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Dreaming Castaneda

A First Person Encounter

It was somewhere in Arizona, not far from the border with Mexico. The terrain was not desert, not parched and remote but typically sparse in vegetation. I sensed the proximity of a small town, like Mexicali where I had crossed the border once with Jan Kerouac on our way back from a fateful stay in Yelapa. The day was hot and clear, not a breeze in the air, almost a dead calm. It felt like late afternoon, maybe five or six o'clock.

I was walking with Castaneda on my right side, and two other people with us. I recognized them easily as Vincente Medrano, the herbalist and "scholar" of don Juan's party, and Silvio Manuel, a rather sinister nagual who embodied the power of darkness. I became immediately engrossed in checking my observation against stored knowledge, the memory of how these two men looked based on discriptions given by Castaneda in his books. Medrano was mild-mannered but not timid looking, and a little rotund in his physique, soft-bodied. He wore a sparse beard and his eyes were deep, careful, inquiring. He gazed at the ground in front of him, as if he were preoccupied with composing something in his mind. I hardly dared glance at Silvio Manuel who walked off to my right, a step or two behind Castaneda. His presence reached me like a shock wave with the force of a huge steel beam vibrating in a hurricane. Nevertheless, there was nothing the least menacing in his presence. On the contrary, I found it tranquil and immensely comforting.

I understood without anyone explaining it to me that we were heading for a place where Vincente Medrano would give a talk. Up ahead I could see the venue for this event: a depot constructed of off-white corrugated panels and a silvered tin roof, similar to sterile buildings used as garages, workships, and storehouses. There were no cars to be seen, so it appeared that everyone due to attend the talk had to walk to this site, as we were doing. I understood that the audience would consist of ordinary folk, farmers and ranchers who belonged to the agricultural cooperative that owned the storage depot. Medrano's little lecture was to be a purely mundane event, having nothing to do with the enigmas of sorcery, it seemed.

Carlos was in jovial mood, but a little forced. I wondered if he was stalking me, pretending to act that way in order to alleviate the morose and sullen attitude that so often plagued me—due of to my inveterate self-importance. When he spoke, his words confirmed my suspicion:

"You ought to watch out or you'll have everyone thinking you're Frazer," he said with a genuinely affectionate laugh, throwing his arm around my shoulder. I was stunned by the allusion to Frazer. As a self-defined teacher of comparative mythology, I placed myself in the lineage of Sir James Frazer, of course. But the remark Carlos made was more intimate than a mere vocational association that suited my pretences.

When I was nineteen and living in Tokyo where I taught English, I used to go each week to the British Counsel and read Frazer. The library there housed the entire collection of The Golden Bough, the first edition in green binding, deliciously musty. I never found those volumes anywhere else in the world. By reading Frazer with intense concentration, I calmed myself and was able, for long moments, to overcome the sense of being entirely lost on my journey in life. Not that I found direction in Frazer, but by absorbing the mythical narratives he recounted, I stored attention that would later direct me to crucial dicoveries.

Frazer's work was not merely a scholarly reference for me, it was an index of intimate clues to my journey to Sophia and the knowledge that frees.

I was shocked that Carlos seemed to understood this. He remark went straight to my sense of self-importance, my high opinion of where I stood in that lineage, and contained a subtle jibe as well. Carlos was warning me in a friendly way: Don't let your self-importance con you into becoming just an armchair scholar like Frazer. I was touched and amazed by his deep understanding of my spiritual dilemma.

The next thing I knew, Carlos was on my left side, strolling between myself and Medrano. None of us had broken pace for a second. He did not move across spatially, passing in front of or behind me. He just showed up on the left. The move startled me and impelled me to readjust my gaze, concentrating on his face. Suddenly I saw that Carlos looked worn-out, his rather dilletante features drawn and fatigued. Catching my observation, he tilted his head to the side in a off-handed way and informed me, "Yes, I'm quite exhausted, I haven't been on the left for three or four hours and it really tires me now." Or perhaps he said, "I've been on the left for three or four hours and so I'm tired now." I couldn't make it out, either way. All I knew was that he was confessing to be in a state of physical depletion due to shifting from ordinary to heightened awareness.

