The First Abstract Core: The Manifestations Of The Spirit

Don Juan, whenever it was pertinent, used to tell me brief stories about the sorcerers of his lineage, especially his teacher, the nagual Julian. They were not really stories, but rather descriptions of the way those sorcerers behaved and of aspects of their personalities. These accounts were each designed to shed light on a specific topic in my apprenticeship.

I had heard the same stories from the other fifteen members of don Juan’s group of sorcerers, but none of these accounts had been able to give me a clear picture of the people they described.

Since I had no way of persuading don Juan to give me more details about those sorcerers, I had resigned myself to the idea of never knowing about them in any depth.

One afternoon, in the mountains of southern Mexico, don Juan, after having explained to me more about the intricacies of the mastery of awareness, made a statement that completely baffled me.

“I think it’s time for us to talk about the sorcerers of our past,” he said.

Don Juan explained that it was necessary that I begin drawing conclusions based on a systematic view of the past, conclusions about both the world of daily affairs and the sorcerers’ world.

“Sorcerers are vitally concerned with their past,” he said. “But I don’t mean their personal past. For sorcerers their past is what other sorcerers in bygone days have done. And what we are now going to do is examine that past.”

“The average man also examines the past. But it’s mostly his personal past he examines, and he does so for personal reasons. Sorcerers do quite the opposite; they consult their past in order to obtain a point of reference.”

“But isn’t that what everyone does? Look at the past to get a point of reference?”

“No!” he answered emphatically. “The average man measures himself against the past, whether his personal past or the past knowledge of his time, in order to find justifications for his present or future behavior, or to establish a model for himself. Only sorcerers genuinely seek a point of reference in their past.”

“Perhaps, don Juan, things would be clear to me if you tell me what a point of reference for a sorcerer is.”

“For sorcerers, establishing a point of reference means getting a chance to examine intent” he replied. “Which is exactly the aim of this final topic of instruction. And nothing can give sorcerers a better view of intent than examining stories of other sorcerers battling to understand the same force.”

He explained that as they examined their past, the sorcerers of his lineage took careful notice of the basic abstract order of their knowledge.

“In sorcery there are twenty-one abstract cores,” don Juan went on. “And then, based on those abstract cores, there are scores of sorcery stories about the naguals of our lineage battling to understand the spirit. It’s time to tell you the abstract cores and the sorcery stories.”

I waited for don Juan to begin telling me the stories, but he changed the subject and went back to explaining awareness.

“Wait a minute,” I protested. “What about the sorcery stories? Aren’t you going to tell them to me?”

“Of course I am,” he said. “But they are not stories that one can tell as if they were tales. You’ve got to think your way through them and then rethink them – relive them, so to speak.”

There was a long silence. I became very cautious and was afraid that if I persisted in asking him again to tell me the stories, I could be committing myself to something I might later regret. But my curiosity was greater than my good sense.

“Well, let’s get on with them,” I croaked.

Don Juan, obviously catching the gist of my thoughts, smiled maliciously. He stood and signaled me to follow. We had been sitting on some dry rocks at the bottom of a gully. It was mid-afternoon. The sky was dark and cloudy. Low, almost black rain clouds hovered above the peaks to the east. In comparison, the high clouds made the sky seem clear to the south. Earlier it had rained heavily, but then the rain seemed to have retreated to a hiding place, leaving behind only a threat.

I should have been chilled to the bone, for it was very cold. But I was warm. As I clutched a rock don Juan had given me to hold, I realized that this sensation of being warm in nearly freezing weather was familiar to me, yet it amazed me each time. Whenever I seemed about to freeze, don Juan would give me a branch to hold, or a stone, or he would put a bunch of leaves under my shirt, on the tip of my sternum, and that would be sufficient to raise my body temperature.

I had tried unsuccessfully to recreate, by myself, the effect of his ministrations. He told me it was not the ministrations but his inner silence that kept me warm, and the branches or stones or leaves were merely devices to trap my attention and maintain it in focus.

