by Graciela Corvalan: Carlos Castaneda is world reknowned as an author of seven best selling books on the Toltec system of sorcery…
Some give him credit as being the crucial catalyst of mainstream awareness of metaphysics that has grown so in recent decades. Graciela Corvalan Ph.D. is a professor of Spanish at Webster College, in St Louis, Missouri. Graciela is currently working on a book consisting of a series of interviews with mystical thinkers in the Americas. A while back she wrote a letter to Carlos Castaneda asking for an interview. One night she received a phone call from Carlos accepting her request and explaining that he had a friend who collected his mail for him while he was away traveling. Upon his return he always reached into the mail sacks and pulled out two letters which he then acted upon. Hers had been one of the most recent two. He explained he was excited to be interviewed by her for she was not a member of the established press. He arranged to meet Graciela in California on the UCLA campus. He asked that the interview first be published in Spanish which Graciela has done, in the Argentinian magazine, Mutantian. Now we are honored to release an English translation. Graciela has obviously succeeded in capturing a flash of lightning over a desert night and showing us amazing insights into Carlos Castanada the Toltec Seer!
[Beginning of Corvalan Interview – Part 1]
At around 1:00 pm, my friend and I set course for the campus of UCLA. We had somewhat more than two hours of travel.
Following Castaneda’s directions, we arrived without difficulty at the guard shack at the entrance to the parking lot of UCLA. It was about quarter to four. We stationed ourselves in a more or less shady place.
At exactly four o’clock, I looked up and saw him coming toward the car: Castaneda was wearing blue jeans and a pale cream colored open-collared jacket without pockets. I got out of the car and hastened to meet him. After the greetings and conventional courtesies, I asked him if he would permit me to use a tape recorder. We had one in the car in case he permitted us. No, it’s better not to, he answered with a shrug of his shoulders. We showed him the way to the car to get the notes, notebooks and books.
Loaded with books and papers, we let Castaneda drive. He knew the route well. Over there, he said, pointing with his hand, there are some beautiful river banks.
From the beginning, Castaneda established the tone of the conversation and the themes which we were to deal with. I also realized that it wasn’t necessary to have all those questions that I had so laboriously worked out. As I had anticipated from his telephone call, he wanted to speak to us about the project he was involved in, and the importance and seriousness of his investigations.
The conversation was conducted in Spanish, a language that he manages with fluidity and a great sense of humor. Castaneda is a master in the art of conversation. We spoke for seven hours. The time passed without his enthusiasm or our attention weakening. As he gradually became more comfortable, he made more use of typically Argentinian expressions so as to make use of his coastal ways such as a friendly gesture to us that we are all Argentinian.
It must be mentioned that although his Spanish is correct, it’s evident that his language is English. He made abundant use of expressions and words in English for those which we give the equivalent of in Spanish. That his prime language would be English is manifested also in the syntactic structure of his phrases and sentences.
All that afternoon Castaneda strove to maintain the conversation on a level that wasn’t intellectual. Even though he has obviously read a lot and knows the different currents of thought, at no time did he establish comparisons with other traditions of the past or the present. He transmitted to us the Toltec teachings by means of material images that, precisely for that reason, hindered their being interpreted speculatively. In this way Castaneda wasn’t only obedient to his teachers but totally faithful in the route he has chosen-he didn’t want to contaminate his teaching with anything extraneous to it.
Shortly after meeting us, he wanted to know the reasons for our interest in knowing him. He already knew about my possible outline and the projected book of interviews I was planning. Beyond all professionalism, we insisted on the importance of his books that had influenced us and many others so much. We had a profound interest in knowing the font of his teaching. Meanwhile, we arrived at the banks and, in the shade of the trees, sat down. Don Juan gave me everything, he began to say, when I met him I had no other interest than anthropology, but upon encountering him I changed. And what has happened to me I wouldn’t change for anything!
Don Juan was present with us. Every time Castaneda mentioned or remembered him we felt his emotion. He told us that, from Don Juan, he had learned that there was one totality of exquisite intensity capable of giving himself everything in every present moment. Give your all in each moment is his principal, his rule, he said. That which Don Juan is like can’t be explained and is rarely comprehended, it simply is.
In The Second Ring of Power Castaneda records one special characteristic of Don Juan and Don Genaro, that which all others lack. There he writes:
None of us is disposed to lend to another undivided attention in the way that Don Juan and Don Genaro did.
The Second Ring of Power had left me full of questions; the book interested me a lot, especially after the second reading, but I had heard unfavorable commentaries. I had certain doubts myself. I told him that I believed that I had enjoyed Journey to Ixtlan best without really knowing why. Castaneda listened to me and answered my words with a gesture which seemed to say, And me, what do I have to do with the taste of all? I continued speaking, looking for reasons and explanations.
Maybe my preference for Journey to Ixtlan is because of the love I perceived, I asserted. Castaneda made a face. He didn’t like the word love. It’s possible that the term might have connotations of romantic love, sentimentality, or weakness for him. Trying to explain myself, I insisted that the final scene of Journey to Ixtlan is bulging with intensity. There, said Castaneda. Yes, he would agree with that last statement. Intensity, yes, he said, that’s the word.
