(The Eagle’s Gift by Carlos Castaneda)
The power that governs the destiny of all living beings is called the Eagle, not because it is an eagle or has anything to do with an eagle, but because it appears to the seer as an immeasurable jet-black eagle, standing erect as an eagle stands, its height reaching to infinity. As the seer gazes on the blackness that the Eagle is, four blazes of light reveal what the Eagle is like. The first blaze, which is like a bolt of lightning, helps the seer make out the contours of the Eagle’s body.
There are patches of whiteness that look like an eagle’s feathers and talons. A second blaze of lightning reveals the flapping, wind-creating blackness that looks like an eagle’s wings. With the third blaze of lightning the seer beholds a piercing, inhuman eye. And the fourth and last blaze discloses what the Eagle is doing.
The Eagle is devouring the awareness of all the creatures that, alive on earth a moment before and now dead, have floated to the Eagle’s beak, like a ceaseless swarm of fireflies, to meet their owner, their reason for having had life. The Eagle disentangles these tiny flames, lays them flat, as a tanner stretches out a hide, and then consumes them; for awareness is the Eagle’s food.
The Eagle, that power that governs the destinies of all living things, reflects equally and at once all those living things. There is no way, therefore, for man to pray to the Eagle, to ask favors, to hope for grace, The human part of the Eagle is too insignificant to move the whole.
It is only from the Eagle’s actions that a seer can tell what it wants. The Eagle, although it is not moved by the circumstances of any living thing, has granted a gift to each of those beings. In its own way and right, any one of them, if it so desires, has the power to keep the flame of awareness, the power to disobey the summons to die and be consumed. Every living thing has been granted the power, if it so desires, to seek an opening to freedom and to go through it. It is evident to the seer who sees the opening, and to the creatures that go through it, that the Eagle has granted that gift in order to perpetuate awareness.
For the purpose of guiding living things to that opening, the Eagle created the Nagual. The Nagual is a double being to whom the rule has been revealed. Whether it be in the form of a human being, an animal, a plant, or anything else that lives, the Nagual by virtue of its doubleness is drawn to seek that hidden passageway.
The Nagual comes in pairs, male and female. A double man and a double woman become the Nagual only after the rule has been told to each of them, and each of them has understood it and accepted it in full.
To the eye of the seer, a Nagual man or Nagual woman appears as a luminous egg with four compartments. Unlike the average human being, who has two sides only, a left and a right, the Nagual has a left side divided into two long sections, and a right side equally divided in two.
The Eagle created the first Nagual man and Nagual woman as seers and immediately put them in the world to see. It provided them with four female warriors who were stalkers, three male warriors, and one male courier, whom they were to nourish, enhance, and lead to freedom.
The female warriors are called the four directions, the four corners of a square, the four moods, the four winds, the four different female personalities that exist in the human race.
The first is the east. She is called order. She is optimistic, light- hearted, smooth, persistent like a steady breeze.
The second is the north. She is called strength. She is resourceful, blunt, direct, tenacious like a hard wind.
The third is the west. She is called feeling. She is introspective, remorseful, cunning, sly, like a cold gust of wind.
The fourth is the south. She is called growth, She is nurturing, loud, shy, warm, like a hot wind.
The three male warriors and the courier are representative of the four types of male activity and temperament.
The first type is the knowledgeable man, the scholar; a noble, dependable, serene man, fully dedicated to accomplishing his task, whatever it may be.
The second type is the man of action, highly volatile, a great humorous fickle companion.
The third type is the organizer behind the scenes, the mysterious, unknowable man. Nothing can be said about him because he allows nothing about himself to slip out.
The courier is the fourth type, He is the assistant, a taciturn, somber man who does very well if properly directed but who cannot stand on his own.
In order to make things easier, the Eagle showed the Nagual man and Nagual woman that each of these types among men and women of the earth has specific features in its luminous body.
The scholar has a sort of shallow dent, a bright depression at his solar plexus. In some men it appears as a pool of intense luminosity, sometimes smooth and shiny like a mirror without a reflection.
The man of action has some fibers emanating from the area of the will. The number of fibers varies from one to five, their size ranging from a mere string to a thick, whiplike tentacle up to eight feet long. Some have as many as three of these fibers developed into tentacles.
The man behind the scenes is recognized not by a feature but by his ability to create, quite involuntarily, a burst of power that effectively blocks the attention of seers. When in the presence of this type of man, seers find themselves immersed in extraneous detail rather than seeing.