The shift can do that, I knew, but it can also do the opposite. As we approached the entrance to the depot, I wondered why Castaneda would feel depleted rather than energized by the sorcerer's routine activity of shifting sides.

Inside the depot, about twenty metal folding chairs had been set up for the audience. Almost all of them were occupied by men in working clothes, farmer's overalls, and the like. There was a low platform constructed of pallets with plywood panels laid over them. There was even a kind of podium of stacked crates on the platform. Three chairs were set to the right side of the podium, a single chair on the left, viewed from the front. Castaneda, Medrano, and Silvio Manuel each sat down immediately in the three chairs provided for them. I was left standing awkwardly in front of them, feeling exposed to the view of the audience. But when I furtively scanned the men attending, I observed that no one seemed to notice my presence.

Someone standing at the podium gave a short introduction and then took the single chair on the left. Medrano rose to deliver his talk. For an instant I thought of taking his seat, but it struck me that to do so would be both impolite and absurd. I shifted on my feet, noticing that the tips of my boots were almost touching the metal-shielded toes of Silvio Manuel's elegant shoes. I heard Medrano began to speak in a muted voice, as if the sound were coming from the far end of a tunnel. A glance in his direction showed me that he was speaking rather mechanically, like someone in a hypnotic trance. I thought it was because he was reciting his lecture from memory rather than making it up as he went along. He was talking about how to recognize and preserve certain plants that would improve the agricultural viability of an arid region.

Maintaining my awkward stance on the platform, I found myself leaning closely over Castaneda. He sat impassively with a blank stare, perhaps overcome by the fatigue he had mentioned. As I looked down at him, the power of my attention drew me toward what I saw. I bent more deeply, placing my hands on my knees, and examined his seated figure with intense scrutiny. By now I was confident that no one in the building was aware of my presence, but I didn't care anyway. It did not matter at all if I was observed because something had my total interest.

I became intensely engrossed in examining the way Castaneda was dressed. A feeling of awe came over me like a sweet breeze as I gazed ever more closely at his suit, a formal business suit. I saw that it was woven, not of thread or fibers, but of fine strands of prairie grass. The weave was exquisite and compact. Unless you examined it at close range, you would have mistaken it for ordinary fabric, perhaps linen or tweed. I found the patterns of the prairie grass to be astonishingly precise, beautiful, and elegant. Almost microscopically small flowers of different colors were imbedded all through the weave.

The sensation of seeing the suit was lovely, almost erotic. A soft thrill of pleasure pulsed through my body. Then my eyes shifted by their own power to the shirt Castaneda was wearing. I could detect a narrow triangle of fabric, broad at the neck and narrowing to a point just above his diaphragm. The shirt was buttoned to the neck and he was not wearing a tie. It had the color of deep aquamarine, perfectly complementing the pale greenish earth tones of his suit. The sorcerer knows how to match his wardrobe better than I, I thought, feeling a little foolish. Then my attention was caught by the way the small triangle of shirt was glistening, as if it were made of a fabric treated with a sheen. My attention by itself went to the apparent sheen which then changed to a grainy glisten.

I felt now that I was arriving at the extent of my lucidity. Looking closely at the grainy glisten of the dark blue shirt Castaneda wore, I felt the entire scene around me begin to swirl, but with infinite slowness. I could not take my eyes away from the shirt, whose intense blue color seemed to be pulling me into the vast movement of that swirl. I bent closer, intently aware of the tension that now came into my breathing. Suddenly I saw that the shirt Castaneda wore was not made of fabric at all: it was made of blue-black stone like a blend of lapis lazuli and onyx. Osirian hues, I thought vividly with a fleeting association to a massive sarcophagus. Then I saw that the deep glistening effect in the blue-blackness was the active light of remote stars. I was looking into the dense substance of the Milky Way, and being slowly, gently pulled into the silent swirl of that celestial stream.

A moment later the lucidity broke and I returned to ordinary awareness.

jll: 26 November 2009 Andalucia


Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.