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30: Holding Death in Abeyance; The Sorcerers’ Word

(The Power of Silence by Carlos Castaneda)

I felt a pang of fear, and then a strange peace took possession of me. I told don Juan that if death was going to take me in that desert chaparral I hoped it would be painless.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Death is painful only when it happens in one’s bed, in sickness. In a fight for your life, you feel no pain. If you feel anything, it’s exultation.”

He said that one of the most dramatic differences between civilized men and sorcerers was the way in which death came to them. Only with sorcerer-warriors was death kind and sweet. They could be mortally wounded and yet would feel no pain. And what was even more extraordinary was that death held itself in abeyance for as long as the sorcerers needed it to do so.

“The greatest difference between an average man and a sorcerer is that a sorcerer commands his death with his speed,” don Juan went on. “If it comes to that, the jaguar will not eat me. He’ll eat you, because you don’t have the speed to hold back your death.”

He then elaborated on the intricacies of the sorcerers’ idea of speed and death. He said that in the world of everyday life our word or our decisions could be reversed very easily. The only irrevocable thing in our world was death. In the sorcerers’ world, on the other hand, normal death could be countermanded, but not the sorcerers’ word. In the sorcerers’ world decisions could not be changed or revised. Once they had been made, they stood forever.

I told him his statements, impressive as they were, could not convince me that death could be revoked. And he explained once more what he had explained before. He said that for a seer human beings were either oblong or spherical luminous masses of countless, static, yet vibrant fields of energy, and that only sorcerers were capable of injecting movement into those spheres of static luminosity. In a millisecond they could move their assemblage points to any place in their luminous mass. That movement and the speed with which it was performed entailed an instantaneous shift into the perception of another totally different universe. Or they could move their assemblage points, without stopping, across their entire fields of luminous energy. The force created by such movement was so intense that it instantly consumed their whole luminous mass.

He said that if a rockslide were to come crashing down on us at that precise moment, he would be able to cancel the normal effect of an accidental death. By using the speed with which his assemblage point would move, he could make himself change universes or make himself burn from within in a fraction of a second. I, on the other hand, would die a normal death, crushed by the rocks, because my assemblage point lacked the speed to pull me out.

I said it seemed to me that the sorcerers had just found an alternative way of dying, which was not the same as a cancellation of death. And he replied that all he had said was that sorcerers commanded their deaths. They died only when they had to.


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