(Tales of Power by Carlos Castaneda)
He looked at me. He seemed undecided, then stood up and said that I had no other recourse but to keep my appointment with knowledge.
I felt a shiver; my heart began to pound fast. I got up. Don Juan moved around me as if he were examining my body from every possible angle. He signaled me to sit down and keep on writing.
“If you get too frightened you won’t be able to keep your appointment,” he said. “A warrior must be calm and collected and must never lose his grip.”
“I’m really scared,” I said. “Moth or whatever, there is something prowling around out there in the bushes.”
“Of course there is!” he exclaimed. “My objection is that you insist on thinking that it is a man, just like you insist on thinking that you talked with a coyote.”
A part of me fully understood his point; there was, however, another aspect of myself that would not let go and in spite of the evidence clung steadfast to “reason.”
I told don Juan that his explanation did not satisfy my senses, although I was in complete intellectual agreement with it.
“That’s the flaw with words,” he said in an assuring tone. “They always force us to feel enlightened, but when we turn around to face the world they always fail us and we end up facing the world as we always have, without enlightenment. For this reason, a sorcerer seeks to act rather than to talk and to this effect he gets a new description of the world — a new description where talking is not that important, and where new acts have new reflections.”
He sat down by me and gazed into my eyes and asked me to voice what I had really seen in the chaparral.
I was confronted at the moment with an absorbing inconsistency. I had seen the dark shape of a man, but I had also seen that shape turn into a bird. I had, therefore, witnessed more than my reason would allow me to consider possible. But rather than discarding my reason altogether, something in myself had selected parts of my experience, such as the size and general contour of the dark shape, and held them as reasonable possibilities, while it discarded other parts, such as the dark shape turning into a bird. And thus I had become convinced that I had seen a man.
Don Juan roared with laughter when I expressed my quandary. He said that sooner or later the sorcerers’ explanation would come to my rescue and everything would then be perfectly clear, without having to be reasonable or unreasonable.
“In the meantime all I can do for you is to guarantee that that was not a man,” he said.
Don Juan’s gaze became quite unnerving. My body shivered involuntarily. He made me feel embarrassed and nervous.
“I’m looking for marks on your body,” he explained. “You may not know it, but this evening you had quite a bout out there.”
“What kind of marks are you looking for?”
“Not actual physical marks on your body but signs, indications in your luminous fibers, areas of brightness. We are luminous beings and everything we are or everything we feel shows in our fibers. Humans have a brightness peculiar only to them. That’s the only way to tell them apart from other luminous living beings.
“If you would have seen tonight, you would have noticed that the shape in the bushes was not a luminous living being.”
I wanted to ask more but he put his hand on my mouth and hushed me. He then put his mouth to my ear and whispered that I should listen and try to hear a soft rustling, the gentle muffled steps of a moth on the dry leaves and branches on the ground.
I could not hear anything. Don Juan stood up abruptly, picked up the lantern and said that we were going to sit under the ramada by the front door. He led me through the back and around the house, on the edge of the chaparral rather than going through the room and out the front door. He explained that it was essential to make our presence obvious. We half circled around the house on the left side. Don Juan’s pace was extremely slow. His steps were weak and vacillating. His arm shook as he held the lantern.
I asked him if there was something wrong with him. He winked at me and whispered that the big moth that was prowling around had an appointment with a young man, and that the slow gait of a feeble old man was an obvious way of showing who was the appointee.
When we finally arrived at the front of the house, don Juan hooked the lantern on a beam and made me sit with my back against the wall. He sat to my right.
“We’re going to sit here,” he said, “and you are going to write and talk to me in a very normal manner. The moth that lurched at you today is around, in the bushes. After a while it’ll come closer to look at you. That’s why I’ve put the lantern on a beam right above you. The light will guide the moth to find you. When it gets to the edge of the bushes, it will call you. It is a very special sound. The sound by itself may help you.”
“What kind of sound is it, don Juan?”
“It is a song. A haunting call that moths produce. Ordinarily it cannot be heard, but the moth out there in the bushes is a rare moth; you will hear its call clearly and, providing that you are impeccable, it will remain with you for the rest of your life.”
“What is it going to help me with?”
“Tonight, you’re going to try to finish what you’ve started earlier. Seeing happens only when the warrior is capable of stopping the internal dialogue.
“Today, you stopped your talk at will, out there in the bushes. And you saw. What you saw was not clear. You thought that it was a man. I say it was a moth. Neither of us is correct, but that’s because we have to talk. I still have the upper hand because I see better than you and because I’m familiar with the sorcerers’ explanation; so I know, although it’s not altogether accurate, that the shape you saw tonight was a moth.
“And now, you’re going to remain silent and thoughtless and let that little moth come to you again.”
I could hardly take notes. Don Juan laughed and urged me to keep on writing as if nothing bothered me. He touched my arm and said that writing was the best protective shield that I had.
“We’ve never talked about moths,” he went on. “The time was not right until now. As you already know, your spirit was unbalanced. To counteract that I taught you to live the warrior’s way. Well, a warrior starts off with the certainty that his spirit is off balance; then by living in full control and awareness, but without hurry or compulsion, he does his ultimate best to gain this balance.
