Don Juan Matus, a master sorcerer, a nagual, as master sorcerers are called when they lead a group of other sorcerers, introduced me to the cognitive world of shamans who lived in Mexico in ancient times. Don Juan Matus was an Indian who was born in Yuma, Arizona. His father was a Yaqui Indian from Sonora, Mexico, and his mother was presumably a Yuma Indian from Arizona. Don Juan lived in Arizona until he was ten years old. He was then taken by his father to Sonora, Mexico, where they were caught in the endemic Yaqui wars against the Mexicans. His father was killed, and as a ten-year-old child don Juan ended up in Southern Mexico, where he grew up with relatives.
At the age of twenty, he came in contact with a master sorcerer. His name was Julian Osorio. He introduced don Juan into a lineage of sorcerers that was purported to be twenty-five generations long. He was not an Indian at all, but the son of European immigrants to Mexico. Don Juan related to me that the nagual Julian had been an actor, and that he was a dashing person – a raconteur, a mime, adored by everybody, influential, commanding. In one of his theatrical tours to the provinces, the actor Julian Osorio fell under the influence of another nagual, Elias Ulloa, who transmitted to him the knowledge of his lineage of sorcerers.
Don Juan Matus, following the tradition of his lineage of shamans, taught some bodily movements which he called magical passes to his four disciples: Taisha Abelar, Florinda Donner-Grau, Carol Tiggs, and myself. He taught them to us in the same spirit in which they had been for generations, with one notable departure: he eliminated the excessive ritual which had surrounded the teaching and performance of those magical passes for generations. Don Juan’s comments in this respect were that ritual had lost its impetus as new generations of practitioners became more interested in efficiency and functionalism. He recommended to me, however, that under no circumstances should I talk about the magical passes with any of his disciples or with people in general. His reasons were that the magical passes pertained exclusively to each person, and that their effect was so shattering, it was better just to practice them without discussing them.
Don Juan Matus taught me everything he knew about the sorcerers of his lineage. He stated, asserted, affirmed, explained to me every nuance of his knowledge. Therefore, everything I say about the magical passes is a direct result of his instruction. The magical passes were not invented. They were discovered by the shamans of don Juan’s lineage who lived in Mexico in ancient times, while they were in shamanistic states of heightened awareness. The discovery of the magical passes was quite accidental. It began as very simple queries about the nature of an incredible sensation of well-being that those shamans experienced in those states of heightened awareness when they held certain bodily positions, or when they moved their limbs in some specific manner. Their sensation of well-being had been so intense that their drive to repeat those movements in their normal awareness became the focus of all their endeavors.
By all appearances, they succeeded in their task, and found themselves the possessors of a very complex series of movements that, when practiced, yielded them tremendous results in terms of mental and physical prowess. In fact, the results of performing these movements were so dramatic that they called them magical passes. They taught them for generations only to shaman initiates, on a personal basis, following elaborate rituals and secret ceremonies.
Don Juan Matus, in teaching the magical passes, departed radically from tradition. Such a departure forced don Juan to reformulate the pragmatic goal of the magical passes. He presented this goal to me not so much as the enhancement of mental and physical balance, as it had been in the past, but as the practical possibility of redeploying energy. He explained that such a departure was due to the influence of the two nagual who had preceded him.
It was the belief of the sorcerers of don Juan’s lineage that there is an inherent amount of energy existing in each one of us, an amount which is not subject to the onslaughts of outside forces for augmenting it or for decreasing it. They believed that this quantity of energy was sufficient to accomplish something which those sorcerers deemed to be the obsession of every man on Earth: breaking the parameters of normal perception. Don Juan Matus was convinced that our incapacity to break those parameters was induced by our culture and social milieu. He maintained that our culture and social milieu deployed every bit of our inherent energy in fulfilling established behavioral patterns which didn’t allow us to break those parameters of normal perception.
“Why in the world would I, or anyone else, want to break those parameters?” I asked don Juan on one occasion.
“Breaking those parameters is the unavoidable issue of mankind,” he replied. “Breaking them means the entrance into unthinkable worlds of a pragmatic value in no way different from the value of our world of everyday life. Regardless of whether or not we accept this premise, we are obsessed with breaking those parameters, and we fail miserably at it, hence the profusion of drugs and stimulants and religious rituals and ceremonies among modern man.”
