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The Second Abstract Core: The Knock Of The Spirit; The Abstract


We returned to don Juan’s house in the early hours of the morning. It took us a long time to climb down the mountain, mainly because I was afraid of stumbling into a precipice in the dark, and don Juan had to keep stopping to catch the breath he lost laughing at me.

I was dead tired, but I could not fall asleep. Before noon, it began to rain. The sound of the heavy downpour on the tile roof, instead of making me feel drowsy, removed every trace of sleepiness.

I got up and went to look for don Juan. I found him dozing in a chair. The moment I approached him he was wide-awake. I said good morning.

“You seem to be having no trouble falling asleep,” I commented.

“When you have been afraid or upset, don’t lie down to sleep,” he said without looking at me. “Sleep sitting up on a soft chair as I’m doing.”

He had suggested once that if I wanted to give my body healing rest I should take long naps, lying on my stomach with my face turned to the left and my feet over the foot of the bed. In order to avoid being cold, he recommended I put a soft pillow over my shoulders, away from my neck, and wear heavy socks, or just leave my shoes on. When I first heard his suggestion, I thought he was being funny, but later changed my mind. Sleeping in that position helped me rest extraordinarily well. When I commented on the surprising results, he advised that I follow his suggestions to the letter without bothering to believe or disbelieve him.

I suggested to don Juan that he might have told me the night before about the sleeping in a sitting position. I explained to him that the cause of my sleeplessness, besides my extreme fatigue, was a strange concern about what he had told me in the sorcerer’s cave.

“Cut it out!” he exclaimed. “You’ve seen and heard infinitely more distressing things without losing a moment’s sleep. Something else is bothering you.”

For a moment I thought he meant I was not being truthful with him about my real preoccupation. I began to explain, but he kept talking as if I had not spoken.

“You stated categorically last night that the cave didn’t make you feel ill at ease,” he said. “Well, it obviously did. Last night I didn’t pursue the subject of the cave any further because I was waiting to observe your reaction.”

Don Juan explained that the cave had been designed by sorcerers in ancient times to serve as a catalyst. Its shape had been carefully constructed to accommodate two people as two fields of energy. The theory of the sorcerers was that the nature of the rock and the manner in which it had been carved allowed the two bodies, the two luminous balls, to intertwine their energy.

“I took you to that cave on purpose,” he continued, “not because I like the place – I don’t – but because it was created as an instrument to push the apprentice deep into heightened awareness. But unfortunately, as it helps, it also obscures issues. The ancient sorcerers were not given to thought. They leaned toward action.”

“You always say that your benefactor was like that,” I said.

“That’s my own exaggeration,” he answered, “very much like when I say you’re a fool. My benefactor was a modern nagual, involved in the pursuit of freedom, but he leaned toward action instead of thoughts. You’re a modern nagual, involved in the same quest, but you lean heavily toward the aberrations of reason.”

He must have thought his comparison was very funny; his laughter echoed in the empty room. When I brought the conversation back to the subject of the cave, he pretended not to hear me. I knew he was pretending because of the glint in his eyes and the way he smiled.

“Last night, I deliberately told you the first abstract core,” he said, “in the hope that by reflecting on the way I have acted with you over the years you’ll get an idea about the other cores.

You’ve been with me for a long time so you know me very well. During every minute of our association I have tried to adjust my actions and thoughts to the patterns of the abstract cores.

“The nagual Elias’s story is another matter. Although it seems to be a story about people, it is really a story about intent. Intent creates edifices before us and invites us to enter them. This is the way sorcerers understand what is happening around them.”

Don Juan reminded me that I had always insisted on trying to discover the underlying order in everything he said to me. I thought he was criticizing me for my attempt to turn whatever he was teaching me into a social science problem. I began to tell him that my outlook had changed under his influence. He stopped me and smiled.

“You really don’t think too well,” he said and sighed. “I want you to understand the underlying order of what I teach you. My objection is to what you think is the underlying order. To you, it means secret procedures or a hidden consistency. To me, it means two things: both the edifice that intent manufactures in the blink of an eye and places in front of us to enter, and the signs it gives us so we won’t get lost once we are inside.”

