Don Juan, whenever it was pertinent, used to tell me brief stories about the sorcerers of his lineage, especially his teacher, the nagual Julian. They were not really stories, but rather descriptions of the way those sorcerers behaved and of aspects of their personalities. These accounts were each designed to shed light on a specific topic in my apprenticeship. I had heard the same stories from the other fifteen members of don Juan’s group of sorcerers, but none of these accounts had been able to give me a clear picture of the people they described. Since I had no way of persuading don Juan to give me more details about those sorcerers, I had resigned myself to the idea of never knowing about them in any depth. One afternoon, in the mountains of southern Mexico, don Juan, after having explained to me more about the intricacies of the mastery of awareness, made a statement that completely baffled me. “I think it’s time for us to talk about the sorcerers of our past,” he said. Don Juan explained that it was necessary that I begin drawing conclusions based on a systematic view of the past, conclusions about both the world of daily affairs and the sorcerers’ world. “Sorcerers are vitally concerned with their past,” he said. “But I don’t mean their personal past. For sorcerers their past is what other sorcerers in bygone days have done. And what we are now going to do is examine that past. “The average man also examines the past. But it’s mostly his personal past he examines, and he does so for personal reasons. Sorcerers do quite the opposite; they consult their past in order to obtain a point of reference.” “But isn’t that what everyone does? Look at the past to get a point of reference?” “No!” he answered emphatically. “The average man measures himself against the past, whether his personal past or the past knowledge of his time, in order to find justifications for his present or future behavior, or to establish a model for himself. Only sorcerers genuinely seek a point of reference in their past.” “Perhaps, don Juan, things would be clear to me if you tell me what a point of reference for a sorcerer is.” “For sorcerers, establishing a point of reference means getting a chance to examine intent” he replied. “Which is exactly the aim of this final topic of instruction. And nothing can give sorcerers a better view of intent than examining stories of other sorcerers battling to understand the same force.” He explained that as they examined their past, the sorcerers of his lineage took careful notice of the basic abstract order of their knowledge. “In sorcery there are twenty-one abstract cores,” don Juan went on. “And then, based on those abstract cores, there are scores of sorcery stories about the naguals of our lineage battling to understand the spirit. It’s time to tell you the abstract cores and the sorcery stories.” I waited for don Juan to begin telling me the stories, but he changed the subject and went back to explaining awareness. “Wait a minute,” I protested. “What about the sorcery stories? Aren’t you going to tell them to me?” “Of course I am,” he said. “But they are not stories that one can tell as if they were tales. You’ve got to think your way through them and then rethink them – relive them, so to speak.” There was a long silence. I became very cautious and was afraid that if I persisted in asking him again to tell me the stories, I could be committing myself to something I might later regret. But my curiosity was greater than my good sense. “Well, let’s get on with them,” I croaked. Don Juan, obviously catching the gist of my thoughts, smiled maliciously. He stood and signaled me to follow. We had been sitting on some dry rocks at the bottom of a gully. It was mid-afternoon. The sky was dark and cloudy. Low, almost black rain clouds hovered above the peaks to the east. In comparison, the high clouds made the sky seem clear to the south. Earlier it had rained heavily, but then the rain seemed to have retreated to a hiding place, leaving behind only a threat. I should have been chilled to the bone, for it was very cold. But I was warm. As I clutched a rock don Juan had given me to hold, I realized that this sensation of being warm in nearly freezing weather was familiar to me, yet it amazed me each time. Whenever I seemed about to freeze, don Juan would give me a branch to hold, or a stone, or he would put a bunch of leaves under my shirt, on the tip of my sternum, and that would be sufficient to raise my body temperature. I had tried unsuccessfully to recreate, by myself, the effect of his ministrations. He told me it was not the ministrations but his inner silence that kept me warm, and the branches or stones or leaves were merely devices to trap my attention and maintain it in focus. Moving quickly, we climbed the steep west side of a mountain until we reached a rock ledge at the very top. We were in the foothills of a higher range of mountains. From the rock ledge I could see that fog had begun to move onto the south end of the valley floor below us. Low, wispy clouds seemed to be closing in on us, too, sliding down from the black-green, high mountain peaks to the west. After the rain, under the dark cloudy sky the valley and the mountains to the east and south appeared covered in a mantle of black-green silence. “This is the ideal place to have a talk,” don Juan said, sitting on the rock floor of a concealed shallow cave. The cave was perfect for the two of us to sit side by side. Our heads were nearly touching the roof and our backs fitted snugly against the curved surface of the rock wall. It was as if the cave had been carved deliberately to accommodate two persons of our size. I noticed another strange feature of the cave: when I stood on the ledge, I could see the entire valley and the mountain ranges to the east and south, but when I sat down, I was boxed in by the rocks. Yet the ledge was at the level of the cave floor, and flat. I was about to