“Why do you think we have failed so miserably, don Juan?” I asked.
“Our failure to fulfill our subliminal wish,” he said, “is due to the fact that we tackle it in a helter-skelter way. Our tools are too crude. They are equivalent to trying to bring down a wall by ramming it with the head. Man never considers this breakage in terms of energy. For sorcerers, success is determined only by the accessibility or the inaccessibility of energy.”
“Since it is impossible,” he continued, “to augment our inherent energy, the only avenue open for the sorcerers of ancient Mexico was the redeployment of that energy. For them, this process of redeployment began with the magical passes, and the way they affected the physical body.”
Don Juan stressed in every way possible, while imparting his instruction, the fact that the enormous emphasis the shamans of his lineage had put on physical prowess and mental well-being had lasted to the present day. I was able to corroborate the truth of his statements by observing him and his fifteen sorcerer-companions. Their superb physical and mental balance was the most obvious feature about them.
Don Juan’s reply when I once asked him directly why sorcerers put so much stock in the physical side of man was a total surprise to me. I had always thought that he himself was a spiritual man.
“Shamans are not spiritual at all,” he said. “They are very practical beings. It is a well-known fact, however, that shamans are generally regarded as eccentric, or even insane. Perhaps that is what makes you think that they are spiritual. They seem insane because they are always trying to explain things that cannot be explained. In the course of such futile attempts to give complete explanations that cannot be completed under any circumstances, they lose all coherence and say inanities.”
“You need a pliable body, if you want physical prowess and level-headedness,” he went on. “These are the two most important issues in the lives of shamans, because they bring forth sobriety and pragmatism: the only indispensable requisites for entering into other realms of perception. To navigate, in a genuine way, in the unknown necessitates an attitude of daring, but not one of recklessness. In order to establish a balance between audacity and recklessness, a sorcerer has to be extremely sober, cautious, skillful, and in superb physical condition.”
“But why in superb physical condition, don Juan?” I asked. “Isn’t the desire or the will to journey into the unknown enough?”
“Not in your pissy life!” he replied rather brusquely. “Just to conceive facing the unknown – much less enter into it – requires guts of steel, and a body that would be capable of holding those guts. What would be the point of being gutsy if you didn’t have mental alertness, physical prowess, and adequate muscles?”
The superb physical condition that don Juan had steadily advocated from the first day of our association, the product of the rigorous execution of the magical passes, was, by all indications, the first step toward the redeployment of our inherent energy. This redeployment of energy was, in don Juan’s view, the most crucial issue in the lives of shamans, as well as in the life of any individual. Redeployment of energy is a process which consists of transporting, from one place to another, energy which already exists within us. This energy has been displaced from centers of vitality in the body, which require that displaced energy in order to bring forth a balance between mental alertness and physical prowess.
The shamans of don Juan’s lineage were deeply engaged with the redeployment of their inherent energy. This involvement wasn’t an intellectual endeavor, nor was it the product of induction or deduction, or logical conclusions. It was the result of their ability to perceive energy .is it flowed in the universe.
“Those sorcerers called this ability to perceive energy as it flowed in the universe seeing,” don Juan explained to me. “They described seeing as a state of heightened awareness in which the human body is capable of perceiving energy as a flow, a current, a wind like vibration. To see energy as it flows in the universe is the product of a momentary halt of the system of interpretation proper to human beings.”
“What is this system of interpretation, don Juan?” I asked.
“The shamans of ancient Mexico found out,” he replied, “that every part of the human body is engaged, in one way or another, in turning this vibratory flow, this current of vibration, into some form of sensory input. The sum total of this bombardment of sensory input is then, through usage, turned into the system of interpretation that makes human beings capable of perceiving the world the way they do.”
“To make this system of interpretation come to a halt,” he went on, “was the result of tremendous discipline on the part of the sorcerers of ancient Mexico. They called this halt seeing, and made it the cornerstone one of their knowledge. To see energy as it flowed in the universe was, for them, an essential tool that they employed in making their classificatory schemes. Because of this capacity, for instance, they conceived the total universe available to the perception of human beings as an onion like affair, consisting of thousands of layers. The daily world of human beings, they believed, is but one such layer. Consequently, they also believed that other layers are not only accessible to human perception, but are part of man’s natural heritage.”