“In your case, as in the case of every man, your imbalance was due to the sum total of all your actions. But now your spirit seems to be in the proper light to talk about moths.”
“How did you know that this was the right time to talk about moths?”
“I caught a glimpse of the moth prowling around when you arrived. It was the first time it was friendly and open. I had seen it before in the mountains around Genaro’s house, but only as a menacing figure reflecting your lack of order.”
I heard a strange sound at that moment. It was like a muffled creaking of a branch rubbing against another, or like the sputtering of a small motor heard from a distance. It changed scales, like a musical tone, creating an eerie rhythm. Then it stopped.
“That was the moth,” don Juan said. “Perhaps you’ve already noticed that, although the light of the lantern is bright enough to attract moths, there isn’t a single one flying around it.”
I had not paid attention to it, but once don Juan made me aware of it, I also noticed an incredible silence in the desert around the house.
“Don’t get jumpy,” he said calmly. “There is nothing in this world that a warrior cannot account for. You see, a warrior considers himself already dead, so there is nothing for him to lose. The worst has already happened to him, therefore he’s clear and calm; judging him by his acts or by his words, one would never suspect that he has witnessed everything.”
Don Juan’s words, and above all his mood, were very soothing to me. I told him that in my day-to-day life I no longer experienced the obsessive fear I used to, but that my body entered into convulsions of fright at the thought of what was out there in the dark.
“Out there, there is only knowledge,” he said in a factual tone. “Knowledge is frightening, true; but if a warrior accepts the frightening nature of knowledge he cancels out its awesomeness.”
The strange sputtering noise happened again. It seemed closer and louder. I listened carefully. The more attention I paid to it the more difficult it was to determine its nature. It did not seem to be the call of a bird or the cry of a land animal. The tone of each sputter was rich and deep; some were produced in a low key, others in a high one. They had a rhythm and a specific duration; some were long, I heard them like a single unit of sound; others were short and happened in a cluster, like the staccato sound of a machine gun.
“The moths are the heralds or, better yet, the guardians of eternity,” don Juan said after the sound had stopped. “For some reason, or for no reason at all, they are the depositories of the gold dust of eternity.”
The metaphor was foreign to me. I asked him to explain it.
“The moths carry a dust on their wings,” he said. “A dark gold dust. That dust is the dust of knowledge.”
His explanation had made the metaphor even more obscure. I vacillated for a moment trying to find the best way of wording my question. But he began to talk again.
“Knowledge is a most peculiar affair,” he said, “especially for a warrior. Knowledge for a warrior is something that comes at once, engulfs him, and passes on.”
“What does knowledge have to do with the dust on the wings of moths?” I asked after a long pause.
“Knowledge comes floating like specks of gold dust, the same dust that covers the wings of moths. So, for a warrior, knowledge is like taking a shower, or being rained on by specks of dark gold dust.”
In the most polite manner I was capable of, I mentioned that his explanations had confused me even more. He laughed and assured me that he was making perfect sense, except that my reason would not allow me to be at ease.
“The moths have been the intimate friends and helpers of sorcerers from time immemorial,” he said. “I had not touched upon this subject before, because of your lack of preparation.”
“But how can the dust on their wings be knowledge?”
He put his hand over my notebook and told me to close my eyes and become silent and without thoughts. He said that the call of the moth in the chaparral was going to aid me. If I paid attention to it, it would tell me of imminent events. He stressed that he did not know how the communication between the moth and myself was going to be established, neither did he know what the terms of the communication would be. He urged me to feel at ease and confident and trust my personal power.
After an initial period of impatience and nervousness I succeeded in becoming silent. My thoughts diminished in number until my mind was perfectly blank. The noises of the desert chaparral seemed to have been turned on as I became more calm.
The strange sound that don Juan said was made by a moth occurred again. It registered as a feeling in my body and not as a thought in my mind. It occurred to me that it was not threatening or malevolent at all. It was sweet and simple. It was like a child’s call. It brought back the memory of a little boy that I once knew. The long sounds reminded me of his round blond head, the short staccato sounds of his laughter. The most anguishing feeling oppressed me, and yet there were no thoughts in my mind; I felt the anguish in my body. I could no longer remain sitting and slid to the floor on my side. My sadness was so intense that I began to think. I assessed my pain and sorrow and suddenly found myself in the midst of an internal debate about the little boy. The sputtering sound had ceased. My eyes were closed. I heard don Juan standing up and then I felt him helping me to sit up. I did not want to speak. He did not say a word. I heard him moving by me. I opened my eyes; he had knelt in front of me and was examining my face, holding the lantern close to me. He ordered me to put my hands over my stomach. He stood up, went to the kitchen and brought me some water. He splashed some on my face and gave me the rest to drink.
He sat down next to me and handed me my notes. I told him that the sound had involved me in the most painful reverie.
“You are indulging beyond your limits,” he said dryly.
He seemed to immerse himself in thought, as if he were searching for an appropriate suggestion to make.