point this strange effect out to don Juan, but he anticipated me. “This cave is man-made,” he said. “The ledge is slanted but the eye doesn’t register the incline.” “Who made this cave, don Juan?” “The ancient sorcerers. Perhaps thousands of years ago. And one of the peculiarities of this cave is that animals and insects and even people stay away from it. The ancient sorcerers seem to have infused it with an ominous charge that makes every living thing feel ill at ease.” But strangely I felt irrationally secure and happy there. A sensation of physical contentment made my entire body tingle. I actually felt the most agreeable, the most delectable, sensation in my stomach. It was as if my nerves were being tickled. “I don’t feel ill at ease,” I commented. “Neither do I,” he said. “Which only means that you and I aren’t that far temperamentally from those old sorcerers of the past; something which worries me no end.” I was afraid to pursue that subject any further, so I waited for him to talk. “The first sorcery story I am going to tell you is called “The Manifestations of the Spirit”,” don Juan began, “but don’t let the title mystify you. The manifestations of the spirit is only the first abstract core around which the first sorcery story is built. “That first abstract core is a story in itself,” he went on. “The story says that once upon a time there was a man, an average man without any special attributes. He was, like everyone else, a conduit for the spirit. And by virtue of that, like everyone else, he was part of the spirit, part of the abstract. But he didn’t know it. The world kept him so busy that he had neither the time nor the inclination really to examine the matter. “The spirit tried, uselessly, to reveal their connection. Using an inner voice, the spirit disclosed its secrets, but the man was incapable of understanding the revelations. Naturally, he heard the inner voice, but he believed it to be his own feelings he was feeling and his own thoughts he was thinking. “The spirit, in order to shake him out of his slumber, gave him three signs, three successive manifestations. The spirit physically crossed the man’s path in the most obvious manner. But the man was oblivious to anything but his self-concern.” Don Juan stopped and looked at me as he did whenever he was waiting for my comments and questions. I had nothing to say. I did not understand the point he was trying to make. “I’ve just told you the first abstract core,” he continued. “The only other thing I could add is that because of the man’s absolute unwillingness to understand, the spirit was forced to use trickery. And trickery became the essence of the sorcerers’ path. But that is another story.” Don Juan explained that sorcerers understood this abstract core to be a blueprint for events, or a recurrent pattern that appeared every time intent was giving an indication of something meaningful. Abstract cores, then, were blueprints of complete chains of events. He assured me that by means beyond comprehension, every detail of every abstract core reoccurred to every apprentice nagual. He further assured me that he had helped intent to involve me in all the abstract cores of sorcery in the same manner that his benefactor, the nagual Julian and all the naguals before him, had involved their apprentices. The process by which each apprentice nagual encountered the abstract cores created a series of accounts woven around those abstract cores incorporating the particular details of each apprentice’s personality and circumstances. He said, for example, that I had my own story about the manifestations of the spirit, he had his, his benefactor had his own, so had the nagual that preceded him, and so on, and so forth. “What is my story about the manifestations of the spirit?” I asked, somewhat mystified. “If any warrior is aware of his stories it’s you,” he replied. “After all, you’ve been writing about them for years. But you didn’t notice the abstract cores because you are a practical man. You do everything only for the purpose of enhancing your practicality. Although you handled your stories to exhaustion you had no idea that there was an abstract core in them. Everything I’ve done appears to you, therefore, as an often-whimsical practical activity: teaching sorcery to a reluctant and, most of the time, stupid, apprentice. As long as you see it in those terms, the abstract cores will elude you.” ” You must forgive me, don Juan,” I said, “but your statements are very confusing. What are you saying?” ” I’m trying to introduce the sorcery stories as a subject,” he replied. “I’ve never talked to you specifically about this topic because traditionally it’s left hidden. It is the spirit’s last artifice. It is said that when the apprentice understands the abstract cores it’s like the placing of the stone that caps and seals a pyramid.” It was getting dark and it looked as though it was about to rain again. I worried that if the wind blew from east to west while it was raining, we were going to get soaked in that cave. I was sure don Juan was aware of that, but he seemed to ignore it. “It won’t rain again until tomorrow morning,” he said. Hearing my inner thoughts being answered made me jump involuntarily and hit the top of my head on the cave roof. It was a thud that sounded worse than it felt. Don Juan held his sides laughing. After a while my head really began to hurt and I had to massage it. “Your company is as enjoyable to me as mine must have been to my benefactor,” he said and began to laugh again. We were quiet for a few minutes. The silence around me was ominous. I fancied that I could hear the rustling of the low clouds as they descended on us from the higher mountains. Then I realized that what I was hearing was the soft wind. From my position in the shallow cave, it sounded like the whispering of human voices. “I had the incredible good luck to be taught by two naguals,” don Juan said and broke the mesmeric