back to Los Angeles. Don Juan patted me gently on the back and said that he never got angry with me; he had simply assumed I knew what it meant to be a warrior.
"What can I do to live like a warrior?" I asked.
He took off his hat and scratched his temples. He looked at me fixedly and smiled.
"You like everything spelled out, don't you?"
"My mind works that way."
"It doesn't have to."
"I don't know how to change. That is why I ask you to tell me exactly what to do to live like a warrior; if I knew that, I could find a way to adapt myself to it."
He must have thought my statements were humorous; he patted me on the back as he laughed.
I had the feeling he was going to ask me to leave any minute, so I quickly sat down on my straw mat facing him and began asking him more questions. I wanted to know why I had to wait.
He explained that if I were to try to "see" in a helter-skelter manner, before I had "healed the wounds" I received battling the guardian, chances were that I would encounter the guardian again even though I was not looking for it. Don Juan assured me that no man in that position would be capable of surviving such an encounter.
"You must completely forget the guardian before you can again embark on the quest of seeing" he said.
"How can anyone forget the guardian?"
"A warrior has to use his will and his patience to forget. In fact, a warrior has only his will and his patience and with them he builds anything he wants."
"But I'm not a warrior."
"You have started learning the ways of sorcerers. You have no more time for retreats or for regrets. You only have time to live like a warrior and work for patience and will, whether you like it or not."
"How does a warrior work for them?"
Don Juan thought for a long time before answering.
"I think there is no way of talking about it," he finally said. "Especially about will. Will is something very special. It happens mysteriously. There is no real way of telling how one uses it, except that the results of using the will are astounding. Perhaps the first thing that one should do is to know that one can develop the will. a warrior knows that and proceeds to wait for it. Your mistake is not to know that you are waiting for your will.
"My benefactor told me that a warrior knows that he is waiting and knows what he is waiting for. In your case, you know that you're waiting. You've been here with me for years, yet you don't know what you are waiting for. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for the average man to know what he is waiting for. A warrior, however, has no problems; he knows that he is waiting for his will."
"What exactly is the will? Is it determination, like the determination of your grandson Lucio to have a motorcycle?"
"No," don Juan said softly and giggled. "That's not will. Lucio only indulges. Will is something else, some-
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thing very clear and powerful which can direct our acts. Will is something a man uses, for instance, to win a battle which he, by all calculations, should lose."
"Then will must be what we call courage," I said.
"No. Courage is something else. Men of courage are dependable men, noble men perennially surrounded by people who flock around them and admire them; yet very few men of courage have will. Usually they are fearless men who are given to performing daring common-sense acts; most of the time a courageous man is also fearsome and feared. Will, on the other hand, has to do with astonishing feats that defy our common sense."
"Is will the control we may have over ourselves?" I asked.
"You may say that it is a kind of control."
"Do you think I can exercise my will, for instance, by denying myself certain things?"
"Such as asking questions?" he interjected.
He said it in such a mischievous tone that I had to stop writing to look at him. We both laughed.
"No," he said. "Denying yourself is an indulgence and I don't recommend anything of the kind. That is the reason why I let you ask all the questions you want. If I told you to stop asking questions, you might warp your will trying to do that. The indulgence of denying is by far the worst; it forces us to believe we are doing great things, when in effect we are only fixed within ourselves. To stop asking questions is not the will I'm talking about. Will is a power. And since it is a power it has to be controlled and tuned and that takes time. I know that and I'm patient with you. When I was your age I was as impulsive as you. Yet I have changed. Our will operates in spite of our indulgence. For example, your will is already opening your gap, little by little."
"What gap are you talking about?"
"There is a gap in us; like the soft spot on the head of a child which closes with age, this gap opens as one develops one's will."
"Where is that gap?"
"At the place of your luminous fibers," he said, pointing to his abdominal area.
"What is it like? What is it for?"
"It's an opening. It allows a space for the will to shoot out, like an arrow."
"Is the will an object? Or like an object?"
"No. I just said that to make you understand. What a sorcerer calls will is a power within ourselves. It is not a thought, or an object, or a wish. To stop asking questions is not will because it needs thinking and wishing. Will is what can make you succeed when your thoughts tell you that you're defeated. Will is what makes you invulnerable. Will is what sends a sorcerer through a wall; through space; to the moon, if he wants."
There was nothing else I wanted to ask. I was tired and somewhat tense. I was afraid don Juan was going to ask me to leave and that annoyed me.
"Let's go to the hills," he said abruptly, and stood up.
On the way he started talking about will again and laughed at my dismay over not being able to take notes.
He described will as a force which was the true link between men and the world. He was very careful to establish that the world was whatever we perceive, in any manner we may choose to perceive. Don Juan maintained that "perceiving the world" entails a process of apprehending whatever presents itself to us. This particular "perceiving" is done with our senses and with our will.
I asked him if will was a sixth sense. He said it was rather a relation between ourselves and the perceived world. I suggested that we halt so I could take notes. He laughed and kept on walking.
He did not make me leave that night, and the next day after eating breakfast he himself brought up the subject of will.
"What you yourself call will is character and strong disposition," he said. "What a sorcerer calls will is a force that comes from within and attaches itself to the world out there. It comes out through the belly, right here, where the luminous fibers are."
He rubbed his navel to point out the area.
"I say that it comes out through here because one can feel it coming out."
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"Why do you call it will?"
"I don't call it anything. My benefactor called it will, and other men of knowledge call it will."
"Yesterday you said that one can perceive the world with the senses as well as with the will. How is that possible?"
"An average man can 'grab' the things of the world only with his hands, or his eyes, or his ears, but a sorcerer can grab them also with his nose, or his tongue, or his will, especially with his will. I cannot really describe how it is done, but you yourself, for instance, cannot describe to me how you hear. It happens that I am also capable of hearing, so we can talk about what we hear, but not about how we hear. A sorcerer uses his will to perceive the world. That perceiving, however, is not like hearing. When we look at the world or when we hear it, we have the impression that it is out there and that it is real. When we perceive the world with our will we know that it is not as 'out there' or 'as real' as we think."
"Is will the same as seeing?"
"No. Will is a force, a power. Seeing is not a force, but rather a way of getting through things. A sorcerer may have a very strong will and yet he may not see; which means that only a man of knowledge perceives the world with his senses and with his will and also with his seeing." I told him that I was more confused than ever about how to use my will to forget the guardian. That statement and my mood of perplexity seemed to delight him.
"I've told you that when you talk you only get confused," he said and laughed. "But at least now you know you are waiting for your will. You still don't know what it is, or how it could happen to you. So watch carefully everything you do. The very thing that could help you develop your will is amidst all the little things you do."
Don Juan was gone all morning; he returned in the early afternoon with a bundle of dry plants. He signaled me with his head to help him and we worked in complete silence for hours, sorting the plants. When we finished we sat down to rest and he smiled at me benevolently.
I said to him in a very serious manner that I had been reading my notes and I still could not understand what being a warrior entailed or what the idea of will meant.
"Will is not an idea," he said.
This was the first time he had spoken to me the whole day.
After a long pause he continued:
"We are different, you and I. Our characters are not alike. Your nature is more violent than mine. When I was your age I was not violent but mean; you are the opposite. My benefactor was like that; he would have been perfectly suited to be your teacher. He was a great sorcerer but he did not see; not the way I see or the way Genaro sees. I understand the world and live guided by my seeing. My benefactor, on the other hand, had to live as a warrior. If a man sees he doesn't have to live like a warrior, or like anything else, for he can see things as they really are and direct his life accordingly. But, considering your character, I would say that you may never learn to see, in which case you will have to live your entire life like a warrior.
My benefactor said that when a man embarks on the paths of sorcery he becomes aware, in a gradual manner, that ordinary life has been forever left behind; that knowledge is indeed a frightening affair; that the means of the ordinary world are no longer a buffer for him; and that he must adopt a new way of life if he is going to survive.
The first thing he ought to do, at that point, is to want to become a warrior, a very important step and decision.
The frightening nature of knowledge leaves one no alternative but to become a warrior.
"By the time knowledge becomes a frightening affair the man also realizes that death is the irreplaceable partner that sits next to him on the mat. Every bit of knowledge that becomes power has death as its central force.
Death lends the ultimate touch, and whatever is touched by death indeed becomes power.
"A man who follows the paths of sorcery is confronted with imminent annihilation every turn of the way, and unavoidably he becomes keenly aware of his death. Without the awareness of death he would be only an ordinary man involved in ordinary acts. He would lack the necessary potency, the necessary concentration that transforms one's ordinary time on earth into magical power.
"Thus to be a warrior a man has to be, first of all, and rightfully so, keenly aware of his own death. But to be
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concerned with death would force any one of us to focus on the self and that would be debilitating. So the next thing one needs to be a warrior is detachment. The idea of imminent death, instead of becoming an obsession, becomes an indifference."
Don Juan stopped talking and looked at me. He seemed to be waiting for a comment.
"Do you understand?" he asked.
I understood what he had said but I personally could not see how anyone could arrive at a sense of detachment. I said that from the point of view of my own apprenticeship I had already experienced the moment when knowledge became such a frightening affair. I could also truthfully say that I no longer found support in the ordinary premises of my daily life. And I wanted, or perhaps even more than wanted, I needed, to live like a warrior.
"Now you must detach yourself," he said.
"From what?"
"Detach yourself from everything."
"That's impossible. I don't want to be a hermit."
"To be a hermit is an indulgence and I never meant that. A hermit is not detached, for he willfully abandons himself to being a hermit.
"Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he is incapable of abandoning himself to anything.
Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he can't deny himself anything. A man of that sort, however, does not crave, for he has acquired a silent lust for life and for all things of life. He knows his death is stalking him and won't give him time to cling to anything, so he tries, without craving, all of everything.
"A detached man, who knows he has no possibility of fencing off his death, has only one thing to back himself with: the power of his decisions. He has to be, so to speak, the master of his choices. He must fully understand that his choice is his responsibility and once he makes it there is no longer time for regrets or recriminations. His decisions are final, simply because his death does not permit him time to cling to anything.
"And thus with an awareness of his death, with his detachment, and with the power of his decisions a warrior sets his life in a strategical manner. The knowledge of his death guides him and makes him detached and silently lusty; the power of his final decisions makes him able to choose without regrets and what he chooses is always strategically the best; and so he performs everything he has to with gusto and lusty efficiency.
"When a man behaves in such a manner one may rightfully say that he is a warrior and has acquired patience!"
Don Juan asked me if I had anything to say, and I remarked that the task he had described would take a lifetime.
He said I protested too much in front of him and that he knew I behaved, or at least tried to behave, in terms of a warrior in my day-to-day life.
"You have pretty good claws," he said, laughing. "Show them to me from time to time. It's good practice."
I made a gesture of claws and growled, and he laughed. Then he cleared his throat and went on talking.
"When a warrior has acquired patience he is on his way to will. He knows how to wait. His death sits with him on his mat, they are friends. His death advises him, in mysterious ways, how to choose, how to live strategically. And the warrior waits! I would say that the warrior learns without any hurry because he knows he is waiting for his will; and one day he succeeds in performing something ordinarily quite impossible to accomplish.
He may not even notice his extraordinary deed. But as he keeps on performing impossible acts, or as impossible things keep on happening to him, he becomes aware that a sort of power is emerging. A power that conies out of his body as he progresses on the path of knowledge. At first it is like an itching on the belly, or a warm spot that cannot be soothed; then it becomes a pain, a great discomfort. Sometimes the pain and discomfort are so great that the warrior has convulsions for months, the more severe the convulsions the better for him. A fine power is always heralded by great pain.
"When the convulsions cease the warrior notices he has strange feelings about things. He notices that he can actually touch anything he wants with a feeling that comes out of his body from a spot right below or right above his navel. That feeling is the will, and when he is capable of grabbing with it, one can rightfully say that the
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warrior is a sorcerer, and that he has acquired will."
Don Juan stopped talking and seemed to await my comments or questions. I had nothing to say. I was deeply concerned with the idea that a sorcerer had to experience pain and convulsions but I felt embarrassed about asking him if I also had to go through that. Finally, after a long silence, I asked him, and he giggled as if he had been anticipating my question. He said that pain was not absolutely necessary; he, for example, had never had it and will had just happened to him.
"One day I was in the mountains," he said, "and I stumbled upon a puma, a female one; she was big and hungry. I ran and she ran after me. I climbed a rock and she stood a few feet away ready to jump. I threw rocks at her. She growled and began to charge me. It was then that my will fully came out, and I stopped her with it before she jumped on me.
"I caressed her with my will. I actually rubbed her tits with it. She looked at me with sleepy eyes and lay down and I ran like a son of a bitch before she got over it."
Don Juan made a very comical gesture to portray a man running for dear life, holding onto his hat.
I told him that I hated to think I had only female mountain lions or convulsions to look forward to, if I wanted will.
"My benefactor was a sorcerer of great powers," he went on. "He was a warrior through and through. His will was indeed his most magnificent accomplishment. But a man can go still further than that; a man can learn to see. Upon learning to see he no longer needs to live like a warrior, nor be a sorcerer. Upon learning to see a man becomes everything by becoming nothing. He, so to speak, vanishes and yet he's there. I would say that this is the time when a man can be or can get anything he desires. But he desires nothing, and instead of playing with his fellow men like they were toys, he meets them in the midst of their folly. The only difference between them is that a man who sees controls his folly, while his fellow men can't. A man who sees has no longer an active interest in his fellow men. Seeing has already detached him from absolutely everything he knew before."
"The sole idea of being detached from everything I know gives me the chills," I said.
"You must be joking! The thing which should give you the chills is not to have anything to look forward to but a lifetime of doing that which you have always done. Think of the man who plants corn year after year until he's too old and tired to get up, so he lies around like an old dog. His thoughts and feelings, the best of him, ramble aimlessly to the only things he has ever done, to plant corn. For me that is the most frightening waste there is.
"We are men and our lot is to learn and to be hurled into inconceivable new worlds."
"Are there any new worlds for us really?" I asked half in jest.
"We have exhausted nothing, you fool," he said imperatively.
"Seeing is for impeccable men. Temper your spirit now, become a warrior, learn to see, and then you'll know that there is no end to the new worlds for our vision."
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11
Don Juan did not make me leave after I had run his errands, as he had been doing lately. He said I could stay, and the next day, June 28, 1969, just before noon he told me I was going to smoke again.
"Am I going to try to see the guardian again?"
"No, that's out. This is something else."
Don Juan calmly filled his pipe with smoking mixture, lighted it, and handed it to me. I experienced no apprehension, A pleasant drowsiness enveloped me right away. When I had finished smoking the whole bowl of mixture, don Juan put his pipe away and helped me stand up. We had been sitting facing each other on two straw mats he had placed in the center of his room. He said that we were going for a short walk and encouraged me to walk, shoving me gently. I took a step and my legs sagged. I did not feel any pain when my knees hit the ground.
Don Juan held my arm and pushed me up on my feet again.
"You have to walk," he said, "the same way you got up the other time. You must use your will."
I seemed to be stuck to the ground. I attempted a step with my right foot and almost lost my balance. Don Juan held my right arm at the armpit and gently catapulted me forward, but my legs did not support me and I would have collapsed on my face had don Juan not caught my arm and buffered my fall. He held me by the right armpit and made me lean on him. I could not feel anything but I was certain that my head was resting on his shoulder; I was seeing the room from a slanted perspective. He dragged me in that position around the porch. We circled it twice in a most painful fashion; finally, I suppose, my weight became so great that he had to drop me on the ground. I knew he could not move me. In a certain way it was as if part of myself deliberately wanted to become lead-heavy. Don Juan did not make any effort to pick me up. He looked at me for an instant; I was lying on my back facing him, I tried to smile at him and he began to laugh; then he bent over and slapped me on the belly. I had a most peculiar sensation. It was not painful or pleasurable or anything I could think of. It was rather a jolt. Don Juan immediately began to roll me around. I did not feel anything; I assumed he was rolling me around because my view of the porch changed in accordance with a circular motion. When don Juan had me in the position he wanted he stepped back.
"Stand up!" he ordered me imperatively. "Stand up the way you did it the other day. Don't piddle around.
You know how to get up. Now get up!"
I intently tried to recollect the actions I had performed on that occasion, but I could not think clearly; it was as if my thoughts had a will of their own no matter how hard I tried to control them. Finally the thought occurred to me that if I said "up" as I had done before I would certainly get up. I said, "Up," loud and clear but nothing happened.
Don Juan looked at me with obvious displeasure and then walked around me toward the door. I was lying on my left side and had a full view of the area in front of his house; my back was to the door, so when he walked around me I immediately assumed he had gone inside.
"Don Juan!" I called loudly, but he did not answer.
I had an overpowering feeling of impotence and despair. I wanted to get up. I said, "Up," again and again, as if that were the magic word that would make me move. Nothing happened. I had an attack of frustration and I went through a sort of tantrum. I wanted to beat my head against the floor and weep. I spent excruciating moments in which I wanted to move or talk and I could not do either. I was truly immobile, paralyzed.
"Don Juan, help me!" I finally managed to bellow.
Don Juan came back and sat in front of me, laughing. He said that I was getting hysterical and that whatever I was experiencing was inconsequential. He lifted my head and, looking straight at me, said that I was having an attack of sham fear. He told me not to fret.
"Your life is getting complicated," he said. "Get rid of whatever it is that's causing you to lose your temper.
Stay here quietly and rearrange yourself."
He placed my head on the ground. He stepped over me and all I could perceive was the shuffling of his sandals as he walked away.
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My first impulse was to fret again, but I could not gather the energy to work myself into it. Instead, I found myself slipping into a rare state of serenity; a great feeling of ease enveloped me. I knew what the complexity of my life was. It was my little boy. I wanted to be his father more than anything else on this earth. I liked the idea of molding his character and taking him hiking and teaching him "how to live," and yet I abhorred the idea of coercing him into my way of life, but that was precisely what I would have to do, coerce him with force or with that artful set of arguments and rewards we call understanding.
"I must let him go," I thought. "I must not cling to him. I must set him free."
My thoughts brought on a terrifying feeling of melancholy. I began to weep. My eyes filled with tears and my view of the porch blurred. Suddenly I had a great urge to get up and look for don Juan to explain to him about my little boy; and the next thing I knew, I was looking at the porch from an upright position. I turned around to face the house and found don Juan standing in front of me. Apparently he had been standing there behind me all the time.
Although I could not feel my steps, I must have walked toward him, because I moved. Don Juan came to me smiling and held me up by the armpits. His face was very close to mine.
"Good, good work," he said reassuringly.
At that instant I became aware that something extraordinary was taking place right there. I had the feeling at first that I was only recollecting an event that had taken place years before. At one time in the past I had seen don Juan's face at very close range; I had smoked his mixture and I had had the feeling then that don Juan's face was submerged in a tank of water. It was enormous and it was luminous and it moved. The image had been so brief that I did not have time to really take stock of it. This time, however, don Juan was holding me and his face was no more than a foot away from mine and I had time to examine it. When I stood up and turned around I definitely saw don Juan; "the don Juan I know" definitely walked toward me and held me. But when I focused my eyes on his face I did not see don Juan as I am accustomed to seeing him; instead, I saw a large object in front of my eyes. I knew it was don Juan's face, yet that knowledge was not guided by my perception; it was, rather, a logical conclusion on my part; after all, my memory confirmed that the instant before, "the don Juan I know" was holding me by the armpits. Therefore the strange, luminous object in front of me had to be don Juan's face; there was a familiarity to it; yet it had no resemblance to what I would call don Juan's "real" face. What I was looking at was a round object which had a luminosity of its own. Every part in it moved. I perceived a contained, undulatory, rhythmical flow; it was as if the flowing was enclosed within itself, never moving beyond its limits, and yet the object in front of my eyes was oozing with movement at any place on its surface. The thought that occurred to me was that it oozed life. In fact it was so alive that I became engrossed looking at its movement. It was a mesmerizing fluttering. It became more and more engrossing, until I could no longer tell what the phenomenon in front of my eyes was.
I experienced a sudden jolt; the luminous object became blurry, as if something were shaking it, and then it lost its glow and became solid and fleshy. I was then looking at don Juan's familiar dark face. He was smiling placidly. The view of his "real" face lasted an instant and then the face again acquired a glow, a shine, an iridescence. It was not light as I am accustomed to perceiving light, or even a glow; rather it was movement, an incredibly fast flickering of something. The glowing object began to bobble up and down again and that disrupted its undulatory continuity. Its shine diminished as it shook, until it again became the "solid" face of don Juan, as I see him in everyday life. At that moment I vaguely realized that don Juan was shaking me. He was also speaking to me. I did not understand what he was saying, but as he kept on shaking me I finally heard him.
"Don't stare at me. Don't stare at me," he kept saying. "Break your gaze. Break your gaze. Move your eyes away."
Shaking my body seemed to force me to dislodge my steady gaze; apparently when I did not peer intently into don Juan's face I did not see the luminous object. When I moved my eyes away from his face and looked at it with the corner of my eye, so to speak, I could perceive his solidity; that is to say, I could perceive a threedimensional person; without really looking at him I could, in fact, perceive his whole body, but when I focused my gaze, the face became at once the luminous object.
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"Don't look at me at all," don Juan said gravely.
I moved my eyes away and looked at the ground.
"Don't fix your gaze on anything," don Juan said imperatively, and stepped aside in order to help me walk.
I did not feel my steps and could not figure out how I performed the act of walking, yet with don Juan holding me by the armpit, we moved all the way to the back of his house. We stopped by the irrigation ditch.
"Now gaze at the water," don Juan ordered me.
I looked at the water but I could not gaze at it. Somehow the movement of the current distracted me, Don Juan kept on urging me in a joking manner to exercise my "gazing powers," but I could not concentrate. I gazed at don Juan's face once again but the glow did not become apparent any more.
I began to experience a strange itching on my body, the sensation of a limb that has fallen asleep; the muscles of my legs began to twitch. Don Juan shoved me into the water and I tumbled down all the way to the bottom. He had apparently held my right hand as he pushed me, and when I hit the shallow bottom he pulled me up again.
It took a long time for me to regain control over myself. When we got back to his house hours later, I asked him to explain my experience. As I put on my dry clothes I excitedly described what I had perceived, but he discarded my entire account, saying that there was nothing of importance in it.
"Big deal!" he said, mocking me. "You saw a glow, big deal."
I insisted on an explanation and he got up and said he had to leave. It was almost five in the afternoon.
The next day I insisted again on discussing my peculiar experience.
"Was it seeing, don Juan?" I asked.
He remained quiet, smiling mysteriously, as I kept pressing him to answer me.
"Let's say that seeing is somewhat like that," he finally said. "You were gazing at my face and saw it shining, but it was still my face. It just happens that the little smoke makes one gaze like that. Nothing to it."
"But in what way would seeing be different?"
"When you see there are no longer familiar features in the world. Everything is new. Everything has never happened before. The world is incredible!"
"Why do you say incredible, don Juan? What makes it incredible?"
"Nothing is any longer familiar. Everything you gaze at becomes nothing! Yesterday you didn't see. You gazed at my face and, since you like me, you noticed my glow. I was not monstrous, like the guardian, but beautiful and interesting. But you did not see me. I didn't become nothing in front of you. And yet you did well.
You took the first real step toward seeing. The only drawback was that you focused on me, and in that case I'm no better than the guardian for you. You succumbed in both instances and didn't see."
"Do things disappear? How do they become nothing?"
"Things don't disappear. They don't vanish, if that's what you mean; they simply become nothing and yet they are still there."
"How can that be possible, don Juan?"
"You have the damnedest insistence on talking!" don Juan exclaimed with a serious face. "I think we didn't hit it right about your promise. Perhaps what you really promised was to never, ever stop talking."
Don Juan's tone was severe. The look in his face was concerned. I wanted to laugh but I did not dare. I believed that don Juan was serious, but he was not. He began to laugh. I told him that if I did not talk I got very nervous.
"Let's walk, then," he said.
He took me to the mouth of a canyon at the bottom of the hills. It was about an hour's walk. We rested for a short while and then he guided me through the thick desert underbrush to a water hole; that is, to a spot he said was a water hole. It was as dry as any other spot in the surrounding area.
"Sit in the middle of the water hole," he ordered me.
I obeyed and sat down.
"Are you going to sit here too?" I asked.
I saw him fixing a place to sit some twenty yards from the center of the water hole, against the rocks on the
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side of the mountain.
He said he was going to watch me from there. I was sitting with my knees against my chest. He corrected my position and told me to sit with my left leg tucked under my seat and my right one bent, with the knee in an upward position. My right arm had to be by my side with my fist resting on the ground, while my left arm was crossed over my chest. He told me to face him and stay there, relaxed but not "abandoned." He then took a sort of whitish cord from his pouch. It looked like a big loop. He looped it around his neck and stretched it with his left hand until it was taut. He plucked the tight string with his right hand. It made a dull, vibratory sound.
He relaxed his grip and looked at me and told me that I had to yell a specific word if I began to feel that something was coming at me when he plucked the string.
I asked what was supposed to come at me and he told me to shut up. He signaled me with his hand that he was going to commence. He said that if something came at me in a very menacing way I had to adopt a fighting form that he had taught me years before, which consisted of dancing, beating the ground with the tip of the left foot, while I slapped my right thigh vigorously. The fighting form was part of a defense technique used in cases of extreme distress and danger.
I had a moment of genuine apprehension. I wanted to inquire about the reason for our being there, but he did not give me time and began plucking the string. He did it various times at regular intervals of perhaps twenty seconds. I noticed that as he kept plucking the string he augmented the tension. I could clearly see that his arms and neck were shivering under the stress. The sound became more clear and I realized then that he added a peculiar yell every time he plucked the string. The combined sound of the tense string and the human voice produced a weird, unearthly reverberation.
I did not feel anything coming at me, but the sight of don Juan's exertion and the eerie sound he was producing had me almost in a state of trance.
Don Juan relaxed his grip and looked at me. While he played, his back was turned to me and he was facing the southeast, as I was; when he relaxed, he faced me.
"Don't look at me when I play," he said. "Don't close your eyes, though. Not for anything. Look at the ground in front of you and listen."
He tensed the string again and began playing. I looked at the ground and concentrated on the sound he was making. I had never heard the sound before in my life.
I became very frightened. The eerie reverberation filled the narrow canyon and began to echo. In fact the sound don Juan was making was coming back to me as an echo from all around the canyon walls. Don Juan must have also noticed that and increased the tension of his string. Although don Juan had changed the pitch, the echo seemed to subside, and then it seemed to concentrate on one point, toward the southeast.
Don Juan reduced the tension of the string by degrees, until I heard a final dull twang. He put the string inside his pouch and walked toward me. He helped me stand up. I noticed then that the muscles of my arms and legs were stiff, like rocks; I was literally soaked in perspiration. I had no idea I had been perspiring so heavily.
Drops of sweat ran into my eyes and made them burn.
Don Juan practically dragged me out of the place. I tried to say something but he put his hand over my mouth.
Instead of leaving the canyon the way we had come in, don Juan made a detour. We climbed the side of the mountain and ended up in some hills very far from the mouth of the canyon.
We walked in dead silence to his house. It was already dark by the time we got there. I tried to talk again but don Juan put his hand on my mouth once more.
We did not eat and did not light the kerosene lantern. Don Juan put my mat in his room and pointed at it with his chin. I understood it as a gesture that I should lie down and go to sleep.
"I have the proper thing for you to do," don Juan said to me as soon as I woke up the next morning. "You will start it today. There isn't much time, you know."
After a very long, uneasy pause I felt compelled to ask him, "What did you have me doing in the canyon yesterday?"
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Don Juan giggled like a child.
"I just tapped the spirit of that water hole," he said. "That type of spirit should be tapped when the water hole is dry, when the spirit has retreated into the mountains. Yesterday I, let us say, woke him up from his slumber.
But he didn't mind it and pointed to your lucky direction. His voice came from that direction."
Don Juan pointed toward the southeast.
"What was the string you played, don Juan?"
"A spirit catcher."
"Can I look at it?"
"No. But I'll make you one. Or better yet, you will make one for yourself some day, when you learn to see"
"What is it made of, don Juan?"
"Mine is a wild boar. When you get one you will realize that it is alive and can teach you the different sounds it likes. With practice you will get to know your spirit catcher so well that together you will make sounds full of power."
"Why did you take me to look for the spirit of the water hole, don Juan?"
"You will know that very soon."
Around 11:30 A.M. we sat under his ramada, where he prepared his pipe for me to smoke.
He told me to stand up when my body was quite numb; I did that with great ease. He helped me walk around, I was surprised at my control; I actually walked twice around the ramada by myself. Don Juan stayed by my side but did not guide me or support me. Then he took me by the arm and walked me to the irrigation ditch. He made me sit on the edge of the bank and ordered me imperatively to gaze at the water and think of nothing else.
I tried to focus my gaze on the water but its movement distracted me. My mind and my eyes began to wander onto other features of the immediate surroundings. Don Juan bobbed my head up and down and ordered me again to gaze only at the water and not think at all. He said it was difficult to stare at the moving water and that one had to keep on trying. I tried three times and every time I became distracted by something else. Don Juan very patiently shook my head every time. Finally I noticed that my mind and my eyes were focusing on the water; in spite of its movement. I was becoming immersed in my view of its liquidness. The water became slightly different. It seemed to be heavier and uniformly grayish green. I could notice the ripples it made as it moved. The ripples were extremely sharp. And then, suddenly, I had the sensation that I was not looking at a mass of moving water but at a picture of water; what I had in front of my eyes was a frozen segment of the running water. The ripples were immobile. I could look at every one of them. Then they began to acquire a green phosphorescence and a sort of green fog oozed out of them. The fog expanded in ripples and as it moved, its greenness became more brilliant until it was a dazzling radiance that covered everything.
I don't know how long I stayed by the irrigation ditch. Don Juan did not interrupt me. I was immersed in the green glow of the fog. I could sense it all around me. It soothed me. I had no thoughts, no feelings. All I had was a quiet awareness, the awareness of a brilliant, soothing greenness.
Being extremely cold and damp was the next thing I became aware of. Gradually I realized that I was submerged in the irrigation ditch. At one moment the water slipped inside my nose, and I swallowed it and it made me cough. I had an annoying itch inside my nose and I sneezed repeatedly. I stood up and had such a forceful and loud sneeze that I also farted. Don Juan clapped his hands and laughed.
"If a body farts, it's alive," he said.
He signaled me to follow him and we walked to his house.
I thought of keeping quiet. In a way, I expected to be in a detached and morose mood, but I really did not feel tired or melancholy. I felt rather buoyant and changed my clothes very rapidly. I began to whistle. Don Juan looked at me curiously and pretended to be surprised; he opened his mouth and his eyes. His gesture was very funny and I laughed quite a bit longer than it called for.
"You're cracking up," he said, and laughed very hard himself.
I explained to him that I did not want to fall into the habit of feeling morose after using his smoking mixture.
I told him that after he had taken me out of the irrigation ditch, during my attempts to meet the guardian, I had
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become convinced that I could "see" if I stared at things around me long enough.
"Seeing is not a matter of looking and keeping quiet," he said. "Seeing is a technique one has to learn. Or maybe it is a technique some of us already know."
He peered at me as if to insinuate that I was one of those who already knew the technique.
"Are you strong enough to walk?" he asked.
I said I felt fine, which I did. I was not hungry, although I had not eaten all day. Don Juan put some bread and some pieces of dry meat in a knapsack, handed it to me, and gestured with his head for me to follow.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
He pointed toward the hills with a slight movement of his head. We headed for the same canyon where the water hole was, but we did not enter it. Don Juan climbed onto the rocks to our right, at the very mouth of the canyon. We went up the hill. The sun was almost on the horizon. It was a mild day but I felt hot and suffocated. I could hardly breathe.
Don Juan was quite a way ahead of me and had to stop to let me catch up with him. He said I was in terrible physical condition and that it was perhaps not wise to go any further. He let me rest for about an hour. He selected a slick, almost round boulder and told me to lie there. He arranged my body on the rock. He told me to stretch my arms and legs and let them hang loose. My back was slightly arched and my neck relaxed, so that my head also hung loose. He made me stay in that position for perhaps fifteen minutes. Then he told me to uncover my abdominal region. He carefully selected some branches and leaves and heaped them over my naked belly. I felt an instantaneous warmth all over my body. Don Juan then took me by the feet and turned me until my head was toward the southeast.
"Now let us call that spirit of the water hole," he said.
I tried to turn my head to look at him. He held me vigorously by the hair and said that I was in a very vulnerable position and in a terribly weak physical state and had to remain quiet and motionless. He had put all those special branches on my belly to protect me and was going to remain next to me in case I could not take care of myself.
He was standing next to the top of my head, and if I rolled my eyes I could see him. He took his string and tensed it and then realized I was looking at him by rolling my eyes way into my forehead. He gave me a snappy tap on the head with his knuckles and ordered me to look at the sky, not to close my eyes, and to concentrate on the sound. He added, as if on second thought, that I should not hesitate to yell the word he had taught me if I felt something was coming at me.
Don Juan and his "spirit catcher" began with a low-tension twang. He slowly increased the tension, and I began to hear a sort of reverberation first, and then a definite echo which came consistently from a southeasterly direction. The tension increased. Don Juan and his "spirit catcher" were perfectly matched. The string produced a low-range note and don Juan magnified it, increasing its intensity until it was a penetrating cry, a howling call.
The apex was an eerie shriek, inconceivable from the point of view of my own experience.
The sound reverberated in the mountains and echoed back to us. I fancied it was coming directly toward me.
I felt it had something to do with the temperature of my body. Before don Juan started his calls I had been very warm and comfortable, but during the highest point of his calls I became chilled; my teeth chattered uncontrollably and I truly had the sensation that something was coming at me. At one point I noticed that the sky had become very dark. I had not been aware of the sky although I was looking at it. I had a moment of intense panic and I yelled the word don Juan had taught me.
Don Juan immediately began to decrease the tension of his eerie calls, but that did not bring me any relief.
"Cover your ears," don Juan mumbled imperatively.
I covered them with my hands.
After some minutes don Juan stopped altogether and came around to my side. After he had taken the branches and leaves off my belly, he helped me up and carefully put them on the rock where I had been lying. He made a fire with them, and while it burned he rubbed my stomach with other leaves from his pouch.
He put his hand on my mouth when I was about to tell him that I had a terrible headache.
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We stayed there until all the leaves had burned. It was fairly dark by then. We walked down the hill and I got sick to my stomach.
While we were walking along the irrigation ditch, don Juan said that I had done enough and I should not stay around. I asked him to explain what the spirit of the water hole was, but he gestured me to be quiet. He said that we would talk about it some other time, then he deliberately changed the subject and gave me a long explanation about "seeing." I said it was regrettable that I could not write in the darkness. He seemed very pleased and said that most of the time I did not pay attention to what he had to say because I was so determined to write everything down.
He spoke about "seeing" as a process independent of the allies and the techniques of sorcery. A sorcerer was a person who could command an ally and could thus manipulate an ally's power to his advantage, but the fact that he commanded an ally did not mean that he could "see." I reminded him that he had told me before that it was impossible to "see" unless one had an ally. Don Juan very calmly replied that he had come to the conclusion it was possible to "see" and yet not command an ally. He felt there was no reason why not, since "seeing" had nothing to do with the manipulatory techniques of sorcery, which served only to act upon our fellow men. The techniques of "seeing," on the other hand, had no effect on men.
My thoughts were very clear. I experienced no fatigue or drowsiness and no longer had an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, as I walked with don Juan. I was terribly hungry, and when we got to his house I gorged myself with food.
Afterwards I asked him to tell me more about the techniques of "seeing." He smiled broadly at me and said that I was again myself.
"How is it," I said, "that the techniques of seeing have no effect on our fellow men?"
"I've told you already," he said. "Seeing is not sorcery. Yet one may easily confuse them, because a man who sees can learn, in no time at all, to manipulate an ally and may become a sorcerer. On the other hand, a man may learn certain techniques in order to command an ally and thus become a sorcerer, and yet he may never learn to see.
"Besides, seeing is contrary to sorcery. Seeing makes one realize the unimportance of it all."
"The unimportance of what, don Juan?"
"The unimportance of everything."
We did not say anything else. I felt very relaxed and did not want to speak any more. I was lying on my back on a straw mat. I had made a pillow with my windbreaker. I felt comfortable and happy and wrote my notes for hours in the light of the kerosene lantern. Suddenly don Juan spoke again.
"Today you did very well," he said. "You did very well at the water. The spirit of the water hole likes you and helped you all the way."
I realized then that I had forgotten to recount my experience to him. I began to describe the way I had perceived the water. He did not let me continue. He said that he knew I had perceived a green fog.
I felt compelled to ask, "How did you know that, don Juan?"
"I saw you."
"What did I do?"
"Nothing, you sat there and gazed into the water and finally you perceived the green mist."
"Was it seeing?"
"No. But it was very close. You're getting close."
I got very excited. I wanted to know more about it. He laughed and made fun of my eagerness. He said that anyone could perceive the green fog because it was like the guardian, something that was unavoidably there, so there was no great accomplishment in perceiving it.
"When I said you did well, I meant that you did not fret," he said, "as you did with the guardian. If you had become restless I would have had to shake your head and bring you back. Whenever a man goes into the green fog his benefactor has to stay by him in case it begins to trap him. You can jump out of the guardian's reach by
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yourself, but you can't escape the clutches of the green fog by yourself. At least not at the beginning. Later on you may learn a way to do it. Now we're trying to find out something else."
"What are we trying to find out?"
"Whether you can see the water."
"How will I know that I have seen it, or that I am seeing it?"
"You will know. You get confused only when you talk."
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12
Working on my notes I had come across various questions.
"Is the green fog, like the guardian, something that one has to overcome in order to see?" I asked don Juan as soon as we sat down under his ramada on August 8, 1969.
"Yes. One must overcome everything," he said.
"How can I overcome the green fog?"
"The same way you should have overcome the guardian, by letting it turn into nothing."
"What should I do?"
"Nothing. For you, the green fog is something much easier than the guardian. The spirit of the water hole likes you, while it certainly was not your temperament to deal with the guardian. You never really saw the guardian."
"Maybe that was because I didn't like it. What if I were to meet a guardian I liked? There must be some people who would regard the guardian I saw as being beautiful. Would they overcome it because they liked it?"
"No! You still don't understand. It doesn't matter whether you like or dislike the guardian. As long as you have a feeling toward it, the guardian will remain the same, monstrous, beautiful, or whatever. If you have no feeling toward it, on the other hand, the guardian will become nothing and will still be there in front of you."
The idea that something as colossal as the guardian could become nothing and still be in front of my eyes made absolutely no sense. I felt it was one of the alogical premises of don Juan's knowledge. However, I also felt that if he wanted to he could explain it to me. I insisted on asking him what he meant by that.
"You thought the guardian was something you knew, that's what I mean."
"But I didn't think it was something I knew."
"You thought it was ugly. Its size was awesome. It was a monster. You know what all those things are. So the guardian was always something you knew, and as long as it was something you knew you did not see it. I have told you already, the guardian had to become nothing and yet it had to stand in front of you. It had to be there and it had, at the same time, to be nothing."
"How could that be, don Juan? What you say is absurd."
"It is. But that is seeing. There is really no way to talk about it. Seeing, as I said before, is learned by seeing.
"Apparently you have no problem with water. You nearly saw it the other day. Water is your 'hinge.' All you need now is to perfect your technique of seeing. You have a powerful helper in the spirit of the water hole."
"That's another burning question I have, don Juan."
"You may have all the burning questions you want, but we cannot talk about the spirit of the water hole in this vicinity. In fact, it is better not to think about it at all. Not at all. Otherwise the spirit will trap you and if that happens there is nothing a living man can do to help you. So keep your mouth shut and keep your thoughts on something else."
Around ten o'clock the next morning don Juan took his pipe out of its sheath, filled it with smoking mixture, then handed it to me and told me to carry it to the bank of the stream. Holding the pipe with both hands, I managed to unbutton my shirt and put the pipe inside and hold it tight. Don Juan carried two straw mats and a small tray with coals. It was a warm day. We sat on the mats in the shade of a small grove of brea trees at the very edge of the water. Don Juan placed a charcoal inside the pipe bowl and told me to smoke. I did not have any apprehension or any feeling of elation. I remembered that during my second attempt to "see" the guardian, after don Juan had explained its nature, I had had a unique sensation of wonder and awe. This time, however, although don Juan had made me cognizant of the possibility of actually "seeing" the water, I was not involved emotionally; I was only curious.
Don Juan made me smoke twice the amount I had smoked during previous attempts. At a given moment he leaned over and whispered in my right ear that he was going to teach me how to use the water in order to move. I felt his face very close, as if he had put his mouth next to my ear. He told me not to gaze into the water, but to focus my eyes on the surface and keep them fixed until the water turned into a green fog. He repeated over and
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over that I had to put all my attention on the fog until I could not detect anything else.
"Look at the water in front of you," I heard him saying, "but don't let its sound carry you anywhere. If you let the sound of the water carry you I may never be able to find you and bring you back. Now get into the green fog and listen to my voice."
I heard and understood him with extraordinary clarity. I began looking at the water fixedly, and had a very peculiar sensation of physical pleasure; an itch; an undefined happiness. I stared for a long time but did not detect the green fog. I felt that my eyes were getting out of focus and I had to struggle to keep looking at the water;
finally I could not control my eyes any longer and I must have closed them, or blinked, or perhaps I just lost my capacity to focus; at any rate, at that very moment the water became fixed; it ceased to move. It seemed to be a painting. The ripples were immobile. Then the water began to fizzle; it was as if it had carbonated particles that exploded at once. For an instant I saw the fizzling as a slow expansion of green matter. It was a silent explosion;
the water burst into a brilliant green mist, which expanded until it had enveloped me.
I remained suspended in it until a very sharp, sustained, shrill noise shook everything; the fog seemed to congeal into the usual features of the water surface. The shrill noise was don Juan yelling, "Heyyyy!" close to my ear. He told me to pay attention to his voice and go back into the fog and wait there until he called me. I said, "O.K.," in English and heard the cackling noise of his laughter.
"Please, don't talk," he said. "Don't give me any more O.K.s."
I could hear him very well. The sound of his voice was melodious and above all friendly. I knew that without thinking; it was a conviction that struck me and then passed.
Don Juan's voice ordered me to focus all my attention on the fog but not abandon myself to it. He said repeatedly that a warrior did not abandon himself to anything, not even to his death. I became immersed in the mist again and noticed that it was not fog at all, or at least it was not what I conceive fog to be like. The foglike phenomenon was composed of tiny bubbles, round objects that came into my field of "vision" and moved out of it with a floating quality. I watched their movement for a while, then a loud, distant noise jolted my attention and I lost my capacity to focus and could no longer perceive the tiny bubbles. All I was aware of then was a green, amorphous, foglike glow. I heard the loud noise again and the jolt it gave dispelled the fog at once and I found myself looking at the water of the irrigation ditch. Then I heard it again much closer; it was don Juan's voice. He was telling me to pay attention to him, because his voice was my only guide. He ordered me to look at the bank of the stream and at the vegetation directly in front of me. I saw some reeds and a space which was clear of reeds.
It was a small cove on the bank, a place where don Juan steps across to plunge his bucket and fill it with water.
After a few moments don Juan ordered me to return to the fog and asked me again to pay attention to his voice, because he was going to guide me so I could learn how to move; he said that once I saw the bubbles I should board one of them and let it carry me.
I obeyed him and was at once surrounded by the green mist, and then I saw the tiny bubbles. I heard don Juan's voice again as a very strange and frightening rumble. Immediately upon hearing it I began losing my capacity to perceive the bubbles.
"Mount one of those bubbles," I heard him saying.
I struggled to maintain my perception of the green bubbles and still hear his voice. I don't know how long I fought to do that, when suddenly I was aware that I could listen to him and still keep sight of the bubbles, which kept on passing through, floating slowly out of my field of perception. Don Juan's voice kept on urging me to follow one of them and mount it.
I wondered how I was supposed to do that and automatically I voiced the word, "How." I felt that the word was very deep inside me and as it came out it carried me to the surface. The word was like a buoy that emerged out of my depth. I heard myself saying, "How," and I sounded like a dog howling. Don Juan howled back, also like a dog, and then he made some coyote sounds, and laughed. I thought it was very funny and I actually laughed.
Don Juan told me very calmly to let myself become affixed to a bubble by following it.
"Go back again," he said. "Go into the fog! Into the fog!"
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I went back and noticed that the movement of the bubbles had slowed down and they had become as large as basketballs. In fact they were so large and slow that I could examine any one of them in great detail. They were not really bubbles, not like a soap bubble, nor like a balloon, nor any spherical container. They were not containers, yet they were contained. Nor were they round, although when I first perceived them I could have sworn they were round and the image that came to my mind was "bubbles." I viewed them as if I were looking through a window; that is, the frame of the window did not allow me to follow them but only permitted me to view them coming into and going out of my field of perception. When I ceased to view them as bubbles, however, I was capable of following them; in the act of following them I became affixed to one of them and I floated with it. I truly felt I was moving. In fact I was the bubble, or that thing which resembled a bubble.
Then I heard the shrill sound of don Juan's voice. It jolted me and I lost my feeling of being "it." The sound was extremely frightening; it was a remote voice, very metallic, as if he were talking through a loud-speaker. I made out some of the words.
"Look at the banks," he said.
I saw a very large body of water. The water was rushing. I could hear the noise it made.
"Look at the banks," don Juan ordered me again.
I saw a concrete wall. The sound of the water became terribly loud; the sound engulfed me. Then it ceased instantaneously, as if it had been cut off. I had the sensation of blackness, of sleep.
I became aware that I was immersed in the irrigation ditch. Don Juan was splashing water in my face as he hummed. Then he submerged me in the ditch. He pulled my head up, over the surface, and let me rest it on the bank as he held me by the back of my shirt collar. I had a most pleasant sensation in my arms and legs. I stretched them. My eyes were tired and they itched; I lifted my right hand to rub them. It was a difficult movement. My arm seemed to be heavy. I could hardly lift it out of the water, but when I did, my arm came out covered with a most astonishing mass of green mist. I held my arm in front of my eyes. I could see its contour as a darker mass of green surrounded by a most intense greenish glow. I got to my feet in a hurry and stood in the middle of the stream and looked at my body; my chest, arms, and legs were green, deep green. The hue was so intense that it gave me the feeling of a viscous substance. I looked like a figurine don Juan had made for me years before out of a datura root.
Don Juan told me to come out. I noticed an urgency in his voice.
"I'm green," I said.
"Cut it out," he said imperatively. "You have no time. Get out of there. The water is about to trap you. Get out of it! Out! Out!"
I panicked and jumped out.
"This time you must tell me everything that took place," he said matter-of-factly, as soon as we sat facing each other inside his room.
He was not interested in the sequence of my experience; he wanted to know only what I had encountered when he told me to look at the bank. He was interested in details. I described the wall I had seen.
"Was the wall to your left or to your right?" he asked.
I told him that the wall had really been in front of me. But he insisted that it had to be either to the left or to the right.
"When you first saw it, where was it? Close your eyes and don't open them until you have remembered."
He stood up and turned my body while I had my eyes closed until he had me facing east, the same direction I had faced when I was sitting in front of the stream. He asked me in which direction I had moved.
I said I had moved onward, ahead, in front of me. He insisted that I should remember and concentrate on the tune when I was still viewing the water as bubbles.
"Which way did they flow?" he asked.
Don Juan urged me to recall, and finally I had to admit that the bubbles had seemed to be moving to my right. Yet I was not as absolutely sure as he wanted me to be. Under his probing I began to realize that I was incapable of classifying my perception. The bubbles had moved to my right when I first viewed them, but when
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they became larger they flowed everywhere. Some of them seemed to be coming directly at me, others seemed to go in every possible direction. There were bubbles moving above and below me. In fact they were all around me.
I recollected hearing their fizzing; thus I must have perceived them with my ears as well as with my eyes.
When the bubbles became so large that I was able to "mount" one of them, I "saw" them rubbing each other like balloons.
My excitement increased as I recollected the details of my perception. Don Juan, however, was completely uninterested. I told him that I had seen the bubbles fizzing. It was not a purely auditory or purely visual effect, but something undifferentiated, yet crystal clear; the bubbles rasped against each other. I did not see or hear their movement, I felt it; I was part of the sound and the motion.
As I recounted my experience I became deeply moved. I held his arm and shook it in an outburst of great agitation.
I had realized that the bubbles had no outer limit; nonetheless, they were contained and their edges changed shape and were uneven and jagged. The bubbles merged and separated with great speed, yet their movement was not dazzling. Their movement was fast and at the same time slow.
Another thing I remembered, as I recounted my experience, was the quality of color that the bubbles seemed to possess. They were transparent and very bright and seemed almost green, although it was not a hue, as I am accustomed to perceiving hues.
"You're stalling," don Juan said. "Those things are not important. You're dwelling on the wrong items. The direction is the only important issue."
I could only remember that I had moved without any point of reference, but don Juan concluded that since the bubbles had flowed consistently to my right—south—at the beginning, the south was the direction with which I had to be concerned. He again urged me imperatively to recollect whether the wall was to my right or my left. I strained to remember.
When don Juan "called me" and I surfaced, so to speak, I think I had the wall to my left. I was very close to it and was able to distinguish the grooves and protuberances of the wooden armature or mold into which the concrete had been poured. Very thin strips of wood had been used and the pattern they had created was compact The wall was very high. One end of it was visible to me, and I noticed that it did not have a corner but curved around.
He sat in silence for a moment, as if he were thinking how to decipher the meaning of my experience; he finally said that I had not accomplished a great deal, that I had fallen short of what he expected me to do.
"What was I supposed to do?"
He did not answer but made a puckering gesture with his lips.
"You did very well," he said. "Today you learned that a brujo uses the water to move."
"But did I see?"
He looked at me with a curious expression. He rolled his eyes and said that I had to go into the green mist a good many times until I could answer that question myself. He changed the direction of our conversation in a subtle way, saying I had not really learned how to move using the water, but I had learned that a brujo could do that, and he had deliberately told me to look at the bank of the stream so I could check my movement.
"You moved very fast," he said, "as fast as a man who knows how to perform this technique. I had a hard time keeping up with you."
I begged him to explain what had happened to me from the beginning. He laughed, shaking his head slowly as though in disbelief.
"You always insist on knowing things from the beginning," he said. "But there's no beginning; the beginning is only in your thought."
"I think the beginning was when I sat on the bank and smoked," I said.
"But before you smoked I had to figure out what to do with you," he said. "I would have to tell you what I did and I can't do that, because it would take me to still another point. So perhaps things would be clearer to you if you didn't think about beginnings."
"Then tell me what happened after I sat on the bank and smoked"
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"I think you have told me that already," he said, laughing.
"Was anything I did of any importance, don Juan?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"You followed my directions very well and had no problem getting into and out of the fog. Then you listened to my voice and returned to the surface every time I called you. That was the exercise. The rest was very easy.
You simply let the fog carry you. You behaved as though you knew what to do. When you were very far away I called you again and made you look at the bank, so you would know how far you had gone. Then I pulled you back."
"You mean, don Juan, that I really traveled in the water?"
"You did. And very far too."
"How far?"
"You wouldn't believe it."
I tried to coax him into telling me, but he dropped the subject and said he had to leave for a while. I insisted that he should at least give me a hint.
"I don't like to be kept in the dark," I said.
"You keep yourself in the dark," he said.
"Think about the wall you saw. Sit down here on your mat and remember every detail of it. Then perhaps you yourself may discover how far you went. All I know now is that you traveled very far. I know that because I had a terrible time pulling you back. If I had not been around, you might have wandered off and never returned, in which case all that would be left of you now would be your dead body on the side of the stream. Or perhaps you might have returned by yourself. With you I'm not sure. So judging by the effort it took me to bring you back, I'd say you were clearly in ..."
He made a long pause; he stared at me in a friendly way.
"I would go as far as the mountains of central Mexico," he said. "I don't know how far you would go, perhaps as far as Los Angeles, or perhaps even as far as Brazil."
Don Juan returned the next day late in the afternoon.
In the meantime I had written down everything I could recollect about my perception. While I wrote, it occurred to me to follow the banks up and down the stream in each direction and corroborate whether I had actually seen a feature on either side that might have elicited in me the image of a wall. I conjectured that don Juan might have made me walk, in a state of stupor, and then might have made me focus my attention on some wall on the way. In the hours that elapsed between the tune I first detected the fog and the time I got out of the ditch and went back to his house, I calculated that if he had made me walk, we could have walked, at the most, two and a half miles. So I followed the banks of the stream for about three miles in each direction, carefully observing every feature which might have been pertinent to my vision of the wall. The stream was, as far as I could tell, a plain canal used for irrigation. It was four to five feet wide throughout its length and I could not find any visible features in it that would have reminded me or forced the image of a concrete wall.
When don Juan arrived at his house in the late afternoon I accosted him and insisted on reading my account to htm. He refused to listen and made me sit down. He sat facing me. He was not smiling. He seemed to be thinking, judging by the penetrating look in his eyes, which were fixed above the horizon.
"I think you must be aware by now," he said in a tone that was suddenly very severe, "that everything is mortally dangerous. The water is as deadly as the guardian. If you don't watch out the water will trap you. It nearly did that yesterday. But in order to be trapped a man has to be willing. There's your trouble. You're willing to abandon yourself."
I did not know what he was talking about. His attack on me had been so sudden that I was disoriented. I feebly asked him to explain himself. He reluctantly mentioned that he had gone to the water canyon and had "seen" the spirit of the water hole and had the profound conviction I had flubbed my chances to "see" the water.
"How?" I asked, truly baffled.
"The spirit is a force," he said, "and as such, it responds only to strength. You cannot indulge in its presence."
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"When did I indulge?"
"Yesterday, when you became green in the water."
"I did not indulge. I thought it was a very important moment and I told you what was happening to me."
"Who are you to think or decide what is important? You know nothing about the forces you're tapping. The spirit of the water hole exists out there and could have helped you; in fact it was helping you until you flubbed it.
Now I don't know what will be the outcome of your doings. You have succumbed to the force of the water-hole spirit and now it can take you any time."
"Was it wrong to look at myself turning green?"
"You abandoned yourself. You willed to abandon yourself. That was wrong. I have told you this already and I will repeat it again. You can survive in the world of a brujo only if you are a warrior. A warrior treats everything with respect and does not trample on anything unless he has to. You did not treat the water with respect yesterday. Usually you behave very well. However, yesterday you abandoned yourself to your death, like a goddamned fool. A warrior does not abandon himself to anything, not even to his death. A warrior is not a willing partner; a warrior is not available, and if he involves him-self with something, you can be sure that he is aware of what he is doing."
I did not know what to say. Don Juan was almost angry. That disturbed me. Don Juan had rarely behaved in such a way with me. I told him that I truly had no idea I was doing something wrong. After some minutes of tense silence he took off his hat and smiled and told me that I had gained control over my indulging self. He stressed that I had to avoid water and keep it from touching the surface of my body for three or four months.
"I don't think I could go without taking a shower," I said.
Don Juan laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks.
"You can't go without a shower! At times you're so weak I think you're putting me on. But it is not a joke. At times you really have no control and the forces of your life take you freely."
I raised the point that it was humanly impossible to be controlled at all times. He maintained that for a warrior there was nothing out of control, I brought up the idea of accidents and said that what happened to me at the water canal could certainly be classed as an accident, since I neither meant it nor was I aware of my improper behavior. I talked about different people who had misfortunes that could be explained as accidents; I talked especially about Lucas, a very fine old Yaqui man who had suffered a serious injury when the truck he was driving overturned.
"It seems to me it is impossible to avoid accidents," I said. "No man can control everything around him."
"True," don Juan said cuttingly. "But not everything is an unavoidable accident. Lucas doesn't live like a warrior. If he did, he'd know that he is waiting and what he is waiting for; and he wouldn't have driven that truck while he was drunk. He crashed against the rock side of the road because he was drunk and mangled his body for nothing.
"Life for a warrior is an exercise in strategy," don Juan went on. "But you want to find the meaning of life. a warrior doesn't care about meanings. If Lucas lived like a warrior—and he had a chance to, as we all have a chance to—he would set his life strategically. Thus if he couldn't avoid an accident that crushed his ribs, he would have found means to offset that handicap, or avoid its consequences, or battle against them. If Lucas were a warrior he wouldn't be sitting in his dingy house dying of starvation. He would be battling to the end."
I posed an alternative to don Juan, using him as an example, and asked him what would be the outcome if he himself were to be involved in an accident that severed his legs.
"If I cannot help it, and lose my legs," he said, "I won't be able to be a man any more, so I will join that which is waiting for me out there."
He made a sweeping gesture with his hand to point all around him. I argued that he had misunderstood me. I had meant to point out that it was impossible for any single individual to foresee all the variables involved in his day-to-day actions.
"All I can say to you," don Juan said, "is that a warrior is never available; never is he standing on the road waiting to be clobbered. Thus he cuts to a minimum his chances of the unforeseen. What you call accidents are,
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most of the time, very easy to avoid, except for fools who are living helter-skelter."
"It is not possible to live strategically all the time," I said. "Imagine that someone is waiting for you with a powerful rifle with a telescopic sight; he could spot you accurately five hundred yards away. What would you do?"
Don Juan looked at me with an air of disbelief and then broke into laughter.
"What would you do?" I urged him.
"If someone is waiting for me with a rifle with a telescopic sight?" he said, obviously mocking me.
"If someone is hiding out of sight, waiting for you. You won't have a chance. You can't stop a bullet."
"No. I can't. But I still don't understand your point."
"My point is that all your strategy cannot be of any help in a situation like that."
"Oh, but it can. If someone is waiting for me with a powerful rifle with a telescopic sight I simply will not come around."
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13
My next attempt at "seeing" took place on September 3, 1969. Don Juan made me smoke two bowls of the mixture. The immediate effects were identical to those I had experienced during previous attempts. I remember that when my body was thoroughly numb, don Juan held me by my right armpit and made me walk into the thick desert chaparral that grows for miles around his house. I cannot recollect what I or don Juan did after we entered the brush, nor can I recall how long we walked; at a certain moment I found I was sitting on top of a small hill.
Don Juan was sitting on my left side, touching me. I could not feel him but I could see him with the corner of my eye. I had the feeling that he had been talking to me although I could not remember his words. Yet I felt I knew exactly what he had said, in spite of the fact that I could not bring it back into my clear memory. I had the sensation that his words were like the cars of a train which was moving away and his last word was like a square caboose. I knew what that last word was but I could not say it or think clearly about it. It was a state of halfwakefulness with a dreamlike image of a train of words.
Then very faintly I heard don Juan's voice talking to me.
"Now you must look at me," he said as he turned my head to face him. He repeated the statement three or four times.
I looked and detected right away the same glowing effect I had perceived twice before while looking at his face; it was a mesmerizing movement, an undulatory shift of light within contained areas. There were no definite boundaries to those areas, and yet the waving light never spilled over but moved within invisible limits.
I scanned the glowing object in front of me and immediately it started to lose its glow and the familiar features of don Juan's face emerged, or rather became superimposed on the fading glow. I must have then focused my gaze again; don Juan's features faded and the glow intensified. I had placed my attention on an area which must have been his left eye. I noticed that there the movement of the glow was not contained. I detected something perhaps resembling explosions of sparks. The explosions were rhythmical and actually sent out something like particles of light that flew out with apparent force toward me and then retreated as if they were rubber fibers.
Don Juan must have turned my head around. Suddenly I found myself looking at a plowed field.
"Now look ahead," I heard don Juan saying.
In front of me, perhaps two hundred yards away, was a large, long hill; its entire slope had been plowed.
Horizontal furrows ran parallel to each other from the bottom to the very top of the hill. I noticed that in the plowed field there were quantities of small rocks and three huge boulders that interrupted the lineality of the furrows. There were some bushes right in front of me which prevented me from observing the details of a ravine or water canyon at the bottom of the hill. From where I was, the canyon appeared as a deep cut, with green vegetation markedly different from the barren hill. The greenness seemed to be trees that grew in the bottom of the canyon. I felt a breeze blowing in my eyes. I had a feeling of peace and profound quietness. There were no sounds of birds or insects.
Don Juan spoke to me again. It took me a moment to understand what he was saying.
"Do you see a man in that field?" he kept on asking.
I wanted to tell him that there was no man in that field, but I could not vocalize the words. Don Juan took my head in his hands from behind—I could see his fingers over my eyebrows and on my cheeks—and made me pan over the field, moving my head slowly from right to left and then in the opposite direction.
"Watch every detail. Your life may depend on it," I heard him saying over and over.
He made me pan four times over the 180-degree visual horizon in front of me. At one moment, when he had moved my head to face the extreme left, I thought I detected something moving in the field. I had a brief perception of movement with the corner of my right eye. He began to shift my head back to my right and I was capable of focusing my gaze on the plowed field. I saw a man walking alongside the furrows. He was a plain man dressed like a Mexican peasant; he wore sandals, a pair of light gray pants, a long-sleeved beige shirt, and a straw hat, and carried a light brown bag with a strap over his right shoulder.
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Don Juan must have noticed that I had seen the man. He asked me repeatedly if the man was looking at me or if he was coming toward me. I wanted to tell him that the man was walking away and that his back was turned to me, but I could only say, "No." Don Juan said that if the man turned and came to me I should yell and he would turn my head away in order to protect me.
I had no sense of fear or apprehension or involvement. I coldly watched the scene. The man stopped walking at the middle of the field. He stood with his right foot on a ledge of a large round boulder, as if he were tying his sandal. Then he straightened up, pulled a string from his bag, and wrapped it around his left hand. He turned his back to me and, facing the top of the hill, began scanning the area in front of him. I thought he was scanning because of the way he moved his head, which he kept turning slowly to his right; I saw him in profile, and then he began to turn his whole body toward me until he was looking at me. He actually jerked his head, or moved it in such a way that I knew beyond a doubt that he had seen me. He extended his left arm in front of him, pointing to the ground, and holding his arm in that position he began to walk toward me.
"He's coming!" I yelled without any difficulty.
Don Juan must have turned my head around, for next I was looking at the chaparral. He told me not to gaze but look "lightly" at things and scan over them. He said that he was going to stand a short distance in front of me and then walk toward me, and that I should gaze at him until I saw his glow.
I saw don Juan moving to a spot perhaps twenty yards away. He walked with such incredible speed and agility that I could hardly believe it was don Juan. He turned around and faced me and ordered me to gaze at him.
His face was glowing; it looked like a blotch of light. The light seemed to spill over his chest almost to the middle of his body. It was as if I were looking at a light through my half-closed eyelids. The glow seemed to expand and recede. He must have begun to walk toward me because the light became more intense and more discernible.
He said something to me. I struggled to understand and lost my view of the glow, and then I saw don Juan as I see him in everyday life; he was a couple of feet away from me. He sat down facing me.
As I pinpointed ray attention on his face I began to perceive a vague glow. Then it was as if his face were crisscrossed by thin beams of light. Don Juan's face looked as if someone were shining tiny mirrors on it; as the light became more intense the face lost its contours and was again an amorphous glowing object. I perceived once more the effect of pulsating explosions of light emanating from an area which must have been his left eye. I did not focus my attention on it, but deliberately gazed at an adjacent area which I surmised to be his right eye, I caught at once the sight of a clear, transparent pool of light. It was a liquid light.
I noticed that perceiving was more than sighting; it was feeling. The pool of dark, liquid light had an extraordinary depth. It was "friendly," "kind." The light that emanated from it did not explode but whirled slowly inward, creating exquisite reflections. The glow had a very lovely and delicate way of touching me, of soothing me, which gave me a sensation of exquisiteness.
I saw a symmetrical ring of brilliant dashes of light that expanded rhythmically on the vertical plain of the glowing area. The ring expanded to cover nearly all the glowing surface and then contracted to a point of light in the middle of the brilliant pool. I saw the ring expanding and contracting several times. Then I deliberately moved back without losing my gaze and was capable of seeing both eyes. I distinguished the rhythm of both types of light explosions. The left eye sent out dashes of tight that actually protruded out of the vertical plain, while the right eye sent out dashes that radiated without protruding. The rhythm of the two eyes was alternating, the light of the left eye exploded outward while the radiating light beams of the right eye contracted and whirled inward. Then the light of the right eye extended to cover the whole glowing surface while the exploding light of the left eye receded.
Don Juan must have turned me around once more, for I was again looking at the plowed field. I heard him telling me to watch the man. The man was standing by the boulder looking at me. I could not distinguish his features; his hat covered most of his face. After a moment he tucked his bag under his right arm and began to walk away toward my right. He walked almost to the end of the plowed area, changed direction, and took a few steps toward the gully. Then I lost control of my focusing and he vanished and so did the total scenery. The
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image of the desert shrubs became superimposed on it.
I do not recollect how I returned to don Juan's house, nor do I remember what he did to me to "bring me back." When I woke up I was lying on my straw mat in don Juan's room. He came to my side and helped me up. I was dizzy; my stomach was upset. Don Juan in a very quick and efficient manner dragged me to the shrubs at the side of his house. I got sick and he laughed.
Afterwards I felt better. I looked at my watch; it was eleven P.M. I went back to sleep and by one o'clock the next afternoon I thought I was myself again.
Don Juan kept asking me how I felt. I had the sensation of being absent-minded. I could not really concentrate.
I walked around the house for a while under don Juan's close scrutiny. He followed me around. I felt there was nothing to do and I went back to sleep. I woke up in the late afternoon feeling much better. I found a great many mashed leaves around me. In fact when I woke up I was lying on my stomach on top of a pile of leaves.
Their scent was very strong. I remember becoming aware of the scent before I fully woke up.
I wandered to the back and found don Juan sitting by the irrigation ditch. When he saw me approaching he made frantic gestures to make me stop and go back into the house.
"Run inside!" he yelled.
I ran into the house and he joined me a while later.
"Don't ever come after me," he said. "If you want to see me wait for me here."
I apologized. He told me not to waste myself in silly apologies which did not have the power to cancel my acts. He said that he had had a very difficult tune bringing me back and that he had been interceding for me at the water.
"We have to take a chance now and wash you in the water," he said.
I assured him I felt fine. He gazed into my eyes for a long time.
"Come with me," he said. "I'm going to put you in the water."
"I'm fine," I said. "Look, I'm taking notes."
He pulled me up from my mat with considerable force.
"Don't indulge!" he said. "In no time at all you will fall asleep again. Maybe I won't be able to wake you up this time."
We ran to the back of his house. Before we reached the water he told me in a most dramatic tone to shut my eyes tight and not open them until he said to. He told me that if I gazed at the water even for an instant I might die. He led me by the hand and dunked me into the irrigation ditch head first.
I kept my eyes shut as he went on submerging and pulling me out of the water for hours. The change I experienced was remarkable. Whatever was wrong with me before I entered the water was so subtle that I did not really notice it until I compared it with the feeling of well-being and alertness I had while don Juan kept me in the irrigation canal.
Water got into my nose and I began to sneeze. Don Juan pulled me out and led me, with my eyes still closed, into the house. He made me change my clothes and then guided me into his room, had me sit down on my mat, arranged the direction of my body, and then told me to open my eyes. I opened them and what I saw caused me to jump back and grab onto his leg. I experienced a tremendously confusing moment. Don Juan rapped me with his knuckles on the very top of my head. It was a quick blow which was not hard or painful but somehow shocking.
"What is the matter with you? What did you see?" he asked.
Upon opening my eyes I had seen the same scene I had watched before. I had seen the same man. This time, however, he was almost touching me. I saw his face. There was an air of familiarity about it. I almost knew who he was. The scene vanished when don Juan hit me on the head.
I looked up at don Juan. He had his hand ready to hit me again. He laughed and asked if I would like to get another blow. I let go of his leg and relaxed on my mat. He ordered me to look straight ahead and not to turn around for any reason in the direction of the water at the back of his house.
I then noticed for the first tune that it was pitch black in the room. For a moment I was not sure whether I had
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my eyes open. I touched them with my hands to make sure. I called don Juan loudly and told him something was wrong with my eyes; I could not see at all, while a moment before I had seen him ready to hit me. I heard his laughter over my head to my right, and then he lit his kerosene lantern. My eyes adapted to the light in a matter of seconds. Everything was as it always had been: the wattle-and-daub walls of the room and the strangely contorted, dry medicinal roots hanging on them; the bundles of herbs; the thatched roof; the kerosene lantern hanging from a beam. I had seen the room hundreds of times, yet this time there was something unique about it and about myself. This was the first time I did not believe in the final "reality" of my perception. I had been edging toward that feeling and I had perhaps intellectualized it at various times, but never had I been at the brink of a serious doubt. This time, however, I did not believe the room was "real," and for a moment I had the strange sensation that it was a scene which would vanish if don Juan rapped me on top of my head with his knuckles.
I began to shiver without being cold. Nervous spasms ran down my spine. My head felt heavy, especially in the area right above my neck. I complained that I did not feel well and told him what I had seen. He laughed at me, saying that to succumb to fright was a miserable indulgence.
"You're frightened without being afraid," he said. "You saw the ally staring at you, big deal. Wait until you have him face to face before you shit in your pants."
He told me to get up and walk to my car without turning around in the direction of the water, and to wait for him while he got a rope and a shovel. He made me drive to a place where we had found a tree stump. We proceeded to dig it out in the darkness. I worked terribly hard for hours. We did not get the stump out but I felt much better. We went back to his house and ate and things were again perfectly "real" and commonplace.
"What happened to me?" I asked. "What did I do yesterday?"
"You smoked me and then you smoked an ally," he said.
"I beg your pardon?"
Don Juan laughed and said that next I was going to demand that he start telling me everything from the beginning.
"You smoked me," he repeated. "You gazed into my face, into my eyes. You saw the lights that mark a man's face. I am a sorcerer, you saw that in my eyes. You did not know that, though, because this is the first time you've done it. The eyes of men are not all alike. You will soon find that out. Then you smoked an ally."
"Do you mean the man in the field?"
"That was not a man, that was an ally beckoning you."
"Where did we go? Where were we when I saw that man, I mean that ally?"
Don Juan made a gesture with his chin to point out an area in front of his house and said that he had taken me to the top of a small hill. I said that the scenery I had viewed had nothing to do with the desert chaparral around his house and he replied that the ally that had "beckoned" me was not from the surroundings.
"Where is it from?"
"I'll take you there very soon."
"What is the meaning of my vision?"
"You were learning to see, that was all; but now you are about to lose your pants because you indulge; you have abandoned yourself to your fright. Maybe you should describe everything you saw."
When I started to describe the way his own face had appeared to me, he made me stop and said that it was of no importance whatsoever, I told him that I had almost seen him as a "luminous egg." He said that "almost" was not enough and that seeing was going to take me a great deal of time and work.
He was interested in the scene of the plowed field and in every detail I could remember about the man.