“As you can see, the story of the nagual Elias was more than merely an account of the sequential details that made up the event,” he went on. “Underneath all that was the edifice of intent. And the story was meant to give you an idea of what the naguals of the past were like, so that you would recognize how they acted in order to adjust their thoughts and actions to the edifices of intent”

There was a prolonged silence. I did not have anything to say. Rather than let the conversation die, I said the first thing that came into my mind. I said that from the stories I had heard about the nagual Elias I had formed a very positive opinion of him. I liked the nagual Elias, but for unknown reasons, everything don Juan had told me about the nagual Julian bothered me.

The mere mention of my discomfort delighted don Juan beyond measure. He had to stand up from his chair lest he choke on his laughter. He put his arm on my shoulder and said that we either loved or hated those who were reflections of ourselves.

Again a silly self-consciousness prevented me from asking him what he meant. Don Juan kept on laughing, obviously aware of my mood. He finally commented that the nagual Julian was like a child whose sobriety and moderation came always from without. He had no inner discipline beyond his training as an apprentice in sorcery.

I had an irrational urge to defend myself. I told don Juan that my discipline came from within me.

“Of course,” he said patronizingly. “You just can’t expect to be exactly like him.” And began to laugh again.

Sometimes don Juan exasperated me so that I was ready to yell. But my mood did not last. It dissipated so rapidly that another concern began to loom. I asked don Juan if it was possible that I had entered into heightened awareness without being conscious of it? Or maybe I had remained in it for days?

“At this stage you enter into heightened awareness all by yourself,” he said. “Heightened awareness is a mystery only for our reason. In practice, it’s very simple. As with everything else, we complicate matters by trying to make the immensity that surrounds us reasonable.”

He remarked that I should be thinking about the abstract core he had given me instead of arguing uselessly about my person.

I told him that I had been thinking about it all morning and had come to realize that the metaphorical theme of the story was the manifestations of the spirit. What I could not discern, however, was the abstract core he was talking about. It had to be something unstated.

“I repeat,” he said, as if he were a schoolteacher drilling his students, “the manifestations of the spirit is the name for the first abstract core in the sorcery stories. Obviously, what sorcerers recognize as an abstract core is something that bypasses you at this moment. That part which escapes you sorcerers know as the edifice of intent, or the silent voice of the spirit, or the ulterior arrangement of the abstract.”

I said I understood ulterior to mean something not overtly revealed, as in “ulterior motive.” And he replied that in this case ulterior meant more; it meant knowledge without words, outside our immediate comprehension – especially mine. He allowed that the comprehension he was referring to was merely beyond my aptitudes of the moment, not beyond my ultimate possibilities for understanding.

“If the abstract cores are beyond my comprehension what’s the point of talking about them?” I asked.

“The rule says that the abstract cores and the sorcery stories must be told at this point,” he replied. “And some day the ulterior arrangement of the abstract, which is knowledge without words or the edifice of intent inherent in the stories, will be revealed to you by the stories themselves.”

I still did not understand.

“The ulterior arrangement of the abstract is not merely the order in which the abstract cores were presented to you,” he explained, “or what they have in common either, nor even the web that joins them. Rather it’s to know the abstract directly, without the intervention of language.”

He scrutinized me in silence from head to toe with the obvious purpose of seeing me.

“It’s not evident to you yet,” he declared.

He made a gesture of impatience, even short temper, as though he were annoyed at my slowness. And that worried me. Don Juan was not given to expressions of psychological displeasure.

“It has nothing to do with you or your actions,” he said when I asked if he was angry or disappointed with me. “It was a thought that crossed my mind the moment I saw you. There is a feature in your luminous being that the old sorcerers would have given anything to have.”

“Tell me what it is,” I demanded.

“I’ll remind you of this some other time,” he said.

“Meanwhile, let’s continue with the element that propels us: the abstract. The element without which there could be no warrior’s path, nor any warriors in search of knowledge.”

He said that the difficulties I was experiencing were nothing new to him. He himself had gone through agonies in order to understand the ulterior order of the abstract. And had it not been for the helping hand of the nagual Elias, he would have wound up just like his benefactor, all action and very little understanding.

“What was the nagual Elias like?” I asked, to change the subject.

“He was not like his disciple at all,” don Juan said. “He was an Indian. Very dark and massive. He had rough features, big mouth, strong nose, small black eyes, thick black hair with no gray in it. He was shorter than the nagual Julian and had big hands and feet. He was very humble and very wise, but he had no flare. Compared with my benefactor, he was dull. Always all by himself, pondering questions. The nagual Julian used to joke that his teacher imparted wisdom by the ton. Behind his back he used to call him the nagual Tonnage.

