The Fifth Abstract Core: The Requirements of Intent; Breaking the Mirror of Self-Reflection

We spent a night at the spot where I had recollected my experience in Guaymas. During that night, because my assemblage point was pliable, don Juan helped me to reach new positions, which immediately became blurry non-memories.

The next day I was incapable of remembering what had happened or what I had perceived; I had, nonetheless, the acute sensation of having had bizarre experiences. Don Juan agreed that my assemblage point had moved beyond his expectations, yet he refused to give me even a hint of what I had done. His only comment had been that some day I would recollect everything.

Around noon, we continued on up the mountains. We walked in silence and without stopping until late in the afternoon. As we slowly climbed a mildly steep mountain ridge, don Juan suddenly spoke. I did not understand any of what he was saying. He repeated it until I realized he wanted to stop on a wide ledge, visible from where we were. He was telling me that we would be protected there from the wind by the boulders and large, bushy shrubs.

“Tell me, which spot on the ledge would be the best for us to sit out all night?” he asked.

Earlier, as we were climbing, I had spotted the almost unnoticeable ledge. It appeared as a patch of darkness on the face of the mountain. I had identified it with a very quick glance. Now that don Juan was asking my opinion, I elected a spot of even greater darkness, one almost black, on the south side of the ledge. The dark ledge and the almost black spot in it did not generate any feeling of fear or anxiety. I felt that I liked that ledge. And I liked its dark spot even more.

“That spot there is very dark, but I like it,” I said, when we reached the ledge.

He agreed that that was the best place to sit all night. He said it was a place with a special level of energy, and that he, too, liked its pleasing darkness.

We headed toward some protruding rocks. Don Juan cleared an area by the boulders and we sat with our backs against them.

I told him that on the one hand I thought it had been a lucky guess on my part to choose that very spot, but on the other I could not overlook the fact that I had perceived it with my eyes.

“I wouldn’t say that you perceived it exclusively with your eyes,” he said. “It was a bit more complex than that.”

“What do you mean by that, don Juan?” I asked.

“I mean that you have possibilities you are not yet aware of,” he replied. “Since you’re quite careless, you may think that all of what you perceive is simply average sensory perception.”

He said that if I doubted him, he dared me to go down to the base of the mountain again and corroborate what he was saying. He predicted that it would be impossible for me to see the dark ledge merely by looking at it.

I stated vehemently that I had no reason to doubt him. I was not going to climb down that mountain.

He insisted that we climb down. I thought he was doing it just to tease me. I got nervous, though, when it occurred to me that he might be serious. He laughed so hard he choked.

He commented on the fact that all animals could detect, in their surroundings, areas with special levels of energy. Most animals were frightened of these spots and avoided them. The exceptions were mountain lions and coyotes, which lay and even slept on such spots whenever they happened upon them. But, only sorcerers deliberately sought such spots for their effects.

I asked him what the effects were. He said that they gave out imperceptible jolts of invigorating energy, and he remarked that average men living in natural settings could find such spots, even though they were not conscious about having found them nor aware of their effects.

“How do they know they have found them?” I asked.

“They never do,” he replied. “Sorcerers watching men travel on foot trails notice right away that men always become tired and rest right on the spot with a positive level of energy. If, on the other hand, they are going through an area with an injurious flow of energy, they become nervous and rush. If you ask them about it they will tell you they rushed through that area because they felt energized. But it is the opposite – the only place that energizes them is the place where they feel tired.”

He said that sorcerers are capable of finding such spots by perceiving with their entire bodies minute surges of energy in their surroundings. The sorcerers’ increased energy, derived from the curtailment of their self-reflection, allows their senses a greater range of perception.

“I’ve been trying to make clear to you that the only worthwhile course of action, whether for sorcerers or average men, is to restrict our involvement with our self-image,” he continued.

“What a nagual aims at with his apprentices is the shattering of their mirror of self-reflection.”

He added that each apprentice was an individual case, and that the nagual had to let the spirit decide about the particulars.

“Each of us has a different degree of attachment to his self-reflection,” he went on. “And that attachment is felt as need. For example, before I started on the path of knowledge, my life was endless need. And years after the nagual Julian had taken me under his wing, I was still just as needy, if not more so.

“But there are examples of people, sorcerers or average men, who need no one. They get peace, harmony, laughter, knowledge, directly from the spirit. They need no intermediaries. For you and for me, it’s different. I’m your intermediary and the nagual Julian was mine.

Intermediaries, besides providing a minimal chance – the awareness of intent – help shatter people’s mirrors of self-reflection.

“The only concrete help you ever get from me is that I attack your self-reflection. If it weren’t for that, you would be wasting your time. This is the only real help you’ve gotten from me.”

“You’ve taught me, don Juan, more than anyone in my entire life,” I protested.

“I’ve taught you all kinds of things in order to trap your attention,” he said. “You’ll swear, though, that that teaching has been the important part. It hasn’t. There is very little value in instruction. Sorcerers maintain that moving the assemblage point is all that matters. And that movement, as you well know, depends on increased energy and not on instruction.”

He then made an incongruous statement. He said that any human being who would follow a specific and simple sequence of actions can learn to move his assemblage point.

I pointed out that he was contradicting himself. To me, a sequence of actions meant instructions; it meant procedures.

“In the sorcerers’ world there are only contradictions of terms,” he replied. “In practice there are no contradictions. The sequence of actions I am talking about is one that stems from being aware. To become aware of this sequence you need a nagual. This is why I’ve said that the nagual provides a minimal chance, but that minimal chance is not instruction, like the instruction you need to learn to operate a machine. The minimal chance consists of being made aware of the spirit.”

He explained that the specific sequence he had in mind called for being aware that self-importance is the force which keeps the assemblage point fixed. When self-importance is curtailed, the energy it requires is no longer expended. That increased energy then serves as the springboard that launches the assemblage point, automatically and without premeditation, into an inconceivable journey.

Once the assemblage point has moved, the movement itself entails moving from self-reflection, and this, in turn, assures a clear connecting link with the spirit. He commented that, after all, it was self-reflection that had disconnected man from the spirit in the first place.

“As I have already said to you,” don Juan went on, “sorcery is a journey of return. We return victorious to the spirit, having descended into hell. And from hell we bring trophies. Understanding is one of our trophies.”

I told him that his sequence seemed very easy and very simple when he talked about it, but that when I had tried to put it into practice I had found it the total antithesis of ease and simplicity.

“Our difficulty with this simple progression,” he said, “is that most of us are unwilling to accept that we need so little to get on with. We are geared to expect instruction, teaching, guides, masters. And when we are told that we need no one, we don’t believe it. We become nervous, then distrustful, and finally angry and disappointed. If we need help, it is not in methods, but in emphasis. If someone makes us aware that we need to curtail our self-importance, that help is real.

