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Carlos Castaneda

The Teachings of Don Juan First book in the series.


Introduction…………………………………………………………………….3 Chapter 1………………………………………………………………………..9 Chapter 2………………………………………………………………………..13 Chapter 3………………………………………………………………………..22 Chapter 4………………………………………………………………………..38 Chapter 5………………………………………………………………………..46 Chapter 6………………………………………………………………………..53 Chapter 7………………………………………………………………………..58 Chapter 8………………………………………………………………………..64 Chapter 9………………………………………………………………………..69 Chapter 10………………………………………………………………………73 Chapter 11………………………………………………………………………80 Structural Analysis…………………………………………………………..86


Carlos Castaneda

“The Teachings of Don Juan” Introduction

In the summer of 1960, while I was an anthropology student at the University of California, Los Angeles, I made several trips to the Southwest to collect information on the medicinal plants used by the Indians of the area. The events I describe here began during one of my trips.

I was waiting in a border town for a Greyhound bus talking with a friend who had been my guide and helper in the survey. Suddenly he leaned towards me and whispered that the man, a white-haired old Indian, who was sitting in front of the window was very learned about plants, especially peyote. I asked my friend to introduce me to this man.

My friend greeted him, then went over and shook his hand. After they had talked for a while, my friend signalled me to join them, but immediately left me alone with the old man, not even bothering to introduce us. He was not in the least embarrassed. I told him my name and he said that he was called Juan and that he was at my service. He used the Spanish polite form of address. We shook hands at my initiative and then remained silent for some time. It was not a strained silence, but a quietness, natural and relaxed on both sides.

Though his dark face and neck were wrinkled, showing his age, it struck me that his body was agile and muscular. I then told him that I was interested in obtaining information about medicinal plants. Although in truth I was almost totally ignorant about peyote, I found myself pretending that I knew a great deal, and even suggesting that it might be to his advantage to talk with me.

As I rattled on, he nodded slowly and looked at me, but said nothing. I avoided his eyes and we finished by standing, the two of us, in dead silence. Finally, after what seemed a very long time, don Juan got up and looked out of the window. His bus had come. He said good-bye and left the station.

I was annoyed at having talked nonsense to him, and at being seen through by those remarkable eyes. When my friend returned he tried to console me for my failure to learn anything from don Juan. He explained that the old man was often silent or noncommittal, but the disturbing effect of this first encounter was not so easily dispelled.

I made a point of finding out where don Juan lived, and later visited him several times. On each visit I tried to lead him to discuss peyote, but without success. We became, nonetheless, very good friends, and my scientific investigation was forgotten or was at least redirected into channels that were worlds apart from my original intention.

The friend who had introduced me to don Juan explained later that the old man was not a native of Arizona, where we met, but was a Yaqui Indian from Sonora, Mexico.

At first I saw don Juan simply as a rather peculiar man who knew a great deal about peyote and who spoke Spanish remarkably well. But the people with whom he lived believed that he had some sort of “secret knowledge”, that he was a “brujo”. The Spanish word brujo means, in English, medicine man, curer, witch, sorcerer. It connotes essentially a person who has extraordinary, and usually evil, powers.

I had known don Juan for a whole year before he took me into his confidence. One day he explained that he possessed a certain knowledge that he had learned from a teacher, a “benefactor” as he called him, who had directed him in a kind of apprenticeship. Don Juan had, in turn, chosen me to serve as his apprentice, but he warned me that I would have to make a very deep commitment and that the training was long and arduous.

In describing his teacher, don Juan used the word “diablero”. Later I learned that diablero is a term used only by the Sonoran Indians. It refers to an evil person who practises black sorcery and is capable of transforming himself into an animal – a bird, a dog, a coyote, or any other creature.

On one of my visits to Sonora I had a peculiar experience that illustrated the Indians’ feeling about diableros. I was driving at night in the company of two Indian friends when I saw an animal that seemed to be a dog crossing the highway. One of my companions said it was not a dog, but a huge coyote. I slowed down and


pulled to the side of the road to get a good look at the animal. It stayed within range of the headlights a few seconds longer and then ran into the chaparral. It was unmistakably a coyote, but it was twice the ordinary size. Talking excitedly, my friends agreed that it was a very unusual animal, and one of them suggested that it might be a diablero. I decided to use an account of the experience to question the Indians of that area about their beliefs in the existence of diableros. I talked with many people, telling them the story and asking them questions. The three conversations that follow indicate what they felt.

“Do you think it was a coyote, Choy?” I asked a young man after he had heard the story. “Who knows? A dog, no doubt. Too large for a coyote.”
“Do you think it may have been a diablero?”
“That’s a lot of bull. There are no such things.”

“Why do you say that, Choy?”

“People imagine things. I bet if you had caught that animal you would have seen that it was a dog. Once I had some business in another town and got up before daybreak and saddled up a horse. As I was leaving I came upon a dark shadow on the road which looked like a huge animal. My horse reared, throwing me off the saddle. I was pretty scared too, but it turned out that the shadow was a woman who was walking to town.”

“Do you mean, Choy, that you don’t believe there are diableros?”
“Diableros! What’s a diablero? Tell me what a diablero is!”
“I don’t know, Choy. Manuel, who was riding with me that night, said the coyote could have been a

diablero. Maybe you could tell me what a diablero is?”
“A diablero, they say, is a brujo who changes into any form he wants to adopt. But everybody knows that is

pure bull. The old people here are full of stories about diableros. You won’t find that among us younger people.” “What kind of animal do you think it was, dona Luz?” I asked a middle-aged woman.
“Only God knows that for sure, but I think it was not a coyote. There are things that appear to be coyotes,

but are not. Was the coyote running, or was it eating?”
“It was standing most of the time, but when I first saw it, I think it was eating something.”
“Are you sure it was not carrying something in its mouth?”
“Perhaps it was. But tell me, would that make any difference?”
“Yes, it would. If it was carrying something in its mouth it was not a coyote.”
“What was it then?”
“‘It was a man or a woman.”
“What do you call such people, dona Luz?”
She did not answer. I questioned her for a while longer, but without success. Finally she said she did not

know. I asked her if such people were called diableros, and she answered that “diablero” was one of the names given to them.

“Do you know any diableros” I asked.

“I knew one woman,” she replied. “She was killed. It happened when I was a little girl. The woman, they said, used to turn into a female dog. And one night a dog went into the house of a white man to steal cheese. The white man killed the dog with a shotgun, and at the very moment the dog died in the house of the white man the woman died in her own hut. Her kin got together and went to the white man and demanded payment. The white man paid good money for having killed her.”

“How could they demand payment if it was only a dog he killed?”

“They said that the white man knew it was not a dog, because other people were with him, and they all saw that the dog stood up on its legs like a man and reached for the cheese, which was on a tray hanging from the roof. The men were waiting for the thief because the white man’s cheese was being stolen every night. So the man killed the thief knowing it was not a dog.”

“Are there any diableros nowadays, dona Luz?”

“Such things are very secret. They say there are no more diableros, but I doubt it, because one member of a diablero’s family has to learn what the diablero knows. Diableros have their own laws, and one of them is that a diablero has to teach his secrets to one of his kin.”

“What do you think the animal was, Genaro?” I asked a very old man. “A dog from one of the ranches of that area. What else?”


“It could have been a diablero.”
“A diablero? You are crazy! There are no diableros.”
“Do you mean that there are none today, or that there never were any?”
“At one time there were, yes. It is common knowledge. Everybody knows that. But the people were very

afraid of them and had them all killed.”
“Who killed them, Genaro?”
“All the people of the tribe. The last diablero I knew about was S. He killed dozens, maybe even hundreds of

people with his sorcery. We couldn’t put up with that and the people got together and took him by surprise one night and burned him alive.”

“How long ago was that, Genaro?”
“In nineteen forty-two.”
“Did you see it yourself?”
“No, but people still talk about it. They say that there were no ashes left, even though the stake was made of

fresh wood. All that was left at the end was a huge pool of grease.”

Although don Juan categorized his benefactor as a diablero, he never mentioned the place where he had acquired his knowledge, nor did he identify his teacher. In fact, don Juan disclosed very little about his personal life. All he said was that he had been born in the Southwest in 1891; that he had spent nearly all his life in Mexico; that in 1900 his family was exiled by the Mexican government to central Mexico along with thousands of other Sonoran Indians; and that he had lived in central and southern Mexico until 1940. Thus, as don Juan had traveled a great deal, his knowledge may have been the product of many influences. And although he regarded himself as an Indian from Sonora, I was not sure whether to place the context of his knowledge totally in the culture of the Sonoran Indians. But it is not my intention here to determine his precise cultural milieu.

I began to serve my apprenticeship to don Juan in June 1961. Prior to that time I had seen him on various occasions, but always in the capacity of an anthropological observer. During these early conversations I took notes in a covert manner. Later, relying on my memory, I reconstructed the entire conversation. When I began to participate as an apprentice, however, that method of taking notes became very difficult, because our conversations touched on many different topics. Then don Juan allowed me – under strong protest, however – to record openly anything that was said. I would also have liked to take photographs and make tape recordings, but he would not permit me to do so.

I carried out the apprenticeship first in Arizona and then in Sonora, because don Juan moved to Mexico during the course of my training. The procedure I employed was to see him for a few days every so often. My visits became more frequent and lasted longer during the summer months of 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1964. In retrospect, I believe this method of conducting the apprenticeship prevented the training from being successful, because it retarded the advent of the full commitment I needed to become a sorcerer. Yet the method was beneficial from my personal standpoint in that it allowed me a modicum of detachment, and that in turn fostered a sense of critical examination which would have been impossible to attain had I participated continuously, without interruption. In September 1965, I voluntarily discontinued the apprenticeship.

Several months after my withdrawal, I considered for the first time the idea of arranging my field notes in a systematic way. As the data I had collected were quite voluminous, and included much miscellaneous information, I began by trying to establish a classification system. I divided the data into areas of related concepts and procedures and arranged the areas hierarchically according to subjective importance – that is, in terms of the impact that each of them had had on me. In that way I arrived at the following classification: uses of hallucinogenic plants; procedures and formulas used in sorcery; acquisition and manipulation of power objects; uses of medicinal plants; songs and legends.

Reflecting upon the phenomena I had experienced, I realized that my attempt at classification had produced nothing more than an inventory of categories; any attempt to refine my scheme would therefore yield only a more complex inventory. That was not what I wanted. During the months following my withdrawal from the apprenticeship, I needed to understand what I had experienced, and what I had experienced was the teaching of a coherent system of beliefs by means of a pragmatic and experimental method. It had been evident to me from the very first session in which I had participated that don Juan’s teachings possessed an internal cohesion. Once he


had definitely decided to communicate his knowledge to me, he proceeded to present his explanations in orderly steps. To discover that order and to understand it proved to be a most difficult task for me.

My inability to arrive at an understanding seems to have been traceable to the fact that, after four years of apprenticeship, I was still a beginner. It was clear that don Juan’s knowledge and his method of conveying it were those of his benefactor; thus my difficulties in understanding his teachings must have been analogous to those he himself had encountered. Don Juan alluded to our similarity as beginners through incidental comments about his incapacity to understand his teacher during his own apprenticeship. Such remarks led me to believe that to any beginner, Indian or non-Indian, the knowledge of sorcery was rendered incomprehensible by the outlandish characteristics of the phenomena he experienced. Personally, as a Western man, I found these characteristics so bizarre that it was virtually impossible to explain them in terms of my own everyday life, and I was forced to the conclusion that any attempt to classify my field data in my own terms would be futile.

Thus it became obvious to me that don Juan’s knowledge had to be examined in terms of how he himself understood it; only in such terms could it be made evident and convincing. In trying to reconcile my own views with don Juan’s, however, I realized that whenever he tried to explain his knowledge to me, he used concepts that would render it “intelligible” to him. As those concepts were alien to me, trying to understand his knowledge in the way he did placed me in another untenable position. Therefore, my first task was to determine his order of conceptualization. While working in that direction, I saw that don Juan himself had placed particular emphasis on a certain area of his teachings – specifically, the uses of hallucinogenic plants. On the basis of this realization, I revised my own scheme of categories.

Don Juan used, separately and on different occasions, three hallucinogenic plants: peyote (Lophophora williamsii), Jimson weed (Datura inoxia syn. D. meteloides), and a mushroom (possibly Psilocybe mexicana). Since before their contact with Europeans, American Indians have known the hallucinogenic properties of these three plants. Because of their properties, the plants have been widely employed for pleasure, for curing, for witchcraft, and for attaining a state of ecstasy. In the specific context of his teachings, don Juan related the use of Datura inoxia and Psilocybe mexicana to the acquisition of power, a power he called an “ally”. He related the use of Lophophora williamsii to the acquisition of wisdom, or the knowledge of the right way to live.

The importance of the plants was, for don Juan, their capacity to produce stages of peculiar perception in a human being. Thus he guided me into experiencing a sequence of these stages for the purpose of unfolding and validating his knowledge. I have called them “states of non-ordinary reality”, meaning unusual reality as opposed to the ordinary reality of everyday life. The distinction is based on the inherent meaning of the states of non ordinary reality. In the context of don Juan’s knowledge they were considered as real, although their reality was differentiated from ordinary reality.

Don Juan believed the states of non-ordinary reality to be the only form of pragmatic learning and the only means of acquiring power. He conveyed the impression that other parts of his teachings were incidental to the acquisition of power. This point of view permeated don Juan’s attitude toward everything not directly connected with the states of non-ordinary reality. Throughout my field notes there are scattered references to the way don Juan felt. For example, in one conversation he suggested that some objects have a certain amount of power in themselves. Although he himself had no respect for power objects, he said they were frequently used as aids by lesser brujos. I often asked him about such objects, but he seemed totally uninterested in discussing them. When the topic was raised again on another occasion, however, he reluctantly consented to talk about them.

“There are certain objects that are permeated with power,” he said. “There are scores of such objects which are fostered by powerful men with the aid of friendly spirits. These objects are tools – not ordinary tools, but tools of death. Yet they are only instruments; they have no power to teach. Properly speaking, they are in the realm of war objects designed for strife; they are made to kill, to be hurled.”

“What kind of objects are they, don Juan?”
“They are not really objects; rather, they are types of power.”
“How can one get those types of power, don Juan?”
“That depends on the kind of object you want.”
“How many kinds are there?”
“As I have already said, there are scores of them. Anything can be a power object.” “Well, which are the most powerful, then?”


“The power of an object depends on its owner, on the kind of man he is. A power object fostered by a lesser brujo is almost a joke; on the other hand, a strong, powerful brujo gives his strength to his tools.”

“Which power objects are most common, then? Which ones do most brujos prefer?”
“There are no preferences. They are all power objects, all just the same.”
“Do you have any yourself, don Juan?”
He did not answer; he just looked at me and laughed. He remained quiet for a long time, and I thought my

questions were annoying him.
“There are limitations on those types of powers,” he went on. “But such a point is, I am sure,

incomprehensible to you. It has taken me nearly a lifetime to understand that, by itself, an ally can reveal all the secrets of these lesser powers, rendering them rather childish. I had tools like that at one time, when I was very young.”

“What power objects did you have?”
“Maiz-pinto, crystals and feathers.”
“What is maiz-pinto, don Juan?”
“It is a small kernel of corn which has a streak of red colour in its middle.” “Is it a single kernel?”

“No. A brujo owns forty-eight kernels.”
“What do the kernels do, don Juan?”
“Each one of them can kill a man by entering into his body.”
“How does a kernel enter into a human body?”
“It is a power object and its power consists, among other things, in entering into the body.”
“What does it do when it enters into the body?”
“It immerses itself in the body; it settles on the chest, or on the intestines. The man becomes ill, and unless

the brujo who is tending him is stronger than the bewitcher, he will die within three months from the moment the kernel entered into his body.”

“Is there any way of curing him?”

“The only way is to suck the kernel out, but very few brujos would dare to do that. A brujo may succeed in sucking the kernel out, but unless he is powerful enough to repel it, it will get inside him and will kill him instead.”

“But how does a kernel manage to enter into someone’s body?”

“To explain that I must tell you about corn witchcraft, which is one of the most powerful witchcrafts I know. The witchcraft is done by two kernels. One of them is put inside a fresh bud of a yellow flower. The flower is then set on a spot where it will come into contact with the victim: the road on which he walks every day, or any place where he is habitually present. As soon as the victim steps on the kernel, or touches it in any way, the witchcraft is done. The kernel immerses itself in the body.”

“What happens to the kernel after the man has touched it?”

“All its power goes inside the man, and the kernel is free. It becomes just another kernel. It may be left at the site of the witchcraft, or it may be swept away; it does not matter. It is better to sweep it away into the underbrush, where a bird will eat it.”

“Can a bird eat it before the man touches it?”
“No. No bird is that stupid, I assure you. The birds stay away from it.”
Don Juan then described a very complex procedure by which such power kernels can be obtained.
“You must bear in mind that maiz-pinto is merely an instrument, not an ally,” he said. “Once you make that

distinction you will have no problem. But if you consider such tools to be supreme, you will be a fool.”
“Are the power objects as powerful as an ally?” I asked.
Don Juan laughed scornfully before answering. It seemed that he was trying hard to be patient with me. “Maiz-pinto, crystals, and feathers are mere toys in comparison with an ally,” he said. “These power objects

are necessary only when a man does not have an ally. It is a waste of time to pursue them, especially for you. You should be trying to get an ally; when you succeed, you will understand what I am telling you now. Power objects are like a game for children.”

“Don’t get me wrong, don Juan,” I protested. “I want to have an ally, but I also want to know everything I 7

can. You yourself have said that knowledge is power.”
“No!” he said emphatically. “Power rests on the kind of knowledge one holds. What is the sense of knowing

things that are useless?”
In don Juan’s system of beliefs, the acquisition of an ally meant exclusively the exploitation of the states of

non-ordinary reality he produced in me through the use of hallucinogenic plants. He believed that by focusing on these states and omitting other aspects of the knowledge he taught I would arrive at a coherent view of the phenomena I had experienced.

I have therefore divided this book into two parts. In the first part I present selections from my field notes dealing with the states of non-ordinary reality I underwent during my apprenticeship. As I have arranged my notes to fit the continuity of the narrative, they are not always in proper chronological sequence. I never wrote my description of a state of non-ordinary reality until several days after I had experienced it, waiting until I was able to treat it calmly and objectively. My conversations with don Juan, however, were taken down as they occurred, immediately after each state of non-ordinary reality. My reports of these conversations, therefore, sometimes antedate the full description of an experience.

My field notes disclose the subjective version of what I perceived while undergoing the experience. That version is presented here just as I narrated it to don Juan, who demanded a complete and faithful recollection of every detail and a full recounting of each experience. At the time of recording these experiences, I added incidental details in an attempt to recapture the total setting of each state of non-ordinary reality. I wanted to describe the emotional impact I had experienced as completely as possible.

My field notes also reveal the content of don Juan’s system of beliefs. I have condensed long pages of questions and answers between don Juan and myself in order to avoid reproducing the repetitiveness of conversation. But as I also want to reflect accurately the overall mood of our exchanges, I have deleted only dialogue that contributed nothing to my understanding of his way of knowledge. The information don Juan gave me about his way of knowledge was always sporadic, and for every spurt on his part there were hours of probing on mine. Nevertheless, there were innumerable occasions on which he freely expounded his knowledge.


Chapter 1

My notes on my first session with don Juan are dated 23 June 1961. That was the occasion when the teachings began. I had seen him several times previously in the capacity of an observer only. At every opportunity I had asked him to teach me about peyote. He ignored my request every time, but he never completely dismissed the subject, and I interpreted his hesitancy as a possibility that he might be inclined to talk about his knowledge with more coaxing.

In this particular session he made it obvious to me that he might consider my request provided I possessed clarity of mind and purpose in reference to what I had asked him. It was impossible for me to fulfill such a condition, for I had asked him to teach me about peyote only as a means of establishing a link of communication with him. I thought his familiarity with the subject might predispose him to be more open and willing to talk, thus allowing me an entrance into his knowledge on the properties of plants. He had interpreted my request literally, however, and was concerned about my purpose in wishing to learn about peyote.

Friday, 23 June 1961

“Would you teach me about peyote, don Juan?”
“Why would you like to undertake such learning?”
“I really would like to know about it. Is not just to want to know a good reason?”
“No! You must search in your heart and find out why a young man like you wants to undertake such a task

of learning.”
“Why did you learn about it yourself, don Juan?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“Maybe we both have the same reasons.”
“I doubt that. I am an Indian. We don’t have the same paths.”
“The only reason I have is that I want to learn about it, just to know. But I assure you, don Juan, my

intentions are not bad.”
“I believe you. I’ve smoked you.”
“I beg your pardon!”
“It doesn’t matter now. I know your intentions.”
“Do you mean you saw through me?”
“You could put it that way.”
“Will you teach me, then?”
“Is it because I’m not an Indian?”
“No. It is because you don’t know your heart. What is important is that you know exactly why you want to

involve yourself. Learning about “Mescalito” is a most serious act. If you were an Indian your desire alone would be sufficient. Very few Indians have such a desire.”

Sunday, 25 June 1961

I stayed with don Juan all afternoon on Friday. I was going to leave about 7 p.m. We were sitting on the porch in front of his house and I decided to ask him once more about the teaching. It was almost a routine question and I expected him to refuse again. I asked him if there was a way in which he could accept just my desire to learn, as if I were an Indian. He took a long time to answer. I was compelled to stay because he seemed to be trying to decide something.

Finally he told me that there was a way, and proceeded to delineate a problem. He pointed out that I was very tired sitting on the floor, and that the proper thing to do was to find a “spot” (sitio) on the floor where I could sit without fatigue. I had been sitting with my knees up against my chest and my arms locked around my calves. When he said I was tired, I realized that my back ached and that I was quite exhausted.

I waited for him to explain what he meant by a “spot”, but he made no overt attempt to elucidate the point. I 9

thought that perhaps he meant that I should change positions, so I got up and sat closer to him. He protested at my movement and clearly emphasized that a spot meant a place where a man could feel naturally happy and strong. He patted the place where he sat and said it was his own spot, adding that he had posed a riddle I had to solve by myself without any further deliberation.

What he had posed as a problem to be solved was certainly a riddle. I had no idea how to begin or even what he had in mind. Several times I asked for a clue, or at least a hint, as to how to proceed in locating a point where I felt happy and strong. I insisted and argued that I had no idea what he really meant because I couldn’t conceive the problem. He suggested I walk around the porch until I found the spot.

I got up and began to pace the floor. I felt silly and sat down in front of him.

He became very annoyed with me and accused me of not listening, saying that perhaps I did not want to learn. After a while he calmed down and explained to me that not every place was good to sit or be on, and that within the confines of the porch there was one spot that was unique, a spot where I could be at my very best. It was my task to distinguish it from all the other places. The general pattern was that I had to “feel” all the possible spots that were accessible until I could determine without a doubt which was the right one.

I argued that although the porch was not too large (twelve by eight feet), the number of possible spots was overwhelming, and it would take me a very long time to check all of them, and that since he had not specified the size of the spot, the possibilities might be infinite. My arguments were futile. He got up and very sternly warned me that it might take me days to figure it out, but that if I did not solve the problem, I might as well leave because he would have nothing to say to me. He emphasized that he knew where my spot was, and that therefore I could not lie to him; he said this was the only way he could accept my desire to learn about Mescalito as a valid reason. He added that nothing in his world was a gift, that whatever there was to learn had to be learned the hard way.

He went around the house to the chaparral to urinate. He returned directly into his house through the back.

I thought the assignment to find the alleged spot of happiness was his own way of dismissing me, but I got up and started to pace back and forth. The sky was clear. I could see everything on and near the porch. I must have paced for an hour or more, but nothing happened to reveal the location of the spot. I got tired of walking and sat down; after a few minutes I sat somewhere else, and then at another place, until I had covered the whole floor in a semi-systematic fashion. I deliberately tried to “feel” differences between places, but I lacked the criteria for differentiation. I felt I was wasting my time, but I stayed. My rationalization was that I had come a long way just to see don Juan, and I really had nothing else to do.

I lay down on my back and put my hands under my head like a pillow. Then I rolled over and lay on my stomach for a while. I repeated this rolling process over the entire floor. For the first time I thought I had stumbled upon a vague criterion. I felt warmer when I lay on my back.

I rolled again, this time in the opposite direction, and again covered the length of the floor, lying face down on all the places where I had lain face up during my first rolling tour. I experienced the same warm and cold sensations, depending on my position, but there was no difference between spots.

Then an idea occurred to me which I thought to be brilliant: don Juan’s spot! I sat there, and then lay, face down at first, and later on my back, but the place was just like all the others. I stood up. I had had enough. I wanted to say good-bye to don Juan, but I was embarrassed to wake him up. I looked at my watch. It was two o’clock in the morning! I had been rolling for six hours.

At that moment don Juan came out and went around the house to the chaparral. He came back and stood at the door. I felt utterly dejected, and I wanted to say something nasty to him and leave. But I realized that it was not his fault; that it was my own choice to go through all that nonsense. I told him I had failed; I had been rolling on his floor like an idiot all night and still couldn’t make any sense of his riddle.

He laughed and said that it did not surprise him because I had not proceeded correctly. I had not been using my eyes. That was true, yet I was very sure he had said to feel the difference. I brought that point up, but he argued that one can feel with the eyes, when the eyes are not looking right into things. As far as I was concerned, he said, I had no other means to solve this problem but to use all I had – my eyes.

He went inside. I was certain that he had been watching me. I thought there was no other way for him to know that I had not been using my eyes.

I began to roll again, because that was the most comfortable procedure. This time, however, I rested my chin 10

on my hands and looked at every detail.
After an interval the darkness around me changed. When I focused on the point directly in front of me, the

whole peripheral area of my field of vision became brilliantly coloured with a homogeneous greenish yellow. The effect was startling. I kept my eyes fixed on the point in front of me and began to crawl sideways on my stomach, one foot at a time.

Suddenly, at a point near the middle of the floor, I became aware of another change in hue. At a place to my right, still in the periphery of my field of vision, the greenish yellow became intensely purple. I concentrated my attention on it. The purple faded into a pale, but still brilliant, colour which remained steady for the time I kept my attention on it.

I marked the place with my jacket, and called don Juan. He came out to the porch. I was truly excited; I had actually seen the change in hues. He seemed unimpressed, but told me to sit on the spot and report to him what kind of feeling I had.

I sat down and then lay on my back. He stood by me and asked me repeatedly how I felt; but I did not feel anything different. For about fifteen minutes I tried to feel or to see a difference, while don Juan stood by me patiently. I felt disgusted. I had a metallic taste in my mouth. Suddenly I had developed a headache. I was about to get sick. The thought of my nonsensical endeavours irritated me to a point of fury. I got up.

Don Juan must have noticed my profound frustration. He did not laugh, but very seriously stated that I had to be inflexible with myself if I wanted to learn. Only two choices were open to me, he said: either to quit and go home, in which case I would never learn, or to solve the riddle.

He went inside again. I wanted to leave immediately, but I was too tired to drive; besides, perceiving the hues had been so startling that I was sure it was a criterion of some sort, and perhaps there were other changes to be detected. Anyway, it was too late to leave. So I sat down, stretched my legs back, and began all over again.

During this round I moved rapidly through each place, passing don Juan’s spot, to the end of the floor, and then turned around to cover the outer edge. When I reached the centre, I realized that another change in colouration was taking place, again on the edge of my field of vision. The uniform chartreuse I was seeing all over the area turned, at one spot to my right, into a sharp verdigris. It remained for a moment and then abruptly metamorphosed into another steady hue, different from the other one I had detected earlier. I took off one of my shoes and marked the point, and kept on rolling until I had covered the floor in all possible directions. No other change of colouration took place.

I came back to the point marked with my shoe, and examined it. It was located five to six feet away from the spot marked by my jacket, in a southeasterly direction. There was a large rock next to it. I lay down there for quite some time trying to find clues, looking at every detail, but I did not feel anything different. I decided to try the other spot. I quickly pivoted on my knees and was about to lie down on my jacket when I felt an unusual apprehension. It was more like a physical sensation of something actually pushing on my stomach. I jumped up and retreated in one movement. The hair on my neck pricked up. My legs had arched slightly, my trunk was bent forward, and my arms stuck out in front of me rigidly with my fingers contracted like a claw. I took notice of my strange posture and my fright increased.

I walked back involuntarily and sat down on the rock next to my shoe. From the rock, I slumped to the floor. I tried to figure out what had happened to cause me such a fright. I thought it must have been the fatigue I was experiencing. It was nearly daytime. I felt silly and embarrassed. Yet I had no way to explain what had frightened me, nor had I figured out what don Juan wanted.

I decided to give it one last try. I got up and slowly approached the place marked by my jacket, and again I felt the same apprehension. This time I made a strong effort to control myself. I sat down, and then knelt in order to lie face down, but I could not lie in spite of my will. I put my hands on the floor in front of me. My breathing accelerated; my stomach was upset. I had a clear sensation of panic, and fought not to run away. I thought don Juan was perhaps watching me. Slowly I crawled back to the other spot and propped my back against the rock. I wanted to rest for a while to organize my thoughts, but I fell asleep.

I heard don Juan talking and laughing above my head. I woke up.
“You have found the spot,” he said.
I did not understand him at first, but he assured me again that the place where I had fallen asleep was the

spot in question. He again asked me how I felt lying there. I told him I really did not notice any difference. 11

He asked me to compare my feelings at that moment with what I had felt while lying on the other spot. For the first time it occurred to me that I could not possibly explain my apprehension of the preceding night. He urged me in a kind of challenging way to sit on the other spot. For some inexplicable reason I was actually afraid of the other place, and did not sit on it. He asserted that only a fool could fail to see the difference.

I asked him if each of the two spots had a special name. He said that the good one was called the sitio and the bad one the enemy; he said these two places were the key to a man’s wellbeing, especially for a man who was pursuing knowledge. The sheer act of sitting on one’s spot created superior strength; on the other hand, the enemy weakened a man and could even cause his death. He said I had replenished my energy, which I had spent lavishly the night before, by taking a nap on my spot.

He also said that the colours I had seen in association with each specific spot had the same overall effect either of giving strength or of curtailing it.

I asked him if there were other spots for me like the two I had found, and how I should go about finding them. He said that many places in the world would be comparable to those two, and that the best way to find them was by detecting their respective colours.

It was not clear to me whether or not I had solved the problem, and in fact I was not even convinced that there had been a problem; I could not avoid feeling that the whole experience was forced and arbitrary. I was certain that don Juan had watched me all night and then proceeded to humour me by saying that wherever I had fallen asleep was the place I was looking for. Yet I failed to see a logical reason for such an act, and when he challenged me to sit on the other spot I could not do it. There was a strange cleavage between my pragmatic experience of fearing the ‘other spot’ and my rational deliberations about the total event.

Don Juan, on the other hand, was very sure I had succeeded, and, acting in accordance with my success, let me know he was going to teach me about peyote.

“You asked me to teach you about Mescalito,” he said. “I wanted to find out if you had enough backbone to meet him face to face. Mescalito is not something to make fun of. You must have command over your resources. Now I know I can take your desire alone as a good reason to learn.”

“You really are going to teach me about peyote?”
“I prefer to call him Mescalito. Do the same.” “When are you going to start ?”
“It is not so simple as that. You must be ready first.” “I think I am ready.”

“This is not a joke. You must wait until there is no doubt, and then you will meet him.”
“Do I have to prepare myself?”
“No. You simply have to wait. You may give up the whole idea after a while. You get tired easily. Last night

you were ready to quit as soon as it got difficult. Mescalito requires a very serious intent.”


Chapter 2

Monday, 7 August 1961

I arrived at don Juan’s house in Arizona about seven o’clock on Friday night. Five other Indians were sitting with him on the porch of his house. I greeted him and sat waiting for them to say something. After a formal silence one of the men got up, walked over to me, and said, “Buenas noches.” I stood up and answered, “Buenas noches.” Then all the other men got up and came to me and we all mumbled ‘Buenas noches’ and shook hands either by barely touching one another’s finger-tips or by holding the hand for an instant and then dropping it quite abruptly.

We all sat down again. They seemed to be rather shy – at a loss for words, although they all spoke Spanish.

It must have been about half past seven when suddenly they all got up and walked towards the back of the house. Nobody had said a word for a long time. Don Juan signaled me to follow and we all got inside an old pickup truck parked there. I sat in the back with don Juan and two younger men. There were no cushions or benches and the metal floor was painfully hard, especially when we left the highway and got onto a dirt road. Don Juan whispered that we were going to the house of one of his friends who had seven mescalitos for me.

I asked him, “Don’t you have any of them yourself, don Juan?”
“I do, but I couldn’t offer them to you. You see, someone else has to do this.”
“Can you tell me why?”
“Perhaps you are not agreeable to “him” and “he” won’t like you, and then you will never be able to know

“him” with affection, as one should; and our friendship will be broken.”
“Why wouldn’t he like me? I have never done anything to him.”
“You don’t have to do anything to be liked or disliked. He either takes you, or throws you away.”
“But, if he doesn’t take me, isn’t there anything I can do to make him like me?”
The other two men seemed to have overheard my question and laughed.
“No! I can’t think of anything one can do,” don Juan said.
He turned half away from me and I could not talk to him any more.
We must have driven for at least an hour before we stopped in front of a small house. It was quite dark, and

after the driver had turned off the headlights I could make out only the vague contour of the building.
A young woman, a Mexican, judging by her speech inflection, was yelling at a dog to make him stop

barking. We got out of the truck and walked into the house. The men mumbled “Buenas noches” as they went by her. She answered back and went on yelling at the dog.

The room was large and was stacked up with a multitude of objects. A dim light from a very small electric bulb rendered the scene quite gloomy. There were quite a few chairs with broken legs and sagging seats leaning against the walls. Three of the men sat down on a couch, which was the largest single piece of furniture in the room. It was very old and had sagged down all the way to the floor; in the dim light it seemed to be red and dirty. The rest of us sat in chairs. We sat in silence for a long time.

One of the men suddenly got up and went into another room. He was perhaps in his fifties, tall, and husky. He came back a moment later with a coffee jar. He opened the lid and handed the jar to me; inside there were seven odd-looking items. They varied in size and consistency. Some of them were almost round, others were elongated. They felt to the touch like the pulp of walnuts, or the surface of cork. Their brownish colour made them look like hard, dry nutshells. I handled them, rubbing their surfaces for quite some time.

“This is to be chewed [esto se masca],” Don Juan said in a whisper.

I had not realized that he had sat next to me until he spoke. I looked at the other men, but no one was looking at me; they were talking among themselves in very low voices. This was a moment of acute indecision and fear. I felt almost unable to control myself.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said to him. “I’ll go outside and take a walk.”

He handed me the coffee jar and I put the peyote buttons in it. I was leaving the room when the man who hid given me the jar stood up, came to me, and said he had a toilet bowl in the other room.

The toilet was almost against the door. Next to it, nearly touching the toilet, was a large bed which occupied more than half of the room. The woman was sleeping there. I stood motionless at the door for a while, then I


came back to the room where the other men were.
The man who owned the house spoke to me in English: “Don Juan says you’re from South America. Is there

any mescal there?”
I told him that I had never even heard of it.
They seemed to be interested in South America and we talked about the Indians for a while. Then one of the

men asked me why I wanted to eat peyote. I told him that I waited to know what it was like. They all laughed shyly.

Don Juan urged me softly, “Chew it, chew it [Masca, masca].”

My hands were wet and my stomach contracted. The jar with the peyote buttons was on the floor by the chair. I bent over, took one at random, and put it in my mouth. It had a stale taste. I bit it in two and started to chew one of the pieces. I felt a strong, pungent bitterness; in a moment my whole mouth was numb. The bitterness increased as I kept on chewing, forcing an incredible flow of saliva. My gums and the inside of my mouth felt as if I had eaten salty, dry meat or fish, which seems to force one to chew more. After a while I chewed the other piece and my mouth was so numb I couldn’t feel the bitterness any more. The peyote button was a bunch of shreds, like the fibrous part of an orange or like sugarcane, and I didn’t know whether to swallow it or spit it out. At that moment the owner of the house got up and invited everybody to go out to the porch.

We went out and sat in the darkness. It was quite comfortable outside, and the host brought out a bottle of tequila.

The men were seated in a row with their backs to the wall. I was at the extreme right of the line. Don Juan, who was next to me, placed the jar with the peyote buttons between my legs. Then he handed me the bottle, which was passed down the line, and told me to take some of the tequila to wash away the bitterness.

I spat out the shreds of the first button and took a sip. He told me not to swallow it, but to just rinse out my mouth with it to stop the saliva. It did not help much with the saliva, but it certainly helped to wash away some of the bitterness.

Don Juan gave me a piece of dried apricot, or perhaps it was a dried fig – I couldn’t see it in the dark, nor could I taste it – and told me to chew it thoroughly and slowly, without rushing. I had difficulty swallowing it; it felt as if it would not go down.

After a short pause the bottle went around again. Don Juan handed me a piece of crispy dried meat. I told him I did not feel like eating.

“This is not eating,” he said firmly.

The pattern was repeated six times. I remember having chewed six peyote buttons when the conversation became very lively; although I could not distinguish what language was spoken, the topic of the conversation, in which everybody participated, was very interesting, and I attempted to listen carefully so that I could take part. But when I tried to speak I realized I couldn’t; the words shifted aimlessly about in my mind.

I sat with my back propped against the wall and listened to what the men were saying. They were talking in Italian, and repeated over and over one phrase about the stupidity of sharks. I thought it was a logical, coherent topic. I had told don Juan earlier that the Colorado River in Arizona was called by the early Spaniards “el rio de los tizones [the river of charred wood]’; and someone misspelled or misread “tizones”, and the river was called ‘el rio de los tiburones [the river of the sharks]’. I was sure they were discussing that story, yet it never occurred to me to think that none of them could speak Italian.

I had a very strong desire to throw up, but I don’t recall the actual act. I asked if somebody would get me some water. I was experiencing an unbearable thirst.

Don Juan brought me a large saucepan. He placed it on the ground next to the wall. He also brought a little cup or can. He dipped it into the pan and handed it to me, and said I could not drink but should just freshen my mouth with it.

The water looked strangely shiny, glossy, like a thick varnish. I wanted to ask don Juan about it and laboriously I tried to voice my thoughts in English, but then I realized he did not speak English. I experienced a very confusing moment, and became aware of the fact that although there was a clear thought in my mind, I could not speak. I wanted to comment on the strange quality of the water, but what followed next was not speech; it was the feeling of my unvoiced thoughts coming out of my mouth in a sort of liquid form. It was an effortless sensation of vomiting without the contractions of the diaphragm. It was a pleasant flow of liquid


I drank. And the feeling that I was vomiting disappeared. By that time all noises had vanished and I found I

had difficulty focusing my eyes. I looked for don Juan and as I turned my head I noticed that my field of vision had diminished to a circular area in front of my eyes. This feeling was neither frightening nor discomforting, but, quite to the contrary, it was a novelty; I could literally sweep the ground by focusing on one spot and then moving my head slowly in any direction. When I had first come out to the porch I had noticed it was all dark except for the distant glare of the city lights. Yet within the circular area of my vision everything was clear. I forgot about my concern with don Juan and the other men, and gave myself entirely to exploring the ground with my pinpoint vision.

I saw the juncture of the porch floor and the wall. I turned my head slowly to the right, following the wall, and saw don Juan sitting against it. I shifted my head to the left in order to focus on the water. I found the bottom of the pan; I raised my head slightly and saw a medium-size black dog approaching. I saw him coming towards the water. The dog began to drink. I raised my hand to push him away from my water; I focused my pinpoint vision on the dog to carry on the movement, and suddenly I saw him become transparent. The water was a shiny, viscous liquid. I saw it going down the dog’s throat into his body. I saw it flowing evenly through his entire length and then shooting out through each one of the hairs. I saw the iridescent fluid traveling along the length of each individual hair and then projecting out of the hairs to form a long, white, silky mane.

At that moment I had the sensation of intense convulsions, and in a matter of instants a tunnel formed around me, very low and narrow, hard and strangely cold. It felt to the touch like a wall of solid tinfoil. I found I was sitting on the tunnel floor. I tried to stand up, but hit my head on the metal roof, and the tunnel compressed itself until it was suffocating me. I remember having to crawl toward a sort of round point where the tunnel ended; when I finally arrived, if I did, I had forgotten all about the dog, don Juan, and myself. I was exhausted. My clothes were soaked in a cold, sticky liquid. I rolled back and forth trying to find a position in which to rest, a position where my heart would not pound so hard. In one of those shifts I saw the dog again.

Every memory came back to me at once, and suddenly all was clear in my mind. I turned around to look for don Juan, but I could not distinguish anything or anyone. All I was capable of seeing was the dog becoming iridescent; an intense light radiated from his body. I saw again the water flowing through him, kindling him like a bonfire. I got to the water, sank my face in the pan, and drank with him. My hands were in front of me on the ground and, as I drank, I saw the fluid running through my veins setting up hues of red and yellow and green. I drank more and more. I drank until I was all afire; I was all aglow. I drank until the fluid went out of my body through each pore and projected out like fibers of silk, and I too acquired a long, lustrous, iridescent mane. I looked at the dog and his mane was like mine. A supreme happiness filled my whole body, and we ran together toward a sort of yellow warmth that came from some indefinite place. And there we played. We played and wrestled until I knew his wishes and he knew mine. We took turns manipulating each other in the fashion of a puppet show. I could make him move his legs by twisting my toes, and every time he nodded his head I felt an irresistible impulse to jump. But his most impish act was to make me scratch my head with my foot while I sat; he did it by flapping his ears from side to side. This action was to me utterly, unbearably funny. Such a touch of grace and irony; such mastery, I thought. The euphoria that possessed me was indescribable. I laughed until it was almost impossible to breathe.

I had the clear sensation of not being able to open my eyes; I was looking through a tank of water. It was a long and very painful state filled with the anxiety of not being able to wake up and yet being awake. Then slowly the world became clear and in focus. My field of vision became again very round and ample, and with it came an ordinary conscious act, which was to turn around and look for that marvelous being. At this point I encountered the most difficult transition. The passage from my normal state had taken place almost without my realizing it: I was aware; my thoughts and feelings were a corollary of that awareness; and the passing was smooth and clear. But this second change, the awakening to serious, sober consciousness, was genuinely shocking. I had forgotten I was a man! The sadness of such an irreconcilable situation was so intense that I wept.

Saturday, 5 August 1961

Later that morning, after breakfast, the owner of the house, don Juan, and I drove back to don Juan’s place. I 15

was very tired, but I couldn’t go to sleep in the truck. Only after the man had left did I fall asleep on the porch of don Juan’s house.

When I woke up it was dark; don Juan had covered me up with a blanket. I looked for him, but he was not in the house. He came later with a pot of fried beans and a stack of tortillas. I was extremely hungry.

After we had finished eating and were resting he asked me to tell him all that had happened to me the night before. I related my experience in great detail and as accurately as possible.

When I had finished he nodded his head and said, “I think you are fine. It is difficult for me to explain now how and why. But I think it went all right for you. You see, sometimes he is playful, like a child; at other times he is terrible, fearsome. He either frolics, or he is dead serious. It is impossible to know beforehand what he will be like with another person. Yet, when one knows him well – sometimes. You played with him tonight. You are the only person I know who has had such an encounter.”

“In what way does my experience differ from that of others?”

“You’re not an Indian; therefore it is hard for me to figure out what is what. Yet he either takes people or rejects them, regardless of whether they are Indians or not. That I know. I have seen numbers of them. I also know that he frolics, he makes some people laugh, but never have I seen him play with anyone.”

“Can you tell me now, don Juan, how does peyote protect…”
He did not let me finish. Vigorously he touched me on the shoulder.
“Don’t you ever name him that way. You haven’t seen enough of him yet to know him.”
“How does Mescalito protect people?”
“He advises. He answers whatever questions you ask.”
“Then Mescalito is real? I mean he is something you can see?”
He seemed to be baffled by my question. He looked at me with a sort of blank expression.
“What I meant to say, is that Mescalito…”
“I heard what you said. Didn’t you see him last night?”
I wanted to say that I saw only a dog, but I noticed his bewildered look.
“Then you think what I saw last night was him?”
He looked at me with contempt. He chuckled, shook his head as though he couldn’t believe it, and in a very

belligerent tone he added, “A poco crees que era tu – mama [Don’t tell me you believe it was your – mama] ?” He paused before saying “mama” because what he meant to say was “tu chingada madre”, an idiom used as a disrespectful allusion to the other party’s mother. The word “mama” was so incongruous that we both laughed

for a long time.
Then I realized he had fallen asleep and had not answered my question.

Sunday, 6 August 1961

I drove don Juan to the house where I had taken peyote. On the way he told me that the name of the man who had “offered me to Mescalito” was John. When we got to the house we found John sitting on his porch with two young men. All of them were extremely jovial. They laughed and talked with great ease. The three of them spoke English perfectly. I told John that I had come to thank him for having helped me.

I wanted to get their views on my behavior during the hallucinogenic experience, and told them I had been trying to think of what I had done that night and that I couldn’t remember. They laughed and were reluctant to talk about it. They seemed to be holding back on account of don Juan. They all glanced at him as though waiting for an affirmative cue to go on. Don Juan must have cued them, although I did not notice anything, because suddenly John began to tell me what I had done that night.

He said he knew I had been “taken” when he heard me puking. He estimated that I must have puked thirty times. Don Juan corrected him and said it was only ten times.

John continued: “Then we all moved next to you. You were stiff, and were having convulsions. For a very long time, while lying on your back, you moved your mouth as though talking. Then you began to bump your head on the floor, and don Juan put an old hat on your head and you stopped it. You shivered and whined for hours, lying on the floor. I think everybody fell asleep then; but I heard you puffing and groaning in my sleep. Then I heard you scream and I woke up. I saw you leaping up in the air, screaming. You made a dash for the


water, knocked the pan over, and began to swim in the puddle.
“Don Juan brought you more water. You sat quietly in front of the pan. Then you jumped up and took off all

your clothes. You were kneeling in front of the water, drinking in big gulps. Then you just sat there and stared into space. We thought you were going to be there forever. Nearly everybody was asleep, including don Juan, when suddenly you jumped up again, howling, and took after the dog. The dog got scared and howled too, and ran to the back of the house. Then everybody woke up.

“We all got up. You came back from the other side still chasing the dog. The dog was running ahead of you barking and howling. I think you must have gone twenty times around the house, running in circles, barking like a dog. I was afraid people were going to be curious. There are no neighbors close, but your howling was so loud it could have been heard for miles.”

One of the young men added, “You caught up with the doe and brought it to the porch in your arms.”

John continued: “Then you began to play with the dog. You wrestled with him, and the dog and you bit each other and played. That, I thought, was funny. My dog does not play usually. But this time you and the dog were rolling on each other.”

“Then you ran to the water and the dog drank with you,” the young man said. “You ran five or six times to the water with the dog.”

“How long did this go on?” I asked.

“Hours,” John said. “At one time we lost sight of you two. I think you must have run to the back. We just heard you barking and groaning. You sounded so much like a dog that we couldn’t tell you two apart.”

“Maybe it was just the dog alone,” I said.
They laughed, and John said, “You were barking there, boy!”
“What happened next?”
The three men looked at one another and seemed to have a hard time deciding what happened next. Finally

the young man who had nor yet said anything spoke up.
“He choked,” he said, looking at John.
“Yes, you certainly choked. You began to cry very strangely, and then you fell to the floor. We thought you

were biting your tongue; don Juan opened your jaws and poured water on your face. Then you started shivering and having convulsions all over again. Then you stayed motionless for a long time. Don Juan said it was all over. By then it was morning, so we covered you with a blanket and left you to sleep on the porch.”

He stopped there and looked at the other men who were obviously trying not to laugh. He turned to don Juan and asked him something. Don Juan smiled and answered the question. John turned to me and said, “We left you here on the porch because we were afraid you were going to piss all over the rooms.”

They all laughed very loudly.
“What was the matter with me?” I asked. “Did I…”
“Did you?” John sort of mimicked me. “We were not going to mention it, but don Juan says it is all right.

You pissed all over my dog!’
“What did I do?”
“You don’t think the dog was running because he was afraid of you, do you? The dog was running because

you were pissing on him.”
There was general laughter at this point. I tried to question one of the young men, but they were all laughing

and he didn’t hear me.
John went on: “My dog got even though; he pissed on you too!”
This statement was apparently utterly funny because they all roared with laughter, including don Juan. When

they had quieted down, I asked in all earnestness, “Is it really true? This really happened ?”
Still laughing, John replied: “I swear my dog really pissed on you.”
Driving back to don Juan’s place I asked him: “Did all that really happen, don Juan?”
“Yes,” he said, “but they don’t know what you saw. They don’t realize you were playing with “him”. That is

why I did not disturb you.”
“But is this business of the dog and me pissing on each other true?”
“It was not a dog! How many times do I have to tell you that? This is the only way to understand it. It’s the

only way! It was “he” who played with you.”


“Did you know all this was happening before I told you about it?”
He vacillated for an instant before answering.
“No, I remembered, after you told me about it, the strange way you looked. I just suspected you were doing

fine because you didn’t seem scared.”
“Did the dog really play with me as they say?” “Goddammit! It was not a dog!”

Thursday, 17 August 1961

I told don Juan how I felt about my experience. From the point of view of my intended work it had been a disastrous event. I said I did not care for another similar “encounter” with Mescalito. I agreed that everything that had happened to me had been more than interesting, but added that nothing in it could really move me towards seeking it again. I seriously believed that I was not constructed for that type of endeavor. Peyote had produced in me, as a post-reaction, a strange kind of physical discomfort. It was an indefinite fear or unhappiness; a melancholy of some sort, which I could not define exactly. And I did not find that state noble in any way.

Don Juan laughed and said, “You are beginning to learn.”
“This type of learning is not for me. I am not made for it, don Juan.”
“You always exaggerate.”
“This is not exaggeration.”
“It is. The only trouble is that you exaggerate the bad points only.”
“There are no good points so far as I am concerned. All I know is that it makes me afraid.”
“There is nothing wrong with being afraid. When you fear, you see things in a different way.”
“But I don’t care about seeing things in a different way, don Juan. I think I am going to leave the learning

about Mescalito alone. I can’t handle it, don Juan. This is really a bad situation for me.”
“Of course it is bad – even for me. You are not the only one who is baffled.”
“Why should you be baffled, don Juan?”
“I have been thinking about what I saw the other night Mescalito actually played with you. That baffled me,

because it was an indication [omen].”
“What kind of – indication, don Juan?”
“Mescalito was pointing you out to me.”
“What for?”
“It wasn’t clear to me then, but now it is. He meant you were the “chosen man” [escogido]. Mescalito

pointed you out to me and by doing that he told me you were the chosen man.”
“Do you mean I was chosen among others for some task, or something of the sort?”
“No. What I mean is, Mescalito told me you could be the man I am looking for.”
“When did he tell you that, don Juan?”
“By playing with you, he told me that. This makes you the chosen man for me.”
“What does it mean to be the chosen man?”
“There are some secrets I know [Tengo secretos]. I have secrets I won’t be able to reveal to anyone unless I

find my chosen man. The other night when I saw you playing with Mescalito it was clear to me you were that man. But you are not an Indian. How baffling!”

“But what does it mean to me, don Juan? What do I have to do?”
“I’ve made up my mind and I am going to teach you the secrets that make up the lot of a man of knowledge.” “Do you mean the secrets about Mescalito?”
“Yes, but those are not all the secrets I know. There are others, of different kind, which I would like to give

to someone. I had a teacher myself, my benefactor, and I also became his chosen man upon performing a certain feat. He taught me all I know.”

I asked him again what this new role would require of me; he said learning was the only thing involved, learning in the sense of what I had experienced in the two sessions with him.

The way in which the situation had evolved was quite strange. I had made up my mind to tell him I was 18

going to give up the idea of learning about peyote, and then before I could really make my point, he offered to teach me his “knowledge”. I did not know what he meant by that, but I felt that this sudden turn was very serious. I argued I had no qualifications for such a task, as it required a rare kind of courage which I did not have. I told him that my bent of character was to talk about acts others performed. I wanted to hear his views and opinions about everything. I told him I could be happy if I could sit there and listen to him talk for days. To me, that would be learning.

He listened without interrupting me. I talked for a long time. Then he said:

“All this is very easy to understand. Fear is the first natural enemy a man must overcome on his path to knowledge. Besides, you are curious. That evens up the score. And you will learn in spite of yourself; that’s the rule.”

I protested for a while longer, trying to dissuade him. But he seemed to be convinced there was nothing else I could do but learn.

“You are not thinking in the proper order,” he said. “Mescalito actually played with you. That’s the point to think about. Why don’t you dwell on that instead of on your fear?”

“Was it so unusual?”

“You are the only person I have ever seen playing with him. You are not used to this kind of life; therefore the indications [omens] bypass you. Yet you are a serious person, but your seriousness is attached to what you do, not to what goes on outside you. You dwell upon yourself too much. That’s the trouble. And that produces a terrible fatigue.”

“But what else can anyone do, don Juan?”

“Seek and see the marvels all around you. You will get tired of looking at yourself alone, and that fatigue will make you deaf and blind to everything else.”

“You have a point, don Juan, but how can I change?”

“Think about the wonder of Mescalito playing with you. Think about nothing else. The rest will come to you of itself.”

Sunday, 20 August 1961

Last night don Juan proceeded to usher me into the realm of his knowledge. We sat in front of his house in the dark. Suddenly, after a long silence, he began to talk. He said he was going to advise me with the same words his own benefactor had used the first day he took him as his apprentice. Don Juan had apparently memorized the words, for he repeated them several times, to make sure I did not miss any:

“A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war, wide-awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance. Going to knowledge or going to war in any other manner is a mistake, and whoever makes it will live to regret his steps.”

I asked him why was it so and he said that when a man has fulfilled those four requisites there are no mistakes for which he will have to account; under such conditions his acts lose the blundering quality of a fool’s acts. If such a man fails, or suffers a defeat, he will have lost only a battle, and there will be no pitiful regrets over that.

Then he said he intended to teach me about an “ally” in the very same way his own benefactor had taught him. He put strong emphasis on the words “very same way”, repeating the phrase several times.

An “ally”, he said, is a power a man can bring into his life to help him, advise him, and give him the strength necessary to perform acts, whether big or small, right or wrong. This ally is necessary to enhance a man’s life, guide his acts, and further his knowledge. In fact, an ally is the indispensable aid to knowing. Don Juan said this with great conviction and force. He seemed to choose his words carefully. He repeated the following sentence four times:

“An ally will make you see and understand things about which no human being could possibly enlighten you.”

“Is an ally something like a guardian spirit?”
“It is neither a guardian nor a spirit. It is an aid.” “Is Mescalito your ally?”


“No! Mescalito is another kind of power. A unique power! A protector, a teacher.”
“What makes Mescalito different from an ally?”
“He can’t be tamed and used as an ally is tamed and used. Mescalito is outside oneself. He chooses to show

himself in many forms to whoever stands in front of him, regardless of whether that person is a brujo or a farm boy.”

Don Juan spoke with deep fervour about Mescalito’s being the teacher of the proper way to live. I asked him how Mescalito taught the “proper way of life”, and don Juan replied that Mescalito showed how to live.

“How does he show it?” I asked.

“He has many ways of showing it. Sometimes he shows it on his hand, or on the rocks, or the trees, or just in front of you.”

“Is it like a picture in front of you?” “No. It is a teaching in front of you.” “Does Mescalito talk to the person?” “Yes. But not in words.”

“How does he talk, then?”
“He talks differently to every man.”
I felt my questions were annoying him. I did not ask any more. He went on explaining that there were no

exact steps to knowing Mescalito; therefore no one could teach about him except Mescalito himself. This quality made him a unique power; he was not the same for every man.

On the other hand, the acquiring of an ally required, don Juan said, the most precise teaching and the following of stages or steps without a single deviation. There are many such ally powers in the world, he said, but he was familiar with only two of them. And he was going to lead me to them and their secrets, but it was up to me to choose one of them, for I could have only one. His benefactor’s ally was in la yerba del diablo (devil’s weed), he said, but he personally did not like it, even though his benefactor had taught him its secrets. His own ally was in the humito (the little smoke), he said, but he did not elaborate on the nature of the smoke.

I asked him about it. He remained quiet. After a long pause I asked him: “What kind of a power is an ally?”
“It is an aid. I have already told you.”
“How does it aid?”

“An ally is a power capable of carrying a man beyond the boundaries of himself. This is how an ally can reveal matters no human being could.”

“But Mescalito also takes you out of the boundaries of yourself. Doesn’t that make him an ally?”
“No. Mescalito takes you out of yourself to teach you. An ally takes you out to give you power.”
I asked him to explain this point to me in more detail, or to describe the difference in effect between the two.

He looked at me for a long time and laughed. He said that learning through conversation was not only a waste, but stupidity, because learning was the most difficult task a man could undertake. He asked me to remember the time I had tried to find my spot, and how I wanted to find it without doing any work because I had expected him to hand out all the information. If he had done so, he said, I would never have learned. But, knowing how difficult it was to find my spot, and, above all, knowing that it existed, would give me a unique sense of confidence. He said that while I remained rooted to my “good spot” nothing could cause me bodily harm, because I had the assurance that at that particular spot I was at my very best. I had the power to shove off anything that might be harmful to me. If, however, he had told me where it was, I would never have had the confidence needed to claim it as true knowledge. Thus, knowledge was indeed power.

Don Juan said then that every time a man sets himself to learn he has to labor as hard as I did to find that spot, and the limits of his learning are determined by his own nature. Thus he saw no point in talking about knowledge. He said that certain kinds of knowledge were too powerful for the strength I had, and to talk about them would only bring harm to me. He apparently felt there was nothing else he wanted to say. He got up and walked towards his house. I told him the situation overwhelmed me. It was not what I had conceived or wanted it to be.

He said that fears are natural; that all of us experience them and there is nothing we can do about it. But on the other hand, no matter how frightening learning is, it is more terrible to think of a man without an ally, or


without knowledge.


Chapter 3

In the more than two years that elapsed between the time don Juan decided to teach me about the ally powers and the time he thought I was ready to learn about them in the pragmatic, participatory form he considered as learning, he gradually denned the general features of the two allies in question. He prepared me for the indispensable corollary of all the verbalizations, and the consolidation of all the teachings, the states of non- ordinary reality. At first he talked about the ally powers in a very casual manner. The first references I have in my notes are interjected between other topics of conversation.

Wednesday, 23 August 1961

“The devil’s weed [Jimson weed] was my benefactor’s ally. It could have been mine also, but I didn’t like her.”

“Why didn’t you like the devil’s weed, don Juan?”
“She has a serious drawback.”
“Is she inferior to other ally powers?”
“No. Don’t get me wrong. She is as powerful as the best of allies, but there is something about her which I

personally don’t like.”
“Can you tell me what it is?”
“She distorts men. She gives them a taste of power too soon without fortifying their hearts and makes them

domineering and unpredictable. She makes them weak in the middle of their great power.”
“Isn’t there any way to avoid that?”
“There is a way to overcome it, but not to avoid it. Whoever becomes the weed’s ally must pay that price.” “How can one overcome that effect, don Juan?”
“The devil’s weed has four heads: the root, the stem and leaves, the flowers, and the seeds. Each one of them

is different, and whoever becomes her ally must learn about them in that order. The most important head is in the roots. The power of the devil’s weed is conquered through the roots. The stem and leaves are the head that cures maladies; properly used, this head is a gift to mankind. The third head is in the flowers, and it is used to turn people crazy, or to make them obedient, or to kill them. The man whose ally is the weed never intakes the flowers, nor does he intake the stem and leaves, for that matter, except in cases of his own illness; but the roots and the seeds are always intaken; especially the seeds; they are the fourth head of the devil’s weed and the most powerful of the four.

“My benefactor used to say the seeds are the “sober head” – the only part that could fortify the heart of man. The devil’s weed is hard with her protégés, he used to say, because she aims to kill them fast, a thing she ordinarily accomplishes before they can arrive at the secrets of the “sober head”. There are, however, tales about men who have unraveled the secrets of the sober head. What a challenge for a man of knowledge!”

“Did your benefactor unravel such secrets?”
“No, he didn’t.”
“Have you met anyone who has done it?”
“No. But they lived at a time when that knowledge was important.” “Do you know anyone who has met such men ?”

“No, I don’t.”
“Did your benefactor know anyone?”
“He did.”
“Why didn’t he arrive at the secrets of the sober head?”
“To tame the devil’s weed into an ally is one of the most difficult tasks I know. She never became one with

me, for example, perhaps because I was never fond of her.”
“Can you still use her as an ally in spite of not being fond of her?”
“I can; nevertheless, I prefer not to. Maybe it will be different for you.” “Why is it called the devil’s weed?”


Don Juan made a gesture of indifference, shrugged his shoulders, and remained quiet for some time. Finally he said that “devil’s weed” was her temporary name [su nombre de leche]. He also said there were other names for the devil’s weed, but they were not to be used, because the calling of a name was a serious matter, especially if one was learning to tame an ally power. I asked him why the calling of a name was so serious a matter. He said names were reserved to be used only when one was calling for help, in moments of great stress and need, and he assured me that such moments happen sooner or later in the life of whoever seeks knowledge.

Sunday, 3 September 1961

Today, during the afternoon, don Juan collected two Datura plants from the field.

Quite unexpectedly he brought the subject of the devil’s weed into our conversation, and then asked me to go with him to the hills and look for one.

We drove to the nearby mountains. I got a shovel out of the trunk and walked into one of the canyons. We walked for quite a while, wading through the chaparral, which grew thick in the soft, sandy dirt. He stopped next to a small plant with dark-green leaves, and big, whitish, bell-shaped flowers.

“This one,” he said.

Immediately he started to shovel. I tried to help him but he refused with a strong shake of the head, and went on to dig a circular hole around the plant: a hole shaped like a cone, deep toward the outer edge and sloping into a mound in the centre of the circle. When he stopped digging he knelt close to the stem and with his fingers cleared the soft dirt around it, uncovering about four inches of a big, tuberous, forked root whose width contrasted markedly with the width of the stem, which was frail in comparison.

Don Juan looked at me and said the plant was a “male” because the root forked out from the exact point where it joined the stem. Then he stood up and started to walk away, looking for something.

“What are you looking for, don Juan?”
“I want to find a stick.”
I began to look around, but he stopped me.
“Not you! You sit over there.” He pointed to some rocks twenty feet away. “I will find it.”
He came back after a while with a long, dry branch. Using it as a digging stick, he loosened the dirt carefully

along the two diverging branches of the root. He cleaned around them to a depth of approximately two feet. As he dug deeper the dirt became so hard-packed that it was practically impossible to penetrate it with the stick.

He came to a halt and sat down to catch his breath. I sat next to him. We did not talk for a long time.
“Why don’t you dig it out with the shovel?” I asked.
“It could cut and injure the plant. I had to get a stick that belonged to this area so that, if I had struck the root,

the injury wouldn’t have been as bad as one caused by a shovel or a foreign object.”
“What kind of a stick did you get?”
“Any dry branch of the paloverde tree would do. If there are no dry branches you have to cut a fresh one.” “Can you use the branches of any other tree?”
“I told you, only paloverde and not any other.”
“Why is that so, don Juan?”
“Because the devil’s weed has very few friends, and paloverde is the only tree in this area which agrees with

her – the only thing that grabs or hooks onto it [lo unico que prende]. If you damage the root with a shovel she will not grow for you when you replant her, but if you injure her with such a stick, chances are the plant will not even feel it.”

“What are you going to do with the root now?”
“I’m going to cut it. You must leave me. Go find another plant and wait until I call you.”
“Don’t you want me to help you?”
“You may help me only if I ask you!”
I walked away and started to look for another plant in order to fight the strong desire to sneak around and

watch him. After some time he joined me. “Let us look for the female now,” he said. “How do you tell them apart?”


“The female is taller and grows above the ground so it really looks like a small tree. The male is large and spreads out near the ground and looks more like a thick bush. Once we dig the female out you will see it has a single root going for quite a way before it becomes a fork. The male, on the other hand, has a forked root joined to the stem.”

We looked together through the field of daturas. Then, pointing to a plant, he said, “That’s a female.” And he proceeded to dig it out as he had done the other. As soon as he had cleared the root I was able to see that the root conformed to his prediction. I left him again when he was about to cut it.

When we got to his house he opened the bundle in which he had put the Datura plants. He took the larger one, the male, first and washed it in a big metal tray. Very carefully he scrubbed all the dirt from the root, stem, and leaves. After that meticulous cleaning, he severed the stem from the root by making a superficial incision around the width of their juncture with a short, serrated knife and by cracking them apart. He took the stem and separated every part of it by making individual heaps with leaves, flowers, and the prickly seedpods. He threw away everything that was dry or had been spoiled by worms, and kept only those parts that were complete. He tied together the two branches of the root with two pieces of string, cracked them in half after making a superficial cut at the joint, and got two pieces of root of equal size.

He then took a piece of rough burlap cloth and placed in it first the two pieces of root tied together; on top of them he put the leaves in a neat bunch, then the flowers, the seedpods, and the stem. He folded the burlap and made a knot with the corners.

He repeated exactly the same steps with the other plant, the female, except that when he got to the root, instead of cutting it, he left the fork intact, like an upside-down letter Y. Then he placed all the parts in another cloth bundle. When he finished, it was already dark.

Wednesday, 6 September 1961

Today, late in the afternoon, we returned to the topic of the devil’s weed.
“I think we should start with that weed again,” don Juan said suddenly.
After a polite silence I asked him, “What are you going to do with the plants?”
“The plants I dug out and cut are mine,” he said. “It is as though they were myself; with them I’m going to

teach you the way to tame the devil’s weed.”
“How will you do that?”
“The devil’s weed is divided into portions [partes]. Each one of these portions is different; each has its

unique purpose and service.”
He opened his left hand and measured on the floor from the tip of his thumb to the tip of his fourth finger. “This is my portion. You will measure yours with your own hand. Now, to establish dominion over the

devil’s weed, you must begin by taking the first portion of the root. But since I have brought you to her, you must take the first portion of the root of my plant. I have measured it for you, so it is really my portion that you must take at the beginning.”

He went inside the house and brought out one of the burlap bundles. He sat down and opened it. I noticed it was the male plant. I also noticed there was only one piece of root. He took the piece that was left from the original set of two and held it in front of my face.

“This is your first portion,” he said. “I give it to you. I have cut it myself for you. I have measured it as my own; now I give it to you.”

For an instant, the thought that I would have to chew it like a carrot crossed my mind, but he placed it inside a small, white, cotton bag.

He walked to the back of the house. He sat there on the floor with his legs crossed, and with a round mano began to mash the root inside the bag. He worked it over a flat slab which served as a mortar. From time to time he washed the two stones, and kept the water in a small, flat, wooden dugout basin.

As he pounded he sang an unintelligible chant, very softly and monotonously. When he had mashed the root into a soft pulp inside the bag, he placed it in the wooden basin. He again placed the slab mortar and the pestle into the basin, filled it with water, and then carried it to a son of rectangular pig’s trough set against the back fence.


He said the root had to soak all night, and had to be left outside the house so it would catch the night air (el sereno). “If tomorrow is a sunny, hot day, it will be an excellent omen,” he said.

Sunday, 10 September 1961

Thursday, 7 September was a very clear and hot day. Don Juan seemed very pleased with the good omen and repeated several times that the devil’s weed had probably liked me. The root had soaked all night, and about 10:00 a.m. we walked to the back of the house. He took the basin out of the trough, placed it on the ground, and sat next to it. He took the bag and rubbed it on the bottom of the basin. He held it a few inches above the water and squeezed its contents, then dropped the bag into the water. He repeated the same sequence three more times, then discarded the bag, tossing it into the trough, and left the basin in the hot sun.

We came back to it two hours later. He brought with him a medium-size kettle with boiling, yellowish water. He tipped the basin very carefully and emptied the top water, preserving the thick silt that had accumulated on the bottom. He poured the boiling water on the silt and left the basin in the sun again.

This sequence was repeated three times at intervals of more than an hour. Finally he poured out most of the water from the basin, tipped it to an angle to catch the late afternoon sun, and left it.

When we returned hours later, it was dark. On the bottom of the basin there was a layer of gummy substance. It resembled a batch of half-cooked starch, whitish or light grey. There was perhaps a full teaspoon of it. He took the basin inside the house, and while he put some water on to boil I picked out pieces of dirt the wind had blown into the silt. He laughed at me.

“That little dirt won’t hurt anybody.”

When the water was boiling he poured about a cup of it into the basin. It was the same yellowish water he had used before. It dissolved the silt, making a sort of milky substance.

“What kind of water is that, don Juan?”
“Water of fruits and flowers from the canyon.”
He emptied the contents of the basin into an old clay mug that looked like a flowerpot. It was still very hot,

so he blew on to it to cool it. He took a sip and handed me the mug.
“Drink now!” he said.
I took it automatically, and without deliberation drank all the water. It tasted somewhat bitter, although the

bitterness was hardly noticeable. What was very outstanding was the pungent odour of the water. It smelled like cockroaches.

Almost immediately I began to sweat. I got very warm, and blood rushed to my ears. I saw a red spot in front of my eyes, and the muscles of my stomach began to contract in painful cramps. After a while, even though I felt no more pain, I began to get cold and perspiration literally soaked me.

Don Juan asked me if I saw blackness or black spots in front of my eyes. I told him I was seeing everything in red.

My teeth were chattering because of an uncontrollable nervousness that came to me in waves, as if radiating out from the middle of my chest.

Then he asked me if I was afraid. His questions seemed meaningless to me. I told him that I was obviously afraid, but he asked me again if I was afraid of her. I did not understand what he meant and I said yes. He laughed and said that I was not really afraid. He asked if I still saw red. All I was seeing was a huge red spot in front of my eyes.

I felt better after a while. Gradually the nervous spasms disappeared, leaving only an aching, pleasant tiredness and an intense desire to sleep. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, although I could still hear don Juan’s voice. I fell asleep. But the sensation of my being submerged in a deep red persisted all night. I even had dreams in red.

I woke up on Saturday about 3:00 p.m. I had slept almost two days. I had a mild headache and an upset stomach, and very sharp, intermittent pains in my intestines. Except for that, everything else was like an ordinary waking. I found don Juan sitting in front of his house dozing. He smiled at me.

“Everything went fine the other night,” he said. “You saw red and that’s all that is important.” “What would have happened if I had not seen red?”


“You would have seen black, and that is a bad sign.”
“Why is it bad?”
“When a man sees black it means he is not made for the devil’s weed, and he vomits his entrails out, all

green and black.”
“Would he die?”
“I don’t think anyone would die, but he would be sick for a long time.”
“What happens to those who see red?”
“They do not vomit, and the root gives them an effect of pleasure, which means they are strong and of

violent nature something that the weed likes. That is the way she entices. The only bad point is that men end up as slaves to the devil’s weed in return for the power she gives them. But those are matters over which we have no control. Man lives only to learn. And if he learns it is because that is the nature of his lot, for good or bad.”

“What shall I do next, don Juan?”

“Next you must plant a shoot [brote] that I have cut from the other half of the first portion of root. You took half of it the other night, and now the other half must be put into the ground. It has to grow and seed before you can undertake the real task of taming the plant.”

“How will I tame her?”

“The devil’s weed is tamed through the root. Step by step, you must learn the secrets of each portion of the root. You must intake them in order to learn the secrets and conquer the power.”

“Are the different portions prepared in the same way you did the first one?”
“No, each portion is different”
“What are the specific effects of each portion?”
“I already said, each teaches a different form of power. What you took the other night is nothing yet. Anyone

can do that. But only the brujo can take the deeper portions. I can’t tell you what they do because I don’t know yet whether she will take you. We must wait.”

“When will you tell me, then?”
“Whenever your plant has grown and seeded.”
“If the first portion can be taken by anyone, what is it used for?”
“In a diluted form it is good for all the matters of manhood, old people who have lost their vigour, or young

men who are seeking adventures, or even women who want passion.”
“You said the root is used for power only, but I see it’s used for other matters besides power. Am I correct?” He looked at me for a very long time, with a steadfast gaze that embarrassed me. I felt my question had

made him angry, but I couldn’t understand why.
“The weed is used only for power,” he finally said in a dry, stern tone. “The man who wants his vigour back,

the young people who seek to endure fatigue and hunger, the man who wants to kill another man, a woman who wants to be in heat — they all desire power. And the weed will give it to them!

“Do you feel you like her?” he asked after a pause.

“I feel a strange vigour,” I said, and it was true. I had noticed it on awakening and I felt it then. It was a very peculiar sensation of discomfort, or frustration; my whole body moved and stretched with unusual lightness and strength. My arms and legs itched. My shoulders seemed to swell; the muscles of my back and neck made me feel like pushing, or rubbing, against trees. I felt I could demolish a wall by ramming it.

We did not speak any more. We sat on the porch for a while.

I noticed that don Juan was falling asleep; he nodded a couple of times, then he simply stretched his legs, lay on the floor with his hands behind his head, and went to sleep. I got up and went to the back of the house where I burned up my extra physical energy by clearing away the debris; I remembered his mentioning that he would like me to help him clean up at the back of his house.

Later, when he woke up and came to the back, I was more relaxed.

We sat down to eat, and in the course of the meal he asked me three times how I felt. Since this was a rarity I finally asked, “Why do you worry about how I feel, don Juan? Do you expect me to have a bad reaction from drinking the juice?”

He laughed. I thought he was acting like a mischievous boy who has set up a prank and checks from time to time for the results. Still laughing, he said:


“You don’t look sick. A while ago you even talked rough to me.”

“I did not, don Juan,” I protested. “I don’t ever recall talking to you like that.” I was very serious on that point because I did not remember that I had ever felt annoyed with him.

“You came out in her defence,” he said.
“In whose defence?”
“You were defending the devil’s weed. You sounded like a lover already.”
I was going to protest even more vigorously about it, but I stopped myself.
“I really did not realize I was defending her.”
“Of course you did not. You don’t even remember what you said, do you?”
“No, I don’t. I must admit it.”
“You see. The devil’s weed is like that. She sneaks up on you like a woman. You are not even aware of it.

All you care about is that she makes you feel good and powerful: the muscles swelling with vigour, the fists itching, the soles of the feet burning to run somebody down. When a man knows her he really becomes full of cravings. My benefactor used to say that the devil’s weed keeps men who want power, and gets rid of those who can’t handle it. But power was more common then; it was sought more avidly. My benefactor was a powerful man, and according to what he told me, his benefactor, in turn, was even more given to the pursuit of power. But in those days there was good reason to be powerful.”

“Do you think there is no reason for power nowadays?”

“Power is all right for you now. You are young. You are not an Indian. Perhaps the devil’s weed would be in good hands. You seem to have liked it. It made you feel strong. I felt all that myself. And yet I didn’t like it.”

“Can you tell me why, don Juan?”

“I don’t like its power! There is no use for it any more. In other times, like those my benefactor told me about, there was reason to seek power. Men performed phenomenal deeds, were admired for their strength and feared and respected for their knowledge. My benefactor told me stories of truly phenomenal deeds that were performed long, long ago. But now we, the Indians, do not seek that power any more. Nowadays, the Indians use the weed to rub themselves. They use the leaves and flowers for other matters; they even say it cures their boils. But they do not seek its power, a power that acts like a magnet, more potent and more dangerous to handle as the root goes deeper into the ground. When one arrives to a depth of four yards – and they say some people have – one finds the seat of permanent power, power without end. Very few humans have done this in the past, and nobody has done it today. I’m telling you, the power of the devil’s weed is no longer needed by us, the Indians. Little by little, I think we have lost interest, and now power does not matter any more. I myself do not seek it, and yet at one time, when I was your age, I too felt its swelling inside me. I felt the way you did today, only five hundred times more strongly. I killed a man with a single blow of my arm. I could toss boulders, huge boulders not even twenty men could budge. Once I jumped so high I chopped the top leaves off the highest trees. But it was all for nothing! All I did was frighten the Indians – only the Indians. The rest who knew nothing about it did not believe it. They saw either a crazy Indian, or something moving at the top of the trees.”

We were silent for a long time. I needed to say something.

“It was different when there were people in the world,” he proceeded, “people who knew a man could become a mountain lion, or a bird, or that a man could simply fly. So I don’t use the devil’s weed any more. For what? To frighten the Indians? [ Para que? Para asustar a los indios?]”

And I saw him sad, and a deep empathy filled me. I wanted to say something to him, even if it was a platitude.

“Perhaps, don Juan, that is the fate of all men who want to know.” “Perhaps,” he said quietly.

Thursday, 23 November 1961

I didn’t see don Juan sitting on his porch as I drove in. I thought it was strange. I called to him out loud and his daughter-in-law came out of the house.

“He’s inside,” she said.
I found he had dislocated his ankle several weeks before. He had made his own cast by soaking strips of


cloth in a mush made with cactus and powdered bone. The strips, wrapped tightly around his ankle, had dried into a light, streamlined cast. It had the hardness of plaster, but not its bulkiness.

“How did it happen?” I asked.
His daughter-in-law, a Mexican woman from Yucatan, who was tending him, answered me.
“It was an accident! He fell and nearly broke his foot!”
Don Juan laughed and waited until the woman had left the house before answering.
“Accident, my eye! I have an enemy nearby. A woman. “La Catalina!” She pushed me during a moment of

weakness and I fell.”
“Why did she do that?”
“She wanted to kill me, that’s why.”
“Was she here with you?”
“Y es!”
“Why did you let her in?”
“I didn’t. She flew in.”
“I beg your pardon!”
“She is a blackbird [chanate]. And so effective at that. I was caught by surprise. She has been trying to

finish me off for a long while. This time she got real close.”
“Did you say she is a blackbird? I mean, is she a bird?”
“There you go again with your questions. She is a blackbird! The same way I’m a crow. Am I a man or a

bird? I’m a man who knows how to become a bird. But going back to “la Catalina”, she is a fiendish witch! Her intent to kill me is so strong that I can hardly fight her off. The blackbird came all the way into my house and I couldn’t stop it.”

“Can you become a bird, don Juan?”
“Yes! But that’s something we’ll take up later.”
“Why does she want to kill you?”
“Oh, there’s an old problem between us. It got out of hand and now it looks as if I will have to finish her off

before she finishes me.”
“Are you going to use witchcraft?” I asked with great expectations.
“Don’t be silly. No witchcraft would ever work on her. I have other plans! I’ll tell you about them some day.” “Can your ally protect you from her?”
“No! The little smoke only tells me what to do. Then I must protect myself.”
“How about Mescalito? Can he protect you from her?”
“No! Mescalito is a teacher, not a power to be used for personal reasons.”
“How about the devil’s weed?”
“I’ve already said that I must protect myself, following the directions of my ally the smoke. And as far as I

know, the smoke can do anything. If you want to know about any point in question, the smoke will tell you. And it will give you not only knowledge, but also the means to proceed. It’s the most marvellous ally a man could have.”

“Is the smoke the best possible ally for everybody?”

“It’s not the same for everybody. Many fear it and won’t touch it, or even get close to it. The smoke is like everything else; it wasn’t made for all of us.”

“What kind of smoke is it, don Juan?”
“The smoke of diviners!”
There was a noticeable reverence in his voice – a mood I had never detected before.
“I will begin by telling you exactly what my benefactor said to me when he began to teach me about it.

Although at that time, like yourself now, I couldn’t possibly have understood. “The devil’s weed is for those who bid for power. The smoke is for those who want to watch and see.” And in my opinion, the smoke is peerless. Once a man enters into its field, every other power is at his command. It’s magnificent! Of course, it takes a lifetime. It takes years alone to become acquainted with its two vital parts: the pipe and the smoke mixture. The pipe was given to me by my benefactor, and after so many years of fondling it, it has become mine. It has grown into my hands. To turn it over to your hands, for instance, will be a real task for me, and a great accomplishment


for you – if we succeed! The pipe will feel the strain of being handled by someone else; and if one of us makes a mistake there won’t be any way to prevent the pipe from bursting open by its own force, or escaping from our hands to shatter, even if it falls on a pile of straw. If that ever happens, it would mean the end of us both. Particularly of me. The smoke would turn against me in unbelievable ways.”

“How could it turn against you if it’s your ally?”
My question seemed to have altered his flow of thoughts. He didn’t speak for a long time.
“The difficulty of the ingredients,” he proceeded suddenly, “makes the smoke mixture one of the most

dangerous substances I know. No one can prepare it without being coached. It is deadly poisonous to anyone except the smoke’s protégé! Pipe and mixture ought to be treated with intimate care. And the man attempting to learn must prepare himself by leading a hard, quiet life. Its effects are so dreadful that only a very strong man can stand the smallest puff. Everything is terrifying and confusing at the outset, but every new puff makes things more precise. And suddenly the world opens up anew! Unimaginable! When this happens the smoke has become one’s ally and will resolve any question by allowing one to enter into inconceivable worlds.

“This is the smoke’s greatest property, its greatest gift. And it performs its function without hurting in the least. I call the smoke a true ally!”

As usual, we were sitting in front of his house, where the dirt floor is always clean and packed hard; he suddenly got up and went inside the house. After a few moments he returned with a narrow bundle and sat down again.

“This is my pipe,” he said.

He leaned over towards me and showed me a pipe he drew out of a sheath made of green canvas. It was perhaps nine or ten inches long. The stem was made of reddish wood; it was plain, without ornamentation. The bowl also seemed to be made of wood; but it was rather bulky in comparison with the thin stem. It had a sleek finish and was dark grey, almost charcoal.

He held the pipe in front of my face. I thought he was handing it over to me. I stretched out my hand to take it, but he quickly drew it back.

“This pipe was given to me by my benefactor,” he said. “In turn I will pass it on to you. But first you must get to know it. Every time you come here I will give it to you. Begin by touching it. Hold it very briefly, at first, until you and the pipe get used to each other. Then put it in your pocket, or perhaps inside your shirt. And finally put it to your mouth. All this should be done little by little in a slow, careful way. When the bond has been established [la amistad esta hecha] you will smoke from it. If you follow my advice and don’t rush, the smoke may become your preferred ally too.”

He handed me the pipe, but without letting go of it. I stretched my right arm towards it.
“With both hands,” he said.
I touched the pipe with both hands for a very brief moment. He did not extend it to me all the way so that I

could grasp it, but only far enough for me to touch it. Then he pulled it back.
“The first step is to like the pipe. That takes time!”
“Can the pipe dislike me?”
“No. The pipe cannot dislike you, but you must learn to like it so that when the time of smoking comes for

you, the pipe will help you to be unafraid.”
“What do you smoke, don Juan?”
He opened his collar and exposed to view a small bag he kept under his shirt, which hung from his neck like

a medallion. He brought it out, untied it, and very carefully poured some of its contents into the palm of his hand.

As far as I could tell, the mixture looked like finely shredded tea leaves, varying in colour from dark brown to light green, with a few specks of bright yellow.

He returned the mixture to the bag, closed the bag, tied it with a leather string, and put it under his shirt again.

“What kind of mixture is it?”

“There are lots of things in it. To get all the ingredients is a very difficult undertaking. One must travel afar. The little mushrooms [los honguitos] needed to prepare the mixture grow only at certain times of the year, and


only in certain places.”
“Do you have a different mixture for each type of aid you need?”
“No! There is only one smoke, and there is no other like it.”
He pointed to the bag hanging against his chest, and lifted the pipe which was resting between his legs. “These two are one! One cannot go without the other. This pipe and the secret of this mixture belonged to

my benefactor. They were handed down to him in the same way my benefactor gave them to me. The mixture, although difficult to prepare, is replenishable. Its secret lies in its ingredients, and in the way they are treated and mixed. The pipe, on the other hand, is a lifetime affair. It must be looked after with infinite care. It is hardy and strong, but it should never be struck or knocked about. It should be handled with dry hands, never when the hands are sweaty, and should be used only when one is alone. And no one, absolutely no one, should ever see it, unless you mean to give it to somebody. That is what my benefactor taught me, and that is the way I have dealt with the pipe all my life.”

“What would happen if you should lose or break the pipe?” He shook his head, very slowly, and looked at me.
“I would die!”
“Are all the sorcerers’ pipes like yours?”

“Not all of them have pipes like mine. But I know some men who do.”

“Can you yourself make a pipe like this one, don Juan?” I insisted. “Suppose you did not have it, how could you give me one if you wanted to do so?”

“If I didn’t have the pipe, I could not, nor would I, want to give one. I would give you something else instead.”

He seemed to be somehow cross at me. He placed his pipe very carefully inside the sheath, which must have been lined with a soft material because the pipe, which fitted tightly, slid in very smoothly. He went inside the house to put his pipe away.

“Are you angry at me, don Juan?” I asked when he returned. He seemed surprised at my question.