"That ally was beckoning you," he said "I made you move your head when he came to you not because he was endangering you but because it is better to wait. You are not in a hurry. A warrior is never idle and never in a hurry. To meet an ally without being prepared is like attacking a lion with your farts."
I liked the metaphor. We had a delightful moment of laughter.
"What would've happened if you hadn't moved my head?"
"You would've had to move your head yourself."
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"And if I didn't?"
"The ally would have come to you and scared you stiff. If you had been alone he might have killed you. It is not advisable for you to be alone in the mountains or the desert until you can defend yourself. An ally might catch you alone there and make mincemeat out of you."
"What was the meaning of the acts he performed?"
"By looking at you he meant he welcomes you. He showed you that you need a spirit catcher and a pouch, but not from this area; his bag was from another part of the country. You have three stumbling blocks in your way that make you stop; those were the boulders. And you definitely are going to get your best powers in water canyons and gullies; the ally pointed out the gully to you. The rest of the scene was meant to help you locate the exact place to find him. I know now where the place is. I will take you there very soon."
"Do you mean that the scenery I saw really exists?
"Of course."
"Where?"
"I cannot tell you that."
"How would I find that area?"
"I cannot tell you that either, and not because I don't want to but because I simply don't know how to tell you."
I wanted to know the meaning of seeing the same scene while I was in his room. Don Juan laughed and imitated me holding onto his leg.
"That was a reaffirmation that the ally wants you," he said. "He made sure you or I knew that he was welcoming you."
"What about the face I saw?"
"It is a familiar face to you because you know him. You have seen it before. Maybe it is the face of your death. You got frightened but that was your carelessness. He was waiting for you and when he showed up you succumbed to fright. Fortunately I was there to hit you or he would've turned against you, which would have been only proper. To meet an ally a man must be a spotless warrior or the ally may turn against him and destroy him."
Don Juan dissuaded me from going back to Los Angeles the next morning. Apparently he thought I still had not totally recovered. He insisted that I sit inside his room facing the southeast, in order to preserve my strength.
He sat to my left, handed me my notebook, and said that this time I had him pinned down; he not only had to stay with me, he also had to talk to me.
"I have to take you to the water again in the twilight," he said. "You're not solid yet and you shouldn't be alone today. I'll keep you company all morning; in the afternoon you'll be in better shape."
His concern made me feel very apprehensive.
"What's wrong with me?" I asked.
"You've tapped an ally."
"What do you mean by that?"
"We must not talk about allies today. Let us talk about anything else."
I really did not want to talk at all. I had begun to feel anxious and restless. Don Juan apparently found the situation utterly ludicrous; he laughed till the tears came.
"Don't tell me that at a time when you should talk you are not going to find anything to say," he said, his eyes shining with a mischievous glint.
His mood was very soothing to me.
There was only one topic that interested me at that moment: the ally. His face was so familiar; it was not as if I knew him or as if I had seen him before. It was something else. Every time I began to think about his face my mind experienced a bombardment of other thoughts, as if some part of myself knew the secret but did not allow the rest of me to come close to it. The sensation of the ally's face being familiar was so eerie that it had forced me into a state of morbid melancholy. Don Juan had said that it might have been the face of my death. I think that
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statement had clinched me. I wanted desperately to ask about it and I had the clear sensation that don Juan was holding me back. I took a couple of deep breaths and blurted out a question.
"What is death, don Juan?"
"I don't know," he said, smiling.
"I mean, how would you describe death? I want your opinions. I think everybody has definite opinions about death."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
I had the Tibetan Book of the Dead in the trunk of my car. It occurred to me to use it as a topic of conversation, since it dealt with death. I said I was going to read it to him and began to get up. He made me sit down and went out and got the book himself.
"The morning is a bad time for sorcerers," he said as an explanation for my having to stay put.
"You're too weak to leave my room. Inside here you are protected. If you were to wander off now, chances are that you would find a terrible disaster. An ally could kill you on the road or in the bush, and later on when they found your body they would say that you had either died mysteriously or had an accident."
I was in no position or mood to question his decisions, so I stayed put nearly all morning reading and explaining some parts of the book to him. He listened attentively and did not interrupt me at all. Twice I had to stop for short periods of time while he brought some water and food, but as soon as he was free again he urged me to continue reading. He seemed to be very interested.
When I finished he looked at me.
"I don't understand why those people talk about death as if death were like life," he said softly.
"Maybe that's the way they understand it. Do you think the Tibetans see?"
"Hardly. When a man learns to see, not a single thing he knows prevails. Not a single one. If the Tibetans could see they could tell right away that not a single thing is any longer the same. Once we see, nothing is known; nothing remains as we used to know it when we didn't see."
"Perhaps, don Juan, seeing is not the same for everyone."
"True. It's not the same. Still, that does not mean that the meanings of life prevail. When one learns to see, not a single thing is the same."
"Tibetans obviously think that death is like life. What do you think death is like, yourself?" I asked.
"I don't think death is like anything and I think the Tibetans must be talking about something else. At any rate, what they're talking about is not death."
"What do you think they're talking about?"
"Maybe you can tell me that. You're the one who reads."
I tried to say something else but he began to laugh.
"Perhaps the Tibetans really see," don Juan went on, "in which case they must have realized that what they see makes no sense at all and they wrote that bunch of crap because it doesn't make any difference to them; in which case what they wrote is not crap at all."
"I really don't care about what the Tibetans have to say," I said, "but I certainly care about what you have to say. I would like to hear what you think about death."
He stared at me for an instant and then giggled. He opened his eyes and raised his eyebrows in a comical gesture of surprise.
"Death is a whorl," he said. "Death is the face of the ally; death is a shiny cloud over the horizon; death is the whisper of Mescalito in your ears; death is the toothless mouth of the guardian; death is Genaro sitting on his head; death is me talking; death is you and your writing pad; death is nothing. Nothing! It is here yet it isn't here at all."
Don Juan laughed with great delight. His laughter was like a song, it had a sort of dancing rhythm.
"I make no sense, huh?" don Juan said. "I cannot tell you what death is like. But perhaps I could tell you about your own death. There is no way of knowing what it will be like for sure; however, I could tell you what it may be like."
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I became frightened at that point and argued that I only wanted to know what death appeared to be like to him; I emphasized that I was interested in his opinions about death in a general sense, but did not care to know about the particulars of anybody's personal death, especially my own.
"I can't talk about death except in personal terms," he said. "You wanted me to tell you about death. All right!
Then don't be afraid of hearing about your own death."
I admitted that I was too nervous to talk about it. I said that I wanted to talk about death in general terms, as he himself had done when he told me that at the time of his son Eulalio's death, life and death mixed like a fog of crystals.
"I told you that my son's life expanded at the time of his personal death," he said. "I was not talking about death in general but about my son's death. Death, whatever it is, made his life expand."
I definitely wanted to steer the conversation out of the realm of particulars, and mentioned that I had been reading accounts of people who had died for several minutes and had been revived through medical techniques.
In all the cases I had read, the persons involved had made statements, upon reviving, that they could not recollect anything at all; that dying was simply a sensation of blacking out.
"That's perfectly understandable," he said. "Death has two stages. The first is a blackout. It is a meaningless stage, very similar to the first effect of Mescalito, in which one experiences a lightness that makes one feel happy, complete, and that everything in the world is at ease. But that is only a shallow state; it soon vanishes and one enters a new realm, a realm of harshness and power. That second stage is the real encounter with Mescalito.
Death is very much like this. The first stage is a shallow blackout. The second, however, is the real stage where one meets with death; it is a brief moment, after the first blackout, when we find that we are, somehow, ourselves again. It is then that death smashes against us with quiet fury and power until it dissolves our lives into nothing."
"How can you be sure that you are talking about death?"
"I have my ally. The little smoke has shown me my unmistakable death with great clarity. This is why I can only talk about personal death."
Don Juan's words caused me a profound apprehension and a dramatic ambivalence. I had a feeling he was going to describe the overt, commonplace details of my death and tell me how or when I was going to die. The mere thought of knowing that made me despair and at the same time provoked my curiosity. I could have asked him to describe his own death, of course, but I felt that such a request would be rather rude and I ruled it out automatically.
Don Juan seemed to be enjoying my conflict. His body convulsed with laughter.
"Do you want to know what your death may be like?" he asked me with childlike delight in his face.
I found his mischievous pleasure in teasing me rather comforting. It almost took the edge off my apprehension.
"O.K., tell me," I said, and my voice cracked.
He had a formidable explosion of laughter. He held his stomach and rolled on his side and mockingly repeated, " 'O.K., tell me,'" with a crack in his voice. Then he straightened out and sat down, assuming a feigned stiffness, and in a tremulous voice he said, "The second stage of your death may very well be as follows."
His eyes examined me with apparently genuine curiosity. I laughed. I clearly realized that his making fun was the only device that could dull the edge of the idea of one's death.
"You drive a great deal," he went on saying, "so you may find yourself, at a given moment, behind the wheel again. It will be a very fast sensation that won't give you time to think. Suddenly, let's say, you would find yourself driving, as you have done thousands of times. But before you could wonder about yourself, you would notice a strange formation in front of your windshield. If you looked closer you'd realize that it is a cloud that looks like a shiny whorl. It would resemble, let's say, a face, right in the middle of the sky in front of you. As you watched it, you would see it moving backward until it was only a brilliant point in the distance, and then you would notice that it began moving toward you again; it would pick up speed and in a blink of an eye it would smash against the windshield of your car. You are strong; I'm sure it would take death a couple of whams to get
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you.
"By then you would know where you were and what was happening to you; the face would recede again to a position on the horizon, would pick up speed and smash against you. The face would enter inside you and then you'd know—it was the ally's face all the time, or it was me talking, or you writing. Death was nothing all the time. Nothing. It was a little dot lost in the sheets of your notebook. And yet it would enter inside you with uncontrollable force and would make you expand; it would make you flat and extend you over the sky and the earth and beyond. And you would be like a fog of tiny crystals moving, moving away."
I was very taken by his description of my death. I had expected to hear something so different. I could not say anything for a long time.
"Death enters through the belly," he continued. "Right through the gap of the will. That area is the most important and sensitive part of man. It is the area of the will and also the area through which all of us die. I know it because my ally has guided me to that stage. A sorcerer tunes his will by letting his death overtake him, and when he is fiat and begins to expand, his impeccable will takes over and assembles the fog into one person again."
Don Juan made a strange gesture. He opened his hands like two fans, lifted them to the level of his elbows, turned them until his thumbs were touching his sides, and then brought them slowly together at the center of his body over his navel. He kept them there for a moment. His arms shivered with the strain. Then he brought them up until the tips of his middle fingers touched his forehead, and then pulled them down in the same position to the center of his body.
It was a formidable gesture. Don Juan had performed it with such force and beauty that I was spellbound.
"It is his will which assembles a sorcerer," he said, "but as his old age makes him feeble his will wanes and a moment unavoidably comes when he is no longer capable of commanding his will. He then has nothing with which to oppose the silent force of his death, and his life becomes like the lives of all his fellow men, an expanding fog moving beyond its limits."
Don Juan stared at me and stood up. I was shivering.
"You can go to the bushes now," he said. "It is afternoon."
I needed to go but I did not dare. I felt perhaps more jumpy than afraid. However, I was no longer apprehensive about the ally.
Don Juan said that it did not matter how I felt as long as I was "solid." He assured me I was in perfect shape and could safely go into the bushes as long as I did not get close to the water.
"That is another matter," he said. "I need to wash you once more, so stay away from the water."
Later on he wanted me to drive him to the nearby town. I mentioned that driving would be a welcome change for me because I was still shaky; the idea that a sorcerer actually played with his death was quite gruesome to me.
"To be a sorcerer is a terrible burden," he said in a reassuring tone. "I've told you that it is much better to learn to see. A man who sees is everything; in comparison, the sorcerer is a sad fellow."
"What is sorcery, don Juan?"
He looked at me for a long time as he shook his head almost imperceptibly.
"Sorcery is to apply one's will to a key joint," he said. "Sorcery is interference. A sorcerer searches and finds the key joint of anything he wants to affect and then he applies his will to it. A sorcerer doesn't have to see to be a sorcerer, all he has to know is how to use his will."
I asked him to explain what he meant by a key joint. He thought for a while and then he said that he knew what my car was.
"It's obviously a machine," I said.
"I mean your car is the spark plugs. That's its key joint for me. I can apply my will to it and your car won't work."
Don Juan got into my car and sat down. He beckoned me to do likewise as he made himself comfortable on the seat.
"Watch what I do," he said. "I'm a crow, so first I'll make my feathers loose."
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He shivered his entire body. His movement reminded me of a sparrow wetting its feathers in a puddle. He lowered his head like a bird dipping its beak into the water.
"That feels really good," he said, and began to laugh.
His laughter was strange. It had a very peculiar mesmerizing effect on me. I recollected having heard him laugh in that manner many times before. Perhaps the reason I had never become overtly aware of it was that he had never laughed like that long enough in my presence.
"A crow loosens its neck next," he said, and began twisting his neck and rubbing his cheeks on his shoulders.
"Then he looks at the world with one eye and then with the other."
His head shook as he allegedly shifted his view of the world from one eye to the other. The pitch of his laughter became higher. I had the absurd feeling that he was going to turn into a crow in front of my eyes. I wanted to laugh it off but I was almost paralyzed. I actually felt some kind of enveloping force around me. I was not afraid nor was I dizzy or sleepy. My faculties were unimpaired, to the best of my judgment.
"Turn on your car now," don Juan said.
I turned on the starter and automatically stepped on the gas pedal. The starter began to grind without igniting the engine. Don Juan's laughter was a soft, rhythmical cackle. I tried it again; and again. I spent perhaps ten minutes grinding the starter of my car. Don Juan cackled all that time. Then I gave up and sat there with a heavy head.
He stopped laughing and scrutinized me and I "knew" then that his laughter had forced me into a sort of hypnotic trance. Although I had been thoroughly aware of what was taking place, I felt I was not myself. During the time I could not start my car I was very docile, almost numb. It was as if don Juan was not only doing something to my car but also to me. When he stopped cackling I was convinced the spell was over, and impetuously I turned on the starter again. I had the certainty don Juan had only mesmerized me with his laughter and made me believe I could not start my car. With the corner of my eye I saw him looking curiously at me as I ground the motor and pumped the gas furiously.
Don Juan patted me gently and said that fury would make me "solid" and perhaps I would not need to be washed in the water again. The more furious I could get, the quicker I could recover from my encounter with the ally.
"Don't be embarrassed," I heard don Juan saying. "Kick the car."
His natural everyday laughter exploded, and I felt ridiculous and laughed sheepishly.
After a while don Juan said he had released the car. It started!
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14
September 28,1969
There was something eerie about don Juan's house. For a moment I thought he was hiding somewhere around the place to scare me. I called out to him and then gathered enough nerve to walk inside. Don Juan was not there.
I put the two bags of groceries I had brought on a pile of firewood and sat down to wait for him, as I had done dozens of times before. But for the first time in my years of associating with don Juan I was afraid to stay alone in his house. I felt a presence, as if someone invisible was there with me. I remembered then that years before I had had the same vague feeling that something unknown was prowling around me when I was alone. I jumped to my feet and ran out of the house.
I had come to see don Juan to tell him that the cumulative effect of the task of "seeing" was taking its toll on me. I had begun to feel uneasy; vaguely apprehensive without any overt reason; tired without being fatigued.
Then my reaction at being alone in don Juan's house brought back the total memory of how my fear had built up in the past.
The fear traced back to years before, when don Juan had forced the very strange confrontation between a sorceress, a woman he called "la Catalina," and me. It began on November 23, 1961, when I found him in his house with a dislocated ankle. He explained that he had an enemy, a sorceress who could turn into a blackbird and who had attempted to kill him.
"As soon as I can walk I'm going to show you who the woman is," don Juan said. "You must know who she is,"
"Why does she want to kill you?"
He shrugged his shoulders impatiently and refused to say anything else.
I came back to see him ten days later and found him perfectly well. He rotated his ankle to demonstrate to me mat it was fine and attributed his prompt recovery to the nature of the cast he himself had made.
"It's good you're here," he said. "Today I'm going to take you on a little journey."
He then directed me to drive to a desolate area. We stopped there; don Juan stretched his legs and made himself comfortable on the seat, as if he were going to take a nap. He told me to relax and remain very quiet; he said we had to be as inconspicuous as possible until nightfall because the late afternoon was a very dangerous time for the business we were pursuing.
"What kind of business are we pursuing?" I asked.
"We are here to stake out la Catalina," he said.
When it was fairly dark we slid out of the car and walked very slowly and noiselessly into the desert chaparral.
From the place where we stopped I could distinguish the black silhouette of the hills on both sides. We were in a flat, fairly wide canyon. Don Juan gave me detailed instructions on how to stay merged with the chaparral and taught me a way to sit "in vigil," as he called it. He told me to tuck my right leg under my left thigh and keep my left leg in a squat position. He explained that the tucked leg was used as a spring in order to stand up with great speed, if it were necessary. He then told me to sit facing the west, because that was the direction of the woman's house. He sat next to me, to my right, and told me in a whisper to keep my eyes focused on the ground, searching, or rather, waiting, for a sort of wind wave that would make a ripple in the bushes. Whenever the ripple touched the bushes on which I had focused my gaze, I was supposed to look up and see the sorceress in all her "magnificent evil splendor." Don Juan actually used those words.
When I asked him to explain what he meant, he said that if I detected a ripple I simply had to look up and see for myself, because "a sorcerer in flight" was such a unique sight that it defied explanations.
There was a fairly steady wind and I thought I detected a ripple in the bushes many times. I looked up each time, prepared to have a transcendental experience, but I did not see anything. Every time the wind blew the bushes don Juan would kick the ground vigorously, whirling around, moving his arms as if they were whips. The strength of his movements was extraordinary.
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After a few failures to see the sorceress "in flight" I was sure I was not going to witness any transcendental event, yet don Juan's display of "power" was so exquisite that I did not mind spending the night there.
At daybreak don Juan sat down by me. He seemed to be totally exhausted. He could hardly move. He lay down on his back and mumbled that he had failed to "pierce the woman." I was very intrigued by that statement;
he repeated it several times and each time his tone became more downhearted, more desperate. I began to experience an unusual anxiety. I found it very easy to project my feelings into don Juan's mood.
Don Juan did not mention anything about the incident or the woman for several months. I thought he had either forgotten or resolved the whole affair. One day, however, I found him in a very agitated mood, and in a manner that was completely incongruous with his natural calmness he hold me that the "blackbird" had stood in front of him the night before, almost touching him, and that he had not even awakened. The woman's artfulness was so great that he had not felt her presence at all. He said his good fortune was to wake up in the nick of time to stage a horrendous fight for his life. Don Juan's tone of voice was moving, almost pathetic. I felt an overwhelming surge of compassion and concern.
In a somber and dramatic tone he reaffirmed that he had no way to stop her and that the next time she came near him was going to be his last day on earth. I became despondent and was nearly in tears. Don Juan seemed to notice my profound concern and laughed, I thought, bravely. He patted me on the back and said that I should not worry, that he was not altogether lost yet, because he had one last card, a trump card.
"A warrior lives strategically," he said, smiling. "A warrior never carries loads he cannot handle."
Don Juan's smile had the power to dispel the ominous clouds of doom. I suddenly felt elated and we both laughed. He patted my head.
"You know, of all the things on this earth, you are my last card," he said abruptly, looking straight into my eyes."
What?"
"You are my trump card in my fight against that witch."
I did not understand what he meant and he explained that the woman did not know me and that if I played my hand as he would direct me, I had a better than good chance to "pierce her."
"What do you mean by pierce her'?"
"You cannot kill her but you must pierce her like a balloon. If you do that she'll leave me alone. But don't think about it now. I'll tell you what to do when the time comes."
Months went by. I had forgotten the incident and was caught by surprise when I arrived at his house one day;
don Juan came out running and did not let me get out of my car.
"You must leave immediately," he whispered with appalling urgency. "Listen carefully. Buy a shotgun, or get one in any way you can; don't bring me your own gun, do you understand? Get any gun, except your own, and bring it here right away."
"Why do you want a shotgun?"
"Go now!"
I returned with a shotgun. I had not had enough money to buy one but a friend of mine had given me his old gun. Don Juan did not look at it; he explained, laughing, that he had been abrupt with me because the blackbird was on the roof of the house and he did not want her to see me.
"Finding the blackbird on the roof gave me the idea that you could bring a gun and pierce her with it," don Juan said emphatically. "I don't want anything to happen to you, so I suggested that you buy the gun or that you get one in any other way. You see, you have to destroy the gun after completing the task."
"What kind of task are you talking about?"
"You must attempt to pierce the woman with your shotgun."
He made me clean the gun by rubbing it with the fresh leaves and stems of a peculiarly scented plant. He himself rubbed two shells and placed them inside the barrels. Then he said I was to hide in front of his house and wait until the blackbird landed on the roof and then, after taking careful aim, I was supposed to let go with both barrels. The effect of the surprise, more than the pellets, would pierce the woman, and if I were powerful and
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determined I could force her to leave him alone. Thus my aim had to be impeccable and so did my determination to pierce her.
"You must scream at the moment you shoot," he said. "It must be a potent and piercing yell."
He then piled bundles of bamboo and fire sticks about ten feet away from the ramada of his house. He made me lean against the piles. The position was quite comfortable. I was sort of half-seated; my back was well propped and I had a good view of the roof.
He said it was too early for the witch to be out, and that we had until dusk to do all the preparations; he would then pretend he was locking himself inside the house, in order to attract her and elicit another attack on his person. He told me to relax and find a comfortable position that I could shoot from without moving. He made me aim at the roof a couple of times and concluded that the act of lifting the gun to my shoulder and taking aim was too slow and cumbersome. He then built a prop for the gun. He made two deep holes with a pointed iron bar, planted two forked sticks in them, and tied a long pole in between the forks. The structure gave me a shooting support and allowed me to keep the gun aimed at the roof.
Don Juan looked at the sky and said it was time for him to go into the house. He got up and calmly went inside, giving me the final admonition that my endeavor was not a joke and that I had to hit the bird with the first shot.After don Juan left I had a few more minutes of twilight and then it became quite dark. It seemed as if darkness had been waiting until I was alone and suddenly it descended on me. I tried to focus my eyes on the roof, which was silhouetted against the sky; for a while there was enough light on the horizon so the line of the roof was still visible, but then the sky became black and I could hardly see the house. I kept my eyes focused on the roof for hours without noticing anything at all. I saw a couple of owls flying by toward the north; the span of their wings was quite remarkable and they could not be mistaken for blackbirds. At a given moment, however, I distinctly noticed the black shape of a small bird landing on the roof. It was definitely a bird! My heart began pounding hard; I felt a buzzing in my ears. I aimed in the dark and pulled both triggers. There was quite a loud explosion. I felt a strong recoil of the gun butt on my shoulder and at the same time I heard a most piercing and horrendous human shriek. It was loud and eerie and seemed to have come from the roof. I had a moment of total confusion. I then remembered that don Juan had admonished me to yell as I shot and I had forgotten to do so. I was thinking of reloading my gun when don Juan opened the door and came out running. He had his kerosene lantern with him. He appeared to be quite nervous.
"I think you got her," he said. "We must find the dead bird now."
He brought a ladder and made me climb up and look on the ramada, but I could not find anything there. He climbed up and looked himself for a while, with equally negative results.
"Perhaps you have blasted the bird to bits," don Juan said, "in which case we must find at least a feather."
We began looking around the ramada first and then around the house. We looked with the light of the lantern until morning. Then we started looking again all over the area we had covered during the night. Around 11:00
A.M. don Juan called off our search. He sat down dejected, smiled sheepishly at me, and said that I had failed to stop his enemy and that now, more than ever before, his life was not worth a hoot because the woman was doubtlessly irked, itching to take revenge.
"You're safe, though," don Juan said reassuringly. "'The woman doesn't know you."
As I was walking to my car to return home, I asked him if I had to destroy the shotgun. He said the gun had done nothing and I should give it back to its owner. I noticed a profound look of despair in don Juan's eyes. I felt so moved by it that I was about to weep.
"What can I do to help you?" I asked, "There's nothing you can do," don Juan said.
We remained silent for a moment. I wanted to leave right away, I felt an oppressive anguish. I was ill at ease, "Would you really try to help me?" don Juan asked in a childlike tone.
I told him again that my total person was at his disposal, that my affection for him was so profound I would undertake any kind of action to help him. Don Juan smiled and asked again if I really meant that, and I
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vehemently reaffirmed my desire to help him.
"If you really mean it," he said, "I may have one more chance."
He seemed to be delighted. He smiled broadly and clapped his hands several times, the way he always does when he wants to express a feeling of pleasure. This change of mood was so remarkable that it also involved me.
I suddenly felt that the oppressive mood, the anguish, had been vanquished and life was inexplicably exciting again. Don Juan sat down and I did likewise. He looked at me for a long moment and then proceeded to tell me in a very calm and deliberate manner that I was in fact the only person who could help him at that moment, and thus he was going to ask me to do something very dangerous and very special.
He paused for a moment as if he wanted a reaffirmation on my part, and I again reiterated my firm desire to do anything for him.
"I'm going to give you a weapon to pierce her," he said.
He took a long object from his pouch and handed it to me. I took it and then examined it. I almost dropped it.
"It is a wild boar," he went on, "You must pierce her with it."
The object I was holding was a dry foreleg of a wild boar. The skin was ugly and the bristles were revolting to the touch. The hoof was intact and its two halves were spread out, as if the leg were stretched. It was an awfullooking thing. It made me feel almost sick to my stomach. He quickly took it back.
"You must ram the wild boar right into her navel," don Juan said.
"What?" I said in a feeble voice.
"You must hold the wild boar in your left hand and stab her with it. She is a sorceress and the wild boar will enter her belly and no one in this world, except another sorcerer, will see it stuck in there. This is not an ordinary battle but an affair of sorcerers. The danger you will run is that if you fail to pierce her she might strike you dead on the spot, or her companions and relatives will shoot you or knife you. You may, on the other hand, get out without a scratch.
"If you succeed she will have a hellish time with the wild boar in her body and she will leave me alone."
An oppressive anguish enveloped me again. I had a profound affection for don Juan. I admired him. At the time of this startling request, I had already learned to regard his way of life and his knowledge as a paramount accomplishment. How could anyone let a man like that die? And yet how could anyone deliberately risk his life?
I became so immersed in my deliberations I did not notice that don Juan had stood up and was standing by me until he patted me on the shoulder. I looked up; he was smiling benevolently.
"Whenever you feel that you really want to help me, you should return," he said, "but not until then. If you come back I know what we will have to do. Go now! If you don't want to return I'll understand that too."
I automatically stood up, got into my car, and drove away. Don Juan had actually let me off the hook. I could have left and never returned, but somehow the thought of being free to leave did not soothe me. I drove a while longer and then impulsively turned around and drove back to don Juan's house.
He was still sitting underneath his ramada and did not seem surprised to see me.
"Sit down," he said. "The clouds in the west are beautiful. It will be dark shortly. Sit quietly and let the twilight fill you. Do whatever you want now, but when I tell you, look straight at those shiny clouds and ask the twilight to give you power and calmness."
I sat facing the western clouds for a couple of hours. Don Juan went into the house and stayed inside. When it was getting dark he returned.
"The twilight has come," he said. "Stand up! Don't close your eyes, but look straight at the clouds; put your arms up with your hands open and your fingers extended and trot in place."
I followed his instructions; I lifted my arms over my head and began trotting. Don Juan came to my side and corrected my movements. He placed the leg of the wild boar against the palm of my left hand and made me hold it with my thumb. He then pulled my arms down until they pointed to the orange and dark gray clouds over the horizon, toward the west. He extended my fingers like fans and told me not to curl them over the palms of my hands. It was of crucial importance that I keep my fingers spread because if I closed them I would not be asking the twilight for power and calm, but would be menacing it. He also corrected my trotting. He said it should be
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peaceful and uniform, as if I were actually running toward the twilight with my extended arms.
I could not fall asleep during that night. It was as if, instead of calming me, the twilight had agitated me into a frenzy.
"I still have so many things pending in my life," I said. "So many things unresolved."
Don Juan chuckled softly.
"Nothing is pending in the world," he said. "Nothing is finished, yet nothing is unresolved. Go to sleep."
Don Juan's words were strangely soothing.
Around ten o'clock the next morning, don Juan gave me something to eat and then we were on our way. He whispered that we were going to approach the woman around noon, or before noon if possible. He said that the ideal time would have been the early hours of the day, because a witch is always less powerful or less aware in the morning, but she would never leave the protection of her house at those hours. I did not ask any questions. He directed me to the highway and at a certain point he told me to stop and park on the side of the road. He said we had to wait there.
I looked at my watch; it was five minutes to eleven. I yawned repeatedly. I was actually sleepy; my mind wandered around aimlessly.
Suddenly don Juan straightened up and nudged me. I jumped up in my seat.
"There she is!" he said.
I saw a woman walking toward the highway on the edge of a cultivated field. She was carrying a basket looped in her right arm. It was not until then that I noticed we were parked near a crossroads. There were two narrow trails which ran parallel to both sides of the highway and another wider and more trafficked trail that ran perpendicular to the highway; obviously people who used that trail had to walk across the paved road.
When the woman was still on the dirt road don Juan told me to get out of the car.
"Do it now," he said firmly.
I obeyed him. The woman was almost on the highway. I ran and overtook her. I was so close to her that I felt her clothes on my face. I took the wild boar hoof from under my shirt and thrust it at her. I did not feel any resistance to the blunt object I had in my hand. I saw a fleeting shadow in front of me, like a drape; my head turned to my right and I saw the woman standing fifty feet away on the opposite side of the road. She was a fairly young, dark woman with a strong, stocky body. She was smiling at me. Her teeth were white and big and her smile was placid. She had closed her eyes halfway, as if to protect them from the wind. She was still holding her basket, looped over her right arm.
I then had a moment of unique confusion. I turned around to look at don Juan. He was making frantic gestures to call me back. I ran back. There were three or four men coming in a hurry toward me. I got into the car and sped away in the opposite direction.
I tried to ask don Juan what had happened but I could not talk; my ears were bursting with an overwhelming pressure; I felt that I was choking. He seemed to be pleased and began to laugh. It was as if my failure did not concern him. I had my hands so tight around the steering wheel that I could not move them; they were frozen; my arms were rigid and so were my legs. In fact I could not take my foot off the gas pedal.
Don Juan patted me on the back and told me to relax. Little by little the pressure in my ears diminished.
"What happened back there?" I finally asked.
He giggled like a child without answering. Then he asked me if I had noticed the way the woman got out of the way. He praised her excellent speed. Don Juan's talk seemed so incongruous that I could not really follow him. He praised the woman! He said her power was impeccable and she was a relentless enemy.
I asked don Juan if he did not mind my failure. I was truly surprised and annoyed at his change of mood. He seemed to be actually glad.
He told me to stop. I parked alongside the road. He put his hand on my shoulder and looked piercingly into my eyes.
"Whatever I have done to you today was a trick," he said bluntly. "The rule is that a man of knowledge has to trap his apprentice. Today I have trapped you and I have tricked you into learning."
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I was dumfounded. I could not arrange my thoughts. Don Juan explained that the whole involvement with the woman was a trap; that she had never been a threat to him; and that his job was to put me in touch with her, under specific conditions of abandon and power I had experienced when I tried to pierce her. He commended my resolution and called it an act of power which demonstrated to the woman that I was capable of great exertion.
Don Juan said that even though I was not aware of it, all I did was to show off in front of her.
"You could never touch her," he said, "but you showed your claws to her. She knows now that you're not afraid. You have challenged her. I used her to trick you because she's powerful and relentless and never forgets.
Men are usually too busy to be relentless enemies."
I felt a terrible anger. I told him that one should not play with a person's innermost feelings and loyalties.
Don Juan laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks, and I hated him. I had an overwhelming desire to punch him and leave; there was, however, such a strange rhythm in his laughter that it kept me almost paralyzed.
"Don't be so angry," don Juan said soothingly.
Then he said that his acts had never been a farce, that he also had thrown his life away a long time before when his own benefactor tricked him, just as he had tricked me. Don Juan said that his benefactor was a cruel man who did not think about him the way he, don Juan, thought about me. He added very sternly that the woman had tested her strength against him and had really tried to kill him.
"Now she knows that I was playing with her," he said, laughing, "and she'll hate you for it. She can't do anything to me, but she will take it out on you. She doesn't know yet how much power you have, so she will come to test you, little by little. Now you have no choice but to learn in order to defend yourself, or you will fall prey to that lady. She is no trick."
Don Juan reminded me of the way she had flown away.
"Don't be angry," he said. "It was not an ordinary trick. It was the rule."
There was something about the way the woman moved away from me that was truly maddening. I had witnessed it myself: she had jumped the width of the highway in a flick of an eyelash. I had no way to get out of that certainty. From that moment on I focused all my attention on that incident and little by little I accumulated "proof" that she was actually following me. The final outcome was that I had to withdraw from the apprenticeship under the pressure of my irrational fear.
I came back to don Juan's house hours later, in the early afternoon. He was apparently waiting for me. He came up to me as I got out of my car and examined me with curious eyes, walking around me a couple of times.
"Why the nervousness?" he asked before I had time to say anything.
I explained that something had scared me off that morning and that I had begun to feel something prowling around me, as in the past. Don Juan sat down and seemed to be engulfed in thoughts. His face had an unusually serious expression. He seemed to be tired. I sat by him and arranged my notes.
After a very long pause his face brightened up and he smiled.
"What you felt this morning was the spirit of the water hole," he said. "I've told you that you must be prepared for unexpected encounters with those forces. I thought you understood."
"I did."
"Then why the fear?"
I could not answer.
"That spirit is on your trail," he said. "It already tapped you in the water. I assure you it will tap you again and probably you won't be prepared and that encounter will be your end."
Don Juan's words made me feel genuinely concerned. My feelings were strange, however; I was concerned but not afraid. Whatever was happening to me had not been able to elicit my old feelings of blind fear.
"What should I do?" I asked.
"You forget too easily," he said. "The path of knowledge is a forced one. In order to learn we must be spurred. In the path of knowledge we are always fighting something, avoiding something, prepared for something; and that something is always inexplicable, greater, more powerful than us. The inexplicable forces will come to you. Now it is the spirit of the water hole, later on it'll be your own ally, so there is nothing you can
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do now but to prepare yourself for the struggle. Years ago la Catalina spurred you, she was only a sorceress, though, and that was a beginner's trick.
"The world is indeed full of frightening things and we are helpless creatures surrounded by forces that are inexplicable and unbending. The average man, in ignorance, believes that those forces can be explained or changed; he doesn't really know how to do that, but he expects that the actions of mankind will explain them or change them sooner or later. The sorcerer, on the other hand, does not think of explaining or changing them;
instead, he learns to use such forces by redirecting himself and adapting to their direction. That's his trick. There is very little to sorcery once you find out its trick. A sorcerer is only slightly better off than the average man.
Sorcery does not help him to live a better life; in fact I should say that sorcery hinders him; it makes his life cumbersome, precarious. By opening himself to knowledge a sorcerer becomes more vulnerable than the average man. On the one hand his fellow men hate him and fear him and will strive to end his life; on the other hand the inexplicable and unbending forces that surround every one of us, by right of our being alive, are for a sorcerer a source of even greater danger. To be pierced by a fellow man is indeed painful, but nothing in comparison to being touched by an ally. A sorcerer, by opening himself to knowledge, falls prey to such forces and has only one means of balancing himself, his will; thus he must feel and act like a warrior. I will repeat this once more: Only as a warrior can one survive the path of knowledge. What helps a sorcerer live a better life is the strength of being a warrior.
"It is my commitment to teach you to see. Not because I personally want to do so but because you were chosen; you were pointed out to me by Mescalito. I am compelled by my personal desire, however, to teach you to feel and act like a warrior. I personally believe that to be a warrior is more suitable than anything else.
Therefore I have endeavored to show you those forces as a sorcerer perceives them, because only under their terrifying impact can one become a warrior. To see without first being a warrior would make you weak; it would give you a false meekness, a desire to retreat; your body would decay because you would become indifferent. It is my personal commitment to make you a warrior so you won't crumble.
"I have heard you say time and time again that you are always prepared to die. I don't regard that feeling as necessary. I think it is a useless indulgence. A warrior should be prepared only to battle. I have also heard you say that your parents injured your spirit. I think the spirit of man is something that can be injured very easily, although not by the same acts you yourself call injurious. I believe that your parents did injure you by making you indulgent and soft and given to dwelling.
"The spirit of a warrior is not geared to indulging and complaining, nor is it geared to winning or losing. The spirit of a warrior is geared only to struggle, and every struggle is a warrior's last battle on earth. Thus the outcome matters very little to him. In his last battle on earth a warrior lets his spirit flow free and clear. And as he wages his battle, knowing that his will is impeccable, a warrior laughs and laughs."
I finished writing and looked up. Don Juan was staring at me. He shook his head from side to side and smiled.
"You really write everything?" he asked in an incredulous tone. "Genaro says that he can never be serious with you because you're always writing. He's right; how can anyone be serious if you're always writing?"
He chuckled and I tried to defend my position.
"It doesn't matter," he said, "If you ever learn to see, I suppose you must do it your own weird way."
He stood up and looked at the sky. It was around noon. He said there was still time to start on a hunting trip to a place in the mountains.
"What are we going to hunt?" I asked.
"A special animal, either a deer or a wild boar or even a mountain lion."
He paused for a moment and then added, "Even an eagle."
I stood up and followed him to my car. He said that this time we were going only to observe and to find out what animal we had to hunt. He was about to get in my car when he seemed to remember something. He smiled and said that the journey had to be postponed until I had learned something without which our hunting would be impossible.
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We went back and sat down again underneath his ramada. There were so many things I wanted to ask, but he did not give me time to say anything before he spoke again.
"This brings us to the last point you must know about a warrior," he said. "A warrior selects the items that make his world.
"The other day when you saw the ally and I had to wash you twice, do you know what was wrong with you?"
"No."
"You had lost your shields."
"What shields? What are you talking about?"
"I said that a warrior selects the items that make his world. He selects deliberately, for every item he chooses is a shield that protects him from the onslaughts of the forces he is striving to use. A warrior would use his shields to protect himself from his ally, for instance.
"An average man who is equally surrounded by those inexplicable forces is oblivious to them because he has other kinds of special shields to protect himself."
He paused and looked at me with a question in his eyes. I had not understood what he meant.
"What are those shields?" I insisted.
"What people do," he repeated.
"What do they do?"
"Well, look around. People are busy doing that which people do. Those are their shields. Whenever a sorcerer has an encounter with any of those inexplicable and unbending forces we have talked about, his gap opens, making him more susceptible to his death than he ordinarily is; I've told you that we die through that gap, therefore if it is open one should have his will ready to fill it; that is, if one is a warrior. If one is not a warrior, like yourself, then one has no other recourse but to use the activities of daily life to take one's mind away from the fright of the encounter and thus to allow one's gap to close. You got angry with me that day when you met the ally. I made you angry when I stopped your car and I made you cold when I dumped you into the water. Having your clothes on made you even colder. Being angry and cold helped you close your gap and you were protected.
At this time in your life, however, you can no longer use those shields as effectively as an average man. You know too much about those forces and now you are finally at the brink of feeling and acting as a warrior. Your old shields are no longer safe."
"What am I supposed to do?"
"Act like a warrior and select the items of your world. You cannot surround yourself with things helterskelter any longer. I tell you this in a most serious vein. Now for the first time you are not safe in your old way of life."
"What do you mean by selecting the items of my world?"
"A warrior encounters those inexplicable and unbending forces because he is deliberately seeking them, thus he is always prepared for the encounter. You, on the other hand, are never prepared for it. In fact if those forces come to you they will take you by surprise; the fright will open your gap and your life will irresistibly escape through it. The first thing you must do, then, is be prepared. Think that the ally is going to pop in front of your eyes any minute and you must be ready for him. To meet an ally is no party or Sunday picnic and a warrior takes the responsibility of protecting his life. Then if any of those forces tap you and open your gap, you must deliberately strive to close it by yourself. For that purpose you must have a selected number of things that give you great peace and pleasure, things which you can deliberately use to take your thoughts from your fright and close your gap and make you solid."
"What kind of things?"
"Years ago I told you that in his day-to-day life a warrior chooses to follow the path with heart. It is the consistent choice of the path with heart which makes a warrior different from the average man. He knows that a path has heart when he is one with it, when he experiences a great peace and pleasure traversing its length. The things a warrior selects to make his shields are the items of a path with heart."
"But you said I'm not a warrior, so how can I choose a path with heart?"
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"This is your turning point. Let's say that before you did not really need to live like a warrior. Now it is different, now you must surround yourself with the items of a path with heart and you must refuse the rest, or you will perish in the next encounter. I may add that you don't need to ask for the encounter any longer. An ally can now come to you in your sleep; while you are talking to your friends; while you are writing."
"For years I have truly tried to live in accordance with your teachings," I said. "Obviously I have not done well. How can I do better now?"
"You think and talk too much. You must stop talking to yourself."
"What do you mean?"
"You talk to yourself too much. You're not unique at that. Every one of us does that. We carry on an internal talk. Think about it. Whenever you are alone, what do you do?"
"I talk to myself."
"What do you talk to yourself about?"
"I don't know; anything, I suppose."
"I'll tell you what we talk to ourselves about. We talk about our world. In fact we maintain our world with our internal talk."
"How do we do that?"
"Whenever we finish talking to ourselves the world is always as it should be. We renew it, we kindle it with life, we uphold it with our internal talk. Not only that, but we also choose our paths as we talk to ourselves. Thus we repeat the same choices over and over until the day we die, because we keep on repeating the same internal talk over and over until the day we die.
"A warrior is aware of this and strives to stop his talking. This is the last point you have to know if you want to live like a warrior."
"How can I stop talking to myself?"
"First of all you must use your ears to take some of the burden from your eyes. We have been using our eyes to judge the world since the time we were born. We talk to others and to ourselves mainly about what we see. a warrior is aware of that and listens to the world; he listens to the sounds of the world."
I put my notes away. Don Juan laughed and said that he did not mean I should force the issue, that listening to the sounds of the world had to be done harmoniously and with great patience.
"A warrior is aware that the world will change as soon as he stops talking to himself," he said, "and he must be prepared for that monumental jolt."
"What do you mean, don Juan?"
"The world is such-and-such or so-and-so only because we tell ourselves that that is the way it is. If we stop telling ourselves that the world is so-and-so, the world will stop being so-and-so. At this moment I don't think you're ready for such a momentous blow, therefore you must start slowly to undo the world."
"I really do not understand you!"
"Your problem is that you confuse the world with what people do. Again you're not unique at that. Every one of us does that. The things people do are the shields against the forces that surround us; what we do as people gives us comfort and makes us feel safe; what people do is rightfully very important, but only as a shield. We never learn that the things we do as people are only shields and we let them dominate and topple our lives. In fact I could say that for mankind, what people do is greater and more important than the world itself."
"What do you call the world?"
"The world is all that is encased here," he said, and stomped the ground. "Life, death, people, the allies, and everything else that surrounds us. The world is incomprehensible. We won't ever understand it; we won't ever unravel its secrets. Thus we must treat it as it is, a sheer mystery!
"An average man doesn't do this, though. The world is never a mystery for him, and when he arrives at old age he is convinced he has nothing more to live for. An old man has not exhausted the world. He has exhausted only what people do. But in his stupid confusion he believes that the world has no more mysteries for him. What a wretched price to pay for our shields!
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"A warrior is aware of this confusion and learns to treat things properly. The things that people do cannot under any conditions be more important than the world. And thus a warrior treats the world as an endless mystery and what people do as an endless folly."
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15
I began the exercise of listening to the "sounds of the world" and kept at it for two months, as don Juan had specified. It was excruciating at first to listen and not look, but even more excruciating was not to talk to myself.
By the end of the two months I was capable of shutting off my internal dialogue for short periods of time and I was also capable of paying attention to sounds.
I arrived at don Juan's house at 9:00 A.M. on November 10, 1969.
"We should start that trip right now," he said upon my arrival at his house.
I rested for an hour and then we drove toward the low slopes of the mountains to the east. We left my car in the care of one of his friends who lived in that area while we hiked into the mountains. Don Juan had put some crackers and sweet rolls in a knapsack for me. There were enough provisions for a day or two. I had asked don Juan if we needed more. He shook his head negatively.
We walked the entire morning. It was a rather warm day. I carried one canteen of water, most of which I drank myself. Don Juan drank only twice. When there was no more water he assured me it was all right to drink from the streams we found on our way. He laughed at my reluctance. After a short while my thirst made me overcome my fears.
In the early afternoon we stopped in a small valley at the bottom of some lush green hills. Behind the hills, toward the east, the high mountains were silhouetted against a cloudy sky.
"You can think, you can write about what we say or about what you perceive, but nothing about where we are," he said.
We rested for a while and then he took a bundle from inside his shirt. He untied it and showed me his pipe.
He filled its bowl with smoking mixture, lighted a match and kindled a small dry twig, placed the burning twig inside the bowl, and told me to smoke. Without a piece of charcoal inside the bowl it was difficult to light the pipe; we had to keep kindling twigs until the mixture caught on fire. When I had finished smoking he said that we were there so I could find out the kind of game I was supposed to hunt. He carefully repeated three or four times that the most important aspect of my endeavor was to find some holes. He emphasized the word "holes"
and said that inside them a sorcerer could find all sorts of messages and directions.
I wanted to ask what kind of holes they were; don Juan seemed to have guessed my question and said that they were impossible to describe and were in the realm of "seeing." He repeated at various times that I should focus all my attention on listening to sounds and do my best to find the holes between the sounds. He said that he was going to play his spirit catcher four times. I was supposed to use those eerie calls as a guide to the ally that had welcomed me; that ally would then give me the message I was seeking. Don Juan told me I should stay in complete alertness, since he had no idea how the ally would manifest himself to me.
I listened attentively. I was sitting with my back against the rock side of the hill. I experienced a mild numbness. Don Juan warned me against closing my eyes. I began to listen and I could distinguish the whistling of birds, the wind rustling the leaves, the buzzing of insects. As I placed my individual attention on those sounds, I could actually make out four different types of bird whistlings. I could distinguish the speeds of the wind, in terms of slow or fast; I could also hear the different rustlings of three types of leaves. The buzzings of insects were dazzling. There were so many that I could not count them or correctly differentiate them.
I was immersed in a strange world of sound, as I had never been in my life. I began to slide to my right. Don Juan made a motion to stop me but I caught myself before he did. I straightened up and sat erect again. Don Juan moved my body until he had propped me on a crevice in the rock wall. He swept the small rocks from under my legs and placed the back of my head against the rock.
He told me imperatively to look at the mountains to the southeast. I fixed my gaze in the distance but he corrected me and said I should not gaze but look, sort of scanning, at the hills in front of me and at the vegetation on them. He repeated over and over that I should concentrate all my attention on my hearing.
Sounds began to be prominent again. It was not so much that I wanted to hear them; rather, they had a way of forcing me to concentrate on them. The wind rustled the leaves. The wind came high above the trees and then it
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dropped into the valley where we were. Upon dropping, it touched the leaves of the tall trees first; they made a peculiar sound which I fancied to be a sort of rich, raspy, lush sound. Then the wind hit the bushes and their leaves sounded like a crowd of small things; it was an almost melodious sound, very engulfing and quite demanding; it seemed capable of drowning everything else. I found it displeasing. I felt embarrassed because it occurred to me that I was like the rustle of the bushes, nagging and demanding. The sound was so akin to me that I hated it. Then I heard the wind rolling on the ground. It was not a rustling sound but more of a whistle, almost a beep or a flat buzz. Listening to the sounds the wind was making, I realized that all three of them happened at once. I was wondering how I had been capable of isolating each of them, when I again became aware of the whistling of birds and the buzzing of insects. At one moment there were only the sounds of the wind and the next moment a gigantic flow of other sounds emerged at once into my field of awareness. Logically, all the existing sounds must have been continually emitted during the time I was hearing only the wind.
I could not count all the whistles of birds or buzzings of insects, yet I was convinced I was listening to each separate sound as it was produced. Together they created a most extraordinary order. I cannot call it any other thing but "order." It was an order of sounds that had a pattern; that is, every sound happened in sequence.
Then I heard a unique prolonged wail. It made me shiver. Every other noise ceased for an instant, and the valley was dead still as the reverberation of the wail reached the valley's outer limits; then the noises began again.
I picked up their pattern immediately. After a moment of attentive listening I thought I understood don Juan's recommendation to watch for the holes between the sounds. The pattern of noises had spaces in between sounds!
For example, specific whistles of birds were timed and had pauses in between them, and so had all the other sounds I was perceiving. The rustling of leaves was like a binding glue that made them into a homogeneous buzz.
The fact of the matter was that the timing of each sound was a unit in the overall pattern of sounds. Thus the spaces or pauses in between sounds were, if I paid attention to them, holes in a structure.
I heard again the piercing wail of don Juan's spirit catcher. It did not jolt me, but the sounds again ceased for an instant and I perceived such a cessation as a hole, a very large hole. At that precise moment I shifted my attention from hearing to looking. I was looking at a cluster of low hills with lush green vegetation. The silhouette of the hills was arranged in such a way that from the place where I was looking there seemed to be a hole on the side of one of the hills. It was a space in between two hills and through it I could see the deep, dark, gray hue of the mountains in the distance. For a moment I did not know what it was. It was as if the hole I was looking at was the "hole" in the sound. Then the noises began again but the visual image of the huge hole remained. A short while later I became even more keenly aware of the pattern of sounds and their order and the arrangement of their pauses. My mind was capable of distinguishing and discriminating among an enormous number of individual sounds. I could actually keep track of all the sounds, thus each pause between sounds was a definite hole. At a given moment the pauses became crystallized in my mind and formed a sort of solid grid, a structure. I was not seeing or hearing it. I was feeling it with some unknown part of myself.
Don Juan played his string once again; the sounds ceased as they had done before, creating a huge hole in the sound structure. This time, however, that big pause blended with the hole in the hills I was looking at; they became superimposed on each other. The effect of perceiving two holes lasted for such a long time that I was capable of seeing-hearing their contours as they fit one another. Then the other sounds began again and their structure of pauses became an extraordinary, almost visual perception. I began seeing the sounds as they created patterns and then all those patterns became superimposed on the environment in the same way I had perceived the two big holes becoming superimposed. I was not looking or hearing as I was accustomed to doing. I was doing something which was entirely different but combined features of both. For some reason my attention was focused on the large hole in the hills. I felt I was hearing it and at the same time looking at it. There was something of a lure about it. It dominated my field of perception and every single sound pattern which coincided with a feature of the environment was hinged on that hole.
I heard once more the eerie wail of don Juan's spirit catcher; all other sounds stopped; the two large holes seemed to light up and next I was looking again at the plowed field; the ally was standing there as I had seen him before. The light of the total scene became very clear. I could see him plainly, as if he were fifty yards away. I
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could not see his face; his hat covered it. Then he began to come toward me, lifting up his head slowly as he walked; I could almost see his face and that terrified me. I knew I had to stop him without delay, I had a strange surge in my body; I felt an outflow of "power." I wanted to move my head to the side to stop the vision but I could not do it. At that crucial instant a thought came to my mind. I knew what don Juan meant when he spoke of the items of a "path with heart" being the shields. There was something I wanted to do in my life, something very consuming and intriguing, something that tilled me with great peace and joy. I knew the ally could not overcome me. I moved my head away without any trouble before I could see his entire face.
I began hearing all the other sounds; they suddenly became very loud and shrill, as if they were actually angry with me. They lost their patterns and turned into an amorphous conglomerate of sharp, painful shrieks. My ears began to buzz under their pressure. I felt that my head was about to explode. I stood up and put the palms of my hands to my ears.
Don Juan helped me walk to a very small stream, made me take off my clothes, and rolled me in the water.
He made me lie on the almost dry bed of the stream and then gathered water in his hat and splashed me with it.
The pressure in my ears subsided very rapidly and it took only a few minutes to "wash" me. Don Juan looked at me, shook his head in approval, and said I had made myself "solid" in no time at all.
I put on my clothes and he took me back to the place where I had been sitting. I felt extremely vigorous, buoyant, and clearheaded.
He wanted to know all the details of my vision. He said that the "holes" in the sounds were used by sorcerers to find out specific things. A sorcerer's ally would reveal complicated affairs through the holes in the sounds. He refused to be more specific about the "holes" and sloughed off my questions, saying that since I did not have an ally such information would only be harmful to me.
"Everything is meaningful for a sorcerer," he said. "The sounds have holes in them and so does everything around you. Ordinarily a man does not have the speed to catch the holes, and thus he goes through life without protection. The worms, the birds, the trees, all of them can tell us unimaginable things if only one could have the speed to grasp their message. The smoke can give us that grasping speed. But we must be on good terms with all the living things of this world. This is the reason why we must talk to plants we are about to kill and apologize for hurting them; the same thing must be done with the animals we are going to hunt. We should take only enough for our needs, otherwise the plants and the animals and the worms we have killed would turn against us and cause us disease and misfortune. A warrior is aware of this and strives to appease them, so when he peers through the holes, the trees and birds and the worms give him truthful messages.
"But all this is not important now. What is important is that you saw the ally. That is your game! I've told you that we were going to hunt for something. I thought it was going to be an animal. I figured that you were going to see the animal we had to hunt. I myself saw a wild boar; my spirit catcher is a wild boar."
"Do you mean your spirit catcher is made out of a wild boar?"
"No! Nothing in the life of a sorcerer is made out of anything else. If something is anything at all, it is the thing itself. If you knew wild boars you would realize my spirit catcher is one."
"Why did we come here to hunt?"
"The ally showed you a spirit catcher that he got from his pouch. You need to have one if you are going to call him."
"What is a spirit catcher?"
"It is a fiber. With it I can call the allies, or my own ally, or I can call the spirits of water holes, the spirits of rivers, the spirits of mountains. Mine is a wild boar and cries like a wild boar. I used it twice around you to call the spirit of the water hole to help you. The spirit came to you as the ally came to you today. You could not see it, though, because you did not have the speed; however, that day I took you to the water canyon and put you on a rock, you knew the spirit was almost on top of you without actually seeing it. Those spirits are helpers. They are hard to handle and sort of dangerous. One needs an impeccable will to hold them at bay."
"What do they look like?"
"They are different for every man and so are the allies. For you an ally would apparently look like a man you
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once knew, or like a man you will always be about to know; that's the bent of your nature. You are given to mysteries and secrets. I'm not like you, so an ally for me is something very precise.
"The spirits of water holes are proper to specific places. The one I called to help you is one I have known myself. It has helped me many times. Its abode is that canyon. At the time I called it to help you, you were not strong and the spirit took you hard. That was not its intention—they have none—but you were lying there very weak, weaker than I suspected. Later on the spirit nearly lured you to your death; in the water at the irrigation canal you were phosphorescent. The spirit took you by surprise and you nearly succumbed. Once a spirit does that, it always comes back for its prey. I'm sure it will come back for you. Unfortunately, you need the water to become solid again when you use the little smoke; that puts you at a terrible disadvantage. If you don't use the water you will probably die, but if you do use it, the spirit will take you."
"Can I use water at another place?"
"It doesn't make any difference. The spirit of the water hole around my house can follow you anywhere, unless you have a spirit catcher. That is why the ally showed it to you. He told you that you need one. He wrapped it around his left hand and came to you after pointing out the water canyon. Today he again wanted to show you the spirit catcher, as he did the first time you met him. It was wise of you to stop; the ally was going too fast for your strength and a direct jolt with him would be very injurious to you."
"How can I get a spirit catcher now?"
"Apparently the ally is going to give you one himself."
"How?"
"I don't know. You will have to go to him. He has already told you where to look for it."
"Where?"
"Up there, on those hills where you saw the hole."
"Would I be looking for the ally himself?"
"No. But he is already welcoming you. The little smoke has opened your way to him. Then, later on, you will meet him face to face, but that will happen only after you know him very well."
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16
We arrived in the same valley in the late afternoon of December 15, 1969. Don Juan mentioned repeatedly as we moved through the shrubs that directions or points of orientation were of crucial importance in the endeavor I was going to undertake.
"You must determine the right direction immediately upon arriving at the top of a hill," don Juan said. "As soon as you are on the top, face that direction." He pointed to the southeast.
"That is your good direction and you should always face it, especially when you're in trouble. Remember that."
We stopped at the bottom of the hills where I had perceived the hole. He pointed at a specific place where I had to sit down; he sat next to me and in a very quiet voice gave me detailed instructions. He said that as soon as I reached the hilltop I had to extend my right arm in front of me with the palm of my hand down and my fingers stretched like a fan, except the thumb, which had to be tucked against the palm. Next I had to turn my head to the north and fold my arm over my chest, pointing my hand also toward the north; then I had to dance, putting my left foot behind the right one, beating the ground with the tip of my left toes. He said that when I felt a warmth coming up my left leg I had to begin sweeping my arm slowly from north to south and then to the north again.
"The spot over which the palm of your hand feels warm as you sweep your arm is the place where you must sit, and it is also the direction in which you must look," he said.
"If the spot is toward the east, or if it is in that direction"—he pointed to the southeast again—"the results will be excellent. If the spot where your hand gets warm is toward the north, you will take a bad beating but you may turn the tide in your favor. If the spot is toward the south you will have a hard fight.
"You will need to sweep your arm up to four times at first, but as you become more familiar with the movement you will need only one single sweep to know whether or not your hand is going to get warm.
"Once you establish a spot where your hand gets warm, sit there; that is your first point If you are facing the south or the north, you have to make up your mind whether you feel strong enough to stay. If you have doubts about yourself, get up and leave. There is no need to stay if you are not confident. If you decide to stick around, clean an area big enough to build a fire about five feet away from your first point. The fire must be in a straight line in the direction you are looking. The area where you build the fire is your second point. Then gather all the twigs you can in between those two points and make a fire. Sit on your first point and look at the fire. Sooner or later the spirit will come and you will see it.
"If your hand does not get warm at all after four sweeping movements, sweep your arm slowly from north to south and then turn around and sweep it to the west. If your hand gets warm on any place toward the west, drop everything and rum. Run downhill toward the flat area, and no matter what you hear or feel behind you, don't turn around. As soon as you get to the flat area, no matter how frightened you are, don't keep on running, drop to the ground, take off your jacket, bunch it around your navel, and curl up like a ball, tucking your knees against your stomach. You must also cover your eyes with your hands, and your arms have to remain tight against your thighs. You must stay in that position until morning. If you follow these simple steps no harm will ever come to you.
"In case you cannot get to the flat area in time, drop to the ground right where you are. You will have a horrid time there. You will be harassed, but if you keep calm and don't move or look you will come out of it without a single scratch.
"Now if your hand does not get warm at all while you sweep it to the west, face the east again and run in an easterly direction until you are out of breath. Stop there and repeat the same maneuvers. You must keep on running toward the east, repeating these movements, until your hand gets warm."
After giving me these instructions he made me repeat them until I had memorized them. Then we sat in silence for a long time. I attempted to revive the conversation a couple of times, but he forced me into silence each time by an imperative gesture.
It was getting dark when don Juan got up and without a word began climbing the hill. I followed him. At the
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top of the hill I performed all the movements he had prescribed. Don Juan stood by, a short distance away, and kept a sharp look on me. I was very careful and deliberately slow. I tried to feel any perceivable change of temperature, but I could not detect whether or not the palm of my hand became warm. By that time it was fairly dark, yet I was still capable of running in an easterly direction without stumbling on the shrubs. I stopped running when I was out of breath, which was not too far from my point of departure. I was extremely tired and tense. My forearms ached and so did my calves.
I repeated there all the required motions and again had the same negative results. I ran in the dark two more times, and then, while I was sweeping my arm for the third time, my hand became warm over a point toward the east. It was such a definite change of temperature that it startled me. I sat down and waited for don Juan. I told him I had detected a change in temperature in my hand. He told me to proceed, and I picked all the dry brush I could find and started a fire. He sat to my left a couple of feet away.
The fire drew strange, dancing silhouettes. At times the flames became iridescent; they grew bluish and then brilliantly white. I explained that unusual play of colors by assuming that it was produced by some chemical property of the specific dry twigs and branches I had collected. Another very unusual feature of the fire was the sparks. The new twigs I kept adding created extremely big sparks. I thought they were like tennis balls that seemed to explode in midair.
I stared at the fire fixedly, the way I believed don Juan had recommended, and I became dizzy. He handed me his water gourd and signaled me to drink. The water relaxed me and gave me a delightful feeling of freshness.
Don Juan leaned over and whispered in my ear that I did not have to stare at the flames, that I should only watch in the direction of the fire. I became very cold and clammy after watching for almost an hour. At a moment when I was about to lean over and pick up a twig, something like a moth or a spot in my retina swept across from right to left between myself and the fire. I immediately recoiled. I looked at don Juan and he signaled me with a movement of his chin to look back at the flames. A moment later the same shadow swept across in the opposite direction. Don Juan got up hurriedly and began piling loose dirt on top of the burning twigs until he had completely extinguished the flames. He executed the maneuver of putting out the fire with tremendous speed. By the time I moved to help him he had finished. He stomped on the dirt on top of the smoldering twigs and then he nearly dragged me downhill and out of the valley. He walked very fast without turning his head back and did not allow me to talk at all.
When we got to my car hours later I asked him what was the thing I had seen. He shook his head imperatively and we drove in complete silence.
He went directly inside when we arrived at his house in the early morning, and he again hushed me up when I tried to talk.
Don Juan was sitting outside, behind his house. He seemed to have been waiting for me to wake up, because he started talking as I came out of the house. He said that the shadow I had seen the night before was a spirit, a force that belonged to the particular place where I had seen it. He spoke of that specific being as a useless one.
"It only exists there," he said. "It has no secrets of power, so there was no point in remaining there. You would have seen only a fast, passing shadow going back and forth all night. There are other types of beings, however, that can give you secrets of power, if you are fortunate enough to find them."
We ate some breakfast then and did not talk for quite a while. After eating we sat in front of his house.
"There are three kinds of beings," he said suddenly, "those that cannot give anything because they have nothing to give, those that can only cause fright, and those that have gifts. The one you saw last night was a silent one; it has nothing to give; it is only a shadow. Most of the time, however, another type of being is associated with the silent one, a nasty spirit whose only quality is to cause fear and which always hovers around the abode of a silent one. That is why I decided to get out of there fast. That nasty type follows people right into their homes and makes life impossible for them. I know people who have had to move out of their houses because of them. There are always some people who believe they can get a lot out of that kind of being, but the mere fact that a spirit is around the house does not mean anything. People may try to entice it, or they may follow it around
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the house under the impression that it can reveal secrets to them. But the only thing people would get is a frightful experience. I know people who took turns watching one of those nasty beings that had followed them into their house. They watched the spirit for months; finally someone else had to step in and drag the people out of the house; they had become weak and were wasting away. So the only wise thing one can do with that nasty type is to forget about it and leave it alone."
I asked him how people enticed a spirit. He said that people took pains to figure out first where the spirit would most likely appear and then they put weapons in its way, in hopes that it might touch the weapons, because spirits were known to like paraphernalia of war. Don Juan said that any kind of gear, or any object, that was touched by a spirit rightfully became a power object. However, the nasty type of being was known never to touch anything, but only to produce the auditory illusion of noise.
I then asked don Juan about the manner in which those spirits caused fear. He said that their most common way of frightening people was to appear as a dark shadow shaped as a man that would roam around the house, creating a frightening clatter or creating the sound of voices, or as a dark shadow that would suddenly lurch out from a dark corner.
Don Juan said that the third type of spirit was a true ally, a giver of secrets; that special type existed in lonely, abandoned places, places which were almost inaccessible. He said that a man who wished to find one of these beings had to travel far and go by himself. At a distant and lonely place the man had to take all the necessary steps alone. He had to sit by his fire and if he saw the shadow he had to leave immediately. He had to remain, however, if he encountered other conditions, such as a strong wind that would kill his fire and would keep him from kindling it again during four attempts; or if a branch broke from a nearby tree. The branch really had to break and the man had to make sure that it was not merely the sound of a branch breaking off.
Other conditions he had to be aware of were rocks that rolled, or pebbles which were thrown at his fire, or any constant noise, and he then had to walk in the direction in which any of these phenomena occurred until the spirit revealed itself.
There were many ways in which such a being put a warrior to the test. It might suddenly leap in front of him, in the most horrendous appearance, or it might grab the man from the back and not turn him loose and keep him pinned down for hours. It might also topple a tree on him. Don Juan said that those were truly dangerous forces, and although they could not kill a man hand to hand, they could cause his death by fright, or by actually letting objects fall on him, or by appearing suddenly and causing him to stumble, lose his footing, and go over a precipice.
He told me that if I ever found one of those beings under inappropriate circumstances I should never attempt to struggle with it because it would kill me. It would rob my soul. So I should throw myself to the ground and bear it until the morning.
"When a man is facing the ally, the giver of secrets, he has to muster up all his courage and grab it before it grabs him, or chase it before it chases him. The chase must be relentless and then comes the struggle. The man must wrestle the spirit to the ground and keep it there until it gives him power."
I asked him if these forces had substance, if one could really touch them. I said that the very idea of a "spirit"
connoted something ethereal to me.
"Don't call them spirits," he said. "Call them allies; call them inexplicable forces."
He was silent for a while, then he lay on his back and propped his head on his folded arms. I insisted on knowing if those beings had substance.
"You're damn right they have substance," he said after another moment of silence. "When one struggles with them they are solid, but that feeling lasts only a moment. Those beings rely on a man's fear; therefore if the man struggling with one of them is a warrior, the being loses its tension very quickly while the man becomes more vigorous. One can actually absorb the spirit's tension."
"What kind of tension is that?" I asked.
"Power. When one touches them, they vibrate as if they were ready to rip one apart. But that is only a show.
The tension ends when the man maintains his grip."
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"What happens when they lose their tension? Do they become like air?"
"No, they just become flaccid. They still have substance, though. But it is not like anything one has ever touched."
Later on, during the evening, I said to him that perhaps what I had seen the night before could have been only a moth. He laughed and very patiently explained that moths fly back and forth only around light bulbs, because a light bulb cannot burn their wings. A fire, on the other hand, would burn them the first time they came close to it.
He also pointed out that the shadow covered the entire fire. When he mentioned that, I remembered that it was really an extremely large shadow and that it actually blocked the view of the fire for an instant. However, it had happened so fast that I had not emphasized it in my earlier recollection.
Then he pointed out that the sparks were very large and flew to my left. I had noticed that myself. I said that the wind was probably blowing in that direction. Don Juan replied that there was no wind whatsoever. That was true. Upon recalling my experience I could remember that the night was still.
Another thing I had completely overlooked was a greenish glow in the flames, which I detected when don Juan signaled me to keep on looking at the fire, after the shadow had first crossed my field of vision. Don Juan reminded me of it. He also objected to my calling it a shadow. He said it was round and more like a bubble.
Two days later, on December 17, 1969, don Juan said in a very casual tone that I knew all the details and necessary techniques in order to go to the hills by myself and obtain a power object, the spirit catcher. He urged me to proceed alone and affirmed that his company would only hinder me.
I was ready to leave when he seemed to change his mind.
"You're not strong enough," he said. "I'll go with you to the bottom of the hills."
When we were at the small valley where I had seen the ally, he examined from a distance the formation in the terrain that I had called a hole in the hills, and said that we had to go still further south into the distant mountains. The abode of the ally was at the furthermost point we could see through the hole.
I looked at the formation and all I could distinguish was the bluish mass of the distant mountains. He guided me, however, in a southeasterly direction and after hours of walking we reached a point he said was "deep enough" into the ally's abode.
It was late afternoon when we stopped. We sat down on some rocks. I was tired and hungry; all I had eaten during the day was some tortillas and water. Don Juan stood up all of a sudden, looked at the sky, and told me in a commanding tone to take off in the direction that was the best for me and to be sure I could remember the spot where we were at the moment, so I could return there whenever I was through. He said in a reassuring tone that he would be waiting for me if it took me forever, I asked apprehensively if he believed that the affair of getting a spirit catcher was going to take a long time.
"Who knows?" he said, smiling mysteriously.
I walked away toward the southeast, turning around a couple of times to look at don Juan. He was walking very slowly in the opposite direction. I climbed to the top of a large hill and looked at don Juan once again; he was a good two hundred yards away. He did not turn to look at me. I ran downhill into a small bowl-like depression between the hills, and I suddenly found myself alone. I sat down for a moment and began to wonder what I was doing there. I felt ludicrous looking for a spirit catcher. I ran back up to the top of the hill to have a better view of don Juan but I could not see him anywhere. I ran downhill in the direction I had last seen him. I wanted to call off the whole affair and go home. I felt quite stupid and tired.
"Don Juan!" I yelled over and over.
He was nowhere in sight. I again ran to the top of another steep hill; I could not see him from there either. I ran quite a way looking for him but he had disappeared. I retraced my steps and went back to the original place where he had left me. I had the absurd certainty I was going to find him sitting there laughing at my inconsistencies.
"What in the hell have I gotten into?" I said loudly.
I knew then that there was no way to stop whatever I was doing there. I really did not know how to go back to my car. Don Juan had changed directions various times and the general orientation of the four cardinal points
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was not enough. I was afraid of getting lost in the mountains. I sat down and for the first time in my life I had the strange feeling that there never really was a way to revert back to an original point of departure. Don Juan had said that I always insisted on starting at a point I called the beginning, when in effect the beginning did not exist.
And there in the middle of those mountains I felt I understood what he meant It was as if the point of departure had always been myself; it was as if don Juan had never really been there; and when I looked for him he became what he really was—a fleeting image that vanished over a hill.
I heard the soft rustle of leaves and a strange fragrance enveloped me. I felt the wind as a pressure on my ears, like a shy buzzing. The sun was about to reach some compact clouds over the horizon that looked like a solidly tinted orange band, when it disappeared behind a heavy blanket of lower clouds; it appeared again a moment later, like a crimson ball floating in the mist. It seemed to struggle for a while to get into a patch of blue sky but it was as if the clouds would not give the sun time, and then the orange band and the dark silhouette of the mountains seemed to swallow it up.
I lay down on my back. The world around me was so still, so serene and at the same time so alien, I felt overwhelmed. I did not want to weep but tears rolled down easily.
I remained in that position for hours. I was almost unable to get up. The rocks under me were hard, and right where I had lain down there was scarcely any vegetation, in contrast to the lush green bushes all around. From where I was I could see a fringe of tall trees on the eastern hills.
Finally it got fairly dark. I felt better; in fact I felt almost happy. For me the semidarkness was much more nurturing and protective than the hard daylight.
