(The Art of Dreaming by Carlos Castaneda)
Since our agreement had been to discuss dreaming only when don Juan considered it necessary, I rarely asked him about it and never insisted on continuing my questions beyond a certain point. I was more than eager, therefore, to listen to him whenever he decided to take up the subject. His comments or discussions on dreaming were invariably cushioned in other topics of his teachings, and they were always suddenly and abruptly brought in.
We were engaged in some unrelated conversation once, while I was visiting with him in his house, when without any preamble he said that, by means of their dreaming contacts with inorganic beings, the old sorcerers became immensely well-versed in the manipulation of the assemblage point, a vast and ominous subject.
I immediately grabbed the opportunity and asked don Juan for an estimate of the time when the old sorcerers might have lived. At various opportunities before, I had asked the same question, but he never gave me a satisfactory answer. I was confident, however, that at the moment, perhaps because he had brought up the subject himself, he might be willing to oblige me.
“A most trying subject,” he said. The way he said it made me believe he was discarding my question. I was quite surprised when he continued talking. “It’ll tax your rationality as much as the topic of inorganic beings. By the way, what do you think about them now?”
“I have let my opinions rest,” I said. “I can’t afford to think one way or another.”
My answer delighted him. He laughed and commented on his own fears of and aversions to the inorganic beings.
“They have never been my cup of tea,” he said. “Of course, the main reason was my fear of them. I was unable to get over it when I had to, and then it became fixed.”
“Do you fear them now, don Juan?”
“It’s not quite fear I feel but revulsion. I don’t want any part of them.” “Is there any particular reason for this revulsion?”
“The best reason in the world: we are antithetical. They love slavery, and I love freedom. They love to buy, and I don’t sell.”
I became inexplicably agitated and brusquely told him that the subject was so farfetched for me that I could not take it seriously.
He stared at me, smiling, and said, “The best thing to do with inorganic beings is what you do: deny their existence but visit with them regularly and maintain that you are dreaming and in dreaming anything is possible. This way you don’t commit yourself.”
I felt strangely guilty, although I could not figure out why. I felt compelled to ask, “What are you referring to, don Juan?”
“To your visits with the inorganic beings,” he replied dryly. “Are you kidding? What visits?”
“I didn’t want to discuss this, but I think it’s time I tell you that the nagging voice you heard, reminding you to fix your dreaming attention on the items of your dreams, was the voice of an inorganic being.”
I thought don Juan was completely irrational. I became so irritated that I even yelled at him. He laughed at me and asked me to tell him about my irregular dreaming sessions. That request surprised me. I had never mentioned to anyone that every so often I used to zoom out of a dream, pulled by a given item, but instead of my changing dreams, as I should have, the total mood of the dream changed and I would find myself in a dimension unknown to me. I soared in it, directed by some invisible guide, which made me twirl around and around. I always awoke from one of these dreams still twirling, and I continued tossing and turning for a long time before I fully woke up.
“Those are bona fide meetings you are having with your inorganic being friends,” don Juan said.
I did not want to argue with him, but neither did I want to agree. I remained silent. I had forgotten my question about the old sorcerers, but don Juan picked up the subject again.
“My understanding is that the old sorcerers existed perhaps as far back as ten thousand years ago,” he said, smiling and watching my reaction.
Basing my response on current archaeological data on the migration of Asiatic nomadic tribes to the Americas, I said that I believed his date was incorrect. Ten thousand years was too far back.
“You have your knowledge and I have mine,” he said. “My knowledge is that the old sorcerers ruled for four thousand years, from seven thousand to three thousand years ago. Three thousand years ago, they went to nothing. And from then on, sorcerers have been regrouping, restructuring what was left of the old ones.”
“How can you be so sure about your dates?” I asked. “How can you be so sure about yours?” he retorted.
I told him that archaeologists have foolproof methods to establish the date of past cultures.
Again he retorted that sorcerers have foolproof methods of their own.
“I’m not trying to be contrary or argue you down,” he continued, “but someday soon you may be able to ask someone who knows for sure.”
“No one can know this for sure, don Juan.”
“This is another of those impossible things to believe, but there is somebody who can verify all this. You’ll meet that person someday.”
“Come on, don Juan, you’ve got to be joking. Who can verify, what happened seven thousand years ago?”
“Very simple, one of the old sorcerers we’ve been talking about. The one I met. He’s the one who told me all about the old sorcerers. I hope you remember what I am going to tell you about that particular man. He is the key to many of our endeavors, and he’s also the one you have to meet.”