“No! I’m never angry at anybody! No human being can do anything important enough for that. You get angry at people when you feel that their acts are important. I don’t feel that way any longer.”

Tuesday, 26 December 1961

The specific time to replant the “shoot”, as don Juan called the root, was not set, although it was supposed to be the next step in taming the plant-power.

I arrived at don Juan’s house on Saturday, 23 December, early in the afternoon. We sat in silence for some time, as usual. The day was warm and cloudy. It had been months since he had given me the first portion.

“It is time to return the weed to the earth,” he said suddenly. “But first I am going to fix a protection for you. You will keep it and guard it, and it is for you alone to see. Since I am going to fix it I will also see it. That is not good, because, as I told you, I am not fond of the devil’s weed. We are not one. But my memory will not live long; I am too old. You must keep it from the eyes of others, however, for so long as their memory of having seen it lasts, the power of the protection is harmed.”

He went into his room and pulled three burlap bundles out from under an old straw mat. He came back to the porch and sat down.

After a long silence he opened one bundle. It was the female Datura he had collected with me; all the leaves, flowers, and seedpods that he had stacked up before were dry. He took the long piece of root shaped like the letter Y and tied the bundle again.

The root had dried and shrivelled and the bars of the fork had become more widely separated and more contorted. He put the root on his lap, opened his leather pouch, and pulled out his knife. He held the dry root in front of me.

“This part is for the head,” he said, and made the first incision on the tail of the Y, which in an upside-down position resembled the shape of a man with his legs spread out.

“This is for the heart,” he said, and cut close to the joint of the Y. Next he chopped the tips of the root, leaving about three inches of wood on each bar of the Y. Then, slowly and patiently he carved the shape of a


The root was dry and fibrous. In order to carve it, don Juan made two incisions and peeled the fibres

between them to the depth of the cuts. Nevertheless, when he came to details, he chiselled the wood, as when he shaped the arms and the hands. The final product was a wiry figurine of a man, arms folded over the chest and hands in a clasping position.

Don Juan got up and walked to a blue agave growing in front of the house, next to the porch. He took the hard thorn of one of the centre, pulpy leaves, bent it, and rotated it three or four times. The circular motion almost detached it from the leaf; it hung loose. He bit on it, or rather, he held it between his teeth, and yanked it out. The thorn came out from the pulp, bringing with it a white tail, two feet long. Still holding the thorn between his teeth, don Juan twisted the fibres together between the palms of his hands and made a string, which he wrapped around the figurine’s legs to bring them together. He encircled the lower part of the body until the string was all used up; then very skillfully he worked the thorn like an awl inside the front part of the body under the folded arms, until the sharp tip emerged as though popping out of the figurine’s hands. He used his teeth again and, by pulling gently, brought the thorn nearly all the way out. It looked like a long spear protruding from the figure’s chest. Without looking at the figure any more, don Juan placed it inside his leather pouch. He seemed exhausted from the effort. He lay down on the floor and fell asleep.

It was already dark when he woke up. We ate the groceries I had brought him and sat on the porch for a while longer. Then don Juan walked to the back of the house, carrying the three burlap bundles. He cut twigs and dry branches and started a fire. We sat in front of it comfortably, and he opened all three bundles. Besides the one containing the dry pieces of the female plant, there was another with all that was left of the male plant, and a third, bulky one containing green, freshly cut pieces of Datura.

Don Juan went to the pig’s trough and came back with a stone mortar, a very deep one that looked more like a pot whose bottom ended in a soft curve. He made a shallow hole and set the mortar firmly on the ground. He put more dry twigs on the fire, then took the two bundles with the dry pieces of male and female plants and emptied them into the mortar all at once. He shook the burlap to make sure that all the debris had fallen into the mortar. From the third bundle he extracted two fresh pieces of Datura root.

“I am going to prepare them just for you,” he said.
“What kind of a preparation is it, don Juan?”
“One of these pieces comes from a male plant, the other from a female plant. This is the only time the two

plants should be put together. The pieces come from a depth of one yard.”
He mashed them inside the mortar with even strokes of the pestle. As he did so, he chanted in a low voice,

which sounded like a rhythmless, monotonous hum. The words were unintelligible to me. He was absorbed in his task.

When the roots were completely mashed he took some Datura leaves from the bundle. They were clean and freshly cut, and all were intact and free of wormholes and cuts. He dropped them into the mortar one at a time. He took a handful of Datura flowers and dropped them also into the mortar in the same deliberate manner. I counted fourteen of each. Then he got a bunch of fresh, green seedpods which had all their spikes and were not open. I could not count them because he dropped them into the mortar all at once, but I assumed that there were also fourteen of them. He added three stems of Datura without any leaves. They were dark red and clean and seemed to have belonged to large plants, judging by their multiple ramifications.

After all these items had been put into the mortar, he mashed them to a pulp with the same even strokes. At a certain moment he tipped the mortar over, and with his hand scooped the mixture into an old pot. He stretched out his hand to me, and I thought he wanted me to dry it. Instead, he took my left hand and with a very fast motion separated the middle and fourth fingers as far as he could. Then, with the point of his knife, he stabbed me right in between the two fingers and ripped downwards on the skin of the fourth finger. He acted with so much skill and speed that when I jerked my hand away it was deeply cut, and the blood was flowing abundantly. He grabbed my hand again, placed it over the pot, and squeezed it to force more blood out.

My arm got numb. I was in a state of shock – strangely cold and rigid, with an oppressive sensation in my chest and ears. I felt I was sliding down on my seat. I was fainting! He let go my hand and stirred the contents of the pot. When I recovered from the shock I was really angry with him. It took me quite some time to regain my composure.


He set up three stones around the fire and placed the pot on top of them. To all the ingredients he added something that I took to be a big chunk of carpenter’s glue and a pot of water, and let all that boil. Datura plants have, by themselves, a very peculiar odour. Combined with the carpenter’s glue, which gave off a strong odour when the mixture began to boil, they created so pungent a vapour that I had to fight not to vomit.

The mix boiled for a long time as we sat there motionless in front of it. At times, when the wind blew the vapour in my direction, the stench enveloped me, and I held my breath in an effort to avoid it.

Don Juan opened his leather pouch and took the figurine out; he handed it to me carefully and told me to place it inside the pot without burning my hands. I let it slip gently into the boiling mush. He got out his knife, and for a second I thought he was going to slash me again; instead, he pushed the figurine with the tip of the knife and sank it.

He watched the mush boil for a while longer, and then began to clean the mortar. I helped him. When we had finished he set the mortar and pestle against the fence. We went inside the house, and the pot was left on the stones all night.

The next morning at dawn don Juan instructed me to pull the figurine out of the glue and hang it from the roof facing the east, to dry in the sun. At noon it was stiff as a wire. The heat had sealed the glue, and the green colour of the leaves had mixed with it. The figurine had a glossy, eerie finish.

Don Juan asked me to get the figurine down. Then he handed me a leather pouch he had made out of an old suede jacket I had brought for him some time before. The pouch looked like the one he owned himself. The only difference was that his was made of soft, brown leather.

“Put your “image” inside the pouch and close it,” he said.

He did not look at me, and deliberately kept his head turned away. Once I had the figurine inside the pouch he gave me a carrying net, and told me to put the clay pot inside the net.

He walked to my car, took the net from my hands, and fastened it onto the open lid of the glove compartment.

“Come with me,” he said.

I followed him. He walked around the house, making a complete clockwise circle. He stopped at the porch and circled the house again, this time going counterclockwise and again returning to the porch. He stood motionless for some time, and then sat down.

I was conditioned to believe that everything he did had some meaning. I was wondering about the significance of circling the house when he said, “Hey! I have forgotten where I put it.”

I asked him what he was looking for. He said he had forgotten where he had placed the shoot I was to replant. We walked around the house once more before he remembered where it was.

He showed me a small glass jar on a piece of board nailed to the wall below the roof. The jar contained the other half of the first portion of the Datura root. The shoot had an incipient growth of leaves at its top end. The jar contained a small amount of water, but no soil.

“Why doesn’t it have any soil?” I asked.

“All soils are not the same, and the devil’s weed must know only the soil on which she will live and grow. And now it is time to return her to the ground before the worms damage her.”

“Can we plant her here near the house?” I asked.
“No! No! Not around here. She must be returned to a place of your liking.”
“But where can I find a place of my liking?”
“I don’t know that. You can replant her wherever you want. But she must be cared for and looked after,

because she must live so that you will have the power you need. If she dies, it means that she does not want you, and you must not disturb her further. It means you won’t have power over her. Therefore, you must care for her, and look after her, so that she will grow. You must not pamper her, though.”

“Why not?”

“Because if it is not her will to grow, it is of no use to entice her. But, on the other hand, you must prove that you care. Keep the worms away and give her water when you visit her. This must be done regularly until she seeds. After the first seeds bud out, we will be sure that she wants you.”

“But, don Juan, it is not possible for me to look after the root the way you wish.” “If you want her power, you must do it! There is no other way!”


“Can you take care of her for me when I am not here, don Juan?”

“No! Not I! I can’t do that! Each one must nourish his own shoot. I had my own. Now you must have yours. And not until she has seeded, as I told you, can you consider yourself ready for learning.”

“Where do you think I should replant her?”

“That is for you alone to decide! And nobody must know the place, not even I! That is the way the replanting must be done. Nobody, but nobody, can know where your plant is. If a stranger follows you, or sees you, take the shoot and run away to another place. He could cause you unimaginable harm through manipulating the shoot. He could cripple or kill you. That’s why not even I must know where your plant is.”

He handed me the little jar with the shoot.
“Take it now.”
I took it. Then he almost dragged me to my car.
“Now you must leave. Go and pick the spot where you will replant the shoot. Dig a deep hole, in soft dirt,

next to a watery place. Remember, she must be near water in order to grow. Dig the hole with your hands only, even if they bleed. Place the shoot in the centre of the hole and make a mound [pilon] around it. Then soak it with water. When the water sinks, fill the hole with soft dirt. Next, pick a spot two paces away from the shoot, in that direction [pointing to the southeast]. Dig another deep hole there, also with your hands, and dump into it what is in the pot. Then smash the pot and bury it deep in another place, far from the spot where your shoot is. When you have buried the pot go back to your shoot and water it once more. Then take out your image, hold it between the fingers where the flesh wound is, and, standing on the spot where you have buried the glue, touch the shoot lightly with the sharp needle. Circle the shoot four times, stopping each time in the same spot to touch it.”

“Do I have to follow a specific direction when I go around the root?”

“Any direction will do. But you must always remember in what direction you buried the glue, and what direction you took when you circled the shoot. Touch the shoot lightly with the point every time except the last, when you must thrust it deep. But do it carefully; kneel for a more steady hand because you must not break the point inside the shoot. If you break it, you are finished. The root will be of no use to you.”

“Do I have to say any words while I go around the shoot?” “No, I will do that for you.”

Saturday, 27 January 1962

As soon as I got to his house this morning don Juan told me he was going to show me how to prepare the smoke mixture. We walked to the hills and went quite a way into one of the canyons. He stopped next to a tall, slender bush whose colour contrasted markedly with that of the surrounding vegetation. The chaparral around the bush was yellowish, but the bush was bright green.

“From this little tree you must take the leaves and the flowers,” he said. “The right time to pick them is All Souls’ Day [el dia de las animus].”

He took out his knife and chopped off the end of a thin branch. He chose another similar branch and also chopped off its tip. He repeated this operation until he had a handful of branch tips. Then he sat down on the ground.

“Look here,” he said. “I have cut all the branches above the fork made by two or more leaves and the stem. Do you see? They are all the same. I have used only the tip of each branch, where the leaves are fresh and tender. Now we must look for a shaded place.”

We walked until he seemed to have found what he was looking for. He took a long string from his pocket and tied it to the trunk and the lower branches of two bushes, making a kind of clothesline on which he hung the branch tips upside down. He arranged them along the string in a neat fashion; hooked by the fork between the leaves and the stem, they resembled a long row of green horsemen.

“One must see that the leaves dry in the shade,” he said. “The place must be secluded and difficult to get to. That way the leaves are protected. They must be left to dry in a place where it would be almost impossible to find them. After they have dried, they must be put in a bundle and sealed.”

He picked up the leaves from the string and threw them into the nearby shrubs. Apparently he had intended 33

only to show me the procedure.
We continued walking and he picked three different flowers, saying they were part of the ingredients and

were supposed to be gathered at the same time. But the flowers had to be put in separate clay pots and dried in darkness; a lid had to be placed on each pot so the flowers would turn mouldy inside the container. He said the function of the leaves and the flowers was to sweeten the smoke mixture.

We came out of the canyon and walked towards the riverbed. After a long detour we returned to his house. Late in the evening we sat in his own room, a thing he rarely allowed me to do, and he told me about the final ingredient of the mixture, the mushrooms.

“The real secret of the mixture lies in the mushrooms,” he said. “They are the most difficult ingredient to collect. The trip to the place where they grow is long and dangerous, and to select the right variety is even more perilous. There are other kinds of mushrooms growing alongside which are of no use; they would spoil the good ones if they were dried together. It takes time to know the mushrooms well in order not to make a mistake. Serious harm will result from using the wrong kind – harm to the man and to the pipe. I know of men who have dropped dead from using the foul smoke.

“As soon as the mushrooms are picked they are put inside a gourd, so there is no way to recheck them. You see, they have to be torn to shreds in order to make them go through the narrow neck of the gourd.”

“How long do you keep the mushrooms inside the gourd?”

“For a year. All the other ingredients are also sealed for a year. Then equal parts of them are measured and ground separately into a very fine powder. The little mushrooms don’t have to be ground because they become a very fine dust by themselves; all one needs to do is to mash the chunks. Four parts of mushrooms are added to one part of all the other ingredients together. Then they are all mixed and put into a bag like mine.” He pointed to the little sack hanging under his shirt.

“Then all the ingredients are gathered again, and after they have been put to dry you are ready to smoke the mixture you have just prepared. In your own case, you will smoke next year. And the year after that, the mixture will be all yours because you will have gathered it by yourself. The first time you smoke I will light the pipe for you. You will smoke all the mixture in the bowl and wait. The smoke will come. You will feel it. It will set you free to see anything you want to see. Properly speaking, it is a matchless ally. But whoever seeks it must have an intent and a will beyond reproach. He needs them because he has to intend and will his return, or the smoke will not let him come back. Second, he must intend and will to remember whatever the smoke allowed him to see, otherwise it will be nothing more than a piece of fog in his mind.”

Saturday, 8 April 1962

In our conversations, don Juan consistently used or referred to the phrase “man of knowledge”, but never explained what he meant by it. I asked him about it.

“A man of knowledge is one who has followed truthfully the hardships of learning,” he said. “A man who has, without rushing or without faltering, gone as far as he can in unravelling the secrets of power and knowledge.”

“Can anyone be a man of knowledge?”
“No, not anyone.”
“Then what must a man do to become a man of knowledge?”
“He must challenge and defeat his four natural enemies.”
“Will he be a man of knowledge after defeating these four enemies?”
“Yes. A man can call himself a man of knowledge only if he is capable of defeating all four of them.”
“Then, can anybody who defeats these enemies be a man of knowledge?”
“Anybody who defeats them becomes a man of knowledge”
“But are there any special requirements a man must fulfill before fighting with these enemies?”
“No. Anyone can try to become a man of knowledge; very few men actually succeed, but that is only natural.

The enemies a man encounters on the path of learning to become a man of knowledge are truly formidable; most men succumb to them.”

“What kind of enemies are they, don Juan?”

He refused to talk about the enemies. He said it would be a long time before the subject would make any sense to me. I tried to keep the topic alive and asked him if he thought I could become a man of knowledge. He said no man could possibly tell that for sure. But I insisted on knowing if there were any clues he could use to determine whether or not I had a chance of becoming a man of knowledge. He said it would depend on my battle against the four enemies – whether I could defeat them or would be defeated by them – but it was impossible to foretell the outcome of that fight.

I asked him if he could use witchcraft or divination to see the outcome of the battle. He flatly stated that the result of the struggle could not be foreseen by any means, because becoming a man of knowledge was a temporary thing. When I asked him to explain this point, he replied:

“To be a man of knowledge has no permanence. One is never a man of knowledge, not really. Rather, one becomes a man of knowledge for a very brief instant, after defeating the four natural enemies.”

“You must tell me, don Juan, what kind of enemies they are.”
He did not answer. I insisted again, but he dropped the subject and started to talk about something else.

Sunday, 15 April 1962

As I was getting ready to leave, I decided to ask him once more about the enemies of a man of knowledge. I argued that I could not return for some time, and it would be a good idea to write down what he had to say and then think about it while I was away.

He hesitated for a while, but then began to talk.

“When a man starts to learn, he is never clear about his objectives. His purpose is faulty; his intent is vague. He hopes for rewards that will never materialize, for he knows nothing of the hardships of learning.

“He slowly begins to learn – bit by bit at first, then in big chunks. And his thoughts soon clash. What he learns is never what he pictured, or imagined, and so he begins to be afraid. Learning is never what one expects. Every step of learning is a new task, and the fear the man is experiencing begins to mount mercilessly, unyieldingly. His purpose becomes a battlefield.

“And thus he has tumbled upon the first of his natural enemies: Fear! A terrible enemy – treacherous, and difficult to overcome. It remains concealed at every turn of the way, prowling, waiting. And if the man, terrified in its presence, runs away, his enemy will have put an end to his quest.”

“What will happen to the man if he runs away in fear?”

“Nothing happens to him except that he will never learn. He will never become a man of knowledge. He will perhaps be a bully or a harmless, scared man; at any rate, he will be a defeated man. His first enemy will have put an end to his cravings.”

“And what can he do to overcome fear?”

“The answer is very simple. He must not run away. He must defy his fear, and in spite of it he must take the next step in learning, and the next, and the next. He must be fully afraid, and yet he must not stop. That is the rule! And a moment will come when his first enemy retreats. The man begins to feel sure of himself. His intent becomes stronger. Learning is no longer a terrifying task.

“When this joyful moment comes, the man can say without hesitation that he has defeated his first natural enemy.”

“Does it happen at once, don Juan, or little by little?”
“It happens little by little, and yet the fear is vanquished suddenly and fast.”
“But won’t the man be afraid again if something new happens to him?”
“No. Once a man has vanquished fear, he is free from it for the rest of his life because, instead of fear, he has

acquired clarity – a clarity of mind which erases fear. By then a man knows his desires; he knows how to satisfy those desires. He can anticipate the new steps of learning, and a sharp clarity surrounds everything. The man feels that nothing is concealed.

“And thus he has encountered his second enemy: Clarity! That clarity of mind, which is so hard to obtain, dispels fear, but also blinds.

“It forces the man never to doubt himself. It gives him the assurance he can do anything he pleases, for he sees clearly into everything. And he is courageous because he is clear, and he stops at nothing because he is


clear. But all that is a mistake; it is like something incomplete. If the man yields to this make-believe power, he has succumbed to his second enemy and will fumble with learning. He will rush when he should be patient, or he will be patient when he should rush. And he will fumble with learning until he winds up incapable of learning anything more.”

“What becomes of a man who is defeated in that way, don Juan? Does he die as a result?”

“No, he doesn’t die. His second enemy has just stopped him cold from trying to become a man of knowledge; instead, the man may turn into a buoyant warrior, or a clown. Yet the clarity for which he has paid so dearly will never change to darkness and fear again. He will be clear as long as he lives, but he will no longer learn, or yearn for anything.”

“But what does he have to do to avoid being defeated?”

“He must do what he did with fear: he must defy his clarity and use it only to see, and wait patiently and measure carefully before taking new steps; he must think, above all, that his clarity is almost a mistake. And a moment will come when he will understand that his clarity was only a point before his eyes. And thus he will have overcome his second enemy, and will arrive at a position where nothing can harm him any more. This will not be a mistake. It will not be only a point before his eyes. It will be true power.

“He will know at this point that the power he has been pursuing for so long is finally his. He can do with it whatever he pleases. His ally is at his command. His wish is the rule. He sees all that is around him. But he has also come across his third enemy: Power!

“Power is the strongest of all enemies. And naturally the easiest thing to do is to give in; after all, the man is truly invincible. He commands; he begins by taking calculated risks, and ends in making rules, because he is a master.

“A man at this stage hardly notices his third enemy closing in on him. And suddenly, without knowing, he will certainly have lost the battle. His enemy will have turned him into a cruel, capricious man.”

“Will he lose his power?”
“No, he will never lose his clarity or his power.”
“What then will distinguish him from a man of knowledge?”
“A man who is defeated by power dies without really knowing how to handle it. Power is only a burden

upon his fate. Such a man has no command over himself, and cannot tell when or how to use his power.”
“Is the defeat by any of these enemies a final defeat?”
“Of course it is final. Once one of these enemies overpowers a man there is nothing he can do.”
“Is it possible, for instance, that the man who is defeated by power may see his error and mend his ways?” “No. Once a man gives in he is through.”

“But what if he is temporarily blinded by power, and then refuses it?”

“That means his battle is still on. That means he is still trying to become a man of knowledge. A man is defeated only when he no longer tries, and abandons himself.”

“But then, don Juan, it is possible that a man may abandon himself to fear for years, but finally conquer it.”

“No, that is not true. If he gives in to fear he will never conquer it, because he will shy away from learning and never try again. But if he tries to learn for years in the midst of his fear, he will eventually conquer it because he will never have really abandoned himself to it.”

“How can he defeat his third enemy, don Juan?”

“He has to defy it, deliberately. He has to come to realize the power he has seemingly conquered is in reality never his. He must keep himself in line at all times, handling carefully and faithfully all that he has learned. If he can see that clarity and power, without his control over himself, are worse than mistakes, he will reach a point where everything is held in check. He will know then when and how to use his power. And thus he will have defeated his third enemy.

“The man will be, by then, at the end of his journey of learning, and almost without warning he will come upon the last of his enemies: Old age! This enemy is the cruelest of all, the one he won’t be able to defeat completely, but only fight away.

“This is the time when a man has no more fears, no more impatient clarity of mind – a time when all his power is in check, but also the time when he has an unyielding desire to rest. If he gives in totally to his desire to lie down and forget, if he soothes himself in tiredness, he will have lost his last round, and his enemy will cut


him down into a feeble old creature. His desire to retreat will overrule all his clarity, his power, and his knowledge.

“But if the man sloughs off his tiredness, and lives his fate through, he can then be called a man of knowledge, if only for the brief moment when he succeeds in fighting off his last, invincible enemy. That moment of clarity, power, and knowledge is enough.”


Chapter 4

Don Juan seldom spoke openly about Mescalito. Every time I questioned him on the subject he refused to talk, but he always said enough to create an impression of Mescalito, an impression that was always anthropomorphic. Mescalito was a male, not only because of the mandatory grammatical rule that gives the word a masculine gender, but also because of his constant qualities of being a protector and a teacher. Don Juan reaffirmed these characteristics in various forms every time we talked.

Sunday, 24 December 1961

“The devil’s weed has never protected anyone. She serves only to give power. Mescalito, on the other hand, is gentle, like a baby.”

“But you said Mescalito is terrifying at times.”
“Of course he is terrifying, but once you get to know him, he is gentle and kind.”
“How does he show his kindness?”
“He is a protector and a teacher.”
“How does he protect?”
“You can keep him with you at all times and he will see that nothing bad happens to you.” “How can you keep him with you at all times?”
“In a little bag, fastened under your arm or around your neck with a string.”
“Do you have him with you?”
“No, because I have an ally. But other people do.”
“What does he teach?”
“He teaches you to live properly.”
“How does he teach?”
“He shows things and tells what is what [enzena las cosas y te dice loque son].”
“You will have to see for yourself.”

Tuesday, 30 January 1962

“What do you see when Mescalito takes you with him, don Juan?”
“Such things are not for ordinary conversation. I can’t tell you that.”
“Would something bad happen to you if you told?”
“Mescalito is a protector, a kind, gentle protector; but that does not mean you can make fun of him. Because

he is a kind protector he can also be horror itself with those he does not like.”
“I do not intend to make fun of him. I just want to know what he makes other people do or see. I described to

you all that Mescalito made me see, don Juan.”
“With you it is different, perhaps because you don’t know his ways. You have to be taught his ways as a

child is taught how to walk.”
“How long do I still have to be taught?”
“Until he himself begins to make sense to you.”
“And then?”
“Then you will understand by yourself. You won’t have to tell me anything any more.” “Can you just tell me where Mescalito takes you?”
“I can’t talk about it.”
“All I want to know is if there is another world to which he takes people.”
“There is.”
“Is it heaven?” (The Spanish word for heaven is cielo, but that also means “sky”.)
“He takes you through the sky [cielo].”
“I mean, is it heaven [cielo] where God is?”


“You are being stupid now. I don’t know where God is.”
“Is Mescalito God – the only God ? Or is he one of the gods?”
“He is just a protector and a teacher. He is a power.”
“Is he a power within ourselves?”
“No. Mescalito has nothing to do with ourselves. He is outside us.” “Then everyone who takes Mescalito must see him in the same form.” “No, not at all. He is not the same for everybody”

Thursday, 12 April 1962

“Why don’t you tell me more about Mescalito, don Juan?”
“There is nothing to tell.”
“There must be thousands of things I should know before I encounter him again.”
“No. Perhaps for you there is nothing you have to know. As I have already told you, he is not the same for

“I know, but still I’d like to know how others feel about him.”
“The opinion of those who care to talk about him is not worth much. You will see. You will probably talk

about him up to a certain point, and from then on you will never discuss him.” “Can you tell me about your own first experiences?”
“What for?”
“Then I’ll know how to behave with Mescalito”

“You already know more than I do. You actually played with him. Someday you will see how kind the protector was with you. That first time I am sure he told you many-many things, but you were deaf and blind.”

Saturday, 14 April 1962

“Does Mescalito take any form when he shows himself?” “Yes, any form.”
“Then, which are the most common forms you know?” “There are no common forms.”

“Do you mean, don Juan, that he appears in any form, even to men who know him well?”

“No. He appears in any form to those who know him only a little, but to those who know him well, he is always constant.”

“How is he constant?”
“He appears to them sometimes as a man, like us, or as a light.”
“Does Mescalito ever change his permanent form with those who know him well?” “Not to my knowledge.”

Friday, 6 July 1962

Don Juan and I started on a trip late in the afternoon of Saturday 23 June. He said we were going to look for honguitos (mushrooms) in the state of Chihuahua. He said it was going to be a long, hard trip. He was right. We arrived in a little mining town in northern Chihuahua at 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday 27 June. We walked from the place I had parked the car at the outskirts of town, to the house of his friends, a Tarahumara Indian and his wife. We slept there.

The next morning the man woke us up around five. He brought us gruel and beans. He sat and talked to don Juan while we ate, but he said nothing concerning our trip.

After breakfast the man put water into my canteen, and two sweet-rolls into my knapsack. Don Juan handed me the canteen, fixed the knapsack with a cord over his shoulders, thanked the man for his courtesies, and, turning to me, said, “It is time to go.”

We walked on the dirt road for about a mile. From there we cut through the fields and in two hours we were 39

at the foot of the hills south of town. We climbed the gentle slopes, in a southwesterly direction. When we reached the steeper inclines, don Juan changed directions and we followed a high valley to the east. Despite his advanced age, don Juan kept up a pace so incredibly fast that by midday I was completely exhausted. We sat down and he opened the bread sack.

“You can eat all of it, if you want,” he said.
“How about you?”
“I am not hungry, and we won’t need this food later on.”
I was very tired and hungry and took him up on his offer. I felt this was a good time to talk about the

purpose of our trip, and quite casually I asked, “Do you think we are going to stay here for a long time?” “We are here to gather some Mescalito. We will stay until tomorrow.”
“Where is Mescalito?”
“All around us.”

Cacti of many species were growing in profusion all through the area, but I could not distinguish peyote among them.

We started to hike again and by three o’clock we came to a long, narrow valley with steep side hills. I felt strangely excited at the idea of finding peyote, which I had never seen in its natural environment. We entered the valley and must have walked about four hundred feet when suddenly I spotted three unmistakable peyote plants. They were in a cluster a few inches above the ground in front of me, to the left of the path. They looked like round, pulpy, green roses. I ran towards them, pointing them out to don Juan.

He ignored me and deliberately kept his back turned as he walked away. I knew I had done the wrong thing, and for the rest of the afternoon we walked in silence, moving slowly on the flat valley floor, which was covered with small, sharp-edged rocks. We moved among the cacti, disturbing crowds of lizards and at times a solitary bird. And I passed scores of peyote plants without saying a word.

At six o’clock we were at the bottom of the mountains that marked the end of the valley. We climbed to a ledge. Don Juan dropped his sack and sat down.

I was hungry again, but we had no food left; I suggested that we pick up the Mescalito and head back for town. He looked annoyed and made a smacking sound with his lips. He said we were going to spend the night there.

We sat quietly. There was a rock wall to the left, and to the right was the valley we had just crossed. It extended for quite a distance and seemed to be wider than, and not so flat as, I had thought. Viewed from the spot where I sat, it was full of small hills and protuberances.

“Tomorrow we will start walking back,” don Juan said without looking at me, and pointing to the valley. “We will work our way back and pick him as we cross the field. That is, we will pick him only when he is in our way. He will find us and not the other way around. He will find us – if he wants to.”

Don Juan rested his back against the rock wall and, with his head turned to his side, continued talking as though another person were there besides myself. “One more thing. Only I can pick him. You will perhaps carry the bag, or walk ahead of me — I don’t know yet. But tomorrow you will not point at him as you did today!”

“I am sorry, don Juan.”
“It is all right. You didn’t know.”
“Did your benefactor teach you all this about Mescalito?”
“No! Nobody has taught me about him. It was the protector himself who was my teacher.”
“Then Mescalito is like a person to whom you can talk?”
“No, he isn’t.”
“How does he teach, then?”
He remained silent for a while.
“Remember the time when you played with him? You understood what he meant, didn’t you?”
“I did!”
“That is the way he teaches. You did not know it then, but if you had paid attention to him, he would have

talked to you.” “When?”

“When you saw him for the first time.”


He seemed to be very annoyed by my questioning. I told him I had to ask all these questions because I wanted to find out all I could.

“Don’t ask me!” He smiled maliciously. “Ask him. The next time you see him, ask him everything you want to know.”

“Then Mescalito is like a person you can talk…”

He did not let me finish. He turned away, picked up the canteen, stepped down from the ledge, and disappeared around the rock. I did not want to be alone there, and even though he had not asked me to go along, I followed him. We walked for about five hundred feet to a small creek. He washed his hands and face and filled up the canteen. He swished water around in his mouth, but did not drink it. I scooped up some water in my hands and drank, but he stopped me and said it was unnecessary to drink.

He handed me the canteen and started to walk back to the ledge. When we got there we sat again facing the valley with our backs to the rock wall I asked if we could build a fire. He reacted as if it was inconceivable to ask such a thing. He said that for that night we were Mescalito’s guests and he was going to keep us warm.

It was already dusk. Don Juan pulled two thin, cotton blankets from his sack, threw one into my lap, and sat crosslegged with the other one over his shoulders. Below us the valley was dark, with its edges already diffused in the evening mist.

Don Juan sat motionless facing the peyote field. A steady wind blew on my face.
“The twilight is the crack between the worlds,” he said softly, without turning to me.
I didn’t ask what he meant. My eyes became tired. Suddenly I felt elated; I had a strange, overpowering

desire to weep!
I lay on my stomach; the rock floor was hard and uncomfortable, and I had to change my position every few

minutes. Finally I sat up and crossed my legs, putting the blanket over my shoulders. To my amazement this position was supremely comfortable, and I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I heard don Juan talking to me. It was very dark. I could not see him well. I did not understand what he said, but I followed him when he started to go down from the ledge. We moved carefully, or at least I did, because of the darkness. We stopped at the bottom of the rock wall. Don Juan sat down and signaled me to sit at his left. He opened up his shirt and took out a leather sack, which he opened and placed on the ground in front of him. It contained a number of dried peyote buttons.

After a long pause he picked up one of the buttons. He held it in his right hand, rubbing it several times between the thumb and the first finger as he chanted softly. Suddenly he let out a tremendous cry.


It was weird, unexpected. It terrified me. Vaguely I saw him place the peyote button in his mouth and begin to chew it. After a moment he picked up the whole sack, leaned towards me, and told me in a whisper to take the sack, pick out one mescalito, put the sack in front of us again, and then do exactly as he did.

I picked a peyote button and rubbed it as he had done. Meanwhile he chanted, swaying back and forth. I tried to put the button into my mouth several times, but I felt embarrassed to cry out. Then, as in a dream, an unbelievable shriek came out of me: Ahiiii! For a moment I thought it was someone else. Again I felt the effects of a nervous shock in my stomach. I was falling backwards. I was fainting. I put the peyote button into my mouth and chewed it. After a while don Juan picked up another from the sack.. I was relieved to see that he put it into his mouth after a short chant. He passed the sack to me, and I placed it in front of us again after taking one button. This cycle went on five times before I noticed any thirst. I picked up the canteen to drink, but don Juan told me just to wash my mouth, and not to drink or I would vomit.

I swished the water around in my mouth repeatedly. At a certain moment drinking was a formidable temptation, and I swallowed a bit of water. Immediately my stomach began to convulse. I expected to have a painless and effortless flowing of liquid from my mouth, as had happened during my first experience with peyote, but to my surprise I had only the ordinary sensation of vomiting. It did not last long, however.

Don Juan picked up another button and handed me the sack, and the cycle was renewed and repeated until I had chewed fourteen buttons. By this time all my early sensations of thirst, cold, and discomfort had disappeared. In their place I felt an unfamiliar sense of warmth and excitation. I took the canteen to freshen my mouth, but it was empty.

“Can we go to the creek, don Juan?”


The sound of my voice did not project out, but hit the roof of my palate, bounced back into my throat, and echoed to and from between them. The echo was soft and musical, and seemed to have wings that flapped inside my throat. Its touch soothed me. I followed its back-and-forth movements until it had vanished.

I repeated the question. My voice sounded as though I was talking inside a vault.

Don Juan did not answer. I got up and turned in the direction of the creek. I looked at him to see if he was coming, but he seemed to be listening attentively to something.

He made an imperative sign with his hand to be quiet.
“Abuhtol [ ? ] is already here!” he said.
I had never heard that word before, and I was wondering whether to ask him about it when I detected a noise

that seemed to be a buzzing inside my ears. The sound became louder by degrees until it was like the vibration caused by an enormous bullroarer. It lasted for a brief moment and subsided gradually until everything was quiet again. The violence and the intensity of the noise terrified me. I was shaking so much that I could hardly remain standing, yet I was perfectly rational. If I had been drowsy a few minutes before, this feeling had totally vanished, giving way to a state of extreme lucidity. The noise reminded me of a science fiction movie in which a gigantic bee buzzed its wings coming out of an atomic radiation area. I laughed at the thought. I saw don Juan slumping back into his relaxed position. And suddenly the image of a gigantic bee accosted me again. It was more real than ordinary thoughts. It stood alone surrounded by an extraordinary clarity. Everything else was driven from my mind. This state of mental clearness, which had no precedents in my life, produced another moment of terror.

I began to perspire. I leaned toward don Juan to tell him I was afraid. His face was a few inches from mine. He was looking at me, but his eyes were the eyes of a bee. They looked like round glasses that had a light of their own in the darkness. His lips were pushed out, and from them came a pattering noise: “Pehtuh-peh-tuh-pet- tuh.” I jumped backward, nearly crashing into the rock wall. For a seemingly endless time I experienced an unbearable fear. I was panting and whining. The perspiration had frozen on my skin, giving me an awkward rigidity. Then I heard don Juan’s voice saying, “Get up! Move around! Get up!”

The image vanished and again I could see his familiar face.

“I’ll get some water,” I said after another endless moment. My voice cracked. I could hardly articulate the words. Don Juan nodded yes. As I walked away I realized that my fear had gone as fast and as mysteriously as it had come.

Upon approaching the creek I noticed that I could see every object in the way. I remembered I had just seen don Juan clearly, whereas earlier I could hardly distinguish the outlines of his figure. I stopped and looked into the distance, and I could even see across the valley. Some boulders on the other side became perfectly visible. I thought it must be early morning, but it occurred to me that I might have lost track of time. I looked at my watch. It was ten to twelve! I checked the watch to see if it was working. It couldn’t be midday; it had to be midnight! I intended to make a dash for the water and come back to the rocks, but I saw don Juan coming down and I waited for him. I told him I could see in the dark.

He stared at me for a long time without saying a word; if he did speak, perhaps I did not hear him, for I was concentrating on my new, unique ability to see in the dark. I could distinguish the very minute pebbles in the sand. At moments everything was so clear it seemed to be early morning, or dusk. Then it would get dark; then it would clear again. Soon I realized that the brightness corresponded to my heart’s diastole, and the darkness to its systole. The world changed from bright to dark to bright again with every beat of my heart.

I was absorbed in this discovery when the same strange sound that I had heard before became audible again. My muscles stiffened.

“Anuhctal [as I heard the word this time] is here,” don Juan said.

I fancied the roar so thunderous, so overwhelming, that nothing else mattered. When it had subsided, I perceived a sudden increase in the volume of water. The creek, which a minute before had been less than a foot wide, expanded until it was an enormous lake. Light that seemed to come from above it touched the surface as though shining through thick foliage. From time to time the water would glitter for a second – gold and black. Then it would remain dark, lightless, almost out of sight, and yet strangely present.

I don’t recall how long I stayed there just watching, squatting on the shore of the black lake. The roar must have subsided in the meantime, because what jolted me back (to reality?) was again a terrifying buzzing. I turned


around to look for don Juan. I saw him climbing up and disappearing behind the rock ledge. Yet the feeling of being alone did not bother me at all; I squatted there in a state of absolute confidence and abandonment. The roar again became audible; it was very intense, like the noise made by a high wind. Listening to it as carefully as I could, I was able to detect a definite melody. It was a composite of high-pitched sounds, like human voices, accompanied by a deep bass drum. I focused all my attention on the melody, and again noticed that the systole and diastole of my heart coincided with the sound of the bass drum, and with the pattern of the music.

I stood up and the melody stopped. I tried to listen to my heartbeat, but it was not detectable. I squatted again, thinking that perhaps the position of my body had caused or induced the sounds! But nothing happened! Not a sound! Not even my heart! I thought I had had enough, but as I stood up to leave, I felt a tremor of the earth. The ground under my feet was shaking. I was losing my balance. I fell backwards and remained on my back while the earth shook violently. I tried to grab a rock or a plant, but something was sliding under me. I jumped up, stood for a moment, and fell down again. The ground on which I sat was moving, sliding into the water like a raft. I remained motionless, stunned by a terror that was, like everything else, unique, uninterrupted, and absolute.

I moved through the water of the black lake perched on a piece of soil that looked like an earthen log. I had the feeling I was going in a southerly direction, transported by the current. I could see the water moving and swirling around. It felt cold, and oddly heavy, to the touch. I fancied it alive.

There were no distinguishable shores or landmarks, and I can’t recall the thoughts or the feelings that must have come to me during this trip. After what seemed like hours of drifting, my raft made a right-angle turn to the left, the east. It continued to slide on the water for a very short distance, and unexpectedly rammed against something. The impact threw me forward. I closed my eyes and felt a sharp pain as my knees and my outstretched arms hit the ground. After a moment I looked up. I was lying on the dirt. It was as though my earthen log had merged with the land. I sat up and turned around. The water was receding! It moved backward, like a wave in reverse, until it disappeared.

I sat there for a long time, trying to collect my thoughts and resolve all that had happened into a coherent unit. My entire body ached. My throat felt like an open sore; I had bitten my lips when I “landed”. I stood up. The wind made me realize I was cold. My clothes were wet. My hands and jaws and knees shook so violently that I had to lie down again. Drops of perspiration slid into my eyes and burned them until I yelled with pain.

After a while I regained a measure of stability and stood up. In the dark twilight, the scene was very clear. I took a couple of steps. A distinct sound of many human voices came to me. They seemed to be talking loudly. I followed the sound; I walked for about fifty yards and came to a sudden stop. I had reached a dead end. The place where I stood was a corral formed by enormous boulders. I could distinguish another row, and then another, and another, until they merged into the sheer mountain. From among them came the most exquisite music. It was a fluid, uninterrupted, eerie flow of sounds.

At the foot of one boulder I saw a man sitting on the ground, his face turned almost in profile. I approached him until I was perhaps ten feet away; then he turned his head and looked at me. I stopped – his eyes were the water I had just seen! They had the same enormous volume, the sparkling of gold and black. His head was pointed like a strawberry; his skin was green, dotted with innumerable warts. Except for the pointed shape, his head was exactly like the surface of the peyote plant. I stood in front of him, staring; I couldn’t take my eyes away from him. I felt he was deliberately pressing on my chest with the weight of his eyes. I was choking. I lost my balance and fell to the ground. His eyes turned away. I heard him talking to me. At first his voice was like the soft rustle of a light breeze. Then I heard it as music – as a melody of voices – and I “knew” it was saying, “What do you want?”

I knelt before him and talked about my life, then wept. He looked at me again. I felt his eyes pulling me away, and I thought that moment would be the moment of my death. He signaled me to come closer. I vacillated for an instant before I took a step forward. As I came closer he turned his eyes away from me and showed me the back of his hand. The melody said, “Look!” There was a round hole in the middle of his hand. “Look!” said the melody again. I looked into the hole and I saw myself. I was very old and feeble and was running stooped over, with bright sparks flying all around me. Then three of the sparks hit me, two in the head and one in the left shoulder. My figure, in the hole, stood up for a moment until it was fully vertical, and then disappeared together with the hole.


Mescalito turned his eyes to me again. They were so close to me that I “heard” them rumble softly with that peculiar sound I had heard many times that night. They became peaceful by degrees until they were like a quiet pond rippled by gold and black flashes.

He turned his eyes away once more and hopped like a cricket for perhaps fifty yards. He hopped again and again, and was gone.

The next thing I remember is that I began to walk. Very rationally I tried to recognize landmarks, such as mountains in the distance, in order to orient myself. I had been obsessed by cardinal points throughout the whole experience, and I believed that north had to be to my left. I walked in that direction for quite a while before I realized that it was daytime, and that I was no longer using my “night vision”. I remembered I had a watch and looked at the time. It was eight o’clock.

It was about ten o’clock when I got to the ledge where I had been the night before. Don Juan was lying on the ground asleep.

“Where have you been?” he asked.
I sat down to catch my breath.
After a long silence he asked, “Did you see him?”
I began to narrate to him the sequence of my experiences from the beginning, but he interrupted me saying

that all that mattered was whether I had seen him or not. He asked how close to me Mescalito was. I told him I had nearly touched him.

That part of my story interested him. He listened attentively to every detail without comment, interrupting only to ask questions about the form of the entity I had seen, its disposition, and other details about it. It was about noon when don Juan seemed to have had enough of my story. He stood up and strapped a canvas bag to my chest; he told me to walk behind him and said he was going to cut Mescalito loose and I had to receive him in my hands and place him inside the bag gently.

We drank some water and started to walk. When we reached the edge of the valley he seemed to hesitate for a moment before deciding which direction to take. Once he had made his choice we walked in a straight line.

Every time we came to a peyote plant, he squatted in front of it and very gently cut off the top with his short, serrated knife. He made an incision level with the ground, and, sprinkled the “wound”, as he called it, with pure sulfur powder which he carried in a leather sack. He held the fresh button in his left hand and spread the powder with his right hand. Then he stood up and handed me the button, which I received with both hands, as he had prescribed, and placed inside the bag.

“Stand erect and don’t let the bag touch the ground or the bushes or anything else,” he said repeatedly, as though he thought I would forget.

We collected sixty-five buttons. When the bag was completely filled, he put it on my back and strapped a new one to my chest.

By the time we had crossed the plateau we had two full sacks, containing one hundred and ten peyote buttons. The bags were so heavy and bulky that I could hardly walk under their weight and volume.

Don Juan whispered to me that the bags were heavy because Mescalito wanted to return to the ground. He said it was the sadness of leaving his abode which made Mescalito heavy; my real chore was not to let the bags touch the ground, because if I did Mescalito would never allow me to take him again.

At one particular moment the pressure of the straps on my shoulders became unbearable. Something was exerting tremendous force in order to pull me down. I felt very apprehensive. I noticed that I had started to walk faster, almost at a run; I was in a way trotting behind don Juan.

Suddenly the weight on my back and chest diminished. The load became spongy and light. I ran freely to catch up with don Juan, who was ahead of me. I told him I did not feel the weight any longer. He explained that we had already left Mescalito’s abode.

Tuesday, 3 July 1962

“I think Mescalito has almost accepted you,” don Juan said.
“Why do you say he has almost accepted me, don Juan?”
“He did not kill you, or even harm you. He gave you a good fright, but not a really bad one. If he had not


accepted you at all, he would have appeared to you as monstrous and full of wrath. Some people have learned the meaning of horror upon encountering him and not being accepted by him.”

“If he is so terrible, why didn’t you tell me about it before you took me to the field ?”
“You do not have the courage to seek him deliberately. I thought it would be better if you did not know.” “But I might have died, don Juan!”
“Yes, you might have. But I was certain it was going to be all right for you. He played with you once. He did

not harm you. I thought he would also have compassion for you this time.”
I asked him if he really thought Mescalito had had compassion for me. The experience had been terrifying; I

felt that I had nearly died of fright.
He said Mescalito had been most kind to me; he had shown me a scene that was an answer to a question.

Don Juan said Mescalito had given me a lesson. I asked him what the lesson was and what it meant. He said it would be impossible to answer that question because I had been too afraid to know exactly what I asked Mescalito.

Don Juan probed my memory as to what I had said to Mescalito before he showed me the scene on his hand. But I could not remember. All I remembered was my falling on my knees and “confessing my sins” to him.

Don Juan seemed uninterested in talking about it any more. I asked him, “Can you teach me the words to the songs you chanted?”

“No, I can’t. Those words are my own, the words the protector himself taught me. The songs are my songs. I can’t tell you what they are.”

“Why can’t you tell me, don Juan?”

“Because these songs are a link between the protector and myself. I am sure some day he will teach you your own songs. Wait until then; and never, absolutely never, copy or ask about the songs that belong to another man.”

“What was the name you called out? Can you tell me that, don Juan?”
“No. His name can never be voiced, except to call him.”
“What if I want to call him myself?”
“If some day he accepts you, he will tell you his name. That name will be for you alone to use, either to call

him loudly or to say quietly to yourself. Perhaps he will tell you his name is Jose. Who knows?”
“Why is it wrong to use his name when talking about him?”
“You have seen his eyes, haven’t you? You can’t fool around with the protector. That is why I can’t get over

the fact that he chose to play with you!”
“How can he be a protector when he hurts some people?”
“The answer is very simple. Mescalito is a protector because he is available to anyone who seeks him.” “But isn’t it true that everything in the world is available to anyone who seeks it?”
“No, that is not true. The ally powers are available only to the brujos, but anyone can partake of Mescalito.” “But why then does he hurt some people?”
“Not everybody likes Mescalito; yet they all seek him with the idea of profiting without doing any work.

Naturally their encounter with him is always horrifying.”
“What happens when he accepts a man completely?”
“He appears to him as a man, or as a light. When a man has won this kind of acceptance, Mescalito is

constant. He never changes after that. Perhaps when you meet him again he will be a light, and someday he may even take you flying and reveal all his secrets to you.”

“What do I have to do to arrive at that point, don Juan?”
“You have to be a strong man, and your life has to be truthful.” “What is a truthful life?”
“A life lived with deliberateness, a good, strong life.”


Chapter 5

Don Juan inquired periodically, in a casual way, about the state of my Datura plant. In the year that had elapsed from the time I replanted the root, the plant had grown into a large bush. It had seeded and the seedpods had dried. And don Juan judged it was time for me to learn more about the devil’s weed.

Sunday, 27 January 1963

Today don Juan gave me the preliminary information on the “second portion” of the Datura root, the second step in learning the tradition. He said the second portion of the root was the real beginning of learning; in comparison with it, the first portion was like child’s play. The second portion had to be mastered; it had to be in taken at least twenty times, he said, before one could go on to the third step.

I asked, “What does the second portion do?”

“The second portion of the devil’s weed is used for seeing. With it, a man can soar through the air to see what is going on at any place he chooses.”

“Can a man actually fly through the air, don Juan?”

“Why not? As I have already told you, the devil’s weed is for those who seek power. The man who masters the second portion can use the devil’s weed to do unimaginable things to gain more power.”

“What kind of things, don Juan?”
“I can’t tell you that. Every man is different.”

Monday, 28 January 1963

Don Juan said: “If you complete the second step successfully, I can show you only one more step. In the course of learning about the devil’s weed, I realized she was not for me, and I did not pursue her path any further.”

“What made you decide against it, don Juan?”

“The devil’s weed nearly killed me every time I tried to use her. Once it was so bad I thought I was finished. And yet, I could have avoided all that pain.”

“How? Is there a special way to avoid pain?”
“Yes, there is a way.”
“Is it a formula, a procedure, or what?”
“It is a way of grabbing onto things. For instance, when I was learning about the devil’s weed I was too

eager. I grabbed onto things the way kids grab onto candy. The devil’s weed is only one of a million paths. Anything is one of a million paths [un camino entre cantidades de caminos]. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is: Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.”

Sunday, 21 April 1963


On Tuesday afternoon, 16 April, don Juan and I went to the hills where his Datura plants are. He asked me to leave him alone there, and wait for him in the car. He returned nearly three hours later carrying a package wrapped in a red cloth. As we started to drive back to his house he pointed to the bundle and said it was his last gift for me.

I asked if he meant he was not going to teach me any more. He explained that he was referring to the fact that I had a plant fully mature and would no longer need his plants.

Late in the afternoon we sat in his room; he brought out a smoothly finished mortar and pestle. The bowl of the mortar was about six inches in diameter. He untied a large package full of small bundles, selected two of them, and placed them on a straw mat by my side; then he added four more bundles of the same size from the pack he had carried home. He said they were seeds, and I had to grind them into a fine powder. He opened the first bundle and poured some of its contents into the mortar. The seeds were dried, round and caramel yellow in colour.

I began working with the pestle; after a while he corrected me. He told me to push the pestle against one side of the mortar first, and then slide it across the bottom and up against the other side. I asked what he was going to do with the powder. He did not want to talk about it.

The first batch of seeds was extremely hard to grind. It took me four hours to finish the job. My back ached because of the position in which I had been sitting. I lay down and wanted to go to sleep right there, but don Juan opened the next bag and poured some of the contents into the mortar. The seeds this time were slightly darker than the first ones, and were lumped together. The rest of the bag’s contents was a sort of powder, made of very small, round, dark granules.

I wanted something to eat, but don Juan said that if I wished to learn I had to follow the rule, and the rule was that I could only drink a little water while learning the secrets of the second portion.

The third bag contained a handful of live, black, grain weevils. And in the last bag were some fresh white seeds, almost mushy soft, but fibrous and difficult to grind into a fine paste, as he expected me to do. After I had finished grinding the contents of the four bags, don Juan measured two cups of a greenish water, poured it into a clay pot, and put the pot on the fire. When the water was boiling he added the first batch of powdered seeds. He stirred it with a long, pointed piece of wood or bone which he carried in his leather pouch. As soon as the water boiled again he added the other substances one by one, following the same procedure. Then he added one more cup of the same water, and let the mixture simmer over a low fire.

Then he told me it was time to mash the root. He carefully extracted a long piece of Datura root from the bundle he had carried home. The root was about sixteen inches long. It was thick, perhaps an inch and a half in diameter. He said it was the second portion, and again he had measured the second portion himself, because it was still his root. He said the next time I tried the devil’s weed I would have to measure my own root.

He pushed the big mortar towards me, and I proceeded to pound the root in exactly the same way he had mashed the first portion. He directed me through the same steps, and again we left the mashed root soaking in water, exposed to the night air. By that time the boiling mixture had solidified in the clay pot. Don Juan took the pot from the fire, placed it inside a hanging net, and hooked it to a beam in the middle of the room.

About eight o’clock in the morning of 17 April, don Juan and I began to leach the root extract with water. It was a clear, sunny day, and don Juan interpreted the fine weather as an omen that the devil’s weed liked me; he said that with me around he could remember only how bad she had been with him.

The procedure we followed in leaching the root extract was the same I had observed for the first portion. By late afternoon, after pouring out the top water for the eighth time, there was a spoonful of a yellowish substance in the bottom of the bowl.

We returned to his room where there were still two little sacks he had not touched. He opened one, slid his hand inside, and wrinkled the open end around his wrist with the other hand. He seemed to be holding something, judging by the way his hand moved inside the bag. Suddenly, with a swift movement, he peeled the bag off his hand like a glove, turning it inside out, and shoved his hand close to my face. He was holding a lizard. Its head was a few inches from my eyes. There was something strange about the lizard’s mouth. I gazed at it for a moment, and then recoiled involuntarily. The lizard’s mouth was sewed up with rude stitches. Don Juan ordered me to hold the lizard in my left hand. I clutched it; it wriggled against my palm. I felt nauseated. My hands began to perspire.


He took the last bag, and, repeating the same motions, he extracted another lizard. He also held it close to my face. I saw that its eyelids were sewed together. He ordered me to hold this lizard in my right hand.

By the time I had both lizards in my hands I was almost sick. I had an overpowering desire to drop them and get out of there.

“Don’t squeeze them!” he said, and his voice brought me a sense of relief and direction. He asked what was wrong with me. He tried to be serious, but couldn’t keep a straight face and laughed. I tried to easy my grip, but my hands were sweating so profusely that the lizards began to wriggle out of them. Their sharp little claws scratched my hands, producing an incredible feeling of disgust and nausea. I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth. One of the lizards was already sliding onto my wrist; all it needed was to yank its head from between my fingers to be free. I had a peculiar sensation of physical despair, of supreme discomfort. I growled at don Juan, between my teeth, to take the damn things off me. My head shook involuntarily. He looked at me curiously. I growled like a bear, shaking my body. He dropped the lizards into their bags and began to laugh. I wanted to laugh also, but my stomach was upset. I lay down.

I explained to him that what had affected me was the sensation of their claws on my palms; he said there were lots of things that could drive a man mad, especially if he did not have the resolution, the purpose, required for learning; but when a man had a clear, unbending intent, feelings were in no way a hindrance, for he was capable of controlling them.

Don Juan waited awhile and then, going through the same motions, handed me the lizards again. He told me to hold their heads up and rub them softly against my temples, as I asked them anything I wanted to know.

I did not understand at first what he wanted me to do. He told me again to ask the lizards about anything I could not find out for myself. He gave me a whole series of examples: I could find out about persons I did not see ordinarily, or about objects that were lost, or about places I had not seen. Then I realized he was talking about divination. I got very excited. My heart began to pound. I felt that I was losing my breath.

He warned me not to ask about personal matters this first time; he said I should think rather of something that had nothing to do with me. I had to think fast and clearly because there would be no way of reversing my thoughts.

I tried frantically to think of something I wanted to know. Don Juan urged me on imperiously, and I was astonished to realize I could think of nothing I wanted to “ask” the lizards.

After a painfully long wait I thought of something. Some time earlier a large number of books had been stolen from a reading room. It was not a personal matter, and yet I was interested in it. I had no preconceived ideas about the identity of the person, or persons, who had taken the books. I rubbed the lizards against my temples, asking them who the thief was.

After a while don Juan put the lizards inside their bags, and said that there were no deep secrets about the root and the paste. The paste was made to give direction; the root made things clear. But the real mystery was the lizards. They were the secret of the whole sorcery of the second portion, he said. I asked whether they were a special kind of lizard. He said they were. They had to come from the area of one’s own plant; they had to be one’s friends. And to have lizards as friends, he said, required a long period of grooming. One had to develop a strong friendship with them by giving them food and speaking kind words to them.

I asked why their friendship was so important. He said the lizards would allow themselves to be caught only if they knew the man, and whoever took the devil’s weed seriously had to treat the lizards seriously. He said that, as a rule, the lizards should be caught after the paste and the root had been prepared. They should be caught in the late afternoon. If one was not on intimate terms with the lizards, he said, days could be spent trying to catch them without success; and the paste lasts only one day. He then gave me a long series of instructions concerning the procedure to follow after the lizards had been caught.

“Once you have caught the lizards, put them in separate bags. Then take the first one and talk to her. Apologize for hurting her, and beg her to help you. And with a wooden needle sew up her mouth. Use the fibers of agave and one of the thorns of a choya to do the sewing. Draw the stitches tight. Then tell the other lizard the same things and sew her eyelids together. By the time night begins to fall you will be ready. Take the lizard with the sewed-up mouth and explain to her the matter you want to know about. Ask her to go and see for you; tell her you had to sew up her mouth so she would hurry back to you and not talk to anyone else. Let her scramble in the paste after you have rubbed it on her head; then put her on the ground. If she goes in the direction of your


good fortune, the sorcery will be successful and easy. If she goes in the opposite direction, it will be unsuccessful. If the lizard moves towards you (south), you can expect more than ordinary good luck; but if she moves away from you (north), the sorcery will be terribly difficult. You may even die! So if she moves away from you, that is a good time to quit. At this point you can make the decision to quit. If you do, you will lose your capacity to command the lizards, but that is better than losing your life. On the other hand, you may decide to go ahead with the sorcery in spite of my warning. If you do, the next step is to take the other lizard and tell her to listen to her sister’s story, and then describe it to you.”

“But how can the lizard with the sewed-up mouth tell me what she sees? Wasn’t her mouth closed to prevent her from talking?”

“Sewing up her mouth prevents her from telling her story to strangers. People say lizards are talkative; they will stop anywhere to talk. Anyway, the next step is to smear the paste on the back of her head, and then rub her head against your right temple, keeping the paste away from the centre of your forehead. At the beginning of your learning it is a good idea to tie the lizard by its middle to your right shoulder with a string. Then you won’t lose her or injure her. But as you progress and become more familiar with the power of the devil’s weed, the lizards learn to obey your commands and will stay perched on your shoulder. After you have smeared the paste on your right temple with the lizard, dip the fingers of both hands into the gruel; first rub it on both temples and then spread it all over both sides of your head. The paste dries very fast, and can be applied as many times as necessary. Begin every time by using the lizard’s head first and then your fingers. Sooner or later the lizard that went to see comes back and tells her sister all about her journey, and the blind lizard describes it to you as though you were her kind. When the sorcery is finished, put the lizard down and let her go, but don’t watch where she goes. Dig a deep hole with your bare hands and bury everything you used in it.”

About 6:00 p.m. don Juan scooped the root extract out of the bowl onto a flat piece of shale; there was less than a teaspoon of a yellowish starch. He put half of it into a cup and added some yellowish water. He rotated the cup in his hand to dissolve the substance. He handed me the cup and told me to drink the mixture. It was tasteless, but it left a slightly bitter flavor in my mouth. The water was too hot and that annoyed me. My heart began pounding fast, but soon I was relaxed again.

Don Juan got the other bowl with the paste. The paste looked solid, and had a glossy surface. I tried to poke the crust with my finger, but don Juan jumped toward me and pushed my hand away from the bowl. He became very annoyed; he said it was very thoughtless of me to try that, and if I really wanted to learn there was no need to be careless. This was power, he said, pointing to the paste, and nobody could tell what kind of power it really was. It was bad enough that we had to tamper with it for our own purposes – a thing we cannot help doing because we are men, he said – but we should at least treat it with the proper respect. The mixture looked like oatmeal. Apparently it had enough starch to give it that consistency. He asked me to get the bags with the lizards. He took the lizard with the sewed-up mouth and carefully handed it over to me. He made me take it with my left hand and told me to get some of the paste with my ringer and rub it on the lizard’s head and then put the lizard into the pot and hold it there until the paste covered its entire body.

Then he told me to remove the lizard from the pot. He picked up the pot and led me to a rocky area not too far from his house. He pointed to a large rock and told me to sit in front of it, as if it were my Datura plant, and, holding the lizard in front of my face, to explain to her again what I wanted to know, and beg her to go and find the answer for me. He advised me to tell the lizard I was sorry I had to cause her discomfort, and to promise her I would be kind to all lizards in return. And then he told me to hold her between the third and fourth fingers of my left hand, where he had once made a cut, and to dance around the rock doing exactly what I had done when I replanted the root of the devil’s weed; he asked me if I remembered all I had done at that time. I said I did. He emphasized that everything had to be just the same, and if I did not remember I had to wait until everything was clear in my mind. He warned me with great urgency that if I acted too quickly, without deliberation, I was going to get hurt. His last instruction was that I was to place the lizard with the sewed-up mouth on the ground and watch where she went, so that I could determine the outcome of the experience. He said I was not to take my eyes away from the lizard, even for an instant, because it was a common trick of lizards to distract one and then dash away.

It was not quite dark yet. Don Juan looked at the sky. “I will leave you alone,” he said, and walked away.
I followed all his instructions and then placed the lizard on the ground. The lizard stood motionless where I


had put it. Then it looked at me, and ran to the rocks towards the east and disappeared among them.
I sat on the ground in front of the rock, as though I were facing my plant. A profound sadness overtook me. I

wondered about the lizard with its sewed-up mouth. I thought of its strange journey and of how it looked at me before it ran away. It was a weird thought, an annoying projection. In my own way I too was a lizard, undergoing another strange journey. My fate was, perhaps, only to see; at that moment I felt that I would never be able to tell what I had seen. It was very dark by then. I could hardly see the rocks in front of me. I thought of don Juan’s words: “The twilight – there’s the crack between the worlds!”

After long hesitation I began to follow the steps prescribed. The paste, though it looked like oatmeal, did not feel like oatmeal. It was very smooth and cold. It had a peculiar, pungent smell. It produced a sensation of coolness on the skin and dried quickly. I rubbed my temples eleven times, without noticing any effect. I tried very carefully to take account of any change in perception or mood, for I did not even know what to anticipate. As a matter of fact, I could not conceive the nature of the experience, and kept on searching for clues.

The paste had dried up and scaled off my temples. I was about to rub some more of it on when I realized I was sitting on my heels in Japanese fashion. I had been sitting cross-legged and did not recall changing positions. It took some time to realize fully that I was sitting on the floor in a sort of cloister with high arches. I thought they were brick arches, but upon examining them I saw they were stone.

This transition was very difficult. It came so suddenly that I was not ready to follow. My perception of the elements of the vision was diffused, as if I were dreaming. Yet the components did not change. They remained steady, and I could stop alongside any one of them and actually examine it. The vision was not so clear or so real as one induced by peyote. It had a misty character, an intensely pleasing pastel quality.

I wondered whether I could get up or not, and the next thing I noticed was that I had moved. I was at the top of a stairway and H., a friend of mine, was standing at the bottom. Her eyes were feverish. There was a mad glare in them. She laughed aloud with such intensity that she was terrifying. She began coming up the stairs. I wanted to run away or take cover, because “she’d been off her rocker once”. That was the thought that came to my mind. I hid behind a column and she went by without looking. “She’s going on a long trip now,” was another thought that occurred to me then; and finally the last thought I remembered was,”She laughs every time she’s ready to crack up.”

Suddenly the scene became very clear; it was no longer like a dream. It was like an ordinary scene, but I seemed to be looking at it through window glass. I tried to touch a column but all I sensed was that I couldn’t move; yet I knew I could stay as long as I wanted, viewing the scene. I was in it and yet I was not part of it.

I experienced a barrage of rational thoughts and arguments. I was, so far as I could judge, in an ordinary state of sober consciousness. Every element belonged in the realm of my normal processes. And yet I knew it was not an ordinary state.

The scene changed abruptly. It was night-time. I was in the hall of a building. The darkness inside the building made me aware that in the earlier scene the sunlight had been beautifully clear. Yet it had been so commonplace that I did not notice it at the time. As I looked further into the new vision I saw a young man coming out of a room carrying a large knapsack on his shoulders. I didn’t know who he was, although I had seen him once or twice. He walked by me and went down the stairs. By then I had forgotten my apprehension, my rational dilemmas.

“Who’s that guy?” I thought. “Why did I see him?”

The scene changed again and I was watching the young man deface books; he glued some of the pages together, erased markings, and so on. Then I saw him arranging the books neatly in a wooden crate. There was a pile of crates. They were riot in his room, but in a storage place. Other images came to my mind, but they were not clear. The scene became foggy. I had a sensation of spinning.

Don Juan shook me by the shoulders and I woke up. He helped me to stand and we walked back to his house. It had been three and a half hours from the moment I began rubbing the paste on my temples to the time I woke up, but the visionary state could not have lasted more than ten minutes. I had no ill effects whatsoever. I was just hungry and sleepy.

Thursday, 18 April 1963


Don Juan asked me last night to describe my recent experience, but I was too sleepy to talk about it. I could not concentrate. Today, as soon as I woke up, he asked me again.

“Who told you this girl H. had been off her rocker?” he asked when I finished my story.
“Nobody. It was just one of the thoughts I had.”
“Do you think they were your thoughts?”
I told him they were my thoughts, although I had no reason to think that H. had been sick. They were strange

thoughts. They seemed to pop up in my mind from nowhere. He looked at me inquisitively. I asked him if he did not believe me; he laughed and said that it was my routine to be careless with my acts.

“What did I do wrong, don Juan?”
“You should have listened to the lizards.”
“How should I have listened?”
“The little lizard on your shoulder was describing to you everything her sister was seeing. She was talking to

you. She was telling you everything, and you paid no attention. Instead, you believed the lizard’s words were your own thoughts.”

“But they were my own thoughts, don Juan.”

“They were not. That is the nature of this sorcery. Actually, the vision is to be listened to, rather than looked at. The same thing happened to me. I was about to warn you when I remembered my benefactor had not warned me.”

“Was your experience like mine, don Juan?”
“No. Mine was a hellish journey. I nearly died.”
“Why was it hellish?”
“Maybe because the devil’s weed did not like me, or because I was not clear about what I wanted to ask.

Like you yesterday.
You must have had that girl in mind when you asked the question about the books.”
“I can’t remember it.”
“The lizards are never wrong; they take every thought as a question. The lizard came back and told you

things about H. no one will ever be able to understand, because not even you know what your thoughts were.” “How about the other vision I had?”
“Your thoughts must have been steady when you asked that question. And that is the way this sorcery should

be conducted, with clarity.”
“Do you mean the vision of the girl is not to be taken seriously?”
“How can it be taken seriously if you don’t know what questions the little lizards were answering?” “Would it be more clear to the lizard if one asked only one question?”
“Yes, that would be clearer. If you could hold one thought steadily.”
“But what would happen, don Juan, if the one question was not a simple one?”
“As long as your thought is steady, and does not go into other things, it is clear to the little lizards, and then

their answer is clear to you.”
“Can one ask more questions of the lizards as one goes along in the vision?”
“No. The vision is to look at whatever the lizards are telling you. That is why I said it is a vision to hear

more than a vision to see. That is why I asked you to deal with impersonal matters. Usually, when the question is about people, your longing to touch them or talk to them is too strong, and the lizard will stop talking and the sorcery will be dispelled. You should know much more than you do now before trying to see things that concern you personally. Next time you must listen carefully. I am sure the lizards told you many, many things, but you were not listening.”

Friday, 19 April 1963

“What were all the things I ground for the paste, don Juan?”

“Seeds of devil’s weed and the weevils that live off the seeds. The measure is one handful of each.” He cupped his right hand to show me how much.

I asked him what would happen if one element was used by itself, without the others. He said that such a 51

procedure would only antagonize the devil’s weed and the lizards.
“You must not antagonize the lizards,” he said, “for the next day, during the late afternoon, you must return

to the site of your plant. Speak to all lizards and ask the two that helped you in the sorcery to come out again. Search all over until it is quite dark. If you can’t find them, you must try it once more the next day. If you are strong you will find both of them, and then you have to eat them, right there. And you will be endowed forever with the capacity to see the unknown. You will never need to catch lizards again to practice this sorcery. They will live inside you from then on.”

“What do I do if I find only one of them?”

“If you find only one of them you must let her go at the end of your search. If you find her the first day, don’t keep her, hoping you will catch the other one the next day. That will only spoil your friendship with them.”

“What happens if I can’t find them at all?”

“I think that would be the best thing for you. It implies that you must catch two lizards every time you want their help, but it also implies that you are free.”

“What do you mean, free?”

“Free from being the slave of the devil’s weed. If the lizards are to live inside you, the devil’s weed will never let you go.”

“Is that bad?”

“Of course it is bad. She will cut you off from everything else. You will have to spend your life grooming her as an ally. She is possessive. Once she dominates you, there is only one way to go – her way.”

“What if I find that the lizards are dead?”

“If you find one or both of them dead, you must not attempt to do this sorcery for some time. Lay off for a while.

“I think this is all I need to tell you; what I have told you is the rule. Whenever you practice this sorcery by yourself, you must follow all the steps I have described while you sit in front of your plant. One more thing. You must not eat or drink until the sorcery is finished.”


Chapter 6

The next step in don Juan’s teachings was a new aspect of mastering the second portion of the Datura root. In the time that elapsed between the two stages of learning don Juan inquired only about the development of my plant.

Thursday, 27 June 1963

“It is a good practice to test the devil’s weed before embarking fully on her path,” don Juan said.
“How do you test her, don Juan?”
“You must try another sorcery with the lizards. You have all the elements that are needed to ask one more

question of the lizards, this time without my help.”
“Is it very necessary that I do this sorcery, don Juan?”
“It is the best way to test the feelings of the devil’s weed towards you. She tests you all the time, so it is only

fair that you test her too, and if you feel anywhere along her path that for some reason you should not go on, then you must simply stop.”

Saturday, 29 June 1963

I brought up the subject of the devil’s weed. I wanted don Juan to tell me more about it, and yet I did not want to be committed to participate.

“The second portion is used only to divine, isn’t that so, don Juan?” I asked to start the conversation.

“Not only to divine. One learns the sorcery of the lizards with the aid of the second portion, and at the same time one tests the devil’s weed; but in reality the second portion is used for other purposes. The sorcery of the lizards is only the beginning.”

“Then what is it used for, don Juan?”

He did not answer. He abruptly changed the subject, and asked me how big were the Datura plants growing around my own plant. I made a gesture of size.

Don Juan said, “I have taught you how to tell a male from a female. Now, go to your plants and bring me both. Go first to your old plant and watch carefully the watercourse made by the rain. By now the rain must have carried the seeds far away. Watch the crevices [zanjitas] made by the run-off, and from them determine the direction of the flow. Then find the plant that is growing at the farthest point from your plant. All the devil’s weed plants that are growing in between are yours. Later, as they seed, you can extend the size of your territory by following the watercourse from each plant along the way.”

He gave me meticulous instructions on how to procure a cutting tool. The cutting of the root, he said, had to be done in the following way. First, I had to select the plant I was to cut and clear away the dirt around the place where the root joined the stem. Second, I had to repeat exactly the same dance I had performed when I replanted the root. Third, I had to cut the stem off, and leave the root in the ground. The final step was to dig out sixteen inches of root. He admonished me not to talk or to betray any feeling during this act.

“You should carry two pieces of cloth,” he said. “Spread them on the ground and place the plants on them. Then cut the plants into parts and stack them up. The order is up to you; but you must always remember what order you used, because that is the way you must always do it. Bring the plants to me as soon as you have them.”

Saturday, 6 July 1963

On Monday 1 July, I cut the Datura plants don Juan had asked for. I waited until it was fairly dark to do the dancing around the plants because I did not want anybody to see me. I felt quite apprehensive. I was sure someone was going to witness my strange acts. I had previously chosen the plants I thought were a male and a female. I had to cut off sixteen inches of the root of each one, and digging to that depth with a wooden stick was not an easy task. It took me hours. I had to finish the job in complete darkness, and when I was ready to cut them I had to use a flashlight. My original apprehension that somebody would watch me was minimal compared with


the fear that someone would spot the light in the bushes.
I took the plants to don Juan’s house on Tuesday 2 July. He opened the bundles and examined the pieces. He

said he still had to give me the seeds of his plants. He pushed a mortar in front of me. He took a glass jar and emptied its contents – dried seeds lumped together – into the mortar.

I asked him what they were, and he said they were seeds eaten by weevils. There were quite a few bugs among the seeds – little black grain weevils. He said they were special bugs, and that we had to take them out and put them into a separate jar. He handed me another jar, one-third full of the same kind of weevils. A piece of paper was stuffed into the jar to keep the weevils from escaping.

“Next time you will have to use the bugs from your own plants,” don Juan said. “What you do is to cut the seedpods that have tiny holes; they are full of bugs. Open the pod and scrape everything into a jar. Collect one handful of bugs and put them into another container. Treat them rough. Don’t be considerate or delicate with them. Measure one handful of the lumped seeds that the bugs have eaten and one handful of the bugs’ powder, and bury the rest any place in that direction [here he pointed southeast] from your plant. Then gather good, dry seeds and store them separately. You can gather all you want. You can always use them. It is a good idea to get the seeds out of the pods there so that you can bury everything at once.”

Next don Juan told me to grind the lumped seeds first, then the weevil eggs, then the bugs, and last the good, dry seeds.

When all of them were mashed into a fine powder don Juan took the pieces of Datura I had cut and stacked up. He separated the male root and wrapped it gently in a piece of cloth. He handed me the rest, and told me to cut everything into little pieces, mash them well, and then put every bit of the juice into a pot. He said I had to mash them in the same order in which I had stacked them up.

After I had finished he told me to measure one cup of boiling water and stir it with everything in the pot, and then to add two more cups. He handed me a smoothly finished bone stick. I stirred the mush with it and put the pot on the fire. Then he said we had to prepare the root, and for that we had to use the larger mortar because the male root could not be cut at all. We went to the back of the house. He had the mortar ready, and I proceeded to pound the root as I had done before. We left the root soaking in water, exposed to the night air, and went inside the house.

I woke up when don Juan got up. The sun was shining in a clear sky. It was a hot, dry day. Don Juan commented again that he was sure the devil’s weed liked me.

We proceeded to treat the root, and at the end of the day we had quite a bit of yellowish substance in the bottom of the bowl. Don Juan poured off the top water. I thought that was the end of the procedure, but he filled the bowl with boiling water again.

He brought down the pot with the mush from under the roof. The mush seemed to be almost dry. He took the pot inside the house, placed it carefully on the floor, and sat down. Then he began to talk.

“My benefactor told me it was permissible to mix the plant with lard. And that is what you are going to do. My benefactor mixed it with lard for me, but, as I have already said, I never was very fond of the plant and never really tried to become one with her. My benefactor told me that for best results, for those who really want to master the power, the proper thing is to mix the plant with the lard of a wild boar. The fat of the intestines is the best. But it is for you to choose. Perhaps the turn of the wheel will decide that you take the devil’s weed as an ally, in which case I will advise you, as my benefactor advised me, to hunt a wild boar and get the fat from the intestines [sebo de tripa]. In other times, when the devil’s weed was tops, brujos used to go on special hunting trips to get fat from wild boars. They sought the biggest and strongest males. They had a special magic for wild boars; they took from them a special power, so special that it was hard to believe, even in those days. But that power is lost. I don’t know anything about it. And I don’t know any man who knows about it. Perhaps the weed herself will teach you all that.”

Don Juan measured a handful of lard, dumped it into the bowl containing the dry gruel, and scraped the lard left on his hand onto the edge of the pot. He told me to stir the contents until they were smooth and thoroughly mixed.

I whipped the mixture for nearly three hours. Don Juan looked at it from time to time and thought it was not done yet. Finally he seemed satisfied. The air whipped into the paste had given it a light grey colour and the consistency of jelly. He hung the bowl from the roof next to the other bowl. He said he was going to leave it


there until the next day because it would take two days to prepare this second portion. He told me not to eat anything in the meantime. I could have water, but no food at all.

The next day, Thursday 4 July, don Juan directed me to leach the root four times. By the last time I poured the water out of the bowl it had already become dark. We sat on the porch. He put both bowls in front of him. The root extract measured a teaspoon of a whitish starch. He put it into a cup and added water. He rotated the cup in his hand to dissolve the substance and then handed the cup to me. He told me to drink all that was in the cup. I drank it fast and then put the cup on the floor and slumped back. My heart began pounding; I felt I could not breathe. Don Juan ordered me, matter-of-factly, to take off all my clothes. I asked him why, and he said I had to rub myself with the paste. I hesitated. I did not know whether to undress. Don Juan urged me to hurry up. He said there was very little time to fool around. I removed all my clothes.

He took his bone stick and cut two horizontal lines on the surface of the paste, thus dividing the contents of the bowl into three equal parts. Then, starting at the centre of the top line, he cut a vertical line perpendicular to the other two, dividing the paste into five parts. He pointed to the bottom right area, and said that was for my left foot. The area above it was for my left leg. The top and largest part was for my genitals. The next one below, on the left side, was for my right leg, and the area at the bottom left was for my right foot. He told me to apply the part of the paste designated for my left foot to the sole of my foot and rub it thoroughly. Then he guided me in applying the paste on the inside part of my whole left leg, on my genitals, down the inside of my whole right leg, and finally on the sole of my right foot.

I followed his directions. The paste was cold and had a particularly strong odour. When I had finished applying it I straightened up. The smell from the mixture entered my nostrils. It was suffocating me. The pungent odour was actually choking me. It was like a gas of some sort. I tried to breathe through my mouth and tried to talk to don Juan, but I couldn’t.

Don Juan kept staring at me. I took a step towards him. My legs were rubbery and long, extremely long. I took another step. My knee joints felt springy, like a vault pole; they shook and vibrated and contracted elastically. I moved forward. The motion of my body was slow and shaky; it was more like a tremor forward and up. I looked down and saw don Juan sitting below me, way below me. The momentum carried me forward one more step, which was even more elastic and longer than the preceding one. And from there I soared. I remember coming down once; then I pushed up with both feet, sprang backwards, and glided on my back. I saw the dark sky above me, and the clouds going by me. I jerked my body so I could look down. I saw the dark mass of the mountains. My speed was extraordinary. My arms were fixed, folded against my sides. My head was the directional unit. If I kept it bent backwards I made vertical circles. I changed directions by turning my head to the side. I enjoyed such freedom and swiftness as I had never known before. The marvelous darkness gave me a feeling of sadness, of longing, perhaps. It was as if I had found a place where I belonged – the darkness of the night. I tried to look around, but all I sensed was that the night was serene, and yet it held so much power.

Suddenly I knew it was time to come down; it was as if I had been given an order I had to obey. And I began descending like a feather with lateral motions. That type of movement made me very ill. It was slow and jerky, as though I were being lowered by pulleys. I got sick. My head was bursting with the most excruciating pain. A kind of blackness enveloped me. I was very aware of the feeling of being suspended in it.

The next thing I remember is the feeling of waking up. I was in my bed in my own room. I sat up. And the image of my room dissolved. I stood up. I was naked! The motion of standing made me sick again.

I recognized some of the landmarks. I was about half a mile from don Juan’s house, near the place of his Datura plants. Suddenly everything fitted into place, and I realized that I would have to walk all the way back to his house, naked. To be deprived of clothes was a profound psychological disadvantage, but there was nothing I could do to solve the problem. I thought of making myself a skirt with branches, but the thought seemed ludicrous and, besides, it was soon going to be dawn, for the morning twilight was already clear. I forgot about my discomfort and my nausea and started to walk towards the house. I was obsessed with the fear of being discovered. I watched for people and dogs. I tried to run, but I hurt my feet on the small, sharp stones. I walked slowly. It was already very clear. Then I saw somebody coming up the road, and I quickly jumped behind the bushes. My situation seemed so incongruous to me. A moment before I had been enjoying the unbelievable pleasure of flying; the next minute I found myself hiding, embarrassed by my own nakedness. I thought of jumping out on the road again and running with all my might past the person who was coming. I thought he


would be so startled that by the time he realized it was a naked man I would have left him far behind. I thought all that, but I did not dare to move.

The person coming up the road was just upon me and stopped walking. I heard him calling my name. It was don Juan, and he had my clothes. As I put them on he looked at me and laughed; he laughed so hard that I wound up laughing too.

The same day, Friday 5 July, late in the afternoon, don Juan asked me to narrate the details of my experience. As carefully as I could, I related the whole episode.

“The second portion of the devil’s weed is used to fly,” he said when I had finished. “The unguent by itself is not enough. My benefactor said that it is the root that gives direction and wisdom, and it is the cause of flying. As you learn more, and take it often in order to fly, you will begin to see everything with great clarity. You can soar through the air for hundreds of miles to see what is happening at any place you want, or to deliver a fatal blow to your enemies far away. As you become familiar with the devil’s weed, she will teach you how to do such things. For instance, she has taught you already how to change directions. In the same manner, she will teach you unimaginable things.”

“Like what, don Juan?”

“That I can’t tell you. Every man is different. My benefactor never told me what he had learned. He told me how to proceed, but never what he saw. That is only for oneself.”

“But I tell you all I see, don Juan.”

“Now you do. Later you will not. The next time you take the devil’s weed you will do it by yourself, around your own plants, because that is where you will land, around your plants. Remember that. That is why I came down here to my plants to look for you.”

He said nothing more, and I fell asleep. When I woke up in the evening, I felt invigorated. For some reason I exuded a sort of physical contentment. I was happy, satisfied.

Don Juan asked me, “Did you like the night? Or was it frightful?”
I told him that the night was truly magnificent.
“How about your headache? Was it very bad?” he asked.
“The headache was as strong as all the other feelings. It was the worst pain I have ever had,” I said. “Would that keep you from wanting to taste the power of the devil’s weed again?”

“I don’t know. I don’t want it now, but later I might. I really don’t know, don Juan.”

There was a question I wanted to ask him. I knew he was going to evade it, so I waited for him to mention the subject; I waited all day. Finally, before I left that evening, I had to ask him, “Did I really fly, don Juan?”

“That is what you told me. Didn’t you?”
“I know, don Juan. I mean, did my body fly? Did I take off like a bird?”
“You always ask me questions I cannot answer. You flew. That is what the second portion of the devil’s

weed is for. As you take more of it, you will learn how to fly perfectly. It is not a simple matter. A man flies with the help of the second portion of the devil’s weed. That is all I can tell you. What you want to know makes no sense. Birds fly like birds and a man who has taken the devil’s weed flies as such [el enyerbado vuela asi].”

“As birds do? [Asi como los pajaros?].”
“No, he flies as a man who has taken the weed [No, asi como los enyerbados].”
“Then I didn’t really fly, don Juan. I flew in my imagination, in my mind alone. Where was my body?”
“In the bushes,” he replied cuttingly, but immediately broke into laughter again. “The trouble with you is that

you understand things in only one way. You don’t think a man flies; and yet a brujo can move a thousand miles in one second to see what is going on. He can deliver a blow to his enemies long distances away. So, does he or doesn’t he fly?”

“You see, don Juan, you and I are differently oriented. Suppose, for the sake of argument, one of my fellow students had been here with me when I took the devil’s weed. Would he have been able to see me flying?”

“There you go again with your questions about what would happen if … It is useless to talk that way. If your friend, or anybody else, takes the second portion of the weed all he can do is fly. Now, if he had simply watched you, he might have seen you flying, or he might not. That depends on the man.”

“But what I mean, don Juan, is that if you and I look at a bird and see it fly, we agree that it is flying. But if two of my friends had seen me flying as I did last night, would they have agreed that I was flying?”


“Well, they might have. You agree that birds fly because you have seen them flying. Flying is a common thing with birds. But you will not agree on other things birds do, because you have never seen birds doing them. If your friends knew about men flying with the devil’s weed, then they would agree.”

“Let’s put it another way, don Juan. What I meant to say is that if I had tied myself to a rock with a heavy chain I would have flown just the same, because my body had nothing to do with my flying.”

Don Juan looked at me incredulously. “If you tie yourself to a rock,” he said, “I’m afraid you will have to fly holding the rock with its heavy chain.”


Chapter 7

Collecting the ingredients and preparing them for the smoke mixture formed a yearly cycle. The first year don Juan taught me the procedure. In December of 1962, the second year, when the cycle was renewed, don Juan merely directed me; I collected the ingredients myself, prepared them, and put them away until the next year.

In December 1963, a new cycle started for the third time. Don Juan then showed me how to combine the dried ingredients I had collected and prepared the year before. He put the smoking mixture into a small leather bag, and we set out once again to collect the different components for the following year.

Don Juan seldom mentioned the “little smoke” during the year that elapsed between the two gatherings. Every time I went to see him, however, he gave me his pipe to hold, and the procedure of “getting familiar” with the pipe developed in the way he had described. He put the pipe in my hands very gradually. He demanded absolute and careful concentration on that action, and gave me very explicit directions. Any fumbling with the pipe would inevitably result in his or my death, he said.

As soon as we had finished the third collecting and preparing cycle, don Juan began to talk about the smoke as an ally for the first time in more than a year.