I stood up, climbed to the top of a small hill, and began repeating the motions don Juan had taught me. I ran toward the east seven times, and then I noticed a change of temperature on my hand. I built a fire and set a careful watch, as don Juan had recommended, observing every detail. Hours went by and I began to feel very tired and cold. I had gathered quite a pile of dry twigs; I fed the fire and moved closer to it. The vigil was so strenuous and so intense that it exhausted me; I began to nod. I fell asleep twice and woke up only when my head bobbed to one side. I was so sleepy that I could not watch the fire any more. I drank some water and even sprinkled some on my face to keep awake. I succeeded in fighting my sleepiness only for brief moments. I had somehow become despondent and irritable; I felt utterly stupid being there and that gave me a sensation of irrational frustration and dejection. I was tired, hungry, sleepy, and absurdly annoyed with myself. I finally gave up the struggle of keeping awake. I added a lot of dry twigs to the fire and lay down to sleep. The pursuit of an ally and a spirit catcher was at that moment a most ludicrous and foreign endeavor. I was so sleepy that I could not even think or talk to myself. I fell asleep.
I was awakened suddenly by a loud crack. It appeared that the noise, whatever it was, had come from just above my left ear, since I was lying on my right side. I sat up fully awake. My left ear buzzed and was deafened by the proximity and force of the sound.
I must have been asleep for only a short while, judging by the amount of dry twigs which were still burning in the fire. I did not hear any other noises but I remained alert and kept on feeding the fire.
The thought crossed my mind that perhaps what woke me up was a gunshot; perhaps someone was around watching me, taking shots at me. The thought became very anguishing and created an avalanche of rational fears.
I was sure that someone owned that land, and if that was so they might take me for a thief and kill me, or they might kill me to rob me, not knowing that I had nothing with me. I experienced a moment of terrible concern for my safety. I felt the tension in my shoulders and my neck. I moved my head up and down; the bones of my neck made a cracking sound. I still kept looking into the fire but I did not see anything unusual in it, nor did I hear any noises.
After a while I relaxed quite a bit and it occurred to me that perhaps don Juan was at the bottom of all this. I rapidly became convinced that it was so. The thought made me laugh. I had another avalanche of rational conclusions, nappy conclusions this time. I thought that don Juan must have suspected I was going to change my mind about staying in the mountains, or he must have seen me running after him and taken cover in a concealed cave or behind a bush. Then he had followed me and, noticing I had fallen asleep, waked me up by cracking a
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branch near my ear. I added more twigs to the fire and began to look around in a casual and covert manner to see if I could spot him, even though I knew that if he was hiding around there I would not be able to discover him.
Everything was quite placid: the crickets, the wind roughing the trees on the slopes of the hills surrounding me, the soft, cracking sound of the twigs catching on fire. Sparks flew around, but they were only ordinary sparks.
Suddenly I heard the loud noise of a branch snapping in two. The sound came from my left. I held my breath as I listened with utmost concentration. An instant later I heard another branch snapping on my right.
Then I heard the faint faraway sound of snapping branches. It was as if someone was stepping on them and making them crack. The sounds were rich and full, they had a lusty quality. They also seemed to be getting closer to where I was. I had a very slow reaction and did not know whether to listen or stand up. I was deliberating what to do when all of a sudden the sound of snapping branches happened all around me. I was engulfed by them so fast that I barely had time to jump to my feet and stomp on the fire.
I began to run downhill in the darkness. The thought crossed my mind as I moved through the shrubs that there was no flat land. I kept on trotting and trying to protect my eyes from the bushes. I was halfway down to the bottom of the hill when I felt something behind me, almost touching me. It was not a branch; it was something which I intuitively felt was overtaking me. This realization made me freeze. I took off my jacket, bundled it on my stomach, crouched over my legs, and covered my eyes with my hands, as don Juan had prescribed. I kept that position for a short while and then I realized that everything around me was dead still. There were no sounds of any kind. I became extraordinarily alarmed. The muscles of my stomach contracted and shivered spasmodically.
Then I heard another cracking sound. It seemed to have occurred far away, but it was extremely clear and distinct. It happened once more, closer to me. There was an interval of quietness and then something exploded just above my head. The suddenness of the noise made me jump involuntarily and I nearly rolled over on my side. It was definitely the sound of a branch being snapped in two. The sound had happened so close that I heard the rustling of the branch leaves as it was being cracked.
Next there was a downpour of cracking explosions; branches were being snapped with great force all around me. The incongruous thing, at that point, was my reaction to the whole phenomenon; instead of being terrified, I was laughing. I sincerely thought I had hit upon the cause of all that was happening. I was convinced that don Juan was again tricking me. A series of logical conclusions cemented my confidence; I felt elated. I was sure I could catch that foxy old don Juan in another of his tricks. He was around me cracking branches, and knowing I would not dare to look up, he was safe and free to do anything he wanted to. I figured that he had to be alone in the mountains, since I had been with him constantly for days. He had not had fine time or the opportunity to engage any collaborators. If he was hiding, as I thought, he was hiding by himself and logically he could produce only a limited number of noises. Since he was alone, the noises had to occur in a linear temporal sequence; that is, one at a time, or at most two or three at a time. Besides, the variety of noises also had to be limited to the mechanics of a single individual. I was absolutely certain, as I remained crouched and still, that the whole experience was a game and that the only way to remain on top of it was by emotionally dislodging myself from it. I was positively enjoying it. I caught myself chuckling at the idea that I could anticipate my opponent's next move. I tried to imagine what I would do next if I were don Juan.
The sound of something slurping jolted me out of my mental exercise. I listened attentively; the sound happened again. I could not determine what it was. It sounded like an animal slurping water. It happened again very close by. It was an irritating sound that brought to mind the smacking noise of a big-jawed adolescent girl chewing gum. I was wondering how don Juan could produce such a noise when the sound happened again, coming from the right. There was a single sound first and then I heard a series of slushing, slurping sounds, as if someone were walking in mud. It was an almost sensual, exasperating sound of feet slushing in deep mud. The noises stopped for a moment and started once more toward my left, very close, perhaps only ten feet away. Now they sounded as if a heavy person were trotting with rain boots in mud. I marveled at the richness of the sound. I could not imagine any primitive devices that I myself could use to produce it. I heard another series of trotting, slushing sounds toward my rear and then they happened all at once, on all sides. Someone seemed to be walking,
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running, trotting on mud all around me.
A logical doubt occurred to me. If don Juan was doing all that, he had to be running in circles at an incredible speed. The rapidity of the sounds made that alternative impossible. I then thought that don Juan must have confederates after all. I wanted to involve myself in speculation as to who his accomplices could be but the intensity of the noises took all my concentration. I really could not think clearly, yet I was not afraid, I was perhaps only dumbfounded by the strange quality of the sounds. The slashings actually vibrated. In fact their peculiar vibrations seemed to be directed at my stomach, or perhaps I perceived their vibrations with the lower part of my abdomen.
That realization brought an instantaneous loss of my sense of objectivity and aloofness. The sounds were attacking my stomach! The question occurred to me, "What if it was not don Juan?" I panicked. I tensed my abdominal muscles and tucked my thighs hard against the bundle of my jacket.
The noises increased in number and speed, as if they knew I had lost my confidence, their vibrations were so intense I wanted to vomit. I fought the feeling of nausea. I took deep breaths and began to sing my peyote songs.
I got sick and the slushing noises ceased at once; the sounds of crickets and wind and the distant staccato barking of coyotes became superimposed. The abrupt cessation allowed me a respite and I took stock of myself. Only a short while before I had been in the best of spirits, confident and aloof; obviously I had failed miserably to judge the situation. Even if don Juan had accomplices, it would be mechanically impossible for them to produce sounds that would affect my stomach. To produce sounds of such intensity they would have needed gadgetry beyond their means or their conception. Apparently the phenomenon I was experiencing was not a game and the "another one of don Juan's tricks" theory was only my rude explanation.
I had cramps and an overwhelming desire to roll over and straighten my legs. I decided to move to my right in order to get my face off the place where I had gotten sick. The instant I began to crawl I heard a very soft squeak right above my left ear. I froze on the spot. The squeak was repeated on the other side of my head. It was a single sound. I thought it resembled the squeak of a door. I waited but I heard nothing else, so I decided to move again. No sooner had I started to inch my head to the right when I was nearly forced to jump up. A flood of squeaks engulfed me at once. They were like squeaks of doors at times; at other times they were like the squeaks of rats or guinea pigs. They were not loud or intense but very soft and insidious and produced agonizing spasms of nausea in me. They stopped as they had begun, diminishing gradually until I could hear only one or two of them at a time.
Then I heard something like the wings of a big bird sweeping over the tops of the bushes. It seemed to be flying in circles over my head. The soft squeaks began to increase again, and so did the flapping wings. Above my head there seemed to be something like a flock of gigantic birds beating their soft wings. Both noises merged, creating an enveloping wave around me. I felt that I was floating suspended in an enormous undulating ripple.
The squeaks and the flapping were so smooth I could feel them all over my body. The flapping wings of a flock of birds seemed to be pulling me up from above, while the squeaks of an army of rats seemed to be pushing me from underneath and from around my body.
There was no doubt in my mind that through my blundering stupidity I had unleashed something terrible on myself. I clenched my teeth and took deep breaths and sang peyote songs.
The noises lasted a very long time and I opposed them with all my might. When they subsided, there was again an interrupted "silence" as I am accustomed to perceiving silence; that is, I could detect only the natural sounds of the insects and the wind. The time of silence was for me more deleterious than the time of noises. I began to think and to assess my position, and my deliberation threw me into a panic. I knew that I was lost; I did not have the knowledge nor the stamina to fend off whatever was accosting me. I was utterly helpless, crouched over my own vomit. I thought that the end of my life had come and I began to weep. I wanted to think about my life but I did not know where to start. Nothing of what I had done in my life was really worthy of that last ultimate emphasis, so I had nothing to think about. That was an exquisite realization. I had changed since the last time I experienced a similar fright. This time I was more empty. I had less personal feelings to carry along.
I asked myself what a warrior would do in that situation and I arrived at various conclusions. There was
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something about my umbilical region that was uniquely important; there was something unearthly about the sounds; they were aiming at my stomach; and the idea that don Juan was tricking me was utterly untenable.
The muscles of my stomach were very tight, although I did not have cramps any longer. I kept on singing and breathing deeply and I felt a soothing warmth inundating my entire body. It had become clear to me that if I was going to survive I had to proceed in terms of don Juan's teachings. I repeated his instructions in my mind. I remembered the exact point where the sun had disappeared over the mountains in relation to the hill where I was and to the place where I had crouched. I reoriented myself and when I was convinced that my assessment of the cardinal points was correct I began to change my position, so I would have my head pointing in a new and "better" direction, the southeast. I slowly started moving my feet toward my left, inch by inch, until I had them twisted under my calves. Then I began to align my body with my feet, but no sooner had I begun to creep laterally than I felt a peculiar tap; I had the actual physical sensation of something touching the uncovered area of the back of my neck. It happened so fast that I yelled involuntarily and froze again. I tightened my abdominal muscles and began to breath deeply and sing my peyote songs. A second later I felt once more the same light tap on my neck. I cringed. My neck was uncovered and there was nothing I could do to protect myself. I was tapped again. It was a very soft, almost silky object that touched my neck, like the furry paw of a giant rabbit. It touched me again and then it began to cross my neck back and forth until I was in tears. It was as if a herd of silent, smooth, weightless kangaroos were stepping on my neck. I could hear the soft thump of the paws as they stepped gently over me. It was not a painful sensation at all and yet it was maddening. I knew that if I did not involve myself in doing something I would go mad and stand up and run. So I slowly began again to maneuver my body into a new position. My attempt at moving seemed to increase the tapping on my neck. It finally got to such a frenzy that I jerked my body and at once aligned it in the new direction. I had no idea whatsoever about the outcome of my act. I was just taking action to keep from going stark, raving mad.
As soon as I changed directions the tapping on my neck ceased. After a long, anguished pause I heard a distant snapping of branches. The noises were not close any more. It was as if they had retreated to another position far away from me. The sound of snapping branches merged after a moment with a blasting sound of leaves being rustled, as if a strong wind were beating the entire hill. All the bushes around me seemed to shiver, yet there was no wind. The rustling sound and the cracking of branches gave me the feeling that the whole hill was on fire. My body was as tight as a rock. I was perspiring copiously. I began to feel warmer and warmer. For a moment I was utterly convinced that the hill was burning. I did not jump up and run because I was so numb I was paralyzed; in fact I could not even open my eyes. All that mattered to me at that point was to get up and escape the fire. I had terrible cramps in my stomach which started to cut my intake of air. I became very involved in trying to breathe. After a long struggle I was capable of taking deep breaths again and I was also capable of noticing that the rustling had subsided; there was only an occasional cracking sound. The snapping sound of branches became more and more distant and sporadic until it ceased altogether. I was able to open my eyes. I looked through my half-closed lids to the ground underneath me. It was already daylight. I waited a while longer without moving and then I started to stretch my body. I rolled on my back. The sun was over the hills in the east.
It took me hours to straighten out my legs and drag myself downhill. I began to walk toward the place where don Juan had left me, which was perhaps only a mile away; by midafternoon I was barely at the edge of some woods, still a good quarter of a mile away.
I could not walk any more, not for any reason. I thought of mountain lions and tried to climb up a tree, but my arms could not support my weight. I leaned against a rock and resigned myself to die there. I was convinced that I would be food for mountain lions or other predators. I did not have the strength even to throw a rock. I was not hungry or thirsty. Around noon I had found a small stream and had drunk a lot of water, but the water did not help to restore my strength. As I sat there in utter helplessness I felt more despondent than afraid. I was so tired I did not care about my fate and I fell asleep.
I woke up when something shook me. Don Juan was leaning over me. He helped me sit up and gave me water and some gruel. He laughed and said that I looked wretched. I tried to tell him what had happened but he hushed me up and said that I had missed my mark, that the place where I was supposed to meet him was about a
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hundred yards away. Then he half carried me downhill. He said he was taking me to a large stream and was going to wash me there. On the way he plugged my ears with some leaves he had in his pouch and then he blindfolded me, putting one leaf on each eye and securing them both with a piece of cloth. He made me take off my clothes and told me to place my hands over my eyes and ears to make sure I could not see or hear anything.
Don Juan rubbed my entire body with leaves and then dumped me in a river. I felt it was a large river. It was deep. I was standing and I could not touch the bottom. Don Juan was holding me by the right elbow. At first I did not feel the coldness of the water, but little by little I began to feel chilled, and then the cold became intolerable.
Don Juan pulled me out and dried me with some leaves that had a peculiar scent. I put on my clothes and he led me away; we walked a good distance before he took the leaves off my ears and my eyes. Don Juan asked me if I felt strong enough to walk back to my car. The weird thing was that I felt very strong. I even ran up the side of a steep hill to prove it.
On the way to my car I stayed very close to don Juan. I stumbled scores of times and he laughed. I noticed that his laughter was especially invigorating and it became the focal point of my replenishing; the more he laughed the better I felt.
The next day I narrated to don Juan the sequence of events from the time he left me. He laughed all the way through my account, especially when I told him that I had thought it was one of his tricks.
"You always think you're being tricked," he said. "You trust yourself too much. You act like you know all the answers. You know nothing, my little friend, nothing."
This was the first time don Juan had called me "my little friend." It took me aback. He noticed it and smiled.
There was a great warmth in his voice and that made me very sad. I told him that I had been careless and incompetent because that was the inherent bent of my personality; and that I would never understand his world. I felt deeply moved. He was very encouraging and asserted that I had done fine.
I asked him the meaning of my experience.
"It has no meaning," he replied. "The same thing could happen to anyone, especially someone like you who has his gap already opened. It is very common. Any warrior who's gone in search of allies would tell you about their doings. What they did to you was mild. However, your gap is open and that is why you're so nervous. One cannot turn into a warrior overnight. Now you must go home and don't return until you're healed and your gap is closed."
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17
I did not return to Mexico for months; I used the time to work on my field notes and for the first time in ten years, since I started the apprenticeship, don Juan's teachings began to make real sense. I felt that the long periods of time I had to stay away from the apprenticeship had had a very sobering and beneficial effect on me; they had allowed me the opportunity to review my findings and to arrange them in an intellectual order proper of my training and interest. The events that took place on my last visit to the field, however, pointed to a fallacy in my optimism about understanding don Juan's knowledge.
I made the last entry in my field notes on October 16, 1970. The events that took place on that occasion marked a transition. They not only closed a cycle of instruction, but they also opened a new one, which was so very different from what I had done thus far that I feel this is the point where I must end my reportage.
As I approached don Juan's house I saw him sitting in his usual place under his ramada in front of the door. I parked in the shade of a tree, took my briefcase and a bag of groceries out of the car and walked toward him, greeting him in a loud voice. I then noticed that he was not alone. There was another man sitting behind a high pile of firewood. Both of them were looking at me. Don Juan waved and so did the other man. Judging from his attire he was not an Indian but a Mexican from the Southwest. He was wearing Levis, a beige shirt, a Texan cowboy hat and cowboy boots. I talked to don Juan and then looked at the man; he was smiling at me. I stared at him for a moment.
"Here's little Carlos," the man said to don Juan, "and he doesn't speak to me any more. Don't tell me that he's cross with me!"
Before I could say anything they both broke up laughing and only then did I realize that the strange man was don Genaro.
"You didn't recognize me, did you?" he asked, still laughing.
I had to admit that his attire had baffled me.
"What are you doing in this part of the world, don Genaro?" I asked.
"He came to enjoy the hot wind," don Juan said. "Isn't that right?"
"That's right," don Genaro echoed. "You've no idea what the hot wind can do to an old body like mine."
I sat down between them.
"What does it do to your body?" I asked.
"The hot wind tells extraordinarily things to my body," he said.
He turned to don Juan, his eyes glittering.
"Isn't that so?"
Don Juan shook his head affirmatively.
I told them that the time of the hot Santa Ana winds was the worst part of the year for me, and that it was certainly strange that don Genaro would come to seek the hot wind while I was running away from it.
"Carlos can't stand the heat," don Juan said to don Genaro. "When it gets hot he becomes like a child and suffocates."
"Suffowhat?"
"Suffo ... cates."
"My goodness!" don Genaro said, feigning concern, and made a gesture of despair which was indescribably funny.
Don Juan explained to him next that I had been away for months because of an unfortunate incident with the allies.
"So, you've finally encountered an ally!" don Genaro said.
"I think I did," I said cautiously.
They laughed loudly. Don Genaro patted me on the back two or three times. It was a very light tapping which I interpreted as a friendly gesture of concern. He rested his hand on my shoulder as he looked at me, and I had a feeling of placid contentment, which lasted only an instant, for next don Genaro did something inexplicable to
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me. I suddenly felt that he had put the weight of a boulder on my back. I had the sensation that he had increased the weight of his hand, which was resting on my right shoulder, until it made me sag all the way down and I hit my head on the ground.
"We must help little Carlos," don Genaro said and gave a conspiratorial look to don Juan.
I sat up straight again and turned to don Juan, but he looked away. I had a moment of vacillation and the annoying thought that don Juan was acting as if he were aloof, detached from me. Don Genaro was laughing; he seemed to be waiting for my reaction.
I asked him to put his hand on my shoulder once more, but he did not want to do it. I urged him at least to tell me what he had done to me. He chuckled. I turned to don Juan again and told him that the weight of don Genaro's hand had nearly crushed me.
"I don't know anything about it," don Juan said in a comically factual tone. "He didn't put his hand on my shoulder."
With that both of them broke up laughing.
"What did you do to me, don Genaro?” I asked.
"I just put my hand on your shoulder," he said innocently.
"Do it again," I said.
He refused. Don Juan interceded at that point and asked me to describe to don Genaro what I had perceived in my last experience. I thought he wanted me to give a bona fide description of what had happened to me, but the more serious my description became the more they laughed. I stopped two or three times but they urged me to go on.
"The ally will come to you regardless of your feelings," don Juan said when I had finished my account. "I mean, you don't have to do anything to lure him out. You may be sitting twiddling your thumbs, or thinking about women and then suddenly, a tap on your shoulder, you turn around and the ally is standing by you."
"What can I do if something like that happens?" I asked.
"Hey! Hey! Wait a minute!" don Genaro said. "That's not a good question. You shouldn't ask what can you do, obviously you can't do anything. You should ask what can a warrior do?"
He turned to me, blinking. His head was slightly tilted to the right, and his mouth was puckered.
I looked at don Juan for a cue whether the situation was a joke, but he kept a solemn face.
"All right!" I said. "What can a warrior do?"
Don Genaro blinked and made smacking sounds with his lips, as if he were searching for a right word. He looked at me fixedly, holding his chin.
"A warrior wets his pants," he said with Indian solemnity.
Don Juan covered his face and don Genaro slapped the ground, exploding in a howling laughter.
"Fright is something one can never get over," don Juan said after the laughter had subsided, "When a warrior is caught in such a tight spot he would simply turn his back to the ally without thinking twice. A warrior cannot indulge, thus he cannot die of fright. A warrior allows the ally to come only when he is good and ready. When he is strong enough to grapple with the ally he opens his gap and lurches out, grabs the ally, keeps him pinned down and maintains his stare on him for exactly the time he has to, then he moves his eyes away and releases the ally and lets him go. A warrior, my little friend, is the master at all times."
"What happens if you stare at an ally for too long?" I asked.
Don Genaro looked at me and made a comical gesture of outstaring.
"Who knows?" don Juan said. "Maybe Genaro will tell you what happened to him."
"Maybe," don Genaro said and chuckled.
"Would you please tell me?"
Don Genaro got up, cracked his bones stretching his arms, and opened his eyes until they were round and looked crazy.
"Genaro is going to make the desert tremble," he said and went into the chaparral.
"Genaro is determined to help you," don Juan said in a confidential tone. "He did the same thing to you at his
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house and you almost saw"
I thought he was referring to what had happened at the waterfall, but he was talking about some unearthly rumbling sounds I had heard at don Genaro's house.
"By the way, what was it?" I asked. "We laughed at it, but you never explained to me what it was."
"You have never asked."
"I did."
"No. You have asked me about everything else except that."
Don Juan looked at me accusingly.
"That was Genaro's art," he said. "Only Genaro can do that. You almost saw then."
I told him that it had never occurred to me to associate "seeing" with the strange noises I had heard at that time."
And why not?" he asked flatly.
"Seeing means the eyes to me," I said.
He scrutinized me for a moment as if there were something wrong with me.
"I never said that seeing is a matter of the eyes alone," he said and shook his head in disbelief.
"How does he do it?" I insisted.
"He has already told you how he does it," don Juan said sharply.
At that very moment I heard an extraordinary rumble.
I jumped up and don Juan began to laugh. The rumble was like a thunderous avalanche. Listening to it, I had the funny realization that my inventory of experiences in sound conies definitely from the movies. The deep thunder I heard resembled the sound track of a movie when the whole side of a mountain falls into a valley.
Don Juan held his sides as if they hurt from laughing. The thunderous rumble shook the ground where I stood. I distinctly heard the thump of what seemed to be a monumental boulder that was rolling on its sides. I heard a series of crushing thumps that gave me the impression that the boulder was rolling inexorably toward me.
I experienced a moment of supreme confusion. My muscles were tense; my whole body was ready for fleeing.
I looked at don Juan. He was staring at me. I then heard the most frightening thump I had ever heard in my life. It was as if a monumental boulder had landed right behind the house. Everything shook, and at that moment I had a most peculiar perception. For an instant I actually "saw" a boulder the size of a mountain right behind the house. It was not as if an image had been superimposed on the scenery of the house I was looking at. It was not the view of a real boulder either. It was rather as if the noise was creating the image of a boulder rolling on its monumental sides. I was actually "seeing" the noise. The inexplicable character of my perception threw me into the depths of despair and confusion. Never in my life would I have conceived that my senses were capable of perceiving in such a manner. I had an attack of rational fright and decided to flee for my life. Don Juan held me by the arm and ordered me imperatively not to run away and not to turn around either, but face the direction in which don Genaro had gone.
I heard next a series of booming noises, which resembled the sound of rocks falling and piling on top of each other, and then everything was quiet again. A few minutes later don Genaro came back and sat down. He asked me if I had "seen." I did not know what to say. I turned to don Juan for a cue. He was staring at me.
"I think he did," he said and chuckled.
I wanted to say that I did not know what they were talking about. I felt terribly frustrated. I had a physical sensation of wrath, of utter discomfort.
"I think we should leave him here to sit alone," don Juan said.
They got up and walked by me.
"Carlos is indulging in his confusion," don Juan said very loudly.
I stayed alone for hours and had time to write my notes and to ponder on the absurdity of my experience.
Upon thinking about it, it became obvious to me that from the very moment I saw don Genaro sitting under the ramada the situation had acquired a farcical mood. The more I deliberated about it the more convinced I became that don Juan had relinquished the control over to don Genaro and that thought filled me with apprehension.
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Don Juan and don Genaro returned at dusk. They sat down next to me, flanking me. Don Genaro drew closer and almost leaned on me. His thin and frail shoulder touched me lightly and I experienced the same feeling I had had when he tapped me. A crushing weight toppled me over and I tumbled onto don Juan's lap. He helped me to sit up straight and asked in a joking tone if I was trying to sleep on his lap.
Don Genaro seemed to be delighted; his eyes shone. I wanted to weep. I had the feeling I was like an animal that had been corralled.
"Am I frightening you, little Carlos?" don Genaro asked and seemed really concerned. "You look like a wild horse."
"Tell him a story," don Juan said. "That's the only thing that calms him."
They moved away and sat in front of me. Both of them examined me with curiosity. In the semidarkness their eyes seemed glassy, like enormous dark pools of water. Their eyes were awesome. They were not the eyes of men. We stared at each other for a moment and then I moved my eyes away. I noticed that I was not afraid of them, and yet their eyes had frightened me to the point that I was shivering. I felt a most uncomfortable confusion.
After a moment of silence don Juan urged don Genaro to tell me what had happened to him at the time he had tried to outstare his ally. Don Genaro was sitting a few feet away, facing me; he did not say anything. I looked at him; his eyes seemed to be four or five tunes the size of ordinary human eyes; they were shining and had a compelling attraction. What seemed to be the light of his eyes dominated everything around them. Don Genaro's body seemed to have shriveled and looked more like the body of a feline. I noticed a movement of his cat-like body and became frightened. In a completely automatic way, as if I had been doing it all my life, I adopted a "fighting form" and began beating rhythmically on my calf. When I became aware of my acts I got embarrassed and looked at don Juan, He was peering at me as he does ordinarily; his eyes were kind and soothing. He laughed loudly. Don Genaro made a purring sound and stood up and went inside the house.
Don Juan explained to me that don Genaro was very forceful and did not like to piddle around and that he had been just teasing me with his eyes. He said that, as usual, I knew more than I myself expected. He made a comment that everyone who was involved with sorcery was terribly dangerous during the hours of twilight and that sorcerers like don Genaro could perform marvels at that time.
We were quiet for a few minutes. I felt better. Talking to don Juan relaxed me and restored my confidence.
Then he said that he was going to eat something and that we were going for a walk so that don Genaro could show me a technique for hiding.
I asked him to explain what he meant by a technique for hiding. He said he was through with explaining things to me because explaining only forced me to indulge.
We went inside the house. Don Genaro had lit the kerosene lantern and was chewing a mouthful of food.
After eating, the three of us walked into the thick desert chaparral Don Juan walked almost next to me. Don Genaro was in front, a few yards ahead of us.
It was a clear night, there were heavy clouds, but enough moonlight to render the surroundings quite visible.
At one moment don Juan stopped and told me to go ahead and follow don Genaro. I vacillated; he pushed me gently and assured me it was all right. He said I should always be ready and should always trust my own strength.
I followed don Genaro and for the next two hours I tried to catch up with him, but no matter how hard I struggled I could not overtake him. Don Genaro's silhouette was always ahead of me. Sometimes he disappeared as if he had jumped to the side of the trail only to appear again ahead of me. As far as I was concerned, this seemed to be a strange and meaningless walk in the dark. I followed because I did not know how to return to the house. I could not understand what don Genaro was doing. I thought he was leading me to some recondite place in the chaparral to show me the technique don Juan had talked about At a certain point, however, I had the peculiar sensation that don Genaro was behind me. I turned around and caught a glimpse of a person some distance behind me. The effect was startling. I strained to see in the darkness and I believed I could make out the silhouette of a man standing perhaps fifteen yards away. The figure was almost merged with the bushes; it was as if he wanted to conceal himself. I stared fixedly for a moment and I could actually keep the silhouette of the man
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within my field of perception even though he was trying to hide behind the dark shapes of the bushes. Then a logical thought came to my mind. It occurred to me that the man had to be don Juan, who must have been following us all the time. The instant I became convinced that that was so, I also realized I could no longer isolate his silhouette; all I had in front of me was the undifferentiated dark mass of the desert chaparral.
I walked toward the place I had seen the man, but I could not find anybody. Don Genaro was nowhere in sight either, and since I did not know my way I sat down to wait. A half hour later, don Juan and don Genaro came by. They called my name out loud. I stood up and joined them.
We walked to the house in complete silence. I welcomed that quiet interlude, for I felt completely disoriented. In fact, I felt unknown to myself. Don Genaro was doing something to me, something which kept me from formulating my thoughts the way I am accustomed to doing. This became evident to me when I sat down on the trail. I had automatically checked the time when I sat down and then I had remained quiet as if my mind had been turned off. Yet I sat in a state of alertness I have never experienced before. It was a state of thoughtlessness, perhaps comparable to not caring about anything. The world seemed to be, during that time, in a strange balance;
there was nothing I could add to it and nothing I could subtract from it.
When we arrived at the house don Genaro rolled out a straw mat and went to sleep. I felt compelled to render my experiences of the day to don Juan. He did not let me talk.
October 18,1970
"I think I understand what don Genaro was trying to do the other night," I said to don Juan.
I said that in order to draw him out. His continual refusal to talk was unnerving me.
Don Juan smiled and shook his head slowly as if agreeing with what I had said. I would have taken his gesture as an affirmation except for the strange glint in his eyes. It was as if his eyes were laughing at me.
"You don't think I understand, do you?" I asked compulsively.
"I suppose you do... you do, in fact. You do understand that Genaro was behind you all the time. However, understanding is not the real point"
His statement that don Genaro had been behind me all the time was shocking to me. I begged him to explain it.
"Your mind is set to seek only one side of this," he said.
He took a dry twig and moved it in the air. He was not drawing in the air or making a figure; what he did resembled the movements he makes with his fingers when he cleans the debris from a pile of seeds. His movements were like a soft prodding or scratching the air with the twig.
He turned and looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders automatically in a gesture of bafflement. He drew closer and repeated his movements, making eight points on the ground. He circled the first point.
"You are here," he said. "We are all here; this is feeling, and we move from here to here."
He circled the second, which he had drawn right above number one. He then moved his twig back and forth between the two points to portray a heavy traffic.
"There are, however, six more points a man is capable of handling," he said. "Most men know nothing about them."
He placed his twig between points one and two and pecked on the ground with it.
"To move between these two points you call understanding. You've been doing that all your life. If you say you understand my knowledge, you have done nothing new."
He then joined some of the eight points to the others with lines; the result was a long trapezoid figure that had eight centers of uneven radiation.
"Each of these six remaining points is a world, just like feeling and understanding are two worlds for you,"
he said.
"Why eight points? Why not an infinite number, as in a circle?" I asked.
I drew a circle on the ground. Don Juan smiled.
"As far as I know there are only eight points a man is capable of handling. Perhaps men cannot go beyond that. And I said handling, not understanding, did you get that?"
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His tone was so funny I laughed. He was imitating or rather mocking my insistence on the exact usage of words.
"Your problem is that you want to understand everything, and that is not possible. If you insist on understanding you're not considering your entire lot as a human being. Your stumbling block is intact Therefore, you have done almost nothing in all these years. You have been shaken out of your total slumber, true, but that could have been accomplished anyway by other circumstances."
After a pause don Juan told me to get up because we were going to the water canyon. As we were getting into my car don Genaro came out from behind the house and joined us. I drove part of the way and then we walked into a deep ravine. Don Juan picked a place to rest in the shade of a large tree.
"You mentioned once," don Juan began, "that a friend of yours had said, when the two of you saw a leaf falling from the very top of a sycamore, that that same leaf will not fall again from that same sycamore ever in a whole eternity, remember?"
I remembered having told him about that incident.
"We are at the foot of a large tree," he continued, "and now if we look at that other tree in front of us we may see a leaf falling from the very top."
He signaled me to look. There was a large tree on the other side of the gully; its leaves were yellowish and dry. He urged me with a movement of his head to keep on looking at the tree. After a few minutes wait, a leaf cracked loose from the top and began falling to the ground; it hit other leaves and branches three times before it landed in the tall underbrush.
"Did you see it?"
"Yes."
"You would say that the same leaf will never again fall from that same tree, true?"
"True."
"To the best of your understanding that is true. But that is only to the best of your understanding. Look again."
I automatically looked and saw a leaf falling. It actually hit the same leaves and branches as the previous one.
It was as if I were looking at an instant television replay. I followed the wavy falling of the leaf until it landed on the ground. I stood up to find out if there were two leaves, but the tall underbrush around the tree prevented me from seeing where the leaf had actually landed.
Don Juan laughed and told me to sit down.
"Look," he said, pointing with his head to the top of the tree. "There goes the same leaf again."
I once more saw a leaf falling in exactly the same pattern as the previous two.
When it had landed I knew don Juan was about to signal me again to look at the top of the tree, but before he did I looked up. The leaf was again falling. I realized then that I had only seen the first leaf cracking loose, or, rather, the first time the leaf fell I saw it from the instant it became detached from the branch; the other three times the leaf was already falling when I lifted my head to look.
I told that to don Juan and I urged him to explain what he was doing.
"I don't understand how you're making me see a repetition of what I had seen before. What did you do to me, don Juan?"
He laughed but did not answer and I insisted that he should tell me how I could see that leaf falling over and over. I said that according to my reason that was impossible.
Don Juan said that his reason told him the same, yet I had witnessed the leaf falling over and over. He then turned to don Genaro.
"Isn't that so?" he asked.
Don Genaro did not answer. His eyes were fixed on me.
"It is impossible!" I said.
"You're chained!" don Juan exclaimed. "You're chained to your reason."
He explained that the leaf had fallen over and over from that same tree so I would stop trying to understand.
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In a confidential tone he told me that I had the whole thing pat and yet my mania always blinded me at the end.
"There's nothing to understand. Understanding is only a very small affair, so very small," he said.
At that point don Genaro stood up. He gave a quick glance to don Juan; their eyes met and don Juan looked at the ground in front of him. Don Genaro stood in front of me and began swinging his arms at his sides, back and forth in unison.
"Look, little Carlos," he said. "Look! Look!"
He made an extraordinarily sharp, swishing sound. It was the sound of something ripping. At the precise instant the sound happened, I felt a sensation of vacuity in my lower abdomen. It was the terribly anguishing sensation of falling, not painful, but rather unpleasant and consuming. It lasted a few seconds and then it subsided, leaving a strange itch in my knees. But while the sensation had lasted I experienced another unbelievable phenomenon. I saw don Genaro on top of some mountains that were perhaps ten miles away. The perception lasted only a few seconds and it happened so unexpectedly that I did not have time really to examine it. I cannot recall whether I saw a man-size figure standing on top of the mountains, or a reduced image of don Genaro. I cannot even recall whether or not it was don Genaro. Yet at that moment I was certain beyond any doubt that I was seeing him standing on top of the mountains. However, the moment I thought that I could not possibly see a man ten miles away the perception vanished.
I turned around to look for don Genaro, but he was not there.
The bafflement I experienced was as unique as everything else that was happening to me. My mind buckled under the strain. I felt utterly disoriented.
Don Juan stood up and made me cover the lower part of my abdomen with my hands and press my legs tightly against my body in a squat position. We sat in silence for a while and then he said that he was truly going to refrain from explaining anything to me, because only by acting can one become a sorcerer. He recommended that I leave immediately, otherwise don Genaro would probably kill me in his effort to help me.
"You are going to change directions," he said, "and you'll break your chains."
He said that there was nothing to understand about his or about don Genaro's actions, and that sorcerers were quite capable of performing extraordinary feats.
"Genaro and I are acting from here," he said and pointed to one of the centers of radiation in his diagram.
"And it is not the center of understanding, yet you know what it is."
I wanted to say that I did not really know what he was talking about, but he did not give me time and stood up and signaled me to follow him. He began to walk fast and in no time at all I was puffing and sweating trying to keep up with him.
When we were getting inside the car I looked around for don Genaro.
"Where is he?" I asked "You know where he is," don Juan snapped at me.
Before I left I sat down with him, as I always do. I had an overwhelming urge to ask for explanations. As don Juan says, explanations are truly my indulgence.
"Where's don Genaro?" I asked cautiously.
"You know where," he said. "Yet you fail every time because of your insistence on understanding. For example, you knew the other night that Genaro was behind you all the time; you even turned around and saw him."
"No," I protested. "No, I didn't know that."
I was truthful at that. My mind refused to intake that sort of stimuli as being "real," and yet, after ten years of apprenticeship with don Juan my mind could no longer uphold my old ordinary criteria of what is real. However, all the speculations I had thus far engendered about the nature of reality had been mere intellectual manipulations; the proof was that under the pressure of don Juan and don Genaro's acts my mind had entered into an impasse.
Don Juan looked at me and there was such sadness in his eyes that I began to weep. Tears fell freely. For the first time in my life I felt the encumbering weight of my reason. An indescribable anguish overtook me. I wailed
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involuntarily and embraced him. He gave me a quick blow with his knuckles on the top of my head. I felt it like a ripple down my spine. It had a sobering effect. "You indulge too much," he said softly.
134
Epilogue Don Juan slowly walked around me. He seemed to be deliberating whether or not to say something to me.
Twice he stopped and seemed to change his mind.
"Whether or not you return is thoroughly unimportant," he finally said. "However, you now have the need to live like a warrior. You have always known that, now you're simply in the position of having to make use of something you disregarded before. But you had to struggle for this knowledge; it wasn't just given to you; it wasn't just handed down to you. You had to beat it out of yourself. Yet you're still a luminous being. You're still going to die like everyone else. I once told you that there's nothing to change in a luminous egg."
He was quiet for a moment. I knew he was looking at me, but I avoided his eyes.
"Nothing has really changed in you," he said.
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File Info.
PDF Version 1.0 - public since 21/06/2006. Home Location: http://controlledfolly.googlepages.com -Cover - Taken from http://tami-book.by.ru , modified.
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Carlos Castaneda "The Journey to Ixtlan"

Third book in the series.
Index:
Introduction..................................................................................4
Part 1: Stopping the World 1. Reaffirmations From The World Around Us............................9
2. Erasing Personal History...........................................................14
3. Losing Self-Importance.............................................................19
4. Death is an Adviser....................................................................24
5. Assuming Responsibility...........................................................30
6. Becoming a Hunter....................................................................36
7. Being Inaccessible.....................................................................42
8. Disrupting the Routines of Life ................................................49
9. The Last Battle on Earth ...........................................................53
10. Becoming Accessible to Power ..............................................59
11. The Mood of a Warrior............................................................68
12. A Battle of Power.....................................................................77
13. A Warrior's Last Stand.............................................................87
14. The Gait of Power....................................................................96
15. Not-Doing................................................................................110
16. The Ring of Power ..................................................................120
17. A Worthy Opponent.................................................................127
2
Part Two: Journey to Ixtlan 18. The Sorcerer's Ring of Power..................................................137
19. Stopping the World..................................................................145
20. Journey To Ixtlan.....................................................................151
3
Introduction
On Saturday, 22 May 1971, I went to Sonora, Mexico, to see don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian sorcerer, with whom I had been associated since 1961. I thought that my visit on that day was going to be in no way different from the scores of times I had gone to see him in the ten years I had been his apprentice. The events that took place on that day and on the following days, however, were momentous to me. On that occasion my apprenticeship came to an end. This was not an arbitrary withdrawal on my part but a bona fide termination.
I have already presented the case of my apprenticeship in two previous works: "The Teachings of Don Juan" and "A Separate Reality".
My basic assumption in both books has been that the articulation points in learning to be a sorcerer were the states of nonordinary reality produced by the ingestion of psychotropic plants.
In this respect don Juan was an expert in the use of three such plants: Datura inoxia, commonly known as jimson weed; Lophorphora williamsii, known as peyote; and a hallucinogenic mushroom of the genus Psilocybe.
My perception of the world through the effects of those psychotropics had been so bizarre and impressive that I was forced to assume that such states were the only avenue to communicating and learning what don Juan was attempting to teach me.
That assumption was erroneous.
For the purposes of avoiding any misunderstandings about my work with don Juan I would like to clarify the following issues at this point. So far I have made no attempt whatsoever to place don Juan in a cultural milieu. The fact that he considers himself to be a Yaqui Indian does not mean that his knowledge of sorcery is known to or practiced by the Yaqui Indians in general.
All the conversations that don Juan and I have had throughout the apprenticeship were conducted in Spanish, and only because of his thorough command of that language was I capable of obtaining complex explanations of his system of beliefs.
I have maintained the practice of referring to that system as sorcery and I have also maintained the practice of referring to don Juan as a sorcerer, because these were categories he himself used.
Since I was capable of writing down most of what was said in the beginning of apprenticeship, and everything that was said in the later phases of it, I gathered voluminous field notes. In order to render those notes readable and still preserve the dramatic unity of don Juan's teachings, I have had to edit them, but what I have deleted is, I believe, immaterial to the points I want to raise.
In the case of my work with don Juan I have limited my efforts solely to viewing him as a sorcerer and to acquiring membership in his knowledge.
For the purpose of presenting my argument I must first explain the basic premise of sorcery as don Juan presented it to me. He said that for a sorcerer, the world of everyday life is not real, or out there, as we believe it is. For a sorcerer, reality, or the world we all know, is only a description.
For the sake of validating this premise don Juan concentrated the best of his efforts into leading me to a genuine conviction that what I held in mind as the world at hand was merely a description of the world; a description that had been pounded into me from the moment I was born.
He pointed out that everyone who comes into contact with a child is a teacher who incessantly describes the world to him, until the moment when the child is capable of perceiving the world as it is described. According to don Juan, we have no memory of that portentous moment, simply
4
because none of us could possibly have had any point of reference to compare it to anything else.
From that moment on, however, the child is a member. He knows the description of the world;
and his membership becomes full-fledged, I suppose, when he is capable of making all the proper perceptual interpretations which, by conforming to that description, validate it.
For don Juan, then, the reality of our day-to-day life consists of an endless flow of perceptual interpretations which we, the individuals who share a specific membership, have learned to make in common.
The idea that the perceptual interpretations that make up the world have a flow is congruous with the fact that they run uninterruptedly and are rarely, if ever, open to question. In fact, the reality of the world we know is so taken for granted that the basic premise of sorcery, that our reality is merely one of many descriptions, could hardly be taken as a serious proposition.
Fortunately, in the case of my apprenticeship, don Juan was not concerned at all with whether or not I could take his proposition seriously, and he proceeded to elucidate his points, in spite of my opposition, my disbelief, and my inability to understand what he was saying. Thus, as a teacher of sorcery, don Juan endeavored to describe the world to me from the very first time we talked. My difficulty in grasping his concepts and methods stemmed from the fact that the units of his description were alien and incompatible with those of my own.
His contention was that he was teaching me how to see as opposed to merely "looking", and that stopping the world was the first step to seeing.
For years I had treated the idea of stopping the world as a cryptic metaphor that really did not mean anything. It was only during an informal conversation that took place towards the end of my apprenticeship that I came fully to realize its scope and importance as one of the main propositions of don Juan's knowledge.
Don Juan and I had been talking about different things in a relaxed and unstructured manner. I told him about a friend of mine and his dilemma with his nine-year-old son. The child, who had been living with the mother for the past four years, was then living with my friend, and the problem was what to do with him? According to my friend, the child was a misfit in school; he lacked concentration and was not interested in anything. He was given to tantrums, disruptive behavior, and to running away from home.
"Your friend certainly does have a problem," don Juan said, laughing.
I wanted to keep on telling him all the "terrible" things the child had done, but he interrupted me.
"There is no need to say any more about that poor little boy," he said. "There is no need for you or for me to regard his actions in our thoughts one way or another."
His manner was abrupt and his tone was firm, but then he smiled.
"What can my friend do?" I asked.
"The worst thing he could do is to force that child to agree with him," don Juan said.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that that child shouldn't be spanked or scared by his father when he doesn't behave the way he wants him to."
"How can he teach him anything if he isn't firm with him?"
"Your friend should let someone else spank the child."
"He can't let anyone else touch his little boy!" I said, surprised at his suggestion.
Don Juan seemed to enjoy my reaction and giggled.
"Your friend is not a warrior," he said. "If he were, he would know that the worst thing one can do is to confront human beings bluntly."
"What does a warrior do, don Juan?"
"A warrior proceeds strategically."
"I still don't understand what you mean."
5
"I mean that if your friend were a warrior he would help his child to stop the world."
"How can my friend do that?"
"He would need personal power. He would need to be a sorcerer."
"But he isn't."
"In that case he must use ordinary means to help his son to change his idea of the world. It is not stopping the world, but it will work just the same."
I asked him to explain his statements.
"If I were your friend," don Juan said, "I would start by hiring someone to spank the little guy.
I would go to skid row and hire the worst-looking man I could find."
"To scare a little boy?"
"Not just to scare a little boy, you fool. That little fellow must be stopped, and being beaten by his father won't do it.
"If one wants to stop our fellow men one must always be outside the circle that presses them.
That way one can always direct the pressure."
The idea was preposterous, but somehow it was appealing to me.
Don Juan was resting his chin on his left palm. His left arm was propped against his chest on a wooden box that served as a low table. His eyes were closed but his eyeballs moved. I felt he was looking at me through his closed eyelids. The thought scared me.
"Tell me more about what my friend should do with his little boy," I said.
"Tell him to go to skid row and very carefully select an ugly-looking derelict," he went on.
"Tell him to get a young one. One who still has some strength left in him."
Don Juan then delineated a strange strategy. I was to instruct my friend to have the man follow him or wait for him at a place where he would go with his son. The man, in response to a prearranged cue to be given after any objectionable behavior on the part of the child, was supposed to leap from a hiding place, pick the child up, and spank the living daylights out of him.
"After the man scares him, your friend must help the little boy regain his confidence, in any way he can. If he follows this procedure three or four times I assure you that that child will feel differently towards everything. He will change his idea of the world."
"What if the fright injures him?"
"Fright never injures anyone. What injures the spirit is having someone always on your back, beating you, telling you what to do and what not to do.
"When that boy is more contained you must tell your friend to do one last thing for him. He must find some way to get to a dead child, perhaps in a hospital, or at the office of a doctor. He must take his son there and show the dead child to him. He must let him touch the corpse once with his left hand, on any place except the corpse's belly. After the boy does that he will be renewed. The world will never be the same for him."
I realized then that throughout the years of our association don Juan had been employing with me, although on a different scale, the same tactics he was suggesting my friend should use with his son. I asked him about it. He said that he had been trying all along to teach me how to stop the world.
"You haven't yet," he said, smiling. "Nothing seems to work, because you are very stubborn. If you were less stubborn, however, by now you would probably have stopped the world with any of the techniques I have taught you."
"What techniques, don Juan?"
"Everything I have told you to do was a technique for stopping the world."
A few months after that conversation don Juan accomplished what he had set out to do, to teach me to stop the world".
That monumental event in my life compelled me to re-examine in detail my work of ten years.
It became evident to me that my original assumption about the role of psychotropic plants was
6
erroneous. They were not the essential feature of the sorcerer's description of the world, but were only an aid to cement, so to speak, parts of the description which I had been incapable of perceiving otherwise. My insistence on holding on to my standard version of reality rendered me almost deaf and blind to don Juan's aims. Therefore, it was simply my lack of sensitivity which had fostered their use.
In reviewing the totality of my field notes I became aware that don Juan had given me the bulk of the new description at the very beginning of our association in what he called "techniques for stopping the world". I had discarded those parts of my field notes in my earlier works because they did not pertain to the use of psychotropic plants. I have now rightfully reinstated them in the total scope of don Juan's teachings and they comprise the first seventeen chapters of this work.
The last three chapters are the field notes covering the events that culminated in my stopping the world.
In summing up I can say that when I began the apprenticeship, there was another reality, that is to say, there was a sorcery description of the world, which I did not know.
Don Juan, as a sorcerer and a teacher, taught me that description. The ten-year apprenticeship I have undergone consisted, therefore, in setting up that unknown reality by unfolding its description, adding increasingly more complex parts as I went along.
The termination of the apprenticeship meant that I had learned a new description of the world in a convincing and authentic manner and thus I had become capable of eliciting a new perception of the world, which matched its new description. In other words, I had gained membership.
Don Juan stated that in order to arrive at seeing one first had to stop the world. Stopping the world was indeed an appropriate rendition of certain states of awareness in which the reality of everyday life is altered because the flow of interpretation, which ordinarily runs uninterruptedly, has been stopped by a set of circumstances alien to that flow. In my case the set of circumstances alien to my normal flow of interpretations was the sorcery description of the world. Don Juan's precondition for stopping the world was that one had to be convinced; in other words, one had to learn the new description in a total sense, for the purpose of pitting it against the old one, and in that way break the dogmatic certainty, which we all share, that the validity of our perceptions, or our reality of the world, is not to be questioned.
After stopping the world the next step was seeing. By that don Juan meant what I would like to categorize as responding to the perceptual solicitations of a world outside the description we have learned to call reality."
My contention is that all these steps can only be understood in terms of the description to which they belong; and since it was a description that he endeavored to give me from the beginning, I must then let his teachings be the only source of entrance into it. Thus, I have left don Juan's words to speak for themselves.
7
Part 1:
Stopping the World


1. Reaffirmations From The World Around Us
"I understand you know a great deal about plants, sir," I said to the old Indian in front of me.
A friend of mine had just put us in contact and left the room and we had introduced ourselves to each other. The old man had told me that his name was Juan Matus.
"Did your friend tell you that?" he asked casually.
"Yes, he did."
"I pick plants, or rather, they let me pick them," he said softly.
We were in the waiting room of a bus depot in Arizona. I asked him in very formal Spanish if he would allow me to question him. I said, "Would the gentleman [caballero] permit me to ask some questions?"
"Caballero," which is derived from the word "caballo," horse, originally meant horseman or a nobleman on horseback.
He looked at me inquisitively.
"I'm a horseman without a horse," he said with a big smile and then he added, "I've told you that my name is Juan Matus."
I liked his smile. I thought that, obviously he was a man that could appreciate directness and I decided to boldly tackle him with a request.
I told him I was interested in collecting and studying medicinal plants. I said that my special interest was the uses of the hallucinogenic cactus, peyote, which I had studied at length at the university in Los Angeles.
I thought that my presentation was very serious. I was very contained and sounded perfectly credible to myself.
The old man shook his head slowly, and I, encouraged by his silence, added that it would no doubt be profitable for us to get together and talk about peyote.
It was at that moment that he lifted his head and looked me squarely in the eyes. It was a formidable look. Yet it was not menacing or awesome in any way. It was a look that went through me. I became tongue-tied at once and could not continue with the harangues about myself. That was the end of our meeting. Yet he left on a note of hope. He said that perhaps I could visit him at his house someday.
It would be difficult to assess the impact of don Juan's look if my inventory of experience is not somehow brought to bear on the uniqueness of that event. When I began to study anthropology and thus met don Juan, I was already an expert in 'getting around'. I had left my home years before and that meant in my evaluation that I was capable of taking care of myself.
Whenever I was rebuffed I could usually cajole my way in or make concessions, argue, get angry, or if nothing succeeded I would whine or complain; in other words, there was always something I knew I could do under the circumstances, and never in my life had any human being stopped my momentum so swiftly and so definitely as don Juan did that afternoon. But it was not only a matter of being silenced; there had been times when I had been unable to say a word to my opponent because of some inherent respect I felt for him, still my anger or frustration was manifested in my thoughts. Don Juan's look, however, numbed me to the point that I could not think coherently.
I became thoroughly intrigued with that stupendous look and decided to search for him.
I prepared myself for six months, after that first meeting, reading up on the uses of peyote among the American Indians, especially about the peyote cult of the Indians of the Plains. I became acquainted with every work available, and when I felt I was ready I went back to Arizona.
Saturday, 17 December 1960
9
I found his house after making long and taxing inquiries among the local Indians. It was early afternoon when I arrived and parked in front of it. I saw him sitting on a wooden milk crate. He seemed to recognize me and greeted me as I got out of my car.
We exchanged social courtesies for a while and then, in plain terms, I confessed that I had been very devious with him the first time we had met. I had boasted that I knew a great deal about peyote, when in reality I knew nothing about it. He stared at me. His eyes were very kind.
I told him that for six months I had been reading to prepare myself for our meeting and that this time I really knew a great deal more.
He laughed. Obviously, there was something in my statement which was funny to him. He was laughing at me and I felt a bit confused and offended.
He apparently noticed my discomfort and assured me that although I had had good intentions there was really no way to prepare myself for our meeting.
I wondered if it would have been proper to ask whether that statement had any hidden meaning, but I did not; yet he seemed to be attuned to my feelings and proceeded to explain what he had meant. He said that my endeavours reminded him of a story about some people a certain king had persecuted and killed once upon a time. He said that in the story the persecuted people were indistinguishable from their persecutors, except that they insisted on pronouncing certain words in a peculiar manner proper only to them; that flaw, of course, was the giveaway. The king posted roadblocks at critical points where an official would ask every man passing by to pronounce a key word. Those who could pronounce it the way the king pronounced it would live, but those who could not were immediately put to death. The point of the story was that one day a young man decided to prepare himself for passing the roadblock by learning to pronounce the test -word just as the king liked it.
Don Juan said, with a broad smile, that in fact it took the young man “six months” to master such a pronunciation. And then came the day of the great test; the young man very confidently came upon the roadblock and waited for the official to ask him to pronounce the word.
At that point don Juan very dramatically stopped his recounting and looked at me. His pause was very studied and seemed a bit corny to me, but I played along. I had heard the theme of the story before. It had to do with Jews in Germany and the way one could tell who was a Jew by the way they pronounced certain words. I also knew the punch line: the young man was going to get caught because the official had forgotten the key word and asked him to pronounce another word which was very similar but which the young man had not learned to say correctly.
Don Juan seemed to be waiting for me to ask what happened, so I did.
“What happened to him?” I asked, trying to sound naive and interested in the story.
“The young man, who was truly foxy,” he said, “realized that the official had forgotten the key word, and before the man could say anything else he confessed that he had prepared himself for six months.”
He made another pause and looked at me with a mischievous glint in his eyes. This time he had turned the tables on me. The young man's confession was a new element and I no longer knew how the story would end.
“Well, what happened then?” I asked, truly interested.
“The young man was killed instantly, of course,” he said and broke into a roaring laughter.
I liked very much the way he had entrapped my interest; above all I liked the way he had linked that story to my own case. In fact, he seemed to have constructed it to fit me. He was making fun of me in a very subtle and artistic manner. I laughed with him.
Afterwards I told him that no matter how stupid I sounded I was really interested in learning something about plants.
“I like to walk a great deal,” he said.
I thought he was deliberately changing the topic of conversation to avoid answering me. I did
10
not want to antagonize him with my insistence. He asked me if I wanted to go with him on a short hike in the desert. I eagerly told him that I would love to walk in the desert.
“This is no picnic,” he said in a tone of warning.
I told him that I wanted very seriously to work with him. I said that I needed information, any kind of information, on the uses of medicinal herbs, and that I was willing to pay him for his time and effort.
“You'll be working for me,” I said. “And I'll pay you wages.”
“How much would you pay me?” he asked.
I detected a note of greed in his voice.
“Whatever you think is appropriate,” I said.
“Pay me for my time . . . with your time,” he said.
I thought he was a most peculiar fellow. I told him I did not understand what he meant. He replied that there was nothing to say about plants, thus to take my money would be unthinkable for him.
He looked at me piercingly.
“What are you doing in your pocket?" he asked, frowning.”Are you playing with your whanger?”
He was referring to my taking notes on a minute pad inside the enormous pockets of my windbreaker.
When I told him what I was doing he laughed heartily.
I said that I did not want to disturb him by writing in front of him.
“If you want to write, write,” he said. “You don't disturb me.”
We hiked in the surrounding desert until it was almost dark. He did not show me any plants nor did he talk about them at all. We stopped for a moment to rest by some large bushes.
“Plants are very peculiar things,” he said without looking at me. “They are alive and they feel.”
At the very moment he made that statement a strong gust of wind shook the desert chaparral around us. The bushes made a rattling noise.
“Do you hear that?” he asked me, putting his right hand to his ear as if he were aiding his hearing. “The leaves and the wind are agreeing with me.”
I laughed. The friend who had put us in contact had already told me to watch out, because the old man was very eccentric. I thought the “agreement with the leaves” was one of his eccentricities.
We walked for a while longer but he still did not show me any plants, nor did he pick any of them. He simply breezed through the bushes touching them gently. Then he came to a halt and sat down on a rock and told me to rest and look around.
I insisted on talking. Once more I let him know that I wanted very much to learn about plants, especially peyote. I pleaded with him to become my informant in exchange for some sort of monetary reward.
“You don't have to pay me,” he said. “You can ask me anything you want. I will tell you what I know and then I will tell you what to do with it.”
He asked me if I agreed with the arrangement. I was delighted. Then he added a cryptic statement: “Perhaps there is nothing to learn about plants, because there is nothing to say about them.”
I did not understand what he had said or what he had meant by it.
“What did you say?” I asked.
He repeated the statement three times and then the whole area was shaken by the roar of an Air Force jet flying low.
“There! The world has just agreed with me,” he said, putting his left hand to his ear.
11
I found him very amusing. His laughter was contagious.
“Are you from Arizona, don Juan?” I asked, in an effort to keep the conversation centered around his being my informant. He looked at me and nodded affirmatively. His eyes seemed to be tired. I could see the white underneath his pupils. “Were you born in this locality?”
He nodded his head again without answering me. It seemed to be an affirmative gesture, but it also seemed to be the nervous head shake of a person who is thinking.
"And where are you from yourself?" he asked.
"I come from South America," I said.
"That's a big place. Do you come from all of it?"
His eyes were piercing again as he looked at me.
I began to explain the circumstances of my birth, but he interrupted me.
"We are alike in this respect," he said. "I live here now but I'm really a Yaqui from Sonora."
"Is that so! I myself come from -"
He did not let me finish.
"I know, I know," he said. "You are who you are, from wherever you are, as I am a Yaqui from Sonora."
His eyes were very shiny and his laughter was strangely unsettling. He made me feel as if he had caught me in a lie. I experienced a peculiar sensation of guilt. I had the feeling he knew something I did not know or did not want to tell.
My strange embarrassment grew. He must have noticed it, for he stood up and asked me if I wanted to go eat in a restaurant in town.
Walking back to his home and then driving into town made me feel better, but I was not quite relaxed. I somehow felt threatened, although I could not pinpoint the reason.
I wanted to buy him some beer in the restaurant. He said that he never drank, not even beer. I laughed to myself. I did not believe him; the friend who had put us in contact had told me that 'the old man was plastered out of his mind most of the time". I really did not mind if he was lying to me about not drinking. I liked him; there was something very soothing about his person.
I must have had a look of doubt on my face, for he then went on to explain that he used to drink in his youth, but that one day he simply dropped it.
"People hardly ever realize that we can cut anything from our lives, any time, just like that."
He snapped his fingers.
"Do you think that one can stop smoking or drinking that easily?" I asked.
"Sure!" he said with great conviction." Smoking and drinking are nothing. Nothing at all if we want to drop them."
At that very moment the water that was boiling in the coffee percolator made a loud perking sound.
"Hear that!" don Juan exclaimed with a shine in his eyes. "The boiling water agrees with me."
Then he added after a pause, "A man can get agreements from everything around him."
At that crucial instant the coffee percolator made a truly obscene gurgling sound.
He looked at the percolator and softly said, "Thank you," nodded his head, and then broke into a roaring laughter.
I was taken aback. His laughter was a bit too loud, but I was genuinely amused by it all.
My first real session with my "informant" ended then. He said good-bye at the door of the restaurant. I told him I had to visit some friends and that I would like to see him again at the end of the following week.
"When will you be home?" I asked.
He scrutinized me.
"Whenever you come," he replied.
"I don't know exactly when I can come."
12
"Just come then and don't worry."
"What if you're not in?"
"I'll be there," he said, smiling, and walked away.
I ran after him and asked him if he would mind my bringing a camera with me to take pictures of him and his house.
"That's out of the question," he said with a frown.
"How about a tape recorder? Would you mind that?"
"I'm afraid there's no possibility of that either."
I became annoyed and began to fret. I said I saw no logical reason for his refusal.
Don Juan shook his head negatively.
"Forget it," he said forcefully. "And if you still want to see me don't ever mention it again."
I staged a weak final complaint. I said that pictures and recordings were indispensable to my work. He said that there was only one thing which was indispensable for anything we did. He called it "the spirit".
"One can't do without the spirit," he said. "And you don't have it. Worry about that and not about pictures."
"What do you ...?"
He interrupted me with a movement of his hand and walked backwards a few steps. "Be sure to come back," he said softly and waved good-bye.
13
2. Erasing Personal History

Thursday, 22 December 1960
Don Juan was sitting on the floor, by the door of his house, with his back against the wall. He turned over a wooden milk crate and asked me to sit down and make myself at home. I offered him some cigarettes. I had brought a carton of them. He said he did not smoke but he accepted the gift. We talked about the coldness of the desert nights and other ordinary topics of conversation.
I asked him if I was interfering with his normal routine. He looked at me with a sort of frown and said he had no routines, and that I could stay with him all afternoon if I wanted to.
I had prepared some genealogy and kinship charts that I wanted to fill out with his help. I had also compiled, from the ethnographic literature, a long list of culture traits that were purported to belong to the Indians of the area. I wanted to go through the list with him and mark all the items that were familiar to him.
I began with the kinship charts.
"What did you call your father?" I asked.
"I called him Dad," he said with a very serious face.
I felt a little bit annoyed, but I proceeded on the assumption that he had not understood.
I showed him the chart and explained that one space was for the father and another space was for the mother. I gave as an example the different words used in English and in Spanish for father and mother.
I thought that perhaps I should have taken mother first.
"What did you call your mother?" I asked.
"I called her Mom," he replied in a naive tone.
"I mean what other words did you use to call your father and mother? How did you call them?" I said, trying to be patient and polite.
He scratched his head and looked at me with a stupid expression.
"Golly!" he said. "You got me there. Let me think."
After a moment's hesitation he seemed to remember something and I got ready to write.
"Well," he said, as if he were involved in serious thought, "how else did I call them? I called them Hey, hey, Dad! Hey, hey, Mom!"
I laughed against my desire. His expression was truly comical and at that moment I did not know whether he was a preposterous old man pulling my leg or whether he was really a simpleton. Using all the patience I had, I explained to him that these were very serious questions and that it was very important for my work to fill out the forms. I tried to make him understand the idea of a genealogy and personal history.
"What were the names of your father and mother?" I asked.
He looked at me with clear kind eyes.
"Don't waste your time with that crap," he said softly but with unsuspected force.
I did not know what to say; it was as if someone else had uttered those words. A moment before, he had been a fumbling stupid Indian scratching his head, and then in an instant he had reversed the roles; I was the stupid one, and he was staring at me with an indescribable look that was not a look of arrogance, or defiance, or hatred, or contempt. His eyes were kind and clear and penetrating.
"I don't have any personal history," he said after a long pause. "One day I found out that personal history was no longer necessary for me and, like drinking, I dropped it."
I did not quite understand what he meant by that. I suddenly felt ill at ease, threatened. I reminded him that he had assured me that it was all right to ask him questions. He reiterated that
14
he did not mind at all.
"I don't have personal history any more," he said and looked at me probingly. "I dropped it one day when I felt it was no longer necessary."
I stared at him, trying to detect the hidden meanings of his words.
"How can one drop one's personal history?" I asked in an argumentative mood.
"One must first have the desire to drop it," he said. "And then one must proceed harmoniously to chop it off, little by little."
"Why should anyone have such a desire?" I exclaimed.
I had a terribly strong attachment to my personal history. My family roots were deep. I honestly felt that without them my life had no continuity or purpose.
"Perhaps you should tell me what you mean by dropping one's personal history," I said.
"To do away with it, that's what I mean," he replied cuttingly.
I insisted that I must not have understood the proposition.
"Take you for instance," I said. "You are a Yaqui. You can't change that."
"Am I?" he asked, smiling. "How do you know that?"
"True!" I said. "I can't know that with certainty, at this point, but you know it and that is what counts. That's what makes it personal history."
I felt I had driven a hard nail in.
"The fact that I know whether I am a Yaqui or not does not make it personal history," he replied. "Only when someone else knows that does it become personal history. And I assure you that no one will ever know that for sure."
I had written down what he had said in a clumsy way. I stopped writing and looked at him. I could not figure him out. I mentally ran through my impressions of him; the mysterious and unprecedented way he had looked at me during our first meeting, the charm with which he had claimed that he received agreement from everything around him, his annoying humour and his alertness, his look of bona fide stupidity when I asked about his father and mother, and then the unsuspected force of his statements which had snapped me apart.
"You don't know what I am, do you?" he said as if he were reading my thoughts. "You will never know who or what I am, because I don't have a personal history."
He asked me if I had a father. I told him I did. He said that my father was an example of what he had in mind. He urged me to remember what my father thought of me.
"Your father knows everything about you," he said. "So he has you all figured out. He knows who you are and what you do, and there is no power on earth that can make him change his mind about you."
Don Juan said that everybody that knew me had an idea about me, and that I kept feeding that idea with everything I did.
"Don't you see?" he asked dramatically. "You must renew your personal history by telling your parents, your relatives, and your friends everything you do. On the other hand, if you have no personal history, no explanations are needed; nobody is angry or disillusioned with your acts.
And above all no one pins you down with their thoughts."
Suddenly the idea became clear in my mind. I had almost known it myself, but I have never examined it. Not having personal history was indeed an appealing concept, at least on the intellectual level; it gave me, however, a sense of loneliness which I found threatening and distasteful. I wanted to discuss my feelings with him, but I kept myself in check; something was terribly incongruous in the situation at hand. I felt ridiculous trying to get into a philosophical argument with an old Indian who obviously did not have the "sophistication" of a university student. Somehow he had led me away from my original intention of asking him about his genealogy.
"I don't know how we ended up talking about this when all I wanted was some names for my
15
charts," I said, trying to steer the conversation back to the topic I wanted.
"It's terribly simple," he said. "'The way we ended up talking about it was because I said that to ask questions about one's past is a bunch of crap."
His tone was firm. I felt there was no way to make him budge, so I changed my tactics.
"Is this idea of not having personal history something that the Yaquis do?" I asked.
"It's something that I do."
"Where did you learn it?"
"I learned it during the course of my life."
"Did your father teach you that?"
"No. Let's say that I learned it by myself and now I am going to give you its secret, so you won't go away empty-handed today."
He lowered his voice to a dramatic whisper. I laughed at his histrionics. I had to admit that he was stupendous at that. The thought crossed my mind that I was in the presence of a born actor.
"Write it down," he said patronizingly. "Why not? You seem to be more comfortable writing."
I looked at him and my eyes must have betrayed my confusion. He slapped his thighs and laughed with great delight.
"It is best to erase all personal history," he said slowly, as if giving me time to write it down in my clumsy way, "because that would make us free from the encumbering thoughts of other people."
I could not believe that he was actually saying that. I had a very confusing moment. He must have read in my face my inner turmoil and used it immediately.
"Take yourself, for instance," he went on saying. "Right now you don't know whether you are coming or going. And that is so, because I have erased my personal history. I have, little by little, created a fog around me and my life. And now nobody knows for sure who I am or what I do."
"But you yourself know who you are, don't you?" I interjected.
"You bet I ... don't," he exclaimed and rolled on the floor, laughing at my surprised look.
He had paused long enough to make me believe that he was going to say that he did know, as I was anticipating it. His subterfuge was very threatening to me. I actually became afraid.
"That is the little secret I am going to give you today," he said in a low voice. "Nobody knows my personal history. Nobody knows who I am or what I do. Not even I."
He squinted his eyes. He was not looking at me but beyond me over my right shoulder. He was sitting cross-legged, his back was straight and yet he seemed to be so relaxed. At that moment he was the very picture of fierceness. I fancied him to be an Indian chief, a "red-skinned warrior" in the romantic frontier sagas of my childhood. My romanticism carried me away and the most insidious feeling of ambivalence enveloped me. I could sincerely say that I liked him a great deal and in the same breath I could say that I was deadly afraid of him.
He maintained that strange stare for a long moment.
"How can I know who I am, when I am all this?" he said, sweeping the surroundings with a gesture of his head.
Then he glanced at me and smiled.
"Little by little you must create a fog around yourself; you must erase everything around you until nothing can be taken for granted, until nothing is any longer for sure, or real. Your problem now is that you're too real. Your endeavours are too real; your moods are too real. Don't take things so for granted. You must begin to erase yourself."
"What for?" I asked belligerently.
It became clear to me then that he was prescribing behavior for me. All my life I had reached a breaking point when someone attempted to tell me what to do; the mere thought of being told what to do put me immediately on the defensive.
16
"You said that you wanted to learn about plants," he said calmly. "Do you want to get something for nothing? What do you think this is? We agreed that you would ask me questions and I'd tell you what I know. If you don't like it, there is nothing else we can say to each other."
His terrible directness made me feel peeved, and begrudgingly I conceded that he was right.
"Let's put it this way then," he went on. "If you want to learn about plants, since there is really nothing to say about them, you must, among other things, erase your personal history."
"How?" I asked.
"Begin with simple things, such as not revealing what you really do. Then you must leave everyone who knows you well. This way you'll build up a fog around yourself."
"But that's absurd," I protested. "Why shouldn't people know me? What's wrong with that?"
"What's wrong is that once they know you, you are an affair taken for granted and from that moment on you won't be able to break the tie of their thoughts. I personally like the ultimate freedom of being unknown. No one knows me with steadfast certainty, the way people know you, for instance."
"But that would be lying."
"I'm not concerned with lies or truths," he said severely. "Lies are lies only if you have personal history."
I argued that I did not like to deliberately mystify people or mislead them. His reply was that I misled everybody anyway.
The old man had touched a sore spot in my life. I did not pause to ask him what he meant by that or how he knew that I mystified people all the time. I simply reacted to his statement, defending myself by means of an explanation. I said that I was painfully aware that my family and my friends believed I was unreliable, when in reality I had never told a lie in my life.
"You always knew how to lie," he said. "The only thing that was missing was that you didn't know why to do it. Now you do."
I protested.
"Don't you see that I'm really sick and tired of people thinking that I'm unreliable?" I said.