Moving quickly, we climbed the steep west side of a mountain until we reached a rock ledge at the very top. We were in the foothills of a higher range of mountains. From the rock ledge I could see that fog had begun to move onto the south end of the valley floor below us. Low, wispy clouds seemed to be closing in on us, too, sliding down from the black-green, high mountain peaks to the west. After the rain, under the dark cloudy sky the valley and the mountains to the east and south appeared covered in a mantle of black-green silence.

“This is the ideal place to have a talk,” don Juan said, sitting on the rock floor of a concealed shallow cave.

The cave was perfect for the two of us to sit side by side. Our heads were nearly touching the roof and our backs fitted snugly against the curved surface of the rock wall. It was as if the cave had been carved deliberately to accommodate two persons of our size.

I noticed another strange feature of the cave: when I stood on the ledge, I could see the entire valley and the mountain ranges to the east and south, but when I sat down, I was boxed in by the rocks. Yet the ledge was at the level of the cave floor, and flat. I was about to point this strange effect out to don Juan, but he anticipated me.

“This cave is man-made,” he said. “The ledge is slanted but the eye doesn’t register the incline.”

“Who made this cave, don Juan?”

“The ancient sorcerers. Perhaps thousands of years ago. And one of the peculiarities of this cave is that animals and insects and even people stay away from it. The ancient sorcerers seem to have infused it with an ominous charge that makes every living thing feel ill at ease.”

But strangely I felt irrationally secure and happy there. A sensation of physical contentment made my entire body tingle. I actually felt the most agreeable, the most delectable, sensation in my stomach. It was as if my nerves were being tickled.

“I don’t feel ill at ease,” I commented.

“Neither do I,” he said. “Which only means that you and I aren’t that far temperamentally from those old sorcerers of the past; something which worries me no end.”

I was afraid to pursue that subject any further, so I waited for him to talk.

“The first sorcery story I am going to tell you is called “The Manifestations of the Spirit”,” don Juan began, “but don’t let the title mystify you. The manifestations of the spirit is only the first abstract core around which the first sorcery story is built.”

“That first abstract core is a story in itself,” he went on. “The story says that once upon a time there was a man, an average man without any special attributes. He was, like everyone else, a conduit for the spirit. And by virtue of that, like everyone else, he was part of the spirit, part of the abstract. But he didn’t know it. The world kept him so busy that he had neither the time nor the inclination really to examine the matter.”

“The spirit tried, uselessly, to reveal their connection. Using an inner voice, the spirit disclosed its secrets, but the man was incapable of understanding the revelations. Naturally, he heard the inner voice, but he believed it to be his own feelings he was feeling and his own thoughts he was thinking.”

“The spirit, in order to shake him out of his slumber, gave him three signs, three successive manifestations. The spirit physically crossed the man’s path in the most obvious manner. But the man was oblivious to anything but his self-concern.”

Don Juan stopped and looked at me as he did whenever he was waiting for my comments and questions. I had nothing to say. I did not understand the point he was trying to make.

“I’ve just told you the first abstract core,” he continued. “The only other thing I could add is that because of the man’s absolute unwillingness to understand, the spirit was forced to use trickery. And trickery became the essence of the sorcerers’ path. But that is another story.”

Don Juan explained that sorcerers understood this abstract core to be a blueprint for events, or a recurrent pattern that appeared every time intent was giving an indication of something meaningful. Abstract cores, then, were blueprints of complete chains of events.

He assured me that by means beyond comprehension, every detail of every abstract core reoccurred to every apprentice nagual. He further assured me that he had helped intent to involve me in all the abstract cores of sorcery in the same manner that his benefactor, the nagual Julian and all the naguals before him, had involved their apprentices. The process by which each apprentice nagual encountered the abstract cores created a series of accounts woven around those abstract cores incorporating the particular details of each apprentice’s personality and circumstances.

He said, for example, that I had my own story about the manifestations of the spirit, he had his, his benefactor had his own, so had the nagual that preceded him, and so on, and so forth.

“What is my story about the manifestations of the spirit?” I asked, somewhat mystified.