“Sorcerers say we should need no one to convince us that the world is infinitely more complex than our wildest fantasies. So, why are we dependent? Why do we crave someone to guide us when we can do it ourselves? Big question, eh?”

Don Juan did not say anything else. Obviously, he wanted me to ponder the question. But I had other worries in my mind. My recollection had undermined certain foundations that I had believed unshakable, and I desperately needed him to redefine them. I broke the long silence and voiced my concern. I told him that I had come to accept that it was possible for me to forget whole incidents, from beginning to end, if they had taken place in heightened awareness. Up to that day I had had total recall of anything I had done under his guidance in my state of normal awareness. Yet, having had breakfast with him in Nogales had not existed in my mind prior to my recollecting it. And that event simply must have taken place in the world of everyday affairs.

“You are forgetting something essential,” he said. “The nagual’s presence is enough to move the assemblage point. I have humored you all along with the nagual’s blow. The blow between the shoulder blades that I have delivered is only a pacifier. It serves the purpose of removing your doubts. Sorcerers use physical contact as a jolt to the body. It doesn’t do anything but give confidence to the apprentice who is being manipulated.”

“Then who moves the assemblage point, don Juan?” I asked.

“The spirit does it,” he replied in the tone of someone about to lose his patience.

He seemed to check himself and smiled and shook his head from side to side in a gesture of resignation.

“It’s hard for me to accept,” I said. “My mind is ruled by the principle of cause and effect.”

He had one of his usual attacks of inexplicable laughter – inexplicable from my point of view, of course. I must have looked annoyed. He put his hand on my shoulder.

“I laugh like this periodically because you are demented,” he said. “The answer to everything you ask me is staring you right in the eyes and you don’t see it. I think dementia is your curse.”

His eyes were so shiny, so utterly crazy and mischievous, that I ended up laughing myself.

“I have insisted to the point of exhaustion that there are no procedures in sorcery,” he went on. “There are no methods, no steps. The only thing that matters is the movement of the assemblage point. And no procedure can cause that. It’s an effect that happens all by itself.”

He pushed me as if to straighten my shoulders, and then he peered at me, looking right into my eyes. My attention became riveted to his words.

“Let us see how you figure this out,” he said. “I have just said that the movement of the assemblage point happens by itself. But I have also said that the nagual’s presence moves his apprentice’s assemblage point and that the way the nagual masks his ruthlessness either helps or hinders that movement. How would you resolve this contradiction?”

I confessed that I had been just about to ask him about the contradiction, for I had been aware of it, but that I could not even begin to think of resolving it. I was not a sorcery practitioner.

“What are you, then?” he asked.

“I am a student of anthropology, trying to figure out what sorcerers do,” I said.

My statement was not altogether true, but it was not a lie.

Don Juan laughed uncontrollably.

“It’s too late for that,” he said. “Your assemblage point has moved already. And it is precisely that movement that makes one a sorcerer.”

He stated that what seemed a contradiction was really the two sides of the same coin. The nagual entices the assemblage point into moving by helping to destroy the mirror of self-reflection. But that is all the nagual can do. The actual mover is the spirit, the abstract; something that cannot be seen or felt; something that does not seem to exist, and yet does. For this reason, sorcerers report that the assemblage point moves all by itself. Or they say that the nagual moves it. The nagual, being the conduit of the abstract, is allowed to express it through his actions.

I looked at don Juan questioningly.

“The nagual moves the assemblage point, and yet it is not he himself who does the actual moving,” don Juan said. “Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that the spirit expresses itself in accordance with the nagual’s impeccability. The spirit can move the assemblage point with the mere presence of an impeccable nagual.”

He said that he had wanted to clarify this point, because, if it was misunderstood, it led a nagual back to self-importance and thus to his destruction.

He changed the subject and said that, because the spirit had no perceivable essence, sorcerers deal rather with the specific instances and ways in which they are able to shatter the mirror of self-reflection.

Don Juan noted that in this area it was important to realize the practical value of the different ways in which the naguals masked their ruthlessness. He said my mask of generosity, for example, was adequate for dealing with people on a shallow level, but useless for shattering their self-reflection because it forced me to demand an almost impossible decision on their part. I expected them to jump into the sorcerers’ world without any preparation.

“A decision such as that jump must be prepared for,” he went on. “And in order to prepare for it, any kind of mask for a nagual’s ruthlessness will do, except the mask of generosity.”

Perhaps because I desperately wanted to believe that I was truly generous, his comments on my behavior renewed my terrible sense of guilt. He assured me that I had nothing to be ashamed of, and that the only undesirable effect was that my pseudo-generosity did not result in positive trickery.

In this regard, he said, although I resembled his benefactor in many ways, my mask of generosity was too crude, too obvious to be of value to me as a teacher. A mask of reasonableness, such as his own, however, was very effective in creating an atmosphere propitious to moving the assemblage point. His disciples totally believed his pseudo-reasonableness.

In fact, they were so inspired by it that he could easily trick them into exerting themselves to any degree.

“What happened to you that day in Guaymas was an example of how the nagual’s masked ruthlessness shatters self-reflection,” he continued. “My mask was your downfall. You, like everyone around me, believed my reasonableness. And, of course, you expected, above all, the continuity of that reasonableness.

“When I faced you with not only the senile behavior of a feeble old man, but with the old man himself, your mind went to extremes in its efforts to repair my continuity and your self-reflection. And so you told yourself that I must have suffered a stroke.

“Finally, when it became impossible to believe in the continuity of my reasonableness, your mirror began to break down. From that point on, the shift of your assemblage point was just a matter of time. The only thing in question was whether it was going to reach the place of no pity.”

I must have appeared skeptical to don Juan, for he explained that the world of our self-reflection or of our mind was very flimsy and was held together by a few key ideas that served as its underlying order. When those ideas failed, the underlying order ceased to function.

“What are those key ideas, don Juan?” I asked.

“In your case, in that particular instance, as in the case of the audience of that healer we talked about, continuity was the key idea,” he replied.

“What is continuity?” I asked.

“The idea that we are a solid block,” he said. “In our minds, what sustains our world is the certainty that we are unchangeable. We may accept that our behavior can be modified, that our reactions and opinions can be modified, but the idea that we are malleable to the point of changing appearances, to the point of being someone else, is not part of the underlying order of our self-reflection. Whenever a sorcerer interrupts that order, the world of reason stops.”

I wanted to ask him if breaking an individual’s continuity was enough to cause the assemblage point to move. He seemed to anticipate my question. He said that that breakage was merely a softener. What helped the assemblage point move was the nagual’s ruthlessness.

He then compared the acts he performed that afternoon in Guaymas with the actions of the healer we had previously discussed. He said that the healer had shattered the self-reflection of the people in her audience with a series of acts for which they had no equivalents in their daily lives – the dramatic spirit possession, changing voices, cutting the patient’s body open. As soon as the continuity of the idea of themselves was broken, their assemblage points were ready to be moved.

