The Teachings of don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge - ©1968 by Carlos Castaneda Intro
This book is both ethnography and allegory.
Carlos Castaneda, under the tutelage of don Juan, takes us through that moment of twilight, through that
crack in the universe between daylight and dark into a world not merely other than our own, but of an
entirely different order of reality. To reach it he had the aid of mescalito, yerba del diablo, and humito-
peyote, datura, and mushrooms. But this is no mere recounting of hallucinatory experiences, for don
Juan's subtle manipulations have guided the traveller while his interpretations give meaning to the events
that we, through the sorcerer's apprentice, have the opportunity to experience.
Anthropology has taught us that the world is differently defined in different places. It is not only that
people have different customs. It is not only that people believe in different gods and expect different
It is, rather, that the worlds of different peoples have different shapes. The very metaphysical
presuppositions differ: Space does not conform to Euclidean geometry: Time does not form a continuous
unidirectional flow: Causation does not conform to Aristotelian logic: Man is not differentiated from
non-man, nor life from death as in our world.
We know something of the shape of these other worlds from the logic of native languages and from myths
and ceremonies as recorded by anthropologists. Don Juan has shown us glimpses of the world of a Yaqui
sorcerer, and because we see it under the influence of hallucinogenic substances, we apprehend it with a
reality that is utterly different from those other sources. This is the special virtue of this work.
Castaneda rightly asserts that this world, for all its differences of perception, has its own inner logic. He
has tried to explain it from inside, as it were- from within his own rich and intensely personal experiences
while under don Juan's tutelage- rather than to examine it in terms of our logic.
That he cannot entirely succeed in this is a limitation that our culture and our own language place on
perception; rather than his personal limitation. Yet, in his efforts he bridges for us the world of a Yaqui
sorcerer with our own; the world of non-ordinary reality with the world of ordinary reality.
The central importance of entering into worlds other than our own- and hence of anthropology itself- lies
in the fact that the experience leads us to understand that our own world is also a cultural construct. By
experiencing other worlds, then, we see our own for what it is, and are thereby enabled also to see
fleetingly what the real world- the one between our own cultural construct and those other worlds- must in
fact be like. Hence the allegory as well as the ethnography. The wisdom and poetry of don Juan, and the
skill and poetry of his scribe, give us a vision both of ourselves and of reality. As in all proper allegory,
what one sees lies with the beholder, and needs no exegesis [* exegesis- an explanation or critical
Carlos Castaneda's interviews with don Juan were initiated while he was a student of anthropology at the
University of California, Los Angeles. We are indebted to him for his patience, his courage, and his
perspicacity [* perspicacity- the capacity to assess situations or circumstances shrewdly and to draw
sound conclusions] in seeking out and facing the challenge of his dual apprenticeship, and in reporting to
us the details of his experiences. In this work he demonstrates the essential skill of good ethnography [*
ethnography- the branch of anthropology that provides scientific description of individual human
societies]- the capacity to enter into an alien world. I believe he has found a path with heart.
- Walter Goldschmidt
I wish to express profound gratitude to Professor Clement Meighan, who started and set the course of my
anthropological fieldwork; to Professor Harold Garfinkel, who gave me the model and the spirit of
exhaustive inquiry; to Professor Robert Edgerton, who criticized my work from its beginning; to Professors
William Bright and Pedro Carrasco for their criticisms and encouragement; and to Professor Lawrence
Watson for his invaluable help in the clarification of my analysis. Finally, I am grateful to Mrs Grace
Stimson and Mr F. A. Guilford for their assistance in preparing the manuscript.
- Carlos Castaneda
Para mi solo recorrer
los caminos que tienen corazon,
cualquier camino que tenga corazon.
Por ahi yo recorro,
y la unica prueba que vale es
atravesar todo su largo.
Y por ahi yo recorro mirando,
mirando, sin aliento.
* * *
(For me there is only the travelling
on paths that have heart,
on any path that may have heart.
There I travel,
and the only worth-while challenge is
to traverse its full length.
And there I travel looking,
- Don Juan Matus
...nothing more can be attempted than to establish the beginning and the direction of an infinitely long
road. The pretension of any systematic and definitive completeness would be, at least, a self-illusion.
Perfection can here be obtained by the individual student only in the subjective sense that he
communicates everything he has been able to see.