"But you are unreliable," he replied with conviction.
"Damn it to hell, man, I am not!" I exclaimed.
My mood, instead of forcing him into seriousness, made him laugh hysterically. I really despised the old man for all his cockiness. Unfortunately he was right about me.
After a while I calmed down and he continued talking.
"When one does not have personal history," he explained, "nothing that one says can be taken for a lie. Your trouble is that you have to explain everything to everybody, compulsively, and at the same time you want to keep the freshness, the newness of what you do. Well, since you can't be excited after explaining everything you've done, you lie in order to keep on going."
I was truly bewildered by the scope of our conversation. I wrote down all the details of our exchange in the best way I could, concentrating on what he was saying rather than pausing to deliberate on my prejudices or on his meanings.
"From now on," he said, "you must simply show people whatever you care to show them, but without ever telling exactly how you've done it."
"I can't keep secrets!" I exclaimed. "What you are saying is useless to me."
"Then change!" he said cuttingly and with a fierce glint in his eyes.
He looked like a strange wild animal. And yet he was so coherent in his thoughts and so verbal. My annoyance gave way to a state of irritating confusion.
"You see," he went on, "we only have two alternatives; we either take everything for sure and real, or we don't. If we follow the first, we end up bored to death with ourselves and with the world. If we follow the second and erase personal history, we create a fog around us, a very exciting and mysterious state in which nobody knows where the rabbit will pop out, not even
17
ourselves."
I contended that erasing personal history would only increase our sensation of insecurity.
"When nothing is for sure we remain alert, perennially on our toes," he said. "It is more exciting not to know which bush the rabbit is hiding behind than to behave as though we know everything."
He did not say another word for a very long time; perhaps an hour went by in complete silence. I did not know what to ask. Finally he got up and asked me to drive him to the nearby town.
I did not know why but our conversation had drained me. I felt like going to sleep. He asked me to stop on the way and told me that if I wanted to relax, I had to climb to the flat top of a small hill on the side of the road and lie down on my stomach with my head towards the east.
He seemed to have a feeling of urgency. I did not want to argue or perhaps I was too tired to even speak. I climbed the hill and did as he had prescribed.
I slept only two or three minutes, but it was sufficient to have my energy renewed.
We drove to the centre of town, where he told me to let him off.
"Come back," he said as he stepped out of the car. "Be sure to come back."
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3. Losing Self-Importance
I had the opportunity of discussing my two previous visits to don Juan with the friend who had put us in contact. It was his opinion that I was wasting my time. I related to him, in every detail, the scope of our conversations. He thought I was exaggerating and romanticizing a silly old fogy.
There was very little room in me for romanticizing such a preposterous old man. I sincerely felt that his criticisms about my personality had seriously undermined my liking him. Yet I had to admit that they had always been apropos, sharply delineated, and true to the letter.
The crux of my dilemma at that point was my unwillingness to accept that don Juan was very capable of disrupting all my preconceptions about the world, and my unwillingness to agree with my friend who believed that "the old Indian was just nuts".
I felt compelled to pay him another visit before I made up my mind.
Wednesday, 28 December 1960
Immediately after I arrived at his house he took me for a walk in the desert chaparral. He did not even look at the bag of groceries that I had brought him. He seemed to have been waiting for me.
We walked for hours. He did not collect or show me any plants. He did, however, teach me an "appropriate form of walking". He said that I had to curl my fingers gently as I walked so I would keep my attention on the trail and the surroundings. He claimed that my ordinary way of walking was debilitating and that one should never carry anything in the hands. If things had to be carried one should use a knapsack or any sort of carrying net or shoulder bag. His idea was that by forcing the hands into a specific position one was capable of greater stamina and greater awareness.
I saw no point in arguing and curled my fingers as he had prescribed and kept on walking. My awareness was in no way different, nor was my stamina.
We started our hike in the morning and we stopped to rest around noon. I was perspiring and tried to drink from my canteen, but he stopped me by saying that it was better to have only a sip of water. He cut some leaves from a small yellowish bush and chewed them. He gave me some and remarked that they were excellent, and if I chewed them slowly my thirst would vanish. It did not, but I was not uncomfortable either.
He seemed to have read my thoughts and explained that I had not felt the benefits of the "right way of walking" or the benefits of chewing the leaves because I was young and strong and my body did not notice anything because it was a bit stupid.
He laughed. I was not in a laughing mood and that seemed to amuse him even more. He corrected his previous statement, saying that my body was not really stupid but somehow dormant.
At that moment an enormous crow flew right over us, cawing. That startled me and I began to laugh. I thought that the occasion called for laughter, but to my utter amazement he shook my arm vigorously and hushed me up. He had a most serious expression.
"That was not a joke," he said severely, as if I knew what he was talking about.
I asked for an explanation. I told him that it was incongruous that my laughing at the crow had made him angry when we had laughed at the coffee percolator.
"What you saw was not just a crow” He exclaimed.
"But I saw it and it was a crow," I insisted.
"You saw nothing, you fool," he said in a gruff voice.
His rudeness was uncalled for. I told him that I did not like to make people angry and that
19
perhaps it would be better if I left, since he did not seem to be in a mood to have company.
He laughed uproariously, as if I were a clown performing for him. My annoyance and embarrassment grew in proportion.
"You're very violent," he commented casually. "You're taking yourself too seriously,"
"But weren't you doing the same?" I interjected. "Taking yourself seriously when you got angry at me?"
He said that to get angry at me was the farthest thing from his mind. He looked at me piercingly.
"What you saw was not an agreement from the world," he said."Crows flying or cawing are never an agreement. That was an omen!"
"An omen of what?"
"A very important indication about you," he replied cryptically.
At that very instant the wind blew the dry branch of a bush right to our feet.
"That was an agreement!" he exclaimed and looked at me with shiny eyes and broke into a belly laugh.
I had the feeling that he was teasing me by making up the rules of his strange game as we went along, thus it was all right for him to laugh, but not for me. My annoyance mushroomed again and I told him what I thought of him.
He was not cross or offended at all. He laughed and his laughter caused me even more anguish and frustration. I thought that he was deliberately humiliating me. I decided right then that I had had my fill of "field work".
I stood up and said that I wanted to start walking back to his house because I had to leave for Los Angeles.
"Sit down!" he said imperatively. "You get peeved like an old lady. You cannot leave now, because we're not through yet."
I hated him. I thought he was a contemptuous man.
He began to sing an idiotic Mexican folk song. He was obviously imitating some popular singer. He elongated certain syllables and contracted others and made the song into a most farcical affair. It was so comical that I ended up laughing.
"You see, you laugh at the stupid song," he said." But the man who sings it that way and those who pay to listen to him are not laughing; they think it is serious."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
I thought he had deliberately concocted the example to tell me that I had laughed at the crow because I had not taken it seriously, the same way I had not taken the song seriously. But he baffled me again. He said I was like the singer and the people who liked his songs, conceited and deadly serious about some nonsense that no one in his right mind should give a damn about.
He then recapitulated, as if to refresh my memory, all he had said before on the topic of "learning about plants". He stressed emphatically that if I really wanted to learn, I had to remodel most of my behavior.
My sense of annoyance grew, until I had to make a supreme effort to even take notes.
"You take yourself too seriously," he said slowly. "You are too damn important in your own mind. That must be changed! You are so goddamn important that you feel justified to be annoyed with everything. You're so damn important that you can afford to leave if things don't go your way. I suppose you think that shows you have character. That's nonsense! You're weak, and conceited!"
I tried to stage a protest but he did not budge. He pointed out that in the course of my life I had not ever finished anything because of that sense of disproportionate importance that I attached to myself.
I was flabbergasted at the certainty with which he made his statements. They were true, of
20
course, and that made me feel not only angry but also threatened.
"Self-importance is another thing that must be dropped, just like personal history," he said in a dramatic tone.
I certainly did not want to argue with him. It was obvious that I was at a terrible disadvantage;
he was not going to walk back to his house until he was ready and I did not know the way. I had to stay with him.
He made a strange and sudden movement, he sort of sniffed the air around him, his head shook slightly and rhythmically. He seemed to be in a state of unusual alertness. He turned and stared at me with a look of bewilderment and curiosity. His eyes swept up and down my body as if he were looking for something specific; then he stood up abruptly and began to walk fast. He was almost running. I followed him. He kept a very accelerated pace for nearly an hour.
Finally he stopped by a rocky hill and we sat in the shade of a bush. The trotting had exhausted me completely although my mood was better. It was strange the way I had changed. I felt almost elated, but when we had started to trot, after our argument, I was furious with him.
"This is very weird," I said,"but I feel really good."
I heard the cawing of a crow in the distance. He lifted his finger to his right ear and smiled.
"That was an omen," he said.
A small rock tumbled downhill and made a crashing sound when it landed in the chaparral.
He laughed out loud and pointed his finger in the direction of the sound.
"And that was an agreement," he said.
He then asked me if I was ready to talk about my self-importance. I laughed; my feeling of anger seemed so far away that I could not even conceive how I had become so cross with him.
"I can't understand what's happening to me," I said. "I got angry and now I don't know why I am not angry any more."
"The world around us is very mysterious," he said. "It doesn't yield its secrets easily."
I liked his cryptic statements. They were challenging and mysterious. I could not determine whether they were filled with hidden meanings or whether they were just plain nonsense.
"If you ever come back to the desert here," he said, "stay away from that rocky hill where we stopped today. Avoid it like the plague."
"Why? What's the matter?"
"This is not the time to explain it," he said. "Now we are concerned with losing selfimportance.
As long as you feel that you are the most important thing in the world you cannot really appreciate the world around you. You are like a horse with blinkers, all you see is yourself apart from everything else."
He examined me for a moment.
"I am going to talk to my little friend here," he said, pointing to a small plant.
He knelt in front of it and began to caress it and to talk to it. I did not understand what he was saying at first, but then he switched languages and talked to the plant in Spanish. He babbled inanities for a while. Then he stood up.
"It doesn't matter what you say to a plant," he said. "You can just as well make up words;
what's important is the feeling of liking it, and treating it as an equal."
He explained that a man who gathers plants must apologize every time for taking them and must assure them that someday his own body will serve as food for them.
"So, all in all, the plant and ourselves are even," he said. "Neither we nor they are more or less important.
"'Come on, talk to the little plant," he urged me. "'Tell it that you don't feel important any more."
I went as far as kneeling in front of the plant but I could not bring myself to speak to it. I felt ridiculous and laughed. I was not angry, however.
21
Don Juan patted me on the back and said that it was all right, that at least I had contained my temper.
"From now on talk to the little plants," he said. "Talk until you lose all sense of importance.
Talk to them until you can do it in front of others.
"Go to those hills over there and practice by yourself."
I asked if it was all right to talk to the plants silently, in my mind.
He laughed and tapped my head.
"No!" he said. "You must talk to them in a loud and clear voice if you want them to answer you."
I walked to the area in question, laughing to myself about his eccentricities. I even tried to talk to the plants, but my feeling of being ludicrous was overpowering. After what I thought was an appropriate wait I went back to where don Juan was. I had the certainty that he knew I had not talked to the plants.
He did not look at me. He signaled me to sit down by him.
"Watch me carefully," he said. "I'm going to have a talk with my little friend."
He knelt down in front of a small plant and for a few minutes he moved and contorted his body, talking and laughing.
I thought he was out of his mind.
"This little plant told me to tell you that she is good to eat," he said as he got up from his kneeling position. "She said that a handful of them would keep a man healthy. She also said that there is a batch of them growing over there."
Don Juan pointed to an area on a hillside perhaps two hundred yards away.
"Let's go and find out," he said.
I laughed at his histrionics. I was sure we would find the plants, because he was an expert in the terrain and knew where the edible and medicinal plants were.
As we walked towards the area in question he told me casually that I should take notice of the plant because it was both a food and a medicine.
I asked him, half in jest, if the plant had just told him that. He stopped walking and examined me with an air of disbelief. He shook his head from side to side.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, laughing. "Your cleverness makes you more silly than I thought. How can the little plant tell me now what I've known all my life?"
He proceeded then to explain that he knew all along the different properties of that specific plant, and that the plant had just told him that there was a batch of them growing in the area he had pointed to, and that she did not mind if he told me that.
Upon arriving at the hillside I found a whole cluster of the same plants. I wanted to laugh but he did not give me time. He wanted me to thank the batch of plants. I felt excruciatingly selfconscious and could not bring myself to do it.
He smiled benevolently and made another of his cryptic statements. He repeated it three or four times as if to give me time to figure out its meaning.
"The world around us is a mystery," he said. "And men are no better than anything else. If a little plant is generous with us we must thank her, or perhaps she will not let us go."
The way he looked at me when he said that gave me a chill. I hurriedly leaned over the plants and said, "Thank you," in a loud voice.
He began to laugh in controlled and quiet spurts.
We walked for another hour and then started on our way back to his house. At a certain time I dropped behind and he had to wait for me. He checked my fingers to see if I had curled them. I had not. He told me imperatively that whenever I walked with him I had to observe and copy his mannerisms or not come along at all.
"I can't be waiting for you as though you're a child," he said in a scolding tone.
22
That statement sunk me into the depths of embarrassment and bewilderment. How could it be possible that such an old man could walk so much better than I? I thought I was athletic and strong, and yet he had actually had to wait for me to catch up with him.
I curled my fingers and strangely enough I was able to keep his tremendous pace without any effort. In fact, at times I felt that my hands were pulling me forward.
I felt elated. I was quite happy walking inanely with the strange old Indian. I began to talk and asked repeatedly if he would show me some peyote plants. He looked at me but did not say a word.
23
4. Death is an Adviser
Wednesday, 25 January 1961
"Would you teach me someday about peyote?" I asked.
He did not answer and, as he had done before, simply looked at me as if I were crazy.
I had mentioned the topic to him, in casual conversation, various times already, and every time he frowned and shook his head. It was not an affirmative or a negative gesture; it was rather a gesture of despair and disbelief.
He stood up abruptly. We had been sitting on the ground in front of his house. An almost imperceptible shake of his head was the invitation to follow him.
We went into the desert chaparral in a southerly direction. He mentioned repeatedly as we walked that I had to be aware of the uselessness of my self-importance and of my personal history.
"Your friends," he said, turning to me abruptly. "Those who have known you for a long time, you must leave them quickly."
I thought he was crazy and his insistence was idiotic, but I did not say anything. He peered at me and began to laugh.
After a long hike we came to a halt. I was about to sit down to rest but he told me to go some twenty yards away and talk to a batch of plants in a loud and clear voice. I felt ill at ease and apprehensive. His weird demands were more than I could bear and I told him once more that I could not speak to plants, because I felt ridiculous. His only comment was that my feeling of selfimportance was immense. He seemed to have made a sudden decision and said that I should not try to talk to plants until I felt easy and natural about it.
"You want to learn about them and yet you don't want to do any work," he said accusingly.
"What are you trying to do?"
My explanation was that I wanted bona fide information about the uses of plants, thus I had asked him to be my informant. I had even offered to pay him for his time and trouble.
"You should take the money," I said. "This way we both would feel better. I could then ask you anything I want to because you would be working for me and I would pay you for it. What do you think of that?"
He looked at me contemptuously and made an obscene sound with his mouth, making his lower lip and his tongue vibrate by exhaling with great force.
"That's what I think of it," he said and laughed hysterically at the look of utmost surprise that I must have had on my face.
It was obvious to me that he was not a man I could easily contend with. In spite of his age, he was ebullient and unbelievably strong. I had had the idea that, being so old, he could have been the perfect "informant" for me. Old people, I had been led to believe, made the best informants because they were too feeble to do anything else except talk. Don Juan, on the other hand, was a miserable subject. I felt he was unmanageable and dangerous. The friend who had introduced us was right. He was an eccentric old Indian; and although he was not plastered out of his mind most of the time, as my friend had told me, he was worse yet, he was crazy. I again felt the terrible doubt and apprehension I had experienced before. I thought I had overcome that. In fact, I had had no trouble at all convincing myself that I wanted to visit him again. The idea had crept into my mind, however, that perhaps I was a bit crazy myself when I realized that I liked to be with him. His idea that my feeling of self-importance was an obstacle had really made an impact on me. But all that was apparently only an intellectual exercise on my part; the moment I was confronted with his odd behavior I began to experience apprehension and I wanted to leave.
24
I said that I believed we were so different that there was no possibility of our getting along.
"One of us has to change," he said, staring at the ground. "And you know who."
He began humming a Mexican folk song and then lifted his head abruptly and looked at me.
His eyes were fierce and burning. I wanted to look away or close my eyes, but to my utter amazement I could not break away from his gaze.
He asked me to tell him what I had seen in his eyes. I said that I saw nothing, but he insisted that I had to voice what his eyes had made me feel aware of. I struggled to make him understand that the only thing his eyes made me aware of was my embarrassment, and that the way he was looking at me was very discomforting.
He did not let go. He kept a steady stare. It was not an outright menacing or mean look; it was rather a mysterious but unpleasant gaze.
He asked me if he reminded me of a bird.
"A bird?" I exclaimed.
He giggled like a child and moved his eyes away from me.
"Yes," he said softly. "A bird, a very funny bird!"
He locked his gaze on me again and commanded me to remember. He said with an extraordinary conviction that he "knew" I had seen that look before.
My feelings of the moment were that the old man provoked me, against my honest desire, every time he opened his mouth. I stared back at him in obvious defiance. Instead of getting angry he began to laugh. He slapped his thigh and yelled as if he were riding a wild horse. Then he became serious and told me that it was of utmost importance that I stop fighting him and remember that funny bird he was talking about.
"Look into my eyes," he said.
His eyes were extraordinarily fierce. There was a feeling about them that actually reminded me of something but I was not sure what it was. I pondered upon it for a moment and then I had a sudden realization; it was not the shape of his eyes nor the shape of his head, but some cold fierceness in his gaze that had reminded me of the look in the eyes of a falcon. At the very moment of that realization he was looking at me askew and for an instant my mind experienced a total chaos. I thought I had seen a falcon's features instead of don Juan's. The image was too fleeting and I was too upset to have paid more attention to it.
In a very excited tone I told him that I could have sworn I had seen the features of a falcon on his face. He had another attack of laughter.
I have seen the look in the eyes of falcons. I used to hunt them when I was a boy, and in the opinion of my grandfather I was good. He had a Leghorn chicken farm and falcons were a menace to his business. Shooting them was not only functional but also "right". I had forgotten until that moment that the fierceness of their eyes had haunted me for years, but it was so far in my past that I thought I had lost the memory of it.
"I used to hunt falcons," I said.
"I know it," don Juan replied matter-of-factly.
His tone carried such a certainty that I began to laugh. I thought he was a preposterous fellow.
He had the gall to sound as if he knew I had hunted falcons. I felt supremely contemptuous of him.
"Why do you get so angry?" he asked in a tone of genuine concern.
I did not know why. He began to probe me in a very unusual manner. He asked me to look at him again and tell him about the "very funny bird" he reminded me of. I struggled against him and out of contempt said that there was nothing to talk about. Then I felt compelled to ask him why he had said he knew I used to hunt falcons. Instead of answering me he again commented on my behavior. He said I was a violent fellow that was capable of "frothing at the mouth" at the drop of a hat. I protested that that was not true; I had always had the idea I was rather congenial
25
and easygoing. I said it was his fault for forcing me out of control with his unexpected words and actions.
"Why the anger?" he asked.
I took stock of my feelings and reactions. I really had no need to be angry with him.
He again insisted that I should look into his eyes and tell him about the "strange falcon". He had changed his wording; he had said before, "a very funny bird," then he substituted it with "strange falcon". The change in wording summed up a change in my own mood. I had suddenly become sad.
He squinted his eyes until they were two slits and said in an overdramatic voice that he was "seeing" a very strange falcon. He repeated his statement three times as if he were actually seeing it there in front of him.
'"Don't you remember it?" he asked.
I did not remember anything of the sort.
"What's strange about the falcon?" I asked.
"You must tell me that," he replied.
I insisted that I had no way of knowing what he was referring to, therefore I could not tell him anything.
"Don't fight me!" he said. "Fight your sluggishness and remember."
I seriously struggled for a moment to figure him out. It did not occur to me that I could just as well have tried to remember.
"There was a time when you saw a lot of birds," he said as though cueing me.
I told him that when I was a child I had lived on a farm and had hunted hundreds of birds.
He said that if that was the case I should not have any difficulty remembering all the funny birds I had hunted.
He looked at me with a question in his eyes, as if he had just given me the last clue.
"I have hunted so many birds," I said, "that I can't recall anything about them."
'This bird is special," he replied almost in a whisper. "This bird is a falcon."
I became involved again in figuring out what he was driving at. Was he teasing me? Was he serious? After a long interval he urged me again to remember. I felt that it was useless for me to try to end his play; the only other thing I could do was to join him.
"Are you talking about a falcon that I have hunted?" I asked.
"Yes," he whispered with his eyes closed.
"So this happened when I was a boy?"
"Yes."
"But you said you're seeing a falcon in front of you now."
"I am."
"What are you trying to do to me?"
"I'm trying to make you remember."
"What? For heaven's sakes!"
"A falcon swift as light," he said, looking at me in the eyes, I felt my heart had stopped.
"Now look at me," he said.
But I did not. I heard his voice as a faint sound. Some stupendous recollection had taken me wholly. The white falcon!
It all began with my grandfather's explosion of anger upon taking a count of his young Leghorn chickens. They had been disappearing in a steady and disconcerting manner. He personally organized and carried out a meticulous vigil, and after days of steady watching we finally saw a big white bird flying away with a young Leghorn chicken in its claws. The bird was fast and apparently knew its route. It swooped down from behind some trees, grabbed the chicken and flew away through an opening between two branches. It happened so fast that my grandfather
26
had hardly seen it, but I did and I knew that it was indeed a falcon. My grandfather said that if that was the case it had to be an albino.
We started a campaign against the albino falcon and twice I thought I had gotten it. It even dropped its prey, but it got away. It was too fast for me. It was also very intelligent; it never came back to hunt on my grandfather's farm.
I would have forgotten about it had my grandfather not needled me to hunt the bird. For two months I chased the albino falcon all over the valley where I lived. I learned its habits and I could almost intuit its route of flight, yet its speed and the suddenness of its appearance would always baffle me, I could boast that I had prevented it from taking its prey, perhaps every time we had met, but I could never bag it.
In the two months that I carried on the strange war against the albino falcon I came close to it only once. I had been chasing it all day and I was tired. I had sat down to rest and fell asleep under a tall eucalyptus tree. The sudden cry of a falcon woke me up. I opened my eyes without making any other movement and I saw a whitish bird perched in the highest branches of the eucalyptus tree. It was the albino falcon. The chase was over. It was going to be a difficult shot; I was lying on my back and the bird had its back turned to me. There was a sudden gust of wind and I used it to muffle the noise of lifting my .22 long rifle to take aim. I wanted to wait until the bird had turned or until it had begun to fly so I would not miss it. But the albino bird remained motionless. In order to take a better shot I would have needed to move and the falcon was too fast for that. I thought that my best alternative was to wait. And I did, a long, interminable time.
Perhaps what affected me was the long wait, or perhaps it was the loneliness of the spot where the bird and I were; I suddenly felt a chill up my spine and in an unprecedented action I stood up and left. I did not even look to see if the bird had flown away.
I never attached any significance to my final act with the albino falcon. However, it was terribly strange that I did not shoot it. I had shot dozens of falcons before. On the farm where I grew up, shooting birds or hunting any kind of animal was a matter of course.
Don Juan listened attentively as I told him the story of the albino falcon.
"How did you know about the white falcon?" I asked when I had finished.
"I saw it," he replied.
"Where?"
"Right here in front of you."
I was not in an argumentative mood any more.
"What does all this mean?" I asked.
He said that a white bird like that was an omen, and that not shooting it down was the only right thing to do.
"Your death gave you a little warning," he said with a mysterious tone."It always comes as a chill."
"What are you talking about?" I said nervously.
He really made me nervous with his spooky talk.
"You know a lot about birds," he said. "You've killed too many of them. You know how to wait. You have waited patiently for hours. I know that. I am seeing it."
His words caused a great turmoil in me. I thought that what annoyed me the most about him was his certainty. I could not stand his dogmatic assuredness about issues in my own life that I was not sure of myself. 1 became engulfed in my feelings of dejection and I did not see him leaning over me until he actually had whispered something in my ear. I did not understand at first and he repeated it. He told me to turn around casually and look at a boulder to my left. He said that my death was there staring at me and if I turned when he signaled me I might be capable of seeing it.
He signaled me with his eyes. I turned and I thought I saw a nickering movement over the
27
boulder. A chill ran through my body, the muscles of my abdomen contracted involuntarily and I experienced a jolt, a spasm. After a moment I regained my composure and I explained away the sensation of seeing the flickering shadow as an optical illusion caused by turning my head so abruptly.
"Death is our eternal companion," don Juan said with a most serious air. "It is always to our left, at an arm's length. It was watching you when you were watching the white falcon; it whispered in your ear and you felt its chill, as you felt it today. It has always been watching you.
It always will until the day it taps you."
He extended his arm and touched me lightly on the shoulder and at the same time he made a deep clicking sound with his tongue. The effect was devastating; I almost got sick to my stomach.
"You're the boy who stalked game and waited patiently, as death waits; you know very well that death is to our left, the same way you were to the left of the white falcon."
His words had the strange power to plunge me into an unwarranted terror; my only defence was my compulsion to commit to writing everything he said.
"How can anyone feel so important when we know that death is stalking us?" he asked.
I had the feeling my answer was not really needed. I could not have said anything anyway. a new mood had possessed me.
"The thing to do when you're impatient," he proceeded, "is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you."
He leaned over again and whispered in my ear that if I turned to my left suddenly, upon seeing his signal, I could again see my death on the boulder.
His eyes gave me an almost imperceptible signal, but I did not dare to look.
I told him that I believed him and that he did not have to press the issue any further, because I was terrified. He had one of his roaring belly laughs.
He replied that the issue of our death was never pressed far enough. And I argued that it would be meaningless for me to dwell upon my death, since such a thought would only bring discomfort and fear.
"You're full of crap!" he exclaimed. "Death is the only wise adviser that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, "I haven't touched you yet"."
He shook his head and seemed to be waiting for my reply. I had none. My thoughts were running rampant. He had delivered a staggering blow to my egotism. The pettiness of being annoyed with him was monstrous in the light of my death.
I had the feeling he was fully aware of my change of mood. He had turned the tide in his favor. He smiled and began to hum a Mexican tune.
"Yes," he said softly after a long pause. "One of us here has to change, and fast. One of us here has to learn again that death is the hunter, and that it is always to one's left. One of us here has to ask death's advice and drop the cursed pettiness that belongs to men that live their lives as if death will never tap them."
We remained quiet for more than an hour, then we started walking again. We meandered in the desert chaparral for hours. I did not ask him if there was any purpose to it; it did not matter.
Somehow he had made me recapture an old feeling, something I had quite forgotten, the sheer joy of just moving around without attaching any intellectual purpose to it.
I wanted him to let me catch a glimpse of whatever I had seen on the boulder.
"Let me see that shadow again," I said.
"You mean your death, don't you?" he replied with a touch of irony in his voice.
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For a moment I felt reluctant to voice it.
"Yes," I finally said. "Let me see my death once again."
"Not now," he said. "You're too solid."
"I beg your pardon?"
He began to laugh and for some unknown reason his laughter was no longer offensive and insidious, as it had been in the past. I did not think that it was different, from the point of view of its pitch, or its loudness, or the spirit of it; the new element was my mood. In view of my impending death my fears and annoyance were nonsense.
"Let me talk to plants then," I said.
He roared with laughter.
"You're too good now," he said, still laughing. "You go from one extreme to the other. Be still.
There is no need to talk to plants unless you want to know their secrets, and for that you need the most unbending intent. So save your good wishes. There is no need to see your death either. It is sufficient that you feel its presence around you."
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5. Assuming Responsibility
Tuesday, 9 April 1961
I arrived at don Juan's house in the early morning on Sunday, April 9.
"Good morning, don Juan," I said. "Am I glad to see you!"
He looked at me and broke into a soft laughter. He had walked to my car as I was parking it and held the door open while I gathered some packages of food that I had brought for him.
We walked to the house and sat down by the door.
This was the first time I had been really aware of what I was doing there. For three months I had actually looked forward to going back to the "field". It was as if a time bomb set within myself had exploded and suddenly I had remembered something transcendental to me. I had remembered that once in my life I had been very patient and very efficient.
Before don Juan could say anything I asked him the question that had been pressing hard in my mind. For three months I had been obsessed with the memory of the albino falcon. How did he know about it when I myself had forgotten?
He laughed but did not answer. I pleaded with him to tell me.
"It was nothing," he said with his usual conviction. "Anyone could tell that you're strange.
You're just numb, that's all."
I felt that he was again getting me off guard and pushing me into a corner in which I did not care to be.
"Is it possible to see our death?" I asked, trying to remain within the topic.
"Sure," he said, laughing. "It is here with us."
"'How do you know that?"
"I'm an old man; with age one learns all kinds of things."
"I know lots of old people, but they have never learned this. How come you did?"
"Well, let's say that I know all kinds of things because I don't have a personal history, and because I don't feel more important than anything else, and because my death is sitting with me right here."
He extended his left arm and moved his fingers as if he were actually petting something.
I laughed. I knew where he was leading me. The old devil was going to clobber me again, probably with my self-importance, but I did not mind this time. The memory that once I had had a superb patience had filled me with a strange, quiet euphoria that had dispelled most of my feelings of nervousness and intolerance towards don Juan; what I felt instead was a sensation of wonder about his acts.
"Who are you, really?" I asked.
He seemed surprised. He opened his eyes to an enormous size and blinked like a bird, closing his eyelids as if they were a shutter. They came down and went up again and his eyes remained in focus. His manoeuvre startled me and I recoiled, and he laughed with childlike abandon.
"For you I am Juan Matus, and I am at your service," he said with exaggerated politeness.
I then asked my other burning question: "What did you do to me the first day we met?"
I was referring to the look he had given me.
"Me? Nothing," he replied with a tone of innocence.
I described to him the way I had felt when he had looked at me and how incongruous it had been for me to be tongue-tied by it.
He laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks. I again felt a surge of animosity towards him. I thought that I was being so serious and thoughtful and he was being so 'Indian' in his coarse ways.
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He apparently detected my mood and stopped laughing all of a sudden.
After a long hesitation I told him that his laughter had annoyed me because I was seriously trying to understand what had happened to me.
"There is nothing to understand," he replied, undisturbed.
I reviewed for him the sequence of unusual events that had taken place since I had met him, starting with the mysterious look he had given me, to remembering the albino falcon and seeing on the boulder the shadow he had said was my death.
"Why are you doing all this to me?" I asked.
There was no belligerence in my question. I was only curious as to why it was me in particular.
"You asked me to tell you what I know about plants," he said.
I noticed a tinge of sarcasm in his voice. He sounded as if he were humoring me.
"But what you have told me so far has nothing to do with plants," I protested.
His reply was that it took time to learn about them.
My feeling was that it was useless to argue with him. I realized then the total idiocy of the easy and absurd resolutions I had made. While I was at home I had promised myself that I was never going to lose my temper or feel annoyed with don Juan. In the actual situation, however, the minute he rebuffed me I had another attack of peevishness. I felt there was no way for me to interact with him and that angered me.
"Think of your death now," don Juan said suddenly. "It is at arm's length. It may tap you any moment, so really you have no time for crappy thoughts and moods. None of us have time for that.
"Do you want to know what I did to you the first day we met? I saw you, and I saw that you thought you were lying to me. But you weren't, not really."
I told him that his explanation confused me even more. He replied that that was the reason he did not want to explain his acts, and that explanations were not necessary. He said that the only thing that counted was action, acting instead of talking.
He pulled out a straw mat and lay down, propping his head up with a bundle. He made himself comfortable and then he told me that there was another thing I had to perform if I really wanted to learn about plants.
"What was wrong with you when I saw you, and what is wrong with you now, is that you don't like to take responsibility for what you do," he said slowly, as if to give me time to understand what he was saying. 'When you were telling me all those doings in the bus depot you were aware that they were lies. Why were you lying?"
I explained that my objective had been to find a "key informant" for my work.
Don Juan smiled and began humming a Mexican tune.
"When a man decides to do something he must go all the way," he said, "but he must take responsibility for what he does. No matter what he does, he must know first why he is doing it, and then he must proceed with his actions without having doubts or remorse about them."
He examined me. I did not know what to say. Finally I ventured an opinion, almost as a protest.
"That's an impossibility!" I said.
He asked me why, and I said that perhaps ideally that was what everybody thought they should do. In practice, however, there was no way to avoid doubts and remorse.
"Of course there is a way," he replied with conviction.
"Look at me," he said. "I have no doubts or remorse. Everything I do is my decision and my responsibility. The simplest thing I do, to take you for a walk in the desert, for instance, may very well mean my death. Death is stalking me. Therefore, I have no room for doubts or remorse. If I have to die as a result of taking you for a walk, then I must die.
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"You, on the other hand, feel that you are immortal, and the decisions of an immortal man can be cancelled or regretted or doubted. In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions."
I argued, in sincerity, that in my opinion that was an unreal world, because it was arbitrarily made by taking an idealized form of behavior and saying that that was the way to proceed.
I told him the story of my father, who used to give me endless lectures about the wonders of a healthy mind in a healthy body, and how young men should temper their bodies with hardships and with feats of athletic competition. He was a young man; when I was eight years old he was only twenty-seven. During the summertime, as a rule, he would come from the city, where he taught school, to spend at least a month with me at my grandparents' farm, where I lived. It was a hellish month for me. I told don Juan one instance of my father's behavior that I thought would apply to the situation at hand.
Almost immediately upon arriving at the farm my father would insist on taking a long walk with me at his side, so we could talk things over, and while we were talking he would make plans for us to go swimming, every day at six A.M. At night he would set the alarm for five-thirty to have plenty of time, because at six sharp we had to be in the water. And when the alarm would go off in the morning, he would jump out of bed, put on his glasses, go to the window and look out.
I had even memorized the ensuing monologue.
"Uhm ... A bit cloudy today. Listen, I'm going to lie down again for just five minutes. O.K.?
No more than five! I'm just going to stretch my muscles and fully wake up."
He would invariably fall asleep again until ten, sometimes until noon.
I told don Juan that what annoyed me was his refusal to give up his obviously phoney resolutions. He would repeat this ritual every morning until I would finally hurt his feelings by refusing to set the alarm clock.
"They were not phony resolutions," don Juan said, obviously taking sides with my father. "He just didn't know how to get out of bed, that's all"
"At any rate," I said, "I'm always leery of unreal resolutions."
"What would be a resolution that is real then?" don Juan asked with a coy smile.
"If my father would have said to himself that he could not go swimming at six in the morning but perhaps at three in the afternoon."
"Your resolutions injure the spirit," don Juan said with an air of great seriousness.
I thought I even detected a note of sadness in his tone. We were quiet for a long time. My peevishness had vanished. I thought of my father.
"He didn't want to swim at three in the afternoon. Don't you see?" don Juan said.
His words made me jump.
I told him that my father was weak, and so was his world of ideal acts that he never performed. I was almost shouting.
Don Juan did not say a word. He shook his head slowly in a rhythmical way. I felt terribly sad.
Thinking of my father always gave me a consuming feeling.
"You think you were stronger, don't you?" he asked in a casual tone.
I said I did, and I began to tell him all the emotional turmoil that my father had put me through, but he interrupted me.
"Was he mean to you?" he asked.
"No."
"Was he petty with you?"
"No."
"Did he do all he could for you?"
"Yes."
"Then what was wrong with him?"
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Again I began to shout that he was weak, but I caught myself and lowered my voice. I felt a bit ludicrous being cross-examined by don Juan.
"What are you doing all this for?" I said. "We were supposed to be talking about plants."
I felt more annoyed and despondent than ever. I told him that he had no business or the remotest qualifications to pass judgment on my behavior, and he exploded into a belly laugh.
"When you get angry you always feel righteous, don't you?" he said and blinked like a bird.
He was right. I had the tendency to feel justified at being angry.
"Let's not talk about my father," I said, feigning a happy mood. "Let's talk about plants."
"No, let's talk about your father," he insisted. "That is the place to begin today. If you think that you were so much stronger than he, why didn't you go swimming at six in the morning in his place?"
I told him that I could not believe he was seriously asking me that. I had always thought that swimming at six in the morning was my father's business and not mine.
"It was also your business from the moment you accepted his idea," don Juan snapped at me.
I said that I had never accepted it, that I had always known my father was not truthful to himself. Don Juan asked me matter-of-factly why I had not voiced my opinions at the time.
"You don't tell your father things like that," I said as a weak explanation.
"Why not?"
"That was not done in my house, that's all."
"You have done worse things in your house," he declared like a judge from the bench. "The only thing you never did was to shine your spirit."
There was such a devastating force in his words that they echoed in my mind. He brought all my defenses down. I could not argue with him. I took refuge in writing my notes, I tried a last feeble explanation and said that all my life I had encountered people of my father's kind, who had, like my father, hooked me somehow into their schemes, and as a rule I had always been left dangling.
"You are complaining," he said softly. "You have been complaining all your life because you don't assume responsibility for your decisions. If you would have assumed responsibility for your father's idea of swimming at six in the morning, you would have swum, by yourself if necessary, or you would have told him to go to hell the first time he opened his mouth after you knew his devices. But you didn't say anything. Therefore, you were as weak as your father.
"To assume the responsibility of one's decisions means that one is ready to die for them."
"Wait, wait!" I said. "You are twisting this around."
He did not let me finish. I was going to tell him that I had used my father only as an example of an unrealistic way of acting, and that nobody in his right mind would be willing to die for such an idiotic thing.
"It doesn't matter what the decision is," he said. "Nothing could be more or less serious than anything else. Don't you see? In a world where death is the hunter there are no small or big decisions. There are only decisions that we make in the face of our inevitable death."
I could not say anything. Perhaps an hour went by. Don Juan was perfectly motionless on his mat although he was not sleeping.
"Why do you tell me all this, don Juan?" I asked. "Why are you doing this to me?"
"You came to me," he said. "No, that was not the case, you were brought to me. And I have had a gesture with you."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You could have had a gesture with your father by swimming for him, but you didn't, perhaps because you were too young. I have lived longer than you. I have nothing pending. There is no hurry in my life, therefore I can properly have a gesture with you."
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In the afternoon we went for a hike. I easily kept his pace and marveled again at his stupendous physical prowess. He walked so nimbly and with such sure steps that next to him I was like a child. We went in an easterly direction. I noticed then that he did not like to talk while he walked. If I spoke to him he would stop walking in order to answer me.
After a couple of hours we came to a hill; he sat down and signaled me to sit by him. He announced in a mock-dramatic tone that he was going to tell me a story.
He said that once upon a time there was a young man, a destitute Indian who lived among the white men in a city. He had no home, no relatives, no friends. He had come into the city to find his fortune and had found only misery and pain. From time to time he made a few cents working like a mule, barely enough for a morsel; otherwise he had to beg or steal food. Don Juan said that one day the young man went to the market place. He walked up and down the street in a haze, his eyes wild upon seeing all the good things that were gathered there. He was so frantic that he did not see where he was walking, and ended up tripping over some baskets and falling on top of an old man.
The old man was carrying four enormous gourds and had just sat down to rest and eat. Don Juan smiled knowingly and said that the old man found it quite strange that the young man had stumbled on him. He was not angry at being disturbed but amazed at why this particular young man had fallen on top of him. The young man, on the other hand, was angry and told him to get out of his way. He was not concerned at all about the ultimate reason for their meeting. He had not noticed that their paths had actually crossed.
Don Juan mimicked the motions of someone going after something that was rolling over. He said that the old man's gourds had turned over and were rolling down the street. When the young man saw the gourds he thought he had found his food for the day.
He helped the old man up and insisted on helping him carry the heavy gourds. The old man told him that he was on his way to his home in the mountains and the young man insisted on going with him, at least part of the way.
The old man took the road to the mountains and as they walked he gave the young man part of the food he had bought at the market. The young man ate to his heart's content and when he was quite satisfied he began to notice how heavy the gourds were and clutched them tightly.
Don Juan opened his eyes and smiled with a devilish grin and said that the young man asked, "What do you carry in these gourds?" The old man did not answer but told him that he was going to show him a companion or friend who could alleviate his sorrows and give him advice and wisdom about the ways of the world.
Don Juan made a majestic gesture with both hands and said that the old man summoned the most beautiful deer that the young man had ever seen. The deer was so tame that it came to him and walked around him. It glittered and shone. The young man was spellbound and knew right away that it was a "spirit deer". The old man told him then that if he wished to have that friend and its wisdom all he had to do was to let go of the gourds.
Don Juan's grin portrayed ambition; he said that the young man's petty desires were pricked upon hearing such a request. Don Juan's eyes became small and devilish as he voiced the young man's question: "What do you have in these four enormous gourds?"
Don Juan said that the old man very serenely replied that he was carrying food: "pinole" and water. He stopped narrating the story and walked around in a circle a couple of times. I did not know what he was doing. But apparently it was part of the story. The circle seemed to portray the deliberations of the young man.
Don Juan said that, of course, the young man had not believed a word. He calculated that if the old man, who was obviously a wizard, was willing to give a "spirit deer" for his gourds, then the gourds must have been filled with power beyond belief.
Don Juan contorted his face again into a devilish grin and said that the young man declared
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that he wanted to have the gourds. There was a long pause that seemed to mark the end of the story. Don Juan remained quiet, yet I was sure he wanted me to ask about it, and I did.
"What happened to the young man?"
"He took the gourds," he replied with a smile of satisfaction.
There was another long pause. I laughed. I thought that this had been a real "Indian story".
Don Juan's eyes were shining as he smiled at me. There was an air of innocence about him. He began to laugh in soft spurts and asked me, "Don't you want to know about the gourds?"
"Of course I want to know. I thought that was the end of the story."
"Oh no," he said with a mischievous light in his eyes. "The young man took his gourds and ran away to an isolated place and opened them."
"What did he find?" I asked.
Don Juan glanced at me and I had the feeling he was aware , of my mental gymnastics. He shook his head and chuckled.
"Well," I urged him. "Were the gourds empty?"
"There was only food and water inside the gourds," he said. "And the young man, in a fit of anger, smashed them against the rocks."
I said that his reaction was only natural - anyone in his position would have done the same.
Don Juan's reply was that the young man was a fool who did not know what he was looking for. He did not know what a power was, so he could not tell whether or not he had found it. He had not taken responsibility for his decision, therefore he was angered by his blunder. He expected to gain something and got nothing instead. Don Juan speculated that if I were the young man and if I had followed my inclinations I would have ended up angry and remorseful, and would, no doubt, have spent the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself for what I had lost.
Then he explained the behavior of the old man. He had cleverly fed the young man so as to give him the "daring of a satisfied stomach", thus the young man upon finding only food in the gourds smashed them in a fit of anger.
"Had he been aware of his decision and assumed responsibility for it," don Juan said, "he would have taken the food and would've been more than satisfied with it. And perhaps he might even have realized that that food was power too."
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6. Becoming a Hunter
Friday, 23 June 1961
As soon as I sat down I bombarded don Juan with questions. He did nor answer me and made an impatient gesture with his hand to be quiet. He seemed to be in a serious mood.
"I was thinking that you haven't changed at all in the time you've been trying to learn about plants," he said in an accusing tone.
He began reviewing in a loud voice all the changes of personality he had recommended I should undertake. I told him that I had considered the matter very seriously and found that I could not possibly fulfill them because each of them ran contrary to my core. He replied that to merely consider them was not enough, and that whatever he had said to me was not said just for fun. I again insisted that, although I had done very little in matters of adjusting my personal life to his ideas, I really wanted to learn the uses of plants.
After a long, uneasy silence I boldly asked him, "Would you teach me about peyote, don Juan?"
He said that my intentions alone were not enough, and that to know about peyote - he called it "Mescalito" for the first time - was a serious matter. It seemed that there was nothing else to say.
In the early evening, however, he set up a test for me; he put forth a problem without giving me any clues to its solution: to find a beneficial place or spot in the area right in front of his door where we always sat to talk, a spot where I could allegedly feel perfectly happy and invigorated.
During the course of the night, while I attempted to find the "spot" by rolling on the ground, I twice detected a change of coloration on the uniformly dark dirt floor of the designated area.
The problem exhausted me and I fell asleep on one of the places where I had detected the change in colour. In the morning don Juan woke me up and announced that I had had a very successful experience. Not only had I found the beneficial spot I was looking for, but I had also found its opposite, an enemy or negative spot and the colours associated with both.
Saturday, 24 June 1961
We went into the desert chaparral in the early morning. As we walked, don Juan explained to me that finding a "beneficial" or an " enemy" spot was an important need for a man in the wilderness. I wanted to steer the conversation to the topic of peyote, but he flatly refused to talk about it. He warned me that there should be no mention of it, unless he himself brought up the subject.
We sat down to rest in the shade of some tall bushes in an area of thick vegetation. The desert chaparral around us was not quite dry yet; it was a warm day and the flies kept on pestering me but they did not seem to bother don Juan. I wondered whether he was just ignoring them but then I noticed they were not landing on his face at all.
"Sometimes it is necessary to find a beneficial spot quickly, out in the open," don Juan went on." Or maybe it is necessary to determine quickly whether or not the spot where one is about to rest is a bad one. One time, we sat to rest by some hill and you got very angry and upset. That spot was your enemy. A little crow gave you a warning, remember?"
I remembered that he had made a point of telling me to avoid that area in the future. I also remembered that I had become angry because he had not let me laugh.
"I thought that the crow that flew overhead was an omen for me alone," he said. " I would never have suspected that the crows were friendly towards you too."
"What are you talking about?"
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"The crow was an omen," he went on. "If you knew about crows you would have avoided the place like the plague. Crows are not always available to give warning though, and you must learn to find, by yourself, a proper place to camp or to rest."
After a long pause don Juan suddenly turned to me and said that in order to find the proper place to rest all I had to do was to cross my eyes. He gave me a knowing look and in a confidential tone told me that I had done precisely that when I was rolling on his porch, and thus I had been capable of finding two spots and their colours. He let me know that he was impressed by my accomplishment.
"I really don't know what I did," I said.
"You crossed your eyes," he said emphatically. "That's the technique; you must have done that, although you don't remember it."
Don Juan then described the technique, which he said took years to perfect, and which consisted of gradually forcing the eyes to see separately the same image. The lack of image conversion entailed a double perception of the world; this double perception, according to don Juan, allowed one the opportunity of judging changes in the surroundings, which the eyes were ordinarily incapable of perceiving.
Don Juan coaxed me to try it. He assured me that it was not injurious to the sight. He said that I should begin by looking in short glances, almost with the corners of my eyes. He pointed to a large bush and showed me how. I had a strange feeling, seeing don Juan's eyes taking incredibly fast glances at the bush. His eyes reminded me of those of a shifty animal that cannot look straight.
We walked for perhaps an hour while I tried not to focus my sight on anything. Then don Juan asked me to start separating the images perceived by each of my eyes. After another hour or so I got a terrible headache and had to stop.
"Do you think you could find, by yourself, a proper place for us to rest?" he asked.
I had no idea what the criterion for a "proper place" was. He patiently explained that looking in short glances allowed the eyes to pick out unusual sights.
"Such as what?" I asked.
"They are not sights proper," he said. 'They are more like feelings. If you look at a bush or a tree or a rock where you may like to rest, your eyes can make you feel whether or not that's the best resting place."
I again urged him to describe what those feelings were but he either could not describe them or he simply did not want to. He said that I should practice by picking out a place and then he would tell me whether or not my eyes were working.
At one moment I caught sight of what I thought was a pebble which reflected light. I could not see it if I focused my eyes on it, but if I swept the area with fast glances I could detect a sort of faint glitter. I pointed out the place to don Juan. It was in the middle of an open unshaded flat area devoid of thick bushes. He laughed uproariously and then asked me why I had picked that specific spot. I explained that I was seeing a glitter.
"I don't care what you see," he said. "You could be seeing an elephant. How you feel is the important issue."
I did not feel anything at all. He gave me a mysterious look and said that he wished he could oblige me and sit down to rest with me there, but he was going to sit somewhere else while I tested my choice.
I sat down while he looked at me curiously from a distance of thirty or forty feet away. After a few minutes he began to laugh loudly. Somehow his laughter made me nervous. It put me on edge. I felt he was making fun of me and I got angry. I began to question my motives for being there. There was definitely something wrong in the way my total endeavor with don Juan was proceeding. I felt that I was just a pawn in his clutches.
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Suddenly don Juan charged at me, at full speed, and pulled me by the arm, dragging me bodily for ten or twelve feet. He helped me to stand up and wiped some perspiration from his forehead. I noticed then that he had exerted himself to his limit. He patted me on the back and said that I had picked the wrong place and that he had had to rescue me in a real hurry, because he saw that the spot where I was sitting was about to take over my entire feelings. I laughed. The image of don Juan charging at me was very funny. He had actually run like a young man. His feet moved as if he were grabbing the soft reddish dirt of the desert in order to catapult himself over me. I had seen him laughing at me and then in a matter of seconds he was dragging me by the arm.
After a while he urged me to continue looking for a proper place to rest. We kept on walking but I did not detect or "feel" anything at all. Perhaps if I had been more relaxed I would have noticed or felt something. I had ceased, however, to be angry with him. Finally he pointed to some rocks and we came to a halt.
"Don't feel disappointed," don Juan said. "It takes a long time to train the eyes properly."
I did not say anything. I was not going to be disappointed about something I did not understand at all. Yet, I had to admit that three times already since I had begun to visit don Juan I had become very angry and had been agitated to the point of being nearly ill while sitting on places that he called bad.
"The trick is to feel with your eyes." he said. "Your problem now is that you don't know what to feel. It'll come to you, though, with practice."
"Perhaps you should tell me, don Juan, what I am supposed to feel."
"That's impossible."
"Why?"
"No one can tell you what you are supposed to feel. It is not heat, or light, or glare, or colour.
It is something else."
"Can't you describe it?"
"No. All I can do is give you the technique. Once you learn to I separate the images and see two of everything, you must focus I your attention in the area between the two images. Any change worthy of notice would take place there, in that area."
"What kind of changes are they?"
"That is not important. The feeling that you get is what counts. Every man is different. You saw glitter today, but that did not mean anything, because the feeling was missing. I can't tell you how to feel. You must learn that yourself."
We rested in silence for some time. Don Juan covered his face with his hat and remained motionless as if he were asleep.
I became absorbed in writing my notes, until he made a sudden movement that made me jolt.
He sat up abruptly and faced me, frowning.
"You have a knack for hunting," he said. "And that's what you should learn, hunting. We are not going to talk about plants any more."
He puffed out his jaws for an instant, then candidly added, "I don't think we ever have, anyway, have we?" and laughed.
We spent the rest of the day walking in every direction while he gave me an unbelievably detailed explanation about rattlesnakes. The way they nest, the way they move around, their seasonal habits, their quirks of behavior. Then he proceeded to corroborate each of the points he had made and finally he caught and killed a large snake; he cut its head off, cleaned its viscera, skinned it, and roasted the meat. His movements had such a grace and skill that it was a sheer pleasure just to be around him. I had listened to him and watched him, spellbound. My concentration had been so complete that the rest of the world had practically vanished for me.
Eating the snake was a hard re-entry into the world of ordinary affairs. I felt nauseated when I began to chew a bite of snake meat. It was an ill-founded queasiness, as the meat was delicious,
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but my stomach seemed to be rather an independent unit. I could hardly swallow at all. I thought don Juan would have a heart attack from laughing so hard.
Afterwards we sat down for a leisurely rest in the shade of some rocks. I began to work on my notes, and the quantity of them made me realize that he had given me an astonishing amount of information about rattlesnakes.
"Your hunter's spirit has returned to you," don Juan said suddenly and with a serious face.
"Now you're hooked."
"I beg your pardon?"
I wanted him to elaborate on his statement that I was hooked, but he only laughed and repeated it.
"How am I hooked?" I insisted.
"Hunters will always hunt," he said. "I am a hunter myself."
"Do you mean you hunt for a living?"
"I hunt in order to live. I can live off the land, anywhere."
He indicated the total surroundings with his hand.
"To be a hunter means that one knows a great deal," he went on. "It means that one can see the world in different ways. In order to be a hunter one must be in perfect balance with everything else, otherwise hunting would become a meaningless chore. For instance, today we took a little snake. I had to apologize to her for cutting her life off so suddenly and so definitely; I did what I did knowing that my own life will also be cut off someday in very much the same fashion, suddenly and definitely. So, all in all, we and the snakes are on a par. One of them fed us today."
"I had never conceived a balance of that kind when I used to hunt," I said.
"That's not true. You didn't just kill animals. You and your family all ate the game."
His statements carried the conviction of someone who had been there. He was, of course, right. There had been times when I had provided the incidental wild meat for my family.
After a moment's hesitation I asked, "How did you know that?"
"There are certain things that I just know," he said. "I can't tell you how though."
I told him that my aunts and uncles would very seriously call all the birds I would bag "pheasants".
Don Juan said he could easily imagine them calling a sparrow a "tiny pheasant" and added a comical rendition of how they would chew it. The extraordinary movements of his jaw gave me the feeling that he was actually chewing a whole bird, bones and all.
"I really think that you have a touch for hunting," he said, staring at me. "And we have been barking up the wrong tree. Perhaps you will be willing to change your way of life in order to become a hunter."
He reminded me that I had found out, with just a little exertion on my part, that in the world there were good and bad spots for me; he added that I had also found out the specific colours associated with them.
"That means that you have a knack for hunting," he declared.
"Not everyone who tries would find their colours and their spots at the same time."
To be a hunter sounded very nice and romantic, but it was an absurdity to me, since I did not particularly care to hunt.
"You don't have to care to hunt or to like it," he replied to my complaint. "You have a natural inclination. I think the best hunters never like hunting; they do it well, that's all."
I had the feeling don Juan was capable of arguing his way out of anything, and yet he maintained that he did not like to talk at all.
"It is like what I have told you about hunters," he said. "I don't necessarily like to talk. I just have a knack for it and I do it well, that's all."
I found his mental agility truly funny.
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"Hunters must be exceptionally tight individuals," he continued. "A hunter leaves very little to chance. I have been trying all along to convince you that you must learn to live in a different way.
So far I have not succeeded. There was nothing you could've grabbed on to. Now it's different. I have brought back your old hunter's spirit, perhaps through it you will change."
I protested that I did not want to become a hunter. I reminded him that in the beginning I had just wanted him to tell me about medicinal plants, but he had made me stray so far away from my original purpose that I could not clearly recall any more whether or not I had really wanted to learn about plants.
"Good," he said. "Really good. If you don't have such a clear picture of what you want, you may become more humble.
"Let's put it this way. For your purposes it doesn't really matter whether you learn about plants or about hunting. You've told me that yourself. You are interested in anything that anyone can tell you. True?"
I had said that to him in trying to define the scope of anthropology and in order to draft him as my informant.
Don Juan chuckled, obviously aware of his control over the situation.
"I am a hunter," he said, as if he were reading my thoughts. "I leave very little to chance.
Perhaps I should explain to you that I learned to be a hunter. I have not always lived the way I do now. At one point in my life I had to change. Now I'm pointing the direction to you. I'm guiding you. I know what I'm talking about; someone taught me all this. I didn't figure it out for myself."
"Do you mean that you had a teacher, don Juan?"
"Let's say that someone taught me to hunt the way I want to teach you now," he said and quickly changed the topic.
"I think that once upon a time hunting was one of the greatest acts a man could perform," he said. "All hunters were powerful men. In fact, a hunter had to be powerful to begin with in order to withstand the rigors of that life."
Suddenly I became curious. Was he referring to a time perhaps prior to the Conquest? I began to probe him.
"When was the time you are talking about?"
"Once upon a time."
"When? What does "once upon a time" mean?"
"It means once upon a time, or maybe it means now, today. It doesn't matter. At one time everybody knew that a hunter was the best of men. Now not everyone knows that, but there are a sufficient number of people who do. I know it, someday you will. See what I mean?"
"Do the Yaqui Indians feel that way about hunters? That's what I want to know."
"Not necessarily."
"Do the Pima Indians?"
"Not all of them. But some."
I named various neighboring groups. I wanted to commit him to a statement that hunting was a shared belief and practice of some specific people. But he avoided answering me directly, so I changed the subject.
"Why are you doing all this for me, don Juan?" I asked.
He took off his hat and scratched his temples in feigned bafflement.
"I'm having a gesture with you," he said softly. "Other people have had a similar gesture with you; someday you yourself will have the same gesture with others. Let's say that it is my turn.
One day I found out that if I wanted to be a hunter worthy of self-respect I had to change my way of life. I used to whine and complain a great deal. I had good reasons to feel shortchanged. I am an Indian and Indians are treated like dogs. There was nothing I could do to remedy that, so all I was left with was my sorrow. But then my good fortune spared me and someone taught me to
40
hunt. And I realized that the way I lived was not worth living... so I changed it."
"But I am happy with my life, don Juan. Why should I have to change it?"
He began to sing a Mexican song, very softly, and then hummed the tune. His head bobbed up and down as he followed the beat of the song.
"Do you think that you and I are equal?" he asked in a sharp voice.
His question caught me off guard. I experienced a peculiar buzzing in my ears as though he had actually shouted his words, which he had not done; however, there had been a metallic sound in his voice that was reverberating in my ears.
I scratched the inside of my left ear with the small finger of my left hand. My ears itched all the time and I had developed a rhythmical nervous way of rubbing the inside of them with the small finger of either hand. The movement was more properly a shake of my whole arm.
Don Juan watched my movements with apparent fascination.
"Well... are we equals?" he asked.
"Of course we're equals," I said.
I was, naturally, being condescending. I felt very warm towards him even though at times I did not know what to do with him; yet I still held in the back of my mind, although I would never voice it, the belief that I, being a university student, a man of the sophisticated Western world, was superior to an Indian.
"No," he said calmly, "we are not."
"Why, certainly we are," I protested.
"No," he said in a soft voice. "We are not equals. I am a hunter and a warrior, and you are a pimp."
My mouth fell open. I could not believe that don Juan had actually said that. I dropped my notebook and stared at him dumbfoundedly and then, of course, I became furious.
He looked at me with calm and collected eyes. I avoided his gaze. And then he began to talk.
He enunciated his words clearly. They poured out smoothly and deadly. He said that I was pimping for someone else. That I was not fighting my own battles but the battles of some unknown people. That I did not want to learn about plants or about hunting or about anything.
And that his world of precise acts and feelings and decisions was infinitely more effective than the blundering idiocy I called "my life".
After he finished talking I was numb. He had spoken without belligerence or conceit but with such power, and yet such calmness, that I was not even angry any more.
We remained silent. I felt embarrassed and could not think of anything appropriate to say. I waited for him to break the silence. Hours went by. Don Juan became motionless by degrees, until his body had acquired a strange, almost frightening rigidity; his silhouette became difficult to make out as it got dark, and finally when it was pitch black around us he seemed to have merged into the blackness of the stones. His state of motionlessness was so total that it was as if he did not exist any longer.
It was midnight when I finally realized that he could and would stay motionless there in that wilderness, in those rocks, perhaps forever if he had to. His world of precise acts and feelings and decisions was indeed superior.
I quietly touched his arm and tears flooded me.
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7. Being Inaccessible.
Thursday, 29 June 1961
Again don Juan, as he had done every day for nearly a week, held me spellbound with his knowledge of specific details about the behavior of game. He first explained and then corroborated a number of hunting tactics based on what he called "the quirks of quails". I became so utterly involved in his explanations that a whole day went by and I had not noticed the passage of time. I even forgot to eat lunch. Don Juan made joking remarks that it was quite unusual for me to miss a meal.
By the end of the day he had caught five quail in a most ingenious trap, which he had taught me to assemble and set up.
"Two are enough for us," he said and let three of them loose.
He then taught me how to roast quail. I had wanted to cut some shrubs and make a barbecue pit, the way my grandfather used to make it, lined with green branches and leaves and sealed with dirt, but don Juan said that there was no need to injure the shrubs, since we had already injured the quail.
After we finished eating we walked very leisurely towards a rocky area. We sat on a sandstone hillside and I said jokingly that if he would have left the matter up to me I would have cooked all five of the quail, and that my barbecue would have tasted much better than his roast.
"No doubt," he said. "But if you would have done all that, we might have never left this place in one piece."
"What do you mean?" I asked. "What would have prevented us?"
"The shrubs, the quail, everything around would have pitched in."
"I never know when you are talking seriously," I said.
He made a gesture of feigned impatience and smacked his lips.
"You have a weird notion of what it means to talk seriously," he said. "I laugh a great deal because I like to laugh, yet everything I say is deadly serious, even if you don't understand it.
Why should the world be only as you think it is? Who gave you the authority to say so?"
"There is no proof that the world is otherwise," I said.
It was getting dark. I was wondering if it was time to go back to his house, but he did not seem to be in a hurry and I was enjoying myself.
The wind was cold. Suddenly he stood up and told me that we had to climb to the hilltop and stand up on an area clear of shrubs.
"Don't be afraid," he said. "I'm your friend and I'll see that nothing bad happens to you."
"What do you mean?" I asked, alarmed. Don Juan had the most insidious facility to shift me from sheer enjoyment to sheer fright.
"The world is very strange at this time of the day," he said. "That's what I mean. No matter what you see, don't be afraid."
"What am I going to see?"
"I don't know yet," he said, peering into the distance towards the south.
He did not seem to be worried. I also kept on looking in the same direction.
Suddenly he perked up and pointed with his left hand towards a dark area in the desert shrubbery.
"There it is," he said, as if he had been waiting for something which had suddenly appeared.
"What is it?" I asked.
"There it is," he repeated. "Look! Look!"
I did not see anything, just the shrubs.
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"It is here now," he said with great urgency in his voice. "It is here."
A sudden gust of wind hit me at that instant and made my eyes burn. I stared towards the area in question. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.
"I can't see a thing," I said.
"You just felt it," he replied. "Right now. It got into your eyes and kept you from seeing."
"What are you talking about?"
"I have deliberately brought you to a hilltop," he said. "We are very noticeable here and something is coming to us."
"What? The wind?"
"Not just the wind," he said sternly. "It may seem to be wind to you, because wind is all you know."
I strained my eyes staring into the desert shrubs. Don Juan stood silently by me for a moment and then walked into the near-by chaparral and began to tear some big branches from the surrounding shrubs; he gathered eight of them and made a bundle. He ordered me to do the same and to apologize to the plants in a loud voice for mutilating them.
When we had two bundles he made me run with them to the hilltop and lie down on my back between two large rocks. With tremendous speed he arranged the branches of my bundle to cover my entire body, then he covered himself in the same manner and whispered through the leaves that I should watch how the so-called wind would cease to blow once we had become unnoticeable.
At one moment, to my utter amazement, the wind actually ceased to blow as don Juan had predicted. It happened so gradually that I would have missed the change had I not been deliberately waiting for it. For a while the wind had hissed through the leaves over my face and then gradually it became quiet all around us.
I whispered to don Juan that the wind had stopped and he whispered back that I should not make any overt noise or movement, because what I was calling the wind was not wind at all but something that had a volition of its own and could actually recognize us.
I laughed out of nervousness.
In a muffled voice don Juan called my attention to the quietness around us and whispered that he was going to stand up and I should follow him, putting the branches aside very gently with my left hand.
We stood up at the same time. Don Juan stared for a moment into the distance towards the south and then turned around abruptly and faced the west.
"Sneaky. Really sneaky," he muttered, pointing to an area towards the southwest.
"Look! Look!" he urged me.
I stared with all the intensity I was capable of. I wanted to see whatever he was referring to, but I did not notice anything at all. Or rather I did not notice anything I had not seen before; there were just shrubs which seemed to be agitated by a soft wind; they rippled.
"It's here," don Juan said.
At that moment I felt a blast of air in my face. It seemed that the wind had actually begun to blow after we stood up. I could not believe it; there had to be a logical explanation for it.
Don Juan chuckled softly and told me not to tax my brain trying to reason it out.
"Let's go gather the shrubs once more," he said. "I hate to do this to these little plants, but we must stop you."
He picked up the branches we had used to cover ourselves and piled small rocks and dirt over them. Then, repeating the same movements we had made before, each of us gathered eight new branches. In the meantime the wind kept on blowing ceaselessly. I could feel it ruffling the hair around my ears. Don Juan whispered that once he had covered me I should not make the slightest movement or sound. He very quickly put the branches over my body and then he lay down and
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covered himself.
We stayed in that position for about twenty minutes and during that time a most extraordinary phenomenon occurred; the wind again changed from a hard continuous gust to a mild vibration.
I held my breath, waiting for don Juan's signal. At a given moment he gently shoved off the branches. I did the same and we stood up. The hilltop was very quiet. There was only a slight, soft vibration of leaves in the surrounding chaparral.
Don Juan's eyes were fixedly staring at an area in the shrubs south of us.
"There it is again!" he exclaimed hi a loud voice.
I involuntarily jumped, nearly losing my balance, and he ordered me in a loud imperative voice to look.
"What am I supposed to see?" I asked desperately.
He said that it, the wind or whatever, was like a cloud or a whorl that was quite a way above the shrubs, twirling its way to the hilltop where we were.
I saw a ripple forming on the bushes hi the distance.
"There it comes," don Juan said in my ear. "Look how it is searching for us."
Right then a strong steady gust of wind hit my face, as it had hit it before. This time, however, my reaction was different. I was terrified. I had not seen what don Juan had described, but I had seen a most eerie wave rippling the shrubs. I did not want to succumb to my fear and deliberately sought any kind of suitable explanation. I said to myself that there must be continuous air currents in the area, and don Juan, being thoroughly acquainted with the whole region, was not only aware of that but was capable of mentally plotting their occurrence. All he had to do was to lie down, count, and wait for the wind to taper off; and once he stood up he had only to wait again for its reoccurrence.
Don Juan's voice shook me out of my mental deliberations. He was telling me that it was time to leave. I stalled; I wanted to stay to make sure that the wind would taper off.
"I didn't see anything, don Juan," I said.
"You noticed something unusual though."
"Perhaps you should tell me again what I was supposed to see."
"I've already told you," he said. "Something that hides in the wind and looks like a whorl, a cloud, a mist, a face that twirls around."
Don Juan made a gesture with his hands to depict a horizontal and a vertical motion.
"It moves in a specific direction," he went on. "It either tumbles or it twirls. A hunter must know all that in order to move correctly."
I wanted to humour him, but he seemed to be trying so hard to make his point that I did not dare. He looked at me for a moment and I moved my eyes away.
"To believe that the world is only as you think it is, is stupid," he said. "'The world is a mysterious place. Especially in the twilight."
He pointed towards the wind with a movement of his chin.
"This can follow us," he said. "It can make us tired or it might even kill us."
"That wind?"
"At this time of the day, in the twilight, there is no wind. At this time there is only power."
We sat on the hilltop for an hour. The wind blew hard and constantly all that time.
Friday, 30 June 1961
In the late afternoon, after eating, don Juan and I moved to the area in front of his door. I sat on my "spot" and began working on my notes. He lay down on his back with his hands folded over his stomach. We had stayed around the house all day on account of the "wind". Don Juan
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explained that we had disturbed the wind deliberately and that it was better not to fool around with it. I had even had to sleep covered with branches.
A sudden gust of wind made don Juan get up in one incredibly agile jump.
"Damn it," he said. "The wind is looking for you."
"I can't buy that, don Juan," I said, laughing. "I really can't."
I was not being stubborn, I just found it impossible to endorse the idea that the wind had its own volition and was looking for me, or that it had actually spotted us and rushed to us on top of the hill. I said that the idea of a "willful wind" was a view of the world that was rather simplistic.
"What is the wind then?" he asked in a challenging tone.
I patiently explained to him that masses of hot and cold air produced different pressures and that the pressure made the masses of air move vertically and horizontally. It took me a long while to explain all the details of basic meteorology.
"You mean that all there is to the wind is hot and cold air?" he asked in a tone of bafflement.
"I'm afraid so," I said and silently enjoyed my triumph.
Don Juan seemed to be dumbfounded. But then he looked at me and began to laugh uproariously.
"Your opinions are final opinions," he said with a note of sarcasm. "They are the last word, aren't they? For a hunter, however, your opinions are pure crap. It makes no difference whether the pressure is one or two or ten; if you would live out here in the wilderness you would know that during the twilight the wind becomes power. A hunter that is worth his salt knows that, and acts accordingly."
"How does he act?"
"He uses the twilight and that power hidden in the wind."
"How?"
"If it is convenient to him, the hunter hides from the power by covering himself and remaining motionless until the twilight is gone and the power has sealed him into its protection."
Don Juan made a gesture of enveloping something with his hands.
"Its protection is like a..."
He paused in search of a word and I suggested "cocoon".
"That is right," he said. "The protection of the power seals you like a cocoon. A hunter can stay out in the open and no puma or coyote or slimy bug could bother him. A mountain lion could come up to the hunter's nose and sniff him, and if the hunter does not move, the lion would leave.
I can guarantee you that.
"If the hunter, on the other hand, wants to be noticed all he has to do is to stand on a hilltop at the time of the twilight and the power will nag him and seek him all night. Therefore, if a hunter wants to travel at night or if he wants to be kept awake he must make himself available to the wind.
"Therein lies the secret of great hunters. To be available and unavailable at the precise turn of the road."
I felt a bit confused and asked him to recapitulate his point. Don Juan very patiently explained that he had used the twilight and the wind to point out the crucial importance of the interplay between hiding and showing oneself.
"You must learn to become deliberately available and unavailable," he said. "As your life goes now, you are unwittingly available at all times."
I protested. My feeling was that my life was becoming increasingly more and more secretive.
He said I had not understood his point, and that to be unavailable did not mean to hide or to be secretive but to be inaccessible.
"Let me put it in another way," he proceeded patiently. " It makes no difference to hide if everyone knows that you are hiding.
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"Your problems right now stem from that. When you are hiding, everyone knows that you are hiding, and when you are not, you are available for everyone to take a poke at you."
I was beginning to feel threatened and hurriedly tried to defend myself.
"Don't explain yourself," don Juan said dryly. 'There is no need. We are fools, all of us, and you cannot be different. At one time in my life I, like you, made myself available over and over again until there was nothing of me left for anything except perhaps crying. And that I did, just like yourself."
Don Juan sized me up for a moment and then sighed loudly.
"I was younger than you, though," he went on, "but one day I had enough and I changed. Let's say that one day, when I was becoming a hunter, I learned the secret of being available and unavailable."
I told him that his point was bypassing me. I truly could not understand what he meant by being available. He had used the Spanish idioms "ponerse al alcance" and "ponerse en el medio del camino", "to put oneself within reach", and "to put oneself in the middle of a trafficked way".