“The problem for tonight is seeing people,” he finally said. “First you must stop your internal dialogue, then you must bring up the image of the person that you want to see; any thought that one holds in mind in a state of silence is properly a command, since there are no other thoughts to compete with it. Tonight, the moth in the bushes wants to help you, so it will sing for you. Its song will bring the golden specks and then you will see the person you’ve selected.”
I wanted to have more details, but he made an abrupt gesture and signaled me to proceed.
After struggling for a few minutes to stop my internal dialogue I was thoroughly silent. And then I deliberately held the brief thought of a friend of mine. I kept my eyes closed for what I believed to be just an instant and then I became aware that someone was shaking me by the shoulders. It was a slow realization. I opened my eyes and found myself lying on my left side. I had apparently fallen asleep so deeply that I did not remember having slumped to the ground. Don Juan helped me to sit up again. He was laughing. He imitated my snoring and said that if he had not witnessed it himself he would not believe that anyone could fall asleep so fast. He said that it was a treat for him to be around me whenever I had to do something that my reason did not understand. He pushed my notebook away from me and said that we had to start all over.
I followed the necessary steps. The strange sputtering sound happened again. This time, however, it did not come from the chaparral; rather it seemed to happen inside of me, as if my lips, or legs, or arms were producing it. The sound soon engulfed me. I felt like soft balls were being sputtered out from or against me; it was a soothing, exquisite feeling of being bombarded by heavy cotton puffs. Suddenly I heard a door blown open by a gust of wind and I was thinking again. I thought that I had ruined another chance. I opened my eyes and found myself in my room. The objects on my desk were as I had left them. The door was open; there was a strong wind outside. The thought crossed my mind that I should check the water heater. I then heard a rattling on the sliding windows that I had put up myself and which did not fit well on the window frame. It was a furious rattling as if someone wanted to enter. I experienced a jolt of fright. I stood up from my chair. I felt something pulling me. I screamed.
Don Juan was shaking me by the shoulders. I excitedly gave him an account of my vision. It had been so vivid that I was shivering. I felt that I had just been at my desk, in my full corporeal form.
Don Juan shook his head in disbelief and said that I was a genius in tricking myself. He did not seem impressed by what I had done. He discarded it flatly and ordered me to start again.
I then heard the mysterious sound again. It came to me, as don Juan had suggested, in the form of a rain of golden specks. I did not feel that they were flat specks or flakes, as he had described them, but rather spherical bubbles. They floated towards me. One of them burst open and revealed a scene to me. It was as if it had stopped in front of my eyes and opened up, disclosing a strange object. It looked like a mushroom. I was definitely looking at it, and what I was experiencing was not a dream. The mushroomlike object remained unchanged within my field of “vision” and then it popped, as though the light that was shining on it had been turned off. An interminable darkness followed it. I felt a tremor, a very unsettling jolt, and then I had the abrupt realization that I was being shaken. All at once my senses were turned on. Don Juan was shaking me vigorously, and I was looking at him. I must have just opened my eyes at that moment. He sprinkled water on my face. The coldness of the water was very appealing. After a moment’s pause he wanted to know what had happened.
I recounted every detail of my vision. “But what did I see?” I asked.
“Your friend,” he retorted.
I laughed and patiently explained that I had seen a mushroom-like figure. Although I had no criteria to judge dimensions, I had had the feeling that it was about a foot long.
Don Juan emphasized that feeling was all that counted. He said that my feelings were the gauge that assessed the state of being of the subject that I was seeing.
“From your description and your feelings I must conclude that your friend must be a very fine man,” he said. I was baffled by his words.
He said that the mushroom-like formation was the essential shape of human beings when a sorcerer was seeing them from far away, but when a sorcerer was directly facing the person he was seeing, the human quality was shown as an egg-like cluster of luminous fibers.
“You were not facing your friend,” he said. “Therefore, he appeared like a mushroom.”
“Why is that so, don Juan?”
“No one knows. That simply is the way men appear in this specific type of seeing.”
He added that every feature of the mushroom-like formation had a special significance, but that it was impossible for a beginner to accurately interpret that significance.
I then had an intriguing recollection. Some years before, in a state of non-ordinary reality elicited by the intake of psychotropic plants, I had experienced or perceived, while I was looking at a water stream, that a cluster of bubbles floated towards me, engulfing me. The golden bubbles I had just envisioned had floated and engulfed me in exactly the same manner. In fact, I could say that both clusters had had the same structure and the same pattern.
Don Juan listened to my commentaries without interest.
“Don’t waste your power on trifles,” he said. “You are dealing with that immensity out there.” He pointed towards the chaparral with a movement of his hand.
“To turn that magnificence out there into reasonableness doesn’t do anything for you. Here, surrounding us, is eternity itself. To engage in reducing it to a manageable nonsense is petty and outright disastrous.”
He then insisted that I should attempt to see another person from my realm of acquaintances. He added that once the vision had terminated I should strive to open my eyes by myself and surface to the full awareness of my immediate surroundings.
I succeeded in holding the view of another mushroom-like form, but while the first one had been yellowish and small, the second one was whitish, larger and contorted.
By the time we had finished talking about the two shapes I had seen, I had forgotten the “moth” in the bushes, which had been so overwhelming a little while before. I told don Juan that it amazed me that I had such a facility for discarding something so truly uncanny. It was as if I were not the person I knew myself to be.