- by Georg Simmel
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
My friend greeted him, and 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
The old Indian was not in the least embarrassed. I told him my name, and he said that he was called Juan
Matus, 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
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 I even
suggested 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, or 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. [* arduous- characterized by toilsome effort to the point of exhaustion; especially
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
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
* * *
"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 travelled a great deal, his knowledge may have been the product of many
influences. And although he regarded himself as a Yaqui Indian from Sonora, I was not sure whether to
place the context of his knowledge totally in the culture of the Sonoran Indians. However, it is not my
intention here to determine his precise cultural milieu. [* milieu- the environmental condition]
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
In retrospect, I believe this method of conducting the apprenticeship prevented the training from being
successful because it retarded [* retarded- slowed the growth of, or development of] 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 [* modicum- a small or moderate or token amount] 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
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 [* pragmatic- concerned with practical matters] 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. 0nly 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 understod it placed me in another
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
Long 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 nonordinary 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 the 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
"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
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 [* antedate- be
earlier in time] 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
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.
In the second part of this book, I present a structural analysis drawn exclusively from the data reported in
the first part. Through my analysis I seek to support the following contentions: (1) don Juan presented his
teachings as a system of logical thought; (2) the system made sense only if examined in the light of its
structural units; and (3) the system was devised to guide an apprentice to a level of conceptualization
which explained the underlying order of the phenomena he had experienced.
Author's Commentaries on the Occasion of the Thirtieth Year of Publication
The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge was first published in 1968. On the occasion of
its thirtieth year of publication, I would like to make a few clarifications about the work itself, and to state
some general conclusions about the subject of the book at which I have arrived, after years of serious
and consistent effort. The book came as a result of anthropological field work which I did in the state of
Arizona and in the state of Sonora, Mexico. While doing graduate work in the Anthropology Department at
the University of California at Los Angeles, I happened to meet an old shaman, a Yaqui Indian from the
state of Sonora, Mexico. His name was Juan Matus.
I consulted with various professors of the Anthropology Department about the possibility of doing
anthropological field work, using the old shaman as a key informant. Every one of those professors tried
to dissuade me, on the basis of their conviction that before thinking about doing field work, I had to give
priority to the required load of academic subjects, in general, and to the formalities of graduate work, such
as written and oral examinations. The professors were absolutely right. It didn't take any persuasion on
their part for me to see the logic of their advice.
There was, however, one professor, Dr. Clement Meighan, who openly spurred my interest in doing field
work. He is the person to whom I must give full credit for inspiring me to carry out anthropological
research. He was the only one who urged me to immerse myself as deeply as I could into the possibility
that had opened up for me. His urging was based on his personal field experiences as an archaeologist.
He told me that he had found out, through his work, that time was of the essence, and that there was very
little of it left before enormous and complex areas of knowledge attained by cultures in decline would be
lost forever under the impact of modern technology and philosophical drives. He put to me as an example
the work of some established anthropologists of the turn of the century, and the early part of the twentieth
century, who collected ethnographic data as hurriedly but as methodically as possible on the cultures of
the American Indians of the plains, or of California. Their haste was justified, because in a matter of one
generation, the sources of information about most of those native cultures were obliterated, especially
among the Indian cultures of California.
At the same time all this was happening, I had the good fortune of attending classes with Professor Harold
Garfinkel of the Sociology Department at UCLA. He supplied me with the most extraordinary
ethnomethodological paradigm, in which the practical actions of everyday life were a bona fide subject for
philosophical discourse; and any phenomenon being researched had to be examined in its own light and
according to its own regulations and consistencies. If there were any laws or rules to be exacted, those
laws and rules would have to be proper to the phenomenon itself. Therefore, the practical actions of
shamans, viewed as a coherent system with its own regulations and configurations, were a solid subject
for serious inquiry. Such an inquiry didn't have to be subject to theories built a priori, or to comparisons
with material obtained under the auspices of a different philosophical rationale.
Under the influence of these two professors, I became deeply involved in my field work. My two driving
forces, drawn from my contact with those two men, were: that there was very little time left for the thought
processes of the Native American cultures to remain standing before everything was going to be
obliterated into the mishmash of modern technology; and that the phenomenon under observation,
whatever it may have been, was a bona fide subject for inquiry, and deserved my utmost care and
I dove into my field work so deeply that I am sure that in the end, I disappointed the very people who were
sponsoring me. I ended up in a field that was no man's land. It was not the subject of anthropology or
sociology, or philosophy, or religion, for that matter. I had followed the phenomena's own regulations and
configurations, but I didn't have the ability to emerge at a safe place. Therefore, I compromised my total
effort by falling off the adequate academic scales for measuring its worth or its lack of it.
