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32: The Mood of the Shamans of Ancient Mexico

(The Wheel of Time by Carlos Castaneda)

In the quotations drawn from A Separate Reality, the mood that the shamans of ancient Mexico affixed to all their intentional endeavors begins to show with remarkable clarity. Don Juan himself pointed out to me in talking about those old shamans that the aspect of their world which was of supreme interest to modern practitioners was the razor-sharp awareness that those shamans had developed about the universal force they called intent. They explained that the link each of those men had with such a force was so neat and clean that they could affect things to their hearts’ content. Don Juan said that the intent of those shamans, developed to such a keen intensity, was the only aid modern practitioners had. He put it in more mundane terms, and said that modern-day practitioners, if they were honest with themselves, would pay whatever price to live under the umbrella of such an intent.

Don Juan asserted that anyone who showed even the slightest interest in the world of the shamans of antiquity was immediately drawn into the circle of their razor-sharp intent. Their intent was, for don Juan, something incommensurable that none of us could successfully fight away. Besides, he reasoned, there was no necessity to fight away such an intent because it was the only thing that counted; it was the essence of the world of those shamans, the world which modern-day practitioners coveted more than anything imaginable.

The mood of the quotations from A Separate Reality is not something that I arranged on purpose. It is a mood that surfaced independent of my aims and wishes. I could even say that it was contrary to what I had in mind. It was the mysterious coil of the wheel of time hidden in the text of the book that had suddenly been activated, and it snapped into a state of tension: a tension that dictated the direction of my endeavors.

At the time of writing A Separate Reality, as far as my feelings about my work were concerned, I could truthfully assert that I thought that I was happily involved in doing anthropological fieldwork, and my feelings and thoughts were as far away from the world of the shamans of antiquity as anything could be. Don Juan had a different opinion. Being a seasoned warrior, he knew that I couldn’t possibly extricate myself from the magnetic pull that the intent of those shamans had created. I was drowning in it, whether or not I believed in it or wished for it.

This state of affairs brought about a subliminal anxiety on my part. It was not an anxiety I could define or pinpoint, or was even aware of. It permeated my acts without the possibility of my consciously dwelling on it, or seeking an explanation. In retrospect, I can only say that I was deadly afraid, although I couldn’t determine what I was afraid of.

I tried many times to analyze this sensation of fear, but I would immediately get fatigued, bored. I would instantaneously find my inquiry groundless, superfluous, and I would end up abandoning it. I asked don Juan about my state of being. I wanted his advice, his input.

“You are just afraid,” he said. “That’s all there is to it. Don’t look for mysterious reasons for your fear. The mysterious reason is right here in front of you, within your reach. It is the intent of the shamans of ancient Mexico. You are dealing with their world, and that world shows its face to you from time to time. Of course, you can’t take that sight. Neither could I, in my time. Neither could any one of us.”

“You’re talking in riddles, don Juan!”

“Yes, I am, for the moment. It will be clear to you someday. At the present, it’s idiotic to try to talk about it, or explain anything. Nothing of what I’m trying to show you would make sense. Some inconceivable banality would make infinitely more sense to you at this moment.”

He was absolutely right. All my fears were triggered by some banality, of which I was ashamed at the time, and am ashamed of now. I was afraid of demoniacal possession. Such a fear had been encrusted in me very early in life. Anything that was inexplicable was naturally, something evil, something malignant that aimed at destroying me.

The more poignant don Juan’s explanations of the world of the ancient shamans became, the greater my sensation of needing to protect myself. This sensation was not something that could be verbalized. It was, rather than the need to protect the self, the need to protect the veracity and the undeniable value of the world in which we human beings live. To me, my world was the only recognizable world. If it was threatened, there was an immediate reaction on my part, a reaction that manifested itself in some quality of fear that I will be forever at a loss to explain; this fear was something one must feel in order to grasp its immensity. It was not the fear of dying or of being hurt. It was, rather, something immeasurably deeper than that. It was so deep that any shaman practitioner would be at a loss trying even to conceptualize it.

“You have come, in a roundabout way, to stand directly in front of the warrior,” don Juan said.

At that time, he emphasized to no end the concept of the warrior. He said that the warrior was of course, much more than a mere concept. It was a way of life, and that way of life was the only deterrent to fear, and the only channel which a practitioner could use to let the flow of his activity move on freely. Without the concept of the warrior, the stumbling blocks on the path of knowledge were impossible to overcome.

Don Juan defined the warrior as the fighter par excellence. It was a mood facilitated by the intent of the shamans of antiquity; a mood into which any man could enter.

“The intent of those shamans,” don Juan said, “was so keen, so powerful, that it would solidify the structure of the warrior in anyone who tapped it, even though they might not be aware of it.”

In short, the warrior was, for the shamans of ancient Mexico, a unit of combat so tuned to the fight around him, so extraordinarily alert that in his purest form, he needed nothing superfluous to survive. There was no necessity to make gifts to a warrior, or to prop him up with talk or actions, or to try to give him solace and incentive. All of those things were included in the structure of the warrior itself. Since that structure was determined by the intent of the shamans of ancient Mexico, they made sure that anything foreseeable would be included. The end result was a fighter who fought alone and drew from his own silent convictions all the impulse he needed to forge ahead, without complaints, without the necessity to be praised.

Personally, I found the concept of the warrior fascinating, and at the same time, one of the most frightening things I had ever encountered. I thought it was a concept that, if I adopted it, would bind me into servitude, and wouldn’t give me the time or the disposition to protest or examine or complain. Complaining had been my lifelong habit, and truthfully, I would have fought tooth and nail not to give it up. I thought that complaining was the sign of a sensitive, courageous, forthright man who has no qualms in stating his facts, his likes and dislikes. If all of that was going to turn into a fighting organism, I stood to lose more than I could afford.

These were my inner thoughts. And yet, I coveted the direction, the peace, the efficiency of the warrior. One of the great aids that the shamans of ancient Mexico employed in establishing the concept of the warrior was the idea of taking our death as a companion, a witness to our acts. Don Juan said that once that premise is accepted, in whatever mild form, a bridge is formed which extends across the gap between our world of daily affairs, and something that is in front of us, but has no name; something that is lost in a fog, and doesn’t seem to exist; something so terribly unclear that it cannot be used as a point of reference, and yet, it is there, undeniably present.

Don Juan claimed that the only being on earth capable of crossing over that bridge was the warrior: silent in his struggle, un-detainable because he has nothing to lose, functional and efficacious because he has everything to gain.


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