grip the wind had on me at that moment. “One was, of course, my benefactor, the nagual Julian, and the other was his benefactor, the nagual Elias. My case was unique.” “Why was your case unique?” I asked. “Because for generations naguals have gathered their apprentices years after their own teachers have left the world,” he explained. “Except my benefactor. I became the nagual Julian’s apprentice eight years before his benefactor left the world. I had eight years’ grace. It was the luckiest thing that could have happened to me, for I had the opportunity to be taught by two opposite temperaments. It was like being reared by a powerful father and an even more powerful grandfather who don’t see eye to eye. In such a contest, the grandfather always wins. So I’m properly the product of the nagual Elias’s teachings. I was closer to him not only in temperament but also in looks. I’d say that I owe him my fine tuning. However, the bulk of the work that went into turning me from a miserable being into an impeccable warrior I owe to my benefactor, the nagual Julian.” “What was the nagual Julian like physically?” I asked. “Do you know that to this day it’s hard for me to visualize him?” don Juan said. “I know that sounds absurd, but depending on his needs or the circumstances, he could be either young or old, handsome or homely, effete and weak or strong and virile, fat or slender, of medium height or extremely short.” “Do you mean he was an actor acting out different roles with the aid of props?” “No, there were no props involved and he was not merely an actor. He was, of course, a great actor in his own right, but that is different. The point is that he was capable of transforming himself and becoming all those diametrically opposed persons. Being a great actor enabled him to portray all the minute peculiarities of behavior that made each specific being real. Let us say that he was at ease in every change of being. As you are at ease in every change of clothes.” Eagerly, I asked don Juan to tell me more about his benefactor’s transformations. He said that someone taught him how to elicit those transformations, but that to explain any further would force him to overlap into different stories. “What did the nagual Julian look like when he wasn’t transforming himself?” I asked. “Let’s say that before he became a nagual he was very slim and muscular,” don Juan said. “His hair was black, thick, and wavy. He had a long, fine nose, strong big white teeth, an oval face, strong jaw, and shiny dark-brown eyes. He was about five feet eight inches tall. He was not Indian or even a brown Mexican, but he was not Anglo white either. In fact, his complexion seemed to be like no one else’s, especially in his later years when his ever-changing complexion shifted constantly from dark to very light and back again to dark. When I first met him he was a light-brown old man, then as time went by, he became a light-skinned young man, perhaps only a few years older than me. I was twenty at that time. “But if the changes of his outer appearance were astonishing,” don Juan went on, “the changes of mood and behavior that accompanied each transformation were even more astonishing. For example, when he was a fat young man, he was jolly and sensual. When he was a skinny old man, he was petty and vindictive. When he was a fat old man, he was the greatest imbecile there was.” “Was he ever himself?” I asked. “Not the way I am myself,” he replied. “Since I’m not interested in transformation I am always the same. But he was not like me at all.” Don Juan looked at me as if he were assessing my inner strength. He smiled, shook his head from side to side and broke into a belly laugh. “What’s so funny, don Juan?” I asked. “The fact is that you’re still too prudish and stiff to appreciate fully the nature of my benefactor’s transformations and their total scope,” he said. “I only hope that when I tell you about them you don’t become morbidly obsessed.” For some reason I suddenly became quite uncomfortable and had to change the subject. “Why are the naguals called ‘benefactors’ and not simply teachers?” I asked nervously. “Calling a nagual a benefactor is a gesture his apprentices make,” don Juan said. “A nagual creates an overwhelming feeling of gratitude in his disciples. After all, a nagual molds them and guides them through unimaginable areas.” I remarked that to teach was in my opinion the greatest, most altruistic act anyone could perform for another. “For you, teaching is talking about patterns,” he said. “For a sorcerer, to teach is what a nagual does for his apprentices. For them he taps the prevailing force in the universe: intent – the force that changes and reorders things or keeps them as they are. The nagual formulates, then guides the consequences that that force can have on his disciples. Without the nagual’s molding intent there would be no awe, no wonder for them. And his apprentices, instead of embarking on a magical journey of discovery, would only be learning a trade: healer, sorcerer, diviner, charlatan, or whatever.” “Can you explain intent to me?” I asked. “The only way to know intent” he replied, “is to know it directly through a living connection that exists between intent and all sentient beings. Sorcerers call intent the indescribable, the spirit, the abstract, the nagual. I would prefer to call it nagual, but it overlaps with the name for the leader, the benefactor, who is also called nagual, so I have opted for calling it the spirit, intent, the abstract.” Don Juan stopped abruptly and recommended that I keep quiet and think about what he had told me. By then it was very dark. The silence was so profound that instead of lulling me into a restful state, it agitated me. I could not maintain order in my thoughts. I tried to focus my attention on the story he had told me, but instead I thought of everything else, until finally I fell asleep. From “The power of silence.” – Carlos Castaneda.