“I never saw the reason for his jokes,” don Juan went on. “To me the nagual Elias was like a breath of fresh air. He would patiently explain everything to me. Very much as I explain things to you, but perhaps with a bit more of something. I wouldn’t call it compassion, but rather, empathy. Warriors are incapable of feeling compassion because they no longer feel sorry for themselves. Without the driving force of self-pity, compassion is meaningless.”

“Are you saying, don Juan, that a warrior is all for himself?”

“In a way, yes. For a warrior everything begins and ends with himself. However, his contact with the abstract causes him to overcome his feeling of self-importance. Then the self becomes abstract and impersonal.

“The nagual Elias felt that our lives and our personalities were quite similar,” don Juan continued. “For this reason, he felt obliged to help me. I don’t feel that similarity with you, so I suppose I regard you very much the way the nagual Julian used to regard me.”

Don Juan said that the nagual Elias took him under his wing from the very first day he arrived at his benefactor’s house to start his apprenticeship and began to explain what was taking place in his training, regardless of whether don Juan was capable of understanding. His urge to help don Juan was so intense that he practically held him prisoner. He protected him in this manner from the nagual Julian’s harsh onslaughts.

“At the beginning, I used to stay at the nagual Elias’s house all the time,” don Juan continued. “And I loved it. In my benefactor’s house I was always on the lookout, on guard, afraid of what he was going to do to me next. But in the Nagual Elias’s home I felt confident, at ease.

“My benefactor used to press me mercilessly. And I couldn’t figure out why he was pressuring me so hard. I thought that the man was plain crazy.”

Don Juan said that the nagual Elias was an Indian from the state of Oaxaca, who had been taught by another nagual named Rosendo, who came from the same area. Don Juan described the nagual Elias as being a very conservative man who cherished his privacy. And yet he was a famous healer and sorcerer, not only in Oaxaca, but in all of southern Mexico. Nonetheless, in spite of his occupation and notoriety, he lived in complete isolation at the opposite end of the country, in northern Mexico.

Don Juan stopped talking. Raising his eyebrows, he fixed me with a questioning look. But all I wanted was for him to continue his story.

“Every single time I think you should ask questions, you don’t,” he said. “I’m sure you heard me say that the nagual Elias was a famous sorcerer who dealt with people daily in southern Mexico, and at the same time he was a hermit in northern Mexico. Doesn’t that arouse your curiosity?”

I felt abysmally stupid. I told him that the thought had crossed my mind, as he was telling me those facts, that the man must have had terrible difficulty commuting.

Don Juan laughed, and, since he had made me aware of the question, I asked how it had been possible for the nagual Elias to be in two places at once.

Dreaming is a sorcerer’s jet plane,” he said. “The nagual Elias was a dreamer as my benefactor was a stalker. He was able to create and project what sorcerers know as the dreaming body, or the Other, and to be in two distant places at the same time. With his dreaming body, he could carry on his business as a sorcerer, and with his natural self be a recluse.”

I remarked that it amazed me that I could accept so easily the premise that the nagual Elias had the ability to project a solid three-dimensional image of himself, and yet could not for the life of me understand the explanations about the abstract cores.

Don Juan said that I could accept the idea of the nagual Elias’s dual life because the spirit was making final adjustments in my capacity for awareness. And I exploded into a barrage of protests at the obscurity of his statement.

“It isn’t obscure,” he said. “It’s a statement of fact. You could say that it’s an incomprehensible fact for the moment, but the moment will change.”

Before I could reply, he began to talk again about the nagual Elias. He said that the nagual Elias had a very inquisitive mind and could work well with his hands. In his journeys as a dreamer he saw many objects, which he copied in wood and forged iron. Don Juan assured me that some of those models were of a haunting, exquisite beauty.

“What kind of objects were the originals?” I asked.

“There’s no way of knowing,” don Juan said. “You’ve got to consider that because he was an Indian the nagual Elias went into his dreaming journeys the way a wild animal prowls for food. An animal never shows up at a site when there are signs of activity. He comes only when no one is around. The nagual Elias, as a solitary dreamer, visited, let’s say, the junkyard of infinity, when no one was around – and copied whatever he saw, but never knew what those things were used for, or their source.”

Again, I had no trouble accepting what he was saying. The idea did not appear to me farfetched in any way. I was about to comment when he interrupted me with a gesture of his eyebrows. He then continued his account about the nagual Elias.

