(The Fire From Within by Carlos Castaneda)
Don Juan and Genaro made their yearly trip to the northern part of Mexico, to the Sonoran desert, to look for medicinal plants. One of the seers of the nagual’s party, Vicente Medrano, the herbalist among them, used those plants to make medicines.
I had joined don Juan and Genaro in Sonora, at the last stage of their journey, just in time to drive them south, back to their home.
The day before we started on our drive, don Juan abruptly continued his explanation of the mastery of awareness. We were resting in the shade of some tall bushes in the foothills of the mountains. It was late afternoon, almost dark. Each of us carried a large burlap sack filled with plants. As soon as we had put them down, Genaro lay down on the ground and fell asleep, using his folded jacket as a pillow.
Don Juan spoke to me in a low voice, as if he didn’t want to wake up Genaro. He said that by now he had explained most of the truths about awareness, and that there was only one truth left to discuss. The last truth, he assured me, was the best of the old seers’ findings, although they never knew that themselves. Its tremendous value was only recognized, ages later, by the new seers.
“I’ve explained to you that man has an assemblage point,” he went on, “and that that assemblage point aligns emanations for perception. We’ve also discussed that that point moves from its fixed position. Now, the last truth is that once that assemblage point moves beyond a certain limit, it can assemble worlds entirely different from the world we know.”
Still in a whisper, he said that certain geographical areas not only help that precarious movement of the assemblage point, but also select specific directions for that movement. For instance, the Sonoran desert helps the assemblage point move downward from its customary position, to the place of the beast.
“That’s why there are true sorcerers in Sonora,” he continued. “Especially sorceresses. You already know one, la Catalina. In the past, I have arranged bouts between the two of you. I wanted to make your assemblage point shift, and la Catalina, with her sorcery antics, jolted it loose.”
Don Juan explained that the chilling experiences I had had with la Catalina had been part of a prearranged agreement between the two of them.
“What would you think if we invited her to join us?” Genaro asked me in a loud voice, as he sat up.
The abruptness of his question and the strange sound of his voice plunged me into instant terror.
Don Juan laughed and shook me by the arms. He assured me that there was no need for alarm. He said that la Catalina was like a cousin or an aunt to us. She was part of our world, although she did not quite follow our quests. She was infinitely closer to the ancient seers.
Genaro smiled and winked at me.
“I understand that you’ve got hot pants for her,” he said to me. “She herself confessed to me that every time you have had a confrontation with her, the greater your fright, the hotter your pants.”
Don Juan and Genaro laughed to near hysteria.
I had to admit that somehow I had always found la Catalina to be a very scary but at the same time an extremely appealing woman. What impressed me the most about her was her exuding energy.
“She has so much energy saved,” don Juan commented, “that you didn’t have to be in heightened awareness for her to move your assemblage point all the way to the depths of the left side.”
Don Juan said again that la Catalina was very closely related to us, because she belonged to the nagual Julian’s party. He explained that usually the nagual and all the members of his party leave the world together, but that there are instances when they leave either in smaller groups or one by one. The nagual Julian and his party were an example of the latter. Although he had left the world nearly forty years ago, la Catalina was still here.
He reminded me about something he mentioned to me before, that the nagual Julian’s party consisted of a group of three thoroughly inconsequential men and eight superb women. Don Juan had always maintained that such a disparity was one of the reasons why the members of the nagual Julian’s party left the world one by one.
He said that la Catalina had been attached to one of the superb women seers of the nagual Julian’s party, who taught her extraordinary maneuvers to shift her assemblage point to the area below. That seer was one of the last to leave the world. She lived to an extremely old age, and since both she and la Catalina were originally from Sonora, they returned, in her advanced years, to the desert and lived together until the seer left the world. In the years they spent together, la Catalina became her most dedicated helper and disciple, a disciple who was willing to learn the extravagant ways the old seers knew to make the assemblage point shift.
I asked don Juan if la Catalina’s knowledge was inherently different from his own.