The irreducible description of what I did in the field would be to say that the Yaqui Indian sorcerer, don
Juan Matus, introduced me into the cognition of the shamans of ancient Mexico. By cognition, it is meant
the processes responsible for the awareness of everyday life, processes which include memory,
experience, perception, and the expert use of any given syntax. The idea of cognition was, at that time,
my most powerful stumbling block. It was inconceivable for me, as an educated Western man, that
cognition, as it is defined in the philosophical discourse of our day, could be anything besides a
homogeneous, all-engulfing affair for the totality of mankind. Western man is willing to consider cultural
differences that would account for quaint ways of describing phenomena, but cultural differences could
not possibly account for processes of memory, experience, perception, and the expert use of language to
be anything other than the processes known to us. In other words, for Western man, there is only
cognition as a group of general processes.
For the sorcerers of don Juan's lineage, however, there is the cognition of modern man, and there is the
cognition of the shamans of ancient Mexico. Don Juan considered these two to be entire worlds of
everyday life which were intrinsically different from one another. At a given moment, unbeknownst to me,
my task mysteriously shifted from the mere gathering of anthropological data to the internalization of the
new cognitive processes of the shamans' world.
A genuine internalization of such rationales entails a transformation, a different response to the world of
everyday life. Shamans found out that the initial thrust of this transformation always occurs as an
intellectual allegiance to something that appears to be merely a concept, but which has unsuspectedly
powerful undercurrents. This was best described by don Juan when he said, "The world of everyday life
cannot ever be taken as something personal that has power over us, something that could make us, or
destroy us, because man's battlefield is not in his strife with the world around him. His battlefield is over
the horizon, in an area which is unthinkable for an average man, the area where man ceases to be a
He explained those statements, saying that it was energetically imperative for human beings to realize that
the only thing that matters is their encounter with infinity. Don Juan could not reduce the term infinity to a
more manageable description. He said that it was energetically irreducible. It was something that could not
be personified or even alluded to, except in such vague terms as infinity, 'lo infinito.'
Little did I know at that time that don Juan was not giving me just an appealing intellectual description; he
was describing something he called an energetic fact. Energetic facts, for him, were the conclusions that
he and the other shamans of his lineage arrived at when they engaged in a function which they called
seeing: the act of perceiving energy directly as it flows in the universe. The capacity to perceive energy in
this manner is one of the culminating points of shamanism.
According to don Juan Matus, the task of ushering me into the cognition of the shamans of ancient Mexico
was carried out in a traditional way, meaning that whatever he did to me was what was done to every
shaman initiate throughout the ages. The internalization of the processes of a different cognitive system
always began by drawing the shaman initiates' total attention to the realization that we are beings on our
way to dying. Don Juan and the other shamans of his lineage believed that the full realization of this
energetic fact, this irreducible truth, would lead to the acceptance of the new cognition.
The end result which shamans like don Juan Matus sought for their disciples was a realization which, by
its simplicity, is so difficult to attain: that we are indeed beings that are going to die. Therefore, the real
struggle of man is not the strife with his fellowmen, but with infinity, and this is not even a struggle; it is, in
essence, an acquiescence. We must voluntarily acquiesce to infinity. In the description of sorcerers, our
lives originate in infinity, and they end up wherever they originated: infinity.
Most of the processes which I have described in my published work had to do with the natural give and
take of my persona as a socialized being under the impact of new rationales. In my field situation, what
was taking place was something more urgent than a mere invitation to internalize the processes of that
new shamanistic cognition; it was a demand. After years of struggle to maintain the boundaries of my
persona intact, those boundaries gave in. Struggling to keep them was a meaningless act if it is seen in
the light of what don Juan and the shamans of his lineage wanted to do. It was, however, a very important
act in light of my need, which was the need of every civilized person: to maintain the boundaries of the
Don Juan said that the energetic fact which was the cornerstone of the cognition of the shamans of
ancient Mexico was that every nuance of the cosmos is an expression of energy. From their plateau of
seeing energy directly, those shamans arrived at the energetic fact that the entire cosmos is composed of
twin forces which are opposite and complementary to each other at the same time. They called those two
forces animate energy and inanimate energy.