“Visiting him was for me the ultimate treat,” he said, “and simultaneously, a source of strange guilt. I used to get bored to death there. Not because the nagual Elias was boring, but because the nagual Julian had no peers and he spoiled anyone for life.”

“But I thought you were confident and at ease in the nagual Elias’s house,” I said.

“I was, and that was the source of my guilt and my imagined problem. Like you, I loved to torment myself. I think at the very beginning I found peace in the nagual Elias’s company, but later on, when I understood the nagual Julian better, I went his way.”

He told me that the nagual Elias’s house had an open, roofed section in the front, where he had a forge and a carpentry bench and tools. The tiled-roof adobe house consisted of a huge room with a dirt floor where he lived with five women seers, who were actually his wives. There were also four men, sorcerer-seers of his party who lived in small houses around the nagual’s house. They were all Indians from different parts of the country who had migrated to northern Mexico.

“The nagual Elias had great respect for sexual energy,” don Juan said. “He believed it has been given to us so we can use it in dreaming. He believed dreaming had fallen into disuse because it can upset the precarious mental balance of susceptible people.

“I’ve taught you dreaming the same way he taught me,” he continued. “He taught me that while we dream the assemblage point moves very gently and naturally. Mental balance is nothing but the fixing of the assemblage point on one spot we’re accustomed to. If dreams make that point move, and dreaming is used to control that natural movement, and sexual energy is needed for dreaming, the result is sometimes disastrous when sexual energy is dissipated in sex instead of dreaming. Then dreamers move their assemblage point erratically and lose their minds.”

“What are you trying to tell me, don Juan?” I asked because I felt that the subject of dreaming

had not been a natural drift in the conversation.

“You are a dreamer” he said. “If you’re not careful with your sexual energy, you might as well get used to the idea of erratic shifts of your assemblage point. A moment ago you were bewildered by your reactions. Well, your assemblage point moves almost erratically, because your sexual energy is not in balance.”

I made a stupid and inappropriate comment about the sex life of adult males.

”Our sexual energy is what governs dreaming,” he explained. “The nagual Elias taught me – and I taught you – that you either make love with your sexual energy or you dream with it. There is no other way. The reason I mention it at all is because you are having great difficulty shifting your assemblage point to grasp our last topic: the abstract.

“The same thing happened to me,” don Juan went on. “It was only when my sexual energy was freed from the world that everything fit into place. That is the rule for dreamers. Stalkers are the opposite. My benefactor was, you could say, a sexual libertine both as an average man and as a nagual.”

Don Juan seemed to be on the verge of revealing his benefactor’s doings, but he obviously changed his mind. He shook his head and said that I was way too stiff for such revelations. I did not insist.

He said that the nagual Elias had the sobriety that only dreamers acquired after inconceivable battles with themselves. He used his sobriety to plunge himself into the task of answering don Juan’s questions.

“The nagual Elias explained that my difficulty in understanding the spirit was the same as his own,” don Juan continued. “He thought there were two different issues. One, the need to understand indirectly what the spirit is, and the other, to understand the spirit directly.

“You’re having problems with the first. Once you understand what the spirit is, the second issue will be resolved automatically, and vice versa. If the spirit speaks to you, using its silent words, you will certainly know immediately what the spirit is.

He said that the nagual Elias believed that the difficulty was our reluctance to accept the idea that knowledge could exist without words to explain it.

“But I have no difficulty accepting that,” I said.

“Accepting this proposition is not as easy as saying you accept it,” don Juan said. “The nagual Elias used to tell me that the whole of humanity has moved away from the abstract, although at one time we must have been close to it. It must have been our sustaining force. And then something happened and pulled us away from the abstract. Now we can’t get back to it. He used to say that it takes years for an apprentice to be able to go back to the abstract, that is, to know that knowledge and language can exist independent of each other.”

Don Juan repeated that the crux of our difficulty in going back to the abstract was our refusal to accept that we could know without words or even without thoughts.

I was going to argue that he was talking nonsense when I got the strong feeling I was missing something and that his point was of crucial importance to me. He was really trying to tell me something, something I either could not grasp or which could not be told completely.

“Knowledge and language are separate,” he repeated softly.

And I was just about to say, “I know it,” as if indeed I knew it, when I caught myself.

“I told you there is no way to talk about the spirit,” he continued, “because the spirit can only be experienced. Sorcerers try to explain this condition when they say that the spirit is nothing you can see or feel. But it’s there looming over us always. Sometimes it comes to some of us. Most of the time it seems indifferent.”

