Controlled Folly; There is No Way to Make Bones for a Jelly Fish

(A Separate Reality)

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?”

“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.”


“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.

“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.

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.”

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 path 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 his 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 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 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 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.”


(The Eagle’s Gift)

A secondary issue that came up in the course of our interaction with don Juan’s warriors was the subject of controlled folly. Don Juan gave me a succinct explanation once when he was discussing the two categories into which all the women warriors are mandatorily divided, the dreamers and the stalkers. He said that all the members of his party did dreaming and stalking as part of their daily lives, but that the women who made up the planet of the dreamers and the planet of the stalkers were the foremost authorities on their respective activities.

The stalkers are the ones who take the brunt of the daily world. They are the business managers, the ones who deal with people. Everything that has to do with the world of ordinary affairs goes through them. The stalkers are the practitioners of controlled folly, just as the dreamers are the practitioners of dreaming. In other words, controlled folly is the basis for stalking, as dreams are the basis for dreaming. Don Juan said that, generally speaking, a warrior’s greatest accomplishment in the second attention is dreaming, and in the first attention his greatest accomplishment is stalking.

I had misunderstood what don Juan’s warriors were doing to me in our first meetings. I took their actions as instances of trickery – and that would still be my impression today had it not been for the idea of controlled folly. Don Juan said that their actions with me had been masterful lessons in stalking. He told me that the art of stalking was what his benefactor had taught him before anything else. In order to survive among his benefactor’s warriors he had had to learn that art quickly. In my case, he said, since I did not have to contend by myself with his warriors, I had to learn dreaming first. When the time was right, Florinda would step out to guide me into the complexities of stalking. No one else could deliberately talk to me about it; they could only give me direct demonstrations, as they had already done in our first meetings.

Don Juan explained to me at great length that Florinda was one of the foremost practitioners of stalking because she had been trained in every intricacy of it by his benefactor and his four female warriors who were stalkers. Florinda was the first female warrior to come into don Juan’s world, and because of that, she was to be my personal guide – not only in the art of stalking, but also in the mystery of the third attention, if I ever got there. Don Juan did not elaborate on this.

He said it would have to wait until I was ready, first to learn stalking, and then to enter into the third attention.

Don Juan said that his benefactor had taken extra time and care with him and his warriors in everything that pertained to their mastering the art of stalking. He used complex ploys to create an appropriate context for a counterpoint between the dictums of the rule and the behavior of the warriors in the daily world as they interacted with people. He believed that that was the way to convince them that, in the absence of self-importance, a warrior’s only way of dealing with the social milieu is in terms of controlled folly.

In the course of working out his ploys, don Juan’s benefactor would pit the actions of people and the actions of the warriors against the commands of the rule, and would then sit back and let the natural drama unfold itself. The folly of the people would take the lead for a while and drag the warriors into it, as seems to be the natural course, only to be vanquished in the end by the more encompassing designs of the rule.

Don Juan told us that at first he resented his benefactor’s control over the players. He even told him that to his face. His benefactor was not fazed. He argued that his control was merely an illusion created by the Eagle. He was only an impeccable warrior, and his actions were a humble attempt to mirror the Eagle.

Don Juan said that the force with which his benefactor carried out his designs originated from his knowledge that the Eagle is real and final, and that what people do is utter folly. The two together gave rise to controlled folly, which don Juan’s benefactor described as the only bridge between the folly of people and the finality of the Eagle’s dictums.


Don Juan said that when he was put in the care of the westerly women to be cleansed, he was also put under the guidance of the northerly woman who was comparable to Florinda, the number-one stalker, who taught him the principles of that art. She and his benefactor gave him the actual means to secure the three male warriors, the one courier, and the four female stalkers who were to make up his party.

The eight female seers of his benefactor’s group had searched for the distinctive configurations of luminosity and had had no difficulty whatever in finding the appropriate types of male and female warriors for don Juan’s party. His benefactor, however, did not permit those seers to do anything to gather the warriors they had found. It was left to don Juan to apply the principles of stalking and secure them.

The first warrior to appear was Vicente. Don Juan did not have enough of a command of stalking to be able to draft him. His benefactor and the northerly stalker had to do most of the work. Then came Silvio Manuel, later don Genaro, and finally Emilito, the courier.

Florinda was the first female warrior. She was followed by Zoila, then Delia, and then Carmela. Don Juan said that his benefactor had insisted relentlessly that they deal with the world exclusively in terms of controlled folly. The end result was a stupendous team of practitioners, who thought up and executed the most intricate schemes.