They saw that inanimate energy has no awareness. Awareness, for shamans, is a vibratory condition of
animate energy. Don Juan said that the shamans of ancient Mexico were the first ones to see that all the
organisms on Earth are the possessors of vibratory energy. They called them organic beings, and saw
that it is the organism itself which sets up the cohesiveness and the limits of such energy. They also saw
that there are conglomerates of vibratory, animate energy which have a cohesion of their own, free from
the bindings of an organism. They called them inorganic beings, and described them as clumps of
cohesive energy that are invisible to the human eye, energy that is aware of itself, and possesses a unity
determined by an agglutinating force other than the agglutinating force of an organism.
The shamans of don Juan's lineage saw that the essential condition of animate energy, organic or
inorganic, is to turn energy in the universe at large into sensory data. In the case of organic beings, this
sensory data is then turned into a system of interpretation in which energy at large is classified and a
given response is allotted to each classification, whatever the classification may be. The assertion of
sorcerers is that in the realm of inorganic beings, the sensory data into which energy at large is
transformed by the inorganic beings, must be, by definition, interpreted by them in whatever
incomprehensible form they may do it.
According to the shamans' logic, in the case of human beings, the system of interpreting sensorial data is
their cognition. They maintain that human cognition can be temporarily interrupted, since it is merely a
taxonomical system, in which responses have been classified along with the interpretation of sensory
data. When this interruption occurs, sorcerers claim that energy can be perceived directly as it flows in
the universe. Sorcerers describe perceiving energy directly as having the effect of seeing it with the eyes,
although the eyes are only minimally involved.
To perceive energy directly allowed the sorcerers of don Juan's lineage to see human beings as
conglomerates of energy fields that have the appearance of luminous balls. Observing human beings in
such a fashion allowed those shamans to draw extraordinary energetic conclusions. They noticed that
each of those luminous balls is individually connected to an energetic mass of inconceivable proportions
that exists in the universe; a mass which they called the dark sea of awareness. They observed that each
individual ball is attached to the dark sea of awareness at a point that is even more brilliant than the
luminous ball itself. Those shamans called that point of juncture the assemblage point, because they
observed that it is at that spot that perception takes place. The flux of energy at large is turned, on that
point, into sensorial data, and those data are then interpreted as the world that surrounds us.
When I asked don Juan to explain to me how this process of turning the flux of energy into sensory data
occurred, he replied that the only thing shamans know about this is that the immense mass of energy
called the dark sea of awareness supplies human beings with whatever is necessary to elicit this
transformation of energy into sensory data, and that such a process could not possibly ever be
deciphered because of the vastness of that original source.
What the shamans of ancient Mexico found out when they focused their seeing on the dark sea of
awareness was the revelation that the entire cosmos is made of luminous filaments that extend
themselves infinitely. Shamans describe them as luminous filaments that go every which way without ever
touching one another. They saw that they are individual filaments, and yet, they are grouped in
inconceivably enormous masses.
Another of such masses of filaments, besides the dark sea of awareness which the shamans observed
and liked because of its vibration, was something they called intent, and the act of individual shamans
focusing their attention on such a mass, they called intending. They saw that the entire universe was a
universe of intent, and intent, for them, was the equivalent of intelligence. The universe, therefore, was,
for them, a universe of supreme intelligence. Their conclusion, which became part of their cognitive world,
was that vibratory energy, aware of itself, was intelligent in the extreme. They saw that the mass of intent
in the cosmos was responsible for all the possible mutations, all the possible variations which happened in
the universe, not because of arbitrary, blind circumstances, but because of the intending done by the
vibratory energy, at the level of the flux of energy itself.
Don Juan pointed out that in the world of everyday life, human beings make use of intent and intending in
the manner in which they interpret the world. Don Juan, for instance, alerted me to the fact that my daily
world was not ruled by my perception, but by the interpretation of my perception. He gave as an example
the concept of university, which at that time was a concept of supreme importance to me. He said that
university was not something I could perceive with my senses, because neither my sight nor my hearing,
nor my sense of taste, nor my tactile or olfactory senses, gave me any clue about uni-versity. University
happened only in my intending, and in order to construct it there, I had to make use of everything I knew
as a civilized person, in a conscious or subliminal way.
