The Way of the Toltecs
A Conversation with CARLOS CASTANEDA (Second Part)
By Graciela N. Corvalan (Translation from the Spanish by Alina Rivero)
In the early 1980s, Graciela Corvalan, a writer and publisher from St. Louis, Missouri, was writing a book consisting of a series of interviews with contemporary mystical thinkers in the Americas. She and three friends met with Carlos Castaneda in Los Angeles and discussed his work with him. Carlos Castaneda requested that the conversation be published first in Spanish. Fulfilling this requirement, the author published a Spanish version of the interview in Mutantia, Buenos Aires, Argentina. The first part of the English version of that conversation originally appeared in Seeds of Unfolding, Vol. I, No. 4 (Summer 1983), and was re-published on this site in February 2005 under the title The Freedom of Don Juan. The first part of the interview concludedwith Castaneda’s description of the purpose of life, according to the Toltecs: “To get out of this world alive, past the fearsome eagle, whole.” The second part of the interview, originally published in Seeds, Vol. II, No. 2 (Spring 1984) and reproduced here, continues with this theme.
Q. Did don Juan and don Genaro leave “whole”? Did they escape the eagle?
A. Don Juan will never die. He left this world alive and kicking, whole! So did don Genaro. Toltecs never die. But they must leave this world through the left side of the eagle, on tiptoe .
Q. Is the eagle a metaphor or a real entity? Does it resemble the allies who guard the entrance to the other side?
A. The Toltecs believe in an entity they call the eagle. It is an immense darkness, stretching to infinity, through which lightning flashes. They call it the eagle because it has wings, a black body and a luminous chest.
The eagle holds everything that is, it encompasses all the beauty that is human and all the savagery and ugliness that are not properly human. The eagle is the blackest mass imaginable. It is not human and it has no pity.
The eagle devours all energy that is about to disappear because it feeds off this energy. Like a giant magnet it draws vital energy from the world. This is what don Juan told me. But he and the others are sorcerers. They live what is a metaphor for me.
The only way to escape the eagle is to leave on tiptoe, holding one’s breath. When one is ready to leave the world, one must offer the eagle something, a sacrifice of the self. This offering is called the personal recapitulation.
Toltecs cannot save themselves individually, only as a group of eight. They can only leave the world in that basic nucleus. The others stay behind to maintain the tradition alive.
Q. How does one “recapitulate”? Is this similar to reviewing your life before death?
A. First you have to make a list of every single person you have ever known in life, a list of all those who have made you put your ego on the line, that multiheaded monster of personal pride. You have to bring back all those who have helped you play the game of “Do they love me or don’t they”–a game in which you spend your life licking your wounds. Recapitulation requires a great effort of memory. The images have to be drawn forth carefully and set before you. Then, with a movement of the head from right to left you blow each image away, as if sweeping it from your vision. The breath is magical.
At the end of the recapitulation there are no more tricks, games or self-deceptions. Then, the task alone is left–the task in its simplicity, purity and crudity.
Q. Is recapitulation possible for everyone? Can anyone escape the eagle?
A. Yes, but one must have an unbending will. If one wavers or hesitates, the eagle will devour him. Doubt is not possible. For example, in order to recapitulate, doña Soledad hid in a hole for seven years and never came out. She stayed there until she had finished with everything. That’s all she did for seven years.
Doña Soledad’s transformation was truly amazing. She exerted such will power that she was able to change herself. But by developing her will to such a level, she also developed a stronger personal pride. That is why she will not be able to fool the eagle. But she is fantastic! She has such power! Before she was Pablito’s “mamacita,” always washing clothes, ironing, cleaning, offering little meals to people. You should see her now. She is a young, strong woman. Not anyone to fool around with. Even if she cannot escape the eagle, she will never be the weak being she once was.
Q.You have often mentioned other sources in your books–the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Tractatus of Wittgenstein, the works of St. John of the Cross, St. Augustine, and the poets Juan Ramón Jiménez and César Vallejo. Do you have time to read and find out what is happening in this world? Have you found many parallelisms between teachings of don Juan and other esoteric traditions?
A. I don’t read anything anymore. My car is always full of books, tons of books, things people send me. I used to read books to don Juan. He loved poetry! But he only liked the first four lines of a poem. After that, he said, the strength was lost. For him the idea and the image are there in the first four lines or they’re not. Afterwards, don Juan thought it all repetition.
I have been interested in the works of Husserl and have been in contact with practitioners of hatha yoga, which I think is wonderful. But there is no way to explain don Juan’s teachings through these systems. Husserl never transcends the theoretical and philosophical level in his work. He doesn’t deal with man in his everyday life. The phenomenological method is a good base for research but Western man, that is, European man, has only produced a political man. This political man represents our civilization. Don Juan’s teachings open the door for another man, a much more interesting man, a man who already lives in a world of magic, a magical universe.