He reminded me that he had described to me in the past the concept of stopping the world. He had said that stopping the world was as necessary for sorcerers as reading and writing was for me. It consisted of introducing a dissonant element into the fabric of everyday behavior for purposes of halting the otherwise smooth flow of ordinary events – events which were catalogued in our minds by our reason.

The dissonant element was called “not-doing,” or the opposite of doing. “Doing” was anything that was part of a whole for which we had a cognitive account. Not-doing was an element that did not belong in that charted whole.

“Sorcerers, because they are stalkers, understand human behavior to perfection,” he said. They understand, for instance, that human beings are creatures of inventory. Knowing the ins and outs of a particular inventory is what makes a man a scholar or an expert in his field.

“Sorcerers know that when an average person’s inventory fails, the person either enlarges his inventory or his world of self-reflection collapses. The average person is willing to incorporate new items into his inventory if they don’t contradict the inventory’s underlying order. But if the items contradict that order, the person’s mind collapses. The inventory is the mind. Sorcerers count on this when they attempt to break the mirror of self-reflection.”

He explained that that day he had carefully chosen the props for his act to break my continuity. He slowly transformed himself until he was indeed a feeble old man, and then, in order to reinforce the breaking of my continuity, he took me to a restaurant where they knew him as an old man.

I interrupted him. I had become aware of a contradiction I had not noticed before. He had said, at the time, that the reason he transformed himself was that he wanted to know what it was like to be old. The occasion was propitious and unrepeatable. I had understood that statement as meaning that he had not been an old man before. Yet at the restaurant they knew him as the feeble old man who suffered from strokes.

“The nagual’s ruthlessness has many aspects,” he said. “It’s like a tool that adapts itself to many uses. Ruthlessness is a state of being. It is a level of intent that the nagual attains.”

“The nagual uses it to entice the movement of his own assemblage point or those of his apprentices. Or he uses it to stalk. I began that day as a stalker, pretending to be old, and ended up as a genuinely old, feeble man. My ruthlessness, controlled by my eyes, made my own assemblage point move.”

“Although I had been at the restaurant many times before as an old, sick man, I had only been stalking, merely playing at being old. Never before that day had my assemblage point moved to the precise spot of age and senility.”

He said that as soon as he had intended to be old, his eyes lost their shine, and I immediately noticed it. Alarm was written all over my face. The loss of the shine in his eyes was a consequence of using his eyes to intend the position of an old man. As his assemblage point reached that position, he was able to age in appearance, behavior, and feeling.

I asked him to clarify the idea of intending with the eyes. I had the faint notion I understood it, yet I could not formulate even to myself what I knew.

“The only way of talking about it is to say that intent is intended with the eyes,” he said. “I know that it is so. Yet, just like you, I can’t pinpoint what it is I know. Sorcerers resolve this particular difficulty by accepting something extremely obvious: human beings are infinitely more complex and mysterious than our wildest fantasies.”

I insisted that he had not shed any light on the matter.

“All I can say is that the eyes do it,” he said cuttingly. “I don’t know how, but they do it. They summon intent with something indefinable that they have, something in their shine. Sorcerers say that intent is experienced with the eyes, not with the reason.”

He refused to add anything and went back to explaining my recollection. He said that once his assemblage point had reached the specific position that made him genuinely old, doubts should have been completely removed from my mind. But due to the fact that I took pride in being super-rational, I immediately did my best to explain away his transformation.

“I’ve told you over and over that being too rational is a handicap,” he said. “Human beings have a very deep sense of magic. We are part of the mysterious. Rationality is only a veneer with us. If we scratch that surface, we find a sorcerer underneath. Some of us, however, have great difficulty getting underneath the surface level; others do it with total ease. You and I are very alike in this respect – we both have to sweat blood before we let go of our self-reflection.”

I explained to him that, for me, holding onto my rationality had always been a matter of life or death. Even more so when it came to my experiences in his world.

He remarked that that day in Guaymas my rationality had been exceptionally trying for him. From the start he had had to make use of every device he knew to undermine it. To that end, he began by forcibly putting his hands on my shoulders and nearly dragging me down with his weight. That blunt physical maneuver was the first jolt to my body. And this, together with my fear caused by his lack of continuity, punctured my rationality.

“But puncturing your rationality was not enough,” don Juan went on. “I knew that if your assemblage point was going to reach the place of no pity, I had to break every vestige of my continuity. That was when I became really senile and made you run around town, and finally got angry at you and slapped you.

“You were shocked, but you were on the road to instant recovery when I gave your mirror of self-image what should have been its final blow. I yelled “bloody murder”. I didn’t expect you to run away. I had forgotten about your violent outbursts.”

He said that in spite of my on-the-spot recovery tactics, my assemblage point reached the place of no pity when I became enraged at his senile behavior. Or perhaps it had been the opposite: I became enraged because my assemblage point had reached the place of no pity. It did not really matter. What counted was that my assemblage point did arrive there. Once it was there, my own behavior changed markedly. I became cold and calculating and indifferent to my personal safety.

I asked don Juan whether he had seen all this. I did not remember telling him about it. He replied that to know what I was feeling all he had to do was introspect and remember his own experience.

He pointed out that my assemblage point became fixed in its new position when he reverted to his natural self. By then, my conviction about his normal continuity had suffered such a profound upheaval that continuity no longer functioned as a cohesive force. And it was at that moment, from its new position, that my assemblage point allowed me to build another type of continuity, one which I expressed in terms of a strange, detached hardness – a hardness that became my normal mode of behavior from then on.

“Continuity is so important in our lives that if it breaks it’s always instantly repaired,” he went on. “In the case of sorcerers, however, once their assemblage points reach the place of no pity, continuity is never the same.

“Since you are naturally slow, you haven’t noticed yet that since that day in Guaymas you have become, among other things, capable of accepting any kind of discontinuity at its face value – after a token struggle of your reason, of course.”

His eyes were shining with laughter.

“It was also that day that you acquired your masked ruthlessness,” he went on. “Your mask wasn’t as well developed as it is now, of course, but what you got then was the rudiments of what was to become your mask of generosity.”

I tried to protest. I did not like the idea of masked ruthlessness, no matter how he put it.

“Don’t use your mask on me,” he said, laughing. “Save it for a better subject: someone who doesn’t know you.”

He urged me to recollect accurately the moment the mask came to me.

“As soon as you felt that cold fury coming over you,” he went on, “you had to mask it. You didn’t joke about it, as my benefactor would have done. You didn’t try to sound reasonable about it, like I would. You didn’t pretend to be intrigued by it, like the nagual Elias would have. Those are the three nagual’s masks I know. What did you do then? You calmly walked to your car and gave half of your packages away to the guy who was helping you carry them.”