Emphasizing the same book, I demonstrated to him that some scenes seemed to me definitely grotesque. I couldn’t find justification for them. Castaneda was in agreement with me. Yes, the behavior of those women is monstrous and grotesque, but that vision was necessary to be able to enter into action, he said. Castaneda needed that shock.
Without an adversary we are nothing, he continued. The adversary belongs to human form. Life is war, is struggle. Peace is an anomaly. Referring to pacifism he qualified it as monstrosity because, according to him, men, are beings of success and struggles.
Without being able to restrain myself I told him that I couldn’t accept pacifism as a monstrosity. What about Gandhi? I asked. How do you see Gandhi, for example?
Gandhi? he responded to me, Gandhi is not a pacifist. Gandhi is one of the most tremendous fighters that have existed. And what a fighter!
It was then that I understood the very special value that Castaneda gives to words. The pacifism that he had made reference to couldn’t have been a pacifism of weakness; that of those who don’t have enough guts to be, and consequently do something else, that of those who do nothing because they don’t have objectives or energy in life; that pacifism reflects a completely self-indulgent and hedonistic attitude.
With a grand gesture which would include all of society without values, will, or energy, he replied, All drugged out…yes, hedonists!
Castaneda didn’t clarify those concepts, and we didn’t ask him to. I had understood that part of the aesthetic of the warrior was to free himself from the human nature, but the unusual comments of Castaneda had filled me with confusion. Little by little, however, I was getting to know that being, beings of success and struggles is the first level of the relationship. That is the raw material where they part. Don Juan, in the books, always referred to the good tone of a person. There begins the learning and one passes to another level. You can’t pass to the other side without losing the human form, said Castaneda.
Insisting about other aspects of his book that hadn’t made themselves clear to me, I asked him about the hollows that had remained with people by the simple act of having reproduced.
Yes, said Castaneda, there are differences between people who have had children and those who haven’t. To pass on tiptoes in front of the eagle, you need to be whole. A person with ‘hollows’ can’t pass.
He will explain to us the metaphor of the eagle a little later. For the moment I will pass by this almost without mentioning it because the focus of our attention was on another theme.
How do you explain the attitude of Dona Soledad with Pablito and that of la Gorda with her daughters? I wanted to know insistently. Taking from the children that edge which at birth they take from us was, in large measure, something inconceivable for me.
Castaneda agreed that he still doesn’t have it all systematized. He insisted, still in the differences that exist between people who have reproduced and those who haven’t.
Don Genero is crazy! Crazy! Don Juan, in a different way, is a serious crazy man. Don Juan goes slowly but arrives far away. In the end, the two of them arrive…
I, like Don Juan, he continued, have hollows; that is to say, I have to follow the route. The Genaros, on the other hand, have another model.
The Genaros, for example, have a special edge that we don’t have. They are more nervous and of rapid motion…they are very fickle, nothing detains them.
Those who like la Gorda and I have had children have other characteristics that compensate for that loss. One is more settled and, although the road might be long and arduous, one arrives also. In general those who have had children know how to take care of others. It doesn’t mean that people without children don’t know how, but it’s different…
In general one doesn’t know what one is doing; one is unconscious of actions and later pays for it. I didn’t know what I was doing, he exclaimed, referring, without a doubt, to his own personal life.
At birth, I took everything from my father and mother, he said. They were all bruised! To them I had to return that edge that I had taken from them. Now I have to recoup the edge that I lost.
It would seem that these hollows that have to be closed, have to do with biological adornment. We wanted to know if to have hollows is something irreparable. No, he responded, one can be cured. Nothing is irrevocable in life. It’s always possible to return what doesn’t belong to us and recoup what is ours.
This idea of recovery is coherent with a path of learning walk in which it doesn’t suffice to know or practice one or more techniques but that requires an individual and profound transformation of being. It relates to everything-a coherent system of life with concrete and precise objectives.
After a short silence I asked him if The Second Ring of Power had been translated in Spanish. According to Castaneda, a Spanish publishing house had the right, but he wasn’t sure if the book had come out or not.
The translation into Spanish was done by Juan Tovar, who is a good friend of mine. Juan Tovar used the notes in Spanish that Castaneda himself had furnished him, notes that some critics have put in doubt.
The translation into Portuguese seems to be very beautiful Yes, said Castaneda. This translation is based on the translation into French. Really, it’s very well done.
In Argentina, his first two books have been banned. It seems that the reason given was the drug affair. Castaneda didn’t know. Why he asked us without waiting for our answer. I imagine it’s the work of the ‘Mother Church’.
At the beginning of our conversation, Castaneda mentioned something about the Toltec teaching. Also in The Second Ring of Power it insists in the Toltecs and in being a Toltec. What does it mean to be a Toltec I asked him.