“We are exactly the same,” he replied. “She’s more like Silvio Manuel or Genaro; she is really the female version of them, but, of course, being a woman she’s infinitely more aggressive and dangerous than both of them.”
Genaro assented with a nod of his head. “Infinitely more,” he said and winked again.
“Is she attached to your party?” I asked don Juan.
“I said that she’s like a cousin or an aunt to us,” he replied. “I meant she belongs to the older generation, although she’s younger than all of us. She is the last of that group. She is rarely in contact with us. She doesn’t quite like us. We are too stiff for her, because she’s used to the nagual Julian’s touch. She prefers the high adventure of the unknown to the quest for freedom.”
“What is the difference between the two?” I asked don Juan.
“In the last part of my explanation of the truths about awareness,” he replied, “we are going to discuss that difference slowly and thoroughly. What’s important for you to know at this moment, is that you’re jealously guarding weird secrets in your left-side awareness; that is why la Catalina and you like each other.”
I insisted again that it was not that I liked her, it was rather that I admired her great strength.
Don Juan and Genaro laughed and patted me as if they knew something I did not.
“She likes you because she knows what you’re like,” Genaro said and smacked his lips. “She knew the nagual Julian very well.”
Both of them gave me a long look that made me feel embarrassed.
“What are you driving at?” I asked Genaro in a belligerent tone.
He grinned at me and moved his eyebrows up and down in a comical gesture. But he kept quiet.
Don Juan spoke and broke the silence.
“There are very strange points in common between the nagual Julian and you,” he said. “Genaro is just trying to figure out if you’re aware of it.”
I asked both of them how on earth I would be aware of something so farfetched.
“La Catalina thinks you are,” Genaro said. “She says so because she knew the nagual Julian better than any of us here.”
I commented that I couldn’t believe that she knew the nagual Julian, since he had left the world nearly forty years ago.
“La Catalina is no spring chicken,” Genaro said. “She just looks young; that’s part of her knowledge. Just as it was part of the nagual Julian’s knowledge. You’ve seen her only when she looks young. If you see her when she looks old, she’ll scare the living daylights out of you.”
“What la Catalina does,” don Juan interrupted, “can be explained only in terms of the three masteries: the mastery of awareness, the mastery of stalking, and the mastery of intent.”
“But today, we are going to examine what she does only in light of the last truth about awareness: the truth that says that the assemblage point can assemble worlds different from our own after it moves from its original position.”
Don Juan signaled me to get up. Genaro also stood up. I automatically grabbed the burlap sack filled with medicinal plants. Genaro stopped me as I was about to put it on my shoulders.
“Leave the sack alone,” he said, smiling. “We have to take a little hike up the hill and meet la Catalina.”
“Where is she?” I asked.
“Up there,” Genaro said, pointing to the top of a small hill. “If you stare with your eyes half closed, you’ll see her as a very dark spot against the green shrubbery.”
I strained to see the dark spot, but I couldn’t see anything.
“Why don’t you walk up there?” don Juan suggested to me.
I felt dizzy and sick to my stomach. Don Juan urged me with a movement of his hand to go up, but I didn’t dare move. Finally, Genaro took me by the arm and both of us climbed toward the top of the hill. When we got there, I realized that don Juan had come up right behind us. The three of us reached the top at the same time.
Don Juan very calmly began to talk to Genaro. He asked him if he remembered the many times the nagual Julian was about to choke both of them to death, because they indulged in their fears.
Genaro turned to me and assured me that the nagual Julian had been a ruthless teacher. He and his own teacher, the nagual Elias, who was still in the world then, used to push everyone’s assemblage points beyond a crucial limit and let them fend for themselves.
“I once told you that the nagual Julian recommended us not to waste our sexual energy,”
Genaro went on. “He meant that for the assemblage point to shift, one needs energy. If one doesn’t have it, the nagual’s blow is not the blow of freedom, but the blow of death.”