Until that moment I had not remembered that indeed someone helped me carry the packages. I told don Juan that I had seen lights dancing before my face, and I had thought I was seeing them because, driven by my cold fury, I was on the verge of fainting.

“You were not on the verge of fainting,” don Juan answered. “You were on the verge of entering a dreaming state and seeing the spirit all by yourself, like Talia and my benefactor.”

I said to don Juan that it was not generosity that made me give away the packages but cold fury. I had to do something to calm myself, and that was the first thing that occurred to me.

“But that’s exactly what I’ve been telling you. Your generosity is not genuine,” he retorted and began to laugh at my dismay.

The Ticket To Impeccability

It had gotten dark while don Juan was talking about breaking the mirror of self-reflection. I told him I was thoroughly exhausted, and we should cancel the rest of the trip and return home, but he maintained that we had to use every minute of our available time to review the sorcery stories or recollect by making my assemblage point move as many times as possible.

I was in a complaining mood. I said that a state of deep fatigue such as mine could only breed uncertainty and lack of conviction.

“Your uncertainty is to be expected,” don Juan said matter-of-factly. “After all, you are dealing with a new type of continuity. It takes time to get used to it. Warriors spend years in limbo where they are neither average men nor sorcerers.”

“What happens to them in the end?” I asked. “Do they choose sides?”

“No. They have no choice,” he replied. “All of them become aware of what they already are: sorcerers. The difficulty is that the mirror of self-reflection is extremely powerful and only lets its victims go after a ferocious struggle.”

He stopped talking and seemed lost in thought. His body entered into the state of rigidity I had seen before whenever he was engaged in what I characterized as reveries, but which he described as instances in which his assemblage point had moved and he was able to recollect.

“I’m going to tell you the story of a sorcerer’s ticket to impeccability,” he suddenly said after some thirty minutes of total silence. “I’m going to tell you the story of my death.”

He began to recount what had happened to him after his arrival in Durango still disguised in women’s clothes, following his month-long journey through central Mexico. He said that old Belisario took him directly to a hacienda to hide from the monstrous man who was chasing him.

As soon as he arrived, don Juan – very daringly in view of his taciturn nature – introduced himself to everyone in the house. There were seven beautiful women and a strange unsociable man who did not utter a single word. Don Juan delighted the lovely women with his rendition of the monstrous man’s efforts to capture him. Above all, they were enchanted with the disguise which he still wore, and the story that went with it. They never tired of hearing the details of his trip, and all of them advised him on how to perfect the knowledge he had acquired during his journey. What surprised don Juan was their poise and assuredness, which were unbelievable to him. The seven women were exquisite and they made him feel happy. He liked them and trusted them. They treated him with respect and consideration. But something in their eyes told him that under their facades of charm there existed a terrifying coldness, an aloofness he could never penetrate.

The thought occurred to him that in order for these strong and beautiful women to be so at ease and to have no regard for formalities, they had to be loose women. Yet it was obvious to him that they were not.

Don Juan was left alone to roam the property. He was dazzled by the huge mansion and its grounds. He had never seen anything like it. It was an old colonial house with a high surrounding wall. Inside were balconies with flowerpots and patios with enormous fruit trees that provided shade, privacy, and quiet.

There were large rooms, and on the ground floor airy corridors around the patios. On the upper floor there were mysterious bedrooms, where don Juan was not permitted to set foot.

During the following days don Juan was amazed by the profound interest the women took in his well-being. They did everything for him. They seemed to hang on his every word. Never before had people been so kind to him. But also, never before had he felt so solitary. He was always in the company of the beautiful, strange women, and yet he had never been so alone.

Don Juan believed that his feeling of aloneness came from being unable to predict the behavior of the women or to know their real feelings. He knew only what they told him about themselves.

A few days after his arrival, the woman who seemed to be their leader gave him some brand new men’s clothes and told him that his woman’s disguise was no longer necessary, because whoever the monstrous man might have been, he was now nowhere in sight. She told him he was free to go whenever he pleased.

Don Juan begged to see Belisario, whom he had not seen since the day they arrived. The woman said that Belisario was gone. He had left word, however, that don Juan could stay in the house as long as he wanted – but only if he was in danger.

Don Juan declared he was in mortal danger. During his few days in the house, he had seen the monster constantly, always sneaking about the cultivated fields surrounding the house. The woman did not believe him and told him bluntly that he was a con artist, pretending to see the monster so they would take him in. She told him their house was not a place to loaf. She stated they were serious people who worked very hard and could not afford to keep a freeloader.

Don Juan was insulted. He stomped out of the house, but when he caught sight of the monster hiding behind the ornamental shrubbery bordering the walk, his fright immediately replaced his anger.

He rushed back into the house and begged the woman to let him stay. He promised to do peon labor for no wages if he could only remain at the hacienda. She agreed, with the understanding that don Juan would accept two conditions: that he not ask any questions, and that he do exactly as he was told without requiring any explanations. She warned him that if he broke these rules as stay at the house would be in jeopardy.

“I stayed in the house really under protest,” don Juan continued. “I did not like to accept her conditions, but I knew that the monster was outside. In the house I was safe. I knew that the monstrous man was always stopped at an invisible boundary that encircled the house, at a distance of perhaps a hundred yards. Within that circle I was safe. As far as I could discern, there must have been something about that house that kept the monstrous man away, and that was all I cared about.

“I also realized that when the people of the house were around me the monster never appeared.”

After a few weeks with no change in his situation, the young man who don Juan believed had been living in the monster’s house disguised as old Belisario reappeared. He told don Juan that he had just arrived, that his name was Julian, and that he owned the hacienda.

Don Juan naturally asked him about his disguise. But the young man, looking him in the eye and without the slightest hesitation, denied knowledge of any disguise.

“How can you stand here in my own house and talk such rubbish?” he shouted at don Juan. “What do you take me for?”

“But – you are Belisario, aren’t you?” don Juan insisted.

“No,” the young man said. “Belisario is an old man. I am Julian and I’m young. Don’t you see?”

Don Juan meekly admitted that he had not been quite convinced that it was a disguise and immediately realized the absurdity of his statement. If being old was not a disguise, then it was a transformation, and that was even more absurd.

Don Juan’s confusion increased by the moment. He asked about the monster and the young man replied that he had no idea what monster he was talking about. He conceded that don Juan must have been scared by something, otherwise old Belisario would not have given him sanctuary. But whatever reason don Juan had for hiding, it was his personal business.

Don Juan was mortified by the coldness of his host’s tone and manner. Risking his anger, don Juan reminded him that they had met. His host replied that he had never seen him before that day, but that he was honoring Belisario’s wishes as he felt obliged to do.

The young man added that not only was he the owner of the house but that he was also in charge of every person in that household, including don Juan, who, by the act of hiding among them, had become a ward of the house. If don Juan did not like the arrangement, he was free to go and take his chances with the monster no one else was able to see.