“If any warrior is aware of his stories it’s you,” he replied. “After all, you’ve been writing about them for years. But you didn’t notice the abstract cores because you are a practical man. You do everything only for the purpose of enhancing your practicality. Although you handled your stories to exhaustion you had no idea that there was an abstract core in them. Everything I’ve done appears to you, therefore, as an often-whimsical practical activity: teaching sorcery to a reluctant and, most of the time, stupid, apprentice. As long as you see it in those terms, the abstract cores will elude you.”

“You must forgive me, don Juan,” I said, “but your statements are very confusing. What are you saying?”

“I’m trying to introduce the sorcery stories as a subject,” he replied. “I’ve never talked to you specifically about this topic because traditionally it’s left hidden. It is the spirit’s last artifice. It is said that when the apprentice understands the abstract cores it’s like the placing of the stone that caps and seals a pyramid.”

It was getting dark and it looked as though it was about to rain again. I worried that if the wind blew from east to west while it was raining, we were going to get soaked in that cave. I was sure don Juan was aware of that, but he seemed to ignore it.

“It won’t rain again until tomorrow morning,” he said.

Hearing my inner thoughts being answered made me jump involuntarily and hit the top of my head on the cave roof. It was a thud that sounded worse than it felt.

Don Juan held his sides laughing. After a while my head really began to hurt and I had to massage it.

“Your company is as enjoyable to me as mine must have been to my benefactor,” he said and began to laugh again.

We were quiet for a few minutes. The silence around me was ominous. I fancied that I could hear the rustling of the low clouds as they descended on us from the higher mountains. Then I realized that what I was hearing was the soft wind. From my position in the shallow cave, it sounded like the whispering of human voices.

“I had the incredible good luck to be taught by two naguals,” don Juan said and broke the mesmeric grip the wind had on me at that moment. “One was, of course, my benefactor, the nagual Julian, and the other was his benefactor, the nagual Elias. My case was unique.”

“Why was your case unique?” I asked.

“Because for generations naguals have gathered their apprentices years after their own teachers have left the world,” he explained. “Except my benefactor. I became the nagual Julian’s apprentice eight years before his benefactor left the world. I had eight years’ grace. It was the luckiest thing that could have happened to me, for I had the opportunity to be taught by two opposite temperaments. It was like being reared by a powerful father and an even more powerful grandfather who don’t see eye to eye. In such a contest, the grandfather always wins. So I’m properly the product of the nagual Elias’s teachings. I was closer to him not only in temperament but also in looks. I’d say that I owe him my fine tuning. However, the bulk of the work that went into turning me from a miserable being into an impeccable warrior I owe to my benefactor, the nagual Julian.”

“What was the nagual Julian like physically?” I asked.

“Do you know that to this day it’s hard for me to visualize him?” don Juan said. “I know that sounds absurd, but depending on his needs or the circumstances, he could be either young or old, handsome or homely, effete and weak or strong and virile, fat or slender, of medium height or extremely short.”

“Do you mean he was an actor acting out different roles with the aid of props?”

“No, there were no props involved and he was not merely an actor. He was, of course, a great actor in his own right, but that is different. The point is that he was capable of transforming himself and becoming all those diametrically opposed persons. Being a great actor enabled him to portray all the minute peculiarities of behavior that made each specific being real. Let us say that he was at ease in every change of being. As you are at ease in every change of clothes.”

Eagerly, I asked don Juan to tell me more about his benefactor’s transformations. He said that someone taught him how to elicit those transformations, but that to explain any further would force him to overlap into different stories.

“What did the nagual Julian look like when he wasn’t transforming himself?” I asked.

“Let’s say that before he became a nagual he was very slim and muscular,” don Juan said. “His hair was black, thick, and wavy. He had a long, fine nose, strong big white teeth, an oval face, strong jaw, and shiny dark-brown eyes. He was about five feet eight inches tall. He was not Indian or even a brown Mexican, but he was not Anglo white either. In fact, his complexion seemed to be like no one else’s, especially in his later years when his ever-changing complexion shifted constantly from dark to very light and back again to dark. When I first met him he was a light-brown old man, then as time went by, he became a light-skinned young man, perhaps only a few years older than me. I was twenty at that time.”