The energetic fact of the universe being composed of luminous filaments gave rise to the shamans'
conclusion that each of those filaments that extend themselves infinitely is a field of energy. They
observed that luminous filaments, or rather fields of energy of such a nature converge on and go through
the assemblage point. Since the size of the assemblage point was determined to be equivalent to that of a
modern tennis ball, only a finite number of energy fields, numbering, nevertheless, in the zillions,
converge on and go through that spot.
When the sorcerers of ancient Mexico saw the assemblage point, they discovered the energetic fact that
the impact of the energy fields going through the assemblage point was transformed into sensory data;
data which were then interpreted into the cognition of the world of everyday life. Those shamans
accounted for the homogeneity of cognition among human beings by the fact that the assemblage point
for the entire human race is located at the same place on the energetic luminous spheres that we are: at
the height of the shoulder blades, an arm's length behind them, against the boundary of the luminous ball.
Their seeing-observations of the assemblage point led the sorcerers of ancient Mexico to discover that
the assemblage point shifted position under conditions of normal sleep, or extreme fatigue, or disease, or
the ingestion of psychotropic plants. Those sorcerers saw that when the assemblage point was at a new
position, a different bundle of energy fields went through it, forcing the assemblage point to turn those
energy fields into sensory data, and interpret them, giving as a result a veritable new world to perceive.
Those shamans maintained that each new world that comes about in such a fashion is an all-inclusive
world, different from the world of everyday life, but utterly similar to it in the fact that one could live and die
For shamans like don Juan Matus, the most important exercise of intending entails the volitional
movement of the assemblage point to reach predetermined spots in the total conglomerate of fields of
energy that make up a human being, meaning that through thousands of years of probing, the sorcerers
of don Juan's lineage found out that there are key positions within the total luminous ball that a human
being is where the assemblage point can be located and where the resulting bombardment of energy
fields on it can produce a totally veritable new world. Don Juan assured me that it was an energetic fact
that the possibility of journeying to any of those worlds, or to all of them, is the heritage of every human
being. He said that those worlds were there for the asking, as questions are sometimes begging to be
asked, and that all that a sorcerer or a human being needed to reach them was to intend the movement
of the assemblage point.
Another issue related to intent, but transposed to the level of universal intending, was, for the shamans of
ancient Mexico the energetic fact that we are continually pushed and pulled and tested by the universe
itself. It was for them an energetic fact that the universe in general is predatorial to the maximum, but not
predatorial in the sense in which we understand the term: the act of plundering or stealing, or injuring or
exploiting others for one's own gain. For the shamans of ancient Mexico, the predatory condition of the
universe meant that the intending of the universe is to be continually testing awareness. They saw that
the universe creates zillions of organic beings and zillions of inorganic beings. By exerting pressure on all
of them, the universe forces them to enhance their awareness, and in this fashion, the universe attempts
to become aware of itself. In the cognitive world of shamans, therefore, awareness is the final issue.
Don Juan Matus and the shamans of his lineage regarded awareness as the act of being deliberately
conscious of all the perceptual possibilities of man, not merely the perceptual possibilities dictated by any
given culture whose role seems to be that of restricting the perceptual capacity of its members. Don Juan
maintained that to release, or set free, the total perceiving capacity of human beings would not in any way
interfere with their functional behavior. In fact, functional behavior would become an extraordinary issue,
for it would acquire a new value. Function in these circumstances becomes a most demanding necessity.
Free from idealities and pseudo-goals, man has only function as his guiding force. Shamans call this
impeccability. For them, to be impeccable means to do one's utmost best, and a bit more. They derived
function from seeing energy directly as it flows in the universe. If energy flows in a certain way, to follow
the flow of energy is, for them, being functional. Function is, therefore, the common denominator by
means of which shamans face the energetic facts of their cognitive world.