I told don Juan that I was hanging on every word he said, even though I did not understand what he was saying. He accused me of humoring him and not believing a word about the old sorcerers. I admitted that in my state of daily consciousness, of course, I had not believed those farfetched stories. But neither had I in the second attention, although there I should have had a different reaction.
“Only when you ponder what I said does it become a farfetched story,” he remarked. “If you don’t involve your common sense, it remains purely a matter of energy.”
“Why did you say, don Juan, that I am going to meet one of the old sorcerers?”
“Because you are. It is vital that the two of you meet, someday. But, for the moment, just let me tell you another farfetched story about one of the naguals of my line, the nagual Sebastian.”
Don Juan told me then that the nagual Sebastian had been a sexton in a church in southern Mexico around the beginning of the eighteenth century. In his account, don Juan stressed how sorcerers, past or present, seek and find refuge in established institutions, such as the Church. It was his idea that because of their superior discipline, sorcerers are trustworthy employees and that they are avidly sought by institutions that are always in dire need of such persons. Don Juan maintained that as long as no one is aware of the sorcerers’ doings, their lack of ideological sympathies makes them appear as model workers.
Don Juan continued his story and said that one day, while Sebastian was performing his duties as a sexton, a strange man came to the church, an old Indian who seemed to be ill. In a weak voice he told Sebastian that he needed help. The nagual thought that the Indian wanted the parish priest, but the man, making a great effort, addressed the nagual. In a harsh and direct tone, he told him that he knew that Sebastian was not only a sorcerer but a nagual.
Sebastian, quite alarmed by this sudden turn of events, pulled the Indian aside and demanded an apology. The man replied that he was not there to apologize but to get specialized help. He needed, he said, to receive the nagual’s energy in order to maintain his life, which, he assured Sebastian, had spanned thousands of years but at the moment was ebbing away.
Sebastian, who was a very intelligent man, unwilling to pay attention to such nonsense, urged the Indian to stop clowning around. The old man became angry and threatened Sebastian with exposing him and his group to the ecclesiastical authorities if he did not comply with his request.
Don Juan reminded me that those were the times when the ecclesiastical authorities were brutally and systematically eradicating heretical practices among the Indians of the New Worlds. The man’s threat was not something to be taken lightly; the nagual and his group were indeed in mortal danger. Sebastian asked the Indian how he could give him energy. The man explained that naguals, by means of their discipline, gain a peculiar energy that they store in their bodies and that he would get it painlessly from Sebastian’s energy center on his navel. In return for it, Sebastian would get not only the opportunity to continue his activities unscathed but also a gift of power.
The knowledge that he was being manipulated by the old Indian did not sit right with the nagual, but the man was inflexible and left him no alternative but to comply with his request.
Don Juan assured me that the old Indian was not exaggerating about his claims at all. He turned out to be one of the sorcerers of ancient times, one of those known as the death defiers. He had apparently survived to the present by manipulating his assemblage point in ways that only he knew about.
Don Juan said that what transpired between Sebastian and that man later became the ground for an agreement that had bound all six naguals who followed Sebastian. The death defier kept his word; in exchange for energy from every one of those men, he made a donation to the giver, a gift of power. Sebastian had to accept such a gift, although reluctantly; he had been cornered and had no other choice. All the other naguals who followed him, however, gladly and proudly accepted their gifts.
Don Juan concluded his story, saying that over time the death defier came to be known as the tenant. And for over two hundred years, the naguals of don Juan’s line honored that binding agreement, creating a symbiotic relationship that changed the course and final goal of their lineage.
Don Juan did not care to explain the story any further, and I was left with a strange sensation of truthfulness, which was more bothersome to me than I could have imagined.
“How did he get to live that long?” I asked.
“No one knows,” don Juan replied. “All we’ve known about him, for generations, is what he tells us. The death defier is the one I asked about the old sorcerers, and he told me that they were at their peak three thousand years ago.”
“How do you know he was telling you the truth?” I asked.
Don Juan shook his head in amazement, if not revulsion. “When you’re facing that inconceivable unknown out there,” he said, pointing all around him, “you don’t fool around with petty lies. Petty lies are only for people who have never witnessed what’s out there, waiting for them.”
His answer, a seemingly innocuous phrase, was more terrifying to me than if he had described the most horrendous thing.
“Something utterly impersonal.”