“Without enough energy,” don Juan said, “the force of alignment is crushing. You have to have energy to sustain the pressure of alignments which never take place under ordinary circumstances.”
Genaro said that the nagual Julian was an inspiring teacher. He always found ways to teach and at the same time entertain himself. One of his favorite teaching devices was to catch them unawares once or twice, in their normal awareness, and make their assemblage points shift. From then on, all he had to do to have their undivided attention was to threaten them with an unexpected nagual’s blow.
“The nagual Julian was really an unforgettable man,” don Juan said. “He had a great touch with people. He would do the worst things in the world, but done by him they were great. Done by anyone else, they would have been crude and callous.”
“The nagual Elias, on the other hand, had no touch, but he was indeed a great, great teacher.”
“The nagual Elias was very much like the nagual Juan Matus,” Genaro said to me. “They got along very fine. And the nagual Elias taught him everything without ever raising his voice, or playing tricks on him.”
“But the nagual Julian was quite different,” Genaro went on, giving me a friendly shove. “I’d say that he jealously guarded strange secrets in his left side, just like you. Wouldn’t you say so?” he asked don Juan.
Don Juan did not answer, but nodded affirmatively. He seemed to be holding back his laughter.
“He had a playful nature,” don Juan said, and both of them broke into a great laughter.
The fact that they were obviously alluding to something they knew made me feel even more threatened.
Don Juan matter-of-factly said that they were referring to the bizarre sorcery techniques that the nagual Julian had learned in the course of his life. Genaro added that the nagual Julian had a unique teacher besides the nagual Elias. A teacher who had liked him immensely and had taught him novel and complex ways of moving his assemblage point. As a result of this, the nagual Julian was extraordinarily eccentric in his behavior.
“Who was that teacher, don Juan?” I asked.
Don Juan and Genaro looked at each other and giggled like two children.
“That is a very tough question to answer,” don Juan replied. “All I can say is that he was the teacher that deviated the course of our line. He taught us many things, good and bad, but among the worst, he taught us what the old seers did. So, some of us got trapped. The nagual Julian was one of them, and so is la Catalina. We only hope that you won’t follow them.”
I immediately began to protest. Don Juan interrupted me. He said that I did not know what I was protesting.
As don Juan spoke, I became terribly angry with him and Genaro. Suddenly, I was raging, yelling at them at the top of my voice. My reaction was so out of tone with me that it scared me. It was as if I were someone else. I stopped and looked at them for help.
Genaro had his hands on don Juan’s shoulders as if he needed support. Both of them were laughing uncontrollably.
I became so despondent I was nearly in tears. Don Juan came to my side. He reassuringly put his hand on my shoulder. He said that the Sonoran desert, for reasons incomprehensible to him, fostered definite belligerence in man or any other organism.
“People may say that it’s because the air is too dry here,” he continued, “or because it’s too hot. Seers would say that there is a particular confluence of the Eagle’s emanations here, which, as I’ve already said, helps the assemblage point to shift below.”
“Be that as it may, warriors are in the world to train themselves to be unbiased witnesses, so as to understand the mystery of ourselves and relish the exultation of finding what we really are. This is the highest of the new seers’ goals. And not every warrior attains it. We believe that the nagual Julian didn’t attain it. He was waylaid, and so was la Catalina.”
He further said that to be a peerless nagual, one has to love freedom, and one has to have supreme detachment. He explained that what makes the warrior’s path so very dangerous is that it is the opposite of the life situation of modern man. He said that modern man has left the realm of the unknown and the mysterious, and has settled down in the realm of the functional. He has turned his back to the world of the foreboding and the exulting and has welcomed the world of boredom.
“To be given a chance to go back again to the mystery of the world,” don Juan continued, “is sometimes too much for warriors, and they succumb; they are waylaid by what I’ve called the high adventure of the unknown. They forget the quest for freedom; they forget to be unbiased witnesses. They sink into the unknown and love it.”
“And you think I’m like that, don’t you?” I asked don Juan.