"You must take yourself away," he explained. "You must retrieve yourself from the middle of a trafficked way. Your whole being is there, thus it is of no use to hide; you would only imagine that you are hidden. Being in the middle of the road means that everyone passing by watches your comings and goings."
His metaphor was interesting, but at the same time it was also obscure.
"You are talking in riddles," I said.
He stared at me fixedly for a long moment and then began to hum a tune. I straightened my back and sat attentively. I knew that when don Juan hummed a Mexican tune he was about to clobber me.
"Hey," he said, smiling, and peered at me. "Whatever happened to your blonde friend? That girl that you used to really like."
I must have looked at him like a confounded idiot. He laughed with great delight. I did not know what to say.
"You told me about her," he said reassuringly.
But I did not remember ever telling him about anybody, much less about a blonde girl.
"I've never mentioned anything like that to you," I said.
"Of course you have," he said as if dismissing the argument.
I wanted to protest, but he stopped me, saying that it did not matter how he knew about her, that the important issue was that I had liked her.
I sensed a surge of animosity towards him building up within myself.
"Don't stall," don Juan said dryly. "This is a time when you should cut off your feelings of importance.
"You once had a woman, a very dear woman, and then one day you lost her."
I began to wonder if I had ever talked about her to don Juan. I concluded that there had never been an opportunity. Yet I might have. Every time he drove with me we had always talked incessantly about everything. I did not remember everything we had talked about because I could not take notes while driving. I felt somehow appeased by my conclusions. I told him that he was right. There had been a very important blonde girl in my life.
"Why isn't she with you?" he asked.
"She left."
"Why?"
"There were many reasons."
"There were not so many reasons. There was only one. You made yourself too available."
I earnestly wanted to know what he meant. He again had touched me. He seemed to be cognizant of the effect of his touch and puckered up his lips to hide a mischievous smile.
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"Everyone knew about you two," he said with unshaken conviction.
"Was it wrong?"
"It was deadly wrong. She was a fine person."
I expressed the sincere feeling that his fishing in the dark was odious to me, especially the fact that he always made his statements with the assurance of someone who had been at the scene and had seen it all.
"But that's true," he said with a disarming candor. "I have seen it all. She was a fine person."
I knew that it was meaningless to argue, but I was angry with him for touching that sore spot in my life and I said that the girl in question was not such a fine person after all, that in my opinion she was rather weak.
"So are you," he said calmly. "But that is not important. What counts is that you have looked for her everywhere; that makes her a special person in your world, and for a special person one should have only fine words."
I felt embarrassed; a great sadness had begun to engulf me.
"What are you doing to me, don Juan?" I asked. "You always succeed in making me sad.
Why?"
"You are now indulging in sentimentality," he said accusingly.
"What is the point of all this, don Juan?"
"Being inaccessible is the point," he declared. "I brought up the memory of this person only as a means to show you directly what I couldn't show you with the wind.
"You lost her because you were accessible; you were always within her reach and your life was a routine one."
"No!" I said. "You're wrong. My life was never a routine."
"It was and it is a routine," he said dogmatically. "It is an unusual routine and that gives you the impression that it is not a routine, but I assure you it is."
I wanted to sulk and get lost in moroseness, but somehow his eyes made me feel restless; they seemed to push me on and on.
"The art of a hunter is to become inaccessible," he said. "In the case of that blonde girl it would've meant that you had to become a hunter and meet her sparingly. Not the way you did.
You stayed with her day after day, until the only feeling that remained was boredom. True?"
I did not answer. I felt I did not have to. He was right.
"To be inaccessible means that you touch the world around you sparingly. You don't eat five quail; you eat one. You don't damage the plants just to make a barbecue pit. You don't expose yourself to the power of the wind unless it is mandatory. You don't use and squeeze people until they have shriveled to nothing, especially the people you love."
"I have never used anyone," I said sincerely. But don Juan maintained that I had, and thus I could bluntly state that I became tired and bored with people.
"To be unavailable means that you deliberately avoid exhausting yourself and others," he continued. "It means that you are not hungry and desperate, like the poor bastard that feels he will never eat again and devours all the food he can, all five quail!"
Don Juan was definitely hitting me below the belt. I laughed and that seemed to please him.
He touched my back lightly.
"A hunter knows he will lure game into his traps over and over again, so he doesn't worry. To worry is to become accessible, unwittingly accessible. And once you worry you cling to anything out of desperation; and once you cling you are bound to get exhausted or to exhaust whoever or whatever you are clinging to."
I told him that in my day-to-day life it was inconceivable to be inaccessible. My point was that in order to function I had to be within reach of everyone that had something to do with me.
"I've told you already that to be inaccessible does not mean to hide or to be secretive," he said
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calmly. "It doesn't mean that you cannot deal with people either. A hunter uses his world sparingly and with tenderness, regardless of whether the world might be things, or plants, or animals, or people, or power. A hunter deals intimately with his world and yet he is inaccessible to that same world."
"That's a contradiction," I said. "He cannot be inaccessible if he is there in his world, hour after hour, day after day."
"You did not understand," don Juan said patiently. "He is inaccessible because he's not squeezing his world out of shape. He taps it lightly, stays for as long as he needs to, and then swiftly moves away leaving hardly a mark."
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8. Disrupting the Routines of Life
Sunday,16 July 1961
We spent all morning watching some rodents that looked like fat squirrels; don Juan called them water rats. He pointed out that they were very fast in getting out of danger, but after they had outrun any predator they had the terrible habit of stopping, or even climbing a rock, to stand on their hind legs to look around and groom themselves.
"They have very good eyes," don Juan said. "You must move only when they are on the run, therefore, you must learn to predict when and where they will stop, so you would also stop at the same time."
I became engrossed in observing them and I had what would have been a field day for hunters as I spotted so many of them. And finally I could predict their movements almost every time.
Don Juan then showed me how to make traps to catch them. He explained that a hunter had to take time to observe their eating or their nesting places in order to determine where to locate his traps; he would then set them during the night and all he had to do the next day was to scare them off so they would scatter away into his catching devices.
We gathered some sticks and proceeded to build the hunting contraptions. I had mine almost finished and was excitedly wondering whether or not it would work when suddenly don Juan stopped and looked at his left wrist, as if he were checking a watch which he had never had, and said that according to his timepiece it was lunchtime. I was holding a long stick, which I was trying to make into a hoop by bending it in a circle, I automatically put it down with the rest of my hunting paraphernalia.
Don Juan looked at me with an expression of curiosity. Then he made the wailing sound of a factory siren at lunchtime. I laughed. His siren sound was perfect. I walked towards him and noticed that he was staring at me. He shook his head from side to side.
"I'll be damned," he said.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
He again made the long wailing sound of a factory whistle.
"Lunch is over," he said." Go back to work."
I felt confused for an instant, but then I thought that he was joking, perhaps because we really had nothing to make lunch with. I had been so engrossed with the rodents that I had forgotten we had no provisions. I picked up the stick again and tried to bend it. After a moment don Juan again blew his "whistle".
"Time to go home," he said.
He examined his imaginary watch and then looked at me and winked.
"It's five o'clock," he said with an air of someone revealing a secret.
I thought that he had suddenly become fed up with hunting and was calling the whole thing off. I simply put everything down and began to get ready to leave. I did not look at him. I presumed that he also was preparing his gear. When I was through I looked up and saw him sitting cross-legged a few feet away.
"I'm through," I said." We can go anytime."
He got up and climbed a rock. He stood there, five or six feet above the ground, looking at me.
He put his hands on either side of his mouth and made a very prolonged and piercing sound. It was like a magnified factory siren. He turned around in a complete circle, making the wailing sound.
"What are you doing, don Juan?" I asked.
He said that he was giving the signal for the whole world to go home. I was completely
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baffled. I could not figure out whether he was joking or whether he had simply flipped his lid. I watched him intently and tried to relate what he was doing to something he may have said before.
We had hardly talked at all during the morning and I could not remember anything of importance.
Don Juan was still standing on top of the rock. He looked at me, smiled and winked again. I suddenly became alarmed. Don Juan put his hands on both sides of his mouth and let out another long whistle-like sound.
He said that it was eight o'clock in the morning and that I had to set up my gear again because we had a whole day ahead of us.
I was completely confused by then. In a matter of minutes my fear mounted to an irresistible desire to run away from the scene. I thought don Juan was crazy. I was about to flee when he slid down from the rock and came to me, smiling.
"You think I'm crazy, don't you?" he asked.
I told him that he was frightening me out of my wits with his unexpected behavior.
He said that we were even. I did not understand what he meant. I was deeply preoccupied with the thought that his acts seemed thoroughly insane. He explained that he had deliberately tried to scare me out of my wits with the heaviness of his unexpected behavior because I myself was driving him up the walls with the heaviness of my expected behavior. He added that my routines were as insane as his blowing his whistle.
I was shocked and asserted that I did not really have any routines. I told him that I believed my life was in fact a mess because of my lack of healthy routines.
Don Juan laughed and signaled me to sit down by him. The whole situation had mysteriously changed again. My fear had vanished as soon as he had begun to talk.
"What are my routines?" I asked.
"Everything you do is a routine."
"Aren't we all that way?"
"Not all of us. I don't do things out of routine."
"What prompted all this, don Juan? What did I do or what did I say that made you act the way you did?"
"You were worrying about lunch."
"I did not say anything to you; how did you know that I was worrying about lunch?"
"You worry about eating every day around noontime, and around six in the evening, and around eight in the morning," he said with a malicious grin. "You worry about eating at those times even if you're not hungry.
"All I had to do to show your routine spirit was to blow my whistle. Your spirit is trained to work with a signal."
He stared at me with a question in his eyes. I could not defend myself.
"Now you're getting ready to make hunting into a routine," he went on. "You have already set your pace in hunting; you talk at a certain time, eat at a certain time, and fall asleep at a certain time."
I had nothing to say. The way don Juan had described my eating habits was the pattern I used for everything in my life. Yet I strongly felt that my life was less routine than that of most of my friends and acquaintances.
"You know a great deal about hunting now," don Juan continued. "It'll be easy for you to realize that a good hunter knows one thing above all - he knows the routines of his prey. That's what makes him a good hunter.
"If you would remember the way I have proceeded in teaching you hunting, you would perhaps understand what I mean. First I taught you how to make and set up your traps, then I taught you the routines of the game you were after, and then we tested the traps against their routines. Those parts are the outside forms of hunting.
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"Now I have to teach you the final, and by far the most difficult, part. Perhaps years will pass before you can say that you understand it and that you're a hunter."
Don Juan paused as if to give me time. He took off his hat and imitated the grooming movements of the rodents we had been observing. It was very funny to me. His round head made him look like one of those rodents.
"To be a hunter is not just to trap game," he went on. "A hunter that is worth his salt does not catch game because he sets his traps, or because he knows the routines of his prey, but because he himself has no routines. This is his advantage. He is not at all like the animals he is after, fixed by heavy routines and predictable quirks; he is free, fluid, unpredictable."
What don Juan was saying sounded to me like an arbitrary and irrational idealization. I could not conceive of life without routines. I wanted to be very honest with him and not just agree or disagree with him. I felt that what he had in mind was not possible to accomplish by me or by anyone.
"I don't care how you feel," he said." In order to be a hunter you must disrupt the routines of your life. You have done well in hunting. You have learned quickly and now you can see that you are like your prey, easy to predict."
I asked him to be specific and give me concrete examples.
"I am talking about hunting," he said calmly. "Therefore I am concerned with the things animals do; the places they eat; the place, the manner, the time they sleep; where they nest; how they walk. These are the routines I am pointing out to you so you can become aware of them in your own being.
"You have observed the habits of animals in the desert. They eat or drink at certain places, they nest at specific spots, they leave their tracks in specific ways; in fact, everything they do can be foreseen or reconstructed by a good hunter.
"As I told you before, in my eyes you behave like your prey. Once in my life someone pointed out the same thing to me, so you're not unique in that. All of us behave like the prey we are after.
That, of course, also makes us prey for something or someone else. Now, the concern of a hunter, who knows all this, is to stop being a prey himself. Do you see what I mean?"
I again expressed the opinion that his proposition was unattainable.
"It takes time," don Juan said. "You could begin by not eating I lunch every single day at twelve o'clock."
He looked at me and smiled benevolently. His expression was very funny and made me laugh.
"There are certain animals, however, that are impossible to track," he went on. "There are certain types of deer, for instance, which a fortunate hunter might be able to come across, by sheer luck, once in his lifetime."
Don Juan paused dramatically and looked at me piercingly. He seemed to be waiting for a question, but I did not have any.
"What do you think makes them so difficult to find and so unique?" he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders because I did not know what to say.
"They have no routines," he said in a tone of revelation. "That's what makes them magical."
"A deer has to sleep at night," I said."Isn't that a routine?"
"Certainly, if the deer sleeps every night at a specific time and in one specific place. But those magical beings do not behave like that. In fact, someday you may verify this for yourself. Perhaps it'll be your fate to chase one of them for the rest of your life."
"What do you mean by that?"
"You like hunting; perhaps someday, in some place in the world, your path may cross the path of a magical being and you might go after it.
"A magical being is a sight to behold. I was fortunate enough to cross paths with one. Our encounter took place after I had learned and practiced a great deal of hunting. Once I was in a
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forest of thick trees in the mountains of central Mexico when suddenly I heard a sweet whistle. It was unknown to me; never in all my years of roaming in the wilderness had I heard such a sound.
I could not place it in the terrain; it seemed to come from different places. I thought that perhaps I was surrounded by a herd or a pack of some unknown animals.
"I heard the tantalizing whistle once more; it seemed to come from everywhere. I realized then my good fortune. I knew it was a magical being, a deer. I also knew that a magical deer is aware of the routines of ordinary men and the routines of hunters.
"It is very easy to figure out what an average man would do in a situation like that. First of all his fear would immediately turn him into a prey. Once he becomes a prey he has two courses of action left. He either flees or he makes his stand. If he is not armed he would ordinarily flee into the open field to run for his life. If he is armed he could get his weapon ready and would then make his stand either by freezing on the spot or by dropping to the ground.
"A hunter, on the other hand, when he stalks in the wilderness would never walk into any place without figuring out his points of protection, therefore he would immediately take cover.
He might drop his poncho on the ground or he might hang it from a branch as a decoy and then he would hide and wait until the game makes its next move.
"So, in the presence of the magical deer I didn't behave like either. I quickly stood on my head and began to wail softly; I actually wept tears and sobbed for such a long time that I was about to faint. Suddenly I felt a soft breeze; something was sniffing my hair behind my right ear. I tried to turn my head to see what it was, and I tumbled down and sat up in time to see a radiant creature staring at me. The deer looked at me and I told him I would not harm him. And the deer talked to me."
Don Juan stopped and looked at me. I smiled involuntarily. The idea of a talking deer was quite incredible, to put it mildly.
"He talked to me," don Juan said with a grin.
"The deer talked?"
"He did."
Don Juan stood and picked up his bundle of hunting paraphernalia.
"Did it really talk?" I asked in a tone of perplexity.
Don Juan roared with laughter.
"What did it say?" I asked half in jest.
I thought he was pulling my leg. Don Juan was quiet for a moment, as if he were trying to remember, then his eyes brightened as he told me what the deer had said.
"The magical deer said, "Hello friend”,” don Juan went on. "And I answered, "Hello." Then he asked me, "Why are you crying?" and I said, "Because I'm sad." Then the magical creature came to my ear and said as clearly as I am speaking now, "Don't be sad"."
Don Juan stared into my eyes. He had a glint of sheer mischievousness. He began to laugh uproariously.
I said that his dialogue with the deer had been sort of dumb.
"What did you expect?" he asked, still laughing. "I'm an Indian."
His sense of humour was so outlandish that all I could do was laugh with him.
"You don't believe that a magical deer talks, do you?"
"I'm sorry but I just can't believe things like that can happen," I said.
"I don't blame you," he said reassuringly. "It's one of the darndest things."
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9. The Last Battle on Earth
Monday, 24 July 1961
Around mid-afternoon, after we had roamed for hours in the desert, don Juan chose a place to rest in a shaded area. As soon as we sat down he began talking. He said that I had learned a great deal about hunting, but I had not changed as much as he had wished.
"It's not enough to know how to make and set up traps," he said. "A hunter must live as a hunter in order to draw the most out of his life. Unfortunately, changes are difficult and happen very slowly; sometimes it takes years for a man to become convinced of the need to change. It took me years, but maybe I didn't have a knack for hunting. I think for me the most difficult thing was to really want to change."
I assured him that I understood his point. In fact, since he had begun to teach me how to hunt I also had begun to reassess my actions. Perhaps the most dramatic discovery for me was that I liked don Juan's ways. I liked don Juan as a person. There was something solid about his behavior; the way he conducted himself left no doubts about his mastery, and yet he had never exercised his advantage to demand anything from me. His interest in changing my way of life, I felt, was akin to an impersonal suggestion, or perhaps it was akin to an authoritative commentary on my failures. He had made me very aware of my failings, yet I could not see how his ways would remedy anything in me. I sincerely believed that, in light of what I wanted to do in my life, his ways would have only brought me misery and hardship, hence the impasse. However, I had learned to respect his mastery, which had always been expressed in terms of beauty and precision.
"I have decided to shift my tactics," he said.
I asked him to explain; his statement was vague and I was not sure whether or not he was referring to me.
"A good hunter changes his ways as often as he needs," he replied. "You know that yourself."
"What do you have in mind, don Juan?"
"A hunter must not only know about the habits of his prey, he also must know that there are powers on this earth that guide men and animals and everything that is living."
He stopped talking. I waited but he seemed to have come to the end of what he wanted to say.
"What kind of powers are you talking about?" I asked after a long pause.
"Powers that guide our lives and our deaths."
Don Juan stopped talking and seemed to be having tremendous difficulty in deciding what to say. He rubbed his hands and shook his head, puffing out his jaws. Twice he signaled me to be quiet as I started to ask him to explain his cryptic statements.
"You won't be able to stop yourself easily," he finally said. "I know that you're stubborn, but that doesn't matter. The more stubborn you are the better it'll be when you finally succeed in changing yourself."
"I am trying my best," I said.
"No. I disagree. You're not trying your best. You just said that because it sounds good to you;
in fact, you've been saying the same thing about everything you do. You've been trying your best for years to no avail. Something must be done to remedy that."
I felt compelled, as usual, to defend myself. Don Juan seemed to aim, as a rule, at my very weakest points. I remembered then that every time I had attempted to defend myself against his criticisms I had ended up feeling like a fool, and I stopped myself in the midst of a long explanatory speech.
Don Juan examined me with curiosity and laughed. He said in a very kind tone that he had already told me that all of us were fools. I was not an exception.
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"You always feel compelled to explain your acts, as if you were the only man on earth who's wrong," he said. "It's your old feeling of importance. You have too much of it; you also have too much personal history. On the other hand, you don't assume responsibility for your acts; you're not using your death as an adviser, and above all, you are too accessible. In other words, your life is as messy as it was before I met you."
Again I had a genuine surge of pride and wanted to argue that he was wrong. He gestured me to be quiet.
"One must assume responsibility for being in a weird world," he said. "We are in a weird world, you know."
I nodded my head affirmatively.
"We're not talking about the same thing," he said. "For you the world is weird because if you're not bored with it you're at odds with it. For me the world is weird because it is stupendous, awesome, mysterious, unfathomable; my interest has been to convince you that you must assume responsibility for being here, in this marvelous world, in this marvelous desert, in this marvelous time. I wanted to convince you that you must learn to make every act count, since you are going to be here for only a short while, in fact, too short for witnessing all the marvels of it."
I insisted that to be bored with the world or to be at odds with it was the human condition.
"So, change it," he replied dryly. "If you do not respond to that challenge you are as good as dead."
He dared me to name an issue, an item in my life that had engaged all my thoughts. I said art. I had always wanted to be an artist and for years I had tried my hand at that. I still had the painful memory of my failure.
"You have never taken the responsibility for being in this unfathomable world," he said in an indicting tone. "Therefore, you were never an artist, and perhaps you'll never be a hunter."
"This is my best, don Juan."
"No. You don't know what your best is."
"I am doing all I can."
"You're wrong again. You can do better. There is one simple thing wrong with you - you think you have plenty of time."
He paused and looked at me as if waiting for my reaction.
"You think you have plenty of time," he repeated.
"Plenty of time for what, don Juan?"
"You think your life is going to last forever."
"No. I don't."
"Then, if you don't think your life is going to last forever, what are you waiting for? Why the hesitation to change?"
"Has it ever occurred to you, don Juan, that I may not want to change?"
"Yes, it has occurred to me. I did not want to change either, just like you. However, I didn't like my life; I was tired of it, just like you. Now I don't have enough of it."
I vehemently asserted that his insistence about changing my way of life was frightening and arbitrary. I said that I really agreed with him, at a certain level, but the mere fact that he was always the master that called the shots made the situation untenable for me.
"You don't have time for this display, you fool," he said in a severe tone. "This, whatever you're doing now, may be your last act on earth. It may very well be your last battle. There is no power which could guarantee that you are going to live one more minute."
"I know that," I said with contained anger.
"No. You don't. If you knew that you would be a hunter."
I contended that I was aware of my impending death but it was useless to talk or think about it, since I could not do anything to avoid it. Don Juan laughed and said I was like a comedian going
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mechanically through a routine.
"If this were your last battle on earth, I would say that you I are an idiot," he said calmly. "You are wasting your last act on earth in some stupid mood."
We were quiet for a moment. My thoughts ran rampant. He was right, of course.
"You have no time, my friend, no time. None of us have time," he said.
"I agree, don Juan, but-"
"Don't just agree with me," he snapped. "You must, instead of agreeing so easily, act upon it.
Take the challenge. Change."
"Just like that?"
"That's right. The change I'm talking about never takes place by degrees; it happens suddenly.
And you are not preparing yourself for that sudden act that will bring a total change."
I believed he was expressing a contradiction. I explained to him that if I were preparing myself to change I was certainly changing by degrees.
"You haven't changed at all," he said. "That is why you believe you're changing little by little.
Yet, perhaps you will surprise yourself someday by changing suddenly and without a single warning. I know this is so, and thus I don't lose sight of my interest in convincing you."
I could not persist in my arguing. I was not sure of what I really wanted to say. After a moment's pause don Juan went on explaining his point.
"Perhaps I should put it in a different way," he said. "What I recommend you to do is to notice that we do not have any assurance that our lives will go on indefinitely. I have just said that change comes suddenly and unexpectedly, and so does death. What do you think we can do about it?"
I thought he was asking a rhetorical question, but he made a gesture with his eyebrows urging me to answer.
"To live as happily as possible," I said.
"Right! But do you know anyone who lives happily?"
My first impulse was to say yes; I thought I could use a number of people I knew as examples.
On second thought, however, I knew my effort would only be an empty attempt at exonerating myself.
"No," I said. "I really don't."
"I do," don Juan said. "There are some people who are very careful about the nature of their acts. Their happiness is to act with the full knowledge that they don't have time; therefore, their acts have a peculiar power; their acts have a sense of..."
Don Juan seemed to be at a loss for words. He scratched his temples and smiled. Then suddenly he stood up as if he were through with our conversation. I beseeched him to finish what he was telling me. He sat down and puckered up his lips.
"Acts have power," he said. "Especially when the person acting knows that those acts are his last battle. There is a strange consuming happiness in acting with the full knowledge that whatever one is doing may very well be one's last act on earth. I recommend that you reconsider your life and bring your acts into that light."
I disagreed with him. Happiness for me was to assume that there was an inherent continuity to my acts and that I would be able to continue doing, at will, whatever I was doing at the moment, especially if I was enjoying it. I told him that my disagreement was not a banal one but stemmed from the conviction that the world and myself had a determinable continuity.
Don Juan seemed to be amused by my efforts to make sense. He laughed, shook his head, scratched his hair, and finally when I talked about a "determinable continuity" threw his hat to the ground and stamped on it.
I ended up laughing at his clowning.
"You don't have time, my friend," he said. "That is the misfortune of human beings. None of
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us have sufficient time, and your continuity has no meaning in this awesome, mysterious world.
"Your continuity only makes you timid," he said. "Your acts cannot possibly have the flair, the power, the compelling force of the acts performed by a man who knows that he is fighting his last battle on earth. In other words, your continuity does not make you happy or powerful."
I admitted that I was afraid of thinking I was going to die and accused him of causing great apprehension in me with his constant talk and concern about death.
"But we are all going to die," he said.
He pointed towards some hills in the distance.
"There is something out there waiting for me, for sure; and I will join it, also for sure. But perhaps you're different and death is not waiting for you at all."
He laughed at my gesture of despair.
"I don't want to think about it, don Juan."
"Why not?"
"It is meaningless. If it is out there waiting for me why should I worry about it?"
"I didn't say that you have to worry about it."
"What am I supposed to do then?"
"Use it. Focus your attention on the link between you and your death, without remorse or sadness or worrying. Focus your attention on the fact you don't have time and let your acts flow accordingly. Let each of your acts be your last battle on earth. Only under those conditions will your acts have their rightful power. Otherwise they will be, for as long as you live, the acts of a timid man."
"Is it so terrible to be a timid man?"
"No. It isn't if you are going to be immortal, but if you are going to die there is no time for timidity, simply because timidity makes you, cling to something that exists only in your thoughts.
It soothes you while everything is at a lull, but then the awesome, mysterious world will open its mouth for you, as it will open for every one of us, and then you will realize that your sure ways were not sure at all. Being timid prevents us from examining and exploiting our lot as men."
"It is not natural to live with the constant idea of our death, don Juan."
"Our death is waiting and this very act we're performing now may well be our last battle on earth," he replied in a solemn voice. "I call it a battle because it is a struggle. Most people move from act to act without any struggle or thought. A hunter, on the contrary, assesses every act; and since he has an intimate knowledge of his death, he proceeds judiciously, as if every act were his last battle. Only a fool would fail to notice the advantage a hunter has over his fellow men. a hunter gives his last battle its due respect. It's only natural that his last act on earth should be the best of himself. It's pleasurable that way. It dulls the edge of his fright."
"You are right," I conceded. "It's just hard to accept."
"It'll take years for you to convince yourself and then it'll take years for you to act accordingly.
I only hope you have time left."
"I get scared when you say that," I said.
Don Juan examined me with a serious expression on his face.
"I've told you, this is a weird world," he said. "The forces that guide men are unpredictable, awesome, yet their splendor is something to witness."
He stopped talking and looked at me again. He seemed to be on the verge of revealing something to me, but he checked himself and smiled.
"Is there something that guides us?" I asked.
"Certainly. There are powers that guide us."
"Can you describe them?"
"Not really, except to call them forces, spirits, airs, winds, or anything like that."
I wanted to probe him further, but before I could ask anything else he stood up. I stared at him,
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flabbergasted. He had stood up in one single movement; his body simply jerked up and he was on his feet.
I was still pondering upon the unusual skill that would be needed in order to move with such speed when he told me in a dry tone of command to stalk a rabbit, catch it, kill it, skin it, and roast the meat before the twilight.
He looked up at the sky and said that I might have enough time.
I automatically started off, proceeding the way I had done scores of times. Don Juan walked beside me and followed my movements with a scrutinizing look. I was very calm and moved carefully and I had no trouble at all in catching a male rabbit.
"Now kill it," don Juan said dryly.
I reached into the trap to grab hold of the rabbit. I had it by the ears and was pulling it out when a sudden sensation of terror invaded me. For the first time since don Juan had begun to teach me to hunt it occurred to me that he had never taught me how to kill game. In the scores of times we had roamed in the desert he himself had only killed one rabbit, two quail and one rattlesnake.
I dropped the rabbit and looked at don Juan.
"I can't kill it," I said.
"Why not?"
"I've never done that."
"But you've killed hundreds of birds and other animals."
"With a gun, not with my bare hands."
"What difference does it make? This rabbit's time is up."
Don Juan's tone shocked me; it was so authoritative, so knowledgeable, it left no doubts in my mind that he knew that the rabbit's time was up.
"Kill it!" he commanded with a ferocious look in his eyes.
"I can't."
He yelled at me that the rabbit had to die. He said that its roaming in that beautiful desert had come to an end. I had no business stalling, because the power or the spirit that guides rabbits had led that particular one into my trap, right at the edge of the twilight.
A series of confusing thoughts and feelings overtook me, as if the feelings had been out there waiting for me. I felt with agonizing clarity the rabbit's tragedy, to have fallen into my trap. In a matter of seconds my mind swept across the most crucial moments of my own life, the many times I had been the rabbit myself.
I looked at it, and it looked at me. The rabbit had backed up against the side of the cage; it was almost curled up, very quiet and motionless. We exchanged a sombre glance, and that glance, which I fancied to be of silent despair, cemented a complete identification on my part.
"The hell with it," I said loudly. "I won't kill anything. That rabbit goes free."
A profound emotion made me shiver. My arms trembled as I tried to grab the rabbit by the ears; it moved fast and I missed. I again tried and fumbled once more. I became desperate. I had the sensation of nausea and quickly kicked the trap in order to smash it and let the rabbit go free.
The cage was unsuspectedly strong and did not break as I thought it would. My despair mounted to an unbearable feeling of anguish. Using all my strength, I stamped on the edge of the cage with my right foot. The sticks cracked loudly. I pulled the rabbit out. I had a moment of relief, which was shattered to bits in the next instant. The rabbit hung limp in my hand. It was dead.
I did not know what to do. I became preoccupied with finding out how it had died. I turned to don Juan. He was staring at me. A feeling of terror sent a chill through my body.
I sat down by some rocks. I had a terrible headache. Don Juan put his hand on my head and whispered in my ear that I had to skin the rabbit and roast it before the twilight was over.
I felt nauseated. He very patiently talked to me as if he were talking to a child. He said that the
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powers that guided men or animals had led that particular rabbit to me, in the same way they will lead me to my own death. He said the rabbit's death had been a gift for me in exactly the same way my own death will be a gift for something or someone else.
I was dizzy. The simple events of that day had crushed me. I tried to think that it was only a rabbit; I could not, however, shake off the uncanny identification I had had with it.
Don Juan said that I needed to eat some of its meat, if only a morsel, in order to validate my finding.
"I can't do that," I protested meekly.
"We are dregs in the hands of those forces," he snapped at me. "So stop your self-importance and use this gift properly."
I picked up the rabbit; it was warm.
Don Juan leaned over and whispered in my ear, "Your trap was his last battle on earth. I told you, he had no more time to roam in this marvelous desert."
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10. Becoming Accessible to Power
Thursday, 17 August 1961
As soon as I got out of my car I complained to don Juan that I was not feeling well.
"Sit down, sit down," he said softly and almost led me by the hand to his porch. He smiled and patted me on the back.
Two weeks before, on 4 August, don Juan, as he had said, changed his tactics with me and allowed me to ingest some peyote buttons. During the height of my hallucinatory experience I played with a dog that lived in the house where the peyote session took place. Don Juan interpreted my interaction with the dog as a very special event. He contended that at moments of power, such as the one I had been living then, the world of ordinary affairs did not exist and nothing could be taken for granted, that the dog was not really a dog but the incarnation of Mescalito, the power or deity contained in peyote.
The post-effects of that experience were a general sense of fatigue and melancholy, plus the incidence of exceptionally vivid dreams and nightmares.
"Where's your writing gear?" don Juan asked as I sat down on the porch.
I had left my notebooks in my car. Don Juan walked back to the car and carefully pulled out my briefcase and brought it to my side.
He asked if I usually carried my briefcase when I walked. I said I did.
"That's madness," he said. "I've told you never to carry anything in your hands when you walk. Get a knapsack."
I laughed. The idea of carrying my notes in a knapsack was ludicrous. I told him that ordinarily I wore a suit and a knapsack over a three-piece suit would be a preposterous sight.
"Put your coat on over the knapsack," he said. "It is better that people think you're a hunchback than to ruin your body carrying all this around."
He urged me to get out my notebook and write. He seemed to be making a deliberate effort to put me at ease.
I complained again about the feeling of physical discomfort and the strange sense of unhappiness I was experiencing.
Don Juan laughed and said, "You're beginning to learn."
We then had a long conversation. He said that Mescalito, by allowing me to play with him, had pointed me out as a "chosen man" and that, although he was baffled by the omen because I was not an Indian, he was going to pass on to me some secret knowledge. He said that he had had a "benefactor" himself, who taught him how to become a "man of knowledge".
I sensed that something dreadful was about to happen. The revelation that I was his chosen man, plus the unquestionable strangeness of his ways and the devastating effect that peyote had had on me, created a state of unbearable apprehension and indecision. But don Juan disregarded my feelings and recommended that I should only think of the wonder of Mescalito playing with me.
"Think about nothing else," he said. "The rest will come to you of itself."
He stood up and patted me gently on the head and said in a very soft voice, "I am going to teach you how to become a warrior in the same manner I have taught you how to hunt. I must warn you, though, learning how to hunt has not made you into a hunter, nor would learning how to become a warrior make you one."
I experienced a sense of frustration, a physical discomfort that bordered on anguish. I complained about the vivid dreams and nightmares I was having. He seemed to deliberate for a moment and sat down again.
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"They're weird dreams," I said.
"You've always had weird dreams," he retorted.
"I'm telling you, this time they are truly more weird than anything I've ever had."
"Don't concern yourself. They are only dreams. Like the dreams of any ordinary dreamer, they don't have power. So what's the use of worrying about them or talking about them?"
"They bother me, don Juan. Isn't there something I can do to stop them?"
"Nothing. Let them pass," he said. "Now it's time for you to become accessible to power, and you are going to begin by tackling dreaming."
The tone of voice he used when he said "dreaming" made me think that he was using the word in a very particular fashion. I was pondering about a proper question to ask when he began to talk again.
"I've never told you about dreaming, because until now I was only concerned with teaching you how to be a hunter," he said. "A hunter is not concerned with the manipulation of power, therefore his dreams are only dreams. They might be poignant but they are not dreaming.
"A warrior, on the other hand, seeks power, and one of the avenues to power is dreaming. You may say that the difference between a hunter and a warrior is that a warrior is on his way to power, while a hunter knows nothing or very little about it.
"The decision as to who can be a warrior and who can only be a hunter is not up to us. That decision is in the realm of the powers that guide men. That's why your playing with Mescalito was such an important omen. Those forces guided you to me; they took you to that bus depot, remember? Some clown brought you to me. A perfect omen, a clown pointing you out. So, I taught you how to be a hunter. And then the other perfect omen, Mescalito himself playing with you. See what I mean?"
His weird logic was overwhelming. His words created visions of myself succumbing to something awesome and unknown, something which I had not bargained for, and which I had not conceived existed, even in my wildest fantasies.
"What do you propose I should do?" I asked.
"Become accessible to power; tackle your dreams," he replied, "You call them dreams because you have no power. A warrior, being a man who seeks power, doesn't call them dreams, he calls them real."
"You mean he takes his dreams as being reality?"
"He doesn't take anything as being anything else. What you call dreams are real for a warrior.
You must understand that a warrior is not a fool. A warrior is an immaculate hunter who hunts power; he's not drunk, or crazed, and he has neither the time nor the disposition to bluff, or to lie to himself, or to make a wrong move. The stakes are too high for that. The stakes are his trimmed orderly life which he has taken so long to tighten and perfect. He is not going to throw that away by making some stupid miscalculation, by taking something for being something else.
"Dreaming is real for a warrior because in it he can act deliberately, he can choose and reject, he can select from a variety of items those which lead to power, and then he can manipulate them and use them, while in an ordinary dream he cannot act deliberately."
"Do you mean then, don Juan, that dreaming is real?"
"Of course it is real."
"As real as what we are doing now?"
"If you want to compare things, I can say that it is perhaps more real. In dreaming you have power, you can change things; you may find out countless concealed facts; you can control whatever you want."
Don Juan's premises always had appealed to me at a certain level. I could easily understand his liking the idea that one could do anything in dreams, but I could not take him seriously. The jump was too great.
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We looked at each other for a moment. His statements were insane and yet he was, to the best of my knowledge, one of the most level-headed men I had ever met.
I told him that I could not believe he took his dreams to be reality. He chuckled as if he knew the magnitude of my untenable position, then he stood up without saying a word and walked inside his house.
I sat for a long time in a state of stupor until he called me to the back of his house. He had made some corn gruel and handed me a bowl.
I asked him about the time when one was awake. I wanted to know if he called it anything in particular. But he did not understand or did not want to answer.
"What do you call this, what we're doing now?" I asked, meaning that what we were doing was reality as opposed to dreams.
"I call it eating," he said and contained his laughter.
"I call it reality," I said. "Because our eating is actually taking place."
"'Dreaming also takes place," he replied, giggling. "And so does hunting, walking, laughing."
I did not persist in arguing. I could not, however, even if I stretched myself beyond my limits, accept his premise. He seemed to be delighted with my despair.
As soon as we had finished eating he casually stated that we were going to go for a hike, but we were not going to roam in the desert in the manner we had done before.
"It's different this time," he said. "From now on we're going to places of power; you're going to learn how to make yourself accessible to power."
I again expressed my turmoil. I said I was not qualified for that endeavor.
"Come on, you're indulging in silly fears," he said in a low voice, patting me on the back and smiling benevolently. "I've been catering to your hunter's spirit. You like to roam with me in this beautiful desert. It's too late for you to quit."
He began to walk into the desert chaparral. He signaled me with his head to follow him. I could have walked to my car and left, except that I liked to roam in that beautiful desert with him.
I liked the sensation, which I experienced only in his company, that this was indeed an awesome, mysterious, yet beautiful world. As he said, I was hooked.
Don Juan led me to the hills towards the east. It was a long hike. It was a hot day; the heat, however, which ordinarily would have been unbearable to me, was somehow unnoticeable.
We walked for quite a distance into a canyon until don Juan came to a halt and sat down in the shade of some boulders. I took some crackers out of my knapsack but he told me not to bother with them.
He said that I should sit in a prominent place. He pointed to a single almost round boulder ten or fifteen feet away and helped me climb to the top. I thought he was also going to sit there, but instead he just climbed part of the way in order to hand me some pieces of dry meat. He told me with a deadly serious expression that it was power meat and should be chewed very slowly and should not be mixed with any other food. He then walked back to the shaded area and sat down with his back against a rock. He seemed relaxed, almost sleepy. He remained in the same position until I had finished eating. Then he sat up straight and tilted his head to the right. He seemed to be listening attentively. He glanced at me two or three times, stood up abruptly, and began to scan the surroundings with his eyes, the way a hunter would do. I automatically froze on the spot and only moved my eyes in order to follow his movements. Very carefully he stepped behind some rocks, as if he were expecting game to come into the area where we were. I realized then that we were in a round covelike bend in the dry water canyon, surrounded by sandstone boulders. Don Juan suddenly came out from behind the rocks and smiled at me. He stretched his arms, yawned, and walked towards the boulder where I was. I relaxed my tense position and sat down.
"What happened?" I asked in a whisper. He answered me, yelling, that there was nothing around there to worry about.
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I felt an immediate jolt in my stomach. His answer was inappropriate and it was inconceivable to me that he would yell, unless he had a specific reason for it.
I began to slide down from the boulder, but he yelled that I should stay there a while longer.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
He sat down and concealed himself between two rocks at the base of the boulder where I was, and then he said in a very loud voice that he had only been looking around because he thought he had heard something.
I asked if he had heard a large animal. He put his hand to his ear and yelled that he was unable to hear me and that I should shout my words. I felt ill at ease yelling, but he urged me in a loud voice to speak up. I shouted that I wanted to know what was going on, and he shouted back that there was really nothing around there. He yelled, asking if I could see anything unusual from the top of the boulder. I said no, and he asked me to describe to him the terrain towards the south.
We shouted back and forth for a while and then he signaled me to come down. I joined him and he whispered in my ear that the yelling was necessary to make our presence known, because I had to make myself accessible to the power of that specific water hole.
I looked around but could not see the water hole. He pointed that we were standing on it.
"There's water here," he said in a whisper, "and also power. There's a spirit here and we have to lure it out; perhaps it will come after you."
I wanted to know more about the alleged spirit, but he insisted on total silence. He advised me to stay perfectly still and not let out a whisper or make the slightest movement to betray our presence.
Apparently it was easy for him to remain in complete immobility for hours; for me, however, it was sheer torture. My legs fell asleep, my back ached, and tension built up around my neck and shoulders. My entire body became numb and cold. I was in great discomfort when don Juan finally stood up. He just sprang to his feet and extended his hand to me to help me stand up.
As I was trying to stretch my legs I realized the inconceivable easiness with which don Juan had jumped up after hours of immobility. It took quite some time for my muscles to regain the elasticity needed for walking.
Don Juan headed back for the house. He walked extremely slowly. He set up a length of three paces as the distance I should observe in following him. He meandered around the regular route and crossed it four or five times in different directions; when he finally arrived at his house it was late afternoon. I tried to question him about the events of the day. He explained that talking was unnecessary. For the time being, I had to refrain from asking questions until we were in a place of power.
I was dying to know what he meant by that and tried to whisper a question, but he reminded me, with a cold severe look, that he meant business.
We sat on his porch for hours. I worked on my notes. From time to time he handed me a piece of dry meat; finally it was too dark to write. I tried to think about the new developments, but some part of myself refused to and I fell asleep.
Saturday, 19 August 1961
Yesterday morning don Juan and I drove to town and ate breakfast at a restaurant. He advised me not to change my eating habits too drastically.
"Your body is not used to power meat," he said. "You'd get sick if you didn't eat your food."
He himself ate heartily. When I joked about it he simply said, "My body likes everything."
Around noon we hiked back to the water canyon. We proceeded to make ourselves noticeable to the spirit by "noisy talk" and by a forced silence which lasted hours.
When we left the place, instead of heading back to the house, don Juan took off in the
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direction of the mountains. We reached some mild slopes first and then we climbed to the top of some high hills. There don Juan picked out a spot to rest in the open unshaded area. He told me that we had to wait until dusk and that I should conduct myself in the most natural fashion, which included asking all the questions I wanted.
"I know that the spirit is out there lurking," he said in a very low voice.
"Where?"
"Out there, in the bushes."
"What kind of spirit is it?"
He looked at me with a quizzical expression and retorted, "How many kinds are there?"
We both laughed. I was asking questions out of nervousness.
"It'll come out at dusk," he said. "We just have to wait."
I remained quiet. I had run out of questions.
"This is the time when we must keep on talking," he said.
"The human voice attracts spirits. There's one lurking out there now. We are making ourselves available to it, so keep on talking."
I experienced an idiotic sense of vacuity. I could not think , of anything to say. He laughed and patted me on the back.
"You're truly a pill," he said. "When you have to talk, you lose your tongue. Come on, beat your gums."
He made a hilarious gesture of beating his gums together, opening and closing his mouth with great speed.
"There are certain things we will talk about from now on only at places of power," he went on.
"I have brought you here, because this is your first trial. This is a place of power, and here we can talk only about power."
"I really don't know what power is," I said.
"Power is something a warrior deals with," he said. "At first it's an incredible, far-fetched affair; it is hard to even think about it. This is what's happening to you now. Then power becomes a serious matter; one may not have it, or one may not even fully realize that it exists, yet one knows that something is there, something which was not noticeable before. Next power is manifested as something uncontrollable that comes to oneself. It is not possible for me to say how it comes or what it really is. It is nothing and yet it makes marvels appear before your very eyes.
And finally power is something in oneself, something that controls one's acts and yet obeys one's command."
There was a short pause. Don Juan asked me if I had understood. I felt ludicrous saying I did.
He seemed to have noticed my dismay and chuckled.
"I am going to teach you right here the first step to power," he said as if he were dictating a letter to me. "I am going to teach you how to set up dreaming."
He looked at me and again asked me if I knew what he meant. I did not. I was hardly following him at all. He explained that to "set up dreaming " meant to have a concise and pragmatic control over the general situation of a dream, comparable to the control one has over any choice in the desert, such as climbing up a hill or remaining in the shade of a water canyon.
"You must start by doing something very simple," he said. "Tonight in your dreams you must look at your hands."
I laughed out loud. His tone was so factual that it was as if he were telling me to do something commonplace.
"Why do you laugh? " he asked with surprise.
"How can I look at my hands in my dreams?"
"Very simple, focus your eyes on them just like this."
He bent his head forward and stared at his hands with his mouth open. His gesture was so
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comical that I had to laugh.
"Seriously, how can you expect me to do that?" I asked.
"The way I've told you," he snapped. "You can, of course, look at whatever you goddamn please - your toes, or your belly, or your pecker, for that matter. I said your hands because that was the easiest thing for me to look at. Don't think it's a joke. Dreaming is as serious as seeing or dying or any other thing in this awesome, mysterious world.
"Think about it as something entertaining. Imagine all the inconceivable things you could accomplish. A man hunting for power has almost no limits in his dreaming."
I asked him to give me some pointers.
"There aren't any pointers," he said. "Just look at your hands."
"There must be more that you could tell me," I insisted.
He shook his head and squinted his eyes, staring at me in short glances.
"Every one of us is different," he finally said. "What you call pointers would only be what I myself did when I was learning. We are not the same; we aren't even vaguely alike."
"Maybe anything you'd say would help me."
"It would be simpler for you just to start looking at your hands."
He seemed to be organizing his thoughts and bobbed his head up and down.
"Every time you look at anything in your dreams it changes shape," he said after a long silence. "The trick in learning to set up dreaming is obviously not just to look at things but to sustain the sight of them. Dreaming is real when one has succeeded in bringing everything into focus. Then there is no difference between what you do when you sleep and what you do when you are not sleeping. Do you see what I mean?"
I confessed that although I understood what he had said I was incapable of accepting his premise. I brought up the point that in a civilized world there were scores of people who had delusions and could not distinguish what took place in the real world from what took place in their fantasies. I said that such persons were undoubtedly mentally ill, and my uneasiness increased every time he would recommend I should act like a crazy man.
After my long explanation don Juan made a comical gesture of despair by putting his hands to his cheeks and sighing loudly.
"Leave your civilized world alone," he said. "Let it be! Nobody is asking you to behave like a madman. I've already told you, a warrior has to be perfect in order to deal with the powers he hunts; how can you conceive that a warrior would not be able to tell things apart?"
"On the other hand, you, my friend, who know what the real world is, would fumble and die in no time at all if you would have to depend on your ability for telling what is real and what is not."
I obviously had not expressed what I really had in mind. Every time I protested I was simply voicing the unbearable frustration of being in an untenable position.
"I am not trying to make you into a sick, crazy man," don Juan went on. "You can do that yourself without my help. But the forces that guide us brought you to me, and I have been endeavoring to teach you to change your stupid ways and live the strong clean life of a hunter.
Then the forces guided you again and told me that you should learn to live the impeccable life of a warrior. Apparently you can't. But who can tell? We are as mysterious and as awesome as this unfathomable world, so who can tell what you're capable of?"
There was an underlying tone of sadness in don Juan's voice. I wanted to apologize, but he began to talk again.
"You don't have to look at your hands," he said. "Like I've said, pick anything at all. But pick one thing in advance and find it in your dreams. I said your hands because they'll always be there.
"When they begin to change shape you must move your sight away from them and pick something else, and then look at your hands again. It takes a long time to perfect this technique."
I had become so involved in writing that I had not noticed that it was getting dark. The sun
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had already disappeared over the horizon. The sky was cloudy and the twilight was imminent.
Don Juan stood up and gave furtive glances towards the south.
"Let's go," he said. "We must walk south until the spirit of the water hole shows itself."
We walked for perhaps half an hour. The terrain changed abruptly and we came to a barren area. There was a large round hill where the chaparral had burnt. It looked like a bald head. We walked towards it. I thought that don Juan was going to climb the mild slope, but he stopped instead and remained in a very attentive position. His body seemed to have tensed as a single unit and shivered for an instant. Then he relaxed again and stood limply. I could not figure out how his body could remain erect while his muscles were so relaxed.
At that moment a very strong gust of wind jolted me. Don Juan's body turned in the direction of the wind, towards the west. He did not use his muscles to turn, or at least he did not use them the way I would use mine to turn. Don Juan's body seemed rather to have been pulled from the outside. It was as if someone else had arranged his body to face a new direction. I kept on staring at him. He looked at me from the corner of his eye. The expression on his face was one of determination, purpose. All of his being was attentive, and I stared at him in wonder. I had never been in any situation that called for such a strange concentration.
Suddenly his body shivered as though he had been splashed by a sudden shower of cold water.
He had another jolt and then he started to walk as if nothing had happened.
I followed him. We flanked the naked hills on the east side until we were at the middle part of it; he stopped there, turning to face the west.
From where we stood, the top of the hill was not so round and smooth as it had seemed to be from the distance. There was a cave, or a hole, near the top. I looked at it fixedly because don Juan was doing the same. Another strong gust of wind sent a chill up my spine. Don Juan turned towards the south and scanned the area with his eyes.
"There!" he said in a whisper and pointed to an object on the ground.
I strained my eyes to see. There was something on the ground, perhaps twenty feet away. It was light brown and as I looked at it, it shivered. I focused all my attention on it. The object was almost round and seemed to be curled; in fact, it looked like a curled-up dog.
"What is it?" I whispered to don Juan.
"I don't know," he whispered back as he peered at the object. "What does it look like to you?"
I told him that it seemed to be a dog.
"Too large for a dog," he said matter-of-factly.
I took a couple of steps towards it, but don Juan stopped me gently. I stared at it again. It was definitely some animal that was either asleep or dead. I could almost see its head; its ears protruded like the ears of a wolf. By then I was definitely sure that it was a curled-up animal. I thought that it could have been a brown calf. I whispered that to don Juan. He answered that it was too compact to be a calf, besides its ears were pointed.
The animal shivered again and then I noticed that it was alive. I could actually see that it was breathing, yet it did not seem to breathe rhythmically. The breaths that it took were more like irregular shivers. I had a sudden realization at that moment.
"It's an animal that is dying," I whispered to don Juan.
"You're right," he whispered back. "But what kind of an animal?"
I could not make out its specific features. Don Juan took a couple of cautious steps towards it.
I followed him. It was quite dark by then and we had to take two more steps in order to keep the animal in view.
"Watch out," don Juan whispered in my ear. "If it is a dying animal it may leap on us with its last strength."
The animal, whatever it was, seemed to be on its last legs; its breathing was irregular, its body shook spasmodically, but it did not change its curled-up position. At a given moment, however, a
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tremendous spasm actually lifted the animal off the ground. I heard an inhuman shriek and the animal stretched its legs; its claws were more than frightening, they were nauseating. The animal tumbled on its side after stretching its legs and then rolled on its back.
I heard a formidable growl and don Juan's voice shouting, "Run for your life!"
And that was exactly what I did. I scrambled towards the top of the hill with unbelievable speed and agility. When I was halfway to the top I looked back and saw don Juan standing in the same place. He signaled me to come down. I ran down the hill.
"What happened?" I asked, completely out of breath.
"I think the animal is dead," he said.
We advanced cautiously towards the animal. It was sprawled on its back. As I came closer to it I nearly yelled with fright. I realized that it was not quite dead yet. Its body was still trembling.
Its legs, which were sticking up in the air, shook wildly. The animal was definitely in its last gasps.
I walked in front of don Juan. A new jolt moved the animal's body and I could see its head. I turned to don Juan, horrified. Judging by its body the animal was obviously a mammal, yet it had a beak, like a bird.
I stared at it in complete and absolute horror. My mind refused to believe it. I was dumbfounded. I could not even articulate a word. Never in my whole existence had I witnessed anything of that nature. Something inconceivable was there in front of my very eyes. I wanted don Juan to explain that incredible animal but I could only mumble to him. He was staring at me.
I glanced at him and glanced at the animal, and then something in me arranged the world and I knew at once what the animal was. I walked over to it and picked it up. It was a large branch of a bush. It had been burnt, and possibly the wind had blown some burnt debris which got caught in the dry branch and thus gave the appearance of a large bulging round animal. The colour of the burnt debris made it look light brown in contrast with the green vegetation.
I laughed at my idiocy and excitedly explained to don Juan that the wind blowing through it had made it look like a live animal. I thought he would be pleased with the way I had resolved the mystery, but he turned around and began walking to the top of the hill. I followed him. He crawled inside the depression that looked like a cave. It was not a hole but a shallow dent in the sandstone.
Don Juan took some small branches and used them to scoop up the dirt that had accumulated in the bottom of the depression.
"We have to get rid of the ticks," he said.
He signaled me to sit down and told me to make myself comfortable because we were going to spend the night there.
I began to talk about the branch, but he hushed me up.
"What you've done is no triumph," he said. "You've wasted a beautiful power, a power that blew life into that dry twig."
He said that a real triumph would have been for me to let go and follow the power until the world had ceased to exist. He did not seem to be angry with me or disappointed with my performance. He repeatedly stated that this was only the beginning, that it took time to handle power. He patted me on the shoulder and joked that earlier that day I was the person who knew what was real and what was not.
I felt embarrassed. I began to apologize for my tendency of always being so sure of my ways.
"It doesn't matter," he said."That branch was a real animal and it was alive at the moment the power touched it. Since what kept it alive was power, the trick was, like in dreaming, to sustain the sight of it. See what I mean?"
I wanted to ask something else, but he hushed me up and said that I should remain completely
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silent but awake all night and that he alone was going to talk for a while.
He said that the spirit, which knew his voice, might become subdued with the sound of it and leave us alone. He explained that the idea of making oneself accessible to power had serious overtones. Power was a devastating force that could easily lead to one's death and had to be treated with great care. Becoming available to power had to be done systematically, but always with great caution.
It involved making one's presence obvious by a contained display of loud talk or any other type of noisy activity, and then it was mandatory to observe a prolonged and total silence. a controlled outburst and a controlled quietness were the mark of a warrior. He said that properly I should have sustained the sight of the live monster for a while longer. In a controlled fashion, without losing my mind or becoming deranged with excitation or fear, I should have striven to "stop the world". He pointed out that after I had run up the hill for dear life I was in a perfect state for "stopping the world". Combined in that state were fear, awe, power and death; he said that such a state would be pretty hard to repeat.
I whispered in his ear, "What do you mean by "stopping the world"?"
He gave me a ferocious look before he answered that it was a technique practiced by those who were hunting for power, a technique by virtue of which the world as we know it was made to collapse.
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11. The Mood of a Warrior
I drove up to don Juan's house on Thursday, 31 August 1961, and before I even had a chance to greet him he stuck his head through the window of my car, smiled at me, and said, "We must drive quite a distance to a place of power and it's almost noon."
He opened the door of my car, sat down next to me in the front seat, and directed me to drive south for about seventy miles; we then turned east on to a dirt road and followed it until we had reached the slopes of the mountains. I parked my car off the road in a depression don Juan picked because it was deep enough to hide the car from view. From there we went directly to the top of the low hills, crossing a vast flat desolate area.
When it got dark don Juan selected a place to sleep. He demanded complete silence.
The next day we ate frugally and continued our journey in an easterly direction. The vegetation was no longer desert shrubbery but thick green mountain bushes and trees.
Around mid-afternoon we climbed to the top of a gigantic bluff of conglomerate rock which looked like a wall. Don Juan sat down and signaled me to sit down also.
"This is a place of power," he said after a moment's pause. "This is the place where warriors were buried a long time ago."
At that instant a crow flew right above us, cawing. Don Juan followed its flight with a fixed gaze.
I examined the rock and was wondering how and where the warriors had been buried when he tapped me on the shoulder.
"Not here, you fool," he said, smiling. "Down there."
He pointed to the field right below us at the bottom of the bluff, towards the east; he explained that the field in question was surrounded by a natural corral of boulders. From where I was sitting I saw an area which was perhaps a hundred yards in diameter and which looked like a perfect circle. Thick bushes covered its surface, camouflaging the boulders. I would not have noticed its perfect roundness if don Juan had not pointed it out to me.
He said that there were scores of such places scattered in the old world of the Indians. They were not exactly places of power, like certain hills or land formations which were the abode of spirits, but rather places of enlightenment where one could be taught, where one could find solutions to dilemmas.
"All you have to do is come here," he said. "Or spend the night on this rock in order to rearrange your feelings."
"Are we going to spend the night here?"
"I thought so, but a little crow just told me not to do that."
I tried to find out more about the crow but he hushed me up with an impatient movement of his hand.
"Look at that circle of boulders," he said. "Fix it in your memory and then someday a crow will lead you to another one of these places. The more perfect its roundness is, the greater its power."
"Are the warriors' bones still buried here?"
Don Juan made a comical gesture of puzzlement and then smiled broadly.
"This is not a cemetery," he said. "Nobody is buried here. I said warriors were once buried here. I meant they used to come here to bury themselves for a night, or for two days, or for whatever length of time they needed to. I did not mean dead people's bones are buried here. I'm not concerned with cemeteries. There is no power in them. There is power in the bones of a warrior, though, but they are never in cemeteries. And there is even more power in the bones of a man of knowledge, yet it would be practically impossible to find them."
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"Who is a man of knowledge, don Juan?"
"Any warrior could become a man of knowledge. As I told you, a warrior is an impeccable hunter that hunts power. If he succeeds in his hunting he can be a man of knowledge."
"What do you..."
He stopped my question with a movement of his hand. He stood up, signaled me to follow, and began descending on the steep east side of the bluff. There was a definite trail in the almost perpendicular face, leading to the round area.
We slowly worked our way down the perilous path, and when we reached the bottom floor don Juan, without stopping at all, led me through the thick chaparral to the middle of the circle.
There he used some thick dry branches to sweep a clean spot for us to sit. The spot was also perfectly round.
"I intended to bury you here all night," he said. "But I know now that it is not time yet. You don't have power. I'm going to bury you only for a short while."
I became very nervous with the idea of being enclosed and asked how he was planning to bury me. He giggled like a child and began collecting dry branches. He did not let me help him and said I should sit down and wait.
He threw the branches he was collecting inside the clean circle. Then he made me lie down with my head towards the east, put my jacket under my head, and made a cage around my body.
He constructed it by sticking pieces of branches about two and a half feet in length in the soft dirt;
the branches, which ended in forks, served as supports for some long sticks that gave the cage a frame and the appearance of an open coffin. He closed the boxlike cage by placing small branches and leaves over the long sticks, encasing me from the shoulders down. He let my head stick out with my jacket as a pillow.
He then took a thick piece of dry wood and, using it as a digging stick, he loosened the dirt around me and covered the cage with it.
The frame was so solid and the leaves were so well placed that no dirt came inside. I could move my legs freely and could actually slide in and out.
Don Juan said that ordinarily a warrior would construct the cage and then slip into it and seal it from the inside.
"How about the animals?" I asked. "Can they scratch the surface dirt and sneak into the cage and hurt the man?"
"No, that's not a worry for a warrior. It's a worry for you because you have no power. a warrior, on the other hand, is guided by his unbending purpose and can fend off anything. No rat, or snake, or mountain lion could bother him."
"What do they bury themselves for, don Juan?"
"For enlightenment and for power."
I experienced an extremely pleasant feeling of peace and satisfaction; the world at that moment seemed at ease. The quietness was exquisite and at the same time unnerving. I was not accustomed to that kind of silence. I tried to talk but he hushed me. After a while the tranquility of the place affected my mood. I began to think of my life and my personal history and experienced a familiar sensation of sadness and remorse. I told him that I did not deserve to be there, that his world was strong and fair and I was weak, and that my spirit had been distorted by the circumstances of my life.
He laughed and threatened to cover my head with dirt if I kept on talking in that vein. He said that I was a man. And like any man I deserved everything that was a man's lot - joy, pain, sadness and struggle - and that the nature of one's acts was unimportant as long as one acted as a warrior.
Lowering his voice to almost a whisper, he said that if I really felt that my spirit was distorted I should simply fix it - purge it, make it perfect - because there was no other task in our entire lives which was more worthwhile. Not to fix the spirit was to seek death, and that was the same
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as to seek nothing, since death was going to overtake us regardless of anything.
He paused for a long time and then he said with a tone of profound conviction, "To seek the perfection of the warrior's spirit is the only task worthy of our manhood."
His words acted as a catalyst. I felt the weight of my past actions as an unbearable and hindering load. I admitted that there was no hope for me. I began to weep, talking about my life. I said that I had been roaming for such a long time that I had become callous to pain and sadness, except on certain occasions when I would realize my aloneness and my helplessness.
He did not say anything. He grabbed me by the armpits and pulled me out of the cage. I sat up when he let go of me. He also sat down. An uneasy silence set in between us. I thought he was giving me time to compose myself. I took my notebook and scribbled out of nervousness.
"You feel like a leaf at the mercy of the wind, don't you?" he finally said, staring at me.
That was exactly the way I felt. He seemed to empathize with me. He said that my mood reminded him of a song and began to sing in a low tone; his singing voice was very pleasing and the lyrics carried me away: "I'm so far away from the sky where I was born. Immense nostalgia invades my thoughts. Now that I am so alone and sad like a leaf in the wind, sometimes I want to weep, sometimes I want to laugh with longing." (Que lejos estoy del cielo donde he nacido.
Inmensa nostalgia invade mi pensamiento. Ahora que estoy tan solo y triste cual hoja al viento, quisiera llorar, quisiera reir de sentimiento.)
We did not speak for a long while. He finally broke the silence.
"Since the day you were born, one way or another, someone has been doing something to you," he said.
"That's correct," I said.
"And they have been doing something to you against your will."
"True."
"And by now you're helpless, like a leaf in the wind."
"That's correct. That's the way it is."
I said that the circumstances of my life had sometimes been devastating. He listened attentively but I could not figure out whether he was just being agreeable or genuinely concerned until I noticed that he was trying to hide a smile.
"No matter how much you like to feel sorry for yourself, you have to change that," he said in a soft tone. "It doesn't jibe with the life of a warrior."
He laughed and sang the song again but contorted the intonation of certain words; the result was a ludicrous lament. He pointed out that the reason I had liked the song was because in my own life I had done nothing else but find flaws with everything and lament. I could not argue with him. He was correct.
Yet I believed I had sufficient reason to justify my feeling of being like a leaf in the wind.
"The hardest thing in the world is to assume the mood of a warrior," he said. "It is of no use to be sad and complain and feel justified in doing so, believing that someone is always doing something to us. Nobody is doing anything to anybody, much less to a warrior.
"You are here, with me, because you want to be here. You should have assumed full responsibility by now, so the idea that you are at the mercy of the wind would be inadmissible."
He stood up and begin to disassemble the cage. He scooped the dirt back to where he had gotten it from and carefully scattered all the sticks in the chaparral. Then he covered the clean circle with debris, leaving the area as if nothing had ever touched it.
I commented on his proficiency. He said that a good hunter would know that we had been there no matter how careful he had been, because the tracks of men could not be completely erased.
He sat cross-legged and told me to sit down as comfortably as possible, facing the spot where he had buried me, and stay put until my mood of sadness had dissipated.
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"A warrior buries himself in order to find power, not to weep with self-pity," he said.
I attempted to explain but he made me stop with an impatient movement of his head. He said that he had to pull me out of the cage in a hurry because my mood was intolerable and he was afraid that the place would resent my softness and injure me.
"Self-pity doesn't jibe with power," he said. "The mood of a warrior calls for control over himself and at the same time it calls for abandoning himself."
"How can that be?" I asked. "How can he control and abandon himself at the same time?"
"It is a difficult technique," he said.
He seemed to deliberate whether or not to continue talking. Twice he was on the verge of saying something but he checked himself and smiled.
"You're not over your sadness yet," he said. "You still feel weak and there is no point in talking about the mood of a warrior now."
Almost an hour went by in complete silence. Then he abruptly asked me if I had succeeded in learning the dreaming techniques he had taught me. I had been practicing assiduously and had been able, after a monumental effort, to obtain a degree of control over my dreams. Don Juan was very right in saying that one could interpret the exercises as being entertainment. For the first time in my life I had been looking forward to going to sleep.
I gave him a detailed report of my progress.
It had been relatively easy for me to learn to sustain the image of my hands after I had learned to command myself to look at them. My visions, although not always of my own hands, would last a seemingly long time, until I would finally lose control and would become immersed in ordinary unpredictable dreams. I had no volition whatsoever over when I would give myself the command to look at my hands, or to look at other items of the dreams. It would just happen. At a given moment I would remember that I had to look at my hands and then at the surroundings.
There were nights, however, when I could not recall having done it at all.
He seemed to be satisfied and wanted to know what were the usual items I had been finding in my visions. I could not think of anything in particular and started elaborating on a nightmarish dream I had had the night before.
"Don't get so fancy," he said dryly.
I told him that I had been recording all the details of my dreams. Since I had begun to practice looking at my hands my dreams had become very compelling and my sense of recall had increased to the point that I could remember minute details. He said that to follow them was a waste of time, because details and vividness were in no way important.
"Ordinary dreams get very vivid as soon as you begin to set up dreaming," he said. "That vividness and clarity is a formidable barrier and you are worse off than anyone I have ever met in my life. You have the worst mania. You write down everything you can."
In all fairness, I believed what I was doing was appropriate. Keeping a meticulous record of my dreams was giving me a degree of clarity about the nature of the visions I had while sleeping.
"Drop it!" he said imperatively. "It's not helping anything. All you're doing is distracting yourself from the purpose of dreaming, which is control and power."
He lay down and covered his eyes with his hat and talked without looking at me.
"I'm going to remind you of all the techniques you must practice," he said. "First you must focus your gaze on your hands as the starting point. Then shift your gaze to other items and look at them in brief glances. Focus your gaze on as many things as you can. Remember that if you only glance briefly the images do not shift. Then go back to your hands.
"Every time you look at your hands you renew the power needed for dreaming, so in the beginning don't look at too many things. Four items will suffice every time. Later on, you may enlarge the scope until you can cover all you want, but as soon as the images begin to shift and you feel you are losing control go back to your hands.
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"When you feel you can gaze at things indefinitely you will be ready for a new technique. I'm going to teach you this new technique now, but I expect you to put it to use only when you are ready."
He was quiet for about fifteen minutes. Finally he sat up and looked at me.
"The next step in setting up dreaming is to learn to travel," he said. "The same way you have learned to look at your hands you can will yourself to move, to go places. First you have to establish a place you want to go to. Pick a well-known spot - perhaps your school, or a park, or a friend's house - then, will yourself to go there.
"This technique is very difficult. You must perform two tasks: you must will yourself to go to the specific locale; and then, when you have mastered that technique, you have to learn to control the exact time of your traveling."
As I wrote down his statements I had the feeling that I was really nuts. I was actually taking down insane instructions, knocking myself out in order to follow them. I experienced a surge of remorse and embarrassment.
"What are you doing to me, don Juan?" I asked, not really meaning it.
He seemed surprised. He stared at me for an instant and then smiled.
"You've been asking me the same question over and over. I'm not doing anything to you. You are making yourself accessible to power; you're hunting it and I'm just guiding you."
He tilted his head to the side and studied me. He held my chin with one hand and the back of my head with the other and then moved my head back and forth. The muscles of my neck were very tense and moving my head reduced the tension.
Don Juan looked up to the sky for a moment and seemed to examine something in it.
"It's time to leave," he said dryly and stood up.
We walked in an easterly direction until we came upon a patch of small trees in a valley between two large hills. It was almost five P.M. by then. He casually said that we might have to spend the night in that place. He pointed to the trees and said that there was water around there.
He tensed his body and began sniffing the air like an animal. I could see the muscles of his stomach contracting in very fast short spasms as he blew and inhaled through his nose in rapid succession. He urged me to do the same and find out by myself where the water was. I reluctantly tried to imitate him. After five or six minutes of fast breathing I was dizzy, but my nostrils had cleared out in an extraordinary way and I could actually detect the smell of river willows. I could not tell where they were, however.
Don Juan told me to rest for a few minutes and then he started me sniffing again. The second round was more intense. I could actually distinguish a whiff of river willow coming from my right. We headed in that direction and found, a good quarter of a mile away, a swamp-like spot with stagnant water. We walked around it to a slightly higher flat mesa. Above and around the mesa the chaparral was very thick.
"This place is crawling with mountain lions and other smaller cats," don Juan said casually, as if it were a commonplace observation.
I ran to his side and he broke out laughing.
"Usually I wouldn't come here at all," he said. "But the crow pointed out this direction. There must be something special about it."
"Do we really have to be here, don Juan?"
"We do. Otherwise I would avoid this place."
I had become extremely nervous. He told me to listen attentively to what he had to say.
"The only thing one can do in this place is hunt lions," he said. "So I'm going to teach you how to do that.
"There is a special way of constructing a trap for water rats that live around water holes. They serve as bait. The sides of the cage are made to collapse and very sharp spikes are put along the
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sides. The spikes are hidden when the trap is up and they do not affect anything unless something falls on the cage, in which case the sides collapse and the spikes pierce whatever hits the trap."
I could not understand what he meant but he made a diagram on the ground and showed me that if the side sticks of the cage were placed on pivot-like hollow spots on the frame, the cage would collapse on to either side if something pushed its top.
The spikes were pointed sharp slivers of hard wood, which were placed all around the frame and fixed to it.
Don Juan said that usually a heavy load of rocks was placed over a net of sticks, which were connected to the cage and hung way above it. When the mountain lion came upon the trap baited with the water rats, it would usually try to break it by pawing it with all its might; then the slivers would go through its paws and the cat, in a frenzy, would jump up, unleashing an avalanche of rocks on top of him.
"Someday you might need to catch a mountain lion," he said. "'They have special powers.
They are terribly smart and the only way to catch them is by fooling them with pain and with the smell of river willows."
With astounding speed and skill he assembled a trap and after a long wait he caught three chubby squirrel-like rodents.
He told me to pick a handful of willows from the edge of the swamp and made me rub my clothes with them. He did the same. Then, quickly and skillfully, he wove two simple carrying nets out of reeds, scooped up a large clump of green plants and mud from the swamp, and carried it back to the mesa, where he concealed himself.
In the meantime the squirrel-like rodents had begun to squeak very loudly.
Don Juan spoke to me from his hiding place and told me to use the other carrying net, gather a good chunk of mud and plants, and climb to the lower branches of a tree near the trap where the rodents were.
Don Juan said that he did not want to hurt the cat or the rodents, so he was going to hurl the mud at the lion if it came to the trap. He told me to be on the alert and hit the cat with my bundle after he had, in order to scare it away. He recommended I should be extremely careful not to fall out of the tree. His final instructions were to be so still that I would merge with the branches.
I could not see where don Juan was. The squealing of the rodents became extremely loud and finally it was so dark that I could hardly distinguish the general features of the terrain. I heard a sudden and close sound of soft steps and a muffled catlike exhalation, then a very soft growl and the squirrel-like rodents ceased to squeak. It was right then that I saw the dark mass of an animal right under the tree where I was. Before I could even be sure that it was a mountain lion it charged against the trap, but before it reached it something hit it and made it recoil, I hurled my bundle, as don Juan had told me to do. I missed, yet it made a very loud noise. At that instant don Juan let out a series of penetrating yells that sent chills through my spine, and the cat, with extraordinary agility, leaped to the mesa and disappeared.