When they had all acquired a degree of proficiency in the art of stalking, their benefactor thought it was time for him to find the Nagual woman for them. True to his policy of helping everyone to help themselves, he waited to bring her into their world, not only until all of them were expert stalkers, but until don Juan had learned to see. Although don Juan regretted immensely the time wasted in waiting, he conceded that their joint effort in securing her created a stronger tie among all of them. It revitalized their commitment to seek their freedom.

His benefactor began to unfold his strategy for drawing in the Nagual woman by all of a sudden becoming a devout Catholic. He demanded that don Juan, being the heir to his knowledge, behave like a son and go to church with him. He dragged him to mass nearly every day. Don Juan said that his benefactor, who was very charming and glib, would introduce him to everyone in church as his son, a bone-setter.

Don Juan, by his own account an uncivilized pagan at that time, was mortified to find himself in social situations where he had to talk and give an account of himself. He put his mind at ease with the idea that his benefactor had an ulterior motive for everything he was doing. He attempted to deduce from observing him what his reasons might be. His benefactor’s actions were consistent and seemed aboveboard. As an exemplary Catholic, he gained the trust of scores of people, especially the parish priest, who held him in high esteem, considering him a friend and confidant. Don Juan could not figure out what he was up to. The thought crossed his mind that his benefactor might have sincerely taken up Catholicism, or gone mad. He had not yet understood that a warrior never loses his mind under any circumstances.

Don Juan’s qualms about going to church vanished when his benefactor began introducing him to the daughters of people he was acquainted with. He enjoyed that, although he felt ill at ease. Don Juan thought that his benefactor was helping him to exercise his tongue. He was neither glib nor charming, and his benefactor had said that a Nagual, perforce, has to be both.

One Sunday during mass, after nearly a year of almost daily attendance, don Juan found out the real reason for their going to church. He was kneeling next to a girl named Olinda, the daughter of one of his benefactor’s acquaintances. He turned to exchange a glance with her, as had become their custom after months of daily contact. Their eyes met, and suddenly don Juan saw her as a luminous being – and then he saw her doubleness. Olinda was a double woman. His benefactor had known it all along, and had taken the most difficult path in order to put don Juan in touch with her. Don Juan confessed to us that the moment was overwhelming to him.

His benefactor knew that don Juan had seen. His mission to put the double beings together had been completed successfully and impeccably. He stood up and his eyes swept every corner of that church, then he walked out without a backward glance. There was nothing more for him to do there.

Don Juan said that when his benefactor walked out in the middle of mass, all heads turned.

Don Juan wanted to follow him, but Olinda boldly clasped his hand and held him back. He knew then that the power of seeing had not been his alone. Something had gone through both of them and they were transfixed. Don Juan realized all of a sudden that not only had the mass ended, but that they were already outside the church. His benefactor was trying to calm Olinda’s mother, who was incensed and shamed by their unexpected and inadmissible display of affection.

Don Juan was at a loss as to what to do next. He knew that it was up to him to figure out a plan. He had the resources, but the importance of the event made him lose confidence in his ability. He forsook his training as a stalker and became lost in the intellectual dilemma of whether or not to treat Olinda as controlled folly.

His benefactor told him that he could not help him. His duty had been only to put them together, and that was where his responsibility ended. It was up to don Juan to take the necessary steps to secure her. He suggested that don Juan even consider marrying her, if that was what was needed. Only after she came to him of her own accord could he help don Juan by directly intervening with her as a Nagual.

Don Juan tried a formal courtship. He was not well received by her parents, who could not conceive of someone from a different social class as a suitor for their daughter. Olinda was not an Indian; her family were middle-class urban dwellers, owners of a small business. The father had other plans for his daughter. He threatened to send her away if don Juan persisted in his intention to marry her.

Don Juan said that double beings, especially women, are extraordinarily conservative, even timid. Olinda was no exception. After their initial exhilaration in church, she was overtaken by caution, and then by fear. Her own reactions scared her.

As a strategic maneuver, his benefactor made don Juan retreat, to make it appear as if he were acquiescing to his father, who had not approved of the girl – which was the assumption of everyone who had witnessed the incident in church. People gossiped that their display had displeased his father so intensely that his father, who was such a devout Catholic, had never returned to church.