According to Castaneda, the word Toltec constitutes a wide meaning. It is said that someone is a Toltec in the same way that it can be said that one is a Democrat or a philosopher. In the way he uses it, this word doesn’t have anything to do with its anthropological meaning. From the anthropological point of view the word makes reference to an Indian culture of the center and south of Mexico that was already extinct at the time of the conquest and colonization of America by Spain.
Toltec is one who knows the mysteries of watching and dreaming. All of them are Toltecs. It deals with a small group that has known how to maintain alive a tradition from more than 3,000 years B.C.
As I was working on mystic thought and had particular interest in establishing the fountain and the place of origin of the distinct traditions, I insisted, Do you believe that the Toltec tradition offers teaching that would be peculiar to America?
The Toltec nation maintains alive a tradition, that is, without a doubt, peculiar to America. Castaneda asserted that it is possible that the early Americans could have brought something upon crossing the Bering Straits, but all this was so many thousands of years ago that for the moment there are nothing more than theories.
In Stories of Power, Don Juan talks to Castaneda about the wizards about those men of knowledge that the conquest and colonization of the white man couldn’t destroy because they didn’t know about their existence nor notice all the incomprehensible ideas of their world.
Who forms the Toltec nation? Do they work together? Where do they do it? I asked.
Castaneda answered all of my questions. He is now in charge of a group of young people that lives in the area of Chaiapas, in the south of Mexico. They all moved to that area due to the fact that the woman who now teaches them was located there.
Then…you returned? I felt impelled to ask him to remember the last conversation between Castaneda and the little sisters at the end of The Second Ring of Power. Did you return right away like the Gorda asked you to?
No, I didn’t return right away, but I did return, he answered me laughing. I returned to continue a task which I can’t renounce.
The group consists of about 14 members. Even though the basic nucleus is 8 or 9 people, all are indispensable in the task that each does. If each one is sufficiently impeccable, a large number of people can be helped.
Eight is a magical number, he said at one moment. Also he insisted that the Toltec isn’t saved alone but that he goes with the basic nucleus. Those who remain are indispensable in continuing and maintaining alive the tradition. It is not necessary that the group be big, but each one of those who are involved in the task is definitely necessary for the total.
La Gorda and I are responsible for the arrivals. Well…really I am the responsible one but she helps me intimately in this task, explained Castaneda.
He spoke to us later about the members of the group that we knew from his books. He told us that Don Juan was a Yaqui Indian, from the state of Sonora. Pablito, on the other hand, was a Mixteco Indian, Nestor was Mazatecan (from Mazatlan, in the province of Sinalea), and Benigno was Tzotzil. He stressed several times that Josefina was not Indian but was Mexican and that one of her grandparents was of French origin. La Gorda, as were Nestor and Don Genaro, was Maytec. When I met La Gorda she was an immense heavy woman brutalized by life, he said. None of those who knew her can today imagine that she now is the same person as before.
We wanted to know in what language he communicated with all the people of the group, and what was the language that they generally used among themselves. I reminded him that in his books there are references to some Indian languages.
We communicate in Spanish because it’s the language we all speak, he responded. Besides, neither Josefina nor the Toltec woman are Indians. I only speak a little in the Indian language. Single phrases like greetings and some other expressions. I don’t know enough to maintain a conversation. Taking advantage of his pause I asked him if the task which they are doing is accessible to all men or if it deals with something for only a few. As our questions began to point at discovering the relevancy of the Toltec teaching and the value of the experience of the group for the rest of humanity, Castaneda explained to us that each one of the members of the group has specific tasks to perform whether in the Yucatan zone, in other areas of Mexico, or in other places.
Performing tasks one discovers a large number of things that are directly applicable to concrete situations of daily life. doing tasks one learns a lot. The Genaros, for example, have a musical band with which they go through all the places of the frontier. You will imagine that they see and are in contact with many people. You a}ways have the possibility to transmit knowledge. It always helps. It helps with one word, with one little insinuation… each one, faithfully performing his task, does it. All humans can learn. All have the possibility to live as warriors.
Any person can undertake the task of warrior. The only requirement is to want to do it with an unshakeable desire; that is to say, one has to be unshakeable in the desire to be free. The way isn’t easy. We constantly seek excuses and try to escape. It’s possible that the mind obtains it but the body feels everything…the body learns rapidly and easily.
The Toltec can’t waste energy in foolishness, he continued. I was one of those persons who can’t be without friends…I can’t even go to the movies alone. Don Juan in a resolute moment told him that he had to abandon all and, particularly, separate himself from all those friends with whom he had nothing in common. For a long time he resisted the idea until finally he got involved.
One time, returning to Los Angeles, I got out of the car a block before arriving home and telephoned. Naturally on that day, as always, my house was full of people. I asked one of my friends to prepare a satchel with some things and bring it to where I was. Also I told her that the rest of the things- books, records, etc.-could be distributed among them. It’s clear that my friends didn’t believe me and took everything as borrowed, clarified Castaneda.
The act of getting rid of the library and records is like cutting off everything in the past, a whole world of ideas and emotions.