“We don’t think, we know,” Genaro replied. “And la Catalina knows better than anyone else.”
“Why would she know it?” I demanded.
“Because she’s like you,” Genaro replied, pronouncing his words with a comical intonation.
I was about to get into a heated argument again when don Juan interrupted me.
“There’s no need to get so worked up,” he said to me. “You are what you are. The fight for freedom is harder for some. You are one of them.”
“In order to be unbiased witnesses,” he went on, “we begin by understanding that the fixation or the movement of the assemblage point is all there is to us and the world we witness, whatever that world might be.”
“The new seers say that when we were taught to talk to ourselves, we were taught the means to dull ourselves in order to keep the assemblage point fixed on one spot.”
Genaro clapped his hands noisily and let out a piercing whistle that imitated the whistle of a football coach.
“Let’s get that assemblage point moving!” he yelled. “Up, up, up! Move, move, move!”
We were all still laughing when the bushes by my right side were suddenly stirred. Don Juan and Genaro immediately sat down with the left leg tucked under the seat. The right leg, with the knee up, was like a shield in front of them. Don Juan signaled me to do the same. He raised his brows and made a gesture of resignation at the corner of his mouth.
“Sorcerers have their own quirks,” he said in a whisper. “When the assemblage point moves to the regions below its normal position, the vision of sorcerers becomes limited. If they see you standing, they’ll attack you.”
“The nagual Julian kept me once for two days in this warrior’s position,” Genaro whispered to me. “I even had to urinate while I sat in this position.”
“And defecate,” don Juan added.
“Right,” Genaro said. And then he whispered to me, as if on second thought, “I hope you did your kaka earlier. If your bowels aren’t empty when la Catalina shows up, you’ll shit in your pants, unless I show you how to take them off. If you have to shit in this position, you’ve got to get your pants off.”
He began to show me how to maneuver out of my trousers. He did it in a most serious and concerned manner. All my concentration was focused on his movements. It was only when I had gotten out of my pants that I became aware that don Juan was roaring with laughter. I realized that Genaro was again poking fun at me. I was about to stand up to put on my pants, when don Juan stopped me. He was laughing so hard that he could hardly articulate his words. He told me to stay put, that Genaro did things only half in fun, and that la Catalina was really there behind the bushes.
His tone of urgency, in the midst of laughter, got to me. I froze on the spot. A moment later a rustle in the bushes sent me into such a panic that I forgot about my pants. I looked at Genaro. He was again wearing his pants. He shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t have time to show you how to put them back on without getting up.”
I did not have time to get angry or to join them in their mirth. Suddenly, right in front of me, the bushes separated and a most horrendous creature came out. It was so outlandish I was no longer afraid. I was spellbound. Whatever was in front of me was not a human being; it was something not even remotely resembling one. It was more like a reptile. Or a bulky grotesque insect. Or even a hairy, ultimately repulsive bird. Its body was dark and had coarse reddish hair. I could not see any legs, just the ugly enormous head. The nose was flat and the nostrils were two enormous lateral holes. It had something like a beak with teeth. Horrifying as that thing was, its eyes were magnificent. They were like two mesmeric pools of inconceivable clarity. They had knowledge. They were not human eyes, or bird eyes, or any kind of eyes I had ever seen.
The creature moved toward my left, rustling the bushes. As I moved my head to follow it, I noticed that don Juan and Genaro seemed to be as spellbound by its presence as I was. It occurred to me that they had never seen anything like that either.
In an instant, the creature had moved completely out of sight. But a moment later there was a growl and its gigantic shape again loomed in front of us.
I was fascinated and at the same time worried by the fact that I was not in the least afraid of that grotesque creature. It was as if my early panic had been experienced by someone else. I felt, at one moment, that I was beginning to stand up. Against my volition, my legs straightened up and I found myself standing up, facing the creature. I vaguely felt that I was taking off my jacket, my shirt, and my shoes. Then I was naked. The muscles of my legs tensed with a tremendously powerful contraction. I jumped up and down with colossal agility, and then the creature and I raced toward some ineffable greenness in the distance.