Before he made up his mind one way or another, don Juan judiciously decided to ask what being a ward of the house involved.

The young man took don Juan to a section of the mansion that was under construction and said that that part of the house was symbolic of his own life and actions. It was unfinished. Construction was indeed underway, but chances were it might never be completed.

“You are one of the elements of that incomplete construction,” he said to don Juan. “Let’s say that you are the beam that will support the roof. Until we put it in place and put the roof on top of it, we won’t know whether it will support he weight. The master carpenter says it will. I am the master carpenter.”

This metaphorical explanation meant nothing to don Juan, who wanted to know what was expected of him in matters of manual labor.

The young man tried another approach.

“I’m a nagual,” he explained. “I bring freedom. I’m the leader of the people in this house. You are in this house, and because of that you are part of it whether you like or not.”

Don Juan looked at him dumbfounded, unable to say anything.

“I am the nagual Julian,” his host said, smiling. “Without my intervention, there is no way to freedom.”

Don Juan still did not understand. But he began to wonder about his safety in light of the man’s obviously erratic mind. He was so concerned with this unexpected development that he was not even curious about the use of the word nagual. He knew that nagual meant sorcerer, yet he was unable to take in the total implication of the nagual Julian’s words. Or perhaps, somehow, he understood it perfectly, although his conscious mind did not.

The young man stared at him for a moment and then said that don Juan’s actual job would involve being his personal valet and assistant. There would be no pay for this, but excellent room and board. From time to time there would be other small jobs for don Juan, jobs requiring special attention. He was to be in charge of either doing the jobs himself or seeing that they got done. For these special services he would be paid small amounts of money which would be put into an account kept for him by the other members of the household. Thus, should he ever want to leave, there would be a small amount of cash to tide him over.

The young man stressed that don Juan should not consider himself a prisoner, but that if he stayed he would have to work. And still more important than the work were the three requirements he had to fulfill. He had to make a serious effort to learn everything the women taught him. His conduct with all the members of the household must be exemplary, which meant that he would have to examine his behavior and attitude toward them every minute of the day. And he was to address the young man, in direct conversation, as nagual, and when talking of him, to refer to him as the nagual Julian.

Don Juan accepted the terms grudgingly. But although he instantly plunged into his habitual sulkiness and moroseness, he learned his work quickly. What he did not understand was what was expected of him in matters of attitude and behavior. And even though he could not have put his finger on a concrete instance, he honestly believed that he was being lied to and exploited.

As his moroseness got the upper hand, he entered into a permanent sulk and hardly said a word to anyone.

It was then that the nagual Julian assembled all the members of his household and explained to them that even though he badly needed an assistant, he would abide by their decision. If they did not like the morose and unappealing attitude of his new orderly, they had the right to say so. If the majority disapproved of don Juan’s behavior, the young man would have to leave and take his chances with whatever was waiting for him outside, be it a monster or his own fabrication.

The nagual Julian then led them to the front of the house and challenged don Juan to show them the monstrous man. Don Juan pointed him out, but no one else saw him. Don Juan ran frantically from one person to another, insisting that the monster was there, imploring them to help him. They ignored his pleas and called him crazy. It was then that the nagual Julian put don Juan’s fate to vote. The unsociable man did not choose to vote. He shrugged his shoulders and walked away. All the women spoke out against don Juan’s staying. They argued that he was simply too morose and bad-tempered. During the heat of the argument, however, the nagual Julian completely changed his attitude and became don Juan’s defender. He suggested that the women might be misjudging the poor young man, that he was perhaps not crazy at all and maybe actually did see a monster. He said that perhaps his moroseness was the result of his worries. And a great fight ensued. Tempers flared, and in no time the women were yelling at the nagual.

Don Juan heard the argument but was past caring. He knew they were going to throw him out and that the monstrous man would certainly capture him and take him into slavery. In his utter helplessness he began to weep.

His despair and his tears swayed some of the enraged women. The leader of the women proposed another choice: a three-week trial period during which don Juan’s actions and attitude would be evaluated daily by all the women. She warned don Juan that if there was one single complaint about his attitude during that time, he would be kicked out for good.

Don Juan recounted how the nagual Julian in a fatherly manner took him aside and proceeded to drive a wedge of fear into him. He whispered to don Juan that he knew for a fact that the monster not only existed but was roaming the property. Nevertheless, because of certain previous agreements with the women, agreements he could not divulge, he was not permitted to tell the women what he knew. He urged don Juan to stop demonstrating his stubborn, morose personality and pretend to be the opposite.

“Pretend to be happy and satisfied,” he said to don Juan. “If you don’t, the women will kick you out. That prospect alone should be enough to scare you. Use that fear as a real driving force. It’s the only thing you have.”

Any hesitation or second thoughts that don Juan might have had were instantly dispelled at the sight of the monstrous man. As the monster waited impatiently at the invisible line, he seemed aware of how precarious don Juan’s position was. It was as if the monster were ravenously hungry, anxiously anticipating a feast.

The nagual Julian drove his wedge of fear a bit deeper.

“If I were you,” he told don Juan, “I would behave like an angel. I’d act any way these women want me to, as long as it kept me from that hellish beast.”

“Then you do see the monster?” don Juan asked.

“Of course I do,” he replied. “And I also see that if you leave, or if the women kick you out, the monster will capture you and put you in chains. That will change your attitude for sure. Slaves don’t have any choice but to behave well with their masters. They say that the pain inflicted by a monster like that is beyond anything.”

Don Juan knew that his only hope was to make himself as congenial as he possibly could. The fear of falling prey to that monstrous man was indeed a powerful psychological force. Don Juan told me that by some quirk in his own nature he was boorish only with the women; he never behaved badly in the presence of the nagual Julian. For some reason that don Juan could not determine, in his mind the nagual was not someone he could attempt to affect either consciously or subconsciously.

The other member of the household, the unsociable man, was of no consequence to don Juan. Don Juan had formed an opinion the moment he met him, and had discounted him. He thought that the man was weak, indolent, and overpowered by those beautiful women. Later on, when he was more aware of the nagual’s personality, he knew that the man was definitely overshadowed by the glitter of the others.

As time passed, the nature of leadership and authority among them became evident to don Juan. He was surprised and somehow delighted to realize that no one was better or higher than another. Some of them performed functions of which the others were incapable, but that did not make them superior. It simply made them different. However, the ultimate decision in everything was automatically the nagual Julian’s, and he apparently took great pleasure in expressing his decisions in the form of bestial jokes he played on everyone.

There was also a mystery woman among them. They referred to her as Talia, the nagual woman. Nobody told don Juan who she was, or what being the nagual woman meant. It was made clear to him, however, that one of the seven women was Talia. They all talked so much about her that don Juan’s curiosity was aroused to tremendous heights. He asked so many questions that the woman who was the leader of the other women told him that she would teach him to read and write so that he might make better use of his deductive abilities. She said that he must learn to write things down rather than committing them to memory. In this fashion he would accumulate a huge collection of facts about Talia, facts that he ought to read and study until the truth became evident.