The assistant has no obvious configuration. To seers he appears as a clear glow in a flawless shell of luminosity.
In the female realm, the east is recognized by the almost imperceptible blotches in her luminosity, something like small areas of discoloration.
The north has an overall radiation; she exudes a reddish glow, almost like heat.
The west has a tenuous film enveloping her, a film which makes her appear darker than the others.
The south has an intermittent glow; she shines for a moment and then gets dull, only to shine again.
The Nagual man and the Nagual woman have two different movements in their luminous bodies. Their right sides wave, while their left sides whirl.
In terms of personality, the Nagual man is supportive, steady, unchangeable. The Nagual woman is a being at war and yet relaxed, ever aware but without strain. Both of them reflect the four types of their sex, as four ways of behaving.
The first command that the Eagle gave the Nagual man and Nagual woman was to find, on their own, another set of four female warriors, four directions, who were the exact replicas of the stalkers but who were dreamers.
Dreamers appear to a seer as having an apron of hairlike fibers at their midsections. Stalkers have a similar apronlike feature, but instead of fibers the apron consists of countless small, round protuberances.
The eight female warriors are divided into two bands, which are called the right and left planets. The right planet is made up of four stalkers, the left of four dreamers. The warriors of each planet were taught by the Eagle the rule of their specific task: stalkers were taught stalking; dreamers were taught dreaming.
The two female warriors of each direction live together. They are so alike that they mirror each other, and only through impeccability can they find solace and challenge in each other’s reflection.
The only time when the four dreamers or four stalkers get together is when they have to accomplish a strenuous task; but only under special circumstances should the four of them join hands, for their touch fuses them into one being and should be used only in cases of dire need, or at the moment of leaving this world.
The two female warriors of each direction are attached to one of the males, in any combination that is necessary. Thus they make a set of four households, which are capable of incorporating as many warriors as needed.
The male warriors and the courier can also form an independent unit of four men, or each can function as a solitary being, as dictated by necessity.
Next the Nagual and his party were commanded to find three more couriers. These could be all males or all females or a mixed set, but the male couriers had to be of the fourth type of man, the assistant, and the females had to be from the south.
In order to make sure that the first Nagual man would lead his party to freedom and not deviate from that path or become corrupted, the Eagle took the Nagual woman to the other world to serve as a beacon, guiding the party to the opening.
The Nagual and his warriors were then commanded to forget.
They were plunged into darkness and were given new tasks: the task of remembering themselves, and the task of remembering the Eagle.
The command to forget was so great that everyone was separated. They did not remember who they were. The Eagle intended that if they were capable of remembering themselves again, they would find the totality of themselves. Only then would they have the strength and forebearance necessary to seek and face their definitive journey.
Their last task, after they had regained the totality of themselves, was to get a new pair of double beings and transform them into a new Nagual man and a new Nagual woman by virtue of revealing the rule to them. And just as the first Nagual man and Nagual woman had been provided with a minimal party, they had to supply the new pair of Naguals with four female warriors who were stalkers, three male warriors, and one male courier.
When the first Nagual and his party were ready to go through the passageway, the first Nagual woman was waiting to guide them. They were ordered then to take the new Nagual woman with them to the other world to serve as a beacon for her people, leaving the new Nagual man in the world to repeat the cycle.
While in the world, the minimal number under a Nagual’s leadership is sixteen: eight female warriors, four male warriors, counting the Nagual, and four couriers. At the moment of leaving the world, when the new Nagual woman is with them, the Nagual’s number is seventeen. If his personal power permits him to have more warriors, then more must be added in multiples of four.
I had confronted don Juan with the question of how the rule became known to man. He explained that the rule was endless and covered every facet of a warrior’s behavior. The interpretation and the accumulation of the rule is the work of seers whose only task throughout the ages has been to see the Eagle, to observe its ceaseless flux. From their observations, the seers have concluded that, providing the luminous shell that comprises one’s humanness has been broken, it is possible to find in the Eagle the faint reflection of man. The Eagle’s irrevocable dictums can then be apprehended by seers, properly interpreted by them, and accumulated in the form of a governing body.
