Introduction to Chapter 12 of Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castaneda, by Amy Wallace
A year later, after a variety of adventures with Castaneda and the witches, Carlos and I became lovers. He insisted that he had remained celibate for 25 years, awaiting my arrival. He proposed marriage. I took his extravagant claims with a bushel of salt, but slowly began to fall in love. He invited me to fly from San Francisco to meet him in Mexico City.
Amy Wallace with her father, Irving Wallace
Excerpt from Chapter 12, Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castaneda
Mexico With Castaneda
Mexico with Castaneda! I had never been to Mexico, and now I was going with the last and greatest of the brujos to his magical home. He would unlock its shamanic secrets. I pictured a Disneyland of the paranormal; Carlos and I creeping past cactuses to underground caves where we would sip strange, mind-altering brews and converse with ancient wizards. We would explore the "power spots" he described in his books. We would take the steps to precede the shamanic death we dreamed of, "burning from within" together, in a rapturous ball of fire, emerging intact in another world, and nothing would ever separate us. What adventuress in her right mind could possibly say no?
I flew from San Francisco to Mexico City where Carlos met me at the airport. He greeted me nervously, and whisked me into a car driven by an affable, well-spoken young man named Marcos Antonio Karam. Tony created and directed a Buddhist Institute in Mexico City, Casa Tibet, and was an remarkable prodigy -- friend to the Dalai Lama, and a magnet for paranormal happenings. Carlos fondly dubbed him "Tony Lama," and Tony called him "nagualito". Marivee, a friendly middle-aged associate, sat beside Tony. Carlos pulled me to him, smooching eagerly in the back seat until I became shy.
Tony Karam (head of Casa Tibet)
"In front of your friends?" I whispered.
"They don't even notice," he insisted, amorous as a teenager in a drive-in.
We spent two days of continuous activity together, a non-stop spree of meeting Carlos' fascinating friends, including Carlos' Mexican publisher Fausto, introduced as "my nephew." Carlos gave three-hour lectures in Spanish, which I didn't understand, to small, worshipful groups, also demonstrating simple Tensegrity movements. One speech took place in the conference room of a travel agency, another at a small New Age Institute. A woman histrionically fainted from the shock of being in the same room with the nagual. He was unimpressed, and someone carried her out. Life with Castaneda was incessantly dramatic.
Carlos wanted me to sit beside him in a chair before the first group as he spoke; a tremendous honor I had no idea was being bestowed upon me, as usual. After an hour I whispered in his ear that I was going to take a walk. This was my first evening, and I hadn't moved since the long plane ride; he insisted Marivee escort me. Looking back, I realized I had seriously breached etiquette by walking out on the nagual; and depriving Marivee of a rare opportunity to hear a lecture. But Carlos and Marivee were so gracious I never suspected my error.
During the lecture, I learned, Carlos taught the all-important "recapitulation" meditation, wherein one makes a list of all one's sexual encounters; followed by a list of each person one could recall having ever met. Making the list alone could take months of steady work. Finally, one began the Herculean task of breathing away the noxious power these human interactions held. This was Carlos' fundamental practice, barely explained in his books.
We stayed in a modest, pleasant hotel, the Maria Christina, in separate rooms. Soon enough we would share a room, but for now it was risky. "I might fly away and never come back!" he exclaimed. When I saw my room I had an overwhelming deja vu -- I knew the room, the furniture, everything. I told Carlos, who was extremely pleased, but as usual, did not expand on apprentices' paranormal experiences. In the morning Tony slipped Carlos some photos which Carlos refused to show, only telling me that they were of the voladores, or "flyers" -- discarnate energy vampires who eat our awareness on a daily basis, creatures he had long alluded to. He insisted Florinda see the pictures first, and as Carlos' fiancee, this secrecy stung.
I found Carlos' friends delightful. Tony was my favorite, and we enjoyed several meals together. Much as Carlos enjoyed fine dining, he preferred a good, home-style cafeteria. At one meal he drew an exquisite watch from his pocket, appearing to be circa 1940. He passed it around, saying it had belonged to don Juan. Wherever we ate, Carlos ordered a steak for himself: this he considered the key to dietary health. But when my steaming plate of enchiladas con salsa verde arrived, he attacked it, sour cream and all. I loved this "married" gesture, which reminded me of my Jewish family at table. Carlos claimed, in fact, to be a Sephardic Jew, via his maternal grandmother.
Carlos gave me a tour of Mexico City's magnificent Museo Anthropologico. He warned me that the visit would move my assemblage point, and might tire me profoundly. This was to be the first of many visits, he told me, so we should take care to "touch it lightly". His first concern was to show me half a dozen large statues which, he said, represented the witches and the Chacmools, according to his unconventional theory of reincarnation called "cyclicity", which he promised to explain later.
The apex of the visit came when he led me into a small room, waved his hand at a wall and said, "There! Can you see it? Do you understand?"
On the wall was an ancient death mask that Carlos told me represented my father's spirit, was my father, somehow -- not merely a likeness. It so resembled Irving that I let out a cry when I saw it, and buried my face in my hands to hide my tears.