Perhaps anticipating the cynical retort he had in mind, she argued that, although it might seem an absurd endeavor, finding out who Talia was was one of the most difficult and rewarding tasks anyone could undertake.

That, she said, was the fun part. She added more seriously that it was imperative for don Juan to learn basic bookkeeping in order to help the nagual manage the property. Immediately she started daily lessons and in one year don Juan had progressed so rapidly and extensively that he was able to read, write, and keep account books.

Everything had occurred so smoothly that he did not notice the changes in himself, the most remarkable of which was a sense of detachment. As far as he was concerned, he retained his impression that nothing was happening in the house, simply because he still was unable to identify with the members of the household. Those people were mirrors that did not yield reflection.

“I took refuge in that house for nearly three years,” don Juan went on. “Countless things happened to me during that time, but I didn’t think they were really important. Or at least I had chosen to consider them unimportant. I was convinced that for three years all I had done was hide, shake with fear, and work like a mule.”

Don Juan laughed and told me that at one point, at the urging of the nagual Julian, he agreed to learn sorcery so that he might rid himself of the fear that consumed him each time he saw the monster keeping vigil. But although the nagual Julian talked to him a great deal, he seemed more interested in playing jokes on him. So he believed it was fair and accurate to say that he did not learn anything even loosely related to sorcery, simply because it was apparent that nobody in that house knew or practiced sorcery.

One day, however, he found himself walking purposefully, but without any volition on his part, toward the invisible line that held the monster at bay. The monstrous man was, of course, watching the house as usual. But that day, instead of turning back and running to seek shelter inside the house, don Juan kept walking. An incredible surge of energy made him advance with no concern for his safety.

A feeling of total detachment allowed him to face the monster that had terrorized him for so many years. Don Juan expected the monster to lurch out and grab him by the throat, but that thought no longer created any terror in him. From a distance of a few inches he stared at the monstrous man for an instant and then stepped over the line. And the monster did not attack him, as don Juan had always feared he would, but became blurry. He lost his definition and turned into a misty whiteness, a barely perceptible patch of fog.

Don Juan advanced toward the fog and it receded as if in fear. He chased the patch of fog over the fields until he knew there was nothing left of the monster. He knew then that there had never been one. He could not, however, explain what he had feared. He had the vague sensation that although he knew exactly what the monster was, something was preventing him from thinking about it. He immediately thought that that rascal, the nagual Julian, knew the truth about what was happening. Don Juan would not have put it past the nagual Julian to play that kind of trick.

Before confronting him, don Juan gave himself the pleasure of walking unescorted all over the property. Never before had he been able to do that. Whenever he had needed to venture beyond that invisible line, he had been escorted by a member of the household. That had put a serious constraint on his mobility. The two or three times he had attempted to walk unescorted, he had found that he risked annihilation at the hands of the monstrous being.

Filled with a strange vigor, don Juan went into the house, but instead of celebrating his new freedom-and power, he assembled the entire household and angrily demanded that they explain their lies. He accused them of making him work as their slave by playing on his fear of a nonexistent monster.

The women laughed as if he were telling the funniest joke. Only the nagual Julian seemed contrite, especially when don Juan, his voice cracking with resentment, described his three years of constant fear. The nagual Julian broke down and wept openly as don Juan demanded an apology for the shameful way he had been exploited.

“But we told you the monster didn’t exist,” one of the women said.

Don Juan glared at the nagual Julian, who cowered meekly.

“He knew the monster existed,” don Juan yelled, pointing an accusing finger at the nagual. But at the same time he was aware he was talking nonsense, because the nagual Julian had originally told him that the monster did not exist.

“The monster didn’t exist,” don Juan corrected himself, shaking with rage. “It was one of his tricks.”

The nagual Julian, weeping uncontrollably, apologized to don Juan, while the women howled with laughter. Don Juan had never seen them laughing so hard.

“You knew all along that there was never any monster. You lied to me,” he accused the nagual Julian, who, with his head down and his eyes filled with tears, admitted his guilt.

“I have certainly lied to you,” he mumbled. “There was never any monster. What you saw as a monster was simply a surge of energy. Your fear made it into a monstrosity.”

“You told me that that monster was going to devour me. How could you have lied to me like that?” don Juan shouted at him.

“Being devoured by that monster was symbolic,” the nagual Julian replied softly. “Your real enemy is your stupidity. You are in mortal danger of being devoured by that monster now.”

Don Juan yelled that he did not have to put up with silly statements. And he insisted they reassure him there were no longer any restrictions on his freedom to leave.

“You can go any time you want,” the nagual Julian said curtly.

“You mean I can go right now?” don Juan asked.

“Do you want to?” the nagual asked.

“Of course, I want to leave this miserable place and the miserable bunch of liars who live here,” don Juan shouted.

The nagual Julian ordered that don Juan’s savings be paid him in full, and with shining eyes wished him happiness, prosperity, and wisdom.

The women did not want to say goodbye to him. They stared at him until he lowered his head to avoid their burning eyes.

Don Juan put his money in his pocket and without a backward glance walked out, glad his ordeal was over. The outside world was a question mark to him. He yearned for it. Inside that house he had been removed from it. He was young, strong. He had money in his pocket and a thirst for living.

He left them without saying thank you. His anger, bottled up by his fear for so long, was finally able to surface. He had even learned to like them – and now he felt betrayed. He wanted to run as far away from that place as he could.

In the city, he had his first unpleasant encounter. Traveling was very difficult and very expensive. He learned that if he wanted to leave the city at once he would not be able to choose his destination, but would have to wait for whatever muleteers were willing to take him. A few days later he left with a reputable muleteer for the port of Mazatlan.

“Although I was only twenty-three years old at the time,” don Juan said, “I felt I had lived a full life. The only thing I had not experienced was sex. The nagual Julian had told me that it was the fact I had not been with a woman that gave me my strength and endurance, and that he had little time left to set things up before the world would catch up with me.”

“What did he mean, don Juan?” I asked.

“He meant that I had no idea about the kind of hell I was heading for,” don Juan replied, “and that he had very little time to set up my barricades, my silent protectors.”

“What’s a silent protector, don Juan?” I asked.

“It’s a lifesaver,” he said. “A silent protector is a surge of inexplicable energy that comes to a warrior when nothing else works.

“My benefactor knew what direction my life would take once I was no longer under his influence. So he struggled to give me as many sorcerers’ options as possible. Those sorcerers’ options were to be my silent protectors.”

“What are sorcerers’ options?” I asked.

“Positions of the assemblage point,” he replied, “the infinite number of positions which the assemblage point can reach. In each and every one of those shallow or deep shifts, a sorcerer can strengthen his new continuity.”

