Chapter 3 of Sorcerer's Apprentice:
My Life with Carlos Castaneda, by Amy Wallace
Reunion With Florinda
One autumn evening in 1991 I opened the paper and noticed that Florinda Donner was giving a speech that night at Gaia Books. This was a New Age, feminist bookstore a few blocks from my Berkeley home.
I had a headache and wanted to stay in. At the same time it had been 10 years since I'd last seen my beloved spitfire, Florinda. I took an aspirin and walked the four downhill blocks to the lecture. That act changed the entire course of my life. Carlos had a favorite saying, popularized in his bestsellers "all of us are given a single cubic centimeter of chance at least once in our lives. It is a gift offered by the Spirit." The adventurous reached for the brass ring -- sometimes by accident, as I did when I reached for the bottle of aspirin -- while most ignored it as it passed by, and the direction of their lives never deviated from the dull norms of societal routine. Magic, Carlos always said, was everywhere, but we wear blinders, which we cling to, afraid of the unknown. If only, he urged, we could live like pirates, grabbing life's treasures and sailing forward on the high seas, we would honor the gift that was our life.
"I live in the front of the train, so everything I see is new," he had often told me, "while the rest of the world lives life in the caboose."
A lecture hall across from the store had been rented for Florinda's talk, but the doors weren't open yet. I wandered over to the bookstore. I immediately saw the tiny, sparkling Florinda; beside her was a taller woman, a curvaceous, almond-eyed creature with salt and pepper hair. They were laughing and playing with New Age toys, banging shamanic drums and peering through crystals. They didn't see me. I was too shy to introduce myself.
When the doors to the lecture hall opened, I bolstered my courage and approached Florinda. She was as I remembered her, extraordinarily alive. At 5'2", she probably weighed 100 pounds. She was as striking as ever -- tiny-boned and muscular, with brilliant blue eyes and spiked, inch-long blonde hair. She looked like a punk pixie.
"Hi, Florinda, it's Amy Wallace, do you remember?"
"Amy!" She threw her arms around me and gave me a fierce, fleeting embrace.
"You look wonderful! Carlos will be so happy I found you."
"Why's your hair so short now, Flo?"
She grinned, flashing a movie-star smile. "I just returned from living with the Yanamomo tribe in the Amazon, and I got lice. I had to shave my head. Now, let me present you to my cohort. This is Carol Tiggs. She's the nagual woman."
She hastily explained to me what this meant -- the nagual woman was the female equivalent of Carlos, his twin sister, so to speak, and a leader of their group. Carol burst into a ridiculous pseudo-rock song "nagual wooomaan . . ." she warbled in a Joni Mitchell meets Robert Plant shriek.
Aside from this outburst, Carol was remote and mysterious, with a moody cast to her dark blue eyes. She spoke little, and she and Florinda seemed to be opposites, the sun and the moon. I took an immediate dislike to Carol, finding her cold and humorless, apart from her pop song outburst. She appeared to lack in the social graces that Carlos, Anna-Marie [the name Ellis originally knew Taisha by] and Florinda excelled in. She turned to me abruptly.
"Are you Irving Wallace's daughter?"
"I've heard about you."
We sat together during the lecture. Florinda was audacious and saucy, offending many of her listeners by telling irreverent stories to promote her latest book, Being-In-Dreaming. Her first book, Shabono, was an account of her time among the Amazon's Yanamomo Indians, and was debunked as fraudulent and plagiaristic: she had lifted her story directly from an Italian author's published account, had "lost" her field notes, like Carlos, and had been denied her degree by UCLA. Her second book, A Witch's Dream, was a poetic series of anecdotes about her apprenticeship to a traditional curandera in her native Venezuela. She was the child of two German émigrés, raised in Caracas. Like the other witches, she was not where she claimed to have been during her Castaneda years. She was actually married and living as a housewife in Texas during the time she was supposedly in the jungle and the villages of Venezuela, though at the time I knew none of this.
Her speech tackled New-Agers and feminists alike as she explained the basic principles of sorcery. Her talk had an X-rated overtone; she was ironic, fanciful and impossibly charismatic. She spoke a mile a minute, like I did, but she was quicker and more daring. I felt intensely drawn to her.
She told the audience that her editor at Harper and Row had cut out "the real language of don Juan," telling her, "you just can't say that." What she had wanted to say, she told us, was that don Juan explained the different routes to knowledge taken by the two sexes. "'Men have this pincho that gets hard and points skyward, so they cone upwards toward the heavens -- that's how they receive their knowledge -- by coning with their genitals. Women have a hole that is always open, pointing downward towards the earth -- we receive our awareness from the earth itself. Sexual organs perceive.