“I don’t see why you make such a fuss out of this,” don Juan said. “Whenever the dialogue stops, the world collapses and extraordinary facets of ourselves surface, as though they had been kept heavily guarded by our words. You are like you are, because you tell yourself that you are that way.”
After a short rest, don Juan urged me to continue “calling” friends. He said that the point was to attempt to see as many times as possible, in order to establish a guideline for feeling.
I called thirty-two persons in succession. After each attempt, he demanded a careful and detailed rendition of everything I had perceived in my vision. He changed that procedure, however, as I became more proficient in my performance, judging by my stopping the internal dialogue in a matter of seconds, by my being capable of opening my eyes by myself at the end of each experience, and by my resuming ordinary activities without any transition. I noticed this change while we were discussing the coloration of the mushroomlike formations. He had already made the point that what I called coloration was not a hue but a glow of different intensities. I was about to describe a yellowish glow that I had envisioned when he interrupted me and accurately described what I had seen. From that point on he discussed the content of each vision, not as if he had understood what I had said, but as if he had seen it himself. When I called him to comment on it he flatly refused to talk about it.
By the time I had finished calling the thirty-two persons, I had realized that I had seen a variety of mushroom-like shapes, and glows, and I had had a variety of feelings towards them, ranging from mild delight to sheer disgust.
Don Juan explained that men were filled with configurations that could be wishes, problems, sorrows, worries, and so on. He asserted that only a profoundly powerful sorcerer could untangle the meaning of those configurations, and that I had to be content with viewing only the general shape of men.
I was very tired. There was something indeed fatiguing about those strange shapes. My overall sensation was one of queasiness. I had not liked them. They had made me feel trapped and doomed.
Don Juan commanded me to write in order to dispel the sensation of somberness. And after a long silent interval during which I could not write anything, he asked me to call on people that he himself would select.
A new series of forms emerged. They were not mushroom-like, but looked more like Japanese cups for sake, turned upside down. Some of them had a head-like formation, just like the foot of sake cups; others were more round. Their shapes were appealing and peaceful. I sensed that there was some inherent feeling of happiness about them. They bounced, as opposed to the earthbound heaviness that the previous batch had exhibited. Somehow, the mere fact that they were there eased my fatigue.
Among the persons he had selected was his apprentice Eligio. When I summoned the vision of Eligio I got a jolt that shook me out of my visionary state. Eligio had a long white shape that jerked and seemed to leap at me. Don Juan explained that Eligio was a very talented apprentice and that he, no doubt, had noticed that someone was seeing him.
Another of don Juan’s selections was Pablito, don Genaro’s apprentice. The jolt that the vision of Pablito gave me was even greater than Eligio’s.
Don Juan laughed so hard that tears rolled down his cheeks. “Why are those people shaped differently?” I asked.
“They have more personal power,” he replied. “As you might have noticed, they are not pegged down to the ground.”
“What has given them that lightness? Were they born that way?”
“We all are born that light and bouncy, but we become earth-bound and fixed. We make ourselves that way. So perhaps we may say that these people are shaped differently because they live like warriors. That’s not important though. What’s of value is that you are at the edge now. You’ve called forty-seven people, and there is only one more left in order for you to complete the original forty-eight.”
I remembered at that moment that years before he had told me, while discussing corn sorcery and divination, that the number of corn kernels that a sorcerer possessed was forty-eight. He had never explained why.
I asked him again, “Why forty-eight?”
“Forty-eight is our number,” he said. “That’s what makes us men. I don’t know why. Don’t waste your power in idiotic questions.”
He stood up and stretched his arms and legs. He told me to do the same. I noticed that there was a tinge of light in the sky towards the east. We sat down again. He leaned over and put his mouth to my ear.
“The last person you’re going to call is Genaro, the real McCoy,” he whispered.
I felt a surge of curiosity and excitation. I breezed through the required steps. The strange sound from the edge of the chaparral became vivid and acquired new strength. I had almost forgotten about it. The golden bubbles engulfed me and then in one of them I saw don Genaro himself. He was standing in front of me, holding his hat in his hand. He was smiling. I hurriedly opened my eyes and was about to speak to don Juan, but before I could say a word my body stiffened like a board; my hair stood on end and for a long moment I did not know what to do or say. Don Genaro was standing right in front of me. In person!
I turned to don Juan; he was smiling. Then both of them broke into a giant laugh. I also tried to laugh. I could not. I stood up.
Don Juan handed me a cup of water. I drank it automatically. I thought he was going to sprinkle water on my face. Instead, he refilled my cup.
Don Genaro scratched his head and hid a grin.
“Aren’t you going to greet Genaro?” don Juan asked.
It took an enormous effort for me to organize my thoughts and my feelings. I finally mumbled some greetings to don Genaro. He took a bow.
“You called me, didn’t you?” he asked, smiling.
I muttered my amazement at having found him standing there. “He did call you,” don Juan interjected.
“Well, here I am,” don Genaro said to me. “What can I do for you?”