My friends believed that I was crazy and kept hoping that I would return from my craziness. I didn’t see them in about twelve years, he concluded. After twelve years passed, Castaneda would meet again with them. He first looked for one of his friends who put him in contact with the rest of them. They then planned to meet, and get together to eat dinner. That day they had a good time; they ate a lot and their friends got drunk.
To find myself with them after all those years was my way of showing my gratitude for the friendship that they had offered me before, said Castaneda Now all are grown. They all have their families, spouses, children…It was necessary, nevertheless, that I thank them. Only in that way could I definitely terminate with them and end a stage of my life.
It is possible that Castaneda’s friends don’t understand anything he is doing, but the fact that he wanted to thank them was something very beautiful. Castaneda didn’t pretend anything with them. He sincerely thanked them for their friendship, and in doing so, freed himself internally from all that past. We then spoke of love, of that often mentioned love. He related to us several anecdotes about his Italian grandfather, always so lovesick, and about his father, so Bohemian, he. Oh, love! Love! he repeated several times. All his commentaries tended to destroy the ideas that one commonly has about love.
It cost me a lot to learn, he continued. I was also very lovesick. Don Juan had to work hard to make me understand that I had to cut off certain relationships. The way in which I finally cut off with one was the following. I invited her to dinner and we met in a restaurant. During the dinner the same thing happened as always. There was a big fight and she yelled at me and insulted me. At last I asked her if she had any money. She answered that she had. I took advantage of that to tell her that I had to go to the car to look for my wallet or something like that. I got up and didn’t go back. Before leaving her, I wanted to be sure that she had enough money to take a taxi home. Since then I haven’t seen her.
You aren’t going to believe me, but the Toltecs are very ascetic, he insisted. Without doubting his word I commented that that idea couldn’t be deduced from The Second Ring of Power. On the contrary, I stressed. I believe that in your book many scenes and attitudes present confusion.
How do you think I was going to say that clearly? he answered me. I couldn’t say that the relations between them were pure because not only would nobody have believed me but nobody would have understood me.
For Castaneda, we live in a very bustful society. Of all that we had been speaking that afternoon, the majority hadn’t been understood. It’s that the same Castaneda is seen obligated to adapt to certain exigencies of the publishers who, at the time, would strive to satisfy the tastes of the reading public.
The people are into another thing, continued Castaneda. The other day, for example, I entered a bookstore here in Los Angeles and I began to leaf through the magazines on the counter. I found that there was a large amount of publications with photos of nude women…many also with men. I don’t know what to tell you. In one of the photos there was a man fixing an electric cable while high on a ladder. He had on his protective helmet and a large belt full of tools. That was all. The rest was naked. Ridiculous! Something like that can’t be possible! A woman is graceful…but, a man! As means of explanation he added that women have a lot of experience due to their long history in that type of thing. A role like that has no room for improvisation.
This is the first time I have heard of the idea that the behavior of women isn’t improvised; it is something totally new for me, I responded. After listening to Castaneda, we were convinced that, for the Toltec, sex represents an immense draining away of energies that is needed for other tasks. His insistence is therefore understood about the totally ascetic relations that members of the group maintain.
In the point of view of the world, the life that the group carries and the relationships they maintain are something totally unacceptable and unheard of. That which I tell them isn’t believable. It took me a long time to comprehend it, but I have finally been able to verify it.
Castaneda had told us earlier that when a person reproduces he loses a special edge. It appears that that edge is a force that children take from their parents by the mere act of birth. This hollow that remains with a person is that which must be filled or recovered. You have to recover the force which you have lost. He also made us understand that a prolonged sexual relationship of a couple ends with a decline. In a relationship differences surge up which make certain characteristics of one or the other progressively rejected. In consequence, for reproduction, it is selected from the other part that which one likes, but there is no guarantee that that which is chosen is necessarily the best. In the point of view of reproduction, he commented, the best is at random. Castaneda strove to explain to us these concepts better, but had to confess again that they are themes which he himself doesn’t have clear yet.
Castaneda came to us describing a group whose requirements, for the average person, were extreme. We were very interested in knowing where all that vigor came from What is the sole objective of the Toltec? We wanted to know the sense of what Castaneda was telling us. What is the objective that you pursue? We insisted on bringing the question to a personal level.
The objective is to leave the living world; to leave with all that one is but with nothing more than what one is. The question is not to take anything nor leave anything. Don Juan left completely-from the world. Don Juan doesn’t die because the Toltecs don’t die. In The Second Ring of Power, La Gorda instructs Castaneda with respect to the dichotomy wizard-tonal. The domain of the second attention is only achieved after the warriors sweep totally the surface of the table…this second attention makes the two attentions form a unity and this unity is the totality of oneself. In the same book, La Gorda says to Castaneda, when the wizards learn to ‘dream,’ they tie together their two attentions and, therefore, there is no need for the center to push out.. .sorcerers don’t die. . . I don’t want to say that we don’t die. We are nothing, we are nincompoops, stupid; we aren’t either here nor there. They, on the other hand, have their attentions so united that maybe they never die. According to Castaneda, the idea that we are free is an illusion and an absurdity. He pushed to make us understand that common sense deceives us because ordinary perception only tells us a part of the truth.
