Don Juan often took me and the rest of his apprentices on short trips to the western range nearby. On this occasion we left at dawn, and late in the afternoon, started back. I chose to walk with don Juan. To be close to him always soothed and relaxed me; but being with his volatile apprentices always produced in me the opposite effect: they made me feel very tired.
As we all came down from the mountains, don Juan and I made one stop before we reached the flatlands. An attack of profound melancholy came upon me with such speed and strength that all I could do was to sit down. Then, following don Juan’s suggestion, I lay on my stomach, on top of a large round boulder.
The rest of the apprentices taunted me and continued walking. I heard their laughter and yelling become faint in the distance. Don Juan urged me to relax and let my assemblage point, which he said had moved with sudden speed, settle into its new position.
“Don’t fret,” he advised me. “In a short while, you’ll feel a sort of tug, or a pat on your back, as if someone has touched you. Then you’ll be fine.”
The act of lying motionless on the boulder, waiting to feel the pat on my back, triggered a spontaneous recollection so intense and clear that I never noticed the pat I was expecting. I was sure, however, that I got it, because my melancholy indeed vanished instantly.
I quickly described what I was recollecting to don Juan. He suggested I stay on the boulder and move my assemblage point back to the exact place it was when I experienced the event that I was recalling.
“Get every detail of it,” he warned.
It had happened many years before. Don Juan and I had been at that time in the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico, in the high desert. I used to go there with him because it was an area rich in the medicinal herbs he collected. From an anthropological point of view that area also held a tremendous interest for me. Archaeologists had found, not too long before, the remains of what they concluded was a large, prehistoric trading post. They surmised that the trading post, strategically situated in a natural passway, had been the epicenter of commerce along a trade route which joined the American Southwest to southern Mexico and Central America.
The few times I had been in that flat, high desert had reinforced my conviction that archaeologists were right in their conclusions that it was a natural passkey. I, of course, had lectured don Juan on the influence of that passway in the prehistoric distribution of cultural traits on the North American continent. I was deeply interested at that time in explaining sorcery among the Indians of the American Southwest, Mexico, and Central America as a system of beliefs which had been transmitted along trade routes and which had served to create, at a certain, abstract level, a sort of pre-Columbian pan-Indianism.
Don Juan, naturally, laughed uproariously every time I expounded my theories.
The event that I recollected had begun in the midafternoon. After don Juan and I had gathered two small sacks of some extremely rare medicinal herbs, we took a break and sat down on top of some huge boulders. But before we headed back to where I had left my car, don Juan insisted on talking about the art of stalking. He said that the setting was the most adequate one for explaining its intricacies, but that in order to understand them I first had to enter into heightened awareness.
I demanded that before he do anything he explain to me again what heightened awareness really was.
Don Juan, displaying great patience, discussed heightened awareness in terms of the movement of the assemblage point. As he kept talking, I realized the facetiousness of my request. I knew everything he was telling me. I remarked that I did not really need anything explained, and he said that explanations were never wasted, because they were imprinted in us for immediate or later use or to help prepare our way to reaching silent knowledge.
When I asked him to talk about silent knowledge in more detail, he quickly responded that silent knowledge was a general position of the assemblage point, that ages ago it had been man’s normal position, but that, for reasons which would be impossible to determine, man’s assemblage point had moved away from that specific location and adopted a new one called “reason.”
Don Juan remarked that not every human being was a representative of this new position. The assemblage points of the majority of us were not placed squarely on the location of reason itself, but in its immediate vicinity. The same thing had been the case with silent knowledge: not every human being’s assemblage point had been squarely on that location either.
He also said that “the place of no pity,” being another position of the assemblage point, was the forerunner of silent knowledge, and that yet another position of the assemblage point called “the place of concern,” was the forerunner of reason.
I found nothing obscure about those cryptic remarks. To me they were self-explanatory. I understood everything he said while I waited for his usual blow to my shoulder blades to make me enter into heightened awareness. But the blow never came, and I kept on understanding what he was saying without really being aware that I understood anything. The feeling of ease, of taking things for granted, proper to my normal consciousness, remained with me, and I did not question my capacity to understand.
Don Juan looked at me fixedly and recommended that I lie face down on top of a round boulder with my arms and legs spread like a frog. I lay there for about ten minutes, thoroughly relaxed, almost asleep, until I was jolted out of my slumber by a soft, sustained hissing growl. I raised my head, looked up, and my hair stood on end. A gigantic, dark jaguar was squatting on a boulder, scarcely ten feet from me, right above where don Juan was sitting. The jaguar, its fangs showing, was glaring straight at me. He seemed ready to jump on me,
“Don’t move!” don Juan ordered me softly. “And don’t look at his eyes. Stare at his nose and don’t blink. Your life depends on your stare.”
I did what he told me. The jaguar and I stared at each other for a moment until don Juan broke the standoff by hurling his hat, like a frisbee, at the jaguar’s head. The jaguar jumped back to avoid being hit, and don Juan let out a loud, prolonged, and piercing whistle. He then yelled at the top of his voice and clapped his hands two or three times. It sounded like muffled gunshots.
Don Juan signaled me to come down from the boulder and join him. The two of us yelled and clapped our hands until he decided we had scared the jaguar away.
My body was shaking, yet I was not frightened. I told don Juan that what had caused me the greatest fear had not been the cat’s sudden growl or his stare, but the certainty that the jaguar had been staring at me long before I had heard him and lifted my head.
Don Juan did not say a word about the experience. He was deep in thought. When I began to ask him if he had seen the jaguar before I had, he made an imperious gesture to quiet me. He gave me the impression he was ill at ease or even confused.
After a moment’s silence, don Juan signaled me to start walking. He took the lead. We walked away from the rocks, zigzagging at a fast pace through the bush. After about half an hour we reached a clearing in the chaparral where we stopped to rest for a moment. We had not said a single word and I was eager to know what don Juan was thinking.
“Why are we walking in this pattern?” I asked. “Wouldn’t it be better to make a beeline out of here, and fast?”
“No!” he said emphatically. “It wouldn’t be any good. That one is a male jaguar. He’s hungry and he’s going to come after us.”
“All the more reason to get out of here fast,” I insisted.
“It’s not so easy,” he said. “That jaguar is not encumbered by reason. He’ll know exactly what to do to get us. And, as sure as I am talking to you, he’ll read our thoughts.”
“What do you mean, the jaguar reading our thoughts?” I asked.
“That is no metaphorical statement,” he said. “I mean what I say. Big animals like that have the capacity to read thoughts. And I don’t mean guess. I mean that they know everything directly.”
“What can we do then?” I asked, truly alarmed.
“We ought to become less rational and try to win the battle by making it impossible for the jaguar to read us,” he replied.
“How would being less rational help us?” I asked.
“Reason makes us choose what seems sound to the mind,” he said. “For instance, your reason already told you to run as fast as you can in a straight line. What your reason failed to consider is that we would have had to run about six miles before reaching the safety of your car. And the jaguar will outrun us. He’ll cut in front of us and be waiting in the most appropriate place to jump us.”
“A better but less rational choice is to zigzag.”
“How do you know that it’s better, don Juan?” I asked.
“I know it because my connection to the spirit is very clear,” he replied. “That is to say, my assemblage point is at the place of silent knowledge. From there I can discern that this is a hungry jaguar, but not one that has already eaten humans. And he’s baffled by our actions. If we zigzag now, the jaguar will have to make an effort to anticipate us.”
“Are there any other choices beside zigzagging?” I asked.
“There are only rational choices,” he said. “And we don’t have all the equipment we need to back up rational choices. For example, we can head for the high ground, but we would need a gun to hold it.
“We must match the jaguar’s choices. Those choices are dictated by silent knowledge. We must do what silent knowledge tells us, regardless of how unreasonable it may seem.”
He began his zigzagging trot. I followed him very closely, but I had no confidence that running like that would save us. I was having a delayed panic reaction. The thought of the dark, looming shape of the enormous cat obsessed me.
The desert chaparral consisted of tall, ragged bushes spaced four or five feet apart. The limited rainfall in the high desert did not allow the growth of plants with thick foliage or of dense underbrush. Yet the visual effect of the chaparral was of thickness and impenetrable growth.
Don Juan moved with extraordinary nimbleness and I followed as best as I could. He suggested that I watch where I stepped and make less noise. He said that the sound of branches cracking under my weight was a dead giveaway.
I deliberately tried to step in don Juan’s tracks to avoid breaking dry branches. We zigzagged about a hundred yards in this manner before I caught sight of the jaguar’s enormous dark mass no more than thirty feet behind me.
I yelled at the top of my voice. Without stopping, don Juan turned around quickly enough to see the big cat move out of sight. Don Juan let out another piercing whistle and kept clapping his hands, imitating the sound of muffled gunshots.
In a very low voice he said that cats did not like to go uphill and so we were going to cross, at top speed, the wide and deep ravine a few yards to my right. He gave a signal to go and we thrashed through the bushes as fast as we could. We slid down one side of the ravine, reached the bottom, and rushed up the other side. From there we had a clear view of the slope, the bottom of the ravine, and the level ground where we had been. Don Juan whispered that the jaguar was following our scent, and that if we were lucky we would see him running to the bottom of the ravine, close to our tracks.
Gazing fixedly at the ravine below us, I waited anxiously to catch a glimpse of the animal. But I did not see him. I was beginning to think the jaguar might have run away when I heard the frightening growling of the big cat in the chaparral just behind us. I had the chilling realization that don Juan had been right. To get to where he was, the jaguar must have read our thoughts and crossed the ravine before we had.
Without uttering a single word, don Juan began running at a formidable speed. I followed and we zigzagged for quite a while. I was totally out of breath when we stopped to rest.
The fear of being chased by the jaguar had not, however, prevented me from admiring don Juan’s superb physical prowess. He had run as if he were a young man. I began to tell him that he had reminded me of someone in my childhood who had impressed me deeply with his running ability, but he signaled me to stop talking. He listened attentively and so did I.
I heard a soft rustling in the underbrush, right ahead of us. And then the black silhouette of the jaguar was visible for an instant at a spot in the chaparral perhaps fifty yards from us. Don Juan shrugged his shoulders and pointed in the direction of the animal.
“It looks like we’re not going to shake him off,” he said with a tone of resignation. “Let’s walk calmly, as if we were taking a nice stroll in the park, and you tell me the story of your childhood. This is the right time and the right setting for it. A jaguar is after us with a ravenous appetite, and you are reminiscing about your past: the perfect not-doing for being chased by a jaguar.”
He laughed loudly. But when I told him I had completely lost interest in telling the story, he doubled up with laughter.
“You are punishing me now for not wanting to listen to you, aren’t you?” he asked.
And I, of course, began to defend myself. I told him his accusation was definitely absurd. I really had lost the thread of the story.
“If a sorcerer doesn’t have self-importance, he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about having lost the thread of a story,” he said with a malicious shine in his eyes. “Since you don’t have any self-importance left, you should tell your story now. Tell it to the spirit, to the jaguar, and to me, as if you hadn’t lost the thread at all.”
I wanted to tell him that I did not feel like complying with his wishes, because the story was too stupid and the setting was overwhelming. I wanted to pick the appropriate setting for it, some other time, as he himself did with his stories.
Before I voiced my opinions, he answered me.
“Both the jaguar and I can read thoughts,” he said, smiling. “If I choose the proper setting and time for my sorcery stories, it’s because they are for teaching and I want to get the maximum effect from them.”
He signaled me to start walking. We walked calmly, side by side. I said I had admired his running and his stamina, and that a bit of self-importance was at the core of my admiration, because I considered myself a good runner.
Then I told him the story from my childhood I had remembered when I saw him running so well. I told him I had played soccer as a boy and had run extremely well. In fact, I was so agile and fast that I felt I could commit any prank with impunity because I would be able to outrun anyone chasing me, especially the old policemen who patrolled the streets of my hometown on foot. If I broke a street light or something of the sort, all I had to do was to take off running and I was safe.