Monday, 23 December 1963

We were driving back to his house after collecting some yellow flowers for the mixture. They were one of the necessary ingredients. I made the remark that this year we did not follow the same order in collecting the ingredients as we had the year before. He laughed and said the smoke was not moody or petty, as the devil’s weed was. For the smoke, the order of collecting was unimportant; all that was required was that the man using the mixture had to be accurate and exact.

I asked don Juan what we were going to do with the mixture he had prepared and given me to keep. He replied that it was mine, and added that I had to use it as soon as possible. I asked how much of it was needed each time. The small bag he had given me contained approximately three times the amount a small tobacco bag would hold. He told me I would have to use all the contents of my bag in one year, and how much I needed each time I smoked was a personal matter.

I wanted to know what would happen if I never finished the bag. Don Juan said that nothing would happen; the smoke did not require anything. He himself did not need to smoke any more, and yet he made a new mixture each year. He then corrected himself and said that he rarely had to smoke. I asked what he did with the unused mixture, but he did not answer. He said the mixture was no longer good if not used in one year.

At this point we got into a long argument. I did not phrase my questions correctly and his answers seemed confusing. I wanted to know if the mixture would lose its hallucinogenic properties, or power, after a year, thus making the yearly cycle necessary; but he insisted that the mixture would not lose its power at any time. The only thing that happened, he said, was that a man did not need it any more because he had made a new supply; he had to dispose of the remaining old mixture in a specific way, which don Juan did not want to reveal to me at that point.

Tuesday, 24 December 1963

“You said, don Juan, you don’t have to smoke any more.”
“Yes, because the smoke is my ally I don’t need to smoke any more. I can call him any time, any place.” “Do you mean he comes to you even if you do not smoke?”
“I mean I go to him freely.”
“Will I be able to do that, too?”
“If you succeed in getting him as your ally, you will.”

Tuesday, 31 December 1963
On Thursday 26 December I had my first experience with don Juan’s ally, the smoke. All day I drove him


around and did chores for him. We returned to his house in the late afternoon. I mentioned that we had had nothing to eat all day. He was completely unconcerned over that; instead he began to tell me it was imperative for me to become familiar with the smoke. He said I had to experience it myself to realize how important it was as an ally.

Without giving me an opportunity to say anything, don Juan told me he was going to light his pipe for me, right then. I tried to dissuade him, arguing that I did not believe I was ready. I told him I felt I had not handled the pipe for a long enough time. But he said there was not much time left for me to learn, and I had to use the pipe very soon. He brought the pipe out of its sack and fondled it. I sat on the floor next to him and frantically tried to get sick and pass out – to do anything to put off this unavoidable step.

The room was almost dark. Don Juan had lighted the kerosene lamp and placed it in a comer. Usually the lamp kept the room in a relaxing semi-darkness, its yellowish light always soothing. This time, however, the light seemed dim and unusually red; it was unnerving. He untied his small bag of mixture without removing it from the cord fastened around his neck. He brought the pipe close to him, put it inside his shirt, and poured some of the mixture into the bowl. He made me watch the procedure, pointing out that if some of the mixture spilled it would fall inside his shirt.

Don Juan filled three-fourths of the bowl, then tied the bag with one hand while holding the pipe in the other. He picked up a small clay dish, handed it to me, and asked me to get some small charcoals from the fire outside. I went to the back of the house and scooped a bunch of charcoals from the adobe stove. I hurried back to his room. I felt deep anxiety. It was like a premonition.

I sat next to don Juan and gave him the dish. He looked at it and calmly said the charcoals were too big. He wanted smaller ones that would fit inside the pipe bowl. I went back to the stove and got some. He took the new dish of charcoals and put it before him. He was sitting with his legs crossed and tucked under him. He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and leaned forward until his chin nearly touched the charcoals. He held the pipe in his left hand, and with an extremely swift movement of his right hand picked up a burning piece of charcoal and put it into the bowl of the pipe; then he sat up straight and, holding the pipe with both hands, put it to his mouth and puffed three times. He stretched his arms to me and told me in a forceful whisper to take the pipe with both hands and smoke.

The thought of refusing the pipe and running away crossed my mind for an instant; but don Juan demanded again – still in a whisper – that I take the pipe and smoke. I looked at him. His eyes were fixed on me. But his stare was friendly, concerned. It was clear that I had made the choice a long time before; there was no alternative but to do what he said.

I took the pipe and nearly dropped it. It was hot! I put it to my mouth with extreme care because I imagined its heat would be intolerable on my lips. But I felt no heat at all.

Don Juan told me to inhale. The smoke flowed into my mouth, and seemed to circulate there. It was heavy! I felt as though I had a mouthful of dough. The simile occurred to me although I had never had a mouthful of dough. The smoke was also like menthol, and the inside of my mouth suddenly became cold. It was a refreshing sensation. “Again! Again!” I heard don Juan whispering. I felt the smoke seep inside my body freely, almost without my control. I needed no more urging from don Juan. Mechanically I kept inhaling.

Suddenly don Juan leaned over and took the pipe from my hands. He tapped the ashes gently on the dish with the charcoals, then he wet his finger with saliva and rotated it inside the bowl to clean its sides. He blew through the stem repeatedly. I saw him put the pipe back into its sheath. His actions held my interest.

When he had finished cleaning the pipe and putting it away, he stared at me, and I realized for the first time that my whole body was numb, mentholated. My face felt heavy and my jaws hurt. I could not keep my mouth closed, but there was no saliva flow. My mouth was burning dry, and yet I was not thirsty. I began to sense an unusual heat all over my head. A cold heat! My breath seemed to cut my nostrils and upper lip every time I exhaled. But it didn’t burn; it hurt like a piece of ice.

Don Juan sat next to me, to my right, and without moving held the pipe sheath against the floor as though keeping it down by force. My hands were heavy. My arms sagged, pulling my shoulders down. My nose was running. I wiped it with the back of my hand, and my upper lip was rubbed off! I wiped my face, and all the flesh was wiped off! I was melting! I felt as if my flesh was actually melting. I jumped to my feet and tried to grab hold of something – anything – with which to support myself. I was experiencing a terror I had never felt


before. I held onto a pole that don Juan keeps stuck on the floor in the centre of his room. I stood there for a moment, then I turned to look at him. He was still sitting motionless, holding his pipe, staring at me. My breath was painfully hot (or cold?). It was choking me. I bent my head forward to rest it on the pole, but apparently I missed it, and my head kept on moving downward beyond the point where the pole was. I stopped when I was nearly down to the floor. I pulled myself up. The pole was there in front of my eyes! I tried again to rest my head on it. I tried to control myself and to be aware, and kept my eyes open as I leaned forward to touch the pole with my forehead. It was a few inches from my eyes, but as I put my head against it I had the queerest feeling that I was going right through it.

In a desperate search for a rational explanation I concluded that my eyes were distorting depth, and that the pole must have been ten feet away, even though I saw it directly in front of my face. I then conceived a logical, rational way to check the position of the pole. I began moving sideways around it, one little step at a time. My argument was that in walking around the pole in that way I couldn’t possibly make a circle more than five feet in diameter; if the pole was really ten feet away from me, or beyond my reach, a moment would come when I would have my back to it. I trusted that at that moment the pole would vanish, because in reality it would be behind me.

I then proceeded to circle the pole, but it remained in front of my eyes as I went around it. In a fit of frustration I grabbed it with both hands, but my hands went through it. I was grabbing the air. I carefully calculated the distance between the pole and myself. I figured it must be three feet. That is, my eyes perceived it as three feet. I played for a moment with the perception of depth by moving my head from one side to the other, focusing each eye in turn on the pole and then on the background. According to my way of judging depth, the pole was unmistakably before me, possibly three feet away. Stretching out my arms to protect my head, I charged with all my strength. The sensation was the same – I went through the pole. This time I went all the way to the floor. I stood up again. And standing up was perhaps the most unusual of all the acts I performed that night. I thought myself up! In order to get up I did not use my muscles and skeletal frame in the way I am accustomed to doing, because I no longer had control over them. I knew it the instant I hit the ground. But my curiosity about the pole was so strong I “thought myself up” in a kind of reflex action. And before I fully realized I could not move, I was up.

I called to don Juan for help. At one moment I yelled frantically at the top of my voice, but don Juan did not move. He kept on looking at me, sideways, as though he didn’t want to turn his head to face me fully. I took a step toward him, but instead of moving forward I staggered backward and fell against the wall. I knew I had rammed against it with my back, yet it did not feel hard; I was completely suspended in a soft, spongy substance – it was the wall. My arms were stretched out laterally, and slowly my whole body seemed to sink into the wall. I could only look forward into the room. Don Juan was still watching me, but he made no move to help me. I made a supreme effort to jerk my body out of the wall, but it only sank deeper and deeper. In the midst of indescribable terror, I felt that the spongy wall was closing in on my face. I tried to shut my eyes but they were fixed open.

I don’t remember what else happened. Suddenly don Juan was in front of me, a short distance away. We were in the other room. I saw his table and the dirt stove with the fire burning, and with the corner of my eye I distinguished the fence outside the house. I could see everything very clearly. Don Juan had brought the kerosene lantern and hung it from the beam in the middle of the room. I tried to look in a different direction, but my eyes were set to see only straight forward. I couldn’t distinguish, or feel, any part of my body. My breathing was undetectable. But my thoughts were extremely lucid. I was clearly aware of whatever was taking place in front of me. Don Juan walked towards me, and my clarity of mind ended. Something seemed to stop inside me. There were no more thoughts. I saw don Juan coming and I hated him. I wanted to tear him apart. I could have killed him then, but I could not move. At first I vaguely sensed a pressure on my head, but it also disappeared. There was only one thing left – an overwhelming anger at don Juan. I saw him only a few inches from me. I wanted to claw him apart. I felt I was groaning. Something in me began to convulse. I heard don Juan talking to me. His voice was soft and soothing, and, I felt, infinitely pleasing. He came even closer and started to recite a Spanish lullaby.

“Lady Saint Ana, why does the baby cry? For an apple he has lost. I will give you one. I will give you two. 60

One for the boy and one for you [Senora Santa Ana, porque llora el nino? Por una manzana que se le ha perdido. Yo le dare una. Yo le dare dos. Una para el nino y otra para vos]”

A warmth pervaded me. It was a warmth of heart and feelings. Don Juan’s words were a distant echo. They recalled the forgotten memories of childhood.

The violence I had felt before disappeared. The resentment changed into a longing – a joyous affection for don Juan. He said I must struggle not to fall asleep; that I no longer had a body and was free to turn into anything I wanted. He stepped back. My eyes were at a normal level as though I were standing in front of him. He extended both his arms towards me and told me to come inside them.

Either I moved forward, or he came closer to me. His hands were almost on my face – on my eyes, although I did not feel them.

“Get inside my chest,” I heard him say.
I felt I was engulfing him. It was the same sensation of the sponginess of the wall.
Then I could hear only his voice commanding me to look and see. I could not distinguish him any more. My

eyes were apparently open for I saw flashes of light on a red field; it was as though I was looking at a light through my closed eyelids. Then my thoughts were turned on again. They came back in a fast barrage of images – faces, scenery. Scenes without any coherence popped up and disappeared. It was like a fast dream in which images overlap and change. Then the thoughts began to diminish in number and intensity, and soon they were gone again. There was only an awareness of affection, of being happy. I couldn’t distinguish any shapes or light. All of a sudden I was pulled up. I distinctly felt I was being lifted. And I was free, moving with tremendous lightness and speed in water or air. I swam like an eel; I contorted and twisted and soared up and down at will. I felt a cold wind blowing all around me, and I began to float like a feather back and forth, down, and down, and down.

Saturday, 28 December 1963

I woke up yesterday late in the afternoon. Don Juan told me I had slept peacefully for nearly two days. I had a splitting headache. I drank some water and got sick. I felt tired, extremely tired, and after eating I went back to sleep.

Today I felt perfectly relaxed again. Don Juan and I talked about my experience with the little smoke. Thinking that he wanted me to tell the whole story the way I always did, I began to describe my impressions, but he stopped me and said it was not necessary. He told me I had really not done anything, and that I had fallen asleep right away, so there was nothing to talk about.

“How about the way I felt? Isn’t that important at all?” I insisted.

“No, not with the smoke. Later on, when you learn how to travel, we will talk; when you learn how to get into things.”

“Does one really get into things?”
“Don’t you remember? You went into and through that wall.”
“I think I really went out of my mind.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Did you behave the same way I did when you smoked for the first time, don Juan ?”
“No, it wasn’t the same. We have different characters.”
“How did you behave?”
Don Juan did not answer. I rephrased the question and asked it again. But he said he did not remember his

experiences, and that my question was comparable to asking a fisherman how he felt the first time he fished.
He said the smoke as an ally was unique, and I reminded him that he had also said Mescalito was unique. He

argued that each was unique, but that they differed in quality.
“Mescalito is a protector because he talks to you and can guide your acts,” he said. “Mescalito teaches the

right way to live. And you can see him because he is outside you. The smoke, on the other hand, is an ally. It transforms you and gives you power without ever showing its presence. You can’t talk to it. But you know it exists because it takes your body away and makes you as light as air. Yet you never see it. But it is there giving


you power to accomplish unimaginable things, such as when it takes your body away.” “I really felt I had lost my body, don Juan.”
“You did.”
“You mean, I really didn’t have a body?”

“What do you think yourself?”
“Well, I don’t know. All I can tell you is what I felt.”
“That is all there is in reality – what you felt.”
“But how did you see me, don Juan? How did I appear to you?”
“How I saw you does not matter. It is like the time when you grabbed the pole. You felt it was not there and

you went around it to make sure it was there. But when you jumped at it you felt again that it was not really there.”

“But you saw me as I am now, didn’t you?”
“No! You were NOT as you are now!”
“True! I admit that. But I had my body, didn’t I, although I couldn’t feel it?”
“No! Goddammit! You did not have a body like the body you have today!”
“What happened to my body then?”
“I thought you understood. The little smoke took your body.”
“But where did it go?”
“How in hell do you expect me to know that?”
It was useless to persist in trying to get a “rational” explanation. I told him I did not want to argue or to ask

stupid questions, but if I accepted the idea that it was possible to lose my body I would lose all my rationality. He said that I was exaggerating, as usual, and that I did not, nor was I going to, lose anything because of the

little smoke.

Tuesday, 28 January 1964

I asked don Juan what he thought of the idea of giving the smoke to anyone who wanted the experience.

He indignantly replied that to give the smoke to anyone would be just the same as killing him, for he would have no one to guide him. I asked don Juan to explain what he meant. He said I was there, alive and talking to him, because he had brought me back. He had restored my body. Without him I would never have awakened.

“How did you restore my body, don Juan?”

“You will learn that later, but you will have to learn to do it all by yourself. That is the reason I want you to learn as much as you can while I am still around. You have wasted enough time asking stupid questions about nonsense. But perhaps it is not in your destiny to learn all about the little smoke.”

“Well, what shall I do, then?”
“Let the smoke teach you as much as you can learn.”
“Does the smoke also teach?”
“Of course it teaches.”
“Does it teach as Mescalito does?”
“No, it is not a teacher as Mescalito is. It does not show the same things.”
“But what does the smoke teach, then?”
“It shows you how to handle its power, and to learn that you must take it as many times as you can.” “Your ally is very frightening, don Juan. It was unlike anything I ever experienced before. I thought I had

lost my mind.”
For some reason this was the most poignant image that came to my mind. I viewed the total event from the

peculiar stand of having had other hallucinogenic experiences from which to draw a comparison, and the only thing that occurred to me, over and over again, was that with the smoke one loses one’s mind.

Don Juan discarded my simile, saying that what I felt was its unimaginable power. And to handle that power, he said, one has to live a strong life. The idea of the strong life not only pertains to the preparation period, but also entails the attitude of the man after the experience. He said the smoke is so strong one can match it only with strength; otherwise, one’s life would be shattered to bits.


I asked him if the smoke had the same effect on everyone. He said it produced a transformation, but not in everyone.

“Then, what is the special reason the smoke produced the transformation in me?” I asked.

“That, I think, is a very silly question. You have followed obediently every step required. It is no mystery that the smoke transformed you.”

I asked him again to tell me about my appearance. I wanted to know how I looked, for the image of a bodiless being he had planted in my mind was understandably unbearable.

He said that to tell the truth he was afraid to look at me; he felt the same way his benefactor must have felt when he saw don Juan smoking for the first time.

“Why were you afraid ? Was I that frightening ?” I asked. “I had never seen anyone smoking before.”
“Didn’t you see your benefactor smoke?”

“You have never seen even yourself?”
“How could I?”
“You could smoke in front of a mirror.”
He did not answer, but stared at me and shook his head. I asked him again if it was possible to look into a

mirror. He said it would be possible, although it would be useless because one would probably die of fright, if of nothing else.

I said, “Then one must look frightful.”

“I have wondered all my life about the same thing,” he said. “Yet I did not ask, nor did I look into a mirror. I did not even think of that.”

“How can I find out then?”

“You will have to wait, the same way I did, until you give the smoke to someone else – if you ever master it, of course. Then you will see how a man looks. That is the rule.”

“What would happen if I smoked in front of a camera and took a picture of myself?”

“I don’t know. The smoke would probably turn against you. But I suppose you find it so harmless you feel you can play with it.”

I told him I did not mean to play, but that he had told me before that the smoke did not require steps, and I thought there would be no harm in wanting to know how one looked. He corrected me, saying that he had meant there was no necessity to follow a specific order, as there is with the devil’s weed; all that was needed with the smoke was the proper attitude, he said. From that point of view one had to be exact in following the rule. He gave me an example, explaining that it did not matter what ingredient for the mixture was picked first, so long as the amount was correct.

I asked if there would be any harm in my telling others about my experience. He replied that the only secrets never to be revealed were how to make the mixture, how to move around, and how to return; other matters concerning the subject were of no importance.


Chapter 8

My last encounter with Mescalito was a cluster of four sessions which took place within four consecutive days. Don Juan called this long session a mitote. It was a peyote ceremony for peyoteros and apprentices. There were two older men, about don Juan’s age, one of whom was the leader, and five younger men including myself.

The ceremony took place in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, near the Texas border. It consisted of singing and of ingesting peyote during the night. In the daytime women attendants, who stayed outside the confines of the ceremony site, supplied each man with water, and only a token of ritual food was consumed each day.

Saturday, 12 September 1964

During the first night of the ceremony, Thursday 3 September, I took eight peyote buttons. They had no effect on me, or if they did, it was a very slight one. I kept my eyes closed most of the night. I felt much better that way. I did not fall asleep, nor was I tired. At the very end of the session the singing became extraordinary. For a brief moment I felt uplifted and wanted to weep, but as the song ended the feeling vanished.

We all got up and went outside. The women gave us water. Some of the men gargled it; others drank it. The men did not talk at all, but the women chatted and giggled all day long. The ritual food was served at midday. It was cooked corn.

At sundown on Friday 4 September, the second session began. The leader sang his peyote song, and the cycle of songs and intake of peyote buttons began once again. It ended in the morning with each man singing his own song, in unison with the others.

When I went out I did not see as many women as had been there the day before. Someone gave me water, but I was no longer concerned with my surroundings. I had ingested eight buttons again, but the effect had been different.

It must have been towards the end of the session that the singing was greatly accelerated, with everybody singing at once. I perceived that something or somebody outside the house wanted to come in. I couldn’t tell whether the singing was done to prevent “it” from bursting in, or to lure it inside.

I was the only one who did not have a song. They all seemed to look at me questioningly, especially the young men. I grew embarrassed and closed my eyes.

Then I realized I could perceive what was going on much better if I kept my eyes closed. This idea held my undivided attention. I closed my eyes, and saw the men in front of me. I opened my eyes, and the image was unchanged. The surroundings were exactly the same for me, whether my eyes were open or closed.

Suddenly everything vanished, or crumbled, and there emerged in its place the manlike figure of Mescalito I had seen two years before. He was sitting some distance away with his profile towards me. I stared fixedly at him, but he did not look at me; not once did he turn.

I believed I was doing something wrong, something that kept him away. I got up and walked towards him to ask him about it. But the act of moving dispelled the image. It began to fade, and the figures of the men I was with were superimposed upon it. Again I heard the loud, frantic singing.

I went into the nearby bushes and walked for a while. Everything stood out very clearly. I noticed I was seeing in the darkness, but it mattered very little this time. The important point was, why did Mescalito avoid me?

I returned to join the group, and as I was about to enter the house I heard a heavy rumbling and felt a tremor. The ground shook. It was the same noise I had heard in the peyote valley two years before.

I ran into the bushes again. I knew that Mescalito was there, and that I was going to find him. But he was not there. I waited until morning, and joined the others just before the session ended.

The usual procedure was repeated on the third day. I was not tired, but I slept during the afternoon.

In the evening of Saturday 5 September, the old man sang his peyote song to start the cycle once more. During this session I chewed only one button and did not listen to any of the songs, nor did I pay attention to anything that went on. From the first moment my whole being was uniquely concentrated on one point. I knew something terribly important for my well-being was missing.

While the men sang I asked Mescalito, in a loud voice, to teach me a song. My pleading mingled with the 64

men’s loud singing. Immediately I heard a song in my ears. I turned around and sat with my back to the group and listened. I heard the words and the tune over and over, and I repeated them until I had learned the whole song. It was a long song in Spanish. Then I sang it to the group several times. And soon afterwards a new song came to my ears. By morning I had sung both songs countless times. I felt I had been renewed, fortified.

After the water was given to us, don Juan gave me a bag, and we all went into the hills. It was a long, strenuous walk to a low mesa. There I saw several peyote plants. But for some reason I did not want to look at them. After we had crossed the mesa, the group broke up. Don Juan and I walked back, collecting peyote buttons just as we had done the first time I helped him.

We returned in the late afternoon of Sunday 6 September. In the evening the leader opened the cycle again. Nobody had said a word but I knew perfectly well it was the last gathering. This time the old man sang a new song. A sack with fresh peyote buttons was passed around. This was the first time I had tasted a fresh button. It was pulpy but hard to chew. It resembled a hard, green fruit, and was sharper and more bitter than the dried buttons. Personally, I found the fresh peyote infinitely more alive.

I chewed fourteen buttons. I counted them carefully. I did not finish the last one, for I heard the familiar rumble that marked the presence of Mescalito. Everybody sang frantically, and I knew that don Juan, and everybody else, had actually heard the noise. I refused to think that their reaction was a response to a cue given by one of them merely to deceive me.

At that moment I felt a great surge of wisdom engulfing me. A conjecture I had played with for three years turned then into a certainty. It had taken me three years to realize, or rather to find out, that whatever is contained in the cactus Lophophora williamsii had nothing to do with me in order to exist as an entity; it existed by itself out there, at large. I knew it then.

I sang feverishly until I could no longer voice the words. I felt as if my songs were inside my body, shaking me uncontrollably. I needed to go out and find Mescalito, or I would explode. I walked towards the peyote field. I kept on singing my songs. I knew they were individually mine – the unquestionable proof of my singleness. I sensed each one of my steps. They resounded on the ground; their echo produced the indescribable euphoria of being a man.

Each one of the peyote plants on the field shone with a bluish, scintillating light. One plant had a very bright light. I sat in front of it and sang my songs to it. As I sang Mescalito came out of the plant – the same manlike figure I had seen before. He looked at me. With great audacity, for a person of my temperament, I sang to him. There was a sound of flutes, or of wind, a familiar musical vibration. He seemed to have said, as he had two years before, “What do you want?”

I spoke very loudly. I said that I knew there was something amiss in my life and in my actions, but I could not find out what it was. I begged him to tell me what was wrong with me, and also to tell me his name so that I could call him when I needed him. He looked at me, elongated his mouth like a trumpet until it reached my ear, and then told me his name.

Suddenly I saw my own father standing in the middle of the peyote field; but the field had vanished and the scene was my old home, the home of my childhood. My father and I were standing by a fig tree. I embraced my father and hurriedly began to tell him things I had never before been able to say. Every one of my thoughts was concise and to the point. It was as if we had no time, really, and I had to say everything at once. I said staggering things about my feelings towards him, things I would never have been able to voice under ordinary circumstances.

My father did not speak. He just listened and then was pulled, or sucked, away. I was alone again. I wept with remorse and sadness.

I walked through the peyote field calling the name Mescalito had taught me. Something emerged from a strange, starlike light on a peyote plant. It was a long shiny object – a stick of light the size of a man. For a moment it illuminated the whole field with an intense yellowish or amber light; then it lit up the whole sky above, creating a portentous, marvellous sight. I thought I would go blind if I kept on looking; I covered my eyes and buried my head in my arms.

I had a clear notion that Mescalito told me to eat one more peyote button. I thought, “I can’t do that because I have no knife to cut it.”

“Eat one from the ground,” he said to me in the same strange way. 65

I lay on my stomach and chewed the top of a plant. It kindled me. It filled every corner of my body with warmth and directness. Everything was alive. Everything had exquisite and intricate detail, and yet everything was so simple. I was everywhere; I could see up and down and around, all at the same time.

This particular feeling lasted long enough for me to become aware of it. Then it changed into an oppressive terror, terror that did not come upon me abruptly, but somehow swiftly. At first my marvelous world of silence was jolted by sharp noises, but I was not concerned. Then the noises became louder and were uninterrupted, as if they were closing in on me. And gradually I lost the feeling of floating in a world undifferentiated, indifferent, and beautiful. The noises became gigantic steps. Something enormous was breathing and moving around me. I believed it was hunting for me.

I ran and hid under a boulder, and tried to determine from there what was following me. At one moment I crept out of my hiding place to look, and whoever was my pursuer came upon me. It was like sea kelp. It threw itself on me. I thought its weight was going to crush me, but I found myself inside a pipe or a cavity. I clearly saw that the kelp had not covered all the ground surface around me. There remained a bit of free ground underneath the boulder. I began to crawl underneath it. I saw huge drops of liquid falling from the kelp. I “knew” it was secreting digestive acid in order to dissolve me. A drop fell on my arm; I tried to rub off the acid with dirt, and applied saliva to it as I kept on digging. At one point I was almost vaporous. I was being pushed up towards a light. I thought the kelp had dissolved me. I vaguely detected a light which grew brighter; it was pushing from under the ground until finally it erupted into what I recognized as the sun coming out from behind the mountains.

Slowly I began to regain my usual sensorial processes. I lay on my stomach with my chin on my folded arm. The peyote plant in front of me began to light up again, and before I could move my eyes the long light emerged again. It hovered over me. I sat up. The light touched my whole body with quiet strength, and then rolled away out of sight.

I ran all the way to the place where the other men were. We all returned to town. Don Juan and I stayed one more day with don Roberto, the peyote leader. I slept all the time we were there. When we were about to leave, the young men who had taken part in the peyote sessions came up to me. They embraced me one by one, and laughed shyly. Each one of them introduced himself. I talked with them for hours about everything except the peyote meetings.

Don Juan said it was time to leave. The young men embraced me again. “Come back,” one of them said.
“We are already waiting for you,” another one added.
I drove away slowly trying to see the older men, but none of them was there.

Thursday, 10 September 1964

To tell don Juan about an experience always forced me to recall it step by step, to the best of my ability. This seemed to be the only way to remember everything.

Today I told him the details of my last encounter with Mescalito. He listened to my story attentively up to the point when Mescalito told me his name. Don Juan interrupted me there.

“You are on your own now,” he said. “The protector has accepted you. I will be of very little help to you from now on. You don’t have to tell me anything more about your relationship with him. You know his name now; and neither his name, nor his dealings with you, should ever be mentioned to a living being.”

I insisted that I wanted to tell him all the details of the experience, because it made no sense to me. I told him I needed his assistance to interpret what I had seen. He said I could do that by myself, that it was better for me to start thinking on my own. I argued that I was interested in hearing his opinions because it would take me too long to arrive at my own, and I did not know how to proceed.

I said, “Take the songs for instance. What do they mean?”

“Only you can decide that,” he said. “How could I know what they mean? The protector alone can tell you that, just as he alone can teach you his songs. If I were to tell you what they mean, it would be the same as if you learned someone else’s songs.”

“What do you mean by that, don Juan ?”


“You can tell who are the phonies by listening to people singing the protector’s songs. Only the songs with soul are his and were taught by him. The others are copies of other men’s songs. People are sometimes as deceitful as that. They sing someone else’s songs without even knowing what the songs say.”

I said that I had meant to ask for what purpose the songs were used. He answered that the songs I had learned were for calling the protector, and that I should always use them in conjunction with his name to call him. Later Mescalito would probably teach me other songs for other purposes, don Juan said.

I asked him then if he thought the protector had accepted me fully. He laughed as if my question were foolish. He said the protector had accepted me and had made sure I knew that he had accepted me by showing himself to me as a light, twice. Don Juan seemed to be very impressed by the fact that I had seen the light twice. He emphasized that aspect of my encounter with Mescalito.

I told him I could not understand how it was possible to be accepted by the protector, yet terrified by him at the same time.

He did not answer for a very long time. He seemed bewildered. Finally he said, “It is so clear. What he wanted is so clear that I don’t see how you can misunderstand.”

“Everything is still incomprehensible to me, don Juan.”

“It takes time really to see and understand what Mescalito means; you should think about his lessons until they become clear.”

Friday, 11 September 1964

Again I insisted upon having don Juan interpret my visionary experiences. He stalled for a while. Then he spoke as if we had already been carrying on a conversation about Mescalito.

“Do you see how stupid it is to ask if he is like a person you can talk to?” don Juan said. “He is like nothing you have ever seen. He is like a man, but at the same time he is not at all like one. It is difficult to explain that to people who know nothing about him and want to know everything about him all at once. And then, his lessons are as mysterious as he is himself. No man, to my knowledge, can predict his acts. You ask him a question and he shows you the way, but he does not tell you about it in the same manner you and I talk to each other. Do you understand now what he does?”

“I don’t think I have trouble understanding that. What I can’t figure out is his meaning.”

“You asked him to tell you what’s wrong with you, and he gave you the full picture. There can be no mistake! You can’t claim you did not understand. It was not conversation – and yet it was. Then you asked him another question, and he answered you in exactly the same manner. As to what he meant, I am not sure I understand it, because you chose not to tell me what your question was.”

I repeated very carefully the questions I remembered having asked; I put them in the order in which I had voiced them: “Am I doing the right thing? Am I on the right path? What should I do with my life?”

Don Juan said the questions I had asked were only words; it was better not to voice the questions, but to ask them from within. He told me the protector meant to give me a lesson; and to prove that he meant to give me a lesson and not to scare me away, he showed himself as a light twice.

I said I still could not understand why Mescalito terrorized me if he had accepted me. I reminded don Juan that, according to his statements, to be accepted by Mescalito implied that his form was constant and did not shift from bliss to nightmare. Don Juan laughed at me again and said that if I would think about the question I had had in my heart when I talked to Mescalito, then I myself would understand the lesson.

To think about the question I had had in my “heart” was a difficult problem. I told don Juan I had had many things in mind. When I asked if I was on the right path, I meant: Do I have one foot in each of two worlds? Which world is the right one? What course should my life take?

Don Juan listened to my explanations and concluded that I did not have a clear view of the world, and that the protector had given me a beautifully clear lesson.

He said, “You think there are two worlds for you – two paths. But there is only one. The protector showed you this with unbelievable clarity. The only world available to you is the world of men, and that world you cannot choose to leave. You are a man! The protector showed you the world of happiness where there is no difference between things because there is no one there to ask about the difference. But that is not the world of


men. The protector shook you out of it and showed you how a man thinks and fights. That is the world of man! And to be a man is to be condemned to that world. You have the vanity to believe you live in two worlds, but that is only your vanity. There is but one single world for us. We are men, and must follow the world of men contentedly. I believe that was the lesson.”


Chapter 9

Don Juan seemed to want me to work with the devil’s weed as much as possible. This stand was incongruous with his alleged dislike of the power. He explained himself by saying that the time when I had to smoke again was near, and by then I ought to have developed a better knowledge of the power of the devil’s weed.

He suggested repeatedly that I should at least test the devil’s weed with one more sorcery with the lizards. I played with the idea for a long time. Don Juan’s urgency increased dramatically until I felt obliged to heed his demand. And one day I made up my mind to divine about some stolen objects.

Monday, 28 December 1964

On Saturday 19 December I cut the Datura root. I waited until it was fairly dark to do my dancing around the plant. I prepared the root extract during the night and on Sunday, about 6:00 a.m., I went to the site of my Datura. I sat in front of the plant. I had taken careful notes on don Juan’s teachings about the procedure. I read my notes again, and realized I did riot have to grind the seeds there. Somehow just being in front of the plant gave me a rare kind of emotional stability, a clarity of thought or a power to concentrate on my actions which I ordinarily lacked.

I followed all the instructions meticulously, calculating my time so that the paste and the root were ready by late afternoon. About five o’clock I was busy trying to catch a pair of lizards. For an hour and a half I tried every method I could think of, but I failed in every attempt.

I was sitting in front of the Datura plant trying to figure out an expedient way of accomplishing my purpose when I suddenly remembered that don Juan had said the lizards had to be talked to. At first I felt ludicrous talking to the lizards. It was like being embarrassed by talking in front of an audience. The feeling soon vanished and I went on talking. It was almost dark. I lifted a rock. A lizard was under it. It had the appearance of being numb. I picked it up. And then I saw that there was another stiff lizard under another rock. They did not even wriggle.

The sewing of the mouth and eyes was the most difficult task. I noticed that don Juan had imparted a sense of irrevocability to my acts. His stand was that when a man begins an act there is no way to stop. If I had wanted to stop, however, there was nothing to prevent me. Perhaps I did not want to stop.

I set one lizard free and it went in a northeasterly direction — the omen of a good, but difficult, experience. I tied the other lizard to my shoulder and smeared my temples as prescribed. The lizard was stiff; for a moment I thought it had died, and don Juan had never told me what to do if that happened. But the lizard was only numb.

I drank the potion and waited awhile. I felt nothing out of the ordinary. I began rubbing the paste on my temples. I applied it twenty-five times. Then quite mechanically, as if I were absentminded, I spread it repeatedly all over my forehead. I realized my mistake and hurriedly wiped the paste off. My forehead was sweaty; I became feverish. Intense anxiety gripped me, for don Juan had strongly advised me not to rub the paste on my forehead. The fear changed into a feeling of absolute loneliness, a feeling of being doomed. I was there by myself. If something harmful was going to happen to me, there was no one there to help me. I wanted to run away. I had an alarming sensation of indecision, of not knowing what to do. A flood of thoughts rushed into my mind, flashing with extraordinary speed. I noticed that they were rather strange thoughts; that is, they were strange in the sense that they seemed to come in a different way from ordinary thoughts. I am familiar with the way I think. My thoughts have a definite order that is my own, and any deviation is noticeable.

One of the alien thoughts was about a statement made by an author. It was, I vaguely remember, more like a voice, or something said somewhere in the background. It happened so fast that it startled me. I paused to consider it, but it changed into an ordinary thought. I was certain I had read the statement, but I could not think of the author’s name. I suddenly remembered that it was Alfred Kroeber. Then another alien thought popped up and “said” that it was not Kroeber, but Georg Simmel, who had made the statement. I insisted that it was Kroeber, and the next thing I knew I was in the midst of an argument with myself. And had forgotten about my feeling of being doomed.

My eyelids were heavy, as though I had taking sleeping pills. Although I had never taken any, it was the image that came to my mind. I was falling asleep. I wanted to go to my car and crawl in, but I couldn’t move.


Then, quite suddenly, I woke up, or rather, clearly felt that I had. My first thought was about the time of day. I looked around. I was not in front of the Datura plant. Nonchalantly I accepted the fact that I was undergoing another divinatory experience. It was 12:35 by a clock above my head. I knew it was afternoon.

I saw a young man carrying a stack of papers. I was nearly touching him. I saw the veins of his neck pulsating and heard the fast beating of his heart. I had become absorbed in what I was seeing and had not been aware, so far, of the quality of my thoughts. Then I heard a “voice” in my ear describing the scene, and I realized that the “voice” was the alien thought in my mind.

I became so engrossed in listening that the scene lost its visual interest for me. I heard the voice at my right ear above my shoulder. It actually created the scene by describing it. But it obeyed my will, because I could stop it at any time and examine the details of what it said at my leisure. I “heard-saw” the entire sequence of the young man’s actions. The voice went on explaining them in minute detail, but somehow the action was not important. The little voice was the extraordinary issue. Three times during the course of the experience I tried to turn around to see who was talking. I tried to turn my head all the way to the right, or just whirl around unexpectedly to see if somebody was there. But every time I did it, my vision became blurry. I thought: “The reason I cannot turn around is because the scene is not in the realm of ordinary reality.” And that thought was my own.

From then on I concentrated my attention on the voice alone. It seemed to come from my shoulder. It was perfectly clear, although it was a small voice. It was, however, not a child’s voice or a falsetto voice, but a miniature man’s voice. It wasn’t my voice either. I presumed it was English that I heard. Whenever I tried deliberately to trap the voice, it subsided altogether or became vague and the scene faded. I thought of a simile. The voice was like the image created by dust particles in the eyelashes, or the blood vessels in the cornea of the eye, a wormlike shape that can be seen as long as one is not looking at it directly; but the moment one tries to look at it, it shifts out of sight with the movement of the eyeball.

I became totally disinterested in the action. As I listened the voice became more complex. What I thought to be a voice was more like something whispering thoughts into my ear. But that was not accurate. Something was thinking for me. The thoughts were outside myself. I knew that was so, because I could hold my own thoughts and the thoughts of the “other” at the same time.

At one point the voice created scenes acted out by the young man, which had nothing to do with my original question about the lost objects. The young man performed very complex acts. The action had become important again and I paid no more attention to the voice. I began to lose patience; I wanted to stop. “How can I end this?” I thought. The voice in my ear said I should go back to the canyon. I asked how, and the voice answered that I should think of my plant.

I thought of my plant. Usually I sat in front of it. I had done it so many times that it was quite easy for me to visualize it. I believed that seeing it, as I did at that moment, was another hallucination, but the voice said I was “back”! I strained to listen. There was only silence. The Datura plant in front of me seemed as real as everything else I had seen, but I could touch it, I could move around.

I stood up and walked towards my car. The effort exhausted me, and I sat down and closed my eyes. I felt dizzy and wanted to vomit. There was a buzzing in my ears.

Something slid on my chest. It was the lizard. I remembered don Juan’s admonition about setting it free. I went back to the plant and untied the lizard. I did not want to see whether it was dead or alive. I broke the clay pot with the paste and kicked some dirt over it. I got into my car and fell asleep.

Thursday, 24 December 1964

Today I narrated the whole experience to don Juan. As usual, he listened without interrupting me. At the end we had the following dialogue.

“You did something very wrong.”
“I know it. It was a very stupid error, an accident.”
“There are no accidents when you deal with the devil’s weed. I told you she would test you all the way. As I

see it, either you are very strong or the weed really likes you. The centre of the forehead is only for the great brujos who know how to handle her power.”


“What usually happens when a man rubs his forehead with the paste, don Juan?”
“If the man is not a great brujo he will never come back from the journey.”
“Have you ever rubbed the paste on your forehead, don Juan?”
“Never! My benefactor told me very few people return from such a journey. A man could be gone for

months, and would have to be tended by others. My benefactor said the lizards could take a man to the end of the world and show him the most marvelous secrets upon request.”

“Do you know anybody who has ever taken that journey?”
“Yes, my benefactor. But he never taught me how to return.”
“Is it so very difficult to return, don Juan?”
“Yes. That is why your act is truly astonishing to me. You had no steps to follow, and we must follow

certain steps, because it is in the steps where man finds strength. Without them we are nothing.” We remained silent for hours. He seemed to be immersed in very deep deliberation.

Saturday, 26 December 1964

Don Juan asked me if I had looked for the lizards. I told him I had, but that I couldn’t find them. I asked him what would have happened if one of the lizards had died while I was holding it. He said the death of a lizard would be an unfortunate event. If the lizard with the sewed-up mouth had died at any time there would have been no sense in pursuing the sorcery, he said. It would also have meant that the lizards had withdrawn their friendship, and I would have had to give up learning about the devil’s weed for a long time.

“How long, don Juan?” I asked.
“Two years or more.”
“What would have happened if the other lizard had died?”
“If the second lizard had died, you would have been in real danger. You would have been alone, without a

guide. If she died before you started the sorcery, you could have stopped it; but if you had stopped it, you would also have to give up the devil’s weed for good. If the lizard had died while she was on your shoulder, after you had begun the sorcery, you would have had to go ahead with it, and that would truly have been madness.”

“Why would it have been madness?”

“Because under such conditions nothing makes sense. You are alone without a guide, seeing terrifying, nonsensical things.”

“What do you mean by “nonsensical things”?”

“Things we see by ourselves. Things we see when we have no direction. It means the devil’s weed is trying to get rid of you, finally pushing you away.”

“Do you know anyone who ever experienced that?”
“Yes. I did. Without the wisdom of the lizards I went mad.”
“What did you see, don Juan?”
“A bunch of nonsense. What else could I have seen without direction?”

Monday, 28 December 1964

“You told me, don Juan, that the devil’s weed tests men. What did you mean by that?”

“The devil’s weed is like a woman, and like a woman she flatters men. She sets traps for them at every turn. She did it to you when she forced you to rub the paste on your forehead. She will try it again, and you will probably fall for it. I warn you against it. Don’t take her with passion; the devil’s weed is only one path to the secrets of a man of knowledge. There are other paths. But her trap is to make you believe that hers is the only way. I say it is useless to waste your life on one path, especially if that path has no heart.”

“But how do you know when a path has no heart, don Juan?”

“Before you embark on it you ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path.”

“But how will I know for sure whether a path has a heart or not?”
“Anybody would know that. The trouble is nobody asks the question; and when a man finally realizes that he


has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him. At that point very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave the path.”

“How should I proceed to ask the question properly, don Juan?”
“Just ask it.”
“I mean, is there a proper method, so I would not lie to myself and believe the answer is yes when it really is

“Why would you lie?”
“Perhaps because at the moment the path is pleasant and enjoyable.”
“That is nonsense. A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the

other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.”
Don Juan suddenly changed the direction of the conversation and bluntly confronted me with the idea that I

liked the devil’s weed. I had to admit that I had at least a preference for it. He asked me how I felt about his ally, the smoke, and I had to tell him that just the idea of it frightened me out of my senses.

“I have told you that to choose a path you must be free from fear and ambition. But the smoke blinds you with fear, and the devil’s weed blinds you with ambition.”

I argued that one needs ambition even to embark on any path, and that his statement that one had to be free from ambition did not make sense. A person has to have ambition in order to learn.

“The desire to learn is not ambition,” he said. “It is our lot as men to want to know, but to seek the devil’s weed is to bid for power, and that is ambition, because you are not bidding to know. Don’t let the devil’s weed blind you. She has hooked you already. She entices men and gives them a sense of power; she makes them feel they can do things that no ordinary man can. But that is her trap. And, the next thing, the path without a heart will turn against men and destroy them. It does not take much to die, and to seek death is to seek nothing.”


Chapter 10

In the month of December 1964 don Juan and I went to collect the different plants needed to make the smoking mixture. It was the fourth cycle. Don Juan merely supervised my actions. He urged me to take time, to watch, and to deliberate before I picked any of the plants. As soon as the ingredients had been gathered and stored, he prompted me to meet with his ally again.

Thursday, 31 December 1964

“Now that you know a bit more about the devil’s weed and the smoke, you can tell more clearly which of the two you like better,” don Juan said.

“The smoke really terrifies me, don Juan. I don’t know exactly why, but I don’t have a good feeling about it.”

“You like flattery, and the devil’s weed flatters you. Like a woman, she makes you feel good. The smoke, on the other hand, is the most noble power; he has the purest heart. He does not entice men or make them prisoners, nor does he love or hate. All he requires is strength. The devil’s weed also requires strength, but of a different kind. It is closer to being virile with women. On the other hand, the strength required by the smoke is strength of the heart. You don’t have that! But very few men have it. That is why I recommend that you learn more about the smoke. He reinforces the heart. He is not like the devil’s weed, full of passions, jealousies, and violence. The smoke is constant. You don’t have to worry about forgetting something along the line.”

Wednesday, 27 January 1965

On Tuesday 19 January, I smoked again the hallucinogenic mixture. I had told don Juan I felt very apprehensive about the smoke, and that it frightened me. He said I had to try it again to evaluate it with justice.

We walked into his room. It was almost two o’clock in the afternoon. He brought out the pipe. I got the charcoals, then we sat facing each other. He said he was going to warm up the pipe and awaken her, and if I watched carefully I would see how she glowed. He put the pipe to his lips three or four times, and sucked through it. He rubbed it tenderly. Suddenly he nodded, almost imperceptibly, to signal me to look at the pipe’s awakening. I looked, but I couldn’t see it.

He handed the pipe to me. I filled the bowl with my own mixture, and then picked a burning charcoal with a pair of tweezers I had made from a wooden clothespin and had been saving for this occasion. Don Juan looked at my tweezers and began to laugh. I vacillated for a moment, and the charcoal stuck to the tweezers. I was afraid to tap them against the pipe bowl, and I had to spit on the charcoal to put it out.

Don Juan turned his head away and covered his face with his arm. His body shook. For a moment I thought he was crying, but he was laughing silently.

The action was interrupted for a long time; then he swiftly picked up a charcoal himself, put it in the bowl, and ordered me to smoke. It required quite an effort to suck through the mixture; it seemed to be very compact. After the first try I felt I had sucked the fine powder into my mouth. It numbed my mouth immediately. I saw the glow in the bowl, but I never felt the smoke as the smoke of a cigarette is felt. Yet I had the sensation of inhaling something, something that filled my lungs first and then pushed itself down to fill the rest of my body.

I counted twenty inhalations, and then the count did not matter any longer. I began to sweat; don Juan looked at me fixedly and told me not to be afraid and to do exactly as he said. I tried to say “all right”, but instead I made a weird, howling sound. It went on resounding after I had closed my mouth. The sound startled don Juan, who had another attack of laughter. I wanted to say “yes” with my head, but I couldn’t move.

Don Juan opened my hands gently and took the pipe away. He ordered me to lie down on the floor, but not to fall asleep. I wondered if he was going to help me lie down but he did not. He just stared at me uninterruptedly. All of a sudden I saw the room tumbling, and I was looking at don Juan from a position on my side. From that point on the images became strangely blurry, as in a dream. I can vaguely recall hearing don Juan talk to me a great deal during the time I was immobilized.

I did not experience fear, or unpleasantness, during the state itself, nor was I sick upon awakening the next day. The only thing out of the ordinary was that I could not think clearly for some time after waking up. Then


gradually, in a period of four or five hours, I became myself again.

Wednesday, 20 January 1965

Don Juan did not talk about my experience, nor did he ask me to relate it to him. His sole comment was that I had fallen asleep too soon.

“The only way to stay awake is to become a bird, or a cricket, or something of the sort,” he said.
“How do you do that, don Juan?”
“That is what I am teaching you. Do you remember what I said to you yesterday while you were without

your body?”
“I can’t recall clearly.”
“I am a crow. I am teaching you how to become a crow. When you learn that, you will stay awake, and you

will move freely; otherwise you will always be glued to the ground, wherever you fall.”

Sunday, 7 February 1965

My second attempt with the smoke took place about midday on Sunday 31 January. I woke up the following day in the early evening. I had the sensation of possessing an unusual power to recollect whatever don Juan had said to me during the experience. His words were imprinted on my mind. I kept on hearing them with extraordinary clarity and persistence. During this attempt another fact became obvious to me: my entire body had become numb soon after I began to swallow the fine powder, which got into my mouth every time I sucked the pipe. Thus I not only inhaled the smoke, but also ingested the mixture.

I tried to narrate my experience to don Juan; he said I had done nothing important. I mentioned that I could remember everything that had happened, but he did not want to hear about it. Every memory was precise and unmistakable. The smoking procedure had been the same as in the previous attempt. It was almost as if the two experiences were perfectly juxtaposable, and I could start my recollection from the time the first experience ended. I clearly remembered that from the time I fell to the ground on my side I was completely devoid of feeling or thought. Yet my clarity was not impaired in any way. I remember thinking my last thought at about the time the room became a vertical plane: “I must have clunked my head on the floor, yet I don’t feel any pain.”

From that point on I could only see and hear. I could repeat every word don Juan had said. I followed each one of his directions. They seemed clear, logical, and easy. He said that my body was disappearing and only my head was going to remain, and in such a condition the only way to stay awake and move around was by becoming a crow. He commanded me to make an effort to wink, adding that whenever I was capable of winking I would be ready to proceed. Then he told me that my body had vanished completely and all I had was my head; he said the head never disappears because the head is what turns into a crow.

He ordered me to wink. He must have repeated this command, and all his other commands countless times, because I could remember all of them with extraordinary clarity. I must have winked, because he said I was ready and ordered me to straighten up my head and put it on my chin. He said that in the chin were the crow’s legs. He commanded me to feel the legs and observe that they were coming out slowly. He then said that I was not solid yet, that I had to grow a tail, and that the tail would come out of my neck. He ordered me to extend the tail like a fan, and to feel how it swept the floor.

Then he talked about the crow’s wings, and said they would come out of my cheekbones. He said it was hard and painful. He commanded me to unfold them. He said they had to be extremely long, as long as I could stretch them, otherwise I would not be able to fly. He told me the wings were coming out and were long and beautiful, and that I had to flap them until they were real wings.

He talked about the top of my head next and said it was still very large and heavy, and its bulk would prevent my flying. He told me that the way to reduce its size was by winking; with every wink my head would become smaller. He ordered me to wink until the top weight was gone and I could jump freely. Then he told me I had reduced my head to the size of a crow, and that I had to walk around and hop until I had lost my stiffness.

There was one last thing I had to change, he said, before I could fly. It was the most difficult change, and to accomplish it I had to be docile and do exactly as he told me. I had to learn to see like a crow. He said that my


mouth and nose were going to grow between my eyes until I had a strong beak. He said that crows see straight to the side, and commanded me to turn my head and look at him with one eye. He said that if I wanted to change and look with the other eye I had to shake my beak down, and that that movement would make me look through the other eye. He ordered me to shift from one eye to the other. And then he said I was ready to fly, and that the only way to fly was to have him toss me into the air.

I had no difficulty whatsoever eliciting the corresponding sensation to each one of his commands. I had the perception of growing bird’s legs, which were weak and wobbly at first. I felt a tail coming out of the back of my neck and wings out of my cheekbones. The wings were folded deeply. I felt them coming out by degrees. The process was hard but not painful. Then I winked my head down to the size of a crow. But the most astonishing effect was accomplished with my eyes. My bird’s sight!

When don Juan directed me to grow a beak, I had an annoying sensation of lack of air. Then something bulged out and created a block in front of me. But it was not until don Juan directed me to see laterally that my eyes actually were capable of having a full view to the side. I could wink one eye at a time and shift the focusing from one eye to the other. But the sight of the room and all the things in it was not like an ordinary sight. Yet it was impossible to tell in what way it was different. Perhaps it was lopsided, or perhaps things were out of focus. Don Juan became very big and glowy. Something about him was comforting and safe. Then the images blurred; they lost their outlines, and became sharp abstract patterns that flickered for a while.

Sunday, 28 March 1965

On Thursday 18 March I smoked again the hallucinogenic mixture. The initial procedure was different in small details. I had to refill the pipe bowl once. After I had finished the first batch, don Juan directed me to clean the bowl, but he poured the mixture into the bowl himself because I lacked muscular co-ordination. It took a great deal of effort to move my arms. There was enough mixture in my bag for one refill. Don Juan looked at the bag and said this was my last attempt with the smoke until the next year because I had used up all my provisions.

He turned the little bag inside out and shook the dust into the dish that held the charcoals. It burned with an orange glow, as if he had placed a sheet of transparent material over the charcoals. The sheet burst into flame, and then it cracked into an intricate pattern of lines. Something zigzagged inside the lines at high speed. Don Juan told me to look at the movement in the lines. I saw something that looked like a small marble rolling back and forth in the glowing area. He leaned over, put his hand into the glow, picked out the marble, and placed it in the pipe bowl. He ordered me to take a puff. I had a clear impression that he had put the small ball into the pipe so that I would inhale it. In a moment the room lost its horizontal position. I felt a profound numbness, a sensation of heaviness.

When I awakened, I was lying on my back at the bottom of a shallow irrigation ditch, immersed in water up to my chin. Someone was holding my head up. It was don Juan. The first thought I had was that the water in the channel had an unusual quality; it was cold and heavy. It slapped lightly against me, and my thoughts cleared with every movement it made. At first the water had a bright green halo, or fluorescence, which soon dissolved, leaving only a stream of ordinary water.

I asked don Juan about the time of day. He said it was early morning. After a while I was completely awake, and got out of the water.

“You must tell me all you saw,” don Juan said when we got to his house. He also said he had been trying to “bring me back” for three days, and had had a very difficult time doing it.

I made numerous attempts to describe what I had seen, but I could not concentrate. Later on, during the early evening, I felt I was ready to talk with don Juan, and I began to tell him what I remembered from the time I had fallen on my side, but he did not want to hear about it. He said the only interesting part was what I saw and did after he “tossed me into the air and I flew away”.

All I could remember was a series of dreamlike images or scenes. They had no sequential order. I had the impression that each one of them was like an isolated bubble, floating into focus and then moving away. They were not, however, merely scenes to look at. I was inside them. I took part in them. When I tried to recollect them at first, I had the sensation that they were vague, diffused flashes, but as I thought about them I realized that each one of them was extremely clear although totally unrelated to ordinary seeing – hence, the sensation of


vagueness. The images were few and simple.
As soon as don Juan mentioned that he had “tossed me into the air” I had a faint recollection of an absolutely

clear scene in which I was looking straight at him from some distance away. I was looking at his face only. It was monumental in size. It was flat and had an intense glow. His hair was yellowish, and it moved. Each part of his face moved by itself, projecting a sort of amber light.

The next image was one in which don Juan had actually tossed me up, or hurled me, in a straight onward direction. I remember I “extended my wings and flew”. I felt alone, cutting through the air, painfully moving straight ahead. It was more like walking than like flying. It tired my body. There was no feeling of flowing free, no exuberance.

Then I remembered an instant in which I was motionless, looking at a mass of sharp, dark edges set in an area that had a dull, painful light; next I saw a field with an infinite variety of lights. The lights moved and flickered and changed their luminosity. They were almost like colours. Their intensity dazzled me.

At another moment, an object was almost against my eye. It was a thick, pointed object; it had a definite pinkish glow. I felt a sudden tremor somewhere in my body and saw a multitude of similar pink forms coming towards me. They all moved on me. I jumped away.

The last scene I remembered was three silvery birds. They radiated a shiny, metallic light, almost like stainless steel, but intense and moving and alive. I liked them. We flew together.

Don Juan did not make any comments on my recounting.

Tuesday, 23 March 1965

The following conversation took place the next day, after the recounting of my experience.
Don Juan said: “It does not take much to become a crow. You did it and now you will always be one.” “What happened after I became a crow, don Juan? Did I fly for three days?”
“No, you came back at nightfall as I had told you to.”
“But how did I come back?”
“You were very tired and went to sleep. That is all.”
“I mean did I fly back?”
“I have already told you. You obeyed me and came back to the house. But don’t concern yourself with that

matter. It is of no importance.”
“What is important, then?”
“In your whole trip there was only one thing of great value — the silvery birds!”
“What was so special about them? They were just birds.”
“Not just birds – they were crows.”
“Were they white crows, don Juan?”
“The black feathers of a crow are really silvery. The crows shine so intensely that they are not bothered by

other birds.”
“Why did their feathers look silvery?”
“Because you were seeing as a crow sees. A bird that looks dark to us looks white to a crow. The white

pigeons, for instance, are pink or bluish to a crow; seagulls are yellow. Now, try to remember how you joined them.”

I thought about it, but the birds were a dim, disassociated image which had no continuity. I told him I could remember only that I felt I had flown with them. He asked me whether I had joined them in the air or on the ground, but I could not possibly answer that. He became almost angry with me. He demanded that I think about it. He said: “All this will not mean a damn; it will be only a mad dream unless you remember correctly.”

I strained myself to recollect, but I could not.

Saturday, 3 April 1965

Today I thought of another image in my “dream” about the silvery birds. I remembered seeing a dark mass with myriads of pinholes. In fact, the mass was a dark cluster of little holes. I don’t know why I thought it was


soft. As I was looking at it, three birds flew straight at me. One of them made a noise; then all three of them were next to me on the ground.

I described the image to don Juan. He asked me from what direction the birds had come. I said I couldn’t possibly determine that. He became quite impatient and accused me of being inflexible in my thinking. He said I could very well remember if I tried to, and that I was afraid to let myself become less rigid. He said that I was thinking in terms of men and crows, and that I was neither a man nor a crow at the time that I wanted to recollect.

He asked me to remember what the crow had said to me. I tried to think about it, but my mind played on scores of other things instead. I couldn’t concentrate.

Sunday, 4 April 1965

I took a long hike today. It got quite dark before I reached don Juan’s house. I was thinking about the crows when suddenly a very strange “thought” crossed my mind. It was more like an impression or a feeling than a thought. The bird that had made the noise said they were coming from the north and were going south, and when we met again they would be coming the same way.

I told don Juan what I had thought up, or maybe remembered. He said, “Don’t think about whether you remembered it or made it up. Such thoughts fit men only. They do not fit crows, especially those you saw, for they are the emissaries of your fate. You are already a crow. You will never change that. From now on the crows will tell you with their flight about every turn of your fate. In which direction did you fly with them?”

“I couldn’t know that, don Juan!”

“If you think properly you will remember. Sit on the floor and tell me the position in which you were when the birds flew to you. Close your eyes and make a line on the floor.”

I followed his suggestion and determined the point.
“Don’t open your eyes yet!” He proceeded, “In which direction did you all fly in relation to that point?” I made another mark on the ground.
Taking these points of orientation as a reference, don Juan interpreted the different patterns of flight the

crows would observe to foretell my personal future or fate. He set up the four points of the compass as the axis of the crows’ flight.

I asked him whether the crows always followed the cardinal points to tell a man’s fate. He said that the orientation was mine alone; whatever the crows did in my first meeting with them was of crucial importance. He insisted on my recalling every detail, for the message and the pattern of the “emissaries” were an individual, personalized matter.

There was one more thing he insisted I should remember and that was the time of day when the emissaries left me. He asked me to think of the difference in the light around me between the time when I “began to fly” and the time when the silvery birds “flew with me”. When I first had the sensation of painful flight, it was dark. But when I saw the birds, everything was reddish light red, or perhaps orange.

He said: “That means it was late in the day; the sun was not down yet. When it is completely dark a crow is blind with whiteness and not with darkness, the way we are at night. This indication of the time places your last emissaries at the end of the day. They will call you, and as they fly above your head, they will become silvery white; you will see them shining against the sky, and it will mean your time is up. It will mean you are going to die and become a crow yourself.”

“What if I see them during the morning?” “You won’t see them in the morning!” “But crows fly all day.”
“Not your emissaries, you fool!”

“How about your emissaries, don Juan?”

“Mine will come in the morning. There will also be three of them. My benefactor told me that one could shout them back to black if one does not want to die. But now I know it can’t be done. My benefactor was given to shouting, and to all the clatter and violence of the devil’s weed. I know the smoke is different because he has no passion. He is fair. When your silvery emissaries come for you, there is no need to shout at them. Just fly


with them as you have already done. After they have collected you they will reverse directions, and there will be four of them flying away.”

Saturday, 10 April 1965

I had been experiencing brief flashes of disassociation, or shallow states of non-ordinary reality.

One element from the hallucinogenic experience with the mushrooms kept recurring in my thoughts: the soft, dark mass of pinholes. I continued to visualize it as a grease or an oil bubble which began to draw me to its centre. It was almost as if the centre would open up and swallow me, and for very brief moments I experienced something resembling a state of nonordinary reality. As a result I suffered moments of profound agitation, anxiety, and discomfort, and I willfully strove to end the experiences as soon as they began.

Today I discussed this condition with don Juan. I asked for advice. He seemed to be unconcerned and told me to disregard the experiences because they were meaningless, or rather valueless. He said the only experiences worth my effort and concern would be those in which I saw a crow; any other kind of “vision” would be merely the product of my fears. He reminded me again that in order to partake of the smoke it was necessary to lead a strong, quiet life. Personally I seemed to have reached a dangerous threshold. I told him I felt I could not go on; there was something truly frightening about the mushrooms.

In going over the images I recalled from my hallucinogenic experience, I had come to the unavoidable conclusion that I had seen the world in a way that was structurally different from ordinary vision. In other states of non-ordinary reality I had undergone, the forms and the patterns I had visualized were always within the confines of my visual conception of the world. But the sensation of seeing under the influence of the hallucinogenic smoke mixture was not the same. Everything I saw was in front of me in a direct line of vision; nothing was above or below that line of vision.

Every image had an irritating flatness, and yet, disconcertingly, a profound depth. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the images were a conglomerate of unbelievably sharp details set inside fields of different light; the light in the fields moved, creating an effect of rotation.

After probing and exerting myself to remember, I was forced to make a series of analogies or similes in order to “understand” what I had “seen”. Don Juan’s face, for instance, looked as if he had been submerged in water. The water seemed to move in a continuous flow over his face and hair. It so magnified them that I could see every pore in his skin or every hair on his head whenever I focused my vision. On the other hand, I saw masses of matter that were flat and full of edges, but did not move because there was no fluctuation in the light that came from them.

I asked don Juan what were the things that I had seen. He said that because this was the first time I was seeing as a crow the images were not clear or important, and that later on with practice I would be able to recognize everything.

I brought up the issue of the difference I had detected in the movement of light.

“Things that are alive”, he said, “move inside, and a crow can easily see when something is dead, or about to die, because the movement has stopped or is slowing down to a stop. A crow can also tell when something is moving too fast, and by the same token a crow can tell when something is moving just right.”

“What does it mean when something is moving too fast, or just right?”

“It means a crow can actually tell what to avoid and what to seek. When something is moving too fast inside, it means it is about to explode violently, or to leap forward, and a crow will avoid it. When it moves inside just right, it is a pleasing sight and a crow will seek it.”

“Do rocks move inside?”

“No, not rocks or dead animals or dead trees. But they are beautiful to look at. That is why crows hang around dead bodies. They like to look at them. No light moves inside them.”

“But when the flesh rots, doesn’t it change or move?”

“Yes, but that is a different movement. What a crow sees then is millions of things moving inside the flesh with a light of their own, and that is what a crow likes to see. It is truly an unforgettable sight.”

“Have you seen it yourself, don Juan?”
“Anybody who learns to become a crow can see it. You will see it yourself.”


At this point I asked don Juan the unavoidable question.
“Did I really become a crow? I mean would anyone seeing me have thought I was an ordinary crow?”
“No. You can’t think that way when dealing with the power of the allies. Such questions make no sense, and

yet to become a crow is the simplest of all matters. It is almost like frolicking; it has little usefulness. As I have already told you, the smoke is not for those who seek power. It is only for those who crave to see. I learned to become a crow because these birds are the most effective of all. No other birds bother them, except perhaps larger, hungry eagles, but crows fly in groups and can defend themselves. Men don’t bother crows either, and that is an important point. Any man can distinguish a large eagle, especially an unusual eagle, or any other large, unusual bird, but who cares about a crow? A crow is safe. It is ideal in size and nature. It can go safely into any place without attracting attention. On the other hand, it is possible to become a lion or a bear, but that is rather dangerous. Such a creature is too large; it takes too much energy to become one. One can also become a cricket, or a lizard, or even an ant, but that is even more dangerous, because large animals prey on small creatures.”

I argued that what he was saying meant that one really changed into a crow, or a cricket, or anything else. But he insisted I was misunderstanding.

“It takes a very long time to learn to be a proper crow,” he said. “But you did not change, nor did you stop being a man. There is something else.”

“Can you tell me what the something else is, don Juan?”

“Perhaps by now you know it yourself. Maybe if you were not so afraid of becoming mad, or of losing your body, you would understand this marvelous secret. But perhaps you must wait until you lose your fear to understand what I mean.”


Chapter 11

The last event I recorded in my field notes took place in September 1965. It was the last of don Juan’s teachings. I called it “a special state of non-ordinary reality” because it was not the product of any of the plants I had used before. It seemed that don Juan elicited it by means of a careful manipulation of cues about himself; that is to say, he behaved in front of me in so skillful a manner that he created the clear and sustained impression that he was not really himself, but someone impersonating him. As a result I experienced a profound sense of conflict; I wanted to believe it was don Juan, and yet I could not be sure of it. The concomitant of the conflict was a conscious terror, so acute that it impaired my health for several weeks. Afterwards I thought it would have been wise to end my apprenticeship then. I have never been a participant since that time, yet don Juan has not ceased to consider me an apprentice. He has regarded my withdrawal only as a necessary period of recapitulation, another step of learning, which may last indefinitely. Since that time, however, he has never expounded on his knowledge.

I wrote the detailed account of my last experience almost a month after it happened, although I had already written copious notes on its salient points on the following day during the hours of great emotional agitation which preceded the highest point of my terror.

Friday, 29 October 1965

On Thursday 30 September 1965, I went to see don Juan. The brief, shallow states of non-ordinary reality had been persisting in spite of my deliberate attempts to end them, or slough them off as don Juan had suggested. I felt that my condition was getting worse, for the duration of such states was increasing. I became sharply aware of the noise of airplanes. The sound of their motors going overhead would unavoidably catch my attention and fix it, to the point where I felt I was following the plane as if I were inside it, or flying with it. This sensation was very annoying. My inability to shake it off produced a deep anxiety in me.
Don Juan, after listening attentively to all the details, concluded that I was suffering from a loss of soul. I told him I had been having these hallucinations ever since the time I had smoked the mushrooms, but he insisted that they were a new development. He said that earlier I had been afraid, and had just “dreamed nonsensical things”, but that now I was truly bewitched. The proof was that the noise of the flying airplanes could carry me away. Ordinarily, he said, the noise of a brook or a river can trap a bewitched man who has lost his soul and carry him away to his death. He then asked me to describe all my activities during the time prior to experiencing the hallucinations. I listed all the activities I could remember. And from my account he deduced the place where I had lost my soul.

Don Juan seemed to be overly preoccupied, a state that was quite unusual for him. This naturally increased my apprehension. He said he had no definite idea as to who had trapped my soul, but whoever it was intended without doubt to kill me or make me very ill. Then he gave me precise instructions about a “fighting form”, a specific bodily position to be maintained while I remained on my beneficial spot. I had to maintain this posture he called a form [una forma para pelear].

I asked him what all that was for, and whom I was going to fight. He replied that he was going away to see who had taken my soul, and to find out if it was possible to get it back. In the meantime, I was supposed to stay on my spot until his return. The fighting form was actually a precaution, he said, in case something happened during his absence, and it had to be used if I was attacked. It consisted of clapping the calf and thigh of my right leg and stomping my left foot in a kind of dance I had to do while facing the attacker.

He warned me that the form had to be adopted only in moments of extreme crisis, but so long as there was no danger in sight I should simply sit cross-legged on my spot. Under circumstances of extreme danger, however, he said I could resort to one last means of defence — hurling an object at the enemy. He told me that ordinarily one hurls a power object, but since I did not possess any I was forced to use any small rock that would fit into the palm of my right hand, a rock I could hold by pressing it against my palm with my thumb. He said that such a technique should be used only if one was indisputably in danger of losing one’s life. The hurling of the object had to be accompanied by a war cry, a yell that had the property of directing the object to its mark. He emphatically recommended that I be careful and deliberate about the outcry and not use it at random, but only


under “severe conditions of seriousness”.
I asked what he meant by “severe conditions of seriousness”. He said that the outcry or war cry was

something that remained with a man for the duration of his life; thus it had to be good from the very beginning. And the only way to start it correctly was by holding back one’s natural fear and haste until one was absolutely filled with power, and then the yell would burst out with direction and power. He said these were the conditions of seriousness needed to launch the yell.

I asked him to explain about the power that was supposed to fill one before the outcry. He said that was something that ran through the body coming from the ground where one stood; it was a kind of power that emanated from the beneficial spot, to be exact. It was a force that pushed the yell out. If such a force was properly managed, the battle cry would be perfect.

I asked him again if he thought something was going to happen to me. He said he knew nothing about it and admonished me dramatically to stay glued to my spot for as long as it was necessary, because that was the only protection I had against anything that might happen.

I began to feel frightened; I begged him to be more specific.

He said all he knew was that I should not move under any circumstances; I was not to go into the house or into the bush. Above all, he said, I should not utter a single word, not even to him. He said I could sing my Mescalito songs if I became too frightened, and then he added that I knew already too much about these matters to have to be warned like a child about the importance of doing everything correctly.

His admonitions produced a state of profound anguish in me. I was sure he was expecting something to happen. I asked him why he recommended that I sing the Mescalito songs, and what he believed was going to frighten me. He laughed and said I might become afraid of being alone. He walked into the house and closed the door behind him. I looked at my watch. It was 7:00 p.m. I sat quietly for a long time. There were no sounds corning from don Juan’s room. Everything was quiet. It was windy. I thought of making a dash for my car to get my windbreaker, but I did not dare to go against don Juan’s advice. I was not sleepy, but tired; the cold wind made it impossible for me to rest.

Four hours later I heard don Juan walking around the house. I thought he might have left through the back to urinate in the bushes. Then he called me loudly.

“Hey boy! Hey boy! I need you here,” he said.

I nearly got up to go to him. It was his voice, but not his tone, or his usual words. Don Juan had never called me “Hey boy!” So I stayed where I was. A chill went up my back. He began to yell again using the same, or a similar, phrase.

I heard him walking around the back of his house. He stumbled on a woodpile as if he did not know it was there. Then he came to the porch and sat next to the door with his back against the wall. He seemed heavier than usual. His movements were not slow or clumsy, just heavier. He plunked down on the floor, instead of sliding nimbly as he usually did. Besides, that was not his spot, and don Juan would never under any circumstances sit anywhere else.

Then he talked to me again. He asked me why I refused to come when he needed me. He talked loudly. I did not want to look at him, and yet I had a compulsive urge to watch him. He began to swing slightly from side to side. I changed my position, adopted the fighting form he had taught me, and turned to face him. My muscles were stiff and strangely tense. I do not know what prompted me to adopt the fighting form, but perhaps it was because I believed don Juan was deliberately trying to scare me by creating the impression that the person I saw was not really himself. I felt he was very careful about doing the unaccustomed in order to establish doubt in my mind. I was afraid, but still I felt I was above it all, because I was actually taking stock of and analysing the entire sequence.

At that point don Juan got up. His motions were utterly unfamiliar. He brought his arms in front of his body, and pushed himself up, lifting his backside first; then he grabbed the door and straightened out the top part of his body. I was amazed about how deeply familiar I was with his movements, and what an awesome feeling he had created by letting me see a don Juan who did not move like don Juan.

He took a couple of steps towards me. He held the lower part of his back with both hands as if he were trying to straighten up, or as if he were in pain. He whined and puffed. His nose seemed to be stuffed up. He said he was going to take me with him, and ordered me to get up and follow him. He walked towards the west side of


the house. I shifted my position to face him. He turned to me. I did not move from my spot; I was glued to it. He bellowed, “Hey boy! I told you to come with me. If you don’t come I’ll drag you!”
He walked towards me. I began beating my calf and thigh, and dancing fast. He got to the edge of the porch

in front of me and nearly touched me. Frantically I prepared my body to adopt the hurling position, but he changed directions and moved away from me, towards the bushes to my left. At one moment, as he was walking away, he turned suddenly, but I was facing him.

He went out of sight. I retained the fighting posture for a while longer, but as I did not see him any more I sat cross-legged again with my back to the rock. By then I was really frightened. I wanted to run away, yet that thought terrified me even more. I felt I would have been completely at his mercy if he had caught me on the way to my car. I began to sing the peyote songs I knew. But somehow I felt they were impotent there. They served only as a pacifier, yet they soothed me. I sang them over and over.

About 2:45 a.m. I heard a noise inside the house. I immediately changed my position. The door was flung open and don Juan stumbled out. He was gasping and holding his throat. He knelt in front of me and moaned. He asked me in a high, whining voice to come and help him. Then he bellowed again and ordered me to come. He made gargling sounds. He pleaded with me to come and help him because something was choking him. He crawled on his hands and knees until he was perhaps four feet away. He extended his hands to me. He said, “Come here!” Then he got up. His arms were extended towards me. He seemed ready to grab me. I stomped my foot on the ground and clapped my calf and thigh. I was beside myself with fear.

He stopped and walked to the side of the house and into the bushes. I shifted my position to face him. Then I sat down again. I did not want to sing any more. My energy seemed to be waning. My entire body ached; all my muscles were stiff and painfully contracted. I did not know what to think. I could not make up my mind whether to be angry at don Juan or not. I thought of jumping him, but somehow I knew he would have cut me down, like a bug. I really wanted to cry. I experienced a profound despair; the thought that don Juan was going all the way out to frighten me made me feel like weeping. I was incapable of finding a reason for his tremendous display of histrionics; his movements were so artful that I became confused. It was not as if he was trying to move like a woman; it was as if a woman was trying to move like don Juan. I had the impression that she was really trying to walk and move with don Juan’s deliberation, but was too heavy and did not have the nimbleness of don Juan. Whoever it was in front of me created the impression of being a younger, heavy woman trying to imitate the slow movements of an agile old man.

These thoughts threw me into a state of panic. A cricket began to call loudly, very close to me. I noticed the richness of its tone; I fancied it to have a baritone voice. The call started to fade away. Suddenly my whole body jerked. I assumed the fighting position again and faced the direction from which the cricket’s call had come. The sound was taking me away; it had begun to trap me before I realized it was only cricket-like. The sound got closer again. It became terribly loud. I started to sing my peyote songs louder and louder. Suddenly the cricket stopped. I immediately sat down, but kept on singing. A moment later I saw the shape of a man running towards me from the direction opposite to that of the cricket’s call. I clapped my hands on my thigh and calf and stomped vigorously, frantically. The shape went by very fast, almost touching me. It looked like a dog. I experienced so dreadful a fear that I was numb. I cannot recollect anything else I felt or thought.

The morning dew was refreshing. I felt better. Whatever the phenomenon was, it seemed to have withdrawn. It was 5:48 a.m. when don Juan opened the door quietly and came out. He stretched his arms, yawning, and glanced at me. He took two steps towards me, prolonging his yawning. I saw his eyes looking through half- closed eyelids. I jumped up; I knew then that whoever, or whatever, was in front of me was not don Juan.

I took a small, sharp-edged rock from the ground. It was next to my right hand. I did not look at it; I just held it by pressing it with my thumb against my extended fingers. I adopted the form don Juan had taught me. I felt a strange vigour filling me, in a matter of seconds. Then I yelled and hurled the rock at him. I thought it was a magnificent outcry. At that moment I did not care whether I lived or died. I felt the cry was awesome in its potency. It was piercing and prolonged, and it actually directed my aim. The figure in front wobbled and shrieked and staggered to the side of the house and into the bushes again.

It took me hours to calm down. I could not sit any more; I kept on trotting on the same place. I had to breathe through my mouth to take in enough air.

At 11:00 a.m. don Juan came out again. I was going to jump up, but the movements were his. He went 82

directly to his spot and sat down in his usual familiar way. He looked at me and smiled. He was don Juan! I went to him, and instead of being angry, I kissed his hand. I really believed then that he had not acted to create a dramatic effect, but that someone had impersonated him to cause me harm or to kill me.

The conversation began with speculations about the identity of a female person who had allegedly taken my soul. Then don Juan asked me to tell him about every detail of my experience.

I narrated the whole sequence of events in a very deliberate manner. He laughed all the way, as if it were a joke. When I had finished he said, “You did fine. You won the battle for your soul. But this matter is more serious than I thought; Your life wasn’t worth two hoots last night. It is fortunate you learned something in the past. Had you not had a little training you would be dead by now, because whoever you saw last night meant to finish you off.”

“How is it possible, don Juan, that she could take your form?”

“Very simple. She is a diablera and has a good helper on the other side. But she was not too good in assuming my likeness, and you caught on to her trick.”

“Is a helper on the other side the same as an ally?”

“No, a helper is the aid of a diablero. A helper is a spirit that lives on the other side of the world and helps a diablero to cause sickness and pain. It helps him to kill.”

“Can a diablero also have an ally, don Juan?”

“It is the diableros who have the allies, but before a diablero can tame an ally, he usually has a helper to aid him in his tasks.”

“How about the woman who took your form, don Juan? Does she have only a helper and not an ally?”

“I don’t know whether she has an ally or not. Some people do not like the power of an ally and prefer a helper. To tame an ally is hard work. It is easier to get a helper on the other side.”

“Do you think I could get a helper?”

“To know that, you have to learn much more. We are again at the beginning, almost as on the first day you came over and asked me to tell you about Mescalito, and I could not because you would not have understood. That other side is the world of diableros. I think it would be best to tell you my own feelings in the same way my benefactor told me his. He was a diablero and a warrior; his life was inclined towards the force and the violence of the world. But I am neither of them. That is my nature. You have seen my world from the start. As to showing you the world of my benefactor, I can only put you at the door, and you will have to decide for yourself; you will have to learn about it by your effort alone. I must admit now that I made a mistake. It is much better, I see now, to start the way I did, myself. Then it is easier to realize how simple and yet how profound the difference is. A diablero is a diablero, and a warrior is a warrior. Or a man can be both. There are enough people who are both. But a man who only traverses the paths of life is everything. Today I am neither a warrior nor a diablero. For me there is only the traveling on the paths that have a heart, on any path that may have a heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge for me is to traverse its full length. And there I travel – looking, looking, breathlessly.”

He paused. His face revealed a peculiar mood; he seemed to be unusually serious. I did not know what to ask or to say. He proceeded:

“The particular thing to learn is how to get to the crack between the worlds and how to enter the other world. There is a crack between the two worlds, the world of the diableros and the world of living men. There is a place where the two worlds overlap. The crack is there. It opens and closes like a door in the wind. To get there a man must exercise his will. He must, I should say, develop an indomitable desire for it, a single-minded dedication. But he must do it without the help of any power or any man. The man by himself must ponder and wish up to a moment in which his body is ready to undergo the journey. That moment is announced by prolonged shaking of the limbs and violent vomiting. The man usually cannot sleep or eat, and wanes away. When the convulsions do not stop the man is ready to go, and the crack between the worlds appears right in front of his eyes, like a monumental door, a crack that goes up and down. When the crack opens the man has to slide through it. It is hard to see on the other side of the boundary. It is windy, like a sandstorm. The wind whirls around. The man then must walk in any direction. It will be a short or a long journey, depending on his willpower. A strong-willed man journeys shortly. An undecided, weak man journeys long and precariously. After this journey the man arrives at a sort of plateau. It is possible to distinguish some of its features clearly. It is a plane above the ground.


It is possible to recognize it by the wind, which there becomes even more violent, whipping, roaring all around. On top of that plateau is the entrance to that other world. And there stands a skin that separates the two worlds; dead men go through it without a noise, but we have to break it with an outcry. The wind gathers strength, the same unruly wind that blows on the plateau. When the wind has gathered enough force, the man has to yell and the wind will push him through. Here his will has to be inflexible, too, so that he can fight the wind. All he needs is a gentle shove; he does not need to be blown to the ends of the other world. Once on the other side, the man will have to wander around. His good fortune would be to find a helper nearby – not too far from the entrance. The man has to ask him for help. In his own words he has to ask the helper to teach him and make him a diablero. When the helper agrees, he kills the man on the spot, and while he is dead he teaches him. When you make the trip yourself, depending on your luck, you may find a great diablero in the helper who will kill you and teach you. Most of the time, though, one encounters lesser brujos who have very little to teach. But neither you nor they have the power to refuse. The best instance is to find a male helper lest one become the prey of a diablera, who will make one suffer in an unbelievable manner. Women are always like that. But that depends on luck alone, unless one’s benefactor is a great diablero himself, in which event he will have many helpers in the other world, and can direct one to see a particular helper. My benefactor was such a man. He directed me to encounter his spirit helper. After your return, you will not be the same man. You are committed to come back to see your helper often. And you are committed to wander farther and farther from the entrance, until finally one day you will go too far and will not be able to return. Sometimes a diablero may catch a soul and push it through the entrance and leave it in the custody of his helper until he robs the person of all his willpower. In other cases, like yours for instance, the soul belongs to a strong-willed person, and the diablero may keep it inside his pouch, because it is too hard to carry otherwise. In such instances, as in yours, a fight may resolve the problem – a fight in which the diablero either wins all, or loses all. This time she lost the combat and had to release your soul. Had she won she would have taken it to her helper, for keeps.”

“But how did I win?”

“You did not move from your spot. Had you moved one inch away you would have been demolished. She chose the moment I was away as the best time to strike, and she did it well. She failed because she did not count on your own nature, which is violent, and also because you did not budge from the spot on which you are invincible.”

“How would she have killed me if I had moved?”

“She would have hit you like a thunderbolt. But above all she would have kept your soul and you would have wasted away.”

“What is going to happen now, don Juan?”
“Nothing. You won your soul back. It was a good battle. You learned many things last night.”
Afterwards we began to look for the stone I had hurled. He said if we could find it we could be absolutely

sure the affair had ended. We looked for nearly three hours. I had the feeling I would recognize it. But I could not.

That same day in the early evening don Juan took me into the hills around his house. There he gave me long and detailed instructions on specific fighting procedures. At one moment in the course of repeating certain prescribed steps I found myself alone. I had run up a slope and was out of breath. I was perspiring freely, and yet I was cold. I called don Juan several times, but he did not answer, and I began to experience a strange apprehension. I heard a rustling in the underbrush as if someone was coming towards me. I listened attentively, but the noise stopped. Then it came again, louder and closer. At that moment it occurred to me that the events of the preceding night were going to be repeated. In a matter of a few seconds my fear grew out of all proportion. The rustle in the underbrush got closer, and my strength waned. I wanted to scream or weep, run away or faint. My knees sagged; I fell to the ground, whining. I could not even close my eyes. After that, I remember only that don Juan made a fire and rubbed the contracted muscles of my arms and legs.

I remained in a state of profound distress for several hours. Afterwards don Juan explained my disproportionate reaction as a common occurrence. I said I could not figure out logically what had caused my panic, and he replied that it was not the fear of dying, but rather the fear of losing my soul, a fear common among men who do not have unbending intent.

That experience was the last of don Juan’s teachings. Ever since that time I have refrained from seeking his 84

lessons. And, although don Juan has not changed his benefactor’s attitude towards me, I do believe that I have succumbed to the first enemy of a man of knowledge.


A Structural Analysis

The following structural scheme, abstracted from the data on the states of non-ordinary reality presented in the foregoing part of this work, is conceived as an attempt to disclose the internal cohesion and the cogency of don Juan’s teachings. The structure, as I assess it, is composed of four concepts which are the main units: (1) man of knowledge; (2) a man of knowledge had an ally; (3) an ally had a rule; and (4) the rule was corroborated by special consensus. These four units are in turn composed of a number of subsidiary ideas; thus the total structure comprises all the meaningful concepts that were presented until the time I discontinued the apprenticeship. In a sense, these units represent successive levels of analysis, each level modifying the preceding one.*

Because this conceptual structure is completely dependent on the meaning of all its units, the following clarification seems to be pertinent at this point: Throughout this entire work, meaning has been rendered as I understood it. The component concepts of don Juan’s knowledge as I have presented them here could not be the exact duplicate of what he said himself. In spite of all the effort I have put forth to render these concepts as faithfully as possible, their meaning has been deflected by my own attempts to classify them. The arrangement of the four main units of this structural scheme is, however, a logical sequence which appears to be free from the influence of extraneous classificatory devices of my own. But, insofar as the component ideas of each main unit are concerned, it has been impossible to discard my personal influence. At certain points extraneous classificatory items are necessary in order to render the phenomena understandable. And, if such a task was to be accomplished here, it had to be done by zigzagging back and forth from the alleged meanings and classificatory scheme of the teacher to the meanings and classificatory devices of the apprentice.

*For outline of the units of my structural analysis, see Appendix B. 86

The Operative Order

The First Unit

Man of knowledge

At a very early stage of my apprenticeship, don Juan made the statement that the goal of his teachings was “to show how to become a man of knowledge”. I use that statement as a point of departure. It is obvious that to become a man of knowledge was an operational goal. And it is also obvious that every part of don Juan’s orderly teachings was geared to fulfill that goal in one way or another. My line of reasoning here is that under the circumstances ‘man of knowledge’, being an operational goal, must have been indispensable to explaining some “operative order”. Then, it is justifiable to conclude that, in order to understand that operative order, one has to understand its objective: man of knowledge.

After having established “man of knowledge” as the first structural unit, it was possible for me to arrange with assurance the following seven concepts as its proper components: (1) to become a man of knowledge was a matter of learning; (2) a man of knowledge had unbending intent; (3) a man of knowledge had clarity of mind; (4) to become a man of knowledge was a matter of strenuous labour; (5) a man of knowledge was a warrior; (6) to become a man of knowledge was an unceasing process; and (7) a man of knowledge had an ally.

