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The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge Setting & Symbolism

This Study Guide consists of approximately 60 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Teachings of Don Juan.
This section contains 1,718 words
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Objects/Places

Brujos

The Spanish term for a medicine man/curer/witch/sorcerer, brujo is how Juan Matus is described to Carlos Castaneda. Full brujos control and ally, while lesser ones rely on power objects as tools of death.

Crows

Crows are Don Juan Matus' species of choice into which to change form under the influence of smoking psilocybe mexicana. Crows are ideal for this because humans and other predators generally ignore them. As a matter of survival, crows distinguish when things are moving too fast or at the right speed. They admire the beauty of the myriad of wriggling things inhabiting dead flesh. It takes a long time to learn to be a "proper crow;" and one does not cease to be human, but becomes "something else." Twice Matus guides Castaneda in turning into a crow, an experience he finds difficult but not painful. He soars happily with three silvery birds. This, Matus explains, is how crows see one another, rather than as black. Matus admonishes him to think no longer as a human, but as a crow that fellow crows will inform about his approaching fate. What these "emissaries" do during their first meeting must be recalled in detail, particularly the direction and time of day when they depart. One day at dusk, his emissary crows will fly overhead appearing silvery white, whereupon he will die and fully become a crow. Matus' emissary crows will come in the morning. When the time comes, just fly away with them.

Diableros

A term used only by Sonora Indians to designate a practitioner of black sorcery, able to change into the form of animals. Matus refers to his "benefactor" or teacher by this term. Castaneda questions many people about this phenomenon and presents three verbatims from folks reticent to discuss it. Young male, Choy, insists only old people believe in the "pure bull" of a brujo changing into other forms. Middle-aged Dosa Luz admits to having known one diablero as a young girl. He is killed stealing cheese from a white man in the guise of a dog. Finally, old Genaro talks of the last diablero, S—, hanged by the tribe in 1942.

The worlds of diableros and of men overlap; but a crack opens and closes between them. By "single-minded dedication," one can enter the crack without help and wander through a whirlwind for a distance that depends on one's willpower. Some diableros kidnap souls and push them through. One can, like Castaneda, engage the diablero in win/lose combat to obtain his soul's release. Had Castaneda moved an inch, the diablera would have hit him with a thunderbolt, kept his soul, and let him waste away.

Helpers

Helpers are spirits that cause sickness and pain to help diableros kill. They are easier to tame than allies, but require much learning. Helpers inhabit the other world. One must enter this world and search to find a helper to serve as a teacher. Most have little to teach, and many refuse. Unless one has a great benefactor like Matus had, it is a matter of luck.

Jimson Weed

A hallucinogenic plant (Datura inoxia syn. D. meteloides), also known as "Devil's Weed," Jimson weed is used by Don Juan Matus to help author Carlos Castaneda to acquire an "ally" (power). Devil's weed has other names, to be used only when calling for help. A small plant with dark-green leaves, large, white, bell-shaped flowers, and a tuberous root, it had been Matus' anonymous teacher's drug of choice. However Matus never likes it because it "distorts men" by "giving them a taste of power too soon without fortifying their hearts"; it makes them "domineering and unpredictable" and "weak in the middle of their great power." It has four "heads": root, stem and leaves, flowers, and seeds - each different, and to be learned in that order. The power is conquered through the roots; the stem and flowers cure maladies; the flowers make people crazy or obedient - or kill; and the powerful seeds "fortify the heart." Devil's weed often kills off proteges before they can unravel "sober head." Devil's weed has other names, to be used only when calling for help. Female Daturas are taller, tree-like, and have a forked root, while males spread out, bush-like, and have a single root. In his youth, Matus quits using Datura after killing a man with a single blow, tossing huge boulders, and chopping leaves from the top of tall trees.

Lizards

The secret of the second portion of Datura plants' sorcery, lizards are used in pairs to learn whatever the sorcerer wishes at a distance. They must come from the vicinity of one's own and be carefully befriended with food and conversation. They allow themselves to be captured only after they know a man. They should be caught, late afternoon, after the Datura paste, which lasts only one day, is prepared. The sorcerer must apologize to the lizards for the pain he is about to cause, and then sew shut one's mouth to keep it from talking to strangers as it goes out to see whatever the sorcerer asks to know. It is covered in Datura paste and set on the ground to determine if the sorcery will work. If it approaches, that means good luck; but if it moves away, it is time to quit lizard sorcery, for death could be imminent. The other lizard's eyelids are sewn shut and its head is covered with paste. It is used to anoint both sides of sorcerer's head. Eventually the mute lizard returns and tells its story to the blind one, which in turn tells the sorcerer. The blind lizard must then be set free without noting where it goes, and all the implements of the sorcery buried in a deep hole.