But one day, unbeknownst to me, the old policemen were replaced by a new police corps with military training. The disastrous moment came when I broke a window in a store and ran, confident that my speed was my safeguard. A young policeman took off after me. I ran as I had never run before, but it was to no avail. The officer, who was a crack center forward on the police soccer team, had more speed and stamina than my ten-year-old body could manage. He caught me and kicked me all the way back to the store with the broken window. Very artfully he named off all his kicks, as if he were training on a soccer field. He did not hurt me, he only scared me spitless, yet my intense humiliation was tempered by a ten-year-old’s admiration for his prowess and his talent as a soccer player.
I told don Juan that I had felt the same with him that day. He was able to outrun me in spite of our age difference and my old proclivity for speedy getaways. I also told him that for years I had been having a recurrent dream in which I ran so well that the young policeman was no longer able to overtake me.
“Your story is more important than I thought,” don Juan commented. “I thought it was going to be a story about your mama spanking you.”
The way he emphasized his words made his statement very funny and very mocking. He added that at certain times it was the spirit, and not our reason, which decided on our stories. This was one of those times. The spirit had triggered this particular story in my mind, doubtlessly because the story was concerned with my indestructible self-importance. He said that the torch of anger and humiliation had burned in me for years, and my feelings of failure and dejection were still intact.
“A psychologist would have a field day with your story and its present context,” he went on. “In your mind, I must be identified with the young policeman who shattered your notion of invincibility.”
Now that he mentioned it, I had to admit that that had been my feeling, although I would not consciously have thought of it, much less voiced it.
We walked in silence. I was so touched by his analogy that I completely forgot the jaguar stalking us, until a wild growl reminded me of our situation.
Don Juan directed me to jump up and down on the long, low branches of the shrubs and break off a couple of them to make a sort of long broom. He did the same. As we ran, we used them to raise a cloud of dust, stirring and kicking the dry, sandy dirt.
“That ought to worry the jaguar,” he said when we stopped again to catch our breath. “We have only a few hours of daylight left. At night the jaguar is unbeatable, so we had better start running straight toward those rocky hills.”
He pointed to some hills in the distance, perhaps half a mile south.
“We’ve got to go east,” I said. “Those hills are too far south. If we go that way, we’ll never get to my car.”
“We won’t get to your car today, anyway,” he said calmly. “And perhaps not tomorrow either. Who is to say we’ll ever get back to it?”
I felt a pang of fear, and then a strange peace took possession of me. I told don Juan that if death was going to take me in that desert chaparral I hoped it would be painless.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Death is painful only when it happens in one’s bed, in sickness. In a fight for your life, you feel no pain. If you feel anything, it’s exultation.”
He said that one of the most dramatic differences between civilized men and sorcerers was the way in which death came to them. Only with sorcerer-warriors was death kind and sweet. They could be mortally wounded and yet would feel no pain. And what was even more extraordinary was that death held itself in abeyance for as long as the sorcerers needed it to do so.
“The greatest difference between an average man and a sorcerer is that a sorcerer commands his death with his speed,” don Juan went on. “If it comes to that, the jaguar will not eat me. He’ll eat you, because you don’t have the speed to hold back your death.”
He then elaborated on the intricacies of the sorcerers’ idea of speed and death. He said that in the world of everyday life our word or our decisions could be reversed very easily. The only irrevocable thing in our world was death. In the sorcerers’ world, on the other hand, normal death could be countermanded, but not the sorcerers’ word. In the sorcerers’ world decisions could not be changed or revised. Once they had been made, they stood forever.
I told him his statements, impressive as they were, could not convince me that death could be revoked. And he explained once more what he had explained before. He said that for a seer human beings were either oblong or spherical luminous masses of countless, static, yet vibrant fields of energy, and that only sorcerers were capable of injecting movement into those spheres of static luminosity. In a millisecond they could move their assemblage points to any place in their luminous mass. That movement and the speed with which it was performed entailed an instantaneous shift into the perception of another totally different universe. Or they could move their assemblage points, without stopping, across their entire fields of luminous energy. The force created by such movement was so intense that it instantly consumed their whole luminous mass.
He said that if a rockslide were to come crashing down on us at that precise moment, he would be able to cancel the normal effect of an accidental death. By using the speed with which his assemblage point would move, he could make himself change universes or make himself burn from within in a fraction of a second. I, on the other hand, would die a normal death, crushed by the rocks, because my assemblage point lacked the speed to pull me out.
I said it seemed to me that the sorcerers had just found an alternative way of dying, which was not the same as a cancellation of death. And he replied that all he had said was that sorcerers commanded their deaths. They died only when they had to.
Although I did not doubt what he was saying, I kept asking questions, almost as a game. But while he was talking, thoughts and unanchored memories about other perceivable universes were forming in my mind, as if on a screen.
I told don Juan I was thinking strange thoughts. He laughed and recommended I stick to the jaguar, because he was so real that he could only be a true manifestation of the spirit. The idea of how real the animal was made me shudder.
“Wouldn’t it be better if we changed direction instead of heading straight for the hills?” I asked.
I thought that we could create a certain confusion in the jaguar with an unexpected change.
“It’s too late to change direction,” don Juan said. “The jaguar already knows that there is no place for us to go but the hills.”
“That can’t be true, don Juan!” I exclaimed.
“Why not?” he asked.
I told him that although I could attest to the animal’s ability to be one jump ahead of us, I could not quite accept that the jaguar had the foresight to figure out where we wanted to go.
“Your error is to think of the jaguar’s power in terms of his capacity to figure things out,” he said. “He can’t think. He only knows.”
Don Juan said that our dust-raising maneuver was to confuse the jaguar by giving him sensory input on something for which we had no use. We could not develop a real feeling for raising dust though our lives depended on it.
“I truly don’t understand what you are saying,” I whined. Tension was taking its toll on me. I was having a hard time concentrating.
Don Juan explained that human feelings were like hot or cold currents of air and could easily be detected by a beast. We were the senders, the jaguar was the receiver. Whatever feelings we had would find their way to the jaguar. Or rather, the jaguar could read any feelings that had a history of use for us. In the case of the dust-raising maneuver, the feeling we had about it was so out of the ordinary that it could only create a vacuum in the receiver.
“Another maneuver silent knowledge might dictate would be to kick up dirt,” don Juan said. He looked at me for an instant as if he were waiting for my reactions.
“We are going to walk very calmly now,” he said. “And you are going to kick up dirt as if you were a ten-foot giant.”
I must have had a stupid expression on my face. Don Juan’s body shook with laughter.
“Raise a cloud of dust with your feet,” he ordered me. “Feel huge and heavy.”
I tried it and immediately had a sense of massiveness. In a joking tone, I commented that his power of suggestion was incredible. I actually felt gigantic and ferocious. He assured me that my feeling of size was not in any way the product of his suggestion, but the product of a shift of my assemblage point.
He said that men of antiquity became legendary because they knew by silent knowledge about the power to be obtained by moving the assemblage point. On a reduced scale sorcerers had recaptured that old power. With a movement of their assemblage points they could manipulate their feelings and change things. I was changing things by feeling big and ferocious. Feelings processed in that fashion were called intent.
“Your assemblage point has already moved quite a bit,” he went on. “Now you are in the position of either losing your gain or making your assemblage point move beyond the place where it is now.”
He said that possibly every human being under normal living conditions had had at one time or another the opportunity to break away from the bindings of convention. He stressed that he did not mean social convention, but the conventions binding our perception. A moment of elation would suffice to move our assemblage points and break our conventions. So, too, a moment of fright, ill health, anger, or grief. But ordinarily, whenever we had the chance to move our assemblage points we became frightened. Our religious, academic, social backgrounds would come into play. They would assure our safe return to the flock; the return of our assemblage points to the prescribed position of normal living.
He told me that all the mystics and spiritual teachers I knew of had done just that: their assemblage points moved, either through discipline or accident, to a certain point; and then they returned to normalcy carrying a memory that lasted them a lifetime.
“You can be a very pious, good boy,” he went on, “and forget about the initial movement of your assemblage point. Or you can push beyond your reasonable limits. You are still within those limits.”
I knew what he was talking about, yet there was a strange hesitation in me making me vacillate.
Don Juan pushed his argument further. He said that the average man, incapable of finding the energy to perceive beyond his daily limits, called the realm of extraordinary perception sorcery, witchcraft, or the work of the devil, and shied away from it without examining it further.
“But you can’t do that anymore,” don Juan went on. “You are not religious and you are much too curious to discard anything so easily. The only thing that could stop you now is cowardice.
“Turn everything into what it really is: the abstract, the spirit, the nagual. There is no witchcraft, no evil, no devil. There is only perception.”
I understood him. But I could not tell exactly what he wanted me to do. I looked at don Juan, trying to find the most appropriate words. I seemed to have entered into an extremely functional frame of mind and did not want to waste a single word.
“Be gigantic!” he ordered me, smiling. “Do away with reason.”
Then I knew exactly what he meant. In fact, I knew that I could increase the intensity of my feelings of size and ferociousness until I actually could be a giant, hovering over the shrubs, seeing all around us.
I tried to voice my thoughts but quickly gave up. I became aware that don Juan knew all I wasmthinking, and obviously much, much more.
And then something extraordinary happened to me. My reasoning faculties ceased to function. Literally, I felt as though a dark blanket had covered me and obscured my thoughts. And I let go of my reason with the abandon of one who doesn’t have a worry in the world. I was convinced that if I wanted to dispel the obscuring blanket, all I had to do was feel myself breaking through it.
In that state, I felt I was being propelled, set in motion. Something was making me move physically from one place to another. I did not experience any fatigue. The speed and ease with which I could move elated me.
I did not feel I was walking; I was not flying either. Rather I was being transported with extreme facility. My movements became jerky and ungraceful only when I tried to think about them. When I enjoyed them without thought, I entered into a unique state of physical elation for which I had no precedent. If I had had instances of that kind of physical happiness in my life, they must have been so short-lived that they had left no memory. Yet when I experienced that ecstasyI felt a vague recognition, as if I had once known it but had forgotten.
The exhilaration of moving through the chaparral was so intense that everything else ceased. The only things that existed for me were those periods of exhilaration and then the moments when I would stop moving and find myself facing the chaparral.
But even more inexplicable was the total bodily sensation of looming over the bushes which I had had since the instant I started to be moved.
At one moment, I clearly saw the figure of the jaguar up ahead of me. He was running away as fast as he could. I felt that he was trying to avoid the spines of the cactuses. He was being extremely careful about where he stepped.
I had the overwhelming urge to run after the jaguar and scare him into losing his caution. I knew that he would get pricked by the spines. A thought then erupted in my silent mind – I thought that the jaguar would be a more dangerous animal if he was hurt by the spines. That thought produced the same effect as someone waking me from a dream.
When I became aware that my thinking processes were functioning again, I found that I was at the base of a low range of rocky hills. I looked around. Don Juan was a few feet away. He seemed exhausted. He was pale and breathing very hard.
“What happened, don Juan?” I asked, after clearing my raspy throat.
“You tell me what happened,” he gasped between breaths.
I told him what I had felt. Then I realized that I could barely see the top of the mountain directly in my line of vision. There was very little daylight left, which meant I had been running, or walking, for more than two hours.
I asked don Juan to explain the time discrepancy. He said that my assemblage point had moved beyond the place of no pity into the place of silent knowledge, but that I still lacked the energy to manipulate it myself. To manipulate it myself meant I would have to have enough energy to move between reason and silent knowledge at will. He added that if a sorcerer had enough energy – or even if he did not have sufficient energy but needed to shift because it was a matter of life and death – he could fluctuate between reason and silent knowledge.