I kept quiet. And he continued to explain. He said that the spirit in many ways was a sort of wild animal. It kept its distance from us until a moment when something enticed it forward. It was then that the spirit manifested itself.

I raised the point that if the spirit wasn’t an entity, or a presence, and had no essence, how could anyone entice it?

“Your problem,” he said, “is that you consider only your own idea of what’s abstract. For instance, the inner essence of man, or the fundamental principle, are abstracts for you. Or perhaps something a bit less vague, such as character, volition, courage, dignity, honor. The spirit, of course, can be described in terms of all of these. And that’s what’s so confusing – that it’s all these and none of them.”

He added that what I considered abstractions were either the opposites of all the practicalities I could think of or things I had decided did not have concrete existence.

“Whereas for a sorcerer an abstract is something with no parallel in the human condition,” he said.

“But they’re the same thing,” I shouted. “Don’t you see that we’re both talking about the same thing?”

“We are not,” he insisted. “For a sorcerer, the spirit is an abstract simply because he knows it without words or even thoughts. It’s an abstract because he can’t conceive what the spirit is. Yet without the slightest chance or desire to understand it, a sorcerer handles the spirit. He recognizes it, beckons it, entices it, becomes familiar with it, and expresses it with his acts.”

I shook my head in despair. I could not see the difference.

“The root of your misconception is that I have used the term “abstract” to describe the spirit,” he said. “For you, abstracts are words which describe states of intuition. An example is the word “spirit”, which doesn’t describe reason or pragmatic experience, and which, of course, is of no use to you other than to tickle your fancy.”

I was furious with don Juan. I called him obstinate and he laughed at me. He suggested that if I would think about the proposition that knowledge might be independent of language, without bothering to understand it, perhaps I could see the light.

“Consider this,” he said. “It was not the act of meeting me that mattered to you. The day I met you, you met the abstract. But since you couldn’t talk about it, you didn’t notice it. Sorcerers meet the abstract without thinking about it or seeing it or touching it or feeling its presence.”

I remained quiet because I did not enjoy arguing with him. At times I considered him to be quite willfully abstruse. But don Juan seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.

The Last Seduction Of Nagual Julian

It was as cool and quiet in the patio of don Juan’s house as in the cloister of a convent. There were a number of large fruit trees planted extremely close together, which seemed to regulate the temperature and absorb all noises. When I first came to his house, I had made critical remarks about the illogical way the fruit trees had been planted. I would have given them more space. His answer was that those trees were not his property, they were free and independent warrior trees that had joined his party of warriors, and that my comments – which applied to regular trees – were not relevant. His reply sounded metaphorical to me. What I didn’t know then was that don Juan meant everything he said literally.

Don Juan and I were sitting in cane armchairs facing the fruit trees now. The trees were all bearing fruit. I commented that it was not only a beautiful sight but an extremely intriguing one, for it was not the fruit season.

“There is an interesting story about it,” he admitted. “As you know, these trees are warriors of my party. They are bearing now because all the members of my party have been talking and expressing feelings about our definitive journey, here in front of them. And the trees know now that when we embark on our definitive journey, they will accompany us.”

I looked at him, astonished.

“I can’t leave them behind,” he explained. “They are warriors too. They have thrown their lot in with the nagual’s party. And they know how I feel about them. The assemblage point of trees is located very low in their enormous luminous shell, and that permits them to know our feelings, for instance, the feelings we are having now as we discuss my definitive journey.”

I remained quiet, for I did not want to dwell on the subject. Don Juan spoke and dispelled my mood.

“The second abstract core of the sorcery stories is called the Knock of the Spirit,” he said. “The first core, the Manifestations of the Spirit, is the edifice that intent builds and places before a sorcerer, then invites him to enter. It is the edifice of intent seen by a sorcerer. The Knock of the Spirit is the same edifice seen by the beginner who is invited – or rather forced – to enter.

“This second abstract core could be a story in itself. The story says that after the spirit had manifested itself to that man we have talked about and had gotten no response, the spirit laid a trap for the man. It was a final subterfuge, not because the man was special, but because the incomprehensible chain of events of the spirit made that man available at the very moment that the spirit knocked on the door.

“It goes without saying that whatever the spirit revealed to that man made no sense to him. In fact, it went against everything the man knew, everything he was. The man, of course, refused on the spot, and in no uncertain terms, to have anything to do with the spirit. He wasn’t going to fall for such preposterous nonsense. He knew better. The result was a total stalemate.