"My baby," Carlos said tenderly, "it's time for you to rest. As I said, being with the nagual is such pressure! It makes you tired until your body adjusts. And seeing Irving! That is Irving, yes or no?" Carlos' eyes shone with his own held-back tears. Once again he mimicked their routine conversations about looking young, adding,
"Amy, believe me, we were a couple of old crocks, we looked like shit, lying like maniacs every year and laughing our heads off, and we knew it! It was marvelous! And every time I come here -- and I've been coming for decades -- I say hello to Irving. For years I have been greeting him. 'Irving,' I say, 'How are you? You're looking younger than ever!'" Carlos wiped away his tears, and led me outside.
We stepped outside of the museum to take some air. At that very moment, one of Mexico City's most famous cultural events was beginning. On the museum grounds rose a remarkably tall pole -- it seemed to be hundreds of feet high, as if, in my state of heightened imagination, it were brushing the clouds, reaching for the early twilight stars.
Six men, wearing leather belts around their feet only, climbed the pole. They wore scant, colorful loincloths, exposing magnificent, lean bodies. They looked like creatures from a world so distant they could only have existed in one of Carlos' books of dreams. He told me that they were known as "voladores," or "flyers," unrelated to the voladores of Tony's pictures.
They were as much feline as homo-sapien -- all grace and sinew and sublime concentration. One slip meant death even with the leather bands -- the bands could so easily snap. Without exchanging a word or a look, just holding hands, I felt certain, as lovers do, that Carlos and I understood each other. All of life amounted to just this daring moment, aloft and unprotected. The voladores' art, their theatre, repeated for hundreds of years, was meant to wake us to the succulent, terrifying imminence of our end. They embodied the philosophy in Carlos' books, that death must always "be taken as our advisor, ever present over our shoulder." People waited all day for this performance. Carlos believed it was a tremendous omen, signifying the strength of our love, that we had walked straight from the museum out into the precise moment of the dance's beginning. When he saw the performance start, his eyes filled with tears again -- it was the first time I saw him openly cry.
"They're reaching for infinity, Amy. They know their quest is futile, but they climb and climb and they never give up. They reach . . . that is man breaking his chains, fighting his way out of prison, when he knows his fight is hopeless but nothing will stop him. He is full of joy, he says, 'Fuck it! Fuck God himself! The joy is in the journey.' Then he possesses everything. When what you have is more than enough, my love, then, and only then, are you on the edge of impeccability. Something sees; and that something loves our fight."
We kissed. The dancers had reached the top. They remained attached by the cords at their ankles, but unraveled them, so that they fell, magnificently, outward into the arms of the sky. Gloriously they circled and swayed, dancing with death with a precision and a discipline that I found nearly inconceivable even as I watched it.
"Once," Carlos said solemnly, "I was with don Juan and this very same omen was given to us -- we stepped outside and there were the voladores, just beginning to climb. As they spun against the sunset, an enormous eagle, with wings like this!, flew across the sky, above the pole, above the dancers' heads. The eagle soared so fantastically high that it became a tiny spot in the blue vastness; until all that was left was our memory of its flight."
Silently we returned to the hotel. I knocked on Carlos' door, dressed in a pale silk robe.
"You look like a nun," he said wonderingly. He kissed my neck, as if it were something fragile. We held each other, and made love looking into one another's eyes. All shyness gone, I said, "I love you."
"What?" Appearing shocked, he replied, "You love me?"
"Yes. I do. I love you."
"Ah. And I love you. You are mine, preciosa, all mine.. You belong to me, and I belong to you, completely -- there is no one else, and there never will be. I am your man, for eternity. Do you promise to give yourself completely to your husband?"
"Do you know what you're saying?" There was an uneasy, fearful gleam in his eyes. "You will be the wife of the nagual. You can never return. The world -- the world as you know it -- is lost to you forever. I have been so deep inside you, merged with my adorable wife, that . . . you are no longer human. You have said goodbye to the world."
The phone rang, and answering it, Carlos began a prolonged conversation in such rapid-fire Spanish that I couldn't understand any of it. I retreated to my room.
After 20 minutes had passed I knocked on Carlos' door. I found him sitting on the bed with his head buried in his hands. In his slippers and robe, silver hair disheveled, for the first time he looked to me like an old man.
I sat down beside him. "What is it?"
"I have to go somewhere, chica."
"Can I come with you?"
"No, no -- I want to stay here, with you, but I have to go away with some Indians."
"The Indians from your books?"
"No! Some other Indians!" He pressed his forehead in distress.
He cast me a defeated look. "I don't want to go! I want to be here, with you, I want to stay with you -- but I have no choice. You'll have to fly home first thing in the morning. Go and sleep, my darling -- I'll wake you at five."
He brushed a lock of my hair behind my left ear, and tenderly kissed my neck.
"So the other side won't get lonely," he said, kissing my right ear. His eyes were wistful, consummately sad.
"I'll put you on the plane, and I'll call you the minute I can, mi corazon. I love you."