"We women are always learning without noticing, it's so natural for us. But men have to travel upwards, step by step, as if ascending a ladder. They are meticulous, and more sober-minded -- which we are not. This is because they have to struggle in a way that we don't. This is why the leader of our group, the nagual, is always a male. Men have sobriety, and women need that. I wanted don Juan to give me psychedelic drugs -- I begged him! -- but he refused, saying, 'You women don't need the power plants, you're already there.'" She snapped her fingers. "It's nothing for us to dream, to travel in other worlds -- we're simply too lazy to do it. And the social order entraps women, robbing them of time for exploration by tying them to bearing and raising children, and babying a husband.
"We are slaves to men because of our indifference. And we take creativity for granted -- we make human beings! Each time a woman gives birth, it leaves a hole in her energy body, which depletes her so that she falls behind in her race to freedom. I don't recommend giving birth. Women fail to understand what the sorcerers know -- that our wombs are a second brain, the womb has a double function! The more often we allow men entrance to our wombs, the more we damage this second brain."
This information appeared to frazzle the audience. Questions were asked about menstruation and hysterectomies.
"The three days before a woman's period is the prime moment for her dreaming -- we can enter different worlds in our sleep like nothing! We can explore different layers of the onion, so to speak, and without any effort! We can even do this while awake. And we are so enslaved we label this PMS! The female sorcerers of our party do not suffer from menopause, as humans do. The sorcerer's practices, of movement and meditation, prevent it." (I would later learn this was a lie, and one I thought was extremely damaging.) "We control our menstrual periods with our intent. Intent is what sorcerers believe moves the universe. We don't pray -- that's for beggars -- instead we command intent. One of the witches in our group" (I later learned this was Anna-Marie) "didn't enjoy her cycles, so she stopped them by choosing to. I like the feeling of release, so I prolong mine with the power of my intent.
"As for women without a womb, well, she must fight for freedom and knowledge just like a male, climbing the ladder step by step. But it can be done. And if you have energetic holes from giving birth, you just have to run after freedom twice as hard."
Someone asked if don Juan had sex. Florinda flushed and replied, "I can tell you for a fact that he did! Believe me. And he was 90 years old!"
Replica Watches Replica Watches
Florinda then introduced Carol to the group as "the nagual woman" who had disappeared into Infinity -- also referred to as "the Second Attention" -- for 10 years, body and all. It felt to her like a second, Florinda told us -- she lost all sense of time. "When Carol miraculously reappeared, jogging in her sweat-suit," Florinda continued incongruously, "she opened the magical door that allowed me to be here tonight, the door that has allowed Carlos to begin giving public appearances." Woman Returns From
Infinity Still Jogging, Sweatsuit Intact. If absurdity could kill, I would be dead today.
After the lecture I watched a friend of mine, an avid Castaneda worshipper, corral Carol and ask her what 10 years in another dimension had been like. I found her reaction was shocking. She backed into a corner, stuttering and perspiring heavily. A crowd gathered around her.
"I . . . uh . . . I don't remember . . . I can't, um . . ."
She continued backing up until she hit a wall, then lowered her head like a trapped mule, pushed frantically through the crowd, stumbling as she went, until she reached safety at Florinda's side.
Florinda, too, was surrounded by a crowd. But unlike Carol, she basked in the admiring attention, answering questions with charming flippancy, until Carol tugged on her shirtsleeve. A limo was waiting outside to take them to the airport. For some inexplicable, magical reason, they were in danger if they spent the night at the San Francisco hotel they had checked into that morning.
We hugged goodbye outside the lecture hall and exchanged telephone numbers. Florinda gave me a P.O. Box number, asking me to write and to send my books. Her manner indicated that our meeting was very significant, and that we would most certainly speak soon. Carol, evidently rattled by her questioners, waved a half-hearted goodbye.
I was thrilled by our reunion. I had always adored Florinda, but I'd forgotten her verve, her overwhelming energy. I found it seductive and wanted to renew our connection. There had been a void since my father's death, and nothing seemed to assuage my sorrow, even my hours of chi kung meditation and the gratifying reception of my first novel, Desire.
Something was pulling me, something more than my loneliness. I believed it was a mysterious energy. I promptly read Florinda's new book, a lyrical, poignant account of her training by don Juan, Castaneda, and their "party of female sorcerers, led by Big Florinda, the one who gave me my name." I wrote to tell her I loved her book, and sent my novel and my previous publication, The Prodigy, the biography of a child genius.