“I can say that this is an idiotic story,” he continued. “I can say that what I’ve given you is the pacifier for those who are uncomfortable with the silence of the abstract.”

He peered at me for a moment and then smiled.

“You like words,” he said accusingly. “The mere idea of silent knowledge scares you. But stories, no matter how stupid, delight you and make you feel secure.”

His smile was so mischievous that I couldn’t help laughing.

Then he reminded me that I had already heard his detailed account of the first time the spirit had knocked on his door. For a moment I could not figure out what he was talking about.

“It was not just my benefactor who stumbled upon me as I was dying from the gunshot,” he explained. “The spirit also found me and knocked on my door that day. My benefactor understood that he was there to be a conduit for the spirit. Without the spirit’s intervention, meeting my benefactor would have meant nothing.”

He said that a nagual can be a conduit only after the spirit has manifested its willingness to be used – either almost imperceptibly or with outright commands. It was therefore not possible for a nagual to choose his apprentices according to his own volition, or his own calculations. But once the willingness of the spirit was revealed through omens, the nagual spared no effort to satisfy it.

“After a lifetime of practice,” he continued, “sorcerers, naguals in particular, know if the spirit is inviting them to enter the edifice being flaunted before them. They have learned to discipline their connecting links to intent. So they are always forewarned, always know what the spirit has in store for them.”

Don Juan said that progress along the sorcerers’ path was, in general, a drastic process the purpose of which was to bring this connecting link to order. The average man’s connecting link with intent is practically dead, and sorcerers begin with a link that is useless, because it does not respond voluntarily.

He stressed that in order to revive that link sorcerers needed a rigorous, fierce purpose – a special state of mind called unbending intent. Accepting that the nagual was the only being capable of supplying unbending intent was the most difficult part of the sorcerer’s apprenticeship.

I argued that I could not see the difficulty.

“An apprentice is someone who is striving to clear and revive his connecting link with the spirit,” he explained. “Once the link is revived, he is no longer an apprentice, but until that time, in order to keep going he needs a fierce purpose, which, of course, he doesn’t have. So he allows the nagual to provide the purpose and to do that he has to relinquish his individuality. That’s the difficult part.”

He reminded me of something he had told me often: that volunteers were not welcome in the sorcerers’ world, because they already had a purpose of their own, which made it particularly hard for them to relinquish their individuality. If the sorcerers’ world demanded ideas and actions contrary to the volunteers’ purpose, the volunteers simply refused to change.

“Reviving an apprentice’s link is a nagual’s most challenging and intriguing work,” don Juan continued, “and one of his biggest headaches too. Depending, of course, on the apprentice’s personality, the designs of the spirit are either sublimely simple or the most complex labyrinths.”

Don Juan assured me that, although I might have had notions to the contrary, my apprenticeship had not been as onerous to him as his must have been to his benefactor. He admitted that I had a modicum of self-discipline that came in very handy, while he had had none whatever. And his benefactor, in turn, had had even less.

“The difference is discernible in the manifestations of the spirit,” he continued. “In some cases, they are barely noticeable; in my case, they were commands. I had been shot. Blood was pouring out of a hole in my chest. My benefactor had to act with speed and sureness, just as his own benefactor had for him. Sorcerers know that the more difficult the command is, the more difficult the disciple turns out to be.”

Don Juan explained that one of the most advantageous aspects of his association with two naguals was that he could hear the same stories from two opposite points of view. For instance, the story about the nagual Elias and the manifestations of the spirit, from the apprentice’s perspective, was the story of the spirit’s difficult knock on his benefactor’s door.

“Everything connected with my benefactor was very difficult,” he said and began to laugh.

“When he was twenty-four years old, the spirit didn’t just knock on his door, it nearly banged it down.”

He said that the story had really begun years earlier, when his benefactor had been a handsome adolescent from a good family in Mexico City. He was wealthy, educated, charming, and had a charismatic personality. Women fell in love with him at first sight. But he was already self-indulgent and undisciplined, lazy about anything that did not give him immediate gratification.

Don Juan said that with that personality and his type of upbringing – he was the only son of a wealthy widow who, together with his four adoring sisters, doted on him – he could only behave one way. He indulged in every impropriety he could think of. Even among his equally self-indulgent friends, he was seen as a moral delinquent who lived to do anything that the world considered morally wrong.