His conclusions about me were that because of the seriousness of our situation, I had let the spirit move my assemblage point. The result had been my entering into silent knowledge. Naturally, the scope of my perception had increased, which gave me the feeling of height, of looming over the bushes.
At that time, because of my academic training, I was passionately interested in validation by consensus. I asked him my standard question of those days.
“If someone from UCLA’s Anthropology Department had been watching me, would he have seen me as a giant thrashing through the chaparral?”
“I really don’t know,” don Juan said. “The way to find out would be to move your assemblage point when you are in the Department of Anthropology.”
“I have tried,” I said. “But nothing ever happens. I must need to have you around for anything to take place.”
“It was not a matter of life and death for you then,” he said. “If it had been, you would have moved your assemblage point all by yourself.”
“But would people see what I see when my assemblage point moves?” I insisted.
“No, because their assemblage points won’t be in the same place as yours,” he replied.
“Then, don Juan, did I dream the jaguar?” I asked. “Did all of it happen only in my mind?”
“Not quite,” he said. “That big cat is real. You have moved miles and you are not even tired. If you are in doubt, look at your shoes. They are full of cactus spines. So you did move, looming over the shrubs. And at the same time you didn’t. It depends on whether one’s assemblage point is on the place of reason or on the place of silent knowledge.”
I understood everything he was saying while he said it, but could not repeat any part of it at will. Nor could I determine what it was I knew, or why he was making so much sense to me.
The growl of the jaguar brought me back to the reality of the immediate danger. I caught sight of the jaguar’s dark mass as he swiftly moved uphill about thirty yards to our right.
“What are we going to do, don Juan?” I asked, knowing that he had also seen the animal moving ahead of us.
“Keep climbing to the very top and seek shelter there,” he said calmly.
Then he added, as if he had not a single worry in the world, that I had wasted valuable time indulging in my pleasure at looming over the bushes. Instead of heading for the safety of the hills he had pointed out, I had taken off toward the easterly higher mountains.
“We must reach that scarp before the jaguar or we don’t have a chance,” he said, pointing to the nearly vertical face at the very top of the mountain.
I turned right and saw the jaguar leaping from rock to rock. He was definitely working his way over to cut us off.
“Let’s go, don Juan!” I yelled out of nervousness.
Don Juan smiled. He seemed to be enjoying my fear and impatience. We moved as fast as we could and climbed steadily. I tried not to pay attention to the dark form of the jaguar as it appeared from time to time a bit ahead of us and always to our right.
The three of us reached the base of the escarpment at the same time. The jaguar was about twenty yards to our right. He jumped and tried to climb the face of the cliff, but failed. The rock wall was too steep.
Don Juan yelled that I should not waste time watching the jaguar, because he would charge as soon as he gave up trying to climb. No sooner had don Juan spoken than the animal charged.
There was no time for further urging. I scrambled up the rock wall followed by don Juan. The shrill scream of the frustrated beast sounded right by the heel of my right foot. The propelling
force of fear sent me up the slick scarp as if I were a fly.
I reached the top before don Juan, who had stopped to laugh.
Safe at the top of the cliff, I had more time to think about what had happened. Don Juan did not want to discuss anything. He argued that at this stage in my development, any movement of my assemblage point would still be a mystery. My challenge at the beginning of my apprenticeship was, he said, maintaining my gains, rather than reasoning them out – and that at some point everything would make sense to me.
I told him everything made sense to me at that moment. But he was adamant that I had to be able to explain knowledge to myself before I could claim that it made sense to me. He insisted that for a movement of my assemblage point to make sense, I would need to have energy to fluctuate from the place of reason to the place of silent knowledge.
He stayed quiet for a while, sweeping my entire body with his stare. Then he seemed to make up his mind and smiled and began to speak again.
“Today you reached the place of silent knowledge,” he said with finality.
He explained that that afternoon, my assemblage point had moved by itself, without his intervention. I had intended the movement by manipulating my feeling of being gigantic, and in so doing my assemblage point had reached the position of silent knowledge.
I was very curious to hear how don Juan interpreted my experience. He said that one way to talk about the perception attained in the place of silent knowledge was to call it “here and here.”
He explained that when I had told him I had felt myself looming over the desert chaparral, I should have added that I was seeing the desert floor and the top of the shrubs at the same time. Or that I had been at the place where I stood and at the same time at the place where the jaguar was.
Thus I had been able to notice how carefully he stepped to avoid the cactus spines. In other words, instead of perceiving the normal here and there, I had perceived “here and here.”
His comments frightened me. He was right. I had not mentioned that to him, nor had I admitted even to myself that I had been in two places at once. I would not have dared to think in those terms had it not been for his comments.
He repeated that I needed more time and more energy to make sense of everything. I was too new; I still required a great deal of supervision. For instance, while I was looming over the shrubs, he had to make his assemblage point fluctuate rapidly between the places of reason and silent knowledge to take care of me. And that had exhausted him.
“Tell me one thing,” I said, testing his reasonableness. “That jaguar was stranger than you want to admit, wasn’t it? Jaguars are not part of the fauna of this area. Pumas, yes, but not jaguars. How do you explain that?”
Before answering, he puckered his face. He was suddenly very serious.
“I think that this particular jaguar confirms your anthropological theories,” he said in a solemn tone. “Obviously, the jaguar was following this famous trade route connecting Chihuahua with Central America.”
Don Juan laughed so hard that the sound of his laughter echoed in the mountains. That echo disturbed me as much as the jaguar had. Yet it was not the echo itself which disturbed me, but the fact that I had never heard an echo at night. Echoes were, in my mind, associated only with the daytime.
It had taken me several hours to recall all the details of my experience with the jaguar. During that time, don Juan had not talked to me. He had simply propped himself against a rock and gone to sleep in a sitting position. After a while I no longer noticed that he was there, and finally I fell asleep.
I was awakened by a pain in my jaw. I had been sleeping with the side of my face pressed against a rock. The moment I opened my eyes, I tried to slide down off the boulder on which I had been lying, but lost my balance and fell noisily on my seat. Don Juan appeared from behind some bushes just in time to laugh.
It was getting late and I wondered aloud if we had enough time to get to the valley before nightfall. Don Juan shrugged his shoulders and did not seem concerned. He sat down beside me.
I asked him if he wanted to hear the details of my recollection. He indicated that it was fine with him, yet he did not ask me any questions. I thought he was leaving it up to me to start, so I told him there were three points I remembered which were of great importance to me. One was that he had talked about silent knowledge; another was that I had moved my assemblage point using intent; and the final point was that I had entered into heightened awareness without requiring a blow between my shoulder blades.
“Intending the movement of your assemblage point was your greatest accomplishment,” don Juan said. “But accomplishment is something personal. It’s necessary, but it’s not the important part. It is not the residue sorcerers look forward to.”
I thought I knew what he wanted. I told him that I hadn’t totally forgotten the event. What had remained with me in my normal state of awareness was that a mountain lion – since I could not accept the idea of a jaguar – had chased us up a mountain, and that don Juan had asked me if I had felt offended by the big cat’s onslaught. I had assured him that it was absurd that I could feel offended, and he had told me I should feel the same way about the onslaughts of my fellow men.
I should protect myself, or get out of their way, but without feeling morally wronged.
“That is not the residue I am talking about,” he said, laughing. “The idea of the abstract, the spirit, is the only residue that is important. The idea of the personal self has no value whatsoever. You still put yourself and your own feelings first. Every time I’ve had the chance, I have made you aware of the need to abstract. You have always believed that I meant to think abstractly. No. To abstract means to make yourself available to the spirit by being aware of it.”
He said that one of the most dramatic things about the human condition was the macabre connection between stupidity and self-reflection.
It was stupidity that forced us to discard anything that did not conform with our self-reflective expectations. For example, as average men, we were blind to the most crucial piece of knowledge available to a human being: the existence of the assemblage point and the fact that it could move.
“For a rational man it’s unthinkable that there should be an invisible point where perception is assembled,” he went on. “And yet more unthinkable, that such a point is not in the brain, as he might vaguely expect if he were given to entertaining the thought of its existence.”
He added that for the rational man to hold steadfastly to his self-image insured his abysmal ignorance. He ignored, for instance, the fact that sorcery was not incantations and hocus-pocus, but the freedom to perceive not only the world taken for granted, but every thing else that was humanly possible.
“Here is where the average man’s stupidity is most dangerous,” he continued. “He is afraid of sorcery. He trembles at the possibility of freedom. And freedom is at his fingertips. It’s called the third point. And it can be reached as easily as the assemblage point can be made to move.”
“But you yourself told me that moving the assemblage point is so difficult that it is a true accomplishment,” I protested.
“It is,” he assured me. “This is another of the sorcerers’ contradictions: it’s very difficult and yet it’s the simplest thing in the world. I’ve told you already that a high fever could move the assemblage point. Hunger or fear or love or hate could do it; mysticism too, and also unbending intent, which is the preferred method of sorcerers.”
I asked him to explain again what unbending intent was.
He said that it was a sort of single-mindedness human beings exhibit; an extremely well-defined purpose not countermanded by any conflicting interests or desires; unbending intent was also the force engendered when the assemblage point was maintained fixed in a position which was not the usual one.
Don Juan then made a meaningful distinction – which had eluded me all these years – between a movement and a shift of the assemblage point. A movement, he said, was a profound change of position, so extreme that the assemblage point might even reach other bands of energy within our total luminous mass of energy fields. Each band of energy represented a completely different universe to be perceived. A shift, however, was a small movement within the band of energy fields we perceived as the world of everyday life.
He went on to say that sorcerers saw unbending intent as the catalyst to trigger their unchangeable decisions, or as the converse: their unchangeable decisions were the catalyst that propelled their assemblage points to new positions, positions which in turn generated unbending intent.
I must have looked dumbfounded. Don Juan laughed and said that trying to reason out the sorcerers’ metaphorical descriptions was as useless as trying to reason out silent knowledge. He added that the problem with words was that any attempt to clarify the sorcerers’ description only made them more confusing.
I urged him to try to clarify this in any way he could. I argued that anything he could say, for instance, about the third point could only clarify it, for although I knew everything about it, it was still very confusing.
“The world of daily life consists of two points of reference,” he said. “We have for example, here and there, in and out, up and down, good and evil, and so on and so forth. So, properly speaking, our perception of our lives is two-dimensional. None of what we perceive ourselves doing has depth.”
I protested that he was mixing levels. I told him that I could accept his definition of perception as the capacity of living beings to apprehend with their senses fields of energy selected by their assemblage points – a very farfetched definition by my academic standards, but one that, at the moment, seemed cogent. However, I could not imagine what the depth of what we did might be. I argued that it was possible he was talking about interpretations – elaborations of our basic perceptions.
“A sorcerer perceives his actions with depth,” he said. “His actions are tridimensional for him. They have a third point of reference.”
“How could a third point of reference exist?” I asked with a tinge of annoyance.
“Our points of reference are obtained primarily from our sense perception,” he said. “Our senses perceive and differentiate what is immediate to us from what is not. Using that basic distinction we derive the rest.
“In order to reach the third point of reference one must perceive two places at once.”
My recollecting had put me in a strange mood – it was as if I had lived the experience just a few minutes earlier. I was suddenly aware of something I had completely missed before. Under don Juan’s supervision, I had twice before experienced that divided perception, but this was the first time I had accomplished it all by myself.
Thinking about my recollection, I also realized that my sensory experience was more complex than I had at first thought. During the time I had loomed over the bushes, I had been aware – without words or even thoughts – that being in two places, or being “here and here” as don Juan had called it, rendered my perception immediate and complete at both places. But I had also been aware that my double perception lacked the total clarity of normal perception.