Don Juan kept on making the penetrating noises a while longer and then he told me to come down from the tree, pick up the cage with the squirrels, run up to the mesa, and get to where he was as fast as I could.
In an incredibly short period of time I was standing next to don Juan. He told me to imitate his yelling as close as possible in order to keep the lion off while he dismantled the cage and let the rodents free.
I began to yell but could not produce the same effect. My voice was raspy because of the excitation.
He said I had to abandon myself and yell with real feeling, because the lion was still around.
Suddenly I fully realized the situation. The lion was real. I let out a magnificent series of piercing yells.
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Don Juan roared with laughter.
He let me yell for a moment and then he said we had to leave the place as quietly as possible, because the lion was no fool and was probably retracing its steps back to where we were.
"He'll follow us for sure," he said. "No matter how careful we are we'll leave a trail as wide as the Pan American highway."
I walked very close to don Juan. From time to time he would stop for an instant and listen. At one moment he began to run in the dark and I followed him with my hands extended in front of my eyes to protect myself from the branches.
We finally got to the base of the bluff where we had been earlier. Don Juan said that if we succeeded in climbing to the top without being mauled by the lion we were safe. He went up first to show me the way. We started to climb in the dark. I did not know how, but I followed him with dead sure steps. When we were near the top I heard a peculiar animal cry. It was almost like the mooing of a cow, except that it was a bit longer and coarser.
"Up! Up!" don Juan yelled.
I scrambled to the top in total darkness ahead of don Juan. When he reached the flat top of the bluff I was already sitting catching my breath.
He rolled on the ground. I thought for a second that the exertion had been too great for him, but he was laughing at my speedy climb.
We sat in complete silence for a couple of hours and then we started back to my car.
Sunday, 3 September 1961
Don Juan was not in the house when I woke up. I worked over my notes and had time to get some firewood from the surrounding chaparral before he returned. I was eating when he walked into the house. He began to laugh at what he called my routine of eating at noon, but he helped himself to my sandwiches.
I told him that what had happened with the mountain lion was baffling to me. In retrospect, it all seemed unreal. It was as if everything had been staged for my benefit. The succession of events had been so rapid that I really had not had time to be afraid. I had had enough time to act, but not to deliberate upon my circumstances. In writing my notes the question of whether I had really seen the mountain lion came to mind. The dry branch was still fresh in my memory.
"It was a mountain lion," don Juan said imperatively.
"Was it a real flesh and blood animal?"
"Of course."
I told him that my suspicions had been roused because, of the easiness of the total event. It was as if the lion had been waiting out there and had been trained to do exactly what don Juan had planned.
He was unruffled by my barrage of skeptical remarks. He laughed at me.
"You're a funny fellow," he said. "You saw and heard the cat. It was right under the tree where you were. He didn't smell you and jump at you because of the river willows. They kill any other smell, even for cats. You had a batch of them in your lap."
I said that it was not that I doubted him, but that everything that had happened that night was extremely foreign to the events of my everyday life. For a while, as I was writing my notes, I even had had the feeling that don Juan may have been playing the role of the lion. However, I had to discard the idea because I had really seen the dark shape of a four-legged animal charging at the cage and then leaping to the mesa.
"Why do you make such a fuss?" he said. "It was just a big cat. There must be thousands of cats in those mountains. Big deal. As usual, you are focusing your attention on the wrong item. It makes no difference whatsoever whether it was a lion or my pants. Your feelings at that moment
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were what counted."
In my entire life I had never seen or heard a big wildcat on the prowl. When I thought of it, I could not get over the fact that I had been only a few feet away from one.
Don Juan listened patiently while I went over the entire experience.
"Why the awe for the big cat?" he asked with an inquisitive expression. "You've been close to most of the animals that live around here and you've never been so awed by them. Do you like cats?"
"No, I don't."
"Well, forget about it then. The lesson was not on how to hunt lions, anyway."
"What was it about?"
"The little crow pointed out that specific spot to me, and at that spot I saw the opportunity of making you understand how one acts while one is in the mood of a warrior.
"Everything you did last night was done within a proper mood. You were controlled and at the same time abandoned when you jumped down from the tree to pick up the cage and run up to me.
You were not paralyzed with fear. And then, near the top of the bluff, when the lion let out a scream, you moved very well. I'm sure you wouldn't believe what you did if you looked at the bluff during the daytime. You had a degree of abandon, and at the same time you had a degree of control over yourself. You did not let go and wet your pants, and yet you let go and climbed that wall in complete darkness. You could have missed the trail and killed yourself. To climb that wall in darkness required that you had to hold on to yourself and let go of yourself at the same time.
That's what I call the mood of a warrior."
I said that whatever I had done that night was the product of my fear and not the result of any mood of control and abandon.
"I know that," he said, smiling. "And I wanted to show you that you can spur yourself beyond your limits if you are in the proper mood. A warrior makes his own mood. You didn't know that.
Fear got you into the mood of a warrior, but now that you know about it, anything can serve to get you into it."
I wanted to argue with him, but my reasons were not clear. I felt an inexplicable sense of annoyance.
"It's convenient to always act in such a mood," he continued. "It cuts through the crap and leaves one purified. It was a great feeling when you reached the top of the bluff. Wasn't it?"
I told him that I understood what he meant, yet I felt it would be idiotic to try to apply what he was teaching me to my everyday life.
"One needs the mood of a warrior for every single act," he said. "Otherwise one becomes distorted and ugly. There is no power in a life that lacks this mood. Look at yourself. Everything offends and upsets you. You whine and complain and feel that everyone is making you dance to their tune. You are a leaf at the mercy of the wind. There is no power in your fife. What an ugly feeling that must be!
"A warrior, on the other hand, is a hunter. He calculates everything. That's control. But once his calculations are over, he acts. He lets go. That's abandon. A warrior is not a leaf at the mercy of the wind. No one can push him; no one can make him do things against himself or against his better judgment. A warrior is tuned to survive, and he survives in the best of all possible fashions."
I liked his stance although I thought it was unrealistic. It seemed too simplistic for the complex world in which I lived.
He laughed at my arguments and I insisted that the mood of a warrior could not possibly help me overcome the feeling of being offended or actually being injured by the actions of my fellow men, as in the hypothetical case of being physically harassed by a cruel and malicious person placed in a position of authority.
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He roared with laughter and admitted the example was apropos.
"A warrior could be injured but not offended," he said. "For a warrior there is nothing offensive about the acts of his fellow men as long as he himself is acting within the proper mood.
"The other night you were not offended by the lion. The fact that it chased us did not anger you. I did not hear you cursing it, nor did I hear you say that he had no right to follow us. It could have been a cruel and malicious lion for all you know. But that was not a consideration while you struggled to avoid it. The only thing that was pertinent was to survive. And that you did very well.
"If you would have been alone and the lion had caught up with you and mauled you to death, you would have never even considered complaining or feeling offended by its acts.
"The mood of a warrior is not so far-fetched for yours or anybody's world. You need it in order to cut through all the guff."
I explained my way of reasoning. The lion and my fellow men were not on a par, because I knew the intimate quirks of men while I knew nothing about the lion. What offended me about my fellow men was that they acted maliciously and knowingly.
"I know, I know," don Juan said patiently. "To achieve the mood of a warrior is not a simple matter. It is a revolution. To regard the lion and the water rats and our fellow men as equals is a magnificent act of the warrior's spirit. It takes power to do that."
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12. A Battle of Power
Thursday, 28 December 1961
We started on a journey very early in the morning. We drove south and then east to the mountains. Don Juan had brought gourds with food and water. We ate in my car before we started walking.
"Stick close to me," he said. "This is an unknown region to you and there is no need to take chances. You are going in search of power and everything you do counts. Watch the wind, especially towards the end of the day. Watch when it changes directions, and shift your position so that I always shield you from it."
"What are we going to do in these mountains, don Juan?"
"You're hunting power."
"I mean what are we going to do in particular?"
"There's no plan when it comes to hunting power. Hunting power or hunting game is the same.
A hunter hunts whatever presents itself to him. Thus he must always be in a state of readiness.
"You know about the wind, and now you may hunt power in the wind by yourself. But there are other things you don't know about which are, like the wind, the centre of power at certain times and at certain places.
"Power is a very peculiar affair," he said. "It is impossible to pin it down and say what it really is. It is a feeling that one has about certain things. Power is personal. It belongs to oneself alone.
My benefactor, for instance, could make a person mortally ill by merely looking at him. Women would wane away after he had set eyes on them. Yet he did not make people sick all the time but only when his personal power was involved."
"How did he choose who to make sick?"
"I don't know that. He didn't know it himself. Power is like that. It commands you and yet it obeys you.
"A hunter of power entraps it and then stores it away as his personal finding. Thus, personal power grows, and you may have the case of a warrior who has so much personal power that he becomes a man of knowledge."
"How does one store power, don Juan?"
"That again is another feeling. It depends on what kind of a person the warrior is. My benefactor was a man of violent nature. He stored power through that feeling. Everything he did was strong and direct. He left me a memory of something crushing through things. And everything that happened to him took place in that manner."
I told him I could not understand how power was stored through a feeling.
"There's no way to explain it," he said after a long pause. "You have to do it yourself."
He picked up the gourds with food and fastened them to his back. He handed me a string with eight pieces of dry meat strung on it and made me hang it from my neck.
"This is power food," he said.
"What makes it power food, don Juan?"
"It is the meat of an animal that had power. A deer, a unique deer. My personal power brought it to me. This meat will sustain us for weeks, months if need be. Chew little bits of it at a time, and chew it thoroughly. Let the power sink slowly into your body."
We began to walk. It was almost eleven A.M. Don Juan reminded me once more of the procedure to follow.
"Watch the wind," he said. "Don't let it trip you. And don't let it make you tired. Chew your power food and hide from the wind behind my body. The wind won't hurt me; we know each
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other very well."
He led me to a trail that went straight to the high mountains. The day was cloudy and it was about to rain. I could see low rain clouds and fog up above in the mountains descending into the area where we were.
We hiked in complete silence until about three o'clock in the afternoon. Chewing the dry meat was indeed invigorating. And watching for sudden changes in the direction of the wind became a mysterious affair, to the point that my entire body seemed to sense changes before they actually happened. I had the feeling that I could detect waves of wind as a sort of pressure on my upper chest, on my bronchial tubes. Every time I was about to feel a gust of wind my chest and throat would itch.
Don Juan stopped for a moment and looked around. He appeared to be orienting himself and then he turned to the right. I noticed that he was also chewing dry meat. I felt very fresh and was not tired at all. The task of being aware of shifts in the wind had been so consuming that I had not been aware of time.
We walked into a deep ravine and then up one side to a small plateau on the sheer side of an enormous mountain. We were quite high, almost to the top of the mountain.
Don Juan climbed a huge rock at the end of the plateau and helped me up to it. The rock was placed in such a way as to look like a dome on top of precipitous walls. We slowly walked around it. Finally I had to move around the rock on my seat, holding on to the surface with my heels and hands. I was soaked in perspiration and had to dry my hands repeatedly.
From the other side I could see a very large shallow cave near the top of the mountain. It looked like a hall that had been carved out of the rock. It was sandstone which had been weathered into a sort of balcony with two pillars.
Don Juan said that we were going to camp there, that it was a very safe place because it was too shallow to be a den for lions or any other predators, too open to be a nest for rats, and too windy for insects. He laughed and said that it was an ideal place for men, since no other living creatures could stand it.
He climbed up to it like a mountain goat. I marveled at his stupendous agility.
I slowly dragged myself down the rock on my seat and then tried to run up the side of the mountain in order to reach the ledge. The last few yards completely exhausted me. I kiddingly asked don Juan how old he really was. I thought that in order to reach the ledge the way he had done it one had to be extremely fit and young.
"I'm as young as I want to be," he said. "This again is a matter of personal power. If you store power your body can perform unbelievable feats. On the other hand, if you dissipate power you'll be a fat old man in no time at all."
The length of the ledge was oriented along an east-west line. The open side of the balcony-like formation was to the south. I walked to the west end. The view was superb. The rain had circumvented us. It looked like a sheet of transparent material hung over the low land.
Don Juan said that we had enough time to build a shelter. He told me to make a pile of as many rocks as I could carry on to the ledge while he gathered some branches for a roof.
In an hour he had built a wall about a foot thick on the east end of the ledge. It was about two feet long and three feet high. He wove and tied some bundles of branches he had collected and made a roof, securing it on to two long poles that ended in forks. There was another pole of the same length that was affixed to the roof itself and which supported it on the opposite side of the wall. The structure looked like a high table with three legs.
Don Juan sat cross-legged under it, on the very edge of the balcony. He told me to sit next to him, to his right. We remained quiet for a while.
Don Juan broke the silence. He said in a whisper that we had to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I asked if there was something in particular that I should do. He said that I should get
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busy writing and do it in such a way that it would be as if I were at my desk with no worries in the world except writing. At a given moment he was going to nudge me and then I should look where he was pointing with his eyes. He warned me that no matter what I saw I should not utter a single word. Only he could talk with impunity because he was known to all the powers in those mountains.
I followed his instructions and wrote for over an hour. I became immersed in my task.
Suddenly I felt a soft tap on my arm and saw don Juan's eyes and head move to point out a bank of fog about two hundred yards away which was descending from the top of the mountain. Don Juan whispered in my ear with a tone barely audible even at that close range.
"Move your eyes back and forth along the bank of fog," he said. "But don't look at it directly.
Blink your eyes and don't focus them on the fog. When you see a green spot on the bank of fog, point it out to me with your eyes."
I moved my eyes from left to right along the bank of fog that was slowly coming down to us.
Perhaps half an hour went by. It was getting dark. The fog moved extremely slowly. At one moment I had the sudden feeling that I had detected a faint glow to my right. At first I thought that I had seen a patch of green shrubbery through the fog. When I looked at it directly I did not notice anything, but when I looked without focusing I could detect a vague greenish area.
I pointed it out to don Juan. He squinted his eyes and stared at it.
"Focus your eyes on that spot," he whispered in my ear. "Look without blinking until you see."
I wanted to ask what I was supposed to see but he glared at me as if to remind me that I should not talk.
I stared again. The bit of fog that had come down from above hung as if it were a piece of solid matter. It was lined up right at the spot where I had noticed the green tint. As my eyes became tired again and I squinted, I saw at first the bit of fog superimposed on the fog bank, and then I saw a thin strip of fog in between that looked like a thin unsupported structure, a bridge joining the mountain above me and the bank of fog in front of me. For a moment I thought I could see the transparent fog, which was being blown down from the top of the mountain, going by the bridge without disturbing it. It was as if the bridge were actually solid. At one instant the mirage became so complete that I could actually distinguish the darkness of the part under the bridge proper, as opposed to the light sandstone colour of its side.
I stared at the bridge, dumbfounded. And then I either lifted myself to its level, or the bridge lowered itself to mine. Suddenly I was looking at a straight beam in front of me. It was an immensely long, solid beam, narrow and without railings, but wide enough to walk on.
Don Juan shook me by the arm vigorously. I felt my head bobbing up and down and then I noticed that my eyes itched terribly. I rubbed them quite unconsciously. Don Juan kept on shaking me until I opened my eyes again. He poured some water from his gourd into the hollow of his hand and sprinkled my face with it. The sensation was very unpleasant. The coldness of the water was so extreme that the drops felt like sores on my skin. I noticed then that my body was very warm. I was feverish.
Don Juan hurriedly gave me some water to drink and then splashed water on my ears and neck..
I heard a very loud, eerie and prolonged bird cry. Don Juan listened attentively for an instant and then pushed the rocks of the wall with his foot and collapsed the roof. He threw the roof into the shrubs and tossed all the rocks, one by one, over the side.
He whispered in my ear, "Drink some water and chew your dry meat. We cannot stay here.
That cry was not a bird."
We climbed down the ledge and began to walk in an easterly direction. In no time at all it was so dark that it was as if there were a curtain in front of my eyes. The fog was like an impenetrable
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barrier. I had never realized how crippling the fog was at night. I could not conceive how don Juan walked. I held on to his arm as if I were blind.
Somehow I had the feeling I was walking on the edge of a precipice. My legs refused to move on. My reason trusted don Juan and I was rationally willing to go on, but my body was not, and don Juan had to drag me in total darkness.
He must have known the terrain to ultimate perfection. He stopped at a certain point and made me sit down. I did not dare let go of his arm. My body felt, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I was sitting on a barren domelike mountain and if I moved an inch to my right I would fall beyond the tolerance point into an abyss. I was absolutely sure I was sitting on a curved mountainside, because my body moved unconsciously to the right. I thought it did so in order to keep its verticality, so I tried to compensate by leaning to the left against don Juan, as far as I could.
Don Juan suddenly moved away from me and without the support of his body I fell on the ground. Touching the ground restored my sense of equilibrium. I was lying on a flat area. I began to reconnoitre my immediate surroundings by touch. I recognized dry leaves and twigs.
There was a sudden flash of lightning that illuminated the whole area and tremendous thunder.
I saw don Juan standing to my left. I saw huge trees and a cave a few feet behind him.
Don Juan told me to get into the hole. I crawled into it and sat down with my back against the rock.
I felt don Juan leaning over to whisper that I had to be totally silent.
There were three flashes of lightning, one after the other. In a glance I saw don Juan sitting cross-legged to my left. The cave was a concave formation big enough for two or three persons to sit in. The hole seemed to have been carved at the bottom of a boulder. I felt that it had indeed been wise of me to have crawled into it, because if I had been walking I would have knocked my head against the rock.
The brilliancy of the lightning gave me an idea of how thick the bank of fog was. I noticed the trunks of enormous trees as dark silhouettes against the opaque light grey mass of the fog.
Don Juan whispered that the fog and the lightning were in cahoots with each other and I had to keep an exhausting vigil because I was engaged in a battle of power. At that moment a stupendous flash of lightning rendered the whole scenery phantasmagorical. The fog was like a white filter that frosted the light of the electrical discharge and diffused it uniformly; the fog was like a dense whitish substance hanging between the tall trees, but right in front of me at the ground level the fog was thinning out. I plainly distinguished the features of the terrain. We were in a pine forest. Very tall trees surrounded us. They were so extremely big that I could have sworn we were in the redwoods if I had not previously known our whereabouts.
There was a barrage of lightning that lasted several minutes.
Each flash made the features I had already observed more discernible. Right in front of me I saw a definite trail. There was no vegetation on it. It seemed to end in an area clear of trees.
There were so many flashes of lightning that I could not keep track of where they were coming from. The scenery, however, had been so profusely illuminated that I felt much more at ease. My fears and uncertainties had vanished as soon as there had been enough light to lift the heavy curtain of darkness. So when there was a long pause between the flashes of lightning I was no longer disoriented by the blackness around me.
Don Juan whispered that I had probably done enough watching, and that I had to focus my attention on the sound of thunder. I realized to my amazement that I had not paid any attention to thunder at all, in spite of the fact that it had really been tremendous. Don Juan added that I should follow the sound and look in the direction where I thought it came from.
There were no longer barrages of lightning and thunder but only sporadic flashes of intense light and sound. The thunder seemed to always come from my right. The fog was lifting and I, already being accustomed to the pitch black, could distinguish masses of vegetation. The
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lightning and thunder continued and suddenly the whole right side opened up and I could see the sky.
The electrical storm seemed to be moving towards my right. There was another flash of lightning and I saw a distant mountain to my extreme right. The light illuminated the background, silhouetting the bulky mass of the mountain. I saw trees on top of it; they looked like neat black cutouts superimposed on the brilliantly white sky. I ever saw cumulus clouds over the mountains.
The fog had cleared completely around us. There was a steady wind and I could hear the rustling of leaves in the big trees to my left. The electrical storm was too distant to illuminate the trees, but their dark masses remained discernible. The light of the storm allowed me to establish, however, that there was a range of distant mountains to my right and that the forest was limited to the left side. It seemed that I was looking down into a dark valley, which I could not see at all.
The range over which the electrical storm was taking place was on the opposite side of the valley.
Then it began to rain. I pressed back against the rock as far as I could. My hat served as a good protection. I was sitting with my knees to my chest and only my calves and shoes got wet.
It rained for a long time. The rain was lukewarm. I felt it on my feet. And then I fell asleep.
The noises of birds woke me up. I looked around for don Juan. He was not there; ordinarily I would have wondered whether he had left me there alone, but the shock of seeing the surroundings nearly paralyzed me.
I stood up. My legs were soaking wet, the brim of my hat was soggy and there was still some water in it that spilled over me. I was not in a cave at all, but under some thick bushes. I experienced a moment of unparalleled confusion. I was standing on a flat piece of land between two small dirt hills covered with bushes. There were no trees to my left and no valley to my right.
Right in front of me, where I had seen the path in the forest, there was a gigantic bush.
I refused to believe what I was witnessing. The incongruency of my two versions of reality made me grapple for any kind of explanation. It occurred to me that it was perfectly possible that I had slept so soundly that don Juan might have carried me on his back to another place without waking me.
I examined the spot where I had been sleeping. The ground there was dry, and so was the ground on the spot next to it, where don Juan had been.
I called him a couple of times and then had an attack of anxiety and bellowed his name as loud as I could. He came out from behind some bushes. I immediately became aware that he knew what was going on. His smile was so mischievous that I ended up smiling myself .
I did not want to waste any time in playing games with him. I blurted out what was the matter with me. I explained as carefully as possible every detail of my night-long hallucinations. He listened without interrupting. He could not, however, keep a serious face and started to laugh a couple of times, but he regained his composure right away.
I asked for his comments three or four times; he only shook his head as if the whole affair was also incomprehensible to him.
When I ended my account he looked at me and said, "You look awful. Maybe you need to go to the bushes."
He cackled for a moment and then added that I should take off my clothes and wring them out so they would dry.
The sunlight was brilliant. There were very few clouds. It was a windy brisk day.
Don Juan walked away, telling me that he was going to look for some plants and that I should compose myself and eat something and not call him until I was calm and strong.
My clothes were really wet. I sat down in the sun to dry. I felt that the only way for me to relax was to get out my notebook and write. I ate while I worked on my notes.
After a couple of hours I was more relaxed and I called don Juan. He answered from a place
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near the top of the mountain. He told me to gather the gourds and climb up to where he was.
When I reached the spot, I found him sitting on a smooth rock. He opened the gourds and served himself some food. He handed me two big pieces of meat.
I did not know where to begin. There were so many things I wanted to ask. He seemed to be aware of my mood and laughed with sheer delight.
"How do you feel?" he asked in a facetious tone.
I did not want to say anything. I was still upset. Don Juan urged me to sit down on the flat slab. He said that the stone was a power object and that I would be renewed after being there for a while.
"Sit down," he commanded me dryly.
He did not smile. His eyes were piercing. I automatically sat down.
He said that I was being careless with power by acting morosely, and that I had to put an end to it or power would turn against both of us and we would never leave those desolate hills alive.
After a moment's pause he casually asked, "How is your dreaming?"
I explained to him how difficult it had become for me to give myself the command to look at my hands. At first it had been relatively easy, perhaps because of the newness of the concept. I had had no trouble at all in reminding myself that I had to look at my hands. But the excitation had worn off and some nights I could not do it at all.
"You must wear a headband to sleep," he said. "Getting a headband is a tricky maneuver. I cannot give you one, because you yourself have to make it from scratch. But you cannot make one until you have had a vision of it in dreaming. See what I mean? The headband has to be made according to the specific vision. And it must have a strip across it that fits tightly on top of the head. Or it may very well be like a tight cap. Dreaming is easier when one wears a power object on top of the head. You could wear your hat or put on a cowl, like a friar, and go to sleep, but those items would only cause intense dreams, not dreaming."
He was silent for a moment and then proceeded to tell me in a fast barrage of words that the vision of the headband did not have to occur only in dreaming but could happen in states of wakefulness and as a result of any far-fetched and totally unrelated event, such as watching the flight of birds, the movement of water, the clouds, and so on.
"A hunter of power watches everything," he went on. "And everything tells him some secret."
"But how can one be sure that things are telling secrets?" I asked.
I thought he may have had a specific formula that allowed him to make "correct"
interpretations.
"The only way to be sure is by following all the instructions I have been giving you, starting from the first day you came to see me," he said. "In order to have power one must live with power."
He smiled benevolently. He seemed to have lost his fierceness; he even nudged me lightly on the arm.
"Eat your power food," he urged me.
I began to chew some dry meat and at that moment I had the sudden realization that perhaps the dry meat contained a psychotropic substance, hence the hallucinations. For a moment I felt almost relieved. If he had put something in the meat my mirages were perfectly understandable. I asked him to tell me if there was anything at all in the "power meat".
He laughed but did not answer me directly. I insisted, assuring him that I was not angry or even annoyed, but that I had to know so I could explain the events of the previous night to my own satisfaction. I urged him, coaxed him, and finally begged him to tell me the truth.
"You are quite cracked," he said, shaking his head in a gesture of disbelief. "You have an insidious tendency. You persist in trying to explain everything to your satisfaction. There is nothing in the meat except power. The power was not put there by me or by any other man but by
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power itself. It is the dry meat of a deer and that deer was a gift to me in the same way a certain rabbit was a gift to you not too long ago. Neither you nor I put anything in the rabbit. I didn't ask you to dry the rabbit's meat, because that act required more power than you had. However, I did tell you to eat the meat. You didn't eat much of it, because of your own stupidity.
"What happened to you last night was neither a joke nor a prank. You had an encounter with power. The fog, the darkness, the lightning, the thunder and the rain were all part of a great battle of power. You had the luck of a fool. A warrior would give anything to have such a battle."
My argument was that the whole event could not be a battle of power because it had not been real.
"And what is real?" don Juan asked me very calmly.
"This, what we're looking at is real," I said, pointing to the surroundings.
"But so was the bridge you saw last night, and so was the forest and everything else."
"But if they were real where are they now?"
"They are here. If you had enough power you could call them back. Right now you cannot do that because you think it is very helpful to keep on doubting and nagging. It isn't, my friend. It isn't. There are worlds upon worlds, right here in front of us. And they are nothing to laugh at.
Last night if I hadn't grabbed your arm you would have walked on that bridge whether you wanted to or not. And earlier I had to protect you from the wind that was seeking you out."
"What would have happened if you hadn't protected me?"
"Since you don't have enough power, the wind would have made you lose your way and perhaps even killed you by pushing you into a ravine. But the fog was the real thing last night.
Two things could have happened to you in the fog. You could have walked across the bridge to the other side, or you could have fallen to your death. Either would have depended on power. One thing, however, would have been for sure. If I had not protected you, you would have had to walk on that bridge regardless of anything. That is the nature of power. As I told you before, it commands you and yet it is at your command. Last night, for instance, the power would have forced you to walk across the bridge and then it would have been at your command to sustain you while you were walking. I stopped you because I know you don't have the means to use power, and without power the bridge would have collapsed."
"Did you see the bridge yourself, don Juan?"
"No. I just saw power. It may have been anything. Power for you, this time, was a bridge. I don't know why a bridge. We are most mysterious creatures."
"Have you ever seen a bridge in the fog, don Juan?"
"Never. But that's because I'm not like you. I saw other things. My battles of power are very different from yours."
'What did you see, don Juan ? Can you tell me?"
"I saw my enemies during my first battle of power in the fog. You have no enemies. You don't hate people. I did at that time. I indulged in hating people. I don't do that any more. I have vanquished my hate, but at that time my hate nearly destroyed me.
"Your battle of power, on the other hand, was neat. It didn't consume you. You are consuming yourself now with your own crappy thoughts and doubts. That's your way of indulging yourself.
"The fog was impeccable with you. You have an affinity with it. It gave you a stupendous bridge, and that bridge will be there in the fog from now on. It will reveal itself to you over and over, until someday you will have to cross it.
"I strongly recommend that from this day on you don't walk into foggy areas by yourself until you know what you're doing.
"Power is a very weird affair. In order to have it and command it one must have power to begin with. It's possible, however, to store it, little by little, until one has enough to sustain oneself in a battle of power."
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"What is a battle of power?"
"What happened to you last night was the beginning of a battle of power. The scenes that you beheld were the seat of power. Someday they will make sense to you; those scenes are most meaningful."
"Can you tell me their meaning yourself, don Juan?"
"No. Those scenes are your own personal conquest which you cannot share with anyone. But what happened last night was only the beginning, a skirmish. The real battle will take place when you cross that bridge. What's on the other side? Only you will know that. And only you will know what's at the end of that trail through the forest. But all that is something that may or may not happen to you. In order to journey through those unknown trails and bridges one must have enough power of one's own."
"What happens if one doesn't have enough power?"
"Death is always waiting, and when the warrior's power wanes death simply taps him. Thus, to venture into the unknown without any power is stupid. One will only find death."
I was not really listening. I kept on playing with the idea that the dry meat may have been the agent that had caused the hallucinations. It appeased me to indulge in that thought.
"Don't tax yourself trying to figure it out," he said as if he were reading my thoughts. "The world is a mystery. This, what you're looking at, is not all there is to it. There is much more to the world, so much more, in fact, that it is endless. So when you're trying to figure it out, all you're really doing is trying to make the world familiar. You and I are right here, in the world that you call real, simply because we both know it. You don't know the world of power, therefore you cannot make it into a familiar scene."
"You know that I really can't argue your point," I said. "But my mind can't accept it either."
He laughed and touched my head lightly.
"You're really crazy," he said. "But that's all right. I know how difficult it is to live like a warrior. If you would have followed my instructions and performed all the acts I have taught you, you would by now have enough power to cross that bridge. Enough power to see and to stop the world."
"But why should I want power, don Juan?"
"You can't think of a reason now. However, if you would store enough power, the power itself will find you a good reason. Sounds crazy, doesn't it?"
"Why did you want power yourself, don Juan?"
"I'm like you. I didn't want it. I couldn't find a reason to have it. I had all the doubts that you have and never followed the instructions I was given, or I never thought I did; yet in spite of my stupidity I stored enough power, and one day my personal power made the world collapse."
"But why would anyone wish to stop the world?"
"Nobody does, that's the point. It just happens. And once you know what it is like to stop the world you realize there is a reason for it. You see, one of the arts of the warrior is to collapse the world for a specific reason and then restore it again in order to keep on living."
I told him that perhaps the surest way to help me would be to give me an example of a specific reason for collapsing the world.
He remained silent for some time. He seemed to be thinking what to say.
"I can't tell you that," he said. "It takes too much power to know that. Someday you will live like a warrior, in spite of yourself; then perhaps you will have stored enough personal power to answer that question yourself.
"I have taught you nearly everything a warrior needs to know in order to start off in the world, storing power by himself. Yet I know that you can't do that and I have to be patient with you. I know for a fact that it takes a lifelong struggle to be by oneself in the world of power."
Don Juan looked at the sky and the mountains. The sun was already on its descent towards the
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west and rain clouds were rapidly forming on the mountains. I did not know the time; I had forgotten to wind my watch. I asked if he could tell the time of the day and he had such an attack of laughter that he rolled off the slab into the bushes. He stood up and stretched his arms, yawning.
"It is early," he said. "We must wait until the fog gathers on top of the mountain and then you must stand alone on this slab and thank the fog for its favors. Let it come and envelop you. I'll be nearby to assist, if need be."
Somehow the prospect of staying alone in the fog terrified me. I felt idiotic for reacting in such an irrational manner.
"You cannot leave these desolate mountains without saying your thanks," he said in a firm tone. "A warrior never turns his back to power without atoning for the favors received."
He lay down on his back with his hands behind his head and covered his face with his hat.
"How should I wait for the fog?" I asked. "What should I do?"
"Write!" he said through his hat. "But don't close your eyes or turn your back to it."
I tried to write but I could not concentrate. I stood up and moved around restlessly. Don Juan lifted his hat and looked at me with an air of annoyance.
"Sit down!" he ordered me.
He said that the battle of power had not yet ended, and that I had to teach my spirit to be impassive. Nothing of what I did should betray my feelings, unless I wanted to remain trapped in those mountains.
He sat up and moved his hand in a gesture of urgency. He said that I had to act as if nothing was out of the ordinary, because places of power, such as the one in which we were, had the potential of draining people who were disturbed. And thus one could develop strange and injurious ties with a locale.
"Those ties anchor a man to a place of power, sometimes for a lifetime," he said. "And this is not the place for you. You did not find it yourself. So tighten your belt and don't lose your pants."
His admonitions worked like a spell on me. I wrote for hours without interruption.
Don Juan went back to sleep and did not wake up until the fog was perhaps a hundred yards away, descending from the top of the mountain. He stood up and examined the surroundings. I looked around without turning my back. The fog had already invaded the lowlands, descending from the mountains to my right. On my left side the scenery was clear; the wind, however, seemed to be coming from my right and was pushing the fog into the lowlands as if to surround us.
Don Juan whispered that I should remain impassive, standing where I was without closing my eyes, and that I should not turn around until I was completely surrounded by the fog; only then was it possible to start our descent.
He took cover at the foot of some rocks a few feet behind me.
The silence in those mountains was something magnificent and at the same time awesome.
The soft wind that was carrying the fog gave me the sensation that the fog was hissing in my ears.
Big chunks of fog came downhill like solid clumps of whitish matter rolling down on me. I smelled the fog. It was a peculiar mixture of a pungent and fragrant smell. And then I was enveloped in it.
I had the impression the fog was working on my eyelids. They felt heavy and I wanted to close my eyes. I was cold. My throat itched and I wanted to cough but I did not dare. I lifted my chin up and stretched my neck to ease the cough, and as I looked up I had the sensation I could actually see the thickness of the fog bank. It was as if my eyes could assess the thickness by going through it. My eyes began to close and I could not fight off the desire to fall asleep. I felt I was going to collapse on the ground any moment. At that instant don Juan jumped up and grabbed me by the arms and shook me. The jolt was enough to restore my lucidity.
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He whispered in my ear that I had to run downhill as fast as I could. He was going to follow behind because he did not want to get smashed by the rocks that I might turn over in my path. He said that I was the leader, since it was my battle of power, and that I had to be clear-headed and abandoned in order to guide us safely out of there.
"This is it," he said in a loud voice. "If you don't have the mood of a warrior, we may never leave the fog."
I hesitated for a moment. I was not sure I could find my way down from those mountains.
"Run, rabbit, run!" don Juan yelled and shoved me gently down the slope.
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13. A Warrior's Last Stand
Sunday, 28 January 1962
Around ten A.M. don Juan walked into his house. He had left at the crack of dawn. I greeted him. He chuckled and in a clowning mood he shook hands with me and greeted me ceremoniously.
"We're going to go on a little trip," he said. "You're going to drive us to a very special place in search of power."
He unfolded two carrying nets and placed two gourds filled with food in each of them, tied them with a thin rope, and handed me a net.
We leisurely drove north some four hundred miles and then we left the Pan American highway and took a gravel road towards the west. My car seemed to have been the only car on the road for hours. As we kept on driving I noticed that I could not see through my windshield. I strained desperately to look at the surroundings but it was too dark and my windshield was overlaid with crushed insects and dust.
I told don Juan that I had to stop to clean my windshield. He ordered me to go on driving even if I had to crawl at two miles an hour, sticking my head out of the window to see ahead. He said that we could not stop until we had reached our destination.
At a certain place he told me to turn to the right. It was so dark and dusty that even the headlights did not help much. I drove off the road with great trepidation. I was afraid of the soft shoulders, but the dirt was packed.
I drove for about one hundred yards at the lowest possible speed, holding the door open to look out. Finally don Juan told me to stop. He said that I had parked right behind a huge rock that would shield my car from view.
I got out of the car and walked around, guided by the headlights. I wanted to examine the surroundings because I had no idea where I was. But don Juan turned off the lights. He said loudly that there was no time to waste, that I should lock my car so we could start on our way.
He handed me my net with gourds. It was so dark that I stumbled and nearly dropped them.
Don Juan ordered me in a soft firm tone to sit down until my eyes were accustomed to the darkness. But my eyes were not the problem. Once I got out of my car I could see fairly well.
What was wrong was a peculiar nervousness that made me act as if I were absent-minded. I was glossing over everything.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"We're going to hike in total darkness to a special place," he said.
"What for?"
"To find out for sure whether or not you're capable of continuing to hunt power."
I asked him if what he was proposing was a test, and if I failed the test would he still talk to me and tell me about his knowledge.
He listened without interrupting. He said that what we were doing was not a test, that we were waiting for an omen, and if the omen did not come the conclusion would be that I had not succeeded in hunting power, in which case I would be free from any further imposition, free to be as stupid as I wanted. He said that no matter what happened he was my friend and he would always talk to me.
Somehow I knew I was going to fail.
"The omen will not come," I said jokingly. "I know it. I have a little power."
He laughed and patted me on the back gently.
"Don't you worry," he retorted. "The omen will come. I know it. I have more power than you."
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He found his statement hilarious. He slapped his thighs and clapped his hands and roared with laughter.
Don Juan tied my carrying net to my back and said that I should walk one step behind him and step in his tracks as much as possible.
In a very dramatic tone he whispered, "This is a walk for power, so everything counts."
He said that if I would walk in his footsteps the power that he was dissipating as he walked would be transmitted to me.
I looked at my watch; it was eleven P.M.
He made me line up like a soldier at attention. Then he pushed my right leg to the front and made me stand as if I had just taken a step forward. He lined up in front of me in the same position and then began to walk, after repeating the instructions that I should try to match his footsteps to perfection. He said in a clear whisper that I should not concern myself with anything else except stepping in his tracks; I should not look ahead or to the side but at the ground where he was walking.
He started off at a very relaxed pace. I had no trouble at all following him; we were walking on relatively hard ground. For about thirty yards I maintained his pace and I matched his steps perfectly; then I glanced to the side for an instant and the next thing I knew I had bumped into him.He giggled and assured me that I had not injured his ankle at all when I had stepped on it with my big shoes, but if I were going to keep on blundering one of us would be a cripple by morning.
He said, laughing, in a very low but firm voice, that he did not intend to get hurt by my stupidity and lack of concentration and that if I stepped on him again I would have to walk barefoot.
"I can't walk without shoes," I said in a loud raspy voice.
Don Juan doubled up with laughter and we had to wait until he had stopped.
He assured me again that he had meant what he said. We were journeying to tap power and things had to be perfect.
The prospect of walking in the desert without shoes scared me beyond belief. Don Juan joked that my family were probably the type of farmers that did not take off their shoes even to go to bed. He was right, of course. I had never walked barefoot and to walk in the desert without shoes would have been suicidal for me.
"This desert is oozing power," don Juan whispered in my ear. "There is no time for being timid."
We started walking again. Don Juan kept an easy pace. After a while I noticed that we had left the hard ground and were walking on soft sand. Don Juan's feet sank into it and left deep tracks.
We walked for hours before don Juan came to a halt. He did not stop suddenly but warned me ahead of time that he was going to stop so I would not bump into him. The terrain had become hard again and it seemed that we were going up an incline.
Don Juan said that if I needed to go to the bushes I should do it, because from then on we had a solid stretch without a single pause. I looked at my watch; it was one A.M.
After a ten- or fifteen-minute rest don Juan made me line up and we began to walk again. He was right, it was a dreadful stretch. I had never done anything that demanded so much concentration. Don Juan's pace was so fast and the tension of watching every step mounted to such heights that at a given moment I could not feel that I was walking any more. I could not feel my feet or my legs. It was as if I were walking on air and some force were carrying me on and on.
My concentration had been so total that I did not notice the gradual change in light. Suddenly I became aware that I could see don Juan in front of me. I could see his feet and his tracks instead of half guessing as I had done most of the night.
At a given moment he unexpectedly jumped to the side and my momentum carried me for about twenty yards further. As I slowed down my legs became weak and started to shake until
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finally I collapsed on the ground.
I looked up at don Juan, who was calmly examining me. He did not seem to be tired. I was panting for breath and soaked in cold perspiration.
Don Juan twirled me around in my lying position by pulling me by the arm. He said that if I wanted to regain my strength I had to lie with my head towards the east. Little by little I relaxed and rested my aching body. Finally I had enough energy to stand up. I wanted to look at my watch, but he prevented me by putting his hand over my wrist. He very gently turned me around to face the east and said that there was no need for my confounded timepiece, that we were on magical time, and that we were going to find out for sure whether or not I was capable of pursuing power.
I looked around. We were on top of a very large high hill. I wanted to walk towards something that looked like an edge or a crevice in the rock, but don Juan jumped and held me down.
He ordered me imperatively to stay on the place I had fallen until the sun had come out from behind some black mountain peaks a short distance away.
He pointed to the east and called my attention to a heavy bank of clouds over the horizon. He said that it would be a proper omen if the wind blew the clouds away in time for the first rays of the sun to hit my body on the hilltop.
He told me to stand still with my right leg in front, as if I were walking, and not to look directly at the horizon but look without focusing.
My legs became very stiff and my calves hurt. It was an agonizing position and my leg muscles were too sore to support me. I held on as long as I could. I was about to collapse. My legs were shivering uncontrollably when don Juan called the whole thing off. He helped me to sit down.
The bank of clouds had not moved and we had not seen the sun rising over the horizon.
Don Juan's only comment was, "Too bad."
I did not want to ask right off what the real implications of my failure were, but knowing don Juan, I was sure he had to follow the dictum of his omens. And there had been no omen that morning. The pain in my calves vanished and I felt a wave of well-being. I began to trot in order to loosen up my muscles. Don Juan told me very softly to run up an adjacent hill and gather some leaves from a specific bush and rub my legs in order to alleviate the muscular pain.
From where I stood I could very plainly see a large lush green bush. The leaves seemed to be very moist. I had used them before. I never felt that they had helped me, but don Juan had always maintained that the effect of really friendly plants was so subtle that one could hardly notice it, yet they always produced the results they were supposed to.
I ran down the hill and up the other. When I got to the top I realized that the exertion had almost been too much for me. I had a hard time catching my breath and my stomach was upset. I squatted and then crouched over for a moment until I felt relaxed. Then I stood up and reached over to pick the leaves he had asked me to. But I could not find the bush. I looked around. I was sure I was on the right spot, but there was nothing in that area of the hilltop that even vaguely resembled that particular plant. Yet that had to be the spot where I had seen it. Any other place would have been out of range for anyone looking from where don Juan was standing.
I gave up the search and walked to the other hill. Don Juan smiled benevolently as I explained my mistake.
"Why do you call it a mistake?" he asked.
"Obviously the bush is not there," I said.
"But you saw it, didn't you?"
"I thought I did."
"What do you see in its place now?"
"Nothing."
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There was absolutely no vegetation on the spot where I thought I had seen the plant. I attempted to explain what I had seen was a visual distortion, a sort of mirage. I had really been exhausted, and because of my exhaustion I may have easily believed I was seeing something that I expected to be there but which was not there at all.
Don Juan chuckled softly and stared at me for a brief moment.
"I see no mistake," he said. "The plant is there on that hilltop."
It was my turn to laugh. I scanned the whole area carefully. There were no such plants in view and what I had experienced was, to the best of my knowledge, a hallucination.
Don Juan very calmly began to descend the hill and signaled me to follow. We climbed together to the other hilltop and stood right where I thought I had seen the bush.
I chuckled with the absolute certainty I was right. Don Juan also chuckled.
"Walk to the other side of the hill," don Juan said. "You'll find the plant there."
I brought up the point that the other side of the hill had been outside my field of vision, that a plant may be there, but that that did not mean anything.
Don Juan signaled me with a movement of his head to follow him. He walked around the top of the hill instead of going directly across, and dramatically stood by a green bush without looking at it.
He turned and looked at me. It was a peculiarly piercing glance.
"There must be hundreds of such plants around here," I said.
Don Juan very patiently descended the other side of the hill, with me trailing along. We looked everywhere for a similar bush. But there was none in sight. We covered about a quarter of a mile before we came upon another plant.
Without saying a word, don Juan led me back to the first hilltop. We stood there for a moment and then he guided me on another excursion to look for the plant but in the opposite direction. We combed the area and found two more bushes, perhaps a mile away. They had grown together and stuck out as a patch of intense rich green, more lush than all the other surrounding bushes.
Don Juan looked at me with a serious expression. I did not know what to think of it.
"This is a very strange omen," he said.
We returned to the first hilltop, making a wide detour in order to approach it from a new direction. He seemed to be going out of his way to prove to me that there were very few such plants around there. We did not find any of them on our way. When we reached the hilltop we sat down in complete silence. Don Juan untied his gourds.
"You'll feel better after eating," he said.
He could not hide his delight. He had a beaming grin as he patted me on the head. I felt disoriented. The new developments were disturbing, but I was too hungry and tired to really ponder upon them.
After eating I felt very sleepy. Don Juan urged me to use the technique of looking without focusing in order to find a suitable spot to sleep on the hilltop where I had seen the bush.
I selected one. He picked up the debris from the spot and made a circle with it the size of my body. Very gently he pulled some fresh branches from the bushes and swept the area inside the circle. He only went through the motions of sweeping, he did not really touch the ground with the branches. He then removed all the surface rocks from the area inside the circle and placed them in the centre after meticulously sorting them by size into two piles of equal number.
"What are you doing with those rocks?" I asked.
"They are not rocks," he said. "They are strings. They will hold your spot suspended."
He took the smaller rocks and marked the circumference of the circle with them. He spaced them evenly and with the aid of a stick he secured each rock firmly in the ground as if he were a mason.
He did not let me come inside the circle but told me to walk around and watch what he did. He
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counted eighteen rocks, following a counterclockwise direction.
"Now run down to the bottom of the hill and wait," he said. "And I will come to the edge and see if you are standing in the appropriate spot."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to toss each of these strings to you," he said, pointing to the pile of bigger rocks.
"And you have to place them in the ground at the spot I will indicate in the same manner I have placed the other ones.
"You must be infinitely careful. When one is dealing with power, one has to be perfect.
Mistakes are deadly here. Each of these is a string, a string that could kill us if we leave it around loose; so you simply can't make any mistakes. You must fix your gaze on the spot where I will throw the string. If you get distracted by anything at all, the string will become an ordinary rock and you won't be able to tell it apart from the other rocks lying around."
I suggested that it would be easier if I carried the "strings" downhill one at a time.
Don Juan laughed and shook his head negatively.
"These are strings," he insisted. "And they have to be tossed by me and have to be picked up by you."
It took hours to fulfill the task. The degree of concentration needed was excruciating. Don Juan reminded me every time to be attentive and focus my gaze. He was right in doing so. To pick out a specific rock that came hurtling downhill, displacing other rocks in its way, was indeed a maddening affair.
When I had completely closed the circle and walked to the top, I thought I was about to drop dead. Don Juan had picked some small branches and had matted the circle. He handed me some leaves and told me to put them inside my pants, against the skin of my umbilical region. He said that they would keep me warm and I would not need a blanket to sleep. I tumbled down inside the circle. The branches made a fairly soft bed and I fell asleep instantly.
It was late afternoon when I woke up. It was windy and cloudy. The clouds overhead were compact cumulus clouds, but towards the west they were thin cirrus clouds and the sun shone on the land from time to time.
Sleeping had renewed me. I felt invigorated and happy. The wind did not bother me. I was not cold. I propped my head up with my arms and looked around. I had not noticed before but the hilltop was quite high. The view towards the west was impressive. I could see a vast area of low hills and then the desert. There was a range of dark brown mountain peaks towards the north and east, and towards the south an endless expanse of land and hills and distant blue mountains.
I sat up. Don Juan was not anywhere in sight. I had a sudden attack of fear. I thought he may have left me there alone, and I did not know the way back to my car. I lay down again on the mat of branches and strangely enough my apprehension vanished. I again experienced a sense of quietness, an exquisite sense of well-being. It was an extremely new sensation to me; my thoughts seemed to have been turned off. I was happy. I felt healthy. A very quiet ebullience filled me. A soft wind was blowing from the west and swept over my entire body without I making me cold. I felt it on my face and around my ears, like a gentle wave of warm water that bathed me and then receded and bathed me again. It was a strange state of being that had no parallel in my busy and dislocated life. I began to weep, not out of sadness or self-pity but out of some ineffable, inexplicable joy.
I wanted to stay in that spot forever and I may have, had don Juan not come and yanked me out of the place.
"You've had enough rest," he said as he pulled me up.
He led me very calmly on a walk around the periphery of the hilltop. We walked slowly and in complete silence. He seemed to be interested in making me observe the scenery all around us. He
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pointed to clouds and mountains with a movement of his eyes or with a movement of his chin.
The scenery in the late afternoon was superb. It evoked sensations of awe and despair in me. It reminded me of sights in my childhood.
We climbed to the highest point of the hilltop, a peak of igneous rock, and sat down comfortably with our backs against the rock, facing the south. The endless expanse of land towards the south was truly majestic.
"Fix all this in your memory," don Juan whispered in my ear. "This spot is yours. This morning you saw, and that was the omen. You found this spot by seeing. The omen was unexpected, but it happened. You are going to hunt power whether you like it or not. It is not a human decision, not yours or mine.
"Now, properly speaking, this hilltop is your place, your beloved place; all that is around you is under your care. You must look after everything here and everything will in turn look after you."
In a joking way I asked if everything was mine. He said yes in a very serious tone. I laughed and told him that what we were doing reminded me of the story of how the Spaniards that conquered the New World had divided the land in the name of their king. They used to climb to the top of a mountain and claim all the land they could see in any specific direction.
"That's a good idea," he said. "I'm going to give you all the land you can see, not in one direction but all around you."
He stood up and pointed with his extended hand, turning his body around to cover a complete circle.
"All this land is yours," he said.
I laughed out loud.
He giggled and asked me, "Why not? Why can't I give you this land?"
"You don't own this land," I said.
"So what? The Spaniards didn't own it either and yet they divided it and gave it away. So why can't you take possession of it in the same vein?"
I scrutinized him to see if I could detect the real mood behind his smile. He had an explosion of laughter and nearly fell off the rock.
"All this land, as far as you can see, is yours," he went on, still smiling. "Not to use but to remember. This hilltop, however, is yours to use for the rest of your life. I am giving it to you because you have found it yourself. It is yours. Accept it."
I laughed, but don Juan seemed to be very serious. Except for his funny smile, he appeared to actually believe that he could give me that hilltop.
"Why not?" he asked as if he were reading my thoughts.
"I accept it," I said half in jest.
His smile disappeared. He squinted his eyes as he looked at me.
"Every rock and pebble and bush on this hill, especially on the top, is under your care," he said. "Every worm that lives here is your friend. You can use them and they can use you."
We remained silent for a few minutes. My thoughts were unusually scarce. I vaguely felt that his sudden change of mood was foreboding to me, but I was not afraid or apprehensive. I just did not want to talk any more. Somehow, words seemed to be inaccurate and their meanings difficult to pinpoint. I had never felt that way about talking, and upon realizing my unusual mood I hurriedly began to talk.
"But what can I do with this hill, don Juan?"
"'Fix every feature of it in your memory. This is the place where you will come in dreaming.
This is the place where you will meet with powers, where secrets will someday be revealed to you.
"You are hunting power and this is your place, the place where you will store your resources.
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"It doesn't make sense to you now. So let it be a piece of nonsense for the time being."
We climbed down the rock and he led me to a small bowl-like depression on the west side of the hilltop. We sat down and ate there.
Undoubtedly there was something indescribably pleasant for me on that hilltop. Eating, like resting, was an unknown exquisite sensation.
The light of the setting sun had a rich, almost copperish, glow, and everything in the surroundings seemed to be dabbed with a golden hue. I was given totally to observing the scenery; I did not even want to think.
Don Juan spoke to me almost in a whisper. He told me to watch every detail of the surroundings, no matter how small or seemingly trivial. Especially the features of the scenery that were most prominent in a westerly direction. He said that I should look at the sun without focusing on it until it had disappeared over the horizon.
The last minutes of light, right before the sun hit a blanket of low clouds or fog, were, in a total sense, magnificent. It was as if the sun were inflaming the earth, kindling it like a bonfire. I felt a sensation of redness in my face.
"Stand up!" don Juan shouted as he pulled me up. He jumped away from me and ordered me in an imperative but urging voice to trot on the spot where I was standing.
As I jogged on the same spot, I began to feel a warmth invading my body. It was a copperish warmth. I felt it in my palate and in the roof of my eyes. It was as if the top part of my head were burning with a cool fire that radiated a cop-perish glow. Something in myself made me trot faster and faster as the sun began to disappear. At a given moment I truly felt I was so light that I could have flown away. Don Juan very firmly grabbed my right wrist. The sensation caused by the pressure of his hand brought back a sense of sobriety and composure. I plunked down on the ground and he sat down by me.
After a few minutes' rest he quietly stood up, tapped me on the shoulder, and signaled me to follow him. We climbed back again to the peak of igneous rock where we had sat before. The rock shielded us from the cold wind. Don Juan broke the silence.
"It was a fine omen," he said. "How strange 1 It happened at the end of the day. You and I are so different. You are more a creature of the night. I prefer the young brilliancy of the morning. Or rather the brilliancy of the morning sun seeks me, but it shies away from you. On the other hand, the dying sun bathed you. Its flames scorched you without burning you. How strange!"
"Why is it strange?"
"I've never seen it happen. The omen, when it happens, has always been in the realm of the young sun."
"Why is it that way, don Juan?"
"This is not the time to talk about it," he said cuttingly. "Knowledge is power. It takes a long time to harness enough power to even talk about it."
I tried to insist, but he changed the topic abruptly. He asked me about my progress in dreaming.
I had begun to dream about specific places, such as the school and the houses of a few friends.
"Were you at those places during the day or during the night?" he asked.
My dreams corresponded to the time of the day when I ordinarily was accustomed to being at those places - in the school during the day, at my friends' houses at night.
He suggested that I should try dreaming while I took a nap during the daytime and find out if I could actually visualize the chosen place as it was at the time I was dreaming. If I were dreaming at night, my visions of the locale should be of nighttime. He said that what one experiences in dreaming has to be congruous with the time of the day when dreaming was taking place;
otherwise the visions one might have were not dreaming but ordinary dreams.
"In order to help yourself you should pick a specific object that belongs to the place you want
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to go and focus your attention on it," he went on. "On this hilltop here, for instance, you now have a specific bush that you must observe until it has a place in your memory. You can come back here while dreaming simply by recalling that bush, or by recalling this rock where we are sitting, or by recalling any other thing here. It is easier to travel in dreaming when you can focus on a place of power, such as this one. But if you don't want to come here you may use any other place. Perhaps the school where you go is a place of power for you. Use it. Focus your attention on any object there and then find it in dreaming.
"From the specific object you recall, you must go back to your hands and then to another object and so on.
"But now you must focus your attention on everything that exists on this hilltop, because this is the most important place of your life."
He looked at me as if judging the effect of his words.
"This is the place where you will die," he said in a soft voice.
I fidgeted nervously, changing sitting positions, and he smiled.
"I will have to come with you over and over to this hilltop," he said. "And then you will have to come by yourself until you're saturated with it, until the hilltop is oozing you. You will know the time when you are filled with it. This hilltop, as it is now, will then be the place of your last dance."
"What do you mean by my last dance, don Juan?"
"This is the site of your last stand," he said. "You will die here no matter where you are. Every warrior has a place to die. A place of his predilection which is soaked with unforgettable memories, where powerful events left their mark, a place where he has witnessed marvels, where secrets have been revealed to him, a place where he has stored his personal power.
"A warrior has the obligation to go back to that place of his predilection every time he taps power in order to store it there. He either goes there by means of walking or by means of dreaming.
"And finally, one day when his time on earth is up and he feels the tap of his death on his left shoulder, his spirit, which is always ready, flies to the place of his predilection and there the warrior dances to his death.
"Every warrior has a specific form, a specific posture of power, which he develops throughout his life. It is a sort of dance. A movement that he does under the influence of his personal power.
"If a dying warrior has limited power, his dance is short; if his power is grandiose, his dance is magnificent. But regardless of whether his power is small or magnificent, death must stop to witness his last stand on earth. Death cannot overtake the warrior who is recounting the toil of his life for the last time until he has finished his dance."
Don Juan's words made me shiver. The quietness, the twilight, the magnificent scenery, all seemed to have been placed there as props for the image of a warrior's last dance of power.
"Can you teach me that dance even though I am not a warrior?" I asked.
"Any man that hunts power has to learn that dance," he said. "Yet I cannot teach you now.
Soon you may have a worthy opponent and I will show you then the first movement of power.
You must add the other movements yourself as you go on living. Every new one must be obtained during a struggle of power. So, properly speaking, the posture, the form of a warrior, is the story of his life, a dance that grows as he grows in personal power."
"Does death really stop to see a warrior dance?"
"A warrior is only a man. A humble man. He cannot change the designs of his death. But his impeccable spirit, which has stored power after stupendous hardships, can certainly hold his death for a moment, a moment long enough to let him rejoice for the last time in recalling his power.
We may say that that is a gesture which death has with those who have an impeccable spirit."
I experienced an overwhelming anxiety and I talked just to alleviate it. I asked him if he had
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known warriors that had died, and in what way their last dance had affected their dying.
"Cut it out," he said dryly. "Dying is a monumental affair. It is more than kicking your legs and becoming stiff."
"Will I too dance to my death, don Juan?"
"Certainly. You are hunting personal power even though you don't live like a warrior yet.
Today the sun gave you an omen. Your best production in your life's work will be done towards the end of the day. Obviously you don't like the youthful brilliancy of early light. Journeying in the morning doesn't appeal to you. But your cup of tea is the dying sun, old yellowish, and mellow. You don't like the heat, you like the glow.
"And thus you will dance to your death here, on this hilltop, at the end of the day. And in your last dance you will tell of your struggle, of the battles you have won and of those you have lost;
you will tell of your joys and bewilderments upon encountering personal power. Your dance will tell about the secrets and about the marvels you have stored. And your death will sit here and watch you.
"The dying sun will glow on you without burning, as it has done today. The wind will be soft and mellow and your hilltop will tremble. As you reach the end of your dance you will look at the sun, for you will never see it again in waking or in dreaming, and then your death will point to the south. To the vastness."
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14. The Gait of Power
Saturday, 8 April 1962
"Is death a personage, don Juan?" I asked as I sat down on the porch.
There was an air of bewilderment in don Juan's look. He was holding a bag of groceries I had brought him. He carefully placed them on the ground and sat down in front of me. I felt encouraged and explained that I wanted to know if death was a person, or like a person, when it watched a warrior's last dance.
"What difference does it make?" don Juan asked.
I told him that the image was fascinating to me and I want to know how he had arrived at it.
How he knew that that was so.
"It's all very simple," he said. "A man of knowledge knows that death is the last witness because he sees."
"Do you mean that you have witnessed a warrior's last dance yourself?"
"No. One cannot be such a witness. Only death can do that. But I have seen my own death watching me and I have danced to it as though I were dying. At the end of my dance death did not point in any direction, and my place of predilection did not shiver saying goodbye to me. So my time on earth was not up yet and I did not die. When all that took place, I had limited power and I did not understand the designs of my own death, thus I believed I was dying."
"Was your death like a person?"
"You're a funny bird. You think you are going to understand by asking questions. I don't think you will, but who am I to say?
"Death is not like a person. It is rather a presence. But one may also choose to say that it is nothing and yet it is everything. One will be right on every count. Death is whatever one wishes.
"I am at ease with people, so death is a person for me. I am also given to mysteries, so death has hollow eyes for me. I can look through them. They are like two windows and yet they move, like eyes move. And so I can say that death with its hollow eyes looks at a warrior while he dances for the last time on earth."
"But is that so only for you, don Juan, or is it the same for other warriors?"
"It is the same for every warrior that has a dance of power, and yet it is not. Death witnesses a warrior's last dance, but the manner in which a warrior sees his death is a personal matter. It could be anything - a bird, a light, a person, a bush, a pebble, a piece of fog, or an unknown presence."
Don Juan's images of death disturbed me. I could not find adequate words to voice my questions and I stammered. He stared at me, smiling, and coaxed me to speak up.
I asked him if the manner in which a warrior saw his death depended on the way he had been brought up. I used the Yuma and Yaqui Indians as examples. My own idea was that culture determined the way in which one would envision death.
"It doesn't matter how one was brought up," he said. "What determines the way one does anything is personal power. A man is only the sum of his personal power, and that sum determines how he lives and how he dies."
"What is personal power?"
"Personal power is a feeling," he said. "Something like being lucky. Or one may call it a mood. Personal power is something that one acquires regardless of one's origin. I already have told you that a warrior is a hunter of power, and that I am teaching you how to hunt and store it.
The difficulty with you, which is the difficulty with all of us, is to be convinced. You need to believe that personal power can be used and that it is possible to store it, but you haven't been convinced so far."
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I told him that he had made his point and that I was as convinced as I would ever be. He laughed.
"That is not the type of conviction I am talking about," he said.
He tapped my shoulder with two or three soft punches added with a cackle, "I don't need to be humored, you know."
I felt obliged to assure him that I was serious.
"I don't doubt it," he said. "But to be convinced means that you can act by yourself. It will still take you a great deal of effort to do that. Much more has to be done. You have just begun."
He was quiet for a moment. His face acquired a placid expression.
"It's funny the way you sometimes remind me of myself," he went on. "I too did not want to take the path of a warrior. I believed that all that work, was for nothing, and since we are all going to die what difference would it make to be a warrior? I was wrong. But I had to find that out for myself. Whenever you do realize that you are wrong, and that it certainly makes a world of difference, you can say that you are convinced. And then you can proceed by yourself. And by yourself you may even become a man of knowledge."
I asked him to explain what he meant by a man of knowledge.
"A man of knowledge is one who has followed truthfully the hardships of learning," he said.
"A man who has, without rushing or faltering, gone as far as he can in unraveling the secrets of personal power."
He discussed the concept in brief terms and then discarded it as a topic of conversation, saying that I should only be concerned with the idea of storing personal power.
"That's incomprehensible," I protested. "I can't really figure out what you are driving at."
"Hunting power is a peculiar event," he said. "It first has to be an idea, then it has to be set up, step by step, and then, bingo! It happens."
"How does it happen?"
Don Juan stood up. He began stretching his arms and arching his back like a cat. His bones, as usual, made a series of cracking sounds.
"Let's go," he said. "We have a long journey ahead of us."
"But there are so many things I want to ask you," I said.
"We are going to a place of power," he said as he stepped inside his house. "Why don't you save your questions for the time we are there? We may have an opportunity to talk."
I thought we were going to drive, so I stood up and walked to my car, but don Juan called me from the house and told me to pick up my net with gourds. He was waiting for me at the edge of the desert chaparral behind his house.
"We have to hurry up," he said.
We reached the lower slopes of the western Sierra Madre mountains around three P.M. It had been a warm day but towards the late afternoon the wind became cold. Don Juan sat down on a rock and signaled me to do likewise.
"What are we going to do here this time, don Juan?"
"You know very well that we're here to hunt power."
"I know that. But what are we going to do here in particular?"
"You know that I don't have the slightest idea."
"Do you mean that you never follow a plan?"
"Hunting power is a very strange affair," he said. "There is no way to plan it ahead of time.
That's what's exciting about it. A warrior proceeds as if he had a plan though, because he trusts his personal power. He knows for a fact that it will make him act in the most appropriate fashion.
I pointed out that his statements were somehow contradictory. If a warrior already had personal power, why was he hunting for it?
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Don Juan raised his brows and made a gesture of feigned disgust.
"You're the one who is hunting personal power," he said. "And I am the warrior who already has it. You asked me if I had a plan and I said that I trust my personal power to guide me and that I don't need to have a plan."
We remained quiet for a moment and then began walking again. The slopes were very steep and climbing them was very difficult and extremely tiring for me. On the other hand, there seemed to be no end to don Juan's stamina. He did not run or hurry. His walking was steady and tireless. I noticed that he was not even perspiring, even after having climbed an enormous and almost vertical slope. When I reached the top of it, don Juan was already there, waiting for me.
As I sat down next to him I felt that my heart was about to burst out of my chest. I lay on my back and perspiration literally poured from my brows. Don Juan laughed out loud and rolled me back and forth for a while. The motion helped me catch my breath.
I told him that I was simply awed by his physical prowess.
"I've been trying to draw your attention to it all along," he said.
"You're not old at all, don Juan!"
"Of course not. I've been trying to make you notice it."
"How do you do it?"
"I don't do anything. My body feels fine, that's all. I treat myself very well, therefore, I have no reason to feel tired or ill at ease. The secret is not in what you do to yourself but rather in what you don't do."
I waited for an explanation. He seemed to be aware of my incapacity to understand. He smiled knowingly and stood up.
"This is a place of power," he said. "Find a place for us to camp here on this hilltop."
I began to protest. I wanted him to explain what I should not do to my body. He made an imperative gesture.
"Cut the guff," he said softly. "This time just act for a change. It doesn't matter how long it takes you to find a suitable place to rest. It might take you all night. It is not important that you find the spot either; the important issue is that you try to find it."
I put away my writing pad and stood up. Don Juan reminded me, as he had done countless times, whenever he had asked me to find a resting place, that I had to look without focusing on any particular spot, squinting my eyes until my view was blurred.
I began to walk, scanning the ground with my half-closed eyes. Don Juan walked a few feet to my right and a couple of steps behind me.
I covered the periphery of the hilltop first. My intention was to work my way in a spiral to the centre. But once I had covered the circumference of the hilltop, don Juan made me stop. He said I was letting my preference for routines take over.
In a sarcastic tone he added that I was certainly covering the whole area systematically, but in such a stagnant way that I would not be able to perceive the suitable place. He added that he himself knew where it was, so there was no chance for improvisations on my part.
"What should I be doing instead?" I asked.
Don Juan made me sit down. He then plucked a single leaf from a number of bushes and gave them to me. He ordered me to lie down on my back and loosen my belt and place the leaves against the skin of my umbilical region. He supervised my movements and instructed me to press the leaves against my body with both hands. He then ordered me to close my eyes and warned me that if I wanted perfect results I should not lose hold of the leaves, or open my eyes, or try to sit up when he shifted my body to a position of power.
He grabbed me by the right armpit and swirled me around. I had an invincible desire to peek through my half-closed eyelids, but don Juan put his hand over my eyes. He commanded me to concern myself only with the feeling of warmth that was going to come from the leaves.
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I lay motionless for a moment and then I began to feel a strange heat emanating from the leaves. I first sensed it with the palms of my hands, then the warmth extended to my abdomen, and finally it literally invaded my entire body. In a matter of minutes my feet were burning up with a heat that reminded me of times when I had had a high temperature.
I told don Juan about the unpleasant sensation and my desire to take off my shoes. He said that he was going to help me stand up, that I should not open my eyes until he told me to, and that I should keep pressing the leaves to my stomach until I had found the suitable spot to rest.
When I was on my feet he whispered in my ear that I should open my eyes, and that I should walk without a plan, letting the power of the leaves pull me and guide me.
I began to walk aimlessly. The heat of my body was uncomfortable. I believed I was running a high temperature, and I became absorbed in trying to conceive by what means don Juan had produced it.
Don Juan walked behind me. He suddenly let out a scream that nearly paralyzed me. He explained, laughing, that abrupt noises scare away unpleasant spirits. I squinted my eyes and walked back and forth for about half an hour. In that time the uncomfortable heat of my body turned into a pleasurable warmth. I experienced a sensation of lightness as I paced up and down the hilltop. I felt disappointed, however; I had somehow expected to detect some kind of visual phenomenon, but there were no changes whatsoever in the periphery of my field of vision, no unusual colours, or glare, or dark masses.
I finally became tired of squinting my eyes and opened them. I was standing in front of a small ledge of sandstone, which was one of the few barren rocky places on the hilltop; the rest was dirt with widely spaced small bushes. It seemed that the vegetation had burned sometime before and the new growth was not fully mature yet. For some unknown reason I thought that the sandstone ledge was beautiful. I stood in front of it for a long time. And then I simply sat down on it.
"Good! Good!" don Juan said and patted me on the back.
He then told me to carefully pull the leaves from under my clothes and place them on the rock.
As soon as I had taken the leaves away from my skin I began to cool off. I took my pulse. It seemed to be normal.
Don Juan laughed and called me "doctor Carlos" and asked me if I could also take his pulse.
He said that what I had felt was the power of the leaves, and that that power had cleared me and had enabled me to fulfill my task.
I asserted in all sincerity that I had done nothing in particular, and that I sat down on that place because I was tired and because I found the colour of the sandstone very appealing.
Don Juan did not say anything. He was standing a few feet away from me. Suddenly he jumped back and with incredible agility ran and leaped over some bushes to a high crest of rocks some distance away.
"What's the matter?" I asked, alarmed.
"Watch the direction in which the wind will blow your leaves," he said. "Count them quickly.
The wind is coming. Keep half of them and put them back against your belly."
I counted twenty leaves. I stuck ten under my shirt and then a strong gust of wind scattered the other ten in a westerly direction. I had the eerie feeling as I saw the leaves being blown off that a real entity was deliberately sweeping them into the amorphous mass of green shrubbery.
Don Juan walked back to where I was and sat down next to me, to my left, facing the south.
We did not speak a word for a long time. I did not know , what to say. I was exhausted. I wanted to close my eyes, but I did not dare. Don Juan must have noticed my state and said that it was all right to fall asleep. He told me to place my hands on my abdomen, over the leaves, and try to feel that I was lying suspended on the bed of "strings" that he had made for me on the "place of my predilection". I closed my eyes and a memory of the peace and plenitude I had experienced while sleeping on that other hilltop invaded me. I wanted to find out if I could actually feel I was
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suspended but I fell asleep.
I woke up just before the sunset. Sleeping had refreshed and invigorated me. Don Juan had also fallen asleep. He opened his eyes at the same time I did. It was windy but I did not feel cold.
The leaves on my stomach seemed to have acted as a furnace, a heater of some sort.
I examined the surroundings. The place I had selected to rest was like a small basin. One could actually sit on it as on a long couch; there was enough of a rock wall to serve as a backrest. I also found out that don Juan had brought my writing pads and placed them underneath my head.
"You found the right place," he said, smiling. "And the whole operation took place as I had told you it would. Power guided you here without any plan on your part."
"What kind of leaves did you give me?" I asked. "The warmth that had radiated from the leaves and had kept me in such a comfortable state, without any blankets or extra thick clothing, was indeed an absorbing phenomenon for me.
" They were just leaves," don Juan said.
"'Do you mean that I could grab leaves from any bush and they would produce the same effect on me?"
"No. I don't mean that you yourself can do that. You have no personal power. I mean that any kind of leaves would help you, providing that the person who gives them to you has power. What helped you today was not the leaves but power."
"Your power, don Juan?"
"I suppose you could say that it was my power, although that is not really accurate. Power does not belong to anyone. Some of us may gather it and then it could be given directly to someone else. You see, the key to stored power is that it can be used only to help someone else store power."
