(The Fire from Within by Carlos Castaneda)
Don Juan went on explaining that the ancient Toltecs had divided their secret knowledge into five sets of two categories each: the earth and the dark regions, fire and water, the above and the below, the loud and the silent, the moving and the stationary. He speculated that there must have been thousands of different techniques, which became more and more intricate as time passed.
“The secret knowledge of the earth,” he went on, “had to do with everything that stands on the ground. There were particular sets of movements, words, unguents, potions that were applied to people, animals, insects, trees, small plants, rocks, soil.”
“These were techniques that made the old seers into horrid beings. And their secret knowledge of the earth was employed either to groom or to destroy anything that stands on the ground.”
“The counterpart of the earth was what they knew as the dark regions. These practices were by far the most dangerous. They dealt with entities without organic life. Living creatures that are present on the earth and populate it together with all organic beings.
“Doubtlessly, one of the most worthwhile findings of the ancient seers, especially for them, was the discovery that organic life is not the only form of life present on this earth.”
I did not quite comprehend what he had said. I waited for him to clarify his statements.
“Organic beings are not the only creatures that have life,” he said and paused again as if to allow me time to think his statements over.
I countered with a long argument about the definition of life and being alive. I talked about reproduction, metabolism, and growth, the processes that distinguish live organisms from inanimate things.
“You’re drawing from the organic,” he said. “But that’s only one instance. You shouldn’t draw all you have to say from one category alone.”
“But how else can it be?” I asked.
“For seers, to be alive means to be aware,” he replied. “For the average man, to be aware means to be an organism. This is where seers are different. For them, to be aware means that the emanations that cause awareness are encased inside a receptacle.”
“Organic living beings have a cocoon that encloses the emanations. But there are other creatures whose receptacles don’t look like a cocoon to a seer. Yet they have the emanations of awareness in them and characteristics of life other than reproduction and metabolism.”
“Such as what, don Juan?”
“Such as emotional dependency, sadness, joy, wrath, and so forth and so on. And I forgot the best yet, love; a kind of love man can’t even conceive.”
“Are you serious, don Juan?” I asked in earnest.
“Inanimately serious,” he answered with a deadpan expression and then broke into laughter.
“If we take as our clue what seers see,” he continued, “life is indeed extraordinary.”
“If those beings are alive, why don’t they make themselves known to man?” I asked.
“They do, all the time. And not only to seers but also to the average man. The problem is that all the energy available is consumed by the first attention. Man’s inventory not only takes it all, but it also toughens the cocoon to the point of making it inflexible. Under those circumstances there is no possible interaction.”
He reminded me of the countless times, in the course of my apprenticeship with him, when I had had a firsthand view of inorganic beings. I retorted that I had explained away nearly every one of those instances. I had even formulated the hypothesis that his teachings, through the use of hallucinogenic plants, were geared to force an agreement, on the part of the apprentice, about a primitive interpretation of the world. I told him that I had not formally called it primitive interpretation but in anthropological terms I had labeled it a “world view more proper to hunting and gathering societies.”
Don Juan laughed until he was out of breath.
“I really don’t know whether you’re worse in your normal state of awareness or in a heightened one,” he said. “In your normal state you’re not suspicious, but boringly reasonable. I think I like you best when you are way inside the left side, in spite of the fact that you are terribly afraid of everything, as you were yesterday.”
Before I had time to say anything at all, he stated that he was pitting what the old seers did against the accomplishments of the new seers, as a sort of counterpoint, with which he intended to give me a more inclusive view of the odds I was up against.
He continued then with his elucidation of the practices of the old seers. He said that another of their great findings had to do with the next category of secret knowledge: fire and water. They discovered that flames have a most peculiar quality; they can transport man bodily, just as water does.
Don Juan called it a brilliant discovery. I remarked that there are basic laws of physics that would prove that to be impossible. He asked me to wait until he had explained everything before drawing any conclusions. He remarked that I had to check my excessive rationality, because it constantly affected my states of heightened awareness. It was not a case of reacting every which way to external influences, but of succumbing to my own devices.
He went on explaining that the ancient Toltecs, although they obviously saw, did not understand what they saw. They merely used their findings without bothering to relate them to a larger picture. In the case of their category of fire and water, they divided fire into heat and flame, and water into wetness and fluidity. They correlated heat and wetness and called them lesser properties. They considered flames and fluidity to be higher, magical properties, and they used them as a means for bodily transportation to the realm of nonorganic life. Between their knowledge of that kind of life and their fire and water practices, the ancient seers became bogged down in a quagmire with no way out.
Don Juan assured me that the new seers agreed that the discovery of nonorganic living beings was indeed extraordinary, but not in the way the old seers believed it to be. To find themselves in a one-to-one relation with another kind of life gave the ancient seers a false feeling of invulnerability, which spelled their doom.
I wanted him to explain the fire and water techniques in greater detail. He said that the old seers’ knowledge was as intricate as it was useless and that he was only going to outline it.
Then he summarized the practices of the above and the below. The above dealt with secret knowledge about wind, rain, sheets of lightning, clouds, thunder, daylight, and the sun. The knowledge of the below had to do with fog, water of underground springs, swamps, lightning bolts, earthquakes, the night, moonlight, and the moon.
The loud and the silent were a category of secret knowledge that had to do with the manipulation of sound and quiet. The moving and the stationary were practices concerned with mysterious aspects of motion and motionlessness.