Don Juan explained that normal perception had an axis. “Here and there” were the perimeters of that axis, and we were partial to the clarity of “here.” He said that in normal perception, only “here” was perceived completely, instantaneously, and directly. Its twin referent, “there,” lacked immediacy. It was inferred, deduced, expected, even assumed, but it was not apprehended directly with all the senses. When we perceived two places at once, total clarity was lost, but the immediate perception of “there” was gained.
“But then, don Juan, I was right in describing my perception as the important part of my experience,” I said.
“No, you were not,” he said. “What you experienced was vital to you, because it opened the road to silent knowledge, but the important thing was the jaguar. That jaguar was indeed a manifestation of the spirit.
“That big cat came unnoticed out of nowhere. And he could have finished us off as surely as I am talking to you. That jaguar was an expression of magic. Without him you would have had no elation, no lesson, no realizations.”
“But was he a real jaguar?” I asked.
“You bet he was real!”
Don Juan observed that for an average man that big cat would have been a frightening oddity. An average man would have been hard put to explain in reasonable terms what that jaguar was doing in Chihuahua, so far from a tropical jungle. But a sorcerer, because he had a connecting link with intent, saw that jaguar as a vehicle to perceiving – not an oddity, but a source of awe.
There were a lot of questions I wanted to ask, and yet I knew the answers before I could articulate the questions. I followed the course of my own questions and answers for a while, until finally I realized it did not matter that I silently knew the answers; answers had to be verbalized to be of any value.
I voiced the first question that came to mind. I asked don Juan to explain what seemed to be a contradiction. He had asserted that only the spirit could move the assemblage point. But then he had said that my feelings, processed into intent, had moved my assemblage point.
“Only sorcerers can turn their feelings into intent,” he said. “Intent is the spirit, so it is the spirit which moves their assemblage points.
“The misleading part of all this,” he went on, “is that I am saying only sorcerers know about the spirit, that intent is the exclusive domain of sorcerers. This is not true at all, but it is the situation in the realm of practicality. The real condition is that sorcerers are more aware of their connection with the spirit than the average man and strive to manipulate it. That’s all. I’ve already told you, the connecting link with intent is the universal feature shared by everything there is.”
Two or three times, don Juan seemed about to start to add something. He vacillated, apparently trying to choose his words. Finally he said that being in two places at once was a milestone sorcerers used to mark the moment the assemblage point reached the place of silent knowledge. Split perception, if accomplished by one’s own means, was called the free movement of the assemblage point.
He assured me that every nagual consistently did everything within his power to encourage the free movement of his apprentices’ assemblage points. This all-out effort was cryptically called “reaching out for the third point.”
“The most difficult aspect of the nagual’s knowledge,” don Juan went on, “and certainly the most crucial part of his task is that of reaching out for the third point – the nagual intends that free movement, and the spirit channels to the nagual the means to accomplish it. I had never intended anything of that sort until you came along. Therefore, I had never fully appreciated my benefactor’s gigantic effort to intend it for me.
“Difficult as it is for a nagual to intend that free movement for his disciples,” don Juan went on, “it’s nothing compared with the difficulty his disciples have in understanding what the nagual is doing. Look at the way you yourself struggle! The same thing happened to me. Most of the time, I ended up believing the trickery of the spirit was simply the trickery of the nagual Julian.
“Later on, I realized I owed him my life and well-being,” don Juan continued. “Now I know I owe him infinitely more. Since I can’t begin to describe what I really owe him, I prefer to say he cajoled me into having a third point of reference.
“The third point of reference is freedom of perception; it is intent; it is the spirit; the somersault of thought into the miraculous; the act of reaching beyond our boundaries and touching the inconceivable.”
The Two One-Way Bridges
Don Juan and I were sitting at the table in his kitchen. It was early morning. We had just returned from the mountains, where we had spent the night after I had recalled my experience with the jaguar. Recollecting my split perception had put me in a state of euphoria, which don Juan had employed, as usual, to plunge me into more sensory experiences that I was now unable to recall. My euphoria, however, had not waned.
“To discover the possibility of being in two places at once is very exciting to the mind,” he said. “Since our minds are our rationality, and our rationality is our self-reflection, anything beyond our self-reflection either appalls us or attracts us, depending on what kind of persons we are.”
He looked at me fixedly and then smiled as if he had just found out something new.
“Or it appalls and attracts us in the same measure,” he said, “which seems to be the case with both of us.”
I told him that with me it was not a matter of being appalled or attracted by my experience, but a matter of being frightened by the immensity of the possibility of split perception.
“I can’t say that I don’t believe I was in two places at once,” I said. “I can’t deny my experience, and yet I think I am so frightened by it that my mind refuses to accept it as a fact.”
“You and I are the type of people who become obsessed by things like that, and then forget all about them,” he remarked and laughed. “You and I are very much alike.”
It was my turn to laugh. I knew he was making fun of me. Yet he projected such sincerity that I wanted to believe he was being truthful.
I told him that among his apprentices, I was the only one who had learned not to take his statements of equality with us too seriously. I said that I had seen him in action, hearing him tell each of his apprentices, in the most sincere tone, “You and I are such fools. We are so alike!” And I had been horrified, time and time again, to realize that they believed him.
“You are not like any one of us, don Juan,” I said. “You are a mirror that doesn’t reflect our images. You are already beyond our reach.”
“What you’re witnessing is the result of a lifelong struggle,” he said. “What you see is a sorcerer who has finally learned to follow the designs of the spirit, but that’s all.”
“I have described to you, in many ways, the different stages a warrior passes through along the path of knowledge,” he went on. “In terms of his connection with intent, a warrior goes through four stages. The first is when he has a rusty, untrustworthy link with intent. The second is when he succeeds in cleaning it. The third is when he learns to manipulate it. And the fourth is when he learns to accept the designs of the abstract.”
Don Juan maintained that his attainment did not make him intrinsically different. It only made him more resourceful; thus he was not being facetious when he said to me or to his other apprentices that he was just like us.
“I understand exactly what you are going through,” he continued. “When I laugh at you, I really laugh at the memory of myself in your shoes. I, too, held on to the world of everyday life. I held on to it by my fingernails. Everything told me to let go, but I couldn’t. Just like you, I trusted my mind implicitly, and I had no reason to do so. I was no longer an average man.
“My problem then is your problem today. The momentum of the daily world carried me, and I kept acting like an average man. I held on desperately to my flimsy rational structures. Don’t you do the same.”
“I don’t hold onto any structures; they hold onto me,” I said, and that made him laugh. I told him I understood him to perfection, but that no matter how hard I tried I was unable to carry on as a sorcerer should.
He said my disadvantage in the sorcerers’ world was my lack of familiarity with it. In that world I had to relate myself to everything in a new way, which was infinitely more difficult, because it had very little to do with my everyday life continuity.
He described the specific problem of sorcerers as twofold. One is the impossibility of restoring a shattered continuity; the other is the impossibility of using the continuity dictated by the new position of their assemblage points. That new continuity is always too tenuous, too unstable, and does not offer sorcerers the assuredness they need to function as if they were in the world of everyday life.
“How do sorcerers resolve this problem?” I asked.
“None of us resolves anything,” he replied. “The spirit either resolves it for us or it doesn’t. If it does, a sorcerer finds himself acting in the sorcerers’ world, but without knowing how. This is the reason why I have insisted from the day I found you that impeccability is all that counts. A sorcerer lives an impeccable life, and that seems to beckon the solution. Why? No one knows.”
Don Juan remained quiet for a moment. And then, as if I had voiced it, he commented on a thought I was having. I was thinking that impeccability always made me think of religious morality.
“Impeccability, as I have told you so many times, is not morality,” he said. “It only resembles morality. Impeccability is simply the best use of our energy level. Naturally, it calls for frugality, thoughtfulness, simplicity, innocence; and above all, it calls for lack of self-reflection. All this makes it sound like a manual for monastic life, but it isn’t.”
“Sorcerers say that in order to command the spirit, and by that they mean to command the movement of the assemblage point, one needs energy. The only thing that stores energy for us is our impeccability.”
Don Juan remarked that we do not have to be students of sorcery to move our assemblage point. Sometimes, due to natural although dramatic circumstances, such as war, deprivation, stress, fatigue, sorrow, helplessness, men’s assemblage points undergo profound movements. If the men who found themselves in such circumstances were able to adopt a sorcerer’s ideology, don Juan said, they would be able to maximize that natural movement with no trouble. And they would seek and find extraordinary things instead of doing what men do in such circumstances: craving the return to normalcy.
“When a movement of the assemblage point is maximized,” he went on, “both the average man or the apprentice in sorcery becomes a sorcerer, because by maximizing that movement, continuity is shattered beyond repair.”
“How do you maximize that movement?” I asked.
“By curtailing self-reflection,” he replied. “Moving the assemblage point or breaking one’s continuity is not the real difficulty. The real difficulty is having energy. If one has energy, once the assemblage point moves, inconceivable things are there for the asking.”
Don Juan explained that man’s predicament is that he intuits his hidden resources, but he does not dare use them. This is why sorcerers say that man’s plight is the counterpoint between his stupidity and his ignorance. He said that man needs now, more so than ever, to be taught new ideas that have to do exclusively with his inner world – sorcerers’ ideas, not social ideas, ideas pertaining to man facing the unknown, facing his personal death. Now, more than anything else, he needs to be taught the secrets of the assemblage point.
With no preliminaries, and without stopping to think, don Juan then began to tell me a sorcery story. He said that for an entire year he had been the only young person in the nagual Julian’s house. He was so completely self-centered he had not even noticed when at the beginning of the second year his benefactor brought three young men and four young women to live in the house. As far as don Juan was concerned, those seven persons who arrived one at a time over two or three months were simply servants and of no importance. One of the young men was even made his assistant.
Don Juan was convinced the nagual Julian had lured and cajoled them into coming to work for him without wages. And he would have felt sorry for them had it not been for their blind trust in the nagual Julian and their sickening attachment to everyone and everything in the household. His feeling was that they were born slaves and that he had nothing to say to them. Yet he was obliged to make friends with them and give them advice, not because he wanted to, but because the nagual demanded it as part of his work. As they sought his counseling, he was horrified by the poignancy and drama of their life stories.
He secretly congratulated himself for being better off than they. He sincerely felt he was smarter than all of them put together. He boasted to them that he could see through the nagual’s maneuvers, although he could not claim to understand them. And he laughed at their ridiculous attempts to be helpful. He considered them servile and told them to their faces that they were being mercilessly exploited by a professional tyrant.
But what enraged him was that the four young women had crushes on the nagual Julian and would do anything to please him. Don Juan sought solace in his work and plunged into it to forget his anger, or for hours on end he would read the books that the nagual Julian had in the house. Reading became his passion.
When he was reading, everyone knew not to bother him, except the nagual Julian, who took pleasure in never leaving him in peace. He was always after don Juan to be friends with the young men and women. He told him repeatedly that all of them, don Juan included, were his sorcery apprentices. Don Juan was convinced the nagual Julian knew nothing about sorcery, but he humored him, listening to him without ever believing.
The nagual Julian was unfazed by don Juan’s lack of trust. He simply proceeded as if don Juan believed him, and gathered all the apprentices together to give them instruction. Periodically he took all of them on all-night excursions into the local mountains. On most of these excursions the nagual would leave them by themselves, stranded in those rugged mountains, with don Juan in charge.
The rationale given for the trips was that in solitude, in the wilderness, they would discover the spirit. But they never did. At least, not in any way don Juan could understand. However, the nagual Julian insisted so strongly on the importance of knowing the spirit that don Juan became obsessed with knowing what the spirit was.
During one of those nighttime excursions, the nagual Julian urged don Juan to go after the spirit, even if he didn’t understand it.
“Of course, he meant the only thing a nagual could mean: the movement of the assemblage point,” don Juan said. “But he worded it in a way he believed would make sense to me: go after the spirit.