Slowly my mind seemed to become organized and finally I had a sudden insight. My thoughts were crystal clear and I “knew” what had really taken place. I figured that don Genaro had been visiting with don Juan, and that as soon as they had heard my car approaching, don Genaro had slipped into the bushes and had remained in hiding until it got dark. I believed the evidence was convincing. Don Juan, since he had no doubt engineered the entire affair, gave me clues from time to time, thus guiding its development. At the appropriate time, don Genaro had made me notice his presence, and when don Juan and I were walking back to the house, he followed us in the most obvious manner in order to arouse my fear. Then he had waited in the chaparral and made the strange sound whenever don Juan had signaled him. The final signal to come out from behind the bushes must have been given by don Juan while my eyes were closed after he had asked me to “call” don Genaro. Then don Genaro must have walked to the ramada and waited until I opened my eyes and then scared me out of my wits.
The only incongruencies in my logical explanatory scheme were that I had actually seen the man hiding in the bushes turn into a bird, and that I had first visualized don Genaro as an image in a golden bubble. In my vision he had been dressed exactly as he was in person. Since there was no logical way for me to explain those incongruencies, I assumed, as I have always done in similar circumstances, that the emotional stress may have played an important role in determining what I “believed I saw.”
I began to laugh quite involuntarily at the thought of their preposterous trick. I told them about my deductions. They laughed uproariously. I honestly believed that their laughter was the giveaway.
“You were hiding in the bushes, weren’t you?” I asked don Genaro. Don Juan sat down and held his head in both hands.
“No. I wasn’t hiding,” don Genaro said patiently. “I was far from here and then you called, so I came to see you.”
“Where were you, don Genaro?”
Don Juan interrupted me and said that don Genaro had showed up as an act of deference to me, and that I could not ask where he had been, because he had been nowhere.
Don Genaro came to my defense and said that it was all right to ask him anything. “If you were not hiding around the house, where were you, don Genaro?” I asked. “I was at my house,” he said with great candor.
“In central Mexico?”
“Yes! It’s the only house I’ve got.”
They looked at each other and again broke into laughter. I knew that they were kidding me, but I decided not to contest the point any further. I thought they must have had a reason for engaging themselves in such an elaborate production. I sat down.
I felt that I was truthfully cut in two; some part of me was not shocked at all and could accept any of don Juan or don Genaro’s acts at their face value. But there was another part of me that flatly refused; it was my strongest part. My conscious assessment was that I had accepted don Juan’s sorcery description of the world merely on an intellectual basis, while my body as a whole entity refused it, thus my dilemma. But then over the course of the years of my association with don Juan and don Genaro I had experienced extraordinary phenomena and those had been bodily experiences, not intellectual ones. Earlier that very night I had executed the “gait of power,” which, from the point of view of my intellect, was an inconceivable accomplishment; and best of all, I had had incredible visions through no other means than my own volition.
I explained to them the nature of my painful and at the same time bona fide perplexity. “This guy is a genius,” don Juan said to don Genaro, shaking his head in disbelief. “You’re a huge genius, Carlitos,” don Genaro said as if he were relaying a message.
They sat down on either side of me, don Juan to my right and don Genaro to my left. Don Juan observed that soon it was going to be morning. At that instant I again heard the moth’s call. It had moved. The sound was coming from the opposite direction. I looked at both of them, holding their gaze. My logical scheme began to disintegrate.
The sound had a mesmerizing richness and depth. Then I heard muffled steps, soft feet crushing the dry underbrush. The sputtering sound came closer and I huddled against don Juan. He dryly ordered me to see it. I made a supreme effort, not so much to please him as to please myself. I had been sure that don Genaro was the moth. But don Genaro was sitting with me; what, then, was in the bushes? A moth?
The sputtering sound echoed in my ears. I could not stop my internal dialogue altogether. I heard the sound but I could not feel it in my body as I had done earlier. I heard definite steps. Something was creeping in the dark. There was a loud cracking noise, as if a branch had been snapped in two, and suddenly a terrifying memory seized me. Years before I had spent a dreadful night in the wilderness and had been harassed by something, something very light and soft that had stepped on my neck over and over while I crouched on the ground. Don Juan had explained the event as an encounter with the ally, a mysterious force that a sorcerer learned to perceive as an entity.
I leaned closer to don Juan and whispered what I had remembered. Don Genaro crawled on all fours to get closer to us.
“What did he say?” he asked don Juan in a whisper.
“He said that there is an ally out there,” don Juan replied in a low voice.
Don Genaro crawled back and sat down. Then he turned to me and said in a loud whisper, “You’re a genius.”
They laughed quietly. Don Genaro pointed towards the chaparral with a movement of his chin.
“Go out there and grab it,” he said. “Take off your clothes and scare the devil out of that ally.”
They shook with laughter. The sound in the meantime had ceased. Don Juan ordered me to stop my thoughts but to keep my eyes open, focused on the edge of the chaparral in front of me. He said that the moth had changed positions because don Genaro was there, and that if it were going to manifest itself to me, it would choose to come from the front.
After a moment’s struggle to quiet my thoughts, I perceived the sound again. It was richer than ever. I heard first the muffled steps on dry twigs and then I felt them on my body. At that instant I distinguished a dark mass directly in front of me, at the edge of the chaparral.