He reiterated that everything he had experienced either with his benefactor or while under his guidance had been the result of either a minute or a considerable shift of his assemblage point. His benefactor had made him experience countless sorcerers’ options, more than the number that would normally be necessary, because he knew that don Juan’s destiny would be to be called upon to explain what sorcerers were and what they did.

“The effect of those shifts of the assemblage point is cumulative,” he continued. “It weighs on you whether you understand it or not. That accumulation worked for me, at the end.

“Very soon after I came into contact with the nagual, my point of assemblage moved so profoundly that I was capable of seeing. I saw an energy field as a monster. And the point kept on moving until I saw the monster as what it really was: an energy field. I had succeeded in seeing, and I didn’t know it. I thought I had done nothing, had learned nothing. I was stupid beyond belief.”

“You were too young, don Juan,” I said. “You couldn’t have done otherwise.”

He laughed. He was on the verge of replying, when he seemed to change his mind. He shrugged his shoulders and went on with his account.

Don Juan said that when he arrived in Mazatlan he was practically a seasoned muleteer, and was offered a permanent job running a mule train. He was very satisfied with the arrangements. The idea that he would be making the trip between Durango and Mazatlan pleased him no end. There were two things, however, that bothered him: first, that he had not yet been with a woman, and second, a strong but unexplainable urge to go north. He did not know why. He knew only that somewhere to the north something was waiting for him. The feeling persisted so strongly that in the end he was forced to refuse the security of a permanent job so he could travel north.

His superior strength and a new and unaccountable cunning enabled him to find jobs even where there were none to be had, as he steadily worked his way north to the state of Sinaloa. And there his journey ended. He met a young widow, like himself a Yaqui Indian, who had been the wife of a man to whom don Juan was indebted.

He attempted to repay his indebtedness by helping the widow and her children, and without being aware of it, he fell into the role of husband and father.

His new responsibilities put a great burden on him. He lost his freedom of movement and even his urge to journey farther north. He felt compensated for that loss, however, by the profound affection he felt for the woman and her children.

“I experienced moments of sublime happiness as a husband and father,” don Juan said. “But it was at those moments when I first noticed that something was terribly wrong. I realized that I was losing the feeling of detachment, the aloofness I had acquired during my time in the nagual Julian’s house. Now I found myself identifying with the people who surrounded me.”

Don Juan said that it took about a year of unrelenting abrasion to make him lose every vestige of the new personality he had acquired at the nagual’s house. He had begun with a profound yet aloof affection for the woman and her children. This detached affection allowed him to play the role of husband and father with abandon and gusto. As time went by, his detached affection turned into a desperate passion that made him lose his effectiveness.

Gone was his feeling of detachment, which was what had given him the power to love. Without that detachment, he had only mundane needs, desperation, and hopelessness: the distinctive features of the world of everyday life. Gone as well was his enterprise. During his years at the nagual’s house, he had acquired a dynamism that had served him well when he set out on his own.

But the most draining pain was knowing that his physical energy had waned. Without actually being in ill health, one day he became totally paralyzed. He did not feel pain. He did not panic. It was as if his body had understood that he would get the peace and quiet he so desperately needed only if it ceased to move.

As he lay helpless in bed, he did nothing but think. And he came to realize that he had failed because he did not have an abstract purpose. He knew that the people in the nagual’s house were extraordinary because they pursued freedom as their abstract purpose. He did not understand what freedom was, but he knew that it was the opposite of his own concrete needs.

His lack of an abstract purpose had made him so weak and ineffective that he was incapable of rescuing his adopted family from their abysmal poverty. Instead, they had pulled him back to the very misery, sadness, and despair which he himself had known prior to encountering the nagual.

As he reviewed his life, he became aware that the only time he had not been poor and had not had concrete needs was during his years with the nagual. Poverty was the state of being that had reclaimed him when his concrete needs overpowered him.

For the first time since he had been shot and wounded so many years before, don Juan fully understood that the nagual Julian was indeed the nagual, the leader, and his benefactor. He understood what it was his benefactor had meant when he said to him that there was no freedom without the nagual’s intervention. There was now no doubt in don Juan’s mind that his benefactor and all the members of his benefactor’s household were sorcerers. But what don Juan understood with the most painful clarity was that he had thrown away his chance to be with them.

When the pressure of his physical helplessness seemed unendurable, his paralysis ended as mysteriously as it had begun. One day he simply got out of bed and went to work. But his luck did not get any better. He could hardly make ends meet.

Another year passed. He did not prosper, but there was one thing in which he succeeded beyond his expectations: he made a total recapitulation of his life. He understood then why he loved and could not leave those children, and why he could not stay with them, and he also understood why he could neither act one way nor the other.

Don Juan knew that he had reached a complete impasse, and that to die like a warrior was the only action congruous with what he had learned at his benefactor’s house. So every night, after a frustrating day of hardship and meaningless toil, he patiently waited for his death to come.

He was so utterly convinced of his end that his wife and her children waited with him – in a gesture of solidarity, they too wanted to die. All four sat in perfect immobility, night after night, without fail, and recapitulated their lives while they waited for death.

Don Juan had admonished them with the same words his benefactor had used to admonish him.

“Don’t wish for it,” his benefactor had said. “Just wait until it comes. Don’t try to imagine what death is like. Just be there to be caught in its flow.”

The time spent quietly strengthened them mentally, but physically their emaciated bodies told of their losing battle.

One day, however, don Juan thought his luck was beginning to change. He found temporary work with a team of farm laborers during the harvest season. But the spirit had other designs for him. A couple of days after he started work, someone stole his hat. It was impossible for him to buy a new one, but he had to have one to work under the scorching sun.

He fashioned a protection of sorts by covering his head with rags and handfuls of straw. His coworkers began to laugh and taunt him. He ignored them. Compared to the lives of the three people who depended on his labor, how he looked had little meaning for him. But the men did not stop. They yelled and laughed until the foreman, fearing that they would riot, fired don Juan.

A wild rage overwhelmed don Juan’s sense of sobriety and caution. He knew he had been wronged. The moral right was with him. He let out a chilling, piercing scream, and grabbed one of the men, and lifted him over his shoulders, meaning to crack his back. But he thought of those hungry children. He thought of their disciplined little bodies as they sat with him night after night awaiting death. He put the man down and walked away.

Don Juan said that he sat down at the edge of the field where the men were working, and all the despair that had accumulated in him finally exploded. It was a silent rage, but not against the people around him. He raged against himself. He raged until all his anger was spent.

“I sat there in view of all those people and began to weep,” don Juan continued. “They looked at me as if I were crazy, which I really was, but I didn’t care. I was beyond caring.

“The foreman felt sorry for me and came over to give a word of advice. He thought I was weeping for myself. He couldn’t have possibly known that I was weeping for the spirit.”