The creature raced ahead of me, coiling on itself, like a serpent. But then I caught up with it.
As we speeded together, I became aware of something I already knew – the creature was really la Catalina. All of a sudden, la Catalina, in the flesh, was next to me. We moved effortlessly. It was as if we were stationary, only posed in a bodily gesture of movement and speed, while the scenery around us was being moved, giving the impression of enormous acceleration.
Our racing stopped as suddenly as it had started, and then I was alone with la Catalina in a different world. There was not a single recognizable feature in it. There was an intense glare and heat coming from what seemed to be the ground, a ground covered with huge rocks. Or at least they seemed to be rocks. They had the color of sandstone, but they had no weight; they were like chunks of sponge tissue. I could send them hurling around by only leaning on them.
I became so fascinated with my strength that I was oblivious to anything else. I had assessed, in whatever way, that the chunks of seemingly weightless material opposed resistance to me. It was my superior strength that sent them hurling around.
I tried to grab them with my hands, and I realized that my entire body had changed. La Catalina was looking at me. She was again the grotesque creature she had been before, and so was I. I could not see myself, but I knew that both of us were exactly alike.
An indescribable joy possessed me, as if joy were some force that came from outside me. La Catalina and I cavorted, and twisted, and played until I had no more thoughts, or feelings, or human awareness in any degree. Yet, I was definitely aware. My awareness was a vague knowledge that gave me confidence; it was a limitless trust, a physical certainty of my existence, not in the sense of a human feeling of individuality, but in the sense of a presence that was everything.
Then, everything came again into human focus all at once. La Catalina was holding my hand. We were walking on the desert floor among the desert shrubs. I had the immediate and painful realization that the desert rocks and hard clumps of dirt were horribly injurious to my bare feet. We came to a spot clear of vegetation. Don Juan and Genaro were there. I sat down and put on my clothes.
My experience with la Catalina delayed our trip back to the south of Mexico. It had unhinged me in some indescribable way. In my normal state of awareness, I became disassociated. It was as if I had lost a point of reference. I had become despondent. I told don Juan that I had even lost my desire to live.
We were sitting around in the ramada of don Juan’s house. My car was loaded with sacks and we were ready to leave, but my feeling of despair got the best of me and I began to weep.
Don Juan and Genaro laughed until their eyes were tearing. The more desperate I felt, the greater was their enjoyment. Finally, don Juan had me shift into heightened awareness and explained that their laughter was not unkindness on their part, or the result of a weird sense of humor, but the genuine expression of happiness at seeing me advance in the path of knowledge.
“I’ll tell you what the nagual Julian used to say to us when we got to where you are,” don Juan went on. “That way, you’ll know that you’re not alone. What’s happening to you happens to anyone who stores enough energy to catch a glimpse of the unknown.”
He said that the nagual Julian used to tell them that they had been evicted from the homes where they had lived all their lives. A result of having saved energy had been the disruption of their cozy but utterly limiting and boring nest in the world of everyday life. Their depression, the nagual Julian told them, was not so much the sadness of having lost their nest, but the annoyance of having to look for new quarters.
“The new quarters,” don Juan went on, “are not as cozy. But they are infinitely more roomy.”
“Your eviction notice came in the form of a great depression, a loss of the desire to live, just as it happened to us. When you told us that you didn’t want to live, we couldn’t help laughing.”
“What’s going to happen to me now?” I asked.
“Using the vernacular, you got to get another pad,” don Juan replied.
Don Juan and Genaro again entered into a state of great euphoria. Every one of their statements and remarks made them laugh hysterically.
“It’s all very simple,” don Juan said. “Your new level of energy will create a new spot to house your assemblage point. And the warriors’ dialogue you carry on with us every time we get together will solidify that new position.”