I asked him if that meant that his power was limited only to helping others. Don Juan patiently explained that he could use his personal power however he pleased, in anything he himself wanted, but when it came to giving it directly to another person, it was useless unless that person utilized it for his own search of personal power.
"Everything a man does hinges on his personal power," don Juan went on. "Therefore, for one who doesn't have any, the deeds of a powerful man are incredible. It takes power to even conceive what power is. This is what I have been trying to tell you all along. But I know you don't understand, not because you don't want to but because you have very little personal power."
"What should I do, don Juan?"
"Nothing. Just proceed as you are now. Power will find a way."
He stood up and turned around in a complete circle, staring at everything in the surroundings.
His body moved at the same time his eyes moved; the total effect was that of a hieratic mechanical toy that turned in a complete circle in a precise and unaltered movement.
I looked at him with my mouth open. He hid a smile, cognizant of my surprise.
"Today you are going to hunt power in the darkness of the day," he said and sat down.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Tonight you'll venture into those unknown hills. In the darkness they are not hills."
"What are they?"
"They are something else. Something unthinkable for you, since you have never witnessed their existence."
"What do you mean, don Juan? You always scare me with that spooky talk."
He laughed and kicked my calf softly.
"The world is a mystery," he said. "And it is not at all as you picture it."
He seemed to reflect for a moment. His head bobbed up and down with a rhythmical shake, then he smiled and added, "Well, it is also as you picture it, but that's not all there is to the world;
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there is much more to it. You have been finding that out all along, and perhaps tonight you will add one more piece."
His tone sent a chill through my body.
"What are you planning to do?" I asked.
"I don't plan anything. All is decided by the same power that allowed you to find this spot."
Don Juan got up and pointed to something in the distance. I assumed that he wanted me to stand up and look. I tried to jump to my feet, but before I had fully stood up, don Juan pushed me down with great force.
"I didn't ask you to follow me," he said in a severe voice. Then he softened his tone and added, "You're going to have a difficult time tonight, and you will need all the personal power you can muster. Stay where you are and save yourself for later."
He explained that he was not pointing at anything but just making sure that certain things were out there. He assured me that everything was all right and said that I should sit quietly and get busy, because I had a lot of time to write before total darkness had set in the land. His smile was contagious and very comforting.
"But what are we going to do, don Juan?"
He shook his head from side to side in an exaggerated gesture of disbelief.
"Write!" he commanded me and turned his back to me.
There was nothing else for me to do. I worked on my notes until it was too dark to write.
Don Juan maintained the same position all the time I was working. He seemed to be absorbed in staring into the distance towards the west. But as soon as I stopped he turned to me and said in a joking tone that the only ways to shut me up were to give me something to eat, or make me write, or put me to sleep.
He took a small bundle from his knapsack and ceremoniously opened it. It contained pieces of dry meat. He handed me a piece and took another for himself and began to chew on it He casually informed me that it was power food, which both of us needed on that occasion. I was too hungry to think about the possibility that the dry meat may have contained a psychotropic substance. We ate in complete silence until there was no more meat, and by that time it was quite dark.
Don Juan stood up and stretched his arms and back. He suggested I should do the same. He said it was a good practice to stretch the entire body after sleeping, sitting, or walking.
I followed his advice and some of the leaves I had kept under my shirt slid through the legs of my pants. I wondered if I should try to pick them up, but he said to forget about it, that there was no longer any need for them and that I should let them fall as they might.
Then don Juan came very close to me and whispered in my right ear that I was supposed to follow him at very close range and imitate everything he did. He said that we were safe on the spot where we stood, because we were, so to speak, at the edge of the night.
"This is not the night," he whispered, stomping on the rock where we were standing. "The night is out there."
He pointed to the darkness all around us.
He then checked my carrying net to see if the food gourds and my writing pads were secured and in a soft voice said that a warrior always made sure that everything was in proper order, not because he believed that he was going to survive the ordeal he was about to undertake, but because that was part of his impeccable behavior.
Instead of making me feel relieved, his admonitions created the complete certainty that my doom was approaching. I wanted to weep. Don Juan was, I was sure, completely aware of the effect of his words.
"Trust your personal power," he said in my ear. "That's all one has in this whole mysterious world."
He pulled me gently and we started to walk. He took the lead a couple of steps ahead of me. I
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followed him with my eyes fixed on the ground. Somehow I did not dare to look around, and focusing my sight on the ground made me feel strangely calm; it almost mesmerized me.
After a short walk don Juan stopped. He whispered that total darkness was near and that he was going to get ahead of me, but was going to give me his position by imitating the cry of a specific small owl. He reminded me that I already knew that his particular imitation was raspy at the beginning and then it became as mellow as the cry of a real owl. He warned me to be deadly aware of other owl cries which did not bear that mark.
By the time don Juan finished giving me all those instructions I was practically panic-stricken.
I grabbed him by the arm and would not let go. It took two or three minutes for me to calm myself enough so I could articulate my words. A nervous ripple ran along my stomach and abdomen and kept me from talking coherently.
In a calm soft voice he urged me to get hold of myself, because the darkness was like the wind, an unknown entity at large that could trick me if I was not careful. And I had to be perfectly calm in order to deal with it.
"You must let yourself go so your personal power will merge with the power of the night," he said in my ear.
He said he was going to move ahead of me and I had another attack of irrational fear.
"This is insane," I protested.
Don Juan did not get angry or impatient. He laughed quietly and said something in my ear which I did not quite understand.
"What did you say?" I said loudly through chattering teeth.
Don Juan put his hand over my mouth and whispered that a warrior acted as if he knew what he was doing, when in effect he knew nothing. He repeated one statement three or four times, as if he wanted me to memorize it. He said, "A warrior is impeccable when he trusts his personal power regardless of whether it is small or enormous."
After a short wait he asked me if I was all right. I nodded and he went swiftly out of sight with hardly a sound.
I tried to look around. I seemed to be standing in an area of thick vegetation. All I could distinguish was the dark mass of shrubs, or perhaps small trees. I concentrated my attention on sounds, but nothing was outstanding. The whizzing of the wind muffled every other sound except the sporadic piercing cries of large owls and the whistling of other birds.
I waited for a while in a state of utmost attention. And then came the raspy prolonged cry of a small owl. I had no doubt it was don Juan. It came from a place behind me. I turned around and began to walk in that direction. I moved slowly because I felt inextricably encumbered by the darkness.
I walked for perhaps ten minutes. Suddenly some dark mass jumped in front of me. I screamed and fell backward on my seat. My ears began buzzing. The fright was so great that it cut my wind. I had to open my mouth to breathe.
"Stand up," don Juan said softly. "I didn't mean to scare you. I just came to meet you."
He said that he had been watching my crappy way of walking and that when I moved in the darkness I looked like a crippled old lady trying to tiptoe between mud puddles. He found this image funny and laughed out loud.
He then proceeded to demonstrate a special way of walking in the darkness, a way which he called "the gait of power". He stooped over in front of me and made me run my hands over his back and knees, in order to get an idea of the position of his body. Don Juan's trunk was slightly bent forward, but his spine was straight. His knees were also slightly bent.
He walked slowly in front of me so I could take notice that he raised his knees almost to his chest every time he took a step. And then he actually ran out of sight and came back again. I could not conceive how he could run in total darkness.
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"The gait of power is for running at night," he whispered in my ear.
He urged me to try it myself. I told him that I was sure I would break my legs falling into a crevice or against a rock. Don Juan very calmly said that the "gait of power" was completely safe.
I pointed out that the only way I could understand his acts was by assuming he knew those hills to perfection and thus could avoid the pitfalls.
Don Juan took my head in his hands and whispered forcefully, "This is the night! And it is power!"
He let go of my head and then added in a soft voice that at night the world was different, and that his ability to run in the darkness had nothing to do with his knowledge of those hills. He said that the key to it was to let one's personal power flow out freely, so it could merge with the power of the night, and that once that power took over there was no chance for a slip-up. He added, in a tone of utmost seriousness, that if I doubted it I should consider for a moment what was taking place. For a man of his age to run in those hills at that hour would be suicidal if the power of the night was not guiding him.
"Look!" he said and ran swiftly out into the darkness and came back again.
The way his body moved was so extraordinary that I could not believe what I was seeing. He sort of jogged on the same spot for a moment. The manner in which he lifted his legs reminded me of a sprinter doing preliminary warm-up exercises.
He then told me to follow him. I did it with utter constraint and uneasiness. With extreme care I tried to look where I was stepping but it was impossible to judge distance. Don Juan came back and jogged by my side. He whispered that I had to abandon myself to the power of the night and trust the little bit of personal power that I had, or I would never be able to move with freedom, and that the darkness was encumbering only because I relied on my sight for everything I did, not knowing that another way to move was to let power be the guide.
I tried various times without success. I simply could not let go. The fear of injuring my legs was overpowering. Don Juan ordered me to keep on moving in the same spot and to try to feel as if I were actually using the "gait of power".
He then said that he was going to run ahead and that I should wait for his owl's cry. He disappeared in the darkness before I could say anything. I closed my eyes at times and jogged on the same spot with my knees and trunk bent for perhaps an hour. Little by little my tension began to ease up until I was fairly comfortable. Then I heard don Juan's cry.
I ran five or six yards in the direction where the cry came from, trying to "abandon myself", as don Juan had suggested. But stumbling into a bush immediately brought back my feelings of insecurity.
Don Juan was waiting for me and corrected my posture. He insisted I should first curl my fingers against my palms, stretching out the thumb and index of each hand. Then he said that in his opinion I was just indulging myself in my feelings of inadequacy, since I knew for a fact I could always see fairly well, no matter how dark the night was, if I did not focus on anything but kept scanning the ground right in front of me. The "gait of power" was similar to finding a place to rest. Both entailed a sense of abandon, and a sense of trust. The "gait of power" required that one keep the eyes on the ground directly in front, because even a glance to either side would produce an alteration in the flow of movement. He explained that bending the trunk forward was necessary in order to lower the eyes, and the reason for lifting the knees up to the chest was because the steps had to be very short and safe. He warned me that I was going to stumble a great deal at first but he assured me that with practice I could run as swiftly and as safely as I could in the daytime.
For hours I tried to imitate his movements and get into the mood he recommended. He would very patiently jog on the same spot in front of me, or he would take off in a short run and return to where I was, so I could see how he moved. He would even push me and make me run a few
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yards.
Then he took off and called me with a series of owl cries. In some inexplicable way I moved with an unexpected degree of self-confidence. To my knowledge I had done nothing to warrant that feeling, but my body seemed to be cognizant of things without thinking about them. For example, I could not really see the jagged rocks in my way, but my body always managed to step on the edges and never in the crevices, except for a few mishaps when I lost my balance because I became distracted. The degree of concentration needed to keep scanning the area directly in front had to be total. As don Juan had warned me, any slight glance to the side or too far ahead altered the flow.
I located don Juan after a long search. He was sitting by some dark shapes that seemed to be trees. He came towards me and said that I was doing very well, but it was time to quit because he had been using his whistle long enough and was sure that by then it could be imitated by others.
I agreed that it was time to stop. I was nearly exhausted by my attempts. I felt relieved and asked him who would imitate his cry.
"Powers, allies, spirits, who knows?" he said in a whisper. He explained that those "entities of the night" usually made very melodious sounds but were at a great disadvantage in reproducing the raspiness of human cries or bird whistling. He cautioned me to always stop moving if I ever heard such a sound and to keep in mind all he had said, because at some other time I might need to make the proper identification. In a reassuring tone he said that I had a very good idea what the "gait of power" was like, and that in order to master it I needed only a slight push, which I could get on another occasion when we ventured again into the night. He patted me on the shoulder and announced that he was ready to leave.
"Let's get out of here," he said and began running.
"Wait! Wait!" I screamed frantically. "Let's walk."
Don Juan stopped and took off his hat.
"Golly!" he said in a tone of perplexity. "We're in a fix. You know that I cannot walk in the dark. I can only run. I'll break my legs if I walk."
I had the feeling he was grinning when he said that, although I could not see his face. He added in a confidential tone that he was too old to walk and the little bit of the "gait of power"
that I had learned that night had to be stretched to meet the occasion.
"If we don't use the "gait of power " we will be mowed down like grass," he whispered in my ear.
"By whom?"
"There are things in the night that act on people," he whispered in a tone that sent chills through my body.
He said that it was not important that I keep up with him, because he was going to give repeated signals of four owl cries at a time so I could follow him.
I suggested that we should stay in those hills until dawn and then leave. He retorted in a very dramatic tone that to stay there would be suicidal; and even if we came out alive, the night would have drained our personal power to the point that we could not avoid being the victims of the first hazard of the day.
"Let's not waste any more time," he said with a note of urgency in his voice. "Let's get out of here."
He reassured me that he would try to go as slowly as possible. His final instructions were that I should try not to utter a sound, not even a gasp, no matter what happened. He gave me the general direction we were going to go in and began running at a markedly slower pace. I followed him, but no matter how slow he moved I could not keep up with him, and he soon disappeared in the darkness ahead of me.
After I was alone I became aware that I had adopted a fairly fast walk without realizing it. And
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that came as a shock to me. I tried to maintain that pace for a long while and then I heard don Juan's call a little bit to my right. He whistled four times in succession.
After a very short while I again heard his owl cry, this time to my far right. In order to follow it I had to make a forty-five-degree turn. I began to move in the new direction, expecting that the other three cries of the set would give me a better orientation.
I heard a new whistle, which placed don Juan almost in the direction where we had started. I stopped and listened. I heard a very sharp noise a short distance away. Something like the sound of two rocks being struck against each other. I strained to listen and detected a series of soft noises, as if two rocks were being struck gently. There was another owl's cry and then I knew what don Juan had meant. There was something truly melodious about it. It was definitely longer and even more mellow than a real owl's.
I felt a strange sensation of fright. My stomach contracted as if something were pulling me down from the middle part of my body. I turned around and started to semi-jog in the opposite direction.
I heard a faint owl cry in the distance. There was a rapid succession of three more cries. They were don Juan's. I ran in their direction. I felt that he must have then been a good quarter of a mile away and if he kept up that pace I would soon be inextricably alone in those hills. I could not understand why don Juan would run ahead, when he could have run around me, if he needed to keep that pace.
I noticed then that there seemed to be something moving with me to my left. I could almost see it in the extreme periphery of my visual field. I was about to panic, but a sobering thought crossed my mind. I could not possibly see anything in the dark. I wanted to stare in that direction but I was afraid to lose my momentum.
Another owl cry jolted me out of my deliberations. It came from my left. I did not follow it because it was without a doubt the most sweet and melodious cry I had ever heard. It did not frighten me though. There was something very appealing, or perhaps haunting, or even sad about it.
Then a very swift dark mass crossed from left to right ahead of me. The suddenness of its movements made me look ahead, I lost my balance and crashed noisily against some shrubs. I fell down on my side and then I heard the melodious cry a few steps to my left. I stood up, but before I could start moving forward again there was another cry, more demanding and compelling than the first. It was as if something there wanted me to stop and listen. The sound of the owl cry was so prolonged and gentle that it eased my fears. I would have actually stopped had I not heard at that precise moment don Juan's four raspy cries. They seemed to be nearer. I jumped and took off in that direction.
After a moment I noticed again a certain flicker or a wave in the darkness to my left. It was not a sight proper, but rather a feeling, and yet I was almost sure I was perceiving it with my eyes.
It moved faster than I did, and again it crossed from left to right, making me lose my balance.
This time I did not fall down, and strangely enough not falling down annoyed me. I suddenly became angry and the incongruency of my feelings threw me into true panic. I tried to accelerate my pace. I wanted, to give out an owl cry myself to let don Juan know where I was, but I did not dare to disobey his instructions.
At that moment some gruesome thing came to my attention. There was actually something like an animal to my left, almost touching me. I jumped involuntarily and veered to my right. The fright almost suffocated me. I was so intensely gripped by fear that there were no thoughts in my mind as I moved in the darkness as fast as I could. My fear seemed to be a bodily sensation that had nothing to do with my thoughts. I found that condition very unusual. In the course of my life, my fears had always been mounted on an intellectual matrix and had been engendered by threatening social situations, or by people behaving towards me in dangerous ways. This time,
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however, my fear was a true novelty. It came from an unknown part of the world and hit me in an unknown part of myself.
I heard an owl cry very close and slightly to my left. I could not catch the details of its pitch, but it seemed to be don Juan's. It was not melodious. I slowed down. Another cry followed. The raspiness of don Juan's whistles was there, so I moved faster. A third whistle came from a very short distance away. I could distinguish a dark mass of rocks or perhaps trees. I heard another owl's cry and I thought that don Juan was waiting for me because we were out of the field of danger. I was almost at the edge of the darker area when a fifth cry froze me on the spot. I strained to see ahead into the dark area, but a sudden rustling sound to my left made me turn around in time to notice a black object, blacker than the surroundings, rolling or sliding by my side. I gasped and jumped away. I heard a clicking sound, as if someone were smacking his lips, and then a very large dark mass lurched out of the darker area. It was square, like a door, perhaps eight to ten feet high.
The suddenness of its appearance made me scream. For a moment my fright was all out of proportion, but a second later I found myself awesomely calm, staring at the dark shape.
My reactions were, as far as I was concerned, another total novelty. Some part of myself seemed to pull me towards the dark area with an eerie insistence, while another part of me resisted. It was as if I wanted to find out for sure on the one hand, and on the other I wanted to run hysterically out of there.
I barely heard don Juan's owl cries. They seemed to be very close by and they seemed to be frantic; they were longer and raspier, as though he was whistling while he ran towards me.
Suddenly I seemed to regain control of myself and was able to turn around and for a moment I ran just as don Juan had been wanting me to.
"Don Juan!" I shouted when I found him.
He put his hand on my mouth and signaled me to follow and we both jogged at a very comfortable pace until we came to the sandstone ledge where we had been before.
We sat in absolute silence on the ledge for about an hour, until dawn. Then we ate food from the gourds. Don Juan said that we had to remain on the ledge until midday, and that we were not going to sleep at all but were going to talk as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
He asked me to relate in detail everything that had happened to me from the moment he had left me. When I concluded my narration he stayed quiet for a long time. He seemed to be immersed in deep thought.
"It doesn't look too good," he finally said. "What happened to you last night was very serious, so serious that you cannot venture into the night alone any more. From now on the entities of the night won't leave you alone."
"What happened to me last night, don Juan?"
'You stumbled on some entities which are in the world, and which act on people. You know nothing about them because you have never encountered them. Perhaps it would be more proper to call them entities of the mountains; they don't really belong to the night. I call them entities of the night because one can perceive them in the darkness with greater ease. They are here, around us at all times. In daylight, however, it is more difficult to perceive them, simply because the world is familiar to us, and that which is familiar takes precedence. In the darkness, on the other hand, everything is equally strange and very few things take precedence, so we are more susceptible to those entities at night."
"But are they real, don Juan?"
"Of course! They are so real that ordinarily they kill people, especially those who stray into the wilderness and have no personal power."
"If you knew they were so dangerous, why did you leave me alone there?"
"There is only one way to learn, and that way is to get down to business. To only talk about
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power is useless. If you want to know what power is, and if you want to store it, you must tackle everything yourself.
"The road of knowledge and power is very difficult and very long. You may have noticed that I have not let you venture into the darkness by yourself until last night. You did not have enough power to do that. Now you do have enough to wage a good battle, but not enough to stay in the dark by yourself."
"What would happen if I did?"
"You'll die. The entities of the night will crush you like a bug."
"Does that mean that I cannot spend a night by myself?"
"You can spend the night by yourself in your bed, but not in the mountains."
"What about the flatlands?"
"It applies only to the wilderness, where there are no people around, especially the wilderness in high mountains. Since the natural abodes of the entities of the night are rocks and crevices, you cannot go to the mountains from now on unless you have stored enough personal power."
"But how can I store personal power?"
"You are doing it by living the way I have recommended. Little by little you are plugging all your points of drainage. You don't have to be deliberate about it, because power always finds a way. Take me as an example. I didn't know I was storing power when I first began to learn the ways of a warrior. Just like you, I thought I wasn't doing anything in particular, but that was not so. Power has the peculiarity of being unnoticeable when it is being stored."
I asked him to explain how he had arrived at the conclusion that it was dangerous for me to stay by myself in the darkness.
"The entities of the night moved along your left," he said. "They were trying to merge with your death. Especially the door that you saw. It was an opening, you know, and it would have pulled you until you had been forced to cross it. And that would have been your end."
I mentioned, in the best way I could, that I thought it was very strange that things always happened when he was around, and that it was as if he had been concocting all the events himself.
The times I had been alone in the wilderness at night had always been perfectly normal and uneventful. I had never experienced shadows or strange noises. In fact, I had never been frightened by anything.
Don Juan chuckled softly and said that everything was proof he had enough personal power to call a myriad of things to his aid. I had the feeling he perhaps was hinting that he actually had called on some people as his confederates.
Don Juan seemed to have read my thoughts and laughed out loud.
"Don't tax yourself with explanations," he said. "What I said makes no sense to you, simply because you still don't have enough personal power. Yet you have more than when you started, so things have begun to happen to you. You already had a powerful encounter with the fog and lightning. It is not important that you understand what happened to you that night. What's important is that you have acquired the memory of it. The bridge and everything else you saw that night will be repeated someday when you have enough personal power."
"For what purpose would all that be repeated, don Juan?"
"I don't know. I am not you. Only you can answer that. We are all different. That's why I had to leave you by yourself last night, although I knew it was mortally dangerous; you had to test yourself against those entities. The reason I chose the owl's cry was because owls are the entities'
messengers. To imitate the cry of an owl brings them out. They became dangerous to you not because they are naturally malevolent but because you were not impeccable. There is something in you that is very chintzy and I know what it is. You are just humoring me. You have been humoring everybody all along and, of course, that places you automatically above everyone and everything. But you know yourself that that cannot be so. You are only a man, and your life is too
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brief to encompass all the wonders and all the horrors of this marvelous world. Therefore, your humoring is chintzy; it cuts you down to a crappy size."
I wanted to protest. Don Juan had nailed me, as he had done dozens of times before. For a moment I became angry. But, as it had happened before, writing detached me enough so I could remain impassive.
"I think I have a cure for it," don Juan went on after a long interval. "Even you would agree with me if you could remember what you did last night. You ran as fast as any sorcerer only when your opponent became unbearable. We both know that and I believe I have already found a worthy opponent for you."
"What are you going to do, don Juan?"
He did not answer. He stood up and stretched his body. He seemed to contract every muscle.
He ordered me to do the same.
"You must stretch your body many times during the day," he said." The more times the better, but only after a long period of work or a long period of rest,"
"What kind of opponent are you going to find for me?" I asked.
"Unfortunately only our fellow men are our worthy opponents," he said. "Other entities have no volition of their own and one must go to meet them and lure them out. Our fellow men, on the contrary, are relentless.
"We have talked long enough," don Juan said in an abrupt tone and turned to me. "Before we leave you must do one more thing, the most important of all. I am going to tell you something right now to set your mind at ease about why you are here. The reason you keep on coming to see me is very simple; every time you have seen me your body has learned certain things, even against your desire. And finally your body now needs to come back to me to learn more. Let's say that your body knows that it is going to die, even though you never think about it. So I've been telling your body that I too am going to die and before I do I would like to show your body certain things, things which you cannot give to your body yourself. For example, your body needs fright. It likes it. Your body needs the darkness and the wind. Your body now knows the gait of power and can't wait to try it. Your body needs personal power and can't wait to have it. So let's say then that your body returns to see me because I am its friend."
Don Juan remained silent for a long while. He seemed to be struggling with his thoughts.
"I've told you that the secret of a strong body is not in what you do to it but in what you don't do," he finally said. "Now it is time for you not to do what you always do. Sit here until we leave and not-do."
"I don't follow you, don Juan."
He put his hands over my notes and took them away from me. He carefully closed the pages of my notebook, secured it with its rubber band, and then threw it like a disc far into the chaparral.
I was shocked and began to protest but he put his hand over my mouth. He pointed to a large bush and told me to fix my attention not on the leaves but on the shadows of the leaves. He said that running in the darkness did not have to be spurred by fear but could be a very natural reaction of a jubilant body that knew how "to not do". He repeated over and over in a whisper in my right ear that "to not do what I knew how to do' was the key to power. In the case of looking at a tree, what I knew how to do was to focus immediately on the foliage. The shadows of the leaves or the spaces in between the leaves were never my concern. His last admonitions were to start focusing on the shadows of the leaves on one single branch and then eventually work my way to the whole tree, and not to let my eyes go back to the leaves, because the first deliberate step to storing personal power was to allow the body to not-do.
Perhaps it was because of my fatigue or my nervous excitation, but I became so immersed in the shadows of the leaves that by the time don Juan stood up I could almost group the dark masses of shadows as effectively as I normally grouped the foliage. The total effect was startling.
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I told don Juan that I would like to stay longer. He laughed and patted me on my hat.
"I've told you," he said." The body likes things like this."
He then said that I should let my stored power guide me through the bushes to my notebook.
He gently pushed me into the chaparral. I walked aimlessly for a moment and then I came upon it. I thought that I must have unconsciously memorized the direction in which don Juan had thrown it. He explained the event, saying that I went directly to the notebook because my body had been soaked for hours in not-doing.
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15. Not-Doing
Wednesday, 11 April 1962
Upon returning to his house, don Juan recommended that I work on my notes as if nothing had happened to me, and not to mention or even be concerned with any of the events I had experienced.
After a day's rest he announced that we had to leave the area for a few days because it was advisable to put distance between us and those "entities". He said that they had affected me deeply, although I was not noticing their effect yet because my body was not sensitive enough. In a short while, however, I would fall seriously ill if I did not go to my "place of predilection" to be cleansed and restored.
We left before dawn and drove north, and after an exhausting drive and a fast hike we arrived at the hilltop in the late afternoon.
Don Juan, as he had done before, covered the spot where I had once slept with small branches and leaves. Then he gave me a handful of leaves to put against the skin of my abdomen and told me to lie down and rest. He fixed another place for himself slightly to my left, about five feet away from my head, and also lay down.
In a matter of minutes I began to feel an exquisite warmth and a sense of supreme well-being.
It was a sense of physical comfort, a sensation of being suspended in mid-air. I could fully agree with don Juan's statement that the "bed of strings" would keep me floating. I commented on the unbelievable quality of my sensory experience. Don Juan said in a factual tone that the "bed" was made for that purpose.
"I can't believe that this is possible!" I exclaimed.
Don Juan took my statement literally and scolded me. He said he was tired of my acting as an ultimately important being that has to be given proof over and over that the world is unknown and marvelous.
I tried to explain that a rhetorical exclamation had no significance. He retorted that if that were so I could have chosen another statement. It seemed that he was seriously annoyed with me. I sat up halfway and began to apologize, but he laughed and, imitating my manner of speaking, suggested a series of hilarious rhetorical exclamations I could have used instead. I ended up laughing at the calculated absurdity of some of his proposed alternatives.
He giggled and in a soft tone reminded me that I should abandon myself to the sensation of floating.
The soothing feeling of peace and plenitude that I experienced in that mysterious place aroused some deeply buried emotions in me. I began to talk about my life. I confessed that I had never respected or liked anybody, not even myself, and that I had always felt I was inherently evil, and thus my attitude towards others was always veiled with a certain bravado and daring.
"True," don Juan said. "You don't like yourself at all."
He cackled and told me that he had been seeing while I talked. His recommendation was that I should not have remorse for anything I had done, because to isolate one's acts as being mean, or ugly, or evil was to place an unwarranted importance on the self.
I moved nervously and the bed of leaves made a rustling sound. Don Juan said that if I wanted to rest I should not make my leaves feel agitated, and that I should imitate him and lie without making a single movement. He added that in his seeing he had come across one of my moods. He struggled for a moment, seemingly to find a proper word, and said that the mood in question was a frame of mind I continually lapsed into. He described it as a sort of trap door that opened at
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unexpected times and swallowed me.
I asked him to be more specific. He replied that it was impossible to be specific about seeing.
Before I could say anything else he told me I should relax, but not fall asleep, and be in a state of awareness for as long as I could. He said that the "bed of strings" was made exclusively to allow a warrior to arrive at a certain state of peace and well-being.
In a dramatic tone don Juan stated that well-being was a condition one had to groom, a condition one had to become acquainted with in order to seek it.
"You don't know what well-being is, because you have never experienced it," he said.
I disagreed with him. But he continued arguing that well-being was an achievement one had to deliberately seek. He said that the only thing I knew how to seek was a sense of disorientation, ill-being, and confusion.
He laughed mockingly and assured me that in order to accomplish the feat of making myself miserable I had to work in a most intense fashion, and that it was absurd I had never realized I could work just the same in making myself complete and strong.
"The trick is in what one emphasizes," he said. "We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same."
I closed my eyes and relaxed again and began to feel I was floating; for a short while it was as if I were actually moving through space, like a leaf. Although it was utterly pleasurable, the feeling somehow reminded me of times when I had become sick and dizzy and would experience a sensation of spinning. I thought perhaps I had eaten something bad.
I heard don Juan talking to me but I did not really make an effort to listen. I was trying to make a mental inventory of all the things I had eaten that day, but I could not become interested in it. It did not seem to matter.
"Watch the way the sunlight changes," he said.
His voice was clear. I thought it was like water, fluid and warm.
The sky was totally free of clouds towards the west and the sunlight was spectacular. Perhaps the fact that don Juan was cueing me made the yellowish glow of the afternoon sun truly magnificent.
"Let that glow kindle you," don Juan said. "Before the sun goes down today you must be perfectly calm and restored, because tomorrow or the day after, you are going to learn not-doing."
"Learn not doing what?" I asked.
"Never mind now," he said. "Wait until we are in those lava mountains."
He pointed to some distant jagged, dark, menacing-looking peaks towards the north.
Thursday, 12 April 1962
We reached the high desert around the lava mountains in the late afternoon. In the distance the dark brown lava mountains looked almost sinister. The sun was very low on the horizon and shone on the western face of the solidified lava, tinting its dark brownness with a dazzling array of yellow reflections.
I could not keep my eyes away. Those peaks were truly mesmerizing.
By the end of the day the bottom slopes of the mountains were in sight. There was very little vegetation on the high desert; all I could see were cacti and a kind of tall grass that grew in tufts.
Don Juan stopped to rest. He sat down, carefully propped his food gourds against a rock, and said that we were going to camp on that spot for the night. He had picked a relatively high place.
From where I stood I could see quite a distance away, all around us.
It was a cloudy day and the twilight quickly enveloped the area. I became involved in watching the speed with which the crimson clouds on the west faded into a uniform thick dark
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grey.
Don Juan got up and went to the bushes. By the time he came back the silhouette of the lava mountains was a dark mass. He sat down next to me and called my attention to what seemed to be a natural formation on the mountains towards the northeast. It was a spot which had a colour much lighter than its surroundings. While the whole range of lava mountains looked uniformly dark brown in the twilight, the spot he was pointing at was actually yellowish or dark beige. I could not figure out what it could be. I stared at it for a long time. It seemed to be moving; I fancied it to be pulsating. When I squinted my eyes it actually rippled as if the wind were moving it.
"Look at it fixedly!" don Juan commanded me.
At one moment, after I had maintained my stare for quite a while, I felt that the whole range of mountains was moving towards me. That feeling was accompanied by an unusual agitation in the pit of my stomach. The discomfort became so acute that I stood up.
"Sit down!" don Juan yelled, but I was already on my feet.
From my new point of view the yellowish formation was lower on the side of the mountains. I sat down again, without taking my eyes away, and the formation shifted to a higher place. I stared at it for an instant and suddenly I arranged everything into the correct perspective. I realized that what I had been looking at was not in the mountains at all but was really a piece of yellowish green cloth hanging from a tall cactus in front of me.
I laughed out loud and explained to don Juan that the twilight had helped to create an optical illusion.
He got up and walked to the place where the piece of cloth was hanging, took it down, folded it, and put it inside his pouch.
"What are you doing that for?" I asked.
"Because this piece of cloth has power," he said casually. "For a moment you were doing fine with it and there is no way of knowing what may have happened if you had remained seated."
Friday, 13 April 1962
At the crack of dawn we headed for the mountains. They were surprisingly far away. By midday we walked into one of the canyons. There was some water in shallow pools. We sat to rest in the shade of a hanging cliff.
The mountains were clumps of a monumental lava flow. The solidified lava had weathered over the millennia into a porous dark brown rock. Only a few sturdy weeds grew between the rocks and in the cracks.
Looking up at the almost perpendicular walls of the canyon, I had a weird sensation in the pit of my stomach. The walls were hundreds of feet high and gave me the feeling that they were closing in on me. The sun was almost overhead, slightly towards the southwest.
"Stand up here," don Juan said and manoeuvred my body until I was looking towards the sun.
He told me to look fixedly at the mountain walls above me.
The sight was stupendous. The magnificent height of the lava flow staggered my imagination.
I began to wonder what a volcanic upheaval it must have been. I looked up and down the sides of the canyon various times. I became immersed in the richness of colour in the rock wall. There were specks of every conceivable hue. There were patches of light grey moss or lichen in every rock. I looked right above my head and noticed that the sunlight was producing the most exquisite reflections when it hit the brilliant specks of the solidified lava.
I stared at an area in the mountains where the sunlight was being reflected. As the sun moved, the intensity diminished, then it faded completely.
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I looked across the canyon and saw another area of the same exquisite light refractions. I told don Juan what was happening, and then I spotted another area of light, and then another in a different place, and another, until the whole canyon was blotched with big patches of light.
I felt dizzy; even if I closed my eyes I could still see the brilliant lights. I held my head in my hands and tried to crawl under the hanging cliff, but don Juan grabbed my arm firmly and imperatively told me to look at the walls of the mountains and try to figure out spots of heavy darkness in the midst of the fields of light.
I did not want to look, because the glare bothered my eyes. I said that what was happening to me was similar to staring into a sunny street through a window and then seeing the window frame as a dark silhouette everywhere else.
Don Juan shook his head from side to side and began to chuckle. He let go of my arm and we sat down again under the hanging cliff.
I was jotting down my impressions of the surroundings when don Juan, after a long silence, suddenly spoke in a dramatic tone.
"I have brought you here to teach you one thing," he said and paused. "You are going to learn not-doing. We might as well talk about it because there is no other way for you to proceed. I thought you might catch on to not-doing without my having to say anything. I was wrong."
"I don't know what you're talking about, don Juan."
"It doesn't matter," he said. "I am going to tell you about something that is very simple but very difficult to perform; I am going to talk to you about not-doing, in spite of the fact that there is no way to talk about it, because it is the body that does it."
He stared at me in glances and then said that I had to pay the utmost attention to what he was going to say.
I closed my notebook, but to my amazement he insisted that I should keep on writing.
"Not-doing is so difficult and so powerful that you should not mention it," he went on. "Not until you have stopped the world; only then can you talk about it freely, if that's what you'd want to do."
Don Juan looked around and then pointed to a large rock.
"That rock over there is a rock because of doing," he said.
We looked at each other and he smiled. I waited for an explanation but he remained silent.
Finally I had to say that I had not understood what he meant.
"That's doing!" he exclaimed.
"Pardon me?"
"That's also doing."
"What are you talking about, don Juan?"
"Doing is what makes that rock a rock and that bush a bush. Doing is what makes you yourself and me myself."
I told him that his explanation did not explain anything. He laughed and scratched his temples.
"That's the problem with talking," he said. "It always makes one confuse the issues. If one starts talking about doing, one always ends up talking about something else. It is better to just act.
"Take that rock for instance. To look at it is doing, but to see it is not-doing."
I had to confess that his words were not making sense to me.
"Oh yes they do!" he exclaimed. "But you are convinced that they don't because that is your doing. That is the way you act towards me and the world."
He again pointed to the rock.
"That rock is a rock because of all the things you know how to do to it," he said."I call that doing. A man of knowledge, for instance, knows that the rock is a rock only because of doing, so if he doesn't want the rock to be a rock all he has to do is not-doing. See what I mean?"
I did not understand him at all. He laughed and made another attempt at explaining.
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"The world is the world because you know the doing involved in making it so," he said." If you didn't know its doing, the world would be different."
He examined me with curiosity. I stopped writing. I just wanted to listen to him. He went on explaining that without that certain doing there would be nothing familiar in the surroundings.
He leaned over and picked up a small rock between the thumb and index of his left hand and held it in front of my eyes.
"This is a pebble because you know the doing involved in making it into a pebble," he said.
"What are you saying?" I asked with a feeling of bona fide confusion.
Don Juan smiled. He seemed to be trying to hide a mischievous delight.
"I don't know why you are so confused," he said. "Words are your predilection. You should be in heaven."
He gave me a mysterious look and raised his brows two or three times. Then he pointed again to the small rock he was holding in front of my eyes.
"I say that you are making this into a pebble because you know the doing involved in it," he said. "Now, in order to stop the world you must stop doing."
He seemed to know that I still had not understood and smiled, shaking his head. He then took a twig and pointed to the uneven edge of the pebble.
"In the case of this little rock," he went on, "the first thing which doing does to it is to shrink it to this size. So the proper thing to do, which a warrior does if he wants to stop the world, is to enlarge a little rock, or any other thing, by not-doing."
He stood up and placed the pebble on a boulder and then asked me to come closer and examine it. He told me to look at the holes and depressions in the pebble and try to pick out the minute detail in them. He said that if I could pick out the detail, the holes and depressions would disappear and I would understand what not-doing meant.
"This damn pebble is going to drive you crazy today," he said.
I must have had a look of bewilderment on my face. He looked at me and laughed uproariously. Then he pretended to get angry with the pebble and hit it two or three times with his hat.
I urged him to clarify his point. I argued that it was possible for him to explain anything he wanted to if he made an effort.
He gave me a sly glance and shook his head as if the situation were hopeless.
"Sure I can explain anything," he said, laughing. "But could you understand it?"
I was taken aback by his insinuation.
"Doing makes you separate the pebble from the larger boulder," he continued. "If you want to learn not-doing, let's say that you have to join them."
He pointed to the small shadow that the pebble cast on the boulder and said that it was not a shadow but a glue which bound them together. He then turned around and walked away, saying that he was coming back to check on me later.
I stared at the pebble for a long time. I could not focus my attention on the minute detail in the holes and depressions, but the tiny shadow that the pebble cast on the boulder became a most interesting point. Don Juan was right; it was like a glue. It moved and shifted. I had the impression it was being squeezed from underneath the pebble.
When don Juan returned I related to him what I had observed about the shadow.
"That's a good beginning," he said. "A warrior can tell all kinds of things from the shadows."
He then suggested that I should take the pebble and bury it somewhere.
"Why?" I asked.
"You've been watching it for a long time," he said. "It has something of you now. A warrior always tries to affect the force of doing by changing it into not-doing. Doing would be to leave the pebble lying around because it is merely a small rock. Not-doing would be to proceed with
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that pebble as if it were something far beyond a mere rock. In this case, that pebble has soaked in you for a long time and now it is you, and as such, you cannot leave it lying around but must bury it. If you would have personal power, however, not-doing would be to change that pebble into a power object."
"Can I do that now?"
"Your life is not tight enough to do that. If you would see, you would know that your heavy concern has changed that pebble into something quite unappealing, therefore the best thing you can do is to dig a hole and bury it and let the earth absorb its heaviness."
"Is all this true, don Juan?"
"To say yes or no to your question is doing. But since you are learning not-doing I have to tell you that it really doesn't matter whether or not all this is true. It is here that a warrior has a point of advantage over the average man. An average man cares that things are either true or false, but a warrior doesn't. An average man proceeds in a specific way with things that he knows are true, and in a different way with things that he knows are not true. If things are said to be true, he acts and believes in what he does. But if things are said to be untrue, he doesn't care to act, or he doesn't believe in what he does. A warrior, on the other hand, acts in both instances. If things are said to be true, he would act in order to do doing. If things are said to be untrue, he still would act in order to do not-doing. See what I mean?"
"No, I don't see what you mean at all," I said.
Don Juan's statements put me in a belligerent mood. I could not make sense of what he was saying. I told him it was gibberish, and he mocked me and said that I did not even have an impeccable spirit in what I liked to do the most, talking. He actually made fun of my verbal command and found it faulty and inadequate.
"If you are going to be all mouth, be a mouth warrior," he said and roared with laughter.
I felt dejected. My ears were buzzing. I experienced an uncomfortable heat in my head. I was actually embarrassed and presumably red in the face.
I stood up and went into the chaparral and buried the pebble.
"I was teasing you a little bit," don Juan said when I returned and sat down again. "And yet I know that if you don't talk you don't understand. Talking is doing for you, but talking is not appropriate and if you want to know what I mean by not-doing you have to do a simple exercise.
Since we are concerned with not-doing it doesn't matter whether you do the exercise now or ten years from now."
He made me lie down and took my right arm and bent it at my elbow. Then he turned my hand until the palm was facing the front; he curved my fingers so my hand looked as if I were holding a door knob, and then he began to move my arm back and forth with a circular motion that resembled the act of pushing and pulling a lever attached to a wheel.
Don Juan said that a warrior executed that movement every time he wanted to push something out of his body, something like a disease or an unwelcome feeling. The idea was to push and pull an imaginary opposing force until one felt a heavy object, a solid body, stopping the free movements of the hand. In the case of the exercise, not-doing consisted in repeating it until one felt the heavy body with the hand, in spite of the fact that one could never believe it was possible to feel it.
I began moving my arm and in a short while my hand became ice cold. I had begun to feel a sort of mushiness around my hand. It was as if I were paddling through some heavy viscous liquid matter.
Don Juan made a sudden movement and grabbed my arm to stop the motion. My whole body shivered as though stirred by some unseen force. He scrutinized me as I sat up, and then walked around me before he sat back down on the place where he had been.
"You've done enough," he said. "You may do this exercise some other time, when you have
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more personal power."
"Did I do something wrong?"
"No. Not-doing is only for very strong warriors and you don't have the power to deal with it yet. Now you will only trap horrendous things with your hand. So do it little by little, until your hand doesn't get cold any more. Whenever your hand remains warm you can actually feel the lines of the world with it."
He paused as if to give me time to ask about the lines. But before I had a chance to, he started explaining that there were infinite numbers of lines that joined us to things. He said that the exercise of not-doing that he had just described would help anyone to feel a line that came out from the moving hand, a line that one could place or cast wherever one wanted to. Don Juan said that this was only an exercise, because the lines formed by the hand were not durable enough to be of real value in a practical situation.
"A man of knowledge uses other parts of his body to produce durable lines," he said.
"What parts of the body, don Juan?"
"The most durable lines that a man of knowledge produces come from the middle of the body," he said. "But he can also make them with his eyes."
"Are they real lines?"
"Surely."
"Can you see them and touch them?"
"Let's say that you can feel them. The most difficult part about the warrior's way is to realize that the world is a feeling. When one is not-doing, one is feeling the world, and one feels the world through its lines."
He paused and examined me with curiosity. He raised his brows and opened his eyes and then blinked. The effect was like the eyes of a bird blinking. Almost immediately I felt a sensation of discomfort and queasiness. It was actually as if something was applying pressure to my stomach.
"See what I mean?" don Juan asked and moved his eyes away.
I mentioned that I felt nauseated and he replied in a matter-of-fact tone that he knew it, and that he was trying to make me feel the lines of the world with his eyes. I could not accept the claim that he himself was making me feel that way. I voiced my doubts. I could hardly conceive the idea that he was causing my feeling of nausea, since he had not, in any physical way, impinged on me.
"Not-doing is very simple but very difficult," he said. "It is not a matter of understanding it but of mastering it. Seeing, of course, is the final accomplishment of a man of knowledge, and seeing is attained only when one has stopped the world through the technique of not-doing."
I smiled involuntarily. I had not understood what he meant.
"When one does something with people," he said, "the concern should be only with presenting the case to their bodies. That's what I've been doing with you so far, letting your body know. Who cares whether or not you understand?"
"But that's unfair, don Juan. I want to understand everything, otherwise coming here would be a waste of my time."
"A waste of your time!" he exclaimed parodying my tone of voice. "You certainly are conceited."
He stood up and told me that we were going to hike to the top of the lava peak to our right.
The ascent to the top was an excruciating affair. It was actual mountain climbing, except that there were no ropes to aid and protect us. Don Juan repeatedly told me not to look down; and he had to actually pull me up bodily a couple of times, after I had begun to slide down the rock. I felt terribly embarrassed that don Juan, being so old, had to help me. I told him that I was in poor physical condition because I was too lazy to do any exercise. He replied that once one had arrived at a certain level of personal power, exercise or any training of that sort was unnecessary, since
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all one needed, to be in an impeccable form, was to engage oneself in "not-doing".
When we arrived at the top I lay down. I was about to be sick. He rolled me back and forth with his foot as he had done once before. Little by little the motion restored my balance. But I felt nervous. It was as if I were somehow waiting for the sudden appearance of something. I involuntarily looked two or three times to each side. Don Juan did not say a word but he also looked in the direction I was looking.
"Shadows are peculiar affairs," he said all of a sudden. "You must have noticed that there is one following us."
"I haven't noticed anything of the sort," I protested in a loud voice.
Don Juan said that my body had noticed our pursuer, in spite of my stubborn opposition, and assured me in a confident tone that there was nothing unusual about being followed by a shadow.
"It is just a power," he said. "These mountains are filled with them. It is just like one of those entities that scared you the other night."
I wanted to know if I could actually perceive it myself. He asserted that in the daytime I could only feel its presence.
I wanted an explanation of why he called it a shadow when obviously it was not like the shadow of a boulder. He replied that both had the same lines, therefore both were shadows.
He pointed to a long boulder standing directly in front of us.
"Look at the shadow of that boulder," he said. "The shadow is the boulder, and yet it isn't. To observe the boulder in order to know what the boulder is, is doing, but to observe its shadow is not-doing.
"Shadows are like doors, the doors of not-doing. A man of knowledge, for example, can tell the innermost feelings of men by watching their shadows."
"Is there movement in them?" I asked.
"You may say that there is movement in them, or you may say that the lines of the world are shown in them, or you may say that feelings come from them."
"But how could feelings come out of shadows, don Juan?"
"To believe that shadows are just shadows is doing," he explained. "That belief is somehow stupid. Think about it this way: There is so much more to everything in the world that obviously there must be more to shadows too. After all, what makes them shadows is merely our doing."
There was a long silence. I did not know what else to say.
"The end of the day is approaching," don Juan said, looking at the sky. "You have to use this brilliant sunlight to perform one last exercise."
He led me to a place where there were two peaks the size of a man standing parallel to each other, about four or five feet apart. Don Juan stopped ten yards away from them, facing the west.
He marked a spot for me to stand on and told me to look at the shadows of the peaks. He said that I should watch them and cross my eyes in the same manner I ordinarily crossed them when scanning the ground for a place to rest. He clarified his directions by saying that when searching for a resting place one had to look without focusing but in observing shadows one had to cross the eyes and yet keep a sharp image in focus. The idea was to let one shadow be superimposed on the other by crossing the eyes. He explained that through that process one could ascertain a certain feeling which emanated from shadows. I commented on his vagueness, but he maintained that there was really no way of describing what he meant.
My attempt to carry out the exercise was futile. I struggled until I got a headache. Don Juan was not at all concerned with my failure. He climbed to a domelike peak and yelled from the top, telling me to look for two small long and narrow pieces of rock. He showed with his hands the size rock he wanted.
I found two pieces and handed them to him. Don Juan placed each rock about a foot apart in two crevices, made me stand above them facing the west, and told me to do the same exercise
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with their shadows.
This time it was an altogether different affair. Almost immediately I was capable of crossing my eyes and perceiving their individual shadows as if they had merged into one. I noticed that the act of looking without converging the images gave the single shadow I had formed an unbelievable depth and a sort of transparency. I stared at it, bewildered. Every hole in the rock, on the area where my eyes were focused, was neatly discernible; and the composite shadow, which was superimposed on them, was like a film of indescribable transparency.
I did not want to blink, for fear of losing the image I was so precariously holding. Finally my sore eyes forced me to blink, but I did not lose the view of the detail at all. In fact, by remoistening my cornea the image became even clearer. I noticed at that point that it was as if I were looking from an immeasurable height at a world I had never seen before. I also noticed that I could scan the surroundings of the shadow without losing the focus of my visual perception.
Then, for an instant, I lost the notion that I was looking at a rock. I felt that I was landing in a world, vast beyond anything I had ever conceived. This extraordinary perception lasted for a second and then everything was turned off. I automatically looked up and saw don Juan standing directly above the rocks, facing me. He had blocked the sunlight with his body.
I described the unusual sensation I had had, and he explained that he had been forced to interrupt it because he saw that I was about to get lost in it. He added that it was a natural tendency for all of us to indulge ourselves when feelings of that nature occur, and that by indulging myself in it I had almost turned not-doing into my old familiar doing. He said that what I should have done was to maintain the view without succumbing to it, because in a way doing was a manner of succumbing.
I complained that he should have told me beforehand what to expect and what to do, but he pointed out that he had no way of knowing whether or not I would succeed in merging the shadows.
I had to confess I was more mystified than ever about not-doing. Don Juan's comments were that I should be satisfied with what I had done, because for once I had proceeded correctly, that by reducing the world I had enlarged it, and that, although I had been far from feeling the lines of the world, I had correctly used the shadow of the rocks as a door into not-doing.
The statement that I had enlarged the world by reducing it intrigued me no end. The detail of the porous rock, in the small area where my eyes were focused, was so vivid and so precisely defined that the top of the round peak became a vast world for me; and yet it was really a reduced vision of the rock. When don Juan blocked the light and I found myself looking as I normally would do, the precise detail became dull, the tiny holes in the porous rock became bigger, the brown colour of the dried lava became opaque, and everything lost the shiny transparency that made the rock into a real world.
Don Juan then took the two rocks, laid them gently into a deep crevice, and sat down crosslegged facing the west, on the spot where the rocks had been. He patted a spot next to him to his left and told me to sit down.
We did not speak for a long time. Then we ate, also in silence. It was only after the sun had set that he suddenly turned and asked me about my progress in dreaming.
I told him that it had been easy in the beginning, but that at the moment I had ceased altogether to find my hands in my dreams.
"When you first started dreaming you were using my personal power, that's why it was easier," he said. "Now you are empty. But you must keep on trying until you have enough power of your own. You see, dreaming is the not-doing of dreams, and as you progress in your notdoing you will also progress in dreaming. The trick is not to stop looking for your hands, even if you don't believe that what you are doing has any meaning. In fact, as I have told you before, a warrior doesn't need to believe, because as long as he keeps on acting without believing he is not-
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doing."
We looked at each other for a moment.
"There is nothing else I can tell you about dreaming" he continued. "Everything I may say would only be not-doing. But if you tackle not-doing directly, you yourself would know what to do in dreaming. To find your hands is essential, though, at this time, and I am sure you will."
"I don't know, don Juan. I don't trust myself."
"This is not a matter of trusting anybody. This whole affair is a matter of a warrior's struggle;
and you will keep on struggling, if not under your own power, then perhaps under the impact of a worthy opponent, or with the help of some allies, like the one which is already following you."
I made a jerky involuntary movement with my right arm. Don Juan said that my body knew much more than I suspected, because the force that had been pursuing us was to my right. He confided in a low tone of voice that twice that day the ally had come so close to me that he had had to step in and stop it.
"During the day shadows are the doors of not-doing," he said. “But at night, since very little doing prevails in the dark, everything is a shadow, including the allies. I've already told you about this when I taught you the gait of power."
I laughed out loud and my own laughter scared me.
"Everything I have taught you so far has been an aspect of not-doing," he went on. "A warrior applies not-doing to everything in the world, and yet I can't tell you more about it than what I have said today. You must let your own body discover the power and the feeling of not-doing."
I had another fit of nervous cackling.
"It is stupid for you to scorn the mysteries of the world simply because you know the doing of scorn," he said with a serious face.
I assured him that I was not scorning anything or anyone, but that I was more nervous and incompetent than he thought.
"I've always been that way," I said. "And yet I want to change, but I don't know how. I am so inadequate."
"I already know that you think you are rotten," he said. "That's your doing. Now in order to affect that doing I am going to recommend that you learn another doing. From now on, and for a period of eight days, I want you to lie to yourself. Instead of telling yourself the truth, that you are ugly and rotten and inadequate, you will tell yourself that you are the complete opposite, knowing that you are lying and that you are absolutely beyond hope."
"But what would be the point of lying like that, don Juan?"
"It may hook you to another doing and then you may realize that both doings are lies, unreal, and that to hinge yourself to either one is a waste of time, because the only thing that is real is the being in you that is going to die. To arrive at that being is the not-doing of the self."
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16. The Ring of Power
Saturday, 14 April 1962
Don Juan felt the weight of our gourds and concluded that we had exhausted our food supply and that it was time to return home. I casually mentioned that it was going to take us at least a couple of days to get to his house. He said he was not going back to Sonora but to a border town where he had some business to take care of.
I thought we were going to start our descent through a water canyon but don Juan headed towards the northwest on the high plateau of the lava mountains. After about an hour of walking he led me into a deep ravine, which ended at a point where two peaks almost joined. There was a slope there, going almost to the top of the range, a strange slope which looked like a slanted concave bridge between the two peaks.
Don Juan pointed to an area on the face of the slope.
"Look there fixedly," he said. "The sun is almost right."
He explained that at midday the light of the sun could help me with not-doing. He then gave me a series of commands: to loosen all the tight garments I had on, to sit in a cross-legged position, and to look intently at the spot he had specified.
There were very few clouds in the sky and none towards the west. It was a hot day and the sunlight beamed on the solidified lava. I kept a very close watch over the area in question.
After a long vigil I asked what, specifically, I was supposed to look for. He made me be quiet with an impatient gesture of his hand.
I was tired. I wanted to go to sleep. I half closed my eyes; they were itching and I rubbed them, but my hands were clammy and the sweat made my eyes sting. I looked at the lava peaks through half-closed eyelids and suddenly the whole mountain was lit up.
I told don Juan that if I squinted my eyes I could see the whole range of mountains as an intricate array of light fibers.
He told me to breathe as little as possible in order to maintain the view of the light fibers, and not to stare intently into it but to look casually at a point on the horizon right above the slope. I followed his instructions and was able to hold the view of an interminable extension covered with a web of light.
Don Juan said in a very soft voice that I should try to isolate areas of darkness within the field of light fibers, and that right after finding a dark spot I should open my eyes and check where that spot was on the face of the slope.
I was incapable of perceiving any dark areas. I squinted my eyes and then opened them up various times. Don Juan drew closer to me and pointed to an area to my right, and then to another one right in front of me. I tried to change the position of my body; I thought that perhaps if I shifted my perspective I would be able to perceive the supposed area of darkness he was pointing to, but don Juan shook my arm and told me in a severe tone to keep still and be patient.
I again squinted my eyes and once more saw the web of light fibers. I looked at it for a moment and then I opened my eyes wider. At that instant I heard a faint rumble - it could have easily been explained as the distant sound of a jet plane - and then, with my eyes wide open, I saw the whole range of mountains in front of me as an enormous field of tiny dots of light. It was as if for a brief moment some metallic specks in the solidified lava were reflecting the sunlight in unison. Then the sunlight grew dim and was suddenly turned off and the mountains became a mass of dull dark brown rock and at the same time it also became windy and cold.
I wanted to turn around to see if the sun had disappeared behind a cloud but don Juan held my head and did not let me move. He said that if I turned I might catch a glimpse of an entity of the
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mountains, the ally that was following us. He assured me that I did not have the necessary strength to stand a sight of that nature, and then he added in a calculated tone that the rumble I had heard was the peculiar way in which an ally heralded its presence.
He then stood up and announced that we were going to start climbing up the side of the slope.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
He pointed to one of the areas he had isolated as being a spot of darkness. He explained that not-doing had allowed him to single out that spot as a possible centre of power, or perhaps as a place where power objects might be found.
We reached the spot he had in mind after a painful climb. He stood motionless for a moment a few feet in front of me. I tried to come closer to him but he signaled me with his hand to stop. He seemed to be orienting himself. I could see the back of his head moving as if he were sweeping his eyes up and down the mountain, then with sure steps he led the way to a ledge. He sat down and began to wipe some loose dirt off the ledge with his hand. He dug with his fingers around a small piece of rock that was sticking out, cleaning the dirt around it. Then he ordered me to dig it out.
Once I had dislodged the piece of rock, he told me to immediately put it inside my shirt because it was a power object that belonged to me. He said that he was giving it to me to keep, and that I should polish and care for it.
Right after that we began our descent into a water canyon, and a couple of hours later we were in the high desert at the foot of the lava mountains. Don Juan walked about ten feet ahead of me and kept up a very good pace. We went south until just before sunset. A heavy bank of clouds in the west prevented us from seeing the sun but we paused until it had presumably disappeared over the horizon.
Don Juan changed directions then and headed towards the southeast. We went over a hill and as we got to the top I spotted four men coming towards us from the south.
I looked at don Juan. We had never encountered people in our excursions and I did not know what to do in a case like that. But he did not seem to be concerned. He kept on walking as if nothing had happened.
The men moved as if they were not in a hurry; they meandered towards where we were in a leisurely way. When they were closer to us I noticed that they were four young Indians. They seemed to recognize don Juan. He talked to them in Spanish. They were very soft-spoken and treated him with great deference. Only one of them spoke to me. I asked don Juan in a whisper if I could also talk to them and he nodded his head affirmatively.
Once I engaged them in conversation they were very friendly and communicative, especially the one who had first spoken to me. They told me they were there in search of power quartz crystals. They said that they had been wandering around the lava mountains for several days but they had not had any luck.
Don Juan looked around and pointed to a rocky area about two hundred yards away.
"That's a good place to camp for a while," he said. He began to walk towards the rocks and we all followed him. The area he had selected was very rugged. There were no bushes on it. We sat down on the rocks. Don Juan announced that he was going to go back into the chaparral to gather dry branches for a fire. I wanted to help him, but he whispered to me that this was a special fire for those brave young men and he did not need my help.
The young men sat down around me in a close cluster. One of them sat with his back against mine. I felt a bit embarrassed.
When don Juan returned with a pile of sticks, he commended them for their carefulness and told me that the young men were a sorcerer's apprentices, and that it was the rule to make a circle and have two people back to back in the centre when going on hunting parties for power objects.
One of the young men asked me if I had ever found any crystals myself. I told him that don
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Juan had never taken me to look for them.
Don Juan selected a place close to a big boulder and started to make a fire. None of the young men moved to help him but watched him attentively. When all the sticks were burning, don Juan sat with his back against the boulder. The fire was to his right.
The young men apparently knew what was going on, but I did not have the faintest idea about the procedure to follow when one was dealing with sorcerer's apprentices.
I watched the young men. They sat facing don Juan, making a perfect half circle. I noticed then that don Juan was directly facing me and two of the young men had sat to my left and the other two to my right.
Don Juan began telling them that I was in the lava mountains to learn not-doing and that an ally had been following us. I thought that that was a very dramatic beginning and I was right. The young men changed positions and sat with their left legs tucked under their seats. I had not observed how they were sitting before. I had assumed that they were sitting the same way I was, cross-legged. A casual glance at don Juan revealed to me that he was also sitting with his left leg tucked in. He made a barely perceptible gesture with his chin to point at my sitting position. I casually tucked in my left leg.
Don Juan had once told me that that was the posture that a sorcerer used when things were uncertain. It had always proved, however, to be a very tiring position for me. I felt it was going to be a terrible imposition on me to remain seated in that fashion for the duration of his talk. Don Juan seemed to be thoroughly aware of my handicap and in a succinct manner explained to the young men that quartz crystals could be found in certain specific spots in that area, and that once they were found they had to be coaxed to leave their abode by means of special techniques. The crystals then became the man himself, and their power went beyond our understanding.
He said that ordinarily quartz crystals were found in clusters, and that it was up to the man who had found them to choose five of the longest and best-looking blades of quartz and sever them from their matrix. The finder was responsible for carving and polishing them in order to make them pointed and to make them fit perfectly to the size and shape of the fingers of his right hand.
Then he told us that the quartz crystals were weapons used for sorcery, that they were usually hurled to kill, and that they penetrated the enemy's body and then returned to their owner's hand as though they had never left it.
Next he talked about the search for the spirit that would turn the ordinary crystals into weapons and said that the first thing one had to do was to find a propitious place to lure out the spirit. That place had to be on a hilltop and was found by sweeping the hand, with the palm turned towards the earth, until a certain heat was detected with the palm of the hand. A fire had to be made on that spot. Don Juan explained that the ally was attracted by the flames and manifested itself through a series of consistent noises. The person searching for an ally had to follow the direction of the noises until the ally revealed itself, and then wrestle it to the ground in order to overpower it. It was at that point that one could make the ally touch the crystals to imbue them with power.
He warned us that there were other forces at large in those lava mountains, forces which did not resemble the allies; they did not make any noise, but appeared only as fleeting shadows, and did not have any power at all.
Don Juan added that a brilliantly coloured feather or some highly polished quartz crystals would attract the attention of an ally, but in the long run any object whatever would be equally effective, because the important part was not to find the objects but to find the force that would imbue them with power.
"What's the use of having beautifully polished crystals if you never find the spirit giver of power?" he said. "On the other hand, if you don't have the crystals but do find the spirit you may
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put anything in his way to be touched. You could put your dicks in the way if you can't find anything else."
The young men giggled. The most daring of them, the one who talked to me first, laughed loudly.
I noticed that don Juan had crossed his legs and was sitting in a relaxed manner. All the young men had also crossed their legs. I tried to slip casually into a more relaxed posture, but my left knee seemed to have a pinched nerve or a sore muscle and I had to stand up and jog on the spot for a few minutes. Don Juan made a joking comment. He said I was out of practice kneeling down, because I had not been to confession in years, ever since I had begun running around with him. That produced a great commotion among the young men. They laughed in spurts. Some of them covered their faces and giggled nervously.
"I'm going to show you fellows something," don Juan said casually after the young men had stopped laughing.
My guess was that he was going to let us see some power objects he had in his pouch. For an instant I thought the young men were going to cluster around him, for they made a sudden movement in unison. All of them bent forward a little bit, as if they were going to stand up, but then they all tucked their left legs in and went back to that mysterious position that was so hard on my knees.
I tucked my left leg in as casually as possible. I found that if I did not sit on my left foot, that is, if I kept a half-kneeling position, my knees did not hurt as much.
Don Juan stood up and walked around the big boulder until he was out of sight.
He must have fed the fire before he stood up, while I was tucking in my leg, for the new sticks chirped as they ignited and long flames spurted out. The effect was extremely dramatic. The flames grew twice as big. Don Juan suddenly stepped out from behind the boulder and stood where he had been sitting. I had a moment of bewilderment. Don Juan had put on a funny black hat. It had peaks on the side, by the ears, and it was round on top. It occurred to me that it was actually a pirate's hat. He was wearing a long black coat with tails, fastened with a single shiny metallic button, and he had a peg leg.
I laughed to myself. Don Juan really looked silly in his pirate's costume. I began to wonder where he had gotten that outfit out there in the wilderness. I assumed that it must have been hidden behind the rock. I commented to myself that all don Juan needed was a patch over his eye and a parrot on his shoulder to be the perfect stereotype of a pirate.
Don Juan looked at every member of the group, sweeping his eyes slowly from right to left.
Then he looked up above us and stared into the darkness behind us. He remained in that position for a moment and then he went around the boulder and disappeared.
I did not notice how he walked. Obviously he must have had his knee bent in order to depict a man with a wooden leg; when he turned around to walk behind the boulder I should have seen his bent leg, but I was so mystified by his acts that I did not pay any attention to details.
The flames lost their strength at the very moment don Juan went around the boulder. I thought that his timing had been superb; he must have calculated how long it would take for the sticks he had added to the fire to burn and had arranged his appearance and exit according to that calculation.
The change in the intensity of the fire was very dramatic for the group; there was a ripple of nervousness among the young men. As the flames diminished in size the young men went back in unison to a cross-legged sitting position.
I expected don Juan to step out from behind the boulder right away and sit down again but he did not. He remained out of sight. I waited impatiently. The young men were sitting with an impassive look on their faces.
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I could not understand what don Juan had intended with all those histrionics. After a long wait I turned to the young man on my right and asked him in a low voice if any of the items don Juan had put on - the funny hat and the long tail coat - and the fact he was standing on a peg leg had any meaning to him.
The young man looked at me with a funny blank expression. He seemed confused. I repeated my question and the other young man next to him looked at me attentively in order to listen.
They looked at each other seemingly in utter confusion. I said that to me the hat and the stump and the coat made him into a pirate.
By then all four young men had come closer together around me. They giggled softly and fretted nervously. They seemed to be at a loss for words. The most daring of them finally spoke to me. He said that don Juan did not have a hat on, was not wearing a long coat, and was certainly not standing on a stump, but that he had a black cowl or shawl over his head and a jet black tunic, like a friar's, that went all the way to the ground.
"No!" another young man exclaimed softly. "He didn't have a cowl."
"That's right," the others said.
The young man who had spoken first looked at me with an expression of total disbelief.
I told them that we had to review what had happened very carefully and very quietly, and that I was sure don Juan had wanted us to do so and thus he had left us alone.
The young man who was to my extreme right said that don Juan was in rags. He had on a tattered poncho, or some sort of Indian coat, and a most beat-up sombrero. He was holding a basket with things in it, but he was not sure what those things were. He added that don Juan was not really dressed as a beggar but rather as a man who was coming back from an interminable journey loaded with strange things.
The young man who had seen don Juan with a black cowl said that he had nothing in his hands but that his hair was long and wild, as if he were a wild man that had just killed a friar and had put on his clothes but could not hide his wildness.
The young man to my left chuckled softly and commented on the weirdness of it all. He said that don Juan was dressed as an important man who had just gotten off his horse. He had leather leggings for horseback riding, big spurs, a whip that he kept beating on his left palm, a Chihuahua hat with a conical crown, and two .45-calibre automatic pistols. He said that don Juan was the picture of a well-to-do "ranchero".
The young man to my extreme left laughed shyly and did not volunteer to reveal what he had seen. I coaxed him, but the others did not seem to be interested. He appeared to be rather too shy to talk.
The fire was about to be extinguished when don Juan came out from behind the boulder.
"We better leave the young men to their doings," he said to me. "Bid them good-bye."
He did not look at them. He began to walk away slowly to give me time to say good-bye.
The young men embraced me.
There were no flames in the fire, but the live coals reflected enough glare. Don Juan was like a dark shadow a few feet away and the young men were a circle of neatly defined static silhouettes.
They were like a row of jet black statues set in a background of darkness.
It was at that point that the total event had an impact on me. A chill ran up my spine. I caught up with don Juan. He told me in a tone of great urgency not to turn around to look at the young men, because at that moment they were a circle of shadows.
My stomach felt a force coming from the outside. It was as if a hand had grabbed me. I screamed involuntarily. Don Juan whispered that there was so much power in that area that it would be very easy for me to use the "gait of power".
We jogged for hours. I fell down five times. Don Juan counted out loud every time I lost my balance. Then he came to a halt.
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"Sit down, huddle against the rocks, and cover your belly with your hands," he whispered in my ear.
Sunday, 15 April 1962
As soon as there was enough light in the morning we started walking. Don Juan guided me to the place where I had left my car. I was hungry but I felt otherwise invigorated and well rested.
We ate some crackers and drank some bottled mineral water that I had in my car. I wanted to ask him some questions that were overwhelming me, but he put his finger to his lips.
By mid-afternoon we were in the border town where he wanted me to leave him. We went to a restaurant to eat lunch. The place was empty; we sat at a table by a window looking out at the busy main street and ordered our food.
Don Juan seemed relaxed; his eyes shone with a mischievous glint. I felt encouraged and began a barrage of questions. I mainly wanted to know about his disguise.
"I showed you a little bit of my not-doing," he said and his eyes seemed to glow.
"But none of us saw the same disguise," I said. "How did you do that?"
"It's all very simple," he replied. "They were only disguises, because everything we do is in some way merely a disguise. Everything we do, as I have told you, is a matter of doing. A man of knowledge could hook himself to everyone's doing and come up with weird things. But they are not weird, not really. They are weird only to those who are trapped in doing.
"Those four young men and yourself are not aware yet of not-doing, so it was easy to fool all of you."
"But how did you fool us?"
"It won't make sense to you. There is no way for you to understand it."
"Try me, don Juan, please."
"Let's say that when every one of us is born we bring with us a little ring of power. That little ring is almost immediately put to use. So every one of us is already hooked from birth and our rings of power are joined to everyone else's. In other words, our rings of power are hooked to the doing of the world in order to make the world."
'"Give me an example so I could understand it," I said.
"For instance, our rings of power, yours and mine, are hooked right now to the doing in this room. We are making this room. Our rings of power are spinning this room into being at this very moment."
"Wait, wait," I said. "This room is here by itself. I am not creating it. I have nothing to do with it."
Don Juan did not seem to be concerned with my argumentative protests. He very calmly maintained that the room we were in was brought to being and was kept in place because of the force of everybody's ring of power.
"You see," he continued, "every one of us knows the doing of rooms because, in one way or another, we have spent much of our lives in rooms. A man of knowledge, on the other hand, develops another ring of power. I would call it the ring of not-doing, because it is hooked to notdoing.
With that ring, therefore, he can spin another world."
A young waitress brought our food and seemed to be suspicious of us. Don Juan whispered that I should pay her to show her that I had enough money.
"I don't blame her for distrusting you," he said and roared with laughter. "You look like hell."
I paid the woman and tipped her, and when she left us alone I stared at don Juan, trying to find a way to recapture the thread of our conversation. He came to my rescue.
"Your difficulty is that you haven't yet developed your extra ring of power and your body
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doesn't know not-doing," he said.
I did not understand what he had said. My mind was locked in quite a prosaic concern. All I wanted to know was whether or not he had put on a pirate's outfit.
Don Juan did not answer but laughed uproariously. I begged him to explain.
"But I've just explained it to you," he retorted.
"You mean, that you didn't put on any disguise?" I asked.
"All I did was to hook my ring of power to your own doing," he said." You yourself did the rest and so did the others."
"That's incredible!" I exclaimed.
"We all have been taught to agree about doing," he said softly. "You don't have any idea of the power that that agreement brings with it. But, fortunately, not-doing is equally miraculous, and powerful."
I felt an uncontrollable ripple in my stomach. There was an unbridgeable abyss between my first-hand experience and his explanation. As an ultimate defence I ended up, as I had always done, with a tinge of doubt and distrust and with the question, "What if don Juan was really in cahoots with the young men and he himself had set it all up?"
I changed the subject and asked him about the four apprentices.
"Did you tell me that they were shadows?" I asked.
"That's right."
"Were they allies?"
"No. They were apprentices of a man I know."
"Why did you call them shadows?"