Don Juan said that a silent protector came to him after his rage was spent. It was in the form of an unaccountable surge of energy that left him with the clear feeling that his death was imminent. He knew that he was not going to have time to see his adopted family again. He apologized to them in a loud voice for not having had the fortitude and wisdom necessary to deliver them from their hell on earth.

The farm workers continued to laugh and mock him. He vaguely heard them. Tears swelled in his chest as he addressed and thanked the spirit for having placed him in the nagual’s path, giving him an undeserved chance to be free. He heard the howls of the uncomprehending men. He heard their insults and yells as if from within himself. They had the right to ridicule him. He had been at the portals of eternity and had been unaware of it.

“I understood how right my benefactor had been,” don Juan said. “My stupidity was a monster and it had already devoured me. The instant I had that thought, I knew that anything I could say or do was useless. I had lost my chance. Now, I was only clowning for those men. The spirit could not possibly have cared about my despair. There were too many of us – men with our own petty private hells, born of our stupidity – for the spirit to pay attention.

“I knelt and faced the southeast. I thanked my benefactor again and told the spirit I was ashamed. So ashamed. And with my last breath I said goodbye to a world which could have been wonderful if I had had wisdom. An immense wave came for me then. I felt it, first. Then I heard it, and finally I saw it coming for me from the southeast, over the fields. It overtook me and its blackness covered me. And the light of my life was gone. My hell had ended. I was finally dead! I was finally free!”

Don Juan’s story devastated me. He ignored all my efforts to talk about it. He said that at another time and in another setting we were going to discuss it. He demanded instead that we get on with what he had come to do: elucidate the mastery of awareness.

A couple of days later, as we were coming down from the mountains, he suddenly began to talk about his story. We had sat down to rest. Actually, I was the one who had stopped to catch my breath. Don Juan was not even breathing hard.

“The sorcerers’ struggle for assuredness is the most dramatic struggle there is,” don Juan said. “It’s painful and costly. Many, many times it has actually cost sorcerers their lives.”

He explained that in order for any sorcerer to have complete certainty about his actions, or about his position in the sorcerers’ world, or to be capable of utilizing intelligently his new continuity, he must invalidate the continuity of his old life. Only then can his actions have the necessary assuredness to fortify and balance the tenuousness and instability of his new continuity.

“The sorcerer seers of modern times call this process of invalidation the ticket to impeccability, or the sorcerers’ symbolic but final death,” don Juan said. “And in that field in Sinaloa, I got my ticket to impeccability. I died there. The tenuousness of my new continuity cost me my life.”

“But did you die, don Juan, or did you just faint?” I asked, trying not to sound cynical.

“I died in that field,” he said. “I felt my awareness flowing out of me and heading toward the Eagle. But as I had impeccably recapitulated my life, the Eagle did not swallow my awareness. The Eagle spat me out. Because my body was dead in the field, the Eagle did not let me go through to freedom. It was as if it told me to go back and try again.

“I ascended the heights of blackness and descended again to the light of the earth. And then I found myself in a shallow grave at the edge of the field, covered with rocks and dirt.”

Don Juan said that he knew instantly what to do. After digging himself out he rearranged the grave to look as if a body were still there, and slipped away. He felt strong and determined. He knew that he had to return to his benefactor’s house. But, before he started on his return journey, he wanted to see his family and explain to them that he was a sorcerer and for that reason he could not stay with them. He wanted to explain that his downfall had been not knowing that sorcerers can never make a bridge to join the people of the world. But, if people desire to do so, they have to make a bridge to join sorcerers.

“I went home,” don Juan continued, “but the house was empty. The shocked neighbors told me that farm workers had come earlier with the news that I had dropped dead at work, and my wife and her children had left.”

“How long were you dead, don Juan?” I asked.

“A whole day, apparently,” he said.

Don Juan’s smile played on his lips. His eyes seemed to be made of shiny obsidian. He was watching my reaction, waiting for my comments.

“What became of your family, don Juan?” I asked.

“Ah, the question of a sensible man,” he remarked. “For a moment I thought you were going to ask me about my death!”

I confessed that I had been about to, but that I knew he was seeing my question as I formulated it in my mind, and just to be contrary I asked something else. I did not mean it as a joke, but it made him laugh.

“My family disappeared that day,” he said. “My wife was a survivor. She had to be, with the conditions we lived under. Since I had been waiting for my death, she believed I had gotten what I wanted. There was nothing for her to do there, so she left.

“I missed the children and I consoled myself with the thought that it wasn’t my fate to be with them. However, sorcerers have a peculiar bent. They live exclusively in the twilight of a feeling best described by the words “and yet . . .” When everything is crumbling down around them, sorcerers accept that the situation is terrible, and then immediately escape to the twilight of “and yet. . .”

“I did that with my feelings for those children and the woman. With great discipline – especially on the part of the oldest boy – they had recapitulated their lives with me. Only the spirit could decide the outcome of that affection.”

He reminded me that he had taught me how warriors acted in such situations. They did their utmost, and then, without any remorse or regrets, they relaxed and let the spirit decide the outcome.

“What was the decision of the spirit, don Juan?” I asked.

He scrutinized me without answering. I knew he was completely aware of my motive for asking. I had experienced a similar affection and a similar loss.

“The decision of the spirit is another basic core,” he said. “Sorcery stories are built around it. We’ll talk about that specific decision when we get to discussing that basic core.”

“Now, wasn’t there a question about my death you wanted to ask?”

“If they thought you were dead, why the shallow grave?” I asked. “Why didn’t they dig a real grave and bury you?”

“That’s more like you,” he said laughing. “I asked the same question myself and I realized that all those farm workers were pious people. I was a Christian. Christians are not buried just like that, nor are they left to rot like dogs. I think they were waiting for my family to come and claim the body and give it a proper burial. But my family never came.”

“Did you go and look for them, don Juan?” I asked.

“No. Sorcerers never look for anyone,” he replied. “And I was a sorcerer. I had paid with my life for the mistake of not knowing I was a sorcerer, and that sorcerers never approach anyone.”

“From that day on, I have only accepted the company or the care of people or warriors who are dead, as I am.”

Don Juan said that he went back to his benefactor’s house, where all of them knew instantly what he had discovered. And they treated him as if he had not left at all. The nagual Julian commented that because of his peculiar nature don Juan had taken a long time to die.

“My benefactor told me then that a sorcerer’s ticket to freedom was his death,” don Juan went on. “He said that he himself had paid with his life for that ticket to freedom, as had everyone else in his household. And that now we were equals in our condition of being dead.”

“Am I dead too, don Juan?” I asked.

“You are dead,” he said. “The sorcerers’ grand trick, however, is to be aware that they are dead. Their ticket to impeccability must be wrapped in awareness. In that wrapping, sorcerers say, their ticket is kept in mint condition.”

“For sixty years, I’ve kept mine in mint condition.”