Another issue of tremendous value in the knowledge of those sorcerers, an issue which was also a consequence of their capacity to see energy as it flowed in the universe, was the discovery of the human energetic configuration. This human energetic configuration was, for them, a conglomerate of energy fields agglutinated together by a vibratory force that bound those energy fields into a luminous ball of energy. For the sorcerers of don Juan’s lineage, a human being has an oblong shape like an egg, or a round shape like a ball. Thus, they called them luminous eggs or luminous balls. This sphere of luminosity was considered by them to be our true self – true in the sense that it is irreducible in terms of energy. It is irreducible because the totality of human resources ;ire engaged in the net of perceiving it directly as energy.
Those shamans discovered that on the back face of this luminous ball there is a point of greater brilliance. They figured out, through processes of observing energy directly, that this point is key in the act of turning energy into sensory data and then interpreting it. For this reason, they called it the assemblage point, and deemed that perception is indeed assembled there. They described the assemblage point as being located behind the shoulder blades, an arm’s length away from them. They also found out that the assemblage point for the entire human race is located on the same spot, thus giving every human being an entirely similar view of the world.
A finding of tremendous value for them, and for shamans of succeeding generations, was that the location of the assemblage point on that spot is the result of usage and socialization. For this reason, they considered it to be an arbitrary position which gives merely the illusion of being final and irreducible. A product of this illusion is the seemingly unshakable conviction of human beings that the world they deal with daily is the only world that exists, and that its finality is undeniable.
“Believe me,” don Juan said to me once, “this sense of finality about the world is a mere illusion. Due to the fact that it has never been challenged, it stands as the only possible view. To see energy as it flows in the universe is the tool for challenging it. Through the use of this tool, the sorcerers of my lineage arrived at the conclusion that there are indeed a staggering number of worlds available to man’s perception. They described those worlds as being all-inclusive realms, realms where one can act and struggle. In other words, they are worlds where one can live and die, as in this world of everyday life.”
During the thirteen years of my association with him, don Juan taught me the basic steps toward accomplishing this feat of seeing. I have discussed those steps in all of my previous writings, but never have I touched on the key point in this process: the magical passes. He taught me a great number of them, but along with that wealth of knowledge, don Juan also left me with the certainty that I was the last link of his lineage. Accepting that I was the last link of his lineage implied automatically for me the task of finding new ways to disseminate the knowledge of his lineage, since its continuity was no longer an issue.
I need to clarify a very important point in this regard: Don Juan Matus was not ever interested in teaching his knowledge; he was interested in perpetuating his lineage. His three other disciples and I were the means – chosen, he said, by the spirit itself, for he had no active part in it – that were going to ensure that perpetuation. Therefore, he engaged himself in a titanic effort to teach me all he knew about sorcery, or shamanism, and about the development of his lineage.
In the course of training me, he realized that my energetic configuration was, according to him, so vastly different from his own that it couldn’t mean anything else but the end of his line. I told him that I resented enormously his interpretation of whatever invisible difference existed between us. I didn’t like the burden of being the last of his line, nor did I understand his reasoning.
“The shamans of ancient Mexico,” he said to me once, “believed that choice, as human beings understand it, is the precondition of the cognitive world of man, but that it is only a benevolent interpretation of something which is found when awareness ventures beyond the cushion of our world, a benevolent interpretation of acquiescence. Human beings are in the throes of forces that pull them every which way. The art of sorcerers is not really to choose, but to be subtle enough to acquiesce.
“Sorcerers, although they seem to make nothing else but decisions, make no decisions at all,” he went on. “I didn’t decide to choose you, and I didn’t decide that you would be the way you are. Since I couldn’t choose to whom I would impart my knowledge, I had to accept whomever the spirit was offering me. And that person was you, and you are energetically capable only of ending, not of continuing.”
He maintained that the ending of his line had nothing to do with him or his efforts, or with his success or failure as a sorcerer seeking total freedom. He understood it as something that had to do with a choice exercised beyond the human level, not by beings or entities, but by the impersonal forces of the universe.