These seven concepts were themes. They ran through the teachings, determining the character of don Juan’s entire knowledge. Inasmuch as the operational goal of his teachings was to produce a man of knowledge, everything he taught was imbued with the specific characteristics of each of the seven themes. Together they construed the concept “man of know ledge” as a way of conducting oneself, & way of behaving that was the end result of a long and hazardous training. “Man of knowledge”, however, was not a guide to behaviour, but a set of principles encompassing all the un-ordinary circumstances pertinent to the knowledge being taught.

Each one of the seven themes was composed, in turn, of various other concepts, which covered their different facets.

From don Juan’s statements it was possible to assume that a man of knowledge could be a diablero, that is, a black sorcerer. He stated that his teacher was a diablero and so was he in the past, although he had ceased to be concerned with certain aspects of the practice of sorcery. Since the goal of his teaching was to show how to become a man of knowledge, and since his knowledge consisted of being a diablero, there may have been an inherent connexion between man of knowledge and diablero. Although don Juan never used the two terms interchangeably, the likelihood that they were connected raised the possibility that “man of knowledge” with its seven themes and their component concepts covered, theoretically, all the circumstances that might have arisen in the course of becoming a diablero.

To become a man of knowledge was a matter of learning.

The first theme made it implicit that learning was the only possible way of becoming a man of knowledge, and that in turn implied the act of making a resolute effort to achieve an end. To become a man of knowledge was the end result of a process, as opposed to an immediate acquisition through an act of grace or through bestowal by supernatural powers. The plausibility of learning how to become a man of knowledge warranted the existence of a system for teaching one how to accomplish it.

The first theme had three components: (1) there were no overt requirements for becoming a man of knowledge; (2) there were some covert requirements; (3) the decision as to who could learn to become a man of knowledge was made by an impersonal power.

Apparently there were no overt prerequisites that would have determined who was, or who was not, qualified to learn how to become a man of knowledge. Ideally, the task was open to anybody who wished to pursue it. Yet, in practice, such a stand was inconsistent with the fact that don Juan as a teacher selected his apprentices.

In fact, any teacher under the circumstances would have selected his apprentices by means of matching them 87

against some covert prerequisites. The specific nature of these prerequisites was never formalized; don Juan only insinuated that there were certain clues one had to bear in mind when viewing a prospective apprentice. The clues he alluded to were supposed to reveal whether or not the candidate had a certain disposition of character, which don Juan called “unbending intent”.

Nevertheless, the final decision in matters of who could learn to become a man of knowledge was left to an impersonal power that was known to don Juan, but was outside his sphere of volition. The impersonal power was credited with pointing out the right person by allowing him to perform a deed of extraordinary nature, or by creating a set of peculiar circumstances around that person. Hence, there was never a conflict between the absence of overt prerequisites and the existence of undisclosed, covert prerequisites.

The man who was singled out in that manner became the apprentice. Don Juan called him the escogido, the “one who was chosen”. But to be an escogido meant more than to be a mere apprentice. An escogido, by the sheer act of being selected by a power, was considered already to be different from ordinary men. He was considered already to be the recipient of a minimum amount of power which was supposed to be augmented by learning.

But learning was a process of unending quest, and the power that made the original decision, or a similar power, was expected to make similar decisions on the issue of whether an escogido could continue learning or whether he had been defeated. Those decisions were manifested through omens that occurred at any point of the teachings. In that respect, any peculiar circumstances surrounding an apprentice were considered to be such omens.

A man of knowledge had unbending intent.

The idea that a man of knowledge needed unbending intent referred to the exercise of volition. Having unbending intent meant having the will to execute a necessary procedure by maintaining oneself at all times rigidly within the boundaries of the knowledge being taught. A man of knowledge needed a rigid will in order to endure the obligatory quality that every act possessed when it was performed in the context of his knowledge.

The obligatory quality of all the acts performed in such a context, and their being inflexible and predetermined, were no doubt unpleasant to any man, for which reason a modicum of unbending intent was sought as the only covert requirement needed by a prospective apprentice.

Unbending intent was composed of (1) frugality, (2) soundness of judgement, and (3) lack of freedom to innovate.

A man of knowledge needed frugality because the majority of the obligatory acts dealt with instances or with elements that were either outside the boundaries of ordinary everyday life, or were not customary in ordinary activity, and the man who had to act in accordance with them needed an extraordinary effort every time he took action. It was implicit that one could have been capable of such an extraordinary effort only by being frugal with any other activity that did not deal directly with such predetermined actions.

Since all acts were predetermined and obligatory, a man of knowledge needed soundness of judgement. This concept did not imply common sense, but did imply the capacity to assess the circumstances surrounding any need to act. A guide for such an assessment was provided by bringing together, as rationales, all the parts of the teachings which were at one’s command at the given moment in which any action had to be carried out. Thus, the guide was always changing as more parts were learned; yet it always implied the conviction that any obligatory act one may have had to perform was, in fact, the most appropriate under the circumstances.

Because all acts were pre-established and compulsory, having to carry them out meant lack of freedom to innovate. Don Juan’s system of imparting knowledge was so well established that there was no possibility of altering it in any way.

A man of knowledge had clarity of mind.

Clarity of mind was the theme that provided a sense of direction. The fact that all acts were predetermined meant that one’s orientation within the knowledge being taught was equally predetermined; as a consequence, clarity of mind supplied only a sense of direction. It reaffirmed continuously the validity of the course being


taken through the component ideas of (1) freedom to seek a path, (2) knowledge of the specific purpose, and (3) being fluid.

It was believed that one had freedom to seek a path. Having the freedom to choose was not incongruous with the lack of freedom to innovate; these two ideas were not in opposition nor did they interfere with each other. Freedom to seek a path referred to the liberty to choose among different possibilities of action which were equally effective and usable. The criterion for choosing was the advantage of one possibility over others, based on one’s preference. As a matter of fact, the freedom to choose a path imparted a sense of direction through the expression of personal inclinations.

Another way to create a sense of direction was through the idea that there was a specific purpose for every action performed in the context of the knowledge being taught. Therefore, a man of knowledge needed clarity of mind in order to match his own specific reasons for acting with the specific purpose of every action. The knowledge of the specific purpose of every action was the guide he used to judge the circumstances surrounding any need to act.

Another facet of clarity of mind was the idea that a man of knowledge, in order to reinforce the performance of his obligatory actions, needed to assemble all the resources that the teachings had placed at his command. This was the idea of being fluid. It created a sense of direction by giving one the feeling of being malleable and resourceful. The compulsory quality of all acts would have imbued one with a sense of stiffness or sterility had it not been for the idea that a man of knowledge needed to be fluid.

To become a man of knowledge was a matter of strenuous labour.

A man of knowledge had to possess or had to develop in the course of his training an all-around capacity for exertion. Don Juan stated that to become a man of knowledge was a matter of strenuous labour. Strenuous labour denoted a capacity (1) to put forth dramatic exertion; (2) to achieve efficacy; and (3) to meet challenge.

In the path of a man of knowledge drama was undoubtedly the outstanding single issue, and a special type of exertion was needed for responding to circumstances that required dramatic exploitation; that is to say, a man of knowledge needed dramatic exertion. Taking don Juan’s behaviour as an example, at first glance it may have seemed that his dramatic exertion was only his own idiosyncratic preference for histrionics. Yet his dramatic exertion was always much more than acting; it was rather a profound state of belief. He imparted through dramatic exertion the peculiar quality of finality to all the acts he performed. As a consequence, then, his acts were set on a stage in which death was one of the main protagonists. It was implicit that death was a real possibility in the course of learning because of the inherently dangerous nature of the items with which a man of knowledge dealt; then, it was logical that the dramatic exertion created by the conviction that death was a ubiquitous player was more than histrionics.

Exertion entailed not only drama, but also the need of efficacy. Exertion had to be effective; it had to possess the quality of being properly channelled, of being suitable. The idea of impending death created not only the drama needed for overall emphasis, but also the conviction that every action involved a struggle for survival, the conviction that annihilation would result if one’s exertion did not meet the requirement of being efficacious.

Exertion also entailed the idea of challenge, that is, the act of testing whether, and proving that, one was capable of performing a proper act within the rigorous boundaries of the knowledge being taught.

A man of knowledge was a warrior.

The existence of a man of knowledge was an unceasing struggle, and the idea that he was a warrior, leading a warrior’s life, provided one with the means for achieving emotional stability. The idea of a man at war encompassed four concepts: (1) a man of knowledge had to have respect; (2) he had to have fear; (3) he had to be wide-awake; (4) he had to be self-confident. Hence, to be a warrior was a form of self-discipline which emphasized individual accomplishment; yet it was a stand in which personal interests were reduced to a minimum, as in most instances personal interest was incompatible with the rigour needed to perform any predetermined, obligatory act.

A man of knowledge in his role of warrior was obligated to have an attitude of deferential regard for the 89

items with which he dealt; he had to imbue everything related to his knowledge with profound respect in order to place everything in a meaningful perspective. Having respect was equivalent to having assessed one’s insignificant resources when facing the Unknown.

If one remained in that frame of thought, the idea of respect was logically extended to include oneself, for one was as unknown as the Unknown itself. The exercise of so sobering a feeling of respect transformed the apprenticeship of this specific knowledge, which may otherwise have appeared to be absurd, into a very rational alternative.

Another necessity of a warrior’s life was the need to experience and carefully to evaluate the sensation of fear. The ideal was that, in spite of fear, one had to proceed with the course of one’s acts. Fear was supposed to be conquered and there was an alleged time in the life of a man of knowledge when it was vanquished, but first one had to be conscious of being afraid and duly to evaluate that sensation. Don Juan asserted that one was capable of conquering fear only by facing it.

As a warrior, a man of knowledge also needed to be wide-awake. A man at war had to be on the alert in order to be cognizant of most of the factors pertinent to the two mandatory aspects of awareness: (1) awareness of intent and (2) awareness of the expected flux.

Awareness of intent was the act of being cognizant of the factors involved in the relationship between the specific purpose of any obligatory act and one’s own specific purpose for acting. Since all the obligatory acts had a definite purpose, a man of knowledge had to be wide-awake; that is, he needed to be capable at all times of matching the definite purpose of every obligatory act with the definite reason that he had in mind for desiring to act.

A man of knowledge, by being aware of that relationship, was also capable of being cognizant of what was believed to be the expected flux. What I have called here the “awareness of the expected flux” referred to the certainty that one was capable of detecting at all times the important variables involved in the relationship between the specific purpose of every act and one’s specific reason for acting. By being aware of the expected flux one was supposed to detect the most subtle changes. That deliberate awareness of changes accounted for the recognition and interpretation of omens and of other un-ordinary events.

The last aspect of the idea of a warrior’s behaviour was the need for self-confidence, that is, the assurance that the specific purpose of an act one may have chosen to perform was the only plausible alternative for one’s own specific reasons for acting. Without self-confidence, one would have been incapable of fulfilling one of the most important aspects of the teachings: the capacity to claim knowledge as power.

To become a man of knowledge was an unceasing process.

Being a man of knowledge was not a condition entailing permanency. There was never the certainty that, by carrying out the predetermined steps of the knowledge being taught, one would become a man of knowledge. It was implicit that the function of the steps was only to show how to become a man of knowledge. Thus, becoming a man of knowledge was a task that could not be fully achieved; rather, it was an unceasing process comprising (1) the idea that one had to renew the quest of becoming a man of knowledge; (2) the idea of one’s impermanency; and (3) the idea that one had to follow the path with heart.

The constant renewal of the quest of becoming a man of knowledge was expressed in the theme of the four symbolic enemies encountered on the path of learning: fear, clarity, power, and old age. Renewing the quest implied the gaining and the maintenance of control over oneself. A true man of knowledge was expected to battle each of the four enemies, in succession, until the last moment of his life, in order to keep himself actively engaged in becoming a man of knowledge. Yet, despite the truthful renewal of the quest, the odds were inevitably against man; he would succumb to his last symbolic enemy. This was the idea of impermanency.

Off-setting the negative value of one’s impermanency was the notion that one had to follow the “path with heart”. The path with heart was a metaphorical way of asserting that in spite of being impermanent one still had to proceed and had to be capable of finding satisfaction and personal fulfillment in the act of choosing the most amenable alternative and identifying oneself completely with it.

Don Juan synthesized the rationale of his whole knowledge in the metaphor that the important thing for him was to find a path with heart and then travel its length, meaning that the identification with the amenable


alternative was enough for him. The journey by itself was sufficient; any hope of arriving at a permanent position was outside the boundaries of his knowledge.


The Second Unit

A man of knowledge had an ally

The idea that a man of knowledge had an ally was the most important of the seven component themes, for it was the only one that was indispensable to explaining what a man of knowledge was. In don Juan’s classificatory scheme a man of knowledge had an ally, whereas the average man did not, and having an ally was what made him different from ordinary men.

Don Juan described an ally as being ‘ a power capable of transporting a man beyond the boundaries of himself; that is, an ally was a power that allowed one to transcend the realm of ordinary reality. Consequently, to have an ally implied having power; and the fact that a man of knowledge had an ally was by itself proof that the operational goal of the teachings had been fulfilled. Since that goal was to show how to become a man of knowledge, and since a man of knowledge was one who had an ally, another way of describing the operational goal of don Juan’s teachings was to say that they also showed how to obtain an ally. The concept “man of knowledge”, as a sorcerer’s philosophical frame, had meaning for anyone who wanted to live within that frame only insofar as he had an ally.

I have classified this last component theme of man of knowledge as the second main structural unit because of its indispensability for explaining what a man of knowledge was.

In don Juan’s teachings, there were two allies. The first was contained in the Datura plants commonly known as Jimson weed. Don Juan called that ally by one of the Spanish names of the plant, yerba del diablo (devil’s weed). According to him any species of Datura was the container of the ally. Yet every sorcerer had to grow a patch of one species which he called his own, not only in the sense that the plants were his private property, but in the sense that they were personally identified with him.

Don Juan’s own plants belonged to the species inoxia; there seemed to be no correlation, however, between that fact and differences that may have existed between the two species of Datura accessible to him.

The second ally was contained in a mushroom I identified as belonging to the genus Psilocybe; it was possibly Psilocybe mexicana, but the classification was only tentative because I was incapable of procuring a specimen for laboratory analysis.

Don Juan called this ally humito (little smoke), suggesting that the ally was analogous to smoke or to the smoking mixture he made with the mushroom. The smoke was referred to as if it were the real container, yet he made it clear that the power was associated with only one species of Psilocybe; thus special care was needed at the time of collecting in order not to confuse it with any of a dozen other species of the same genus which grew in the same area.

An ally as a meaningful concept included the following ideas and their ramifications: (1) an ally was formless; (2) an ally was perceived as a quality; (3) an ally was tamable; (4) an ally had a rule.

An ally was formless

An ally was believed to be an entity existing outside and independent of oneself, yet in spite of being a separate entity an ally was believed to be formless. I have established “formlessness” as a condition that is the opposite of “having definite form”, a distinction made in view of the fact that there were other powers similar to an ally which had a definitely perceivable form. An ally’s condition of formlessness meant that it did not possess a distinct, or a vaguely defined, or even a recognizable, form; and such a condition implied that an ally was not visible at any time.

An ally was perceived as a quality

A sequel to an ally’s formlessness was another condition expressed in the idea that an ally was perceived only as a quality of the senses; that is to say, since an ally was formless its presence was noticed only by its effects on the sorcerer. Don Juan classified some of those effects as having anthropomorphic qualities. He depicted an ally as having the character of a human being, thus implying that an individual sorcerer was in the


position of choosing the most suitable ally by matching his own character with an ally’s alleged anthropomorphic characteristics.

The two allies involved in the teachings were presented by don Juan as having a set of antithetical qualities. Don Juan categorized the ally contained in Datura inoxia as having two qualities: it was woman-like, and it was a giver of superfluous power. He thought these two qualities were thoroughly undesirable. His statements on the subject were definite, but he indicated at the same time that his value judgement on the matter was merely a personalistic choice.

The most important characteristic was undoubtedly what don Juan called its woman-like nature. The fact that it was depicted as being woman-like did not mean, however, that the ally was a female power. It seemed that the analogy of a woman may have been only a metaphorical way don Juan used to describe what he thought to be the unpleasant effects of the ally. Besides, the Spanish name of the plant, yerba, because of its feminine gender, may have also helped to create the female analogy. At any rate, the personification of this ally as a woman-like power ascribed to it the following anthropomorphic qualities: (1) it was possessive; (2) it was violent; (3) it was unpredictable; and (4) it had deleterious effects.

Don Juan believed that the ally had the capacity to enslave the men who became its followers; he explained this capacity as the quality of being possessive, which he correlated with a woman’s character. The ally possessed its followers by bestowing power on them, by creating a feeling of dependency, and by giving them physical strength and well-being.

This ally was also believed to be violent. Its woman-like violence was expressed in its forcing its followers to engage in disruptive acts of brute force. And this specific characteristic made it best suited for men of fierce natures who wanted to find in violence a key to personal power.

Another woman-like characteristic was unpredictability. For don Juan it meant that the ally’s effects were never consistent; rather, they were supposed to change erratically, and there was no discernible way of predicting them. The ally’s inconsistency was to be counteracted by the sorcerer’s meticulous and dramatic care of every detail of its handling. Any unfavourable turn that was unaccountable, as a result of error or mishandling, was explained as a result of the ally’s woman like unpredictability.

Because of its possessiveness, violence, and unpredictability, this ally was thought to have an overall deleterious effect on the character of its followers. Don Juan believed that the ally willfully strove to transmit its woman-like characteristics, and that its effort to do so actually succeeded.

But, alongside its woman-like nature, this ally had another facet which was also perceived as a quality: it was a giver of superfluous power. Don Juan was very emphatic on this point, and he stressed that as a generous giver of power the ally was unsurpassable. It was purported to furnish its followers with physical strength, a feeling of audacity, and the prowess to perform extraordinary deeds. In don Juan’s judgement, however, so exorbitant a power was superfluous; he stated that, for himself at least, there was no need of it any more. Nevertheless, he presented it as a strong incentive for a prospective man of knowledge, should the latter have a natural inclination to seek power.

Don Juan’s idiosyncratic point of view was that the ally contained in Psilocybe mexicana, on the other hand, had the most adequate and most valuable characteristics: (1) it was male-like, and (2) it was a giver of ecstasy.

He depicted this ally as being the antithesis of the one contained in Datura plants. He considered it to be male-like, manly. Its condition of masculinity seemed to be analogous to the female-like condition of the other ally; that is, it was not a male power, but don Juan classified its effects in terms of what he considered to be manly behaviour. In this instance, too, the masculine gender of the Spanish word humito may have suggested the analogy to a male power.

The anthropomorphic qualities of this ally which don Juan judged to be proper to a man were the following: (1) it was dispassionate; (2) it was gentle; (3) it was predictable; and (4) it had beneficial effects.

Don Juan’s idea of the dispassionate nature of the ally was expressed in the belief that it was fair, that it never actually demanded extravagant acts from its followers. It never made men its slaves, because it did not bestow easy power on them; on the contrary, Humito was hard, but just, with its followers.

The fact that the ally did not elicit overt violent behaviour made it gentle. It was supposed to induce a sensation of bodilessness, and thus don Juan presented it as being calm, gentle, and a giver of peace.

It was also predictable. Don Juan described its effects on all its individual followers and in the successive 93

experiences of any single man as being constant; in other words, its effects did not vary or, if they did, they were so similar that they were counted as being the same.

As a consequence of being dispassionate, gentle, and predictable, this ally was thought to have another manly characteristic: a beneficial effect on the character of its followers. Humito’s manliness was supposed to create a very rare condition of emotional stability in them. Don Juan believed that under the ally’s guidance one would temper one’s heart and acquire balance.

A corollary of all the ally’s manly characteristics was believed to be a capacity to give ecstasy. This other facet of its nature was perceived also as a quality. Humito was credited with removing the body of its followers, thus allowing them to execute specialized forms of activity pertinent to a state of bodilessness. And don Juan maintained that those specialized forms of activity led unavoidably to a condition of ecstasy. The ally contained in the Psilocybe was said to be ideal for men whose natures predisposed them to seek contemplation.

An ally was tamable

The idea that an ally was tamable implied that as a power it had the potential of being used. Don Juan explained it as an ally’s innate capacity of being utilizable; after a sorcerer had tamed an ally he was thought to be in command of its specialized power which meant that he could manipulate it to his own advantage. An ally’s capacity of being tamed was counterposed to the incapacity of other powers, which were similar to an ally except that they did not yield to being manipulated.

The manipulation of an ally had two aspects: (1) an ally was a vehicle; (2) an ally was a helper.

An ally was a vehicle in the sense that it served to transport a sorcerer into the realm of non-ordinary reality. Insofar as my personal knowledge was concerned, the allies both served as vehicles, although the function had different implications for each of them.

The overall undesirable qualities of the ally contained in Datura inoxia, especially its quality of unpredictability, turned it into a dangerous, undependable vehicle. Ritual was the only possible protection against its inconsistency, but that was never enough to ensure the ally’s stability; a sorcerer using this ally as a vehicle had to wait for favourable omens before proceeding.

The ally contained in Psilocybe mexicana, on the other hand, was thought to be a steady and predictable vehicle as a result of all its valuable qualities. As a consequence of its predictability, a sorcerer using this ally did not need to engage in any kind of preparatory ritual.

The other aspect of an ally’s manipulability was expressed in the idea that an ally was a helper. To be a helper meant that an ally, after serving a sorcerer as a vehicle, was again usable as an aid or a guide to assist him in achieving whatever goal he had in mind in going into the realm of non-ordinary reality.

In their capacity as helpers, the two allies had different, unique properties. The complexity and the applicability of these properties increased as one advanced on the learning path. But, in general terms, the ally contained in Datura inoxia was believed to be an extraordinary helper, and this capacity was thought to be a corollary of its facility to give superfluous power. The ally contained in Psilocybe mexicana, however, was considered to be an even more extraordinary helper. Don Juan thought it was matchless in the function of being a helper, which he regarded as an extension of its overall valuable qualities.


The Third Unit

An ally had a rule

Alone among the components of the concept “ally”, the idea that an ally had a rule was indispensable for explaining what an ally was. Because of that indispensability I have placed it as the third main unit in this structural scheme.

The rule, which don Juan called also the law, was the rigid organizing concept regulating all the actions that had to be executed and the behaviour that had to be observed throughout the process of handling an ally. The rule was transmitted verbally from teacher to apprentice, ideally without alteration, through the sustained interaction between them. The rule was thus more than a body of regulations; it was, rather, a series of outlines of activity governing the course to be followed in the process of manipulating an ally.

Undoubtedly many elements would have fulfilled don Juan’s definition of an ally as a “power capable of transporting a man beyond the boundaries of himself”. Anyone accepting that definition could reasonably have conceived that anything possessing such a capability would be an ally. And logically, even bodily conditions produced by hunger, fatigue, illness, and the like could have served as allies, for they might have possessed the capacity of transporting a man beyond the realm of ordinary reality. But the idea that an ally had a rule eliminated all these possibilities. An ally was a power that had a rule. All the other possibilities could not be considered as allies because they had no rule.

As a concept the rule comprehended the following ideas and their various components: (1) the rule was inflexible; (2) the rule was non-cumulative; (3) the rule was corroborated in ordinary reality; (4) the rule was corroborated in non-ordinary reality; and (5) the rule was corroborated by special consensus.

The rule was inflexible

The outlines of activity forming the body of the rule were unavoidable steps that one had to follow in order to achieve the operational goal of the teachings. This compulsory quality of the rule was rendered in the idea that it was inflexible. The inflexibility of the rule was intimately related to the idea of efficacy. Dramatic exertion created an incessant battle for survival, and under those conditions only the most effective act that one could perform would ensure one’s survival. As individualistic points of reference were not permitted, the rule prescribed the actions constituting the only alternative for survival. Thus the rule had to be inflexible; it had to require a definite compliance to its dictum.

Compliance with the rule, however, was not absolute. In the course of the teachings I recorded one instance in which its inflexibility was cancelled out. Don Juan explained that example of deviation as a special favour stemming from direct intervention of an ally. In this instance, owing to my unintentional error in handling the ally contained in Datura inoxia, the rule had been breached. Don Juan extrapolated from the occurrence that an ally had the capacity to intervene directly and withhold the deleterious, and usually fatal, effect resulting from noncompliance with its rule. Such evidence of flexibility was thought to be always the product of a strong bond of affinity between the ally and its follower.

The rule was non-cumulative

The assumption here was that all conceivable methods of manipulating an ally had already been used. Theoretically, the rule was non-cumulative; there was no possibility of augmenting it. The idea of the non- cumulative nature of the rule was also relative to the concept of efficacy. Since the rule prescribed the only effective alternative for one’s personal survival, any attempt to change it or to alter its course by innovation was considered to be not only a superfluous act, but a deadly one. One had only the possibility of adding to one’s personal knowledge of the rule, either under the teacher’s guidance or under the special guidance of the ally itself. The latter was considered to be an instance of direct acquisition of knowledge, not an addition to the body of the rule.


The rule was corroborated in ordinary reality

Corroboration of the rule meant the act of verifying it, the act of attesting to its validity by confirming it pragmatically in an experimental manner. Because the rule dealt with situations of ordinary and of non-ordinary reality, its corroboration took place in both areas.

The situations of ordinary reality with which the rule dealt were most often remarkably uncommon situations, but, no matter how unusual they were, the rule was corroborated in ordinary reality. For that reason it has been considered to fall beyond the scope of this work, and should properly be the realm of another study. That part of the rule concerned the details of the procedures employed in recognizing, collecting, mixing, preparing, and caring for the power plants in which the allies were contained, the details of other procedures involved in the uses of such power plants, and other similar minutiae.

The rule was corroborated in non-ordinary reality

The rule was also corroborated in non-ordinary reality, and the corroboration was carried out in the same pragmatic, experimental manner of validation as would have been employed in situations of ordinary reality. The idea of a pragmatic corroboration involved two concepts: (1) meetings with the ally, which I have called the states of non-ordinary reality; and (2) the specific purposes of the rule.

The states of non-ordinary reality.

The two plants in which the allies were contained, when used in conformity with the allies’ respective rules, produced states of peculiar perception which don Juan classified as meetings with the ally. He placed extraordinary emphasis on eliciting them, an emphasis summed up in the idea that one had to meet with the ally as many times as possible in order to verify its rule in a pragmatic, experimental manner. The assumption was that the proportion of the rule that was likely to be verified was in direct correlation with the number of times one met with the ally.

The exclusive method of inducing a meeting with the ally was, naturally, through the appropriate use of the plant in which the ally was contained. Nonetheless, don Juan hinted that at a certain advanced stage of learning the meetings could have taken place without the use of the plant; that is to say, they could have been elicited by an act of volition alone.

I have called the meetings with the ally states of non-ordinary reality. I chose the term “non-ordinary reality” because it conformed with don Juan’s assertion that such meetings took place in a continuum of reality, a reality that was only slightly different from the ordinary reality of everyday life. Consequently, non-ordinary reality had specific characteristics that could have been assessed in presumably equal terms by everyone. Don Juan never formulated these characteristics in a definite manner, but his reticence seemed to stem from the idea that each man had to claim knowledge as a matter of personal nature.

The following categories, which I consider the specific characteristics of non-ordinary reality, were drawn from my personal experience. Yet, in spite of their seemingly idiosyncratic origin, they were reinforced and developed by don Juan under the premises of his knowledge; he conducted his teachings as if these characteristics were inherent in non-ordinary reality: (1) nonordinary reality was utilizable; (2) non-ordinary reality had component elements.

The first characteristics – that non-ordinary reality was utilizable – implied that it was fit for actual service. Don Juan explained time and time again that the encompassing concern of his knowledge was the pursuit of practical results, and that such a pursuit was pertinent in ordinary as well as in non-ordinary reality. He maintained that in his knowledge there were the means of putting non-ordinary reality into service, in the same way as ordinary reality. According to that assertion, the states induced by the allies were elicited with the deliberate intention of being used. In this particular instance don Juan’s rationale was that the meetings with the allies were set up to learn their secrets, and this rationale served as a rigid guide to screen out other personalistic motives that one may have had for seeking the states of non-ordinary reality.

The second characteristic of non-ordinary reality was that it had component elements. Those component 96

elements were the items, the actions, and the events that one perceived, seemingly with one’s senses, as being the content of a state of non-ordinary reality. The total picture of non-ordinary reality was made up of elements that appeared to possess qualities both of the elements of ordinary reality and of the components of an ordinary dream, although they were not on a par with either one.

According to my personal judgment, the component elements of non-ordinary reality had three unique characteristics: (1) stability, (2) singularity, and (3) lack of ordinary consensus. These qualities made them stand on their own as discrete units possessing an unmistakable individuality.

The component elements of non-ordinary reality had stability in the sense that they were constant. In this respect they were similar to the component elements of ordinary reality, for they neither shifted nor disappeared, as would the component elements of ordinary dreams. It seemed as if every detail that made up a component element of non-ordinary reality had a concreteness of its own, a concreteness I perceived as being extraordinarily stable. The stability was so pronounced that it allowed me to establish the criterion that, in non-ordinary reality, one always possessed the capacity to come to a halt in order to examine any of the component elements for what appeared to be an indefinite length of time. The application of this criterion permitted me to differentiate the states of non-ordinary reality used by don Juan from other states of peculiar perception which may have appeared to be non-ordinary reality, but which did not yield to this criterion.

The second exclusive characteristic of the component elements of non-ordinary reality – their singularity – meant that every detail of the component elements was a single, individual item; it seemed as if each detail was isolated from others, or as if details appeared one at a time. The singularity of the component elements seemed further to create a unique necessity, which may have been common to everybody: the imperative need, the urge, to amalgamate all isolated details into a total scene, a total composite. Don Juan was obviously aware of that need and used it on every possible occasion.

The third unique characteristic of the component elements, and the most dramatic of all, was their lack of ordinary consensus. One perceived the component elements while being in a state of complete solitude, which was more like the aloneness of a man witnessing by himself an unfamiliar scene in ordinary reality than like the solitude of dreaming. As the stability of the component elements of non-ordinary reality enabled one to stop and examine any of them for what appeared to be an indefinite length of time, it seemed almost as if they were elements of everyday life; however, the difference between the component elements of the two states of reality was their capacity for ordinary consensus. By ordinary consensus I mean the tacit or the implicit agreement on the component elements of everyday life which fellow men give to one another in various ways. For the component elements of non-ordinary reality, ordinary consensus was unattainable. In this respect non-ordinary reality was closer to a state of dreaming than to ordinary reality. And yet, because of their unique characteristics of stability and singularity, the component elements of non-ordinary reality had a compelling quality of realness which seemed to foster the necessity of validating their existence in terms of consensus.

The specific purpose of the rule.

The other component of the concept that the rule was verified in non-ordinary reality was the idea that the rule had a specific purpose. That purpose was the achievement, by using an ally, of a utilitarian goal. In the context of don Juan’s teachings, it was assumed that the rule was learned by corroborating it in ordinary and non- ordinary reality. The decisive facet of the teachings was, however, corroboration of the rule in the states of non- ordinary reality; and what was corroborated in the actions and elements perceived in non-ordinary reality was the specific purpose of the rule. That specific purpose dealt with the ally’s power, that is, with the manipulation of an ally first as a vehicle and then as a helper, but don Juan always treated each instance of the specific purpose of the rule as a single unit implicitly covering these two areas.

Because the specific purpose referred to the manipulation of the ally’s power, it had an inseparable sequel – the manipulatory techniques. The manipulatory techniques were the actual procedures, the actual operations, undertaken in each instance involving the manipulation of an ally’s power. The idea that an ally was manipulatable warranted its usefulness in the achievement of pragmatic goals, and the manipulatory techniques were the procedures that supposedly rendered the ally usable.

Specific purpose and manipulatory techniques formed a single unit which a sorcerer had to know exactly in 97

order to command his ally with efficacy.
Don Juan’s teachings included the following specific purposes of the two allies’ rules. I have arranged them

here in the same order in which he presented them to me.
The first specific purpose that was verified in non-ordinary reality was testing with the ally contained in

Datura inoxia. The manipulatory technique was ingesting a potion made with a section of the root of the Datura plant. Ingesting that potion produced a shallow state of non-ordinary reality, which don Juan used for testing me in order to determine whether or not, as a prospective apprentice, I had affinity with the ally contained in the plant. The potion was supposed to produce either a sensation of unspecified physical well-being or a feeling of great discomfort, effects that don Juan judged to be, respectively, a sign of affinity or of the lack of it.

The second specific purpose was divination. It was also part of the rule of the ally contained in Datura inoxia. Don Juan considered divination to be a form of specialized movement, on the assumption that a sorcerer was transported by the ally to a particular compartment of non-ordinary reality where he was capable of divining events that were otherwise unknown to him.

The manipulatory technique of the second specific purpose was a process of ingestion-absorption. A potion made with Datura root was ingested, and an unguent made with Datura seeds was rubbed on the temporal and frontal areas of the head. I had used the term “ingestion-absorption” because ingestion might have been aided by skin absorption in producing a state of non-ordinary reality, or skin absorption might have been aided by ingestion.

This manipulatory technique required the utilization of other elements besides the Datura plant, in this instance two lizards. They were supposed to serve the sorcerer as instruments of movement, meaning here the peculiar perception of being in a particular realm in which one was capable of hearing a lizard talk and then of visualizing whatever it had said. Don Juan explained such phenomena as the lizards answering the questions that had been posed for divination.

The third specific purpose of the rule of the ally contained in the Datura plants dealt with another specialized form of movement, bodily flight. As don Juan explained, a sorcerer using this ally was capable of flying bodily over enormous distances; the bodily flight was the sorcerer’s capacity to move through nonordinary reality and then to return at will to ordinary reality.

The manipulatory technique of the third specific purpose was also a process of ingestion-absorption. A potion made with Datura root was ingested, and an unguent made with Datura seeds was rubbed on the soles of the feet, on the inner part of both legs, and on the genitals.

The third specific purpose was not corroborated in depth; don Juan implied that he had not disclosed other aspects of the manipulatory technique which would permit a sorcerer to acquire a sense of direction while moving.

The fourth specific purpose of the rule was testing, the ally being contained in Psilocybe mexicana. The testing was not intended to determine affinity or lack of affinity with the ally, but rather to be an unavoidable first trial, or the first meeting with the ally.

The manipulatory technique for the fourth specific purpose utilized a smoking mixture made of dried mushrooms mixed with different parts of five other plants, none of which was known to have hallucinogenic properties. The rule placed the emphasis on the act of inhaling the smoke from the mixture; the teacher thus used the word humito (little smoke) to refer to the ally contained in it. But I have called this process ^ingestion- inhalation” because it was a combination of ingesting first and then of inhaling. The mushrooms, because of their softness, dried into a very fine dust which was rather difficult to burn. The other ingredients turned into shreds upon drying. These shreds were incinerated in the pipe bow] while the mushroom powder, which did not burn so easily, was drawn into the mouth and ingested. Logically, the quantity of dried mushrooms ingested was larger than the quantity of shreds burned and inhaled.

The effects of the first state of non-ordinary reality elicited by Psilocybe mexicana gave rise to don Juan’s brief discussion of the fifth specific purpose of the rule. It was concerned with movement – moving with the help of the ally contained in Psilocybe mexicana into and through inanimate objects or into and through animate beings. The complete manipulatory technique may have included hypnotic suggestion besides the process of ingestion-inhalation. Because don Juan presented this specific purpose only as a brief discussion which was not further verified, it was impossible for me to assess correctly any of its aspects.


The sixth specific purpose of the rule verified in non-ordinary reality, also involving the ally contained in Psilocybe mexicana, dealt with another aspect of movement – moving by adopting an alternate form. This aspect of movement was subjected to the most intensive verification. Don Juan asserted that assiduous practice was needed in order to master it. He maintained that the ally contained in Psilocybe mexicana had the inherent capacity to cause the sorcerer’s body to disappear; thus the idea of adopting an alternate form was a logical possibility for achieving movement under the conditions of bodilessness. Another logical possibility for achieving movement was, naturally, moving through objects and beings, which don Juan had discussed briefly.

The manipulatory technique of the sixth specific purpose of the rule included not only ingestion-inhalation but also, according to all indications, hypnotic suggestion. Don Juan had put forth such a suggestion during the transitional stages into nonordinary reality, and also during the early part of the states of non-ordinary reality. He classified the seemingly hypnotic process as being only his personal supervision, meaning that he had not revealed to me the complete manipulatory technique at that particular time.

The adoption of an alternate form did not mean that a sorcerer was free to take, on the spur of the moment, any form he wanted to take; on the contrary, it implied a lifelong training to achieve a preconceived form. The preconceived form don Juan had preferred to adopt was that of a crow, and consequently he emphasized that particular form in his teachings. He made it very clear, nonetheless, that a crow was his personal choice, and that there were innumerable other possible preconceived forms.


The Fourth Unit

The rule was corroborated by special consensus

Among the component concepts forming the rule, the one that was indispensable for explaining it was the idea that the rule was corroborated by special consensus; all the other component concepts were insufficient by themselves for explaining the meaning of the rule.

Don Juan made it very clear that an ally was not bestowed on a sorcerer, but that a sorcerer learned to manipulate the ally through the process of corroborating its rule. The complete learning process involved verification of the rule in non-ordinary reality as well as in ordinary reality. Yet the crucial facet of don Juan’s teachings was corroboration of the rule in a pragmatic and experimental manner in the context of what one perceived as being the component elements of non-ordinary reality. But those component elements were not subject to ordinary consensus, and if one was incapable of obtaining agreement on their existence, their perceived realness would have been only an illusion. As a man would have to be by himself in non-ordinary reality, by reason of his solitariness whatever he perceived would have to be idiosyncratic. The solitariness and the idiosyncrasies were a consequence of the assumed fact that no fellow man could give one ordinary consensus on one’s perceptions.

At this point don Juan brought in the most important constituent part of his teachings: he provided me with special consensus on the actions and the elements I had perceived in nonordinary reality, actions and elements that were believed to corroborate the rule. In don Juan’s teachings, special consensus meant tacit or implicit agreement on the component elements of non-ordinary reality, which he, in his capacity as teacher, gave me as the apprentice of his knowledge. This special consensus was not in any way fraudulent or spurious, such as the one two persons might give each other in describing the component elements of their individual dreams. The special consensus don Juan supplied was systematic, and to provide it he may have needed the totality of his knowledge. With the acquisition of systematic consensus the actions and the elements perceived in non-ordinary reality became consensually real, which meant, in don Juan’s classificatory scheme, that the rule of the ally had been corroborated. The rule had meaning as a concept, then, only inasmuch as it was subject to special consensus, for without special agreement about its corroboration the rule would have been a purely idiosyncratic construct.

Because of its indispensability for explaining the rule, I have made the idea that the rule was corroborated by special consensus the fourth main unit of this structural scheme. This unit, because it was basically the interplay between two individuals, was composed of (1) the benefactor, or the guide into the knowledge being taught, the agent who supplied special consensus; (2) the apprentice, or the subject for whom special consensus was provided.

Failure or success in achieving the operational goal of the teachings rested on this unit. Thus, special consensus was the precarious culmination of the following process: A sorcerer had a distinctive feature, possession of an ally, which differentiated him from ordinary men. An ally was a power that had the special property of having a rule. And the unique characteristic of the rule was its corroboration in non-ordinary reality by means of special consensus.

The benefactor

The benefactor was the agent without whom the corroboration of the rule would have been impossible. In order to provide special consensus, he performed the two tasks of (1) preparing the background for special consensus on the corroboration of the rule, and (2) guiding special consensus.

Preparing special consensus

The benefactor’s first task was to set the background necessary for bringing forth special consensus on corroboration of the rule. As my teacher, don Juan made me (1) experience other states of non-ordinary reality which he explained as being quite apart from those elicited to corroborate the rule of the allies; (2) participate


with him in certain special states of ordinary reality which he seemed to have produced himself; and (3) recapitulate ; each experience in detail. Don Juan’s task of preparing special consensus consisted of strengthening and confirming the corroboration of the rule by giving special consensus on the component elements of these new states of non-ordinary reality, and on the component elements of the special states of ordinary reality.

The other states of non-ordinary reality which don Juan made me experience were induced by the ingestion of the cactus Lophophora williamsii, commonly known as peyote. Usually the top part of the cactus was cut off and stored until it had dried, and then it was chewed and ingested, but under special circumstances the top part was ingested while it was fresh. Ingestion, however, was not the only way to experience a state of nonordinary reality with Lophophora williamsii. Don Juan suggested that spontaneous states of non-ordinary reality occurred under unique conditions, and he categorized them as gifts from or bestowals by the power contained in the plant.

Non-ordinary reality induced by Lophophora williamsii had three distinctive features: (1) it was believed to be produced by an entity called “Mescalito”; (2) it was utilizable; and (3) it had component elements.

Mescalito was purported to be a unique power, similar to an ally in the sense that it allowed one to transcend the boundaries of ordinary reality, but also quite different from an ally. Like an ally, Mescalito was contained in a definite plant, the cactus Lophophora williamsii. But unlike an ally, which was merely contained in a plant, Mescalito and this plant in which it was contained were the same; the plant was the centre of overt manifestations of respect, the recipient of profound veneration. Don Juan firmly believed that under certain conditions, such as a state of profound acquiescence to Mescalito, the simple act of being contiguous to the cactus would induce a state of non-ordinary reality.

But Mescalito did not have a rule, and for that reason it was not an ally even though it was capable of transporting a man outside the boundaries of ordinary reality. Not having a rule not only barred Mescalito from being used as an ally, for without a rule it could not conceivably be manipulated, but also made it a power remarkably different from an ally.

As a direct consequence of not having a rule, Mescalito was available to any man without the need of a long apprenticeship or the commitment to manipulatory techniques, as with an ally. And because it was available without any training, Mescalito was said to be a protector. To be a protector meant that it was accessible to anyone. Yet Mescalito as a protector was not accessible to every man, and with some individuals it was not compatible. According to don Juan, such incompatibility was caused by the discrepancy between Mescalito’s “unbending morality” and the individual’s own questionable character.

Mescalito was also a teacher. It was supposed to exercise didactic functions. It was a director, a guide to proper behaviour. Mescalito taught the right way. Don Juan’s idea of the right way seemed to be a sense of propriety, which consisted, not of righteousness in terms of morality, but of a tendency to simplify behavioural patterns in terms of the efficacy promoted by his teachings. Don Juan believed Mescalito taught simplification of behaviour.

Mescalito was believed to be an entity. And as such it was purported to have a definite form that was usually not constant or predictable. This quality implied that Mescalito was perceived differently not only by different men, but also by the same man on different occasions. Don Juan expressed this idea in terms of Mescalito’s ability to adopt any conceivable form. For individuals with whom it was compatible, however, it adopted an unchanging form after they had partaken of it over a period of years.

The non-ordinary reality produced by Mescalito was utilizable, and in this respect was identical with that induced by an ally. The only difference was the rationale don Juan used in his teachings for eliciting it: one was supposed to seek “Mescalito’s lessons on the right way”.

The non-ordinary reality produced by Mescalito also had component elements, and here again the states of non-ordinary reality induced by Mescalito and by an ally were identical. In both, the characteristics of the component elements were stability, singularity, and lack of consensus.

The other procedure don Juan used to prepare the background for special consensus was to make me the co- participant in special states of ordinary reality. A special state of ordinary reality was a situation that could be described in terms of the properties of everyday life, except that it might have been impossible to obtain ordinary consensus on its component elements. Don Juan prepared the background for the special consensus on the corroboration of the rule by giving special consensus on the component elements of the special states of ordinary


reality. These component elements were elements of everyday life whose existence could be confirmed only by don Juan through special agreement. This was a supposition on my part, because as co-participant in the special state of ordinary reality I believed that only don Juan, as the other co-participant, would know which component elements made up the special state of ordinary reality.

In my own personal judgement, the special states of ordinary reality were produced by don Juan, although he never claimed to have done so. It seemed that he produced them through a skilful manipulation of hints and suggestions to guide my behaviour. I have called that process the “manipulation of cues”.

It had two aspects: (1) cuing about the environment, and (2) cuing about behaviour.

During the course of the teachings don Juan made me experience two such states. He may have produced the first through the process of cuing about the environment. Don Juan’s rationale for producing it was that I needed a test to prove my good intentions, and only after he had given me special consensus on its component elements did he consent to begin his teachings. By “cuing about the environment” I meant that don Juan led me into a special state of ordinary reality by isolating, through subtle suggestions, component elements of ordinary reality which were part of the immediate physical surroundings. Elements isolated in such a manner created in this instance a specific visual perception of colour, which don Juan tacitly verified.

The second state of ordinary reality may have been produced by the process of cuing about behaviour. Don Juan, through close association with me and through the exercise of a consistent way of behaving, had succeeded in creating an image of himself, an image that served me as an essential pattern by which I could recognize him. Then, by performing certain specific choice responses, which were irreconcilable with the image he had created, don Juan was capable of distorting this essential pattern of recognition. The distortion may in turn have changed the normal configuration of elements associated with the pattern into a new and incongruous pattern which could not be subjected to ordinary consensus; don Juan, as the co-participant of that special state of ordinary reality, was the only person who knew which the component elements were, and thus he was the only person who could give me agreement on their existence.

Don Juan set up the second special state of ordinary reality also as a test, as a sort of recapitulation of his teachings. It seemed that both special states of ordinary reality marked a transition in the teachings. They seemed to be points of articulation. And the second state may have marked my entrance into a new stage of learning characterized by more direct co-participation between teacher and apprentice for purposes of arriving at special consensus.

The third procedure that don Juan employed to prepare special consensus was to make me render a detailed account of what I had experienced as an aftermath of each state of nonordinary reality and each special state of ordinary reality, and then to stress certain choice units which he isolated from the content of my account. The essential factor was directing the outcome of the states of non-ordinary reality, and my implicit assumption here was that the characteristics of the component elements of non-ordinary reality – stability, singularity, and lack of ordinary consensus – were inherent in them and were not the result of don Juan’s guidance. This assumption was based on the observation that the component elements of the first state of non-ordinary reality I underwent possessed the same three characteristics, and yet don Juan had hardly begun his directing. Assuming, then, that these characteristics were inherent in the component elements of non-ordinary reality in general, don Juan’s task consisted of utilizing them as the basis for directing the outcome of each state of non-ordinary reality elicited by Datura inoxia, Psilocybe mexicana, and Lophophora williamsii.

The detailed account that don Juan made me render as the aftermath of each state of non-ordinary reality was a recapitulation of the experience. It entailed a meticulous verbal rendition of what I had perceived during the course of each state. A recapitulation had two facets: (1) the recollection of events and (2) the description of perceived component elements. The recollection of events was concerned with the incidents I had seemingly perceived during the course of the experience I was narrating: that is, the events that seemed to have happened and the actions I seemed to have performed. The description .of the perceived component elements was my account of the specific form and the specific detail of the component elements I seemed to have perceived.

From each recapitulation of the experience don Juan selected certain units by means of the processes of (1) attaching importance to certain appropriate areas of my account and (2) denying all importance to other areas of my account. The interval between states of non-ordinary reality was the time when don Juan expounded on the recapitulation of the experience,


I have called the first process “emphasis” because it entailed a forceful speculation on the distinction between what don Juan had conceived as the goals I should have accomplished in the state of non-ordinary reality and what I had perceived myself. Emphasis meant, then, that don Juan isolated an area of my narrative by centering on it the bulk of his speculation. Emphasis was either positive or negative. Positive emphasis implied that don Juan was satisfied with a particular item I had perceived because it conformed with the goals he had expected me to achieve in the state of non-ordinary reality. Negative emphasis meant that don Juan was not satisfied with what I had perceived because it may not have conformed with his expectations or because he judged it insufficient. Nonetheless, he still placed the bulk of speculation on that area of my recapitulation in order to emphasize the negative value of my perception.

The second selective process that don Juan employed was to deny all importance to some areas of my account. I have called it “lack of emphasis” because it was the opposite and the counterbalance of emphasis. It seemed that by denying importance to the parts of my account pertaining to component elements which don Juan judged to be completely superfluous to the goal of his teachings, he literally obliterated my perception of the same elements in the successive states of non-ordinary reality.

Guiding special consensus

The second aspect of don Juan’s task as a teacher was to guide special consensus by directing the outcome of each state of nonordinary reality and each special state of ordinary reality. Don Juan directed that outcome through an orderly manipulation of the extrinsic and the intrinsic levels of non-ordinary reality, and of the intrinsic level of the special states of ordinary reality.

The extrinsic level of non-ordinary reality pertained to its operative arrangement. It involved the mechanics, the steps leading into non-ordinary reality proper. The extrinsic level had three discernible aspects: (1) the preparatory period, (2) the transitional stages, and (3) the teacher’s supervision.

The preparatory period was the time that elapsed between one state of non-ordinary reality and the next. Don Juan used it to give me direct instructions and to develop the general course of his teachings. The preparatory period was of critical importance in setting up the states of non-ordinary reality, and because it pivoted on them it had two distinct facets: (1) the period prior to non-ordinary reality, and (2) the period following nonordinary reality.

The period prior to non-ordinary reality was a relatively short interval of time, twenty-four hours at the most. In the states of non-ordinary reality induced by Datura inoxia and Psilocybe mexicana the period was characterized by don Juan’s dramatic and accelerated direct instructions on the specific purpose of the rule and on the manipulatory techniques I was supposed to corroborate in the oncoming state of non-ordinary reality. With Lophophora williamsii the period was essentially a time of ritual behaviour, since Mescalito had no rule.

The period following non-ordinary reality, on the other hand, was a long span of time; usually lasting for months, it allowed time for don Juan’s discussion and clarification of the events that had taken place during the preceding state of non-ordinary reality. This period was especially important after the use of Lophophora williamsii. Because Mescalito did not have a rule, the goal pursued in non-ordinary reality was the verification of Mescalito’s characteristics; don Juan delineated those characteristics during the long interval following each state of nonordinary reality.

The second aspect of the extrinsic level was the transitional stages, which meant the passage from a state of ordinary reality into a state of non-ordinary reality, and vice versa. The two states of reality overlapped in these transitional stages, and the criterion I used to differentiate the latter from either state of reality was that their component elements were blurred. I was never able to perceive them or to recollect them with precision.

In terms of perceived time, the transitional stages were either abrupt or slow. In the instance of Datura inoxia, ordinary and non-ordinary states were almost juxtaposed, and the transition from one to the other took place abruptly. The most noticeable were the passages into non-ordinary reality. Psilocybe mexicana, on the other hand, elicited transitional stages that I perceived to be slow. The passage from ordinary into non-ordinary reality was specially long-drawn-out and perceivable. I was always more aware of it, perhaps because of my apprehension about forthcoming events.

The transitional stages elicited by Lophophora williamsii seemed to combine features of the other two. For 103

one thing, both the passages into and out of non-ordinary reality were very noticeable. The entering into non- ordinary reality was slow, and I experienced it with hardly any impairment of my faculties; but reverting back into ordinary reality was an abrupt transitional stage, which I perceived with clarity, but with less facility to assess every detail of it.

The third aspect of the extrinsic level was the teacher’s supervision or the actual help that I, as the apprentice, received in the course of experiencing a state of non-ordinary reality. I have set up- supervision as a category by itself because it was implied that the teacher would have to enter non-ordinary reality with his apprentice at a certain point of the teachings.

During the states of non-ordinary reality elicited by Datura inoxia I received minimal supervision. Don Juan placed heavy stress on fulfilling the steps of the preparatory period, but after I had complied with that requirement he let me proceed by myself.

In the non-ordinary reality induced by Psilocybe mexicana, the degree of supervision was the complete opposite, for here, according to don Juan, the apprentice needed the most extensive guidance and help. The corroboration of the rule necessitated the adoption of an alternate form, which seemed to suggest that I had to undergo a series of very specialized adjustments in perceiving the surroundings. Don Juan produced those necessary adjustments through verbal commands and suggestions during the transitional stages into non-ordinary reality. Another aspect of his supervision was to direct me during the early part of the states of non-ordinary reality by commanding me to focus my attention on certain component elements of the preceding state of ordinary reality. The items he focused upon were apparently chosen at random, as the important issue was the act of perfecting the adopted alternate form. The final aspect of supervision was restoring me back to ordinary reality. It was implicit that this operation also required maximal supervision from don Juan, although I could not recall the actual procedure.

The supervision necessary for the states induced by Lophophora williamsii was a blend of the other two. Don Juan remained at my side for as long as he could, yet he did not attempt in any way to direct me into or out of non-ordinary reality.

The second level of differentiative order in non-ordinary reality was the seemingly internal standards or the seemingly internal arrangement of its component elements. I have called it the “intrinsic level”, and I have assumed here that the component elements were subject to three general processes, which seemed to be the product of don Juan’s guidance: (1) a progression towards the specific; (2) a progression towards a more extensive range of appraisal; and (3) a progression towards a more pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality.

The progression towards the specific was the apparent advance of the component elements of each successive state of non ordinary reality towards being more precise, more specific. It entailed two separate aspects: (1) a progression towards specific single forms; and (2) a progression towards specific total results.

The progression towards specific single forms implied that the component elements were amorphously familiar in the early states of non-ordinary reality, and became specific and unfamiliar in the late states. The progression seemed to encompass two levels of change in the component elements of non-ordinary reality: (1) a progressive complexity of perceived detail; and (2) a progression from familiar to unfamiliar forms.

Progressive complexity of detail meant that in each successive state of non-ordinary reality, the minute particulars I perceived as constituting the component elements became more complex. I assessed complexity in terms of my being aware that the structure of the component elements grew more complicated, yet the details did not become exceedingly or perplexingly entangled. The increasing complexity referred rather to the harmonious increase of perceived detail, which ranged from my impressions of vague forms during the early states to my perception of massive, elaborate arrays of minute particulars in the late states.

The progression from familiar to unfamiliar forms implied that at first the forms of the component elements either were familiar forms found in ordinary reality, or at least evoked the familiarity of everyday life. But in successive states of nonordinary reality the specific forms, the details making up the form, and the patterns in which the component elements were combined became progressively unfamiliar, until I could not put them on a par with, nor could they even evoke, in some instances, anything I had ever perceived in ordinary reality.

The progression of the component elements towards specific total results was the gradually closer approximation of the total result I accomplished in each state of non-ordinary reality to the total result don Juan sought, in matters of corroborating the rule; that is, non-ordinary reality was induced to corroborate the rule, and


the corroboration grew more specific in each successive attempt.
The second general process of the intrinsic level of non ordinary reality was the progression towards a more

extensive range of appraisal. In other words, it was the gain I perceived in each successive state of non-ordinary reality towards the expansion of the area over which I could have exercised my capacity to focus attention. The point in question here was either that there existed a definite area that expanded, or that my capacity to perceive seemed to increase in each successive state. Don Juan’s teachings fostered and reinforced the idea that there was an area that expanded, and I have called that alleged area the “range of appraisal”. Its progressive expansion consisted of a seemingly sensorial appraisal I made of the component elements of non ordinary reality which fell within a certain range. I evaluated and analysed these component elements, it seemed, with my senses, and to all appearances I perceived the range in which they occurred as being more extensive, more encompassing, in each successive state.

The range of appraisal was of two kinds: (1) the dependent range and (2) the independent range. The dependent range was an area in which the component elements were the items of the physical environment which had been within my awareness in the preceding state of ordinary reality. The independent range, on the other hand, was the area in which the component elements of non-ordinary reality seemed to come into existence by themselves, free of the influence of the physical surroundings of the preceding ordinary reality.

Don Juan’s clear allusion in matters of the range of appraisal was that each of the two allies and Mescalito possessed the property of inducing both forms of perception. Yet it seemed to me that Datura inoxia had a greater capacity to induce an independent range, although in the facet of bodily flight, which I did not perceive long enough to assess it, the range of appraisal was implicitly a dependent one. Psilocybe mexicana had the capacity to produce a dependent range; Lophophora williamsii had the capacity to produce both.

My assumption was that don Juan used those different properties in order to prepare special consensus. In other words, in the states produced by Datura inoxia the component elements lacking ordinary consensus existed independently of the preceding ordinary reality. With Psilocybe mexicana, lack of ordinary consensus involved component elements that depended on the environment of the preceding ordinary reality. And with Lophophora williamsii, some component elements were determined by the environment, whereas others were independent of the environment. Thus the use of the three plants together seemed to have been designed to create a broad perception of the lack of ordinary consensus on the component elements of non-ordinary reality.

The last process of the intrinsic level of non-ordinary reality was the progression I perceived in each successive state towards a more pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality. This progression seemed to be correlated with the idea that each new state was a more complex stage of learning, and that the increasing complexity of each new stage required a more inclusive and pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality. The progression was most noticeable when Lophophora williamsii was used; the simultaneous existence of a dependent and an independent range of appraisal in each state made the pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality more extensive, for it covered both ranges at once.

Directing the outcome of the special states of ordinary reality seemed to produce an order in the intrinsic level, an order characterized by the progression of the component elements towards the specific; that is to say, the component elements were more numerous and were isolated more easily in each successive special state of ordinary reality. In the course of his teachings, don Juan elicited only two of them, but it was still possible for me to detect that in the second it was easier for don Juan to isolate a large number of component elements, and that facility for specific results affected the rapidity with which the second special state of ordinary reality was produced.*


The Conceptual Order

The apprentice

The apprentice was the last unit of the operative order. The apprentice was in his own right the unit that brought don Juan’s teachings into focus, for he had to accept the totality of the special consensus given on the component elements of all the states of non-ordinary reality and all the special states of ordinary reality, before special consensus could become a meaningful concept. But special consensus, by force of being concerned with the actions and elements perceived in non-ordinary reality, entailed a peculiar order of conceptualization, an order that brought such perceived actions and elements into accordance with corroboration of the rule. Therefore the acceptance of special consensus meant for me, as the apprentice, the adoption of a certain point of view validated by the totality of don Juan’s teachings; that is, it meant my entrance into a conceptual level, a level comprising an order of conceptualization that would render the teachings understandable in their own terms. I have called it the “conceptual order” because it was the order that gave meaning to the unordinary phenomena that formed don Juan’s knowledge; it was the matrix of meaning in which all individual concepts brought out in his teachings were embedded.

*For the process of validating special consensus, see Appendix A. 106

Taking into account, then, that the apprentice’s goal consisted of adopting that order of conceptualization, he had two alternatives: he could either fail in his efforts or he could succeed.

The first alternative, failure to adopt the conceptual order, meant also that the apprentice had failed to achieve the operational goal of the teachings. The idea of failure was explained in the theme of the four symbolic enemies of a man of knowledge; it was implicit that failure was not merely the act of discontinuing pursuit of the goal, but the act of abandoning the quest completely under the pressure created by any one of the four symbolic enemies. The same theme also made it clear that the first two enemies – fear and clarity – were the cause of a man’s defeat at the apprentice’s level, that defeat at that level signified failure to learn how to command an ally, and that as a consequence of such failure the apprentice had adopted the conceptual order in a shallow, fallacious manner. That is, his adoption of the conceptual order was fallacious in the sense of being a fraudulent affiliation with or commitment to the meaning propounded by the teachings. The idea was that upon being defeated an apprentice, besides being incapable of commanding an ally, would be left with only the knowledge of certain manipulatory techniques, plus the memory of the perceived component elements of non-ordinary reality, but he would not identify with the rationale that might have made them meaningful in their own terms. Under these circumstances any man might be forced to develop his own explanations for idiosyncratically chosen areas of the phenomena he had experienced, and that process would entail the fallacious adoption of the point of view propounded by don Juan’s teachings. Fallacious adoption of the conceptual order, however, was apparently not restricted to the apprentice alone. In the theme of the enemies of a man of knowledge, it was also implicit that a man, after having achieved the goal of learning to command an ally, could still succumb to the onslaughts of his other two enemies – power and old age. In don Juan’s categorization scheme, such a defeat implied that a man had fallen into a shallow or fallacious adoption of the conceptual order, as had the defeated apprentice.

The successful adoption of the conceptual order, on the other hand, meant that the apprentice had achieved the operational goal – a bona fide adoption of the point of view propounded in the teachings. That is, his adoption of the conceptual order was bona fide in that it was a complete affiliation with, a complete commitment to, the meaning expressed in that order of conceptualization.

Don Juan never clarified the exact point at which, or the exact way in which, an apprentice ceased to be an apprentice, although the allusion was clear that once he had achieved the operational goal of the system – that is, once he knew how to command an ally – he would no longer need the teacher for guidance. The idea that the time would come when a teacher’s directions would be superfluous implied that the apprentice would succeed in adopting the conceptual order, and in so doing he would acquire the capacity to draw meaningful inferences without the teacher’s aid.

Insofar as don Juan’s teachings were concerned, and until I discontinued my apprenticeship, the acceptance of special consensus seemed to entail the adoption of two units of the conceptual order: (1) the idea of a reality of special consensus; (2) the idea that the reality of ordinary, everyday-life consensus, and the reality of special consensus, had an equally pragmatic value.

Reality of special consensus

The main body of don Juan’s teachings, as he himself stated, concerned the use of the three hallucinogenic plants with which he induced states of non-ordinary reality. The use of these three plants seems to have been a matter of deliberate intent on his part. He seems to have employed them because each of them possessed different hallucinogenic properties, which he interpreted as the different inherent natures of the powers contained in them. By directing the extrinsic and intrinsic levels of non ordinary reality, don Juan exploited the different hallucinogenic properties until they created in me, as the apprentice, the perception that non-ordinary reality was a perfectly defined area, a realm separate from ordinary, everyday life whose inherent properties were revealed as I went along.

Nevertheless, it was also possible that the allegedly different properties might have been merely the product of don Juan’s own process of directing the intrinsic order of non-ordinary reality, although in his teachings he exploited the idea that the power contained in each plant induced states of non-ordinary reality which differed from one another. If the latter was true, their differences in terms of the units of this analysis seem to have been in the range of appraisal which one could perceive in the states elicited by each of the three. Owing to the


peculiarities of their range of appraisal, all three contributed to producing the perception of a perfectly defined area or realm, consisting of two compartments: the independent range, called the realm of the lizards, or of Mescalito’s lessons; and the dependent range, referred to as the area where one could move by one’s own means.

I use the term “non-ordinary reality”, as already noted, in the sense of extraordinary, uncommon reality. For a beginner apprentice such a reality was by all means unordinary, but the apprenticeship of don Juan’s knowledge demanded my compulsory participation and my commitment to pragmatic and experimental practice of whatever I had learned. That meant that I, as the apprentice, had to experience a number of states of non ordinary reality, and that firsthand knowledge would, sooner or later, make the classifications “ordinary” and “non-ordinary” meaningless for me. The bona fide adoption of the first unit of the conceptual order would have entailed, then, the idea that there was another separate, but no longer unordinary, realm of reality, the “reality of special consensus”.

Accepting as a major premise that the reality of special consensus was a separate realm would have explained meaningfully the idea that the meetings with the allies or with Mescalito took place in a realm that was not illusory.

The reality of special consensus had pragmatic value

The same process of directing the extrinsic and intrinsic levels of non-ordinary reality, which seemed to have created the recognition of the reality of special consensus as a separate realm, appeared also to have been responsible for my perception that the reality of special consensus was practical and usable. The acceptance of special consensus on all the states of non-ordinary reality, and on all the special states of ordinary reality, was designed to consolidate the awareness that it was equal to the reality of ordinary, everyday-life consensus. This equality was based on the impression that the reality of special consensus was not a realm that could be equated with dreams. On the contrary, it had stable component elements that were subject to special agreement. It was actually a realm where one could perceive the surroundings in a deliberate manner. Its component elements were not idiosyncratic or whimsical, but concise items or events whose existence was attested to by the whole body of teachings.

The implication of the equality was clear in the treatment don Juan accorded to the reality of special consensus, a treatment that was utilitarian and matter of course; not at any time did he refer to it, nor was I required to behave towards it in any but a utilitarian, matter-of-course way. The fact that the two areas were considered equal, however, did not mean that at any moment one could have behaved in exactly the same way in either area. On the contrary, a sorcerer’s behaviour had to be different since each area of reality had qualities that rendered it utilizable in its own way. The defining factor in terms of meaning seems to have been the idea that such an equality could be measured on the grounds of practical utility. Thus, a sorcerer had to believe that it was possible to shift back and forth from one area to the other, that both were inherently utilizable, and that the only dissimilarity between the two was their different capacity for being used, that is, the different purposes they served.

Yet their separateness seemed to be only an appropriate arrangement that was pertinent to my particular level of apprenticeship, which don Juan used for making me aware that another realm of reality could exist. But from his acts, more than from his statements, I was led to believe that for a • sorcerer there was but one single continuum of reality which had two, or perhaps more than two, parts from which he drew inferences of pragmatic value. The bona fide adoption of the idea that the reality of special consensus had pragmatic value would have given a meaningful perspective to movement.

If I had accepted the idea that the reality of special consensus was usable because it possessed inherently utilizable properties which were as pragmatic as those of the reality of everyday consensus, then it would have been logical for me to understand why don Juan exploited the notion of movement in the reality of special consensus at such great length. After accepting the pragmatic existence of another reality, the only thing a sorcerer had to do would be to learn the mechanics of movement. Naturally, movement in that instance had to be specialized because it was concerned with the inherent, pragmatic properties of the reality of special consensus.



The issues of my analysis have been the following:

1. The fragment of don Juan’s teachings which I have presented here consisted of two aspects: the operative order or the meaningful sequence in which all the individual concepts of his teachings were linked to one another, and the conceptual order or the matrix of meaning in which all the individual concepts of his teaching were embedded.

2. The operative order had four main units with their respective component ideas: (1) the concept “man of knowledge”; (2) the idea that a man of knowledge had the aid of a specialized power called an ally; (3) the idea that an ally was governed by a body of regulations called the rule; and (4) the idea that the corroboration of the rule was subject to special consensus.

3. These four units were related to one another in the following manner: the goal of the operative order was to teach one how to become a man of knowledge; a man of knowledge was different from ordinary men because he had an ally; an ally was a specialized power, which had a rule; one could acquire or tame an ally through the process of verifying its rule in the realm of non-ordinary reality and through obtaining special consensus on that corroboration.

4. In the context of don Juan’s teachings, becoming a man of knowledge was not a permanent accomplishment, but rather a process. That is to say, the factor that made a man of knowledge was not solely the possession of an ally, but the man’s lifelong struggle to maintain himself within the boundaries of a system of beliefs. Don Juan’s teachings, however, were aimed at practical results, and his practical goal, in relation to teaching how to become a man of knowledge, was to teach how to acquire an ally through learning its rule. Thus the goal of the operative order was to provide one with special consensus on the component elements perceived in non-ordinary reality, which were considered to be the corroboration of the ally’s rule.

5. In order to provide special consensus on the corroboration of the ally’s rule, don Juan had to provide special consensus on the component elements of all the states of non-ordinary reality and the special states of ordinary reality elicited in the course of his teachings. Special consensus, therefore, dealt with unordinary phenomena, a fact that permitted me to assume that any apprentice, by accepting special consensus, was led into adopting the conceptual order of the knowledge being taught.

6. From the point of view of my personal stage of learning, I could deduce that up to the time when I withdrew from the apprenticeship don Juan’s teachings had fostered the adoption of two units of the conceptual order: (1) the idea that there was a separate realm of reality, another world, which I have called the “reality of special consensus”; (2) the idea that the reality of special consensus, or that other world, was as utilizable as the world of everyday life.

Nearly six years after I had begun the apprenticeship, don Juan’s knowledge became a coherent whole for the first time. I realized that he had aimed at providing a bona fide consensus on my personal findings, and although I did not continue because I was not, nor will I ever be, prepared to undergo the rigours of such a training, my own way to meet his standards of personal exertion was my attempt to understand his teachings. I felt it was imperative to prove, if only to myself, that they were not an oddity.

After I had arranged my structural scheme, and was capable of discarding many data that were superfluous to my initial effort of uncovering the cogency of his teachings, it became clear to me that they had an internal cohesion, a logical sequence that enabled me to view the entire phenomenon in a light that dispelled the sense of bizarreness which was the mark of all I had experienced. It was obvious to me then that my apprenticeship had been only the beginning of a very long road. And the strenuous experiences I had undergone, which were so overwhelming to me, were but a very small fragment of a system of logical thought from which don Juan drew meaningful inferences for his day-today life, a vastly complex system of beliefs in which inquiry was an experience leading to exultation.


Appendix A

The process of validating special consensus

Validating special consensus involved, at every point, the cumulation of don Juan’s teachings. For the purpose of explaining the cumulative process, I have arranged the validation of special consensus according to the sequence in which the states of non ordinary reality and special ordinary reality occurred. Don Juan did not seem to have fixed the process of directing the intrinsic order of non-ordinary and special ordinary reality in an exact manner; he seemed to have isolated the units for direction in a rather fluid way.
Don Juan began to prepare the background for special consensus by producing the first special state of ordinary reality through the process of manipulating cues about -the environment. He isolated by that method certain component elements from the range of ordinary reality, and by isolating them, he directed me to perceive a progression towards the specific, in this instance the perception of colours that seemed to emanate from two small areas on the ground. Upon being isolated those areas of colouration became deprived of ordinary consensus; it seemed that only I was capable of seeing them, and thus they created a special state of ordinary reality.

Isolating those two areas on the ground by depriving them of ordinary consensus served to establish the first link between ordinary and non-ordinary reality. Don Juan directed me to perceive a portion of ordinary reality in an unaccustomed manner; that is, he changed certain ordinary elements into items that needed special consensus.

The aftermath of the first special state of ordinary reality was my recapitulation of the experience; from it don Juan selected the perception of different areas of colouration as the units for positive emphasis. He isolated for negative emphasis the account of my fear and fatigue, and the possibility of my lacking persistence.

During the subsequent preparatory period he placed the bulk of speculation on the units he had isolated, and he carried over the idea that it was possible to detect in the surroundings more than the usual. From the units drawn from my recapitulation don Juan also introduced some of the component concepts of man of knowledge.

As the second step in preparing special consensus on the corroboration of the rule, don Juan induced a state of non-ordinary reality with Lophophora williamsii. The total content of that first state of non-ordinary reality was rather vague and disassociated, yet the component elements were very well defined; I perceived its characteristics of stability, singularity, and lack of ordinary consensus almost as clearly as in later states. These characteristics were not so obvious, perhaps because of my lack of proficiency; it was the first time I had experienced nonordinary reality.

It was impossible to ascertain the effect of don Juan’s previous directing on the actual course of the experience; however, his mastery in directing the outcome of subsequent states of nonordinary reality was very clear from that point on.

From my recapitulation of the experience, he selected the units to direct the progression towards specific single forms and specific total results. He took the account of my actions with a dog and connected it with the idea that Mescalito was a visible entity. It was capable of adopting any form; above all it was an entity outside oneself.

The account of my actions also served don Juan in setting the progression towards a more extensive range of appraisal; in this instance the progression was towards a dependent range. Don Juan placed positive emphasis on the notion that I had moved and acted in non-ordinary reality almost as I would have in everyday life.

The progression towards a more pragmatic use of nonordinary reality was set by giving negative emphasis to the account of my incapacity to pay logical attention to the perceived component elements. Don Juan hinted that it would have been possible for me to examine the elements with detachment and accuracy; this idea brought forth two general characteristics of non-ordinary reality, that it was pragmatic and that it had component elements that could be assessed seasonally.

The lack of ordinary consensus for the component elements was brought forth dramatically by an interplay of positive and negative emphasis placed on the views of onlookers who observed my behaviour during the course of that first state of non ordinary reality.

The preparatory period following the first state of non ordinary reality lasted more than a year. Don Juan employed that time to introduce more component concepts of man of knowledge, and to disclose some parts of


the rule of the two allies. He elicited also a shallow state of non-ordinary reality in order to test my affinity with the ally contained in Datura, inoxia. Don Juan used whatever vague sensations I had in the course of that shallow state to delineate the general characteristics of the ally by contrasting it with what he had isolated as Mescalito’s perceivable characteristics.

The third step in preparing the special consensus on the corroboration of the rule was to elicit another state of non-ordinary reality with Lophophora williamsii. Don Juan’s previous directing seems to have guided me to perceiving this second state of non-ordinary reality in the following manner:

The progression towards the specific created the possibility of visualizing an entity whose form had changed remarkably, from the familiar shape of a dog in the first state to the completely unfamiliar form of an anthropomorphic composite that existed, seemingly, outside myself.

The progression towards a more extensive range of appraisal was evident in my perception of a journey. In the course of that journey the range of appraisal was both dependent and independent, although a majority of the component elements depended on the environment of the preceding state of ordinary reality.

The progression towards a more pragmatic use of nonordinary reality was, perhaps, the most outstanding feature of my second state. It became evident to me, in a complex and detailed manner, that one could move around in non-ordinary reality.

I also examined the component elements with detachment and accuracy. I perceived their stability, singularity, and lack of consensus very clearly.

From my recapitulation of the experience, don Juan emphasized the following: For the progression towards the specific he gave positive emphasis to my account that I had seen Mescalito as an anthropomorphic composite. The bulk of speculation on this area was centred on the idea that Mescalito was capable of being a teacher, and also a protector.

In order to direct the progression towards a more extensive range of appraisal, don Juan placed positive emphasis on the account of my journey, which obviously had taken place in the dependent range; he also put positive emphasis on my version of the visionary scenes I viewed on the hand of Mescalito, scenes that seemed to be independent of the component elements of the preceding ordinary reality.

The account of my journey, and the scenes viewed on Mescalito’s hand, also enabled don Juan to direct the progression towards a more pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality. He first put forth the idea that it was possible to obtain direction; second he interpreted the scenes as lessons concerning the right way to live.

Some areas of my recapitulation which dealt with the perception of superfluous composites were not emphasized at all, because they were not useful for setting the direction of the intrinsic order.

The next state of non-ordinary reality, the third one, was induced for the corroboration of the rule with the ally contained in Datura inoxia. The preparatory period was important and noticeable for the first time. Don Juan presented the manipulatory techniques and disclosed that the specific purpose I had to corroborate was divination.

His previous directing of the three aspects of the intrinsic order seemed to have produced the following results: The progression towards the specific was manifested in my capacity to perceive an ally as a quality; that is, I verified the assertion that an ally was not visible at all. The progression towards the specific also produced the peculiar perception of a series of images very similar to those I had viewed on Mescalito’s hand. Don Juan interpreted these scenes as divination, or the corroboration of the specific purpose of the rule.

Perceiving that series of scenes entailed also a progression towards a more extensive range of appraisal. This time the range was independent of the environment of the preceding ordinary reality. The scenes did not appear to be superimposed on the component elements, as had the images I viewed on Mescalito’s hand; in fact, there were no other component elements besides those that were part of the scenes. In other words, the total range of appraisal was independent.

The perception of a completely independent range also exhibited progression towards a more pragmatic use of nonordinary reality. Divining implied that one could give a utilitarian value to whatever had been seen.

For the purpose of directing the progression towards the specific, don Juan put positive emphasis on the idea that it was impossible to move by one’s own means in the independent range of appraisal. He explained movement there as being indirect, and as being accomplished, in this particular instance, by the lizards as instruments. In order to set the direction of the second aspect of the intrinsic level, the progression towards a


more extensive range of appraisal, he centred the bulk of speculation on the idea that the scenes I had perceived, which were the answers to divination, could have been examined and extended for as long as I wanted. For guiding the progression towards a more pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality, don Juan placed positive emphasis on the idea that the topic to be divined had to be simple and direct in order to obtain a result that could be usable.

The fourth state of non-ordinary reality was elicited also for the corroboration of the rule of the ally contained in Datura inoxia. The specific purpose of the rule to be corroborated had to do with bodily flight as another aspect of movement.

A result of directing the progression towards the specific may have been the perception of soaring bodily through the air. That sensation was acute, although it lacked the depth of all the earlier perceptions of acts that I had presumably performed in nonordinary reality. Bodily flight appeared to have taken place in a dependent range of appraisal, and it appeared to have entailed moving by one’s own power, which may have been the result of a progression towards a wider range of appraisal.

Two other aspects of the sensation of soaring through the air may have been the product of directing the progression towards a more pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality. They were, first, the perception of distance, a perception that created the feeling of an actual flight, and second, the possibility of acquiring direction in the course of that alleged movement.

During the subsequent preparatory period don Juan speculated on the supposedly deleterious nature of the ally contained in Datura inoxia. And he isolated the following areas of my account: For directing the progression towards the specific, he placed positive emphasis on my recollection of having soared through the air. Although I did not perceive the component elements of that state of non-ordinary reality with the clarity that was customary by then, my sensation of movement was very definite, and don Juan used it to reinforce the specific result of movement. The progression towards a more pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality was established by centering the bulk of speculation on the idea that sorcerers could fly over enormous distances, a speculation that gave rise to the possibility that one could move in the dependent range of appraisal and then switch such movement over into ordinary reality.

The fifth state of non-ordinary reality was produced by the ally contained in Psilocybe mexicana. It was the first time that the plant was used, and the state that ensued was more in line with a test than with an attempt to corroborate the rule. In the preparatory period don Juan presented only a manipulatory technique; as he did not disclose the specific purpose to be verified I did not believe the state was elicited to corroborate the rule. Yet the direction of the intrinsic level of non-ordinary reality set earlier appeared to have terminated in the following results.

Directing the progression towards specific total results produced in me the perception that the two allies were different from each other, and that each was different from Mescalito. I perceived the ally contained in Psilocybe mexicana as a quality – formless and invisible, and producing a sensation of bodilessness. The progression towards a more extensive range of appraisal resulted in the sensation that the total environment of the preceding ordinary reality, which remained within my awareness, was usable in non-ordinary reality; that is, the expansion of the dependent range seemed to have covered everything. The progression towards a more pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality produced the peculiar perception that I could go through the component elements within the dependent range of appraisal, in spite of the fact that they appeared to be ordinary elements of everyday life.

Don Juan did not demand the usual recapitulation of the experience; it was as if the absence of a specific purpose had made this state of non-ordinary reality only a prolonged transitional stage. During the subsequent preparatory period, however, he speculated on certain observations he had made on my behaviour during the course of the experience.

He placed negative emphasis on the logical impasse that prevented my believing that one could go through things or beings. With that speculation he directed the progression towards a specific total result of movement through the component elements of non-ordinary reality perceived within the dependent range of appraisal. Don Juan used those same observations to direct the second aspect of the intrinsic level, a more extensive range of appraisal. If movement through things and beings was possible, then the dependent range had to expand accordingly; it had to cover the total environment of the preceding ordinary reality which was within one’s


awareness at any given time, since movement entailed a constant change of surroundings. In the same speculation it was also implicit that non-ordinary reality could have been used in a more pragmatic manner. Moving through objects and beings implied a definite point of advantage which was inaccessible to a sorcerer in ordinary reality.

Don Juan next used a series of three states of non-ordinary reality, elicited by Lophophora williamsii, to prepare further the special consensus on the corroboration of the rule. These three states have here been treated as a single unit because they took place during four consecutive days, and during the few hours in between them I had no communication whatsoever with don Juan. The intrinsic order of the three estates has also been considered a single unit with the following characteristics. The progression towards the specific produced the perception of Mescalito as a visible, anthropomorphic entity capable of teaching. The ability to give lessons implied that Mescalito was capable of acting towards people.

The progression towards a more extensive range of appraisal reached a point where I perceived both ranges at the same time, and I was incapable of establishing the difference between them except in terms of movement. In the dependent range it was possible for me to move by my own means and volition, but in the independent range I was able to move only with the aid of Mescalito as an instrument. For example, Mescalito’s lessons comprised a series of scenes that I could only watch. The progression towards a more pragmatic use of non- ordinary reality was implicit in the idea that Mescalito could actually deliver lessons on the right way to live.

During the preparatory period that followed the last state of non-ordinary reality in this series, don Juan selected the following units. For the progression towards the specific, he placed positive emphasis on the ideas that Mescalito was instrumental in moving one through the independent range of appraisal, and that Mescalito was a didactic entity capable of delivering lessons by allowing one to enter into a visionary world. He also speculated on the implication that Mescalito had voiced its name and had supposedly taught me some songs; those two instances were constructed as examples of Mescalito’s capacity to be a protector. And the fact that I had perceived Mescalito as a light was emphasized as the possibility that it might at last have adopted an abstract, permanent form for me.

Stressing these same units also served don Juan in directing the progression towards a more extensive range of appraisal. During the course of the three states of non-ordinary reality I clearly perceived that the dependent range and the independent range were two separate aspects of non-ordinary reality which were equally important. The independent range was the area where Mescalito delivered its lessons, and since these states of non-ordinary reality were supposed to have been elicited only to seek such lessons, the independent range was, logically, an area of special importance. Mescalito was a protector and a teacher, which meant that it was visible; yet its form had nothing to do with the preceding state of ordinary reality. On the other hand, one was supposed to journey, to move in non-ordinary reality, in order to seek Mescalito’s lessons, an idea that implied the importance of the dependent range.

The progression towards a more pragmatic use of nonordinary reality was set by devoting the bulk of speculation to Mescalito’s lessons. Don Juan constructed these lessons as being indispensable to a man’s life; it was a clear inference that nonordinary reality could have been used in a more pragmatic manner to draw points of reference which had value in ordinary reality. It was the first time don Juan had verbalized such an implication.

The subsequent state of non-ordinary reality, the ninth in the teachings, was induced in order to corroborate the rule of the ally contained in Datura inoxia. The specific purpose to be corroborated in that state was concerned with divination, and the previous direction of the intrinsic level ended in the following points. The progression towards a specific total result created the perception of a coherent set of scenes, which were purported to be the voice of the lizard narrating the events to be divined, and the sensation of a voice that actually described such scenes. The progression towards an independent range of appraisal resulted in the perception of an extensive and clear independent range that was free from the extraneous influence of ordinary reality. The progression towards a more pragmatic use of nonordinary reality ended in the utilitarian possibilities of exploiting the independent range. That particular trend was set up by don Juan’s speculation on the possibility of drawing points of reference from the independent range and using them in ordinary reality. Thus the divinatory scenes had an obvious pragmatic value, for they were thought to represent a view of acts performed by others, acts to which one would have had no access by ordinary means.


In the following preparatory period, don Juan emphasized more of the component themes of man of knowledge. He seemed to be getting ready to shift to the pursuit of only one of the two allies, the ally humito. Yet he gave positive emphasis to the idea that I had a close affinity with the ally contained in Datura inoxia, because it had allowed me to witness an incidence of flexibility of the rule when I had made an error in performing a manipulatory technique. My assumption that don Juan was ready to abandon teaching the rule of the ally contained in Datura inoxia was fostered by the fact that he did not isolate any areas of my recapitulation of the experience to account for directing the intrinsic level of the subsequent states of nonordinary reality.

Next was a series of three states of non-ordinary reality elicited to corroborate the rule of the ally contained in Psilocybe mexicana. They have been treated here as a single unit. And although a considerable time elapsed in between them, during those intervals don Juan made no attempt to speculate on any aspect of their intrinsic order.

The first state of the series was vague; it ended rapidly and its component elements were not precise. It had the appearance of being more like a transitional stage than like a state of nonordinary reality proper.

The second state had more depth. I perceived the transitional stage into non-ordinary reality separately for the first time. During the course of that first transitional stage don Juan revealed that the specific purpose of the rule, which I had to corroborate, dealt with another aspect of movement, an aspect requiring his exhaustive supervision; I have rendered it as “moving by adopting an alternate form”. As a consequence, two aspects of the extrinsic level of non-ordinary reality became evident for the first time: the transitional stages, and the teacher’s supervision.

Don Juan used his supervision during that first transitional stage to pinpoint the subsequent direction of three aspects of the intrinsic level. His efforts were channelled, in the first place, to produce a specific total result by guiding me to experience the precise sensation of having adopted the shape of a crow.

The possibility of adopting an alternate form in order to achieve movement in non-ordinary reality entailed in turn an expansion of the dependent range of appraisal, the only area where such movement could take place. The pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality was determined by directing me to focus my attention on certain

component elements of the dependent range, in order to use them as points of reference for moving.
During the preparatory period that followed the second state of the series, don Juan refused to speculate on

any “part of my experience. He treated the second state as if it had been merely another prolonged transitional stage.

The third state of the series, however, was paramount in the teachings. It was a state in which the process of directing the intrinsic level culminated in the following results: The progression towards the specific created the easy perception that I had adopted an alternative form so completely that it even induced precise adjustments in the way I focused my eyes and in my way of seeing. A result of those adjustments was my perception of a new facet of the dependent range of appraisal – the minutiae that formed the component elements – and that perception definitely enlarged the range of appraisal. The progression towards a more pragmatic use of non- ordinary reality culminated in my awareness that it was possible to move in the dependent range as pragmatically as one walks in ordinary reality.