“But if the changes of his outer appearance were astonishing,” don Juan went on, “the changes of mood and behavior that accompanied each transformation were even more astonishing. For example, when he was a fat young man, he was jolly and sensual. When he was a skinny old man, he was petty and vindictive. When he was a fat old man, he was the greatest imbecile there was.”

“Was he ever himself?” I asked.

“Not the way I am myself,” he replied. “Since I’m not interested in transformation I am always the same. But he was not like me at all.” Don Juan looked at me as if he were assessing my inner strength. He smiled, shook his head from side to side and broke into a belly laugh.

“What’s so funny, don Juan?” I asked.

“The fact is that you’re still too prudish and stiff to appreciate fully the nature of my benefactor’s transformations and their total scope,” he said. “I only hope that when I tell you about them you don’t become morbidly obsessed.”

For some reason I suddenly became quite uncomfortable and had to change the subject.

“Why are the naguals called ‘benefactors’ and not simply teachers?” I asked nervously.

“Calling a nagual a benefactor is a gesture his apprentices make,” don Juan said. “A nagual creates an overwhelming feeling of gratitude in his disciples. After all, a nagual molds them and guides them through unimaginable areas.”

I remarked that to teach was in my opinion the greatest, most altruistic act anyone could perform for another.

“For you, teaching is talking about patterns,” he said. “For a sorcerer, to teach is what a nagual does for his apprentices. For them he taps the prevailing force in the universe: intent – the force that changes and reorders things or keeps them as they are. The nagual formulates, then guides the consequences that that force can have on his disciples. Without the nagual’s molding intent there would be no awe, no wonder for them. And his apprentices, instead of embarking on a magical journey of discovery, would only be learning a trade: healer, sorcerer, diviner, charlatan, or whatever.”

“Can you explain intent to me?” I asked.

“The only way to know intent” he replied, “is to know it directly through a living connection that exists between intent and all sentient beings. Sorcerers call intent the indescribable, the spirit, the abstract, the nagual. I would prefer to call it nagual, but it overlaps with the name for the leader, the benefactor, who is also called nagual, so I have opted for calling it the spirit, intent, the abstract.”

Don Juan stopped abruptly and recommended that I keep quiet and think about what he had told me. By then it was very dark. The silence was so profound that instead of lulling me into a restful state, it agitated me. I could not maintain order in my thoughts. I tried to focus my attention on the story he had told me, but instead I thought of everything else, until finally I fell asleep.

The Impeccability Of The Nagual Elias

I had no way of telling how long I slept in that cave. Don Juan’s voice startled me and I awoke. He was saying that the first sorcery story concerning the manifestations of the spirit was an account of the relationship between intent and the nagual. It was the story of how the spirit set up a lure for the nagual, a prospective disciple, and of how the nagual had to evaluate the lure before making his decision either to accept or reject it. It was very dark in the cave, and the small space was confining. Ordinarily an area of that size would have made me claustrophobic, but the cave kept soothing me, dispelling my feelings of annoyance. Also, something in the configuration of the cave absorbed the echoes of don Juan’s words.

Don Juan explained that every act performed by sorcerers, especially by the naguals, was either performed as a way to strengthen their link with intent or as a response triggered by the link itself. Sorcerers, and specifically the naguals, therefore had to be actively and permanently on the lookout for manifestations of the spirit. Such manifestations were called gestures of the spirit or, more simply, indications or omens.

He repeated a story he had already told me; the story of how he had met his benefactor, the nagual Julian.

Don Juan had been cajoled by two crooked men to take a job on an isolated hacienda. One of the men, the foreman of the hacienda, simply took possession of don Juan and in effect made him a slave.

Desperate and with no other course of action, don Juan escaped. The violent foreman chased him and caught him on a country road where he shot don Juan in the chest and left him for dead. Don Juan was lying unconscious in the road, bleeding to death, when the nagual Julian came along. Using his healer’s knowledge, he stopped the bleeding, took don Juan, who was still unconscious, home and cured him.