Ordinary perception doesn’t tell us all the truth. There has to be more than a mere passing through the earth, of only eating and reproducing, he said vehemently. With a gesture I interpreted as alluding to the unfeelingness of all and the immense tediousness of life in its everyday boredom, he asked us, What is all this that surrounds us? Common sense would be that accord to which we have arrived behind a long educative process that imposes on us ordinary perception as the only truth. Precisely. The art of the wizard, he said, consists of bringing learning to discover and destroy that perceptive prejudice.
According to Castaneda, Edmundo Husserl is the first one from the West who conceives of the possibility of suspending judgement. In Ideas for a pure phenomenology and a phenomenological philosophy (1913) Husserl dealt thoroughly with the era or phenomenological reduction. The phenomenological method doesn’t deny but simply puts into parentheses those elements that sustain our ordinary perception.
Castaneda considers that phenomenology offers him the theoretical methodological framework to comprehend the teaching of Don Juan. For phenomenology, the act of knowing depends on intention and not on perception. Perception always varies according to history, that is to say, according to the subject with knowledge acquired and immersed in a determined tradition. The most important rule of the phenomenological method is that of toward the same things.
The task with which Don Juan fulfilled me, he insisted, was that of breaking, little by little, the perceptive prejudices until arriving at a total rupture. Phenomenology suspends judgement and is limited to the description of pure intentional acts. So, for example, I construct the object ‘house.’ The phenomenological reference is minimal. The ‘intention’ is what transforms reference into something concrete and singular.
Phenomenology, without a doubt, has, for Castaneda, a simple methodological value. Husserl never transcended the theoretical and, as a consequence, he didn’t touch the human being in his life in all his days. For Castaneda, the most the western man-the European man-has arrived to is the political man. This political man would be the epitome of our civilization. Don Juan, he said, with his teaching is opening the door for another much more interesting man: a man who still lives in a magical world or universe.
Meditating about this idea of the political man a book by Eduardo Spranger named Forms of Life came to my memory, in which it says that the life of the political man is interwoven of relationships of power and rivalry. The political man is the man of dominion whose power controls as much of the concrete reality of the world as the beings that inhabit it.
The world of Don Juan, on the other hand, is a magical world populated with entities and forces.
The admirability of Don Juan, said Castaneda, is that even though in the world of days he appears to be crazy, nobody is capable of perceiving him. To the world, Don Juan offers a face that is necessarily temporal…one hour, one month, sixty years. Nobody would be able to catch him off guard! In this world Don Juan is impeccable because he always knew that what is here is only momentary and that which comes after…well…a beauty! Don Juan and Don Genaro intensely loved beauty.
The perception and conception which Don Juan has of reality and time are undoubtably very distinct from ours. If on the level of daily life Don Juan is always impeccable, this doesn’t prevent you from knowing that from this side all is definitely fleeting.
Castaneda continued describing a universe polarized between two extremes: the right side and the left side. The right side would correspond to the tonal and the left side to the wizard.
In Stories of Power, Don Juan explains extensively to Castaneda about those two halves of the bubble of perception. He says that the last duty of the teacher consists of tediously cleaning a part of the bubble, and then reorganizing all that there is on the other side. The teacher is occupied in this hammering away at learning without pity until all his vision of the world stays in one half of the bubble. The other half, that which has remained clean, can therefore be reclaimed by something which the wizards call will. To explain all this is very difficult because at this level words are totally inadequate. Precisely, the left part of the universe implies the absence of words, and without words we cannot think. There are only actions. In that other world, said Castaneda, the body acts. The body doesn’t need words to understand.
In the magical universe-as it’s called-of Don Juan, certain entities exist that are called allies or fleeting shadows. These can be captured a number of times. For this kind of capture a large number of explanations have been sought, but, according to Castaneda, there is no doubt that these phenomena depend principally on the human anatomy. The important thing is to arrive at an understanding that there is a whole gamut of explanations that can give reasons for these fleeting shadows.
I asked him, then, about that knowing with the body that he speaks of in his books. Is it that, for you, the whole body is an organ of knowledge? I inquired.
Sure! The body knows, he responded to me. As an example, Castaneda told us of the many possibilities of that part of the leg that goes from the knee to the ankle where a memory center could be seated. It would appear that you can learn to use the body to capture those fleeting shadows. The teaching of Don Juan transforms the body into an electronic scanner, he said, looking for an adequate word in Spanish to compare the body to an electronic telescope. The body would have the possibility to perceive reality at distinct levels which, in their time, would reveal configurations of material also distinct. It was evident that for Castaneda the body had possibilities of movement and perception to which the majority of us are not accustomed. Standing up and pointing to the foot and the ankle, he spoke to us of the possibilities of that part of the body and of the little that we know about all of this. In the Toltec tradition, he affirmed, the apprentice is trained in the development of those possibilities. At this level Don Juan begins to construct.