In the long run, his excesses weakened him physically and he fell mortally ill with tuberculosis – the dreaded disease of the time. But his illness, instead of restraining him, created a physical condition in which he felt more sensual than ever. Since he did not have one iota of self-control, he gave himself over fully to debauchery, and his health deteriorated until there was no hope.

The saying that it never rains but it pours was certainly true for don Juan’s benefactor then. As his health declined, his mother, who was his only source of support and the only restraint on him, died. She left him a sizable inheritance, which should have supported him adequately for life, but undisciplined as he was, in a few months he had spent every cent. With no profession or trade to fall back on, he was left to scrounge for a living.

Without money he no longer had friends; and even the women who once loved him turned their backs. For the first time in his life, he found himself confronting a harsh reality. Considering the state of his health, it should have been the end. But he was resilient. He decided to work for a living.

His sensual habits, however, could not be changed, and they forced him to seek work in the only place he felt comfortable: the theater. His qualifications were that he was a born ham and had spent most of his adult life in the company of actresses. He joined a theatrical troupe in the provinces, away from his familiar circle of friends and acquaintances, and became a very intense actor, the consumptive hero in religious and morality plays.

Don Juan commented on the strange irony that had always marked his benefactor’s life. There he was, a perfect reprobate, dying as a result of his dissolute ways and playing the roles of saints and mystics. He even played Jesus in the Passion Play during Holy Week.

His health lasted through one theatrical tour of the northern states. Then two things happened in the city of Durango: his life came to an end and the spirit knocked on his door. Both his death and the spirit’s knock came at the same time – in broad daylight in the bushes.

His death caught him in the act of seducing a young woman. He was already extremely weak, and that day he overexerted himself. The young woman, who was vivacious and strong and madly infatuated, had by promising to make love induced him to walk to a secluded spot miles from nowhere. And there she had fought him off for hours. When she finally submitted, he was completely worn out, and coughing so badly that he could hardly breathe.

During his last passionate outburst he felt a searing pain in his shoulder. His chest felt as if it were being ripped apart and a coughing spell made him retch uncontrollably. But his compulsion to seek pleasure kept him going until his death came in the form of a hemorrhage. It was then that the spirit made its entry, borne by an Indian who came to his aid. Earlier he had noticed the Indian following them around, but had not given him a second thought, absorbed as he was in the seduction.

He saw, as in a dream, the girl. She was not scared nor did she lose her composure. Quietly and efficiently she put her clothes back on and took off as fast as a rabbit chased by hounds. He also saw the Indian rushing to him trying to make him sit up. He heard him saying idiotic things. He heard him pledging himself to the spirit and mumbling incomprehensible words in a foreign language. Then the Indian acted very quickly. Standing behind him, he gave him a smacking blow on the back. Very rationally, the dying man deduced that the Indian was trying either to dislodge the blood clot or to kill him.

As the Indian struck him repeatedly on the back, the dying man became convinced that the Indian was the woman’s lover or husband and was murdering him. But seeing the intensely brilliant eyes of that Indian, he changed his mind. He knew that the Indian was simply crazy and was not connected with the woman. With his last bit of consciousness, he focused his attention on the man’s mumblings. What he was saying was that the power of man was incalculable, that death existed only because we had intended it since the moment of our birth, that the intent of death could be suspended by making the assemblage point change positions.

He then knew that the Indian was totally insane. His situation was so theatrical – dying at the hands of a crazy Indian mumbling gibberish – that he vowed he would be a ham actor to the bitter end, and he promised himself not to die of either the hemorrhaging or the blows, but to die of laughter. And he laughed until he was dead.

Don Juan remarked that naturally his benefactor could not possibly have taken the Indian seriously. No one could take such a person seriously, especially not a prospective apprentice who was not supposed to be volunteering for the sorcery task.

Don Juan then said that he had given me different versions of what that sorcery task consisted. He said it would not be presumptuous of him to disclose that, from the spirit’s point of view, the task consisted of clearing our connecting link with it. The edifice that intent flaunts before us is, then, a clearinghouse, within which we find not so much the procedures to clear our connecting link as the silent knowledge that allows the clearing process to take place. Without that silent knowledge no process could work, and all we would have would be an indefinite sense of needing something.

He explained that the events unleashed by sorcerers as a result of silent knowledge were so simple and yet so abstract that sorcerers had decided long ago to speak of those events only in symbolic terms. The manifestations and the knock of the spirit were examples.