The exercise of all the units of the sorcerers' cognition allowed don Juan and all the shamans of his
lineage to arrive at odd energetic conclusions which at first sight appear to be pertinent only to them and
their personal circumstances, but which, if they are examined with care, may be applicable to any one of
us. According to don Juan, the culmination of the shamans' quest is something he considered to be the
ultimate energetic fact, not only for sorcerers, but for every human being on Earth. He called it the
The definitive journey is the possibility that individual awareness, enhanced to the limit by the individual's
adherence to the shamans' cognition, could be maintained beyond the point at which the organism is
capable of functioning as a cohesive unit, that is to say, beyond death. This transcendental awareness
was understood by the shamans of ancient Mexico as the possibility for the awareness of human beings
to go beyond everything that is known, and arrive, in this manner, at the level of energy that flows in the
universe. Shamans like don Juan Matus defined their quest as the quest of becoming, in the end, an
inorganic being, meaning energy aware of itself, acting as a cohesive unit, but without an organism. They
called this aspect of their cognition total freedom, a state in which awareness exists, free from the
impositions of socialization and syntax.
These are the general conclusions that have been drawn from my immersion in the cognition of the
shamans of ancient Mexico. Years after the publication of The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of
Knowledge, I realized that what don Juan Matus had offered me was a total cognitive revolution. I have
tried, in my subsequent works, to give an idea of the procedures to effectuate this cognitive revolution. In
view of the fact that don Juan was acquainting me with a live world, the processes of change in such a live
world a live world never cease. Conclusions, therefore, are only mnemonic devices, or operational
structures, which serve the function of springboards into new horizons of cognition.
My notes on my first session with don Juan are dated 1961 June 23. 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 because 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, 1961 June 23
"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
"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, 1961 June 25
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
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
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. He said
that as far as I was concerned, 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 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 [*
chartreuse- a shade of green tinged with yellow] I was seeing all over the area, turned at one spot to my
right into a sharp verdigris. [* verdigris- a green patina that forms on copper or brass or bronze that has
been exposed to the air or water for long periods of time] 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.
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
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,
he 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."
Monday, 1961 August 7
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 don Juan and sat waiting for the others 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. 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 and at a loss for words; although they all spoke
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 signalled 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. 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 don Juan. "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
had 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 wanted to know what it was like. They all
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, 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
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 had been passed down the line, and told me to take some of the tequila to wash away the
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. 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
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,
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. He said I should 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. 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 words.
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 [* iridescent- varying in colour when seen
in different lights or from different angles] fluid travelling 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 fibres of silk, and I too acquired a long, lustrous,
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 [* impish- naughtily or annoyingly playful] 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 marvellous 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, 1961 August 5
Later that morning after breakfast, the owner of the house, don Juan, and I drove back to don Juan's
place. I 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-
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, 1961 August 6
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 behaviour 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
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 neighbours 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 dog, 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 not 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, 1961 August 17
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
endeavour. 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."
"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
"Do you mean the secrets about Mescalito?"
"Yes, but those are not all the secrets I know. There are other secrets of a 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
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: 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
Sunday, 1961 August 20
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
I asked, "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 because 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 labour 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.
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 described 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, 1961 August 23
"The devil's weed [Jimson weed] was my benefactor's ally. It could have been mine also, but I didn't like
"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
"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 unravelled the secrets of the sober head. What a challenge for a man of
"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?"
"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, 1961 September 3
Today, during the afternoon, don Juan collected two Datura plants from the field.
Quite unexpectedly he had 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 we walked into one of the canyons.
We walked for quite a while, wading through the chaparral [* chaparral- dense vegetation consisting of
stunted trees or bushes] 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."
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 first, the male, 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, 1961 September 6
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 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, 1961 September 10
Thursday, September 7 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
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
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 white.
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
"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
"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
"Perhaps, don Juan, that is the fate of all men who want to know.
"Perhaps," he said quietly.
Thursday, 1961 November 23
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?"
"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
"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! [* protégé- a person who receives support and protection from an
influential patron who furthers the protégé's career]
"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
"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
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, 1961 December 26
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, December 23, 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
"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, because as 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 man.
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 center, 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 in the dirt, and set the mortar firmly
on the ground. He put more dry twigs on the fire.
Then he 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. [* pestle- a club-shaped hand tool for
grinding and mixing substances in a mortar] 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
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
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.
We walked to my car. He took the net from my hands, and fastened it onto the open lid of the glove
"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."
"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, 1962 January 27
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
"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. They were
hooked by the fork between the leaves and the stem, and 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 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
Saturday, 1962 April 8
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
"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 [* succumb- (1.) consent reluctantly: (2.) be fatally overwhelmed] 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, 1962 April 15
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
"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 cruellest 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."