Meditating on these words of Castaneda, I thought about the parallel with Tantric Yoga and the distinct centers or chakras through which the ritualist comes to awakening by means of certain ritual practices. In the book The Hermetic (impenetrable) Circle by Miguel Serrano one reads that the chakras are centers of conscience. In the same book, Karl Jung refers to a conversation that Serrano had with a Pueblo Indian chief named Ochwian Biano or Lake of the Mountain. He explained to me his impression of the whites-always so agitated, always looking for something, aspiring to something… According to Ochwian Biano, the whites were crazy; only crazy people affirm thinking with the head. This affirmation of the Indian chief produced great surprise in me and I asked him what he thought with. He answered me that he thought with the heart. (Miguel Serrano, The Impenetrable Circle, Buenos Aires: Ed. Kier, 1978)
The path of knowledge of the warrior is long, and requires total dedication. The warrior has a concrete objective and a very pure incentive.
What is the objective? I insist. It seems that the objective consists in passing consciously to the other side through the left flank of the universe. You have to try to come as near as possible to the eagle and strive to escape it without it devouring us. the objective, he said, is to leave on tiptoe by the left hand side of the eagle. I don’t know if you know, he continued, seeking the way to clarify for us the image, that there is an entity that the Toltecs call the eagle. The visionary sees it as an immense blackness that extends to infinity; it is an immense blackness that ligthning crossed. For that reason it is called the eagle: it has black wings and back, and its chest is luminous.
The eye of the entity isn’t a human eye. The eagle doesn’t have pity. Everything that is alive is represented in the eagle. That entity encloses all-the beauty that man is capable of creating as well as all the bestiality that isn’t the human being properly said. That which is appropriately human in the eagle is immensely small in comparison with all the rest. The eagle is excessively mass, bulk, blackness…in front of that little which is proper in a human being.
The eagle attracts all life force that is ready to disappear because it is nourished from that energy. The eagle is like an immense magnet that picks up all those beams of light that are the vital energy of that which is dying.
While Castaneda told us all this, his hand and fingers imitated, like hammers, the head of an eagle pecking space with an insatiable appetite. I only tell you that which Don Juan and the others say. They are all wizards and witches! he exclaimed. They are all involved in a metaphor that is incomprehensible for me.
What is ‘the master’ of man? What is it that claims us? he asked. I listened attentively and stopped talking because he had entered a terrain in which questions were possible.
The master of us can’t be a man, he said. It seems that the Toltecs call master the mold of a man. Everything– plants, animals and human beings –have a mold. The mold of man is the same for all human beings. My mold and yours, he continued explaining, is the same, but in each one it is manifested and acted on in a distinct form according to the development of the person.
Dividing the words of Castaneda, we interpreted that the human mold is that which doesn’t reunite, that which unifies the force of life. The human form, on the other hand, could be that which impedes us from seeing the mold. It seems that while the human form isn’t lost, we are, and this impedes us from changing.
In The Second Ring of Power, La Gorda instructs Castaneda about the human mold and the human form. In that book, the form is described as a luminous entity and Castaneda remembers that Don Juan described it as, the fount and origin of man. La Gorda, thinking about Don Juan, remembers that he told her that, if we arrive at having sufficient personal power we will be able to glimpse the pattern although we are not wizards; and that when this occurs we will say that we have seen God. She told me that if we call it God, it would be fit because the mold is God. (The translation and the italicization are ours.)
Many times that afternoon we returned to the theme of the human form and the mold of man. Surrounding the theme from distinct angles, each time it was becoming more evident that the human form is that hard shell of the person. that human form, he said, is like a towel that covers one from the armpits to the feet. Behind that towel there is a bright candle that is being consumed until it goes out. When the candle goes out, it is because one has died. Then, the eagle comes and devours it.
Seers, continued Castaneda are those beings capable of seeing the human being as a luminous egg. Inside of that sphere of light is a lit candle. If the seer sees that the candle is small even though the person appears strong, it means that it is already ended.
Castaneda had told us before that the Toltecs never die because to be Toltec implies having lost the human form. Only at that moment we comprehended: if the Toltec has lost the human form, there is nothing that the eagle could devour. He hadn’t kept us in doubt either that the concepts master of man and mold of man as well as the image of the eagle referred to the same entity or were intimately related.
Several hours later, seated before hamburgers in a cafeteria on the corner of Westwood Boulevard and another street whose name I don remember, Castaneda reported to us his experience of losing the human form. According to what he said, his experience wasn’t as strong as that of La Gorda (in The Second Ring of Power, La Gorda relates to Castaneda that when she lost the human form she began to see an eye always in front of her. That eye accompanied her all the time and almost ended in driving her crazy. Little by little she got used to it until, one day, the eye happened to form a part of her. Some day,…when I arrive at being a real being without form, I won’t see that eye any more; the eye will be one with me…) who had symptoms similar to those of a heart attack In my case, said Castaneda, a simple phenomen of hyperventilation was produced. In that precise moment I felt a big pressure: a current energy entered through my head, passed through my chest and stomach and followed through my legs until it disappeared through my left leg. That was all.