I felt I was being shaken. I opened my eyes. Don Juan and don Genaro were standing above me and I was kneeling, as if I had fallen asleep in a crouching position. Don Juan gave me some water and I sat down again with my back against the wall.
A short while later it was dawn. The chaparral seemed to wake up. The morning cold was crisp and invigorating.
The moth had not been don Genaro. My rational structure was falling apart. I did not want to ask any more questions, nor did I want to remain quiet. I finally had to talk.
“But if you were in central Mexico, don Genaro, how did you get here?” I asked. Don Genaro made some ludicrous and utterly hilarious gestures with his mouth. “I’m sorry,” he said to me, “my mouth doesn’t want to talk.”
He then turned to don Juan and said, grinning, “Why don’t you tell him?”
Don Juan vacillated. Then he said that don Genaro, as a consummate artist of sorcery, was capable of prodigious deeds.
Don Genaro’s chest swelled as if don Juan’s words were inflating it. He seemed to have inhaled so much air that his chest looked twice its normal size. He appeared to be on the verge of floating. He leaped in the air. I had the impression that the air inside his lungs had forced him to jump. He paced back and forth on the dirt floor until he apparently got his chest under control; he patted it and with great force ran the palms of his hands from his pectoral muscles to his stomach as if he were deflating the inner tube of a tire. He finally sat down.
Don Juan was grinning. His eyes were shining with sheer delight. “Write your notes,” he ordered me softly. “Write, write or you’ll die!”
Then he remarked that even don Genaro no longer felt that my taking notes was so outlandish. “That’s right!” don Genaro retorted. “I’ve been thinking of taking up writing myself.” “Genaro is a man of knowledge,” don Juan said dryly. “And being a man of knowledge, he’s perfectly capable of transporting himself over great distances.”
He reminded me that once, years before, the three of us had been in the mountains, and that don Genaro, in an effort to help me overcome my stupid reason, had taken a prodigious leap to the peaks of the Sierras, ten miles away. I remembered the event, but I also remembered that I could not even conceive that he had jumped.
Don Juan added that don Genaro was capable of performing extraordinary feats at certain times.
“Genaro at certain times is not Genaro but his double,” he said.
He repeated it three or four times. Then both of them watched me as if waiting for my impending reaction.
I had not understood what he meant by “his double.” He had never mentioned that before. I asked for a clarification.
“There is another Genaro,” he explained.
All three of us looked at one another. I became very apprehensive. Don Juan urged me with a movement of his eyes to keep on talking.
“Do you have a twin brother?” I asked, turning to don Genaro.
“Of course,” he said. “I have a twin.”
I could not determine whether or not they were putting me on. They both giggled with the abandon of children that were pulling a prank.
“You may say,” don Juan went on, “that at this moment Genaro is his twin.”
That statement brought both of them to the ground with laughter. But I could not enjoy their mirth. My body shivered involuntarily.
Don Juan said in a severe tone that I was too heavy and self-important.
“Let go!” he commanded me dryly. “You know that Genaro is a sorcerer and an impeccable warrior. So he’s capable of performing deeds that would be unthinkable for the average man. His double, the other Genaro, is one of those deeds.”
I was speechless. I could not conceive that they were just teasing me.
“For a warrior like Genaro,” he went on, “to produce the other is not such a farfetched enterprise.”
After pondering for a long time what to say next, I asked, “Is the other like the self?”
“The other is the self,” don Juan replied.
His explanation had taken an incredible turn, and yet it was not really more incredible than anything else they did.
“What’s the other made of?” I asked don Juan after minutes of indecision.
“There is no way of knowing that,” he said.
“Is it real or just an illusion?”
“It’s real of course.”
“Would it be possible then to say that it is made of flesh and blood?” I asked.
“No. It would not be possible,” don Genaro answered.
“But if it is as real as I am . . .”
“As real as you?” don Juan and don Genaro interjected in unison.
They looked at each other and laughed until I thought they were going to get ill. Don Genaro threw his hat on the floor and danced around it. His dance was agile and graceful and, for some inexplicable reason, utterly funny. Perhaps the humor was in the exquisitely “professional” movements he executed. The incongruency was so subtle and at the same time so remarkable that I doubled up with laughter.
“The trouble with you, Carlitos,” he said as he sat down again, “is that you’re a genius.”
“I have to know about the double,” I said.
“There’s no way of knowing whether he’s flesh and blood,” don Juan said. “Because he is not as real as you. Genaro’s double is as real as Genaro. Do you see what I mean?”
“But you have to admit, don Juan, that there must be a way to know.”
“The double is the self; that explanation should suffice. If you would see, however, you’d know that there is a great difference between Genaro and his double. For a sorcerer who sees, the double is brighter.”
I felt I was too weak to ask any more questions. I put my writing pad down and for a moment I thought I was going to pass out. I had tunnel vision; everything around me was dark with the exception of a round spot of clear scenery in front of my eyes.