Don Juan explained that the rule was not a tale, and that to cross over to freedom did not mean eternal life as eternity is commonly understood – that is, as living forever. What the rule stated was that one could keep the awareness which is ordinarily relinquished at the moment of dying. Don Juan could not explain what it meant to keep that awareness, or perhaps he could not even conceive of it. His benefactor had told him that at the moment of crossing, one enters into the third attention, and the body in its entirety is kindled with knowledge. Every cell at once becomes aware of itself, and also aware of the totality of the body.
His benefactor had also told him that this kind of awareness is meaningless to our compartmentalized minds. Therefore the crux of the warrior’s struggle was not so much to realize that the crossing over stated in the rule meant crossing to the third attention, but rather to conceive that there exists such an awareness at all.
Don Juan said that in the beginning the rule was to him something strictly in the realm of words. He could not imagine how it could lapse into the domain of the actual world and its ways. Under the effective guidance of his benefactor, however, and after a great deal of work, he finally succeeded in grasping the true nature of the rule, and totally accepted it as a set of pragmatic directives rather than a myth. From then on, he had no problem in dealing with the reality of the third attention. The only obstacle in his way arose from his being so thoroughly convinced that the rule was a map that he believed he had to look for a literal opening in the world, a passageway. Somehow he had become needlessly stuck at the first level of a warrior’s development.
Don Juan’s own work as a leader and teacher, as a result, was directed at helping the apprentices, and especially me, to avoid repeating his mistake. What he succeeded in doing with us was to lead us through the three stages of a warrior’s development without overemphasizing any of them. First he guided us to take the rule as a map; then he guided us to the understanding that one can attain a paramount awareness, because there is such a thing; and finally he guided us to an actual passageway into that other concealed world of awareness.
In order to lead us through the first stage, the acceptance of the rule as a map, don Juan took the section which pertains to the Nagual and his role and showed us that it corresponds to unequivocal facts. He accomplished this by allowing us to have, while we were in stages of heightened awareness, an unrestricted interaction with the members of his group, who were the living personifications of the eight types of people described by the rule. As we interacted with them, more complex and inclusive aspects of the rule were revealed to us, until we were capable of realizing that we were caught in the network of something which at first we had conceptualized as a myth, but which in essence was a map.
Don Juan told us that in this respect his case had been identical to ours. His benefactor helped him go through that first stage by allowing him the same type of interaction. To that effect he made him shift back and forth from the right side to the left side awareness, just as don Juan had done to us. On the left side, he introduced him to the members of his own group, the eight female and three male warriors, and the four couriers, who were, as is mandatory, the strictest examples of the types described by the rule. The impact of knowing them and dealing with them was staggering to don Juan. Not only did it force him to regard the rule as a factual guide, but it made him realize the magnitude of our unknown possibilities.
He said that by the time all the members of his own group had been gathered, he was so deeply committed to the warrior’s way that he took for granted the fact that, without any overt effort on anybody’s part, they had turned out to be perfect replicas of the warriors of his benefactor’s party. The similarity of their personal likes, dislikes, affiliations, and so forth, was not a result of imitation; don Juan said that they belonged, as the rule had stated, to specific blocks of people who had the same input and output. The only differences among members of the same block were in the pitch of their voices, the sound of their laughter.
In trying to explain to me the effects that the interaction with his benefactor’s warriors had had on him, don Juan touched on the subject of the very meaningful difference between his benefactor and himself in how they interpreted the rule, and also in how they led and taught other warriors to accept it as a map. He said that there are two types of interpretations – universal and individual. Universal interpretations take the statements that make up the body of the rule at face value. An example would be to say that the Eagle does not care about man’s actions and yet it has provided man with a passageway to freedom.
An individual interpretation, on the other hand, is a current conclusion arrived at by seers using universal interpretation’s as premises. An example would be to say that because of the Eagle’s lack of concern I would have to make sure that my chances to reach freedom are enhanced, perhaps by my own dedication.
According to don Juan, he and his benefactor were quite different in the methods they used to lead their wards. Don Juan said that his benefactor’s mode was severity; he led with an iron hand, and following his conviction that with the Eagle free handouts are out of the question, he never did anything for anyone in a direct way. Instead, he actively helped everyone to help themselves. He considered that the Eagle’s gift of freedom is not a bestowal but a chance to have a chance.
Don Juan, although he appreciated the merits of his benefactor’s method, disagreed with it.
Later on, when he was on his own, he himself saw that it wasted precious time. For him it was more expedient to present everyone with a given situation and force them to accept it, rather than wait until they were ready to face it on their own. That was his method with me and the other apprentices.