In the preparatory period following the last state of nonordinary reality, don Juan introduced a different type of recapitulation. He selected the areas for recollection before he had heard my account; that is, he demanded to hear only the accounts that pertained to the pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality and to movement.

From such accounts he set the progression towards the specific by giving positive emphasis to the version of how I had exploited the crow’s form. Yet he attached importance only to the idea of moving after having adopted that form. Movement was the area of my recapitulation on which he placed an interplay of positive and negative emphasis. He gave the account positive emphasis when it enhanced the idea of the pragmatic nature of non- ordinary reality, or when it dealt with the perception of component elements which had permitted me to obtain a general sense of orientation, while seemingly moving in the dependent range of appraisal. He placed negative emphasis on my incapacity to recollect with precision the nature or the direction of such movement.

In directing the progression towards a wider range of appraisal, don Juan centred his speculation on my account of the peculiar way in which I had perceived the minutiae that formed the component elements that were within the dependent range. His speculation led me to the assumption that, if it were possible to see the world as a crow does, the dependent range of appraisal had to expand in depth and had to extend to cover the whole


spectrum of ordinary reality.
To direct the progression towards a more pragmatic use of non-ordinary reality, don Juan explained my

peculiar way of perceiving the component elements as being a crow’s way of seeing the world. And, logically, that way of seeing presupposed entrance into a range of phenomena beyond normal possibilities in ordinary reality.

The last experience recorded in my field notes was a special state of ordinary reality; don Juan produced it by isolating component elements of ordinary reality through the process of cuing about his own behaviour.

The general processes used in directing the intrinsic level of non-ordinary reality produced the following results during the course of the second special state of ordinary reality. The progression towards the specific resulted in the easy isolation of many elements of ordinary reality. In the first special state of ordinary reality, the very few component elements that were isolated through the process of cuing about the environment were also transformed into unfamiliar forms deprived of ordinary consensus; however, in the second special state of ordinary reality its component elements were numerous, and, although they did not lose their quality of being familiar elements, they may have lost their capacity for ordinary consensus. Such component elements covered, perhaps, the total environment that was within my awareness.

Don Juan may have produced this second special state in order to strengthen the link between ordinary and non-ordinary reality by developing the possibility that most, if not all, of the component elements of ordinary reality could lose their capacity to have ordinary consensus.

From my own point of view, however, that last special state was the final summation of my apprenticeship. The formidable impact of terror on the level of sober consciousness had the peculiar quality of undermining the certainty that the reality of everyday life was implicitly real, the certainty that I, in matters of ordinary reality, could provide myself with consensus indefinitely. Up to that point the course of my apprenticeship seemed to have been a continuous building towards the collapse of that certainty. Don Juan used every facet of his dramatic exertion to accomplish the collapse during that last special state, a fact prompting me to believe that complete collapse of that certainty would have removed the last barrier that kept me from accepting the existence of a separate reality: the reality of special consensus.


Appendix B

Outline for structural analysis



Man of Knowledge
To Become a Man of Knowledge Was a Matter of Learning

There were no overt requirements There were some covert requirements

An apprentice was selected by an impersonal power
The one that was chosen (escogido)

The power’s decisions were indicated through omens

A Man of Knowledge Had Unbending Intent

Frugality Soundness of judgement

Lack of freedom to innovate

A Man of Knowledge Had Clarity of Mind

Freedom to seek a path
Knowledge of the specific purpose
Being fluid
To Become a Man of Knowledge Was a Matter of Strenuous Labour

Dramatic exertion Efficacy


A Man of Knowledge Was a Warrior

He had to have respect He had to have fear

He had to be wide-awake Awareness of intent

Awareness of the expected flux
He had to be self-confident

To Become a Man of Knowledge Was an Unceasing Process

He had to renew the quest of becoming a man of knowledge He was impermanent

He had to follow the path with heart


A Man of Knowledge Had an Ally An Ally Was Formless

An Ally Was Perceived as a Quality
The ally contained in Datura inoxia

It was woman-like
It was possessive

It was violent
It was unpredictable
It had a deleterious effect on the character of its followers

It was a giver of superfluous power The ally contained in Psilocybe mexicana


It was male-like
It was dispassionate

It was gentle
It was predictable
It was beneficial to the character of its followers

It was a giver of ecstasy

An Ally Was Tamable

An ally was a vehicle
The ally contained in Datura inoxia was unpredictable

The ally contained in Psilocybe mexicana was predictable An ally was a helper


An Ally Had a Rule
The Rule Was Inflexible

Exception due to ally’s direct intervention

The Rule Was Non-cumulative
The Rule Was Corroborated in Ordinary Reality
The Rule Was Corroborated in Non-ordinary Reality

The states of non-ordinary reality Non-ordinary reality was utilizable

Non-ordinary reality had component elements
The component elements had stability

They had singularity
They lacked ordinary consensus

The specific purposes of the rule
First specific purpose, testing (Datura inoxia)


Manipulatory technique, ingestion
Second specific purpose, divination (Datura inoxia)

Manipulatory technique, ingestion-absorption Third specific purpose, bodily flight (Datura inoxia)

Manipulatory technique, ingestion-absorption Fourth specific purpose, testing (Psilocybe mexicana) Manipulatory technique, ingestion-inhalation

Fifth specific purpose, movement (Psilocybe mexicana) Manipulatory technique, ingestion-inhalation

Sixth specific purpose, movement by adopting an alternate form (Psilocybe mexicana) Manipulatory technique, ingestion-inhalation

The Rule Was Corroborated by Special Consensus The Benefactor

Preparing special consensus
The other states of non-ordinary reality

They were produced by Mescalito It was contained

The container was the power itself It did not have a rule
It did not need apprenticeship
It was a protector

It was a teacher


It had a definite form

Non-ordinary reality was utilizable Non-ordinary reality had component elements

The special states of ordinary reality
They were produced by the teacher

Cuing about the environment

Cuing about behaviour
The recapitulation of the experience

The recollection of events The description of the component elements

Emphasis Negative emphasis

Positive emphasis

Lack of emphasis Guiding special consensus

The extrinsic level of non-ordinary reality The preparatory period

The period prior to non-ordinary reality The period following non-ordinary reality

The transitional stages The teacher’s supervision

The intrinsic level of non-ordinary reality Progression towards the specific

Specific single forms
Progressive complexity of perceived detail

Progression from familiar to unfamiliar forms Specific total results

Progression towards a more extensive range of appraisal Dependent range

Independent range
Progression towards the specific in special states of ordinary reality THE CONCEPTUAL ORDER

The Apprentice

The fallacious adoption of the conceptual order The bona fide adoption of the conceptual order

Reality of special consensus
The reality of special consensus had pragmatic value

Progression towards a more pragmatic use of nonordinary reality


File Info.

PDF Version 1.0 – public since 21/06/2006. Home Location:

– Taken from , modified. – Original Illustration by V. Erko.

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Carlos Castaneda

Separate Reality Second book in the series.

Index: Introduction…………………………………………………………………….3

Part 1:The Preliminaries of “Seeing”

Chapter 1………………………………………………………………………..12 Chapter 2………………………………………………………………………..15 Chapter 3………………………………………………………………………..25 Chapter 4………………………………………………………………………..32 Chapter 5………………………………………………………………………..42 Chapter 6………………………………………………………………………..49 Part 2: Task of “Seeing”

Chapter 7………………………………………………………………………..58 Chapter 8………………………………………………………………………..66 Chapter 9………………………………………………………………………..69 Chapter 10………………………………………………………………………75 Chapter 11………………………………………………………………………80 Chapter 12………………………………………………………………………88 Chapter 13………………………………………………………………………95 Chapter 14………………………………………………………………………104 Chapter 15………………………………………………………………………114 Chapter 16………………………………………………………………………118 Chapter 17………………………………………………………………………127 Epilogue…………………………………………………………………………135


Carlos Castaneda

“Separate Reality”
Scanned by Ovix (


Ten years ago I had the fortune of meeting a Yaqui Indian from northwestern Mexico. I call him “don Juan.” In Spanish, don is an appellative used to denote respect. I made don Juan’s acquaintance under the most fortuitous circumstances. I was sitting with Bill, a friend of mine, in a bus depot in a border town in Arizona. We were very quiet. In the late afternoon the summer heat seemed unbearable. Suddenly he leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder.

“There’s the man I told you about,” he said in a low voice.
He nodded casually toward the entrance. An old man had just walked in.
“What did you tell me about him?” I asked.
“He’s the Indian that knows about peyote. Remember?”
I remembered that Bill and I had once driven all day looking for the house of an “eccentric” Mexican Indian

who lived in the area. We did not find the man’s house and I had the feeling that the Indians whom we had asked for directions had deliberately misled us. Bill had told me that the man was a “yerbero,” a person who gathers and sells medicinal herbs, and that he knew a great deal about the hallucinogenic cactus, peyote. He had also said that it would be worth my while to meet him. Bill was my guide in the Southwest while I was collecting information and specimens of medicinal plants used by the Indians of the area.

Bill got up and went to greet the man. The Indian was of medium height. His hair was white and short, and grew a bit over his ears, accentuating the roundness of his head.

He was very dark; the deep wrinkles cm his face gave him the appearance of age, yet his body seemed to be strong and fit. I watched him for a moment. He moved around with a nimbleness that I would have thought impossible for an old man.

Bill signaled me to join them.

“He’s a nice guy,” Bill said to me. “But I can’t understand him. His Spanish is weird, full of rural colloquial- isms, I suppose.”

The old man looked at Bill and smiled. And Bill, who speaks only a few words of Spanish, made up an absurd phrase in that language. He looked at me as if asking whether he was making sense, but I did not know what he had had in mind; he then smiled shyly and walked away. The old man looked at me and began laughing. I explained to him that my friend sometimes forgot that he did not speak Spanish.

“I think he also forgot to introduce us,” I said, and I told him my name.
“And I am Juan Matus, at your service,” he said.
We shook hands and remained quiet for some time. I broke the silence and told him about my enterprise. I

told him that I was looking for any kind of information on plants, especially peyote. I talked compulsively for a long time, and although I was almost totally ignorant on the subject, I said I knew a great deal about peyote. I thought that if I boasted about my knowledge he would become interested in talking to me. But he did not say anything. He listened patiently. Then he nodded slowly and peered at me. His eyes seemed to shine with a light of their own. I avoided his gaze. I felt embarrassed. I had the certainty that at that moment he knew I was talking nonsense.

“Come to my house some time,” he finally said, taking his eyes away from me. “Perhaps we could talk there with more ease.”

I did not know what else to say. I felt uneasy. After a while Bill came back into the room. He recognized my discomfort and did not say a word. We sat in tight silence for some time. Then the old man got up. His bus had come. He said goodbye.

“It didn’t go too well, did it?” Bill asked.


“Did you ask him about plants?”
“I did. But I think I goofed.”
“I told you, he’s very eccentric. The Indians around here know him, yet they never mention him. And that’s

“He said I could come to his house, though.”
“He was bullshitting you. Sure, you can go to his house, but what does it mean? He’ll never tell you anything.

If you ever ask him anything he’ll clam up as if you were an idiot talking nonsense.”
Bill said convincingly that he had encountered people like him before, people who gave the impression of

knowing a great deal. In his judgment, he said, such people were not worth the trouble, because sooner or later one could obtain the same information from someone else who did not play hard to get. He said that he had neither patience nor time for old fogies, and that it was possible that the old man was only presenting himself as being knowledgeable about herbs, when in reality he knew as little as the next man.

Bill went on talking but I was not listening. My mind kept on wondering about the old Indian. He knew I had been bluffing. I remembered his eyes. They had actually shone.

I went back to see him a couple of months later, not so much as a student of anthropology interested in medicinal plants but as a person with an inexplicable curiosity. The way he had looked at me was an unprecedented event in my life. I wanted to know what was involved in that look, it became almost an obsession with me. I pondered it and the more I thought about it the more unusual it seemed to be.

Don Juan and I became friends, and for a year I paid innumerable visits. I found his manner very reassuring I his sense of humor superb; but above all I felt there a silent consistency about his acts, a consistency which was thoroughly baffling to me. I felt a strange delight in his presence and at the same time I experienced a strange discomfort. His mere company forced me to make a tremendous reevaluation of my models of behavior. I had been reared, perhaps like everyone else, to have a readiness to accept man as an essentially weak and fallible creature. What impressed me about don Juan was the fact that he did not make a point of being weak and helpless, and just being around him insured an unfavorable comparison between his way of behaving and mine. Perhaps one of the most impressive statements he made to me at that time was concerned with our inherent difference. Prior to one of my visits I had been feeling quite unhappy about the total course of my life and about a number of pressing personal conflicts that I had. When I arrived at his house I felt moody and nervous.

We were talking about my interest in knowledge; but, as usual, we were on two different tracks. I was referring to academic knowledge that transcends experience, while he was talking about direct knowledge of the world.

“Do you know anything about the world around you?” he asked. “I know all kinds of things,” I said.
“I mean do you ever feel the world around you?”
“I feel as much of the world around me as I can.”

“That’s not enough. You must feel everything, otherwise the world loses its sense.”

I voiced the classical argument that I did not have to taste the soup in order to know the recipe, nor did I have to get an electric shock in order to know about electricity.

“You make it sound stupid,” he said. “The way I see it, you want to cling to your arguments, despite the fact that they bring nothing to you; you want to remain the same even at the cost of your well-being.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I am talking about the fact that you’re not complete. You have no peace.”
That statement annoyed me. I felt offended. I thought he was certainly not qualified to pass judgment on my

acts or my personality.
“You’re plagued with problems,” he said. “Why?”
“I am only a man, don Juan,” I said peevishly.
I made that statement in the same vein my father used to make it. Whenever he said he was only a man he


implicitly meant he was weak and helpless and his statement, like mine, was filled with an ultimate sense of despair.

Don Juan peered at me as he had done the first day we met.

“You think about yourself too much,” he said and smiled. “And that gives you a strange fatigue that makes you shut off the world around you and cling to your arguments. Therefore, all you have is problems. I’m only a man too, but I don’t mean that the way you do.”

“How do you mean it?”

“I’ve vanquished my problems. Too bad my life is so short that I can’t grab onto all the things I would like to. But that is not an issue; it’s only a pity.”

I liked the tone of his statement. There was no despair or self-pity in it.

In 1961, a year after our first meeting, don Juan disclosed to me that he had a secret knowledge of medicinal plants. He told me he was a “brujo.” The Spanish word brujo can be rendered in English as sorcerer, medicine man, curer. From that point on the relation between us changed; I became his apprentice and for the next four years he endeavored to teach me the mysteries of sorcery. I have written about that apprenticeship in The Teach- ings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.

Our conversations were conducted in Spanish, and thanks to don Juan’s superb command of that language I obtained detailed explanations of the intricate means of his system of beliefs. I have referred to that complex and well-systematized body of knowledge as sorcery and to him as a sorcerer because those categories he himself used in informal conversations. In the context of more serious elucidations, however, he could use the terms “knowledge” to categorize sorcery and “man of knowledge” or “one who knows” to categorize a sorcerer.

In order to teach and corroborate his knowledge don Juan used three well-known psychotropic plants: peyote, Lophophora williamasii; jimson weed, Datura inoxia; and a species of mushroom which belongs to the genus Psylocebe. Through the separate ingestion of each of these hallucinogens he produced in me, as his apprentice, some peculiar states of distorted perception, or altered consciousness, which I have called “states of nonordinary reality.” I have used the word “reality” because it was a major premise in don Juan’s system of beliefs that the states of consciousness produced by the ingestion of any of those three plants were not hallucinations, but con- crete, although unordinary, aspects of the reality of everyday life. Don Juan behaved toward these states of non- ordinary reality not “as if” they were real but “as” real.

To classify these plants as hallucinogens and the states they produced as nonordinary reality is, of course, my own device. Don Juan understood and explained the plants as being vehicles that would conduct or lead a man to certain impersonal forces or “powers” and the states they produced as being the “meetings” that a sorcerer had to have with those “powers” in order to gain control over them.

He called peyote “Mescalito” and he explained it as being a benevolent teacher and protector of men. Mescalito taught the “right way to live.” Peyote was usually ingested at gatherings of sorcerers called “mitotes,” where the participants would gather specifically to seek a lesson on the right way to live.

Don Juan considered the jimson weed and the mushrooms to be powers of a different sort. He called them “allies” and said that they were capable of being manipulated; a sorcerer, in fact, drew his strength from manipu- lating an ally. Of the two, don Juan preferred the mushroom. He maintained that the power contained in the mushroom was his personal ally and he called it “smoke” or “little smoke.”

Don Juan’s procedure to utilize the mushrooms was to let them dry into a fine powder inside a small gourd. He kept the gourd sealed for a year and then mixed the fine powder with five other dry plants and produced a mixture for smoking in a pipe.

In order to become a man of knowledge one had to “meet” with the ally as many times as possible; one had to become familiar with it. This premise implied, of course, that one had to smoke the hallucinogenic mixture quite often. The process of “smoking” consisted of ingesting the fine mushroom powder, which did not incinerate, and inhaling the smoke of the other five plants that made up the mixture. Don Juan explained the profound effects that the mushrooms had on one’s perceptual capacities as the “ally removing one’s body.”

Don Juan’s method of teaching required an extraordinary effort on the part of the apprentice. In fact, the 5

degree of participation and involvement needed was so strenuous that by the end of 1965 I had to withdraw from the apprenticeship. I can say now, with the perspective of the five years that have elapsed, that at that time don Juan’s teachings had begun to pose a serious threat to my “idea of the world.” I had begun to lose the certainty, which all of us have, that the reality of everyday life is something we can take for granted.

At the time of my withdrawal I was convinced that my decision was final; I did not want to see don Juan ever again. However, in April of 1968 an early copy of my book was made available to me and I felt compelled to show it to him. I paid him a visit. Our link of teacher-apprentice was mysteriously reestablished, and I can say that on that occasion I began a second cycle of apprenticeship, very different from the first. My fear was not as acute as it had been in the past. The total mood of don Juan’s teachings was more relaxed. He laughed and also made me laugh a great deal. There seemed to be a deliberate intent on his part to minimize seriousness in general. He clowned during the truly crucial moments of this second cycle, and thus helped me to overcome experiences which could easily have become obsessive. His premise was that a light and amenable disposition was needed in order to withstand the impact and the strangeness of the knowledge he was teaching me.

“The reason you got scared and quit is because you felt too damn important,” he said, explaining my previous withdrawal. “Feeling important makes one heavy, clumsy, and vain. To be a man of knowledge one needs to be light and fluid.”

Don Juan’s particular interest in his second cycle of apprenticeship was to teach me to “see.” Apparently in his system of knowledge there was the possibility of making a semantic difference between “seeing” and “looking” as two distinct manners of perceiving. “Looking” referred to the ordinary way in which we are accustomed to perceive the world, while “seeing” entailed a very complex process by virtue of which a man of knowledge allegedly perceives the “essence” of the things of the world.

In order to present the intricacies of this learning process in a readable form I have condensed long passages of questions and answers, and thus I have edited my original field notes. It is my belief, however, that at this point my presentation cannot possibly detract from the meaning of don Juan’s teachings. The editing was aimed at making my notes flow, as conversation flows, so they would have the impact I desired; that is to say, I wanted by means of a reportage to communicate to the reader the drama and directness of the field situation. Each section I have set as a chapter was a session with don Juan. As a rule, he always concluded each of our sessions on an abrupt note; thus the dramatic tone of the ending of each chapter is not a literary device of my own, it was a device proper of don Juan’s oral tradition. It seemed to be a mnemonic device that helped me to retain the dramatic quality and importance of the lessons.

Certain explanations are needed, however, to make my reportage cogent, since its clarity depends on the elucidation of a number of key concepts or key units that I want to emphasize. This choice of emphasis is congruous with my interest in social science. It is perfectly possible that another person with a different set of goals and expectations would single out concepts entirely different from those I have chosen myself.

During the second cycle of apprenticeship don Juan made a point of assuring me that the use of the smoking mixture was the indispensable prerequisite to “seeing.” Therefore I had to use it as often as possible.

“Only the smoke can give you the necessary speed to catch a glimpse of that fleeting world,” he said.

With the aid of the psychotropic mixture, he produced in me a series of states of nonordinary reality. The main feature of such states, in relation to what don Juan seemed to be doing, was a condition of “inapplicability.” What I perceived in those states of altered consciousness was incomprehensible and impossible to interpret by means of our everyday mode of understanding the world. In other words, the condition of inapplicability entailed the cessation of the pertinence of my world view.

Don Juan used this condition of inapplicability of the states of nonordinary reality in order to introduce a series of preconceived, new “units of meaning.” Units of meaning were all the single elements pertinent to the knowledge don Juan was striving to teach me. I have called them units of meaning because they were the basic conglomerate of sensory data and their interpretations on which more complex meaning was constructed. One example of such a unit is the way in which the physiological effect of the psychotropic mixture was understood. It produced a numbness and loss of motor control that was interpreted in don Juan’s system as an act performed


by the smoke, which in this case was the ally, in order “to remove the body of the practitioner.”
Units of meaning were grouped together in a specific way, and each block thus created formed what I have

called a “sensible interpretation.” Obviously there has to be an endless number of possible sensible interpretations that are pertinent to sorcery that a sorcerer must learn to make. In our day-to-day life we are confronted with an endless number of sensible interpretations pertinent to it. A simple example could be the no longer deliberate interpretation, which we make scores of times every day, of the structure we call “room.” It is obvious that we have learned to interpret the structure we call room in terms of room; thus room is a sensible interpretation because it requires that at the time we make it we are cognizant, in one way or another, of all the elements that enter into its composition. A system of sensible interpretation is, in other words, the process by virtue of which a practitioner is cognizant of all the units of meaning necessary to make assumptions, deductions, predictions, etc., about all the situations pertinent to his activity.

By “practitioner” I mean a participant who has an adequate knowledge of all, or nearly all, the units of mean- ing involved in his particular system of sensible interpretation. Don Juan was a practitioner; that is, he was a sorcerer who knew all the steps of his sorcery.

As a practitioner he attempted to make his system of sensible interpretation accessible to me. Such an accessibility, in this case, was equivalent to a process of re-socialization in which new ways of interpreting perceptual data were learned.

I was the “stranger,” the one who lacked the capacity to make intelligent and congruous interpretations of the units of meaning proper to sorcery.

Don Juan’s task, as a practitioner making his system accessible to me, was to disarrange a particular certainty which I share with everyone else, the certainty that our “common-sense” views of the world are final. Through the use of psychotropic plants, and through well-directed contacts between the alien system and myself, he succeeded in pointing out to me that my view of the world cannot be final because it is only an interpretation.

For the American Indian, perhaps for thousands of years, the vague phenomenon we call sorcery has been a serious bona fide practice, comparable to that of our science. Our difficulty in understanding it stems, no doubt, from the alien units of meaning with which it deals.

Don Juan had once told me that a man of knowledge had predilections. I asked him to explain his statement. “My predilection is to see,” he said.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I like to see” he said, “because only by seeing can a man of knowledge know.”

“What kind of things do you see?”
“But I also see everything and I’m not a man of knowledge.”
“No. You don’t see.
“I think I do.”
“I tell you, you don’t.”
“What makes you say that, don Juan?”
“You only look at the surface of things.”
“Do you mean that every man of knowledge actually sees through everything he looks at?”
“No. That’s not what I mean. I said that a man of knowledge has his own predilections; mine is just to see and

to know; others do other things.”
“What other things, for example?”
“Take Sacateca, he’s a man of knowledge and his predilection is dancing. So he dances and knows.” “Is the predilection of a man of knowledge something he does in order to know?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
“But how could dancing help Sacateca to know?”
“One can say that Sacateca dances with all he has.”
“Does he dance like I dance? I mean like dancing?”


“Let’s say that he dances like I see and not like you may dance.” “Does he also see the way you see?”
“Yes, but he also dances.”
“How does Sacateca dance?”

“It’s hard to explain that. It is a peculiar way of dancing he does when he wants to know. But all I can say about it is that, unless you understand the ways of a man who knows, it is impossible to talk about dancing or seeing.”

“Have you seen him doing his dancing?”

“Yes. However, it is not possible for everyone who looks at his dancing to see that it is his peculiar way of knowing.”

I knew Sacateca, or at least I knew who he was. We had met and once I had bought him a beer. He was very polite and told me I should feel free to stop at his house anytime I wanted to. I toyed for a long time with the idea of visiting him but I did not tell don Juan. On the afternoon of May 14, 1962, I drove up to Sacateca’s house; he had given me directions how to get there and I had no trouble finding it. It was on a corner and had a fence all around it. The gate was closed. I walked around it to see if I could peek inside the house. It appeared to be deserted.

“Don Elias,” I called out loud. The chickens got frightened and scattered about cackling furiously. A small dog came to the fence. I expected it to bark at me; instead, it just sat there looking at me. I called out once again and the chickens had another burst of cackling.

An old woman came out of the house. I asked her to call don Elias. “He’s not here,” she said.
“Where can I find him?”
“He’s in the fields.”

“Where in the fields?”
“I don’t know. Come back in the late afternoon. Hell be here around five.”
“Are you don Elias wife?”
“Yes, I’m his wife,” she said and smiled.
I tried to ask her about Sacateca but she excused herself and said that she did not speak Spanish well. I got

into my car and drove away.
I returned to the house around six o’clock. I drove to the door and yelled Sacateca’s name. This time he came

out of the house. I turned on my tape recorder, which in its brown leather case looked like a camera hanging from my shoulder. He seemed to recognize me.

“Oh, it’s you,” he said, smiling. “How’s Juan?”
“He’s fine. But how are you, don Elias?”
He did not answer. He seemed to be nervous. Overtly he was very composed, but I felt that he was ill at ease. “Has Juan sent you here on some sort of errand?”
“No. I came here by myself.”
“What in the world for?”
His question seemed to betray very bona fide surprise.
“I just wanted to talk to you,” I said, hoping to sound as casual as possible. “Don Juan has told me marvelous

things about you and I got curious and wanted to ask you a few questions.”
Sacateca was standing in front of me. His body was lean and wiry. He was wearing khaki pants and shirt. His

eyes were half-closed; he seemed to be sleepy or perhaps drunk. His mouth was open a bit and his lower lip hung. I noticed that he was breathing deeply and seemed to be almost snoring. The thought came to me that Sacateca was undoubtedly plastered out of his mind. But that thought seemed to be very incongruous because only a few minutes before, when he came out of his house, he had been very alert and aware of my presence.

“What do you want to talk about?” he finally said.
His voice was tired; it was as though his words dragged after each other. I felt very uneasy. It was as if his


tiredness was contagious and pulling me.
“Nothing in particular,” I answered. “I just came to chat with you in a friendly way. You once asked me to

come to your house.”
”Yes, I did, but it’s not the same now.”
“Why isn’t it the same?”
“Don’t you talk with Juan?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then what do you want with me?”
“I thought maybe I could ask you some questions?”
“Ask Juan. Isn’t he teaching you?”
“He is, but just the same I would like to ask you about what he is teaching me, and have your opinion. This

way I’ll be able to know what to do.”
“Why do you want to do that? Don’t you trust Juan?”
“I do.”
“Then why don’t you ask him to tell you what you want to know?”
“I do. And he tells me. But if you could also tell me about what don Juan is teaching me, perhaps I will

understand better.”
“Juan can tell you everything. He alone can do that. Don’t you understand that?”
“I do, but then I’d like to talk with people like you, don Elias. One does not find a man of knowledge every

“Juan is a man of knowledge.”
“I know that.”
“Then why are you talking to me?”
“I said I came to be friends,”
“No, you didn’t. There is something else about you this time.”
I wanted to explain myself and all I could do was mumble incoherently. Sacateca did not say anything. He

seemed to listen attentively. His eyes were half-closed again but I felt he was peering at me. He nodded almost imperceptibly. Then his lids opened and I saw his eyes. He seemed to be looking past me. He casually tapped the floor with the tip of his right foot, just behind his left heel. His legs were slightly arched; his arms were limp against his sides. Then he lifted his-right arm; his hand was open with the palm turned perpendicular to the ground; his fingers were extended and pointing toward me. He let his hand wobble a couple of times before he brought it to my face level. He held it in that position for an instant and then he said a few words to me. His voice was very clear, yet the words dragged.

After a moment he dropped his hand to his side and remained motionless, taking a strange position. He was standing, resting on the ball of his left foot. His right foot was crossed behind the heel of the left foot and he was tapping the floor rhythmically and gently with the tip of his right foot

I felt an unwarranted apprehension, a form of restlessness. My thoughts seemed to be dissociated. I was thinking unrelated nonsensical thoughts that had nothing to do with what was going on. I noticed my discomfort and tried to steer my thoughts back to the situation at hand, but I couldn’t in spite of a great struggle. It was as if some force was keeping me from concentrating or thinking relevant thoughts.

Sacateca had not said a word, and I didn’t know what else to say or do. Quite automatically, I turned around and left.

Later on I felt compelled to tell don Juan about my encounter with Sacateca. Don Juan roared with laughter. “What really took place there?” I asked.
“Sacateca danced!” don Juan said. “He saw you, then he danced.”
“What did he do to me? I felt very cold and dizzy.”

“He apparently didn’t like you and stopped you by tossing a word at you.” “How could he possibly do that?” I exclaimed incredulously.


“Very simple; he stopped you with his will.”
“What did you say?”
“He stopped you with his will!”
The explanation did not suffice. His statements sounded like gibberish to me. I tried to probe him further, but

he could not explain the event to my satisfaction.
Obviously that event or any event that occurred within this alien system of sensible interpretation could be

explained or understood only in terms of the units of meaning proper to that system. This work is, therefore, a reportage and should be read as a reportage. The system I recorded was incomprehensible to me, thus the pretense to anything other than reporting about it would be misleading and impertinent. In this respect I have adopted the phenomenological method and have striven to deal with sorcery solely as phenomena that were presented to me. I, as the perceiver, recorded what I perceived, and at the moment of recording I endeavored to suspend judgment.


Part 1

The Preliminaries of “Seeing”


April 2.1968

Don Juan looked at me for a moment and did not seem at all surprised to see me, even though it had been more than two years since I last visited him. He put his hand on my shoulder and smiled gently and said that I looked different, that I was getting fat and soft.

I had brought him a copy of my book. Without any preliminaries I took it out of my brief case and handed it to him.

“It’s a book about you, don Juan,” I said.

He took it and flipped through the pages as if they were a deck of cards. He liked the green color on the dust jacket and the height of the book. He felt the cover with his palms, turned it around a couple of times, and then handed it back to me. I felt a great surge of pride.

“I want you to keep it,” I said.
He shook his head with a silent laugh.
“I better not,” he said, and then added with a broad “You know what we do with paper in Mexico.”
I laughed. I thought his touch of irony was beautiful.
We where sitting on a bench in the park of a small town in the mountainous area of central Mexico. I had

absolutely no way of letting him know about my intention of paying him a visit, but I was certain I was going to find him, and I did. I waited only a short while in that town before don Juan came down from the mountains and I found him at the market, at the stand of one of his friends.

Don Juan told me, matter-of-factly, that I was there just in time to take him back to Sonora, and we sat in the park to wait for a friend of his, a Mazatec Indian with whom he lived.

We waited about three hours. We talked about different unimportant things, and toward the end of the day, right before his friend came, I related to him some events I had witnessed a few days before.

During my trip to see him my car broke down in the outskirts of a city and I had to stay in town for three days while it was being repaired. There was a motel across the street from the auto shop, but the outskirts of towns are always depressing for me, so I took lodgings in a modern eight-story hotel in the center of town.

The bellboy told me that the hotel had a restaurant, and when I came down to eat I found that there were tables out on the sidewalk. It was a rather handsome arrangement set on the street corner under some low brick arches of modern lines. It was cool outside and there were empty tables, yet I preferred to sit in the stuffy indoors. I had noticed upon entering that a group of shoeshine boys were sitting on the curb in front of the restaurant, and I was certain they would have hounded me had I taken one of the outside tables.

From where I was seated I could see the group of boys through the glass window. A couple of young men took a table and the boys flocked around them, asking to shine their shoes. The young men refused and I was amazed to see that the boys did not insist and went back to sit on the curb. After a while three men in business suits got up and left and the boys ran to their table and began eating the leftovers; in a matter of seconds the plates were clean. The same thing happened with leftovers on all the other tables.

I noticed that the children were quite orderly; if they spilled water they sponged it up with their own shoeshine cloths. I also noticed the thoroughness of their scavenging procedures. They even ate the ice cubes left in the glasses of water and the lemon slices from the tea, peel and all. There was absolutely nothing that they wasted.

In the course of the time I stayed in the hotel I found out that there was an agreement between the children and the manager of the restaurant; the boys were allowed to hang around the premises to make some money from the customers and were also allowed to eat the leftovers, provided that they did not harass anybody and did not break anything. There were eleven in all, ranging in age from five to twelve; the oldest, however, was kept a dis- tance from the rest of the group. They deliberately ostracized him, taunting him with a singsong that he already had pubic hair and was too old to be among them.

After three days of watching them go like vultures after the most meager of leftovers I became despondent, and I left that city feeling that there was no hope for those children whose world was already molded by their



day-after-day struggle for crumbs.
“Do you feel sorry for them?” don Juan exclaimed in a questioning tone.
“I certainly do,” I said.
“Because I’m concerned with the well-being of my fellow men. Those are children and their world is ugly

and cheap.”
“Wait! Wait! How can you say that their world is ugly and cheap?” don Juan said, mocking my statement.

“You think that you’re better off, don’t you?”
I said I did; and he asked me why; and I told him that in comparison to those children’s world mine was

infinitely more varied and rich in experiences and in opportunities for personal satisfaction and development. Don Juan’s laughter was friendly and genuine. He said that I was not careful with what I was saying, that I had no way of knowing about the richness and the opportunities in the world of those children.

I thought don Juan was being stubborn. I really thought he was taking the opposite view just to annoy me. I sincerely believed that those children did not have the slightest chance for any intellectual growth.

I argued my point for a while longer and then don Juan asked me bluntly, “Didn’t you once tell me that in your opinion man’s greatest accomplishment was to become a man of knowledge?”

I had said that, and I repeated again that in my opinion to become a man of knowledge was one of the greatest intellectual accomplishments.

“Do you think that your very rich world would ever help you to become a man of knowledge?” don Juan asked with slight sarcasm.

I did not answer and he then worded the same question in a different manner, a thing I always do to him when I think he does not understand.

“In other words,” he said, smiling broadly, obviously aware that I was cognizant of his ploy, “can your free- dom and opportunities help you to become a man of knowledge?”

“No!” I said emphatically.

“Then how could you feel sorry for those children?” he said seriously. “Any of them could become a man of knowledge. All the men of knowledge I know were kids like those you saw eating leftovers and licking the tables.”

Don Juan’s argument gave me an uncomfortable sensation. I had not felt sorry for those underprivileged children because they did not have enough to eat, but because in my terms their world had already condemned them to be intellectually inadequate. And yet in don Juan’s terms any of them could achieve what I believed to be the epitome of man’s intellectual accomplishment, the goal of becoming a man of knowledge. My reason for pitying them was incongruous. Don Juan had nailed me neatly.

“Perhaps you’re right,” I said. “But how can one avoid the desire, the genuine desire, to help our fellow men?”

“How do you think one can help them?”

“By alleviating their burden. The least one can do for our fellow men is to try to change them. You yourself are involved in doing that. Aren’t you?”

“No. I’m not. I don’t know what to change or why to change anything in my fellow men.”
“What about me, don Juan? Weren’t you teaching me so I could change?”
“No. I’m not trying to change you. It may happen that one day you may become a man of knowledge—there’s

no way to know that—but that will not change you. Some day perhaps you’ll be able to see men in another mode and then you’ll realize that there’s no way to change anything about them.”

“What’s this other mode of seeing men, don Juan?”
“Men look different when you see. The little smoke will help you to see men as fibers of light”
“Fibers of light?”
“Yes. Fibers, like white cobwebs. Very fine threads that circulate from the head to the navel. Thus a man

looks like an egg of circulating fibers. And his arms and legs are like luminous bristles, bursting out in all direc- 13

“Is that the way everyone looks?”
“Everyone. Besides, every man is in touch with everything else, not through his hands, though, but through a

bunch of long fibers that shoot out from the center of his abdomen. Those fibers join a man to his surroundings; they keep his balance; they give him stability. So, as you may see some day, a man is a luminous egg whether he’s a beggar or a king and there’s no way to change anything; or rather, what could be changed in that luminous egg? What?”



My visit to don Juan started a new cycle. I had no trouble falling back again into my old pattern of enjoying his sense of drama and his humor and his patience with me. I definitely felt that I had to visit him more often. Not to see don Juan was indeed a great loss for me; besides, I had something of particular interest that I wanted to dis- cuss with him.

After I had finished the book about his teachings I began to reexamine the field notes I had not used. I had discarded a great deal of data because my emphasis had been on the states of nonordinary reality. Rehashing my old notes I had come to the conclusion that a skillful sorcerer could bring forth the most specialized range of perception in his apprentice by simply “manipulating social cues.” My whole argument about the nature of these manipulatory procedures rested on the assumption that a leader was needed to bring forth the necessary range of perception. I took as a specific test case the sorcerer’s peyote meetings. I contended that in those meetings sorcerers reached an agreement about the nature of reality without any overt exchange of words or signs, and my conclusion was that a very sophisticated code was employed by the participants to arrive at such an agreement. I had constructed a complex system to explain the code and procedures, so I went back to see don Juan to ask his personal opinion and advice about my work.

May 21,1968

Nothing out of the ordinary happened during my trip to see don Juan. The temperature in the desert was over a hundred degrees and was quite uncomfortable. The heat subsided in the late afternoon and by the tune I arrived at his house, in the early evening, there was a cool breeze. I was not very tired, so we sat in his room and talked, I felt comfortable and relaxed, and we talked for hours. It was not a conversation that I would have liked to record; I was not really trying to make great sense or trying to draw great meaning; we talked about the weather, the crops, his grandson, the Yaqui Indians, the Mexican government. I told don Juan how much I enjoyed the exquisite sensation of talking in the dark. He said that my statement was consistent with my talkative nature; that it was easy for me to like chattering in the darkness because talking was the only thing I could do at that time, while sitting around. I argued that it was more than the mere act of talking that I enjoyed. I said that I relished the soothing warmth of the darkness around us. He asked me what I did at home when it was dark. I said that invariably I would turn on the lights or I would go out into the lighted streets until it was time to go to sleep.

“Oh!” he said incredulously. “I thought you had learned to use the darkness.”
“What can you use it for?” I asked.
He said the darkness—and he called it “The darkness of the day”—was the best time to “see.” He stressed the

word “see” with a peculiar inflection. I wanted to know what he meant by that, but he said it was too late to go into it then.

May 22,1968

As soon as I woke up in the morning, and without any preliminaries, I told don Juan that I had constructed a system to explain what took place at a peyote meeting, a mitote, I took my notes and read to him what I had done. He listened patiently while I struggled to elucidate my schemata.

I said that I believed a covert leader was necessary in order to cue the participants so they could arrive at any pertinent agreement. I pointed out that people attend a mitote to seek the presence of Mescalito and his lessons about the right way to live; and that those persons never exchange a word or a gesture among them, yet they agree about the presence of Mescalito and his specific lesson. At least that was what they purportedly did in the mitotes I had attended; they agreed that Mescalito had appeared to them individually and had given them a lesson. In my personal experience I had found that the form of the individual visit of Mescalito and his consequent lesson were strikingly homogeneous, although varying in content from person to person. I could not explain this homogeneity except as a result of a subtle and complex system of cueing.

It took me close to two hours to read and explain to don Juan the scheme I had constructed. I ended my talk by begging him to tell me in his own words what were the exact procedures for reaching agreement.

When I had finished he frowned. I thought he must have found my explanation challenging; he appeared to 15

be involved in deep deliberation. After a reasonable silence I asked him what he thought about my idea.
My question made him suddenly turn his frown into a smile and then into roaring laughter. I tried to laugh

too and asked nervously what was so funny.
“You’re deranged!” he exclaimed. “Why should anyone be bothered with cueing at such an important time as

a mitote? Do you think one ever fools around with Mescalito?”
I thought for a moment that he was being evasive; he was not really answering my question.
“Why should anyone cue?” don Juan asked stubbornly. “You have been in mitotes. You should know that no

one told you how to feel, or what to do, no one except Mescalito himself.”
I insisted that such an explanation was not possible and begged him again to tell me how the agreement was

“I know why you have come,” don Juan said in a mysterious tone. “I can’t help you in your endeavor because

there is no system of cueing.”
“But how can all those persons agree about Mescalito’s presence?”
”They agree because they see” don Juan said dramatically, and then added casually, “Why don’t you attend

another mitote and see for yourself?”
I felt that was a trap. I did not say anything, but put my notes away. He did not insist.
A while later he asked me to drive him to the house of one of his friends. We spent most of the day there.

During the course of a conversation his friend John asked me what bad become of my interest in peyote. John had provided the peyote buttons for my first experience nearly eight years before. I did not know what to say to him. Don Juan came to my aid and told John I was doing fine.

On our way back to don Juan’s house I felt obliged to make a comment about John’s question and I said, among other things, that I had no intention of learning any more about peyote, because it required a kind of courage I did not have; and that I had really meant it when I said I had quit. Don Juan smiled and did not say anything. I kept on talking until we got to the house.

We sat on the clean area in front of the door. It was a warm, clear day, but there was enough of a breeze in the late afternoon to make it pleasant.

“Why do you have to push so hard?” don Juan said suddenly. “How many years now have you been saying that you don’t want to learn any more?”

“Why are you so vehement about it?”
“I feel that I’m betraying you, don Juan. I think that’s why I’m always talking about it.”
“You’re not betraying me.”
“I have failed you. I have run away. I feel I am defeated.”
“You do what you can. Besides, you haven’t been defeated yet. What I have to teach you is very hard. I, for

instance, found it perhaps even harder than you.”
“But you kept at it, don Juan. My case is different. I gave up and I have come to see you not because I want

to learn, but only because I wanted to ask you to clarify a point in my work.”
Don Juan looked at me for a moment and then he looked away.
“You ought to let the smoke guide you again,” he said forcefully.
“No, don Juan, I can’t use your smoke any more. I think I have exhausted myself.” “You haven’t begun.”

“I am too afraid.”

“So you’re afraid. There is nothing new about being afraid. Don’t think about your fear. Think about the wonders of seeing!”

“I sincerely wish I could think about those wonders, but I can’t. When I think of your smoke I feel a sort of darkness coming upon me. It is as if there were no more people on the earth, no one to turn to. Your smoke has shown me the ultimate of loneliness, don Juan.”

“That’s not true. Take me, for example. The smoke is my ally and I don’t feel such a loneliness.” 16

“But you’re different; you’ve conquered your fear.”
Don Juan patted me gently on the shoulder.
“You’re not afraid,” he said softly. His voice carried a strange accusation.
“Am I lying about my fear, don Juan?”
“I’m not concerned with lies,” he said severely. “I’m concerned with something else. The reason you don’t

want to learn is not because you’re afraid. It’s something else.”
I vehemently urged him to tell me what it was. I pleaded with him, but he did not say anything; he just shook

his head as if he could not believe I did not know it.
I told him that perhaps it was inertia which kept me from learning. He wanted to know the meaning of the

word “inertia.” I read to him from my dictionary: “The tendency of matter to remain at rest if at rest, or, if mov- ing, to keep moving in the same direction, unless affected by some outside force.”

” ‘Unless affected by some outside force,'” he repeated. “That’s about the best word you’ve found. I’ve told you already, only a crackpot would undertake the task of becoming a man of knowledge of his own accord. A sober-headed man has to be tricked into doing it.”

“I’m sure there must be scores of people who would gladly undertake the task,” I said.

“Yes, but those don’t count. They are usually cracked. They are like gourds that look fine from the outside and yet they would leak the minute you put pressure on them, the minute you filled them with water.

“I had to trick you into learning once, tine same way my benefactor tricked me. Otherwise you wouldn’t have learned as much as you did. Perhaps it’s time to trick you again.”

The tricking to which he was referring was one of the most crucial points of my apprenticeship. It had taken place years before, yet in my mind it was as vivid as if it had just happened. Through very artful manipulations don Juan had once forced me into a direct and terrifying confrontation with a woman reputed to be a sorceress. The clash resulted in a profound animosity on her part Don Juan exploited my fear of the woman as motivation to continue with the apprenticeship, claiming that I had to learn more about sorcery in order to protect myself against her magical onslaughts. The end results of his “tricking” were so convincing that I sincerely felt I had no other recourse than to learn as much as possible if I wanted to stay alive.

“If you’re planning to scare me again with that woman I simply won’t come back any more,” I said. Don Juan’s laughter was very joyous.
“Don’t worry,” he said reassuringly. “Tricks with fear won’t work with you any more. You’re no longer

afraid. But if it is needed, you can be tricked wherever you are; you don’t have to be around here for that.”
He put his arms behind his head and lay down to sleep. I worked on my notes until he woke up a couple of

hours later; it was almost dark then. Noticing that I was writing, he sat up straight and, smiling, asked me if I had written myself out of my problem.

May 23,1968

We were talking about Oaxaca. I told don Juan that once I had arrived in the city on a day when the market was open, a day when scores of Indians from all over the area flock to town to sell food and all kinds of trinkets. I mentioned that I was particularly interested in a man who was selling medicinal plants. He carried a wooden kit in which he kept a number of small jars with dry, shredded plants, and he stood in the middle of the street holding one jar, yelling a very peculiar singsong.

“I bring here,” he would say, “for fleas, flies, mosquitoes, and lice. “Also for pigs, horses, goats, and cows.
“I have here for all the maladies of man.
“The mumps, the measles, rheumatism, and gout

“I bring here for the heart, the liver, the stomach, and the loin.
“Come near, ladies and gentlemen.
“I bring here for fleas, flies, mosquitoes, and lice.”
I had listened to him for a long time. His format consisted of enumerating a long list of man’s diseases for

which he claimed to have a cure; the device he used to give rhythm to his singsong was to pause after naming a 17

set of four.
Don Juan said that he also used to sell herbs in the market in Oaxaca when he was young. He said he still re-

membered his selling pitch and he yelled it for me. He said that he and his friend Vicente used to make con- coctions.

“Those concoctions were really good,” don Juan said. “My friend Vicente used to make great extracts of plants.”

I told don Juan that once during one of my trips to Mexico I had met his friend Vicente. Don Juan seemed to be surprised and wanted to know more about it.

I was driving through Durango at that time and remembered that don Juan had once told me I should pay a visit to his friend, who lived there. I looked for him and found him, and talked to him for a while. Before I left he gave me a sack with some plants and a series of instructions for replanting one of them.

I stopped on my way to the town of Aguas Calientes. I made sure there were no people around. For at least ten minutes I had been watching the road and surrounding areas. There had not been any houses in sight, nor cattle grazing alongside the road. I stopped on the top of a small hill; from there I could see the road ahead and behind me. It was deserted in both directions as far into the distance as I could see. I waited for a few minutes to orient myself and to remember don Vicente’s instructions. I took one of the plants, walked into a field of cacti on the east side of the road, and planted it as don Vicente had instructed me. I had with me a bottle of mineral water with which I intended to sprinkle the plant. I tried to open it by hitting the cap with the small iron bar I had used as a digging stick, but the bottle exploded and a glass sliver nicked my upper lip and made it bleed.

I walked back to my car to get another bottle of mineral water. As I was getting it out of my trunk a man driving a VW station wagon stopped and asked me if I needed help. I said that everything was all right and he drove away. I returned to water the plant and then I started back toward my car. When I was perhaps a hundred feet away I heard some voices. I hurried down a slope onto the highway and found three Mexicans at the car, two men and one woman. One of the men was sitting on the front bumper. He was perhaps in his late thirties, of medium height, with black curly hair. He was carrying a bundle on his back and was wearing old slacks and a worn-out pinkish shirt. His shoes were untied and perhaps too big for his feet; they seemed to be loose and uncomfortable. He was sweating profusely.

The other man was standing about twenty feet away from the car. He was small-boned and shorter than the other man, and his hair was straight and combed backwards. He carried a smaller bundle and was older, perhaps in his late forties. His clothes were in better condition. He had on a dark blue jacket, light blue slacks, and black shoes. He was not perspiring at all and seemed aloof, uninterested.

The woman appeared to be also in her forties. She was fat and had a very dark complexion. She wore black Capris, a white sweater, and black, pointed shoes. She did not carry a bundle, but was holding a portable transis- tor radio. She seemed to be very tired and her face was covered with beads of perspiration.

When I approached them the younger man and the woman accosted me. They wanted a ride. I told them I did not have any space in my car. I showed them that the back seat was loaded to capacity and there was really no room left. The man suggested that if I drove slow they could go perched on the back bumper, or lying across the front fender. I thought the idea was preposterous. Yet there was such an urgency in their plea that I felt very sad and ill at ease. I gave them some money for their bus fare.

The younger man took the bills and thanked me, but the older man turned his back disdainfully.
“I want transportation,” he said. “I’m not interested in money.”
Then he turned to me. “Can’t you give us some food or water?” he asked.
I really had nothing to give them. They stood there looking at me for a moment and then they began to walk

I got into my car and tried to start the motor. The heat was very intense and the motor seemed to be flooded.

The younger man stopped when he heard the starter grinding and came back and stood behind my car ready to push it. I felt a tremendous apprehension. I was actually panting desperately. The motor finally ignited and I zoomed away.


After I had finished relating this, don Juan remained pensive for a long while.
“Why haven’t you told me this before?” he said without looking at me.
I did not know what to say. I shrugged my shoulders and told him that I never thought it was important. “It’s damn important!” he said. “Vicente is a first-rate sorcerer. He gave you something to plant because he

had his reasons; and if you encountered three people who seemed to have popped out of nowhere right after you had planted it, there was a reason for that too; but only a fool like you would disregard the incident and think it wasn’t important.”

He wanted to know exactly what had taken place when I paid don Vicente the visit.

I told him that I was driving across town and passed by the market; I got the idea then of looking for don Vicente. I walked into the market and went to the section for medicinal herbs. There were three stands in a row but they were run by three fat women. I walked to the end of the aisle and found another stand around the corner. There I saw a thin, small-boned, white-haired man. He was at that moment selling a birdcage to a woman.

I waited around until he was by himself and then I asked him if he knew Vicente Medrano. He looked at me without answering.

“What do you want with that Vicente Medrano?” he finally said.

I told him I had come to pay him a visit on behalf of his friend, and gave him don Juan’s name. The old man looked at me for an instant and then he said he was Vicente Medrano and was at my service. He asked me to sit down. He seemed to be pleased, very relaxed, and genuinely friendly. I told him about my friendship with don Juan, I felt that there was an immediate bond of sympathy between us. He told me he had known don Juan since they were in their twenties. Don Vicente had only words of praise for don Juan. Toward the end of our conversation he said in a vibrant tone: “Juan is a true man of knowledge. I myself have dwelled only briefly with plant powers. I was always interested in their curative properties; I have even collected botany books, which I sold only recently.”

He remained silent for a moment; he rubbed his chin a couple of times. He seemed to be searching for a proper word.

“You may say that I am only a man of lyric knowledge,” he said. “I’m not like Juan, my Indian brother.”

Don Vicente was silent again for another moment. His eyes were glassy and were staring at the floor by my left side.

Then he turned to me and said almost in a whisper, “Oh, how high soars my Indian brother!”
Don Vicente got up. It seemed that our conversation was finished.
If anyone else had made a statement about an Indian brother I would have taken it for a cheap cliche. Don

Vicente’s tone, however, was so sincere and his eyes were so clear that he enraptured me with the image of his Indian brother soaring so high. And I believed he meant what he had said.

“Lyric knowledge, my eye!” don Juan exclaimed after I had recounted the whole story. “Vicente is a brujo. Why did you go to see him?”

I reminded him that he himself had asked me to visit don Vicente,

“That’s absurd!” he exclaimed dramatically. “I said to you, some day, when you know how to see, you should pay a visit to my friend Vicente; that’s what I said. Apparently you were not listening.”

I argued that I could find no harm in having met don Vicente, that I was charmed by his manners and his kindness.

Don Juan shook his head from side to side and in a half-kidding tone expressed his bewilderment at what he called my “baffling good luck,” He said that my visiting don Vicente was like walking into a lion’s den armed with a twig. Don Juan seemed to be agitated, yet I could not see any reason for his concern. Don Vicente was a beautiful man. He seemed so frail; his strangely haunting eyes made him look almost ethereal. I asked don Juan how a beautiful person like that could be dangerous.

“You’re a damn fool,” he said and looked stern for a moment “He won’t cause you any harm by himself. But knowledge is power, and once a man embarks on the road of knowledge he’s no longer liable for what may happen to those who come in contact with him. You should have paid him a visit when you knew enough to


defend yourself; not from him, but from the power he has harnessed, which, by the way, is not his or anybody else’s. Upon hearing that you were my friend, Vicente assumed that you knew how to protect yourself and then made you a gift. He apparently liked you and must have made you a great gift, and you chucked it. What a pity!”

May 24,1968

I had been pestering don Juan all day to tell me about don Vicente’s gift. I had pointed out to him in various ways that he had to consider our differences; I said that what was self-explanatory for him might be totally in- comprehensible for me.

“How many plants did he give you?” he finally asked,

I said four, but I actually could not remember. Then don Juan wanted to know exactly what had taken place after I left don Vicente and before I stopped on the side of the road. But I could not remember either.

“The number of plants is important and so is the order of events,” he said. “How can I tell you what his gift was if you don’t remember what happened?”

I struggled unsuccessfully to visualize the sequence of events.

“If you would remember everything that happened,” he said, “I could at least tell you how you chucked your gift.”

Don Juan seemed to be very disturbed. He urged me impatiently to recollect, but my memory was almost a total blank.

“What do you think I did wrong, don Juan?” I said, just to continue the conversation. “Everything.”
“But I followed don Vicente’s instructions to the letter.”
“So what? Don’t you understand that to follow his instructions was meaningless?” “Why?”

“Because those instructions were designed for someone who could see, not for an idiot who got out with his life just by sheer luck. You went to see Vicente without preparation. He liked you and gave you a gift. And that gift could easily have cost you your life.”

“But why did he give me something so serious? If he’s a sorcerer he should’ve known that I don’t know any- thing.”

“No, he couldn’t have seen that. You look as though you know, but you don’t know much really.”
I said I was sincerely convinced that I had never misrepresented myself, at least not deliberately.
“I didn’t mean that,” he said. “If you were putting on airs Vicente could’ve seen through you. This is

something worse than putting on airs. When I see you, you look to me as if you know a great deal, and yet I myself know that you don’t.”

“What do I seem to know, don Juan?”

“Secrets of power, of course; a brujo’s knowledge. So when Vicente saw you he made you a gift and you acted toward it the way a dog acts toward food when his belly is full. A dog pisses on food when he doesn’t want to eat any more, so other dogs won’t eat it. You did that on the gift. Now we’ll never know what really took place. You have lost a great deal. What a waste!”

He was quiet for some time; then he shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

“It’s useless to complain,” he said, “and yet it’s so difficult not to. Gifts of power happen so rarely in one’s life; they are unique and precious. Take me, for instance; nobody has ever made me such a gift. There are few people, to my knowledge, who ever had one. To waste something so unique is a shame.”

“I see what you mean, don Juan,” I said. “Is there anything I can do now to salvage the gift?”
He laughed and repeated several times, “To salvage the gift.”
“That sounds nice,” he said. “I like that. Yet there isn’t anything one can do to salvage your gift.” May 25,1968

Don Juan spent nearly all his time today showing me how to assemble trapping devices for small animals. We had been cutting and cleaning branches nearly all morning. There were many questions in my mind. I had to talk to him while we worked, but he had made a joke and said that of the two of us only I could move my hands


and my mouth at the same time. We finally sat down to rest and I blurted out a question. “What’s it like to see, don Juan?”
“You have to learn to see in order to know that. I can’t tell you.”
“Is it a secret I shouldn’t know?”

“No. It’s just that I can’t describe it.”
“It wouldn’t make sense to you.”
“Try me, don Juan. Maybe it’ll make sense to me.”
“No. You must do it yourself. Once you learn, you can see every single thing in the world in a different way.” “Then, don Juan, you don’t see the world in the usual way any more.”

“I see both ways. When I want to look at the world I see it the way you do. Then when I want to see it I look at it the way I know and I perceive it in a different way.”

“Do things look consistently the same every time you see them?”
“Things don’t change. You change your way of looking, that’s all”
“I mean, don Juan, that if you see, for instance, the same tree, does it remain the same every time you see it?” “No. It changes and yet it’s the same.”
“But if the same tree changes every time you see it, your seeing may be a mere illusion.”
He laughed and did not answer for some time, but seemed to be thinking. Finally he said, “Whenever you

look at things you don’t see them. You just look at them, I suppose, to make sure that something is there. Since you’re not concerned with seeing, things look very much the same every time you look at them. When you learn to see, on the other hand, a thing is never the same every time you see it, and yet it is the same. I told you, for in- stance, that a man is like an egg. Every time I see the same man I see an egg, yet it is not the same egg.”

“But you won’t be able to recognize anything, since nothing is the same; so what’s the advantage of learning to see?”

“You can tell things apart. You can see them for what they really are.”
“Don’t I see things as they really are?”
“No. Your eyes have learned only to look. Take, for example, the three people you encountered, the three

Mexicans. You have described them in detail, and even told me what clothes they wore. And that only proved to me that you didn’t see them at all. If you were capable of seeing you would have known on the spot that they were not people.”

“They were not people? What were they?”
“They were not people, that’s all.”
“But that’s impossible. They were just like you and me.”
“No, they were not. I’m sure of it.” I asked him if they were ghosts, spirits, or the souls of dead people. His

reply was that he did not know what ghosts, spirits, and souls were.
I translated for him the Webster’s New World Dictionary definition of the word ghosts: “The supposed

disembodied spirit of a dead person, conceived of as appearing to the living as a pale, shadowy apparition.” And then the definition of spirit: “A supernatural being, especially one thought of… as a ghost, or as inhabiting a certain region, being of a certain (good or evil) character.”

He said they could perhaps be called spirits, although the definition I had read was not quite adequate to de- scribe them.

“Are they guardians of some sort?” I asked.
“No. They don’t guard anything.”
“Are they overseers? Are they watching over us?”
“They are forces, neither good nor bad, just forces that a brujo learns to harness.”
“Are they the allies, don Juan?”
“Yes, they are the allies of a man of knowledge.”
This was the first time in eight years of our association that don Juan had come close to defining an “ally.” I


must have asked him to do so dozens of times. He usually disregarded my question, saying that I knew what an ally was and that it was stupid to voice what I already knew. Don Juan’s direct statement about the nature of an ally was a novelty and I was compelled to probe him.

“You told me the allies were in the plants,” I said, “in the jimson weed and in the mushrooms.”
“I’ve never told you that,” he said with great conviction. “You always jump to your own conclusions.”
“But I wrote it down in my notes, don Juan.”
“You may write whatever you want, but don’t tell me I said that.”
I reminded him that he had at first told me his benefactor’s ally was the jimson weed and his own ally was the

little smoke; and that he had later clarified it by saying that the ally was contained in each plant.
“No. That’s not correct,” he said, frowning. “My ally is the little smoke, but that doesn’t mean that my ally is

in the smoking mixture, or in the mushrooms, or in my pipe. They all have to be put together to get me to the ally, and that ally I call little smoke for reasons of my own.”

Don Juan said that the three people I had seen, whom he called “those who are not people”—los que no son gente—were in reality don Vicente’s allies.

I reminded him that he had established that the difference between an ally and Mescalito was that an ally could not be seen, while one could easily see Mescalito.

We involved ourselves in a long discussion then. He said that he had established the idea that an ally could not be seen because an ally adopted any form. When I pointed out that he had once also said that Mescalito adopted any form, don Juan dropped the whole conversation, saying that the “seeing” to which he was referring was not like ordinary “looking at things” and that my confusion stemmed from my insistence on talking.

Hours later don Juan himself started back again on the topic of the allies. I had felt he was somehow annoyed by my questions so I had not pressed him any further. He was showing me then how to make a trap for rabbits; I had to hold a long stick and bend it as far as possible so he could tie a string around the ends. The stick was fairly thin but still demanded considerable strength to bend. My head and arms were shivering with the exertion and I was nearly exhausted when he finally tied the string.

We sat down and began to talk. He said it was obvious to him that I could not comprehend anything unless I talked about it, and that he did not mind my questions and was going to tell me about the allies.

“The ally is not in the smoke,” he said. “The smoke takes you to where the ally is, and when you become one with the ally you don’t ever have to smoke again. From then on you can summon your ally at will and make him do anything you want.

“The allies are neither good nor evil, but are put to use by the sorcerers for whatever purpose they see fit. I like the little smoke as an ally because it doesn’t demand much of me. It’s constant and fair.”

“How does an ally look to you, don Juan? Those three people I saw, for instance, who looked like ordinary people to me; how would they look to you?”

“They would look like ordinary people.”
“Then how can you tell them apart from real people?”
“Real people look like luminous eggs when you see them. Non-people always look like people. That’s what I

meant when I said you cannot see an ally. The allies take different forms. They look like dogs, coyotes, birds, even tumbleweeds, or anything else. The only difference is that when you see them they look just like what they’re pretending to be. Everything has its own way of being when you see. Just like men look like eggs, other things look like something else, but the allies can be seen only in the form they are portraying. That form is good enough to fool the eyes, our eyes, that is. A dog is never fooled, neither is a crow.”

“Why would they want to fool us?”

“I think we are all clowns. We fool ourselves. The allies just take the outward appearance of whatever is around and then we take them for what they are not. It is not their fault that we have taught our eyes only to look at things.”

“I’m not clear about their function, don Juan. What do allies do in the world?”
“This is like asking me what we men do in the world. I really don’t know. We are here, that’s all. And the


allies are here like us; and maybe they have been here before us.” “What do you mean before us, don Juan?”
“We men have not always been here.”
“Do you mean here in this country or here in the world?”

We involved ourselves in another long argument at this point Don Juan said that for him there was only the world, the place where he put his feet. I asked him how he knew that we had not always been in the world.

“Very simple,” he said. “We men know very little about the world. A coyote knows much more than we do. A coyote is hardly ever fooled by the world’s appearance.”

“How come we can catch them and kill them?” I asked. “If they are not fooled by appearances how come they die so easily?”

Don Juan stared at me until I became embarrassed.

“We may trap or poison or shoot a coyote,” he said. “Any way we do it a coyote is an easy prey for us because he is not familiar with man’s machinations. If the coyote survived, however, you could rest assured that we’d never catch up with him again. A good hunter knows that and never sets his trap twice on the same spot, because if a coyote dies in a trap, every coyote can see his death, which lingers on, and thus they will avoid the trap or even the general area where it was set. We, on the other hand, never see death, which lingers on the spot where one of our fellow men has died; we may suspect it, but we never see it.”

“Can a coyote see an ally?”
“How does an ally look to a coyote?”
“I would have to be a coyote to know that. I can tell you, however, that to a crow it looks like a pointed hat.

Round and wide at the bottom, ending in a long point. Some of them shine, but the majority are dull and appear to be very heavy. They resemble a dripping piece of cloth. They are foreboding shapes.”

“How do they look to you when you see them, don Juan?”

“I’ve told you already; they look like whatever they’re pretending to be. They take any shape or size that suits them. They could be shaped like a pebble or a mountain.”

“Do they talk, or laugh, or make any noise?”

“In the company of men they behave like men. In the company of animals they behave like animals. Animals are usually afraid of them; however, if they are accustomed to seeing the allies, they leave them alone. We ourselves do something similar. We have scores of allies among us, but we don’t bother them. Since our eyes can only look at things, we don’t notice them.”

“Do you mean that some of the people I see in the street are not really people?” I asked, truly bewildered by his statement.

“Some of them are not,” he said emphatically.

His statement seemed preposterous to me, yet I could not seriously conceive of don Juan’s making such a re- mark purely for effect I told him it sounded like a science-fiction tale about beings from another planet. He said he did not care how it sounded, but some people in the streets were not people.

“Why must you think that every person in a moving crowd is a human being?” he asked with an air of utmost seriousness.

I really could not explain why, except that I was habituated to believe that as an act of sheer faith on my part.

He went on to say how much he liked to watch busy places with a lot of people, and how he would sometimes see a crowd of men who looked like eggs, and among the mass of egg-like creatures he would spot one who looked just tike a person.

“It’s very enjoyable to do that,” he said, laughing, “or at least it’s enjoyable for me. I like to sit in parks and bus depots and watch. Sometimes I can spot an ally right away; at other times I can see only real people. Once I saw two allies sitting in a bus, side by side. That’s the only time in my life I have seen two together.”

“Did it have a special significance for you to see two of them?”
“Certainly. Anything they do is significant. From their actions a brujo can sometimes draw his power. Even if


a brujo does not have an ally of his own, as long as he knows how to see, he can handle power by watching the acts of the allies. My benefactor taught me to do that, and for years before I had my own ally I watched for allies among crowds of people and every time I saw one it taught me something. You found three together. What a magnificent lesson you wasted.”

He did not say anything else until we finished assembling the rabbit trap. Then he turned to me and said sud- denly, as if he had just remembered it, that another important thing about the allies was that if one found two of them they were always two of the same kind. The two allies he saw were two men, he said; and since I had seen two men and one woman he concluded that my experience was even more unusual.

I asked if the allies portray children; if the children could be of the same or of different sex; if the allies por- trayed people of different races; if they could portray a family composed of a man, a woman, and a child; and finally I asked him if he had ever seen an ally driving a car or a bus.

Don Juan did not answer at all. He smiled and let me do the talking. When he heard my last question he burst out laughing and said that I was being careless with my questions, that it would have been more appropriate to ask if he had ever seen an ally driving a motor vehicle.

“You don’t want to forget the motorcycles, do you?” he said with a mischievous glint in his eye.
I thought his making fun of my question was funny and lighthearted and I laughed with him.
Then he explained that the allies could not take the lead or act upon anything directly; they could, however,

act upon man in an indirect way. Don Juan said that coming in contact with an ally was dangerous because the ally was capable of bringing out the worst in a person. The apprenticeship was long and arduous, he said, because one had to reduce to a minimum all that was unnecessary in one’s life, in order to withstand the impact of such an encounter. Don Juan said that his benefactor, when he first came in contact with an ally, was driven to burn himself and was scarred as if a mountain lion had mauled him. In his own case, he said, an ally pushed him into a pile of burning wood, and he burned himself a little on the knee and shoulder blade, but the scars disappeared in time, when he became one with the ally.



On June 10, 1968, I started on a long journey with don Juan to participate in a mitote. I had been waiting for this opportunity for months, yet I was not really sure I wanted to go. I thought my hesitation was due to my fear that at a peyote meeting I would have to ingest peyote, and I had no intention whatsoever of doing that. I had repeatedly expressed those feelings to don Juan. He laughed patiently at first, but finally he firmly stated that he did not want to hear one more thing about my fear.

As far as I was concerned, a mitote was ideal ground for me to verify the schemata I had constructed. For one thing, I had never completely abandoned the idea that a covert leader was necessary at such a meeting in order to insure agreement among the participants. Somehow I had the feeling that don Juan had discarded my idea for reasons of his own, since he deemed it more efficacious to explain everything that took place at a mitote in terms of “seeing.” I thought that my interest in finding a suitable explanation in my own terms was not in accordance with what he himself wanted me to do; therefore he had to discard my rationale, as he was accustomed to doing with whatever did not conform to his system.

Right before we started on the journey don Juan eased my apprehension about having to ingest peyote by telling me that I was attending the meeting only to watch. I felt elated. At that tune I was almost certain I was going to discover the covert procedure by which the participants arrive at an agreement.

It was late afternoon when we left; the sun was almost on the horizon; I felt it on my neck and wished I had a Venetian blind in the rear window of my car. From the top of a hill I could see down into a huge valley; the road was like a black ribbon laid flat over the ground, up and down innumerable hills. I followed it with my eyes for a moment before we began descending; it ran due south until it disappeared over a range of low mountains in the distance.

Don Juan sat quietly, looking straight ahead. We had not said a word for a long time. It was uncomfortably warm inside the car. I had opened all the windows, but that did not help because it was an extremely hot day. I felt very annoyed and restless. I began to complain about the heat.

Don Juan frowned and looked at me quizzically.
“It’s hot all over Mexico this time of the year,” he said. “There is nothing one can do about it.”
I did not look at him, but I knew he was gazing at me. The car picked up speed going down the slope. I

vaguely saw a highway sign, Vado—dip. When I actually saw the dip I was going quite fast, and although I did slow down, we still felt the impact and bobbed up and down on the seats. I reduced the speed considerably; we were going through an area where livestock grazed freely on the sides of the road, an area where the carcass of a horse or a cow run down by a car was a common sight. At a certain point I had to stop completely and let some horses cross the highway. I was getting more restless and annoyed. I told don Juan that it was the heat; I said that I had always disliked the heat since my childhood, because every summer I used to feel suffocated and I could hardly breathe.

“You’re not a child now,” he said.
“The heat still suffocates me.”
“Well, hunger used to suffocate me when I was a child,” he said softly. “To be very hungry was the only

thing I knew as a child, and I used to swell up until I could not breathe either. But that was when I was a child. I cannot suffocate now, neither can I swell like a toad when I am hungry.”

I didn’t know what to say. I felt I was getting myself into an untenable position and soon I would have to de- fend a point I really didn’t care to defend. The heat was not that bad. What disturbed me was the prospect of driving for over a thousand miles to our destination. I felt annoyed at the thought of having to exert myself.

“Let’s stop and get something to eat,” I said. “Maybe it won’t be so hot once the sun goes down.”

Don Juan looked at me, smiling, and said that there were not any clean towns for a long stretch and that he had understood my policy was not to eat from the stands on the roadside.

“Don’t you fear diarrhea any more?” he asked.
I knew he was being sarcastic, yet he kept an inquisitive and at the same time serious look on his face.


“The way you act,” he said, “one would think that diarrhea is lurking out there, waiting for you to step out of the car to jump you. You’re in a terrible fix; if you escape the heat, diarrhea will eventually get you.”

Don Juan’s tone was so serious that I began to laugh. Then we drove in silence for a long time. When we arrived at a highway stop for trucks called Los Vidrios— Glass—it was already quite dark.

Don Juan shouted from the car, “What do you have to eat today?”
“Pork meat,” a woman shouted back from inside.
“I hope for your sake that the pig was run down on the road today,” don Juan said to me, laughing.
We got out of the car. The road was flanked on both sides by ranges of low mountains that seemed to be the

solidified lava of some gigantic volcanic eruption. In the darkness the black, jagged peaks were silhouetted against the sky like huge menacing walls of glass slivers.

While we ate I told don Juan that I could see the reason why the place was called Glass. I said that to me the name was obviously due to the glass-sliver shape of the mountains.

Don Juan said in a convincing tone that the place was called Los Vidrios because a truck loaded with glass had overturned on that spot and the glass shreds were left lying around the road for years.

I felt he was being facetious and asked him to tell me if that was the real reason.
“Why don’t you ask someone here?” he said.
I asked a man who was sitting at a table next to ours; he said apologetically that he didn’t know. I went into

the kitchen and asked the women there if they knew, but they all said they didn’t; that the place was just called Glass.

“I believe I’m right,” don Juan said in a low voice. “Mexicans are not given to noticing things around them. I’m sure they can’t see the glass mountains, but they surely can leave a mountain of glass shreds lying around for years.”

We both found the image funny and laughed.

When we had finished eating don Juan asked me how I felt. I told him fine, but I really felt somewhat queasy. Don Juan gave me a steadfast look and seemed to detect my feeling of discomfort.

“Once you decided to come to Mexico you should have put all your petty fears away,” he said very sternly. “Your decision to come should have vanquished them. You came because you wanted to come. That’s the warrior’s way. I have told you time and time again, the most effective way to live is as a warrior. Worry and think before you make any decision, but once you make it, be on your way free from worries or thoughts; there will be a million other decisions still awaiting you. That’s the warrior’s way.”

“I believe I do that, don Juan, at least some of the time. It’s very hard to keep on reminding myself, though.” “A warrior thinks of his death when things become unclear.”
“That’s even harder, don Juan. For most people death is very vague and remote. We never think of it.” “Why not?”

“Why should we?”
“Very simple,” he said. “Because the idea of death is the only thing that tempers our spirit.”
By the time we left Los Vidrios it was so dark that the jagged silhouette of the mountains had emerged into

the darkness of the sky. We drove in silence for more than an hour. I felt tired. It was as though I didn’t want to talk because there was nothing to talk about. The traffic was minimal. Few cars passed by from the opposite direction. It seemed as if we were the only people going south on the highway. I thought that was strange and I kept on looking in the rear-view mirror to see if there were other cars coming from behind, but there were none.

After a while I stopped looking for cars and began to dwell again on the prospect of our trip. Then I noticed that my headlights seemed extremely bright in contrast with the darkness all around and I looked again in the rear-view mirror. I saw a bright glare first and then two points of light that seemed to have emerged from the ground. They were the headlights of a car on a hilltop in the distance behind us. They remained visible for a while, then they disappeared into the darkness as if they had been scooped away; after a moment they appeared on another hilltop, and then they disappeared again. I followed their appearances and disappearances in the mirror for a long time. At one point it occurred to me that the car was gaining on us. It was definitely closing in.


The lights were bigger and brighter. I deliberately stepped on the gas pedal. I had a sensation of uneasiness. Don Juan seemed to notice my concern, or perhaps he was only noticing that I was speeding up. He looked at me first, then he turned around and looked at the distant headlights.

He asked me if there was something wrong with me. I told him that I had not seen any cars behind us for hours and that suddenly I had noticed the lights of a car that seemed to be gaining on us all the time.

He chuckled and asked me if I really thought it was a car. I told him that it had to be a car and he said that my concern revealed to him that, somehow, I must have felt that whatever was behind us was something more than a mere car. I insisted that I thought it was just another car on the highway, or perhaps a truck.

“What else can it be?” I said loudly.
Don Juan’s probing had put me on edge.
He turned and looked straight at me, then he nodded slowly, as if measuring what he was going to say. “Those are the lights on the head of death,” he said softly. “Death puts them on like a hat and then shoots off

on a gallop. Those are the lights of death on the gallop gaining on us, getting closer and closer.”
A chill ran up my back. After a while I looked in the rear-view mirror again, but the lights were not there any

I told don Juan that the car must have stopped or turned off the road. He did not look back; he just stretched

his arms and yawned.
“No,” he said. “Death never stops. Sometimes it turns off its lights, that’s all.”
We arrived in northeastern Mexico June 13. Two old Indian women, who looked alike and seemed to be

sisters, and four girls were gathered at the door of a small adobe house. There was a hut behind the house and a dilapidated barn that had only part of its roof and one wall left. The women were apparently waiting for us; they must have spotted my car by the dust it raised on the dirt road after I left the paved highway a couple of miles away. The house was in a deep valley, and viewed from the door the highway looked like a long scar high up on the side of the green hills.

Don Juan got out of the car and talked with the old women for a moment. They pointed to some wooden stools in front of the door. Don Juan signaled me to come over and sit down. One of the old women sat with us; the rest went inside the house. Two of the girls remained by the door, examining me with curiosity. I waved at them; they giggled and ran inside. After a few minutes two young men came over and greeted don Juan. They did not speak to me or even look at me. They talked to don Juan briefly; then he got up and all of us, including the women, Walked to another house, perhaps half a mile away.

We met there with another group of people. Don Juan went inside but told me to stay by the door. I looked in and saw an old Indian man around don Juan’s age sitting on a wooden stool.

It was not quite dark. A group of young Indian men and women were standing quietly around an old truck parked in front of the house. I talked to them in Spanish but they deliberately avoided answering me; the women giggled every time I said something and the men smiled politely and turned their eyes away. It was as if they did not understand me, yet I was sure all of them spoke Spanish because I had heard them talking among themselves.

After a while don Juan and the other old man came out and got into the truck and sat next to the driver. That appeared to be a signal for everyone to climb onto the flatbed of the truck. There were no side railings, and when the truck began to move we all hung onto a long rope that was tied to some hooks on the chassis.

The truck moved slowly on the dirt road. At one point, on a very steep slope, it stopped and everybody jumped down and walked behind it; then two young men hopped onto the flatbed again and sat on the edge without using the rope. The women laughed and encouraged them to maintain their precarious position. Don Juan and the old man, who was referred to as don Silvio, walked together and did not seem to be concerned with the young men’s histrionics. When the road leveled off everybody got on the track again.

We rode for about an hour. The floor was extremely hard and uncomfortable, so I stood up and held onto the roof of the cab and rode that way until we stopped in front of a group of shacks. There were more people there; it was very dark by then and I could see only a few of them in the dim, yellowish light of a kerosene lantern that hung by an open door.


Everybody got off the truck and mingled with the people in the houses. Don Juan told me again to stay outside. I leaned against the front fender of the truck and after a minute or two I was joined by three young men. I had met one of them four years before at a previous mitote. He embraced me by grabbing my forearms.

“You’re fine,” he whispered to me in Spanish.

We stayed very quietly by the truck. It was a warm, windy night. I could hear the soft rumble of a stream close by. My friend asked me in a whisper if I had any cigarettes. I passed a pack around. By the glow of the cig- arettes I looked at my watch. It was nine o’clock.

A group of people emerged from inside the house soon afterwards and the three young men walked away. Don Juan came over to me and told me that he had explained my presence to everybody’s satisfaction and that I was welcome to come and serve water at the mitote. He said we would be going right away.

A group of ten women and eleven men left the house. The man heading the party was rather husky; he was per-haps in his mid-fifties. They called him “Mocho,” a nickname which means “cropped.” He moved with brisk, firm steps. He carried a kerosene lantern and waved it from side to side as he walked. At first I thought he was moving it at random, but then I discovered that he waved the lantern to mark an obstacle or a difficult pass on the road. We walked for over an hour. The women chatted and laughed softly from time to time. Don Juan and the other old man were at the head of the line; I was at the very tail end of it. I kept my eyes down on the road, trying to see where I was walking.

It had been four years since don Juan and I had been in the hills at night, and I had lost a great deal of physical prowess. I kept stumbling and involuntarily kicking small rocks. My knees did not have any flexibility; the road seemed to come up at me when I encountered a high spot, or it seemed to give in under me when I hit a low spot. I was the noisiest walker and that made me into an unwilling clown. Someone in the group said, “Woo,” every time I stumbled and everyone laughed. At one point, one of the rocks I kicked hit a woman’s heel and she said out loud, to everyone’s delight, “Give a candle to that poor boy!” But the final mortification was when I tripped and had to hold onto the person in front of me; he nearly lost his balance with my weight on him and let out a deliberate scream that was out of all proportion. Everyone laughed so hard that the whole group had to stop for a while.

At a certain moment the man who was leading jerked his lantern up and down. It seemed that was the sign we had arrived at our destination. There was a dark silhouette of a low house to my right, a short distance away. Everyone in the group scrambled in different directions. I looked for don Juan. It was difficult to find him in the darkness. I stumbled noisily for a while before noticing that he was sitting on a rock.

He again told me that my duty was to bring water for the men who were going to participate. He had taught me the procedure years before. I remembered every detail of it but he insisted on refreshing my memory and showed me again how to do it.

Afterwards we walked to the back of the house where all the men had gathered. They had built a fire. There was a cleared area covered with straw mats perhaps fifteen feet away from the fire. Mocho, the man who had led us, sat on a mat first; I noticed that the upper edge of his left ear was missing, which accounted for his nickname. Don Silvio sat to his right and don Juan to his left. Mocho was sitting facing the fire. A young man advanced toward him and placed a flat basket with peyote buttons in front of him; then the young man sat down between Mocho and don Silvio. Another young man carried two small baskets and placed them next to the peyote buttons and then sat between Mocho and don Juan. Then two other young men flanked don Silvio and don Juan, closing a circle of seven persons. The women remained inside the house. Two young men were in charge of keeping the fire burning all night, and one teenager and I kept the water that was going to be given to the seven participants after their all-night ritual. The boy and I sat by a rock. The fire and the receptacle with water were opposite each other and at an equal distance from the circle of participants.

Mocho, the headman, sang his peyote song; his eyes were closed; his body bobbed up and down. It was a very long song. I did not understand the language. Then all of them, one by one, sang their peyote songs. They did not seem to follow any preconceived order. They apparently sang whenever they felt like doing it. Then Mocho held the basket with peyote buttons, took two of them, and placed it back again in the center of the circle;


don Silvio was nest and then don Juan. The four young men, who seemed to be a separate unit, took two peyote buttons each, following a counter-clockwise direction.

Each of the seven participants sang and ate two peyote buttons four consecutive times, then they passed the other two baskets, which contained dried fruit and meat.

They repeated this cycle at various times during the night, yet I could not detect any underlying order to their individual movements. They did not speak to one another; they seemed rather to be by themselves and to themselves. I did not see any of them, not even once, paying attention to what the other men were doing.

Before daybreak they got up and the young man and I gave them water. Afterwards I walked around to orient myself. The house was a one-room shack, a low adobe construction with a thatched roof. The scenery that sur- rounded it was quite oppressive. The shack was located in a harsh plain with mixed vegetation. Shrubs and cacti grew together, but there were no trees at all. I did not feel like venturing beyond the house.

The women left during the morning. The men moved silently in the area immediately surrounding the house. Around midday all of us sat down again in the same order we had sat the night before. A basket with pieces of dried meat cut to the same size as a peyote button was passed around. Some of the men sang their peyote songs. After an hour or so all of them stood up and went off in different directions.

The women had left a pot of gruel for the fire and water attendants. I ate some of it and then I slept most of the afternoon.

After dark the young men in charge of the fire built another one and the cycle of intaking peyote buttons began again. It followed roughly the same order as the preceding night, ending at daybreak.

During the course of the night I struggled to observe and record every single movement performed by each of the seven participants, in hopes of discovering the slightest form of a detectable system of verbal or nonverbal communication among them. There was nothing in their actions, however, that revealed an underlying system.

In the early evening the cycle of intaking peyote was renewed. By morning I knew that I had completely failed to find clues that would point out the covert leader, or to discover any form of covert communication among them or any traces of their system of agreement. For the rest of the day I sat by myself and tried to arrange my notes.

When the men gathered again for the fourth night I knew somehow that this was to be the last meeting. No- body had mentioned anything about it to me, yet I knew they would disband the next day. I sat by the water again and everyone else resumed his position in the order that had already been established.

The behavior of the seven men in the circle was a replica of what I had observed during the three previous nights. I became absorbed in their movements as I had done before. I wanted to record everything they did, every movement, every utterance, every gesture.

At a certain moment I heard a sort of beep in my ear; it was a common sort of buzzing in the ear and I did not pay attention to it. The beep became louder, yet it was still within the range of my ordinary bodily sensations. I remembered dividing my attention between watching the men and listening to the buzzing I was hearing. Then, at a given instant, the faces of the men seemed to become brighter; it was as if a light had been turned on. But it was not quite like an electric light, or a lantern, or the reflection of the fire on their faces. It was rather an iridescence; a pink luminosity, very tenuous, yet detectable from where I was. The buzzing seemed to increase. I looked at the teenage boy who was with me but he had fallen asleep.

The pink luminosity became more noticeable by then. I looked at don Juan; his eyes were closed; so were don Silvio’s and so were Mocho’s. I could not see the eyes of the four younger men because two of them were bent forward and the other two had their backs turned to me.

I became even more involved in watching. Yet I had not fully realized that I was actually hearing a buzzing and was actually seeing a pinkish glow hovering over the men. After a moment I became aware that the tenuous pink light and the buzzing were very steady, I had a moment of intense bewilderment and then a thought crossed my mind, a thought that had nothing to do with the scene I was witnessing, nor with the purpose I had in mind for being there. I remembered something my mother had told me once when I was a child. The thought was distracting and very inappropriate; I tried to discard it and involve myself again in my assiduous watching, but I


could not do it. The thought recurred; it was stronger, more demanding, and then I clearly heard my mother’s voice calling me. I heard the shuffling of her slippers and then her laughter. I turned around looking for her; I conceived that I was going to be transported in time by some sort of hallucination or mirage and I was going to see her, but I saw only the boy sleeping beside me. To see him jolted me and I experienced a brief moment of ease, of sobriety.

I looked again at the group of men. They had not changed their positions at all. However, the luminosity was gone, and so was the buzzing in my ears. I felt relieved. I thought that the hallucination of hearing my mother’s voice was over. Her voice had been so clear and vivid. I said to myself over and over that for an instant the voice had almost trapped me. I noticed vaguely that don Juan was looking at me, but that did not matter. It was the memory of my mother’s voice calling me that was mesmerizing. I struggled desperately to think about something else. And then I heard her voice again, as clearly as if she had been behind me. She called my name. I turned quickly, but all I saw was the dark silhouette of the shack and the shrubs beyond it.