"Because at that moment they had been touched by the power of not-doing, and since they are not as stupid as you are they shifted into something quite different from what you know. I didn't want you to look at them for that reason. It would have only injured you."
I did not have any more questions. I was not hungry either. Don Juan ate heartily and seemed to be in an excellent mood. But I felt dejected. Suddenly a consuming fatigue possessed me. I realized that don Juan's path was too arduous for me, I commented that I did not have the qualifications to become a sorcerer.
"Perhaps another meeting with Mescalito will help you," he said.
I assured him that that was the farthest thing from my mind, and that I would not even consider the possibility.
"Very drastic things have to happen to you in order for you to allow your body to profit from all you have learned," he said.
I ventured the opinion that since I was not an Indian I was not really qualified to live the unusual life of a sorcerer.
"Perhaps if I could disentangle myself from all my commitments I could fare in your world a little better," I said. "Or if I would go into the wilderness with you and live there. As it is now, the fact I have a foot in both worlds makes me useless in either."
He stared at me for a long moment.
"This is your world," he said, pointing to the busy street outside the window. "You are a man of that world. And out there, in that world, is your hunting ground. There is no way to escape the doing of our world, so what a warrior does is to turn his world into his hunting ground. As a hunter, a warrior knows that the world is made to be used. So he uses every bit of it. A warrior is like a pirate that has no qualms in taking and using anything he wants, except that the warrior doesn't mind or he doesn't feel insulted when he is used and taken himself."
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17. A Worthy Opponent
Tuesday, 11 December 1962
My traps were perfect; the setting was correct; I saw rabbits, squirrels and other rodents, quail, and birds, but I could not catch anything at all during the whole day.
Don Juan had told me, as we left his house in the early morning, that I had to wait that day for a gift of power, an exceptional animal that might be lured into my traps and whose flesh I could dry for power food.
Don Juan seemed to be in a pensive mood. He did not make a single suggestion or comment.
Near the end of the day he finally made a statement.
"Someone is interfering with your hunting," he said.
"Who?" I asked, truly surprised.
He looked at me and smiled and shook his head in a gesture of disbelief.
"You act as if you didn't know who," he said. "And you've known who all day."
I was going to protest but I saw no point in it. I knew he was going to say "la Catalina", and if that was the kind of knowledge he was talking about, then he was right, I did know who.
"We either go home now," he continued, "or we wait until dark and use the twilight to catch her."
He appeared to be waiting for my decision. I wanted to leave. I began to gather some thin rope that I was using but before I could voice my wish he stopped me with a direct command.
"Sit down," he said. "It would be a simpler and more sober decision just to leave now, but this is a peculiar case and I think we must stay. This show is just for you."
"What do you mean?"
"Someone is interfering with you, in particular, so that makes it your show. I know who and you also know who."
"You scare me," I said.
"Not me," he replied, laughing. "That woman, who is out there prowling, is scaring you."
He paused as if he were waiting for the effect of his words to show on me. I had to admit that I was terrified.
Over a month before, I had had a horrendous confrontation with a sorceress called "la Catalina". I had faced her at the risk of my life because don Juan had convinced me that she was after his life and that he was incapable of fending off her onslaughts. After I had come in contact with her, don Juan disclosed to me that she had never really been of any danger to him, and that the whole affair had been a trick, not in the sense of a malicious prank but in the sense of a trap to ensnare me.
His method was so unethical to me that I became furious with him.
Upon hearing my angry outburst don Juan had begun to sing some Mexican tunes. He imitated popular crooners and his renditions were so comical that I had ended up laughing like a child. He entertained me for hours. I never knew he had such a repertoire of idiotic songs.
"Let me tell you something," he had finally said on that occasion. "If we wouldn't be tricked, we would never learn. The same thing happened to me, and it'll happen to anyone. The art of a benefactor is to take us to the brink. A benefactor can only point the way and trick. I tricked you before. You remember the way I recaptured your hunter's spirit, don't you? You yourself told me that hunting made you forget about plants. You were willing to do a lot of things in order to be a hunter, things you wouldn't have done in order to learn about plants. Now you must do a lot more in order to survive."
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He stared at me and broke into a fit of laughter.
"This is all crazy," I said. "We are rational beings."
"You're rational," he retorted. "I am not."
"Of course you are," I insisted. "You are one of the most rational men I have ever met."
"All right!" he exclaimed. "Let us not argue. I am rational, so what?"
I involved him in the argument of why it was necessary for two rational beings to proceed in such an insane way, as we had proceeded with the lady witch.
"You're rational, all right," he said fiercely. "And that means you believe that you know a lot about the world, but do you? Do you really? You have only seen the acts of people. Your experiences are limited only to what people have done to you or to others. You know nothing about this mysterious unknown world."
He signaled me to follow him to my car and we drove to the small Mexican town near by.
I did not ask what we were going to do. He made me park my car by a restaurant and then we walked around the bus depot and the general store. Don Juan walked on my right side, leading me. Suddenly I became aware that someone else was walking side by side with me to my left, but before I had time to turn to look, don Juan made a fast and sudden movement; he leaned forward, as if he were picking something from the ground, and then grabbed me by the armpit when I nearly stumbled over him. He dragged me to my car and did not let go of my arm even to allow me to unlock the door. I fumbled with the keys for a moment. He shoved me gently into the car and then got in himself.
"Drive slowly and stop in front of the store," he said.
When I had stopped, don Juan signaled me with a nod of his head to look.
"La Catalina' was standing at the place where don Juan had grabbed me. I recoiled involuntarily. The woman took a couple of steps towards the car and stood there defiantly. I scrutinized her carefully and concluded that she was a beautiful woman. She was very dark and had a plump body but she seemed to be strong and muscular. She had a round full face with high cheekbones and two long braids of jet black hair. What surprised me the most was her youth. She was at the most in her early thirties.
"Let her come closer if she wants," don Juan whispered.
She took three or four steps towards my car and stopped perhaps ten feet away. We looked at each other. At that moment I felt there was nothing threatening about her. I smiled and waved at her. She giggled as if she were a shy little girl and covered her mouth. Somehow I felt delighted. I turned to don Juan to comment on her appearance and behavior, and he scared me half to death with a yell.
"Don't turn your back to that woman, damn it!" he said in a forceful voice.
I quickly turned to look at the woman. She had taken another couple of steps towards my car and was standing barely five feet away from my door. She was smiling; her teeth were big and white and very clean. There was something eerie about her smile, however. It was not friendly; it was a contained grin; only her mouth smiled. Her eyes were black and cold and were staring at me fixedly.
I experienced a chill all over my body. Don Juan began to laugh in a rhythmical cackle; after a moment's wait the woman slowly backed away and disappeared among people.
We drove away and don Juan speculated that if I did not tighten up my life and learn, she was going to step on me as one steps on a defenseless bug.
"She is the worthy opponent I told you I had found for you," he said.
Don Juan said that we had to wait for an omen before we knew what to do with the woman who was interfering with my hunting.
"If we see or hear a crow, we'll know for sure that we can wait, and we'll also know where to
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wait," he added.
He slowly turned around in a complete circle, scanning all the surroundings.
"This is not the place to wait," he said in a whisper.
We began to walk towards the east. It was already fairly dark. Suddenly two crows flew out from behind some tall bushes and disappeared behind a hill. Don Juan said that the hill was our destination.
Once we arrived there he circled it and chose a place facing the southeast at the bottom of the hill. He cleaned the dry twigs and leaves and other debris from a circular spot five or six feet in diameter. I attempted to help him, but he refused me with a strong movement of his hand. He put his finger over his lips and made a gesture of silence. When he had finished he pulled me to the centre of the circle, made me face the south away from the hill, and whispered in my ear that I had to imitate his movements. He began a sort of dance, making a rhythmical thump with his right foot; it consisted of seven even beats spaced by a cluster of three fast thumps.
I tried to adapt myself to his rhythm and after a few clumsy attempts I was more or less capable of reproducing the same thumping.
"What's this for?" I whispered in his ear.
He told me, also in a whisper, that I was thumping like a rabbit and that sooner or later the prowler would be attracted by the noise and would show up to see what was going on.
Once I had copied the rhythm, don Juan ceased to thump himself but had me continue, marking the pace with a movement of his hand.
From time to time he would listen attentively, with his head slightly tilted to the right, seemingly to pick out noises in the chaparral. At one point he signaled me to stop and he remained in a most alert position; it was as if he were ready to spring up and jump on an unknown and unseen assailant.
Then he motioned me to continue the thumping and after a while he stopped me again. Every time I stopped he listened with such a concentration that every fiber in his body seemed to be tense to the point of bursting.
Suddenly he jumped to my side and whispered in my ear that the twilight was at its full power.
I looked around. The chaparral was a dark mass, and so were the hills and the rocks. The sky was dark blue and I could not see the clouds any more. The whole world seemed to be a uniform mass of dark silhouettes which did not have any visible boundaries.
I heard the eerie distant cry of an animal, a coyote or perhaps a night bird. It happened so suddenly that I did not pay attention to it. But don Juan's body jerked a bit. I felt its vibration as he stood next to me.
"Here we go," he whispered. "Thump again and be ready. She's here."
I began to thump furiously and don Juan put his foot over mine and signaled me frantically to relax and thump rhythmically.
"Don't scare her away," he whispered in my ear. "Calm down and don't lose your marbles."
He again began to mark the pace of my thumping, and after the second time he made me stop I heard the same cry again. This time it seemed to be the cry of a bird which was flying over the hill.Don Juan made me thump once more and just when I stopped I heard a peculiar rustling sound to my left. It was the sound a heavy animal would make while moving about in the dry underbrush. The thought of a bear crossed my mind, but then I realized that there were no bears in the desert. I grabbed on to don Juan's arm and he smiled at me and put his finger to his mouth in a gesture of silence. I stared into the darkness towards my left, but he signaled me not to. He repeatedly pointed directly above me and then he made me turn around slowly and silently until I was facing the dark mass of the hill. Don Juan kept his finger leveled at a certain point on the hill.
I kept my eyes glued to that spot and suddenly, as if in a nightmare, a dark shadow leaped at me. I
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shrieked and fell down to the ground on my back. For a moment the dark silhouette was superimposed against the dark blue sky and then it sailed through the air and landed beyond us, in the bushes. I heard the sound of a heavy body crashing into the shrubs and then an eerie outcry.
Don Juan helped me up and guided me in the darkness to the place where I had left my traps.
He made me gather and disassemble them and then he scattered the pieces away in all directions.
He performed all this without saying a single word. We did not speak at all on our way back to his house.
"What do you want me to say?" don Juan asked after I had urged him repeatedly to explain the events I had witnessed a few hours before.
"What was it?" I asked.
"You know damn well who it was," he said. "Don't water it down with "what was it?" It is who it was that is important."
I had worked out an explanation that seemed to suit me. The figure I had seen looked very much like a kite that someone had let out over the hill while someone else, behind us, had pulled it to the ground, thus the effect of a dark silhouette sailing through the air perhaps fifteen or twenty yards.
He listened attentively to my explanation and then laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks.
"Quit beating around the bush," he said. "Get to the point. Wasn't it a woman?"
I had to admit that when I fell down and looked up I saw the dark silhouette of a woman with a long skirt leaping over me in a very slow motion; then something seemed to have pulled the dark silhouette and it flew over me with great speed and crashed into the bushes. In fact, that movement was what had given me the idea of a kite.
Don Juan refused to discuss the incident any further.
The next day he left to fulfill some mysterious errand and I went to visit some Yaqui friends in another community.
Wednesday, 12 December 1962
As soon as I arrived at the Yaqui community, the Mexican storekeeper told me that he had rented a record player and twenty records from an outfit in Ciudad Obregon for the "fiesta" he was planning to give that night in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe. He had already told everybody that he had made all the necessary arrangements through Julio, the traveling salesman who came to the Yaqui settlement twice a month to collect instalments on a layaway plan for cheap articles of clothing which he had succeeded in selling to some Yaqui Indians.
Julio brought the record player early in the afternoon and hooked it to the dynamo that provided electricity for the store. He made sure that it worked; then he turned up the volume to its maximum, reminded the storekeeper not to touch any knobs, and began to sort the twenty records.
"I know how many scratches each of them has," Julio said to the storekeeper.
"Tell that to my daughter," the storekeeper replied.
"You're responsible, not your daughter."
"Just the same, she's the one who'll be changing the records."
Julio insisted that it did not make any difference to him whether she or someone else was going to actually handle the record player as long as the storekeeper paid for any records that were damaged. The storekeeper began to argue with Julio. Julio's face became red. He turned from time to time to the large group of Yaqui Indians congregated in front of the store and made signs of despair or frustration by moving his hands or contorting his face in a grimace. Seemingly
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as a final resort, he demanded a cash deposit. That precipitated another long argument about what constituted a damaged record. Julio stated with authority that any broken record had to be paid for in full, as if it were new. The storekeeper became angrier and began to pull out his extension cords. He seemed bent upon unhooking the record player and canceling the party. He made it clear to his clients congregated in front of the store that he had tried his best to come to terms with Julio. For a moment it seemed that the party was going to fail before it had started.
Bias, the old Yaqui Indian in whose house I was staying, made some derogatory comments in a loud voice about the Yaquis' sad state of affairs that they could not even celebrate their most revered religious festivity, the day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
I wanted to intervene and offer my help, but Bias stopped me. He said that if I were to make the cash deposit, the storekeeper himself would smash the records.
"He's worse than anybody," he said. "Let him pay the deposit. He bleeds us, so why shouldn't he pay?"
After a long discussion in which, strangely enough, everyone present was in favor of Julio, the storekeeper hit upon terms which were mutually agreeable. He did not pay a cash deposit but accepted responsibility for the records and the record player.
Julio's motorcycle left a trail of dust as he headed for some of the more remote houses in the locality. Bias said that he was trying to get to his customers before they came to the store and spent all their money buying booze. As he was saying this a group of Indians emerged from behind the store. Bias looked at them and began to laugh and so did everyone else there.
Bias told me that those Indians were Julio's customers and had been hiding behind the store waiting for him to leave.
The party began early. The storekeeper's daughter put a record on the turntable and brought the arm down; there was a terrible loud screech and a high-pitched buzz and then came a blasting sound of a trumpet and some guitars.
The party consisted of playing the records at full volume. There were four young Mexican men who danced with the storekeeper's two daughters and three other young Mexican women.
The Yaquis did not dance; they watched with apparent delight every movement the dancers made.
They seemed to be enjoying themselves just watching and gulping down cheap tequila.
I bought individual drinks for everybody I knew. I wanted to avoid any feelings of resentment.
I circulated among the numerous Indians and talked to them and then offered them drinks. My pattern of behavior worked until they realized I was not drinking at all. That seemed to annoy everyone at once. It was as if collectively they had discovered that I did not belong there. The Indians became very gruff and gave me sly looks.
The Mexicans, who were as drunk as the Indians, also realized at the same time that I had not danced; and that appeared to offend them even more. They became very aggressive. One of them forcibly took me by the arm and dragged me closer to the record player; another served me a full cup of tequila and wanted me to drink it all in one gulp and prove that I was a "macho".
I tried to stall them and laughed idiotically as if I were actually enjoying the situation. I said that I would like to dance first and then drink. One of the young men called out the name of a song. The girl in charge of the record player began to search in the pile of records. She seemed to be a little tipsy, although none of the women had openly been drinking, and had trouble fitting a record on the turntable. A young man said that the record she had selected was not a twist; she fumbled with the pile, trying to find the suitable one, and everybody closed in around her and left me. That gave me time to run behind the store, away from the lighted area, and out of sight.
I stood about thirty yards away in the darkness of some bushes trying to decide what to do. I was tired. I felt it was time to get in my car and go back home. I began to walk to Bias's house, where my car was parked. I figured that if I drove slowly no one would notice that I was leaving.
The people in charge of the record player were apparently still looking for the record - all I
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could hear was the high-pitched buzzing of the loudspeaker - but then came the blasting sound of a twist. I laughed out loud, thinking that they had probably turned to where I had been and found out that I had disappeared.
I saw some dark silhouettes of people walking in the opposite direction, going towards the store. We passed each other and they mumbled, "Buenas noches". I recognized them and spoke to them. I told them that it was a great party.
Before I came to a sharp bend in the road I encountered two other people, whom I did not recognize, but I greeted them anyway. The blasting sound of the record player was almost as loud there on the road as it was in front of the store. It was a dark starless night, but the glare from the store lights allowed me to have a fairly good visual perception of my surroundings. Bias's house was very near and I accelerated my pace. I noticed then the dark shape of a person, sitting or perhaps squatting to my left, at the bend of the road. I thought for an instant that it might have been one of the people from the party who had left before I had. The person seemed to be defecating on the side of the road. That seemed odd. People in the community went into the thick bushes to perform their bodily functions. I thought that whoever it was in front of me must have been drunk.
I came to the bend and said, "Buenas noches". The person answered me with an eerie, gruff, inhuman howl. The hair on my body literally stood on end. For a second I was paralyzed. Then I began to walk fast. I took a quick glance. I saw that the dark silhouette had stood up halfway; it was a woman. She was stooped over, leaning forward; she walked in that position for a few yards and then she hopped. I began to run, while the woman hopped like a bird by my side, keeping up with my speed. By the time I arrived at Bias's house she was cutting in front of me and we had almost touched.
I leaped across a small dry ditch in front of the house and crashed through the flimsy door.
Bias was already in the house and seemed unconcerned with my story.
"They pulled a good one on you," he said reassuringly. "The Indians take delight in teasing foreigners."
My experience had been so unnerving that the next day I drove to don Juan's house instead of going home as I had planned to do.
Don Juan returned in the late afternoon. I did not give him time to say anything but blurted out the whole story, including Bias's commentary. Don Juan's face became sombre. Perhaps it was only my imagination, but I thought he was worried.
"Don't put so much stock in what Bias told you," he said in a serious tone. "He knows nothing of the struggles between sorcerers.
'"You should have known that it was something serious the moment you noticed that the shadow was to your left. You shouldn't have run either."
"What was I supposed to do? Stand there?"
"Right. When a warrior encounters his opponent and the opponent is not an ordinary human being, he must make his stand. That is the only thing that makes him invulnerable."
"What are you saying, don Juan?"
"I'm saying that you have had your third encounter with your worthy opponent. She's following you around, waiting for a moment of weakness on your part. She almost bagged you this time."
I felt a surge of anxiety and accused him of putting me in unnecessary danger. I complained that the game he was playing with me was cruel.
"It would be cruel if this would have happened to an average man," he said. "But the instant one begins to live like a warrior, one is no longer ordinary. Besides, I didn't find you a worthy opponent because I want to play with you, or tease you, or annoy you. A worthy opponent might spur you on; under the influence of an opponent like "la Catalina" you may have to make use of
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everything I have taught you. You don't have any other alternative."
We were quiet for a while. His words had aroused a tremendous apprehension in me.
He then wanted me to imitate as close as possible the cry I had heard after I had said "Buenas noches".
I attempted to reproduce the sound and came up with some weird howling that scared me. Don Juan must have found my rendition funny; he laughed almost uncontrollably.
Afterwards he asked me to reconstruct the total sequence; the distance I ran, the distance the woman was from me at the time I encountered her, the distance she was from me at the time I reached the house, and the place where she had begun hopping.
"No fat Indian woman could hop that way," he said after assessing all those variables. "They could not even run that far."
He made me hop. I could not cover more than four feet each time, and if I were correct in my perception, the woman had hopped at least ten feet with each leap.
"Of course, you know that from now on you must be on the lookout," he said in a tone of great urgency. "She will try to tap you on your left shoulder during a moment when you are unaware and weak."
"What should I do?" I asked.
"It is meaningless to complain," he said. "What's important from this point on is the strategy of your life."
I could not concentrate at all on what he was saying. I took notes automatically. After a long silence he asked if I had any pain behind my ears or in the nape of my neck. I said no, and he told me that if I had experienced an uncomfortable sensation in either of those two areas it would have meant that I had been clumsy and that la Catalina had injured me.
"Everything you did that night was clumsy," he said. "First of all, you went to the party to kill time, as though there is any time to kill. That weakened you."
"You mean I shouldn't go to parties?"
"No, I don't mean that. You may go any place you wish, but if you do, you must assume the full responsibility for that act. A warrior lives his life strategically. He would attend a party or a reunion like that only if his strategy calls for it. That means, of course, that he would be in total control and would perform all the acts that he deems necessary."
He looked at me fixedly and smiled, then covered his face and chuckled softly.
"You are in a terrible bind," he said. "Your opponent is on your trail and for the first time in your life you cannot afford to act helter-skelter. This time you will have to learn a totally different doing, the doing of strategy. Think of it this way. If you survive the onslaughts of "la Catalina"
you will have to thank her someday for having forced you to change your doing."
"What a terrible way of putting it!" I exclaimed. "What if I don't survive?"
"A warrior never indulges in thoughts like that," he said. "When he has to act with his fellow men, a warrior follows the doing of strategy, and in that doing there are no victories or defeats. In that doing there are only actions."
I asked him what the doing of strategy entailed.
"It entails that one is not at the mercy of people," he replied. "At that party, for instance, you were a clown, not because it served your purposes to be a clown, but because you placed yourself at the mercy of those people. You never had any control and thus you had to run away from them."
"What should I have done?"
"Not go there at all, or else go there to perform a specific act.
"After horsing around with the Mexicans you were weak and la Catalina used that opportunity. So she placed herself in the road to wait for you.
"Your body knew that something was out of place, though, and yet you spoke to her. That was
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terrible. You must not utter a single word to your opponent during one of those encounters. Then you turned your back to her. That was even worse. Then you ran away from her, and that was the worst thing you could have done! Apparently she is clumsy. A sorcerer that is worth his salt would have mowed you down right then, the instant you turned your back and ran away.
"So far your only defence is to stay put and do your dance."
"What dance are you talking about?" I asked.
He said that the "rabbit thumping" he had taught me was the first movement of the dance that a warrior groomed and enlarged throughout his life, and then executed in his last stand on earth.
I had a moment of strange sobriety and a series of thoughts occurred to me. On one level it was clear that what had taken place between me and la Catalina the first time I had confronted her was real. La Catalina was real, and I could not discard the possibility that she was actually following me. On the other level I could not understand how she was following me, and this gave rise to the faint suspicion that don Juan might be tricking me, and that he himself was somehow producing the weird effects I had witnessed.
Don Juan suddenly looked at the sky and told me that there was still time to go and check the sorceress. He reassured me that we were running very little danger, because we were only going to drive by her house.
"You must confirm her shape," don Juan said. "Then there won't be any doubts left in your mind, one way or the other."
My hands began to sweat profusely and I had to dry them repeatedly with a towel. We got in my car and don Juan directed me to the main highway and then to a wide unpaved road. I drove in the centre of it; heavy trucks and tractors had carved deep trenches and my car was too low to go on either the left or the right side of the road. We went slowly amid a thick cloud of dust. The coarse gravel which was used to level the road had lumped with dirt during the rains, and chunks of dry mud rocks bounced against the metal underside of my car, making loud explosive sounds.
Don Juan told me to slow down as we were coming to a small bridge. There were four Indians sitting there and they waved at us. I was not sure whether or not I knew them. We passed the bridge and the road curved gently.
"That's the woman's house," don Juan whispered to me as he pointed with his eyes to a white house with a high bamboo fence all around it.
He told me to make a U-turn and stop in the middle of the road and wait to see if the woman became suspicious enough to show her face.
We stayed there perhaps ten minutes. I thought it was an interminable time. Don Juan did not say a word. He sat motionless, looking at the house.
"There she is," he said, and his body gave a sudden jump.
I saw the dark foreboding silhouette of a woman standing inside the house, looking through the open door. The room was dark and that only accentuated the darkness of the woman's silhouette.
After a few minutes the woman stepped out of the darkness of the room and stood in the doorway and watched us. We looked at her for a moment and then don Juan told me to drive on. I was speechless. I could have sworn that she was the woman I had seen hopping by the road in the darkness.
About half an hour later, when we had turned on to the paved highway, don Juan spoke to me.
"What do you say?" he asked. "Did you recognize the shape?"
I hesitated for a long time before answering. I was afraid of the commitment entailed in saying yes. I carefully worded my reply and said that I thought it had been too dark to be completely sure.He laughed and tapped me gently on my head.
"She was the one, wasn't she?" he asked.
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He did not give me time to reply. He put a finger to his mouth in a gesture of silence and whispered in my ear that it was meaningless to say anything, and that in order to survive la Catalina's onslaughts I had to make use of everything he had taught me.
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Part Two Journey to Ixtlan
18. The Sorcerer's Ring of Power
In May of 1971 I paid don Juan the last visit of my apprenticeship. I went to see him on that occasion in the same spirit I had gone to see him during the ten years of our association; that is to say, I was once again seeking the amenity of his company.
His friend don Genaro, a Mazatec Indian sorcerer, was with him. I had seen both of them during my previous visit six months earlier. I was considering whether or not to ask them if they had been together all that time, when don Genaro explained that he liked the northern desert so much that he had returned just in time to see me. Both of them laughed as if they knew a secret.
"I came back just for you," don Genaro said.
"That's true," don Juan echoed.
I reminded don Genaro that the last time I had been there, his attempts to help me to stop the world has been disastrous for me. That was my friendly way of letting him know that I was afraid of him. He laughed uncontrollably, shaking his body and kicking his legs like a child. Don Juan avoided looking at me and also laughed.
"You're not going to try to help me any more, are you, don Genaro?" I asked.
My question threw both of them into spasms of laughter. Don Genaro rolled on the ground, laughing, then lay on his stomach and began to swim on the floor. When I saw him doing that I knew I was lost. At that moment my body somehow became aware that I had arrived at the end. I did not know what that end was. My personal tendency to dramatization and my previous experience with don Genaro made me believe that it might be the end of my life.
During my last visit to them, don Genaro had attempted to push me to the brink of stopping the world. His efforts had been so bizarre and direct that don Juan himself had had to tell me to leave. Don Genaro's demonstrations of power were so extraordinary and so baffling that they forced me to a total re-evaluation of myself. I went home, reviewed the notes that I had taken in the very beginning of my apprenticeship, and a whole new feeling mysteriously set in on me, although I had not been fully aware of it until I saw don Genaro swimming on the floor.
The act of swimming on the floor, which was congruous with other strange and bewildering acts he had performed in front of my very eyes, started as he was lying face down. He was first laughing so hard that his body shook as in a convulsion, then he began kicking, and finally the movement of his legs became coordinated with a paddling movement of his arms, and don Genaro started to slide on the ground as if he were lying on a board fitted with ball bearings. He changed directions various times and covered the entire area of the front of don Juan's house, maneuvering around me and don Juan.
Don Genaro had clowned in front of me before, and every time he had done it don Juan had asserted that I had been on the brink of seeing. My failure to see was a result of my insistence on trying to explain every one of don Genaro's actions from a rational point of view. This time I was on guard and when he began to swim I did not attempt to explain or understand the event. I simply watched him. Yet I could not avoid the sensation of being dumbfounded. He was actually sliding on his stomach and chest. My eyes began to cross as I watched him. I felt a surge of apprehension. I was convinced that if I did not explain what was happening I would see, and that thought filled me with an extraordinary anxiety. My nervous anticipation was so great that in some way I was back at the same point, locked once more in some rational endeavor.
Don Juan must have been watching me. He suddenly tapped me; I automatically turned to face him, and for an instant I took my eyes away from don Genaro. When I looked at him again he was standing by me with his head slightly tilted and his chin almost resting on my right shoulder.
I had a delayed startled reaction. I looked at him for a second and then I jumped back.
His expression of feigned surprise was so comical that I laughed hysterically. I could not help being aware, however, that my laughter was unusual. My body shook with nervous spasms
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originating from the middle part of my stomach. Don Genaro put his hand on my stomach and the convulsion-like ripples ceased.
"This little Carlos is always so exaggerated!" he exclaimed as if he were a fastidious man.
Then he added, imitating don Juan's voice and mannerisms, "Don't you know that a warrior never laughs that way?"
His caricature of don Juan was so perfect that I laughed even harder.
Then both of them left together and were gone for over two hours, until about midday.
When they returned they sat in the area in front of don Juan's house. They did not say a word.
They seemed to be sleepy, tired, almost absent-minded. They stayed motionless for a long time, yet they seemed to be so comfortable and relaxed. Don Juan's mouth was slightly opened, as if he were really asleep, but his hands were clasped over his lap and his thumbs moved rhythmically.
I fretted and changed sitting positions for a while, then I began to feel a soothing placidity. I must have fallen asleep. Don Juan's chuckle woke me up. I opened my eyes. Both of them were staring at me.
"If you don't talk, you fall asleep," don Juan said, laughing.
"I'm afraid I do," I said.
Don Genaro lay on his back and began to kick his legs in the air. I thought for a moment that he was going to start his disturbing clowning again, but he went back right away to his crosslegged sitting position.
"There is something you ought to be aware of by now," don Juan said. "I call it the cubic centimeter of chance. All of us, whether or not we are warriors, have a cubic centimeter of chance that pops out in front of our eyes from time to time. The difference between an average man and a warrior is that the warrior is aware of this, and one of his tasks is to be alert, deliberately waiting, so that when his cubic centimeter pops out he has the necessary speed, the prowess to pick it up.
"Chance, good luck, personal power, or whatever you may call it, is a peculiar state of affairs.
It is like a very small stick that comes out in front of us and invites us to pluck it. Usually we are too busy, or too preoccupied, or just too stupid and lazy to realize that that is our cubic centimeter of luck. A warrior, on the other hand, is always alert and tight and has the spring, the gumption necessary to grab it."
"Is your life very tight?" don Genaro asked me abruptly.
"I think it is," I said with conviction.
"Do you think that you can pluck your cubic centimeter of luck?" don Juan asked me with a tone of incredulity.
"I believe I do that all the time," I said.
"I think you are only alert about things you know," don Juan said.
"Maybe I'm kidding myself, but I do believe that nowadays I am more aware than at any other time in my life," I said and really meant it.
Don Genaro nodded his head in approval.
"Yes," he said softly, as if talking to himself. "Little Carlos is really tight, and absolutely alert."
I felt that they were humoring me. I thought that perhaps my assertion about my alleged condition of tightness may have annoyed them.
"I didn't mean to brag," I said.
Don Genaro arched his eyebrows and enlarged his nostrils. He glanced at my notebook and pretended to be writing.
"I think Carlos is tighter than ever," don Juan said to don Genaro.
"Maybe he's too tight," don Genaro snapped.
"He may very well be," don Juan conceded.
I did not know what to interject at that point so I remained quiet.
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"Do you remember the time when I jammed your car?" don Juan asked casually.
His question was abrupt and unrelated to what we had been talking about. He was referring to a time when I could not start the engine of my car until he said I could.
I remarked that no one could forget such an event.
"That was nothing," don Juan asserted in a factual tone.
"Nothing at all. True, Genaro?"
"True," don Genaro said indifferently.
"What do you mean?" I said in a tone of protest. "What you did that day was something truly beyond my comprehension."
"That's not saying much," don Genaro retorted.
They both laughed loudly and then don Juan patted me on the back.
"Genaro can do something much better than jamming your car," he went on." True, Genaro?"
"True," don Genaro replied, puckering up his lips like a child.
"What can he do?" I asked, trying to sound unruffled.
"Genaro can take your whole car away!" don Juan exclaimed in a booming voice; and then he added in the same tone, 'True, Genaro?"
"True!" don Genaro retorted in the loudest human tone I had ever heard.
I jumped involuntarily. My body was convulsed by three or four nervous spasms.
"What do you mean, he can take my whole car away?" I asked.
"What did I mean, Genaro?" don Juan asked.
"You meant that I can get into his car, turn the motor on, and drive away," don Genaro replied with unconvincing seriousness.
"Take the car away, Genaro," don Juan urged him in a joking tone.
"It's done!" don Genaro said, frowning and looking at me askew.
I noticed that as he frowned his eyebrows rippled, making the look in his eyes mischievous and penetrating.
"All right!"' don Juan said calmly. "Let's go down there and examine the car."
"Yes!" don Genaro echoed. "Let's go down there and examine the car."
They stood up, very slowly. For an instant I did not know what to do, but don Juan signaled me to stand up.
We began walking up the small hill in front of don Juan's house. Both of them flanked me, don Juan to my right and don Genaro to my left. They were perhaps six or seven feet ahead of me, always within my full field of vision.
"Let's examine the car," don Genaro said again.
Don Juan moved his hands as if he were spinning an invisible thread; don Genaro did likewise and repeated, "Let's examine the car."
They walked with a sort of bounce. Their steps were longer than usual, and their hands moved as though they were whipping or batting some invisible objects in front of them. I had never seen don Juan clowning like that and felt almost embarrassed to look at him.
We reached the top and I looked down to the area at the foot of the hill, some fifty yards away, where I had parked my car. My stomach contracted with a jolt. The car was not there! I ran down the hill. My car was not anywhere in sight. I experienced a moment of great confusion. I was disoriented.
My car had been parked there since I had arrived early in the morning. Perhaps half an hour before, I had come down to get a new pad of writing paper. At that time I had thought of leaving the windows open because of the excessive heat, but the number of mosquitoes and other flying insects that abounded in the area had made me change my mind, and I had left the car locked as usual.
I looked all around again. I refused to believe that my car was gone. I walked to the edge of
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the cleared area. Don Juan and don Genaro joined me and stood by me, doing exactly what I was doing, peering into the distance to see if the car was somewhere in sight. I had a moment of euphoria that gave way to a disconcerting sense of annoyance. They seemed to have noticed it and began to walk around me, moving their hands as if they were rolling dough in them.
"What do you think happened to the car, Genaro?" don Juan asked in a meek tone.
"I drove it away," don Genaro said and made the most astounding motion of shifting gears and steering. He bent his legs as though he were sitting, and remained in that position for a few moments, obviously sustained only by the muscles of his legs; then he shifted his weight to his right leg and stretched his left foot to mimic the action on the clutch. He made the sound of a motor with his lips; and finally, to top everything, he pretended to have hit a bump in the road and bobbed up and down, giving me the complete sensation of an inept driver that bounces without letting go of the steering wheel.
Don Genaro's pantomime was stupendous. Don Juan laughed until he was out of breath. I wanted to join them in their mirth but I was unable to relax. I felt threatened and ill at ease. An anxiety that had no precedence in my life possessed me. I felt I was burning up inside and began kicking small rocks on the ground and ended up hurling them with an unconscious and unpredictable fury. It was as if the wrath was actually outside of myself and had suddenly enveloped me. Then the feeling of annoyance left me, as mysteriously as it had hit me. I took a deep breath and felt better.
I did not dare to look at don Juan. My display of anger embarrassed me, but at the same time I wanted to laugh. Don Juan came to my side and patted me on the back. Don Genaro put his arm on my shoulder.
"It's all right I" don Genaro said. "Indulge yourself. Punch yourself in the nose and bleed.
Then you can get a rock and knock your teeth out. It'll feel good! And if that doesn't help, you can mash your balls with the same rock on that big boulder over there."
Don Juan giggled. I told them that I was ashamed of myself for having behaved so poorly. I did not know what had gotten into me. Don Juan said that he was sure I knew exactly what was going on, that I was pretending not to know, and that it was the act of pretending that made me angry.
Don Genaro was unusually comforting; he patted my back repeatedly.
"It happens to all of us," don Juan said.
"What do you mean by that, don Juan?" don Genaro asked, imitating my voice, mocking my habit of asking don Juan questions.
Don Juan said some absurd things like "When the world is upside down we are right side up, but when the world is right side up we are upside down. Now when the world and we are right side up, we think we are upside down...." He went on and on, talking gibberish while don Genaro mimicked my taking notes. He wrote on an invisible pad, enlarging his nostrils as he moved his hand, keeping his eyes wide open and fixed on don Juan. Don Genaro had caught on to my efforts to write without looking at my pad in order to avoid altering the natural flow of conversation. His portrayal was genuinely hilarious.
I suddenly felt very at ease, happy. Their laughter was soothing. For a moment I let go and had a belly laugh. But then my mind entered into a new state of apprehension, confusion, and annoyance. I thought that whatever was taking place there was impossible; in fact, it was inconceivable according to the logical order by which I am accustomed to judge the world at hand. Yet, as the perceiver, I perceived that my car was not there. The thought occurred to me, as it always had happened when don Juan had confronted me with inexplicable phenomena, that I was being tricked by ordinary means. My mind had always, under stress, involuntarily and consistently repeated the same construct. I began to consider how many confederates don Juan and don Genaro would have needed in order to lift my car and remove it from where I had parked
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it. I was absolutely sure that I had compulsively locked the doors; the handbrake was on; it was in gear; and the steering wheel was locked. In order to move it they would have had to Lift it up bodily. That task would have required a labor force that I was convinced neither of them could have brought together. Another possibility was that someone in agreement with them had broken into my car, wired it, and driven it away. To do that would have required a specialized knowledge that was beyond their means. The only other possible explanation was that perhaps they were mesmerizing me. Their movements were so novel to me and so suspicious that I entered into a spin of rationalizations. I thought that if they were hypnotizing me I was then in a state of altered consciousness. In my experience with don Juan I had noticed that in such states one is incapable of keeping a consistent mental record of the passage of time. There had never been an enduring order, in matters of passage of time, in all the states of nonordinary reality I had experienced, and my conclusion was that if I kept myself alert a moment would come when I would lose my order of sequential time. As if, for example, I were looking at a mountain at a given moment, and then in my next moment of awareness I found myself looking at a valley in the opposite direction, but without remembering having turned around. I felt that if something of that nature would happen to me I could then explain what was taking place with my car as, perhaps, a case of hypnosis. I decided that the only thing I could do was to watch every detail with excruciating thoroughness.
"Where's my car?" I asked, addressing both of them.
"Where's the car, Genaro?" don Juan asked with a look of utmost seriousness.
Don Genaro began turning over small rocks and looking underneath them. He worked feverishly over the whole flat area where I had parked my car. He actually turned over every rock. At times he would pretend to get angry and would hurl the rock into the bushes.
Don Juan seemed to enjoy the scene beyond words. He giggled and chuckled and was almost oblivious to my presence.
Don Genaro had just finished hurling a rock in a display of sham frustration when he came upon a good-sized boulder, the only large and heavy rock in the parking area. He attempted to turn it over but it was too heavy and too deeply embedded in the ground. He struggled and puffed until he was perspiring. Then he sat on the rock and called don Juan to help him.
Don Juan turned to me with a beaming smile and said, "Come on, let's give Genaro a hand."
"What's he doing?" I asked.
"He's looking for your car," don Juan said in a casual and factual tone.
"For heaven's sake! How can he find it under the rocks?" I protested.
"For heaven's sake, why not?" don Genaro retorted and both of them roared with laughter.
We could not budge the rock. Don Juan suggested that we go to the house and look for a thick piece of wood to use as a lever.
On our way to the house I told them that their acts were absurd and that whatever they were doing to me was unnecessary.
Don Genaro peered at me.
"Genaro is a very thorough man," don Juan said with a serious expression. "He's as thorough and meticulous as you are. You yourself said that you never leave a stone unturned. He's doing the same."
Don Genaro patted me on the shoulder and said that don Juan was absolutely right and that, in fact, he wanted to be like me. He looked at me with an insane glint and opened his nostrils.
Don Juan clapped his hands and threw his hat to the ground.
After a long search around the house for a thick piece of wood, don Genaro found a long and fairly thick tree trunk, a part of a house beam. He put it across his shoulders and we started back to the place where my car had been.
As we were going up the small hill and were about to reach a bend in the trail from where I would see the flat parking area, I had a sudden insight. It occurred to me that I was going to find
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my car before they did, but when I looked down, there was no car at the foot of the hill.
Don Juan and don Genaro must have understood what I had had in mind and ran after me, laughing uproariously.
Once we got to the bottom of the hill they immediately went to work. I watched them for a few moments. Their acts were incomprehensible. They were not pretending that they were working, they were actually immersed in the task of turning over a boulder to see if my car was underneath. That was too much for me and I joined them. They puffed and yelled and don Genaro howled like a. coyote. They were soaked in perspiration. I noticed how terribly strong their bodies were, especially don Juan's. Next to them I was a flabby young man.
Very soon I was also perspiring copiously. Finally we succeeded in turning over the boulder and don Genaro examined the dirt underneath the rock with the most maddening patience and thoroughness.
"No. It isn't here," he announced.
That statement brought both of them down to the ground with laughter.
I laughed nervously. Don Juan seemed to have true spasms of pain and covered his face and lay down as his body shook with laughter.
"In which direction do we go now?" don Genaro asked after a long rest.
Don Juan pointed with a nod of his head.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"To look for your car!" don Juan said and did not crack a smile.
They again flanked me as we walked into the brush. We had only covered a few yards when don Genaro signaled us to stop. He tiptoed to a round bush a. few steps away, looked in the inside branches for a few moments, and said that the car was not there.
We kept on walking for a while and then don Genaro made a gesture with his hand to be quiet.
He arched his back as he stood on his toes and extended his arms over his head. His fingers were contracted like a claw. From where I stood, don Genaro's body had the shape of a letter S. He maintained that position for an instant and then virtually plunged headfirst on a long twig with dry leaves. He carefully lifted it up and examined it and again remarked that the car was not there.
As we walked into the deep chaparral he looked behind bushes and climbed small paloverde trees to look into their foliage, only to conclude that the car was not there either.
Meanwhile I kept a most meticulous mental record of everything I touched or saw. My sequential and orderly view of the world around me was as continuous as it had always been. I touched rocks, bushes, trees. I shifted my view from the foreground to the background by looking out of one eye and then out of the other. By all calculations I was walking in the chaparral as I had done scores of times during my ordinary life.
Next don Genaro lay down on his stomach and asked us to do likewise. He rested his chin on his clasped hands. Don Juan did the same. Both of them stared at a series of small protuberances on the ground that looked like minute hills. Suddenly don Genaro made a sweeping movement with his right hand and clasped something. He hurriedly stood up and so did don Juan. Don Genaro held his clasped hand in front of us and signaled us to come closer and look. Then he slowly began to open his hand. When it was half open a big black object flew away. The motion was so sudden and the flying object was so big that I jumped back and nearly lost my balance.
Don Juan propped me up.
"That wasn't the car," don Genaro complained. "It was a goddamn fly. Sorry!"
Both of them scrutinized me. They were standing in front of me and were not looking directly at me but out of the corners of their eyes. It was a prolonged look.
"It was a fly, wasn't it?" don Genaro asked me.
"I think so," I said.
"Don't think," don Juan ordered me imperiously. "What did you see?"
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"I saw something as big as a crow flying out of his hand," I said.
My statement was congruous with what I had perceived and was not intended as a joke, but they took it as perhaps the most hilarious statement that anyone had made that day. Both of them jumped up and down and laughed until they choked.
"I think Carlos has had enough," don Juan said. His voice sounded hoarse from laughing.
Don Genaro said that he was about to find my car, that the feeling was getting hotter and hotter. Don Juan said we were in a rugged area and that to find the car there was not a desirable thing. Don Genaro took off his hat and rearranged the strap with a piece of string from his pouch, then he attached his woolen belt to a yellow tassel affixed to the brim of the hat.
"I'm making a kite out of my hat," he said to me.
I watched him and I knew he was joking. I had always considered myself to be an expert on kites. When I was a child I used to make the most complex kites and I knew that the brim of the straw hat was too brittle to resist the wind. The hat's crown, on the other hand, was too deep and the wind would circulate inside it, making it impossible to lift the hat off the ground.
"You don't think it'll fly, do you?" don Juan asked me.
"I know it won't," I said.
Don Genaro was unconcerned and finished attaching a long string to his kite-hat.
It was a windy day and don Genaro ran downhill as don Juan held his hat, then don Genaro pulled the string and the damn thing actually flew.
"Look, look at the kite!" don Genaro yelled.
It bobbed a couple of times but it remained in the air.
"Don't take your eyes off the kite," don Juan said firmly.
For a moment I felt dizzy. Looking at the kite, I had had a complete recollection of another time; it was as if I were flying a kite myself, as I used to, when it was windy hi the hills of my home town.
For a brief moment the recollection engulfed me and I lost my awareness of the passage of time.
I heard don Genaro yelling something and I saw the hat bobbing up and down and then falling to the ground, where my car was. It all took place with such speed that I did not have a clear picture of what had happened. I became dizzy and absent-minded. My mind held on to a very confusing image. I either saw don Genaro's hat turning into my car, or I saw the hat falling over on top of the car. I wanted to believe the latter, that don Genaro had used his hat to point at my car. Not that it really mattered, one thing was as awesome as the other, but just the same my mind hooked on that arbitrary detail in order to keep my original mental balance.
"Don't fight it," I heard don Juan saying.
I felt that something inside me was about to surface. Thoughts and images came in uncontrollable waves as if I were falling asleep. I stared at the car dumbfounded. It was sitting on a rocky flat area about a hundred feet away. It actually looked as if someone had just placed it there. I ran towards it and began to examine it.
"Goddamnit!" don Juan exclaimed. "Don't stare at the car. Stop the world!"
Then as in a dream I heard him yelling, "Genaro's hat! Genaro's hat!"
I looked at them. They were staring at me directly. Their eyes were piercing. I felt a pain in my stomach. I had an instantaneous headache and got ill.
Don Juan and don Genaro looked at me curiously. I sat by the car for a while and then, quite automatically, I unlocked the door and let don Genaro get in the back seat. Don Juan followed him and sat next to him. I thought that was strange because he usually sat in the front seat.
I drove my car to don Juan's house in a sort of haze. I was not myself at all. My stomach was very upset, and the feeling of nausea demolished all my sobriety. I drove mechanically.
I heard don Juan and don Genaro in the back seat laughing and giggling like children. I heard
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don Juan asking me, "Are we getting closer?"
It was at that point that I took deliberate notice of the road. We were actually very close to his house.
"We're about to get there," I muttered.
They howled with laughter. They clapped their hands and slapped their thighs.
When we arrived at the house I automatically jumped out of the car and opened the door for them. Don Genaro stepped out first and congratulated me for what he said was the nicest and smoothest ride he had ever taken in his life. Don Juan said the same. I did not pay much attention to them.
I locked my car and barely made it to the house. I heard don Juan and don Genaro roaring with laughter before I fell asleep.
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19. Stopping the World
The next day as soon as I woke up I began asking don Juan questions. He was cutting firewood in the back of his house, but don Genaro was nowhere in sight. He said that there was nothing to talk about. I pointed out that I had succeeded in remaining aloof and had observed don Genaro's "swimming on the floor" without wanting or demanding any explanation whatsoever, but my restraint had not helped me to understand what was taking place. Then, after the disappearance of the car, I became automatically locked in seeking a logical explanation, but that did not help me either. I told don Juan that my insistence on finding explanations was not something that I had arbitrarily devised myself, just to be difficult, but was something so deeply ingrained in me that it overruled every other consideration.
"It's like a disease," I said.
"There are no diseases," don Juan replied calmly. "There is only indulging. And you indulge yourself in trying to explain everything. Explanations are no longer necessary in your case."
I insisted that I could function only under conditions of order and understanding. I reminded him that I had drastically changed my personality during the time of our association, and that the condition that had made that change possible was that I had been capable of explaining to myself the reasons for that change.
Don Juan laughed softly. He did not speak for a long time.
"You are very clever," he finally said. "You go back to where you have always been. This time you are finished though. You have no place to go back to. I will not explain anything to you any more. Whatever Genaro did to you yesterday he did it to your body, so let your body decide what's what."
Don Juan's tone was friendly but unusually detached and that made me feel an overwhelming loneliness. I expressed my feelings of sadness. He smiled. His fingers gently clasped the top of my hand.
"We both are beings who are going to die," he said softly. "There is no more time for what we used to do. Now you must employ all the not-doing I have taught you and stop the world."
He clasped my hand again. His touch was firm and friendly; it was like a reassurance that he was concerned and had affection for me, and at the same time it gave me the impression of an unwavering purpose.
"This is my gesture for you," he said, holding the grip he had on my hand for an instant. "Now you must go by yourself into those friendly mountains."
He pointed with his chin to the distant range of mountains towards the southeast.
He said that I had to remain there until my body told me to quit and then return to his house.
He let me know that he did not want me to say anything or to wait any longer by shoving me gently in the direction of my car.
"What am I supposed to do there?" I asked.
He did not answer but looked at me, shaking his head.
"No more of that," he finally said.
Then he pointed his finger to the southeast.
"Go there," he said cuttingly.
I drove south and then east, following the roads I had always taken when driving with don Juan. I parked my car around the place where the dirt road ended and then I hiked on a familiar trail until I reached a high plateau. I had no idea what to do there. I began to meander, looking for a resting place. Suddenly I became aware of a small area to my left. It seemed that the chemical composition of the soil was different on that spot, yet when I focused my eyes on it there was nothing visible that would account for the difference. I stood a few feet away and tried to "feel"
as don Juan had always recommended I should do.
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I stayed motionless for perhaps an hour. My thoughts began to diminish by degrees until I was no longer talking to myself. I then had a sensation of annoyance. The feeling seemed to be confined to my stomach and was more acute when I faced the spot in question. I was repulsed by it and felt compelled to move away from it. I began scanning the area with crossed eyes and after a short walk I came upon a large flat rock. I stopped in front of it. There was nothing hi particular about the rock that attracted me. I did not detect any specific colour or any shine on it, and yet I liked it. My body felt good. I experienced a sensation of physical comfort and sat down for a while.
I meandered in the high plateau and the surrounding mountains all day without knowing what to do or what to expect. I came back to the flat rock at dusk. I knew that if I spent the night there I would be safe.
The next day I ventured farther east into the high mountains. By late afternoon I came to another even higher plateau. I thought I had been there before. I looked around to orient myself but I could not recognize any of the surrounding peaks. After carefully selecting a suitable place I sat down to rest at the edge of a barren rocky area. I felt very warm and peaceful there. I tried to pour out some food from my gourd, but it was empty. I drank some water. It was warm and stale.
I thought that I had nothing else to do but to return to don Juan's house and began to wonder whether or not I should start on my way back right away. I lay down on my stomach and rested my head on my arm. I felt uneasy and changed positions various times until I found myself facing the west. The sun was already low. My eyes were tired. I looked down at the ground and caught sight of a large black beetle. It came out from behind a small rock, pushing a ball of dung twice its size. I followed its movements for a long time. The insect seemed unconcerned with my presence and kept on pushing its load over rocks, roots, depressions, and protuberances on the ground. For all I knew, the beetle was not aware that I was there. The thought occurred to me that I could not possible be sure that the insect was not aware of me; that thought triggered a series of rational evaluations about the nature of the insect's world as opposed to mine. The beetle and I were in the same world and obviously the world was not the same for both of us. I became immersed in watching it and marveled at the gigantic strength it needed to carry its load over rocks and down crevices.
I observed the insect for a long time and then I became aware of the silence around me. Only the wind hissed between the branches and leaves of the chaparral. I looked up, turned to my left in a quick and involuntary fashion, and caught a glimpse of a faint shadow or a flicker on a rock a few feet away. At first I paid no attention to it but then I realized that that flicker had been to my left. I turned again suddenly and was able clearly to perceive a shadow on the rock. I had the weird sensation that the shadow instantly slid down to the ground and the soil absorbed it as a blotter dries an ink blotch. A chill ran down my back. The thought crossed my mind that death was watching me and the beetle.
I looked for the insect again but I could not find it. I thought that it must have arrived at its destination and then had dropped its load into a hole in the ground. I put my face against a smooth rock.
The beetle emerged from a deep hole and stopped a few inches away from my face. It seemed to look at me and for a moment I felt that it became aware of my presence, perhaps as I was aware of the presence of my death. I experienced a shiver. The beetle and I were not that different after all. Death, like a shadow, was stalking both of us from behind the boulder. I had an extraordinary moment of elation. The beetle and I were on a par. Neither of us was better than the other. Our death made us equal.
My elation and joy were so overwhelming that I began to weep. Don Juan was right. He had always been right. I was living in a most mysterious world and, like everyone else, I was a most mysterious being, and yet I was no more important than a beetle. I wiped my eyes and as I rubbed
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them with the back of my hand I saw a man, or something which had the shape of a man. It was to my right about fifty yards. I sat up straight and strained to see. The sun was almost on the horizon and its yellowish glow prevented me from getting a clear view. I heard a peculiar roar at that moment. It was like the sound of a distant jet plane. As I focused my attention on it, the roar increased to a prolonged sharp metallic whizzing and then it softened until it was a mesmerizing, melodious sound. The melody was like the vibration of an electrical current. The image that came to my mind was that two electrified spheres were coming together, or two square blocks of electrified metal were rubbing against each other and then coming to rest with a thump when they were perfectly leveled with each other. I again strained to see if I could distinguish the person that seemed to be hiding from me, but I could only detect a dark shape against the bushes. I shielded my eyes by placing my hands above them. The brilliancy of the sunlight changed at that moment and then I realized that what I was seeing was only an optical illusion, a play of shadows and foliage.
I moved my eyes away and I saw a coyote calmly trotting across the field. The coyote was around the spot where I thought I had seen the man. It moved about fifty yards in a southerly direction and then it stopped, turned, and began walking towards me. I yelled a couple of times to scare it away, but it kept on coming. I had a moment of apprehension. I thought that it might be rabid and I even considered gathering some rocks to defend myself in case of an attack. When the animal was ten to fifteen feet away I noticed that it was not agitated in any way; on the contrary, it seemed calm and unafraid. It slowed down its gait, coming to a halt barely four or five feet from me. We looked at each other, and then the coyote came even closer. Its brown eyes were friendly and clear. I sat down on the rocks and the coyote stood almost touching me. I was dumbfounded. I had never seen a wild coyote that close, and the only thing that occurred to me at that moment was to talk to it. I began as one would talk to a friendly dog. And then I thought that the coyote "talked" back to me. I had the absolute certainty that it had said something. I felt confused but I did not have time to ponder upon my feelings, because the coyote "talked" again.
It was not that the animal was voicing words the way I am accustomed to hearing words being voiced by human beings, it was rather a "feeling" that it was talking. But it was not like a feeling that one has when a pet seems to communicate with its master either. The coyote actually said something; it relayed a thought and that communication came out in something quite similar to a sentence. I had said, "How are you, little coyote?" and I thought I had heard the animal respond, "I'm all right, and you?" Then the coyote repeated the sentence and I jumped to my feet. The animal did not make a single movement. It was not even startled by my sudden jump. Its eyes were still friendly and clear. It lay down on its stomach and tilted its head and asked, "Why are you afraid?" I sat down facing it and I carried on the weirdest conversation I had ever had. Finally it asked me what I was doing there and I said I had come there to stop the world. The coyote said, "Que bueno!" and then I realized that it was a bilingual coyote. The nouns and verbs of its sentences were in English, but the conjunctions and exclamations were in Spanish. The thought crossed my mind that I was in the presence of a Chicano coyote. I began to laugh at the absurdity of it all and I laughed so hard that I became almost hysterical. Then the full weight of the impossibility of what was happening struck me and my mind wobbled. The coyote stood up and our eyes met. I stared fixedly into them. I felt they were pulling me and suddenly the animal became iridescent; it began to glow. It was as if my mind were replaying the memory of another event that had taken place ten years before, when under the influence of peyote I witnessed the metamorphosis of an ordinary dog into an unforgettable iridescent being. It was as though the coyote had triggered the recollection, and the memory of that previous event was summoned and became superimposed on the coyote's shape; the coyote was a fluid, liquid, luminous being. Its luminosity was dazzling. I wanted to cover my eyes with my hands to protect them, but I could not move. The luminous being touched me in some undefined part of myself and my body
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experienced such an exquisite indescribable warmth and well-being that it was as if the touch had made me explode. I became transfixed, I could not feel my feet, or my legs, or any part of my body, yet something was sustaining me erect.
I have no idea how long I stayed in that position. In the meantime, the luminous coyote and the hilltop where I stood melted away. I had no thoughts or feelings. Everything had been turned off and I was floating freely.
Suddenly I felt that my body had been struck and then it became enveloped by something that kindled me. I became aware then that the sun was shining on me. I could vaguely distinguish a distant range of mountains towards the west. The sun was almost over the horizon. I was looking directly into it and then I saw the "lines of the world". I actually perceived the most extraordinary profusion of fluorescent white lines which crisscrossed everything around me. For a moment I thought that I was perhaps experiencing sunlight as it was being refracted by my eyelashes. I blinked and looked again. The lines were constant and were superimposed on or were coming through everything in the surroundings. I turned around and examined an extraordinarily new world. The lines were visible and steady even if I looked away from the sun.
I stayed on the hilltop in a state of ecstasy for what appeared to be an endless time, yet the whole event may have lasted only a few minutes, perhaps only as long as the sun shone before it reached the horizon, but to me it seemed an endless time. I felt something warm and soothing oozing out of the world and out of my own body. I knew I had discovered a secret. It was so simple. I experienced an unknown flood of feelings. Never in my life had I had such a divine euphoria, such peace, such an encompassing grasp, and yet I could not put the discovered secret into words, or even into thoughts, but my body knew it.
Then I either fell asleep or I fainted. When I again became aware of myself I was lying on the rocks. I stood up. The world was as I had always seen it. It was getting dark and I automatically started on my way back to my car.
Don Juan was alone in the house when I arrived the next morning. I asked him about don Genaro and he said that he was somewhere in the vicinity, running an errand. I immediately began to narrate to him the extraordinary experiences I had had. He listened with obvious interest.
"You have simply stopped the world," he commented after I had finished my account.
We remained silent for a moment and then don Juan said that I had to thank don Genaro for helping me. He seemed to be unusually pleased with me. He patted my back repeatedly and chuckled.
"But it is inconceivable that a coyote could talk," I said.
"It wasn't talk," don Juan replied.
"What was it then?"
"Your body understood for the first time. But you failed to recognize that it was not a coyote to begin with and that it certainly was not talking the way you and I talk."
"But the coyote really talked, don Juan!"
"Now look who is talking like an idiot. After all these years of learning you should know better. Yesterday you stopped the world and you might have even seen. A magical being told you something and your body was capable of understanding it because the world had collapsed."
"The world was like it is today, don Juan."
"No, it wasn't. Today the coyotes do not tell you anything, and you cannot see the lines of the world. Yesterday you did all that simply because something had stopped in you."
"What was the thing that stopped in me?"
"What stopped inside you yesterday was what people have been telling you the world is like.
You see, people tell us from the time we are born that the world is such and such and so and so, and naturally we have no choice but to see the world the way people have been telling us it is."
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We looked at each other.
"Yesterday the world became as sorcerers tell you it is," he went on. "In that world coyotes talk and so do deer, as I once told you, and so do rattlesnakes and trees and all other living beings.
But what I want you to learn is seeing. Perhaps you know now that seeing happens only when one sneaks between the worlds, the world of ordinary people and the world of sorcerers. You are now smack in the middle point between the two. Yesterday you believed the coyote talked to you. Any sorcerer who doesn't see would believe the same, but one who sees knows that to believe that is to be pinned down in the realm of sorcerers. By the same token, not to believe that coyotes talk is to be pinned down in the realm of ordinary men."
"Do you mean, don Juan, that neither the world of ordinary men nor the world of sorcerers is real?"
"They are real worlds. They could act upon you. For example, you could have asked that coyote about anything you wanted to know and it would have been compelled to give you an answer. The only sad part is that coyotes are not reliable. They are tricksters. It is your fate not to have a dependable animal companion."
Don Juan explained that the coyote was going to be my companion for life and that in the world of sorcerers to have a coyote friend was not a desirable state of affairs. He said that it would have been ideal for me to have talked to a rattlesnake, since they were stupendous companions.
"If I were you," he added, "I would never trust a coyote. But you are different and you may even become a coyote sorcerer."
"What is a coyote sorcerer?"
"One who draws a lot of things from his coyote brothers."
I wanted to keep on asking questions but he made a gesture to stop me.
"You have seen the lines of the world," he said. "You have seen a luminous being. You are now almost ready to meet the ally. Of course you know that the man you saw in the bushes was the ally. You heard its roar like the sound of a jet plane. He'll be waiting for you at the edge of a plain, a plain I will take you to myself."
We were quiet for a long time. Don Juan had his hands clasped over his stomach. His thumbs moved almost imperceptibly.
"Genaro will also have to go with us to that valley," he said all of a sudden. "He is the one who has helped you to stop the world."
Don Juan looked at me with piercing eyes.
"I will tell you one more thing," he said and laughed. "It really does matter now. Genaro never moved your car from the world of ordinary men the other day. He simply forced you to look at the world like sorcerers do, and your car was not in that world. Genaro wanted to soften your certainty. His clowning told your body about the absurdity of trying to understand everything.
And when he flew his kite you almost saw. You found your car and you were in both worlds. The reason we nearly split our guts laughing was because you really thought you were driving us back from where you thought you had found your car."
"But how did he force me to see the world as sorcerers do?"
"I was with him. We both know that world. Once one knows that world all one needs to bring it about is to use that extra ring of power I have told you sorcerers have. Genaro can do that as easily as snapping his fingers. He kept you busy turning over rocks in order to distract your thoughts and allow your body to see."
I told him that the events of the last three days had done some irreparable damage to my idea of the world. I said that during the ten years I had been associated with him I had never been so moved, not even during the times I had ingested psychotropic plants.
"Power plants are only an aid," don Juan said. "The real thing is when the body realizes that it
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can see. Only then is one capable of knowing that the world we look at every day is only a description. My intent has been to show you that. Unfortunately, you have very little time left before the ally tackles you."
"Does the ally have to tackle me?"
"There is no way to avoid it. In order to see one must learn the way sorcerers look at the world and thus the ally has to be summoned, and once that is done it comes."
"Couldn't you have taught me to see without summoning the ally?"
"No. In order to see one must learn to look at the world in some other fashion, and the only other fashion I know is the way of a sorcerer."
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20. Journey To Ixtlan
Don Genaro returned around noon and at don Juan's suggestion the three of us drove down to the range of mountains where I had been the day before. We hiked on the same trail I had taken but instead of stopping in the high plateau, as I had done, we kept on climbing until we reached the top of the lower range of mountains, then we began to descend into a flat valley.
We stopped to rest on top of a high hill. Don Genaro picked the spot. I automatically sat down, as I have always done in their company, with don Juan to my right and don Genaro to my left, making a triangle.
The desert chaparral had acquired an exquisite moist sheen. It was brilliantly green after a short spring shower.
"Genaro is going to tell you something," don Juan said to me all of a sudden. "He is going to tell you the story of his first encounter with his ally. Isn't that so, Genaro?"
There was a tone of coaxing in don Juan's voice. Don Genaro looked at me and contracted his lips until his mouth looked like a round hole. He curled his tongue against his palate and opened and closed his mouth as if he were having spasms.
Don Juan looked at him and laughed loudly. I did not know what to make out of it.
"What's he doing?" I asked don Juan.
"He's a hen!" he said.
"A hen?"
"Look, look at his mouth. That's the hen's ass and it is about to lay an egg."
The spasms of don Genaro's mouth seemed to increase. He had a strange, crazy look in his eyes. His mouth opened up as if the spasms were dilating the round hole. He made a croaking sound in his throat, folded his arms over his chest with his hands bent inward, and then unceremoniously spat out some phlegm.
"Damn it! It wasn't an egg," he said with a concerned look on his face.
The posture of his body and the expression on his face were so ludicrous that I could not help laughing.
"Now that Genaro almost laid an egg maybe he will tell you about his first encounter with his ally," don Juan insisted.
"Maybe," don Genaro said, uninterested.
I pleaded with him to tell me.
Don Genaro stood up, stretched his arms and back. His bones made a cracking sound. Then he sat down again.
"I was young when I first tackled my ally," he finally said. "I remember that it was in the early afternoon. I had been in the fields since daybreak and I was returning to my house. Suddenly from behind a bush, the ally came out and blocked my way. He had been waiting for me and was inviting me to wrestle him. I began to turn around in order to leave him alone but the thought came to my mind that I was strong enough to tackle him. I was afraid though. A chill ran up my spine and my neck became stiff as a board. By the way, that is always the sign that you're ready, I mean, when your neck gets hard."
He opened up his shirt and showed me his back. He stiffened the muscles of his neck, back, and arms. I noticed the superb quality of his musculature. It was as if the memory of the encounter had activated every muscle in his torso.
"In such a situation," he continued, "you must always close your mouth."
He turned to don Juan and said, "Isn't that so?"
"Yes," don Juan said calmly. "The jolt that one gets from grabbing an ally is so great that one might bite off one's tongue or knock one's teeth out. One's body must be straight and wellgrounded, and the feet must grab the ground."
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Don Genaro stood up and showed me the proper position: his body slightly bent at the knees, his arms hanging at his sides with the fingers curled gently. He seemed relaxed and yet firmly set on the ground. He remained in that position for an instant, and when I thought he was going to sit down he suddenly lunged forward in one stupendous leap, as if he had springs attached to his heels. His movement was so sudden that I fell down on my back; but as I fell I had the clear impression that don Genaro had grabbed a man, or something which had the shape of a man.
I sat up again. Don Genaro was still maintaining a tremendous tension all over his body, then he relaxed his muscles abruptly and went back to where he had been sitting before and sat down.
"Carlos just saw your ally right now," don Juan remarked casually, "but he's still weak and fell down."
"Did you?" don Genaro asked in a naive tone and enlarged his nostrils.
Don Juan assured him that I had seen it.
Don Genaro leaped forward again with such a force that I fell on my side. He executed his jump so fast that I really could not tell how he had sprung to his feet from a sitting position in order to lunge forward.
Both of them laughed loudly and then don Genaro changed his laughter into a howling indistinguishable from a coyote's.
"Don't think that you have to jump as well as Genaro in order to grab your ally," don Juan said in a cautioning tone. "Genaro jumps so well because he has his ally to help him. All you have to do is to be firmly grounded in order to sustain the impact. You have to stand just like Genaro did before he jumped, then you have to leap forward and grab the ally."
"He's got to kiss his medallion first," don Genaro interjected.
Don Juan, with feigned severity, said that I had no medallions.
"What about his notebooks?" don Genaro insisted. "He's got to do something with his notebooks - put them down somewhere before he jumps, or maybe he'll use his notebooks to beat the ally."
"I'll be damned!" don Juan said with seemingly genuine surprise. "I have never thought of that. I bet it'll be the first time an ally is beaten down to the ground with notebooks."
When don Juan's laughter and don Genaro's coyote howling subsided we were all in a very fine mood.
"What happened when you grabbed your ally, don Genaro?" I asked.
"It was a powerful jolt," don Genaro said after a moment's hesitation. He seemed to have been putting his thoughts in order.
"Never would I have imagined it was going to be like that," he went on. "It was something, something, something ... like nothing I can tell. After I grabbed it we began to spin. The ally made me twirl, but I didn't let go. We spun through the air with such speed and force that I couldn't see any more. Everything was foggy. The spinning went on, and on, and on. Suddenly I felt that I was standing on the ground again. I looked at myself. The ally had not killed me. I was in one piece. I was myself! I knew then that I had succeeded. At long last I had an ally. I jumped up and down with delight. What a feeling! What a feeling it was!
"Then I looked around to find out where I was. The surroundings were unknown to me. I thought that the ally must have taken me through the air and dumped me somewhere very far from the place where we started to spin. I oriented myself. I thought that my home must be towards the east, so I began to walk in that direction. It was still early. The encounter with the ally had not taken too long. Very soon I found a trail and then I saw a bunch of men and women coming towards me. They were Indians. I thought they were Mazatec Indians. They surrounded me and asked me where I was going.
"I'm going home to Ixtlan," I said to them.
"Are you lost?" someone asked.
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"I am," I said.
"Why?"
"Because Ixtlan is not that way. Ixtlan is in the opposite direction. We ourselves are going there," someone else said.
"Join us!" they all said. "We have food!""
Don Genaro stopped talking and looked at me as if he were waiting for me to ask a question.
"Well, what happened?" I asked. "Did you join them?"
"No, I didn't," he said. "Because they were not real. I knew it right away, the minute they came to me. There was something in their voices, in their friendliness that gave them away, especially when they asked me to join them. So I ran away. They called me and begged me to come back. Their pleas became haunting, but I kept on running away from them."
"Who were they?" I asked.
"People," don Genaro replied cuttingly. "Except that they were not real."
"They were like apparitions," don Juan explained. "Like phantoms."
"After walking for a while," don Genaro went on, "I became more confident. I knew that Ixtlan was in the direction I was going. And then I saw two men coming down the trail towards me. They also seemed to be Mazatec Indians. They had a donkey loaded with firewood. They went by me and mumbled, "Good afternoon."
"Good afternoon!" I said and kept on walking. They did not pay any attention to me and went their way. I slowed down my gait and casually turned around to look at them. They were walking away unconcerned with me. They seemed to be real. I ran after them and yelled, "Wait, wait!"
"They held their donkey and stood on either side of the animal, as if they were protecting the load.
"I am lost in these mountains," I said to them. "Which way is Ixtlan?"
They pointed in the direction they were going.
"You're very far," one of them said. "It is on the other side of those mountains. It'll take you four or five days to get there."
Then they turned around and kept on walking. I felt that those were real Indians and I begged them to let me join them.
"We walked together for a while and then one of them got his bundle of food and offered me some. I froze on the spot. There was something terribly strange in the way he offered me his food.
My body felt frightened, so I jumped back and began to run away. They both said that I would die in the mountains if I did not go with them and tried to coax me to join them. Their pleas were also very haunting, but I ran away from them with all my might.
"I kept on walking. I knew then that I was on the right way to Ixtlan and that those phantoms were trying to lure me out of my way.
"I encountered eight of them; they must have known that my determination was unshakable.
They stood by the road and looked at me with pleading eyes. Most of them did not say a word;
the women among them, however, were more daring and pleaded with me. Some of them even displayed food and other goods that they were supposed to be selling, like innocent merchants by the side of the road. I did not stop nor did I look at them.
"By late afternoon I came to a valley that I seemed to recognize. It was somehow familiar. I thought I had been there before, but if that was so I was actually south of Ixtlan. I began to look for landmarks to properly orient myself and correct my route when I saw a little Indian boy tending some goats. He was perhaps seven years old and was dressed the way I had been when I was his age. In fact, he reminded me of myself tending my father's two goats.
"I watched him for some time; the boy was talking to himself, the same way I used to, then he would talk to his goats. From what I knew about tending goats he was really good at it. He was thorough and careful. He didn't pamper his goats, but he wasn't cruel to them either.
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"I decided to call him. When I talked to him in a loud voice he jumped up and ran away to a ledge and peeked at me from behind some rocks. He seemed to be ready to run for his life. I liked him. He seemed to be afraid and yet he still found time to herd his goats out of my sight.
"I talked to him for a long time; I said that I was lost and that I did not know my way to Ixtlan.
I asked the name of the place where we were and he said it was the place I had thought it was.
That made me very happy. I realized I was no longer lost and pondered on the power that my ally had in or