The instance in which that difference in leadership had the greatest bearing for don Juan was during the mandatory interaction that he had with his benefactor’s warriors. The command of the rule was that his benefactor had to find for don Juan first a Nagual woman and then a group of four women and four men to make up his warrior’s party. His benefactor saw that don Juan did not yet have enough personal power to assume the responsibility of a Nagual woman, and so he reversed the sequence and asked the females of his own group to find don Juan the four women first, and then the four men.
Don Juan confessed that he was enthralled with the idea of such a reversal. He had understood that those women were for his use, and in his mind that meant sexual use. His downfall, however, was to reveal his expectations to his benefactor, who immediately put don Juan in contact with the men and women of his own party and left him alone to interact with them.
For don Juan, to meet those warriors was a true ordeal, not only because they were deliberately difficult with him, but because the nature of that encounter is meant to be a breakthrough.
Don Juan said that interaction in the left-side awareness cannot take place unless all the participants share that state. This was why he would not let us enter into the left-side awareness except to carry on our interaction with his warriors. That was the procedure his benefactor had followed with him.
Don Juan gave me a brief account of what had taken place during his first meeting with the members of his benefactor’s group. His idea was that I could use his experience perhaps as a sample of what to expect. He said that his benefactor’s world had a magnificent regularity. The members of his party were Indian warriors from all over Mexico. At the time he met them they lived in a remote mountainous area in southern Mexico.
Upon reaching their house, don Juan was confronted with two identical women, the biggest Indian women he had ever seen. They were sulky and mean, but had very pleasing features.
When he tried to go between them, they caught him between their enormous bellies, grabbed his arms, and started beating him up. They threw him to the ground and sat on him, nearly crushing his rib cage. They kept him immobilized for over twelve hours while they conducted on-the-spot negotiations with his benefactor, who had to talk nonstop throughout the night, until they finally let don Juan get up around midmorning. He said that what scared him the most was the determination that showed in the eyes of those women. He thought he was done for, that they were going to sit on him until he died, as they had said they would.
Normally there should have been a waiting period of a few weeks before meeting the next set of warriors, but due to the fact that his benefactor was planning to leave him in their midst, don Juan was immediately taken to meet the others. He met everyone in one day and all of them treated him like dirt. They argued that he was not the man for the job, that he was too coarse and way too stupid, young but already senile in his ways. His benefactor argued brilliantly in his defense; he told them that they could change those conditions, and that it should be an ultimate delight for them and for don Juan to take up that challenge.
Don Juan said that his first impression was right. For him there was only work and hardship from then on. The women saw that don Juan was unruly and could not be trusted to fulfill the complex and delicate task of leading four women. Since they were seers themselves, they made their own individual interpretation of the rule and decided that it would be more helpful for don Juan to have the four male warriors first and then the four females. Don Juan said that their seeing had been correct, because in order to deal with women warriors a Nagual has to be in a state of consummate personal power, a state of serenity and control in which human feelings play a minimal part, a state which at the time was inconceivable for him.
His benefactor put him under the direct supervision of his two westerly women, the most fierce and uncompromising warriors of them all. Don Juan said that all westerly women, in accordance with the rule, are raving mad and have to be cared for. Under the duress of dreaming and stalking they lose their right sides, their minds. Their reason burns up easily due to the fact that their left-side awareness is extraordinarily keen. Once they lose their rational side, they are peerless dreamers and stalkers, since they no longer have any rational ballast to hold them back.
Don Juan said that those women cured him of his lust. For six months he spent most of his time in a harness suspended from the ceiling of their rural kitchen, like a ham that was being smoked, until he was thoroughly purified from thoughts of gain and personal gratification.
Don Juan explained that a leather harness is a superb device for curing certain maladies that are not physical. The idea is that the higher a person is suspended and the longer that person is kept from touching the ground, dangling in midair, the better the possibilities of a true cleansing effect.
While he was being cleansed by the westerly warriors, the other women were involved in the process of finding the men and the women for his party. It took years to accomplish this. Don Juan, meantime, was forced to interact with all his benefactor’s warriors by himself. The presence of those warriors and his contact with them was so overwhelming to don Juan that he believed he would never get out from under them. The result was his total and literal adherence to the body of the rule. Don Juan said that he spent irreplaceable time pondering the existence of an actual passageway into the other world. He viewed such a concern as a pitfall to be avoided at all costs.