His benefactor told don Juan that a warrior is never under siege. To be under siege implies that one has personal possessions that could be blockaded. A warrior has nothing in the world except his impeccability, and impeccability cannot be threatened. Nonetheless, in a battle for one’s life, such as the one don Juan was waging to secure the Nagual woman, a warrior should strategically use every means available.

Accordingly, don Juan resolved to use any portion of his stalker’s knowledge that he had to, to get the girl. To that end, he engaged Silvio Manuel to use his sorcerer’s arts, which even at that early stage were formidable, to abduct the girl. Silvio Manuel and Genaro, who was a true daredevil, stole into the girl’s house disguised as old washerwomen. It was midday and everyone in the house was busy preparing food for a large group of relatives and friends who were coming to dinner. They were having an informal going-away party for Olinda. Silvio Manuel was counting on the likelihood that people who saw two strange washerwomen coming in with bundles of clothes would assume that it had to do with Olinda’s party and would not get suspicious. Don Juan had supplied Silvio Manuel and Genaro beforehand with all the information they needed concerning the routines of the members of the household. He told them that the washerwomen usually carried their bundles of washed clothes into the house and left them in a storage room to be ironed. Carrying a large bundle of clothes, Silvio Manuel and Genaro went directly into that room, knowing that Olinda would be there.

Don Juan said that Silvio Manuel went up to Olinda and used his mesmeric powers to make her faint. They put her inside a sack, wrapped the sack with her bed sheets, and walked out, leaving behind the bundle they had carried in. They bumped into her father at the door. He did not even glance at them.

Don Juan’s benefactor was utterly put out with their maneuver. He ordered don Juan to take the girl back immediately to her house. It was imperative, he said, that the double woman come to the benefactor’s house of her own free will, perhaps not with the idea of joining them but at least because they interested her.

Don Juan felt that everything was lost – the odds against getting her back into her house unnoticed were too great – but Silvio Manuel figured out a solution. He proposed that they should let the four women of don Juan’s party take the girl to a deserted road, where don Juan would rescue her.

Silvio Manuel wanted the women to pretend that they were kidnapping her. At some point along the road someone would see them and come in pursuit. Their pursuer would overtake them and they would drop the sack, with a degree of force so as to be convincing. The pursuer would be, of course, don Juan, who would happen miraculously to be at just the right place at the right time.

Silvio Manuel demanded true-to-life action. He ordered the women to gag the girl, who by then would surely be awake and screaming inside the sack, and then to run for miles carrying the sack. He told them to hide from their pursuer. Finally, after a truly exhausting ordeal, they were to drop the sack in such a way that the girl could witness a most vicious fight between don Juan and the four women. Silvio Manuel told the women that this had to be utterly realistic. He armed them with sticks and instructed them to hit don Juan convincingly before they were driven away.

Of the women, Zoila was the one most easily carried away by hysteria; as soon as they began whacking don Juan she became possessed by her role and gave a chilling performance, striking don Juan so hard that flesh was torn from his back and shoulders. For a moment it seemed that the kidnappers were going to win. Silvio Manuel had to come out of his hiding place and, pretending to be a passerby, remind them that it was only a ploy and that it was time to run away.

Don Juan thus became Olinda’s savior and protector. He told her that he could not take her back to her house himself because he had been injured, but he would send her back instead with his pious father.

She helped him walk to his benefactor’s house. Don Juan said that he did not have to pretend injury; he was bleeding profusely and barely made it to the door. When Olinda told his benefactor what had happened his benefactor’s desire to laugh was so excruciating he had to disguise it as weeping.


She stated that these were the mandatory preliminaries of stalking, which all the members of her party went through as an introduction to the more demanding exercises of the art. Unless stalkers have gone through the preliminaries in order to retrieve the filaments they have left in the world, and particularly in order to reject those that others have left in them, there is no possibility of handling controlled folly, because those foreign filaments are the basis of one’s limitless capacity for self-importance. In order to practice controlled folly, since it is not a way to fool or chastise people or feel superior to them, one has to be capable of laughing at oneself. Florinda said that one of the results of a detailed recapitulation is genuine laughter upon coming face to face with the boring repetition of one’s self-esteem, which is at the core of all human interaction.

Florinda emphasized that the rule defined stalking and dreaming as arts; therefore they are something that one performs. She said that the life-giving nature of breath is what also gives it its cleansing capacity. It is this capacity that makes a recapitulation into a practical matter.