Genaro adopted a serious look and in a booming voice he asked me, “Did you shit today?”
He urged me with a movement of his head to answer.
“Did you, did you?” he demanded. “Let’s get going with our warriors’ dialogue.”
When their laughter had subsided, Genaro said that I had to be aware of a drawback, the fact that from time to time the assemblage point returns to its original position. He told me that in his own case, the normal position of his assemblage point had forced him to see people as threatening and often terrifying beings. To his utter amazement, one day he realized that he had changed. He was considerably more daring and had successfully dealt with a situation that would have ordinarily thrown him into chaos and fear.
“I found myself making love,” Genaro continued, and he winked at me. “Usually I was afraid to death of women. But one day I found myself in bed with a most ferocious woman, it was so unlike me that when I realized what I was doing I nearly had a heart attack. The jolt made my assemblage point return to its miserable normal position and I had to run out of the house, shaking like a scared rabbit.”
“You’d better watch out for the recoil of the assemblage point,” Genaro added, and they were laughing again.
“The position of the assemblage point on man’s cocoon,” don Juan explained, “is maintained by the internal dialogue, and because of that, it is a flimsy position at best. That’s why men and women lose their minds so easily, especially those whose internal dialogue is repetitious, boring, and without any depth.”
“The new seers say that the more resilient human beings are those whose internal dialogue is more fluid and varied.”
He said that the position of the warrior’s assemblage point is infinitely stronger, because as soon as the assemblage point begins to move in the cocoon, it creates a dimple in the luminosity, a dimple that houses the assemblage point from then on.
“That’s the reason why we can’t say that warriors lose their minds,” don Juan went on. “If they lose anything, they lose their dimple.”
Don Juan and Genaro found that statement so hilarious that they rolled on the floor laughing. I asked don Juan to explain my experience with la Catalina. And both of them again howled with laughter.
“Women are definitely more bizarre than men,” don Juan finally said. “The fact that they have an extra opening between their legs makes them fall prey to strange influences. Strange, powerful forces possess them through that opening. That’s the only way I can understand their quirks.”
He kept silent for a while, and I asked what he meant by that.
“La Catalina came to us as a giant worm,” he replied.
Don Juan’s expression when he said that, and Genaro’s explosion of laughter, took me into sheer mirth. I laughed until I was nearly sick.
Don Juan said that la Catalina’s skill was so extraordinary that she could do anything she wanted in the realm of the beast. Her unparalleled display had been motivated by her affinity with me. The final result of all that, he said, was that la Catalina pulled my assemblage point with her.
“What did you two do as worms?” Genaro asked and slapped me on the back.
Don Juan seemed to be close to choking with laughter.
“That’s why I’ve said that women are more bizarre than men,” he commented at last.
“I don’t agree with you,” Genaro said to don Juan. “The nagual Julian didn’t have an extra hole between his legs and he was more weird than la Catalina. I believe she learned the worm bit from him. He used to do that to her.”
Don Juan jumped up and down, like a child who is trying to keep from wetting his pants. When he had regained a measure of calm, don Juan said that the nagual Julian had a knack for creating and exploiting the most bizarre situations. He also said that la Catalina had given me a superb example of the shift below. She had let me see her as the being whose form she had adopted by moving her assemblage point, and she had then helped me move mine to the same position that gave her her monstrous appearance.
“The other teacher that the nagual Julian had,” don Juan went on, “taught him how to get to specific spots in that immensity of the area below. None of us could follow him there, but all the members of his party did, especially la Catalina and the woman seer who taught her.”
Don Juan further said that a shift below entailed a view, not of another world proper, but of our same world of everyday life seen from a different perspective. He added that in order for me to see another world I had to perceive another great band of the Eagle’s emanations.
He then brought his explanation to an end. He said that he had no time to elaborate on the subject of the great bands of emanations, because we had to be on our way. I wanted to stay a bit longer and keep on talking, but he argued that he would need a good deal of time to explain that topic and I would need fresh concentration.