Part One: The Teachings
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. [* anthropomorphic- suggesting human characteristics for animals or inanimate things]
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, 1961 December 24
"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, 1962 January 30
"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."
"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."
"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, 1962 April 12
"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?"
"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
Saturday, 1962 April 14
"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
"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, 1962 July 6
Don Juan and I started on a trip late in the afternoon of Saturday June 23. 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 June 27. 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 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
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
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
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
"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?"
"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 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
"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 afire. 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 had 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 signalled 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 fro 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 [* precedents- examples that are used to justify similar occurrences at a later time] 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
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
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 intens, 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
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
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
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 signalled 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 sulphur 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, 1962 July 3
"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
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
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
"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
"But why then does he hurt some people?"
"Not everybody likes Mescalito, yet they 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."
Part One: The Teachings
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, 1963 January 27
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, 1963 January 28
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
"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, 1963 April 21
On Tuesday afternoon, April 16, 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 April 17, 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
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
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
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
fibres 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
"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
It was tasteless, but it left a slightly bitter flavour 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 is power," he said, pointing to the paste, "and nobody can tell what kind of power it really is.
"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
He made me take it with my left hand and told me to get some of the paste with my finger 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 not 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, 1963 April 18
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
"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, 1963 April 19
"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
procedure would only antagonize the devil's weed and the lizards.
"You must not antagonize the lizards," he said, "because 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
practise 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
"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
"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."
Part One: The Teachings
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, 1963 June 27
"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, 1963 June 29
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 for other purposes. The sorcery of the lizards is only the
"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, 1963 July 6
On Monday July 1, 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 July 2. 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
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. Those brujos 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
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 July 4, don Juan directed me to leach the root four times. By the last time I
poured the water out of the bowl, the day 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
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
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 marvellous 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
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
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. The morning twilight was already
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 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 July 5, 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
"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
"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."
Part One: The Teachings
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, 1963 December 23
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
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
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, 1963 December 24
"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, 1963 December 31
On Thursday December 26 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 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 was, 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.
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
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, 1963 December 28
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
"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
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 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
"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
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, 1964 January 28
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
"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.
Part One: The Teachings
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, 1964 September 12
During the first night of the ceremony, Thursday September 3, 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
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 September 4, 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
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 September 5, 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
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 September 6. 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.
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; a terror that did not come upon me abruptly, but somehow swiftly. At first my marvellous
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, 1964 September 10
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, 1964 September 11
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."
Part One: The Teachings
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
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, 1964 December 28
On Saturday December 19, 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 not 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 [* irrevocable- incapable of being retracted] 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
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
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
"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, 1964 December 24
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 marvellous 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, 1964 December 26
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
"Why would it have been madness?"
"Because under such conditions nothing makes sense. You are alone without a guide, seeing terrifying,
"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, 1964 December 28
"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
"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."
Part One: The Teachings
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, 1964 December 31
"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, 1965 January 27
On Tuesday January 19, 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
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 up a burning charcoal
with a pair of tweezers I had made from a wooden clothespin I had been saving for this occasion.
Don Juan looked at my tweezers, and began to laugh. I vacillated [* vacillate- be undecided about
something] 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
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
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, 1965 January 20
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
"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, 1965 February 7
My second attempt with the smoke took place about midday on Sunday January 31. 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
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, 1965 March 28
On Thursday March 18 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 coordination. 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
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, 1965 March 23
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
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 darn.
It will be only a mad dream unless you remember correctly."
I strained myself to recollect, but I could not.
Saturday, 1965 April 3
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, 1965 April 4
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
"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, 1965 April 10
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 center. It was almost as if the center 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
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; [* frolicking- playing in a
carefree manner] 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 marvellous secret. But perhaps you must wait until you lose your fear to
understand what I mean."
Part One: The Teachings
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 skilful a manner that he created the clear and sustained impression
that he was not really himself, but rather 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 [* concomitant- an event or situation that happens at the same time as
another] of the conflict was a conscious terror so acute that it impaired my health for several weeks.
Afterwards I thought it would be 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, 1965 October 29
On Thursday September 30, 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 because the duration of such states was
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
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
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
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 it 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
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
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
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 travelling 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, saying, "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
"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
"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
"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
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 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.
~ THE END: The end of the story portion of this book ~