The indications the spirit gave the nagual Julian about don Juan were, first, a small cyclone that lifted a cone of dust on the road a couple of yards from where he lay. The second omen was the thought which had crossed the nagual Julian’s mind an instant before he had heard the report of the gun a few yards away: that it was time to have an apprentice nagual. Moments later, the spirit gave him the third omen, when he ran to take cover and instead collided with the gunman, putting him to flight, perhaps preventing him from shooting don Juan a second time. A collision with someone was the type of blunder which no sorcerer, much less a nagual, should ever make.

The nagual Julian immediately evaluated the opportunity. When he saw don Juan he understood the reason for the spirit’s manifestation: here was a double man, a perfect candidate to be his apprentice nagual.

This brought up a nagging rational concern for me. I wanted to know if sorcerers could interpret an omen erroneously. Don Juan replied that although my question sounded perfectly legitimate, it was inapplicable, like the majority of my questions, because I asked them based on my experiences in the world of everyday life. Thus they were always about tested procedures, steps to be followed, and rules of meticulousness, but had nothing to do with the premises of sorcery. He pointed out that the flaw in my reasoning was that I always failed to include my experiences in the sorcerers’ world.

I argued that very few of my experiences in the sorcerers’ world had continuity, and therefore I could not make use of those experiences in my present day-to-day life. Very few times, and only when I was in states of profound heightened awareness, had I remembered everything. At the level of heightened awareness I usually reached, the only experience that had continuity between past and present was that of knowing him.

He responded cuttingly that I was perfectly capable of engaging in sorcerers’ reasonings because I had experienced the sorcery premises in my normal state of awareness. In a more mellow tone he added that heightened awareness did not reveal everything until the whole edifice of sorcery knowledge was completed.

Then he answered my question about whether or not sorcerers could misinterpret omens. He explained that when a sorcerer interpreted an omen he knew its exact meaning without having any notion of how he knew it. This was one of the bewildering effects of the connecting link with intent. Sorcerers had a sense of knowing things directly. How sure they were depended on the strength and clarity of their connecting link. He said that the feeling everyone knows as “intuition” is the activation of our link with intent. And since sorcerers deliberately pursue the understanding and strengthening of that link, it could be said that they intuit everything unerringly and accurately. Reading omens is commonplace for sorcerers – mistakes happen only when personal feelings intervene and cloud the sorcerers’ connecting link with intent. Otherwise their direct knowledge is totally accurate and functional.

We remained quiet for a while.

All of a sudden he said, “I am going to tell you a story about the nagual Elias and the manifestation of the spirit. The spirit manifests itself to a sorcerer, especially to a nagual, at every turn. However, this is not the entire truth. The entire truth is that the spirit reveals itself to everyone with the same intensity and consistency, but only sorcerers, and naguals in particular, are attuned to such revelations.”

Don Juan began his story. He said that the nagual Elias had been riding his horse to the city one day, taking him through a shortcut by some cornfields when suddenly his horse shied, frightened by the low, fast sweep of a falcon that missed the nagual’s straw hat by only a few inches. The nagual immediately dismounted and began to look around. He saw a strange young man among the tall, dry cornstalks. The man was dressed in an expensive dark suit and appeared alien there. The nagual Elias was used to the sight of peasants or landowners in the fields, but he had never seen an elegantly dressed city man moving through the fields with apparent disregard for his expensive shoes and clothes.

The nagual tethered his horse and walked toward the young man. He recognized the flight of the falcon, as well as the man’s apparel, as obvious manifestations of the spirit which he could not disregard. He got very close to the young man and saw what was going on. The man was chasing a peasant woman who was running a few yards ahead of him, dodging and laughing with him.

The contradiction was quite apparent to the nagual. The two people cavorting in the cornfield did not belong together. The nagual thought that the man must be the landowner’s son and the woman a servant in the house. He felt embarrassed to be observing them and was about to turn and leave when the falcon again swept over the cornfield and this time brushed the young man’s head. The falcon alarmed the couple and they stopped and looked up, trying to anticipate another sweep. The nagual noticed that the man was thin and handsome, and had haunting, restless eyes.