Hearing my name caused me the most profound anguish. I whined involuntarily. I felt cold and very lonely and I began to weep. At that moment I had the sensation that I needed someone to care for me. I turned my head to look at don Juan; he was staring at me. I did not want to see him so I closed my eyes. And then I saw my mother. It was not the thought of my mother, the way I think of her ordinarily. This was a clear vision of her, standing by me. I felt desperate. I was trembling and wanted to escape. The vision of my mother was too disturbing, too alien to what I was pursuing in that peyote meeting. There was apparently no conscious way to avoid it. Perhaps I could have opened my eyes if I really wanted the vision to vanish, but instead I examined it in detail. My examination was more than merely looking at her; it was a compulsive scrutiny and assessment. A very peculiar feeling enveloped me as if it were an outside force, and I suddenly felt the horrendous burden of my mother’s love. When I heard my name I was torn apart; the memory of my mother filled me with anguish and melancholy, but when I examined her I knew that I had never liked her. This was a shocking realization. Thoughts and images came to me as an avalanche. The vision of my mother must have vanished in the meantime; it was no longer important. I was no longer interested in what the Indians were doing either. In fact I had forgotten the mitote. I was absorbed in a series of extraordinary thoughts, extraordinary because they were more than thoughts; these were complete units of feeling that were emotional certainties, indisputable evidences about the nature of my relationship with my mother.

At a certain moment these extraordinary thoughts ceased to come. I noticed that they had lost their fluidity and their quality of being complete units of feeling. I had begun to think about other things. My mind was rambling. I thought of other members of my immediate family, but there were no images to accompany my thoughts. Then I looked at don Juan. He was standing; the rest of the men were also standing, and then they all walked toward the water. I moved aside and nudged the boy who was still asleep.

I related to don Juan the sequence of my astounding vision almost as soon as he got into my car. He laughed with great delight and said that my vision was a sign, an omen as important as my first experience with Mescalito.

I remembered that don Juan had interpreted the reactions I had when I first ingested peyote as an all- important omen; in fact he decided to teach me his knowledge because of it.

Don Juan said that during the last night of the mitote Mescalito had hovered over me so obviously that everyone was forced to turn toward me, and that was why he was staring at me when I looked at him.

I wanted to hear his interpretation of my vision, but he did not want to talk about it. He said that whatever I had experienced was nonsense in comparison to the omen.

Don Juan kept on talking about Mescalito’s light hovering over me and how everyone had seen it.
“That was really something,” he said. “I couldn’t possibly ask for a better omen.”
Don Juan and I were obviously on two different avenues of thought. He was concerned with the importance

of the events he had interpreted as an omen and I was obsessed with the details of the vision I had had.
“I don’t care about omens,” I said. “I want to know what happened to me.”
He frowned as if he were upset and remained very stiff and quiet for a moment. Then he looked at me. His


tone was very forceful. He said that the only important issue was that Mescalito had been very gentle with me, had engulfed me with his light and had given me a lesson with no other effort on my part than being around.



On September 4, 1968, I went to Sonora to visit don Juan. Following a request he had made during my pre- vious visit to him, I stopped on the way, in Hermosillo, to buy him a noncommercial tequila called bacanora. His request seemed very odd to me at the time, since I knew he disliked drinking, but I bought four bottles and put them in a box along with other things I had brought for him.

“Why, you got four bottles!” he said, laughing, when he opened the box. “I asked you to buy me one. I believe you thought the bacanora was for me, but it’s for my grandson Lucio, and you have to give it to him as though it’s a personal gift of your own.”

I had met don Juan’s grandson two years before; he was twenty-eight years old then. He was very tall, over six feet, and was always extravagantly well dressed for his means and in comparison to his peers. While the majority of Yaquis wear khakis and Levis, straw hats, and homemade sandals called guaraches, Lucio’s outfit was an expensive black leather jacket with frills of turquoise beads, a Texan cowboy hat, and a pair of boots that were monogrammed and hand decorated.

Lucio was delighted to receive the liquor and immediately took the bottles inside his house, apparently to put them away. Don Juan made a casual comment that one should never hoard liquor and drink alone. Lucio said he was not really hoarding, but was putting it away until that evening, at which time he was going to invite his friends to drink with him.

That evening around seven o’clock I returned to Lucio’s place. It was dark. I made out the vague silhouette of two people standing under a small tree; it was Lucio and one of his friends, who were waiting for me and guided me to the house with a flashlight.

Lucio’s house was a flimsy, two-room, dirt-floor, wattle-and-daub construction. It was perhaps twenty feet long and supported by relatively thin beams of the mesquite tree. It had, as all the houses of the Yaquis have, a flat, thatched roof and a nine-foot-wide ramada, which is a sort of awning over the entire front part of the house. A ramada roof is never thatched; it is made of branches arranged in a loose fashion, giving enough shade and yet permitting the cooling breeze to circulate freely.

As I entered the house I turned on my tope recorder, which I kept inside my brief case. Lucio introduced me to his friends. There were eight men inside the house, including don Juan. They were sitting casually around the center of the room under the bright light of a gasoline lantern that hung from a beam, Don Juan was sitting on a box. I sat facing him at the end of a six-foot bench made with a thick wooden beam nailed on two prongs planted in the ground.

Don Juan had placed his hat on the floor beside him. The light of the gasoline lantern made his short white hair look more brilliantly white. I looked at his face; the light had also enhanced the deep wrinkles on his neck and forehead, and made him look darker and older.

I looked at the other men; under the greenish-white light of the gasoline lantern all of them looked tired and old.

Lucio addressed the whole group in Spanish and said in a loud voice that we were going to drink one bottle of bacanora that I had brought for him from Hermosillo. He went into the other room, brought out a bottle, uncorked it, and gave it to me along with a small tin cup. I poured a very small amount into the cup and drank it. The bacanora seemed to be more fragrant and more dense than regular tequila, and stronger too. It made me cough. I passed the bottle and everyone poured himself a small drink, everyone except don Juan; he just took the bottle and placed it in front of Lucio, who was at the end of the line.

All of them made lively comments about the rich flavor of that particular bottle, and all of them agreed that the liquor must have come from the high mountains of Chihuahua.

The bottle went around a second time. The men smacked their lips, repeated their statements of praise, and engaged themselves in a lively discussion about the noticeable differences between the tequila made around Gua- dalajara and that made at a high altitude in Chihuahua.

During the second time around don Juan again did not drink and I poured only a dab for myself, but the rest 32

of them filled the cup to the brim. The bottle went around once more and was finished.
“Get the other bottles, Lucio,” don Juan said.
Lucio seemed to vacillate, and don Juan quite casualty explained to the others that I had brought four bottles

for Lucio.
Benigno, a young man of Lucio’s age, looked at the brief case that I had placed inconspicuously behind me

and asked if I was a tequila salesman. Don Juan answered that I was not, and that I had really come to Sonora to see him.

“Carlos is learning about Mescalito, and I’m teaching him,” don Juan said.

All of them looked at me and smiled politely. Bajea, the woodcutter, a small, thin man with sharp features, looked at me fixedly for a moment and then said that the storekeeper had accused me of being a spy from an American company that was planning to do mining in the Yaqui land. They all reacted as if they were indignant at such an accusation. Besides, they all resented the storekeeper, who was a Mexican, or a Yori as the Yaquis say.

Lucio went into the other room and returned with another bottle of bacanora. He opened it, poured himself a large drink, and then passed it around. The conversation drifted to the probabilities of the American company coming to Sonora and its possible effect on the Yaquis. The bottle went back to Lucio. He lifted it and looked at its contents to see how much was left.

“Tell him not to worry,” don Juan whispered to me. “Tell him you’ll bring him more next time you come around.”

I leaned over to Lucio and assured him that on my next visit I was going to bring him at least half a dozen bottles.

At one moment the topics of conversation seemed to wane away.

Don Juan turned to me and said loudly, “Why don’t you tell the guys here about your encounters with Mesca- lito? I think that’ll be much more interesting than this idle chat about what will happen if the American company comes to Sonora.”

“Is Mescalito peyote, Grandpa?” Lucio asked curiously.
“Some people call it that way,” don Juan said dryly. “I prefer to call it Mescalito.”
“That confounded thing causes madness,” said Genaro, a tall, husky, middle-aged man.
“I think it’s stupid to say that Mescalito causes madness,” don Juan said softly. “Because if that were the case,

Carlos would be in a strait-jacket this very moment instead of being here talking to you. He has taken it and look at him. He is fine.”

Bajea smiled and replied shyly, “Who can tell?” and everybody laughed.
“Look at me then,” don Juan said. “I’ve known Mescalito nearly all my life and it has never hurt me.”
The men did not laugh, but it was obvious that they were not taking him seriously.
“On the other hand,” don Juan went on, “it’s true that Mescalito drives people crazy, as you said, but that’s

only when they come to him without knowing what they’re doing.”
Esquere, an old man who seemed to be don Juan’s age, chuckled softly as he shook his head from side to

“What do you mean by ‘knowing,’ Juan?” he asked. “The last time I saw you, you were saying the same

“People go really crazy when they take that peyote stuff,” Genaro continued. “I’ve seen the Huichol Indians

eating it. They acted as if they had rabies. They frothed and puked and pissed all over the place. You could get epilepsy from taking that confounded thing. That’s what Mr. Salas, the government engineer, told me once. And epilepsy is for life, you know.”

“That’s being worse than animals,” Bajea added solemnly.

“You saw only what you wanted to see about the Huichol Indians, Genaro,” don Juan said. “For one thing, you never took the trouble of finding out from them what it’s like to get acquainted with Mescalito. Mescalito has never made anyone epileptic, to my knowledge. The government engineer is a Yori and I doubt that a Yori knows anything about it. You really don’t think that all the thousands of people who know Mescalito are crazy,


do you?”
“They must be crazy, or pretty nearly so, to do a thing like that,” answered Genaro.
“But if all those thousands of people were crazy at the same time who would do their work? How would they

manage to survive?” don Juan asked.
“Macario, who comes from the ‘other side'”—the U.S.A.—”told me that whoever takes it there is marked for

life,” Esquere said.
“Macario is lying if he says that,” don Juan said. “I’m sure he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” “He really tells too many lies,” said Benigno.
“Who’s Macario?” I asked.
“He’s a Yaqui Indian who lives here,” Lucio said. “He says he’s from Arizona and that he was in Europe

during the war. He tells all kinds of stories.”
“He says he was a colonel!” Benigno said.
Everyone laughed and the conversation shifted for a while to Macario’s unbelievable tales, but don Juan re-

turned again to the topic of Mescalito.
“If all of you know that Macario is a liar, how can you believe him when he talks about Mescalito?”
“Do you mean peyote, Grandpa?” Lucio asked, as if he were really struggling to make sense out of the term. “God damn it! Yes!”
Don Juan’s tone was sharp and abrupt. Lucio recoiled involuntarily, and for a moment I felt they were all

afraid. Then don Juan smiled broadly and continued in a mild tone.
“Don’t you fellows see that Macario doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Don’t you see that in order to talk

about Mescalito one has to know?”
“There you go again,” Esquere said. “What the hell is this knowledge? You are worse than Macario. At least

he says what’s on his mind, whether he knows it or not. For years I’ve been listening to you say we have to know. What do we have to know?”

“Don Juan says there is a spirit in peyote,” Benigno said.
“I have seen peyote in the field, but I have never seen spirits or anything of the sort,” Bajea added. “Mescalito is like a spirit, perhaps,” don Juan explained. “But whatever he is doesn’t become clear until one

knows about him. Esquere complains that I have been saying this for years. Well, I have. But it’s not my fault that you don’t understand. Bajea says that whoever takes it becomes like an animal. Well, I don’t see it that way. To me those who think they are above animals live worse than animals. Look at my grandson here. He works without rest. I would say he lives to work, like a mule. And all he does that is not animal-like is to get drunk.”

Everybody laughed, Victor, a very young man who seemed to be still in adolescence, laughed in a pitch above everybody else.

Eligio, a young farmer, had not uttered a single word so far. He was sitting on the floor to my right, with his back against some sacks of chemical fertilizer that had been piled inside the house to protect them from the rain. He was one of Lucio’s childhood friends, powerful looking and, although shorter than Lucio, more stocky and better built. Eligio seemed concerned about don Juan’s words. Bajea was trying to come back with a comment, but Eligio interrupted him.

“In what way would peyote change all this?” he asked. “It seems to me that a man is born to work all his life, like mules do.”

“Mescalito changes everything,” don Juan said, “yet we still have to work like everybody else, like mules. I said there was a spirit inside Mescalito because it is something like a spirit which brings about the change in men. A spirit we can see and can touch, a spirit that changes us, sometimes even against our will.”

“Peyote drives you out of your mind,” Genaro said, “and then of course you believe you’ve changed. True?” “How can it change us?” Eligio insisted.
“He teaches us the right way to live,” don Juan said. “He helps and protects those who know him. The life

you fellows are leading is no life at all. You don’t know the happiness that comes from doing things deliberately. You don’t have a protector!”


“What do you mean?” Genaro said indignantly. “We certainly have. Our Lord Jesus Christ, and our Mother the Virgin, and the little Virgin of Guadalupe. Aren’t they our protectors?”

“Fine bunch of protectors!” don Juan said mockingly. “Have they taught you a better way to live?”
“That’s because people don’t listen to them,” Genaro protested, “and they only pay attention to the devil.” “If they were real protectors they would force you to listen,” don Juan said. “If Mescalito becomes your pro-

tector you will have to listen whether you Iike it or not, because you can see him and you must take heed of what he says. He will make you approach him with respect. Not the way you fellows are accustomed to approach your protectors.”

“What do you mean, Juan?” Esquere asked.

“What I mean is that for you to come to your protectors means that one of you has to play a fiddle, and a dancer has to put on his mask and leggings and rattles and dance, while the rest of you drink. You, Benigno, you were a dancer once, tell us about it.”

“I gave it up after three years,” Benigno said. “It’s hard work.”
“Ask Lucio,” Esquere said satirically. “He gave it up in one week!”
Everybody laughed except don Juan. Lucio smiled, seemingly embarrassed, and gulped down two huge swal-

lows of bacanora.
“It is not hard, it is stupid,” don Juan said. “Ask Valencio, the dancer, if he enjoys dancing. He does not! He

got accustomed to it, that’s all. I’ve seen him dance for years, and every time I have, I’ve seen the same move- ments badly executed. He takes no pride in his art except when he talks about it. He has no love for it, therefore year after year he repeats the same motions. What was bad about his dancing at the beginning has become fixed. He cannot see it any longer.”

“He was taught to dance that way,” Eligio said. “I was also a dancer in the town of Torim. I know you must dance the way they teach you.”

“Valencio is not the best dancer anyway,” Esquere said. “There are others. How about Sacateca?”

“Sacateca is a man of knowledge, he is not in the same class with you fellows,” don Juan said sternly. “He dances because that’s the bent of his nature. All I wanted to say was that you, who are not dancers, do not enjoy it. Perhaps if the dances are well performed some of you will get pleasure. Not many of you know that much about dancing, though; therefore you are left with a very lousy piece of joy. This is why you fellows are all drunkards. Look at my grandson here!”

“Cut it out, Grandpa!” Lucio protested.
“He’s not lazy or stupid,” don Juan went on, “but what else does he do besides drink?”
“He buys leather jackets!” Genaro remarked, and the whole audience roared.
Lucio gulped down more bacanora.
“And how is peyote going to change that?” Eligio asked.
“If Lucio would seek the protector,” don Juan said, “his life would be changed. I don’t know exactly how, but

I am sure it would be different.”
“He would stop drinking, is that what you mean?” Eligio insisted.
“Perhaps he would. He needs something else besides tequila to make his life satisfying. And that something,

whatever it may be, might be provided by the protector.”
“Then peyote must taste very good,” Eligio said.
“I didn’t say that,” don Juan said.
“How in the hell are you going to enjoy it if it doesn’t taste good?” Eligio said.
“It makes one enjoy life better,” don Juan said. “But if it doesn’t taste good, how could it make us enjoy our

lives better?” Eligio persisted. “It doesn’t make sense,”
“Of course it makes sense,” Genaro said with conviction. “Peyote makes you crazy and naturally you think

you’re having a great time with your life, no matter what you do.”
They all laughed again.
“It does make sense,” don Juan proceeded, undisturbed, “if you think how little we know and how much


there is to see. Booze is what makes people crazy. It blurs the images. Mescalito, on the other hand, sharpens everything. It makes you see so very well. So very well!”

Lucio and Benigno looked at each other and smiled as though they had already heard the story before. Genaro and Esquere grew more impatient and began to talk at the same time. Victor laughed above all the other voices. The only one interested seemed to be Eligio.

“How can peyote do all that?” he asked.

“In the first place,” don Juan explained, “you must want to become acquainted with him, and I think this is by far the most important thing. Then you must be offered to him, and you must meet with him many times before you can say you know him.”

“And what happens then?” Eligio asked.
Genaro interrupted. “You crap on the roof with your ass on the ground.”
The audience roared.
“What happens next is entirely up to you,” don Juan went on without losing his self-control. “You must come

to him without fear and, little by little, he will teach you how to live a better life.”
There was a long pause. The men seemed to be tired. The bottle was empty. Lucio, with obvious reluctance,

opened another.
“Is peyote Carlos’ protector too?” Eligio asked in a joking tone.
“I wouldn’t know that,” don Juan said. “He has taken it three times, so ask him to tell you about it.” They all turned to me curiously and Eligio asked, “Did you really take it?”
“Yes. I did.”
It seemed don Juan had won a round with his audience. They were either interested in hearing about my

experience or too polite to laugh in my face.
“Didn’t it hurt your mouth?” Lucio asked.
“It did. It also tasted terrible.”
“Why did you take it, then?” Benigno asked.
I began to explain to them in elaborate terms that for a Western man don Juan’s knowledge about peyote was

one of the most fascinating things one could find. I said that everything he had said about it was true and that each one of us could verify that truth for ourselves.

I noticed that all of them were smiling as if they were concealing their contempt. I grew very embarrassed. I was aware of my awkwardness in conveying what I really had in mind. I talked for a while longer, but I had lost the impetus and only repeated what don Juan had already said.

Don Juan came to my aid and asked in a reassuring tone, “You were not looking for a protector when you first came to Mescalito, were you?”

I told them that I did not know that Mescalito could be a protector, and that I was moved only by my curiosity and a great desire to know him.

Don Juan reaffirmed that my intentions had been faultless and said that because of it Mescalito had had a beneficial effect on me.

“But it made you puke and piss all over the place, didn’t it?” Genaro insisted.

I told him that it had in fact affected me in such a manner. They all laughed with restraint. I felt that they had become even more contemptuous of me. They didn’t seem to be interested, except for Eligio, who was gazing at me.

“What did you see?” he asked.

Don Juan urged me to recount for them all or nearly all the salient details of my experiences, so I described the sequence and the form of what I had perceived. When I finished talking Lucio made a comment.

“If peyote is that weird, I’m glad I’ve never taken it.”
“It is just like I said,” Genaro said to Bajea. “That thing makes you insane.”
“But Carlos is not insane now. How do you account for that?” don Juan asked Genaro. “How do we know he isn’t?” Genaro retorted.


They all broke out laughing, including don Juan. “Were you afraid?” Benigno asked.
“I certainly was.”
“Why did you do it, then?” Eligio asked.

“He said he wanted to know,” Lucio answered for me. “I think Carlos is getting to be like my grandpa. Both have been saying they want to know, but nobody knows what in the hell they want to know.”

“It is impossible to explain that knowing,” don Juan said to Eligio, “because it is different for every man. The only thing which is common to all of us is that Mescalito reveals his secrets privately to each man. Being aware of how Genaro feels, I don’t recommend that he meet Mescalito. Yet in spite of my words or his feelings, Mescalito could have a totally beneficial effect on him. But only he could find out, and that is the knowing I have been talking about.”

Don Juan got up. “It’s time to go home,” he said. “Lucio is drunk and Victor is asleep.”

Two days later, on September 6, Lucio, Benigno, and Eligio came over to the house where I was staying to go hunting with me. They remained silent for a while as I kept on writing my notes. Then Benigno laughed politely as a warning that he was going to say something important.

After a preliminary embarrassing silence he laughed again and said, “Lucio here says that he would take peyote.”

“Would you really?” I asked.
“Yes. I wouldn’t mind it.”
Benigno’s laughter came in spurts.
“Lucio says he will eat peyote if you buy him a motorcycle.”
Lucio and Benigno looked at each other and broke out laughing.
“How much is a motorcycle in the United States?” Lucio asked.
“You could probably get one for a hundred dollars,” I said.
“That isn’t very much there, is it? You could easily get it for him, couldn’t you?” Benigno asked. “Well, let me ask your grandpa first,” I said to Lucio.

“No, no,” he protested. “Don’t mention it to him. He’ll spoil everything. He’s a weirdo. And besides, he’s too old and feeble-minded and he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“He was a real sorcerer once,” Benigno added. “I mean a real one. My folks say he was the best. But he took to peyote and became a nobody. Now he’s too old.”

“And he goes over and over the same crappy stories about peyote,” Lucio said.

“That peyote is pure crap,” Benigno said. “You know, we tried it once. Lucio got a whole sack of it from his grandpa. One night as we were going to town we chewed it. Son of a bitch! It cut my mouth to shreds. It tasted like hell!”

“Did you swallow it?” I asked.
“We spit it out,” Lucio said, “and threw the whole damn sack away.”
They both thought the incident was very funny. Eligio, in the meantime, had not said a word. He was

withdrawn, as usual. He did not even laugh.
“Would you like to try it, Eligio?” I asked.
“No. Not me. Not even for a motorcycle.”
Lucio and Benigno found the statement utterly funny and roared again. “Nevertheless,” Eligio continued, “I must admit that don Juan baffles me.”
“My grandfather is too old to know anything,” Lucio said with great conviction. “Yeah, he’s too old,” Benigno echoed.

I thought the opinion the two young men had of don Juan was childish and unfounded. I felt it was my duty to defend his character and I told them that in my judgment don Juan was then, as he had been in the past, a great sorcerer, perhaps even the greatest of all. I said I felt there was something about him, something truly extraordinary.


I urged them to remember that he was over seventy years old and yet he was more energetic and stronger than all of us put together. I challenged the young men to prove it to themselves by trying to sneak up on don Juan.

“You just can’t sneak up on my grandpa,” Lucio said proudly. “He’s a brujo.”

I reminded them that they had said he was too old and feeble-minded, and that a feeble-minded person does not know what goes on around him. I said that I had marveled at don Juan’s alertness time and time again.

“No one can sneak up on a brujo, even if he’s old,” Benigno said with authority. “They can gang up on him when he’s asleep, though. That’s what happened to a man named Cevicas. People got tired of his evil sorcery and killed him.”

I asked them to give me all the details of that event, but they said it had taken place before their time, or when they were still very young. Eligio added that people secretly believed that Cevicas had been only a fool, and that no one could harm a real sorcerer. I tried to question them further on their opinions about sorcerers. They did not seem to have much interest in the subject; besides, they were eager to start out and shoot the .22 rifle I had brought.

We were silent for a while as we walked toward the thick chaparral, then Eligio, who was at the head of the line, turned around and said to me, “Perhaps we’re the crazy ones. Perhaps don Juan is right. Look at the way we live.”

Lucio and Benigno protested. I tried to mediate. I agreed with Eligio and told them that I myself had felt that the way I lived was somehow wrong. Benigno said that I had no business complaining about my life, that I had money and I had a car. I retorted that I could easily say that they themselves were better off because each owned a piece of land. They responded in unison that the owner of their land was the federal bank. I told them that I did not own my car either, that a bank in California owned it, and that my life was only different but not better than theirs. By that time we were already in the dense shrubs.

We did not find any deer or wild boars, but we got three jack rabbits. On our return we stopped at Lucio’s house and he announced that his wife was going to make rabbit stew. Benigno went to the store to buy a bottle of tequila and get us some sodas. When we came back don Juan was with him.

“Did you find my grandpa at the store buying beer?” Lucio asked laughing.

“I haven’t been invited to this reunion,” don Juan said. “I’ve just dropped by to ask Carlos if he’s leaving for Hermosillo.”

I told him I was planning to leave the next day, and while we talked Benigno distributed the bottles. Eligio gave his to don Juan, and since among the Yaquis it is deadly impolite to refuse, even as a courtesy, don Juan took it quietly. I gave mine to Eligio, and he was obliged to take it. So Benigno in turn gave me his bottle. But Lucio, who had obviously visualized the entire scheme of Yaqui good manners, had already finished drinking his soda. He turned to Benigno, who had a pathetic look on his face, and said, laughing, “They’ve screwed you out of your bottle.”

Don Juan said he never drank soda and placed his bottle in Benigno’s hands. We sat under the ramada in silence.

Eligio seemed to be nervous. He fidgeted with the brim of his hat.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said the other night,” he said to don Juan. “How can peyote change our life? How?”

Don Juan did not answer. He stared fixedly at Eligio for a moment and then began to sing in Yaqui. It was not a song proper, but a short recitation. We remained quiet for a long time. Then I asked don Juan to translate the Yaqui words for me.

“That was only for Yaquis,” he said matter-of-factly.
I felt dejected. I was sure he had said something of great importance.
“Eligio is an Indian,” don Juan finally said to me, “and as an Indian Eligio has nothing. We Indians have

nothing. All you see around here belongs to the Yoris. The Yaquis have only their wrath and what the land offers to them freely.”


Nobody uttered a sound for quite some time, then don Juan stood up and said goodbye and walked away. We looked at him until he had disappeared behind a bend of the road. All of us seemed to be nervous. Lucio told us in a disoriented manner that his grandfather had not stayed because he hated rabbit stew. Eligio seemed to be immersed in thoughts. Benigno turned to me and said loudly, “I think the Lord is going to punish you and don Juan for what you’re doing.”

Lucio began to laugh and Benigno joined him.
“You’re clowning, Benigno,” Eligio said somberly. “What you’ve just said isn’t worth a damn.” September 15,1968
It was nine o’clock Saturday night. Don Juan sat in front of Eligio in the center of the ramada of Lucio’s

house. Don Juan placed his sack of peyote buttons between them and sang while rocking his body slightly back and forth. Lucio, Benigno, and I sat five or six feet behind Eligio with our backs against the wall. It was quite dark at first. We had been sitting inside the house under the gasoline lantern waiting for don Juan. He had called us out to the ramada when he arrived and had told us where to sit. After a while my eyes became accustomed to the dark. I could see everyone clearly. I noticed that Eligio seemed to be terrified. His entire body shook; his teeth chattered uncontrollably. He was convulsed with spasmodic jerks of his head and back.

Don Juan spoke to him, telling him not to be afraid, and to trust the protector, and to think of nothing else. He casually took a peyote button, offered it to Eligio, and ordered him to chew it very slowly. Eligio whined like a puppy and recoiled. His breathing was very rapid, it sounded like the whizzing of bellows. He took off his hat and wiped his forehead. He covered his face with his hands. I thought he was crying. It was a very long, tense moment before he regained some control over himself. He sat up straight and, still covering his face with one hand, took the peyote button and began chewing it.

I felt a tremendous apprehension. I had not realized until then that I was perhaps as scared as Eligio. My mouth had a dryness similar to that produced by peyote. Eligio chewed the button for a long tune. My tension in- creased. I began to whine involuntarily as my respiration became more accelerated.

Don Juan began to chant louder, then he offered another button to Eligio and after Eligio had finished it he offered him dry fruit and told him to chew it very slowly. Eligio got up repeatedly and went to the bushes. At one point he asked for water. Don Juan told him not to drink it but only swish it in his mouth.

Eligio chewed two more buttons and don Juan gave him dry meat.
By the time he had chewed his tenth button I was nearly sick with anxiety.
Suddenly Eligio slumped forward and his forehead hit the ground. He rolled on his left side and jerked con-

vulsively. I looked at my watch. It was twenty after eleven. Eligio tossed, wobbled, and moaned for over an hour while he lay on the floor.

Don Juan maintained the same position in front of him. His peyote songs were almost a murmur. Benigno, who was sitting to my right, looked inattentive; Lucio, next to him, had slumped on his side and was snoring.

Eligio’s body crumpled into a contorted position. He lay on his right side with his front toward me and his hands between his legs. His body gave a powerful jump and he turned on his back with his legs slightly curved. His left hand waved out and up with an extremely free and elegant motion. His right hand repeated the same pattern, and then both arms alternated in a wavering, slow movement, resembling that of a harpist. The move- ment became more vigorous by degrees. His arms had a perceptible vibration and went up and down like pistons. At the same time his hands rotated onward at the wrist and his fingers quivered. It was a beautiful, harmonious, hypnotic sight. I thought his rhythm and muscular control were beyond comparison.

Eligio then rose slowly, as if he were stretching against an enveloping force. His body Shivered. He squatted and then pushed himself up to an erect position. His arms, trunk, and head trembled as if an intermittent electric current were going through them. It was as though a force outside his control was setting him or driving him up.

Don Juan’s chanting became very loud. Lucjo and Benigno woke up and looked at the scene uninterestedly for a while and then went back to sleep.

Eligio seemed to be moving up and up. He was apparently climbing. He cupped his hands and seemed to grab onto objects beyond my vision. He pushed himself up and paused to catch his breath.


I wanted to see his eyes and moved closer to him, but don Juan gave me a fierce look and I recoiled to my place.

Then Eligio jumped. It was a final, formidable leap. He had apparently reached his goal. He puffed and sobbed with the exertion. He seemed to be holding onto a ledge. But something was overtaking him. He shrieked desperately. His grip faltered and he began to fall. His body arched backward and was convulsed from head to toe with the most beautiful, coordinated ripple. The ripple went through him perhaps a hundred times before his body collapsed like a lifeless burlap sack.

After a while he extended his arms in front of him as though he was protecting his face. His legs stretched out backward as he lay on his chest; they were arched a few inches above the ground, giving his body the very appearance of sliding or flying at an incredible speed. His head was arched as far back as possible, his arms locked over his eyes, shielding them. I could feel the wind hissing around him. I gasped and gave a loud involuntary shriek. Lucio and Benigno woke and looked at Eligio curiously.

“If you promise to buy me a motorcycle I will chew it now,” Lucio said loudly.
I looked at don Juan. He made an imperative gesture with his head.
“Son of a bitch!” Lucio mumbled, and went back to sleep.
Eligio stood up and began walking. He took a couple of steps toward me and stopped. I could see him

smiling with a beatific expression. He tried to whistle. There was no clear sound yet it had harmony. It was a tune. It had only a couple of bars, which he repeated over and over. After a while the whistling was distinctly audible, and then it became a sharp melody. Eligio mumbled unintelligible words. The words seemed to be the lyrics to the tune. He repeated it for hours. A very simple song, repetitious, monotonous, and yet strangely beautiful.

Eligio seemed to be looking at something while he sang. At one moment he got very close to me. I saw his eyes in the semidarkness. They were glassy, transfixed. He smiled and giggled. He walked and sat down and walked again, groaning and sighing.

Suddenly something seemed to have pushed him from behind. His body arched in the middle as though moved by a direct force. At one instant Eligio was balanced on the tips of his toes, making nearly a complete circle, his hands touching the ground. He dropped to the ground again, softly, on his back, and extended his whole length, acquiring a strange rigidity.

He whimpered and groaned for a whale, then began to snore. Don Juan covered him with some burlap sacks. It was 5:35 A.M.

Lucio and Benigno had fallen asleep shoulder to shoulder with their backs against the wall. Don Juan and I sat quietly for a very long time. He seemed to be tired. I broke the silence and asked him about Eligio. He told me that Eligio’s encounter with Mescalito had been exceptionally successful; Mescalito had taught him a song the first time they met and that was indeed extraordinary.

I asked him why he had not let Lucio take some for a motorcycle. He said that Mescalito would have killed Lucio if he had approached him under such conditions. Don Juan admitted that he had prepared everything carefully to convince his grandson; he told me that he had counted on my friendship with Lucio as the central part of his strategy. He said that Lucio had always been his great concern, and that at one time they had lived together and were very close, but Lucio became gravely ill when he was seven and don Juan’s son, a devout Catholic, made a vow to the Virgin of Guadalupe that Lucio would join a sacred dancing society if his life were spared. Lucio recovered and was forced to carry out the promise. He lasted one week as an apprentice, and then made up his mind to break the vow. He thought he would have to die as a result of it, braced himself, and for a whole day he waited for death to come. Everybody made fun of the boy and the incident was never forgotten.

Don Juan did not speak for a long time. He seemed to have become engulfed by thoughts.

“My setup was for Lucio,” he said, “and I found Eligio instead. I knew it was useless, but when we like someone we should properly insist, as though it were possible to remake men. Lucio had courage when he was a little boy and then he lost it along the way.”

“Can you bewitch him, don Juan?”


“Bewitch him? For what?”
“So he will change and regain his courage.”
“You don’t bewitch for courage. Courage is something personal. Bewitching is for rendering people harmless

or sick or dumb. You don’t bewitch to make warriors. To be a warrior you have to be crystal clear, like Eligio. There you have a man of courage!”

Eligio snored peacefully under the burlap sacks. It was already daylight. The sky was impeccably blue. There were no clouds in sight.

“I would give anything in this world,” I said, “to know about Eligio’s journey. Would you mind if I asked him to tell me?”

“You should not under any circumstances ask him to do that!”
“Why not? I tell you about my experiences.”
“That’s different. It is not your inclination to keep things to yourself. Eligio is an Indian. His journey is all he

has. I wish it had been Lucio.”
“Isn’t there anything you can do, don Juan?”
“No. Unfortunately there is no way to make bones for a jellyfish. It was only my folly.”
The sun came out. Its light blurred my tired eyes.
“You’ve told me time and time again, don Juan, that a sorcerer cannot have follies. I’ve never thought you

could have any.”
Don Juan looked at me piercingly. He got up, glanced at Eligio and then at Lucio. He tucked his hat on his

head, patting it on its top.
“It’s possible to insist, to properly insist, even though we know that what we’re doing is useless,” he said,

smiling, “But we must know first that our acts are useless and yet we must proceed as if we didn’t know it. That’s a sorcerer’s controlled folly.”



I returned to don Juan’s house on October 3, 1968, for the sole purpose of asking him about the events sur- rounding Eligio’s initiation. An almost endless stream of questions had occurred to me while rereading the account of what took place then. I was after very precise explanations so I made a list of questions beforehand, carefully choosing the most appropriate words.

I began by asking him: “Did I see that night, don Juan?”
“You almost did.”
“Did you see that I was seeing Eligio’s movements?”
“Yes. I saw that Mescalito was allowing you to see part of Eligio’s lesson, otherwise you would’ve been look-

ing at a man sitting there, or perhaps lying there. During the last mitote you did not notice that the men were doing anything, did you?”

At the last mitote I had not noticed any of the men performing movements out of the ordinary. I told him I could safely say that all I had recorded in my notes was that some of them got up and went to the bushes more often than others.

“But you nearly saw Eligio’s entire lesson,” don Juan went on. “Think about that. Do you understand now how generous Mescalito is with you? Mescalito has never been so gentle with anyone, to my knowledge. Not anyone. And yet you have no regard for his generosity. How can you turn your back on him so bluntly? Or perhaps I should say, in exchange for what are you turning your back on Mescalito?”

I felt that don Juan was cornering me again. I was unable to answer his question. I had always believed I had quit the apprenticeship in order to save myself, yet I had no idea from what I was saving myself, or for what. I wanted to change the direction of our conversation quickly, and to that end I abandoned my intention to carry on with all my precalculated questions and brought out my most important query.

“I wonder if you could tell me more about your controlled folly,” I said.
“What do you want to know about it?”
“Please tell me, don Juan, what exactly is controlled folly?”
Don Juan laughed loudly and made a smacking sound by slapping his thigh with the hollow of his hand. “This is controlled folly!” he said, and laughed and slapped his thigh again.

“What do you mean … ?”

“I am happy that you finally asked me about my controlled folly after so many years, and yet it wouldn’t have mattered to me in the least if you had never asked. Yet I have chosen to feel happy, as if I cared, that you asked, as if it would matter that I care. That is controlled folly!”

We both laughed very loudly. I hugged him. I found his explanation delightful although I did not quite under- stand it.

We were sitting, as usual, in the area right in front of the door of his house. It was mid-morning. Don Juan had a pile of seeds in front of him and was picking the debris from them. I had offered to help him but he had turned me down; he said the seeds were a gift for one of his friends in central Mexico and I did not have enough power to touch them.

“With whom do you exercise controlled folly, don Juan?” I asked after a long silence. He chuckled.
“With everybody!” he exclaimed, smiling.
“When do you choose to exercise it, then?”

“Every single time I act.”

I felt I needed to recapitulate at that point and I asked him if controlled folly meant that his acts were never sincere but were only the acts of an actor.

“My acts are sincere,” he said, “but they are only the acts of an actor.” “Then everything you do must be controlled folly!” I said truly surprised. “Yes, everything,” he said.


“But it can’t be true,” I protested, “that every one of your acts is only controlled folly.”
“Why not?” he replied with a mysterious look.
“That would mean that nothing matters to you and you don’t really care about anything or anybody. Take me,

for example. Do you mean that you don’t care whether or not I become a man of knowledge, or whether I live, or die, or do anything?”

“True! I don’t. You are like Lucio, or everybody else in my life, my controlled folly.”

I experienced a peculiar feeling of emptiness. Obviously there was no reason in the world why don Juan had to care about me, but on the other hand I had almost the certainty that he cared about me personally; I thought it could not be otherwise, since he had always given me his undivided attention during every moment I had spent with him. It occurred to me that perhaps don Juan was just saying that because he was annoyed with me. After all, I had quit his teachings.

“I have the feeling we are not talking about the same thing,” I said. “I shouldn’t have used myself as an ex- ample. What I meant to say was that there must be something in the world you care about in a way that is not controlled folly. I don’t think it is possible to go on living if nothing really matters to us.”

“That applies to you” he said. “Things matter to you. You asked me about my controlled folly and I told you that everything I do in regard to myself and my fellow men is folly, because nothing matters.”

“My point is, don Juan, that if nothing matters to you, how can you go on living?”

He laughed and after a moment’s pause, in which he seemed to deliberate whether or not to answer, he got up and went to the back of his house. I followed him.

“Wait, wait, don Juan.” I said. “I really want to know; you must explain to me what you mean.”

“Perhaps it’s not possible to explain,” he said. “Certain things in your life matter to you because they’re important; your acts are certainly important to you, but for me, not a single thing is important any longer, neither my acts nor the acts of any of my fellow men. I go on living, though, because I have my will. Because I have tempered my will throughout my life until it’s neat and wholesome and now it doesn’t matter to me that nothing matters. My will controls the folly of my life.”

He squatted and ran his fingers on some herbs that he had put to dry in the sun on a big piece of burlap.

I was bewildered. Never would I have anticipated the direction that my query had taken. After a long pause I thought of a good point. I told him that in my opinion some of the acts of my fellow men were of supreme im- portance. I pointed out that a nuclear war was definitely the most dramatic example of such an act. I said that for me destroying life on the face of the earth was an act of staggering enormity.

“You believe that because you’re thinking. You’re thinking about life,” don Juan said with a glint in his eyes. “You’re not seeing.”

“Would I feel differently if I could see?” I asked.

“Once a man learns to see he finds himself alone in the world with nothing but folly,” don Juan said cryptically.

He paused for a moment and looked at me as if he wanted to judge the effect of his words.

“Your acts, as well as the acts of your fellow men in general, appear to be important to you because you have learned to think they are important.”

He used the word “learned” with such a peculiar inflection that it forced me to ask what he meant by it. He stopped handling his plants and looked at me.
“We learn to think about everything,” he said, “and then we train our eyes to look as we think about the

things we look at. We look at ourselves already thinking that we are important. And therefore we’ve got to feel important! But then when a man learns to see, he realizes that he can no longer think about the things he looks at, and if he cannot think about what he looks at everything becomes unimportant.”

Don Juan must have noticed my puzzled look and repeated his statements three times, as if to make me understand them. What he said sounded to me like gibberish at first, but upon thinking about it, his words loomed more like a sophisticated statement about some facet of perception.

I tried to think of a good question that would make him clarify his point, but I could not think of anything. 43

All of a sudden I felt exhausted and could not formulate my thoughts clearly.
Don Juan seemed to notice my fatigue and patted me gently.
“Clean these plants here,” he said, “and then shred them carefully into this jar.” He handed me a large coffee jar and left.

He returned to his house hours later, in the late afternoon. I had finished shredding his plants and had plenty of time to write my notes. I wanted to ask him some questions right off, but he was not in any mood to answer me. He said he was famished and had to fix his food first. He lit a fire in his earthen stove and set up a pot with bone-broth stock. He looked in the bag of groceries I had brought and took some vegetables, sliced them into small pieces, and dumped them into the pot. Then he lay on his mat, kicked off his sandals, and told me to sit closer to the stove so I could feed the fire.

It was almost dark; from where I sat I could see the sky to the west. The edges of some thick cloud forma- tions were tinted with a deep buff, while the center of the clouds remained almost black.

I was going to make a comment on how beautiful the clouds were, but he spoke first. “Fluffy edges and a thick core,” he said, pointing at the clouds.
His statement was so perfectly apropos that it made me jump.
“I was just going to tell you about the clouds,” I said.

“Then I beat you to it,” he said, and laughed with childlike abandon.
I asked him if he was in a mood to answer some questions.
“What do you want to know?” he replied.
“What you told me this afternoon about controlled folly has disturbed me very much,” I said. “I really cannot

understand what you meant.”
“Of course you cannot understand it,” he said. “You are trying to think about it, and what I said does not fit

with your thoughts.”
“I’m trying to think about it,” I said, “because that’s the only way I personally can understand anything. For

example, don Juan, do you mean that once a man learns to see, everything in the whole world is worthless?”
“I didn’t say worthless. I said unimportant. Everything is equal and therefore unimportant. For example, there

is no way for me to say that my acts are more important than yours, or that one thing is more essential than an- other, therefore all things are equal and by being equal they are unimportant.”

I asked him if his statements were a pronouncement that what he had called “seeing” was in effect a “better way” than merely “looking at things.” He said that the eyes of man could perform both functions, but neither of them was better than the other; however, to train the eyes only to look was, in his opinion, an unnecessary loss.

“For instance, we need to look with our eyes to laugh,” he said, “because only when we look at things can we catch the funny edge of the world. On the other hand, when our eyes see, everything is so equal that nothing is funny.”

“Do you mean, don Juan, that a man who sees cannot ever laugh?’
He remained silent for some time.
“Perhaps there are men of knowledge who never laugh,” he said. “I don’t know any of them, though. Those I

know see and also look, so they laugh.”
“Would a man of knowledge cry as well?”
“I suppose so. Our eyes look so we may laugh, or cry, or rejoice, or be sad, or be happy. I personally don’t

like to be sad, so whenever I witness something that would ordinarily make me sad, I simply shift my eyes and see it instead of looking at it. But when I encounter something funny I look and I laugh.”

“But then, don Juan, your laughter is real and not controlled folly.”
Don Juan stared at me for a moment.
“I talk to you because you make me laugh,” he said. “You remind me of some bushy-tailed rats of the desert

that get caught when they stick their tails in holes trying to scare other rats away in order to steal their food. You get caught in your own questions. Watch out! Sometimes those rats yank their tails off trying to pull themselves free.”


I found his comparison funny and I laughed. Don Juan had once shown me some small rodents with bushy tails that looked like fat squirrels; the image of one of those chubby rats yanking its tail off was sad and at the same time morbidly funny.

“My laughter, as well as everything I do, is real,” he said, “but it also is controlled folly because it is useless; it changes nothing and yet I still do it.”

“But as I understand it, don Juan, your laughter is not useless. It makes you happy.”

“No! I am happy because I choose to look at things that make me happy and then my eyes catch their funny edge and I laugh. I have said this to you countless times. One must always choose the path with heart in order to be at one’s best, perhaps so one can always laugh.”

I interpreted what he had said as meaning that crying was inferior to laughter, or at least perhaps an act that weakened us. He asserted that there was no intrinsic difference and that both were unimportant; he said, however, that his preference was laughter, because laughter made his body feel better than crying.

At that point I suggested that if one has a preference there is no equality; if he preferred laughing to crying, the former was indeed more important.

He stubbornly maintained that his preference did not mean they were not equal; and I insisted that our argu- ment could be logically stretched to saying that if things were supposed to be so equal why not also choose death?

“Many men of knowledge do that,” he said. “One day they may simply disappear. People may think that they have been ambushed and killed because of their doings. They choose to die because it doesn’t matter to them. On the other hand, I choose to live, and to laugh, not because it matters, but because that choice is the bent of my na- ture. The reason I say I choose is because I see, but it isn’t that I choose to live; my will makes me go on living in spite of anything I may see.

“You don’t understand me now because of your habit of thinking as you look and thinking as you think.” This statement intrigued me very much. I asked him to explain what he meant by it.
He repeated the same construct various times, as if giving himself time to arrange it in different terms, and

then delivered his point, saying that by “thinking” he meant the constant idea that we have of everything in the world. He

said that “seeing” dispelled that habit and until I learned to “see” I could not really understand what he meant. “But if nothing matters, don Juan, why should it matter that I learn to see?”
“I told you once that our lot as men is to learn, for good or bad,” he said. “I have learned to see and I tell you

that nothing really matters; now it is your turn; perhaps some day you will see and you will know then whether things matter or not. For me nothing matters, but perhaps for you everything will. You should know by now that a man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting, nor by thinking about what he will think when he has finished acting. A man of knowledge chooses a patlh with heart and follows it; and then he looks and rejoices and laughs; and then he sees and knows. He knows that his life will be over altogether too soon; he knows that he, as well as everybody else, is not going anywhere; he knows, because he sees, that nothing is more important than anything else. In other words, a man of knowledge has no honor, no dignity, no family, no name, no country, but only life to be lived, and under these circumstances his only tie to his fellow men is his controlled folly. Thus a man of knowledge endeavors, and sweats, and puffs, and if one looks at him he is just like any ordinary man, except that the folly of has life is under control. Nothing being more important than anything else, a man of knowledge chooses any act, and acts it out as if it matters to him. His controlled folly makes him say that what he does matters and makes him act as if it did, and yet he knows that it doesn’t; so when he fulfills his acts he retreats in peace, and whether his acts were good or bad, or worked or didn’t, is in no way part of his concern.

“A man of knowledge may choose, on the other hand, to remain totally impassive and never act, and behave as if to be impassive really matters to him; he will be rightfully true at that too, because that would also be his controlled folly.”

I involved myself at this point in a very complicated effort to explain to don Juan that I was interested in 45

knowing what would motivate a man of knowledge to act in a particular way in spite of the fact that he knew nothing mattered.

He chuckled softly before answering.

“You think about your acts,” he said. “Therefore you have to believe your acts are as important as you think they are, when in reality nothing of what one does is important. Nothing! But then if nothing really matters, as you asked me, how can I go on living? It would be simple to die; that’s what you say and believe, because you’re thinking about life, just as you’re thinking now what seeing would be like. You wanted me to describe it to you so you could begin to think about it, the way you do with everything else. In the case of seeing, however, thinking is not the issue at all, so I cannot tell you what it is like to see. Now you want me to describe the reasons for my controlled folly and I can only tell you that controlled folly is very much like seeing; it is something you cannot think about.”

He yawned. He lay on his back and stretched his arms and legs. His bones made a cracking sound.
“You have been away too long,” he said. “You think too much.”
He got up and walked into the thick chaparral at the side of the house. I fed the fire to keep the pot boiling. I

was going to light a kerosene lantern but the semidarkness was very soothing. The fire from the stove, which supplied enough light to write, also created a reddish glow all around me. I put my notes on the ground and lay down. I felt tired. Out of the whole conversation with don Juan the only poignant thing in my mind was that he did not care about me; it disturbed me immensely. Over a period of years I had put my trust in him. Had I not had complete confidence in him I would have been paralyzed with fear at the prospect of learning his knowledge; the premise on which I had based my trust was the idea that he cared about me personally; actually I had always been afraid of him, but I had kept my fear in check because I trusted him. When he removed that basis I had nothing to fall back on and I felt helpless.

A very strange anxiety possessed me. I became extremely agitated and began pacing up and down in front of the stove. Don Juan was taking a long time. I waited for him impatiently.

He returned a while later; he sat down again in front of the fire and I blurted out my fears. I told him that I worried because I was incapable of changing directions in midstream; I explained to him that together with the trust I had in him, I had also learned to respect and to regard his way of life as being intrinsically more rational, or at least more functional, than mine. I said that his words had plunged me into a terrible conflict because they entailed my having to change my feelings. To illustrate my point I told don Juan the story of an old man of my culture, a very wealthy, conservative lawyer who lived his life convinced that he upheld the truth. In the early thirties, with the advent of the New Deal, he found himself passionately involved in the political drama of that time. He was categorically sure that change was deleterious to the country, and out of devotion to his way of life and the conviction that he was right, he vowed to fight what he thought to be a political evil. But the tide of the time was too strong, it overpowered him. He struggled for ten years against it in the political arena and in the realm of his personal life; then the Second World War sealed his efforts into total defeat. His political and ideological downfall resulted in a profound bitterness; he became a self-exile for twenty-five years. When I met him he was eighty-four years old and had come back to his home town to spend his last years in a home for the aged. It seemed inconceivable to me that he had lived that long, considering the way he had squandered his life in bitterness and self-pity. Somehow he found my company amenable and we used to talk at great length. The last time I saw him he had concluded our conversation with the following: “I have had time to turn around and examine my life. The issues of my time are today only a story; not even an interesting one. Perhaps I threw away years of my life chasing something that never existed. I’ve had the feeling lately that I believed in something farcical. It wasn’t worth my while. I think I know that. However, I can’t retrieve the forty years I’ve lost.”

I told don Juan that my conflict arose from the doubts into which his words about controlled folly had thrown me.

“If nothing really matters,” I said, “upon becoming a man of knowledge one would find oneself, perforce, as empty as my friend and in no better position.”

“That’s not so,” don Juan said cuttingly. “Your friend is lonely because he will die without seeing. In his life 46

he just grew old and now he must have more self-pity than ever before. He feels he threw away forty years because he was after victories and found only defeats. He’ll never know that to be victorious and to be defeated are equal.

“So now you’re afraid of me because I’ve told you that you’re equal to everything else. You’re being childish. Our lot as men is to learn and one goes to knowledge as one goes to war; I have told you this countless times. One goes to knowledge or to war with fear, with respect, aware that one is going to war, and with absolute confidence in oneself. Put your trust in yourself, not in me.

“And so you’re afraid of the emptiness of your friend’s life. But there’s no emptiness in the life of a man of knowledge, I tell you. Everything is filled to the brim.”

Don Juan stood up and extended his arms as if feeling things in the air.

“Everything is filled to the brim,” he repeated, “and everything is equal. I’m not like your friend who just grew old. When I tell you that nothing matters I don’t mean it the way he does. For him, his struggle was not worth his while, because he was defeated; for me there is no victory, or defeat, or emptiness. Everything is filled to the brim and everything is equal and my struggle was worth my while.

“In order to become a man of knowledge one must be a warrior, not a whimpering child. One must strive without giving up, without a complaint, without flinching, until one sees, only to realize then that nothing matters.”

Don Juan stirred the pot with a wooden spoon. The food was ready. He took the pot off the fire and placed it on an adobe rectangular block, which he had built against the wall and which he used as a shelf or a table. With his foot he shoved two small boxes that served as comfortable chairs, especially if one sat with his back against the supporting beams of the wall. He signaled me to sit down and then he poured a bowl of soup. He smiled; his eyes were shining as if he were truly enjoying my presence. He pushed the bowl gently toward me. There was such a warmth and kindness in his gesture that it seemed to be an appeal to restore my trust in him. I felt idiotic; I tried to disrupt my mood by looking for my spoon, but I couldn’t find it. The soup was too hot to be drunk directly from the bowl, and while it cooled off I asked don Juan if controlled folly meant that a man of knowledge could not like anybody any more.

He stopped eating and laughed.

“You’re too concerned with liking people or with being liked yourself,” he said. “A man of knowledge likes, that’s all. He likes whatever or whoever he wants, but he uses his controlled folly to be unconcerned about it. The opposite of what you are doing now. To like people or to be liked by people is not all one can do as a man.”

He stared at me for a moment with his head tilted a little to one side.
“Think about that,” he said.
“There is one more thing I want to ask, don Juan. You said that we need to look with our eyes to laugh, but I

believe we laugh because we think. Take a blind man, he also laughs.”
“No,” he said. “Blind men don’t laugh. Their bodies jerk a little with the ripple of laughter. They have never

looked at the funny edge of the world and have to imagine it. Their laughter is not roaring.”
We did not speak any more. I had a sensation of well-being, of happiness. We ate in silence; then don Juan

began to laugh. I was using a dry twig to spoon the vegetables into my mouth.

October 4,1968

At a certain moment today I asked don Juan if he minded talking a bit more about “seeing.” He seemed to deliberate for an instant, then he smiled and said that I was again involved in my usual routine, trying to talk instead of doing.

“If you want to see you have to let the smoke guide you,” he said emphatically. “I won’t talk about this any more.”

I was helping him clean some dry herbs. We worked in complete silence for a long time. When I am forced into a prolonged silence I always feel apprehensive, especially around don Juan. At a given moment I brought up a question to him in a sort of compulsive, almost belligerent outburst.

“How does a man of knowledge exercise controlled folly when it comes to the death of a person he loves?” I 47

Don Juan was taken aback by my question and looked at me quizzically.
“Take your grandson Lucio,” I said. “Would your acts be controlled folly at the time of his death?” “Take my son Eulalio, that’s a better example,” don Juan replied calmly. “He was crushed by rocks while

working in the construction of the Pan-American Highway. My acts toward him at the moment of his death were controlled folly. When I came down to the blasting area he was almost dead, but his body was so strong that it kept on moving and kicking. I stood in front of him and told the boys in the road crew not to move him any more; they obeyed me and stood there surrounding my son, looking at his mangled body. I stood there too, but I did not look. I shifted my eyes so I would see his personal life disintegrating, expanding uncontrollably beyond its limits, like a fog of crystals, because that is the way life and death mix and expand. That is what I did at the time of my son’s death. That’s all one could ever do, and that is controlled folly. Had I looked at him I would have watched him becoming immobile and I would have felt a cry inside of me, because never again would I look at his fine figure pacing the earth. I saw his death instead, and there was no sadness, no feeling. His death was equal to everything else.” Don Juan was quiet for a moment. He seemed to be sad, but then he smiled and tapped my head.

“So you may say that when it comes to the death of a person I love, my controlled folly is to shift my eyes.” I thought about the people I love myself and a terribly oppressive wave of self-pity enveloped me.
“Lucky you, don Juan,” I said. “You can shift your eyes, while I can only look.”
He found my statement funny and laughed.

“Lucky, bull!” -he said. “It’s hard work.”
We both laughed. After a long silence I began probing him again, perhaps only to dispel my own sadness. “If I have understood you correctly then, don Juan,” I said, “the only acts in the life of a man of knowledge

which are not controlled folly are those he performs with his ally or with Mescalito. Isn’t that right?”
“That’s right,” he said, chuckling. “My ally and Mescalito are not on a par with us human beings. My con-

trolled folly applies only to myself and to the acts I perform while in the company of my fellow men.” “However, it is a logical possibility,” I said, “to think that a man of knowledge may also regard his acts with

his ally or with Mescalito as controlled folly, true?”
He stared at me for a moment.
“You’re thinking again,” he said. “A man of knowledge doesn’t think, therefore he cannot encounter that

possibility. Take me, for example. I say that my controlled folly applies to the acts I performed while in the com- pany of my fellow men; I say that because I can see my fellow men. However, I cannot see through my ally and that makes it incomprehensible to me, so how could I control my folly if I don’t see through it? With my ally or with Mescalito I am only a man who knows how to see and finds that he’s baffled by what he sees; a man who knows that he’ll never understand all that is around him.

“Take your case, for instance. It doesn’t matter to me whether you become a man of knowledge or not; however, it matters to Mescalito. Obviously it matters to him or he wouldn’t take so many steps to show his concern about you. I can notice his concern and I act toward it, yet his reasons are incomprehensible to me.”



Just as we were getting into my car to start on a trip to central Mexico, on October 5, 1968, don Juan stopped me.

“I have told you before,” he said with a serious expression, “that one should never reveal the name nor the whereabouts of a sorcerer. I believe you understood that you should never reveal my name nor the place where my body is. Now I am going to ask you to do the same with a friend of mine, a friend you will call Genaro. We are going to his house; we will spend some time there.”

I assured don Juan that I had never betrayed his confidence.

“I know that,” he said without changing his serious expression. “Yet I am concerned with your becoming thoughtless.”

I protested and don Juan said his aim was only to remind me that every time one was careless in matters of sorcery, one was playing with an imminent and senseless death that could be averted by being thoughtful and aware.

“We will not touch upon this matter any longer,” he said. “Once we leave my house we will not mention Genaro, nor will we think about him. I want you to put your thoughts in order now. When you meet him you must be clear and have no doubts in your mind.”

“What kinds of doubts are you referring to, don Juan?”
“Any kinds of doubts whatever. When you meet him you ought to be crystal clear. He will see you!”
His strange admonitions made me very apprehensive. I mentioned that perhaps I should not meet his friend at

all but only drive to the vicinity of his friend’s house and leave him there.
“What I’ve told you was only a precaution,” he said. “You’ve met one sorcerer already, Vicente, and he

nearly killed you. Watch out this time!”
After we arrived in central Mexico it took us two days to walk from where I left my car to his friend’s house,

a little shack perched on the side of a mountain. Don Juan’s friend was at the door, as if he had been waiting for us. I recognized him immediately. I had already made his acquaintance, although very briefly, when I brought my book to don Juan. I had not really looked at him at that time, except in a glancing fashion, so I had had the feeling he was as old as don Juan. As he stood at the door of his house, however, I noticed that he was definitely younger. He was perhaps in his early sixties. He was shorter than don Juan and slimmer, very dark and wiry. His hair was thick and graying and a bit long; it ran over his ears and forehead. His face was round and hard. A very prominent nose made him look like a bird of prey with small dark eyes.

He talked to don Juan first. Don Juan nodded affirmatively. They conversed briefly. They were not speaking Spanish so I did not understand what they were saying. Then don Genaro turned to me.

“You’re welcome to my humble little shack,” he said apologetically in Spanish.

His words were a polite formula I had heard before in various rural areas of Mexico. Yet as he said the words he laughed joyously for no overt reason, and I knew he was exercising his controlled folly. He did not care in the least that his house was a shack. I liked don Genaro very much.

For the next two days we went into the mountains to collect plants. Don Juan, don Genaro, and I left each day at the crack of dawn. The two old men went together to some specific but unidentified part of the mountains and left me alone in one area of the woods. I had an exquisite feeling there. I did not notice the passage of time, nor was I apprehensive at staying alone; the extraordinary experience I had both days was an uncanny capacity to concentrate on the delicate task of finding the specific plants don Juan had entrusted me to collect.

We returned to the house in the late afternoon and both days I was so tired that I fell asleep immediately.

The third day, however, was different. The three of us worked together, and don Juan asked don Genaro to teach me how to select certain plants. We returned around noon and the two old men sat for hours in front of the house, in complete silence, as if they were in a state of trance. Yet they were not asleep. I walked around them a couple of times; don Juan followed my movements with his eyes, and so did don Genaro.

“You must talk to the plants before you pick them,” don Juan said. He dropped his words casually and 49

repeated his statement three times, as if to catch my attention. Nobody had said a word until he spoke.
“In order to see the plants you must talk to them personally,” he went on. “You must get to know them

individually; then the plants can tell you anything you care to know about them.”
It was late in the afternoon. Don Juan was sitting on a flat rock facing the western mountains; don Genaro

was sitting by him on a straw mat with his face toward the north. Bon Juan had told me, the first day we were there, that those were their “positions” and that I had to sit on the ground at any place opposite to both of them. He added that while we sat in those positions I had to keep my face toward the southeast and look at them only in brief glances.

“Yes, that’s the way it is with plants, isn’t it?” don Juan said and turned to don Genaro, who agreed with an affirmative gesture.

I told him that the reason I had not followed his instructions was because I felt a little stupid talking to plants.

“You fail to understand that a sorcerer is not joking,” he said severely. “When a sorcerer attempts to see, he attempts to gain power.”

Don Genaro was staring at me. I was taking notes and that seemed to baffle him. He smiled at me, shook his head, and said something to don Juan. Don Juan shrugged his shoulders. To see me writing must have been quite odd for don Genaro. Don Juan was, I suppose, habituated to my taking notes, and the fact that I wrote while he spoke was no longer odd to him; he could carry on talking without appearing to notice my acts. Don Genaro, however, kept on laughing, and I had to stop writing in order not to disrupt the mood of the conversation.

Don Juan affirmed again that a sorcerer’s acts were not to be taken as jokes because a sorcerer played with death at every turn of the way. Then he proceeded to relate to don Genaro the story of how one night I had looked at the lights of death following me during one of our trips. The story proved to be utterly funny; don Genaro rolled on the ground laughing.

Don Juan apologized to me and said that his friend was given to explosions of laughter. I glanced at don Genaro, who I thought was still rolling on the ground, and saw him performing a most unusual act. He was standing on his head without the aid of his arms or hands, and his legs were crossed as if he were sitting. The sight was so incongruous that it made me jump. When I realized he was doing something almost impossible, from the point of view of body mechanics, he had gone back again to a normal sitting position. Don Juan, however, seemed to be cognizant of what was involved and celebrated don Genaro’s performance with roaring laughter.

Don Genaro seemed to have noticed my confusion; he clapped his hands a couple of times and rolled on the ground again; apparently he wanted me to watch him. What had at first appeared to be rolling on the ground was actually leaning over in a sitting position, and touching the ground with his head. He seemingly attained his illog- ical posture by gaining momentum, leaning over several times, until the inertia carried his body to a vertical stand, so that for an instant he “sat on his head.”

When their laughter subsided don Juan continued talking; his tone was very severe. I shifted the position of my body in order to be at ease and give him all my attention. He did not smile at all, as he usually does, especially when I try to pay deliberate attention to what he is saying. Don Genaro kept looking at me as if he were expecting me to start writing again, but I did not take notes any more. Don Juan’s words were a reprimand for not talking to the plants I had collected, as he had always told me to do. He said the plants I had killed could also have killed me; he said he was sure they would, sooner or later, make me get ill. He added that if I became ill as a result of hurting plants, I would, however, slough it off and believe I had only a touch of the flu.

The two of them had another moment of mirth, then don Juan became serious again and said that if I did not think of my death, my entire life would be only a personal chaos. He looked very stern.

“What else can a man have, except his life and his death?” he said to me.

At that point I felt it was indispensable to take notes and I began writing again. Don Genaro stared at me and smiled. Then he tilted his head back a little and opened his nostrils. He apparently had remarkable control over the muscles operating his nostrils, because they opened up to perhaps twice their normal size.

What was most comical about his clowning was not so much his gestures as his own reactions to them. After 50

he enlarged his nostrils he tumbled down, laughing, and worked his body again into the same, strange, sitting-on- his-head, upside-down posture.

Don Juan laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks. I felt a bit embarrassed and laughed nervously. “Genaro doesn’t like writing,” don Juan said as an explanation.
I put my notes away, but don Genaro assured me that it was all right to write, because he did not really mind

it. I gathered my notes again and began writing. He repeated the same hilarious motions and both of them had the same reactions again.

Don Juan looked at me, still laughing, and said that his friend was portraying me; that my tendency was to open my nostrils whenever I wrote; and that don Genaro thought that trying to become a sorcerer by taking notes was as absurd as sitting on one’s head and thus he had made up the ludicrous posture of resting the weight of his sitting body on his head.

“Perhaps you don’t think it’s funny,” don Juan said, “but only Genaro can work his way up to sitting on his head, and only you can think of learning to be a sorcerer by writing your way up.”

They both had another explosion of laughter and don Genaro repeated his incredible movement. I liked him. There was so much grace and directness in his acts.
“My apologies, don Genaro,” I said, pointing to the writing pad.
“It’s all right,” he said and chuckled again.

I could not write any more. They went on talking for a very long time about how plants could actually kill and how sorcerers used plants in that capacity. Both of them kept staring at me while they talked, as if they expected me to write.

“Carlos is like a horse that doesn’t like to be saddled,” don Juan said. “You have to be very slow with him. You scared him and now he won’t write.”

Don Genaro expanded his nostrils and said in a mocking plea, frowning and puckering his mouth.
“Come on, Carlitos, write! Write until your thumb falls off.”
Don Juan stood up, stretching his arms and arching his back. In spite of his advanced age his body seemed to

be powerful and limber. He went to the bushes at the side of the house and I was left alone with don Genaro. He looked at me and I moved my eyes away because he made me feel embarrassed.

“Don’t tell me you’re not even going to look at me?” he said with a most hilarious intonation.

He opened his nostrils and made them quiver; then he stood up and repeated don Juan’s movements, arching his back and stretching his arms but with his body contorted into a most ludicrous position; it was truly an indescribable gesture that combined an exquisite sense of pantomime and a sense of the ridiculous. It enthralled me. It was a masterful caricature of don Juan.

Don Juan came back at that moment and caught the gesture and obviously the meaning also. He sat down chuckling.

“Which direction is the wind?” don Genaro asked casually.
Don Juan pointed to the west with a movement of his head.
“I’d better go where the wind blows,” don Genaro said with a serious expression.
He then turned and shook his finger at me.
“And don’t you pay any attention if you hear strange noises,” he said. “When Genaro shits the mountains

He leaped into the bushes and a moment later I heard a very strange noise, a deep, unearthly rumble. I did not

know what to make of it. I looked at don Juan for a clue but he was doubled over with laughter.

October 17,1968

I don’t remember what prompted don Genaro to tell me about the arrangement of the “other world,” as he called it. He said that a master sorcerer was an eagle, or rather that he could make himself into an eagle. On the other hand, an evil sorcerer was a “tecolote,” an owl. Don Genaro said that an evil sorcerer was a child of the night and for such a man the most useful animals were the mountain lion or other wild cats, or the night birds, especially the owl. He said that the “brujos liricos,” lyric sorcerers, meaning the dilettante sorcerers, preferred


other animals—a crow, for example. Don Juan laughed; he had been listening in silence.
Don Genaro turned to him and said, “That’s true, you know that, Juan.”
Then he said that a master sorcerer could take his disciple on a journey with him and actually pass through

the ten layers of the other world. The master, provided that he was an eagle, could start at the very bottom layer and then go through each successive world until he reached the top. Evil sorcerers and dilettantes could at best, be said, go through only three layers.

Don Genaro gave a description of what those steps were by saying, “You start at the very bottom and then your teacher takes you with him in his flight and soon, boom! You go through the first layer. Then a little while later, boom! You go through the second; and boom! You go through the third…”

Don Genaro took me through ten booms to the last layer of the world. When he had finished talking don Juan looked at me and smiled knowingly.

“Talking is not Genaro’s predilection,” he said, “but if you care to get a lesson, he will teach you about the equilibrium of things.”

Don Genaro nodded affirmatively; he puckered up his mouth and closed his eyelids halfway. I thought his gesture was delightful. Don Genaro stood up and so did don Juan. “All right,” don Genaro said. “Let’s go, then. We could go and wait for Nestor and Pablito. They’re through now. On Thursdays they’re through early.”

Both of them got into my car; don Juan sat in the front. I did not ask them anything but simply started the engine. Don Juan directed me to a place he said was Nestor’s home; don Genaro went into the house and a while later came out with Nestor and Pablito, two young men who were his apprentices. They all got in my car and don Juan told me to take the road toward the western mountains.

We left my car on the side of the dirt road and walked along the bank of a river, which was perhaps fifteen or twenty feet across, to a waterfall that was visible from where I had parked. It was late afternoon. The scenery was quite impressive. Directly above us there was a huge, dark, bluish cloud that looked like a floating roof; it had a well-defined edge and was shaped like an enormous half-circle. To the west, on the high mountains of the Cor- dillera Central, the rain seemed to be descending on the slopes. It looked like a whitish curtain falling on the green peaks. To the east there was the long, deep valley; there were only scattered clouds over the valley and the sun was shining there. The contrast between the two areas was magnificent. We stopped at the bottom of the waterfall; it was perhaps a hundred and fifty feet high; the roar was very loud.

Don Genaro fastened a belt around his waist. He had at least seven items hanging from it. They looked like small gourds. He took off his hat and let it hang on his back from a cord tied around his neck. He put on a head- band that he took from a pouch made of a thick wool fabric. The headband was also made of wool of various colors; a sharp yellow was the most prominent of them. He inserted three feathers in the headband. They seemed to be eagle feathers. I noticed that the places where he had inserted them were not symmetrical. One feather was above the back curve of his right ear, the other was a few inches to the front, and the third was over his left temple. Then he took off his sandals, hooked or tied them to the waist of his trousers, and fastened his belt over his poncho. The belt seemed to be made of woven strips of leather. I could not see whether he tied it or buckled it. Don Genaro walked toward the waterfall.

Don Juan manipulated a round rock into a steady position and-sat down on it. The other two young men did the same with some rocks and sat down to his left. Don Juan pointed to the place next to him, on his right side, and told me to bring a rock and sit by him”.

“We must make a line here,” he said, showing me that the three were sitting in a row.

By then don Genaro had reached the very bottom of the waterfall and had begun climbing a trail on the right side of it. From where we were sitting the trail looked fairly steep. There were a lot of shrubs he used as railings. At one moment he seemed to lose his footing and almost slid down, as if the dirt were slippery. A moment later the same thing happened and the thought crossed my mind that perhaps don Genaro was too old to be climbing. I saw him slipping and stumbling several times before he reached the spot where the trail ended.

I experienced a sort of apprehension when he began to climb tihe rocks. I could not figure out what he was going to do.


“What’s he doing?” I asked don Juan in a whisper.
Don Juan did not look at me.
“Obviously he’s climbing,” he said.
Don Juan was looking straight at don Genaro. His gaze was fixed. His eyelids were half-closed. He was

sitting very erect with his hands resting between his legs, on the edge of the rock.
I leaned over a little bit to see the two young men. Don Juan made an imperative gesture with his hand to

make me get back in line. I retreated immediately. I had only a glimpse of the young men. They seemed to be as attentive as he was.

Don Juan made another gesture with his hand and pointed to the direction of the waterfall.

I looked again. Don Genaro had climbed quite a way on the rocky wall. At the moment I looked he was perched on a ledge, inching his way slowly to circumvent a huge boulder. His arms were spread, as if he were embracing the rock. He moved slowly toward his right and suddenly he lost his footing. I gasped involuntarily. For a moment his whole body hung in the air. I was sure he was going to fall but he did not. His right hand had grabbed onto something and very agilely his feet went back on the ledge again. But before he moved on he turned to us and looked. It was only a glance. There was, however, such a stylization to the movement of turning his head that I began to wonder. I remembered then that he had done the same thing, turning to look at us, every time he slipped. I had thought that don Genaro must have felt embarrassed by his clumsiness and turned to see if we were looking.

He climbed a bit more toward the top, suffered another loss of footing, and hung perilously on the overhanging rock face. This time he was supported by his left hand. When he regained his balance he turned and looked at us again. He slipped twice more before he reached the top. From where we were sitting, the crest of the waterfall seemed to be twenty to twenty-five feet across.

Don Genaro stood motionless for a moment. I wanted to ask don Juan what don Genaro was going to do up there, but don Juan seemed to be so absorbed in watching that I did not dare disturb him.

Suddenly don Genaro jumped onto the water. It was such a thoroughly unexpected action that I felt a vacuum in the pit of my stomach. It was a magnificent, outlandish leap. For a second I had the clear sensation that I had seen a series of superimposed images of his body making an elliptical flight to the middle of the stream.

When my surprise receded I noticed that he had landed on a rock on the edge of the fall, a rock which was hardly visible from where we were sitting.

He stayed perched there for a long time. He seemed to be fighting the power of the onrushing water. Twice he hung over the precipice and I could not determine what he was clinging to. He gained his balance and squatted on the rock. Then he leaped again, like a tiger. I could barely see the next rock where he landed; it was like a small cone on the very edge of tine fall.

He remained there almost ten minutes. He was motionless. His immobility was so impressive to me that I was shivering. I wanted to get up and walk around. Don Juan noticed my nervousness and told me imperatively to be calm.

Don Genaro’s stillness plunged me into an extraordinary and mysterious terror. I felt that if he remained perched there any longer I could not control myself.

Suddenly he jumped again, this time all the way to the other bank of the waterfall. He landed on his feet and hands, like a feline. He remained in a squat position for a moment, then he stood up and looked across the fall, to the other side, and then down at us. He stayed dead still looking at us. His hands were clasped at his sides, as if he were holding onto an unseen railing.

There was something truly exquisite about his posture; his body seemed so nimble, so frail. I thought that don

Genaro with his headband and feathers, his dark poncho and his bare feet was the most beautiful human being I had ever seen.

He threw his arms up suddenly, lifted his head, and flipped his body swiftly in a sort of lateral somersault to his left. The boulder where he had been standing was round and when he jumped he disappeared behind it.


Huge drops of rain began to fall at that moment. Don Juan got up and so did the two young men. Their move- ment was so abrupt that it confused me. Don Genaro’s masterful feat had thrown me into a state of profound emotional excitement. I felt he was a consummate artist and I wanted to see him right then to applaud him.

I strained to look on the left side of the waterfall to see if he was coming down, but he was not. I insisted on knowing what had happened to him. Don Juan did not answer.

“We better hurry out of here,” he said. “It’s a real downpour. We have to take Nestor and Pablito to their house and then we’ll have to start on our trip back.”

“I didn’t even say goodbye to don Genaro,” I complained.
“He already said goodbye to you,” don Juan answered harshly.
He peered at me for an instant and then softened his frown and smiled.
“He has also wished you well,” he said. “He felt happy with you.”
“But aren’t we going to wait for him?”
“No!” don Juan said sharply, “Let him be, wherever he is. Perhaps he is an eagle flying to the other world, or

perhaps he has died up there. It doesn’t matter now.”

October 23,1968

Don Juan casually mentioned that he was going to make another trip to central Mexico in the near future. “Are you going to visit don Genaro?” I asked.
“Perhaps,” he said without looking at me.
“He’s all right, isn’t he, don Juan? I mean nothing bad happened to him up there on top of the waterfall, did

“Nothing happened to him; he is sturdy.”
We talked about his projected trip for a while and then I said I had enjoyed don Genaro’s company and his

jokes. He laughed and said that don Genaro was truly like a child. There was a long pause; I struggled in my mind to find an opening line to ask about his lesson. Don Juan looked at me and said in a mischievous tone:

“You’re dying to ask me about Genaro’s lesson, aren’t you?”

I laughed with embarrassment. I had been obsessed with everything that took place at the waterfall. I had been hashing and rehashing all the details I could remember and my conclusions were that I had witnessed an incredible feat of physical prowess. I thought don Genaro was beyond doubt a peerless master of equilibrium; every single movement he had performed was highly ritualized and, needless to say, must have had some inextricable, symbolic meaning.

“Yes,” I said. “I admit I’m dying to know what his lesson was.”

“Let me tell you something,” don Juan said. “It was a waste of time for you. His lesson was for someone who can see. Pablito and Nestro got the gist of it, although they don’t see very well. But you, you went there to look. I told Genaro that you are a very strange plugged-up fool and that perhaps you’d get unplugged with his lesson, but you didn’t. It doesn’t matter, though. Seeing is very difficult.

“I didn’t want you to speak to Genaro afterwards, so we had to leave. Too bad. Yet it would have been worse to stay. Genaro risked a great deal to show you something magnificent. Too bad you can’t see.”

“Perhaps, don Juan, if you tell me what the lesson was I may find out that I really saw.”
Don Juan doubled up with laughter.
“Your best feature is asking questions,” he said.
He was apparently going to drop the subject again. We were sitting, as usual, in the area in front of his house;

he suddenly got up and walked inside. I trailed behind him and insisted on describing to him what I had seen. I faithfully followed the sequence of events as I remembered it. Don Juan kept on smiling while I spoke. When I had finished he shook his head.

“Seeing is very difficult,” he said.
I begged him to explain his statement
“Seeing is not a matter of talk,” he said imperatively.
Obviously he was not going to tell me anything more, so I gave up and left the house to run some errands for


When I returned it was already dark; we had something to eat and afterwards we walked out to the ramada;

we had no sooner sat down than don Juan began to talk about don Genaro’s lesson. He did not give me any time to prepare myself for it. I did have my notes with me, but it was too dark to write and I did not want to alter the flow of his talk by going inside the house for the kerosene lantern.

He said that don Genaro, being a master of balance, could perform very complex and difficult movements. Sitting on his head was one of such movements and with it he had attempted to show me that it was impossible to “see” while I took notes. The action of sitting on his head without the aid of his hands was, at best, a freakish stunt that lasted only an instant. In don Genaro’s opinion, writing about “seeing” was the same; that is, it was a precarious maneuver, as odd and as unnecessary as sitting on one’s head.

Don Juan peered at me in the dark and in a very dramatic tone said that while don Genaro was horsing around, sitting on his head, I was on the very verge of “seeing.” Don Genaro noticed it and repeated his ma- neuvers over and over, to no avail, because I had lost the thread right away.

Don Juan said that afterwards don Genaro, moved by his personal liking for me, attempted in a very dramatic way to bring me back to that verge of “seeing.” After very careful deliberation he decided to show me a feat of equilibrium by crossing the waterfall. He felt that the waterfall was like the edge on which I was standing and was confident I could also make it across. Don Juan then explained don Genaro’s feat. He said that he had already told me that human beings were, for those who “saw,” luminous beings composed of something like fibers of light, which rotated from the front to the back and maintained the appearance of an egg. He said that he had also told me that the most astonishing part of the egg-like creatures was a set of long fibers that came out of the area around the navel; don Juan said that those fibers were of the uttermost importance in the life of a man. Those fibers were the secret of don Genaio’s balance and his lesson had nothing to do with acrobatic jumps across the waterfall. His feat of equilibrium was in the way he used those “tentacle-like” fibers.

Don Juan dropped the subject as suddenly as he had started it and began to talk about something thoroughly unrelated.

October 24,1968

I cornered don Juan and told him I intuitively felt that I was never going to get another lesson in equilibrium and that he had to explain to me all the pertinent details, which I would otherwise never discover by myself. Don Juan said I was right, in so far as knowing that don Genaro would never give me another lesson.

“What else do you want to know?” he asked.
“What are those tentacle-like fibers, don Juan?”
“They are the tentacles that come out of a man’s body which are apparent to any sorcerer who sees. Sorcerers

act toward people in accordance to the way they see their tentacles. Weak persons have very short, almost invisible fibers; strong persons have bright, long ones. Genaro’s, for instance, are so bright that they resemble thickness. You can tell from the fibers if a person is healthy, or if he is sick, or if he is mean, or kind, or treaoherous. You can also tell from the fibers if a person can see. Here is a baffling problem. When Genaro saw you he knew, just like my friend Vicente did, that you could see; when I see you I see that you can see and yet I know myself that you can’t. How baffling! Genaro couldn’t get over that. I told him that you were a strange fool. I think he wanted to see that for himself and took you to the waterfall.”

“Why do you think I give the impression I can see?”

Don Juan did not answer me. He remained silent for a long time. I did not want to ask him anything else. Finally he spoke to me and said that he knew why but did not know how to explain it.

“You think everything in the world is simple to understand,” he said, “because everything you do is a routine that is simple to understand. At the waterfall, when you looked at Genaro moving across the water, you believed that he was a master of somersaults, because somersaults was all you could think about. And that is all you will ever believe he did. Yet Genaro never jumped across that water. If he had jumped he would have died. Genaro balanced himself on his superb, bright fibers. He made them long, long enough so that he could, let’s say, roll on them across the waterfall. He demonstrated the proper way to make those tentacles long, and how to move them


with precision.
“Pablito saw nearly all of Genaro’s movements. Nestor, on the other hand, saw only the most obvious

maneuvers. He missed the delicate details. But you, you saw nothing at all.”
“Perhaps if you had told me beforehand, don Juan, what to look for …”
He interrupted me and said that giving me instructions would only have hindered don Genaro. Had I known

what was going to take place, my fibers would have been agitated and would have interfered with don Genaro’s. “If you could see,” he said, “it would have been obvious to you, from the first step that Genaro took, that he

was not slipping as he went up the side of the waterfall. He was loosening his tentacles. Twice he made them go around boulders and held to the sheer rock like a fly. When he got to the top and was ready to cross the water he focused them onto a small rock in the middle of the stream, and when they were secured there, he let the fibers pull him. Genaro never jumped, therefore he could land on the slippery surfaces of small boulders at the very edge of the water. His fibers were at all times neatly wrapped around every rock he used.

“He did not stay on the first boulder very long, because he had the rest of his fibers tied onto another one, even smaller, at the place where the onrush of water was the greatest. His tentacles pulled him again and he landed on it. That was the most outstanding thing he did. The surface was too small for a man to hold onto; and the onrush of the water would have washed his body over the precipice had he not had some of his fibers still focused on the first rock.

“He stayed in that second position for a long time, because he had to draw out his tentacles again and send them across to the other side of the fall. When he had them secured he had to release the fibers focused on the first rock. That was very tricky. Perhaps only Genaro could do that. He nearly lost his grip; or maybe he was only fooling us, well never know that for sure. Personally, I really think he nearly lost his grip. I know that, because he became rigid and sent out a magnificent shoot, like a beam of light across the water. I feel that beam alone could have pulled him through. When he got to the other side he stood up and let his fibers glow like a cluster of lights. That was the one thing he did just for you. If you had been able to see, you would have seen that.

“Genaro stood there looking at you, and then he knew that you had not seen.”


Part 2

The task of “Seeing”



Don Juan was not at his house when I arrived there at midday on November 8, 1968. I had no idea where to look for him, so I sat and waited. For some unknown reason I knew he would soon be home. A short while later don Juan walked into his house. He nodded at me. We exchanged greetings. He seemed to be tired and lay down on his mat. He yawned a couple of times.

The idea of “seeing” had become an obsession with me and I had made up my mind to use his hallucinogenic smoking mixture again. It had been a terribly difficult decision to make, so I still wanted to argue the point a bit further.

“I want to learn to see, don Juan,” I said bluntly. “But I really don’t want to take anything; I don’t want to smoke your mixture. Do you think there is any chance I could learn to see without it?”

He sat up, stared at me for a moment, and lay down again.
“No!” he said. “You will have to use the smoke.”
“But you said I was on the verge of seeing with don Genaro.”
“I meant that something in you was glowing as though you were really aware of Genaro’s doings, but you

were just looking. Obviously there is something in you that resembles seeing, but isn’t; you’re plugged up and only the smoke can help you.”

“Why does one have to smoke? Why can’t one simply learn to see by oneself? I have a very earnest desire. Isn’t that enough?”

“No, it’s not enough. Seeing is not so simple and only the smoke can give you the speed you need to catch a glimpse of that fleeting world. Otherwise you will only look.”

“What do you mean by a fleeting world?”

“The world, when you see, is not as you think it is now. It’s rather a fleeting world that moves and changes. One may perhaps learn to apprehend that fleeting world by oneself, but it won’t do any good, because the body decays with the stress. With the smoke, on the other hand, one never suffers from exhaustion. The smoke gives the necessary speed to grasp the fleeting movement of the world and at the same time it keeps the body and its strength intact.”

“All right!” I said dramatically. “I don’t want to beat around the bush any longer. I’ll smoke.”
He laughed at my display of histrionics.
“Cut it out,” he said. “You always hook onto the wrong thing. Now you think that just deciding to let the

smoke guide you is going to make you see. There’s much more to it. There is always much more to anything.” He became serious for a moment.
“I have been very careful with you, and my acts have been deliberate,” he said, “because it is Mescalito’s

desire that you understand my knowledge. But I know that I won’t have time to teach you all I want. I will only have time to put you on the road and trust that you will seek in the same fashion I did. I must admit that you are more indolent and more stubborn than I. You have other views, though, and the direction that your life will take is something I cannot foresee.”

His deliberate tone of voice, something in his attitude, summoned up an old feeling in me, a mixture of fear, loneliness, and expectation.

“We’ll soon know where you stand,” he said cryptically. He did not say anything else. After a while he went outside the house. I followed him and stood in front of him, not knowing whether to sit down or to unload some packages I had brought for him.