“I thought he was talking nonsense. At that time I had already formed my own opinions and beliefs and was convinced that the spirit was what is known as character, volition, guts, strength. And I believed I didn’t have to go after them. I had them all.”
“The nagual Julian insisted that the spirit was indefinable, that one could not even feel it, much less talk about it. One could only beckon it, he said, by acknowledging its existence. My retort was very much the same as yours: one cannot beckon something that does not exist.”
Don Juan told me he had argued so much with the nagual that the nagual finally promised him, in front of his entire household, that in one single stroke he was going to show him not only what the spirit was, but how to define it. He also promised to throw an enormous party, even inviting the neighbors, to celebrate don Juan’s lesson.
Don Juan remarked that in those days, before the Mexican Revolution, the nagual Julian and the seven women of his group passed themselves off as the wealthy owners of a large hacienda. Nobody ever doubted their image, especially the nagual Julian’s, a rich and handsome landholder who had set aside his earnest desire to pursue an ecclesiastical career in order to care for his seven unmarried sisters.
One day, during the rainy season, the nagual Julian announced that as soon as the rains stopped, he would hold the enormous party he had promised don Juan. And one Sunday afternoon he took his entire household to the banks of the river, which was in flood because of the heavy rains. The nagual Julian rode his horse while don Juan trotted respectfully behind, as was their custom in case they met any of their neighbors; as far as the neighbors knew, don Juan was the landlord’s personal servant.
The nagual chose for their picnic a site on high ground by the edge of the river. The women had prepared food and drink. The nagual had even brought a group of musicians from the town. It was a big party which included the peons of the hacienda, neighbors, and even passing strangers that had meandered over to join the fun.
Everybody ate and drank to his heart’s content. The nagual danced with all the women, sang, and recited poetry. He told jokes and, with the help of some of the women, staged skits to the delight of all.
At a given moment, the nagual Julian asked if any of those present, especially the apprentices, wanted to share don Juan’s lesson. They all declined. All of them were keenly aware of the nagual’s hard tactics. Then he asked don Juan if he was sure he wanted to find out what the spirit was. Don Juan could not say no. He simply could not back out. He announced that he was as ready as he could ever be. The nagual guided him to the edge of the raging river and made him kneel.
The nagual began a long incantation in which he invoked the power of the wind and the mountains and asked the power of the river to advise don Juan. His incantation, meaningful as it might have been, was worded so irreverently that everyone had to laugh. When he finished, he asked don Juan to stand up with his eyes closed. Then he took the apprentice in his arms, as he would a child, and threw him into the rushing waters, shouting, “Don’t hate the river, for heaven’s sake!”
Relating this incident sent don Juan into fits of laughter. Perhaps under other circumstances I, too, might have found it hilarious. This time, however, the story upset me tremendously.
“You should have seen those people’s faces,” don Juan continued. “I caught a glimpse of their dismay as I flew through the air on my way to the river. No one had anticipated that that devilish nagual would do a thing like that.”
Don Juan said he had thought it was the end of his life. He was not a good swimmer, and as he sank to the bottom of the river he cursed himself for allowing this to happen to him. He was so angry he did not have time to panic. All he could think about was his resolve that he was not going to die in that frigging river, at the hands of that frigging man.
His feet touched bottom and he propelled himself up. It was not a deep river, but the flood waters had widened it a great deal. The current was swift, and it pulled him along as he dogpaddled, trying not to let the rushing waters tumble him around.
The current dragged him a long distance. And while he was being dragged and trying his best not to succumb, he entered into a strange frame of mind. He knew his flaw. He was a very angry man and his pent-up anger made him hate and fight with everyone around. But he could not hate or fight the river, or be impatient with it, or fret, which were the ways he normally behaved with everything and everybody in his life. All he could do with the river was follow its flow.
Don Juan contended that that simple realization and the acquiescence it engendered tipped the scales, so to speak, and he experienced a free movement of his assemblage point. Suddenly, without being in any way aware of what was happening, instead of being pulled by the rushing water, don Juan felt himself running along the riverbank. He was running so fast that he had no time to think. A tremendous force was pulling him, making him race over boulders and fallen trees, as if they were not there.
After he had run in that desperate fashion for quite a while, don Juan braved a quick look at the reddish, rushing water. And he saw himself being roughly tumbled by the current. Nothing in his experience had prepared him for such a moment. He knew then, without involving his thought processes, that he was in two places at once. And in one of them, in the rushing river, he was helpless. All his energy went into trying to save himself.
Without thinking about it, he began angling away from the riverbank. It took all his strength and determination to edge an inch at a time. He felt as if he were dragging a tree. He moved so slowly that it took him an eternity to gain a few yards.
The strain was too much for him. Suddenly he was no longer running; he was falling down a deep well. When he hit the water, the coldness of it made him scream. And then he was back in the river, being dragged by the current. His fright upon finding himself back in the rushing water was so intense that all he could do was to wish with all his might to be safe and sound on the riverbank. And immediately he was there again, running at breakneck speed parallel to, but a distance from, the river.
As he ran, he looked at the rushing water and saw himself struggling to stay afloat. He wanted to yell a command; he wanted to order himself to swim at an angle, but he had no voice. His anguish for the part of him that was in the water was overwhelming. It served as a bridge between the two Juan Matuses. He was instantly back in the water, swimming at an angle toward the bank.
The incredible sensation of alternating between two places was enough to eradicate his fear. He no longer cared about his fate. He alternated freely between swimming in the river and racing on the bank. But whichever he was doing, he consistently moved toward his left, racing away from the river or paddling to the left shore.
He came out on the left side of the river about five miles downstream. He had to wait there, sheltering in the shrubs, for over a week. He was waiting for the waters to subside so he could wade across, but he was also waiting until his fright wore off and he was whole again.
Don Juan said that what had happened was that the strong, sustained emotion of fighting for his life had caused his assemblage point to move squarely to the place of silent knowledge. Because he had never paid any attention to what the nagual Julian told him about the assemblage point, he had no idea what was happening to him. He was frightened at the thought that he might never be normal again. But as he explored his split perception, he discovered its practical side and found he liked it. He was double for days. He could be thoroughly one or the other. Or he could be both at the same time. When he was both, things became fuzzy and neither being was effective, so he abandoned that alternative. But being one or the other opened up inconceivable possibilities for him.
While he recuperated in the bushes, he established that one of his beings was more flexible than the other and could cover distances in the blink of an eye and find food or the best place to hide. It was this being that once went to the nagual’s house to see if they were worrying about him. He heard the young people crying for him, and that was certainly a surprise. He would have gone on watching them indefinitely, since he adored the idea of finding out what they thought of him, but the nagual Julian caught him and put an end to it.
That was the only time he had been truly afraid of the nagual. Don Juan heard the nagual telling him to stop his nonsense. He appeared suddenly, a jet black, bell-shaped object of immense weight and strength. He grabbed don Juan. Don Juan did not know how the nagual was grabbing him, but it hurt in a most unsettling way. It was a sharp nervous pain he felt in his stomach and groin.
“I was instantly back on the riverbank,” don Juan said, laughing. “I got up, waded the recently subsided river, and started to walk home.”
He paused then asked me what I thought of his story. And I told him that it had appalled me.
“You could have drowned in that river,” I said, almost shouting. “What a brutal thing to do to you. The nagual Julian must have been crazy!”
“Wait a minute,” don Juan protested. “The nagual Julian was devilish, but not crazy. He did what he had to do in his role as nagual and teacher. It’s true that I could have died. But that’s a risk we all have to take. You yourself could have been easily eaten by the jaguar, or could have died from any of the things I have made you do. The nagual Julian was bold and commanding and tackled everything directly. No beating around the bush with him, no mincing words.”
I insisted that valuable as the lesson might have been, it still appeared to me that the nagual Julian’s methods were bizarre and excessive. I admitted to don Juan that everything I had heard about the nagual Julian had bothered me I so much I had formed a most negative picture of him.
“I think you’re afraid that one of these days I’m going to throw you into the river or make you wear women’s clothes,” he said and began to laugh. “That’s why you don’t approve of the nagual Julian.”
I admitted that he was right, and he assured me that he had no intentions of imitating his benefactor’s methods, because they did not work for him. He was, he said, as ruthless but not as practical as the nagual Julian.
“At that time,” don Juan continued, “I didn’t appreciate his art, and I certainly didn’t like what he did to me, but now, whenever I think about it, I admire him all the more for his superb and direct way of placing me in the position of silent knowledge.”
Don Juan said that because of the enormity of his experience, he had totally forgotten the monstrous man. He walked unescorted almost to the door of the nagual Julian’s house, then changed his mind and went instead to the nagual Elias’s place, seeking solace. And the nagual Elias explained to him the deep consistency of the nagual Julian’s actions. The nagual Elias could hardly contain his excitement when he heard don Juan’s story. In a fervent tone he explained to don Juan that his benefactor was a supreme stalker, always after practicalities. His endless quest was for pragmatic views and solutions. His behavior that day at the river had been a masterpiece of stalking. He had manipulated and affected everyone. Even the river seemed to be at his command.
The nagual Elias maintained that while don Juan was being carried by the current, fighting for his life, the river helped him understand what the spirit was. And thanks to that understanding, don Juan had the opportunity to enter directly into silent knowledge.
Don Juan said that because he was a callow youth he listened to the nagual Elias without understanding a word, but was moved with sincere admiration for the nagual’s intensity.
First, the nagual Elias explained to don Juan that sound and the meaning of words were of supreme importance to stalkers. Words were used by them as keys to open anything that was closed. Stalkers, therefore, had to state their aim before attempting to achieve it. But they could not reveal their true aim at the outset, so they had to word things carefully to conceal the main thrust.
The nagual Elias called this act waking up intent. He explained to don Juan that the nagual Julian woke up intent by affirming emphatically in front of his entire household that he was going to show don Juan, in one stroke, what the spirit was and how to define it. This was completely nonsensical because the nagual Julian knew there was no way to define the spirit. What he was really trying to do was, of course, to place don Juan in the position of silent knowledge.
After making the statement which concealed his true aim, the nagual Julian gathered as many people as he could, thus making them both his witting and unwitting accomplices. All of them knew about his stated goal, but not a single one knew what he really had in mind.
The nagual Elias’s belief that his explanation would shake don Juan out of his impossible stand of total rebelliousness and indifference was completely wrong. Yet the nagual patiently continued to explain to him that while he had been fighting the current in the river he had reached the third point.
The old nagual explained that the position of silent knowledge was called the third point
because in order to get to it one had to pass the second point, the place of no pity.
He said that don Juan’s assemblage point had acquired sufficient fluidity for him to be double,
which had allowed him to be in both the place of reason and in the place of silent knowledge,
either alternately or at the same time.
The nagual told don Juan that his accomplishment was magnificent. He even hugged don Juan as if he were a child. And he could not stop talking about how don Juan, in spite of not knowing anything – or maybe because of not knowing anything – had transferred his total energy from one place to the other. Which meant to the nagual that don Juan’s assemblage point had a most propitious, natural fluidity.
He said to don Juan that every human being had a capacity for that fluidity. For most of us, however, it was stored away and we never used it, except on rare occasions which were brought about by sorcerers, such as the experience he had just had, or by dramatic natural circumstances, such as a life-or-death struggle.
Don Juan listened, mesmerized by the sound of the old nagual’s voice. When he paid attention, he could follow anything the man said, which was something he had never been able to do with the nagual Julian.
The old nagual went on to explain that humanity was on the first point, reason, but that not every human being’s assemblage point was squarely on the position of reason. Those who were on the spot itself were the true leaders of mankind. Most of the time they were unknown people whose genius was the exercising of their reason.
The nagual said there had been another time, when mankind had been on the third point, which, of course, had been the first point then. But after that, mankind moved to the place of reason.