Then the couple became bored watching for the falcon, and returned to their play. The man caught the woman, embraced her and gently laid her on the ground. But instead of trying to make love to her, as the nagual assumed he would do next, he removed his own clothes and paraded naked in front of the woman.

She did not shyly close her eyes or scream with embarrassment or fright. She giggled, mesmerized by the prancing naked man, who moved around her like a satyr, making lewd gestures and laughing. Finally, apparently overpowered by the sight, she uttered a wild cry, rose, and threw herself into the young man’s arms.

Don Juan said that the nagual Elias confessed to him that the indications of the spirit on that occasion had been most baffling. It was clearly evident that the man was insane. Otherwise, knowing how protective peasants were of their women, he would not have considered seducing a young peasant woman in broad daylight a few yards from the road and naked to boot.

Don Juan broke into a laugh and told me that in those days to take off one’s clothes and engage in a sexual act in broad daylight in such a place meant one had to be either insane or blessed by the spirit. He added that what the man had done might not seem remarkable nowadays. But then, nearly a hundred years ago, people were infinitely more inhibited.

All of this convinced the nagual Elias from the moment he laid eyes on the man that he was both insane and blessed by the spirit. He worried that peasants might happen by, become enraged and lynch the man on the spot. But no one did. It felt to the nagual as if time had been suspended.

When the man finished making love, he put on his clothes, took out a handkerchief, meticulously dusted his shoes and, all the while making wild promises to the girl, went on his way. The nagual Elias followed him. In fact, he followed him for several days and found out that his name was Julian and that he was an actor.

Subsequently the nagual saw him on the stage often enough to realize that the actor had a great deal of charisma. The audience, especially the women, loved him. And he had no scruples about making use of his charismatic gifts to seduce female admirers. As the nagual followed the actor, he was able to witness his seduction technique more than once. It entailed showing himself naked to his adoring fans as soon as he got them alone, then waiting until the women, stunned by his display, surrendered. The technique seemed extremely effective for him. The nagual had to admit that the actor was a great success, except on one count. He was mortally ill. The nagual had seen the black shadow of death that followed him everywhere.

Don Juan explained again something he had told me years before – that our death was a black spot right behind the left shoulder. He said that sorcerers knew when a person was close to dying because they could see the dark spot, which became a moving shadow the exact size and shape of the person to whom it belonged.

As he recognized the imminent presence of death the nagual was plunged into a numbing perplexity. He wondered why the spirit was singling out such a sick person. He had been taught that in a natural state replacement, not repair, prevailed. And the nagual doubted that he had the ability or the strength to heal this young man, or resist the black shadow of his death. He even doubted if he would be able to discover why the spirit had involved him in a display of such obvious waste.

The nagual could do nothing but stay with the actor, follow him around, and wait for the opportunity to see in greater depth. Don Juan explained that a nagual’s first reaction, upon being faced with the manifestations of the spirit, is to see the persons involved. The nagual Elias had been meticulous about seeing the man the moment he laid eyes on him. He had also seen the peasant woman who was part of the spirit’s manifestation, but he had seen nothing that, in his judgment, could have warranted the spirit’s display.

In the course of witnessing another seduction, however, the nagual’s ability to see took on a new depth. This time the actor’s adoring fan was the daughter of a rich landowner. And from the start she was in complete control. The nagual found out about their rendezvous because he overheard her daring the actor to meet her the next day. The nagual was hiding across the street at dawn when the young woman left her house, and instead of going to early mass she went to join the actor. The actor was waiting for her and she coaxed him into following her to the open fields. He appeared to hesitate, but she taunted him and would not allow him to withdraw.