To protect me from it, he allowed the required inter action with the members of his group to be carried on while I was protected by the presence of la Gorda or any of the other apprentices. In my case, meeting don Juan’s warriors was the end result of a long process. There was never any mention of them in casual conversations with don Juan. I knew of their existence solely by inference from the rule, which he was revealing to me in installments. Later on, he admitted that they existed, and that eventually I would have to meet them. He prepared me for the encounter by giving me general instructions and pointers.
He warned me about a common error, that of overestimating the left-side awareness, of becoming dazzled by its clarity and power. He said that to be in the left-side awareness does not mean that one is immediately liberated from one’s folly – it only means an extended capacity for perceiving, a greater facility to understand and learn, and above all, a greater ability to forget.
As the time approached for me to meet don Juan’s own warriors, he gave me a scanty description of his benefactor’s party, again as a guideline for my own use. He said that to an onlooker, his benefactor’s world may have appeared at certain times as consisting of four households. The first was formed by the southerly women and the Nagual’s courier; the second by the easterly women, the scholar, and a male courier; the third by the northerly women, the man of action, and another male courier; and the fourth by the westerly women, the man behind the scenes, and a third male courier.
At other times that world may have seemed to be composed of groups. There was a group of four thoroughly dissimilar older men, who were don Juan’s benefactor and his three male warriors. Then a group of four men who were very similar to one another, who were the couriers. A group composed of two sets of apparently identical female twins who lived together and were the southerly and easterly women.
And two other sets of apparently sisters, who were the northerly and westerly women.
None of these women were relatives – they just looked alike because of the enormous amount of personal power that don Juan’s benefactor had. Don Juan described the southerly women as being two mastodons, scary in appearance but very friendly and warm. The easterly women were very beautiful, fresh and funny, a true delight to the eyes and the ears. The northerly women were utterly womanly, vain, coquettish, concerned with their aging, but also terribly direct and impatient. The westerly women were mad at times, and at other times they were the epitome of severity and purpose. They were the ones who disturbed don Juan the most, because he could not reconcile the fact that they were so sober, kind, and helpful with the fact that at any given moment they could lose their composure and be raving mad.
The men, on the other hand, were in no way memorable to don Juan. He thought that there was nothing remarkable about them. They seemed to have been thoroughly absorbed by the shocking force of the women’s determination and by his benefactor’s overpowering personality.
Insofar as his own awakening was concerned, don Juan said that upon being thrust into his benefactor’s world, he realized how easy and convenient it had been for him to go through life with no self-restraint. He understood that his mistake had been to believe that his goals were the only worthwhile ones a man could have. All his life he had been a pauper; his consuming ambition, therefore, was to have material possessions, to be somebody. He had been so preoccupied with his desire to get ahead and his despair at not being successful, that he had had no time for examining anything. He had gladly sided with his benefactor because he realized that he was being offered an opportunity to make something of himself. If nothing else, he thought he might learn to be a sorcerer. He conceived that immersion in his benefactor’s world might have an effect on him analogous to the effect of the Spanish Conquest on the Indian culture. It destroyed everything, but it also forced a shattering self-examination.
My response to the preparations to meet don Juan’s party of warriors was not, strangely enough, awe or fear, but a petty intellectual concern about two topics. The first was the proposition that there are only four types of men and four types of women in the world. I argued with don Juan that the range of individual variation in people is too great for such a simple scheme. He disagreed with me. He said that the rule was final, and that it did not allow for an indefinite number of types of people.
The second topic was the cultural context of don Juan’s knowledge. He did not know that himself. He viewed it as the product of a sort of Pan-Indianism. His conjecture about its origin was that at one time, in the Indian world prior to the Conquest, the handling of the second attention became vitiated. It was developed without any hindrance over perhaps thousands of years, to the point that it lost its strength. The practitioners of that time may have had no need for controls, and thus without restraint, the second attention, instead of becoming stronger, became weaker by virtue of its increased intricacy. Then the Spanish invaders came and, with their superior technology, destroyed the Indian world. Don Juan said that his benefactor was convinced that only a handful of those warriors survived and were capable of reassembling their knowledge and redirecting their path. Whatever don Juan and his benefactor knew about the second attention was the restructured version, a new version which had built-in restraints because it had been forged under the harshest conditions of suppression.