Once I met a disciple of Gurdjieff who modeled himself completely after the master. He had shaven his head and sported this huge mustache. I invited him to come over. As soon as he came into my house, he grabbed me by the throat and started beating me. He told me I had to leave my teacher because I was wasting my time! According to him he could teach me everything I needed to know in six or seven lessons. Can you imagine? Six or seven lessons can teach you everything…
Q. In your previous books women rarely played an important part in your apprenticeship. They appeared as dull, ordinary mortals or evil-tempered witches. Now the men are gone or have taken a secondary position to figures like la Gorda. Why have don Juan and don Genaro been replaced by la Gorda and the Toltec Woman?
A. Don Juan believed women have more talent than men because they are more receptive to the world. They do not waste themselves as much in this life. It’s natural that he would leave me in the hands of a woman. It couldn’t have happened any other way, because only a woman can teach the art of stalking. Women know this art well because they have always lived with the enemy. They have always had to tread softly in a male-dominated world. That is why the Toltec Woman came to teach us.
Women are very powerful beings. Josefina, for example, is a real wonder. She’s crazy. Crazy! Josefina could never function in this world. She flies very far away but she always comes back because she doesn’t want to leave this world alone. She wants to take me and she tempts me all the time with her tales of wonder during her flying. But la Gorda saves me. She is my foothold and my equilibrium.
Josefina is a being without attachments to the material world; she’s ethereal. She can leave any time. La Gorda and I are much more careful.
Q. The Toltec Woman sounds very intriguing. What is she like? How does she differ from don Juan?
A. The modality of the Toltec Woman is totally different from don Juan’s. For one thing, she doesn’t like me at all. She loves la Gorda, though. She is a very strong woman and her muscles move in a special way. She is old, but she appears to be a young woman made-up to look old. Do you remember the movie Giant with Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean? She plays the part of an older woman at some point, but one always knows she is very young. That’s what the Toltec Woman looks like.
Do you ever read the National Enquirer? That’s the only thing I read when I come to Los Angeles. A friend of mine saves me back issues. I saw Elizabeth Taylor’s picture there recently. She is really a “giant” now!
The Toltec Woman is responsible for all of us now. Things have changed a lot since don Juan left. I miss him. But I had to learn from women. The Toltec Woman gets very angry and she hits us a lot. We walk around with these great bruises from her beatings. And she gives us terrible tasks! There is a great deal I do not understand and things I will never be able to explain. But I trust don Juan completely. By now I have learned to trust that which I don’t understand. Don Juan proved to me over and over how foolish my desire to understand things was. He was right.
The Toltec Woman will leave soon. She’s told us two other women will take her place. The Toltec Woman is very strict and her demands are terrible. But as awful as she is she is better than the ones who will come after her. Maybe she won’t leave yet. One can’t really stop the body from complaining and being afraid of the undertaking ahead. And yet… there is no way of altering destiny.
Q. In your last book you speak of the “holes” in people who have had children. How do you then explain doña Soledad’s attitude towards Pablito or that of la Gorda towards her daughters? It seems inconceivable that having children would take away the “edge” from life.
A. Well, I can’t really explain it all that well. There are differences between people who have reproduced and those who have not. In order to tiptoe past the eagle one has to be whole. A person full of holes cannot get through. Don Genaro is a crazy, crazy man. Don Juan is a crazy, serious man. He goes slowly but he gets farther. In the end they both get there.
Like don Juan, I have holes and I will have to follow his way. The Genaros have another way. They have a special edge that don Juan and I don’t have. They are more nervous, they move faster. They are very light. Nothing stops them.
Those who have had children, like la Gorda and me, have other characteristics that compensate for that loss. We are calmer, and even though the path is long and arduous, we still get there. Generally, those who have had children know how to take care of others. It’s just different.
Most of the time people have no idea what they are doing or why they do it. They are not conscious of their acts and then they pay! I had no idea what I was doing.
When I was born, I took everything away from my mother and father. I left them mangled. I had to give them back the edge I had taken away from them. Now I have to regain that edge myself.
Q. Are the holes irreparable or can they be repaired?
A. Nothing is irrevocable in life, and the holes can heal. It is always possible to return that which does not belong to us and to recoup that which does.
Q. What are your immediate plans?
A. La Gorda and I will probably travel. She wants to travel and go to “Paricci,”as she calls it. Now that she shops at Gucci and looks very elegant she wants to go to Paris. I keep telling here there is nothing there but she still wants to go. She’s even learned English very well. That, too, was part of her task.
Q. Will Carlos ever be free and join don Juan and don Genaro on the other side?
A. I have lived at a level lower than that of the Mexican peasant, which is to say a great deal. The difference between the peasant and me is that a peasant has hope and works to attain things and believes in the future. I, on the other hand, have nothing and each time will have less.
Right now my only freedom lies in being impeccable, because only by being impeccable can I change my destiny and leave this world whole. If I do I will join don Juan and don Genaro; if I don’t, I will not change my destiny and the eagle will devour me.
In this world I never am more myself than when I am Joe Cordoba, frying hamburgers all day long, my eyes filled with smoke.
For the first installment of this interview, click here.