“Would it be dangerous?” I asked, just to say something.
“Everything is dangerous,” he said.
Don Juan did not seem to be inclined to tell me anything else; he gathered some small bundles that were

piled in a corner and put them inside a carrying net. I did not offer to help him because I knew that if he had wished my help he would have asked me. Then he lay down on his straw mat. He told me to relax and rest. I lay down on my mat and tried to sleep but I was not tired; the night before I had stopped at a motel and slept until


noon, knowing that I had only a three-hour drive to don Juan’s place. He was not sleeping either. Although his eyes were closed, I noticed an almost imperceptible, rhythmical movement of his head. The thought occurred to me that he was perhaps chanting to himself.

“Let’s eat something,” don Juan said suddenly, and his voice made me jump. “You’re going to need all your energy. You should be in good shape.”

He made some soup, but I wasn’t hungry.

The next day, November 9, don Juan let me eat only a morsel of food and told me to rest. I lay around all morning but I could not relax. I had no idea what don Juan had in mind, but, worst of all, I was not certain what I had in mind myself.

We were sitting under his ramada around 3:00 P.M. I was very hungry. I had suggested various times that we should eat, but he had refused.

“You haven’t prepared your mixture for three years,” he said suddenly. “You’ll have to smoke my mixture, so let’s say that I have collected it for you. You will need only a bit of it. I will fill the pipe’s bowl once. You will smoke all of it and then rest. Then the keeper of the other world will come. You will do nothing but observe it. Observe how it moves; observe everything it does. Your life may depend on how well you watch.”

Don Juan had dropped his instructions so abruptly that I did not know what to say or even what to think. I mumbled incoherently for a moment. I could not organize my thoughts. Finally I asked the first clear thing that came to my mind.

“Who’s this guardian?”

Don Juan flatly refused to involve himself in conversation, but I was too nervous to stop talking and I insisted desperately that he tell me about this guardian.

“You’ll see it,” he said casually. “It guards the other world.”
“What world? The world of the dead?”
“It’s not the world of the dead or the world of anything. It’s just another world. There’s no use telling you

about it. See it for yourself.”
With that don Juan went inside the house. I followed him into his room.
“Wait, wait, don Juan. What are you going to do?” He did not answer. He took his pipe out of a bundle and

sat down on a straw mat in the center of the room, looking at me inquisitively. He seemed to be waiting for my consent.

“You’re a fool,” he said softly. “You’re not afraid. You just say you’re afraid.”

He shook his head slowly from side to side. Then he took the little bag with the smoking mixture and filled the pipe bowl.

“I am afraid, don Juan. I am really afraid.”
“No, it’s not fear.”
I desperately tried to gain time and began a long discussion about the nature of my feelings. I sincerely main-

tained that I was afraid, but he pointed out that I was not panting, nor was my heart beating faster than usual. I thought for a while about what he had said. He was wrong; I did have many of the physical changes

ordinarily associated with fear, and I was desperate. A sense of impending doom permeated everything around me. My stomach was upset and I was sure I was pale; my hands were sweating profusely; and yet I really thought I was not afraid. I did not have the feeling of fear I had been accustomed to throughout my life. The fear which has always been idiosyncratically mine was not there. I was talking as I paced up and down the room in front of don Juan, who was still sitting on his mat, holding his pipe, and looking at me inquisitively; and upon considering the matter I arrived at the conclusion that what I felt instead of my usual fear was a profound sense of displeasure, a discomfort at the mere thought of the confusion created by the intake of hallucinogenic plants.

Don Juan stared at me for an instant, then he looked past me, squinting as if he were struggling to detect something in the distance.

I kept walking back and forth in front of him until he forcefully told me to sit down and relax. We sat quietly for a few minutes.


“You don’t want to lose your clarity, do you?” he said abruptly.
“That’s very right, don Juan,” I said.
He laughed with apparent delight.
“Clarity, the second enemy of a man of knowledge, has loomed upon you.
“You’re not afraid,” he said reassuringly, “but now you hate to lose your clarity, and since you’re a fool, you

call that fear.” He chuckled.

“Get me some charcoals,” he ordered.

His tone was kind and reassuring. I got up automatically and went to the back of the house and gathered some small pieces of burning charcoal from the fire, put them on top of a small stone slab, and returned to the room.

“Come out here to the porch,” don Juan called loudly from outside.

He placed a straw mat on the spot where I usually sit. I put the charcoals next to him and he blew on them to activate the fire. I was about to sit down but he stopped me and told me to sit on the right edge of the mat. He then put a piece of charcoal in the pipe and handed it to me. I took it. I was amazed at the silent forcefulness with which don Juan had steered me. I could not think of anything to say. I had no more arguments. I was convinced that I was not afraid, but only unwilling to lose my clarity.

“Puff, puff,” he ordered me gently. “Just one bowl this time.”

I sucked on the pipe and heard the chirping of the mixture catching on fire. I felt an instantaneous coat of ice inside my mouth and my nose. I took another puff and the coating extended to my chest. When I had taken the last puff I felt that the entire inside of my body was coated with a peculiar sensation of cold warmth.

Don Juan took the pipe away from me and tapped the bowl on his palm to loosen the residue. Then, as he always does, he wet his finger with saliva and rubbed it inside the bowl.

My body was numb, but I could move. I changed positions to sit more comfortably.
“What’s going to happen?” I asked.
I had some difficulty vocalizing.
Don Juan very carefully put his pipe inside its sheath and rolled it up in a long piece of cloth. Then he sat up

straight, facing me. I felt dizzy; my eyes were closing involuntarily. Don Juan shook me vigorously and ordered me to stay awake. He said I knew very well that if I fell asleep I would die. That jolted me. It occurred to me that don Juan was probably just saying that to keep me awake, but on the other hand, it also occurred to me that he might be right. I opened my eyes as wide as I could and that made don Juan laugh. He said that I had to wait for a while and keep my eyes open all the time and that at a given moment I would be able to see the guardian of the other world.

I felt a very annoying heat all over my body; I tried to change positions, but I could not move any more. I wanted to talk to don Juan; the words seemed to be so deep inside of me that I could not bring them out. Then I tumbled on my left side and found myself looking at don Juan from the floor.

He leaned over and ordered me in a whisper not to look at him but to stare fixedly at a point on my mat which was directly in front of my eyes. He said that I had to look with one eye, my left eye, and that sooner or later I would see the guardian.

I fixed my stare on the spot he had pointed to but I did not see anything. At a certain moment, however, I noticed a gnat flying in front of my eyes. It landed on the mat. I followed its movements. It came very close to me, so close that my visual perception blurred. And then, all of a sudden, I felt as if I had stood up. It was a very puzzling sensation that deserved some pondering, but there was no time for that. I had the total sensation that I was looking straight onward from my usual eye level, and what I saw shook up the last fiber of my being. There is no other way to describe the emotional jolt I experienced. Right there facing me, a short distance away, was a gigantic, monstrous animal. A truly monstrous thing! Never in the wildest fantasies of fiction had I encountered anything like it. I looked at it in complete, utmost bewilderment.

The first thing I really noticed was its size. I thought, for some reason, that it must be close to a hundred feet 60

tall. It seemed to be standing erect, although I could not figure out how it stood. Next, I noticed that it had wings, two short, wide wings. At that point I became aware that I insisted on examining the animal as if it were an ordinary sight; that is, I looked at it. However, I could not really look at it in the way I was accustomed to looking. I realized that I was, rather, noticing things about it, as if the picture were becoming more clear as parts were added. Its body was covered with tufts of black hair. It had a long muzzle and was drooling. Its eyes were bulgy and round, like two enormous white balls.

Then it began to beat its wings. It was not the flapping motion of a bird’s wings, but a kind of flickering, vibratory tremor. It gained speed and began circling in front of me; it was not flying, but rather skidding with astounding speed and agility, just a few inches above the ground. For a moment I found myself engrossed in watching it move. I thought that its movements were ugly and yet its speed and easiness were superb.

It circled twice in front of me, vibrating its wings, and whatever was drooling out of its mouth flew in all directions. Then it turned around and skidded away at an incredible speed until it disappeared in the distance. I stared fixedly in the direction it had gone because there was nothing else I could do. I had a most peculiar sensa- tion of being incapable of organizing my thoughts coherently. I could not move away. It was as if I were glued to the spot. Then I saw something like a cloud in the distance; an instant later the gigantic beast was circling again at full speed in front of me. Its wings cut closer and closer to my eyes until they hit me. I felt that its wings had actually hit whatever part of me was there. I yelled with all my might in the midst of one of the most excruciating pains I have ever had.

The next thing I knew I was seated on my mat and don Juan was rubbing my forehead. He rubbed my arms and legs with leaves, then he took me to an irrigation ditch behind his house, took off my clothes, and submerged me completely, then pulled me out and submerged me over and over again.

As I lay on the shallow bottom of the irrigation ditch, don Juan pulled up my left foot from time to time and tapped the sole gently. After a while I felt a ticklishness. He noticed it and said that I was all right. I put on my clothes and we returned to his house. I sat down again on my straw mat and tried to talk, but I felt I could not concentrate on what I wanted to say, although my thoughts were very clear. I was amazed to realize how much concentration was necessary to talk. I also noticed that in order to say something I had to stop looking at things. I had the impression that I was entangled at a very deep level and when I wanted to talk I had to surface like a diver; I had to ascend as if pulled by my words. Twice I went as far as clearing my throat in a fashion which was perfectly ordinary. I could have said then whatever I wanted to, but I did not. I preferred to remain at the strange level of silence where I could just look. I had the feeling that I was beginning to tap what don Juan had called “seeing” and that made me very happy.

Afterwards don Juan gave me some soup and tortillas and ordered me to eat. I was able to eat without any trouble and without losing what I thought to be my “power of seeing.” I focused my gaze on everything around me. I was convinced I could “see” everything, and yet the world looked the same to the best of my assessment. I struggled to “see” until it was quite dark. I finally got tired and lay down and went to sleep.

I woke up when don Juan covered me with a blanket. I had a headache and I was sick to my stomach. After a while I felt better and slept soundly until the next day.

In the morning I was myself again. I asked don Juan eagerly, “What happened to me?”
Don Juan laughed coyly. “You went to look for the keeper and of course you found it,” he said.
“But what was it, don Juan?”
“The guardian, the keeper, the sentry of the other world,” don Juan said factually.
I intended to relate to him the details of the portentous and ugly beast, but he disregarded my attempt, saying

that my experience was nothing special, that any man could do that.
I told him that the guardian had been such a shock to me that I really had not yet been able to think about it. Don Juan laughed and made fun of what he called an overdramatic bent of my nature.
“That thing, whatever it was, hurt me,” I said. “It was as real as you and I.”
“Of course it was real. It caused you pain, didn’t it?”
As I recollected my experience I grew more excited. Don Juan told me to calm down. Then he asked me if I


had really been afraid of it; he stressed the word “really.”
“I was petrified,” I said. “Never in my life have I experienced such an awesome fright.”
“Come on,” he said, laughing. “You were not that afraid.”
“I swear to you,” I said with genuine fervor, “that if I could have moved I would have run hysterically.”
He found my statement very funny and roared with laughter.
“What was the point of making me see that monstrosity, don Juan?”
He became serious and gazed at me.
“That was the guardian,” he said. “If you want to see you must overcome the guardian.”
“But how am I to overcome it, don Juan? It is perhaps a hundred feet tall.”
Don Juan laughed so hard that tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Why don’t you let me tell you what I saw, so there won’t be any misunderstanding?” I said.
“If that makes you happy, go ahead, tell me.”
I narrated everything I could remember, but that did not seem to change his mood.
“Still, that’s nothing new,” he said, smiling.
“But how do you expect me to overcome a thing like that? With what?”
He was silent for quite a while. Then he turned to me and said,
“You were not afraid, not really. You were hurt, but you were not afraid.”
He reclined against some bundles and put his arms behind his head. I thought he had dropped the subject. “You know,” he said suddenly, looking at the roof of the ramada, “every man can see the guardian. And the

guardian is sometimes for some of us an awesome beast as high as the sky. You’re lucky; for you it was only a hundred feet tall. And yet its secret is so simple.”

He paused for a moment and hummed a Mexican song.
“The guardian of the other world is a gnat,” he said slowly, as if he were measuring the effect of his words. “I beg your pardon.”
“The guardian of the other world is a gnat,” he repeated. “What you encountered yesterday was a gnat; and

that little gnat will keep you away until you overcome it.”
For a moment I did not want to believe what don Juan was saying, but upon recollecting the sequence of my

vision I had to admit that at a certain moment I was looking at a gnat, and an instant later a sort of mirage had taken place and I was looking at the beast.

“But how could a gnat hurt me, don Juan?” I asked, truly bewildered.

“It was not a gnat when it hurt you,” he said, “it was the guardian of the other world. Perhaps some day you will have the courage to overcome it. Not now, though; now it is a hundred-foot-tall drooling beast. But there is no point in talking about it. It’s no feat to stand in front of it, so if you want to know more about it, find the guardian again.”

Two days later, on November 11, I smoked don Juan’s mixture again.

I had asked don Juan to let me smoke once more to find the guardian. I had not asked him on the spur of the moment, but after long deliberation. My curiosity about the guardian was disproportionately greater than my fear, or the discomfort of losing my clarity.

The procedure was the same. Don Juan filled the pipe bowl once and when I had finished the entire contents he cleaned it and put it away.

The effect was markedly slower; when I began to feel a bit dizzy don Juan came to me and, holding my head in his hands, helped me to lie down on my left side. He told me to stretch my legs and relax and then helped me put my right arm in front of my body, at the level of my chest. He turned my hand so the palm was pressing against the mat, and let my weight rest on it. I did not do anything to help or hinder him, for I did not know what be was doing. He sat in front of me and told me not to be concerned with anything. He said that the guardian was going to come, and that I had a ringside seat to see it. He also told me, in a casual way, that the guardian could cause great pain, but that there was one way to avert it. He said that two days before he had made me sit up when he judged I had had enough. He pointed to my right arm and said that he had deliberately put it in that position so


I could use it as a lever to push myself up whenever I wanted to.
By the time he had finished telling me all that, my body was quite numb. I wanted to call to his attention the

fact that it would be impossible for me to push myself up because I had lost control of my muscles. I tried to vocalize the words but I could not. He seemed to have anticipated me, however, and explained that the trick was in the will. He urged me to remember the time, years before, when I had first smoked the mushrooms. On that occasion I had fallen to the ground and sprung up to my feet again by an act of what he called, at that time, my ”will”; I had “thought myself up.” He said that was in fact the only possible way to get up.

What he was saying was useless to me because I did not remember what I had really done years before. I had an overwhelming sense of despair and closed my eyes.

Don Juan grabbed me by the hair, shook my head vigorously, and ordered me imperatively not to close my eyes. I not only opened my eyes but I did something I thought was astonishing. I actually said,

“I don’t know how I got up that time.”

I was startled. There was something very monotonous about the rhythm of my voice, but it was plainly my voice, and yet I honestly believed I could not have said that, because a minute before I had been incapable of speaking.

I looked at don Juan. He turned his face to one side and laughed.
“I didn’t say that,” I said.
And again I was startled by my voice. I felt elated. Speaking under these conditions became an exhilarating

process. I wanted to ask don Juan to explain my talking, but I found I was again incapable of uttering one single word. I struggled fiercely to voice my thoughts, but it was useless. I gave up and at that moment, almost involun- tarily, I said,

“Who’s talking, who’s talking?”
That question made don Juan laugh so hard that at one point he bobbed on his side.
Apparently it was possible for me to say simple things, as long as I knew exactly what I wanted to say.
“Am I talking? Am I talking?” I asked.
Don Juan told me that if I did not stop horsing around he was going to go out and lie down under the ramada

and leave me alone with my clowning.
“It isn’t clowning,” I said.
I was very serious about that. My thoughts were very clear; my body, however, was numb; I did not feel it. I

was not suffocated, as I had once been in the past under similar conditions; I was comfortable because I could not feel anything; I had no control whatever over my voluntary system and yet I could talk. The thought occurred to me that if I could talk I could probably stand up as don Juan had said.

“Up,” I said in English, and in a flicker of an eye I was up.
Don Juan shook his head in disbelief and walked out of the house.
“Don Juan!” I called out three times.
He came back.
“Put me down,” I said.
“Put yourself down,” he said. “You seem to be doing very well.”
I said, “Down,” and suddenly I lost sight of the room. I could not see anything. After a moment the room and

don Juan came back again into my field of vision. I thought that I must have lain down with my face to the ground and he had grabbed me by the hair and lifted my head.

“Thank you,” I said in a very slow monotone.
“You are welcome,” he replied, mocking my tone of voice, and had another attack of laughter.
Then he took some leaves and began rubbing my arms and feet with them.
“What are you doing?” I asked,
“I am rubbing you,” he said, imitating my painful monotone.
His body convulsed with laughter. His eyes were shiny and very friendly. I liked him. I felt that don Juan was

compassionate and fair and funny. I could not laugh with him, but I would have liked to. Another feeling of ex- 63

hilaration invaded me and I laughed; it was such an awful sound that don Juan was taken aback for an instant.
“I better take you to the ditch,” he said, “or you’re going to kill yourself clowning.”
He put me up on my feet and made me walk around the room. Little by little I began to feel my feet, and my

legs, and finally my entire body. My ears were bursting with a strange pressure. It was like the sensation of a leg or an arm that has fallen asleep. I felt a tremendous weight on the back of my neck and under the scalp on the top of my head.

Don Juan rushed me to the irrigation ditch at the back of his house; he dumped me there fully clothed. The cold water reduced the pressure and the pain, by degrees, until it was all gone.

I changed my clothes in the house and sat down and I again felt the same kind of aloofness, the same desire to stay quiet. I noticed this time, however, that it was not clarity of mind, or a power to focus; rather, it was a sort of melancholy and a physical fatigue. Finally I fell asleep.

November 12,1968

This morning don Juan and I went to the nearby hills to collect plants. We walked about six miles on extremely rough terrain. I became very tired. We sat down to rest, at my initiative, and he began a conversation, saying that he was pleased with my progress.

“I know now that it was I who talked,” I said, “but at the time I could have sworn it was someone else.” “It was you, of course,” he said.
“How come I couldn’t recognize myself?”
“That’s what the little smoke does. One can talk and not notice it; or one can move thousands of miles and

not notice that either. That’s also how one can go through things. The little smoke removes the body and one is free, like the wind; better than the wind, the wind can be stopped by a rock or a wall or a mountain. The little smoke makes one as free as the air; perhaps even freer, the air can be locked in a tomb and become stale, but with the aid of the little smoke one cannot be stopped or locked in.”

Don Juan’s words unleashed a mixture of euphoria and doubt. I felt an overwhelming uneasiness, a sensation of undefined guilt.

“Then one can really do all those things, don Juan?”
“What do you think? You would rather think you’re crazy, wouldn’t you?” he said cuttingly.
“Well, it’s easy for you to accept all those things. For me it’s impossible.”
“It’s not easy for me. I don’t have any more privileges than you. Those things are equally hard for you or for

me or for anyone else to accept.”
“But you are at home with all this, don Juan.”
“Yes, but it cost me plenty. I had to struggle, perhaps more than you ever will. You have a baffling way of

getting everything to work for you. You have no idea how hard I had to toil to do what you did yesterday. You have something that helps you every inch of the way. There is no other possible explanation for the manner in which you learn about the powers. You did it before with Mescalito, now you have done it with the little smoke. You should concentrate on the fact that you have a great gift, and leave other considerations on the side.”

“You make it sound so easy, but it isn’t. I’m torn inside.”

“You’ll be in one piece again soon enough. You have not taken care of your body, for one thing. You’re too fat. I didn’t want to say anything to you before. One must always let others do what they have to do. You were away for years. I told you that you would come back, though, and you did. The same thing happened to me. I quit for five and a half years.”

“Why did you stay away, don Juan?”
“For the same reason you did. I didn’t like it.”
“Why did you come back?”
“For the same reason you have come back yourself, because there is no other way to live.”
That statement had a great impact on me, for I had found myself thinking that perhaps there was no other

way to live. I had never voiced this thought to anyone, yet don Juan had surmised it correctly. After a very long silence I asked him,


“What did I do yesterday, don Juan?”
“You got up when you wanted to.”
“But I don’t know how I did that.”
“It takes tune to perfect that technique. The important thing, however, is that you know how to do it.” “But I don’t. That’s the point, I really don’t.”

“Of course you do.”
“Don Juan, I assure you, I swear to you . . .”
He did not let me finish; he got up and walked away.
Later on we talked again about the guardian of the other world.
“If I believe that whatever I have experienced is actually real,” I said, “then the guardian is a gigantic creature

that can cause unbelievable physical pain; and if I believe that one can actually travel enormous distances by an act of will, then it’s logical to conclude that I could also will the monster to disappear. Is that correct?”

“Not exactly,” he said. “You cannot will the guardian to disappear. Your will can stop it from harming you, though. Of course if you ever accomplish that, the road is open to you. You can actually go by the guardian and there’s nothing that it can do, not even whirl around madly.”

“How can I accomplish that?”
“You already know how. All you need now is practice.”
I told him that we were having a misunderstanding that stemmed from our differences in perceiving the

world. I said that for me to know something meant that I had to be fully aware of what I was doing and that I could repeat what I knew at will, but in this case I was neither aware of what I had done under the influence of the smoke, nor could I repeat it if my life depended on it.

Don Juan looked at me inquisitively. He seemed to be amused by what I was saying. He took off his hat and scratched his temples as he does when he wants to pretend bewilderment.

“You really know how to talk and say nothing, don’t you?” he said laughing. “I have told you, you have to have an unbending intent in order to become a man of knowledge. But you seem to have an unbending intent to confuse yourself with riddles. You insist on explaining everything as if the whole world were composed of things that can be explained. Now you are confronted with the guardian and with the problem of moving by using your will. Has it ever occurred to you that only a few things in this world can be explained your way? When I say that the guardian is really blocking your passing and could actually knock the devil out of you, I know what I mean. When I say that one can move by one’s will, I also know what I mean. I wanted to teach you, little by little, how to move, but then I realized that you know how to do it even though you say you don’t.”

“But I really don’t know how,” I protested.

“You do, you fool,” he said sternly, and then smiled. “It reminds me of the time when someone put that kid Julio on a harvesting machine; he knew how to run it although he had never done it before.”

“I know what you mean, don Juan; however, I still feel that I could not do it again, because I am not sure of what I did.”

“A phony sorcerer tries to explain everything in the world with explanations he is not sure about,” he said, “and so everything is witchcraft. But then you’re no better. You also want to explain everything your way but you’re not sure of your explanations either.”



Don Juan asked me abruptly if I was planning to leave for home during the weekend. I said I intended to leave Monday morning. We were sitting under his ramada around midday on Saturday, January 18, 1969, taking a rest after a long walk in the nearby hills. Don Juan got up and went into the house. A few moments later he called me inside. He was sitting in the middle of his room and had placed my straw mat in front of his. He motioned me to sit down and without saying a word he unwrapped his pipe, took it out of its sheath, filled its bowl with his smoking mixture, and lit it. He had even brought into his room a clay tray filled with small charcoals.

He did not ask me whether I was willing to smoke. He just handed me the pipe and told me to puff. I did not hesitate. Don Juan had apparently assessed my mood correctly; my overwhelming curiosity about the guardian must have been obvious to him. I did not need any coaxing and eagerly smoked the entire bowl.

The reactions I had were identical to those I had had before. Don Juan also proceeded in very much the same manner. This time, however, instead of helping me to do it, he just told me to prop my right arm on the mat and lie down on my left side. He suggested that I should make a fist if that would give me a better leverage.

I did make a fist with my right hand, because I found it was easier than turning my palm against the floor while lying with my weight on it I was not sleepy; I felt very warm for a while, then I lost all feeling.

Don Juan lay down on his side facing me; his right forearm rested on his elbow and propped his head up like a pillow. Everything was perfectly placid, even my body, which by then lacked tactile sensations. I felt very con- tent.

“It’s nice,” I said.
Don Juan got up hurriedly.
“Don’t you dare start with this crap,” he said forcefully. “Don’t talk. You’ll waste every bit of energy talking,

and then the guardian will mash you down, like you would smash a gnat.”
He must have thought that his simile was funny because he began to laugh, but he stopped suddenly.
“Don’t talk, please don’t talk,” he said with a serious look on his face.
“I wasn’t about to say anything,” I said, and I really did not want to say that.
Don Juan got up. I saw him walking away toward the back of his house. A moment later I noticed that a gnat

had landed on my mat and that filled me with a kind of anxiety I had never experienced before. It was a mixture of elation, anguish, and fear. I was totally aware that something transcendental was about to unfold in front of me; a gnat who guarded the other world. It was a ludicrous thought; I felt like laughing out loud, but then I realized that my elation was distracting me and I was going to miss a transition period I wanted to clarify. In my previous attempt to see the guardian I had looked at the gnat first with my left eye, and then I felt that I had stood up and looked at it with both eyes, but I was not aware how that transition had occurred.

I saw the gnat whirling around on the mat in front of my face and realized that I was looking at it with both eyes. It came very close; at a given moment I could not see it with both eyes any longer and shifted the view to my left eye, which was level with the ground. The instant I changed focus I also felt that I had straightened my body to a fully vertical position and I was looking at an unbelievably enormous animal. It was brilliantly black. Its front was covered with long, black, insidious hair, which looked like spikes coming through the cracks of some slick, shiny scales. The hair was actually arranged in tufts. Its body was massive, thick and round. Its wings were wide and short in comparison to the length of its body. It had two white, bulging eyes and a long muzzle. This time it looked more like an alligator. It seemed to have long ears, or perhaps horns, and it was drooling.

I strained myself to fix my gaze on it and then became fully aware that I could not look at it in the same way I ordinarily look at things. I had a strange thought; looking at the guardian’s body I felt that every single part of it was independently alive, as the eyes of men are alive. I realized then for the first tune in my life that the eyes were the only part of a man that could show, to me, whether or not he was alive. The guardian, on the other hand, had a “million eyes.”

I thought this was a remarkable finding. Before this experience I had speculated on the similes that could 66

describe the “distortions” that rendered a gnat as a gigantic beast; and I had thought that a good simile was “as if looking at an insect through the magnifying lens of a microscope.” But that was not so. Apparently viewing the guardian was much more complex than looking at a magnified insect.

The guardian began to whirl in front of me. At one moment it stopped and I felt it was looking at me. I noticed then that it made no sound. The dance of the guardian was silent. The awesomeness was in its appearance: its bulging eyes; its horrendous mouth; its drooling; its insidious hair; and above all its incredible size. I watched very closely the way it moved its wings, how it made them vibrate without sound. I watched how it skidded over the ground like a monumental ice skater.

Looking at that nightmarish creature in front of me, I actually felt elated. I really believed I had discovered the secret of overpowering it. I thought the guardian was only a moving picture on a silent screen; it could not harm me; it only looked terrifying.

The guardian was standing still, facing me; suddenly it fluttered its wings and turned around. Its back looked like brilliantly colored armor; its shine was dazzling but the hue was nauseating; it was my unfavorable color. The guardian remained with its back turned to me for a while and then, fluttering its wings, again skidded out of sight.

I was confronted with a very strange dilemma. I honestly believed that I had overpowered it by realizing that it presented only a picture of wrath. My belief was perhaps due to don Juan’s insistence that I knew more than I was willing to admit. At any rate, I felt I had overcome the guardian and the path was free. Yet I did not know how to proceed. Don Juan had not told me what to do in such a case. I tried to turn and look behind me, but I was unable to move. However, I could see very well over the major part of a 180-degree range in front of my eyes. And what I saw was a cloudy, pale-yellow horizon; it seemed gaseous. A sort of lemon hue uniformly covered all I could see. It seemed that I was on a plateau filled with vapors of sulphur.

Suddenly the guardian appeared again at a point on the horizon. It made a wide circle before stopping in front of me; its mouth was wide open, like a huge cavern; it had no teeth. It vibrated its wings for an instant and then it charged at me. It actually charged at me like a bull, and with its gigantic wings it swung at my eyes. I screamed with pain and then I flew up, or rather I felt I had ejected myself up, and went soaring beyond the guardian, beyond the yellowish plateau, into another world, the world of men, and I found myself standing in the middle of don Juan’s room.

January 19,1969

“I really thought I had overpowered the guardian,” I said to don Juan.
“You must be kidding,” he said.
Don Juan had not spoken one word to me since the day before and I did not mind it I had been immersed in a

sort of reverie and again I had felt that if I looked intently I would be able to “see.” But I did not see anything that was different. Not talking, however, had relaxed me tremendously.

Don Juan asked me to recount the sequence of my experience, and what particularly interested him was the hue I had seen on the guardian’s back. Don Juan sighed and seemed to be really concerned.

“You were lucky that the color was on the guardian’s back,” he said with a serious face. “Had it been on the front part of its body, or worse yet, on its head, you would be dead by now. You must not try to see the guardian ever again. It’s not your temperament to cross that plain; yet I was convinced that you could go through it. But let’s not talk about it any more. This was only one of a variety of roads.”

I detected an unaccustomed heaviness in don Juan’s tone.
“What will happen to me if I try to see the guardian again?”
“The guardian will take you away,” he said, “It will pick you up in its mouth and carry you into that plain and

leave you there forever. It is obvious that the guardian knew that it is not your temperament and warned you to stay away.”

“How do you think the guardian knew that?”

Don Juan gave me a long, steadfast look. He tried to say something, but gave up as though he was unable to find the right words.


“I always fall for your questions,” he said, smiling.
“You were not really thinking when you asked me that, were you?”
I protested and reaffirmed that it puzzled me that the guardian knew my temperament.
Don Juan had a strange glint in his eye when he said,
“And you had not even mentioned anything about your temperament to the guardian, had you?”
His tone was so comically serious that we both laughed. After a while, however, he said that the guardian,

being the keeper, the watchman of that world, knew many secrets that a brujo was entitled to share.
“That’s one way a brujo gets to see” he said. “But that will not be your domain, so there is no point in talking

about it.”
“Is smoking the only way to see the guardian?” I asked.
“No. You could also see it without it. There are scores of people who could do that. I prefer the smoke

because it is more effective and less dangerous to oneself. If you try to see the guardian without the aid of the smoke, chances are that you may delay in getting out of its way. In your case, for instance, it is obvious that the guardian was warning you when it turned its back so you would look at your enemy color. Then it went away; but when it came back you were still there, so it charged at you. You were prepared, however, and jumped. The little smoke gave you the protection you needed; had you gone into that world without its aid you wouldn’t have been able to extricate yourself from the guardian’s grip.”

“Why not?”

“Your movements would have been too slow. To survive in that world you need to be as fast as lightning. It was my mistake to leave the room, but I didn’t want you to talk any more. You are a blabbermouth, so you talk even against your desire. Had I been there with you I would’ve pulled your head up. You jumped up by yourself, which was even better; however, I would rather not run a risk like that; the guardian is not something you can fool around with.”



For three months don Juan systematically avoided talking about the guardian. I paid him four visits during these months; he involved me in running errands for him every time, and when I had performed the errands he simply told me to go home. On April 24, 1969, the fourth time I was at his house, I finally confronted him after we had eaten dinner and were sitting next to his earthen stove. I told him that he was doing something incongruous to me; I was ready to learn and yet he did not even want me around. I had had to struggle very hard to overcome my aversion to using his hallucinogenic mushrooms and I felt, as he had said himself, that I had no time to lose.

Don Juan patiently listened to my complaints.

“You’re too weak,” he said. “You hurry when you should wait, but you wait when you should hurry. You think too much. Now you think that there is no time to waste. A while back you thought you didn’t want to smoke any more. Your life is too damn loose; you’re not tight enough to meet the little smoke. I am responsible for you and I don’t want you to die like a goddamn fool.”

I felt embarrassed.
“What can I do, don Juan? I’m very impatient.”
“Live like a warrior! I’ve told you already, a warrior takes responsibility for his acts; for the most trivial of

his acts. You act out your thoughts and that’s wrong. You failed with the guardian because of your thoughts.” “How did I fail, don Juan?”
“You think about everything. You thought about the guardian and thus you couldn’t overcome it.
“First you must live like a warrior. I think you understand that very well.”

I wanted to interject something in my defense, but he gestured with his hand to be quiet.

“Your life is fairly tight,” he continued. “In fact, your life is tighter than Pablito’s or Nestor’s, Genaro’s apprentices, and yet they see and you don’t. Your life is tighter than Eligio’s and he’ll probably see before you do. This baffles me. Even Genaro cannot get over that. You’ve faithfully carried out everything I have told you to do. Everything that my benefactor taught me, in the first stage of learning, I have passed on to you. The rule is right, the steps cannot be changed. You have done everything one has to do and yet you don’t see; but to those who see, like Genaro, you appear as though you see. I rely on that and I am fooled. You always turn around and behave like an idiot who doesn’t see, which of course is right for you.”

Don Juan’s words distressed me profoundly. I don’t know why but I was close to tears. I began to talk about my childhood and a wave of self-pity enveloped me. Don Juan stared at me for a brief moment and then moved his eyes away. It was a penetrating glance. I felt he had actually grabbed me with his eyes. I had the sensation of two fingers gently clasping me and I acknowledged a weird agitation, an itching, a pleasant despair in the area of my solar plexus. I became aware of my abdominal region. I sensed its heat. I could not speak coherently any more and I mumbled, then stopped talking altogether.

“Perhaps it’s the promise,” don Juan said after a long pause. “I beg your pardon.”
“A promise you once made, long ago.”
“What promise?”

“Maybe you can tell me that. You do remember it, don’t you?”
“I don’t.”
“You promised something very important once. I thought that perhaps your promise was keeping you from


“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about a promise you made! You must remember it.”
“If you know what the promise was, why don’t you tell me, don Juan?” “No. It won’t do any good to tell you.”
“Was it a promise I made to myself?”


For a moment I thought he might be referring to my resolution to quit the apprenticeship.
“No. This is something that took place a long time ago,” he said.
I laughed because I was certain don Juan was playing some sort of game with me. I felt mischievous. I had a

sensation of elation at the idea that I could fool don Juan, who, I was convinced, knew as little as I did about the alleged promise. I was sure he was fishing in the dark and trying to improvise. The idea of humoring him delighted me.

“Was it something I promised to my grandpa?”
“No,” he said, and his eyes glittered. “Neither was it something you promised to your little grandma.” The ludicrous intonation he gave to the word “grandma” made me laugh. I thought don Juan was setting

some sort of trap for me, but I was willing to play the game to the end. I began enumerating all the possible individuals to whom I could have promised something of great importance. He said no to each. Then he steered the conversation to my childhood.

“Why was your childhood sad?” he asked with a serious expression.
I told him that my childhood had not really been sad, but perhaps a bit difficult.
“Everybody feels that way,” he said, looking at me again. “I too was very unhappy and afraid when I was a

child. To be an Indian is hard, very hard. But the memory of that time no longer has meaning for me, beyond that it was hard. I had ceased to think about the hardship of my life even before I had learned to see.”

“I don’t think about my childhood either,” I said.
“Why does it make you sad, then? Why do you want to weep?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps when I think of myself as a child I feel sorry for myself and for all my fellow men. I

feel helpless and sad.”
He looked at me fixedly and again my abdominal region registered the weird sensation of two gentle fingers

clasping it. I moved my eyes away and then glanced back at him. He was looking into the distance, past me; his eyes were foggy, out of focus.

“It was a promise of your childhood,” he said after a moment’s silence.
“What did I promise?”
He did not answer. His eyes were closed. I smiled involuntarily; I knew he was feeling his way in the dark;

however, I had lost some of my original impetus to humor him.
“I was a skinny child,” he went on, “and I was always afraid.”
“So was I,” I said.
“What I remember the most is the terror and sadness that fell upon me when the Mexican soldiers killed my

mother,” he said softly, as if the memory was still painful. “She was a poor and humble Indian. Perhaps it was better that her life was over then. I wanted to be killed with her, because I was a child. But the soldiers picked me up and beat me. When I grabbed onto my mother’s body they hit my fingers with a horsewhip and broke them. I didn’t feel any pain, but I couldn’t grasp any more, and then they dragged me away.”

He stopped talking. His eyes were still closed and I could detect a very slight tremor in his lips. A profound sadness began to overtake me. Images of my own childhood started to flood my mind.

“How old were you, don Juan?” I asked, just to offset the sadness in me.

“Maybe seven. That was the time of the great Yaqui wars. The Mexican soldiers came upon us unexpectedly while my mother was cooking some food. She was a helpless woman. They killed her for no reason at all. It doesn’t make any difference that she died that way, not really, and yet for me it does. I cannot tell myself why, though; it just does. I thought they had killed my father too, but they hadn’t. He was wounded. Later on they put us in a tram like cattle and closed the door. For days they kept us there in the dark, like animals. They kept us alive with bits of food they threw into the wagon from time to time.

“My father died of his wounds in that wagon. He became delirious with pain and fever and went on telling me that I had to survive. He kept on telling me that until the very last moment of his life.

“The people took care of me; they gave me food; an old woman curer fixed the broken bones of my hand. And as you can see, I lived. Life has been neither good nor bad to me; life has been hard. Life is hard and for a


child it is sometimes horror itself.”
We did not speak for a very long time. Perhaps an hour went by in complete silence. I had very confusing

feelings. I was somewhat dejected and yet I could not tell why. I experienced a sense of remorse. A while before I had been willing to humor don Juan, but he had suddenly turned the tables with his direct account. It had been simple and concise and had produced a strange feeling in me. The idea of a child undergoing pain had always been a touchy subject for me. In an instant my feelings of empathy for don Juan gave way to a sensation of disgust with myself. I had actually taken notes, as if don Juan’s life were merely a clinical case. I was on the verge of ripping up my notes when don Juan poked my calf with his toe to attract my attention. He said he was “seeing” a light of violence around me and wondered whether I was going to start beating him. His laughter was a delightful break. He said that I was given to outbursts of violent behavior but that I was not really mean and that most of the time the violence was against myself.

“You’re right, don Juan,” I said.
“Of course,” he said, laughing.
He urged me to talk about my childhood. I began to tell him about my years of fear and loneliness and got

involved in describing to him what I thought to be my overwhelming struggle to survive and maintain my spirit. He laughed at the metaphor of “maintaining my spirit.”

I talked for a long time. He listened with a serious expression. Then, at a given moment his eyes “clasped” me again and I stopped talking. After a moment’s pause he said that nobody had ever humiliated me and that was the reason I was not really mean.

“You haven’t been defeated yet,” he said. He repeated the statement four or five times so I felt obliged to ask him what he meant by that. He explained that to be defeated was a condition of life which was unavoidable. Men were either victorious or defeated and, depending on that, they became persecutors or victims. These two conditions were prevalent as long as one did not “see”; “seeing” dispelled the illusion of victory, or defeat, or suffering. He added that I should learn to “see” while I was victorious to avoid ever having the memory of being humiliated.

I protested that I was not and had never been victorious at anything; and that my life was, if anything, a defeat. He laughed and threw his hat on the floor.

“If your life is such a defeat, step on my hat,” he dared me in jest.

I sincerely argued my point. Don Juan became serious. His eyes squinted to a fine slit. He said that I thought my life was a defeat for reasons other than defeat itself. Then in a very quick and thoroughly unexpected manner he took my head in his hands by placing his palms against my temples. His eyes became fierce as he looked into mine. Out of fright I took an involuntary deep breath through my mouth. He let my head go and reclined against the wall, still gazing at me. He had performed his movements with such a speed that by the time he had relaxed and reclined comfortably against the wall, I was still in the middle of my deep breath. I felt dizzy, ill at ease.

“I see a little boy crying,” don Juan said after a pause.

He repeated it various times as if I did not understand. I had the feeling he was talking about me as a little boy crying, so I did not really pay attention to it.

“Hey!” he said, demanding my full concentration. “I see a little boy crying.”

I asked him if that boy was me. He said no. Then I asked him if it was a vision of my life or just a memory of his own life. He did not answer.

“I see a little boy,” he continued saying. “And he is crying and crying.” “Is he a boy I know?” I asked.
“Y es.”
“Is he my little boy?”

“Is he crying now?”
“He’s crying now,” he said with conviction.
I thought don Juan was having a vision of someone I knew who was a little boy and who was at that very


moment crying. I voiced the names of all the children I knew, but he said those children were irrelevant to my promise and the child who was crying was very important to it.

Don Juan’s statements seemed to be incongruous. He had said that I had promised something to someone during my childhood, and that the child who was crying at that very moment was important to my promise. I told him he was not making sense. He calmly repeated that he “saw” a little boy crying at that moment, and that the little boy was hurt.

I seriously struggled to fit his statements into some sort of orderly pattern, but I could not relate them to anything I was aware of.

“I give up,” I said, “because I can’t remember making an important promise to anybody, least of all to a child.”

He squinted his eyes again and said that this particular child who was crying at that precise moment was a child of my childhood.

“He was a child during my childhood and is still crying now?” I asked. “He is a child crying now,” he insisted.
“Do you realize what you’re saying, don Juan?”
“I do.”

“It doesn’t make sense. How can he be a child now if he was one when I was a child myself?” “He’s a child and he’s crying now,” he said stubbornly.
“Explain it to me, don Juan.”
“No. You must explain it to me.”

For the life of me I could not fathom what he was referring to.

“He’s crying! He’s crying!” don Juan kept on saying in a mesmerizing tone. “And he’s hugging you now. He’s hurt! He’s hurt! And he’s looking at you. Do you feel his eyes? He’s kneeling and hugging you. He’s younger than you. He has come running to you. But his arm is broken. Do you feel his arm? That little boy has a nose that looks like a button. Yes! That’s a button nose.”

My ears began to buzz and I lost the sensation of being at don Juan’s house. The words “button nose” plunged me at once into a scene out of my childhood. I knew a button-nose boy! Don Juan had edged his way into one of the most recondite places of my life. I knew then the promise he was talking about. I had a sensation of elation, of despair, of awe for don Juan and his splendid maneuver. How in the devil did he know about the button-nose boy of my childhood? I became so agitated by the memory don Juan had evoked in me that my power to remember took me back to a time when I was eight years old. My mother had left two years before and I had spent the most hellish years of my life circulating among my mother’s sisters, who served as dutiful mother surrogates and took care of me a couple of months at a time. Each of my aunts had a large family, and no matter how careful and protective the aunts were toward me, I had twenty-two cousins to contend with. Their cruelty was sometimes truly bizarre. I felt then that I was surrounded by enemies, and in the excruciating years that followed I waged a desperate and sordid war. Finally, through means I still do not know to this day, I succeeded in subduing all my cousins. I was indeed victorious. I had no more competitors who counted. However, I did not know that, nor did I know how to stop my war, which logically was extended to the school grounds.

The classrooms of the rural school where I went were mixed and the first and third grades were separated only by a space between the desks. It was there that I met a little boy with a flat nose, who was teased with the nickname “Button-nose.” He was a first-grader. I used to pick on him haphazardly, not really intending to. But he seemed to like me in spite of everything I did to him. He used to follow me around and even kept the secret that I was responsible for some of the pranks that baffled the principal. And yet I still teased him. One day I deliberate- ly toppled over a heavy standing blackboard; it fell on him; the desk in which he was sitting absorbed some of the impact, but still the blow broke his collarbone. He fell down. I helped him up and saw the pain and fright in his eyes as he looked at me and held onto me. The shock of seeing him in pain, with a mangled arm, was more than I could bear. For years I had viciously battled against my cousins and I had won; I had vanquished my foes; I had felt good and powerful up to the moment when the sight of the button-nose little boy crying demolished my


victories. Right there I quit the battle. In whatever way I was capable of, I made a resolution not to win ever again. I thought his arm would have to be cut off, and I promised that if the little boy was cured I would never again be victorious. I gave up my victories for him. That was the way I understood it then.

Don Juan had opened a festered sore in my life. I felt dizzy, overwhelmed. A well of unmitigated sadness beckoned me and I succumbed to it. I felt the weight of my acts on me. The memory of that little button-nose boy, whose name was Joaquin, produced in me such a vivid anguish that I wept. I told don Juan of my sadness for that boy who never had anything, that little Joaquin who did not have money to go to a doctor and whose arm never set properly. And all I had to give him were my childish victories. I felt so ashamed.

“Be in peace, you funny bird,” don Juan said imperatively. “You gave enough. Your victories were strong and they were yours. You gave enough. Now you must change your promise.”

“How do I change it? Do I just say so?”

“A promise like that cannot be changed by just saying so. Perhaps very soon you’ll be able to know what to do about changing it. Then perhaps you’ll even get to see.”

“Can you give me any suggestions, don Juan?”

“You must wait patiently, knowing that you’re waiting, and knowing what you’re waiting for. That is the warrior’s way. And if it is a matter of fulfilling your promise then you must be aware that you are fulfilling it. Then a time will come when your waiting will be over and you will no longer have to honor your promise. There is nothing you can do for that little boy’s life. Only he could cancel that act.”

“But how can he?”

“By learning to reduce his wants to nothing. As long as he thinks that he was a victim, his life will be hell. And as long as you think the same your promise will be valid. What makes us unhappy is to want. Yet if we would learn to cut our wants to nothing, the smallest thing we’d get would be a true gift. Be in peace, you made a good gift to Joaquin. To be poor or wanting is only a thought; and so is to hate, or to be hungry, or to be in pain.”

“I cannot truly believe that, don Juan. How could hunger and pain be only thoughts?”

“They are only thoughts for me now. That’s all I know. I have accomplished that feat. The power to do that is all we have, mind you, to oppose the forces of our lives; without that power we are dregs, dust in the wind.”
“I have no doubt that you have done it, don Juan, but how can a simple man like myself or little Joaquin

accomplish that?”
“It is up to us as single individuals to oppose the forces of our lives. I have said this to you countless times:

Only a warrior can survive. A warrior knows that he is waiting and what he is waiting for; and while he waits he wants nothing and thus whatever little thing he gets is more than he can take. If he needs to eat he finds a way, because he is not hungry; if something hurts his body he finds a way to stop it, because he is not in pain. To be hungry or to be in pain means that the man has abandoned himself and is no longer a warrior; and the forces of his hunger and pain will destroy him.”

I wanted to go on arguing my point, but I stopped because I realized that by arguing I was making a barrier to protect myself from the devastating force of don Juan’s superb feat which had touched me so deeply and with such a power. How did he know? I thought that perhaps I had told him the story of the button-nose boy during one of my deep states of nonordinary reality. I did not recollect telling him, but my not remembering under such conditions was understandable.

“How did you know about my promise, don Juan?”
“I saw it.”
“Did you see it when I had taken Mescalito, or when I had smoked your mixture?”
“I saw it now. Today.”
“Did you see the whole thing?”
“There you go again. I’ve told you, there’s no point in talking about what seeing is like. It is nothing.”
I did not pursue the point any longer. Emotionally I was convinced.
“I also made a vow once,” don Juan said suddenly. The sound of his voice made me jump. “I promised my

father that I would live to destroy his assassins. I carried that promise with me for years. Now the promise is 73

changed. I’m no longer interested in destroying anybody. I don’t hate the Mexicans. I don’t hate anyone. I have learned that the countless paths one traverses in one’s life are all equal. Oppressors and oppressed meet at the end, and the only thing that prevails is that life was altogether too short for both. Today I feel sad not because my mother and father died the way they did; I feel sad because they were Indians. They lived like Indians and died like Indians and never knew that they were, before anything else, men.”



I went back to visit don Juan on May 30, 1969, and bluntly told him that I wanted to take another crack at “seeing.” He shook his head negatively and laughed, and I felt compelled to protest. He told me I had to be patient and the time was not right, but I doggedly insisted I was ready.

He did not seem annoyed with my nagging requests. He tried, nevertheless, to change the subject. I did not let go and asked him to advise me what to do in order to overcome my impatience.

“You must act like a warrior,” he said.
“One learns to act like a warrior by acting, not by talking.”
“You said that a warrior thinks about his death. I do that all the time; obviously that isn’t enough.”
He seemed to have an outburst of impatience and made a smacking sound with his lips. I told him that I had

not meant to make him angry and that if he did not need me there at his house, I was ready to go back to Los Angeles. Don Juan patted me gently on the back and said that he never got angry with me; he had simply assumed I knew what it meant to be a warrior.

“What can I do to live like a warrior?” I asked.
He took off his hat and scratched his temples. He looked at me fixedly and smiled.
“You like everything spelled out, don’t you?”
“My mind works that way.”
“It doesn’t have to.”
“I don’t know how to change. That is why I ask you to tell me exactly what to do to live like a warrior; if I

knew that, I could find a way to adapt myself to it.”
He must have thought my statements were humorous; he patted me on the back as he laughed.
I had the feeling he was going to ask me to leave any minute, so I quickly sat down on my straw mat facing

him and began asking him more questions. I wanted to know why I had to wait.
He explained that if I were to try to “see” in a helter-skelter manner, before I had “healed the wounds” I re-

ceived battling the guardian, chances were that I would encounter the guardian again even though I was not look- ing for it. Don Juan assured me that no man in that position would be capable of surviving such an encounter.

“You must completely forget the guardian before you can again embark on the quest of seeing” he said. “How can anyone forget the guardian?”
“A warrior has to use his will and his patience to forget. In fact, a warrior has only his will and his patience

and with them he builds anything he wants.”
“But I’m not a warrior.”
“You have started learning the ways of sorcerers. You have no more time for retreats or for regrets. You only

have time to live like a warrior and work for patience and will, whether you like it or not.”
“How does a warrior work for them?”
Don Juan thought for a long time before answering.
“I think there is no way of talking about it,” he finally said. “Especially about will. Will is something very

special. It happens mysteriously. There is no real way of telling how one uses it, except that the results of using the will are astounding. Perhaps the first thing that one should do is to know that one can develop the will. A warrior knows that and proceeds to wait for it. Your mistake is not to know that you are waiting for your will.

“My benefactor told me that a warrior knows that he is waiting and knows what he is waiting for. In your case, you know that you’re waiting. You’ve been here with me for years, yet you don’t know what you are waiting for. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for the average man to know what he is waiting for. A warrior, however, has no problems; he knows that he is waiting for his will.”

“What exactly is the will? Is it determination, like the determination of your grandson Lucio to have a motor- cycle?”

“No,” don Juan said softly and giggled. “That’s not will. Lucio only indulges. Will is something else, some- 75

thing very clear and powerful which can direct our acts. Will is something a man uses, for instance, to win a battle which he, by all calculations, should lose.”

“Then will must be what we call courage,” I said.

“No. Courage is something else. Men of courage are dependable men, noble men perennially surrounded by people who flock around them and admire them; yet very few men of courage have will. Usually they are fearless men who are given to performing daring common-sense acts; most of the time a courageous man is also fearsome and feared. Will, on the other hand, has to do with astonishing feats that defy our common sense.”

“Is will the control we may have over ourselves?” I asked.
“You may say that it is a kind of control.”
“Do you think I can exercise my will, for instance, by denying myself certain things?”
“Such as asking questions?” he interjected.
He said it in such a mischievous tone that I had to stop writing to look at him. We both laughed.
“No,” he said. “Denying yourself is an indulgence and I don’t recommend anything of the kind. That is the

reason why I let you ask all the questions you want. If I told you to stop asking questions, you might warp your will trying to do that. The indulgence of denying is by far the worst; it forces us to believe we are doing great things, when in effect we are only fixed within ourselves. To stop asking questions is not the will I’m talking about. Will is a power. And since it is a power it has to be controlled and tuned and that takes time. I know that and I’m patient with you. When I was your age I was as impulsive as you. Yet I have changed. Our will operates in spite of our indulgence. For example, your will is already opening your gap, little by little.”

“What gap are you talking about?”

“There is a gap in us; like the soft spot on the head of a child which closes with age, this gap opens as one de- velops one’s will.”

“Where is that gap?”
“At the place of your luminous fibers,” he said, pointing to his abdominal area.
“What is it like? What is it for?”
“It’s an opening. It allows a space for the will to shoot out, like an arrow.”
“Is the will an object? Or like an object?”
“No. I just said that to make you understand. What a sorcerer calls will is a power within ourselves. It is not a

thought, or an object, or a wish. To stop asking questions is not will because it needs thinking and wishing. Will is what can make you succeed when your thoughts tell you that you’re defeated. Will is what makes you invulnerable. Will is what sends a sorcerer through a wall; through space; to the moon, if he wants.”

There was nothing else I wanted to ask. I was tired and somewhat tense. I was afraid don Juan was going to ask me to leave and that annoyed me.

“Let’s go to the hills,” he said abruptly, and stood up.
On the way he started talking about will again and laughed at my dismay over not being able to take notes. He described will as a force which was the true link between men and the world. He was very careful to

establish that the world was whatever we perceive, in any manner we may choose to perceive. Don Juan maintained that “perceiving the world” entails a process of apprehending whatever presents itself to us. This particular “perceiving” is done with our senses and with our will.

I asked him if will was a sixth sense. He said it was rather a relation between ourselves and the perceived world. I suggested that we halt so I could take notes. He laughed and kept on walking.

He did not make me leave that night, and the next day after eating breakfast he himself brought up the subject of will.

“What you yourself call will is character and strong disposition,” he said. “What a sorcerer calls will is a force that comes from within and attaches itself to the world out there. It comes out through the belly, right here, where the luminous fibers are.”

He rubbed his navel to point out the area.
“I say that it comes out through here because one can feel it coming out.”


“Why do you call it will?”
“I don’t call it anything. My benefactor called it will, and other men of knowledge call it will.”
“Yesterday you said that one can perceive the world with the senses as well as with the will. How is that pos-

“An average man can ‘grab’ the things of the world only with his hands, or his eyes, or his ears, but a sorcerer

can grab them also with his nose, or his tongue, or his will, especially with his will. I cannot really describe how it is done, but you yourself, for instance, cannot describe to me how you hear. It happens that I am also capable of hearing, so we can talk about what we hear, but not about how we hear. A sorcerer uses his will to perceive the world. That perceiving, however, is not like hearing. When we look at the world or when we hear it, we have the impression that it is out there and that it is real. When we perceive the world with our will we know that it is not as ‘out there’ or ‘as real’ as we think.”

“Is will the same as seeing?”

“No. Will is a force, a power. Seeing is not a force, but rather a way of getting through things. A sorcerer may have a very strong will and yet he may not see; which means that only a man of knowledge perceives the world with his senses and with his will and also with his seeing.” I told him that I was more confused than ever about how to use my will to forget the guardian. That statement and my mood of perplexity seemed to delight him.

“I’ve told you that when you talk you only get confused,” he said and laughed. “But at least now you know you are waiting for your will. You still don’t know what it is, or how it could happen to you. So watch carefully everything you do. The very thing that could help you develop your will is amidst all the little things you do.”

Don Juan was gone all morning; he returned in the early afternoon with a bundle of dry plants. He signaled me with his head to help him and we worked in complete silence for hours, sorting the plants. When we finished we sat down to rest and he smiled at me benevolently.

I said to him in a very serious manner that I had been reading my notes and I still could not understand what being a warrior entailed or what the idea of will meant.

“Will is not an idea,” he said.
This was the first time he had spoken to me the whole day.
After a long pause he continued:
“We are different, you and I. Our characters are not alike. Your nature is more violent than mine. When I was

your age I was not violent but mean; you are the opposite. My benefactor was like that; he would have been perfectly suited to be your teacher. He was a great sorcerer but he did not see; not the way I see or the way Genaro sees. I understand the world and live guided by my seeing. My benefactor, on the other hand, had to live as a warrior. If a man sees he doesn’t have to live like a warrior, or like anything else, for he can see things as they really are and direct his life accordingly. But, considering your character, I would say that you may never learn to see, in which case you will have to live your entire life like a warrior.

My benefactor said that when a man embarks on the paths of sorcery he becomes aware, in a gradual manner, that ordinary life has been forever left behind; that knowledge is indeed a frightening affair; that the means of the ordinary world are no longer a buffer for him; and that he must adopt a new way of life if he is going to survive. The first thing he ought to do, at that point, is to want to become a warrior, a very important step and decision. The frightening nature of knowledge leaves one no alternative but to become a warrior.

“By the time knowledge becomes a frightening affair the man also realizes that death is the irreplaceable partner that sits next to him on the mat. Every bit of knowledge that becomes power has death as its central force. Death lends the ultimate touch, and whatever is touched by death indeed becomes power.

“A man who follows the paths of sorcery is confronted with imminent annihilation every turn of the way, and unavoidably he becomes keenly aware of his death. Without the awareness of death he would be only an ordinary man involved in ordinary acts. He would lack the necessary potency, the necessary concentration that transforms one’s ordinary time on earth into magical power.

“Thus to be a warrior a man has to be, first of all, and rightfully so, keenly aware of his own death. But to be 77

concerned with death would force any one of us to focus on the self and that would be debilitating. So the next thing one needs to be a warrior is detachment. The idea of imminent death, instead of becoming an obsession, be- comes an indifference.”

Don Juan stopped talking and looked at me. He seemed to be waiting for a comment.
“Do you understand?” he asked.
I understood what he had said but I personally could not see how anyone could arrive at a sense of

detachment. I said that from the point of view of my own apprenticeship I had already experienced the moment when knowledge became such a frightening affair. I could also truthfully say that I no longer found support in the ordinary premises of my daily life. And I wanted, or perhaps even more than wanted, I needed, to live like a warrior.

“Now you must detach yourself,” he said.
“From what?”
“Detach yourself from everything.”
“That’s impossible. I don’t want to be a hermit.”
“To be a hermit is an indulgence and I never meant that. A hermit is not detached, for he willfully abandons

himself to being a hermit.
“Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he is incapable of abandoning himself to any-

thing. Only the idea of death makes a man sufficiently detached so he can’t deny himself anything. A man of that sort, however, does not crave, for he has acquired a silent lust for life and for all things of life. He knows his death is stalking him and won’t give him time to cling to anything, so he tries, without craving, all of everything.

“A detached man, who knows he has no possibility of fencing off his death, has only one thing to back himself with: the power of his decisions. He has to be, so to speak, the master of his choices. He must fully understand that his choice is his responsibility and once he makes it there is no longer time for regrets or recriminations. His decisions are final, simply because his death does not permit him time to cling to anything.

“And thus with an awareness of his death, with his detachment, and with the power of his decisions a warrior sets his life in a strategical manner. The knowledge of his death guides him and makes him detached and silently lusty; the power of his final decisions makes him able to choose without regrets and what he chooses is always strategically the best; and so he performs everything he has to with gusto and lusty efficiency.

“When a man behaves in such a manner one may rightfully say that he is a warrior and has acquired patience!”

Don Juan asked me if I had anything to say, and I remarked that the task he had described would take a life- time. He said I protested too much in front of him and that he knew I behaved, or at least tried to behave, in terms of a warrior in my day-to-day life.

“You have pretty good claws,” he said, laughing. “Show them to me from time to time. It’s good practice.” I made a gesture of claws and growled, and he laughed. Then he cleared his throat and went on talking. “When a warrior has acquired patience he is on his way to will. He knows how to wait. His death sits with

him on his mat, they are friends. His death advises him, in mysterious ways, how to choose, how to live strategically. And the warrior waits! I would say that the warrior learns without any hurry because he knows he is waiting for his will; and one day he succeeds in performing something ordinarily quite impossible to accomplish. He may not even notice his extraordinary deed. But as he keeps on performing impossible acts, or as impossible things keep on happening to him, he becomes aware that a sort of power is emerging. A power that conies out of his body as he progresses on the path of knowledge. At first it is like an itching on the belly, or a warm spot that cannot be soothed; then it becomes a pain, a great discomfort. Sometimes the pain and discomfort are so great that the warrior has convulsions for months, the more severe the convulsions the better for him. A fine power is always heralded by great pain.

“When the convulsions cease the warrior notices he has strange feelings about things. He notices that he can actually touch anything he wants with a feeling that comes out of his body from a spot right below or right above his navel. That feeling is the will, and when he is capable of grabbing with it, one can rightfully say that the


warrior is a sorcerer, and that he has acquired will.”
Don Juan stopped talking and seemed to await my comments or questions. I had nothing to say. I was deeply

concerned with the idea that a sorcerer had to experience pain and convulsions but I felt embarrassed about asking him if I also had to go through that. Finally, after a long silence, I asked him, and he giggled as if he had been anticipating my question. He said that pain was not absolutely necessary; he, for example, had never had it and will had just happened to him.

“One day I was in the mountains,” he said, “and I stumbled upon a puma, a female one; she was big and hungry. I ran and she ran after me. I climbed a rock and she stood a few feet away ready to jump. I threw rocks at her. She growled and began to charge me. It was then that my will fully came out, and I stopped her with it before she jumped on me.

“I caressed her with my will. I actually rubbed her tits with it. She looked at me with sleepy eyes and lay down and I ran like a son of a bitch before she got over it.”

Don Juan made a very comical gesture to portray a man running for dear life, holding onto his hat.

I told him that I hated to think I had only female mountain lions or convulsions to look forward to, if I wanted will.

“My benefactor was a sorcerer of great powers,” he went on. “He was a warrior through and through. His will was indeed his most magnificent accomplishment. But a man can go still further than that; a man can learn to
see. Upon learning to see he no longer needs to live like a warrior, nor be a sorcerer. Upon learning to see a man becomes everything by becoming nothing. He, so to speak, vanishes and yet he’s there. I would say that this is the time when a man can be or can get anything he desires. But he desires nothing, and instead of playing with his fellow men like they were toys, he meets them in the midst of their folly. The only difference between them is that a man who sees controls his folly, while his fellow men can’t. A man who sees has no longer an active interest in his fellow men. Seeing has already detached him from absolutely everything he knew before.”

“The sole idea of being detached from everything I know gives me the chills,” I said.

“You must be joking! The thing which should give you the chills is not to have anything to look forward to but a lifetime of doing that which you have always done. Think of the man who plants corn year after year until he’s too old and tired to get up, so he lies around like an old dog. His thoughts and feelings, the best of him, ramble aimlessly to the only things he has ever done, to plant corn. For me that is the most frightening waste there is.

“We are men and our lot is to learn and to be hurled into inconceivable new worlds.”
“Are there any new worlds for us really?” I asked half in jest.
“We have exhausted nothing, you fool,” he said imperatively.
“Seeing is for impeccable men. Temper your spirit now, become a warrior, learn to see, and then you’ll know

that there is no end to the new worlds for our vision.”



Don Juan did not make me leave after I had run his errands, as he had been doing lately. He said I could stay, and the next day, June 28, 1969, just before noon he told me I was going to smoke again.

“Am I going to try to see the guardian again?”
“No, that’s out. This is something else.”
Don Juan calmly filled his pipe with smoking mixture, lighted it, and handed it to me. I experienced no

apprehension, A pleasant drowsiness enveloped me right away. When I had finished smoking the whole bowl of mixture, don Juan put his pipe away and helped me stand up. We had been sitting facing each other on two straw mats he had placed in the center of his room. He said that we were going for a short walk and encouraged me to walk, shoving me gently. I took a step and my legs sagged. I did not feel any pain when my knees hit the ground. Don Juan held my arm and pushed me up on my feet again.

“You have to walk,” he said, “the same way you got up the other time. You must use your will.”

I seemed to be stuck to the ground. I attempted a step with my right foot and almost lost my balance. Don Juan held my right arm at the armpit and gently catapulted me forward, but my legs did not support me and I would have collapsed on my face had don Juan not caught my arm and buffered my fall. He held me by the right armpit and made me lean on him. I could not feel anything but I was certain that my head was resting on his shoulder; I was seeing the room from a slanted perspective. He dragged me in that position around the porch. We circled it twice in a most painful fashion; finally, I suppose, my weight became so great that he had to drop me on the ground. I knew he could not move me. In a certain way it was as if part of myself deliberately wanted to become lead-heavy. Don Juan did not make any effort to pick me up. He looked at me for an instant; I was lying on my back facing him, I tried to smile at him and he began to laugh; then he bent over and slapped me on the belly. I had a most peculiar sensation. It was not painful or pleasurable or anything I could think of. It was rather a jolt. Don Juan immediately began to roll me around. I did not feel anything; I assumed he was rolling me around because my view of the porch changed in accordance with a circular motion. When don Juan had me in the position he wanted he stepped back.

“Stand up!” he ordered me imperatively. “Stand up the way you did it the other day. Don’t piddle around. You know how to get up. Now get up!”

I intently tried to recollect the actions I had performed on that occasion, but I could not think clearly; it was as if my thoughts had a will of their own no matter how hard I tried to control them. Finally the thought occurred to me that if I said “up” as I had done before I would certainly get up. I said, “Up,” loud and clear but nothing happened.

Don Juan looked at me with obvious displeasure and then walked around me toward the door. I was lying on my left side and had a full view of the area in front of his house; my back was to the door, so when he walked around me I immediately assumed he had gone inside.

“Don Juan!” I called loudly, but he did not answer.

I had an overpowering feeling of impotence and despair. I wanted to get up. I said, “Up,” again and again, as if that were the magic word that would make me move. Nothing happened. I had an attack of frustration and I went through a sort of tantrum. I wanted to beat my head against the floor and weep. I spent excruciating moments in which I wanted to move or talk and I could not do either. I was truly immobile, paralyzed.

“Don Juan, help me!” I finally managed to bellow.

Don Juan came back and sat in front of me, laughing. He said that I was getting hysterical and that whatever I was experiencing was inconsequential. He lifted my head and, looking straight at me, said that I was having an attack of sham fear. He told me not to fret.

“Your life is getting complicated,” he said. “Get rid of whatever it is that’s causing you to lose your temper. Stay here quietly and rearrange yourself.”

He placed my head on the ground. He stepped over me and all I could perceive was the shuffling of his sandals as he walked away.


My first impulse was to fret again, but I could not gather the energy to work myself into it. Instead, I found myself slipping into a rare state of serenity; a great feeling of ease enveloped me. I knew what the complexity of my life was. It was my little boy. I wanted to be his father more than anything else on this earth. I liked the idea of molding his character and taking him hiking and teaching him “how to live,” and yet I abhorred the idea of coercing him into my way of life, but that was precisely what I would have to do, coerce him with force or with that artful set of arguments and rewards we call understanding.

“I must let him go,” I thought. “I must not cling to him. I must set him free.”

My thoughts brought on a terrifying feeling of melancholy. I began to weep. My eyes filled with tears and my view of the porch blurred. Suddenly I had a great urge to get up and look for don Juan to explain to him about my little boy; and the next thing I knew, I was looking at the porch from an upright position. I turned around to face the house and found don Juan standing in front of me. Apparently he had been standing there behind me all the time.

Although I could not feel my steps, I must have walked toward him, because I moved. Don Juan came to me smiling and held me up by the armpits. His face was very close to mine.

“Good, good work,” he said reassuringly.

At that instant I became aware that something extraordinary was taking place right there. I had the feeling at first that I was only recollecting an event that had taken place years before. At one time in the past I had seen don Juan’s face at very close range; I had smoked his mixture and I had had the feeling then that don Juan’s face was submerged in a tank of water. It was enormous and it was luminous and it moved. The image had been so brief that I did not have time to really take stock of it. This time, however, don Juan was holding me and his face was no more than a foot away from mine and I had time to examine it. When I stood up and turned around I definitely saw don Juan; “the don Juan I know” definitely walked toward me and held me. But when I focused my eyes on his face I did not see don Juan as I am accustomed to seeing him; instead, I saw a large object in front of my eyes. I knew it was don Juan’s face, yet that knowledge was not guided by my perception; it was, rather, a logical conclusion on my part; after all, my memory confirmed that the instant before, “the don Juan I know” was hold- ing me by the armpits. Therefore the strange, luminous object in front of me had to be don Juan’s face; there was a familiarity to it; yet it had no resemblance to what I would call don Juan’s “real” face. What I was looking at was a round object which had a luminosity of its own. Every part in it moved. I perceived a contained, undulatory, rhythmical flow; it was as if the flowing was enclosed within itself, never moving beyond its limits, and yet the object in front of my eyes was oozing with movement at any place on its surface. The thought that occurred to me was that it oozed life. In fact it was so alive that I became engrossed looking at its movement. It was a mesmerizing fluttering. It became more and more engrossing, until I could no longer tell what the phenomenon in front of my eyes was.

I experienced a sudden jolt; the luminous object became blurry, as if something were shaking it, and then it lost its glow and became solid and fleshy. I was then looking at don Juan’s familiar dark face. He was smiling placidly. The view of his “real” face lasted an instant and then the face again acquired a glow, a shine, an iridescence. It was not light as I am accustomed to perceiving light, or even a glow; rather it was movement, an incredibly fast flickering of something. The glowing object began to bobble up and down again and that disrupted its undulatory continuity. Its shine diminished as it shook, until it again became the “solid” face of don Juan, as I see him in everyday life. At that moment I vaguely realized that don Juan was shaking me. He was also speaking to me. I did not understand what he was saying, but as he kept on shaking me I finally heard him.

“Don’t stare at me. Don’t stare at me,” he kept saying. “Break your gaze. Break your gaze. Move your eyes away.”

Shaking my body seemed to force me to dislodge my steady gaze; apparently when I did not peer intently into don Juan’s face I did not see the luminous object. When I moved my eyes away from his face and looked at it with the corner of my eye, so to speak, I could perceive his solidity; that is to say, I could perceive a three- dimensional person; without really looking at him I could, in fact, perceive his whole body, but when I focused my gaze, the face became at once the luminous object.


“Don’t look at me at all,” don Juan said gravely.
I moved my eyes away and looked at the ground.
“Don’t fix your gaze on anything,” don Juan said imperatively, and stepped aside in order to help me walk. I did not feel my steps and could not figure out how I performed the act of walking, yet with don Juan

holding me by the armpit, we moved all the way to the back of his house. We stopped by the irrigation ditch. “Now gaze at the water,” don Juan ordered me.
I looked at the water but I could not gaze at it. Somehow the movement of the current distracted me, Don

Juan kept on urging me in a joking manner to exercise my “gazing powers,” but I could not concentrate. I gazed at don Juan’s face once again but the glow did not become apparent any more.

I began to experience a strange itching on my body, the sensation of a limb that has fallen asleep; the muscles of my legs began to twitch. Don Juan shoved me into the water and I tumbled down all the way to the bottom. He had apparently held my right hand as he pushed me, and when I hit the shallow bottom he pulled me up again.

It took a long time for me to regain control over myself. When we got back to his house hours later, I asked him to explain my experience. As I put on my dry clothes I excitedly described what I had perceived, but he discarded my entire account, saying that there was nothing of importance in it.

“Big deal!” he said, mocking me. “You saw a glow, big deal.”
I insisted on an explanation and he got up and said he had to leave. It was almost five in the afternoon.
The next day I insisted again on discussing my peculiar experience.
“Was it seeing, don Juan?” I asked.
He remained quiet, smiling mysteriously, as I kept pressing him to answer me.
“Let’s say that seeing is somewhat like that,” he finally said. “You were gazing at my face and saw it shining,

but it was still my face. It just happens that the little smoke makes one gaze like that. Nothing to it.”
“But in what way would seeing be different?”
“When you see there are no longer familiar features in the world. Everything is new. Everything has never

happened before. The world is incredible!”
“Why do you say incredible, don Juan? What makes it incredible?”
“Nothing is any longer familiar. Everything you gaze at becomes nothing! Yesterday you didn’t see. You

gazed at my face and, since you like me, you noticed my glow. I was not monstrous, like the guardian, but beautiful and interesting. But you did not see me. I didn’t become nothing in front of you. And yet you did well. You took the first real step toward seeing. The only drawback was that you focused on me, and in that case I’m no better than the guardian for you. You succumbed in both instances and didn’t see.”

“Do things disappear? How do they become nothing?”

“Things don’t disappear. They don’t vanish, if that’s what you mean; they simply become nothing and yet they are still there.”

“How can that be possible, don Juan?”

“You have the damnedest insistence on talking!” don Juan exclaimed with a serious face. “I think we didn’t hit it right about your promise. Perhaps what you really promised was to never, ever stop talking.”

Don Juan’s tone was severe. The look in his face was concerned. I wanted to laugh but I did not dare. I believed that don Juan was serious, but he was not. He began to laugh. I told him that if I did not talk I got very nervous.

“Let’s walk, then,” he said.

He took me to the mouth of a canyon at the bottom of the hills. It was about an hour’s walk. We rested for a short while and then he guided me through the thick desert underbrush to a water hole; that is, to a spot he said was a water hole. It was as dry as any other spot in the surrounding area.

“Sit in the middle of the water hole,” he ordered me.
I obeyed and sat down.
“Are you going to sit here too?” I asked.
I saw him fixing a place to sit some twenty yards from the center of the water hole, against the rocks on the


side of the mountain.
He said he was going to watch me from there. I was sitting with my knees against my chest. He corrected my

position and told me to sit with my left leg tucked under my seat and my right one bent, with the knee in an upward position. My right arm had to be by my side with my fist resting on the ground, while my left arm was crossed over my chest. He told me to face him and stay there, relaxed but not “abandoned.” He then took a sort of whitish cord from his pouch. It looked like a big loop. He looped it around his neck and stretched it with his left hand until it was taut. He plucked the tight string with his right hand. It made a dull, vibratory sound.

He relaxed his grip and looked at me and told me that I had to yell a specific word if I began to feel that something was coming at me when he plucked the string.

I asked what was supposed to come at me and he told me to shut up. He signaled me with his hand that he was going to commence. He said that if something came at me in a very menacing way I had to adopt a fighting form that he had taught me years before, which consisted of dancing, beating the ground with the tip of the left foot, while I slapped my right thigh vigorously. The fighting form was part of a defense technique used in cases of extreme distress and danger.

I had a moment of genuine apprehension. I wanted to inquire about the reason for our being there, but he did not give me time and began plucking the string. He did it various times at regular intervals of perhaps twenty seconds. I noticed that as he kept plucking the string he augmented the tension. I could clearly see that his arms and neck were shivering under the stress. The sound became more clear and I realized then that he added a peculiar yell every time he plucked the string. The combined sound of the tense string and the human voice produced a weird, unearthly reverberation.

I did not feel anything coming at me, but the sight of don Juan’s exertion and the eerie sound he was producing had me almost in a state of trance.

Don Juan relaxed his grip and looked at me. While he played, his back was turned to me and he was facing the southeast, as I was; when he relaxed, he faced me.

“Don’t look at me when I play,” he said. “Don’t close your eyes, though. Not for anything. Look at the ground in front of you and listen.”

He tensed the string again and began playing. I looked at the ground and concentrated on the sound he was making. I had never heard the sound before in my life.

I became very frightened. The eerie reverberation filled the narrow canyon and began to echo. In fact the sound don Juan was making was coming back to me as an echo from all around the canyon walls. Don Juan must have also noticed that and increased the tension of his string. Although don Juan had changed the pitch, the echo seemed to subside, and then it seemed to concentrate on one point, toward the southeast.

Don Juan reduced the tension of the string by degrees, until I heard a final dull twang. He put the string inside his pouch and walked toward me. He helped me stand up. I noticed then that the muscles of my arms and legs were stiff, like rocks; I was literally soaked in perspiration. I had no idea I had been perspiring so heavily. Drops of sweat ran into my eyes and made them burn.

Don Juan practically dragged me out of the place. I tried to say something but he put his hand over my mouth.

Instead of leaving the canyon the way we had come in, don Juan made a detour. We climbed the side of the mountain and ended up in some hills very far from the mouth of the canyon.

We walked in dead silence to his house. It was already dark by the time we got there. I tried to talk again but don Juan put his hand on my mouth once more.

We did not eat and did not light the kerosene lantern. Don Juan put my mat in his room and pointed at it with his chin. I understood it as a gesture that I should lie down and go to sleep.

“I have the proper thing for you to do,” don Juan said to me as soon as I woke up the next morning. “You will start it today. There isn’t much time, you know.”

After a very long, uneasy pause I felt compelled to ask him, “What did you have me doing in the canyon yesterday?”


Don Juan giggled like a child.

“I just tapped the spirit of that water hole,” he said. “That type of spirit should be tapped when the water hole is dry, when the spirit has retreated into the mountains. Yesterday I, let us say, woke him up from his slumber. But he didn’t mind it and pointed to your lucky direction. His voice came from that direction.”

Don Juan pointed toward the southeast.
“What was the string you played, don Juan?”
“A spirit catcher.”
“Can I look at it?”
“No. But I’ll make you one. Or better yet, you will make one for yourself some day, when you learn to see” “What is it made of, don Juan?”
“Mine is a wild boar. When you get one you will realize that it is alive and can teach you the different sounds

it likes. With practice you will get to know your spirit catcher so well that together you will make sounds full of power.”

“Why did you take me to look for the spirit of the water hole, don Juan?”
“You will know that very soon.”
Around 11:30 A.M. we sat under his ramada, where he prepared his pipe for me to smoke.
He told me to stand up when my body was quite numb; I did that with great ease. He helped me walk around,

I was surprised at my control; I actually walked twice around the ramada by myself. Don Juan stayed by my side but did not guide me or support me. Then he took me by the arm and walked me to the irrigation ditch. He made me sit on the edge of the bank and ordered me imperatively to gaze at the water and think of nothing else.

I tried to focus my gaze on the water but its movement distracted me. My mind and my eyes began to wander onto other features of the immediate surroundings. Don Juan bobbed my head up and down and ordered me again to gaze only at the water and not think at all. He said it was difficult to stare at the moving water and that one had to keep on trying. I tried three times and every time I became distracted by something else. Don Juan very pa- tiently shook my head every time. Finally I noticed that my mind and my eyes were focusing on the water; in spite of its movement. I was becoming immersed in my view of its liquidness. The water became slightly different. It seemed to be heavier and uniformly grayish green. I could notice the ripples it made as it moved. The ripples were extremely sharp. And then, suddenly, I had the sensation that I was not looking at a mass of moving water but at a picture of water; what I had in front of my eyes was a frozen segment of the running water. The ripples were immobile. I could look at every one of them. Then they began to acquire a green phosphorescence and a sort of green fog oozed out of them. The fog expanded in ripples and as it moved, its greenness became more brilliant until it was a dazzling radiance that covered everything.

I don’t know how long I stayed by the irrigation ditch. Don Juan did not interrupt me. I was immersed in the green glow of the fog. I could sense it all around me. It soothed me. I had no thoughts, no feelings. All I had was a quiet awareness, the awareness of a brilliant, soothing greenness.

Being extremely cold and damp was the next thing I became aware of. Gradually I realized that I was submerged in the irrigation ditch. At one moment the water slipped inside my nose, and I swallowed it and it made me cough. I had an annoying itch inside my nose and I sneezed repeatedly. I stood up and had such a forceful and loud sneeze that I also farted. Don Juan clapped his hands and laughed.

“If a body farts, it’s alive,” he said.
He signaled me to follow him and we walked to his house.
I thought of keeping quiet. In a way, I expected to be in a detached and morose mood, but I really did not feel

tired or melancholy. I felt rather buoyant and changed my clothes very rapidly. I began to whistle. Don Juan looked at me curiously and pretended to be surprised; he opened his mouth and his eyes. His gesture was very funny and I laughed quite a bit longer than it called for.

“You’re cracking up,” he said, and laughed very hard himself.

I explained to him that I did not want to fall into the habit of feeling morose after using his smoking mixture. I told him that after he had taken me out of the irrigation ditch, during my attempts to meet the guardian, I had


become convinced that I could “see” if I stared at things around me long enough.
“Seeing is not a matter of looking and keeping quiet,” he said. “Seeing is a technique one has to learn. Or

maybe it is a technique some of us already know.”
He peered at me as if to insinuate that I was one of those who already knew the technique.
“Are you strong enough to walk?” he asked.
I said I felt fine, which I did. I was not hungry, although I had not eaten all day. Don Juan put some bread

and some pieces of dry meat in a knapsack, handed it to me, and gestured with his head for me to follow. “Where are we going?” I asked.
He pointed toward the hills with a slight movement of his head. We headed for the same canyon where the

water hole was, but we did not enter it. Don Juan climbed onto the rocks to our right, at the very mouth of the canyon. We went up the hill. The sun was almost on the horizon. It was a mild day but I felt hot and suffocated. I could hardly breathe.

Don Juan was quite a way ahead of me and had to stop to let me catch up with him. He said I was in terrible physical condition and that it was perhaps not wise to go any further. He let me rest for about an hour. He selected a slick, almost round boulder and told me to lie there. He arranged my body on the rock. He told me to stretch my arms and legs and let them hang loose. My back was slightly arched and my neck relaxed, so that my head also hung loose. He made me stay in that position for perhaps fifteen minutes. Then he told me to uncover my abdominal region. He carefully selected some branches and leaves and heaped them over my naked belly. I felt an instantaneous warmth all over my body. Don Juan then took me by the feet and turned me until my head was toward the southeast.

“Now let us call that spirit of the water hole,” he said.

I tried to turn my head to look at him. He held me vigorously by the hair and said that I was in a very vulner- able position and in a terribly weak physical state and had to remain quiet and motionless. He had put all those special branches on my belly to protect me and was going to remain next to me in case I could not take care of myself.

He was standing next to the top of my head, and if I rolled my eyes I could see him. He took his string and tensed it and then realized I was looking at him by rolling my eyes way into my forehead. He gave me a snappy tap on the head with his knuckles and ordered me to look at the sky, not to close my eyes, and to concentrate on the sound. He added, as if on second thought, that I should not hesitate to yell the word he had taught me if I felt something was coming at me.

Don Juan and his “spirit catcher” began with a low-tension twang. He slowly increased the tension, and I began to hear a sort of reverberation first, and then a definite echo which came consistently from a southeasterly direction. The tension increased. Don Juan and his “spirit catcher” were perfectly matched. The string produced a low-range note and don Juan magnified it, increasing its intensity until it was a penetrating cry, a howling call. The apex was an eerie shriek, inconceivable from the point of view of my own experience.

The sound reverberated in the mountains and echoed back to us. I fancied it was coming directly toward me. I felt it had something to do with the temperature of my body. Before don Juan started his calls I had been very warm and comfortable, but during the highest point of his calls I became chilled; my teeth chattered uncontrollably and I truly had the sensation that something was coming at me. At one point I noticed that the sky had become very dark. I had not been aware of the sky although I was looking at it. I had a moment of intense panic and I yelled the word don Juan had taught me.

Don Juan immediately began to decrease the tension of his eerie calls, but that did not bring me any relief. “Cover your ears,” don Juan mumbled imperatively.
I covered them with my hands.
After some minutes don Juan stopped altogether and came around to my side. After he had taken the

branches and leaves off my belly, he helped me up and carefully put them on the rock where I had been lying. He made a fire with them, and while it burned he rubbed my stomach with other leaves from his pouch.

He put his hand on my mouth when I was about to tell him that I had a terrible headache. 85

We stayed there until all the leaves had burned. It was fairly dark by then. We walked down the hill and I got sick to my stomach.

While we were walking along the irrigation ditch, don Juan said that I had done enough and I should not stay around. I asked him to explain what the spirit of the water hole was, but he gestured me to be quiet. He said that we would talk about it some other time, then he deliberately changed the subject and gave me a long explanation about “seeing.” I said it was regrettable that I could not write in the darkness. He seemed very pleased and said that most of the time I did not pay attention to what he had to say because I was so determined to write everything down.

He spoke about “seeing” as a process independent of the allies and the techniques of sorcery. A sorcerer was a person who could command an ally and could thus manipulate an ally’s power to his advantage, but the fact that he commanded an ally did not mean that he could “see.” I reminded him that he had told me before that it was impossible to “see” unless one had an ally. Don Juan very calmly replied that he had come to the conclusion it was possible to “see” and yet not command an ally. He felt there was no reason why not, since “seeing” had nothing to do with the manipulatory techniques of sorcery, which served only to act upon our fellow men. The techniques of “seeing,” on the other hand, had no effect on men.

My thoughts were very clear. I experienced no fatigue or drowsiness and no longer had an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, as I walked with don Juan. I was terribly hungry, and when we got to his house I gorged myself with food.

Afterwards I asked him to tell me more about the techniques of “seeing.” He smiled broadly at me and said that I was again myself.

“How is it,” I said, “that the techniques of seeing have no effect on our fellow men?”

“I’ve told you already,” he said. “Seeing is not sorcery. Yet one may easily confuse them, because a man who sees can learn, in no time at all, to manipulate an ally and may become a sorcerer. On the other hand, a man may learn certain techniques in order to command an ally and thus become a sorcerer, and yet he may never learn to see.

“Besides, seeing is contrary to sorcery. Seeing makes one realize the unimportance of it all.”
“The unimportance of what, don Juan?”
“The unimportance of everything.”
We did not say anything else. I felt very relaxed and did not want to speak any more. I was lying on my back

on a straw mat. I had made a pillow with my windbreaker. I felt comfortable and happy and wrote my notes for hours in the light of the kerosene lantern. Suddenly don Juan spoke again.

“Today you did very well,” he said. “You did very well at the water. The spirit of the water hole likes you and helped you all the way.”

I realized then that I had forgotten to recount my experience to him. I began to describe the way I had per- ceived the water. He did not let me continue. He said that he knew I had perceived a green fog.