To assure myself, he continued, I went to a doctor, but he didn’t find anything. He only suggested that I breathe in a paper bag to diminish the amount of oxygen and to resist the phenomenon of hyperventilation.
According to the Toltecs, in some way you have to return or pay the eagle what belongs to it. Castaneda had already told us that the master of a man is the eagle, and that the eagle is all the nobility and beauty as well all the horror and ferocity which is found in all that is. Why is the eagle the master of man? the eagle is the master of man because it feeds from the call of life, of the vital energy that is loosened from all that is. And, making once more the gesture with his hands resembling the pecking head of the eagle, cleared the space of pecks with his arm, which he said, Like that! Like that! It devours everything!
The only way to escape the voracity of death is irrefutable and inescapable, the action begins. What does it consist of, how do you do this personal recapitulation? I wanted to know.
In the first place a list has to be made of all the people you have known in the length of your life, he responded, a list of all those who in one way or another have forced us to put the ego (that center of personal growth that later would be shown as a monster of 3,000 heads) on the table. We have to bring back all those who have collaborated so that we might enter into that game of they like me or they don’t like me. A game that isn’t anything else than upset living about we ourselves…Licking our own wounds!
The ‘recapitulation’ has to be total, he continued; it goes from Z to A, going backwards. It begins in the present moment and goes toward early infancy, until two or three years of age and even earlier if it were possible. Since we were born, everything is being engraved on our bodies. The ‘recapitulation’ requires a great training of the mind.
How do you do this ‘recapitulation’? One goes carefully bringing up images and fixing them in front of yourself, then, with a movement of the head from right to left, every one of the images is blown out as if we were sweeping them from our vision… The breath is magic, he added.
With the end of the ‘recapitulation,’ ended also are all the tricks, games and the self feeling. It seems that in the end we know all our tricks and there isn’t any way to put the ego on the table without our realizing immediately what we are pretending with it. With personal recapitulation you can divest yourself of everything. Then, only the task remains; the task in all its simplicity, purity and rawness.
The ‘recapitulation’ is possible for everyone, but requires an inflexible will. If you fluctuate or hesitate; you are lost because the eagle will eat you. In that terrain there’s no room for doubt. In the first The Teachings of Don Juan, it says this: The thing that you have to learn is how to arrive at the crack between the worlds and how to enter into the other world. . . there is a place where the two worlds come together one over the other. The crack is there. It opens and closes like a door with the wind. To arrive there, a man must exert his will, must, I would say, develop an indomitable desire, a total dedication. But he must do it without the help of any power and of any man…
I don’t know how to explain all of this well, but in the fulfillment and dedication to the task, you have to be compulsive without truly being so because the Toltec is a free being. The task asks all of one; however, it is freeing. Do you comprehend? If this is difficult to understand it is because, at its base, it deals with a paradox.
But to this recapitulation, added Castaneda, changing tone and posture, you have to put ‘spice’ on it. The characteristic of Don Juan and his ‘pals’ is that they are fickle. Don Juan cured me of being tiresome. He is not solemn, nothing formal. Within the seriousness of the task that they all perform there is always room for humor.
To illustrate in a concrete way the way that Don Juan taught him, Castaneda related to us a very interesting episode. It seems that he smoked a lot and that Don Juan resolved to cure him.
I smoked three packs a day. One after the other! I didn’t let them go out. You see that now I don’t have pockets, he said, showing his jacket that, lacked them. I eliminated pockets in them so as to remove from my body the possibility of feeling something on my left side, something that might remind me of the habit. In eliminating the pocket, I eliminated also the physical habit of carrying my hand in my pockets.
One time Don Juan told me that we were going to spend several days in the Chihuahua hills. I remember that he expressly told me not to forget to bring my cigarettes. He recommended to me, also, to bring provisions for two packs a day and no more. So I bought the packs of cigarettes, but instead of 20 I packed 40. I made up some divine packs that I covered with aluminum foil to protect my cargo from animals and the rain.
Well equipped and burdened with a knapsack, I followed Don Juan through the hills. There I walked, lighting cigarette after cigarette, and trying to catch my breath. Don Juan had tremendous vigor. With great patience he waited for me while observing me smoke and try to keep up with him through the hills. I wouldn’t have had the patience that he had with me! he exclaimed. We arrived, at last, at a pretty high plateau, surrounded by cliffs and steep hillsides. There Don Juan invited me to try to descend. For a long time I probed from one side to the other until finally I had to desist from the purpose. I wasn’t going to be able to do it.
We continued like that, for several days, until one morning I woke up, and the first thing I did was to look for my cigarettes. Where were my divine packages? I looked and looked, and I didn’t find them. When Don Juan woke up, I wanted to know what was happening to me. He explained what was going on and told me, Don’t worry Surely a coyote came and carried them away, but they can’t be very far. Here! Look! There are the tracks of the coyote!