As the nagual watched them sneaking away, he had an absolute conviction that something was going to happen on that day which neither of the players was anticipating. He saw that the actor’s black shadow had grown to almost twice his height. The nagual deduced from the mysterious hard look in the young woman’s eyes that she too had felt the black shadow of death at an intuitive level. The actor seemed preoccupied. He did not laugh as he had on other occasions. They walked quite a distance. At one point, they spotted the nagual following them, but he instantly pretended to be working the land, a peasant who belonged there. That made the couple relax and allowed the nagual to come closer.

Then the moment came when the actor tossed off his clothes and showed himself to the girl. But instead of swooning and falling into his arms as his other conquests had, this girl began to hit him. She kicked and punched him mercilessly and stepped on his bare toes, making him cry out with pain.

The nagual knew the man had not threatened or harmed the young woman. He had not laid a finger on her. She was the only one fighting. He was merely trying to parry the blows, and persistently, but without enthusiasm, trying to entice her by showing her his genitals.

The nagual was filled with both revulsion and admiration. He could perceive that the actor was an irredeemable libertine, but he could also perceive equally easily that there was something unique, although revolting, about him. It baffled the nagual to see that the man’s connecting link with the spirit was extraordinarily clear.

Finally the attack ended. The woman stopped beating the actor. But then, instead of running away, she surrendered, lay down and told the actor he could now have his way with her.

The nagual observed that the man was so exhausted he was practically unconscious. Yet despite his fatigue he went right ahead and consummated his seduction.

The nagual was laughing and pondering that useless man’s great stamina and determination when the woman screamed and the actor began to gasp. The nagual saw how the black shadow struck the actor. It went like a dagger, with pinpoint accuracy into his gap.

Don Juan made a digression at this point to elaborate on something he had explained before: he had described the gap, an opening in our luminous shell at the height of the navel, where the force of death ceaselessly struck. What don Juan now explained was that when death hit healthy beings it was with a ball-like blow – like the punch of a fist. But when beings were dying, death struck them with a dagger-like thrust.

Thus the nagual Elias knew without any question that the actor was as good as dead, and his death automatically finished his own interest in the spirit’s designs. There were no designs left; death had leveled everything.

He rose from his hiding place and started to leave when something made him hesitate. It was the young woman’s calmness. She was nonchalantly putting on the few pieces of clothing she had taken off and was whistling tunelessly as if nothing had happened.

And then the nagual saw that in relaxing to accept the presence of death, the man’s body had released a protecting veil and revealed his true nature. He was a double man of tremendous resources, capable of creating a screen for protection or disguise – a natural sorcerer and a perfect candidate for a nagual apprentice, had it not been for the black shadow of death.

The nagual was completely taken aback by that sight. He now understood the designs of the spirit, but failed to comprehend how such a useless man could fit in the sorcerers’ scheme of things.

The woman in the meantime had stood up and without so much as a glance at the man, whose body was contorting with death spasms, walked away.

The nagual then saw her luminosity and realized that her extreme aggressiveness was the result of an enormous flow of superfluous energy. He became convinced that if she did not put that energy to sober use, it would get the best of her and there was no telling what misfortunes it would cause her.

As the nagual watched the unconcern with which she walked away, he realized that the spirit had given him another manifestation. He needed to be calm, nonchalant. He needed to act as if he had nothing to lose and intervene for the hell of it. In true nagual fashion he decided to tackle the impossible, with no one except the spirit as witness.

Don Juan commented that it took incidents like this to test whether a nagual is the real thing or a fake. Naguals make decisions. With no regard for the consequences they take action or choose not to. Imposters ponder and become paralyzed. The nagual Elias having made his decision, walked calmly to the side of the dying man and did the first thing his body, not his mind, compelled him to do: he struck the man’s assemblage point to cause him to enter into heightened awareness. He struck him frantically again and again until his assemblage point moved. Aided by the force of death itself, the nagual’s blows sent the man’s assemblage point to a place where death no longer mattered, and there he stopped dying.

By the time the actor was breathing again, the nagual had become aware of the magnitude of his responsibility. If the man was to fend off the force of his death, it would be necessary for him to remain in deep heightened awareness until death had been repelled. The man’s advanced physical deterioration meant he could not be moved from the spot or he would instantly die. The nagual did the only thing possible under the circumstances: he built a shack around the body. There, for three months he nursed the totally immobilized man.