She replied almost immediately with a phone call, saying that the books, especially the novel, had impressed her. Florinda was a true fiction reader often devouring a book in a day. We agreed to meet the next time I was in Los Angeles. She offhandedly remarked that as she and Carol were leaving San Francisco, they stopped by their hotel to collect a forgotten piece of luggage, and saw don Juan sitting in the lobby. They walked by without greeting him. I was shocked. Was this a ghost? What could it possibly mean? She shrugged off my questions and changed the subject, rambling on about the current fiction bestsellers. She was reading Ursula Hegge.
I recovered myself enough to ask, "Do you still see Anna-Marie?"
She laughed. I assumed that meant yes. "Well, then please send her my regards. And who is this other woman I see advertised at Gaia Books next month, with a blurb on the back jacket from Carlos . . . Taisha Abelar?"
Florinda howled with laughter. "Anna-Marie is Taisha!"
"Oh! Well. I'll go see her. Can I still call her Annie?"
"Well, Amy, you can." Florinda had a delicious way of making everything sound like a secret. Then she shared another secret with me: my meeting and being liked by the nagual woman had been an event of great importance. Florinda expanded on Carol's bodily disappearance into an alternate reality.
"Carlos, Taisha and I almost died when Carol left -- we teetered on the edge of evaporation! She, the nagual woman, is Carlos' energetic sister. She was supposed to be a glowing beacon, shining her light to lead us to the other side. But we couldn't find her, not even in our dreams. We were devastated, struggling to survive. When Carlos saw her jogging in Santa Monica he tried to chase her, but she got away. A few weeks later, boom! -- Carlos saw her face in the audience while giving a lecture at the Phoenix Bookstore in Santa Monica. Oh, he'll tell you all about it! His heart pounded like crazy! He could barely speak.
"Amy, she had total amnesia about her experience! Gone from the world for ten years! Disappeared! All she remembers is waking up in Arizona, wandering around, and noticing the buildings were taller. She dug up buried stashes of money don Juan had told her to hide . . . Well, this was the omen! It meant we could go public, after 20 years of hiding! Castaneda could speak to his readers, and could tell the world about the three of us -- we have been his biggest secret for 20 years! That's why I wrote my book about don Juan's training -- a woman's way is a different path, and then, Taisha's was completely different from mine.
"And now we've found you, Amy -- the omen is -- well, he'll be the one to tell you. I can't say too much. We don't cross-reference in our world -- its just an excuse to be human, to gossip, to lose energy, to be typical human beings. He'll tell you what it all means. And your beautiful novel . . . you are exactly like me, a dreamer -- good novelists are always dreamers."
I searched my mind for the meaning of dreaming in Carlos' books, but I hadn't read them in years. "What does it mean, Flo, to be a dreamer?"
"There are two kinds of sorcerers, Amy -- stalkers and dreamers. That's in all the books. We dreamers enter other worlds like nothing -- we enter through a hatchway in our dreams, and finally, when the ego is dead, we are so fluid there is no difference between dreaming and our waking state. That's what my book is about -- dreaming awake. It's not the same as 'lucid dreaming.' That's nothing, not the real thing. We found hatchways, gates, to other worlds."
"Taisha is the consummate stalker. When a true stalker becomes free of ego, he or she assumes different personalities, none are more real than another. A stalker lives them in 'the Theatre of the Real,' with total abandon. It's no game -- it's life or death to assume these roles. Taisha will talk about it during her lecture.
"Stalking is one way to grasp that there is no 'me.' I don't exist. I'm merely 'a bag of stories,''' as Carlos says. Stalkers use the world of daily life as a battleground, because the battle against the ego is never-ending. I remember what don Juan said to me, and I'll tell it to you, Amy. Please listen, carajo! -- it's the truth, but none of us want to hear it! Don Juan said, 'Florindita, think of your ego as a big, furry, lazy dog. Tell it to go lie out on the back porch. Step around it, because you can never kill it. The ego is a hydra with a thousand heads. Step around the tired, old dog on the porch.' Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes, I think so . . ."
"Ciao, mi amor. We'll talk again soon! Call me!"
Perhaps I had read too much psychology. Excited as I was, I knew that the sorcerer's definition of a stalker was nearly identical to the clinical diagnosis of a psychopath. I pushed such unpleasant thoughts out of my mind.
Excerpt from Chapter 4