“I hope that you have realized by now,” she went on, “that only a master stalker can be a master of controlled folly. Controlled folly doesn’t mean to con people. It means, as my benefactor explained it, that warriors apply the seven basic principles of the art of stalking to whatever they do, from the most trivial acts to life and death situations.

“Applying these principles brings about three results. The first is that stalkers learn never to take themselves seriously; they learn to laugh at themselves. If they’re not afraid of being a fool, they can fool anyone. The second is that stalkers learn to have endless patience. Stalkers are never in a hurry; they never fret. And the third is that stalkers learn to have an endless capacity to improvise.”


(The Power of Silence)

“Anyone who succeeds in moving his assemblage point to a new position is a sorcerer,” don Juan continued. “And from that new position, he can do all kinds of good and bad things to his fellow men. Being a sorcerer, therefore, can be like being a cobbler or a baker. The quest of sorcerer seers is to go beyond that stand. And to do that, they need morality and beauty.”

He said that for sorcerers stalking was the foundation on which everything else they did was built.

“Some sorcerers object to the term stalking,” he went on, “but the name came about because it entails surreptitious behavior.

“It’s also called the art of stealth, but that term is equally unfortunate. We ourselves, because of our nonmilitant temperament, call it the art of controlled folly. You can call it anything you wish. We, however, will continue with the term stalking since it’s so easy to say stalker and, as my benefactor used to say, so awkward to say controlled folly maker.”


Don Juan fixed me with his stare and then warned me to beware of a reaction which typically afflicted sorcerers – a frustrating desire to explain the sorcery experience in cogent, well-reasoned terms.

“The sorcerers’ experience is so outlandish,” don Juan went on, “that sorcerers consider it an intellectual exercise, and use it to stalk themselves with. Their trump card as stalkers, though, is that they remain keenly aware that we are perceivers and that perception has more possibilities than the mind can conceive.”

As my only comment I voiced my apprehension about the outlandish possibilities of human awareness.

“In order to protect themselves from that immensity,” don Juan said, “sorcerers learn to maintain a perfect blend of ruthlessness, cunning, patience, and sweetness. These four bases are inextricably bound together. Sorcerers cultivate them by intending them. These bases are, naturally, positions of the assemblage point.”

He went on to say that every act performed by any sorcerer was by definition governed by these four principles. So, properly speaking, every sorcerer’s every action is deliberate in thought and realization, and has the specific blend of the four foundations of stalking.

“Sorcerers use the four moods of stalking as guides,” he continued. “These are four different frames of mind, four different brands of intensity that sorcerers can use to induce their assemblage points to move to specific positions.”

He seemed suddenly annoyed. I asked if it was my insistence on speculating that was bothering him.

“I am just considering how our rationality puts us between a rock and a hard place,” he said.

“Our tendency is to ponder, to question, to find out. And there is no way to do that from within the discipline of sorcery. Sorcery is the act of reaching the place of silent knowledge, and silent knowledge can’t be reasoned out. It can only be experienced.”

He smiled, his eyes shining like two spots of light. He said that sorcerers, in an effort to protect themselves from the overwhelming effect of silent knowledge, developed the art of stalking. Stalking moves the assemblage point minutely but steadily, thus giving sorcerers time and therefore the possibility of buttressing themselves.

“Within the art of stalking,” don Juan continued, “there is a technique which sorcerers use a great deal: controlled folly. Sorcerers claim that controlled folly is the only way they have of dealing with themselves – in their state of expanded awareness and perception – and with everybody and everything in the world of daily affairs.”

Don Juan had explained controlled folly as the art of controlled deception or the art of pretending to be thoroughly immersed in the action at hand – pretending so well no one could tell it from the real thing. Controlled folly is not an outright deception, he had told me, but a sophisticated, artistic way of being separated from everything while remaining an integral part of everything.

“Controlled folly is an art,” don Juan continued. “A very bothersome art, and a difficult one to learn. Many sorcerers don’t have the stomach for it, not because there is anything inherently wrong with the art, but because it takes a lot of energy to exercise it.”

Don Juan admitted that he practiced it conscientiously, although he was not particularly fond of doing so, perhaps because his benefactor had been so adept at it. Or, perhaps it was because his personality – which he said was basically devious and petty – simply did not have the agility needed to practice controlled folly.

I looked at him with surprise. He stopped talking and fixed me with his mischievous eyes.

“By the time we come to sorcery, our personality is already formed,” he said, and shrugged his shoulders to signify resignation, “and all we can do is practice controlled folly and laugh at ourselves.”