My rational thoughts took over, and instead of just listening, I wanted to know how the nagual Elias could build a shack on someone else’s land. I was aware of the rural peoples’ passion about land ownership and its accompanying feelings of territoriality.

Don Juan admitted that he had asked the same question himself. And the nagual Elias had said that the spirit itself had made it possible. This was the case with everything a nagual undertook, providing he followed the spirit’s manifestations.

The first thing the nagual Elias did, when the actor was breathing again, was to run after the young woman. She was an important part of the spirit’s manifestation. He caught up with her not too far from the spot where the actor lay barely alive. Rather than talking to her about the man’s plight and trying to convince her to help him, he again assumed total responsibility for his actions and jumped on her like a lion, striking her assemblage point a mighty blow. Both she and the actor were capable of sustaining life or death blows. Her assemblage point moved, but began to shift erratically once it was loose.

The nagual carried the young woman to where the actor lay. Then he spent the entire day trying to keep her from losing her mind and the man from losing his life. When he was fairly certain he had a degree of control he went to the woman’s father and told him that lightning must have struck his daughter and made her temporarily mad. He took the father to where she lay and said that the young man, whoever he was, had taken the whole charge of the lightning with his body, thus saving the girl from certain death, but injuring himself to the point that he could not be moved.

The grateful father helped the nagual build the shack for the man who had saved his daughter. And in three months the nagual accomplished the impossible. He healed the young man.

When the time came for the nagual to leave, his sense of responsibility and his duty required him both to warn the young woman about her excess energy and the injurious consequences it would have on her life and well being, and to ask her to join the sorcerers’ world, as that would be the only defense against her self-destructive strength.

The woman did not respond. And the nagual Elias was obliged to tell her what every nagual has said to a prospective apprentice throughout the ages: that sorcerers speak of sorcery as a magical, mysterious bird which has paused in its flight for a moment in order to give man hope and purpose; that sorcerers live under the wing of that bird, which they call the bird of wisdom, the bird of freedom; that they nourish it with their dedication and impeccability. He told her that sorcerers knew the flight of the bird of freedom was always a straight line, since it had no way of making a loop, no way of circling back and returning; and that the bird of freedom could do only two things, take sorcerers along, or leave them behind.

The nagual Elias could not talk to the young actor, who was still mortally ill, in the same way. The young man did not have much of a choice. Still, the nagual told him that if he wanted to be cured, he would have to follow the nagual unconditionally. The actor accepted the terms instantly.

The day the nagual Elias and the actor started back home, the young woman was waiting silently at the edge of town. She carried no suitcases, not even a basket. She seemed to have come merely to see them off. The nagual kept walking without looking at her, but the actor, being carried on a stretcher, strained to say goodbye to her. She laughed and wordlessly merged into the nagual’s party. She had no doubts and no problem about leaving everything behind. She had understood perfectly that there was no second chance for her, that the bird of freedom either took sorcerers along or left them behind.

Don Juan commented that that was not surprising. The force of the nagual’s personality was always so overwhelming that he was practically irresistible, and the nagual Elias had affected those two people deeply. He had had three months of daily interaction to accustom them to his consistency, his detachment, his objectivity. They had become enchanted by his sobriety and, above all, by his total dedication to them. Through his example and his actions, the nagual Elias had given them a sustained view of the sorcerers’ world: supportive and nurturing, yet utterly demanding. It was a world that admitted very few mistakes.

Don Juan reminded me then of something he had repeated to me often but which I had always managed not to think about. He said that I should not forget, even for an instant, that the bird of freedom had very little patience with indecision, and when it flew away, it never returned.

The chilling resonance of his voice made the surroundings, which only a second before had been peacefully dark, burst with immediacy. Don Juan summoned the peaceful darkness back as fast as he had summoned urgency. He punched me lightly on the arm.

“That woman was so powerful that she could dance circles around anyone,” he said. “Her name was Talia.”