When silent knowledge was the first point the same condition prevailed. Not every human being’s assemblage point was squarely on that position either. This meant that the true leaders of mankind had always been the few human beings whose assemblage points happened to be either on the exact point of reason or of silent knowledge. The rest of humanity, the old nagual told don Juan, was merely the audience. In our day, they were the lovers of reason. In the past, they had been the lovers of silent knowledge. They were the ones who had admired and sung odes to the heroes of either position.
The nagual stated that mankind had spent the longer part of its history in the position of silent knowledge, and that this explained our great longing for it.
Don Juan asked the old nagual what exactly the nagual Julian was doing to him. His question sounded more mature and intelligent than what he really meant. The nagual Elias answered it in terms totally unintelligible to don Juan at that time. He said that the nagual Julian was coaching don Juan, enticing his assemblage point to the position of reason, so he could be a thinker rather than merely part of an unsophisticated but emotionally charged audience that loved the orderly works of reason. At the same time, the nagual was coaching don Juan to be a true abstract sorcerer instead of merely part of a morbid and ignorant audience of lovers of the unknown.
The nagual Elias assured don Juan that only a human being who was a paragon of reason
could move his assemblage point easily and be a paragon of silent knowledge. He said that only
those who were squarely in either position could see the other position clearly, and that that had
been the way the age of reason came to being. The position of reason was clearly seen from the
position of silent knowledge.
The old nagual told don Juan that the one-way bridge from silent knowledge to reason was called “concern.” That is, the concern that true men of silent knowledge had about the source of what they knew. And the other one-way bridge, from reason to silent knowledge, was called “pure understanding.” That is, the recognition that told the man of reason that reason was only one island in an endless sea of islands.
The nagual added that a human being who had both one-way bridges working was a sorcerer in direct contact with the spirit, the vital force that made both positions possible. He pointed out to don Juan that everything the nagual Julian had done that day at the river had been a show, not for a human audience, but for the spirit, the force that was watching him. He pranced and frolicked with abandon and entertained everybody, especially the power he was addressing.
Don Juan said that the nagual Elias assured him that the spirit only listened when the speaker speaks in gestures. And gestures do not mean signs or body movements, but acts of true abandon, acts of largesse, of humor. As a gesture for the spirit, sorcerers bring out the best of themselves and silently offer it to the abstract.
Don Juan wanted us to make one more trip to the mountains before I went home, but we never made it. Instead, he asked me to drive him to the city. He needed to see some people there. On the way he talked about every subject but intent. It was a welcome respite. In the afternoon, after he had taken care of his business, we sat on his favorite bench in the plaza. The place was deserted. I was very tired and sleepy. But then, quite unexpectedly, I perked up. My mind became crystal clear.
Don Juan immediately noticed the change and laughed at my gesture of surprise. He picked a thought right out of my mind; or perhaps it was I who picked that thought out of his.
“If you think about life in terms of hours instead of years, our lives are immensely long,” he said. “Even if you think in terms of days, life is still interminable.”
That was exactly what I had been thinking.
He told me that sorcerers counted their lives in hours, and that in one hour it was possible for a sorcerer to live the equivalent in intensity of a normal life. This intensity is an advantage when it comes to storing information in the movement of the assemblage point.
I demanded that he explain this to me in more detail. A long time before, because it was so cumbersome to take notes on conversations, he had recommended that I keep all the information I obtained about the sorcerers’ world neatly arranged, not on paper nor in my mind, but in the movement of my assemblage point.
“The assemblage point, with even the most minute shifting, creates totally isolated islands of perception,” don Juan said. “Information, in the form of experiences in the complexity of awareness can be stored there.”
“But how can information be stored in something so vague?” I asked.
“The mind is equally vague, and still you trust it because you are familiar with it,” he retorted.
“You don’t yet have the same familiarity with the movement of the assemblage point, but it is just about the same.”
“What I mean is, how is information stored?” I insisted.
“The information is stored in the experience itself,” he explained. “Later, when a sorcerer moves his assemblage point to the exact spot where it was, he relives the total experience. This sorcerers’ recollection is the way to get back all the information stored in the movement of the assemblage point.
“Intensity is an automatic result of the movement of the assemblage point,” he continued. “For instance, you are living these moments more intensely than you ordinarily would, so, properly speaking, you are storing intensity. Some day you’ll relive this moment by making your assemblage point return to the precise spot where it is now. That is the way sorcerers store information.”
I told don Juan that the intense recollections I had had in the past few days had just happened to me, without any special mental process I was aware of.
“How can one deliberately manage to recollect?” I asked.
“Intensity, being an aspect of intent, is connected naturally to the shine of the sorcerers’ eyes,” he explained. “In order to recall those isolated islands of perception sorcerers need only intend the particular shine of their eyes associated with whichever spot they want to return to. But I have already explained that.”
I must have looked perplexed. Don Juan regarded me with a serious expression. I opened my mouth two or three times to ask him questions, but could not formulate my thoughts.
“Because his intensity rate is greater than normal,” don Juan said, “in a few hours a sorcerer can live the equivalent of a normal lifetime. His assemblage point, by shifting to an unfamiliar position, takes in more energy than usual. That extra flow of energy is called intensity.”
I understood what he was saying with perfect clarity, and my rationality staggered under the impact of the tremendous implication.
Don Juan fixed me with his stare and then warned me to beware of a reaction which typically afflicted sorcerers – a frustrating desire to explain the sorcery experience in cogent, well-reasoned terms.
“The sorcerers’ experience is so outlandish,” don Juan went on, “that sorcerers consider it an intellectual exercise, and use it to stalk themselves with. Their trump card as stalkers, though, is that they remain keenly aware that we are perceivers and that perception has more possibilities than the mind can conceive.”
As my only comment I voiced my apprehension about the outlandish possibilities of human awareness.
“In order to protect themselves from that immensity,” don Juan said, “sorcerers learn to maintain a perfect blend of ruthlessness, cunning, patience, and sweetness. These four bases are inextricably bound together. Sorcerers cultivate them by intending them. These bases are, naturally, positions of the assemblage point.”
He went on to say that every act performed by any sorcerer was by definition governed by these four principles. So, properly speaking, every sorcerer’s every action is deliberate in thought and realization, and has the specific blend of the four foundations of stalking.
“Sorcerers use the four moods of stalking as guides,” he continued. “These are four different frames of mind, four different brands of intensity that sorcerers can use to induce their assemblage points to move to specific positions.”
He seemed suddenly annoyed. I asked if it was my insistence on speculating that was bothering him.
“I am just considering how our rationality puts us between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “Our tendency is to ponder, to question, to find out. And there is no way to do that from within the discipline of sorcery. Sorcery is the act of reaching the place of silent knowledge, and silent knowledge can’t be reasoned out. It can only be experienced.”
He smiled, his eyes shining like two spots of light. He said that sorcerers, in an effort to protect themselves from the overwhelming effect of silent knowledge, developed the art of stalking. Stalking moves the assemblage point minutely but steadily, thus giving sorcerers time and therefore the possibility of buttressing themselves.
“Within the art of stalking,” don Juan continued, “there is a technique which sorcerers use a great deal: controlled folly. Sorcerers claim that controlled folly is the only way they have of dealing with themselves – in their state of expanded awareness and perception – and with everybody and everything in the world of daily affairs.”
Don Juan had explained controlled folly as the art of controlled deception or the art of pretending to be thoroughly immersed in the action at hand – pretending so well no one could tell it from the real thing. Controlled folly is not an outright deception, he had told me, but a sophisticated, artistic way of being separated from everything while remaining an integral part of everything.
“Controlled folly is an art,” don Juan continued. “A very bothersome art, and a difficult one to learn. Many sorcerers don’t have the stomach for it, not because there is anything inherently wrong with the art, but because it takes a lot of energy to exercise it.”
Don Juan admitted that he practiced it conscientiously, although he was not particularly fond of doing so, perhaps because his benefactor had been so adept at it. Or, perhaps it was because his personality – which he said was basically devious and petty – simply did not have the agility needed to practice controlled folly.
I looked at him with surprise. He stopped talking and fixed me with his mischievous eyes. “By the time we come to sorcery, our personality is already formed,” he said, and shrugged his shoulders to signify resignation, “and all we can do is practice controlled folly and laugh at ourselves.”
I had a surge of empathy and assured him that to me he was not in any way petty or devious.
“But that’s my basic personality,” he insisted.
And I insisted that it was not.
“Stalkers who practice controlled folly believe that, in matters of personality, the entire human race falls into three categories,” he said, and smiled the way he always did when he was setting me up.
“That’s absurd,” I protested. “Human behavior is too complex to be categorized so simply.”
“Stalkers say that we are not so complex as we think we are,” he said, “and that we all belong to one of three categories.”
I laughed out of nervousness. Ordinarily I would have taken such a statement as a joke, but this time, because my mind was extremely clear and my thoughts were poignant, I felt he was indeed serious.
“Are you serious?” I asked, as politely as I could.
“Completely serious,” he replied, and began to laugh.
His laughter relaxed me a little. And he continued explaining the stalkers’ system of classification. He said that people in the first class are the perfect secretaries, assistants, companions. They have a very fluid personality, but their fluidity is not nourishing. They are, however, serviceable, concerned, totally domestic, resourceful within limits, humorous, well-mannered, sweet, delicate. In other words, they are the nicest people one could find, but they have one huge flaw: they can’t function alone. They are always in need of someone to direct them.
With direction, no matter how strained or antagonistic that direction might be, they are stupendous. By themselves, they perish.
People in the second class are not nice at all. They are petty, vindictive, envious, jealous, self-centred. They talk exclusively about themselves and usually demand that people conform to their standards. They always take the initiative even though they are not comfortable with it. They are thoroughly ill at ease in every situation and never relax. They are insecure and are never pleased; the more insecure they become the nastier they are. Their fatal flaw is that they would kill to be leaders.
In the third category are people who are neither nice nor nasty. They serve no one, nor do they impose themselves on anyone. Rather they are indifferent. They have an exalted idea about themselves derived solely from daydreams and wishful thinking. If they are extraordinary at anything, it is at waiting for things to happen. They are waiting to be discovered and conquered and have a marvelous facility for creating the illusion that they have great things in abeyance, which they always promise to deliver but never do because, in fact, they do not have such resources.
Don Juan said that he himself definitely belonged to the second class. He then asked me to classify myself and I became rattled. Don Juan was practically on the ground, bent over with laughter. He urged me again to classify myself, and reluctantly I suggested I might be a combination of the three.
“Don’t give me that combination nonsense,” he said, still laughing. “We are simple beings, each of us is one of the three types. And as far as I am concerned, you belong to the second class. Stalkers call them farts.”
I began to protest that his scheme of classification was demeaning. But I stopped myself just as I was about to go into a long tirade. Instead I commented that if it were true that there are only three types of personalities, all of us are trapped in one of those three categories for life with no hope of change or redemption.
He agreed that that was exactly the case. Except that one avenue for redemption remained. Sorcerers had long ago learned that only our personal self-reflection fell into one of the categories.
“The trouble with us is that we take ourselves seriously,” he said. “Whichever category our self-image falls into only matters because of our self-importance. If we weren’t self-important, it wouldn’t matter at all which category we fell into.
“I’ll always be a fart,” he continued, his body shaking with laughter. “And so will you. But now I am a fart who doesn’t take himself seriously, while you still do.”
I was indignant. I wanted to argue with him, but could not muster the energy for it. In the empty plaza, the reverberation of his laughter was eerie.
He changed the subject then and reeled off the basic cores he had discussed with me: the manifestations of the spirit, the knock of the spirit, the trickery of the spirit, the descent of the spirit, the requirement of intent, and handling intent. He repeated them as if he were giving my memory a chance to retain them fully. And then, he succinctly highlighted everything he had told me about them. It was as if he were deliberately making me store all that information in the intensity of that moment.