Don Juan said that I had to get some food. I was not hungry. Don Genaro announced that he was famished, stood up and went to the back of the house. Don Juan also stood up and signaled me to follow. In the kitchen, don Genaro gave himself a serving of food and then became involved in the most comical mimicking of a person who wants to eat but can’t swallow. I thought that don Juan was going to die; he roared, kicked, cried, coughed and choked with laughter. I thought I too was going to split my sides. Don Genaro’s antics were priceless.
He finally gave up and looked at don Juan and me in succession; he had shiny eyes and a beaming smile.
“It doesn’t work,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
I ate a huge amount of food, and so did don Juan; then all of us returned to the front of the house. The sunlight was brilliant, the sky was clear and the morning breeze sharpened the air. I felt happy and strong.
We sat in a triangle facing one another. After a polite silence I decided to ask them to clarify my dilemma. I felt that I was again in top form and wanted to exploit my strength.
“Tell me more about the double, don Juan,” I said.
Don Juan pointed at don Genaro and don Genaro bowed.
“There he is,” don Juan said. “There is nothing to tell. He’s here for you to witness him.”
“But he’s don Genaro,” I said in a feeble attempt to guide the conversation.
“Surely I’m Genaro,” he said and perked his shoulders.
“What is a double then, don Genaro?” I asked.
“Ask him,” he snapped, pointing to don Juan. “He’s the one who talks. I’m dumb.”
“A double is the sorcerer himself, developed through his dreaming” don Juan explained. “A double is an act of power to a sorcerer but only a tale of power to you. In the case of Genaro, his double is indistinguishable from the original. That’s because his impeccability as a warrior is supreme; thus, you’ve never noticed the difference yourself. But in the years that you’ve known him, you’ve been with the original Genaro only twice; every other time you’ve been with his double.”
“But this is preposterous!” I exclaimed.
I felt an anxiety building up in my chest. I became so agitated that I dropped my writing pad, and my pencil rolled out of sight. Don Juan and don Genaro practically dove to the ground and began the most farcical search for it. I had never seen a more astonishing performance of theatrical magic and sleight of hand. Except that there was no stage, or props, or any type of gadgetry, and most likely the performers were not using sleight of hand.
Don Genaro, the head magician, and his assistant, don Juan, produced in a matter of minutes the most astounding, bizarre and outlandish collection of objects which they found underneath, or behind, or above every object within the periphery of the ramada.
In the style of stage magic, the assistant set up the props, which in this case were the few items on the dirt floor – rocks, burlap sacks, pieces of wood, a milk crate, a lantern and my jacket – then the magician, don Genaro, would proceed to find an object, which he would throw away as soon as he had attested that it was not my pencil. The collection of objects found included pieces of clothing, wigs, eyeglasses, toys, utensils, pieces of machinery, women’s underwear, human teeth, sandwiches, and religious objects. One of them was outright disgusting. It was a piece of compact human excrement that don Genaro took from underneath my jacket. Finally, don Genaro found my pencil and handed it to me after dusting it off with the tail of his shirt.
They celebrated their clowning with yells and chuckles. I found myself watching, unable to join them.
“Don’t take things so seriously, Carlitos,” don Genaro said with a tone of concern. “Otherwise you’re going to bust a …”
He made a ludicrous gesture that could have meant anything.
After their laughter subsided I asked don Genaro what a double did, or what a sorcerer did with the double.
Don Juan answered. He said that the double had power, and that it was used to accomplish feats that would be unimaginable under ordinary terms.
“I’ve told you time and time again that the world is unfathomable,” he said to me. “And so are we, and so is every being that exists in this world. It is impossible, therefore, to reason out the double. You’ve been allowed to witness it, though, and that should be more than enough.”
“But there must be a way to talk about it,” I said. “You yourself have told me that you explained your conversation with the deer in order to talk about it. Can’t you do the same with the double?”
He was quiet for a moment. I pleaded with him. The anxiety I was experiencing was beyond anything I had ever gone through.
“Well, a sorcerer can double up,” don Juan said. “That’s all one can say.”
“But is he aware that he is doubled?”
“Of course he’s aware of it.”
“Does he know that he is in two places at once?”
Both of them looked at me and then they exchanged a glance. “Where is the other don Genaro?” I asked.
Don Genaro leaned towards me and stared into my eyes.
“I don’t know,” he said softly. “No sorcerer knows where his other is.”
“Genaro is right,” don Juan said. “A sorcerer has no notion that he is in two places at once. To be aware of that would be the equivalent of facing his double, and the sorcerer that finds himself face to face with himself is a dead sorcerer. That is the rule. That is the way power has set things up. No one knows why.”
Don Juan explained that by the time a warrior had conquered dreaming and seeing and had developed a double, he must have also succeeded in erasing personal history, self-importance, and routines. He said that all the techniques which he had taught me and which I had considered to be empty talk were, in essence, means for removing the impracticality of having a double in the ordinary world, by making the self and the world fluid, and by placing them outside the bounds of prediction.
“A fluid warrior can no longer make the world chronological,” don Juan explained. “And for him, the world and himself are no longer objects. He’s a luminous being existing in a luminous world. The double is a simple affair for a sorcerer because he knows what he’s doing. To take notes is a simple affair for you, but you still scare Genaro with your pencil.”