Don Juan said that, for instance, a description of what took place during the initial meeting between a nagual and a prospective apprentice from the sorcerers’ point of view, would be absolutely incomprehensible. It would be nonsense to explain that the nagual, by virtue of his lifelong experience, was focusing something we couldn’t imagine, his second attention – the increased awareness gained through sorcery training – on his invisible connection with some indefinable abstract. He was doing this to emphasize and clarify someone else’s invisible connection with that indefinable abstract.

He remarked that each of us was barred from silent knowledge by natural barriers, specific to each individual; and that the most impregnable of my barriers was the drive to disguise my complacency as independence.

I challenged him to give me a concrete example. I reminded him that he had once warned me that a favorite debating ploy was to raise general criticisms that could not be supported by concrete examples. Don Juan looked at me and beamed.

“In the past, I used to give you power plants,” he said. “At first, you went to extremes to convince yourself that what you were experiencing were hallucinations. Then you wanted them to be special hallucinations. I remember I made fun of your insistence on calling them didactic hallucinatory experiences.”

He said that my need to prove my illusory independence forced me into a position where I could not accept what he had told me was happening, although it was what I silently knew for myself. I knew he was employing power plants, as the very limited tools they were, to make me enter partial or temporary states of heightened awareness by moving my assemblage point away from its habitual location.

“You used your barrier of independence to get you over that obstruction,” he went on. “The same barrier has continued to work to this day, so you still retain that sense of indefinite anguish, perhaps not so pronounced. Now the question is, how are you arranging your conclusions so that your current experiences fit into your scheme of complacency?”

I confessed that the only way I could maintain my independence was not to think about my experiences at all.

Don Juan’s hearty laugh nearly made him fall out of his cane chair. He stood and walked around to catch his breath. He sat down again and composed himself. He pushed his chair back and crossed his legs.

He said that we, as average men, did not know, nor would we ever know, that it was something utterly real and functional – our connecting link with intent – which gave us our hereditary preoccupation with fate. He asserted that during our active lives we never have the chance to go beyond the level of mere preoccupation, because since time immemorial the lull of daily affairs has made us drowsy. It is only when our lives are nearly over that our hereditary preoccupation with fate begins to take on a different character. It begins to make us see through the fog of daily affairs. Unfortunately, this awakening always comes hand in hand with loss of energy caused by aging, when we have no more strength left to turn our preoccupation into a pragmatic and positive discovery. At this point, all there is left is an amorphous, piercing anguish, a longing for something indescribable, and simple anger at having missed out.

“I like poems for many reasons,” he said. “One reason is that they catch the mood of warriors and explain what can hardly be explained.”

He conceded that poets were keenly aware of our connecting link with the spirit, but that they were aware of it intuitively, not in the deliberate, pragmatic way of sorcerers.

“Poets have no firsthand knowledge of the spirit,” he went on. “That is why their poems cannot really hit the center of true gestures for the spirit. They hit pretty close to it, though.”

He picked up one of my poetry books from a chair next to him, a collection by Juan Ramon Jimenez. He opened it to where he had placed a marker, handed it to me and signaled me to read.

Is it I who walks tonight in my room

or is it the beggar who was prowling in my garden at nightfall?

I look around and find that everything is the same

and it is not the same

Was the window open?

Had I not already fallen asleep?

Was not the garden pale green? . . .

The sly was clear and blue . . .

And there are clouds and it is windy

and the garden is dark and gloomy.

I think that my hair was black . . .

I was dressed in grey . . .

And my hair is grey

and I am wearing black . . .

Is this my gait?

Does this voice, which now resounds in me,

have the rhythms of the voice I used to have?

Am I myself or am I the beggar

who was prowling in my garden at nightfall?

I look around . . .

There are clouds and it is windy . . .

The garden is dark and gloomy . . .

I come and go . . .

Is it not true that I had already fallen asleep?

My hair is grey . . .

And everything is the same and it is not the same . . .

I reread the poem to myself and I caught the poet’s mood of impotence and bewilderment. I asked don Juan if he felt the same.

“I think the poet senses the pressure of aging and the anxiety that that realization produces,” don Juan said. “But that is only one part of it. The other part, which interests me, is that the poet, although he never moves his assemblage point, intuits that something extraordinary is at stake.

He intuits with great certainty that there is some unnamed factor, awesome because of its simplicity, that is determining our fate.”


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