We spent all that day trailing the tracks of the coyote in search of the packs. There we were, when Don Juan sat on the ground and, pretending to be a little old man, very old, began to complain, This time I’m sure lost. . . I’m old. . .I can’t any more. . . While he was saying this, he grabbed his head in his hands and made a great fuss.
Castaneda told us this whole story imitating Don Juan in his gestures and tone of voice. It was a spectacle seeing him. A little later, the same Castaneda would tell us that Don Juan used to make reference to his histrionic abilities. With all that walking around, continued Castaneda, I believe that 10 or 12 days had passed. I already didn’t care about smoking! That is how I lost the desire to smoke. We had gone along like demons running through the hills! When the time came to return, you can imagine that Don Juan knew the way perfectly. We went down directly to the town. The difference was that, then, I already didn’t have a need to buy cigarettes. From that episode, he said nostalgically, fifteen years have passed.
The line of not-doing, he commented, is precisely the opposite of the routine or the routines to which we are accustomed. Habits, like smoking for example, are those which have us tied up, in chains…in the sense of not-doing, on the other hand, all avenues are possible.
We were silent for a while. I finally broke it to ask about Dona Soledad. I said that she had impressed me as a grotesque figure; really, like a witch. Dona Soledad is Indian, he answered me. The history of her transformation is something incredible. She put such willpower into her transformation that in the end she achieved it. In that force her will developed to such an extreme that as a consequence she also developed too much personal pride. Precisely for this reason I don’t believe that she can pass on tiptoes by the left side of the eagle. In whatever way, it’s fantastic what she was capable of doing by herself! I don’t know if you remember who she was…she was Pablito’s ‘mamacita.’ She was always washing clothes, ironing, washing dishes… offering little meals to someone or another.
In relating this to us, Castaneda imitated in gestures and movements a little old lady. You have to see her now, he continued. Dona Soledad is a young strong woman. Now she is to be feared!
The ‘recapitulation’ took Dona Soledad seven years of her life. She hid herself in a cave and didn’t leave there. She stayed there until she finished with everything. In seven years that’s all she did. Even though she can’t pass together with the eagle, Castaneda said, full of admiration, she’ll never go back to being the poor old thing she was before.
After a pause, Castaneda reminded us that Don Juan and Don Genaro still weren’t with them.
Now already everything is different, expressed Castaneda nostalgically. Don Juan and Don Genaro aren’t there. The Toltec woman is with us. She asks tasks of us. La Gorda and I do tasks together. The others also have tasks to perform; distinct tasks, also in different places.
According to Don Juan, women have more talent than men. Women are more susceptible. In life, moreover, they wear out less and tire less than men. For this reason Don Juan has left me now in the hands of a woman. He has left me in the hands of the other side of the man woman unit. Furthermore, he has left me in the hands of women; of the little sisters and La Gorda
The woman who is teaching us now has no name. (Several months later La Gorda (Maria Tena) called me to send a message from Castaneda. In that conversation, she told me that Mrs. Toltec is named Dona Florinda, and that she is a very elegant, vivacious and anxious woman. Mrs. Toltec must be 50 years old.) She is simply the Toltec woman.
Mrs. Toltec is the one who teaches me now. She is responsible for everything. All the others, La Gorda and I, are nothing. We wanted to know if she knew that he was going to meet with us as well as his other plans.
Mrs. Toltec knows everything. She sent me to Los Angeles to converse with you, he responded, turning his attention to me. She knows about my projects and that I’m going to New York.
We also wanted to know what she was like. Is she young? Is she old? we asked him.
Mrs. Toltec is a very strong woman. Her muscles move in a very peculiar way. She is old, but one of those who shines with the strength of her makeup.
It was difficult to explain how she was. In his trying, Castaneda sought for a point of reference and reminded us of the movie Giant.
Do you remember, he asked us, that movie that James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor appeared in? There Taylor plays a mature woman although in reality she was very young. The Toltec woman causes the same impression in me: a face with the makeup of an old woman with a body still young. Also I could say that she acts old.
Do you know about the National Enquirer he casually continued, A friend of mine is in charge of saving them for me here in Los Angeles, and every time I come I read them. It’s the only thing that I read here… Precisely in that newspaper recently I saw some photos of Elizabeth Taylor. Now she surely is large!
What did Castaneda want to transmit to us in making the comment about the National Enquirer is the only thing he reads? It’s difficult to imagine that a sensationalist newspaper would be his fount of information.
That comment in some way synthesized his judgement with respect to the immense production of news that characterizes our era. That comment also encloses a judgement in respect to the values of the whole Western culture. Everything is on the level of the National Enquirer.
Nothing Castaneda said that afternoon was casual. The different fragments which he provided pointed at creating a determined impression on us. In this intention wasn’t in any way wrong; on the contrary, his interest was to transmit the essential truth of the teaching they are involved in.
— The second half of this interview will be printed in issue #15 of Magical Blend. Another partial translation has previously been printed in Seeds of Unfolding.
[End of Part 1 of the Interview]