Mitote

A four-day ceremony in which experienced peyoteros and apprentices each night consume peyote buttons and sing individual songs, Mitote provides Carlos Castaneda's final encounter with Mescalito, in Chihuahua, Mexico, in September of 1964. Castaneda encounters Mescalito on the third night and learns a Spanish song, which leaves him "renewed, fortified."

The Other World

Don Juan Matus stresses to Carlos Castaneda that there exists another world to which peyote buttons (anthropomorphized as "Mescalito") takes people.I It is not the Christian heaven and Mescalito is neither the Christian God nor one of the gods. He is a power outside oneself and is not the same for everyone. Twilight is "the crack between the worlds." After Castaneda experiences a harrowing night in which a diablera imitates Matus and tries to steal his soul, Castaneda is told that the worlds of diableros and of men overlap; but a crack opens and closes between them. By "single-minded dedication," one can enter the crack without help and wander through a whirlwind for a distance that depends on one's willpower. At the end, he reaches a wind-whipped plateau and the skin that separates the two worlds. On the other side, the man wanders, hoping to find a helper to kill and teach him. Most have little to teach, and many refuse. Unless one has a great benefactor like Matus had, it is a matter of luck. Some diableros kidnap souls and push them through. One can, like Castaneda, engage the diablero in win/lose combat to obtain his soul's release. Had Castaneda moved an inch, the diablera would have hit him with a thunderbolt, kept his soul and let him waste away.

Peyote

A hallucinogenic plant (Lophophora williamsii) is used by Don Juan Matus to help author Carlos Castaneda to acquire wisdom and knowledge of how to live right. Matus insists that Castaneda refer to the plant deferentially as "Mescalito." The young scholar's interest is strictly peyote, and he seeks out Matus as a renowned expert. After a year of sidestepping the topic, Matus announces that he has chosen him for a "long and arduous" apprenticeship. After Castaneda's first experience ingesting dry peyote buttons, Matus explains that peyote baffles everyone who tries it and urges him to concentrate on his calling, rather than on his fear, and to see the marvels around him. Drinking water after ingesting peyote causes vomiting, but discomfort gives way to "warmth and excitation;" and one's faculties resolve into lucidity. The transitions to and from the non-ordinary state are particularly noticeable with peyote.

Psilocybe mexicana

Without chemical tests, Carlos Castaneda can only assume that the third of the hallucinogenics to which Don Juan Matus introduces him is Psilocybe mexicana. Matus refers to it as "Humito" (little smoke). It is male-like: dispassionate, gentle, predictable, and beneficial; hard and just, but not enslaving. Smoke creates emotional stability and puts the smoker into a state of bodilessness, making him ideal for contemplatives. Like Jimson weed, it is used to acquire an "ally" (power). Matus speaks with reverence of the "smoke of diviners" as a "most marvelous ally," but warns it is not for everyone. It gives, not only knowledge, but also provides a means to proceed in problems like killing off a witch who is out to kill Matus. The mushrooms, which are difficult to differentiate from potentially lethal ones among which they grow, are dried, shredded, and mixed with a variety of "sweeteners." The gathering and preparation must be repeated annually and smoked within the year. Smoke is for those who "watch and see." It puts every power into a person's hands, but takes a lifetime to master. It has two parts: pipe and smoke mixture. One learns to smoke by leading a "hard, quiet life." Using it causes terror and confusion at first, but later opens the world to the smoker and resolves all questions by letting the smoker "enter into inconceivable worlds."

Smoke always produces a transformation, but not an identical one for each smoker. For Castaneda, it produces first a "numb, mentholated" feeling, anger and euphoria, as well as a sense that solid objects and Matus are spongy and his body sinks into theirs. Castaneda prefers devil's weed to smoke because the latter is so frightening; but Matus presses him to give it another try. Smoke deals in "noble power" and requires purity and strength of heart that few possess. Smoke is constant and "reinforces the heart." In a second attempt, Castaneda feels his body disappear until only his head remains, which turns into a crow, with difficulty but no pain.

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This section contains 1,718 words
(approx. 6 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge Study Guide
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The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge from BookRags and Gale's For Students Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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