“Can an outsider, looking at a sorcerer, see that he is in two places at once?” I asked don Juan.
“Certainly. That would be the only way to know it.”
“But can’t one logically assume that the sorcerer would also notice that he has been in two places?”
“Aha!” don Juan exclaimed. “For once you’ve got it right. A sorcerer may certainly notice afterwards that he has been in two places at once. But this is only bookkeeping and has no bearing on the fact that while he’s acting he has no notion of his duality.”
My mind boggled. I felt that if I did not keep on writing I would explode.
“Think of this,” he went on. “The world doesn’t yield to us directly, the description of the world stands in between. So, properly speaking, we are always one step removed and our experience of the world is always a recollection of the experience. We are perennially recollecting the instant that has just happened, just passed. We recollect, recollect, recollect.”
He turned his hand over and over to give me the feeling of what he meant.
“If our entire experience of the world is recollection, then it’s not so outlandish to conclude that a sorcerer can be in two places at once. This is not the case from the point of view of his own perception, because in order to experience the world, a sorcerer, like every other man, has to recollect the act he has just performed, the event he has just witnessed, the experience he has just lived. In his awareness there is only a single recollection. But for an outsider looking at the sorcerer it may appear as if the sorcerer is acting two different episodes at once. The sorcerer, however, recollects two separate single instants, because the glue of the description of time is no longer binding him.”
When don Juan had finished talking I was sure I was running a temperature. Don Genaro examined me with curious eyes.
“He’s right,” he said. “We’re always one jump behind.”
He moved his hand as don Juan had done; his body started to jerk and he jumped back on his seat. It was as if he had the hiccups and the hiccups were forcing his body to jump back. He began to move backwards, jumping on his seat, and went all the way to the end of the ramada and back.
The sight of don Genaro leaping backwards on his buttocks, instead of being funny as it should have been, threw me into an attack of fear so intense that don Juan had to strike me repeatedly on the top of my head with his knuckles.
“I just can’t grasp all this, don Juan,” I said.
“I can’t either,” don Juan retorted, shrugging his shoulders. “Neither can I, dear Carlitos,” don Genaro added.
My fatigue, the bulk of my sensory experience, the mood of lightness and humor that prevailed, and don Genaro’s clowning were too much for my nerves. I could not stop the agitation in my stomach muscles.
Don Juan made me roll on the ground until I had regained my calmness, then I sat down facing them again.
“Is the double solid?” I asked don Juan after a long silence. They looked at me.
“Does the double have corporealness?” I asked.
“Certainly,” don Juan said. “Solidity, corporealness are memories. Therefore, like everything else we feel about the world, they are memories we accumulate. Memories of the description. You have the memory of my solidity, the same way you have the memory of communicating through words. Thus, you talked with a coyote and you feel me as being solid.”
Don Juan put his shoulder next to mine and nudged me lightly. “Touch me,” he said.
I patted him and then I embraced him. I was close to tears.
Don Genaro stood up and came closer to me. He looked like a small child with shiny mischievous eyes. He puckered up his lips and looked at me for a long moment.
“What about me?” he asked, trying to hide a smile. “Aren’t you going to embrace me too?”
I stood up and extended my arms to touch him; my body seemed to freeze on the spot. I had no power to move. I tried to force my arms to reach him, but my struggle was in vain.
Don Juan and don Genaro stood by, watching me. I felt my body contorting under an unknown pressure.
Don Genaro sat down and pretended to sulk because I had not embraced him; he pouted and hit the ground with his heels, then both of them exploded into more roaring laughter.
The muscles of my stomach trembled, making my whole body shake. Don Juan pointed out that I was moving my head the way he had recommended earlier, and that that was the chance to soothe myself by reflecting a beam of light on the cornea of my eyes. He forcefully dragged me from under the roof of his ramada to the open field and manipulated my body into position so that my eyes would catch the eastern sunlight; but by the time he had put my body in place, I had stopped shivering. I noticed that I was clutching my notebook only after don Genaro said that the weight of the sheets was giving me the shivers.
I told don Juan that my body was pulling me to leave. I waved my hand to don Genaro. I did not want to give them time to make me change my mind.
“Good-by, don Genaro,” I yelled. “I have to go now.” He waved back at me.
Don Juan walked a few yards with me towards my car. “Do you also have a double, don Juan?” I asked.
“Of course!” he exclaimed.
I had at that moment a maddening thought. I wanted to discard it and leave in a hurry but something in myself kept on needling me. Over the course of the years of our association, it had become customary for me that every time I wanted to see don Juan I would just go to Sonora or central Mexico and I would always find him waiting for me. I had learned to take that for granted and it had never occurred to me until then to think anything of it.
“Tell me something, don Juan,” I said, half in jest. “Are you yourself or are you your double?”
He leaned over towards me. He was grinning. “My double,” he whispered.
My body leaped in the air as if I had been propelled by a formidable force. I ran to my car.
“I was just kidding,” don Juan said in a loud voice. “You can’t go yet. You still owe me five more days.”
Both of them ran towards my car as I was backing up. They were laughing and jumping up and down.
“Carlitos, call me any time!” don Genaro shouted.