I remarked that the basic cores were still a mystery to me. I felt very apprehensive about my ability to understand them. He was giving me the impression that he was about to dismiss the topic, and I had not grasped its meaning at all.
I insisted that I had to ask him more questions about the abstract cores. He seemed to assess what I was saying, then he quietly nodded his head.
“This topic was also very difficult for me,” he said. “And I, too, asked many questions. I was perhaps a tinge more self-centered than you. And very nasty. Nagging was the only way I knew of asking questions. You yourself are rather a belligerent inquisitor. At the end, of course, you and I are equally annoying, but for different reasons.”
There was only one more thing don Juan added to our discussion of the basic cores before he changed the subject: that they revealed themselves extremely slowly, erratically advancing and retreating.
“I can’t repeat often enough that every man whose assemblage point moves can move it further,” he began. “And the only reason we need a teacher is to spur us on mercilessly. Otherwise our natural reaction is to stop to congratulate ourselves for having covered so much ground.”
He said that we were both good examples of our odious tendency to go easy on ourselves. His benefactor, fortunately, being the stupendous stalker he was, had not spared him. Don Juan said that in the course of their night-time journeys in the wilderness, the nagual Julian had lectured him extensively on the nature of self-importance and the movement of the assemblage point. For the nagual Julian, self-importance was a monster that had three thousand heads. And one could face up to it and destroy it in any of three ways. The first way was to sever each head one at a time; the second was to reach that mysterious state of being called the place of no pity, which destroyed self-importance by slowly starving it; and the third was to pay for the instantaneous annihilation of the three-thousand-headed monster with one’s symbolic death.
The nagual Julian recommended the third alternative. But he told don Juan that he could consider himself fortunate if he got the chance to choose. For it was the spirit that usually determined which way the sorcerer was to go, and it was the duty of the sorcerer to follow.
Don Juan said that, as he had guided me, his benefactor guided him to cut off the three thousand heads of self-importance, one by one, but that the results had been quite different. While I had responded very well, he had not responded at all.
“Mine was a peculiar condition,” he went on. “From the moment my benefactor saw me lying on the road with a bullet hole in my chest, he knew I was the new nagual. He acted accordingly and moved my assemblage point as soon as my health permitted it. And I saw with great ease a field of energy in the form of that monstrous man. But this accomplishment, instead of helping as it was supposed to, hindered any further movement of my assemblage point. And while the assemblage points of the other apprentices moved steadily, mine remained fixed at the level of being able to see the monster.”
“But didn’t your benefactor tell you what was going on?” I asked, truly baffled by the unnecessary complication.
“My benefactor didn’t believe in handing down knowledge,” don Juan said. “He thought that knowledge imparted that way lacked effectiveness. It was never there when one needed it. On the other hand, if knowledge was only insinuated, the person who was interested would devise ways to claim that knowledge.”
Don Juan said that the difference between his method of teaching and his benefactor’s was that he himself believed one should have the freedom to choose. His benefactor did not.
“Didn’t your benefactor’s teacher, the nagual Elias, tell you what was happening?” I insisted.
“He tried,” don Juan said, and sighed, “but I was truly impossible. I knew everything. I just let the two men talk my ear off and never listened to a thing they were saying.”
In order to deal with that impasse, the nagual Julian decided to force don Juan to accomplish once again, but in a different way, a free movement of his assemblage point.
I interrupted him to ask whether this had happened before or after his experience at the river. Don Juan’s stories did not have the chronological order I would have liked.
“This happened several months afterward,” he replied. “And don’t you think for an instant that because I experienced that split perception I was really changed; that I was wiser or more sober. Nothing of the sort.
“Consider what happens to you,” he went on. “I have not only broken your continuity time and time again, I have ripped it to shreds, and look at you; you still act as if you were intact. That is a supreme accomplishment of magic, of intending.”
“I was the same. For a while, I would reel under the impact of what I was experiencing and then I would forget and tie up the severed ends as if nothing had happened. That was why my benefactor believed that we can only really change if we die.”
Returning to his story, don Juan said that the nagual used Tulio, the unsociable member of his household, to deliver a new shattering blow to his psychological continuity. Don Juan said that all the apprentices, including himself, had never been in total agreement about anything except that Tulio was a contemptibly arrogant little man. They hated Tulio because he either avoided them or snubbed them. He treated them all with such disdain that they felt like dirt. They were all convinced that Tulio never spoke to them because he had nothing to say; and that his most salient feature, his arrogant aloofness, was a cover for his timidity.
Yet in spite of his unpleasant personality, to the chagrin of all the apprentices, Tulio had undue influence on the household – especially on the nagual Julian, who seemed to dote on him. One morning the nagual Julian sent all the apprentices on a day-long errand to the city. The only person left in the house, besides the older members of the household, was don Juan.
Around midday the nagual Julian headed for his study to do his daily bookkeeping. As he was going in, he casually asked don Juan to help him with the accounts.
Don Juan began to look through the receipts and soon realized that to continue he needed some information that Tulio, the overseer of the property, had, and had forgotten to note down. The nagual Julian was definitely angry at Tulio’s oversight, which pleased don Juan. The nagual impatiently ordered don Juan to find Tulio, who was out in the fields supervising the workers, and ask him to come to the study.
Don Juan, gloating at the idea of annoying Tulio, ran half a mile to the fields, accompanied, of course, by a field hand to protect him from the monstrous man. He found Tulio supervising the workers from a distance, as always. Don Juan had noticed that Tulio hated to come into direct contact with people and always watched them from afar.
In a harsh voice and with an exaggeratedly imperious manner, don Juan demanded that Tulio accompany him to the house because the nagual required his services. Tulio, his voice barely audible, replied that he was too busy at the moment, but that in about an hour he would be free to come.
Don Juan insisted, knowing that Tulio would not bother to argue with him and would simply dismiss him with a turn of his head. He was shocked when Tulio began to yell obscenities at him.
The scene was so out of character for Tulio that even the farm workers stopped their labor and looked at one another questioningly. Don Juan was sure they had never heard Tulio raise his voice, much less yell improprieties. His own surprise was so great that he laughed nervously, which made Tulio extremely angry. He even hurled a rock at the frightened don Juan, who fled.
Don Juan and his bodyguard immediately ran back to the house. At the front door they found Tulio. He was quietly talking and laughing with some of the women. As was his custom, he turned his head away, ignoring don Juan. Don Juan began angrily to chastise him for socializing there when the nagual wanted him in his study. Tulio and the women looked at don Juan as if he had gone mad.
But Tulio was not his usual self that day. Instantly he yelled at don Juan to shut his damned mouth and mind his own damned business. He blatantly accused don Juan of trying to put him in a bad light with the nagual Julian.
The women showed their dismay by gasping loudly and looking disapprovingly at don Juan. They tried to calm Tulio. Don Juan ordered Tulio to go to the nagual’s study and explain the accounts. Tulio told him to go to hell.
Don Juan was shaking with anger. The simple task of asking for the accounts had turned into a nightmare. He controlled his temper. The women were watching him intently, which angered him all over again. In a silent rage he ran to the nagual’s study. Tulio and the women went back to talking and laughing quietly as though they were celebrating a private joke.
Don Juan’s surprise was total when he entered the study and found Tulio sitting at the nagual’s desk absorbed in his bookkeeping. Don Juan made a supreme effort and controlled his anger. He smiled at Tulio. He no longer had the need to confront Tulio. He had suddenly understood that the nagual Julian was using Tulio to test him, to see if he would lose his temper. He would not give him that satisfaction.
Without looking up from his accounts, Tulio said that if don Juan was looking for the nagual, he would probably find him at the other end of the house.
Don Juan raced to the other end of the house to find the nagual Julian walking slowly around the patio with Tulio at his side. The nagual appeared to be engrossed in his conversation with Tulio. Tulio gently nudged the nagual’s sleeve and said in a low voice that his assistant was there.
The nagual matter-of-factly explained to don Juan everything about the account they had been working on. It was a long, detailed, and thorough explanation. He said then that all don Juan had to do was to bring the account book from the study so that they could make the entry and have Tulio sign it.
Don Juan could not understand what was happening. The detailed explanation and the nagual’s matter-of-fact tone had brought everything into the realm of mundane affairs. Tulio impatiently ordered don Juan to hurry up and fetch the book, because he was busy. He was needed somewhere else.
By now don Juan had resigned himself to being a clown. He knew that the nagual was up to something; he had that strange look in his eyes which don Juan always associated with his beastly jokes. Besides, Tulio had talked more that day than he had in the entire two years don Juan had been in the house.
Without uttering a word, don Juan went back to the study. And as he had expected, Tulio had gotten there first. He was sitting on the corner of the desk, waiting for don Juan, impatiently tapping the floor with the hard heel of his boot. He held out the ledger don Juan was after, gave it to him, and told him to be on his way.
Despite being prepared, don Juan was astonished. He stared at the man, who became angry and abusive. Don Juan had to struggle not to explode. He kept saying to himself that all this was merely a test of his attitude. He had visions of being thrown out of the house if he failed the test.
In the midst of his turmoil, he was still able to wonder about the speed with which Tulio managed always to be one jump ahead of him. Don Juan certainly anticipated that Tulio would be waiting with the nagual. Still, when he saw him there, although he was not surprised, he was incredulous. He had raced through the house, following the shortest route. There was no way that Tulio could run faster than he. Furthermore, if Tulio had run, he would have had to run right alongside don Juan.
The nagual Julian took the account book from don Juan with an air of indifference. He made the entry; Tulio signed it. Then they continued talking about the account, disregarding don Juan, whose eyes were fixed on Tulio. Don Juan wanted to figure out what kind of test they were putting him through. It had to be a test of his attitude, he thought. After all, in that house, his attitude had always been the issue.
The nagual dismissed don Juan, saying he wanted to be alone with Tulio to discuss business. Don Juan immediately went looking for the women to find out what they would say about this strange situation. He had gone ten feet when he encountered two of the women and Tulio. The three of them were caught up in a most animated conversation. He saw them before they had seen him, so he ran back to the nagual. Tulio was there, talking with the nagual.
An incredible suspicion entered don Juan’s mind. He ran to the study; Tulio was immersed in his bookkeeping and did not even acknowledge don Juan. Don Juan asked him what was going on. Tulio was his usual self this time: he did not answer or look at don Juan.
Don Juan had at that moment another inconceivable thought. He ran to the stable, saddled two horses and asked his morning bodyguard to accompany him again. They galloped to the place where they had seen Tulio earlier. He was exactly where they had left him. He did not speak to don Juan. He shrugged his shoulders and turned his head when don Juan questioned him.
Don Juan and his companion galloped back to the house. He left the man to care for the horses and rushed into the house. Tulio was lunching with the women. And Tulio was also talking to the nagual. And Tulio was also working on the books.
Don Juan sat down and felt the cold sweat of fear. He knew that the nagual Julian was testing him with one of his horrible jokes. He reasoned that he had three courses of action. He could behave as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening; he could figure out the test himself; or, since the nagual had engraved in his mind that he was there to explain anything don Juan wanted, he could confront the nagual and ask for clarification.
He decided to ask. He went to the nagual and asked him to explain what was being done to him. The nagual was alone then, still working on his accounts. He put the ledger aside and smiled at don Juan. He said that the twenty-one not-doings he had taught don Juan to perform were the tools that could sever the three thousand heads of self-importance, but that those tools had not been effective with don Juan at all. Thus, he was trying the second method for destroying self-importance which meant putting don Juan into the state of being called the place of no pity.
Don Juan was convinced then that the nagual Julian was utterly mad. Hearing him talk about not-doings or about monsters with three thousand heads or about places of no pity, don Juan felt almost sorry for him. The nagual Julian very calmly asked don Juan to go to the storage shed in the back of the house and ask Tulio to come out.
Don Juan sighed and did his best not to burst out laughing. The nagual’s methods were too obvious. Don Juan knew that the nagual wanted to continue the test, using Tulio.