Finally, I came to accept what don Juan called my fate. Accepting it put me face to face with another issue that he referred to as locking the door when you leave. That is to say, I assumed the responsibility of deciding exactly what to do with everything he had taught me and carrying out my decision impeccably. First of all, I asked myself the crucial question of what to do with the magical passes: the facet of don Juan’s knowledge most imbued with pragmatism and function. I decided to use the magical passes and teach them to whoever wanted to learn them. My decision to end the secrecy that had surrounded them for an undetermined length of time was, naturally, the corollary of my total conviction that I am indeed the end of don Juan’s lineage. It became inconceivable to me that I should carry secrets which were not even mine. To shroud the magical passes in secrecy was not my decision. It was my decision, however, to end such a condition.
I endeavored from then on to come up with a more generic form of each magical pass, a form suitable to everyone. This resulted in a configuration of slightly modified forms of each one of the magical passes. I have called this new configuration of movements Tensegrity, a term which belongs to architecture, where it means “the property of skeleton structures that employ continuous tension members and discontinuous compression members in such a way that each member operates with the maximum efficiency and economy.”
In order to explain what the magical passes of the sorcerers who lived in Mexico in ancient times are, I would like to make a clarification: “ancient times” meant, for don Juan, a time ten thousand years ago and beyond, a figure that seems incongruous if examined from the point of view of the classificatory schemes of modern scholars. When I confronted don Juan with the discrepancy between his estimate and what I considered to be a more realistic one, he remained adamant in his conviction. He believed it to be a fact that people who lived in the New World ten thousand years ago were deeply concerned with matters of the universe and perception that modern man has not even begun to fathom.
Regardless of our differing chronological interpretations, the effectiveness of the magical passes is undeniable to me, and I feel obligated to elucidate the subject strictly following the manner in which it was presented to me. The directness of their effect on me has had a deep influence on the way in which I deal with them. What I am presenting in this work is an intimate reflection of that influence.
Encounters with the Nagual
For some years, Carlos had been teaching some movements to small groups that he called ‘magical passes’, because, according to him, they served to prevent energy from stagnating and forming ‘balls’. ‘The Play of the Drum’ was one of the passes, ‘The Arrow to the Right and Left’, and ‘The Dynamo’ were among the others. He said don Juan would practice them at any time of the day, wherever he happened to be. Mostly, he would do them before or after carrying something, or when he had been in the same position for a long while.
The matter interested me a lot, because I myself practiced some oriental postures, and was generally inclined towards physical exercises. Therefore, at the first opportunity that presented itself, I asked him where he had learned the magical passes.
“They are the heritage of the ancient seers.”
At that time, he was not much seen in public. But, little by little, his secrecy had become less rigid, and large groups of people began to approach him. As he began to teach the passes in public, Carlos began to change them somewhat, making them more complicated and dividing them into categories. He ended up giving them a name taken from architecture: Tensegrity, which, he told us, was the combination of two terms, tension and integrity.
From the very first, there were some detractors, resentful people who – without stopping to appreciate the practical side of these exercises – began to spread the word that the nagual had just invented them.
When I mentioned that I was worried about this, he was firm:
“Tensegrity is my intent! A nagual has authority, and this is my gift to the world.
Don Juan and his warriors taught their apprentices many specific movements which filled us with energy and well-being, and helped free us from the yoke of the foreign mind. My role has been to modify them slightly, taking them out of the sphere of the personal and adapting them to people in general, so that they become useful to other groups of practitioners.”
He told me that the method he had chosen in the beginning, of teaching the magical passes in a limited form, was in certain ways a failure, since those who were moved to practice them were too few to accumulate enough ‘energetic mass’. So, in this new phase, he had created a system able to impact on the awareness of multitudes.
“My cohorts and I will open a great door in the energy. That fissure is so powerful that it will last for ages, and those who approach it to look inside will be swallowed to another world. With Tensegrity, what I seek is to train those who are interested so that they can support that transition. Those who don’t have enough discipline, will perish in the intent.”
“The plan of disclosing the teachings is the summary of thirty years of practices and experiments. As a man and as a nagual, I have done as much as I have been able to do to make it work, because I know that the collective mass of many warriors can cause a commotion in the modality of our time.”