I felt compelled to ask,
“How did you know that, don Juan?”
“I saw you.”
“What did I do?”
“Nothing, you sat there and gazed into the water and finally you perceived the green mist.”
“Was it seeing?”
“No. But it was very close. You’re getting close.”
I got very excited. I wanted to know more about it. He laughed and made fun of my eagerness. He said that

anyone could perceive the green fog because it was like the guardian, something that was unavoidably there, so there was no great accomplishment in perceiving it.

“When I said you did well, I meant that you did not fret,” he said, “as you did with the guardian. If you had become restless I would have had to shake your head and bring you back. Whenever a man goes into the green fog his benefactor has to stay by him in case it begins to trap him. You can jump out of the guardian’s reach by


yourself, but you can’t escape the clutches of the green fog by yourself. At least not at the beginning. Later on you may learn a way to do it. Now we’re trying to find out something else.”

“What are we trying to find out?”
“Whether you can see the water.”
“How will I know that I have seen it, or that I am seeing it?” “You will know. You get confused only when you talk.”



Working on my notes I had come across various questions.

“Is the green fog, like the guardian, something that one has to overcome in order to see?” I asked don Juan as soon as we sat down under his ramada on August 8, 1969.

“Yes. One must overcome everything,” he said.
“How can I overcome the green fog?”
“The same way you should have overcome the guardian, by letting it turn into nothing.”
“What should I do?”
“Nothing. For you, the green fog is something much easier than the guardian. The spirit of the water hole

likes you, while it certainly was not your temperament to deal with the guardian. You never really saw the guardian.”

“Maybe that was because I didn’t like it. What if I were to meet a guardian I liked? There must be some people who would regard the guardian I saw as being beautiful. Would they overcome it because they liked it?”

“No! You still don’t understand. It doesn’t matter whether you like or dislike the guardian. As long as you have a feeling toward it, the guardian will remain the same, monstrous, beautiful, or whatever. If you have no feeling toward it, on the other hand, the guardian will become nothing and will still be there in front of you.”

The idea that something as colossal as the guardian could become nothing and still be in front of my eyes made absolutely no sense. I felt it was one of the alogical premises of don Juan’s knowledge. However, I also felt that if he wanted to he could explain it to me. I insisted on asking him what he meant by that.

“You thought the guardian was something you knew, that’s what I mean.”
“But I didn’t think it was something I knew.”
“You thought it was ugly. Its size was awesome. It was a monster. You know what all those things are. So

the guardian was always something you knew, and as long as it was something you knew you did not see it. I have told you already, the guardian had to become nothing and yet it had to stand in front of you. It had to be there and it had, at the same time, to be nothing.”

“How could that be, don Juan? What you say is absurd.”
“It is. But that is seeing. There is really no way to talk about it. Seeing, as I said before, is learned by seeing. “Apparently you have no problem with water. You nearly saw it the other day. Water is your ‘hinge.’ All you

need now is to perfect your technique of seeing. You have a powerful helper in the spirit of the water hole.” “That’s another burning question I have, don Juan.”
“You may have all the burning questions you want, but we cannot talk about the spirit of the water hole in

this vicinity. In fact, it is better not to think about it at all. Not at all. Otherwise the spirit will trap you and if that happens there is nothing a living man can do to help you. So keep your mouth shut and keep your thoughts on something else.”

Around ten o’clock the next morning don Juan took his pipe out of its sheath, filled it with smoking mixture, then handed it to me and told me to carry it to the bank of the stream. Holding the pipe with both hands, I managed to unbutton my shirt and put the pipe inside and hold it tight. Don Juan carried two straw mats and a small tray with coals. It was a warm day. We sat on the mats in the shade of a small grove of brea trees at the very edge of the water. Don Juan placed a charcoal inside the pipe bowl and told me to smoke. I did not have any apprehension or any feeling of elation. I remembered that during my second attempt to “see” the guardian, after don Juan had explained its nature, I had had a unique sensation of wonder and awe. This time, however, although don Juan had made me cognizant of the possibility of actually “seeing” the water, I was not involved emotionally; I was only curious.

Don Juan made me smoke twice the amount I had smoked during previous attempts. At a given moment he leaned over and whispered in my right ear that he was going to teach me how to use the water in order to move. I felt his face very close, as if he had put his mouth next to my ear. He told me not to gaze into the water, but to focus my eyes on the surface and keep them fixed until the water turned into a green fog. He repeated over and


over that I had to put all my attention on the fog until I could not detect anything else.
“Look at the water in front of you,” I heard him saying, “but don’t let its sound carry you anywhere. If you let

the sound of the water carry you I may never be able to find you and bring you back. Now get into the green fog and listen to my voice.”

I heard and understood him with extraordinary clarity. I began looking at the water fixedly, and had a very peculiar sensation of physical pleasure; an itch; an undefined happiness. I stared for a long time but did not detect the green fog. I felt that my eyes were getting out of focus and I had to struggle to keep looking at the water; finally I could not control my eyes any longer and I must have closed them, or blinked, or perhaps I just lost my capacity to focus; at any rate, at that very moment the water became fixed; it ceased to move. It seemed to be a painting. The ripples were immobile. Then the water began to fizzle; it was as if it had carbonated particles that exploded at once. For an instant I saw the fizzling as a slow expansion of green matter. It was a silent explosion; the water burst into a brilliant green mist, which expanded until it had enveloped me.

I remained suspended in it until a very sharp, sustained, shrill noise shook everything; the fog seemed to congeal into the usual features of the water surface. The shrill noise was don Juan yelling, “Heyyyy!” close to my ear. He told me to pay attention to his voice and go back into the fog and wait there until he called me. I said, “O.K.,” in English and heard the cackling noise of his laughter.

“Please, don’t talk,” he said. “Don’t give me any more O.K.s.”

I could hear him very well. The sound of his voice was melodious and above all friendly. I knew that without thinking; it was a conviction that struck me and then passed.

Don Juan’s voice ordered me to focus all my attention on the fog but not abandon myself to it. He said repeatedly that a warrior did not abandon himself to anything, not even to his death. I became immersed in the mist again and noticed that it was not fog at all, or at least it was not what I conceive fog to be like. The foglike phenomenon was composed of tiny bubbles, round objects that came into my field of “vision” and moved out of it with a floating quality. I watched their movement for a while, then a loud, distant noise jolted my attention and I lost my capacity to focus and could no longer perceive the tiny bubbles. All I was aware of then was a green, amorphous, foglike glow. I heard the loud noise again and the jolt it gave dispelled the fog at once and I found myself looking at the water of the irrigation ditch. Then I heard it again much closer; it was don Juan’s voice. He was telling me to pay attention to him, because his voice was my only guide. He ordered me to look at the bank of the stream and at the vegetation directly in front of me. I saw some reeds and a space which was clear of reeds. It was a small cove on the bank, a place where don Juan steps across to plunge his bucket and fill it with water. After a few moments don Juan ordered me to return to the fog and asked me again to pay attention to his voice, because he was going to guide me so I could learn how to move; he said that once I saw the bubbles I should board one of them and let it carry me.

I obeyed him and was at once surrounded by the green mist, and then I saw the tiny bubbles. I heard don Juan’s voice again as a very strange and frightening rumble. Immediately upon hearing it I began losing my capacity to perceive the bubbles.

“Mount one of those bubbles,” I heard him saying.

I struggled to maintain my perception of the green bubbles and still hear his voice. I don’t know how long I fought to do that, when suddenly I was aware that I could listen to him and still keep sight of the bubbles, which kept on passing through, floating slowly out of my field of perception. Don Juan’s voice kept on urging me to follow one of them and mount it.

I wondered how I was supposed to do that and automatically I voiced the word, “How.” I felt that the word was very deep inside me and as it came out it carried me to the surface. The word was like a buoy that emerged out of my depth. I heard myself saying, “How,” and I sounded like a dog howling. Don Juan howled back, also like a dog, and then he made some coyote sounds, and laughed. I thought it was very funny and I actually laughed.

Don Juan told me very calmly to let myself become affixed to a bubble by following it. “Go back again,” he said. “Go into the fog! Into the fog!”


I went back and noticed that the movement of the bubbles had slowed down and they had become as large as basketballs. In fact they were so large and slow that I could examine any one of them in great detail. They were not really bubbles, not like a soap bubble, nor like a balloon, nor any spherical container. They were not con- tainers, yet they were contained. Nor were they round, although when I first perceived them I could have sworn they were round and the image that came to my mind was “bubbles.” I viewed them as if I were looking through a window; that is, the frame of the window did not allow me to follow them but only permitted me to view them coming into and going out of my field of perception. When I ceased to view them as bubbles, however, I was capable of following them; in the act of following them I became affixed to one of them and I floated with it. I truly felt I was moving. In fact I was the bubble, or that thing which resembled a bubble.

Then I heard the shrill sound of don Juan’s voice. It jolted me and I lost my feeling of being “it.” The sound was extremely frightening; it was a remote voice, very metallic, as if he were talking through a loud-speaker. I made out some of the words.

“Look at the banks,” he said.
I saw a very large body of water. The water was rushing. I could hear the noise it made. “Look at the banks,” don Juan ordered me again.

I saw a concrete wall. The sound of the water became terribly loud; the sound engulfed me. Then it ceased instantaneously, as if it had been cut off. I had the sensation of blackness, of sleep.

I became aware that I was immersed in the irrigation ditch. Don Juan was splashing water in my face as he hummed. Then he submerged me in the ditch. He pulled my head up, over the surface, and let me rest it on the bank as he held me by the back of my shirt collar. I had a most pleasant sensation in my arms and legs. I stretched them. My eyes were tired and they itched; I lifted my right hand to rub them. It was a difficult movement. My arm seemed to be heavy. I could hardly lift it out of the water, but when I did, my arm came out covered with a most astonishing mass of green mist. I held my arm in front of my eyes. I could see its contour as a darker mass of green surrounded by a most intense greenish glow. I got to my feet in a hurry and stood in the middle of the stream and looked at my body; my chest, arms, and legs were green, deep green. The hue was so intense that it gave me the feeling of a viscous substance. I looked like a figurine don Juan had made for me years before out of a datura root.

Don Juan told me to come out. I noticed an urgency in his voice.
“I’m green,” I said.
“Cut it out,” he said imperatively. “You have no time. Get out of there. The water is about to trap you. Get

out of it! Out! Out!”
I panicked and jumped out.
“This time you must tell me everything that took place,” he said matter-of-factly, as soon as we sat facing

each other inside his room.
He was not interested in the sequence of my experience; he wanted to know only what I had encountered

when he told me to look at the bank. He was interested in details. I described the wall I had seen.
“Was the wall to your left or to your right?” he asked.
I told him that the wall had really been in front of me. But he insisted that it had to be either to the left or to

the right.
“When you first saw it, where was it? Close your eyes and don’t open them until you have remembered.”
He stood up and turned my body while I had my eyes closed until he had me facing east, the same direction I

had faced when I was sitting in front of the stream. He asked me in which direction I had moved.
I said I had moved onward, ahead, in front of me. He insisted that I should remember and concentrate on the

tune when I was still viewing the water as bubbles.
“Which way did they flow?” he asked.
Don Juan urged me to recall, and finally I had to admit that the bubbles had seemed to be moving to my

right. Yet I was not as absolutely sure as he wanted me to be. Under his probing I began to realize that I was incapable of classifying my perception. The bubbles had moved to my right when I first viewed them, but when


they became larger they flowed everywhere. Some of them seemed to be coming directly at me, others seemed to go in every possible direction. There were bubbles moving above and below me. In fact they were all around me. I recollected hearing their fizzing; thus I must have perceived them with my ears as well as with my eyes.

When the bubbles became so large that I was able to “mount” one of them, I “saw” them rubbing each other like balloons.

My excitement increased as I recollected the details of my perception. Don Juan, however, was completely uninterested. I told him that I had seen the bubbles fizzing. It was not a purely auditory or purely visual effect, but something undifferentiated, yet crystal clear; the bubbles rasped against each other. I did not see or hear their movement, I felt it; I was part of the sound and the motion.

As I recounted my experience I became deeply moved. I held his arm and shook it in an outburst of great agi- tation. I had realized that the bubbles had no outer limit; nonetheless, they were contained and their edges changed shape and were uneven and jagged. The bubbles merged and separated with great speed, yet their movement was not dazzling. Their movement was fast and at the same time slow.

Another thing I remembered, as I recounted my experience, was the quality of color that the bubbles seemed to possess. They were transparent and very bright and seemed almost green, although it was not a hue, as I am accustomed to perceiving hues.

“You’re stalling,” don Juan said. “Those things are not important. You’re dwelling on the wrong items. The direction is the only important issue.”

I could only remember that I had moved without any point of reference, but don Juan concluded that since the bubbles had flowed consistently to my right—south—at the beginning, the south was the direction with which I had to be concerned. He again urged me imperatively to recollect whether the wall was to my right or my left. I strained to remember.

When don Juan “called me” and I surfaced, so to speak, I think I had the wall to my left. I was very close to it and was able to distinguish the grooves and protuberances of the wooden armature or mold into which the concrete had been poured. Very thin strips of wood had been used and the pattern they had created was compact The wall was very high. One end of it was visible to me, and I noticed that it did not have a corner but curved around.

He sat in silence for a moment, as if he were thinking how to decipher the meaning of my experience; he finally said that I had not accomplished a great deal, that I had fallen short of what he expected me to do.

“What was I supposed to do?”
He did not answer but made a puckering gesture with his lips.
“You did very well,” he said. “Today you learned that a brujo uses the water to move.”
“But did I see?”
He looked at me with a curious expression. He rolled his eyes and said that I had to go into the green mist a

good many times until I could answer that question myself. He changed the direction of our conversation in a subtle way, saying I had not really learned how to move using the water, but I had learned that a brujo could do that, and he had deliberately told me to look at the bank of the stream so I could check my movement.

“You moved very fast,” he said, “as fast as a man who knows how to perform this technique. I had a hard time keeping up with you.”

I begged him to explain what had happened to me from the beginning. He laughed, shaking his head slowly as though in disbelief.

“You always insist on knowing things from the beginning,” he said. “But there’s no beginning; the beginning is only in your thought.”

“I think the beginning was when I sat on the bank and smoked,” I said.

“But before you smoked I had to figure out what to do with you,” he said. “I would have to tell you what I did and I can’t do that, because it would take me to still another point. So perhaps things would be clearer to you if you didn’t think about beginnings.”

“Then tell me what happened after I sat on the bank and smoked” 91

“I think you have told me that already,” he said, laughing.
“Was anything I did of any importance, don Juan?”
He shrugged his shoulders.
“You followed my directions very well and had no problem getting into and out of the fog. Then you listened

to my voice and returned to the surface every time I called you. That was the exercise. The rest was very easy. You simply let the fog carry you. You behaved as though you knew what to do. When you were very far away I called you again and made you look at the bank, so you would know how far you had gone. Then I pulled you back.”

“You mean, don Juan, that I really traveled in the water?” “You did. And very far too.”
“How far?”
“You wouldn’t believe it.”

I tried to coax him into telling me, but he dropped the subject and said he had to leave for a while. I insisted that he should at least give me a hint.

“I don’t like to be kept in the dark,” I said.
“You keep yourself in the dark,” he said.
“Think about the wall you saw. Sit down here on your mat and remember every detail of it. Then perhaps you

yourself may discover how far you went. All I know now is that you traveled very far. I know that because I had a terrible time pulling you back. If I had not been around, you might have wandered off and never returned, in which case all that would be left of you now would be your dead body on the side of the stream. Or perhaps you might have returned by yourself. With you I’m not sure. So judging by the effort it took me to bring you back, I’d say you were clearly in …”

He made a long pause; he stared at me in a friendly way.

“I would go as far as the mountains of central Mexico,” he said. “I don’t know how far you would go, perhaps as far as Los Angeles, or perhaps even as far as Brazil.”

Don Juan returned the next day late in the afternoon.

In the meantime I had written down everything I could recollect about my perception. While I wrote, it occurred to me to follow the banks up and down the stream in each direction and corroborate whether I had actually seen a feature on either side that might have elicited in me the image of a wall. I conjectured that don Juan might have made me walk, in a state of stupor, and then might have made me focus my attention on some wall on the way. In the hours that elapsed between the tune I first detected the fog and the time I got out of the ditch and went back to his house, I calculated that if he had made me walk, we could have walked, at the most, two and a half miles. So I followed the banks of the stream for about three miles in each direction, carefully observing every feature which might have been pertinent to my vision of the wall. The stream was, as far as I could tell, a plain canal used for irrigation. It was four to five feet wide throughout its length and I could not find any visible features in it that would have reminded me or forced the image of a concrete wall.

When don Juan arrived at his house in the late afternoon I accosted him and insisted on reading my account to htm. He refused to listen and made me sit down. He sat facing me. He was not smiling. He seemed to be thinking, judging by the penetrating look in his eyes, which were fixed above the horizon.

“I think you must be aware by now,” he said in a tone that was suddenly very severe, “that everything is mortally dangerous. The water is as deadly as the guardian. If you don’t watch out the water will trap you. It nearly did that yesterday. But in order to be trapped a man has to be willing. There’s your trouble. You’re willing to abandon yourself.”

I did not know what he was talking about. His attack on me had been so sudden that I was disoriented. I feebly asked him to explain himself. He reluctantly mentioned that he had gone to the water canyon and had “seen” the spirit of the water hole and had the profound conviction I had flubbed my chances to “see” the water.

“How?” I asked, truly baffled.
“The spirit is a force,” he said, “and as such, it responds only to strength. You cannot indulge in its presence.”


“When did I indulge?”
“Yesterday, when you became green in the water.”
“I did not indulge. I thought it was a very important moment and I told you what was happening to me.” “Who are you to think or decide what is important? You know nothing about the forces you’re tapping. The

spirit of the water hole exists out there and could have helped you; in fact it was helping you until you flubbed it. Now I don’t know what will be the outcome of your doings. You have succumbed to the force of the water-hole spirit and now it can take you any time.”

“Was it wrong to look at myself turning green?”

“You abandoned yourself. You willed to abandon yourself. That was wrong. I have told you this already and I will repeat it again. You can survive in the world of a brujo only if you are a warrior. A warrior treats every- thing with respect and does not trample on anything unless he has to. You did not treat the water with respect yesterday. Usually you behave very well. However, yesterday you abandoned yourself to your death, like a god- damned fool. A warrior does not abandon himself to anything, not even to his death. A warrior is not a willing partner; a warrior is not available, and if he involves him-self with something, you can be sure that he is aware of what he is doing.”

I did not know what to say. Don Juan was almost angry. That disturbed me. Don Juan had rarely behaved in such a way with me. I told him that I truly had no idea I was doing something wrong. After some minutes of tense silence he took off his hat and smiled and told me that I had gained control over my indulging self. He stressed that I had to avoid water and keep it from touching the surface of my body for three or four months.

“I don’t think I could go without taking a shower,” I said.
Don Juan laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks.
“You can’t go without a shower! At times you’re so weak I think you’re putting me on. But it is not a joke. At

times you really have no control and the forces of your life take you freely.”
I raised the point that it was humanly impossible to be controlled at all times. He maintained that for a

warrior there was nothing out of control, I brought up the idea of accidents and said that what happened to me at the water canal could certainly be classed as an accident, since I neither meant it nor was I aware of my improper behavior. I talked about different people who had misfortunes that could be explained as accidents; I talked especially about Lucas, a very fine old Yaqui man who had suffered a serious injury when the truck he was driving overturned.

“It seems to me it is impossible to avoid accidents,” I said. “No man can control everything around him.”

“True,” don Juan said cuttingly. “But not everything is an unavoidable accident. Lucas doesn’t live like a warrior. If he did, he’d know that he is waiting and what he is waiting for; and he wouldn’t have driven that truck while he was drunk. He crashed against the rock side of the road because he was drunk and mangled his body for nothing.

“Life for a warrior is an exercise in strategy,” don Juan went on. “But you want to find the meaning of life. A warrior doesn’t care about meanings. If Lucas lived like a warrior—and he had a chance to, as we all have a chance to—he would set his life strategically. Thus if he couldn’t avoid an accident that crushed his ribs, he would have found means to offset that handicap, or avoid its consequences, or battle against them. If Lucas were a warrior he wouldn’t be sitting in his dingy house dying of starvation. He would be battling to the end.”

I posed an alternative to don Juan, using him as an example, and asked him what would be the outcome if he himself were to be involved in an accident that severed his legs.

“If I cannot help it, and lose my legs,” he said, “I won’t be able to be a man any more, so I will join that which is waiting for me out there.”

He made a sweeping gesture with his hand to point all around him. I argued that he had misunderstood me. I had meant to point out that it was impossible for any single individual to foresee all the variables involved in his day-to-day actions.

“All I can say to you,” don Juan said, “is that a warrior is never available; never is he standing on the road waiting to be clobbered. Thus he cuts to a minimum his chances of the unforeseen. What you call accidents are,


most of the time, very easy to avoid, except for fools who are living helter-skelter.”
“It is not possible to live strategically all the time,” I said. “Imagine that someone is waiting for you with a

powerful rifle with a telescopic sight; he could spot you accurately five hundred yards away. What would you do?”

Don Juan looked at me with an air of disbelief and then broke into laughter.
“What would you do?” I urged him.
“If someone is waiting for me with a rifle with a telescopic sight?” he said, obviously mocking me.
“If someone is hiding out of sight, waiting for you. You won’t have a chance. You can’t stop a bullet.” “No. I can’t. But I still don’t understand your point.”
“My point is that all your strategy cannot be of any help in a situation like that.”
“Oh, but it can. If someone is waiting for me with a powerful rifle with a telescopic sight I simply will not

come around.”



My next attempt at “seeing” took place on September 3, 1969. Don Juan made me smoke two bowls of the mixture. The immediate effects were identical to those I had experienced during previous attempts. I remember that when my body was thoroughly numb, don Juan held me by my right armpit and made me walk into the thick desert chaparral that grows for miles around his house. I cannot recollect what I or don Juan did after we entered the brush, nor can I recall how long we walked; at a certain moment I found I was sitting on top of a small hill. Don Juan was sitting on my left side, touching me. I could not feel him but I could see him with the corner of my eye. I had the feeling that he had been talking to me although I could not remember his words. Yet I felt I knew exactly what he had said, in spite of the fact that I could not bring it back into my clear memory. I had the sensation that his words were like the cars of a train which was moving away and his last word was like a square caboose. I knew what that last word was but I could not say it or think clearly about it. It was a state of half- wakefulness with a dreamlike image of a train of words.

Then very faintly I heard don Juan’s voice talking to me.

“Now you must look at me,” he said as he turned my head to face him. He repeated the statement three or four times.

I looked and detected right away the same glowing effect I had perceived twice before while looking at his face; it was a mesmerizing movement, an undulatory shift of light within contained areas. There were no definite boundaries to those areas, and yet the waving light never spilled over but moved within invisible limits.

I scanned the glowing object in front of me and immediately it started to lose its glow and the familiar features of don Juan’s face emerged, or rather became superimposed on the fading glow. I must have then focused my gaze again; don Juan’s features faded and the glow intensified. I had placed my attention on an area which must have been his left eye. I noticed that there the movement of the glow was not contained. I detected something perhaps resembling explosions of sparks. The explosions were rhythmical and actually sent out something like particles of light that flew out with apparent force toward me and then retreated as if they were rubber fibers.

Don Juan must have turned my head around. Suddenly I found myself looking at a plowed field.
“Now look ahead,” I heard don Juan saying.
In front of me, perhaps two hundred yards away, was a large, long hill; its entire slope had been plowed.

Horizontal furrows ran parallel to each other from the bottom to the very top of the hill. I noticed that in the plowed field there were quantities of small rocks and three huge boulders that interrupted the lineality of the furrows. There were some bushes right in front of me which prevented me from observing the details of a ravine or water canyon at the bottom of the hill. From where I was, the canyon appeared as a deep cut, with green vegetation markedly different from the barren hill. The greenness seemed to be trees that grew in the bottom of the canyon. I felt a breeze blowing in my eyes. I had a feeling of peace and profound quietness. There were no sounds of birds or insects.

Don Juan spoke to me again. It took me a moment to understand what he was saying.
“Do you see a man in that field?” he kept on asking.
I wanted to tell him that there was no man in that field, but I could not vocalize the words. Don Juan took my

head in his hands from behind—I could see his fingers over my eyebrows and on my cheeks—and made me pan over the field, moving my head slowly from right to left and then in the opposite direction.

“Watch every detail. Your life may depend on it,” I heard him saying over and over.

He made me pan four times over the 180-degree visual horizon in front of me. At one moment, when he had moved my head to face the extreme left, I thought I detected something moving in the field. I had a brief percep- tion of movement with the corner of my right eye. He began to shift my head back to my right and I was capable of focusing my gaze on the plowed field. I saw a man walking alongside the furrows. He was a plain man dressed like a Mexican peasant; he wore sandals, a pair of light gray pants, a long-sleeved beige shirt, and a straw hat, and carried a light brown bag with a strap over his right shoulder.


Don Juan must have noticed that I had seen the man. He asked me repeatedly if the man was looking at me or if he was coming toward me. I wanted to tell him that the man was walking away and that his back was turned to me, but I could only say, “No.” Don Juan said that if the man turned and came to me I should yell and he would turn my head away in order to protect me.

I had no sense of fear or apprehension or involvement. I coldly watched the scene. The man stopped walking at the middle of the field. He stood with his right foot on a ledge of a large round boulder, as if he were tying his sandal. Then he straightened up, pulled a string from his bag, and wrapped it around his left hand. He turned his back to me and, facing the top of the hill, began scanning the area in front of him. I thought he was scanning because of the way he moved his head, which he kept turning slowly to his right; I saw him in profile, and then he began to turn his whole body toward me until he was looking at me. He actually jerked his head, or moved it in such a way that I knew beyond a doubt that he had seen me. He extended his left arm in front of him, pointing to the ground, and holding his arm in that position he began to walk toward me.

“He’s coming!” I yelled without any difficulty.

Don Juan must have turned my head around, for next I was looking at the chaparral. He told me not to gaze but look “lightly” at things and scan over them. He said that he was going to stand a short distance in front of me and then walk toward me, and that I should gaze at him until I saw his glow.

I saw don Juan moving to a spot perhaps twenty yards away. He walked with such incredible speed and agility that I could hardly believe it was don Juan. He turned around and faced me and ordered me to gaze at him.

His face was glowing; it looked like a blotch of light. The light seemed to spill over his chest almost to the middle of his body. It was as if I were looking at a light through my half-closed eyelids. The glow seemed to ex- pand and recede. He must have begun to walk toward me because the light became more intense and more discernible.

He said something to me. I struggled to understand and lost my view of the glow, and then I saw don Juan as I see him in everyday life; he was a couple of feet away from me. He sat down facing me.

As I pinpointed ray attention on his face I began to perceive a vague glow. Then it was as if his face were crisscrossed by thin beams of light. Don Juan’s face looked as if someone were shining tiny mirrors on it; as the light became more intense the face lost its contours and was again an amorphous glowing object. I perceived once more the effect of pulsating explosions of light emanating from an area which must have been his left eye. I did not focus my attention on it, but deliberately gazed at an adjacent area which I surmised to be his right eye, I caught at once the sight of a clear, transparent pool of light. It was a liquid light.

I noticed that perceiving was more than sighting; it was feeling. The pool of dark, liquid light had an extraordinary depth. It was “friendly,” “kind.” The light that emanated from it did not explode but whirled slowly inward, creating exquisite reflections. The glow had a very lovely and delicate way of touching me, of soothing me, which gave me a sensation of exquisiteness.

I saw a symmetrical ring of brilliant dashes of light that expanded rhythmically on the vertical plain of the glowing area. The ring expanded to cover nearly all the glowing surface and then contracted to a point of light in the middle of the brilliant pool. I saw the ring expanding and contracting several times. Then I deliberately moved back without losing my gaze and was capable of seeing both eyes. I distinguished the rhythm of both types of light explosions. The left eye sent out dashes of tight that actually protruded out of the vertical plain, while the right eye sent out dashes that radiated without protruding. The rhythm of the two eyes was alternating, the light of the left eye exploded outward while the radiating light beams of the right eye contracted and whirled inward. Then the light of the right eye extended to cover the whole glowing surface while the exploding light of the left eye receded.

Don Juan must have turned me around once more, for I was again looking at the plowed field. I heard him telling me to watch the man. The man was standing by the boulder looking at me. I could not distinguish his features; his hat covered most of his face. After a moment he tucked his bag under his right arm and began to walk away toward my right. He walked almost to the end of the plowed area, changed direction, and took a few steps toward the gully. Then I lost control of my focusing and he vanished and so did the total scenery. The


image of the desert shrubs became superimposed on it.
I do not recollect how I returned to don Juan’s house, nor do I remember what he did to me to “bring me

back.” When I woke up I was lying on my straw mat in don Juan’s room. He came to my side and helped me up. I was dizzy; my stomach was upset. Don Juan in a very quick and efficient manner dragged me to the shrubs at the side of his house. I got sick and he laughed.

Afterwards I felt better. I looked at my watch; it was eleven P.M. I went back to sleep and by one o’clock the next afternoon I thought I was myself again.

Don Juan kept asking me how I felt. I had the sensation of being absent-minded. I could not really concen- trate. I walked around the house for a while under don Juan’s close scrutiny. He followed me around. I felt there was nothing to do and I went back to sleep. I woke up in the late afternoon feeling much better. I found a great many mashed leaves around me. In fact when I woke up I was lying on my stomach on top of a pile of leaves. Their scent was very strong. I remember becoming aware of the scent before I fully woke up.

I wandered to the back and found don Juan sitting by the irrigation ditch. When he saw me approaching he made frantic gestures to make me stop and go back into the house.

“Run inside!” he yelled.
I ran into the house and he joined me a while later.
“Don’t ever come after me,” he said. “If you want to see me wait for me here.”
I apologized. He told me not to waste myself in silly apologies which did not have the power to cancel my

acts. He said that he had had a very difficult tune bringing me back and that he had been interceding for me at the water.

“We have to take a chance now and wash you in the water,” he said. I assured him I felt fine. He gazed into my eyes for a long time. “Come with me,” he said. “I’m going to put you in the water.”
“I’m fine,” I said. “Look, I’m taking notes.”

He pulled me up from my mat with considerable force.

“Don’t indulge!” he said. “In no time at all you will fall asleep again. Maybe I won’t be able to wake you up this time.”

We ran to the back of his house. Before we reached the water he told me in a most dramatic tone to shut my eyes tight and not open them until he said to. He told me that if I gazed at the water even for an instant I might die. He led me by the hand and dunked me into the irrigation ditch head first.

I kept my eyes shut as he went on submerging and pulling me out of the water for hours. The change I experienced was remarkable. Whatever was wrong with me before I entered the water was so subtle that I did not really notice it until I compared it with the feeling of well-being and alertness I had while don Juan kept me in the irrigation canal.

Water got into my nose and I began to sneeze. Don Juan pulled me out and led me, with my eyes still closed, into the house. He made me change my clothes and then guided me into his room, had me sit down on my mat, arranged the direction of my body, and then told me to open my eyes. I opened them and what I saw caused me to jump back and grab onto his leg. I experienced a tremendously confusing moment. Don Juan rapped me with his knuckles on the very top of my head. It was a quick blow which was not hard or painful but somehow shock- ing.

“What is the matter with you? What did you see?” he asked.

Upon opening my eyes I had seen the same scene I had watched before. I had seen the same man. This time, however, he was almost touching me. I saw his face. There was an air of familiarity about it. I almost knew who he was. The scene vanished when don Juan hit me on the head.

I looked up at don Juan. He had his hand ready to hit me again. He laughed and asked if I would like to get another blow. I let go of his leg and relaxed on my mat. He ordered me to look straight ahead and not to turn around for any reason in the direction of the water at the back of his house.

I then noticed for the first tune that it was pitch black in the room. For a moment I was not sure whether I had 97

my eyes open. I touched them with my hands to make sure. I called don Juan loudly and told him something was wrong with my eyes; I could not see at all, while a moment before I had seen him ready to hit me. I heard his laughter over my head to my right, and then he lit his kerosene lantern. My eyes adapted to the light in a matter of seconds. Everything was as it always had been: the wattle-and-daub walls of the room and the strangely contorted, dry medicinal roots hanging on them; the bundles of herbs; the thatched roof; the kerosene lantern hanging from a beam. I had seen the room hundreds of times, yet this time there was something unique about it and about myself. This was the first time I did not believe in the final “reality” of my perception. I had been edging toward that feeling and I had perhaps intellectualized it at various times, but never had I been at the brink of a serious doubt. This time, however, I did not believe the room was “real,” and for a moment I had the strange sensation that it was a scene which would vanish if don Juan rapped me on top of my head with his knuckles.

I began to shiver without being cold. Nervous spasms ran down my spine. My head felt heavy, especially in the area right above my neck. I complained that I did not feel well and told him what I had seen. He laughed at me, saying that to succumb to fright was a miserable indulgence.

“You’re frightened without being afraid,” he said. “You saw the ally staring at you, big deal. Wait until you have him face to face before you shit in your pants.”

He told me to get up and walk to my car without turning around in the direction of the water, and to wait for him while he got a rope and a shovel. He made me drive to a place where we had found a tree stump. We proceeded to dig it out in the darkness. I worked terribly hard for hours. We did not get the stump out but I felt much better. We went back to his house and ate and things were again perfectly “real” and commonplace.

“What happened to me?” I asked. “What did I do yesterday?”
“You smoked me and then you smoked an ally,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?”
Don Juan laughed and said that next I was going to demand that he start telling me everything from the be-

“You smoked me,” he repeated. “You gazed into my face, into my eyes. You saw the lights that mark a man’s

face. I am a sorcerer, you saw that in my eyes. You did not know that, though, because this is the first time you’ve done it. The eyes of men are not all alike. You will soon find that out. Then you smoked an ally.”

“Do you mean the man in the field?”
“That was not a man, that was an ally beckoning you.”
“Where did we go? Where were we when I saw that man, I mean that ally?”
Don Juan made a gesture with his chin to point out an area in front of his house and said that he had taken me

to the top of a small hill. I said that the scenery I had viewed had nothing to do with the desert chaparral around his house and he replied that the ally that had “beckoned” me was not from the surroundings.

“Where is it from?”
“I’ll take you there very soon.”
“What is the meaning of my vision?”
“You were learning to see, that was all; but now you are about to lose your pants because you indulge; you

have abandoned yourself to your fright. Maybe you should describe everything you saw.”
When I started to describe the way his own face had appeared to me, he made me stop and said that it was of

no importance whatsoever, I told him that I had almost seen him as a “luminous egg.” He said that “almost” was not enough and that seeing was going to take me a great deal of time and work.

He was interested in the scene of the plowed field and in every detail I could remember about the man.

“That ally was beckoning you,” he said “I made you move your head when he came to you not because he was endangering you but because it is better to wait. You are not in a hurry. A warrior is never idle and never in a hurry. To meet an ally without being prepared is like attacking a lion with your farts.”

I liked the metaphor. We had a delightful moment of laughter. “What would’ve happened if you hadn’t moved my head?” “You would’ve had to move your head yourself.”


“And if I didn’t?”

“The ally would have come to you and scared you stiff. If you had been alone he might have killed you. It is not advisable for you to be alone in the mountains or the desert until you can defend yourself. An ally might catch you alone there and make mincemeat out of you.”

“What was the meaning of the acts he performed?”

“By looking at you he meant he welcomes you. He showed you that you need a spirit catcher and a pouch, but not from this area; his bag was from another part of the country. You have three stumbling blocks in your way that make you stop; those were the boulders. And you definitely are going to get your best powers in water canyons and gullies; the ally pointed out the gully to you. The rest of the scene was meant to help you locate the exact place to find him. I know now where the place is. I will take you there very soon.”

“Do you mean that the scenery I saw really exists? “Of course.”
“I cannot tell you that.”

“How would I find that area?”

“I cannot tell you that either, and not because I don’t want to but because I simply don’t know how to tell you.”

I wanted to know the meaning of seeing the same scene while I was in his room. Don Juan laughed and imitated me holding onto his leg.

“That was a reaffirmation that the ally wants you,” he said. “He made sure you or I knew that he was welcoming you.”

“What about the face I saw?”

“It is a familiar face to you because you know him. You have seen it before. Maybe it is the face of your death. You got frightened but that was your carelessness. He was waiting for you and when he showed up you succumbed to fright. Fortunately I was there to hit you or he would’ve turned against you, which would have been only proper. To meet an ally a man must be a spotless warrior or the ally may turn against him and destroy him.”

Don Juan dissuaded me from going back to Los Angeles the next morning. Apparently he thought I still had not totally recovered. He insisted that I sit inside his room facing the southeast, in order to preserve my strength. He sat to my left, handed me my notebook, and said that this time I had him pinned down; he not only had to stay with me, he also had to talk to me.

“I have to take you to the water again in the twilight,” he said. “You’re not solid yet and you shouldn’t be alone today. I’ll keep you company all morning; in the afternoon you’ll be in better shape.”

His concern made me feel very apprehensive. “What’s wrong with me?” I asked.
“You’ve tapped an ally.”
“What do you mean by that?”

“We must not talk about allies today. Let us talk about anything else.”

I really did not want to talk at all. I had begun to feel anxious and restless. Don Juan apparently found the situation utterly ludicrous; he laughed till the tears came.

“Don’t tell me that at a time when you should talk you are not going to find anything to say,” he said, his eyes shining with a mischievous glint.

His mood was very soothing to me.

There was only one topic that interested me at that moment: the ally. His face was so familiar; it was not as if I knew him or as if I had seen him before. It was something else. Every time I began to think about his face my mind experienced a bombardment of other thoughts, as if some part of myself knew the secret but did not allow the rest of me to come close to it. The sensation of the ally’s face being familiar was so eerie that it had forced me into a state of morbid melancholy. Don Juan had said that it might have been the face of my death. I think that


statement had clinched me. I wanted desperately to ask about it and I had the clear sensation that don Juan was holding me back. I took a couple of deep breaths and blurted out a question.

“What is death, don Juan?”
“I don’t know,” he said, smiling.
“I mean, how would you describe death? I want your opinions. I think everybody has definite opinions about

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I had the Tibetan Book of the Dead in the trunk of my car. It occurred to me to use it as a topic of

conversation, since it dealt with death. I said I was going to read it to him and began to get up. He made me sit down and went out and got the book himself.

“The morning is a bad time for sorcerers,” he said as an explanation for my having to stay put.

“You’re too weak to leave my room. Inside here you are protected. If you were to wander off now, chances are that you would find a terrible disaster. An ally could kill you on the road or in the bush, and later on when they found your body they would say that you had either died mysteriously or had an accident.”

I was in no position or mood to question his decisions, so I stayed put nearly all morning reading and explaining some parts of the book to him. He listened attentively and did not interrupt me at all. Twice I had to stop for short periods of time while he brought some water and food, but as soon as he was free again he urged me to continue reading. He seemed to be very interested.

When I finished he looked at me.
“I don’t understand why those people talk about death as if death were like life,” he said softly.
“Maybe that’s the way they understand it. Do you think the Tibetans see?”
“Hardly. When a man learns to see, not a single thing he knows prevails. Not a single one. If the Tibetans

could see they could tell right away that not a single thing is any longer the same. Once we see, nothing is known; nothing remains as we used to know it when we didn’t see.”

“Perhaps, don Juan, seeing is not the same for everyone.”

“True. It’s not the same. Still, that does not mean that the meanings of life prevail. When one learns to see, not a single thing is the same.”

“Tibetans obviously think that death is like life. What do you think death is like, yourself?” I asked.

“I don’t think death is like anything and I think the Tibetans must be talking about something else. At any rate, what they’re talking about is not death.”

“What do you think they’re talking about?”
“Maybe you can tell me that. You’re the one who reads.”
I tried to say something else but he began to laugh.
“Perhaps the Tibetans really see,” don Juan went on, “in which case they must have realized that what they

see makes no sense at all and they wrote that bunch of crap because it doesn’t make any difference to them; in which case what they wrote is not crap at all.”

“I really don’t care about what the Tibetans have to say,” I said, “but I certainly care about what you have to say. I would like to hear what you think about death.”

He stared at me for an instant and then giggled. He opened his eyes and raised his eyebrows in a comical gesture of surprise.

“Death is a whorl,” he said. “Death is the face of the ally; death is a shiny cloud over the horizon; death is the whisper of Mescalito in your ears; death is the toothless mouth of the guardian; death is Genaro sitting on his head; death is me talking; death is you and your writing pad; death is nothing. Nothing! It is here yet it isn’t here at all.”

Don Juan laughed with great delight. His laughter was like a song, it had a sort of dancing rhythm.

“I make no sense, huh?” don Juan said. “I cannot tell you what death is like. But perhaps I could tell you about your own death. There is no way of knowing what it will be like for sure; however, I could tell you what it may be like.”


I became frightened at that point and argued that I only wanted to know what death appeared to be like to him; I emphasized that I was interested in his opinions about death in a general sense, but did not care to know about the particulars of anybody’s personal death, especially my own.

“I can’t talk about death except in personal terms,” he said. “You wanted me to tell you about death. All right! Then don’t be afraid of hearing about your own death.”

I admitted that I was too nervous to talk about it. I said that I wanted to talk about death in general terms, as he himself had done when he told me that at the time of his son Eulalio’s death, life and death mixed like a fog of crystals.

“I told you that my son’s life expanded at the time of his personal death,” he said. “I was not talking about death in general but about my son’s death. Death, whatever it is, made his life expand.”

I definitely wanted to steer the conversation out of the realm of particulars, and mentioned that I had been reading accounts of people who had died for several minutes and had been revived through medical techniques. In all the cases I had read, the persons involved had made statements, upon reviving, that they could not recollect anything at all; that dying was simply a sensation of blacking out.

“That’s perfectly understandable,” he said. “Death has two stages. The first is a blackout. It is a meaningless stage, very similar to the first effect of Mescalito, in which one experiences a lightness that makes one feel happy, complete, and that everything in the world is at ease. But that is only a shallow state; it soon vanishes and one enters a new realm, a realm of harshness and power. That second stage is the real encounter with Mescalito. Death is very much like this. The first stage is a shallow blackout. The second, however, is the real stage where one meets with death; it is a brief moment, after the first blackout, when we find that we are, somehow, ourselves again. It is then that death smashes against us with quiet fury and power until it dissolves our lives into nothing.”

“How can you be sure that you are talking about death?”

“I have my ally. The little smoke has shown me my unmistakable death with great clarity. This is why I can only talk about personal death.”

Don Juan’s words caused me a profound apprehension and a dramatic ambivalence. I had a feeling he was going to describe the overt, commonplace details of my death and tell me how or when I was going to die. The mere thought of knowing that made me despair and at the same time provoked my curiosity. I could have asked him to describe his own death, of course, but I felt that such a request would be rather rude and I ruled it out automatically.

Don Juan seemed to be enjoying my conflict. His body convulsed with laughter.
“Do you want to know what your death may be like?” he asked me with childlike delight in his face. I found his mischievous pleasure in teasing me rather comforting. It almost took the edge off my

“O.K., tell me,” I said, and my voice cracked.
He had a formidable explosion of laughter. He held his stomach and rolled on his side and mockingly

repeated, ” ‘O.K., tell me,'” with a crack in his voice. Then he straightened out and sat down, assuming a feigned stiffness, and in a tremulous voice he said,

“The second stage of your death may very well be as follows.”

His eyes examined me with apparently genuine curiosity. I laughed. I clearly realized that his making fun was the only device that could dull the edge of the idea of one’s death.

“You drive a great deal,” he went on saying, “so you may find yourself, at a given moment, behind the wheel again. It will be a very fast sensation that won’t give you time to think. Suddenly, let’s say, you would find yourself driving, as you have done thousands of times. But before you could wonder about yourself, you would notice a strange formation in front of your windshield. If you looked closer you’d realize that it is a cloud that looks like a shiny whorl. It would resemble, let’s say, a face, right in the middle of the sky in front of you. As you watched it, you would see it moving backward until it was only a brilliant point in the distance, and then you would notice that it began moving toward you again; it would pick up speed and in a blink of an eye it would smash against the windshield of your car. You are strong; I’m sure it would take death a couple of whams to get


“By then you would know where you were and what was happening to you; the face would recede again to a

position on the horizon, would pick up speed and smash against you. The face would enter inside you and then you’d know—it was the ally’s face all the time, or it was me talking, or you writing. Death was nothing all the time. Nothing. It was a little dot lost in the sheets of your notebook. And yet it would enter inside you with uncontrollable force and would make you expand; it would make you flat and extend you over the sky and the earth and beyond. And you would be like a fog of tiny crystals moving, moving away.”

I was very taken by his description of my death. I had expected to hear something so different. I could not say anything for a long time.

“Death enters through the belly,” he continued. “Right through the gap of the will. That area is the most important and sensitive part of man. It is the area of the will and also the area through which all of us die. I know it because my ally has guided me to that stage. A sorcerer tunes his will by letting his death overtake him, and when he is fiat and begins to expand, his impeccable will takes over and assembles the fog into one person again.”

Don Juan made a strange gesture. He opened his hands like two fans, lifted them to the level of his elbows, turned them until his thumbs were touching his sides, and then brought them slowly together at the center of his body over his navel. He kept them there for a moment. His arms shivered with the strain. Then he brought them up until the tips of his middle fingers touched his forehead, and then pulled them down in the same position to the center of his body.

It was a formidable gesture. Don Juan had performed it with such force and beauty that I was spellbound.

“It is his will which assembles a sorcerer,” he said, “but as his old age makes him feeble his will wanes and a moment unavoidably comes when he is no longer capable of commanding his will. He then has nothing with which to oppose the silent force of his death, and his life becomes like the lives of all his fellow men, an expanding fog moving beyond its limits.”

Don Juan stared at me and stood up. I was shivering.
“You can go to the bushes now,” he said. “It is afternoon.”
I needed to go but I did not dare. I felt perhaps more jumpy than afraid. However, I was no longer

apprehensive about the ally.
Don Juan said that it did not matter how I felt as long as I was “solid.” He assured me I was in perfect shape

and could safely go into the bushes as long as I did not get close to the water.
“That is another matter,” he said. “I need to wash you once more, so stay away from the water.”
Later on he wanted me to drive him to the nearby town. I mentioned that driving would be a welcome change

for me because I was still shaky; the idea that a sorcerer actually played with his death was quite gruesome to me. “To be a sorcerer is a terrible burden,” he said in a reassuring tone. “I’ve told you that it is much better to

learn to see. A man who sees is everything; in comparison, the sorcerer is a sad fellow.”
“What is sorcery, don Juan?”
He looked at me for a long time as he shook his head almost imperceptibly.
“Sorcery is to apply one’s will to a key joint,” he said. “Sorcery is interference. A sorcerer searches and finds

the key joint of anything he wants to affect and then he applies his will to it. A sorcerer doesn’t have to see to be a sorcerer, all he has to know is how to use his will.”

I asked him to explain what he meant by a key joint. He thought for a while and then he said that he knew what my car was.

“It’s obviously a machine,” I said.

“I mean your car is the spark plugs. That’s its key joint for me. I can apply my will to it and your car won’t work.”

Don Juan got into my car and sat down. He beckoned me to do likewise as he made himself comfortable on the seat.

“Watch what I do,” he said. “I’m a crow, so first I’ll make my feathers loose.” 102

He shivered his entire body. His movement reminded me of a sparrow wetting its feathers in a puddle. He lowered his head like a bird dipping its beak into the water.

“That feels really good,” he said, and began to laugh.

His laughter was strange. It had a very peculiar mesmerizing effect on me. I recollected having heard him laugh in that manner many times before. Perhaps the reason I had never become overtly aware of it was that he had never laughed like that long enough in my presence.

“A crow loosens its neck next,” he said, and began twisting his neck and rubbing his cheeks on his shoulders. “Then he looks at the world with one eye and then with the other.”
His head shook as he allegedly shifted his view of the world from one eye to the other. The pitch of his

laughter became higher. I had the absurd feeling that he was going to turn into a crow in front of my eyes. I wanted to laugh it off but I was almost paralyzed. I actually felt some kind of enveloping force around me. I was not afraid nor was I dizzy or sleepy. My faculties were unimpaired, to the best of my judgment.

“Turn on your car now,” don Juan said.

I turned on the starter and automatically stepped on the gas pedal. The starter began to grind without igniting the engine. Don Juan’s laughter was a soft, rhythmical cackle. I tried it again; and again. I spent perhaps ten minutes grinding the starter of my car. Don Juan cackled all that time. Then I gave up and sat there with a heavy head.

He stopped laughing and scrutinized me and I “knew” then that his laughter had forced me into a sort of hypnotic trance. Although I had been thoroughly aware of what was taking place, I felt I was not myself. During the time I could not start my car I was very docile, almost numb. It was as if don Juan was not only doing something to my car but also to me. When he stopped cackling I was convinced the spell was over, and impetuously I turned on the starter again. I had the certainty don Juan had only mesmerized me with his laughter and made me believe I could not start my car. With the corner of my eye I saw him looking curiously at me as I ground the motor and pumped the gas furiously.

Don Juan patted me gently and said that fury would make me “solid” and perhaps I would not need to be washed in the water again. The more furious I could get, the quicker I could recover from my encounter with the ally.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” I heard don Juan saying. “Kick the car.”
His natural everyday laughter exploded, and I felt ridiculous and laughed sheepishly. After a while don Juan said he had released the car. It started!


September 28,1969

There was something eerie about don Juan’s house. For a moment I thought he was hiding somewhere around the place to scare me. I called out to him and then gathered enough nerve to walk inside. Don Juan was not there. I put the two bags of groceries I had brought on a pile of firewood and sat down to wait for him, as I had done dozens of times before. But for the first time in my years of associating with don Juan I was afraid to stay alone in his house. I felt a presence, as if someone invisible was there with me. I remembered then that years before I had had the same vague feeling that something unknown was prowling around me when I was alone. I jumped to my feet and ran out of the house.

I had come to see don Juan to tell him that the cumulative effect of the task of “seeing” was taking its toll on me. I had begun to feel uneasy; vaguely apprehensive without any overt reason; tired without being fatigued. Then my reaction at being alone in don Juan’s house brought back the total memory of how my fear had built up in the past.

The fear traced back to years before, when don Juan had forced the very strange confrontation between a sor- ceress, a woman he called “la Catalina,” and me. It began on November 23, 1961, when I found him in his house with a dislocated ankle. He explained that he had an enemy, a sorceress who could turn into a blackbird and who had attempted to kill him.

“As soon as I can walk I’m going to show you who the woman is,” don Juan said. “You must know who she is,”

“Why does she want to kill you?”
He shrugged his shoulders impatiently and refused to say anything else.
I came back to see him ten days later and found him perfectly well. He rotated his ankle to demonstrate to me

mat it was fine and attributed his prompt recovery to the nature of the cast he himself had made.
“It’s good you’re here,” he said. “Today I’m going to take you on a little journey.”
He then directed me to drive to a desolate area. We stopped there; don Juan stretched his legs and made him-

self comfortable on the seat, as if he were going to take a nap. He told me to relax and remain very quiet; he said we had to be as inconspicuous as possible until nightfall because the late afternoon was a very dangerous time for the business we were pursuing.

“What kind of business are we pursuing?” I asked.
“We are here to stake out la Catalina,” he said.
When it was fairly dark we slid out of the car and walked very slowly and noiselessly into the desert chap-

From the place where we stopped I could distinguish the black silhouette of the hills on both sides. We were

in a flat, fairly wide canyon. Don Juan gave me detailed instructions on how to stay merged with the chaparral and taught me a way to sit “in vigil,” as he called it. He told me to tuck my right leg under my left thigh and keep my left leg in a squat position. He explained that the tucked leg was used as a spring in order to stand up with great speed, if it were necessary. He then told me to sit facing the west, because that was the direction of the woman’s house. He sat next to me, to my right, and told me in a whisper to keep my eyes focused on the ground, searching, or rather, waiting, for a sort of wind wave that would make a ripple in the bushes. Whenever the ripple touched the bushes on which I had focused my gaze, I was supposed to look up and see the sorceress in all her “magnificent evil splendor.” Don Juan actually used those words.

When I asked him to explain what he meant, he said that if I detected a ripple I simply had to look up and see for myself, because “a sorcerer in flight” was such a unique sight that it defied explanations.

There was a fairly steady wind and I thought I detected a ripple in the bushes many times. I looked up each time, prepared to have a transcendental experience, but I did not see anything. Every time the wind blew the bushes don Juan would kick the ground vigorously, whirling around, moving his arms as if they were whips. The strength of his movements was extraordinary.



After a few failures to see the sorceress “in flight” I was sure I was not going to witness any transcendental event, yet don Juan’s display of “power” was so exquisite that I did not mind spending the night there.

At daybreak don Juan sat down by me. He seemed to be totally exhausted. He could hardly move. He lay down on his back and mumbled that he had failed to “pierce the woman.” I was very intrigued by that statement; he repeated it several times and each time his tone became more downhearted, more desperate. I began to experience an unusual anxiety. I found it very easy to project my feelings into don Juan’s mood.

Don Juan did not mention anything about the incident or the woman for several months. I thought he had either forgotten or resolved the whole affair. One day, however, I found him in a very agitated mood, and in a manner that was completely incongruous with his natural calmness he hold me that the “blackbird” had stood in front of him the night before, almost touching him, and that he had not even awakened. The woman’s artfulness was so great that he had not felt her presence at all. He said his good fortune was to wake up in the nick of time to stage a horrendous fight for his life. Don Juan’s tone of voice was moving, almost pathetic. I felt an overwhelming surge of compassion and concern.

In a somber and dramatic tone he reaffirmed that he had no way to stop her and that the next time she came near him was going to be his last day on earth. I became despondent and was nearly in tears. Don Juan seemed to notice my profound concern and laughed, I thought, bravely. He patted me on the back and said that I should not worry, that he was not altogether lost yet, because he had one last card, a trump card.

“A warrior lives strategically,” he said, smiling. “A warrior never carries loads he cannot handle.”

Don Juan’s smile had the power to dispel the ominous clouds of doom. I suddenly felt elated and we both laughed. He patted my head.

“You know, of all the things on this earth, you are my last card,” he said abruptly, looking straight into my eyes.

“You are my trump card in my fight against that witch.”
I did not understand what he meant and he explained that the woman did not know me and that if I played my

hand as he would direct me, I had a better than good chance to “pierce her.”
“What do you mean by pierce her’?”
“You cannot kill her but you must pierce her like a balloon. If you do that she’ll leave me alone. But don’t

think about it now. I’ll tell you what to do when the time comes.”
Months went by. I had forgotten the incident and was caught by surprise when I arrived at his house one day;

don Juan came out running and did not let me get out of my car.
“You must leave immediately,” he whispered with appalling urgency. “Listen carefully. Buy a shotgun, or

get one in any way you can; don’t bring me your own gun, do you understand? Get any gun, except your own, and bring it here right away.”

“Why do you want a shotgun?”
“Go now!”
I returned with a shotgun. I had not had enough money to buy one but a friend of mine had given me his old

gun. Don Juan did not look at it; he explained, laughing, that he had been abrupt with me because the blackbird was on the roof of the house and he did not want her to see me.

“Finding the blackbird on the roof gave me the idea that you could bring a gun and pierce her with it,” don Juan said emphatically. “I don’t want anything to happen to you, so I suggested that you buy the gun or that you get one in any other way. You see, you have to destroy the gun after completing the task.”

“What kind of task are you talking about?”
“You must attempt to pierce the woman with your shotgun.”
He made me clean the gun by rubbing it with the fresh leaves and stems of a peculiarly scented plant. He

himself rubbed two shells and placed them inside the barrels. Then he said I was to hide in front of his house and wait until the blackbird landed on the roof and then, after taking careful aim, I was supposed to let go with both barrels. The effect of the surprise, more than the pellets, would pierce the woman, and if I were powerful and


determined I could force her to leave him alone. Thus my aim had to be impeccable and so did my determination to pierce her.

“You must scream at the moment you shoot,” he said. “It must be a potent and piercing yell.”

He then piled bundles of bamboo and fire sticks about ten feet away from the ramada of his house. He made me lean against the piles. The position was quite comfortable. I was sort of half-seated; my back was well propped and I had a good view of the roof.

He said it was too early for the witch to be out, and that we had until dusk to do all the preparations; he would then pretend he was locking himself inside the house, in order to attract her and elicit another attack on his person. He told me to relax and find a comfortable position that I could shoot from without moving. He made me aim at the roof a couple of times and concluded that the act of lifting the gun to my shoulder and taking aim was too slow and cumbersome. He then built a prop for the gun. He made two deep holes with a pointed iron bar, planted two forked sticks in them, and tied a long pole in between the forks. The structure gave me a shooting support and allowed me to keep the gun aimed at the roof.

Don Juan looked at the sky and said it was time for him to go into the house. He got up and calmly went inside, giving me the final admonition that my endeavor was not a joke and that I had to hit the bird with the first shot.

After don Juan left I had a few more minutes of twilight and then it became quite dark. It seemed as if darkness had been waiting until I was alone and suddenly it descended on me. I tried to focus my eyes on the roof, which was silhouetted against the sky; for a while there was enough light on the horizon so the line of the roof was still visible, but then the sky became black and I could hardly see the house. I kept my eyes focused on the roof for hours without noticing anything at all. I saw a couple of owls flying by toward the north; the span of their wings was quite remarkable and they could not be mistaken for blackbirds. At a given moment, however, I distinctly noticed the black shape of a small bird landing on the roof. It was definitely a bird! My heart began pounding hard; I felt a buzzing in my ears. I aimed in the dark and pulled both triggers. There was quite a loud explosion. I felt a strong recoil of the gun butt on my shoulder and at the same time I heard a most piercing and horrendous human shriek. It was loud and eerie and seemed to have come from the roof. I had a moment of total confusion. I then remembered that don Juan had admonished me to yell as I shot and I had forgotten to do so. I was thinking of reloading my gun when don Juan opened the door and came out running. He had his kerosene lantern with him. He appeared to be quite nervous.

“I think you got her,” he said. “We must find the dead bird now.”

He brought a ladder and made me climb up and look on the ramada, but I could not find anything there. He climbed up and looked himself for a while, with equally negative results.

“Perhaps you have blasted the bird to bits,” don Juan said, “in which case we must find at least a feather.”

We began looking around the ramada first and then around the house. We looked with the light of the lantern until morning. Then we started looking again all over the area we had covered during the night. Around 11:00 A.M. don Juan called off our search. He sat down dejected, smiled sheepishly at me, and said that I had failed to stop his enemy and that now, more than ever before, his life was not worth a hoot because the woman was doubtlessly irked, itching to take revenge.

“You’re safe, though,” don Juan said reassuringly. “‘The woman doesn’t know you.”

As I was walking to my car to return home, I asked him if I had to destroy the shotgun. He said the gun had done nothing and I should give it back to its owner. I noticed a profound look of despair in don Juan’s eyes. I felt so moved by it that I was about to weep.

“What can I do to help you?” I asked,
“There’s nothing you can do,” don Juan said.
We remained silent for a moment. I wanted to leave right away, I felt an oppressive anguish. I was ill at ease, “Would you really try to help me?” don Juan asked in a childlike tone.
I told him again that my total person was at his disposal, that my affection for him was so profound I would

undertake any kind of action to help him. Don Juan smiled and asked again if I really meant that, and I 106

vehemently reaffirmed my desire to help him.
“If you really mean it,” he said, “I may have one more chance.”
He seemed to be delighted. He smiled broadly and clapped his hands several times, the way he always does

when he wants to express a feeling of pleasure. This change of mood was so remarkable that it also involved me. I suddenly felt that the oppressive mood, the anguish, had been vanquished and life was inexplicably exciting again. Don Juan sat down and I did likewise. He looked at me for a long moment and then proceeded to tell me in a very calm and deliberate manner that I was in fact the only person who could help him at that moment, and thus he was going to ask me to do something very dangerous and very special.

He paused for a moment as if he wanted a reaffirmation on my part, and I again reiterated my firm desire to do anything for him.

“I’m going to give you a weapon to pierce her,” he said.
He took a long object from his pouch and handed it to me. I took it and then examined it. I almost dropped it. “It is a wild boar,” he went on, “You must pierce her with it.”
The object I was holding was a dry foreleg of a wild boar. The skin was ugly and the bristles were revolting

to the touch. The hoof was intact and its two halves were spread out, as if the leg were stretched. It was an awful- looking thing. It made me feel almost sick to my stomach. He quickly took it back.

“You must ram the wild boar right into her navel,” don Juan said.
“What?” I said in a feeble voice.
“You must hold the wild boar in your left hand and stab her with it. She is a sorceress and the wild boar will

enter her belly and no one in this world, except another sorcerer, will see it stuck in there. This is not an ordinary battle but an affair of sorcerers. The danger you will run is that if you fail to pierce her she might strike you dead on the spot, or her companions and relatives will shoot you or knife you. You may, on the other hand, get out without a scratch.

“If you succeed she will have a hellish time with the wild boar in her body and she will leave me alone.”

An oppressive anguish enveloped me again. I had a profound affection for don Juan. I admired him. At the time of this startling request, I had already learned to regard his way of life and his knowledge as a paramount accomplishment. How could anyone let a man like that die? And yet how could anyone deliberately risk his life? I became so immersed in my deliberations I did not notice that don Juan had stood up and was standing by me until he patted me on the shoulder. I looked up; he was smiling benevolently.

“Whenever you feel that you really want to help me, you should return,” he said, “but not until then. If you come back I know what we will have to do. Go now! If you don’t want to return I’ll understand that too.”

I automatically stood up, got into my car, and drove away. Don Juan had actually let me off the hook. I could have left and never returned, but somehow the thought of being free to leave did not soothe me. I drove a while longer and then impulsively turned around and drove back to don Juan’s house.

He was still sitting underneath his ramada and did not seem surprised to see me.

“Sit down,” he said. “The clouds in the west are beautiful. It will be dark shortly. Sit quietly and let the twilight fill you. Do whatever you want now, but when I tell you, look straight at those shiny clouds and ask the twilight to give you power and calmness.”

I sat facing the western clouds for a couple of hours. Don Juan went into the house and stayed inside. When it was getting dark he returned.

“The twilight has come,” he said. “Stand up! Don’t close your eyes, but look straight at the clouds; put your arms up with your hands open and your fingers extended and trot in place.”

I followed his instructions; I lifted my arms over my head and began trotting. Don Juan came to my side and corrected my movements. He placed the leg of the wild boar against the palm of my left hand and made me hold it with my thumb. He then pulled my arms down until they pointed to the orange and dark gray clouds over the horizon, toward the west. He extended my fingers like fans and told me not to curl them over the palms of my hands. It was of crucial importance that I keep my fingers spread because if I closed them I would not be asking the twilight for power and calm, but would be menacing it. He also corrected my trotting. He said it should be


peaceful and uniform, as if I were actually running toward the twilight with my extended arms.
I could not fall asleep during that night. It was as if, instead of calming me, the twilight had agitated me into

a frenzy.
“I still have so many things pending in my life,” I said. “So many things unresolved.”
Don Juan chuckled softly.
“Nothing is pending in the world,” he said. “Nothing is finished, yet nothing is unresolved. Go to sleep.” Don Juan’s words were strangely soothing.
Around ten o’clock the next morning, don Juan gave me something to eat and then we were on our way. He

whispered that we were going to approach the woman around noon, or before noon if possible. He said that the ideal time would have been the early hours of the day, because a witch is always less powerful or less aware in the morning, but she would never leave the protection of her house at those hours. I did not ask any questions. He directed me to the highway and at a certain point he told me to stop and park on the side of the road. He said we had to wait there.

I looked at my watch; it was five minutes to eleven. I yawned repeatedly. I was actually sleepy; my mind wandered around aimlessly.

Suddenly don Juan straightened up and nudged me. I jumped up in my seat.
“There she is!” he said.
I saw a woman walking toward the highway on the edge of a cultivated field. She was carrying a basket

looped in her right arm. It was not until then that I noticed we were parked near a crossroads. There were two narrow trails which ran parallel to both sides of the highway and another wider and more trafficked trail that ran perpendicular to the highway; obviously people who used that trail had to walk across the paved road.

When the woman was still on the dirt road don Juan told me to get out of the car.
“Do it now,” he said firmly.
I obeyed him. The woman was almost on the highway. I ran and overtook her. I was so close to her that I felt

her clothes on my face. I took the wild boar hoof from under my shirt and thrust it at her. I did not feel any resistance to the blunt object I had in my hand. I saw a fleeting shadow in front of me, like a drape; my head turned to my right and I saw the woman standing fifty feet away on the opposite side of the road. She was a fairly young, dark woman with a strong, stocky body. She was smiling at me. Her teeth were white and big and her smile was placid. She had closed her eyes halfway, as if to protect them from the wind. She was still holding her basket, looped over her right arm.

I then had a moment of unique confusion. I turned around to look at don Juan. He was making frantic ges- tures to call me back. I ran back. There were three or four men coming in a hurry toward me. I got into the car and sped away in the opposite direction.

I tried to ask don Juan what had happened but I could not talk; my ears were bursting with an overwhelming pressure; I felt that I was choking. He seemed to be pleased and began to laugh. It was as if my failure did not concern him. I had my hands so tight around the steering wheel that I could not move them; they were frozen; my arms were rigid and so were my legs. In fact I could not take my foot off the gas pedal.

Don Juan patted me on the back and told me to relax. Little by little the pressure in my ears diminished. “What happened back there?” I finally asked.
He giggled like a child without answering. Then he asked me if I had noticed the way the woman got out of

the way. He praised her excellent speed. Don Juan’s talk seemed so incongruous that I could not really follow him. He praised the woman! He said her power was impeccable and she was a relentless enemy.

I asked don Juan if he did not mind my failure. I was truly surprised and annoyed at his change of mood. He seemed to be actually glad.

He told me to stop. I parked alongside the road. He put his hand on my shoulder and looked piercingly into my eyes.

“Whatever I have done to you today was a trick,” he said bluntly. “The rule is that a man of knowledge has to trap his apprentice. Today I have trapped you and I have tricked you into learning.”


I was dumfounded. I could not arrange my thoughts. Don Juan explained that the whole involvement with the woman was a trap; that she had never been a threat to him; and that his job was to put me in touch with her, under specific conditions of abandon and power I had experienced when I tried to pierce her. He commended my resolution and called it an act of power which demonstrated to the woman that I was capable of great exertion. Don Juan said that even though I was not aware of it, all I did was to show off in front of her.

“You could never touch her,” he said, “but you showed your claws to her. She knows now that you’re not afraid. You have challenged her. I used her to trick you because she’s powerful and relentless and never forgets. Men are usually too busy to be relentless enemies.”

I felt a terrible anger. I told him that one should not play with a person’s innermost feelings and loyalties. Don Juan laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks, and I hated him. I had an overwhelming desire to punch him and leave; there was, however, such a strange rhythm in his laughter that it kept me almost paralyzed.

“Don’t be so angry,” don Juan said soothingly.

Then he said that his acts had never been a farce, that he also had thrown his life away a long time before when his own benefactor tricked him, just as he had tricked me. Don Juan said that his benefactor was a cruel man who did not think about him the way he, don Juan, thought about me. He added very sternly that the woman had tested her strength against him and had really tried to kill him.

“Now she knows that I was playing with her,” he said, laughing, “and she’ll hate you for it. She can’t do anything to me, but she will take it out on you. She doesn’t know yet how much power you have, so she will come to test you, little by little. Now you have no choice but to learn in order to defend yourself, or you will fall prey to that lady. She is no trick.”

Don Juan reminded me of the way she had flown away.
“Don’t be angry,” he said. “It was not an ordinary trick. It was the rule.”
There was something about the way the woman moved away from me that was truly maddening. I had

witnessed it myself: she had jumped the width of the highway in a flick of an eyelash. I had no way to get out of that certainty. From that moment on I focused all my attention on that incident and little by little I accumulated “proof” that she was actually following me. The final outcome was that I had to withdraw from the apprenticeship under the pressure of my irrational fear.

I came back to don Juan’s house hours later, in the early afternoon. He was apparently waiting for me. He came up to me as I got out of my car and examined me with curious eyes, walking around me a couple of times.

“Why the nervousness?” he asked before I had time to say anything.

I explained that something had scared me off that morning and that I had begun to feel something prowling around me, as in the past. Don Juan sat down and seemed to be engulfed in thoughts. His face had an unusually serious expression. He seemed to be tired. I sat by him and arranged my notes.

After a very long pause his face brightened up and he smiled.

“What you felt this morning was the spirit of the water hole,” he said. “I’ve told you that you must be prepared for unexpected encounters with those forces. I thought you understood.”

“I did.”
“Then why the fear?”
I could not answer.
“That spirit is on your trail,” he said. “It already tapped you in the water. I assure you it will tap you again

and probably you won’t be prepared and that encounter will be your end.”
Don Juan’s words made me feel genuinely concerned. My feelings were strange, however; I was concerned

but not afraid. Whatever was happening to me had not been able to elicit my old feelings of blind fear. “What should I do?” I asked.
“You forget too easily,” he said. “The path of knowledge is a forced one. In order to learn we must be

spurred. In the path of knowledge we are always fighting something, avoiding something, prepared for something; and that something is always inexplicable, greater, more powerful than us. The inexplicable forces will come to you. Now it is the spirit of the water hole, later on it’ll be your own ally, so there is nothing you can


do now but to prepare yourself for the struggle. Years ago la Catalina spurred you, she was only a sorceress, though, and that was a beginner’s trick.

“The world is indeed full of frightening things and we are helpless creatures surrounded by forces that are inexplicable and unbending. The average man, in ignorance, believes that those forces can be explained or changed; he doesn’t really know how to do that, but he expects that the actions of mankind will explain them or change them sooner or later. The sorcerer, on the other hand, does not think of explaining or changing them; instead, he learns to use such forces by redirecting himself and adapting to their direction. That’s his trick. There is very little to sorcery once you find out its trick. A sorcerer is only slightly better off than the average man. Sorcery does not help him to live a better life; in fact I should say that sorcery hinders him; it makes his life cumbersome, precarious. By opening himself to knowledge a sorcerer becomes more vulnerable than the average man. On the one hand his fellow men hate him and fear him and will strive to end his life; on the other hand the inexplicable and unbending forces that surround every one of us, by right of our being alive, are for a sorcerer a source of even greater danger. To be pierced by a fellow man is indeed painful, but nothing in comparison to being touched by an ally. A sorcerer, by opening himself to knowledge, falls prey to such forces and has only one means of balancing himself, his will; thus he must feel and act like a warrior. I will repeat this once more: Only as a warrior can one survive the path of knowledge. What helps a sorcerer live a better life is the strength of being a warrior.

“It is my commitment to teach you to see. Not because I personally want to do so but because you were chosen; you were pointed out to me by Mescalito. I am compelled by my personal desire, however, to teach you to feel and act like a warrior. I personally believe that to be a warrior is more suitable than anything else. Therefore I have endeavored to show you those forces as a sorcerer perceives them, because only under their terrifying impact can one become a warrior. To see without first being a warrior would make you weak; it would give you a false meekness, a desire to retreat; your body would decay because you would become indifferent. It is my personal commitment to make you a warrior so you won’t crumble.

“I have heard you say time and time again that you are always prepared to die. I don’t regard that feeling as necessary. I think it is a useless indulgence. A warrior should be prepared only to battle. I have also heard you say that your parents injured your spirit. I think the spirit of man is something that can be injured very easily, although not by the same acts you yourself call injurious. I believe that your parents did injure you by making you indulgent and soft and given to dwelling.

“The spirit of a warrior is not geared to indulging and complaining, nor is it geared to winning or losing. The spirit of a warrior is geared only to struggle, and every struggle is a warrior’s last battle on earth. Thus the out- come matters very little to him. In his last battle on earth a warrior lets his spirit flow free and clear. And as he wages his battle, knowing that his will is impeccable, a warrior laughs and laughs.”

I finished writing and looked up. Don Juan was staring at me. He shook his head from side to side and smiled.

“You really write everything?” he asked in an incredulous tone. “Genaro says that he can never be serious with you because you’re always writing. He’s right; how can anyone be serious if you’re always writing?”

He chuckled and I tried to defend my position.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, “If you ever learn to see, I suppose you must do it your own weird way.”
He stood up and looked at the sky. It was around noon. He said there was still time to start on a hunting trip

to a place in the mountains.
“What are we going to hunt?” I asked.
“A special animal, either a deer or a wild boar or even a mountain lion.”
He paused for a moment and then added, “Even an eagle.”
I stood up and followed him to my car. He said that this time we were going only to observe and to find out

what animal we had to hunt. He was about to get in my car when he seemed to remember something. He smiled and said that the journey had to be postponed until I had learned something without which our hunting would be impossible.


We went back and sat down again underneath his ramada. There were so many things I wanted to ask, but he did not give me time to say anything before he spoke again.

“This brings us to the last point you must know about a warrior,” he said. “A warrior selects the items that make his world.

“The other day when you saw the ally and I had to wash you twice, do you know what was wrong with you?” “No.”
“You had lost your shields.”
“What shields? What are you talking about?”

“I said that a warrior selects the items that make his world. He selects deliberately, for every item he chooses is a shield that protects him from the onslaughts of the forces he is striving to use. A warrior would use his shields to protect himself from his ally, for instance.

“An average man who is equally surrounded by those inexplicable forces is oblivious to them because he has other kinds of special shields to protect himself.”

He paused and looked at me with a question in his eyes. I had not understood what he meant. “What are those shields?” I insisted.
“What people do,” he repeated.
“What do they do?”

“Well, look around. People are busy doing that which people do. Those are their shields. Whenever a sorcerer has an encounter with any of those inexplicable and unbending forces we have talked about, his gap opens, making him more susceptible to his death than he ordinarily is; I’ve told you that we die through that gap, therefore if it is open one should have his will ready to fill it; that is, if one is a warrior. If one is not a warrior, like yourself, then one has no other recourse but to use the activities of daily life to take one’s mind away from the fright of the encounter and thus to allow one’s gap to close. You got angry with me that day when you met the ally. I made you angry when I stopped your car and I made you cold when I dumped you into the water. Having your clothes on made you even colder. Being angry and cold helped you close your gap and you were protected. At this time in your life, however, you can no longer use those shields as effectively as an average man. You know too much about those forces and now you are finally at the brink of feeling and acting as a warrior. Your old shields are no longer safe.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Act like a warrior and select the items of your world. You cannot surround yourself with things helter- skelter any longer. I tell you this in a most serious vein. Now for the first time you are not safe in your old way of life.”

“What do you mean by selecting the items of my world?”

“A warrior encounters those inexplicable and unbending forces because he is deliberately seeking them, thus he is always prepared for the encounter. You, on the other hand, are never prepared for it. In fact if those forces come to you they will take you by surprise; the fright will open your gap and your life will irresistibly escape through it. The first thing you must do, then, is be prepared. Think that the ally is going to pop in front of your eyes any minute and you must be ready for him. To meet an ally is no party or Sunday picnic and a warrior takes the responsibility of protecting his life. Then if any of those forces tap you and open your gap, you must deliberately strive to close it by yourself. For that purpose you must have a selected number of things that give you great peace and pleasure, things which you can deliberately use to take your thoughts from your fright and close your gap and make you solid.”

“What kind of things?”

“Years ago I told you that in his day-to-day life a warrior chooses to follow the path with heart. It is the con- sistent choice of the path with heart which makes a warrior different from the average man. He knows that a path has heart when he is one with it, when he experiences a great peace and pleasure traversing its length. The things a warrior selects to make his shields are the items of a path with heart.”

“But you said I’m not a warrior, so how can I choose a path with heart?” 111

“This is your turning point. Let’s say that before you did not really need to live like a warrior. Now it is different, now you must surround yourself with the items of a path with heart and you must refuse the rest, or you will perish in the next encounter. I may add that you don’t need to ask for the encounter any longer. An ally can now come to you in your sleep; while you are talking to your friends; while you are writing.”

“For years I have truly tried to live in accordance with your teachings,” I said. “Obviously I have not done well. How can I do better now?”

“You think and talk too much. You must stop talking to yourself.”
“What do you mean?”
“You talk to yourself too much. You’re not unique at that. Every one of us does that. We carry on an internal

talk. Think about it. Whenever you are alone, what do you do?” “I talk to myself.”
“What do you talk to yourself about?”
“I don’t know; anything, I suppose.”

“I’ll tell you what we talk to ourselves about. We talk about our world. In fact we maintain our world with our internal talk.”

“How do we do that?”

“Whenever we finish talking to ourselves the world is always as it should be. We renew it, we kindle it with life, we uphold it with our internal talk. Not only that, but we also choose our paths as we talk to ourselves. Thus we repeat the same choices over and over until the day we die, because we keep on repeating the same internal talk over and over until the day we die.

“A warrior is aware of this and strives to stop his talking. This is the last point you have to know if you want to live like a warrior.”

“How can I stop talking to myself?”

“First of all you must use your ears to take some of the burden from your eyes. We have been using our eyes to judge the world since the time we were born. We talk to others and to ourselves mainly about what we see. A warrior is aware of that and listens to the world; he listens to the sounds of the world.”

I put my notes away. Don Juan laughed and said that he did not mean I should force the issue, that listening to the sounds of the world had to be done harmoniously and with great patience.

“A warrior is aware that the world will change as soon as he stops talking to himself,” he said, “and he must be prepared for that monumental jolt.”

“What do you mean, don Juan?”

“The world is such-and-such or so-and-so only because we tell ourselves that that is the way it is. If we stop telling ourselves that the world is so-and-so, the world will stop being so-and-so. At this moment I don’t think you’re ready for such a momentous blow, therefore you must start slowly to undo the world.”

“I really do not understand you!”

“Your problem is that you confuse the world with what people do. Again you’re not unique at that. Every one of us does that. The things people do are the shields against the forces that surround us; what we do as people gives us comfort and makes us feel safe; what people do is rightfully very important, but only as a shield. We never learn that the things we do as people are only shields and we let them dominate and topple our lives. In fact I could say that for mankind, what people do is greater and more important than the world itself.”

“What do you call the world?”

“The world is all that is encased here,” he said, and stomped the ground. “Life, death, people, the allies, and everything else that surrounds us. The world is incomprehensible. We won’t ever understand it; we won’t ever unravel its secrets. Thus we must treat it as it is, a sheer mystery!

“An average man doesn’t do this, though. The world is never a mystery for him, and when he arrives at old age he is convinced he has nothing more to live for. An old man has not exhausted the world. He has exhausted only what people do. But in his stupid confusion he believes that the world has no more mysteries for him. What a wretched price to pay for our shields!


“A warrior is aware of this confusion and learns to treat things properly. The things that people do cannot under any conditions be more important than the world. And thus a warrior treats the world as an endless mystery and what people do as an endless folly.”



I began the exercise of listening to the “sounds of the world” and kept at it for two months, as don Juan had specified. It was excruciating at first to listen and not look, but even more excruciating was not to talk to myself. By the end of the two months I was capable of shutting off my internal dialogue for short periods of time and I was also capable of paying attention to sounds.

I arrived at don Juan’s house at 9:00 A.M. on November 10, 1969.
“We should start that trip right now,” he said upon my arrival at his house.
I rested for an hour and then we drove toward the low slopes of the mountains to the east. We left my car in

the care of one of his friends who lived in that area while we hiked into the mountains. Don Juan had put some crackers and sweet rolls in a knapsack for me. There were enough provisions for a day or two. I had asked don Juan if we needed more. He shook his head negatively.

We walked the entire morning. It was a rather warm day. I carried one canteen of water, most of which I drank myself. Don Juan drank only twice. When there was no more water he assured me it was all right to drink from the streams we found on our way. He laughed at my reluctance. After a short while my thirst made me overcome my fears.

In the early afternoon we stopped in a small valley at the bottom of some lush green hills. Behind the hills, toward the east, the high mountains were silhouetted against a cloudy sky.

“You can think, you can write about what we say or about what you perceive, but nothing about where we are,” he said.

We rested for a while and then he took a bundle from inside his shirt. He untied it and showed me his pipe. He filled its bowl with smoking mixture, lighted a match and kindled a small dry twig, placed the burning twig inside the bowl, and told me to smoke. Without a piece of charcoal inside the bowl it was difficult to light the pipe; we had to keep kindling twigs until the mixture caught on fire. When I had finished smoking he said that we were there so I could find out the kind of game I was supposed to hunt. He carefully repeated three or four times that the most important aspect of my endeavor was to find some holes. He emphasized the word “holes” and said that inside them a sorcerer could find all sorts of messages and directions.

I wanted to ask what kind of holes they were; don Juan seemed to have guessed my question and said that they were impossible to describe and were in the realm of “seeing.” He repeated at various times that I should focus all my attention on listening to sounds and do my best to find the holes between the sounds. He said that he was going to play his spirit catcher four times. I was supposed to use those eerie calls as a guide to the ally that had welcomed me; that ally would then give me the message I was seeking. Don Juan told me I should stay in complete alertness, since he had no idea how the ally would manifest himself to me.

I listened attentively. I was sitting with my back against the rock side of the hill. I experienced a mild numbness. Don Juan warned me against closing my eyes. I began to listen and I could distinguish the whistling of birds, the wind rustling the leaves, the buzzing of insects. As I placed my individual attention on those sounds, I could actually make out four different types of bird whistlings. I could distinguish the speeds of the wind, in terms of slow or fast; I could also hear the different rustlings of three types of leaves. The buzzings of insects were dazzling. There were so many that I could not count them or correctly differentiate them.

I was immersed in a strange world of sound, as I had never been in my life. I began to slide to my right. Don Juan made a motion to stop me but I caught myself before he did. I straightened up and sat erect again. Don Juan moved my body until he had propped me on a crevice in the rock wall. He swept the small rocks from under my legs and placed the back of my head against the rock.

He told me imperatively to look at the mountains to the southeast. I fixed my gaze in the distance but he corrected me and said I should not gaze but look, sort of scanning, at the hills in front of me and at the vegetation on them. He repeated over and over that I should concentrate all my attention on my hearing.

Sounds began to be prominent again. It was not so much that I wanted to hear them; rather, they had a way of forcing me to concentrate on them. The wind rustled the leaves. The wind came high above the trees and then it


dropped into the valley where we were. Upon dropping, it touched the leaves of the tall trees first; they made a peculiar sound which I fancied to be a sort of rich, raspy, lush sound. Then the wind hit the bushes and their leaves sounded like a crowd of small things; it was an almost melodious sound, very engulfing and quite demanding; it seemed capable of drowning everything else. I found it displeasing. I felt embarrassed because it occurred to me that I was like the rustle of the bushes, nagging and demanding. The sound was so akin to me that I hated it. Then I heard the wind rolling on the ground. It was not a rustling sound but more of a whistle, almost a beep or a flat buzz. Listening to the sounds the wind was making, I realized that all three of them happened at once. I was wondering how I had been capable of isolating each of them, when I again became aware of the whistling of birds and the buzzing of insects. At one moment there were only the sounds of the wind and the next moment a gigantic flow of other sounds emerged at once into my field of awareness. Logically, all the existing sounds must have been continually emitted during the time I was hearing only the wind.

I could not count all the whistles of birds or buzzings of insects, yet I was convinced I was listening to each separate sound as it was produced. Together they created a most extraordinary order. I cannot call it any other thing but “order.” It was an order of sounds that had a pattern; that is, every sound happened in sequence.

Then I heard a unique prolonged wail. It made me shiver. Every other noise ceased for an instant, and the valley was dead still as the reverberation of the wail reached the valley’s outer limits; then the noises began again. I picked up their pattern immediately. After a moment of attentive listening I thought I understood don Juan’s recommendation to watch for the holes between the sounds. The pattern of noises had spaces in between sounds! For example, specific whistles of birds were timed and had pauses in between them, and so had all the other sounds I was perceiving. The rustling of leaves was like a binding glue that made them into a homogeneous buzz. The fact of the matter was that the timing of each sound was a unit in the overall pattern of sounds. Thus the spaces or pauses in between sounds were, if I paid attention to them, holes in a structure.

I heard again the piercing wail of don Juan’s spirit catcher. It did not jolt me, but the sounds again ceased for an instant and I perceived such a cessation as a hole, a very large hole. At that precise moment I shifted my attention from hearing to looking. I was looking at a cluster of low hills with lush green vegetation. The silhouette of the hills was arranged in such a way that from the place where I was looking there seemed to be a hole on the side of one of the hills. It was a space in between two hills and through it I could see the deep, dark, gray hue of the mountains in the distance. For a moment I did not know what it was. It was as if the hole I was looking at was the “hole” in the sound. Then the noises began again but the visual image of the huge hole remained. A short while later I became even more keenly aware of the pattern of sounds and their order and the arrangement of their pauses. My mind was capable of distinguishing and discriminating among