Don Juan stopped his narration and asked me what I thought about Tulio’s behavior. I said that, guided by what I knew about the sorcerers’ world, I would say that Tulio was a sorcerer and somehow he was moving his own assemblage point in a very sophisticated manner to give don Juan the impression that he was in four places at the same time.
“So what do you think I found in the shed?” don Juan asked with a big grin.
“I would say either you found Tulio or you didn’t find anybody,” I replied.
“But if either of these had happened, there would have been no shock to my continuity,” don Juan said.
I tried to imagine bizarre things and I proposed that perhaps he found Tulio’s dreaming body. I reminded don Juan that he himself had done something similar to me with one of the members of his party of sorcerers.
“No,” don Juan retorted. “What I found was a joke that has no equivalent in reality. And yet it was not bizarre; it was not out of this world. What do you think it was?”
I told don Juan I hated riddles. I said that with all the bizarre things he had made me experience, the only things I could conceive would be more bizarreness, and since that was ruled out, I gave up guessing.
“When I went into that shed I was prepared to find that Tulio was hiding,” don Juan said. “I was sure that the next part of the test was going to be an infuriating game of hide-and-seek. Tulio was going to drive me crazy hiding inside that shed.”
“But nothing I had prepared myself for happened. I walked into that shed and found four Tulios.”
“What do you mean, four Tulios?” I asked.
“There were four men in that shed,” don Juan replied. “And all of them were Tulio. Can you imagine my surprise? All of them were sitting in the same position, their legs crossed and pressed tightly together. They were waiting for me. I looked at them and ran away screaming.”
“My benefactor held me down on the ground outside the door. And then, truly horrified, I saw how the four Tulios came out of the shed and advanced toward me. I screamed and screamed while the Tulios pecked me with their hard fingers, like huge birds attacking. I screamed until I felt something give in me and I entered a state of superb indifference. Never in all my life had I felt something so extraordinary. I brushed off the Tulios and got up. They had just been tickling me. I went directly to the nagual and asked him to explain the four men to me.”
What the nagual Julian explained to don Juan was that those four men were the paragons of stalking. Their names had been invented by their teacher, the nagual Elias, who, as an exercise in controlled folly, had taken the Spanish numerals uno, dos, tres, cuatro, added them to the name of Tulio, and obtained in that manner the names Tuliuno, Tuliodo, Tulitre, and Tulicuatro. The nagual Julian introduced each in turn to don Juan. The four men were standing in a row.
Don Juan faced each of them and nodded, and each nodded to him. The nagual said the four men were stalkers of such extraordinary talent, as don Juan had just corroborated, that praise was meaningless. The Tulios were the nagual Elias’s triumph; they were the essence of unobtrusiveness. They were such magnificent stalkers that, for all practical purposes, only one of them existed. Although people saw and dealt with them daily, nobody outside the members of the household knew that there were four Tulios.
Don Juan understood with perfect clarity everything the nagual Julian was saying about the men. Because of his unusual clarity, he knew he had reached the place of no pity. And he understood, all by himself, that the place of no pity was a position of the assemblage point, a position which rendered self-pity inoperative. But don Juan also knew that his insight and wisdom were extremely transitory. Unavoidably, his assemblage point would return to its point of departure.
When the nagual asked don Juan if he had any questions, he realized that he would be better off paying close attention to the nagual’s explanation than speculating about his own foresightedness.
Don Juan wanted to know how the Tulios created the impression that there was only one person. He was extremely curious, because observing them together he realized they were not really that alike. They wore the same clothes. They were about the same size, age, and configuration. But that was the extent of their similarity. And yet, even as he watched them he could have sworn that there was only one Tulio.
The nagual Julian explained that the human eye was trained to focus only on the most salient features of anything, and that those salient features were known beforehand. Thus, the stalkers’ art was to create an impression by presenting the features they chose, features they knew the eyes of the onlooker were bound to notice. By artfully reinforcing certain impressions, stalkers were able to create on the part of the onlooker an unchallengeable conviction as to what their eyes had perceived.
The nagual Julian said that when don Juan first arrived dressed in his woman’s clothes, the women of his party were delighted and laughed openly. But the man with them, who happened to be Tulitre, immediately provided don Juan with the first Tulio impression. He half turned away to hide his face, shrugged his shoulders disdainfully, as if all of it was boring to him, and walked away – to laugh his head off in private – while the women helped to consolidate that first impression by acting apprehensive, almost annoyed, at the unsociability of the man.
From that moment on, any Tulio who was around don Juan reinforced that impression and further perfected it until don Juan’s eye could not catch anything except what was being fed to him. Tuliuno spoke then and said that it had taken them about three months of very careful and consistent actions to have don Juan blind to anything except what he was guided to expect. After three months, his blindness was so pronounced that the Tulios were no longer even careful. They acted normal in the house. They even ceased wearing identical clothes, and don Juan did not notice the difference.
When other apprentices were brought into the house, however, the Tulios had to start all over again. This time the challenge was hard, because there were many apprentices and they were sharp.
Don Juan asked Tuliuno about Tulio’s appearance. Tuliuno answered that the nagual Elias maintained appearance was the essence of controlled folly, and stalkers created appearance by intending them, rather than by producing them with the aid of props. Props created artificial appearances that looked false to the eye. In this respect, intending appearances was exclusively an exercise for stalkers.
Tulitre spoke next. He said appearances were solicited from the spirit. Appearances were asked, were forcefully called on; they were never invented rationally. Tulio’s appearance had to be called from the spirit. And to facilitate that the nagual Elias put all four of them together into a very small, out-of-the-way storage room, and there the spirit spoke to them. The spirit told them that first they had to intend their homogeneity. After four weeks of total isolation, homogeneity came to them.
The nagual Elias said that intent had fused them together and that they had acquired the certainty that their individuality would go undetected. Now they had to call up the appearance that would be perceived by the onlooker. And they got busy, calling intent for the Tulios’ appearance don Juan had seen. They had to work very hard to perfect it. They focused, under the direction of their teacher, on all the details that would make it perfect.
The four Tulios gave don Juan a demonstration of Tulio’s most salient features. These were: very forceful gestures of disdain and arrogance; abrupt turns of the face to the right as if in anger; twists of their upper bodies as if to hide part of the face with the left shoulder; angry sweeps of a hand over the eyes as if to brush hair off the forehead; and the gait of an agile but impatient person who is too nervous to decide which way to go.
Don Juan said that those details of behavior and dozens of others had made Tulio an unforgettable character. In fact, he was so unforgettable that in order/to project Tulio on don Juan and the other apprentices as if on a screen, any of the four men needed only to insinuate a feature, and don Juan and the apprentices would automatically supply the rest.
Don Juan said that because of the tremendous consistency of the input, Tulio was for him and the others the essence of a disgusting man. But at the same time, if they searched deep inside themselves, they would have acknowledged that Tulio was haunting. He was nimble, mysterious, and gave, wittingly or unwittingly, the impression of being a shadow.
Don Juan asked Tuliuno how they had called intent. Tuliuno explained that stalkers called intent loudly. Usually intent was called from within a small, dark, isolated room. A candle was placed on a black table with the flame just a few inches before the eyes; then the word intent was voiced slowly, enunciated clearly and deliberately as many times as one felt was needed. The pitch of the voice rose or fell without any thought.
Tuliuno stressed that the indispensable part of the act of calling intent was a total concentration on what was intended. In their case, the concentration was on their homogeneity and on Tulio’s appearance. After they had been fused by intent, it still took them a couple of years to build up the certainty that their homogeneity and Tulio’s appearance would be realities to the onlookers.
I asked don Juan what he thought of their way of calling intent. And he said that his benefactor, like the nagual Elias, was a bit more given to ritual than he himself was, therefore, they preferred paraphernalia such as candles, dark closets, and black tables.
I casually remarked that I was terribly attracted to ritual behavior, myself. Ritual seemed to me essential in focusing one’s attention. Don Juan took my remark seriously. He said he had seen that my body, as an energy field, had a feature which he knew all the sorcerers of ancient times had had and avidly sought in others: a bright area in the lower right side of the luminous cocoon. That brightness was associated with resourcefulness and a bent toward morbidity. The dark sorcerers of those times took pleasure in harnessing that coveted feature and attaching it to man’s dark side.
“Then there is an evil side to man,” I said jubilantly. “You always deny it. You always say that evil doesn’t exist, that only power exists.”
I surprised myself with this outburst. In one instant, all my Catholic background was brought to bear on me and the Prince of Darkness loomed larger than life.
Don Juan laughed until he was coughing.
“Of course, there is a dark side to us,” he said. “We kill wantonly, don’t we? We burn people in the name of God. We destroy ourselves; we obliterate life on this planet; we destroy the earth. And then we dress in robes and the Lord speaks directly to us. And what does the Lord tell us? He says that we should be good boys or he is going to punish us. The Lord has been threatening us for centuries and it doesn’t make any difference. Not because we are evil, but because we are dumb. Man has a dark side, yes, and it’s called stupidity.”
I did not say anything else, but silently I applauded and thought with pleasure that don Juan was a masterful debater. Once again he was turning my words back on me.
After a moment’s pause, don Juan explained that in the same measure that ritual forced the average man to construct huge churches that were monuments to self-importance, ritual also forced sorcerers to construct edifices of morbidity and obsession. As a result, it was the duty of every nagual to guide awareness so it would fly toward the abstract, free of liens and mortgages.
“What do you mean, don Juan, by liens and mortgages?” I asked.
“Ritual can trap our attention better than anything I can think of,” he said, “but it also demands a very high price. That high price is morbidity; and morbidity could have the heaviest liens and mortgages on our awareness.”
Don Juan said that human awareness was like an immense haunted house. The awareness of everyday life was like being sealed in one room of that immense house for life. We entered the room through a magical opening: birth. And we exited through another such magical opening: death.
Sorcerers, however, were capable of finding still another opening and could leave that sealed room while still alive. A superb attainment. But their astounding accomplishment was that when they escaped from that sealed room they chose freedom. They chose to leave that immense, haunted house entirely instead of getting lost in other parts of it.
Morbidity was the antithesis of the surge of energy awareness needed to reach freedom. Morbidity made sorcerers lose their way and become trapped in the intricate, dark byways of the unknown.
I asked don Juan if there was any morbidity in the Tulios.
“Strangeness is not morbidity” he replied. “The Tulios were performers who were being coached by the spirit itself.”
“What was the nagual Elias’s reason for training the Tulios as he did?” I asked.
Don Juan peered at me and laughed loudly. At that instant the lights of the plaza were turned on. He got up from his favorite bench and rubbed it with the palm of his hand, as if it were a pet.
“Freedom,” he said. “He wanted their freedom from perceptual convention. And he taught them to be artists. Stalking is an art. For a sorcerer, since he’s not a patron or a seller of art, the only thing of importance about a work of art is that it can be accomplished.”
We stood by the bench, watching the evening strollers milling around. The story of the four Tulios had left me with a sense of foreboding. Don Juan suggested that I return home; the long drive to L.A., he said, would give my assemblage point a respite from all the moving it had done in the past few days.
“The nagual’s company is very tiring,” he went on. “It produces a strange fatigue; it could even be injurious.”
I assured him that I was not tired at all, and that his company was anything but injurious to me. In fact, his company affected me like a narcotic – I couldn’t do without it. This sounded as if I were flattering him, but I really meant what I said.
We strolled around the plaza three or four times in complete silence.
“Go home and think about the basic cores of the sorcery stories,” don Juan said with a note of finality in his voice. “Or rather, don’t think about them, but make your assemblage point move toward the place of silent knowledge. Moving the assemblage point is everything, but it means nothing if it’s not a sober, controlled movement. So, close the door of self-reflection. Be impeccable and you’ll have the energy to reach the place of silent knowledge.”